Thursday, November 20, 2014

Books - Sanctuary Seeker by Bernard Knight

This is the first volume in the "Crowner John" medieval mystery series. Sir John is a county coroner, a newly established office in England in the 12th Century. His job is to investigate deaths in his county. A former crusader, he took the post mostly because his shrewish wife wants him to improve his station. He is at odds with his brother-in-law, the weaselly local sheriff, about jurisdictional and authority issues. I love medieval stories, and this book sheds some welcome light onto the culture and justice system (or lack thereof) of that time.
In Sanctuary Seeker, Sir John is on the trail of a murderer, and there are many suspects from whom to choose. In the 1100s, England still made use of trial by "Ordeal," where innocence or guilt is decided by some bat-crap crazy ideas. For example, one suspect must reach shoulder-deep into a boiling caldron and pull out a pebble. If there is no damage to his arm, he is innocent. Of course burns mean guilt. God would protect an innocent man. You'd think someone would notice that every suspect who ever underwent such ordeals turned out to be guilty. People weren't dumb then ... just too superstitious? Did they cling too much to their swords and religion?

Sir John is a different kind of detective. He's intelligent, but no genius. He's not that curious, and has no drive to find the absolute truth, like some fictional detectives. He's just doing his job, and as an honorable man, trying to do it well and fairly against an unjust system. The story is a rather straightforward mystery that is more about characters and motivations than shocks or big reveals. The ending is satisfying and wraps up the story nicely. I will read the other mysteries in the series, but not with a particular sense of urgency.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movies - Kahaani

As a movie buff, I love films from all over the world. Subtitles do not bother me. Any well-told story that keeps my attention and offers fresh ideas or storytelling is welcome. I’ve seen movies originating from France, Spain, Canada, England, Norway, Japan, China, Thailand and Korea. However, until recently I’ve never seen a Bollywood movie.
Bollywood refers to the Hindi language film industry, based in Mumbai, India. People often mistakenly refer to every Indian film as a Bollywood movie, although technically the term refers only to films produced in Mumbai, the “Hollywood” of the Far East. Bollywood is only a part of the enormous Indian film business, which includes multiple production facilities producing films in multiple languages. Popular subjects include Indian historicals, crime thrillers and large-scale musicals with spectacular dance numbers. There is incredible energy in Indian films.
Vidya Balan
In Kahaani (Hindi for “story”) Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) is a very pregnant woman who travels across India to the city of Kolkata to search for her missing husband. It seems he left her some weeks ago for a short IT job in the city and never returned. Shuffling pregantly across town, she reports him missing to the local police and is befriended by a kind-hearted cop, Satyoki "Rana" Sinha (Parambrata Chatterjee). Rana feels sorry for her plight and agrees to help her track down her husband. The problem is, no one has ever heard of him. The office where he was supposed to work has no record of him. He never checked in to his reported hotel. Vidya and Rana travel to her husband’s nearby hometown, only to find his neighbors and even his aunt and uncle claim to have never heard of him.
Vidya, an IT expert herself, uses the police computers to try and get a line on her husband. As the search gets more and more complex, outside forces make it clear that Vidya’s husband—and Vidya herself—would be better off if he remained missing. Through the search, Rana falls desperately in love with Vidya. The actors portray it so organically—a touch here, a glance there. It is never even mentioned by the characters, but it is sweet how Rana’s pity turns to admiration to a crush to head over heels. As they follow clues and get in way over their heads, the story falls together like a massive jigsaw puzzle. At the end is one of the most mind-blowing twists I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. It was a shocking surprise out of nowhere, yet made perfect sense and was a satisfying resolution to the story.
The production values of Kahaani are amazing—the city of Kolkata is almost a main character. It didn’t hurt that the movie takes place during the Indian festival of Durga Puja, so the streets are filled with performers, dancing and color. It’s sort of like an Indian Mardi Gras. I absolutely loved Kahaani, from the story to the acting to the lush cinematography to the astonishing ending. It may have been my first Bollywood movie, but it won’t be my last. Try it, you’ll love it.
Kahaani is available on Netflix streaming.
Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Manga: Another by Yukito Ayatsuji and Hiro Kiyohara

Yomiyama Middle School in Yomiyama, Japan is a strange place. Starting in the 1980s, every few years several students in third year class 3, or people close to them, die. The deaths are from accidents or disease, everything looks perfectly natural—but it’s not. There is a powerful curse on the class. After a year where the deaths happen, students slowly forget about the phenomenon, and parents are never alerted to the danger. However, there is a slight shadow of class memory that realizes something is wrong and forces students to take precautions to stop it.
Koichi Sakikibara is a late transfer to third year class 3. He doesn’t know the rules and no one has time to tell him, so it’s not his fault when he breaks them and people start to die. But can the deaths be stopped? That’s what Koichi and his friend, the beautiful and mysterious Mei Misaki, have to find out.
Another is a brilliant horror manga that is all the more disturbing for the ages of the characters involved. These are older teenagers, some of whom die horribly because of the curse. It can also strike family members, up to two degrees of relation away. Because Koichi broke the rules and started the deaths, and Mei was involved unwittingly in helping him, they are blamed by the class and shunned by their classmates. The two, especially Koichi, whose mother was killed by it the year he was born, are obsessed with the curse and stopping it before anyone else dies. Particularly him.
Although over 700 pages in one volume, Another is an enthralling, fairly quick read. I kept turning pages to see who was next to go and how Koichi and Mei find the next clue to stopping the curse. Also, why is there a curse? How did it start? And can it really be stopped? The answers have some unexpected twists, especially regarding how things involve Koichi’s own family. Creepy and addicting, Another is a page-turner you won’t be able to put down. Highly recommended.
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TV Rampage

TV Rampage - Television Reviews
A look at some current television offerings.

The Gotham pilot was excellent, immersing viewers in the early origin of Bruce Wayne as Batman and explaining what kind of city Gotham is (corrupt, naturally). What it didn’t explain is why it exists. Is this a superhero show? No. Is it a police procedural? Not entirely, but somewhat and we don’t need another one. Is it straight action/adventure? Sort of. I’m still not sure, which means the writers and producers aren’t either. Ben McKenzie does a good job playing Detective (eventually Commissioner, I presume) Gordon. He’s a square and a sincere good guy—the only one in Gotham City, apparently. Donal Logue plays Harvey Bullock, a cop on the take with a lazy—but not absent—sense of right and wrong. David Mazouz is a bit dry as the recently orphaned Bruce Wayne, but hopefully he’ll be a more intricate part of the show as it ages. Several proto-Batman villains are introduced, including the Falcone and Maroni crime families, the Riddler and the Penguin. Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin is the breakout character—the actor steals every scene he’s in and is an absolute delight. Otherwise, I’m not sure what we’re doing here. There are seeds of a good crime show—recent episodes are improving exponentially—but at its base this is a Batman show without Batman. I really don’t want to see Bruce Wayne mope around Wayne mansion taking boxing lessons from Alfred for 10 years. The jury is out as yet, but overall I generally like it. It could go either way depending on what they do with the concept. Convince me it has legs and a reason to exist and I’m in.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Based on one of my all-time favorite comics, Hellblazer, Constantine does a damn sight better job adapting the source material than the 2005 Keanu Reeves movie. In the long-running comic, John Constantine is a rake and rogue who would sell you his mother if he hadn’t already sold her to five other people. He’s a crass, snarky, chain-smoking scouser who dabbles in magic and usually ends up getting anyone close to him killed. Or worse. I didn’t imagine a character on NBC would be half of that, and he’s not. But an argument can be made that they did as much as they could to keep him Constantine while making him safe for network television. I liked, but didn’t love, the pilot. The comic book Constantine is darkly funny and almost always keeps his cool in the most dangerous situations. The TV Constantine (Welsh actor Matt Ryan) is a voice-raising, gesticulating git who puts “Master of the Dark Arts” on his business cards—at least he has the decency to be embarrassed about it. The comic book Constantine would have this guy for breakfast, but there is charm and a hint of darkness in Ryan’s portrayal. And physically, he is the comic book Constantine (originally visually based on the singer Sting). I liked the second episode better, and they even let Constantine hold a cigarette and lighter for five seconds (without lighting up, of course). I’m 100% anti-smoking, but that’s who the character is. Let him be that. The show is enjoyable so far and, while not the comic book character, may be a version of the Hellblazer I can grow to like.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2
Sorry, I just can’t get into this show. I gave up in disgust about the middle of the first season last year, then gave it another chance this year. Despite the occasional Marvel Easter Egg thrown in, it’s a dull exercise in viewer torture that should be called S.H.I.E.L.D: Project Supermodel. Not recommended.

Rating: ** out of 5 stars

Arrow and The Flash
Gee, I’d really like to review Arrow’s third season and the new Flash show, but Dish Network, despite their promise to carry local stations, doesn’t carry the CW Network. It’s not as if the CW is a backwoods UHF station out of Baton Rouge. This is a national network with popular shows. When I called Dish to politely ask if they could, as promised, carry the CW, they suggested I buy a rabbit ears antenna and try to catch it on the airwaves. It’s 2014, fellas. I don’t want a rabbit ears antenna on my TV. That’s not why I pay you a king’s ransom every month. I have 400 channels I don’t watch and they refuse to carry the one I want. Just do the right thing, will you Dish?

The Killing: Season 4
This is the final season of the murder drama The Killing, only available on Netflix Streaming. These last six episodes are a Netflix original. The Killing is about an annoying drug addict and the world's worst mother teaming up as Seattle detectives and solving crimes. This season’s plot deals with a boy in a military school whose family is brutally murdered. He is the prime suspect, but could a teenage boy really kill his entire family? Including the little sister he adored? There really is some great writing and drama here as the writers close the doors on this show. The always-great Joan Allen guests as the head of the military academy and does her usual outstanding job. The detectives are also dealing with events of last season, which had the world's worst mother committing a crime herself and dealing with the consequences this season. This is a satisfying ending to an above average series. Well worth watching.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Sons of Anarchy: Season 7
SOA has been written like Shakespeare on Harleys for six brilliant seasons. But they’re wrapping it up this year and it’s time to go. Reminiscent of Oz and other violent crime dramas, they have to keep upping the ante every year; the sex, the violence, the body count, the treachery. It was a great run, but now by Season 7 there is no good man or woman left, and certainly no one to root for. If it lasted any longer the show would be a straight parody of itself. That’s sad; protagonist Jax was never a choirboy, but now he’s more evil than the bad guys he used to battle (if he was ever fighting for anything other than power). His mother Gemma (the Lady Macbeth of SOA), the one person who kept the family together with an iron hand, is a compulsive liar and homicidal maniac. Her actions this season have led to the deaths of scores of innocent and not so innocent people. Every member of SAMCRO is an irredeemable, murderous thug now. The only acceptable ending for those left alive is a long prison sentence. I can’t wait to see how it all ends, but in the few episodes left I predict a lot more death. And no one, especially Jax or Gemma, should be able to just walk away. Anything less than death or prison will not provide proper closure to the series.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Walking Dead: Season 5
Commentator Bill O’Reilly had some friends recommend The Walking Dead to him. He tuned into it for five or so minutes one night and was completely repulsed. Talking about it on his show, he declined ever watching again and said, “No thanks. I’ll keep my humanity.” What a drama queen. But I do understand that attitude from sci-fi civilians—it’s not for everyone. If you don’t mind violent zombie attacks and a minute examination of humanity at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, tune in for a riveting hour of television each week. This is probably, without Fargo, True Detective or Mad Men on the air right now, the best-written show on TV. The show is sometimes non-linear, and takes advantage of its sprawling, talented cast. No show is cast better, and no show has better special effects. Who would have thought a show about the zombie apocalypse and its aftermath would be must-see TV? But it is. Sometimes an episode will end and I will literally let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. Just when you think the show is going to zig, it zags violently to the left. And leaves a mark. Watch it. If you have a strong stomach, it will both entertain and make you think.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Monday, November 3, 2014

Movies –Marvel Studios Phase 3 Movie Announcements

Last week Marvel announced their Phase 3 movie slate from now until 2020. Let’s take a look.

2016: Captain America 3: Civil War
This is one of the only movies on the slate I’m not super excited about. The Civil War comic storyline, on which I presume this will be based, was terrible. Heroes fought heroes about something they should have discussed, not tried to kill each other over. It was written by the awful Mark Millar, king of plot-hammering and out of character dialog and characterization. The plot will apparently be Captain American against Iron Man, with other heroes backing each side. I would rather see them fight Kang (or some other villain) together. Marvel movie time is too scarce to waste on infighting.

2016: Dr. Strange
Dr. Strange is a favorite character. There have been some great comic book runs on Dr. Strange, but overall Marvel has never really known what to do with him. They’ve started with some great casting, as Benedict Cumberbatch has recently signed to play him. That’s a great choice. One thing: Marvel is scared to death of any costume remotely like characters wear in comics. This is essential for Dr. Strange as he has one of the best comic book costumes, especially the dynamic “cloak of levitation.” Here’s hoping they stick with Ditko’s perfect design, rather than that black leather ninja crap.

2017: Guardian’s of the Galaxy 2
Loved the first one. Start the Dance Off, turd blossom. On to Mix Tape 3!

2017: Thor 3: Ragnarok
Which of these facts is more amazing:
- That a movie was ever made about Marvel’s Thor
- The fact that movie was good
- That a second movie was made about Marvel’s Thor
- That that movie was good
- That a third movie is being made about Marvel’s Thor

I still can’t really wrap my head around it. But I love the movies. On to Ragnarok!

2017: Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman and Panther Costume Design
I’ve been waiting for this one since day one. I love everything about the Black Panther. The costume, the origin, the backstory. T’Challa is an African king who moonlights as one of the Avengers. Even the design looks like the comics (this one time black leather ninja crap is all right). I’m not familiar with the actor playing him (Chadwick Boseman), but I’ve learned to trust Marvel casting. This is my most anticipated movie on the list. Hopefully they will base the movie on writer Christopher Priest’s run of the comic. No better Panther stories were ever told.  

2018: Captain Marvel
This is fine, Captain Marvel is a likable enough character and it’s nice to see a female hero get some cinematic love from Marvel. I’d like to see some of the stories—and costume—from the Brian Reed run on the Ms. Marvel book, but those stories are probably forgotten by Marvel. Still, should be a good spectacle. There are a lot of female Marvel characters I like better though, such as Scarlet Witch, Wasp and Invisible Woman.

2018: Inhumans
No particular love for the Inhumans. They’re fun, but not essential to the Marvel Universe. The only reason they are on this list is that Fox owns the rights to the X-Men movies, not Marvel. Inhuman powers are pretty much like mutant powers. I’d much, much rather see Marvel doing its own X-Men movies, but there you go. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

2018 & 2019: Avengers: Infinity War
What a great idea: a story so big Marvel has to spread it over two Avengers movies in two years. I can only hope Joss Whedon does the writing and directing. And that they introduce a ton more Avengers and crossover with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The plot will no doubt consist of all-out war with Thanos over the Infinity Gauntlet and gems. Let the $100 million mayhem begin.
All in all, more smart decisions from Marvel Films. I’m looking forward to every movie on the list, with the possible exceptions of Civil War and Inhumans, both of which I’m sure I’ll see. This is a great time to be a Marvel movie fan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 10 Least Favorite Current Comics Writers

These choices are not to say anything personal against the writers listed, nor to suggest they are terrible people or anything negative about their body types or ancestry. This is just a way to examine what I don’t generally care for in their work, and why their writing may not connect with me. If a writer mentioned below is one of your favorites, that’s fine. I don’t mean to suggest their storytelling is inherently bad. Except for JMS. Kidding! This is a companion piece to the entry "Top 10 Current Favorite Comics Writers," which you can find here. On to the list.

Brian Michael Bendis
- Brian Bendis: Bendis is generally a good writer. But the quirks!  Ten years ago, I thought Bendis was talented and would mature into one of the best in the business. That has been slow in coming, and I’m not sure it will ever happen. First off, he is in love with the “F” word. Not everyone talks like Al Pacino in Scarface all the time, even gangsters! In Bendis creator-owned books, every other word from every character is “f***.” I don’t understand it. At first I thought I did—Bendis was young and testing the waters. He was getting the piss and vinegar out of his system, rebelling against whatever he was rebelling against. Ten years later, every character is still a potty-mouthed sailor. Very few professionals speak like that, Brian! Please hang around a few and find out. Bendis characters tend to speak unprofessionally and out of character—in Scarlet, a Chief of Police, negotiating on the phone with a terrorist, yells, “I call bullshit!” Marvel’s Thing calls someone “dude.” Bendis needs to understand his characters, where they are in life, and why adults don’t talk like petulant teenagers. He is also one of the architects of one of Marvel’s biggest mistakes, the “Ultimate” universe. The concept as a whole seemed redundant to me. If you have good stories to tell, why not just tell them in the regular books? Why reboot the concepts in an alternate universe? But I hope Bendis continues to grow as a writer and portray his characters as more believable and authentic people.

Warren Ellis
- Warren Ellis: One of the most grating things about Warren Ellis is his stark hypocrisy. Ellis hates superheroes. He doesn’t like people who write superheroes. He resents the fact that there are superhero comics on the market. He once referred to people who write Batman stories as “bending over for the Bat.” So what makes up the bulk of Ellis’ work? You guessed it. Superheroes. Excalibur, Thor, Wolverine, Iron Man, Thunderbolts and Astonishing X-Men are only some of the superhero comics he has written. Oh, and don’t forget that Batman story he did for Batman: Black & White. Bend over much? Ellis has one stock antagonist for his stories: jerk, hates authority figures, wisecracking, bad attitude, smokes. That is every Warren Ellis main character ever written. His writing can also be frustratingly opaque. I tried to read his graphic novel Switchblade Honey because I liked the premise (instead of a noble Captain Kirk type, the starship captain in the book is a jerk, hates authority figures, wisecracks, has a bad attitude, and smokes). I’m not sure if it was the script or art, but I defy anyone to tell me what happened at the story’s climax. I puzzled it out for long minutes, then just decided it was for smarter folks than me to decipher. A lot of this could be excused if Ellis’ writing was generally good or interesting to me, but regretfully it has never connected. I don’t deny he certainly has his fans.

J. Michael Straczynski
- J. Michael Straczynski: I used to somewhat like Straczynski’s work. I never cared for his Babylon 5 television show—truth to tell, the few episodes I’ve seen mark it as most dreary sci fi. But his comics weren’t bad in the early years. While beset with constant delays, Rising Stars was a creative, original look at superheroes. Marked with the same delays but outstanding art was Midnight Nation, another original idea. Then came JMS’s Spider-Man. This work was so dreadful it made one question the quality of all of his work that had come before. JMS does not understand mainstream superheroes or how to write them. He made Spider-Man a legacy character with hundreds of Spider-powered characters before him. That’s overthinking the concept and not how the character was created. Then came the storyline “Sins Past” in Amazing Spider-Man. JMS took a lovable, innocent character who had been dead for years, Gwen Stacy, and retconned her into a neurotic, slutty cheater with daddy issues. JMS revealed that Gwen became pregnant with the twin children of Norman Osborn (Spidey arch-villain Green Goblin), then left the country to give them birth behind the back of boyfriend Peter Parker. That ruined a character I really liked and I haven’t read a Spider-Man story since. What followed was an unbroken line of unfinished or long-delayed work (Supreme Power, The Twelve) and universally panned stories (“Superman—You’ll Believe a Man can Walk,” which JMS also abandoned mid-story). I think this is a writer that comics would be better off without. I’ll continue to vote that way with my wallet.

Matt Fraction
- Matt Fraction: I found Fraction’s X-Men work impenetrable, his Punisher work execrable and his Iron Fist stories a politically correct bore. I haven’t read everything he has ever written, but I’ve tried a pretty wide sample and I have to say his writing is not for me. There is no inherent understanding by Fraction of heroism, self-sacrifice or goodness in his characters. They’re just selfish jerks like the rest of us. That’s not what I want in a superhero comic. Friends whose opinion I trust rave about his Hawkeye series. That’s fine, but I’m not interested.

Mark Millar
- Mark Millar: Millar has two writing modes: Nihilistic sociopaths and worse nihilistic sociopaths. For some reason, Millar can’t seem to grasp the concept of a person who would care about others or put the safety and happiness of others in front of his own. Every character he writes is a publicity-seeking scumbag out for himself. This was perfectly fine in The Authority, a book about such attitudes, but didn’t work as well in his mainstream Marvel work. His Civil War made no sense. Characters who had been friends for years suddenly wanted to kill each other for no reason. Captain America turned evil. Johnny Storm, commenting on some young superheroes who were killed filming a reality show, referred to them as “C-listers, at best.” And Johnny used to date one of them. According to the comics I’ve read for the last 40 years, Johnny Storm isn’t a prick.  Book after book, Millar’s characters acted as his plot-hammering forced them to, not as they had since the ‘60s. His Ultimates (Millar’s take on the Avengers in an alternate universe) was appalling—the Hulk was recast as a cannibal and brother and sister Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were recast as an incestuous couple. In his creator-owned work, the protagonists are even worse. No character has any thought for anyone but themselves. Everyone screams the “c” word (Millar’s favorite giggling twelve year-old boy curse word) at the top of their lungs. His ego is out of control too, constantly bragging about his wealth and how Marvel “backs a money truck” up to his house and regularly empties it on his lawn. Forget the awful stories, the profane dialog, the lack of characterization skills, the out of control ego. Millar is simply a one-trick pony who writes the same nihilistic story over and over again. And it’s not very good.

Kevin Smith
- Kevin Smith: I think Smith is simply out of his depth. As in his films. all of his comic characters are obsessed with sex and bodily fluids. Under his pen, every character becomes a sex-obsessed, pants-wetting adolescent. His bland Green Arrow work was highly overrated, as were his wordy Daredevil comics. His nadir was the Spider-Man miniseries “The Evil that Men Do.” It wasn’t enough to feature child rape, or homosexual child rape, in the story. It had to be incestual homosexual child rape. In a Spider-Man comic? It’s hard to blame Smith himself—he is constantly rewarded for his low class, immature behavior by money, fame, and funding for new movies. Someone is paying him to write comics. But what was the Spider-Man editor thinking? I’ve tried many of Smith’s works and some of them are funny—most of them intentionally. But he is another one-trick pony—writing endless dick and fart jokes told by sex obsessed boy-men in superhero costumes. Kevin, go make a jillion dollars in movies, but please stay away from comic books!

Joe Casey

- Joe Casey: Casey is a writer whose work has just never connected with me. I have no opinion on it, good nor bad. I’ve read many Casey books and I can’t remember the plots or themes of any of them. I’m not sure he has anything to say as a writer.

Dan DiDio

- Dan DiDio: I know this is shooting fish in a barrel. But he is horrible. If he didn’t keep hiring himself to write comics at DC, where he runs the company, no one else would.

James Robinson
- James Robinson: Robinson’s Starman in the ‘90s was his magnum opus. A sprawling, epic story of a true hero told by a master. His Justice Society Elseworlds project, The Golden Age, was pretty good too. Robinson left the comics field for a decade or so to write screenplays. When that didn’t work out, he came back to comics. I really wish he hadn’t. His work since he returned has been strewn with tedious stories and politically correct diatribes. His recent Action Comics Superman stories were bland and just missing something—excitement, maybe? Justice League: Cry for Justice may be one of the most mocked and awful comics of the decade. His Fantastic Four has been a total letdown. His Earth 2 series for DC is a politically correct mess. I’ll stop going on, but I have to ask, what happened? What turned one of the finest comics writers working into a sensationalistic, politically correct activist? Again, this is referring to the work, not Robinson himself.

Grant Morrison
- Grant Morrison: I admit it, I don’t get the universal wonder that is Grant Morrison. Morrison is so fixated on telling a story on seven levels and forcing metamessages and multiple layers of meaning into every word balloon, he fails in telling an engaging story. I used to find myself putting down Morrison’s books and just scratching my head, missing the experience some folks in the fan press had. I used to wonder if we read the same books. Going back as far as Arkham Asylum, his work has been tiresome, pedantic and inscrutable. I never read Invisibles or Animal Man (except for the last issue, which was a horrible secular humanist screed). Morrison is so busy telling readers how smart he is, how ahead of the curve he is, how other writers rip off his every concept that he doesn’t realize how dull his stories are. His Final Crisis is so obtuse I can’t make heads or tails out of what happened. Characters appeared out of nowhere and the plot jumped from one non-sequitur to the next. It was even worse than a typical Morrison story. I prayed for his long Batman run to finally be over—Silver Age Batman stories don’t work today, despite Morrison’s insistence that they do. I half-expected Batman to turn up in a Rainbow or Zebra costume. I believe Morrison would think that was cool. His New 52 Action Comics work was the worst of his career and perhaps of all time. It’s not 1938 anymore, Grant. Superman doesn’t have to fight embezzling politicians or auto makers who don’t install seat belts. We have teams of lawyers who do that now. Morrison’s New X-Men run was the worst in that group’s history (perhaps tying with Chuck Austen’s). Morrison is in love with his own voice and ideas for a story, no matter how bizarre or ineffective they may be. It seems he has enough power in comics do whatever he wants while writing a title.

To be fair, there is one exception to Grant Morrison’s oeuvre. The late 1990s Justice League. It was earlier in his career and my guess is that an editor kept him in line and insisted stories make sense and have a beginning, middle and end. Some of those stories were wonderful and told me a decent writer lives in Grant Morrison. He just doesn’t come out very often.

Apathetic Mention: Ann Nocenti, Joe Kelly, Kieron Gillan, J.T. Krul

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top 10 Current Favorite Comics Writers

Following, in no particular order, are my picks for the best current writers of comics.
Terry Moore
- Terry Moore: If someone had told me years ago that my all-time favorite non-superhero comic series would be about a lesbian, her straight best friend, and their wishy-washy male pal, I would have said you were insane. But Moore’s Strangers in Paradise still holds up as the best illustrated human drama of all time. As cliché as it sounds, the man is a genius. Next came Echo, a wonderful sci-fi tale about a woman with magic boobs. Okay, that’s oversimplifying, but check it out for some of the best-written sci-fi of the last decade. Presently, Moore is publishing another winner, Rachel Rising, about a murdered woman in a small town coming back to life and searching for her killer. Moore draws real, believable characters and gives them distinctive personalities. Forget strong women or strong men, Moore does strong characters. I would purchase anything he creates, sight unseen.

Chuck Dixon
- Chuck Dixon: Dixon has been on my best list for almost thirty years. He has forgotten more about adventure writing than most writers will ever know. Starting on Eclipse characters such as Airboy and continuing with Sky Wolf, Valkyrie, Sgt. Strike and so many others, Dixon set the standard in the ’80s for adventure fiction. Branching out to creator owned comics, he gave us Winterworld, which has just resurfaced as a comic and possible TV show. Then he blew the doors off with his DC Comics work, with record-setting runs on Batman, Detective, Robin, Nightwing and Birds of Prey. Along the way he co-created Batman villain Bane and added prize character after character to the Batverse at DC. Dixon never phones it in, whether it’s a new Airboy story or adding to the G.I. Joe mythos. His finest attribute as a writer is that he always moves the story and characters forward. He is a writer I admire personally and professionally. Recently Dixon has branched out to movies, television and novels (his Hard Times time-travel novels are a hoot), but I hope he never stops working in comics. I’m selfish that way.

Garth Ennis
- Garth Ennis: Scotsman Ennis has many naysayers, mostly for the level of sex and violence with which he infuses his work. Indeed, not everything he has written has been to my taste (I’m looking at you, Preacher). But I’m attracted to his clever plots and nobody-does-it-better dialog. Ennis listens to how real people speak and captures it like a drunken Scottish poet on the page (and I do love me some Robert Burns). He has had the definitive run on Hellblazer, and deconstructed superheroes in The Boys and heroism in Hitman. War Stories is his salute to fighting men, which is obviously his dream project. His recent Red Team comic about a group of vigilante cops left me cursing the end of every issue for not having the next one now. Ennis always has a fascinating point of view in his work, and is one of the most talented writers of his generation.

Kurt Busiek
- Kurt Busiek: Who does superheroes (and fantasy, and sword & sorcery, and tons of other genres) better than Kurt Busiek? Few people. I’ve loved his work since The Liberty Project, a 1980s Eclipse comic about superpowered teenage delinquents. He stunned the comic reading world with Marvels (with spectacular painted art by Alex Ross), then stunned them again with possibly the most creative hook for a superhero series ever in Marvel’s Thunderbolts. The last page reveal in Thunderbolts #1 is still one of the most shocking moments in comics—how they kept that a secret I’ll never know. Busiek’s Astro City comic has run for nearly two decades and has never run out of things to say. His lesser known works, such as the World War I fantasy Arrowsmith and offbeat superhero tale Superstar always offer a quality reading experience. If anyone is unfamiliar with superhero comics and wants to get acquainted, you couldn’t do better than start by reading anything by Busiek.

Peter Milligan
- Peter Milligan: I know Milligan has been a big deal in the UK for some time, but he snuck up on me as writer of Vertigo’s Shade the Changing Man as someone who could tell a story. I next remember his work on the quirky and wonderful X-Statix for Marvel. How that book was green-lit by Marvel is a story I’d love to hear one day (the scene where Iron Man and X-Statix hero Mr. Sensitive fight for their lives naked, on the grounds of a French Abbey? That’s high concept). His best work so far has been a years-long run on one of my favorite books, Hellblazer. He closed the doors on that book and always had some new ground to cover with anti-hero John Constantine. His new book The Names is a riveting conspiracy/murder mystery. Everything I’ve read from the man has been worth the price of the book; he has a gift for presenting original ideas in a more than slightly skewed way.

Ed Brubaker
- Ed Brubaker: Brubaker is probably the finest crime writer working today. I discovered him with the miniseries Scene of the Crime, about a crime scene photographer who gets caught up in a murder investigation. The story is well worth seeking out. He then did some work at Marvel, with an original take on the Iron Fist title and a long run on Captain America. His Captain America was excellent when he wasn’t trashing the Tea Party, but that’s a conversation for another time. His absolute best work has been with artist partner Sean Phillips, and they get better with every project. Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito, Fatale, The Fade Out—Brubaker and Phillips are masters at everything they attempt; horror, gangsters, secret agents or superheroes. Brubaker’s best recent project is Velvet with artist Steve Epting, about a spy secretary framed for a murder who tracks down the real culprits. Sort of “what if Moneypenny was the hero of the James Bond films?” It’s astounding work, and one of my all-time favorite spy stories. Brubaker has many, many years of storytelling ahead of him and I can’t wait to see what’s next. As long as it doesn’t involve the Tea Party.

Bill Willingham
- Bill Willingham: Television’s Once Upon a Time is a poor shadow of the comic it ripped off; Willingham’s greatest creation (so far) Fables. Fables has led to an empire for Willingham; the comic spinoff Fairest, toys, statues, hardcover reprints, original graphic novels and even a video game. There are rumors of a movie adaptation; perhaps the movies will finally get it right. One might say Willingham was a 20-year overnight success. He certainly labored in the trenches of comics long enough; with writing or art stints on Comico’s Elementals, DC’s Green Lantern and some creator-owned books. Everything Willingham wrote was outstanding, it was obvious from the first he was a gifted storyteller. But you may not know he’s a fantastic artist too. He has obviously preferred writing recently, and Fables is one of the finest fantasy books ever. He also knows how to go out on top ... Fables is ending in a few months with issue #150. I will desperately miss the book, but Willingham already has his next creator-owned gig lined up. So, while the king is dead—long live the king!

Mark Waid
- Mark Waid: Waid is an example of a writer whose work runs hot and cold for me. But overall, the man always gives his best. I may not like everything he produces, but he is always thinking around corners and not doing the same story repeatedly. I first remember reading his work on DC’s The Flash, a character for whom Waid obviously had long affection. It showed. His Kingdom Come (with Alex Ross) rewrote the future of the DC Universe in a story that still resonates with its themes and execution. His creator-owned work scores through the roof, with Empire setting the bar for villain-based comics. That is, until Irredeemable, about a superman gone bad, and companion title Incorruptible, about a career villain turned good. Waid always has something to say and something new to offer. I didn’t care for his take on the Man of Steel in Superman: Birthright or his Fantastic Four run—they weren’t terrible, just not to my taste. Waid made up for those lapses with his current run on Marvel’s Daredevil. Daredevil is currently the wittiest and most fun read on the stands. I’ll follow Waid to whatever he does next and at least give it a try. He has earned a look from me at whatever he produces in comics.

Jay Faerber
- Jay Faerber: I have never read a bad comic book by Jay Faerber. On the contrary, he keeps hitting it out of the park, book after book, concept after concept. He should be a monster hit writer, but life doesn’t work that way. I first remember his work on DC’s Teen Titans, but that pales in comparison to his creator-owned output. Noble Causes was about a Kennedyesque family of superheroes that ran for years and was extremely enjoyable. Dynamo 5 was a terrific action/adventure book about a group of illegitimate superpowered children of a Superman-like father. Near Death was a unique concept about a hitman who dies and is revived, then sets about helping people in need. Not for any kind of altruistic purpose, but because he glimpsed Hell and doesn’t want to go back. Point of Impact is a gritty crime miniseries about a murder and its aftermath that doesn’t pull punches. His newest series, Copperhead, is a sci fi Western about a female sheriff and her young son, keeping the peace on a frontier planet. I love these books and they are all well worth your valuable time to find and read. I’m not sure any of them sold well, and Faerber remains, in my opinion, a vastly underrated writer. He has turned to television recently, writing for the shows Ringer and Star-Crossed. I hope comics never loses him, but discovers how truly talented he is.

Brian Michael Bendis
- Brian Bendis: I thought long and hard about including Bendis on a best list, but ultimately decided he deserved to be here. He has his indelible quirks (which I will discuss later), but overall his work is unique, fun and—dare I say it—mostly original. And I don’t doubt he loves comic books, so we have that in common. His creator-owned book Powers has been around over 10 years now and has always been worth reading—even though co-lead Deena Pilgrim is the most annoying comic book character in history. The book has looked at super people as criminals in a novel way no one has really thought of before. His man-crush on Luke Cage at Marvel has revitalized that character and put him once again at the forefront of the Marvel Universe. His runs on the Avengers titles have been down-to-earth and cosmic while still exploring the characters and moving the story along. Secret Invasion was one of the best Avengers stories in years. His newest book, The United States of Murder, Inc., has an intriguing premise that Bendis is exploring with glee. While his creator-owned titles have generally been successful, Bendis is still committed to mainstream superhero comics, which I appreciate. They need all the talented creators they can get.

Honorable Mention: Peter J. Tomasi, Chris Roberson, Dennis Hopeless, Victor Gishler, Jonathan Luna &Sarah Vaughn, Joshua Williamson, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray