Wednesday, April 16, 2008 04:12 PM
(Last updated on Wednesday, April 16, 2008 08:16 PM)
The Take
 by Fëanor

(Updated. I posted this before it was really done, so I went back over it and made various edits, sometimes for content, but mostly to fix grammar errors and awkward phrasing.)

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

On top of the pile of books I picked up at the shop this past week, I added a whole other pile that I found at the library, after discovering that they inexplicably keep half their graphic novels downstairs in one section, and the other half upstairs in the children's section (Warren Ellis in the children's section? What are they thinking?!). And this past week the film festival was still going on, so I had plenty of time to read while waiting for movies to start. All of which is just to warn you that this week's installment is very, very long.

Back issues and old data: books I own
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #2
Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #3
Having recently finally found #1 of this miniseries, I was able to go back and read the other issues that I'd already bought. Sadly, the more I read of Mouse Guard, the more disappointed I am with the writing and editing. The poem that opens each issue is almost always quite bad (broken, clumsy rhythm and awkward rhymes), and the rest of the text is often littered with typos. It remains entertaining to me, however, thanks to creative ideas (I love what he does with the bats and the abandoned ferret warren) and impressive visuals (the image of the owl with one bloody eye standing and waiting over the hole at the end of #3 is particularly striking and evocative). So I expect I'll stick with it for now.
Thumbs Sideways

Back issues and old data: Star's old comics
Dracula: Vlad the Impaler #1
Another old Dracula comic from Topps that I just couldn't bring myself to finish reading. This one purports to tell the true story of the historical Dracula, but rather spoils the effect by opening up with narration from a vampire. It then jumps back in time to tell the turgid, violent, melodramatic tale of Dracula's childhood in Wallachia. It's ridiculously wordy and really quite boring. I quickly decided it wasn't worth my time and dropped it.
Thumbs Down

Back issues and old data: from the library
JSA: Lost
JSA: Mixed Signals
I picked up these two lengthy Justice Society collections because they were written by Geoff Johns, and I've enjoyed his work a great deal in Action Comics and Green Lantern. The first, Lost, pulls together issues #59-67 of JSA, originally published in 2004 and 2005, and Mixed Signals covers #76-81 from 2005 and 2006. At this point in the history of the JSA, the main members are Mr. Terrific, Doctor Mid-Nite, Hourman, the original Flash (Jay Garrick), the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Power Girl, Wildcat, Stargirl, and Hawkgirl. These are mostly has-beens and never-weres, and none of them are particularly interesting characters. Both of these collections make references to all kinds of characters and events that I'm not particularly familiar with, but I think that's only part of the reason why I found them, on the whole, either dull or outright annoying. Lost is the longer book and opens up with some time-traveling fascist messing with the group by showing up and telling them about all kinds of awful things that are going to happen. Then Hal Jordan flips out as The Specter and a villain known as the Spirit King shows up to lead an army of the Specter's victims back out of hell to ruin the JSA's day. The next story is about them trying to retrieve the Sandman's one-time sidekick from under the Earth, where he's imprisoned in a dream. Then there's a crazy time travel story where various people who call themselves Hourman try to sacrifice themselves to save each other. The final story is a tie-in with Identity Crisis that focuses on the autopsy of Sue Dibny, whose death is at the center of the story.

Mixed Signals picks up with a story about a guy named Airwave freaking out and having to go help some aliens. Dr. Fate and his girl Lyta get into trouble and end up having to escape into Dream. Then there's a giant fight with the villain Mordru, and a trip into the sixth dimension to face off against a possessed kid named Jakeem. Then we get to hear about Stargirl's family issues.

All of these stories are pretty confusing, ridiculous, unbelievable, and melodramatic, with lots of philosophizing and emotional issues and corny dialogue. The sequence in the sixth dimension is particularly terrible. Occasionally these books are entertaining, but mostly they're just really mediocre.
Thumbs Down

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell
That Warren Ellis was the writer on this meant I had to grab it immediately, but it's an extra bonus that it's Ellis writing DC characters, which is something I don't get to read very often. And he does his usual mind-blowingly excellent job here, producing what may be my favorite Justice League story of all time. He introduces each of the members of the team - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Martian Manhunter, Wally's Flash, and Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern - and shows each of them coming into contact with a different tragic and violent event, each connected to a different fragment of a mysterious and ancient text. The complete text, once assembled, leads them into a battle with an alien weapon that threatens the entire planet.

Ellis' story works so well because the focus is strongly on the characters themselves, and he captures the essence of each one perfectly. He even manages to make me like the bland Kyle Rayner, which is pretty hard. Probably the most wonderfully realized characters are Superman and Lois Lane. At this point in the chronology, the two are married, and he does an excellent job establishing their relationship and the loving, sarcastic rapport they have with each other. The dialogue is brilliant and hilarious, and the plot is exciting, involving, and fast-paced. The book feels almost like a rebirth of the Justice League, reestablishing them as the smartest, most bad-ass group of bad-asses on the planet. It's perfect comics.
Thumbs Up

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volume 3
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Volume 4
I still plan on buying these so I can have them in my collection, but when I saw them on the shelf in the library, I couldn't resist pulling them down. And I was not disappointed. I really can't believe how fantastic this manga is; even better than Miyazaki's amazing film adaptation. It's a complex and epic story about war, magic, fate, politics, religion, the environment, morality, and ethics. It's action-packed, utterly absorbing, absolutely thrilling, and deeply moving.
Thumbs Up

Warren Ellis strikes again! This reminds me a lot of Orbiter, as it's another graphic novel by Ellis that's set in the near future of our own world, with a story that clearly comes out of the man's deep love for space flight. A small group of scientists in orbit around Europa, a moon of Jupiter, discover ancient people and weaponry floating in the ocean underneath the surface ice. They call in a weapons expert to help, but a nearby space station owned by a technology corporation (clearly meant to be a parody of Microsoft, as one of their products is an operating system that always crashes called Doors 98) is already determined to have the weapons for themselves. So begins a dangerous battle that eventually puts the entire human race in jeopardy.

Sounds like Ellis, right? And just like almost all of Ellis' other work, the story is intense and involving, and there's lots of insane, bloody action; crazy future science; funny, smart dialogue; interesting characters; and mind-blowingly epic events. In other words, it's fantastic.
Thumbs Up

New releases
George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards: Hard Call #1
This isn't totally awesome, but it's good enough that I plan to keep collecting for now. It's set in a future Earth that's plagued by the Wild Card virus, a sickness which has a random effect on its victims: you can draw the Black Queen and die horribly, draw the Joker and end up a disfigured mutant, or draw the Ace and gain incredible supernatural powers. It follows the story of an Ace named Sleeper who's apparently a good guy; a mysterious Joker who shoots and kills the Sleeper's friend and steals something called the Trump virus; and a young boy who finds himself at the middle of an outbreak and becomes an Ace. Nothing has really come together yet, but a number of mysteries have presented themselves, and I'm interested. Plus, the characters are relatively fascinating, and the dialogue and narration are pretty good. We'll see how it goes...
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D. 1946 #4
Oh man, this series just keeps getting better and better. In this issue we get more of the backstory on the Vampyr Sturm project, and Bruttenholm gets a lead on where the missing containers might have gone. When they get there, they come into conflict with an old Hellboy villain whom it was truly wonderful to see again. Oh, and the white owl makes a creepy and violent reappearance. The art continues to be beautiful and disturbing, the writing brilliant. Fantastic stuff!
Thumbs Up

Goon #23
I've been complaining about the sort of semi-serious turn this book is taking in my past couple installments of The Setup and The Take, but I have to say, even though this issue is still strongly in the same mold, I really enjoyed it. I don't know if it's better than the recent issues or if I'm just getting more used to what Powell is doing now, but regardless, I like it! There's some really funny bits, some mysterious and intriguing events, some fun action, and a hilarious ending featuring cupcakes. Then in the back pages Powell reveals that he has a stake in a Nashville Rollergirl team before then going on to answer questions from some of them. Crazy!
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern Corp #23
That one nasty guy is still out there collecting Sinestro Corps rings, and the Guardians of Oa have finally started to notice something funky going on, so they call in a bunch of their heavy hitters and send them out to find and destroy the rings. The Lanterns manage to take care of a couple of the lesser Sinestro Corps members, but the big bad guy is still out there causing trouble, and Rayner and Gardner defy orders to go find two other Lanterns when they go missing. It's a fun, exciting story with great art and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Thumbs Up

Criminal 2 #2
The latest Criminal one-shot takes us back in time to tell us a bit of the story of the Lawless family patriarch, Teeg. It's the kind of story we've come to expect from Criminal: bloody, violent, and tragic, with a shatteringly dark and realistic character portrait at the center of it. The story here connects into the story of the previous one-shot in very interesting ways. It's brutal and amazing. In the back is an ad for the Criterion Collection DVD release of a film I saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival, only a day or so before I read this comic: Blast of Silence. Apparently the DVD comes with a four-page comic adaptation of the film by Sean Phillips, the guy who does the amazing art on Criminal, so I think now I have to buy it. After the ad is a great little essay by my favorite new comics writer, Jason Aaron, wherein he talks about his favorite TV cops and movie tough guys. Yep, Criminal is still awesome.
Thumbs Up

Fantastic Four #556
Cap continues to go crazily out of control, and there's an epically huge super-battle that doesn't go so well for our heroes - but don't worry, Reed is on his way back and he'll fix everything.

I can't believe how quickly I went from loving this series to really disliking it. This issue annoys me for a number of reasons. First off, although I'll admit drawing a huge, complex fight that takes place in the middle of the night during a snowstorm is not exactly an easy feat, Bryan Hitch kind of spectacularly fails at pulling it off here, to the extent that it's pretty much impossible to tell what's going on through almost the entire battle sequence. Which is kind of a problem. And it's continuing to gall me that a supposed group of super geniuses could create a giant killer robot that could so easily defeat its own control system and just go crazy, and that further this robot could be so incredibly powerful that it could single-handedly, and in short order, defeat pretty much every superhero in the Marvel universe. I mean, that's just ridiculous. And if none of them could do anything, just exactly what is Reed going to be able to do? And why should we care about Johnny and his reality show and the random supervillain he's screwing?

It makes me sad, but I think I'm dropping this one.
Thumbs Down

Hedge Knight II: Sworn Sword #6
As I'd hoped, this series came to an exciting and moving conclusion, with a thrilling battle and a tragic romance. Good stuff! I hear Mr. Martin is just about finished with his third Dunk & Egg novella, too, so maybe I'll have to actually read one of those in traditional prose for once.
Thumbs Up

Nova #12
Things take a turn in this issue that, while in hindsight should have been predictable, was totally surprising to me. Characters die, come back, get healed, etc. It feels a bit like a cop-out, but it's exciting and thrilling, and it's hard to be mad with a happy ending. Plus, now we're going to see some serious ass-kicking.
Thumbs Up

Serenity: Better Days #2
Our heroes fantasize about what they're going to do with all their newfound riches, and then get to actually play the heroes for once, but it's looking like their enemies are closing in on them, and I'm betting they won't really get a chance to spend any of that money. This is a great story, and it's wonderful to see these characters again, with their personalities captured so perfectly. Very funny, very clever, very good.
Thumbs Up

Soleil #1
When I saw this in my bag, I was worried I'd picked up and bought some random comic by mistake, but then I realized it's just a free sampler that the comic shop guy dropped in with my other purchases. Apparently Marvel is soon going to start distributing English translations of comic books by a French publisher called Soleil, and this book is introducing us to some of those titles. There's an interview with each author, a summary of his/her book, and then some example pages. Although I'm certainly fascinated by the idea of there being an entirely different comic book tradition, totally unknown to me, in another part of the world, and I'm curious to know more about it, I can't say I saw anything here that looked interesting at all. I don't plan to pick up any of these titles when they get released.
Thumbs Down

Wolverine #64
In the past, Mystique pulls a deadly double-cross (as expected), and in the present, she and Wolverine prepare for the final showdown in this, the latest issue in Jason Aaron's run on Wolverine. It's more great, exciting stuff, featuring Logan pulling some smart, brutal, bad-ass trickery to continue the chase. Loving it.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Philadelphia Film Festival 2008 (Not), The Take (Not)

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