Archive for July, 2008

Ant Man’s Big Christmas

July 5th, 2008 by Michael

Ant Man's Big Christmas

Last weekend I was at Wizard World in Chicago and was going through the $0.25 comics bins (if you shop at a convention, wait until the last day – everything’s cheaper) and found this little gem from 1999. Just the cover alone was worth the quarter. While I’m a big fan of Henry Pym and have great affection for both him and the Wasp, he may be the lamest comic book hero Marvel has; you can’t help but not take him seriously. He’s the Aquaman of the Marvel Universe. So a Christmas book starring him and the winsome Wasp seemed funny. I was sure, however, that inside would be full of heart warming Christmas cheer as they taught lessons of peace, love, and good will toward ants. I was completely surprised by what I found.

Forget about any sappy Christmas stories we’ve come to expect with our usual holiday fare. Hank and Jan have possibly the most unhealthy relationship in comics, and while this story takes full advantage of this fact, there’s none of the melodrama that’s usually associated with these two. This comic brings the fun to dysfunctional. It starts out with the two arguing about who’s family to spend Christmas with, as they both despise the other’s families for petty reasons. Captain America intervenes like the Ghost of Christmas Responsibility, affixes them with disappointing stare #16, and sends them on a mission to bring Christmas cheer to a lonely boy who’s family can’t get along. It’s the Make A Wish program for kids who don’t need it. They discover that the kid is a spoiled brat who simply can’t put up with his families eccentricities. You can smell the sap coming a mile away with a complete set up for the two Avenging lovers to teach the kid about the importance of family during the holidays while learning the lesson themselves. Mercifully, there’s none of that. Instead, the two agree to teach the kid’s family a lesson by shrinking them down to ant size by surprise and torturing them into agreeing to never come back for Christmas again. And some of the tortures they come up with are quite inspired. The great aunt’s fussiness and habit of smoking a cigar and wearing too much perfume is combated by trapping her in a canister with a rotten orange, a fish’s head, and dog shit. The uncle with a fetish for the kid’s mom’s underwear is shrunk down, taped to the inside of a bra, and flung across the room. The cousin who brings unwanted guests and the uncle who’s only sin is telling tall tales about himself are trapped at ant size with a box full of beetles. And the cousins that bully the kid are set up for potentially permanent injury when a load of automobile tires are set up to fall on them, then they’re tied up, their crotches doused with sugar water, and ants are sent to swarm them and bite them. All while the kid video tapes the incident. Throughout all this, Ant Man and the Wasp are gleefully taking part and helping along, showing little responsibilities as adults. And these are supposed to be the good guys? I think that they use some of these methods in Guantanamo Bay. Hey, heroes, guess what – this is how Dr. Octopus and Mr. Sinister spend Christmas as well. Captain America would have to give you at least TWO disappointing stares if he knew about this.

Along the way, Ant Man is accused of being a pedophile, they nearly get eaten at ant size when trying to steal some of a families dinner, and there’s background talk about suicide. All your typical holiday cheer. If I paid the full $5.95 cover price for this, I’d be pretty pissed as the story really is pretty lame and silly, but for a quarter, it’s a fabulously ridiculous story that throws the Christmas genre out the window and stomps it into the dirty snow. It’s a great read.

Smax (2003)

July 4th, 2008 by Martin

So, I must reiterate that I really dug Top 10. It blew me away, and I couldn’t wait to get more of them. And while I didn’t dislike this, it didn’t grab me in the same way. I liked the art, and the story was ok, but it didn’t have the same hugeness factor. It didn’t feel like it was just brimming with possibility and promise the way Top 10 did.

In my post about Top 10 vol. 1 and 2, I suggested that I’d have to try and find Smax at Wizard World because it was the next in the series. I did end up finding it, in the artist alley, on Zander Cannon’s table. He was in the middle of a conversation, but I interrupted him long enough to buy a copy and have him sign it. He suggested I go tell Gene Ha how much I’d liked Top 10, and told me I really didn’t need to read the other parts of the series in order, as they were all pretty disconnected. He also said they’re starting up another Top 10 series that’s going to take place just after the first two TPBs. He seemed to think it was going to be out pretty soon. (I never did end up finding Gene Ha.)

Also in that last post, I sort of blamed Alan Moore for how great those first two TPBs were, giving the artwork second fiddle. I think I’d like to retract that statement now. It really was the art in Top 10 that made the comic, it was absolutely fantastic, and the writing was only just a cut above passable, balancing out somehow into a really great comic for me. Smax, on the other hand, had a very different artistic style. A lot more cartoony and, unfortunately, without all the crazy detail in every panel that really endeared me to Top 10. Don’t get me wrong, the art was totally good, and interesting, just not as interesting as Top 10.

It was also pretty different in terms of scope and scale, setting, everything, really. The character of Smax had always seemed so cynical in the first comic, just a loner, without any real social skills, but I guess he just never seemed dumb to me, and they really made him out to be a bit daft in this comic. Although maybe he wasn’t, and just had friends (relatives, really) who made him out to be. Either way, I didn’t particularly like that direction.

My only other quibble was the incest factor. For those who haven’t read the comic, I’ll try not to spoil it for you, but incest is suddenly acceptable by the end of the comic. I think it’s an interesting question, the concept of whether, maybe, in a fairy tale universe with different rules and all that, maybe incest would be acceptable. But in this comic, it was really just a minor sub-plot. I don’t really feel like the comic sold us on that concept. So it just ended up feeling jarring. Maybe that was the point, but in an otherwise pretty fluff-filled, humorous comic about a dragon slaying, it was a sub-plot that just felt out of place, and maybe didn’t need to be there. But then again, I’m not Alan Moore.

Convergence Sci-Fi Con THIS weekend!

July 3rd, 2008 by Martin

What with Wizard World last weekend (still writing an in-progress wrap-up about that), you might think we’re all a bit conned out, but it turns out a glimpse of the panel list for this weekend’s impending 10th anniversary of Convergence science fiction convention has me all excited to get down to that hotel! There’s even a panel at 8pm tonight titled “Censorship in Comics – The Past and Future”, that features, among other folks, Mark Evanier (of Groo fame!), and Bernie Wrightson.

Our very own Jason will be appearing in the “GLBT SF&F that Everyone Should Read” panel that starts at 9:30 pm TONIGHT.

The full list of special guests this year is especially impressive. Other comic book panelists include John Kovalic, Len Wein, Greg Weisman and Marv Wolfman.

The Filth (2002)

July 1st, 2008 by Martin

I guess Wizard World wasn’t as good for posting as I’d imagined. I did read a ton of comics in the last three days, including The Filth, written by Grant Morrison, which I finished yesterday in the car ride home.

The Filth is as interesting as it is incomprehensible. I’d probably have to read this again to fully understand it. I was left wondering, at the end, whether a second read would clue me in to what had actually happened. Did 9th gear take you into another dimension, or just shrink you to the level of germs? Was “the Hand” actually Slade’s hand? Was any of that stuff even real? (And these are the “easy” questions.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book (for me) was speculation about whether the end, in which microscopic man-made creatures (with the ability to cure cancer) take over the world, was optimistic, or pessimistic. They were set to turn everything into a land of flowers and happiness… is that a good thing?

This book felt a bit like a pornographic daydream, perhaps something I would have imagined in my teenage years. (Forcing the president to get breast implants and dance for his crack pipe? Sick and brilliant.) I probably wouldn’t recommend it unless you: a) love Grant Morrison so much that you’re wiling to invest some heavy time into reading and re-reading for full understanding, or b) you’re just in it for the journey, and not going to care that large swaths of pages seem entirely pointless by the end of the book.