Wednesday, January 31, 2007

street fighters

Heroes for Hire
Justin Gray/Jimmy Palmiotti/Billy Tucci/Francis Portela/Tom Palmer/Terry Pallot

the cropping tool is the best!

once upon a time back in the 70's, when blaxploitation and kung-fu was wildly popular, there was a bunch of scrappy superdudes who really fought for the common man (unlike those Champions). built upon the premise that you should be able to hire your own superhero if necessary (like you need to beat up your older brother - kidding!), the Heroes for Hire agency was born! founded by Luke Cage (big, black invulnerable strong brotha) and Iron Fist (superfly white martial artist), H4H was like a period sitcom that you enjoyed every week. a future post will be devoted to those two dudes later, but now, H4H has been resurrected by their gal pals Misty Knight (hot black chick with bionic arm) and Colleen Wing (hot white chick with samurai), and they're out to take the streets back from the bad guys.

those two pointy arrows says you'd better believe it!

this time, the two best friends (ok, i am so NOT implying anything there) are joined by the Black Cat (not Janet!), former petty thief (rumors of Catwoman straddling both comic companies are rampant) and sometime-Spiderman girlfriend; Tarantula, a totally unknown hot chick with a modus operandi like her namesake villain; Humbug, an ex-con who controls ... bugs; and Shang Chi, whose press release says he's a master of kung fu (again a potential future post topic), him being the son of Fu Manchu and all.

lacking the superior power and membership of the more popular superheroes, H4H works within their limitations and don't aspire to take on world-devouring villains or big causes (more on that later). H4H had a brief resurrection in the 90s during the Onslaught affair (where most major heroes took a one year break) and someone had to rein in crime; this time, H4H is reborn in the shadows of the ongoing Civil War event, putting a legitimate slant on Misty and Colleen's former jobs as bounty hunters by making them work within the Superhero Registration Act (anyone who wears a costume and fights crime has to register and be a Federal employee).

with the heroes being divided along the lines of personal freedom versus responsibility, the supercriminals are either plotting to take over, were already co-opted by the pro-Registration side to do their dirty work, or are loose on the streets hoping to make a quick buck before disappearing. the latter is comprised of mostly D-list characters, which makes them ideal cannon fodder for H4H.

who?? exactly.

H4H has lots of street connections, allowing them unfettered access to places of ill repute, nipping trouble before it happens. in one, Misty and her pals break up a sale of fake ID papers for supercriminals. and gives us one of the priceless moments in this series.

uhm .... her big future?

and we read the articles too!

H4H is lighthearted fare, but it does well to be aware of its environment, given the connections of the characters to the major players. after a mutual friend is killed during a confrontation in Civil War, the ramifications spill over neatly to the story.

the pro-Registration people, led by Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man, try to keep things in perspective, because the girls are unhappy with the latest developments. it even leads to this highly suspect conversation between Tony and Misty, perhaps about the issue of ... augmentation?

Misty decides to talk to Captain America, just to see if he'd see things their way, given that she considers the feuding Iron Man and Cap her big brothers and idols. to find him, they have to talk to a pixiu ... a gold-eating Chinese demon (don't look at me; i just read the damn book!).

good news: they do find the safehouse where Cap (and Luke Cage) is hiding; bad news: one of H4H's hired fellows, the Paladin, betrays them.

used to be the Paladin was on the side of the angels; turns out it was just another of my childhood illusions (like Santa Claus, the Chocolate Factory, everyone liking me, etc.). he's on the side of the almighty dollar. which thankfully, in this day and age, a cosmic force known as Karma will sometimes slap you upside the head for.

brings new meaning to the term 'pain in the neck'

or punch you in the gut for.

turns out Shang Chi pulls a fast one on all concerned and debunks the myth that he's just salad dressing - he beats up Paladin, helps Cap, and switches their uniforms.

too much fortune cookies going around

in short, Cap and Luke get away, S.H.I.E.L.D. gets embarassed, Iron Man is pissed (but he can't be mad too long; not while he's debating whether Misty's are real ones or implants).

with trust getting a beating before the new H4H gets off on solid ground, Tarantula's petulant and combative attitude gets her on shaky ground with Misty. which merits the secret hard-to-pull-off maneuver: the armpit punch. only three other people in the world know this technique. and i'm not one of them.

H4H's next case puts them in direct confrontation with Celia Ricadonna (a frightening combination of Celia Rodriguez, Rica Paralejo and Madonna - i have no idea why i thought that), an upstart wannabe-crimelord who just gets sprung from prison and is now gunning for Misty and Colleen (for putting her there in the first place).

did you just say "skanks"?! ooohoooo - cat fight!!!

as is wont with villains, they mostly miss the mark; but the message is sent. like bombing the H4H headquarters in Chinatown ...

sending low-rent goons after them ...

that's what they all say ...

Gogo Yubari in the Kill Bill prequel

and tragically, Tarantula's (of all people) father gets killed.

it turns out Ricadonna is involved in a Skrull organ replacement scheme (run by a mysterious entity called - duh! - The Corporation), where superbaddies get enhanced with Skrull organs (Skrull: alien shape-shifting race) to allow them to evade detection by the law.

Tarantula, who's more than meets the eye, displays engineering skills that impresses Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man: she builds a device to check if anyone has had any organ marked "Made in Skrullos".

forget chicks with dicks. chicks with brains are better. and cooler.

for her efforts and having her pop killed by ninjas-for-rent and having a sister die in the Stamford Incident which precipitated Civil War in the first place, Tarantula a.k.a. Maria Vasquez, is fired by Misty for wanting to kill Ricadonna.

Misty and Colleen, eschewing the gold-eating Chinese demon, this time try an infantile businessman (in more ways than one) named The Toddler (who's running a club called The Crib, no surprise) for information on Ricadonna's whereabouts.

they could have saved themselves the hassle of dealing with the icky weirdo, as Humbug's "friends" found Ricadonna anyway. i think it was the writers' excuse to "let us know" that they've been to that kind of club. or just to sneak in the line "the overtly-sexual, scantily-clad, adolescent male fantasy team of ...". hey wait, that could be the tag-line for the series from now on!

this leads to an all-out fun battle on Hart Island, where the long-awaited catfight between Misty, Collen and Ricadonna is held.

i bet Palmiotti was cackling over that one.

Tarantula plays the wild card, as she secretly trails them and jumps into the fray in the nick of time.

we dig wild, unbalanced chicks.

tabloid alert: "Shang Chi May Have Crush on Tarantula, Says Colleen".

but despite the nobility and competence and sense of humor of the guys (yes, even Humbug), they will never be more than supporting characters on this team. the girls are the stars. and that's the way the readers want it.

Ricadonna escapes (unknown to H4H) and the Skrull Organ generator is destroyed. Iron Man rewards them with a new homebase (still in Chinatown) with complete facilities. i don't believe for one second that he doesn't have money to fund people anymore, and i don't believe he wouldn't have any strings attached to any of these goodwill donations.

Messrs Gray and Palmiotti (formerly known as Joe Quesada's favorite inker) have a fun hit here, and i hope it lasts awhile. they do a competent job, but i do hope they know how to tie loose ends - in issue #3 they introduced a character called Veil, who seems to be in fact, the real brains behind the Corporation and Skrull organ business. and upon the destruction of the Hart Island facilities is nowhere to be found, or mentioned at all.

i like Billy Tucci's (Shi) art, but succeeding issues had him doing the covers (for which he might be best suited at this point), and giving way to Francis Portela, who's okay and seems to be getting the hang of it. by the way, do you know what his favorite action scene is? hint: it involves people flying through walls, windows or other openings (whether they give way or not).

last note: with this poster, i can already see a Hollywood movie being made. if i were casting director, my first important task, is to prevent Biatché from auditioning for, much less winning the Misty Knight role. at all costs.

ok ladies ... quarter turn!
issues read: #1-5

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

coming out of the dark

The Darkness/Wolverine
Frank Tieri/Tyler Kirkham
Top Cow/Marvel

its already the 21st century, and they're still doing intercompany crossovers? who in Rob Liefeld's name thought about this?

seriously, The Darkness/Wolverine one-shot seems to be out of place in this day and age, although the era it belonged probably didn't do the much for the appeal of such endeavors. too much crossing over, not enough food for thought. Punisher/Archie, anyone?

Frank Tieri (not the mobster), hard-hitting writer of Wolverine, comes up with a barely passable plot to get these two characters in some shared universe without compromising their own respective worlds. to set up, everyone knows Wolverine (or do they?), but The Darkness is a strange character, a gangster resurrected by demons and eventually wields control over such powerful demonic forces. his mailing address is "Mr. T. Darkness, Brooklyn, NY 11201". just like Wolverine, has a fairly convoluted history and storyline (although ol' canucklehead has got the head start on him on "confusing").

the current wielder of the Darkness, one Jackie Estacado, had a grandfather, a Spanish mercenary/assassin named Roberto. back in WWII France, Roberto is hired by the Nazis to off Logan for ... gee, i don't know, for vandalizing Hitler posters? ... for helping the Allies. needless to say, Roberto, despite also having control of the Darkness (what, it's a generational thing? like retardation?), ends up chopped meat.

Logan was a sought-after free agent in the butcher market

needless to say, the demons that make up the Darkness never forgot, and in the present day, tries to coerce Jackie to avenge his grampa Robert, when he runs into Logan in a bar by chance (we all know Logan is as old as Jesus Christ, and his healing factor never lets him down). so everyone who bought this book thought they were in for some big-ass slashing, cutting throwdown. right? right???

nah. Jackie figures he controls the Darkness, not the other way around. so he raises a toast to Wolverine, and teams up with him to beef up the meat market (aaaawwwwww).

Tyler Kirkham wants to be an Alex Ross though he's not there yet. there's a general air of stiffness (stiffness? meat? what the hell-!) in his layouts, but some shots are gorgeous.

so if Tieri thinks the fanboys will go happy nuts over this ... Logan has some advice for him:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

bugs ... live!

The Exterminators
Simon Oliver/Tony Moore/Philip Bond/Chris Samnee/Mike Hawthorne/Ande Parks

humanity has been the ruling species on this planet for thousands of years now. but if you think about it, including the periodic reigns of other life forms (e.g., reptiles), civilizations do come and go. it may only be a matter of time before mankind also goes the way of the dinosaurs. so are we really in control? who is?

newcomer Simon Oliver pulls out all the stops in his comic debut with The Exterminators, a blend of sci-fi, horror, talky drama, political and corporate intrigue, and self-examination, in collaboration with indie artist Tony Moore. i mean, barring the Pixar cartoons, no one would bother to write a comic book series revolving around bugs. or the guys that kill bugs (unless you count Starship Troopers, but that's on a different scale).

bugs, insects and pests have been a bane of society since civilization began, and perhaps they are a by-product of progress. despite inventing ways to efficiently eliminate them, we can never totally do. they even stir our imaginations as a fantasy scourge in novels and films - add some radiation, voila! instant hyped-up objet d'pop culture, on both sides of the fence. do you prefer 8-Legged Freaks or Spider-Man? Food of the Gods or Mickey Mouse?

note: if you're eating while reading this, and have no stomach for gory details, just go to right now.

here we are in 21st century L.A. where we find one Henry James, ex-con, starting a new job as an exterminator for Bug Bee Gone, owned by his mother's 2nd husband Nils. his first week on the job has him teamed up with AJ, a corrupt misogynist racist bastard.

aside from extracting "favors" from (female) customers who can't pay, AJ also spends his free time getting high ... injecting himself with Draxx, Bug Bee Gone's roach poison of choice. but despite his negatives (nyuk nyuk), the jerk's a pest expert.

and without much ado, he bites the dust in issue #2, exploding from the inside (not for the squeamish). he would be the second fatality in that same day, as Henry discovers another dead body with similar cause of death. he also discovers a box with a scarab symbol among AJ's things.

Saloth Sar, Bug Bee Gone's resident chemical expert, has just presented Nils with evidence that Draxx may not be what it seems - introducing it to a cockroach's latent mutant gene makes it go nuts. introduced intravenously to the human body, Draxx becomes a potent addictive drug as any, and once it reaches its saturation point, organs will go boom! (exhibit A: AJ)

with AJ dead, Henry needs a new partner to finish up training. he either teams up with Kevin, a (yech) bug-eating weirdo, or Stretch, a mysterious Zen-quoting black cowboy. thankfully (but he doesn't know it at that time), Nils pairs him with the latter.

their first team-up brings them to a rat-infested halfway house owned by a friend of a local congressman. Henry is incensed by Stretch's pacifist stance seemingly clashing with his decision to take hush money from the owner, who wants them to shut up about the shoddy treatment of the inmates. little does Henry know that Stretch got it all worked out. owner and his roadster goes ... off-road.

we should do this to all corrupt elected officials. sometimes we can't wait for Karma, can we?

just to let you appreciate how crappy and thankless an exterminator's job is, what if you wake up at night and find yourself in this situation?

still wary of Stretch's belief system, Henry rides out with Kevin for a couple of days. not to say that it wasn't interesting - the Carpenters all day on the truck radio, and finding pests in a ridiculous situation like this:

"supersize me!" seems too weak

Kevin also has a fatalistic streak - and believes Judgment Day will be coming soon, with the people screaming for them "Bug Brothers" to save them from damnation (being overrun by Mother Nature's wrath). Kevin then mentions the symbolism of a Scarab - which drives Henry to discover a scarab beetle key in the home where he discovered the dead body previously.

Henry also provides a quid pro quo for a single mother, whose apartment is infested by roaches. before you pass judgment, Henry did the job in exchange for book-keeping for BBG. however, the job he did (you got it ... spraying roaches with Draxx) just made the sitch worse.

never happens to Wall Street types

Draxx is like PCP, crack, shabu and cocaine all rolled into a hand grenade.

notifying Nils of the problem, and thus independently verifying Saloth's findings, the BBG guys have no choice but to do a Code IV. this means low-intensity kaingin (slash-and-burn for you English types).

in the process, Henry finds Stretch a suitable partner and a good friend.

aside from his daily adventures with BBG, Simon Oliver antes up the multi-threaded story by having his girlfriend Laura (who wants him to find a better job) get a job and promotion with Ocran, the corporation responsible for Draxx, and whom Saloth suspects of developing Draxx for the military back in Vietnam, and peddled as roach poison decades later.

by the way, did i mention Laura swings both ways and thus has an easier way to the top?

Henry's continuing involvement with BBG and his increasing comfiness with his new pals drives him further away from Laura ...

when you think of Laura, laugh don't cry, i know she'd want it that way

... and at the same time finding new love in a form of Page, a ... what shall we call it ... a worker in a "fantasy sex institute". damn, give me the address!!!


despite BBG's best efforts, Saloth fears that the Draxx-powered bugs are not going away anytime soon, and the possibility of them getting organized is high. his fears are realized when a the truck carrying the dead roaches gets into an accident, and the lone survivor (i don't mean the sanitation workers) gets to fight another day.

you have to follow all the storylines, but to Oliver's credit they never get convoluted.

it turns out that Page's day job pays for her post-grad Egyptology studies, so Henry has more reasons to hang out with her. Page helps him out with the Scarab box questions with Professor Wolfe, a spinster with a pizza addiction, and who may or may not have been the official psychiatrist for the Nazi party (and still pining for Carl Jung, that horny toad).

it also turns out that Kevin the weirdo has S&M inclinations, cranking up his exterminator instincts by moonlighting as El Muerte Negra, a player in the underground wrestling circuit. he goes up against rats. did i mention he goes up against rats?

a deleted scene in Nacho Libre

Saloth Sar, genetic genius working for a bug company, may have his own demons - he has a hidden past working for the great humanitarian Pol Pot, a past that he has no compunction to do anything to keep hidden.

and he has good reason to keep it that way, since he's kind of getting some. revenge of the nerds, baby!!!

but wait ... Pol Pot's real name is actually Saloth Sar!?! Mr. Oliver, you fiendish, you.

Nils has to reluctantly dip into and retell BBG's history as a company founded by his father, with a partner named Crawley. Crawley until his death, was increasingly becoming a sexual deviant and dabbled in ritualistic practices, not coincidentally tied in with BBG's meal ticket: bugs. (crap, did i say "meal"?)

there's also the research made by Page and Professor Wolfe, about a brutal Egyptian king named Atan, who worshipped a bug deity called Kheperon, and forced his people to do so or else. just prior to being mummified, Atan vowed to return in another form, one way or another, to bring dominion of the bugs over mankind.

sounds like a movie to me!

oh, yeah, and there's the sightings of a mysteriously-resurrected AJ. no coincidence.

Saloth's fears are realized when a bug insurgency takes place, and they methodically attack a power station (no, not that semi-supergroup).

the Bush presidency will always have its laughable moments

Detective Hunter, an ornery detective character role made for Jack Nicholson, is still unconvinced about Henry's innocence in AJ's death, but promises to sweep things under the rug if the Bug Brothers fix this mess.

"Protect and Serve" is only for rookie cops. after that, its "Heat and Serve".

what follows is an icky/funny battle down in our sewage system, as Henry, Stretch and Kevin wade through shit (literally) and face off against a probably-resurrected Atan (via AJ) and his roach army.

Oliver has the trio talking like informed and intelligent geeks, rather than the blue collar joes that might be associated with such a job.

i don't have enough experience with being in sewers and how it may affect your logical reasoning; let's just say you might lose your sanity in that muck.

with millions of roaches overloading their sensors, the facility manager has no choice but to pump all the raw sewage out in the sea.

fear factor: septic tank edition

The Exterminators is a funny and interesting read, and even throws in relationship issues more than most. obviously, the story isn't over, with Atan convincing the roaches that he is the real deal, leaving Henry to deal with him in the future as he learns more about the box. plus you have the mega-corporation factor and the knowledge (or not) that Saloth may be on the side of the angels (or not).

oh by the way, did i mention about the sex ... maybe i forgot. my bad.

humanity may still exterminate all the pests plaguing it. but we could still shoot ourselves in the foot. with fatal results.

we could easily be la cucaracha
issues read: #1-12