|Wednesday, March 18, 2009 01:41 AM|
| by Fëanor|
Fëanor's (semi-)weekly comic book review post.
What with work and life being so busy lately, I've really let this feature slide, so it's time for a triple-length catch-up post! This covers new releases from the weeks of 2/25, 3/4, and 3/11, plus a handful of older books.
Back issues and old data
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #2
If I'd realized that I'd missed this issue, I'd forgotten about it until #3 came out this past week and I saw #2 listed as the next issue in my comic wish list spreadsheet. Luckily, the shop had both issues and I was able to read them one after the other, which is actually a more pleasant experience than reading them a month apart anyway. This one sees the B.P.R.D. gang, plus a whole army of regular military backup, arriving at Memnan Saa's address with the intention of taking Liz back by force. But before they can attack, a monk comes out and invites three B.P.R.D.ers inside. A trip through a weird doorway and an eerie maze leads them to a magical city where they find Liz in a trance and Memnan Saa ready to talk. As he begins to explain everything to them, Memnan Saa's fortress, and the army outside, is attacked by a unified force of frogs and those little underground demon guys. It's crazy stuff. Memnan Saa keeps saying he's a good guy, and that he offers the last, desperate hope of saving the world. But how can he be on their side, when we've seen him do so many evil things? It's puzzling.
Final Crisis #1-7
Final Crisis is awesome. Flash fact.
That may sound odd coming from somebody who clearly hated the first issue of the series the first time he read it, so much so that he dropped the series immediately afterward. I picked it up again, reluctantly, at issue #6 because I wanted to see what happened to Batman. What I've realized about Final Crisis since then is that any one part of it alone is confusing and a little off-putting; it's only once you've read the entire story, and you've seen it all come together as one epic, mind-bending, circular saga, that you realize the genius that went into it. Plus it takes a while to get used to the odd, almost overly dramatic style Morrison adopted when writing it.
Also, as I should have suspected, the plot of Final Crisis makes a lot more sense when you read the entire series in order from beginning to end. The story started really coming together for me even before I read the issues I'd missed; in fact, pretty much as soon as I read #1 again, the pieces began to fit together in my head. Even other stories, like Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D started to make more sense. And the dialogue that I'd originally found ridiculous and irritating I fell in love with almost immediately on a second pass.
Some of my favorite things about Final Crisis include: the romantic and beautiful story of Monitor Nix Uotan: the way he drops out of the orrery and into the world, only to find himself drawing sketches of the events of Superman Beyond, and of a lover he's forgotten, and the way he is reawakened to his true self; the crazy and funny Super Young Team, and the character whose super power is that he's incredibly wealthy; the way Orion is killed by Darkseid firing a poison bullet at him backwards through time, a bullet Orion can't dodge because he's already dead; the fact that the poison bullet, in its weird, circular trajectory, also mortally wounds the one firing it; that it's a man, just a man - albeit the most bad-ass man who's ever lived - who fires that bullet, making his last act the destruction of the God of evil; the triumphant return of Barry Allen; the funny and insanely imaginative things Morrison does with the Flashes and their incredible, mind-blowing speed; the way the Flashes outrun death, driving it into Darkseid; the hilarious and disturbing way that Anti-Life is sold, advertised with slogans, and packaged like a commodity; a Guardian of Oa saying to Hal: "You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan;" the miracle machine that turns thoughts into reality; the wonderfully sarcastic and cranky duo of Sivana and Luthor; the way the return of Superman is heralded by Wonder Woman saying, "Look! Up in the sky...;" the way the title of each issue is revealed only at the end; the brilliant title of #6: "How to Murder the Earth;" pretty much everything about #7; the black Superman who is also President of the United States; the way the story of Final Crisis is fired off in a rocket from a doomed world, just like Superman was; the ridiculously fantastic dialogue; all the crazily inventive science fiction ideas throughout; the way Superman shatters anti-life with the music of life; the way the coming of the Supermen of the multiverse is heralded by Superman saying, "Look up in the sky;" the way Nix Uotan shows up with freaking EVERYBODY at his back, chants the Green Lantern oath, and they all beat the crap out of Mandrakk and the vampire Superman; the way Superman gives everyone a happy ending; the incredible love shown in this book for people and their ability to survive; the incredible love shown in this book for stories and their ability to make surviving worth while; and that final page: the hope and the promise of it.
At some point in my comic reading career, I decided Grant Morrison was an uneven writer and that I should probably just avoid his work as much as possible. Recent books I've read by him, including this series, Superman Beyond, and All-Star Superman, have completely changed my mind. I need to track down everything this guy has written and read it all. He is freaking amazing. Final Crisis is freaking amazing. Even though I own all the issues, I'm seriously thinking about buying the trade when it comes out, just so I can have it in a more permanent form, all bound together nicely. It is a fantastic piece of work.
New releases, 2/25
Captain America #47
Cap gets himself captured - which was apparently his plan all along - and discovers the horrible truth behind the mad scientist's designs on the Human Torch. As is traditional, things do not look good at all for our heroes on the final page. This storyline is getting brutal, fast-paced, and exciting! I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #5
In the final issue of this miniseries, we finally see the full outlines of Zadkiel's plan for Danny, and come to a full understanding of how he was transformed and set on the path that led him to his actions in the main Ghost Rider series. It's pretty fascinating and effective stuff. We also get to see the real Mister Eleven, who turns out to be not so bad a guy after all. I'm curious about some of the seeds writer Simon Spurrier plants here. Whose body is the technomage going to end up in? Will she show up later in the Ghost Rider saga? Has she already done so and we just didn't know? Regardless, this was a decent mini.
Green Lantern #38
Woah! Some crazy crap goes down in this book. As if things weren't confusing enough for poor Hal, he gets a third ring and joins yet another Corps at the beginning of this issue. He's starting to look like he did when he was Parallax! Luckily the number of rings he's wearing goes back down by one later on in the issue, but he's still looking seriously confused and messed up. At the end, all kinds of stuff happens at once: a group of super-powered dudes who I don't recognize beat up a bunch of other people and find themselves some kind of hidden source of power; Agent Orange stirs; Atrocitus does some magic to try to find the home world of the Blue Lanterns; Carrol Ferris, who's been pining after the missing Hal, gets inducted into a Corps of her own; and Scar hangs around promising doom. It's very exciting and very fast-paced, and the story continues in the Origins & Omens backup, where we see a bit more of the new Carol, and a bit more of what's going on inside John Stewart and Hal Jordan, and then we get an intriguing glimpse of the future: John attacked by a zombie lover; Hal and Sinestro fighting together against mysterious attackers; the original Green Lantern shackled and accused by the Guardians; a Black Lantern kneeling. It's good stuff! I'm ready for Blackest Night!
Jack of Fables #31
Things don't look good for our heroes, and Jack makes things even worse by shooting Bookburner at a parley. Revise has only one trick left up his sleeve: releasing from their bonds three incredibly powerful Native American spirits named Wy'East, Klickitat, and Loowit. This would destroy everyone, but Jack figures out some way of evacuating the Golden Boughs beforehand. We're promised the explanation in the next issue. But for now the conflict seems to have been resolved. Plus, Gary's still alive at the moment, which pleases me. Pretty cool issue. The Native American spirits are an impressive addition to the story. There are also a couple of pretty funny moments here, as usual. I'm curious to see how Jack got everybody out of there, and what will happen to Bookburner's zombie Fables now that he's gone. Guess I'll have to tune in again next time to find out!
The New Avengers #50
The fiftieth issue of New Avengers is meant to be a big, epic, landmark episode in the history of Marvel's flagship super team. Instead it's a disappointing story overflowing with corny, clumsy dialogue and narration. And in it, author Brian Michael Bendis even contradicts continuity he himself established in Dark Avengers!
We open up with the underground Avengers still reacting to the unveiling of Osborn's Avengers, and still trying to decide what to do about it. They talk and they talk and they talk. Some of it's reasonably clever and funny, but I'm really starting to get tired of Bendis' stilted, smart-ass dialogue style. Anyway, eventually they come up with a very dumb, simplistic plan to try to lure Osborn's Avengers to neutral ground where they hope to depower them and beat the snot out of them. We cut over to the Watchtower where an entire conversation from Dark Avengers is reenacted - except it now ends in a completely different way. Instead of a call coming in about Doctor Doom being attacked, followed by Osborn and his people suiting up and heading out, Spider-Woman appears and pretends to give up the underground Avengers' location in the hopes that Osborn will give her a job. Interestingly, instead of springing what he immediately knows to be a trap himself, Osborn sends the Hood and his gang of criminals in to do the job for him, then takes himself and his Avengers elsewhere. So there's a giant fight between the Avengers and the Hood's gang, during which all our heroes spew a lot of dialogue and narration that's supposed to give us a meaningful look inside their heads. But it's really just melodramatic, repetitive, and completely lacking in subtlety. At the end, Ronin walks out and gives a speech on the news fingering Osborn as a criminal and asking everyone to fight back against him and his people.
It all feels clumsy, overwritten, and contrived. I'll overlook the continuity issue, since I can't believe Bendis would have made such an obvious mistake, and after all they were going to have to erase the events of Dark Avengers from canon somehow anyway, probably via time travel or magic; we can't have all those major characters stay dead. But even with that set aside, this is just not a good comic. I'm pretty disappointed; I really wanted to like this issue, and I thought I was really becoming a fan of Bendis' work. Now I'm just not that sure.
After the main story is a preview from Dark Reign: Fantastic 4, a miniseries coming soon from Jonathan Hickman and Sean Chen. I didn't think I really liked Hickman's work very much, but this preview is actually rather intriguing and funny, and the characters are handled quite well. I just might have to pick up at least the first issue of this.
Star Trek: Countdown #2
This issue opens with Captain Data saving the day! Nero joins Spock on the Enterprise and they head to Vulcan with the hopes of enacting Spock's last ditch plan to save Romulus. Meanwhile, we learn how Data came back to life (his neural nets were imprinted onto B-4's existing programming), and Nero learns a bit about Captain Kirk from the ship's computers. Back home, the Romulans finally realize that Spock was right, but plan to fix things by evacuating the planet and invading Vulcan to steal the magic supernova-killing weapon from them. D'oh! The Vulcans are just as stupid and, before they even discover the Romulans' plans, refuse to hand over their technology to the Romulans. Nero rushes back home, but gets there too late. He blames the Vulcans. It's all gone wrong!
I believe Nero is actually the villain in the new Star Trek movie, which I assume means he travels back in time somehow and brings his grudge against Vulcan with him (and possibly also develops a grudge against Kirk for some reason). We'll have to see how that all develops. Regardless, this is an interesting series. It's dramatic with fascinating characters. And I love that we're getting to see what happened in the Star Trek universe after the events of the last movie.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #4
The insane alternate universe saga continues! Finally the Silver Ghost and Picard's resistance cell join together. I like that when Riker returns, his first line is, "I hope you didn't sell my trombone." Heh. Then we learn that Deanna Troi is Worf's consort! She's all tarted up, too, in too much makeup and a ridiculous gown. She's a spy for the resistance, natch, but Worf has known all along, and now that her usefulness has passed, he brutally murders her. Wow. There's an insane sword fight between Worf and Sulu that ends in mutual destruction, but also success: the resistance gets Data back. Which means it's time for that trip into the past.
This series is just so crazy and twisted, and really feels more like fan fiction than a licensed comic. But I have to admit there are some pretty effective and exciting moments, and now that I've stuck with it this long, I might as well see it through to the end. I'm pretty sure there's only one issue left anyway.
The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4
Oh man, what a fantastic, fantastic issue. I swear, this comic just keeps getting better and better! We open up inside a dream of Spaceboy's which quickly devolves from happy utopia ("Holy *crap*, I missed you!") to horrific nightmare. He wakes to even more insanity, as Hazel and Cha-Cha return, loaded up on sugar, and activate the nukes! Luckily there's a timer. Also, Seance is way more powerful than I realized and pretty much takes care of everything (well, almost everything). Kraken's tries to join up with Seance and Spaceboy, but, in a rather hilarious twist, the televator is broken and he's stuck waiting for the subway. Meanwhile, that young rich guy who showed up a couple issues ago returns and performs a corporate takeover. Then we cut over to the office at the end of time where the assassins are all being briefed on their mission to take out JFK - after they stop Number Five, of course. The squad leader for the operation? Number Five! Brilliant! And it seems Number Five has a plan for stopping himself.
Back at the homestead, it turns out Pogo's not buried in his grave, but one of those time traveling assassins is, and somehow his body acts as a time machine, allowing Kraken, Spaceboy, and Seance to all head to Dallas, 1963, as well, just in time for the big showdown. And it's a good thing they leave, because it turns out Seance didn't defuse that detonator as well as he thought. Pop goes the world!
What an ending! Every comic should end that way. So brilliant and fantastic. So many amazing, wildly imaginative ideas in here. And it's all revving up to a big, climactic ending that I can't wait to read.
War Machine #3
This issue features the very cool confrontation between the God of War (who naturally has a very high kill number!) and the War Machine. Their fight is doubly interesting because not only is it a physical battle, it's also a war of words. Ares sees some things about Rhodey and his mission that even Rhodey himself is not aware of. In the end, the nasty, smart-ass, weapon-designing villain is taken out in excellent fashion - and as that was Osborn's objective, and Ares' mission, all along, that takes care of that. Right? Well, not quite. Ares is insane and decides to open up the vault that contains the ultimate weapon, just for fun. As I suspected, Glenda is not okay, and what was done to her is just a sample of what lies inside the vault. Ultimo, according to Wikipedia, is just some giant robot, but it looks like he's been reimagined as some kind of virus? I don't know, I'm sure it will all make more sense in time. The point is, great issue; well written, with many surprising plot twists and lots of exciting action.
New releases, 3/4
The Age of the Sentry #6
The final issue of this wonderful miniseries features a pull-quote on the cover from a fellow whose blog I read, Chris Sims: "The new apex of the artform... to which all others must be compared and, almost inevitably, fall short." I don't know if I'd describe the comic in terms as glowing as that, but it is indeed excellent.
Instead of having the usual two short stories, this issue has only one long one: "The Death of the Sentry." A narrative box immediately removes the power of the title by pointing out that this is just an imaginary story. But the quick and repeated insistence that it's imaginary only leads the reader to believe it might not be, especially once you get to the end. The story opens with a freak accident that reveals the Sentry's true identity to the world. Hilariously, everyone immediately recognizes the face of Rob Reynolds, crack entry investigator for America's #1 encyclopedia publisher. And oddly, no one working at the encyclopedia seems surprised in the least. Then the Void and Cranio team up and suck out all of the Sentry's life force, killing him! All of the classic Marvel heroes, and many of the original characters introduced in previous issues of this miniseries, show up for the Sentry's funeral. And with him gone, who will stop the asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth?? Luckily, the Sentry's not really dead after all; his body just went into a dormant state to stay alive while it recuperated (yep, same thing they pulled with Superman - the Superman parallels continue!). He's still weak, but he follows the Void and Cranio to get the rest of his power back anyway. Cranio isn't so much his enemy anymore, however; he shows up and finally explains all the mysterious stuff we've been seeing throughout the miniseries, as well as telling us the true origin of the Sentry and the Void! True to the series' continuing Superman/DC parallels, the origin story involves a multiverse, insane reality-warping events, and an epic, anti-monitor style enemy. Once we've heard the origin, it's time for a giant showdown between the Void and the Sentry. It seems the Sentry has no chance of winning, since he's already weakened, and each time the Void touches him, he loses more of his life force. But he quickly realizes that by losing, he will ultimately win. As the Void absorbs the last of the Sentry, he in effect becomes the Sentry, taking on all of his goodness, too. It's a fascinating new explanation for who the Sentry really is, and why the Void is inside him, and it's sort of a metaphor for how the Sentry was retconned into the Marvel Universe, and also a parallel to stuff DC has done with Superman. It's quite brilliant, and makes for a great final issue of the series, pulling together everything that's happened in the previous issues and sort of summing it all up.
I hope, now that this miniseries is over, that we'll see more of the Sentry in the near future. But hopefully he won't be in the hands of a writer like Brian Michael Bendis, who has him swooping in and tearing women's heads off over in Dark Avengers.
Batman: Cacophony #3
The Joker and Onomatopoeia seem to have turned the tables on Batman at the beginning of this issue, but, as Grant Morrison has taught us, Batman plans for everything, so he's able to turn things back his way soon enough. Then Onomatopoeia makes a clever move - he attacks the Joker instead of Batman. Batman has to make the same choice he's made many times, and he makes it the same way again: he chooses to save the Joker rather than let him die. And to save him, he must let Onomatopoeia go. I thought this series was going to be about Onomatopoeia - and it is, to a certain extent; we get a rather eerie look inside his other life at the end of this issue. But the series ends up being much more about Batman's relationship with the Joker, and the rather disturbing revelation that the Joker and his reign of terror is, in a very real sense, Batman's fault. It's an interesting concept, and an interesting look into this character dynamic. It kind of caught me off guard, however; it's not what I was expecting from this series. Also, I still am really not a fan of how Smith writes Batman; he makes him too melodramatic, wordy, and fallible. I much prefer Morrison's Batman. Overall, though, this was a pretty good series.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #23
Here's an issue that focuses almost completely on Andrew, which makes for, as you might expect, not exactly the greatest issue ever. There is a pretty funny moment where Andrew and Buffy are traveling together and Andrew expounds on gay and geeky things of all kinds, including whether a Jedi could beat Superman in a fight, Smurfs, Battlestar Galactica, V for Vendetta, D&D, Terminator, Helen Killer, Heath Ledger, fashion, Jem, and James Bond. Anyway, storywise, he's helping Buffy track down the group of rebel Slayers who are going around robbing people - but the way he tracks them down is questionable in the extreme, and ends up causing more problems than it solves. And when did he learn to do genetic engineering?? The upshot is, they do get to the rebels' hideout, and they do get into a bit of a scuffle with them, but it ends in kind of a draw. In the end, Andrew realizes he's been accepted as part of the family now.
It's a decent issue, with some amusing and entertaining moments, but not one of my favorites.
Things pick up speed in the main storyline here, starting with Rachel doing the little brain-sharing trick from the TV series with Dr. Bishop. This convinces him to trust her, but Bell isn't so sure. Still, he ends up going along with her plan to get the three of them out of there, which involves Bell and Bishop perfecting a teleporting device they've never seen before in the few minutes they have before men with guns come to kill them. It's pretty insane and brilliant. The end is really interesting; a guy from the "soap company" calls the president to let him know Bell and Bishop escaped, but that the company managed to get an implant of some kind in one of them. The president says, "When it's the right time... activate him." But which one? Bell or Bishop? Hmmm...
The backup story is a great little tale about a boy who's born a walking biological weapon. He's taken in by some nameless organization (probably the soap company, possibly Massive Dynamic), who cruelly train and test him in an attempt to reproduce his deadly abilities. Eventually, he escapes, and in pretty clever and dramatic fashion.
I continue to be really impressed by this series. The main storyline is fast-paced, exciting, clever, and is filling us in on fascinating details about the backstory of the television show which help inform the current events of the series. And the backup story is always something brilliant and wonderfully twisted.
The Goon #32
For the special tenth anniversary issue of his wonderful series, Eric Powell manages to tell a fantastic and hilarious story about the Goon's birthday that not only features silly cameos by celebrities, it also sums up the series, and acts as both an epilogue to the last arc of the book, and a prologue to the next arc. It's brilliant, and reminded me of everything that's great about this series. It's wonderful that what finally cheers up the Goon and gets him back to being his old self is not a birthday party with all his friends, a topless woman, or getting his hat back. It's beating up a hideous hobo demon! In between there's a singing birthday telegram from the rape gorilla, a Planet of the Apes parody, the battering down of the fourth wall, a surprising appearance by Frank Darabont, and a stunningly wrong but hilarious parody of The Shawshank Redemption starring bears. It's a true masterpiece, and is followed up by an awesome sketchbook featuring sketches of the Goon characters by comic book celebrities like Mike Mignola and Jeff Smith, and old sketches of the Goon characters and their predecessors by Powell himself, accompanied by a history of the comic's development. Fantastic.
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #4
Hellboy starts things out here by having another flashback to his slaughter of the giants. He sees himself, in the midst of that act, as the terrible, Earth-shattering demon he was meant to be. Meanwhile, in the present, just as it seems Hellboy is about to gain allies and perhaps even an army, he is betrayed again, and his friend is mortally wounded. Was Mab behind it? It doesn't seem like she could be, but it's hard to know for sure. Anyway, those bird entities who've been helping Hellboy on and off since forever show up to save his ass again, transporting him to a mysterious castle where they say their lady can save his friend. Interesting stuff! The backup story is a one-shot about Baba Yaga and how a mortal man is able to escape her and curse her. It's fantastic, of course. Another issue of Hellboy, another comic that's brilliant and beautiful from front cover to back cover.
I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #2
Every issue of this comic is so long and complicated! It's also beautifully drawn, of course, by John Cassaday, and I'm still enjoying it quite a bit, but I had to go back and reread a couple of sections multiple times to understand them, and I still think I missed some stuff. I guess the important thing is, I'm getting the gist of it, and the gist is pretty cool. It's creepy and twisted and clever.
Jersey Gods #2
I really want to like this series. I really do. I love the concept. But it's just not that good. I don't really "get" any of the characters - there's nothing about them that's really familiar to me or that I can sympathize with - and that makes it really hard to care about them or their story. In this issue, the romance between the Jersey girl and the God-like alien takes its first tentative steps. The girl experiences some small drama at her job on Earth (she gets in trouble for criticizing a designer's ridiculous fashion collection), while the God runs into some more life-threatening problems trying to head off war on his planet. But like I said, I just don't care all that much. The tone is a weird mix of light and dramatic, and it just doesn't work for me. I like the Darwyn Cooke cover of this one, and I'm kind of curious about Mark Waid's backup story which is supposed to start in the next issue. But I'm not sure I can justify buying that issue.
New Avengers: The Reunion #1
This is a new miniseries taking a look at the adventures of Mockingbird and Ronin following Mockingbird's return from Skrull custody. It picks up shortly after the events of Dark Reign: New Nation #1, with Mockingbird still freaking out and being mysterious, and Ronin still chasing after her. This time he jumps her when she's in the middle of infiltrating a secret A.I.M. base. He helps her get in, and helps her escape, but she still won't reveal to him the secret information she got from the Skrulls, or exactly which old S.H.I.E.L.D. mission she's trying to complete with it. So he captures her with the idea of bringing her in to the Avengers.
There are some interesting concepts here, but I'm not a big fan of the writing. The script is by Jim McCann, whom I'm not familiar with. He fills this comic with lots and lots of dialogue and narration, which is rarely a good plan, and indeed most of it is clumsy and melodramatic. There's a scene where Captain America and Ronin almost come to blows for no good reason, and it reminds me of how bad filmmakers will use anger and shouting as a replacement for actual drama and acting talent. I very much doubt I'll buy another issue of this.
No Hero #4
Warren Ellis' twisted thought experiment - which attempts to answer the question, "How far would you go to be a superhero?" - continues. The answer turns out to be, at least in the case of our main character, pretty goddamn far. The poor bastard's junk has fallen off, along with a lot of his skin, but when he realizes he has superpowers, he's sort of okay with it. He's in no shape to fight evil - in fact, he's in no shape to even be seen by anyone - but the Front Line is desperate for new members, and desperate to show the world it's still alive and kicking, so the poor kid gets dragged out for a press conference anyway. They've got him covered up in a full bodysuit and mask, but when a faux camera guy in the crowd, who's apparently a part of the conspiracy that's been striking at the Front Line throughout the series, shoots off Josh's mask and then kills himself, the hideous new face of the Front Line is revealed to the world. The final panel is pathetic and devastating: the hideously mutated Josh, his alien face smoking and dripping goo, says, "Nothing wrong with me. I'm a superhuman now." Eee.
Very disturbing stuff! But I'd expect no less from Mr. Ellis. This is another of these series that takes a hard look at what the world would really be like if there were superheroes in it: the political and social consequences, the celebrity aspect, what it would take to be a superhero, and whether, after becoming a "superhero," you would really be a hero, or even a human, anymore. I am a fan of this book, and I'm very curious to see what dark and terrible place it takes us to.
X-Men: First Class - Finals #2
As the "finals" continue, the big ugly Frederick is giving the X-Men a pretty serious pounding when suddenly Juggernaut rolls in out of nowhere and runs him down. With Frederick taken care of, the kids try to locate Xavier using Cerebro, and continue to try to figure out what they'll do with their lives after they graduate. While looking for the Professor, they come across a different mutant signal and go to check it out, only to come face to face with a big pile of metal shaped like Magneto! Huh. The backup story about Jean and Scott's date continues as the couple sees on TV that Wanda has joined the Avengers. Scott, still fuming about the lame night they ended up having, decides to do something crazy and borrows Warren's car so the two of them can drive down to Manhattan. In the final cliffhanger panel, they seem to be about to run into something.
Both of these stories are fun and exciting, and feature subtle glimpses inside our heroes' heads as they try to figure themselves and their lives out. As usual with X-Men: First Class, I was not blown away, but I was entertained.
New releases, 3/11
After Watchmen... What's Next?
This is just a free promotional book that my comic shop guy dropped into my bag when I wasn't looking. I believe DC was giving it away at certain screenings of Watchmen. The idea was to capitalize on the popularity of the movie by giving viewers a checklist of books that are kinda sorta like Watchmen, in the hopes that they would then take that checklist into a comic shop, buy a bunch of stuff, and get well and truly addicted to the medium. Most of the stuff in here is good, or at least makes sense: more books by Alan Moore (although I would have picked From Hell instead of V for Vendetta); other challenging, non-standard, indie-style comics (Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man, neither of which I'm a huge fan of, but both of which make sense here); a couple of books by Warren Ellis (Planetary Volume One is an excellent choice, and one of the books I always recommend to somebody just trying comics for the first time, but I would probably have substituted something like Ocean for Transmetropolitan, which I've never liked as much as everybody else seems to); a couple of Frank Miller books (I give a big thumbs up to Dark Knight Returns, but I probably would have picked 300 or the first book of Sin City or Batman: Year One or really almost anything but Ronin); volume one of Sandman (practically a given); volume one of Fables; Kingdom Come; Joker; All-Star Superman Volume One (one of my all-time favorites); Superman: Red Son; and We3. Stuff I don't like: Identity Crisis (I've never read it, but from what I've read around the edges of it, so to speak, I get the impression it's pretty bad, and I've read stuff by the author, Brad Meltzer, that was just plain terrible. Plus, if you were going to recommend a Crisis to someone new to comics - and I don't know why you would, because they're probably the most confusing and off-putting things you could possibly read as a comics beginner - why would you not pick the best: Final Crisis??); Batman: Arkham Asylum (which I find painfully melodramatic and overwritten); and Preacher Volume 1 (which I just plain don't like, despite all the glowing things everybody else says about it).
And now that I've wasted far too many words on a promotional freebie, I'll move on.
Angel: Blood & Trenches #1
I didn't expect much from this comic, but I couldn't resist the idea of Angel running around fighting evil in the trenches during WWI. Happily, it turned out to be quite good. Angel, living in the gutters of NYC as an emo rat-sucker, learns that a vampire (or vampires) is ravaging soldiers on the front line, and leaving a strange sigil behind drawn in blood. He researches the symbol and discovers it's the mark of what looks like a particularly nasty vampire. He heads overseas to see if he can stop the guy, and finds an ally in a lovely young doctor. But he also finds plenty of enemies, and not just vampires: a Colonel Geoffery Wyndam-Price, presumably an ancestor of Angel's future friend Wesley (which is a clever, cool idea), is already aware of the vampire problem, discovers Angel's true nature, and exposes him to sunlight, making for a nice cliffhanger.
Author John Byrne writes the characters well, crafts an exciting and interesting story, and, perhaps most importantly, knows when not to write at all; there's a wordless sequence that tells the story of Angel's trip from America to the front very effectively. Impressively, Byrne also provides the comic's fantastic art. Very nice! I'll definitely be tuning in for episode 2.
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #3
The story continues much as it left off in #2, with Memnan Saa explaining his backstory and his purpose to the folks he's invited inside his fortress, while the folks outside fight a desperate battle against a horde of frogs and demons. Then Memnan Saa activates Liz and, as the prophecies say, tames fire to breed dragons. Some mighty impressive and epic stuff goes down here, and it's wonderfully illustrated by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart. I'm still trying to reconcile Memnan Saa's clearly evil nature with his seeming good deeds, which is keeping me off kilter. But it's another exciting and fascinating issue.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1
The next big DC event officially begins here. In Batman's absence, Gotham is falling apart, and Nightwing has formed the Network - an alliance of Batman's friends and allies - to try to keep it together. Despite the city's obvious need for the return of Batman (a need that Tim and Alfred can see quite clearly), Dick is adamant that no one take up Bruce's mantle. Not everybody got the memo, though; a mysterious, ultra-violent loner is on the streets and in the alleys, taking out criminals and leaving notes that read simply, "I am Batman."
It's a pretty interesting concept, and the comic is generally pretty good. The huge villain team-up is a little melodramatic and hard to believe, but I was willing to swallow it, because it's cool. There's a lot of narration, all from Tim's perspective, but it's mostly okay (although what's with Tim referring to Batman as his father??). I know Alfred used to be in British intelligence, but the dude should be pretty old by now, and it's a little odd to see him sparring with, and casually defeating and disarming, Dick Grayson, whom he's watched grow up from a boy into a man nearly as bad-ass as Batman himself. But none of that stuff is really terrible. No, the only really terrible thing in the comic is the way Damian is written. He's depicted as a helpless, cowardly dumbass who picks up girls with the Batmobile and who nearly pisses his pants when some supervillains come gunning for him. What? This is not at all the character Grant Morrison created. Sure, Damian's a bit of a goof, but he's also extremely smart, highly skilled in all forms of warfare (thanks to relentless training from his mother and his father), competent, and confident. He's written so completely wrong here that it really frustrated me and almost pulled me out of the book entirely. Tony S. Daniel wrote and drew this book, and he did a pretty good job on both counts. But I really wish he'd done better research on Damian's character, or at least explained how he came to change so very, very much. I might still get the next issue of this comic, but it's going to be hard seeing this fake Damian wandering around its pages.
Captain Britain and MI13 #11
It's really a shame that this book is getting so good just as it's being canceled. This issue opens with Captain Britain tearing a killer spell apart and then punching a vampire's heart out of its chest with his bare hands. (Oh, and it was good to get the explanation in the opening sum-up that the two women Pete and Cap were hanging out with last issue were just random backpackers; I hadn't understood that at all from reading the actual comic. I thought they were characters I was supposed to recognize.) And this is followed up by, wonder of wonders, a really, really good scene with Faiza. The scene I'm talking about is a page that's pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen in a comic. It's one big, surreal illustration with really long, detailed blocks of narration pasted on top of it, narration that describes, in the present tense, Faiza's thoughts and feelings as she and the Black Knight fall from a great height into the Earth, and she heals them both from their mortal injuries immediately as they receive them. It's wildly imaginative and brilliant and I love it. And it's followed immediately by a magical sword fight with vampires. Next we figure out what happened with Dracula and Faiza's family. Turns out Tepes of Wallachia left a special message just for Blade. There's a fantastic scene where Wisdom storms in and takes things over, handing out orders, putting on a new pair of sunglasses, and telling people to say "sir." It's hilarious and bad-ass. His scene later on, where he calls together all the heads of British intelligence, gives a little briefing, then outs a spy, and tells everybody to piss off, is possibly even cooler and more bad-ass. Finally, the horrific cliffhanger ending sees Dracula taking control of one of our heroes.
This is just a fantastic issue. Inventive, funny, brutal, thrilling, and crazy.
Ghost Rider #33
I really wasn't sure how I felt about this issue until I got to the end. Then I decided I liked it. It's basically just a transitional issue, linking the last story arc with the next one, and centers entirely on Sara, the new Caretaker. She heads back to her old convent in search of comfort and a new direction, but finds only a bloodbath perpetrated by an old enemy. Now pretty much completely hopeless, she wanders aimlessly until she receives a message from the future that gives her new purpose. Throughout all this we get glimpses of the history of the spirits of vengeance, from the beginning of the world down to the present day, a history that includes many, many insane versions of the Ghost Rider fighting many, many insane perils. There's the Ghost Flyer thirsting for Luftwaffe blood during WWI; a whole tank full of Ghost Riders shooting hellfire shells during WWII; the Undead G-Man and his sidekick Knuckles O'Shaugnessy taking out an evil secret society with a tommy gun and a club; Ghost Rider versions of the characters from Smokey and the Bandit chasing down demon cops; and a redneck Ghost Rider punching zombies at a truck stop. All of this was almost too insane and ridiculous for me, especially the way it's interspersed with the very serious, dark, dramatic story set in present day. I also feel like the art style (from new series artist Tony Moore) isn't wacky enough to match the wacky content it's depicting.
But then the hilarious future Ghost Riders show up and say things like, "What about the Skrulls? Should we tell her about the Skrulls? Have you been invaded by Skrulls yet?" This final sequence, and Sara's reaction to it (not to mention her name), actually gives me a really strong Terminator vibe, which probably had a pretty large part in turning me around on my opinion of this issue. Regardless, the important thing is, I decided I liked it in the end, and I'm excited to see where things go next. And even though Moore's art didn't always seem to fit the subject matter, I do like his work.
The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #68
I really want to like Swierczynski's run on this title, and I've given it a lot of chances, but it's just not doing anything for me. For some reason I continue to find myself confused as to who's who and what's what, and I continue to dislike the art, especially the way the Punisher is drawn. I think my confusion has to do with the fact that there are a lot of characters, some of them look pretty similar, and I never really memorized properly what all their names are or how they're all related to each other. I'm not sure I can really blame any of that on Swierczynski; if I sat down and read the series through again from the beginning and really paid close attention this time, I'm sure I could follow it all without much trouble. And as it is I'm still getting the gist okay. But besides the confusion and the art I don't like, there's just something lacking about this story. I just find the whole thing kind of dull and off-putting. I know the Punisher isn't going to die, so there's not a lot of tension in the fact that he's poisoned and only has six hours to live. Plus that story concept is really old. And anybody in the story who's not the Punisher is just a sick, pathetic, disgusting human being that I don't want to know anything about. So yeah, I can't think of a reason to keep reading this.
The latest issue of Scalped has a quote from the Philadelphia Daily News on the cover: "One of the best comics ever created." Woo! Go Daily News! Go Scalped! Inside, oddly enough, this issue has nothing to do with the casino heist storyline that was launched in the previous issue, and instead spends its entire length examining the character of Diesel, who is a seriously screwed up motherfucker. We get to see a brutal formative incident in Diesel's childhood intercut with what Diesel's up to now: scalping guys in prison. He's come a long way!
I'm guessing this one-shot detour into the mind and character of Diesel means he will be involved somehow in the casino heist story, but then again, maybe not; maybe this diversion was just for the heck of it. Regardless, it's typical Scalped: a powerful, violent, insightful look inside a seriously wounded human being.
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