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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Better late than never

Issue No. 26 of "Superman/Batman," plotted by young Sam Loeb before his death, finally arrives in comic-book shops tomorrow. I wrote about it back in April; the issue at that time was scheduled to arrive in comic-book shops April 26. Whoops.

Sam's story, which focuses on Superboy and Robin, was finished up and illustrated by a who's who in the comic-book industry, starting with his dad, Jeph Loeb. Sam died of cancer last year at age 17.

On another note, this blog is taking a break: I'll be away from all computers for the next week and a half, but will return June 12 or so with a big stack of comics waiting for me to read.

Changes at the top

Well, that’s interesting timing.

On the heels of the blockbuster first weekend for “X-Men: The Last Stand,” Marvel Entertainment announced today that Avi Arad is resigning as chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios. But he’ll still be involved in Marvel’s upcoming films, independently producing films for Marvel under his own production company banner, Avi Arad Productions.

I view his continuing connection with Marvel as good news. I’ve talked to him a few times over the years, including way back before the first “X-Men” movie was released. He’s always been a cheerleader for Marvel’s movies, but more importantly, he understands how important it is to remain faithful to the core of a character.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Big box office for "The Last Stand"

In its opening weekend, “X-Men: The Last Stand” was a monster hit - even bigger than expected. The movie took in about $120 million, making it the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening ever.

“Hopefully, people will stop seeing these as comic-book movies,” Marvel Studios chief Avi Arad told USA Today. “You don’t have movies this big if only comic-book readers are turning out.”

I’m not sure I understand his point about the term “comic-book movie.” But obviously, these movies are drawing more people than those who head off to their friendly neighborhood comic-book store every Wednesday.

At any rate, the success of “The Last Stand” raises the bar for “Superman Returns” in June. And unless there’s a big drop-off in following weekends, it should inspire the folks at 20th Century Fox, the studio behind “The Last Stand,” to pursue another X-Men movie other than the planned solo Wolverine film.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Third "X-Men" a fitting conclusion

Just got back from seeing “X-Men: The Last Stand.” I thought it was great, and the non-comics fans in my family enjoyed it, too.

I don’t agree with the critics who say director Brett Ratner made the movie into a spectacle with no heart. I thought there were plenty of emotional moments, including one about halfway through or so that caught me totally by surprise.

The third movie in the X-Men trilogy, it neatly tied up some loose ends from the first two and makes sure that if there is another X-Men movie, it won’t be with the same team we saw in the first movies. The group definitely will never be the same. I have a few complaints: Magneto, for example, recruits the newly powerful Jean Grey, aka Phoenix, onto his side of the human-mutant war and then she spends most of her time standing around watching the action. But such complaints didn’t dim my enjoyment of the movie.

And surely you’ve heard this by now, but if not: Do NOT leave the theater until after the credits have rolled.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

More verdicts on "The Last Stand"

Here are a few more critics’ comments on “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Director Brett Ratner continues to take his lumps, but there are some kind words, too.

“Brett Ratner (taking over from Bryan Singer) and screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, inspired by Marvel’s comic books, have produced a slap-happy special-effects blitz stuffed with way too many characters, way too many cliches, way too many gaffes.” - Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle

“Director Brett Ratner has none of the finesse or judgment of Bryan Singer, who made the first two ‘X-Men’ films. Ratner makes a hash of the story and characters his predecessor brought to such complex, sympathetic life, delivering a pumped-up exercise in mayhem, carnage and blunt-force trauma. - Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

“After three trips to the well, the franchise is definitely showing some of its age, but ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ — reputedly the last in the series (we’ll see) — still manages to be an eye-filling fantasy extravaganza and a big crowd-pleaser.” - William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“A popcorn movie that has just enough subtext to keep it from spinning off into complete silliness, ‘X3’ won’t be sweeping the Oscars next year, but it sure should fill some seats this summer.” - Tom Long, The Detroit News

A new Batwoman

The New York Times has details on the new Batwoman, who was glimpsed in the last issue of "Infinite Crisis" and debuts in DC’s “52” series in July. It’s Kathy Kane, a name known to long-time readers, but with a twist: “In her latest incarnation, Batwoman is a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian who has a history with Renee Montoya, an ex-police detective.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The first word on "The Last Stand"

The reviews are starting to come in for “X-Men: The Last Stand” — and most aren’t exactly what you’d call rave reviews.

I won’t see the movie until sometime over the three-day holiday weekend. But here’s my prediction: X-Men fans, who are used to a mammoth rotating cast of mutant heroes in the comics, will enjoy the movie. Other moviegoers will likely be scratching their heads as they leave, befuddled by the sea of characters.

Anyway, here’s what the critics are saying:

“The nuance and complexity of character that made the first two ‘X-Men’ movies more compelling than the typically mindless summer blockbuster are gone in ‘X-Men: The Last Stand,’ the third and allegedly final installment in the comic-inspired franchise. In their place this time, you get flying, flaming cars and a totally naked Rebecca Romijn.” - Christy Lemire, Associated Press

“Never trust a movie that bills itself as ‘The Last Stand,’ especially when said movie ends with a feeble teaser that speaks of anything but finality. Then again, X-Men fan boys (and girls) probably aren’t looking for the end of the ride, even if they find the third film chapter a little more fast, cheap and out of control than the previous pair." - Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News

“Like sands through the hourglass, ‘The Last Stand’ minutes tick by, and the second hour is the worst, with one explosion after another and poor Ian McKellen, as Magneto, reduced to a punny quip Arnold Schwarzenegger would have rejected as too dumb.” - Chris Hewitt, Knight Ridder Newspapers

And a thumb’s up from the New York Daily News: “Explosive, adrenaline-fueled fun, ‘The Last Stand’ is likely to be the best popcorn movie of the summer — unless it’s unseated next month by (Bryan) Singer’s ‘Superman Returns.’”

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Real world invades "CSI"

IDW has posted an 11-page preview of “CSI: Dying in the Gutters” at its Web site, www.idwpublishing.com. The first issue of “Dying in the Gutters,” the latest CSI miniseries from IDW, arrives in stores in August. I talked to Chris Ryall, IDW’s publisher and editor in chief, about the book for a future Comics Fan column. “Dying in the Gutters” finds the CSI team investigating a murder at a Las Vegas comic-book convention. The fun part for comics fans is that the victim is Rich Johnston, a real-life online gossip columnist, and the suspects are real people in the comics industry, such as Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.

Once it was decided to set the story at a comic-book convention, Johnston was a natural choice for the victim, Ryall says. “We thought, if we’re going to kill anybody, let’s do in a comic what a lot of people have said they’d like to see happen in real life.”

It’s all in fun, though. I’ve seen the first issue and it’s a hoot.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A different view of "All-Star Batman"

Issue No. 4 of “All-Star Batman & Robin” came out this week, and despite my plans to drop the series, I found myself picking it up at the comic-book shop.

I’m beginning to appreciate it a bit more by following suggestions by fans online to read it as kind of an Elseworlds tale. This Batman — who basically kidnaps a grieving Dick Grayson and calls him names and wants him to eat rats to toughen up - is not OUR Batman. This is writer Frank Miller’s Batman - and he's a twisted one.

And I’m enjoying Jim Lee’s art. Some readers are grousing about Lee’s six-page foldout of the Batcave in the latest issue, saying they’d rather have more story packed into the issue. I thought it was kind of cool. But I agree the story isn’t exactly progressing at lightning pace. It’d also be nice if it get back to somewhere remotely near on schedule.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Training to be a superhero

I received a copy this week of “The Superman Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving the Day” by Scott Beatty. Beatty also wrote “The Batman Handbook,” which offered the possibility of becoming Batman in a way, with lessons on everything from how to bulletproof your Batmobile to training a sidekick.

Of course, the appeal of Batman is that any guy, if he trains enough and perhaps has millions in the bank, might have a shot at being Batman. Unless you were born on Krypton, your chances of being Superman are pretty nonexistent. But “The Superman Handbook” offers some real-world skills — such as how to perform CPR or save a kitten caught in a tree — that could make you a Superman in someone’s eyes.

It looks like fun. You can judge for yourself when “The Superman Handbook,” from Quirk Books, is released in June.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ruining the surprise

Peter David has an interesting installment of his “But I Digress” column in the latest Comics Buyer’s Guide. It’s a bit of a rant, actually, about the Internet age and spoilers and fans too quick to judge.

Like me, David can remember the days when each month’s comics were a surprise, when you had no idea which villain Superman would be battling in the next issue or what the cover would look like. These days, readers know what’s coming up months ahead through Previews, sort of the TV Guide of the comics world, and though advance solicitations posted online. DC and Marvel this week, for example, posted information on what’s coming in the dog days of August. Publishers also send select advance copies to retailers that inevitably land up in the hands of fans.

And those fans, David laments, are all too eager to post reviews and spoilers — he calls them “ruiners” — online. “Advance information,” he writes, “particularly revelations of key plot points and major surprises, ruin the story — knock it down to a level where it cannot be enjoyed the way the author intended it to be.”

Those spoiler-happy fans aren’t likely to stop. So the only hope is that they mark their advance reviews as spoilers — and that we resist the temptation to read further. I’m no role model, I’m sorry to say. By the time “Superman Returns” is in theaters, for example, I’ll probably have read all the reviews and spoilers I can in my thirst for knowledge — and then will be kicking myself when I feel like I’ve already seen it before I sit down in the theater.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Heroes" coming to NBC

NBC’s new fall line-up, announced today, includes a show that should be of particular interest to comics fans. “Heroes” is about a group of ordinary people who gain superpowers. Among the stars are Greg Grunberg of TV’s “Alias” and Ali Larter of “Final Destination.” The show was created by Tim Kring, who also is the creator of NBC’s “Crossing Jordan.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Another big finish for "Smallville"

As is the tradition on “Smallville,” last night’s season finale ended with a cliff-hanger. Definitely not my favorite “Smallville” season-ender, but there were some good scenes between Clark and Chloe and Clark and Lex. And it certainly left viewers scratching their heads wondering how Clark’s going to get out of this latest predicament, i.e., being trapped in the Phantom Zone. But is anyone else getting really tired of Lana? There are riots in the street, the bad guy’s threatening to throw the world back into the stone age, and all Lana can think about is staying true to her new love, the now super-powered Lex Luthor.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Comics on TV: "Smallville" vs. "X-Men"

Decisions, decisions. Fox airs a seven-minute special at 7:30 tonight on the upcoming “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Over on The WB, the “Smallville” season finale will be airing at the same time (from 7 to 8). For more on the latest X-Men movie, check out Sunday’s Comics Fan column. Meanwhile, here’s the official description for tonight’s “Smallville”:

“Brainiac (guest star James Marsters) unleashes a deadly virus, which will kill millions of people, and refuses to give Clark (Tom Welling) the vaccine unless he agrees to release General Zod. Clark turns to Lionel (John Glover), who once again channels Jor-El. Meanwhile, Lex (Michael Rosenbaum) is stunned by his newfound powers and shares the discovery with Lana (Kristin Kreuk), who decides to stand by her new man, unaware of the shocking turn Lex's life is about to take due to Brainiac's evil machinations.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

DC's "52" gets under way today

The first issue of “52,” the ambitious weekly series from DC, arrives in comic-book shops today. I’ve read that first issue and it’s worth picking up. There’s a lot going on, which makes sense for a series that’s going to cover the entire DC universe, and there are plenty of hooks to make you want to get the next issue The one weak link for me is a focus on Booster Gold, a character I don’t care much about; his biggest strength was his friendship with Blue Beetle, who was killed off last year.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Coming this summer from DC

I received a copy today of DC Comics’ catalog of graphic novels coming this summer. Most of them are trade paperbacks collecting previously published stories, but there is “Sloth,” a graphic novel from Gilbert Hernandez, the co-creator of “Love & Rockets.”

There also are some fun blasts from the past. “The Metal Men Archives” Vol. 1 collects the earliest adventures of Doc Magnus and his charming robotic Metal Men. And “Showcase Presents: Elongated Man” Vol. 1 features over 500 pages of stories featuring Elongated Man, the stretchable sleuth who has a key role in the current “52” series from DC.

Other collections that caught my eye include “Showcase Presents: Haunted Tank,” “Green Lantern: The Greatest Stories Ever Told,” a hardcover collection of the just-ended “Infinite Crisis” and an oversized “Absolute Edition” of “Kingdom Come” on the 10th anniversary of that groundbreaking series.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Entering the world of "52"

DC Comics has launched a fun Web site, www.52thecomic.com, to promote its new weekly series, “52,” that I spotlighted in the last Comics Fan column. It’s a special online Daily Planet, with headlines said to be ripped from the pages of “52.” My favorite part is the ads, which trumpet everything from LexOil to the D.E.O., the Department of Extranormal Affairs. You can also check on the sports scores and weather in Metropolis, Gotham City and elsewhere in the DC Universe.

Friday, May 05, 2006

First thoughts: "Civil War" vs. "Crisis"

So there I was last night, with my stack of new comics, debating: What to read first? The first issue of Marvel’s much-trumpeted “Civil War” or the last issue of DC’s “Infinite Crisis” miniseries?

I went with “Civil War.” The story moves at a rapid pace, starting with a fight between the New Warriors, a superhero team starring on a reality TV show, and some villains. The battle ends on a horrendous note as a bad guy called Nitro blows up the neighborhood - killing hundreds of bystanders. That, in turn, revs up the debate over the Superhero Registration Act, an effort to regulate superheroes and hold them accountable. It’s compelling and it’s believable, though the quick turn from talk to action seems a bit rushed.

As for “Infinite Crisis,” I feel a bit let down. With the first few issues, I rushed to the comic-book shop, dying to know what would happen next. But in the end, I’m left wondering what it was all for.

There were some good scenes throughout the series, but also a lot that didn’t hang together or rang false. For example, the last issue opens with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman looking down at the body of Superboy, killed the issue before, and blaming themselves, saying they should have been there. And then it ends with them saying, oh heck, let’s just take a year off and leave it to everyone else to defend the planet.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Marvel movie plans

Just talked to Kevin Feige, president of production at Marvel Studios and an executive producer on “X-Men: The Last Stand.” You’ll find his comments on “The Last Stand,” the last part of the X-Men trilogy, in a future Comics Fan column.

I also asked him about the slate of movies to be produced by Marvel Studios. He expects the first out of the gate to be “Iron Man,” targeted for a summer 2008 opening. Before that, look for more movies produced by Marvel’s “studio partners,” including “Ghost Rider,” “Spider-Man 3” and “Fantastic Four 2” all in 2007. Filming on the third Spider-Man movie continues for the next month and a half and is going "extremely well," Feige says, and "FF2" will begin shooting at the end of the summer.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

And now for the bad news

Well, that stinks.

Forget about how hard it is to wait until Wednesday. Now we've got to wait until Thursday.

Bargain Comics just sent out an e-mail saying that because of shipping problems, it and other comic-book shops that receive their shipments from Denver will get their new comics a day late this week. Argghhh.

Tomorrow's the big day

Anyone else having trouble waiting until Wednesday?

The final issue of DC’s universe-shaking “Infinite Crisis” arrives in comic-book shops tomorrow. What is the fate of the Golden Age Superman? Which Earth do our heroes end up on? Who is the new Flash? What’s going on with Wonder Woman? At least some of these questions should be answered.

Tomorrow also sees the launch of Marvel’s “Civil War,” a seven-part miniseries that will tear the Marvel universe apart. Not surprisingly, “Civil War,” which reflects some real-world concerns over civil rights vs. homeland security, is drawing some big mainstream attention. Look for Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada’s comments on the big event on a webcast tonight at ABCNews.com. Quesada’s also being featured today on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tough times ahead for Spider-Man

It looks like the marriage between Peter “Spider-Man” Parker and Mary Jane Watson may be doomed. Or perhaps it’s Mary Jane herself who is doomed.

The latest issue of Wizard contains an interview with Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada and “Amazing Spider-Man” writer J. Michael Straczynski in which Quesada complains that the biggest problem with Spider-Man right now is “that darn marriage to Mary Jane.” Spider-Man, he said, should be a young, viable, single character - not a guy married to a supermodel.

A major story near the end of the year is designed to restore Peter to “the status quo that worked so well for him for so many years,” Straczynski told Wizard. It’s also a story, he said, that will tear your heart out.