Thursday, June 18, 2009 02:43 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's (semi-)weekly comic book review post.

This post covers new releases from 6/10, plus a back issue from a few weeks ago.

(I should mention that, as usual, this post contains many spoilers.)

Back issues and old data
Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #1
This is one of the few Final Crisis: Aftermath miniseries that I thought for sure I could safely avoid. I was familiar neither with the character it focused on (a master of disguise named Nemesis, connected to that whole Checkmate thing of which I remain mostly ignorant), nor the artists writing and drawing it. When this first issue came out, I saw it on the shelf and calmly passed it by. But later, I read somewhere that it was not only really good, but similar in theme to The Prisoner. Upon reading this, I groaned, because I knew I was sunk. I'd have to collect this miniseries, too.

It is indeed very similar to The Prisoner, but possibly even more surreal. Tom Tresser (AKA Nemesis) is at home hanging out with his cat when he drinks some drugged milk and drops to the floor. He awakens in a strange bed, and is offered breakfast by a trio of identical, creepy, smiling girls. He rushes out only to find himself in a nightmarish labyrinth that seems to change as he moves through it, more fluid dream than solid reality. He keeps passing out and waking up again. He meets faceless guards, but also people he recognizes: Amanda Waller, former White Queen of Checkmate; fellow agents Cameron Chase, Vertigo, and Rick Flag. Sometimes they seem to want his help. Sometimes they seem completely indifferent to him. Sometimes they seem to want to hinder him. Are they fellow prisoners? Or are they his jailers?

It's all very strange and disturbing, especially the clinically detailed, repetitive narration, written in the third person like a field report, and often containing the ominous phrase "[WORD DELETED]." Ivan Brandon's writing is strong, and Marco Rudy's art is haunting and wonderfully psychedelic. It's a unique comic and very intriguing. It could still turn out to be really lame, depending on how it ends, but I'm going to remain hopeful for now.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 6/10
Angel: Blood & Trenches #4
As I suspected after reading the previous issue, the final issue of this miniseries goes back in time to explain how Angel escaped from Kakistos. Then we move forward from the end of last issue and see Angel defeat Kakistos, at least temporarily. This entire issue is thoroughly narrated by Angel himself, and I'm not sure why. The great majority of the narration is just unnecessary textual descriptions of what we're already seeing in the panel. It's pretty disappointing. And at this point the story has boiled down to an only mildly interesting action adventure tale. The interaction between Angel and the Colonel is fascinating, as is the fact that the other vampires assume that Angel must have lost many of his vampire abilities when he gained a soul. But that's about it. And I really didn't like the twist ending where it turns out the German soldier that they let go is actually Hitler. C'mon, was that necessary? Just because there are Germans and it's the past, one of them has to be Hitler? Sigh. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have annoyed me that much if I hadn't just read a vaguely similar twist ending in Fringe.
Thumbs Sideways

B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3
The latest one-shot set back during the time of the first war against the frog creatures focuses on Liz, as seen through the eyes of a female soldier who has a bit of a crush on her. There's a contrast drawn between the tough, energetic, reckless, action-oriented Liz of the past, who charged headfirst into all the frogs' nests and burned them to a crisp, and the Liz of recent times, trapped in the dark apocalyptic dreams put into her head by Memnan Saa. There's some cool art from Karl Moline and some neat action scenes, but I couldn't get over the feeling that this story is pretty pointless. It doesn't really tell us anything new about Liz, and there's not really much of a story here. It's vaguely interesting to see things from the perspective of the grunts at B.P.R.D., and the fact that one of them is a lesbian with a thing for Liz is a cute idea. But author John Arcudi doesn't really go anywhere with these ideas. Overall, pretty disappointing.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman #687
The new guy working the counter at my local comic shop wasn't too impressed with Batman and Robin #1, but said this comic and Red Robin #1 were both very good. I'll know not to trust his opinion from now on. This comic is quite bad. It marks Judd Winick's takeover of the book, and he uses this first issue to once again go over the fact that Dick Grayson is feeling conflicted about becoming Batman - even though Battle for the Cowl and Batman and Robin have already thoroughly covered that territory. There's an interesting scene that's actually kind of moving where Superman and Wonder Woman hand over Batman's cowl to Nightwing in the Batcave. And the scene where Dick demands there not be a funeral for Batman is also rather interesting, as is the scene where Dick chooses the basement of the Wayne Foundation Building for his new headquarters. But this issue has so many guys weeping in it, and so many corny, melodramatic speeches about grief, by the end I just wanted to pull a Godfather, slap these dudes in their faces, and tell them to act like men. I mean, for God's sake, there's such a thing as subtlety! Also, Winick seems to have picked up Tony Daniel's unfortunate tendency to write Damian as a stupid, incompetent, whiny brat. He is supposed to be a bit of a brat, but he is not stupid or incompetent. He's a brilliant and insane killer raised by expert assassins! Get the backstory and the characters right!! Another thing I disliked is the way the villains are written. They're dull stereotypes, spouting the same old villain cliches. The action scenes in this book are just boring.

Of course, it could be worse. In the back of this book is a preview for a Justice League comic by James Robinson that's so bad I couldn't even finish reading it.
Thumbs Down

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1
The only thing I know about Beta Ray Bill is that he's an alien version of Thor. But I wanted to know more, and the premise of this new miniseries is that Bill gets pissed at Galactus for eating his planet and resolves to hunt him down and kill him once and for all, and that is one fantastic premise. So here we are. The first issue opens with Thor and Bill teaming up to defeat a tsunami. It's pretty awesome. Then Thor tries to talk Bill out of his mad plan to take down Galactus, but Bill's determined. He gets the info on Galactus' location from Agent Brand, who asks him to take care of another deadly alien menace that happens to be on his way. Bill has no trouble with that, and quickly arrives at the scene of Galactus' latest conquest, where he comes into conflict with one of Galactus' heralds. It looks like he'll be facing off against the other - the Silver Surfer - next issue. Bill also reveals his plan for defeating Galactus: he won't fight the guy head on (that would be suicide); instead, he'll keep him from his food until he starves. "Any world which I cannot defend, I will destroy. No matter where he runs, he will find naught but dust to sustain him." Woah. That is bad-ass. I'm excited. This is a revenge story with lots of epic action, and it's well written (by Kieron Gillen) and well drawn (by Kano). Definitely looking forward to reading more of this.

I also really appreciate that in the back of this book they've reprinted the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, from The Mighty Thor #337. Walter Simonson provides both art and story and does a pretty damn fine job at both (although the dialog and narration do get a bit corny and repetitive at times). The story is constructed like a crossover tale, wherein due to a misunderstanding our two heroes end up at odds with each other and get into a big fight, but we know eventually they'll figure out what's going wrong and team up against a greater evil. They run into each other in the first place because Nick Fury detects Bill's spaceship headed toward Earth, and it's so powerful and of such epic magnitude the only person he can think of to call on for help is a God: Thor. Bill assumes Thor is just one of the demons he's apparently been hunting, and rather than try to stop the fight and explain the truth to Bill, Thor stupidly fights back. After a while, Thor weakens and changes back into Donald Blake. For some reason, Bill is able to then take Blake's staff, tap it, and gain the power of Thor. Odin then mistakes Bill for Thor and whisks him home to Asgard, where there's trouble brewing. Whoops! Needless to say Blake/Thor is upset. I'm curious to see how this story wraps up, and I'm hoping the rest of it will be reprinted in future issues of this miniseries.
Thumbs Up

Fables #85
In part 7 of "The Great Fables Crossover," Jack Horner is finally forced to have a confrontation with his son, Jack Frost, and Sam manages to convince Kevin to hold off destroying the world, hopefully long enough for Sam to get his hands on the magic pen and possibly destroy it.

It's good to see Jack Horner finally get a little taste of what he deserves in this issue. His son gets so frustrated with him, he attacks him, and the Boy Blue cult finally turns against him as well when his duplicity is at last explained to them. But of course Jack learns nothing from all of this. Instead, in a hilarious sequence, he steals Bigby's liquor and teaches Bigby's kids how to play poker before tricking his own son into running off and confronting Kevin Thorn. What an unmitigated bastard he is. And yet somehow I still enjoy reading about him.

In the back of this comic is a preview, by way of a series of character portraits, of an upcoming comic called Greek Street. The premise is simple: it's a modern day update of ancient Greek mythology. I was actually vaguely interested in this when I first read about it, but this preview really turned me off. It's just poorly written. It looks as if they tried too hard - or didn't try hard enough - to link mythology with the modern world. I'm simultaneously amused and horrified that the Greek chorus is a bunch of strippers.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #2
The second issue of this insane miniseries is pretty much more of the same, although some fascinating new clues do surface. Someone tells Tresser, "He wants you to leave. Not all of you. The real you." That seems significant. Also, a robotic-looking entity, possibly a guard, is surprised to find that Tresser can somehow see him; apparently he's supposed to be invisible. There's a fun interlude wherein Tresser, Cameron, and Vertigo beat the crap out of Captain Nazi. Then Tresser pulls an older version of himself out of a time pool! And maybe the Rick Flag he's been seeing is just a hallucination?!

Yep, it's some crazy crap, all right. It continues to be unclear what's real and what's not, but something interesting is definitely going on. I wonder if all of this will ever make sense. Or if it will perhaps end up making too much sense. If that makes sense.
Thumbs Up

The Flash: Rebirth #3
As this issue opens, the other superheroes have assembled to lock Barry in a stasis field until they can figure out how to make him not the Black Flash anymore. But Barry is certain the only way out is to return to the speed force again, so he just runs away as fast as he can. Superman tries to stop him. "I've raced you before, Barry," he says. "I even won some of those races." "Those were for charity, Clark," Barry says, and zooms away much faster than even Superman can follow. Somehow he leaves behind the Black Flash costume in the process, reverting to the old red and gold, but he just keeps going anyway. His life plays out in reverse in front of his eyes as he runs, his memory and his sense of self drifting away in the process. He repeats to himself, like a charm, "As long as I remember Iris, I'll be all right." It's an incredibly moving and heartbreaking sequence. But Barry doesn't die again at the end of it - instead he finds Johnny Quick and Max Mercury caught in some kind of weird vortex where their life force is being sucked out of them. And finally the villain who's really behind it all is revealed: Reverse Flash!

Wow! Very cool stuff. The sequence where Barry tries to sacrifice himself again to save everyone - easily running faster than Superman, and trying desperately to keep at least the memory of Iris, even if he must lose all the rest of himself - is really amazing.
Thumbs Up

Miss America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
These 70th anniversary one-shots are introducing me to a lot of old school Marvel characters I'd never heard of before. The first story in this one - a new tale written by Jen Van Meter with art by Andy MacDonald - opens with the Liberty Leionnaires - Miss America, Whizzer, and Blue Diamond - fighting off a gang of mind-controlled civilians. Miss America and Blue Diamond are pretty generic super-strong, nigh invulnerable types, while Whizzer is a speedster, natch. Whizzer is married to Miss America and is a little overprotective of her, but in order to root out a Nazi sabotage plot, she has to go undercover as a worker at a shipyard. Eventually it turns out that hidden among the regular workers are a whole band of super saboteurs: Madame Mauzer, Vichy Vixen, Axis Annie, Fraulein Fatale, and Penny Panzer! They briefly capture Miss America, but she gets assistance from the regular girls at the shipyard, who fight back to defend her, their ship, and their country. It's all a little silly and over-the-top, but in a wonderfully smart, funny, self-aware kind of way. I particularly enjoyed when Vichy Vixen spontaneously surrenders, and when one of the shipyard gals gives Penny Panzer a brutal slug to the face and says, "Don't fall down yet, sugar. I ain't done hittin' you." Ha! It's a cute story and it's a ton of fun.

Next up is "The Whizzer" from All-Winners Comics #9. Credits are hard to come by for old Golden Age comics, but they know Alan Mandel penciled this one. It features Whizzer foiling a plot to sabotage a test of a new high explosive armor piercing shell. He solves the case thanks to the fact that he was listening to a random channel on his powerful short wave radio and overheard the saboteurs talking to each other in coded language. It's quite goofy. Still, I rather enjoy the character of Whizzer; the current Marvel Universe is seriously lacking in speedsters.

The third story in the book is "The Whizzer: The Terror of the Triple Destruction" from All-Winners Comics #10, fall 1943. This is an even more ridiculous story than the previous one, and involves Whizzer fighting three saboteurs dressed as demons. These saboteurs boast that they will strike three war plants at the same time, but Whizzer is able to foil their plans by getting the Western Union people to agree to set their clocks slightly off in each of the plants. I could explain that further, but it doesn't get much less silly. The story feels like a commercial for Western Union. Also, like a lot of Golden Age stories, it's painfully over-narrated, describing things in text that we can see plainly with our own eyes. Still, it's fun in its own way.

The final story is "Let's Play Detective: The Mystery of the Ghost Killer" from All-Winners Comics #11, winter 1943-1944. It was written and drawn by Allen Bellman. It's a rather odd two-page, locked room murder mystery wherein a detective examines a few clues (really, just the one - some holes in the ground outside the window), interviews a few witnesses, and swiftly fingers the guilty party - a German gardener who used to be in the circus, and who was forced to kill by Nazis who threatened his family back in the fatherland. Interestingly enough, there's no suggestion that anybody's going to do anything about the people who coerced him - the murderer has been caught, and that's that! The trick to how the detective solved the murder is printed upside down in the final panel, so you can try to figure it out yourself first, then turn the book over to check your solution. (I was able to figure it out, btw, as it was rather glaringly obvious. I guess it's pretty hard to put together a complicated mystery in just two pages.)

Most of these 70th anniversary one-shots have been quite fun. Even when the old stories are lame or the new ones aren't all that exciting, it's still fascinating getting a peek into the history of Marvel Comics.
Thumbs Up

Red Robin #1
The Red Robin character has a strange and complicated history in the DC Universe, but this miniseries is about its latest incarnation: Tim Drake - or Tim Wayne, as he calls himself now (Bruce adopted him at some point, apparently). Tim - unsurprisingly, in retrospect - was pretty pissed at being passed over not only for the job of Batman, but also for the job of Robin, so he stormed off. Unable to face losing everything and everyone again, he became convinced that Bruce Wayne is somehow still alive. So he took on the Red Robin persona and went out in search of the original Batman. In this issue, he gets sidetracked from his search by some good old fashioned crime-fighting, and we learn that an old enemy is keeping track of his movements, and is possibly planning to kill him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this comic. The story is told in an interesting, non-chronological way, jumping back and forth through time until the whole thing has been pieced together for us. There's a lot of narration, but it's interesting, well-written, and not redundant. Tim himself is a fascinating character, complex, flawed, and hurting. I hadn't really thought about how he would react to Dick taking over the Batman identity and giving Damian the Robin identity, but his reaction here is totally believable, and it's the obvious way for him to feel in retrospect. I like that despite the fact that Tim is angry and maybe even a little crazy, he's still extremely competent. I'm really enjoying this story and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. I suspect it may turn out that Tim is right, and Bruce is somehow still alive. But I'd actually like it better if that weren't true, and this series ended up being about Tim trying to come to grips with that fact.
Thumbs Up

Sherlock Holmes #2
A couple of new and interesting twists pop up in this, the second part of "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." Turns out not only is Sherlock apparently guilty of murder, there were also papers at the crime scene that seem to show he himself was the mysterious Moriarty he was always talking about! Meanwhile, to save face, Scotland Yard is ordering both Watson and Lestrade to keep their noses entirely out of the case! But there's no way they can sit still while their friend is in trouble, so they begin investigating the case secretly, under cover of darkness. Meanwhile, Holmes has cleverly escaped his prison cell and is on the lam!

I'm enjoying this story. It's quite intriguing. The only complaint I have is with the way Aaron Campbell draws Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson looking all disheveled. I understand their concern for their friend would end up affecting their outward appearance, but I just can't imagine either of them - proper British folk like they are - letting themselves go quite that much. I mean, they look positively disgusting!
Thumbs Up

Toy Story #1
Boom! keeps churning out the new kids titles, and I keep buying them! This is the first issue in a four-part miniseries, and it tells a one-and-done story called "The Mysterious Stranger." It opens with Andy running in and dropping a strange, egg-like object off in his room before dashing out again to go somewhere with his family. The toys all approach the egg and try to figure out what it is. They are unsuccessful. Paranoia gets the better of a few of them, and those few stage a desperate and poorly thought-out attempt to get rid of the egg. Woody and the rest of the gang stop them, and then have to rush to put everything back the way it was before Andy returns. The object turns out to be harmless, and we all learn a valuable lesson.

But I kid Toy Story. Despite the simplicity of the story, and the obviousness of its message, I actually really enjoyed it. It was fun to see the old gang from the movies again, in an adventure full of fun, action, and comedy. I suspect I'll be picking up the next issue.
Thumbs Up

Uncanny X-Men: First Class Giant-Size #1
This is the one-shot special that bridges the gap between X-Men: First Class and Uncanny X-Men: First Class, with the old writer Jeff Parker handing off the reins to new writer Scott Gray, who's accompanied here by partner Roger Langridge. I had high hopes for this title, as I enjoyed Gray and Langridge's work on Fin Fang 4 Return, but sadly it's an uneven mess. It opens with Scott trying to get used to working with his new teammates: Banshee, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. They're all a bit too crazy and undisciplined for his tastes, and they're not so good at following his orders. But Dr. MacTaggert tells him a series of stories that they told her about themselves which gives Cyclops more insight into who they are. At the end there's hope that Cyclops and his new team will learn to get along.

The device of having MacTaggert tell Cyclops stories about his teammates is a pretty contrived excuse to do a series of one-shot origin stories. And the stories themselves often leave a lot to be desired. Storm's story is beautifully drawn and relatively interesting, but a bit corny. Someone had the horrible idea of writing Banshee's story as a song, but the meter is all wrong and the language has been twisted about in all kinds of clumsy and awkward ways in order to try to make it rhyme. It's quite awful. The story itself is a pretty dull thing about Banshee fighting a bunch of monsters for a girl, only to discover he and the girl can't be together. I like the very end, where he realizes he'll meet her again in death, but that's about it.

Nightcrawler's story is a very childish, cartoony-looking thing about the fact that what he is scares people, and he has to hide behind lies to be accepted. The only really good stories are the last two: Colossus' and Wolverine's. Colossus describes an adventure that takes place shortly after he discovered his mutant ability. He's depressed about the recent death of his brother, and not sure what to do about his secret. His friends are trying to cheer him up when an accident nearly kills them all, but Colossus is able to save them with his mutant power. Not only that, but he finds new hope and a purpose in life. It sounds a bit corny, but it's handled well and is actually quite effective.

The last story - Wolverine's - might be the best. We all know that Wolverine doesn't actually remember his past at all at this point in his history, but instead of telling MacTaggert that, he makes up a bunch of totally ridiculous adventure stories about himself. He says he got his powers by being bitten by a radioactive wolverine at a science exhibition. We then get quick glimpses of his hilarious attempts to become a children's author, a theater actor (I love his take on Willy Loman - "This is one salesman who ain't dyin', bub!"), and a folk singer. Then he finally finds his purpose: punching creeps and blowing things up with the spy organization S.N.I.K.T.! He fights zombie clowns, mechanical lunar ticks on the moon, and the agents of B.I.M.B.O.! Then he saves Charles Xavier from B.I.M.B.O. and agrees to join the X-Men, where he totally macks on Jean Grey.

In the back of the book is an amusing collection of "International Mutants Who Didn't Make the Team" which includes people like Didgeri Dude, an Australian who can surf on anything and drain a tinny in ten seconds flat. I feel like some of the jokes in here went over my head, or are just so weird and random that I thought they'd gone over my head, but most of it is pretty funny.

After reading this rather clumsy, uneven book, I'm a little worried about the quality of the upcoming issues of Uncanny X-Men: First Class. But to be fair, this one-shot was written and illustrated by a large number of people all trying to work in concert, and I suspect it's difficult to produce good work that way. Maybe the ongoing series - written by just one writer and drawn by just one artist - will be stronger and less uneven. We'll see.
Thumbs Sideways

The Unwritten #2
I'm definitely still loving this series. I enjoy the quick glimpses we get into the Tommy Taylor novels - how they're so like and yet so unlike Harry Potter - and the quick glimpses we get into the completely believable internet reaction to the events surrounding Tom Taylor in the "real" world. Some shocking and exciting moments: a new Tommy Taylor novel arrives at the publisher! Then Tom visits his Dad's old flame for information, and it's clear she knows more than she's saying. "You know that trick where you pull away the tablecloth without disturbing the plates and dishes?" she says. "That's what the truth is." Then she tells him to count the stairs in her basement. Somehow, impossibly, he keeps going down and down, getting all the way to step number 1,708 before she turns the light on and tells him to come back. He turns around and finds there are only 12 steps going back up. Such a cool scene.

The villain who's tracking Tom threatens his Dad's old flame a bit after Tom leaves. It looks like she knows the thug, and is perhaps cooperating with him to a certain extent. But she did give Tom a tip on where to go next: the old house where his father wrote the Tommy Taylor novels. There Tom has a flashback to a horrific childhood memory of his father beating the crap out of some man, a man holding a mysterious map. Also at the house is the woman who called herself Lizzie Hexam, and she points out that Tom now has Tommy Taylor's tattoo on the back of his hand, something I've been expecting to see for some time now.

This is a really wonderful, magical mystery about the thin line between fiction and reality. Just my kind of thing.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #74
Both stories that were launched in #73 conclude in this issue. The biker story really feels rushed and a little clumsy. I think it probably needed to have more space to develop. Also, it needed to be a little more subtle about the parallels to Wolverine's relationship with his own son. And it needed to be more interesting. I really didn't care that much about scummy drug-dealing bikers killing each other. Jason Aaron's "A Mile in My Moccasins" also gets a bit corny and unsubtle at times, but it's still a good story because it never takes itself too seriously. I especially enjoyed the moment when a bunch of unlucky criminals try to rob the bar where Wolverine and Spider-Man are having an argument. Big mistake! I also like when Wolverine's bartender answers the phone and says, "Logan, it's for you. It's that Cyclops guy." Heh. So yeah, a bit cheesy, but also clever and funny, and overall a pretty strong character portrait of Wolverine.

It looks like next issue this book is going to change its title to Dark Wolverine and start focusing on Logan's son, Daken. I'm not totally happy about that, and neither am I happy about the fact that Daniel Way will apparently be taking over writing duties. I remember that guy being pretty uneven. Still, I might give it a try, just to see what it's like.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Angel (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Byrne (Not), Sherlock Holmes (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (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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