Thursday, October 9, 2008 02:57 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of October 1st, plus a couple of TPBs from the library, and three books that I received for my birthday.

Back issues and old data
The Dark Horse Book of Monsters
This is a hardcover collection of stories about monsters put out by Dark Horse in 2006; I grabbed it off the library shelf because it had "monsters" and "Dark Horse" in the title. The size of the book is a bit odd - it's about an inch less in height and a quarter inch less in width than your average trade paperback. As with most compilations, it has good stories and bad stories. The first story is one of the bad ones. It's "I Witnessed the End of the World!" by Kurt Busiek, with pencils by Keith Giffen and inks by Al Milgrom (all familiar names to me). The frame story is set in the future, where an elderly narrator implores us to listen to his tale of apocalyptic doom. Then we flash back to 1961 for a short tale about a group of explorers rather like the Challengers of the Unknown - regular folks who go about looking for wonders and fighting monsters. They meet a new monster who looks likely to kill them all, when all the sudden the new brand of hero shows up to save them - and to change the world forever. The story is essentially a thinly veiled complaint from a devotee of the Silver Age that comics today are not like they used to be. It used to be that they were about the wonders the hero discovered, but now the hero himself is considered the wonder, and wonder itself falls by the wayside. It's a vaguely interesting concept, but the heroes it seems to be idolizing are actually pretty lame characters (especially the female character, who is a terrible stereotype), and overall it just comes off as whiny and irritating.

Next up is a Hellboy story by Mike Mignola which I actually already own in a different collection (and which I reviewed very briefly here). It's excellent, of course; a funny, moving story with fascinating connections to mythology, a cool monster, neat characters, and a fun fight. After that is one of the more unique and interesting stories in the volume - a prose short story by William Hope Hodgson, accompanied by the occasional illustration by Gary Gianni. I wasn't familiar with Hodgson, but apparently he's a horror author from the late 19th, early 20th century, and his writing and themes are vaguely similar to that of H.P. Lovecraft. This particular story is a first person account of a ship's encounter with a horrific sea monster. It's a pretty decent story, but the main character is kind of frustrating in that he really takes no action until the very end of the story, and at that point it's pretty much too late. Also, it seems like a mistake to me to put a lengthy letter at the end explaining where the account came from and giving some context to it. It certainly makes sense to include something like this, but maybe it should be shorter and/or come at the beginning of the story. As it is, having it at the ending of the tale makes the thing kind of trail off into anti-climax.

The next story is probably the worst in the book. It's a terrible Frankenstein rip-off called "To Weave a Lover," written by Arvid Nelson with art by Juan Ferreyra. It's described as "A Rex Mundi Story," which gives me the horrible impression that it's actually part of a series of such tales. Ugh. Anyways, the story is set in Paris, 1925, and opens up with a pair of journeyman physicians - Julien and Genevieve (apparently also a couple) - who are puzzled by a recent rash of female victims showing up at the hospital with their limbs hacked off. They're also worried about a friend of theirs named Vicomte De Boeldieu. He said he was onto some kind of medical breakthrough, then suddenly disappeared for a while. Then the amputation attacks started. And now De Boeldieu has reappeared and wants to see Julien and Genevieve. I think you see where this is going. The monster is building his bride! Luckily Genevieve is a resourceful young woman and takes care of everything. Besides the fact that the story is a very old one and we all know what's coming from page one, the thing is just really poorly written, with ridiculous dialogue and not one character in it that you can like or care about at all. Also, the art is just as melodramatic and overdone as the dialogue. It's just not a good story.

Next is a pretty decent yarn called "The Horror Beneath" written by Leah Moore & John Reppion with art by Timothy Green II. It's about a very British couple who travel out into the Gobi Desert to take a look at an archaeological dig their friend has been working on. The woman is not too pleased to be there, and their native guide freaks out and hightails it. This is because the animal bones found at the site are huge and menacing, and they may be more recent than they seem. It's a short and simple story, but well told, and the ending is particularly horrifying. Following this tale is what is certainly the best story in the collection, "Hidden." It's written by Scott Allie, which seems a bit odd, as he also edited the collection. Isn't it frowned upon to include your own story in the collection you're editing? Of course I don't mind that much, seeing as how it's the best one in there, but still. The art is by Paul Lee & Brian Horton, and the colors by the inimitable Dave Stewart. It's set in and around a small town presided over by a hypocritical priest who preaches Godliness, but has sinned himself with many of the local women. He gets a rash from one of them and goes to a woman in the woods named Margaret for a cure. Margaret is said to be a witch. The priest's old servant, Mrs. McGovern, sees him leaving the witch's house, which would be questionable enough, but then also sees the child that Margaret has been hiding from everyone - a strange blue creature with no pupils and pointy ears. She tells the priest what she's seen, and he sets out to destroy the thing. But he has no idea what he's going up against. The final sequence of events in the story is brilliantly edited together like a film; Mrs. McGovern heads out to put down a sick pig just as the priest is preparing his own execution. But as he calls on his God, the witch calls on hers, and things don't go the way he planned. The story also very cleverly calls into question just what we mean by the word "monster," as the true monster here is not the little blue child, but the hypocritical priest. A really fantastic piece of work. This also is apparently part of a series, as it's subtitled "A Devil's Footprints Story" in the table of contents. I'm intrigued and might have to look into that further.

The final story in the book is a bit cheesy and melodramatic, but also surprisingly moving and effective. It's called "A Dog and His Boy" and it's written by Evan Dorkin (yes, of Milk and Cheese fame, even though this story has exactly zero in common with that strip) & Sarah Dyer, with art by Jill Thompson. It's actually... well, it's a talking dog story. The idea is that dogs and cats and other animals can communicate with each other through a language we can't understand. One morning a bunch of a suburban neighborhood's pets find a battered and bloody boy sleeping in one of their dog houses. When he wakes, they discover to their great surprise that he can understand them. They all think there's something weird and wrong about him, but Ace (the dog whose house he ended up in) takes him in anyway, and the boy quickly becomes part of the pack. In fact, Ace and the boy discover in each other the best friends they've ever had. But then the boy's true nature is revealed, and the two friends are tragically torn apart.

The boy's true nature is pretty easy to guess from the beginning; other dialogue and story elements are a little cliche; and like I said, things get pretty corny at various points throughout the story. Still, because I'm a dog person, born and bred, stories involving dogs are always bound to work their way past my defenses and touch me right in my tender places, and this one is no exception. But in my defense, it's a pretty well told story, with lovely, painted art.

The Dark Horse Book of Monsters, like most collections, is a mixed bag, but it has a couple of real gems, and only one really bad story, so overall I enjoyed it.
Thumbs Sideways

Civil War: X-Men Universe
This is another book I got out of the library, with the idea that I might as well catch up a bit more on what went on during the Civil War. The collection consists of issues 8 and 9 of X-Factor by Peter David and issues 30 through 32 of Cable & Deadpool by Fabian Nicieza. I'd never read either of these books before, so it was an interesting experience.

Apparently after M Day a lot of the remaining mutants gathered together in a place called Mutant Town, and the X-Factor team set up in an old building there. Our story opens up outside said building, where a very interesting mutant named Layla is sitting on the curb. Layla's power is that she can see the future. She tries to use her ability to guide things in a positive direction, but it doesn't always work out the way she plans - like in the opening, when she tricks a couple of guys into chasing after Quicksilver in the belief that this will eliminate Quicksilver and save everybody from all the trouble he's about to cause. Even as the Superhuman Registration Act has arrived on the scene, and the members of X-Factor are trying to decide where they stand on it, a rumor comes their way suggesting that some of their X-friends haven't told them the whole story about M Day. All of this comes to a head when Quicksilver finally gets to them and tells them how the Decimation really happened. Madrox, being the leader of the team and all, is expected to have an opinion on registration, and on what they should do about M Day and so forth, but he finds himself wracked with indecision. Luckily, Layla tells him which way to walk so he'll have an experience that will clear everything up for him. When he gets back and says X-Factor is pissed at being lied to, and is also going to come out against the Superhuman Registration Act, there's almost a big fight between X-Factor and the X-Men. But ultimately it's averted and everybody is left on edge and unsure of how to feel. It's not my favorite story ever - it's actually a little bland, and has very little action, as it's mostly philosophical in nature - but the philosophical bits have their own appeal, and some of the dialogue and story and character ideas are pretty clever. (I already mentioned how much I dig Layla, and the scene with the army of Madroxes is pretty cool.) I'm not a huge fan of Dennis Calero's art (lots of strange expressions on the characters, and everything's rather... blobby), and I'm even less of a fan of Jose Villarrubia's weird color choices, but it is at least visually interesting.

Next up we learn where Cable & Deadpool came down on the registration debate. I was vaguely familiar with Cable from recently reading a little of his new solo series, and from distant memories of him from '90s-era X-Men comics. But Deadpool I only knew about from catching the occasional scan online, and from reading about him elsewhere. He's a failed Weapon X experiment who has Wolverine's healing factor, but is also completely insane. His stories, for whatever reason, are also full of postmodern comedy; Deadpool seems aware that he is in a comic book, and is constantly making reference to the comic books themselves, and to actual real people or events in pop culture. As his story begins in this book, the Civil War has already started, and he's decided to take the side of the government and the Registration Act by hunting down rogue superhumans, in the hopes that Uncle Sam will hire him to do it for cash. He's chosen what he thinks are pretty easy targets to start: a weird little team now known as the Great Lakes Champions. There are two things wrong with his choice: they're actually reasonably tough guys, and they've already registered. Regardless, he gets his point across, and the government hires him. Cable is a bit disappointed in Deadpool, as he's kind of on the other side of the debate, and has been trying to help Captain America and his anti-registration rebels. In fact, Cable is warning everyone who will listen that the Registration Act will lead to a terrible, apocalyptic future, and that it's important to end the conflict and repeal the act immediately. But Cable is always telling people what they're doing will lead to a terrible, apocalyptic future, so no one listens to him. Anyway, Deadpool just ignores all the philosophy and gets into a big fight with Cap's forces, thus ultimately getting into a fight with Cable, which he promptly loses. Then to prove a point and teach Deadpool a lesson, Cable takes them both to the White House to make a speech and do some more fighting and make another speech. Then they go somewhere else and fight and argue some more. Then the story finally ends with Deadpool maybe kind of almost convinced that the Registration Act is bad. Or at least that he should stop trying to fight Cable.

If you couldn't already tell from my plot summary, I didn't really enjoy the story all that much. As with a lot of Civil War storylines, there's way too much very serious pseudo-philosophical argumentation going on. Which is generally not all that fun, and seems particularly out of place in a Deadpool book. Also, really very little happens here. It's just a lot of wandering around, some vain pummeling, and a lot of hemming and hawing. It doesn't help that I also really don't care for Staz Johnson's ugly art.

All that being said, the book does have its bright spots. Some of the comedy is pretty funny, and Deadpool is reasonably likable as a character. He's an insane, silly, violent whacko with a ridiculously fast and powerful healing factor - which essentially makes him a cartoon character. You hit him with an anvil and he just gets back up and keeps goofing off. It's a fun concept. If only Cable weren't such a dull, wet blanket.

This is certainly not my favorite Civil War book, but it has some neat characters and some neat ideas, so it's not completely terrible.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Blue
I got this for my birthday because it was on my Amazon wish list, and it was on my wish list entirely because it's written by Warren Ellis. I really knew pretty much nothing else about it. Turns out it's a collection of a black and white miniseries published by Avatar circa 2006. I found it off-putting from beginning to end, starting with the ugly cover art, and continuing with the ugly, melodramatic, overdone interior art (both by Jacen Burrows) and the melodramatic, overdone characters, dialogue, and story.

But it's not all bad! The story opens up in a ridiculously dystopic city, where the police force is full of corrupt officers who are either selling drugs or taking them. Detective Frank Christchurch seems to be one of the few good men left, except that even he is a bit off his rocker; he's so determined to find an alleged master criminal named Trent Wayman that he starts the story off by attempting to brutally beat the man's location out of a suspect. Things get weirder and more brutal as the story goes on; Frank starts having terrible visions of murder, as well as auditory hallucinations, and reality itself seems to be coming apart around him. It almost falls prey to the "it was all just a dream" ending that I hate so much, but then manages to swerve a little bit to the side at the last second.

The underlying concept behind the story is actually vaguely interesting, especially as related by Ellis in the afterword, and there are some neat visuals, especially when our hero learns how to warp the reality of the city (Burrows isn't so bad when he's not drawing people). But overall it's just not a very strong book, and definitely one of Ellis' weaker pieces.
Thumbs Sideways

Ministry of Space
This is another TPB of a miniseries by Warren Ellis that I got for my birthday - this one published by Image in 2006, with lovely artwork by Chris Weston, and lovely colors by Laura Martin. Again, I'd added it to my wish list pretty much entirely because it was written by Warren Ellis, with no knowledge of what it was about besides the obvious - space. But I felt a bit more confident about this one, because Ellis loves space and space exploration, so when he's writing about those subjects he tends to be extra good. This book is no exception.

Ministry of Space is an alternate history story that essentially answers the question, "What would have to have happened for Britain to become the major power in space exploration instead of the United States, and what would have been the result?" The book jumps about quite a bit in time, starting out in a frame story in the present time of 2001, and then flashing back to ever more modern scenes from the evolution of the British space program, slowly revealing the history of this alternate universe, and the terrible price that had to be paid to get Britain so far into space so fast. The program began back in 1945, at the tail end of WWII, with a mad scheme of one Air Commodore John Dashwood. Dashwood realizes the importance of rocket technology and the German scientists who cooked it up before anyone else, and has the foresight and lack of morals to steal those scientists and their ideas for Britain before either the Russians or the Americans can get at them. He convinces Churchill to create a Ministry of Space and to sign off on a rather monstrous way of funding it. Then it's time to build some spacecraft. Dashwood pours his heart and soul into the project with an intensity that many suspect to be madness, and he ends up hurting himself and many others in the process. Although his program keeps the British Empire on top of the world clear into the next millennium, pushes technology forward in astounding ways, and advances human exploration and habitation of the solar system far beyond where we are now in the real universe, it does so at the expense of things like morality and social justice, keeping the people of England mired in an ancient, stagnant, cruel value system. We don't learn until the very end of the story - until the very last, shattering panel, in fact - just how many wonders have been gained, and how many lost in the process.

Given Ellis' love of space exploration, and of old space comics like Dan Dare, one might have expected a book of this sort to be celebratory, offering a bright and exciting vision of Britain's imagined dominance of space. Instead Ellis pulls no punches and takes his "what if?" tale all the way through to the inevitable, brutal, heart-breaking conclusion - a conclusion that leaves you simultaneously dizzy with awe at what humanity can accomplish, and sick with disgust at what humanity is capable of. It's a brilliant, complex little fable, and very possibly some of Ellis' best work.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volume 1
This is yet another comic collection off my wish list that I received for my birthday (this one in hardback). The Sinestro Corps War was a big, multiverse-changing storyline that started up not long after I got into comics. For whatever reason I didn't collect it when it was coming out, but I did become fascinated by it after reading scans of the end of the story online. I believe it was those scans, among other things, that convinced me to try out DC's Green Lantern titles. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to check out the whole arc from the beginning, and it turns out I was right. This first volume consists of a handful of issues each of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, along with a one-shot Sinestro Corps special. It opens up with Sinestro creating his new power ring and lantern, then jumps forward to Hal Jordan on Earth, trying to discover the secret behind these new yellow power rings that have started popping up. Kyle Rayner, as the flag-bearing ringless Lantern Ion, also runs into one of the rings, and brings it back with him to Oa. This turns out to be not such a good idea. The ring slips free and transports Ion to Qward, the home planet of the Sinestro Corps. And that's just step one in Sinestro's complex, multi-step scheme to take over the universe and impose his own brand of order on it. Next there's a brazen attack on Oa, a breakout in the Sciencells, and the summoning together of some of the worst villains in the multiverse to serve as Sinestro's heralds and Guardians. Meanwhile, the Guardians of Oa are split into two factions: one faction consists of two Guardians who have chosen to take on individual identities and embrace emotions. These two believe in a horrifying prophecy called The Blackest Night, which now seems to be coming true. The other faction consists of all the other Guardians, who still reject emotion in all forms, and refuse to believe The Blackest Night prophecy. As the war between the Green Lanterns and the Yellow Lanterns heats up, this split between the Guardians deepens and widens. The story proceeds in a series of huge, brutal, epic battles intercut with Guardian intrigue, surprising plot twists and shocking reveals as Sinestro's plan unfolds, powerful character moments, and awesome visuals. The ending sequence is especially well done; it's edited together in truly cinematic fashion, weaving the various subplots around each other and building the tension in each until the whole thing comes to a dark and doom-filled cliffhanger conclusion. It's brilliant stuff, with some fine writing by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons, and excellent art from pencillers Ethan Van Sciver, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, and Angel Unzeta, and colorists Moose Baumann and Guy Major. Some of the more complex battle scenes are a little hard to make out, as there's just so much stuff going on in them at the same time, but other than that the visuals are really sleek and stunning throughout. My only complaint is that Johns and Gibbons sometimes turn out some pretty lame dialogue and narration. Hal Jordan's stuff tends to be particularly corny and bad. But it's easy to overlook disappointing details like that and just be swept away in the excitement of the overall story. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the next couple of volumes of this.
Thumbs Up

New releases
The Authority #3
Because I love the characters in this book, and I respect the past work of the authors writing it, I gave this series three tries to grab me, but it failed to do so for all three issues, and now I'm done. This particular issue opens with Apollo reminding us of his current situation, and pining for his lover. Then we cut back to Midnighter having a bit of an argument with a fellow named Eidolon. Eidolon loses the ensuing fight (sort of), but definitely wins the argument, pretty much pulling Midnighter to pieces with words, and then patting him on the head and sending him away. It's actually a pretty interesting and brutal sequence. Midnighter doesn't take it well, and arranges a bittersweet meeting with Apollo to make himself feel better. Meanwhile, the Engineer and some volunteer refugees come across some mysterious live tech and send Swift after it. It leads her to some even more mysterious and possibly dangerous giant robots, and that's our cliffhanger ending.

Like I said, the fact that the villain Eidolon pretty much defeats Midnighter made for a fascinating turn of events, but the rest of the book is just dark and bland and dull, with uninteresting and cliche dialogue and story elements. In the old days, every issue of The Authority was bursting with so much insanity, brutality, and imagination that it practically made your eyes pop out of your head. This, sadly, is most decidedly not that Authority. And so I drop it.
Thumbs Down

Batman #680
Morrison's mad epic continues with the villains assembled for an annual game of gambling on life and death, and good and evil. We learn a little more about Le Bossu, the terrible new Joker is unleashed, and then the Batman of Zur-en-arrh shows up at Arkham to crash the party. Bat Might has some fascinating final thoughts for Batman, who then heads inside Arkham, leaving the last of his reason behind him. Meanwhile, Gordon is trying to navigate his way through a series of traps, and finds help from an unexpected quarter. Man, I love the way Morrison writes Damian. That kid is hilarious. Batman and Joker have a big showdown, which mostly consists of them having some kind of weird philosophical argument, then there's a final betrayal that's meant to break Batman for good. But will it? We'll see!

This storyline is still pretty insane and slightly incomprehensible, but it also has a unique flavor and an undeniable charm. It always manages to leave me intrigued and ready for more.
Thumbs Up

No Hero #1
Warren Ellis' new Avatar miniseries, which had a prologue a while back in the form of a zero issue, really got going this week with the release of this #1 issue. The book is set in an alternate history America where crime is fought by a group of super-powered vigilantes known as The Front Line. They're led by Carrick Masterson, a scientist and philosopher who developed the drugs that give the team members their superhuman abilities. Lately, someone with intimate knowledge of The Front Line has been assassinating members of the team. This means new recruits are needed. Luckily, amateur vigilante and Front Line fanboy Joshua Carver is ready, willing, and able to become the newest member of the team. He passes a sort of entrance exam in this issue, and will no doubt be formally inducted next issue.

Establishing a newbie outsider character who has to be shown the ropes of the fictional world is an old storyteller's trick for conveying a lot of exposition to the reader without it feeling all that much like exposition. It seems like kind of a boring old story structure for Ellis to be using, but maybe I'm just being picky or expecting too much. Anyway, it's an interesting world he's created here, and The Front Line are an interesting bunch. Plus I rather like Juan Jose Ryp's highly detailed art, which I remember well from Black Summer. I don't really get his weird habit of putting yellow, sand-like explosions around objects and people when they strike each other, but I'm trying to take it in stride for now.
Thumbs Up

The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe
It was a really light week this week in terms of new releases, so I didn't feel too bad picking up an extra book that I hadn't planned on buying - the extra book being this reprint of a lengthy one-shot by Garth Ennis, which is a "What If?" story in all but name, imagining what would have happened if Frank Castle's family had been killed in the park, not by mob hitmen, but by the crossfire of a war between aliens and superhumans. Frank's gut response to this event is to shoot dead a couple of the superheroes involved. This brings him to the attention of an old, rich man named Kesselring, who heads a group of people who've all suffered terrible collateral damage in fights between superhumans. Kesselring and his friends see what Castle did in the park as a good start, and hire him to keep killing superhumans - both "heroes" and "villains" - until they're all gone. As you might have guessed from the title, he accepts, and goes about his business with some success. Complete success, actually. Although in the end it doesn't seem to have been all that good an idea after all.

The concept of this story is actually kind of silly and fun in a way, but the story ends up being quite dark and powerful. Of course, only in a "What If?" story could so many big Marvel villains and heroes be killed for good so quickly and easily, but Ennis does his best to make it seem mostly believable. Dougie Braithwaite's art is quite good and helps lend power to the story. I don't think I'd ever heard of a connection between Daredevil and the Punisher before, but that connection underlies the entire story here and is part of what makes the ending so moving. It's a bit over the top with the doom and gloom, but otherwise it's an impressive comic.
Thumbs Up

Punisher War Journal #24
I dropped this book a while back, but when I realized this week's issue would be a Secret Invasion tie-in, and that it would involve the pay-off of an interesting storyline that began back when I was still reading the title, I decided I might as well pick it up again, at least temporarily. This was a mistake. First off, the new artist on the book, Howard Chaykin, is just terrible. His people are awkward and ugly. In one particular scene, a man learns a horrible secret about the murder of his lover, but the expression Chaykin has drawn on his face is that of someone who has instead just learned that a TV show he rather likes has been canceled.
In another sequence a giant, stupid-looking, Frankenstein's monster of a Skrull shows up, but the perspective is handled so poorly that he seems to keep changing in size. If it weren't for the really bad art, the comic might actually be pretty okay. After all, it features a mad genius ex-supervillain throwing together some crazy tech and vowing to kill Frank Castle. And it features Frank Castle gleefully running through the streets murdering Skrulls. There's even some funny dialogue and narration. Still, there's a reason I dropped this title. Matt Fraction is writing here with Rick Remender, but regardless of who he writes with, I just don't seem to like his work that much anymore. So I'll be skipping the second part of this particular Secret Invasion tie-in, thank you very much.
Thumbs Down
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), The Take (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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