Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A Review of The Multiversity #1 – Justice League vs. The Avengers (Sorta…)

TITLE: The Multiversity #1
AUTHOR: Grant Morrison
PENCILLER: Ivan Reis
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: August 20, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Grant Morrison tends to lose me when he goes cosmic. In my ever-so-humble opinion, he tends to talk over his readers’ heads with the complexity of his stories. That’s why I prefer his Batman stuff to stories like Final Crisis, or even his work on JLA. But this far, he’s got my interest with The Multiversity, possibly because it harkens back to Crisis on Infinite Earths, which will satisfy some of us that have been longing for the pre-New 52 DCU.

Oh, and there’s also a publicity stunt involving a bunch of analog Marvel characters. Yay…?

The Multiversity sees Nix Uotan, the last of the Monitors (a group of cosmic watchmen, basically) and his chimp sidekick Stubs lured to Earth 7, which has been laid to waste by demonic entities called the Gentry. He saves a hero named Thunderer (a Thor analog), who then returns to a big Death Star looking watchtower base to summon heroes from all 52 worlds in the multiverse. Among them are the Superman of Earth 23 (who is also the president of the United States), Captain Carrot, and an analog for Savage Dragon. Together they must find a way to save the multiverse from Nix Uotan, as he fights against the influence of the Gentry.

The core concept of The Multiversity is, of course, awesome. We get a good look at the New 52 DC multiverse while spending time with characters we’ve either never seen before, or in the case of Earth 23 Superman and Captain Carrot, don’t see very often. We also get some fan service for longtime readers, what with Nix Uotan being the “multiversal monitor,” plus a computerized simulation of Harbinger (again, see Crisis).

Oddly enough, the issue solicitation also makes note of Earth Prime, another old school DC concept. Earth Prime is the world where we, the readers, live. In older stories, writers have used Earth Prime for meta purposes, most notably with our old friend Superboy Prime. The comic book we’re reading seems to know it’s being viewed on Earth Prime, and as such is pleading with the reader to stop reading! Similarly, The Multiversity reintroduces the notion that one Earth’s reality is another’s fiction. For instance, Superman’s adventures on Earth 23 are by Red Racer (the book’s resident comic book reader) on Earth 36. So if you know what you’re looking at, you can essentially look in on other worlds.

You’ll also meet Aquawoman of Earth 11, which I’m guessing was the inverted gender Earth that Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness showed us way back in 2005′s Superman/Batman #23 and #24. We also see a pint-sized Wonder Woman and Steel, presumably from the “Li’l Leaguers” story done in Superman/Batman #51 and #52. Gypsy is also in one of the group shots. Whether she’s the Gypsy we met in the Vibe ongoing series remains to be seen. All these different characters are a lot to take in, but having them all together makes for a hell of a visual. Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Nei Ruffino do an awesome job with the art.

But while it’s cool to see the reintroduction of some older multiverse concepts, starting off with a bunch of Marvel analogs turned me off. While this is by no means a new trick, the way DC and Grant Morrison featured it so prominently in the first issue of a story that’s been anticipated for five years is…disappointing. They even make a point to allude to all the Marvel movies. Okay, we get it. Marvel exists. And oh, look! Some of these analogs are getting beat up! How cute. But this little stunt isn’t edgy or cool. If anything, it makes DC look even more like the definitive number two publisher, because they feel the need to jab their competition in a big book like this. Really? That’s the best they can do for the first issue of a story that has practically limitless possibilities?

Still, The Multiversity, which will continue as a series of standalones before bookending with issue #2, is undeniably packed with potential and intrigue. But thus far we haven’t gotten much in terms of substance. It’s a pretty book, but Morrison spent much of this issue explaining things. Who people are, what the multiverse is, what the Gentry wants, etc. Once we get into these one-shots, Grant will have more time to stretch out and do some storytelling. But I’m hoping against hope that he keeps things as simple and straightforward as he can. Let’s be creative, but let’s also not get lost in what Captain Carrot himself refers to as “cartoon science.”

Front page image from wired.com. Image 1 from bamsmackpow.com. Image 2 from comixology.com. 

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A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review – When The Fanboys Are Right

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
STARRING: Megan Fox, Johnny Knoxville (voice), Noel Fisher, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard,
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Liebsman
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Platinum Dunes, Gama Entertainment, Mednick Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 101 min
RELEASED: August 8, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The fanboy/fangirl community has earned the right to be skeptical. Over the years we’ve been let down by so many lackluster takes on comic book stories and concepts. Too many to name here. So when this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was announced, with Michael Bay attached as a producer and Megan Fox cast as April O’Neil, a lot of justified skepticism and criticism was leveled at the project. Fans would go on to scratch their heads at the sight of these new CGI motion capture Turtles, and roll their eyes when Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub were brought in at the last minute to do voice over work for Leonardo and Splinter.

But as both a critic and a fanboy, my philosophy is that while you have every right to be skeptical, you’ve got to see the full movie before you can officially condemn it.

And as a life-long, die hard Ninja Turtles fan, it breaks my heart to tell you the skeptics were right. Not only that, but the film’s three major problems were all evident in the trailers and the advertising:

1. They overthought the concept.
2. They forgot to have fun.
3. They cast Megan Fox.

As expected, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a rehash of the origin story. There are some tweaks here and there, but essentially it’s the same. Our heroes are Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. They have a sensei/father/humanoid rat named Splinter, a human friend named April, and an arch enemy called The Shredder. In this film, The Shredder and his scientist pupil Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) attempt to steal the mutagen in the Turtles’ blood, and use it as a cure for a bioweapon they plan to unleash on the city, thus allowing the Foot to extort massive amounts of money and rise to power.

There’s been a lot of talk as to why the Turtles and Shredder were tinkered with so much in this film. They’re all gimmicked up for no real reason. Leonardo wears bamboo armor, Michaelangelo wears pants when none of the others do, Donatello wears taped glasses and is geared up like a friggin’ Ghostbuster. Meanwhile, Shredder is no longer a sinister ninja master wearing some intimidating bladed armor. Now, he’s essentially a nameless, faceless big bad who puts on a techno wondersuit and becomes an evil CGI Transformer. All the pure hate and evil has been sucked out of him, and he’s been reduced to a mere special effect.

So why has so much been tinkered with to the point of ridiculousness? There could be a multitude of reasons. But my gut tells me the filmmakers wanted to give us something a bit different than what we’ve seen before, while also making our villains more dangerous, and raising the stakes. This is all fine on paper. But remember, you’re catering to a vast audience ranging from little kids to grown adults, and all these people are expecting these characters to more or less look a certain way. For the Turtles, it’s been bandanas and elbow/knee pads for 30 years. If you’re going to change that, give me a reason. Donatello’s techno attachments make sense, but they overdid it. Ditto for Shredder. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This notion of four talking turtles and their enemy who wears knives on his arms is pretty damn far-fetched. But if you pull it off the right way, you can suck the audience in and get them invested in this ludicrous fantasy. But make it TOO ludicrous, and give the audience too many questions to ask, then the whole thing falls apart and you lose that connection. Ninja Turtles lost that connection with me once friggin’ RoboShredder walked on screen. They stretched our suspension of disbelief too far and robbed us of an awesome villain in one fell swoop.

Ninja Turtles isn’t much fun to watch, either. Mikey brings some great comic relief to the table, as he should. But the boys in green spend most of the movie either bickering with each other or dealing with the battle at hand. I believe they’re brothers, but the fun of seeing them interact on the big screen is missing. It’s ironic that one of the elements that the Nickelodeon show really nailed, the Nickelodeon movie let sail over its head.

And then there’s Megan Fox’s portrayal of April O’Neil. This version of April, much like the one we saw in the ’80s cartoon, is a hard-nosed journalist who’s not willing to risk her safety to get the big story. She’s the Lois Lane of the TMNT universe. In Ninja Turtles, she’s in many ways the main character. She’s also the one we’re supposed to connect with, and it’s her actions that drive the story forward.

But in the end, casting Megan Fox as April O’Neil was a TERRIBLE mistake, and it’s her presence on screen that drags the movie down more than anything. Instead of coming off as ambitious and brave, the character becomes annoying and stupid. It boggles the mind just how many better actresses could have been chosen to play this part (for instance, Mae Whiteman, who voices the character on TV). But instead we’re forced to endure Fox’s wooden, and at times downright irritating performance.

Casting aside Megan Fox (gladly) for a moment, one can argue the April character was overemphasized in this film anyway. When we open the movie, she’s struggling to be taken seriously as a reporter. Her cause isn’t helped when she brings her boss (played by Whoopi Goldberg) this story about six foot turtles that can talk and do karate. But is the movie about her, or is it about the Turtles and the oddball family they’ve created together? Thus, the film becomes unfocused. Come to think of it, that whole “April wants respect” plotline isn’t even resolved. So in the end, it didn’t even matter…

The sad thing is that from a story standpoint, what we see in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t necessarily bad. If we’d made a casting change or two, simplified everybody’s look, and fleshed out Shredder, this could have been a passable attempt to revive the TMNT movie franchise. It wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have at least been respectable. Instead we have this. A joyless, largely lifeless CGI suckfest. And ultimately, that’s pretty much what the skeptics said it was going to be, isn’t it?

Fate added insult to injury, what with this movie being released one week after Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie did the whole sci-fi/action/comedy flick in a way that got almost everything right. As much as I love the franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got almost everything wrong, just as we all feared it would. If you’re looking for your Turtle Power fix in the modern era, my advice is to stick to the TV show.

RATING: 3.5/10

Front page image from fandango.com. Interior images from rottentomatoes.com.

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A Ghostbusters: Mass Hysteria! – Part 1 Review – Chaos Unleashed!

TITLE: Ghostbusters, Vol. 8: Mass Hysteria! – Part 1
AUTHOR: Erik Burnham
PENCILLER: Dan Schoening
COLLECTS: Ghostbusters #13-16
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASE DATE: 
August 6, 2014

(Need to catch up on IDW’s Ghostbusters? Check out Check out volumes OneTwoThreeFourFive, Six, and Seven.)

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve said this before. I’ve been saying it since 2011. But it was true then, and it’s still true. So for my money, it’s still worth saying. If you’re a Ghosthead and a child of the ’80s and ’90s, Ghostbusters is a dose of pure, unadulterated, nostalgic fun. This Erik Burnham/Dan Schoening run is something really special, and there are no two men better qualified to spearhead a Ghostbusters 30th anniversary event comic like Mass Hysteria.

Tiamat, the Mesopotamian goddess of chaos and the sister of Gozer, has come to Earth. In ancient times she and her followers were responsible for banishing Gozer from the terrestrial plane. Now, after her brother’s defeat, she’s taken an interest in Earth and the Ghostbusters. And because “I want to start this game with everything that my brother had,” she’s targeted Dana Barrett and Louis Tully. That, combined with this attack coming on the heels of Winston’s wedding to Tiyah, and Tiamat’s attack is going to be extremely personal for the boys in gray.

As a long time Ghosthead, the most exciting aspect of this book is the return of Dana. Her presence evokes so many memories and emotions from both the audience and the other characters that you could almost do a story solely about her re-entering the picture, without any ghostly threat. Case in point, in issue #15 Venkman gets a call from her. Three words in, he leaps over his desk, gets on a motorcycle, and speeds off to her apartment. His trademark coyness and wit is nowhere to be found. Anyone or anything that can make Venkman take life seriously is obviously a hefty story element.

Dan Schoening draws a nearly perfect Dana Barrett. Her face is done slightly less cartoony than the other characters, with defined cheekbones and an accented chin. Out of all the characters from the films, she looks like the most like her corresponding actor. Schoening even gave her Sigourney Weaver’s haircut circa 1994/1995. My only complaint is an unconventional one: Her fingernails. This has actually been a consistent complaint of mine about Schoening’s work, as it has applied to almost all the female characters. But it’s never been immensely noticeable until now. I’m not sure if these girls are supposed to be wearing acrylic nails, or if they’re just long. But the effect makes them look like – I’m just going to say it – witch fingers. Very few things in these Burnham/Schoening books are weird in a bad way. But this is weird in a bad way.

I almost wish they’d saved Louis for another story. Because of everything that’s happening, he doesn’t necessarily get time to shine, save for a scene in a bar. Also, Louis is uncharacteristically depressed in this book. It’s understandable given the circumstances, I suppose. But it’s not really the character we’re hoping to see. Still, Schoening fits him right into the books cartoony style.

As for Tiamat, she’s got a sort of Medusa/snake lady thing going on, which is cool. I like the chaos element she brings to the story. Blood rains from the sky, cars start floating, the Ghostbusters run into future versions of themselves. It’s a lot of fun, and I actually wish they’d amped it up a bit more. But then again, this is only the first half.

As ever, Schoening injects the proceedings with plenty of Easter eggs from Ghostbusters lore and ’80s/’90s culture. The “future” Ghostbusters, for instance, are wearing the same outfits as the Real Ghostbusters ”Fright Features” action figures from he late ’80s. That’s a goddamn riot. There are also a bunch of cool guests at Winston’s wedding, including Ivan Reitman, Bobby Brown, Stevie Wonder, Martin Short as he appeared in Father of the Bride, Roland Jackson from Extreme Ghostbusters. We even see Estelle Winslow from friggin’ Family Matters! Why? Why not? As always, it’s those little details that make this series not only a lot of fun, but great for repeat reading.

Unfortunately, we may need to do a lot of repeat reading if we want our IDW Ghostbusters fix in the near future. This volume (the second Burnham, Schoening, and their cohorts have done) is ending with issue #20 in September. Granted, they haven’t ruled out a third volume, and Burnham and Schoening will are actually working with Tom Waltz on the epic Ghostbusters/Ninja Turtles crossover miniseries, which debuts in October. But the fact is, Burnham and Schoening’s days with the boys in grey could be coming to an end. Would a 30th anniversary event like Mass Hysteria! be a fitting way to cap off what they’ve done with the Ghostbusters? Yes. But it would still be heartbreaking to see such a phenomenal team break up. Their stories have had their share of flaws (I still don’t know why Mel needs to be around). But as far as I’m concerned, this is still some of the best GB content ever produced.

RATING: 8.5/10

Front page image/image 1 from majorspoilers.com. Image 2 from followingthenerd.com.

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The Biggest Fight of the Summer. Plus, Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Thoughts From Raw:

WWE airs Cena vs. Lesnar video package, featuring interviews with both men. I always love when they do produced interviews with Brock this way. This is the only way we should ever hear him talk. He doesn’t have the pressure of being in front of a live crowd, the producers can try different takes, different lines, etc. He can be a really effective talker when he does it the right way. These video packages with Brock always leave an impression, and an resonate for a long time. What resonated with me about this one? Brock’s question: “For God’s sake, why wouldn’t Brock Lesnar beat The Undertaker?…Because he’s some mythical God? It’s not rocket science, people.” That was really good.

But let’s not discount Cena, either. His stuff about Brock only having to have “one fight every so often” in the UFC was good. These past two weeks, they’ve played up the differences between Cena and Lesnar very well. The idea of the passionate champion against the merciless mercenary has been conveyed effectively. The whole “blood and urine and vomit” thing might have been a bit too much. But all in all, I’m really ready for this match.

Still, as good as Cena vs. Lesnar will be, I can’t help but wonder how different the story would be if we had that David vs. Goliath scenario that a Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan match would have given us…

Roman Reigns def. Kane in a Last Man Standing Match. Heck of an opening match. Reigns and Kane went all “hardcore” for us. This should have been the main event, for my money. I actually think WWE should have put Stephanie and the Bellas on first, then close the show with the Last Man Standing Match. Why not? Yes, it was a good way to draw fans in. But if Steph and the Bellas are good enough to close a show, why can’t they open one? Plus, the knowledge that I’ve got a pay per view quality match coming my way would damn sure keep my interest.

Triple H, Jerry Lawler, and JBL plug the cost of the WWE Network to the point of obnoxiousness. Ah, I get it. They tried to get away with lots of shameless plugs by turning them into a comedy bit. It’s PG era DX logic. Except, much like the PG era DX, these plugs got old REAL fast. Obviously the WWE Network isn’t growing as fast as the company would like, and as such they’re shoving it down our throats each an every week, to the point that it’s actually obnoxious. But what they need to realize is that Raw caters to essentially the same audience each and every week. So plugging this network so mercilessly isn’t going to do any damn good, because most of the people who want to buy it have already done so. Mind you, I think the news that the Network is expanding overseas is terrific, and will boost subscriptions tremendously. Hopefully, that’ll allow WWE to be a little less intense in promoting this thing. Once they go overseas, it’ll be a new ball game.

Dean Ambrose def. Alberto Del Rio. I heard Paul Heyman say something on a podcast awhile back about Stone Cold Steve Austin. He said to watch the way Steve Austin hits the ropes, because he goes all out every time. For whatever reason, I was compelled to do that in this match with Dean Ambrose. In paying attention to detail like this, I came to appreciate the fact that every single time he’s out there, Ambrose looks like he’s fighting for his life. And in this match in particular, a Beat the Clock match, that was displayed quite poignantly. It also made Del Rio look pretty damn good, as the obstacle Ambrose just couldn’t clear. Really good match.

Heath Slater def. Seth Rollins. Cool little moment for Heath Slater this week, not that it’ll matter in the long run. So Slater’s new tag team partner is Titus O’Neil, huh? They could be entertaining together, I suppose. O’Neil was terribly miscast as a bruiser heel, so it’s nice to see him getting the chance to talk and be charismatic again. I still miss the Prime Time Players, though.

Images from WWE.com.

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A Guardians of the Galaxy Review – For God’s Sake, A Talking Raccoon!

TITLE: Guardians of the Galaxy
STARRING: Chris Pratt, Zoe SaldanaBradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Lee Pace
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
STUDIOS: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
RATED:
PG-13
RUN TIME:
122 min
RELEASED:
August 1, 2014 

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great movie, and a great accomplishment for Marvel Studios. Strictly at face value, the film features none of the A-list Marvel superheroes (Iron Man, Captain America, etc.) to gain the quick attention of mainstream audiences. Yet it has still managed to be a big draw because it looks like a hell of a lot of fun. And much like moviegoers have come to associate clean and innocent merriment with Disney, or gorgeous animation with Pixar, audiences have put their money down for Guardians because they know they’ll get a fun and epic thrill ride from Marvel.

And Guardians of the Galaxy delivers.

Twenty-six years ago, young Peter Quill was abducted by a group of space smugglers called the Ravagers. Fast forward to present day, and he’s become the space pirate codenamed Star-Lord. But when a mysterious orb comes into Star-Lord’s possession, he finds himself swept up the business of Ronan the Accuser, who seeks to use the orb in a twisted bargain with galactic warlord Thanos (who moviegoers will remember from the post-credits scene in The Avengers). Ronan sends the assassin Gamora to retrieve it. Along with a humanoid raccoon named Rocket, a giant tree-like creature called Groot, and the musclebound Drax the Destroyer, they soon become swept up in a conflict that will decide the fate of billions.

Despite the incredibly high stakes and all the dizzying dangers our heroes find themselves in, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s that sense of humor that sets the film apart from anything else in the Marvel has ever brought to screen. Movies like Captain AmericaThor, and of course, The Avengers, have been mostly action and drama with a touch of humor thrown in. Guardians ups the humor quotient to the point that it’s what you’ll walk away from the movie thinking about. As I’ve discussed before, Marvel smartly carves out cinematic niches and territories for its characters. With Iron Man its technological wonder mixed with wit, with Thor it’s mysticism from other realms, with Hulk it’s monster movie drama, etc. Clearly, with Guardians of the Galaxy it’s a blend of high octane sci-fi action and comedy. It makes for an awesome mix.

Guardians also makes excellent use of music to not only help incorporate the humor, but make itself more accessible. The Peter Quill character stays in touch with his Earth roots via an old mix tape his mother made for him before she died. As such, the film is filled with songs from the ’70s and ’80s like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The soundtrack injects the movie with a certain energy that better connects us to our hero, and the proceedings at large. And again, it sets Guardians apart from anything Marvel has done before.

Chris Pratt is the heart of our movie, and delivers the goods both sentimentally and comedically. At one point, Pratt described the Star-Lord character as a mix of Han Solo and Marty McFly, which is pretty spot-on. But Bradley Cooper also deserves immense credit for making Rocket Raccoon exactly what he needed to be. He had the snark we were all looking for. But the character also gets very emotional at times, which isn’t necessarily something you expect from a gun-toting raccoon. As for Dave Batista in his Drax role, he’s not a master thespian by any means. I’ve seen most of what he turns in here from watching him on WWE TV over the years. That being said, he does fine. He’s obviously very convincing as a big bruiser type, and he also gets some of the best one-liners in the movie. He may not have come out on top at Wrestlemania, but he got a nice victory here.

The most notable criticism I can hurl at Guardians is that all the details of who is aligned with who, and who came from where can be a bit much to take in at first. For instance, we’ve got Gamora, who is working alongside another assassin named Nebula. They both work for Ronan, who is aligned with Thanos. Gamora and Nebula are both Thanos’ adopted daughters (sort of…). But Gamora secretly hates Thanos because he murdered her family, and wants to keep the mysterious orb out of his hands. It’s also a bit awkward keeping track of where Peter comes from, and how he got to be what he is. The movie hammers it in enough times that you eventually get it. But still, it’s a rockier start than one would like.

As ever, Marvel is planting seeds for future films. Guardians has some fairly obvious implications as far as the Infinity Gauntlet story is concerned. Thanos is in this movie, but nothing is really done with him. Thus, in addition to being a pretty awesome movie in its own right, Guardians also serves as the next step on the road to Thanos’ showdown with The Avengers, which I can only assume will be in the third Avengers film. Foresight. It’s by God amazing when you use it correctly.

Incidentally, hey Warner Bros? This is what Green Lantern should have been like. Just saying.

At the end of the day, Guardians of the Galaxy surpassed virtually all my expectations. What we have here resembles a blend between The Avengers and Star Wars, with a bit of Men in Black thrown in. Marvel continues to expand its boundaries, and with luck, change a few opinions about what a comic book movie can be.

RATING: 9/10

 Front page image from majorspoilers.com. Interior images from rottentomatoes.com.

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TNA’s TV Woes, Selling SummerSlam and Other Ponderings From WWE Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Not at all happy to hear TNA is allegedly getting the boot from Spike TV this fall. That company may now finds itself in the very scary position of having to find itself another network in time, or risk going belly up.

People can crack all the jokes they want about the creative at TNA. But the fact is, the number 2 wrestling company in the United States could be in a potentially devastating position. If this turns out to be true, it could be terrible news for wrestling fans, and it’s especially bad news for wrestlers looking for work, experience, and mainstream exposure.

To my knowledge, nothing has been officially announced yet, so I’m going to avoid jumping to hasty conclusions. But here’s hoping that if TNA is indeed leaving Spike TV, another network will pick Impact Wrestling up. The show, after all, continues to draw in the ballpark of a million viewers every week.

Thoughts From Raw:

John Cena and Paul Heyman open the show with a verbal confrontation. I loved the “Biggest Fight of the Summer” promo WWE produced for Lesnar vs. Cena at Summerslam, and the opening segment between Cena and Heyman was an awesome way to follow it up. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: When John Cena has a topic he can sink his teeth into, and he doesn’t have to pander or blatantly promote anything, he can be awesome on the mic. We saw that from him this week, and it’s no coincidence that a mic master like Paul Heyman was the one to bring it out of him.

I’m of the mindset that we don’t need to see Brock Lesnar again until the Raw before Summerslam. Let Cena and Heyman carry it, and build to a mini-confrontation between Brock and Cena on the go-home Raw.

John Cena def. Cesaro. Any time these two are in the ring, it’s essentially a giant test of strength. And hey, that’s a good thing. As unlikely as it may be considering their different backgrounds, Cena and Cesaro seem made for each other. This match also showed us Cesaro and Heyman may not have completely severed ties…

Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella close the show with an in-ring brawl. I’m not a fan of either Brie or Nikki Bella. But I will say this: When was the last time a diva segment closed Raw? You’ve probably got to go back to the days of Trish Stratus and Lita to answer that one. Granted, Stephanie isn’t a wrestler, per se. But still, it placed an added emphasis on women’s wrestling that hasn’t been seen in WWE in quite some time. And to her credit, Brie’s acting has gotten a little bit better. Though that “You deserve to go to hell!” line was a bit much.

Has it really been over a decade since Stephanie wrestled? It doesn’t seem that way. The two Stephanie matches that immediately come to mind are her bout with Trish from February 2001, and her match with Vince from fall 2003. I have no doubt she’s as capable as ever. Lord knows she’s as muscled as we’ve ever seen her, and is probably much stronger. I doubt this will be a beautifully coordinated masterpiece of a match, considering Brie isn’t exactly Shawn Michaels. But then again, neither was Trish when Steph wrestled her. So who knows? Maybe they’ll surprise us.

Randy Orton and Kane brutalize Roman Reigns. I like the idea of a Reigns/Orton match at Summerslam. Distancing Orton from the WWE Title picture for a bit will be good for him, in my opinion. He’s done just fine in his role as The Authority’s chosen one. But let’s have him help elevate Roman Reigns, and possibly Dean Ambrose, before we put that bright a spotlight back on him.

Chris Jericho vs. Seth Rollins went to a no contest when The Wyatt Family interfered. I was really enjoying Jericho’s work with Rollins before the Wyatts got involved. I believe one of the announcers called Rollins “cat-like.” Corny as it sounds, it’s true. From an in-ring standpoint, there’s nobody else on the roster quite like him. That can only work in his favor as time goes on.

R-Truth def. Bo Dallas, ending his undefeated streak. So…R-Truth, huh? The guy with little to no discernible momentum, who’s been singing the same song since 2008, is the guy who finally pins Bo Dallas? Well that sucks. Granted, it wasn’t the most prestigious streak in wrestling history, but it could have amounted to a little more than what it did. Nothing personal, but R-Truth? Still, it allowed Bo to show off his vicious side, and that’s a plus.

Front page image from betweentheropes.com. Image 1 from tnanews.com. Images 2 and 3 from wwe.com.

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A Superman #33 Review – “You’ve Out-Neiled Him!”

TITLE: Superman #33
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: July 23, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

For John Romita Jr’s big DC Comics debut, he and Geoff Johns have pulled an “alternate Superman” story out of their hats. At face value that’s a bit of a let down, just because we’ve seen so many of those. Hell, Scott Snyder and Jim Lee are essentially doing that in Superman Unchained. Thus, the pressure’s on our creative team to give this “The Men of Tomorrow” story a completely different feel than Snyder and Lee’s story…

Ulysses, a.k.a. Neil, was transported from Earth to an alternate dimension as an infant. His parents, two scientists at the Ulysses Research Center in Nebraska, had feared the impending destruction of Earth. Upon returning to Earth, Ulysses is shocked to discover that didn’t happen. He’s quickly taken in by Clark Kent. But getting Neil accustomed to Metropolis, and teaching him certain boundaries will prove difficult. All the while, Superman investigates what has become of the Ulysses facility, and sees what he can learn about Neil’s past.

One thing “The Men of Tomorrow” has going for it thus far that Superman Unchained doesn’t is that we haven’t seen Batman, Wonder Woman (aside from a brief phone conversation where we don’t actually see her), or the Justice League. What frustrated me about Unchained from the start was how Batman kept being unnecessarily shoe-horned into the proceedings. Hell, half of the most recent issue consists of the Batcave being destroyed in a fight between Batman and Wraith (that story’s alternate Superman). Johns and Romita haven’t done anything like that yet. They haven’t fallen victim to the “over-Baturation” trend. They’re not taking the cheap route. They’re on Superman, and they’re using Superman characters. That’s a very respectable move.

Another plus? This story is being published in the ongoing Superman series. Obviously, big name creators reinstate that sense of value to staple books like this, in contrast to some prestige format series that abruptly ends when the creative team has told their initial story. Yeah, my Superman Unchained review is going to be a bit…volatile.

As for Romita’s art, he continues to give us what we came to see: His take on Superman’s world. In this issue, he gives us Clark Kent, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, The Daily Planet building, and a bit of Lois Lane. However, in my experience every John Romita Jr. story has at least one panel that’s drawn awkwardly. This issue has such a panel, and it’s a close up shot of Neil’s face. Unbeknownst to him, Neil is about to come face to face with a huge part of his past. Before the reveal, Romita gives us the panel at left.

What is this face, exactly? Skepticism? Trying to play it cool in the face of anxiety? Boredom? Curiosity? Whatever it’s supposed to be, it took me out of the scene immediately.

From a writing standpoint, Johns makes abundantly clear that Superman is looking at Neil’s life and asking: “What if?” He uses an old photo of Jonathan and Martha Kent as a storytelling tool, although they don’t look like the people we saw in Action Comics, or even Batman/Superman. Still, the advantage Ulysses has over other “alternate Supermen” is that he’s easier to relate to. He’s human, and as such it’s that much simpler for readers to project themselves on to him. This also plays up Superman’s alienation from humans, literally and figuatively. He’ll never truly be one of them, and his parents, the two people who made him feel most at home on Earth, are gone. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how start to tell an emotionally gripping Superman story. Mind you, it’s merely a start. Lord knows we may venture off into all sorts of crazy directions at any point.

But at this point, I’m willing to trust Geoff Johns with Superman. He’s done well with the character in the past (See: Superman: Brainiac, Superman and the Legion of Superheroes), and has a firm grasp on how to write Superman as the compassionate idealist that he should be, without making him into a wuss with a cape. That’s the kind of Superman I want to see, and that’s the kind of Superman that’s worthy of a John Romita Jr. pencil.

Front page image from blastr.com. Image 1 from blacknerdproblems.com. Image 2 from author’s collection.

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A Teen Titans #1 Review – Missed Opportunities

TITLE: Teen Titans #1
AUTHOR: Will Pfiefer
PENCILLER: Kenneth Rocafort
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $2.99
RELEASED: July 17, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Teen Titans #1 was DC’s chance to take a series that had fallen on its butt since the New 52 began, and take it in an entirely new direction. There were so many ways the company could have taken this book about teenage superheroes, and made it different than anything else they’re putting out right now. They could have taken a more light-hearted, almost cartoony approach, like Amy Wolfram and Karl Kerschl did with Teen Titans: Year One. They could have recruited a young adult author to take advantage of the popularity of that genre, while also getting some new eyes on the product. Heck, they could have even played up the teens’ everyday lives more than their actual superheroics.

Instead, they gave the book to the guy who wrote Amazons Attack!

Teen Titans #1 sees a mysterious supervillain hijack a bus filled with schoolgirls and go speeding through Times Square. This quickly attracts the attention of our new line up of Teen Titans: Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Beast Boy, Raven, and Bunker. For reasons unclear, the hijacker apparently has a grudge against S.T.A.R. Labs. In any event, the Titans definitely have a new enemy. They also may have a P.R. crisis on their hands, as Bunker snaps on a civilian who nearly uses a slur against homosexuals.

Before we get into why this issue sucks, let’s talk about why Teen Titans has sucked overall since the relaunch happened…

In the New 52 canon, the team that began forming in Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth’s 2011 Teen Titans is, for whatever reason, the first and only incarnation of the group that has ever existed. While the book itself, along with books like Red Hood and the Outlaws and Batwoman, initially indicated otherwise, all such conversations have subsequently been edited out of existence. Thus, in this continuity, Tim Drake, Cassandra Sandsmark, and the other heroes from the Lobdell series are the original Teen Titans.

To put it plainly, that sucks. It robs a sense of richness and history from not only the Teen Titans series, but from characters around the DCU. Dick Grayson, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire are just a few of those effected. Hell, even if they weren’t called the Teen Titans, can’t we at least say they hung out? Can’t they have been some sort of group to set the precedent?

Secondly, the Red Robin costume. It sucked in 2011, it continued to suck through 2012 and 2013, and it still sucks in 2014. Brett Booth completely butchered any aura of coolness Tim Drake had by giving him a suit that’s way too busy and gimmicked up. The wings are idiotic, and there are way too many belts, capsules, pouches, pads, etc. This new series was the perfect chance to clean Red Robin up. But they missed the boat on that one too.

Thirdly, and most importantly, for the past few years Teen Titans has been just another superhero team book. Again, a GIANT missed opportunity. The element that makes the Teen Titans different, and what can potentially draw in a different demographic than say, Justice League, is the fact that they’re teenagers. They’re young, moody, and haven’t fully discovered who they are yet. That concept has so much fertile ground for storytelling, and that’s why it’s used so often in popular culture. The last writer to really get what Teen Titans should be about in the 21st century was DC’s very own Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns. If you look back at the first issue of his run, which began in 2003, you see heroes who are rebelling against the adults in their lives, coming to grips with what’s expected of them, and trying to find their place in the world. They were acting like teenagers. Imagine that…

We got hardly any of that in Lobdell’s series, and in this issue we have next to none of it. We have a cover that looks like a Facebook photo, because social media exists. And we have a young hero that takes exception to his sexuality being demeaned. But that’s certainly not something specific to teenagers is it? So what we end up with is just another superhero story. And not a very interesting one, because we don’t know enough about our villain, or what she (it’s a woman, apparently) intends to do.

Kenneth Rocafort isn’t the best choice to handle the pencil, either. This is especially true when it comes to Wonder Girl. Cassandra Sandsmark’s New 52 redesign essentially turned her into a Power Girl clone wearing a variation on Donna Troy’s old costume. As if that weren’t enough, Rocafort draws her without a trace of human emotion. At one point, she rips one of the kidnappers out of the speeding bus, and subsequently stands atop the bus while holding him up with one arm (shown below). She did this because she was angry he threatened to kill a young girl. But judging by her face, you’d think she was picturing herself laying on the beach or something. She seems to be there just to be the hot blonde with big boobs. What is this, The Big Bang Theory?

As for Bunker’s little outburst toward the end of the issue, I don’t have a problem with superhero comics tastefully addressing and incorporating gay issues in our culture. But I don’t have even the slightest confidence that Teen Titans can do that effectively. Yet another missed opportunity.

At the risk of sounding like a run of the mill fickle comic book geek, Teen Titans #1 gives us almost everything the series shouldn’t be. It’s business as usual. And when I open Teen Titans I’m not looking for business as usual. I’m looking for something different, something that takes on the DCU from a different angle. That’s not what this is. And unfortunately, it may be a long time before we see it again.

Front page image from dccomics.com. Image 1 from comicbook.com. Image 2 from comixology.com. Image 3 from adventuresinpoortaste.com. 

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A New Suicide Squad #1 Review – New Game, New Line Up

TITLE: New Suicide Squad #1
AUTHOR: Sean Ryan
PENCILLER:
Jeremy Roberts.
PUBLISHER:
DC Comics
PRICE:
$2.99
RELEASED:
July 9, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In theory, this New Suicide Squad relaunch is a welcome one. DC has swapped out the likes of Captain Boomerang, King Shark, and James Gordon Jr. for characters with a bit more of that edgy, cool factor: Black Manta, Deathstroke, and James Gordon Jr. Sadly, there’s an awkward element to this book that negates a lot that coolness.

Government official Vic Sage (a character who was The Question in the pre-New 52 DC Universe) has been put in charge of the Suicide Squad. He recruits Deathstroke, Black Manta and Joker’s Daughter to the line up, an opts to keep Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Amanda Waller sticks around because she “generally knows the ins and outs of how all this works.” Our team’s first mission takes them to Russia to destroy a top secret base. But of course, they’re the Suicide Squad. And things go…well, how they usually go.

The Vic Sage character is clearly meant to be somewhat aloof and in over his head, at least on the surface. He seems largely concerned with the team’s look and marketability, and doesn’t seem to have much in-depth knowledge about them individually. In the opening scene he calls them “this clown girl,” and “the marksman with the red eye thing.” I also particularly enjoyed this line about Black Manta: “He does have a cool look. Plus, he’s got the word black in his name. That never hurts.” He’s got a humorous ineptitude about him that might be interesting when placed next to the ultra-serious Waller.

But what I have a problem with in that opening scene is how the secretary of state talks. It lacks a certain gravity, and thus he comes off a bit like the J.K. Simmons character in Burn After Reading. Also, and granted this is an odd point, but why is there nothing on his desk? For instance, in the panels above it looks like he just moved in. Who is this guy?

The scene where our five team members meet isn’t exactly inspiring either. The art itself isn’t bad, thought Deathstroke is wearing  football pads on his shoulders, and Harley Quinn still looks like a clown stripper. Again it comes down to the dialogue. We’ve got annoying expository name-dropping (“Deathstroke. Can we just get to the business at hand?” “Of course, Manta. I just needed to get everyone’s attention.”), combined with Deathstroke sounding like a dumb jock with a gun. When Harley and Joker’s Daughter get into it over the latter wearing Joker’s face, Slade shoves a gun in Harley’s mouth and delivers the awe-inspiring line: “Shut. Up. Or someone will be wearing your face, Harley Quinn.” By God, what a master of manipulation and intimidation…

Also, Amanda Waller is still skinny. Amanda Waller should not be skinny. Put her on a steady diet of Five Guys, then gimmie a call.

All this being said, New Suicide Squad does have some interesting potential as far as infighting is concerned.. Putting Harley Quinn and Joker’s Daughter together obviously creates an inherent rivalry right off the bat, and injects the series with plenty of “Joker appeal.” This issue also drops a pretty blatant teaser for Deathstroke vs Deadshot, in what could be a fight to determine the world’s greatest assassin. Black Manta also makes for a hell of a wild card. He can certainly shake things up at any time. Suicide Squad vs. Aquaman, perhaps?

New Suicide Squad has, for the moment, piqued my interest. Compared to the old series, there’s a bit more to sink your teeth into right off the bat. But unless Ryan and Roberts sharpen up their execution, as far as I’m concerned this book’ll be on track for the morgue.

Front page image and image 1 from howtolovecomics.blogspot.com. Image 2 from zonanegativa.com.

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A Serenity: Leaves on the Wind Review – The Sequel 10 Years in the Making

TITLE: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind
AUTHOR: Zack Whedon
PENCILLERS: Georges Jeanty, Fabio Moon. Cover by Dan Dos Santos.
COLLECTS: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE:
November 5, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So here’s a question: Why did it take us so long for us to get a comic that substantially picks up where Serenity left off? Why did it take so long for us to get the next chapter? Dark Horse has published a variety of comics and graphic novels set in the Firefly universe, some of which inched the story forward. But why did we have to wait so long for a significant follow up to Serenity? 

In any event, thanks to the magic of comics, we finally get to see the fallout from that movie that came out 10 years ago with Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of the Serenity are the most wanted outlaws in the ‘verse. However, they’ve planted an all-too-valuable blemish on the Galactic Alliance’s reputation by revealing that the Reavers (space cannibals, basically) are actually byproducts of their experiments. What’s more, the ship is running low on food and supplies, and Zoe on the verge of giving birth. To say the least, our heroes are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Something’s got to give.

Whedon and Jeanty give us a pretty strong opening, jumping right into the damage done to the Alliance’s reputation by the Reaver scandal, and the “New Resistance” created by the controversy. They make us wait a bit to see Mal and his crew, and that wait carries a lot of, um…weight to it, as when we left them in Serenity, they were in a fairly vulnerable state.

About halfway into the first issue, we learn that Mal and Inara finally gave into all that romantic tension at some point between Serenity and Leaves on the Wind. For yours truly, that’s a creative disappointment. We spent all that time becoming invested in their relationship, and then we don’t get the pay off? Lame. If they’d wanted to, they could’ve built this entire miniseries around the moment Mal and Inara finally reveal their true feelings. But instead, they simply jump into bed in issue #1. What a missed opportunity…

Zoe comes out of this book looking particularly strong. In the span of one story, she has a vision of her dead husband, gives birth to the child she conceived with said husband, gets tossed into an “unnamed prison camp,” and kills a man, among other feats of badassery. Character-wise, one can argue Zoe has never been more interesting than she is in Leaves on the Wind. She’s incredibly vulnerable and emotional, but still tough as nails. Zack Whedon more than lives up to his brother’s standard for strong female characters.

Leaves on the Wind also adds a pair of new crew members to Mal’s ship. The first is Bea, leader of the New Resistance. Aside from her fierce contempt for the Alliance, she’s not fleshed out much here, but that’s understandable given how much other ground we have to cover here. Interestingly, she seems to have attracted the romantic interest of Jayne. Coupling Jayne up with someone might make for interesting storytelling down the road. But as we now have Mal and Inara together, along with Kaylee and Simon, that might run the risk of making things too “coupled up.” Toward the end of the story we also meet Iris, a victim of the Alliance’s experiments much like River. She serves as an interesting illustration of how far River has come since we first met her, and could lead to some further development for her down the road.

Leaves on the Wind isn’t necessarily friendly to fans who haven’t seen Firefly or Serenity, which is fair enough, I suppose. But if you haven’t seen the source material in awhile, you may need a review session before jumping into this book. It took yours truly some time to remember who The Operative was, and how he was connected to Mal and the crew. We also see Jubal Early again, which is delightful. But keep in mind, he only appeared in one episode of the series.

Georges Jeanty’s art is hit or miss for me here. At times his characters perfectly evoke the actors that played them in Firefly and Serenity, and at other points they don’t. As a reader, that’s frustrating. Either make your figures look like the actors, or render them in a way that suits your particular talents. But pick a direction and stick with it. What’s even more frustrating is at times, is when Jeanty really nails an actor’s face. Zoe, for instance, looks like Gina Torres a good portion of the time, which is part of the reason why she comes out so strong in this story. Mal on the other hand, vaguely resembles Nathan Fillion. Other characters, like Kaylee and River, go back and forth in terms of accuracy. Realistically, unless you’re an Alex Ross, there’s only so much you can ask from any artist in terms of photo-realism. But it’s that touch-and-go factor that irritates me.

This issue also includes the 2012 Free Comic Book Day exclusive, Serenity: It’s Never Easy, the short story in which we learned Zoe was pregnant. Illustrated by Fabio Moon, it’s far more cartoony-looking than Leaves on the Wind. But on the plus side, it lacks the inconsistency of Jeanty’s work. In truth, it’s only there to lay the foundation for Zoe’s pregnancy, which is fine.

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind is a bittersweet creation in a lot of ways. If the world were a fair place, we wouldn’t need this book to exist. Joss Whedon and everybody involved with Firefly would have gotten to make their TV show, and it wouldn’t have become one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of television. It’s actually painful to imagine what Firefly could have been, and I’m not even a die-hard Browncoat. Leaves on the Wind is flawed, but I doubt you’ll hear a lot of folks complaining about it. Hell, it’s new Firefly! Just kick back and enjoy the positives, folks. And hey, maybe there’s reason to be hopeful. Now that Star Wars is leaving Dark Horse, there’s a hell of a void to fill.

And to that I say, why not Malcolm Reynolds?

RATING: 7/10

Front page image from comicbookresources.com. Image 1 from gonnageek.com. Image 2 from mygeekygeekyways.com. 

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