Quick and Dirty Review

As (a) times is short and (b) to avoid spoilers, I’ll give a quick mini-review of what I’ve been reading:

Atomic Robo:

Hellboy. No really. It has a science-bent, it is quite a bit lighter (in tone and art) and Atomic Robo came into being twenty years before Hellboy’s wartime origin, but Atomic Robo, the automatic man of Nikola Tesla inhabits pretty much the same idiom as Hellboy. He heads a world organisation looking into/producing the strange, his agents occassionally die and has deliciously hilarous dialogue while still building a wonderful, deep character. Actually is one of the few I’d recommend for children – and is educational, in its own manner. True, it has giant ants and talking dinosaurs – but it does goes into why these are patently impossible, while battling them all the same.

Captain Marvel – Power of Hope:

Looking for a Capt Marvel story to get a handle on the character, I came across this. Dini writing, Alex Ross drawing – it turns what should be the corniest story in creation into … a corny story, which is also really moving. Damn them and their making me feel feelings.

Common Grounds:

Honestly, I’ve looked into this, but I can’t find any writer or artist crossover from Astro City to this series, but by golly you’d think it was Busiek & Anderson – and I mean that in the best possible way. It is an expressly smart and interesting miniseries about a ‘Common Grounds’, a coffee-shop chain set up so suerhumans, of evil and good varieties, can meet to eat without fighting. They get six great stories out of this premise – with Astro City introspection and invention -, perhaps the most moving ones being the one about Blackwatch and Captain Power, and the one about how, and why, the chain was founded.

Dynamo 5:

A patently great series, I think. It starts off running; Captain Dynamo has died and, it is revealed, he had a great many extramarital affairs. His widow has assembled five of his heirs and exposes them to a radiation that gave him his powers (which, when exposed to humans without his DNA, fries them). They each get one of his five powers (probably due being exposed at an older age, though it is convenient they all got seperate ones, eh?). And you’re dumped straight into this, and in this instance I don’t think that is a bad thing. It gets past the start cliches to built a strong ensemble book. With the differing ages and lives of the characters, it really comes together in clever ways – So much so that in the couple of instances of idiocy on the part of the characters that occur in the 25-issue run, it is far more jarring than in other comics.

Empowered:

Okay, adult content is here, straight off the bat. To put it in perspective, the series’ creator basically began to write stories for the fanservice sketches he was often commissioned to draw of female superheroes in distressed and trussed up situations.

If that was all, or even the single prominently dominant part of Empowered, I wouldn’t bring it up here.

The Empowered universe is interesting. Drawn in a manga style, the superhuman costume design is both distinct enough to tell its origin from ten paces, while being internally individually enough to make the characters distinct from one another. The sheer scale of worldbuilding is also distinct – heroes get buried in massive subterranean vaults, most get their abilities from a disease or devil’s deal and colleges teach courses in superhero studies.

‘Emp’ is also interesting. She has the Venom superpower – parasite costume that gives her super abilities. Except it tears. Like paper. Causing her to lose powers, dignity and freedom. Often. Quite possibly because poor self-image causes a psychosomatic weakness in the suit. And, frankly, I agree with other fans that we don’t need several such short stories to reinforce it every volume. The move to serious, book-length story archs are what – not redeem, justify is better. Everyone in the world is as emotionally, hopelessly compromised as EMP is. And she is screwed up.

Basically, she can’t not be a superhero. In a world of self-involved capes, she needs to save people. Even if it is mortifying, even if it is unrewarding and life-threatening – if she can save people, she has to fight. This is the heart of the character. I can’t stress the power in this storytelling enough. I remember reading parts of ‘Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy’. Basically Superman is transformed into a blonde, human woman by a capricious god. The gender flip is just the icing on the evil cake – the issue is Superman is mortal, his enemies know and they will kill him. And he is handed a gun to defend himself. And he refuses it. Because he is Superman. That is a justifying heart of a character.

That said- this series better damn well end with Emp being permanently powered up as and publicly recognised as the world’s greatest superhero. For damn straight.

The content, particularly, is mostly tastefully implied nudity and lusty librarian outfits. The tied-up positions are suggestive, and one scene has a bare bottom as I recall. So, I’d skip to the last volume or two, where it has been significantly toned down, if you can’t get past that.

Ex Machina:

World’s only superhero becomes Mayor of New York in 2002. Gadgeteer genius the Great Machine hangs up the jet pack to run in 2001 after becoming convinced that he could be far more useful as a politician – and is elected for strapping on the pack one last on 9/11. A 50 issue series, I wish Vaughn had gone longer on this. It is a clever, informed, surprisingly balanced look at everything from politics to superheroics. It is interdimensional alien invasions in the same house as the West Wing type conversations and they don’t even argue over the newspaper.

So. A-E. Seeya soon!

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