Wednesday, March 28, 2012

all four 1 seeds make the women's final four.

With an eye on the past, but its gaze overwhelmingly focused on the future, women's college basketball set up a historic Final Four earlier this week. On Monday, the Baylor Bears dispatched the Tennessee Lady Vols and legendary coach Pat Summitt. Prior to that, the Stanford Cardinal did away with 2 seed Duke. On Tuesday, the University of Connecticut got the ball rolling again for the 1 seeds, and Notre Dame finished off the excitement against Maryland. Over the course of four games in two nights – hardly one fell swoop, but still a pretty decisive manner – all four 1 seeds confirmed their reservations for the women's NCAA Final Four in Denver. This marks only the second time in the history of the women's tournament when this has happened - the other occurring back in 1989.

Stanford got the sweep started, carried by their senior Nnemkadi Ogwumike. Ogwumike's been in this position before, as she's made the Final Four in each of her four years with the Cardinal, having been beat by UConn twice and losing to eventual champ Texas A&M last year. Stanford, in fact, made the Final Four before Ogwumike arrived, which makes this their fifth in a row. Coach Tara VanDerveer has done an amazing job getting this school back up to lofty standards, but they've drawn the unfortunate dishonor or playing Baylor on Sunday night.

If there's a standout amongst four top seeds, it's got to be the Baylor Bears. Brittney Griner may be getting the most publicity for her in-game dunks, but there's no doubt that her defense in the true highlight. In the NCAAs, she's flirted with a triple double, especially against Tennessee. However, the Bears' ascension means that something has to be left behind, and this year, the Tennessee Lady Vols will not be a part of the Final Four for the fourth year in a row. To put this in perspective, to find the last time Pat Summitt's team didn't make the Final Four two years in a row, we have to stretch back to 1993 and 1994. While Summitt's future is up in the air it appears as though it's no longer a foregone conclusion that Tennessee and UConn will run women's basketball - and the sport is all the better for it.

Despite the Lady Vols being sidelined, the old guard will be well-represented by the University of Connecticut and their Huskies. Coach Geno Auriemma matches Stanford's accomplishment by making his fifth Final Four in a row, but he won't be satisfied with making the Final Four; UConn has won seven previous national titles – and three in a row at one point – so they'll be geared up to play against Notre Dame. Coach Auriemma has even admitted that after losing Maya Moore last year, he wasn't sure what kind of team this was going to be, or how deep of a run they could make. As usual, though, the Huskies have come through with a dominant regular season and a stifling defense. UConn lost only four times in the regular season. Two of those losses, however, came at the hands of Notre Dame.

The relative newcomer of the group finished things up on Tuesday night by unleashing a beating on Maryland. The Irish were national runners-up last year, getting edged in the title game by Texas A&M, have only won the national title once before and only been to the Final Four once besides that. To couch these accomplishments in terms such as "only won the national title once before" shows what a decorated group of teams are about to converge on Denver. The great guard play of Notre Dame starts with Skylar Diggins, but extends to the rest of the team, too, comprising one of the deepest teams in the field.

When the games begin on Sunday in this ridiculously talented women's field, anyone who's watching will see some of the finest basketball that will be played that weekend. And when a new champion is crowned on Tuesday, it will have long-lasting ramifications for the game - no matter which 1 it is.

Monday, March 26, 2012

comics for the week of 03/21/12.

After a magnificent week last week, this time around, I only picked up two books and, honestly, I wasn't very happy with either of them.

Batman 7 - Well, the Court of the Owls story has now passed a point where I'm automatically impressed with everything that happens. Sure, this is another great issue from Scott Snyder, and Greg Capullo has more than proven me wrong with his artistic talents on the book. However, here we find out that the Talons and the Court and Haley's Circus had some kind of shady deal and it's all so provoking and then Bruce hits Dick Grayson, but psych! it was only to knock out the secret bring-you-back-to-life-for-the-bad-guys implant! Oh. OK. I'm not super psyched on the so-called revelation, nor on the needless convoluting of what was already a solid story. However, the fact remains that Snyder's got a solid grip on the Batman mythos and his book is one of the best that DC is putting out.

Fables 116 - A great addition, along the lines of last issue, split into at least three distinct stories. We track the wolf cub, the revolution in Oz and the goings-on in New Fabletown, where things are going to get difficult very soon. Silly Nurse Sprat is going to be quite the formidable enemy. Also, I'm very worried for Therese. The toys seem to usurping her will to escape. All in all, a solid issue, sure, but not much happening.

Neither of the comics was great this week, but Batman gets the nod, despite my frustration with the stupid retcon of Dick Grayson's past. Book of the week goes to Scott Snyder, in whom I have faith.

Monday, March 19, 2012

comics for the week of 03/14/12.

Fattest stack in a while, I'm overbudget on comics already for this month, and I still have two weeks to buy! You won't find me complaining about it, though, cuz these were some damn good books.

Batwoman 7 - Without JH Williams pencilling, I was a bit disappointed in last issue. With this solid addition, that disappointment is gone. Reeder can more than adequately handle the pencilling duties and the story is still one of the best in the DCnU. The DEO, Director Bones, the interaction between Kate and her Police girlfriend, and the odd assembly of villains that have been created purely for this book make it one of the coolest new comics in a long, long time. The only confusing bit was the guy with the hook - have we seen him before? Batwoman seemed to recognize him (she called him Rush?) but I don't remember him or that name.

Buffy 7 - I don't know how much I can talk about this book without spoiling it. It was a great issue, but the ending was extremely strange and it cast doubt on the interactions between Spike and Buffy for the whole issue, not to mention for the whole series. I don't really know what's going on at this point, but I do feel like it's been good. I want to hold off on judging this one until I get next month's issue, though, so I think that's all I'll say about this.

Fantastic Four 604 - I know Hickman's not leaving the book with this issue, but it feels like the perfect conclusion, so I think I'll be leaving. This was my favorite run of Fantastic Four ever. I'm not a huge FF fan, but I've gone through a couple waves of it and this one just feels so epic. It feels like FF told the way it should be told. Here, we see the older versions of Franklin and Valerie come back, save the day against the Celestials and have an intriguing encounter with the dead Galactus. Despite the incredibly controversial lines that Val speaks to herself, the interaction between Franklin, Reed and Nathaniel Richards is really at the heart of this issue: "Every boy deserves a father." If you can read that line without tearing up then the beauty of the conclusion isn't for you, either. "For if we live, there is hope. And if we hope, then there is tomorrow. And if tomorrow...then...forever." Perfect.

Green Lantern 7 - While this was a good issue, I get pretty pissed off when the cover asks, "Can they survive the shocking secret of the Indigo Tribe?" and then we don't get any of the secrets of the Indigo Tribe inside the issue. Sinestro's back to slap Hal around, telling him what to do, but Indigo-1 shows up to take things over. Carol puts on her ring, for no real reason, and the Guardians have a conversation with Lyssa Drak. Not a lot more worth saying.

Locke and Key 5 - It is disturbing how good this comic is. We get to see the first half of the real origin of Dodge as bad guy here. The art is as good as any other comic book artist ever, but let's be real, the story is what we're here for. And the story excels in every area in this issue. The wit of Erin Voss, the guilt of Rendell Locke, the hopeless love of Ellie, all are put on display here. But front and center is the pure evil of the transformed Dodge. The most heartbreaking thing of the last few issues was seeing how truly good Luke used to be. But now...he's gone. The last issue of this arc (Clockworks) is going to be a killer, but it's also going to be truly disappointing, because I know that it'll be a longer than usual wait for the concluding arc.

Powers 9 - The God serial killer arc continues and we actually have 2 issues of Powers in this calendar year! I'm not sure which one is more impressive, since the story is just kind of so-so. It continues in the same manner as we've come to expect from Powers, which isn't bad, but is also a little less than we'd expect after such a drastic delay. If Bendis has other things going on, that's fine, but he shouldn't put out a just-par product. The best parts of the book are the interactions between Deena and Walker, so it seems clear that Sunrise, with her confession just narrowly averted, is not long for the book. That's fine with me, and I don't see it as a step back, especially with the role of the new Retro Girl echoing back to the first issues of this series. It's perpetually stuck in that loop, but it's a good loop, so let's just embrace it.

Resurrection Man 7 - This is my fun book. Here, we have a classic plot of a bad guy holed up in a building with powers, and the cops can't handle it. Mitch helps out, the cops mistake him for a bad guy, but everything works out in the end. I'm not sure if I want this book to have an overall arc or if it should just focus on small storytelling. But what they're doing now is working. The only other interesting note is that this issue was semi-narrated by Clark Kent. Nice plot device.

Saga 1 - Brian K. Vaughan can do no wrong. Plus, it was 44 pages with no ads for only 2.99! The art was cool, I hadn't heard of Fiona Staples before, but she's all right in my book now. The book is a space drama, with a little bit of Romeo and Juliet thrown into the mix. The world they're creating is interesting but I honestly didn't feel compelled. I'll keep up with this book because of BKV's promise, but I didn't immediately feel this was one of the best books I'd ever read. I love the fact that Hazel is narrating the whole thing, though, because that shows long-term promise.

Ultimate X-Men 9 - With every step forward for this book, there comes another step back. The Camp Angel aspect, the revisiting the news that the US government created the mutants, the complete abandoning of the plot threads in the present, the fact that Storm is unhappy with her role as a sellout...these are not good decisions. I know they're looking at a big picture of getting the whole band back together, but you've already started telling a story that was really, really, really good - and super interesting! To backtrack is death. Poor issue.

The Unwritten 35 - A completely unexpected issue. We have the full reveal of Pullman's origin, the death of a major character and, seemingly, the changing of Tom's quest. The War of the Words (apparently) isn't over yet, because there's still another half issue in two weeks. This does, however, feel like the conclusion. Given that they give the title of the next issue as "The Wound" I think we're going to be dealing with the aftermath of this issue for quite a while. Justifiably so, since it's so so so strong. The cover tells you everything you need to know, except for the Pullman bits, which seemed to come from out of left field, but totally make sense in the grand scheme of things. I was also very drawn in by Pullman's line that he had created "a million proxies" while Wilson Taylor had gotten it right with just the one. The substories with Mr. Bun seem like they're only going to get more and more important from here on out. It sucks when you dedicate your life to a quest and you accomplish that goal, only to discover you were chasing the wrong thing the whole time. But it's great for us because it means this book's second act is only going to get bigger.

Wolverine and the X-Men 7 - Bradshaw's art is as good as it's been for the last few issues, except for a few places where he gets carried away with the cartoony style and makes some of the characters (Wolvie in particular) too blocky. However, there are lost of long-term implications hidden in this issue: Warbird's feelings for Bobby, Broo's characterization, Kitty's kissing Bobby, and Wolverine's long-term health (my guess is this is solved off-panel between this issue and next, which is a shame). However, the biggest thing to me are the Bamfs. I have no idea where they came from, and Professor Xanto's words are clearly a clue. This book has waffled between total light-hearted fun and the serious nature of this issue's ending might throw off a few people, but it's still a great throwback book.

Book of the week has to go to Fantastic Four. I know an issue of Locke and Key came out this week, but FF was, literally, perfect. It had everything that every kid would ever expect from a comic and so much more for the grownups, too. Hickman is the new King.

Monday, March 12, 2012

comics for the week of 03/08/12.

Quality rules. Quantity is a stupid measure. DC should learn this.

Animal Man 7 - Still one of the best books DC is putting out, to my shock and awe. Here, we get a glimpse of the future and we see Maxine as the important element she is. The trouble with investing myself here is that it feels like all of this is only a placeholder, especially with that ridiculously stupid Justice League backup with Pandora. (Great naming job.) I don't want to invest myself in characters like Animal Man and Maxine only to have them ripped away a la Dick Grayson's Batman. Anyway, here we see that the Rot really, truly is gross, that it's kicking the ass of the Green and that Swamp Thing will be involved in the battle with either Buddy or Maxine or both. It sounds simple, but it's well done.

Fairest 1 - The cover was cool, the Jiminez art inside was nice, and the story was more than satisfactory, but just like with Jack of Fables, I feel like this one is not for me. I was happy to try it out and I like the idea of Ali Baba interacting with the ladies, but I can't bring myself to invest in yet another angle where there are already so many going on in Fables.

Rachel Rising 6 - Terry Moore is crafting one seriously messed up story. I have no idea where he's really going with this, but it seems like every issue is getting darker and darker. I'm quite fine with that because he's doing a hell of a job with it. Here, we have a variation on his typical man, insofar as the guy seems to be a friend, but then turns out to be a weirdo creep. Most of them don't even get that chance. We've got some tragic deaths and we've got the most interesting end to any issue of this series that he's thus far crafted. There seem to be some serious Big Powers at play here; I wonder if we'll ever get that aspect, or if the story will stick on the little people that do the actual fighting for the generals. I'd be happy either way, I think, but knowing Moore, we're in for some serious focus on the grunts/pawns/foot soldiers. Buckle up.

Ultimate Spider-Man 8 - The most fun comic that I've got going for me continues to get better and better. Here we see Miles' uncle Aaron try to work his charm on some educated ladies and get shot down pretty hard. We see Ganke playing the best friend role that was once perfected by Foggy Nelson to the next best degree since then. We see a cop who's got an interest in the new Spider-Man and is clearly going to become a great minor character, we see the Scorpion who is a for real bad guy, and, hilariously, we see the Ringer get taken down by Spidey yet again. Some guys can never catch a break. Intriguingly, we also have a preface with Aunt May and Gwen Stacy in Paris. That's not gonna go over well.

Swamp Thing 7 - This might be the second best DC title coming out, after Batwoman. The art by Yanick is amazing and Snyder is crafting just as fine a story in this book as he's doing with Batman. The sacrifice of Alec Holland is the centerpiece of this issue, but we also get to see nearly everyone acting in ways that defy their base characters: the Parliament, Alec (of course) and even Abagail is fighting against her most primal desires. Seethe (is that really what we're gonna call him? Seems a bit weak) is being set up as a fantastic archnemesis for Swampy, even without any of the intrigue of his sister and their relationship. If the Travel Foreman art in Animal Man took some getting used to, Paquette's art here feels like a second skin. The gorgeous colors and the flow of the pages is enough to draw even a casual fan in. However, if they're looking for standard superhero fare, I can see them being turned away by the graphic representation of the Red, and Alec's transformation into Swamp Thing and his retaliation. If you're into comic books, though, this is the one for you.

Book of the week goes to Swamp Thing. Snyder is hitting on all cylinders at this point. There's almost nowhere I wouldn't follow him.

Monday, March 5, 2012

comics for the week of 03/01/12.

There's nothing like comics. When I had my chat session with some of my fellow nerds lately, it was one of the most fun three-hour periods of yelling that I've recently had. I don't understand people who don't like comic books.

Angel & Faith 7 - Drusilla is sane! Really! And Faith's dad is just as bad as we suspected. That's pretty much the gist of this issue other than to say that Dru gives us some of the best insight into Angel that we've had throughout this entire series' run. Which is a bit worrisome, to be honest. But it's no surprise: Angel is pretty singularly dedicated to this task that he thinks is before him (bringing Giles back) and he's gone further with it than he's confided in Faith. Meanwhile, Faith's daddy is a baddy. Shocker. That sounds sarcastic, but I'm truly enjoying this title.

FF 15 - The other side of the story is just as good. FF is a solid title that is serving both on its own and also serving up as definite evidence that Hickman has got too much to say. My friend Dave recently told me that the word is that Hickman is jumping off this title, and I guess I can see that, if he's told the story that he set out to tell, but it's clear there's some more to tell, too. I'm hoping that he's getting to leave on his terms (I can't imagine how else it could be happening - this is the best Fantastic Four has been in...ever?) and that he'll get to finish that story up. The whole time travel with Nathaniel Richards, not to mention the kids, makes things seem like they're not going to be very sticky when he leaves, but I'm hoping that's not the case. Galactus being gone, along with Doom, at least for a while, will force the next writer to truly innovate, too, instead of falling back on those old tricks. Double bravo.

Invincible 89 - I'm not going to say that the cover was a fakeout because it definitely wasn't, but I truly do not feel that Mark is any kind of mortal danger. I'm positive that Mark is around for the long term. The more interesting wrinkle from this issue is the revelation, to everyone that matters, of the Viltrumite invasion of Earth. It's a seriously troubling development, and while we, as readers, have had quite a while to get used to it, I can't imagine that Cecil is going to take this very well. I'm sure we'll get an issue in the near future (maybe next ish?) where Allen is wrestling with his feelings on this turn of events, too. Allen and Mark and pretty great friends, and I'm sure that in 100 of the scenarios he imagined, Allen did not foresee this outcome. Meanwhile, Eve is handling business.

Justice League 6 - The end of the arc and the end of my commitment to buying this shitty title. There's not a lot to say here. The JL defeats Darkseid, some reporter narrates a lot of the issue and Bruce gets a look at Apokolips. Barry and Hal are kind of on their way to being the pair we expected them to be, but the whole thing seems like an exercise in trivia; who cares? The art's not even that good, to be honest.

The Ultimates 7 - I'm confused as to the Xian and Zorn/Xorn thing, but this book is so good! Hickman working another angle here, but still telling a story that is super engaging. I honestly don't even remember what happened in this book versus Ultimate X-Men, but that's also not something I mind. It was delightful to see the Hulk again, especially in such control, at least, until he realized what the threat was. His going nuts on the City is something that I'm looking forward to even more, given the levels they've pumped him up to in this Ultimate Universe.

The Unwritten 34.5 - Bizarre to see Mme. Rausch as a kind of a good guy here, serving as the introduction to Wilson Taylor and his experience with the Leviathan. The Powers That Be's appearance in this story wasn't entirely unexpected, but the degree to which Wilson Taylor bent him (it? her? them?) and his power to his will so easily and so quickly was really the shocking thing about this issue. It's no surprise, then, that the Cabal is so possessive of Taylor when we later see them all: his powers are vast. Here we see that Tommy isn't the only one who works his magic ferociously and without mercy when it comes to saving his own skin.

Ultimate X-Men 8 - I'm not sure at this point which of the Ultimate titles I'm supposed to read first, as the crossover that's happening between the X book and the Ultimates book is extremely intense. However, I don't think my enjoyment of the title depends on reading one first either. The story is basically being split between the two books (just like FF and Fantastic Four, but with different writers here in the Ultimate Universe) and it's just as good in each. The way the telepathy angle is handled, on multiple ends, makes it tough to tell where the lies are and what the truth is going to end up being, but as per my complaint with Quicksilver, I'm not sure I'd have it any other way. The story possibilities are super intriguing, especially with the Eternals/Celestials component, and the fact that Jean Grey is smack dab in the middle of this just means that it's going to be a story that matters.

Book of the week goes to FF. Hickman could have easily won for his Ultimates book, too, but the way the story is intertwining with just him in the mainstream Marvel Universe is superimpressive to me.