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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 04:43 PM
Best of the Double Nothings: Best Comics of 2009
 by Fëanor

  1. Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D - Along with All-Star Superman, this is Grant Morrison's ultimate Superman story. It also provides some beautiful and insightful commentary on stories in general.

  2. Final Crisis - Easily the best huge multiverse event miniseries ever. Epic, brilliant, and breath-takingly imaginative.

  3. The Unwritten - A beautiful and stunning commentary, not just on the Harry Potter series, but also on fiction in general, and its incredible power over reality itself.

  4. The Umbrella Academy: Dallas - If you thought the first Umbrella Academy miniseries, written by a rock star, was a fluke, the follow-up should convince you otherwise. If anything, it's more stunning, darkly funny, mind-blowing, and creative than the first.

  5. X-Men: Magneto - Testament - A supervillain origin story that turns into a devastating examination of the worst act of villainy ever committed in the real world. It's the rare comic book that I can confidently describe as "important," and this is one.

  6. Scalped - Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera's brutal crime noir thriller set on an Indian reservation continues to be one of the tensest, most exciting, and most intelligent books on the stands.

  7. Irredeemable - Mark Waid imagines a world whose "Superman" snaps one day and decides to do all the unthinkable, incredibly destructive, horrifically evil things that Superman would never do. The result is an extremely unsettling and engrossing story set in an exciting new universe.

  8. No Hero - In this series, Warren Ellis continues the examination of the superhuman that he began in Black Summer, and that he is currently still working through in Supergod (a series which failed to make this list for no other reason than the fact that only two issues have come out, so I didn't think I'd seen enough of it yet to include it). It's a dark, but rather painfully realistic, visualization of humanity, and of how the world might change if people could really have super powers.

  9. Comic Book Comics - A smart, engrossing, and extremely irreverent history of comic books cleverly and appropriately presented in comic book form. Fun!

  10. Criminal - Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their incredibly impressive, artful, and entertaining crime noir series. One of the best parts is the essay in the back on other noir-related topics.
Tagged (?): Best of the Double Nothings (Not), Comic books (Not), Criminal (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Lists (Not), Scalped (Not), Superman (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009 10:44 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Animals (Not), Art (Not), Books (Not), Celebrities (Not), Clothing (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Doctor Who (Not), Food (Not), Gadgets (Not), LEGO (Not), Links (Not), Lovecraft (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Predator (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Star Wars (Not), Terminator (Not), Toys (Not), TV (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not)
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Sunday, May 24, 2009 11:48 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

Once again, I've fallen dreadfully behind on my comics. And even with this gigantic anthology of reviews of books from previous weeks, I'm still not entirely caught up! I have yet to even start reading the books from this past week, and I've still got a trade paperback I need to finish that I picked up in Rehoboth weeks ago. But we'll see, maybe I can do a marathon reading and reviewing session one of these nights and get myself back on track.

This post covers new releases from 4/29, 5/2 (Free Comic Book Day), 5/6, and 5/13, plus back issues from FCBD, another back issue picked up on a recommendation, and a trade paperback I got in Rehoboth.

Back issues and old data
Aliens: Harvest
I picked up this Dark Horse trade paperback collection during my customary trip to the Book Trader in Rehoboth partly because Free Comic Book Day the previous weekend had seen the launch of Dark Horse's new Aliens series and I wanted to see what the old stuff was like; partly because I just like the Aliens franchise in general; partly because the introduction and the first few pages were pretty interesting; and partly because it was just really cheap. A lot went into my purchasing decision! Anyways, turns out it was a good decision, because this is a very neat book. It's apparently the follow-up to another story arc by the same creative team called Aliens: Hive, but luckily I didn't feel like I was missing anything for having not read that first. This story is about Dr. Stan Myakovsky, a scientist who has recently learned that he will soon die from cancer. The only thing that can relieve his symptoms and extend his life is the royal jelly of the Alien queen. It turns out the jelly is a highly sought-after psychedelic drug that has different effects on different people; for Myakovsky it slows down time to an endless moment in which he can move back over his memories and experience them again in perfect clarity (which is not only a really cool idea, it's also a really handy and clever plot device for inserting flashbacks into the story). But of course the jelly is hard to get and very expensive.

Myakovsky is approached by a beautiful young woman named Julian who's read his book Cyberantics, which tells of the adventures of an artificial ant that Myakovsky built and used to infiltrate an ant hive in order to study the creatures. She suggests he build an artificial Alien to infiltrate an Alien hive (the location of which she happens to know) and collect the jelly from the source. He'll get the drug he needs, and they'll both get rich. Can the crazy scheme somehow work?

Of course not! But seeing how it goes horribly awry is the fun part. Jerry Prosser's story is well written, with imaginative concepts, creative plot twists, fascinating and complex characters, and smart dialog. Kelley Jones' art is a little warped and abstract at times, and Les Dorscheid makes some odd color choices, but overall the visuals are quite effective as well. The opening chase sequence, with its surprise ending, followed by the surreal vision of an alien speaking polite English and playing fetch with a dog, is really fantastic. I also like the shocking attack on the crew by the synthetic Alien; the discovery of another harvesting team with their own method for entering the hive; the way the synthetic Alien's infiltration of the Alien hive is accompanied by narration of the synthetic ant's infiltration of the ant hive; our heroes' desperate run through the hive with the bracelets that make them invisible to the Aliens, but only for a limited time; Myakovsky's reprogramming of the android; Myakovsky's (and the Aliens'!) clever plan to defeat the other harvesting team; and finally, the eerie, tragic, brutal conclusion. Overall a really great book and a strong addition to the Aliens fictional universe. I think I might have to seek out Hive, as well.
Thumbs Up

Destroyer #1
The week this comic originally came out, I saw it on the shelves, but passed it by. I wasn't familiar with the character, the author (Robert Kirkman), or the artist (Cory Walker), and that adds up to a "don't buy" in my book. (Even if I am familiar with, and enjoy the work of, the colorist: the supremely talented Val Staples.) But later I read a recommendation of the book online (I think from Duane Swierczynski?) which described it in terms that made it sound like it was right up my alley, so I ended up picking up #2 when it came out, and fishing in the stacks for #1. I was not disappointed. The very first giant panel features our title character punching his fist all the way through a dude's face and out the other side of his head. He then proceeds to brutally murder the rest of a whole commando unit of high tech terrorists before jumping right down into ground zero of a gigantic explosion. The explosion leaves him unharmed, but does burn his clothes off, and that's when we see, to our surprise, that he's a very average-looking old man.

Some research revealed that Destroyer is an old hero from the Golden Age - another super soldier, like Captain America - and Kirkman decided to write this miniseries as if Destroyer had just been plugging away all these years, fighting bad guys and getting older, and Kirkman was just picking up the story in medias res. Destroyer has a family - a wife, a kid, and a grandkid. They know about his other life, but when he's with them he just acts like any other grandfather. And then the next page he'll be back tearing supervillains apart with his bare hands. It's a surreal and jarring juxtaposition, and makes for a really fascinating and darkly funny story. The premise of the miniseries is simple: Destroyer's body is finally breaking down after all the punishment he's put it through over the years. He knows this, but rather than take it as a sign to slow down, he's decided to use what time he has left to take out, once and for all, any and all villains who might pose a threat to his family after he's gone. The story is fast-paced and engaging, the characters deep and interesting, the art realistic and beautiful, the writing clever and funny, the action brutal and exciting. In other words, it's great comics. I'm so pleased.
Thumbs Up

Magneto #4
Free Comic Book Day isn't just a day for the various comic book publishers to try to hook new readers on their various offerings. It's also a day for the comic shop owners to try to offload their overstock of crappy old books on unsuspecting customers! Which is how I ended up with this book, from February 1997. The plot is by Peter Milligan, the script by Jorge Gonzalez, and the pencils by Kelley Jones. The story has to do with some mutant named Joseph claiming to be Magneto, and trying to use his power and influence to take over a group of reject mutants called the Acolytes. To tell you the truth, I couldn't even get through the whole thing. It's seriously awful. It's horribly overwritten, with tons of overloaded word and thought bubbles. The dialog is melodramatic and clumsy, the characters are two dimensional, and the story is a bunch of contrived nonsense. 'Nuff said!
Thumbs Down

The Uncanny X-Men #156
Like Magneto #4, this is another old book my comic shop was just trying to get rid of on FCBD. It's from April, 1982. There's no full list of credits, but it looks like Chris Claremont wrote it. It picks up in the middle of a storyline in which Deathbird has just attacked and seemingly killed Colossus. He and most of the rest of the X-Men are whisked into space by the Starjammers, who get to work healing Colossus, and chasing Deathbird. Meanwhile, Kitty, Nighcrawler, Xavier, and Lilandra are all prisoners of Deathbird. By the end, everybody's free and back where they belong, but the Earth is still in danger.

Like most Claremont books, it's got way too many words in it; when one word will do, he uses ten. There's exposition galore, and plenty of melodrama, too. All that being said, the story is relatively interesting, the art's pretty good, and there's some fun action. A particularly well done sequence has the X-Men and the Starjammers racing against time to save Storm when she's swept out into space. It's not a great comic, but it has its moments. And it also has one of those hilarious Hostess fruit pie ads! Awesome.
Thumbs Sideways

X-Men #1
I picked this up at FCBD only to realize later that it was the same old '90s book I'd already bought for cheap in Rehoboth a couple years ago. I disliked it then, so I didn't bother reading it again now. You can check out the original review here.

New releases from 4/29
Battle for the Cowl: Underground #1
This is a one-shot tie-in to DC's current event storyline - the one about everybody fighting over who gets to be the new Batman. Oddly, it takes the form of a crime noir detective story with Edward Nigma as the detective. Nigma's assignment, brought to him by the Penguin, is to find the Black Mask. He ends up picking up a bevy of femmes fatale along the way, including Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman. Catwoman is struggling with her new place in Gotham's power structure - trying to do the right thing - the thing Bruce would have wanted her to do - but thrown off balance by all the ghosts that seem to be haunting her, like the Black Mask, and a new, deadly Batman. It's a pretty good story, by Chris Yost, with pretty excellent, cinematic art by Pablo Raimondi (although I was a little thrown off by his decision to draw the Penguin as Danny DeVito's Penguin from Batman Returns). The weird thing is, it doesn't come to any kind of conclusion. Even though it's a one-shot, it feels like the start of a miniseries, a miniseries that would focus on Catwoman and her internal/external struggles, and on the Riddler and his crime noir-style detective story. I'd totally read that miniseries. But I guess it doesn't exist. Maybe they're going to pick up this storyline in some other Battle for the Cowl one-shot or tie-in? I don't know. It's all very confusing.
Thumbs Up

Captain America: Theater of War - A Brother in Arms #1
This is just another of a series of Cap one-shots set during WWII. I almost didn't get it, but I'm glad I did. It's quite good. Interestingly enough, as Cap himself points out in the opening narration, this is not really a Captain America story; it's a story about soldiers and war that happens to guest star Captain America. It has tense, exciting action, but also some very smart dialog and a thoughtful and deeply moving story. The plot and the moral are perhaps a bit cliche as far as WWII stories go, but it's still an effective comic.
Thumbs Up

Dark Avengers #4
The fight between Morgana and Doctor Doom ends with Doom throwing Morgana back to the time of the dinosaurs. Which is apparently less destructive to Doom's timeline than actually killing her. Although how it is, or why she can't simply time travel back and attack him again whenever, is totally unclear. Once you give a character almost limitless power, it's hard to explain how she can be defeated, and as far as I'm concerned, Bendis completely fails to explain that here. There's also still no explanation for why the scene that began this story arc ended in a completely different way in this book than it did in Bendis' other Avengers book. Is there still yet another bit of time travel that hasn't been shown yet that will reconcile the different timelines? Or is this book happening in a different reality than the other book? I don't know, and frankly at this point I barely care. The only thing keeping me buying this comic is that I want to know how the overarching storyline turns out. And I love Mike Deodato's art.

One more important event that takes place: the Sentry comes back to life. This also is presented with no explanation. I guess he just sort of puts himself back together somehow? Or he reemerges in this universe because he has to exist to balance out the Void? Or something? I don't know. But the final page is kind of cool, with the almost limitlessly powerful and indestructible Sentry just floating there staring Osborn down, and Osborn staring back at him in fear and dismay, sweating heavily.

I'm really not a fan of Bendis' writing anymore, and the fact that this book seems to be plotted in a clumsy, haphazard way, with many of its events left completely unexplained, is really pushing me past the breaking point. The question is, can I make myself stop buying it? Guess we'll see next month!
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: The Cabal #1
This is an anthology one-shot, collecting a series of short stories, each about one of the members of Osborn's Cabal. First up is Jonathan Hickman on Doom: "...And I'll Get the Land." Adi Granov provides the (impressive) art. It starts out back at the end of Osborn's first meeting with the Cabal, with that rather irritating final exchange between Namor and Doom where it was clear they had their own little deal and Namor was following Doom's lead. Then it jumps forward a year, and we see Doom triumph over everyone - he's even got Loki and Emma in slinky costumes chained to his throne! Yowza. But then it turns out it's all just a dream! Or rather, it's all just Doom's vision of the future. Lame. Just lame.

Next is Matt Fraction on Emma Frost: "How I Survived Apocalyptic Fire." Daniel Acuna provides the art, which is again impressive. The story is not particularly impressive, though. It's just a look back at Emma's life, narrated by her, describing how she survived her various hardships and what her motives are now. Boring and not particularly subtle. The most interesting moment is the reveal of how she got her costume: she stole it from an adult video store! That explains a lot.

The story about the Hood is "Family Trust" with script by Rick Remender and art by Max Fiumara. I already knew I wasn't a fan of Remender's work, and he reminds me why here: terrible, over-the-top, melodramatic writing with no subtlety whatsoever. I don't even like Jeff Eckleberry's lettering!

Namor's story is "The Judgment of Namor" by Kiron Gillen with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico. In this one, Namor has to make a ruling on a family matter: whether the mother or the father should have custody of an adolescent child who happens to have mutated and gained super powers. Namor decides neither are worthy and takes the kid on as his ward, with plans to send him off to the X-Men for training. It's not a great story, and Namor's last line is really corny, but overall it's okay, and Di Giandomenico's art is pretty decent.

The best story in the book is easily the last one, "Dinner with Doom," starring Loki. It's written by Peter Milligan with art by Tonci Zonjic. It does indeed feature Loki having dinner with Doctor Doom, and opens with Doom putting Loki through a series of brutal and hilarious tests to make sure she's really who she says she is. She takes it all very calmly. Then they come to an interesting agreement: Doom will host the Asgardians in Latveria, and in return Loki will help him acquire the one thing he lacks. What that thing is remains a mystery. But it's a fun, entertaining, intriguing story with good art and clever dialog.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4
Final Crisis itself ended months ago, I'm already reading miniseries about its aftermath, and still this tie-in miniseries is chugging along! This is, however, the penultimate issue, so it is finally almost done. All kinds of crazy epic fights and ridiculous science fiction stuff goes down here. More characters die, more get resurrected, and the true identity of the Time Trapper is revealed. It's pretty confusing, frankly! But also rather exciting and action-packed. I'll be sticking around for the last issue.
Thumbs Up

Fringe #4
In the main story, our heroes Walter and Peter get the blueprints for a mysterious machine from the military, so they build it and accidentally turn it on, getting thrown back in time to WWII Germany!! There they meet Bishop's father, who's a Nazi!! It's pretty crazy, exciting, intriguing stuff. The only thing that confuses me is that I thought they already built the teleporter, and that the teleporter was a combination space/time machine that did the same thing? Also, I thought that when you came through on the other end, you'd be horribly messed up, like Jones was in the TV show? I don't know.

The backup story is a pretty fantastic little tale called "Space Cowboy" about an experimental drug being tried out on astronauts. The drug makes people essentially super human, but there are some... unfortunate side effects. The end of the story is very darkly funny. Corrupt, cold-blooded government scientists FTW! This book continues to be surprisingly excellent. I'm very pleased.

In the back of the book is a preview for Killapalooza #1. This is a series I was curious about, about a rock band that is also secretly a group of super-powered assassins. I'm glad I was able to read this preview for free, however, as it convinced me not to buy the comic. The writing is awful and there's not a likable character in the whole bunch.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #40
Oh boy, yet another prelude to Blackest Night! Sigh. Things open up this time with another new law being written into the Book of Oa: the Vega system is no longer outside of the Green Lantern Corps' jurisdiction. So in they go, and the showdown with Larfleeze, AKA Agent Orange, begins. We finally get a better idea how his power works: he can kill and consume other creatures and then replicate them to fight for him. It's an interesting idea, but I'm getting tired of Geoff Johns' writing. He has great story ideas, but the actual dialog is often quite bad. Hal Jordan's narration - of which there is unfortunately quite a lot in this issue - is particularly disappointing. He's just not a very interesting or likable character the way Johns writes him. He's whiny and annoying.

There's a backup story here from what will apparently be a series of "Tales of the Orange Lanterns." It's also written by Johns, with art by Rafael Albuquerque, and it's called "Weed Killer." It tells the story of how a cute, hungry little monster called Glomulus got absorbed and replicated by Agent Orange. It's reasonably entertaining. Glomulus is a likable little monster, and seeing Agent Orange swimming around in his giant mound of rings, like Scrooge McDuck swimming in his treasure horde, is an amusing image.
Thumbs Sideways

The Literals #1
The third part of "The Great Fables Crossover" is the first issue of a new Fables-related series, this one focusing on the characters who are the embodiments of literary concepts. Kevin Thorn is having writer's block while attempting to rewrite reality and decides to call in some of the major genres to help him brainstorm. That doesn't seem to be helping, so he brings in some idea men instead: namely, the Fables Old Sam and Hansel. Oddly, Kevin is constantly accompanied by a drooling maniac in a straightjacket who looks quite a bit like him. The maniac never speaks, and no one ever mentions him, but he's always there in the corner. It's very curious, and I'm not sure what it means, apart from the obvious fact that Kevin is crazy. (Maybe the maniac is a representation of writer's block?)

Meanwhile, Bigby and friends arrive at Kevin's old place to pick up his trail, only to spring a booby trap. Luckily, they all escape uninjured, but Kevin becomes aware of their actions and uses his reality changing powers to work a rather odd and unexpected transformation on Bigby. Meanwhile, Jack Frost is still wandering about looking for his Dad.

The story here is intriguing and fun; I particularly like the crazy, creative, metaphorical stuff that's always happening around Kevin. There's also a full page sequence at the Dino Diner - consisting entirely of one of the Fables ordering lunch for the other Fables - which is surprisingly entertaining. And Mark Buckingham's art is quite excellent. Looks like I have a new series to collect.
Thumbs Up

The Muppet Show #2
On this episode of The Muppet Show, Fozzie's set of cheese-related jokes fails miserably with a crowd from the cheese manufacturers' convention. He loses confidence in himself and tries multiple times to rewrite his set from the ground up. But eventually it turns out that just a small adjustment is all that's necessary. In between scenes of the major plot are various minor sketches including a scene with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker! So far I can't say I love this comic, but it's mildly entertaining, it has a great nostalgic feel to it, and the art is quite nice. I'll probably stick with it for now.
Thumbs Up

Sherlock Holmes #1
This is the start of a new miniseries about the famous detective from Dynamite Entertainment entitled "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." It's written by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art by Aaron Campbell, and John Cassaday did the cover. We open with a bombing, possibly related to the arrival of a foreign politician in England. Then a famous old British politician named Sir Henry, already unwell, gets a letter telling him he'll be murdered at a certain time on a certain date, and if he tries to escape his fate, bombs will go off across London. So he resolves to be in his house, but requests the presence of Sherlock Holmes. When the appointed hour arrives, Holmes is alone with Sir Henry in his locked bedroom. A gun shot is heard, and when everyone rushes in, the politician is dead and Holmes is standing there with a smoking gun. It seems pretty open and shut, so he's taken to jail! But we all know there's more to it than that. Obviously Holmes was framed, and I suspect that Sir Henry, since he was dying anyway, might have set it all up himself for some reason. But then how do the terrorist bombings fit in? Is that just something that happened to be going on and Sir Henry used it to add believability to his threat? Hmm...

Anyway, I love Holmes, and I love a good mystery, so I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes.
Thumbs Up

War Machine #5
War Machine has to face off against a gang of Ultimo-infected people led by the God of War himself! And he only has minutes before his body craps out on him for good, so he has to act fast. He conceives a desperate plan and executes it. There's lots of crazy fast-paced action, some flashbacks that build character, and somehow it all works out for the best. Ares calls War Machine his champion, a title Rhodey doesn't care for, but which Ares insists is accurate. Osborn is pleased with how everything turned out, so he offers Rhodes and each of his friends what the thing they desire most. In Rhodes' case, that's a fresh, new body - the one Osborn's people stole from the secret facility where it was being made by Stark's people. In former S.H.I.E.L.D. member Jake Oh's case, it's a mint-in-box 1976 Bicentennial edition Captain America action figure. Heh. Anyway, Rhodes says no to Osborn and insists there's still plenty of work left to do, and now he has a team to help him do it. There's even a final page where they all get to pose together with guns, ready to start their next adventure. It's all a little corny. Pak tells a reasonably interesting story and Leonardo Manco illustrates it well, but... I'm not sure I care enough about the characters to stick around. I mean, Jake Oh just got shoehorned in here to have an extra guy on the team; we haven't learned a damn thing about him, and his personality is totally generic. Everybody else has a crazy melodramatic background. And Pak has let me down before in the past. So I don't know. Now that this first story arc is done, I'm really not sure I want to commit to reading the next one.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases from Free Comic Book Day
Aliens/Predator
Dark Horse did some pretty well received comic book adaptations of the Alien and Predator franchises some years ago (see above for my review of one!), and this two-in one comic marks the company's return to the series. John Arcudi, whose work I've enjoyed on B.P.R.D., writes both stories with art by Zach Howard on the Aliens story and Javier Saltares on the Predator story. The Aliens story uses the plot device of a cultural biologist writing an article on how his field has been transformed by the arrival of the xenomorphs to give us a quick summary of what's happened so far in the Aliens universe. But Arcudi manages to make the story more than just a bland exposition dump by telling it with an interesting voice and and from an interesting angle, and by using some clever trickery to make us feel like a xenomorph attack is imminent.

The Predator story is far more action-packed with far less exposition, instead focusing on a sniper who's preparing to take out a target when he's suddenly targeted himself by a Predator. But the Predator is then himself targeted in turn by other Predators. Intriguing! I'll definitely be picking up the first issues of both these series when they hit the stands for real in the coming weeks.
Thumbs Up

Archie Presents The Mighty Archie Art Players #1
I can't say for sure, but I don't think I'd ever read an Archie comic until I read this one. And now that I've read this one, I don't think I'll read another one. It's not that it's bad; in fact it occasionally made me chuckle. But it's just so bland and inoffensive and dated. It consists of a series of parodies, of High Noon, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Antony and Cleopatra. Every story is pretty much the same: our heroes get into a series of wacky hijinks, there are some bad puns and other silliness, and then the bad guys get punished and the good guys live happily ever after. Yawn.
Thumbs Sideways

Atomic Robo
This book was put out by Red 5 Comics, a company I'm not really familiar with. Besides the eponymous story, it also includes "Drone" and "We Kill Monsters." "Atomic Robo" is actually pretty funny. It consists of the title character having a brutal fight with his nemesis, Dr. Dinosaur, while also sparring with him verbally over how Dr. Dinosaur's origin story is completely ridiculous and impossible. I don't think I liked the story quite well enough to start trying to collect the series, but I definitely enjoyed it.

"Drone" is one of those all too frequent cases of a cool idea poorly executed. It's about a bunch of teens, one of whom has figured out how to hack into the live audio/video feed of a team of high tech war robots. He says he could even hack into it further and wrest control of the robots away from the soldiers who are remotely piloting them. The teens watch as the robots attack some terrorists, and then we cut away and get a brief introduction to said terrorists. The art is pretty clumsy and lame, and the dialog, especially that of the terrorists, is really quite poorly written. I definitely won't be seeking that one out.

"We Kill Monsters" is about a couple of mechanic brothers who kill a monster and decide to drag it home. But then they get attacked by yet another monster, and one of them begins to experience some odd side effects of the first attack. Again, a cute concept, with the potential for some amusing stories, but not particularly well written. I can't say I'm very impressed by Red 5 Comics.
Thumbs Sideways

Attack of the Alterna Zombies!
This is a black and white collection, in a smaller, thicker format from your average comic, put out by another company I'm not familiar with: Alterna Comics. Apparently Alterna Comics' major books are Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Werewolves, which are about pretty much what you'd figure they'd be about. The first story in this book features Jesus and Abraham Lincoln teaming up to fight zombies. Then they take some 'shrooms and meet weird zombie-like versions of all the rest of Alterna's roster of characters. This sounds a lot more awesome than it actually is. It felt like there were a lot of inside jokes in here I wasn't getting, and the jokes I did get weren't very funny. The next story is just a bunch of aliens killing each other. Pretty dull. The story after that is a painfully melodramatic thing about a lonely young alien who's the last of his kind now that his mother has died. After that is "Mr. Scootles," about two teens who find an old film in the school library starring a forgotten animated film star. We don't even get to see any of the movie; there's just a whole lot of really bad narration where they talk about the cartoon as if it's important and interesting, even though it isn't. Then it looks like the thing is going to turn into some kind of Cool World/Roger Rabbit type thing where the cartoon crawls out into the real world. Yack.

Next is a surreal, confusing tale about a mysterious dude in a mysterious dystopic city. That might sound interesting, but in fact it's dull. The story after that is actually the worst one in the book, which is really saying something. It's called "The Chair," and it's about some guy on death row who didn't commit the crime he was convicted of. It's just really poorly written narration of him whining about how crappy his life is, accompanied by drawings that look like they were done by an especially untalented 12-year-old. It's awful. Next up are Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Werewolves stories which feature Jesus killing zombies and Lincoln killing werewolves. Yep, pretty much. The last two stories are yet another zombie-related tale called "Risers," which has a vaguely interesting premise and some vaguely interesting art, but didn't end up wowing me, and finally "Morbid Myths," which is a really, really, really bad Twilight Zone rip-off. Seriously, it's really bad.

This was definitely the worst book I got at Free Comic Book Day. Why I read the whole thing, I'm really not sure. Anyway, at least now I know to avoid anything put out by Alterna Comics.
Thumbs Down

The Avengers
Hey, it's an Avengers story by Brian Michael Bendis! That never happens! Oh, wait... Anyway, this one is actually pretty good, even if it does have plenty of that uniquely irritating Bendis-style narration and dialog (his Spider-Man is particularly egregious, and unfortunately he happens to be the main character and narrator of this story). It's an interesting tale about Ymir the Frost Giant showing up and nearly destroying everything, until the rebel Avengers and the Dark Avengers team up to help Ares acquire the Twilight Sword, a magical weapon that's the only thing that can stop Ymir, and that can only be wielded by a God. They're triumphant, but then it looks like there's going to be another big fight between the different Avengers teams, until Thor slides up in there and puts his thing down. The story's a bit simplistic, but also intriguing, fun, and action packed, and Jim Cheung's art is quite excellent.
Thumbs Up

Blackest Night #0
Hey, what do you know! It's another prelude to Blackest Night! Some day this story is actually going to start!

This prelude opens with Hal Jordan contemplating Final Crisis over the grave of Batman. Barry Allen joins him and they talk about death and resurrection for a while: Batman's death, their deaths, etc. Then finally the Black Lantern (AKA the Black Hand) shows up, says his rhyme, and starts bringing people back to life. It's good to see things get moving, but it's hard sitting through Hal Jordan's lame and lengthy narration, and the conversation between him and Barry that ends up really just being a contrived plot device to take a look back at death and resurrection in the DC Universe. But Johns still has me hooked, for the story alone. I need to know what happens!

The back of the book has a series of profiles of the various Lantern Corps, which are actually kind of neat, as they give details on the history, powers, weaknesses, and other abilities of each Corps. The profile of the Indigo Tribe is both especially intriguing and especially irritating, as it contains almost no real information; everything is listed as "unknown."

Overall not a great book, but certainly a fascinating glimpse at what's to come.
Thumbs Sideways

Cartoon Palooza #2
Ape Entertainment is a company I've actually purchased books from before, but I'm unfamiliar with all of the comics represented in this issue. First up is R.P.M. (Rapid Performance Machines), which reads like a bad tie-in comic for a cartoon and toy line, except I don't think the cartoon or the toys exist. It's about secret agents who compete in extreme racing competitions with high performance vehicles that secretly transform into giant robot battle suits. Their mission is to "uncover ancient alien technology before the evil organization Scorpion beats them to the prize!" It sounds like a concept dreamed up by an 8-year-old, and it reads like it was written by one, too. Not so good.

Next is Go-Go Gorilla and the Jungle Crew, which is a pretty basic superhero book where all the heroes and villains are anthropomorphised animals. Kind of silly, nothing special. The only decent story in the book, really, is White Picket Fences, a cute, well-drawn comic about a bunch of regular kids who meet some aliens and then play baseball with them. After that comes Femme Noir (silly, poorly rendered pulp/noir about a sexy detective investigating paranormal crimes), Ursula Wilde (a half-way interesting action/sci-fi tale about a team of secret agents fighting monsters and mad science), and Elders of the Rune Stone (a really melodramatic, horribly written, blandly generic story about a team of teen superheroes). If it weren't for the one good story, and the couple of stories that weren't all bad, this one definitely would have gotten a Thumbs Down.
Thumbs Sideways

Comics Festival!
Most of the FCBD specials from indie publishers are chock full of really poorly done rip-offs of stuff the major publishers do much better. But this book is quite different. The stories in here are clever, funny, unique, and creative. Even when they're not all that good, they're at least original. The book was published by Legion of Evil Press for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and what the stories have in common is that they're all done by Canadians who appeared at the festival (which took place a week after FCBD).

One of my favorites is "Moon Pie," a magical, wonderfully nonsensical fantasy adventure about a pirate and a bunch of kids and animals who do magical stuff to help their friends and fight evil. There's also a number of short, weird, comic strip-style pieces in here that don't seem to be part of any on-going story, or involve any recurring characters. "To Do List" is a cute story about a young girl who's a superhero, but who's also careful to make time for the little things. "Ella & Squid" is an extremely simple and even rather corny little story with the moral written across it in big cursive type, but it's so sweet and warm and lovable that it's impossible to dislike it, especially since it's about the (completely innocent) friendship between a woman, a little boy, and a squid. "Ojingogo" is a really unique, one-page piece done in a kind of wrap-around, tapestry format that you have to turn the book on its side to read. It's quite neat. Then there's an Angora Napkin story featuring a hamster with tentacles; a strip about a crow brutally murdering some pancakes; a totally cute one-pager about an octopus who gets the ability to breathe air and swim through the air for a day and uses it to go bike riding, play speed chess, and get ice cream for everybody; a funny bit about a really pathetic superhero team called the Go Friends; a four panel comic about making Blackbeard break down and cry using kittens; and an amusing back cover story about Monster Cops. It's pretty wonderful stuff!
Thumbs Up

Cyber Force/Hunter Killer: First Look
This is Top Cow's FCBD book, and it's basically a prelude to the company's upcoming Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer crossover. It's written by Mark Waid with impressive art by Kenneth Rocafort, and the story basically just sets up the inevitable confrontation between the two teams. No doubt they'll fight for a while, then decide they're on the same side and team up to take down somebody else. Cyberforce and Hunter-Killer sounded vaguely familiar to me, and the team members looked vaguely familiar, too, but the character profiles in the back of this book didn't really ring any bells. Maybe I just paged through a couple of old books in the '90s? I don't know. Anyway, although the art is good, and the story is vaguely intriguing, the profiles are really pretty poorly written, and the characters sound pretty generic and melodramatic. I don't plan to start collecting.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Horse Comics: Free Comic Book Day
The Aliens/Predator book wasn't Dark Horse's only contribution to FCBD; they also put out this sampler book which includes stories from Usagi Yojimbo, Emily the Strange, Beanworld, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I already knew I wasn't a huge fan of Usagi Yojimbo, and this story pretty much confirmed that opinion; it's a really standard, formulaic ghost story. The Emily the Strange and Beanworld stories are just weird and pointless. The Indiana Jones story is lame, with a weak plot, poor characterization of Indy, and cartoony art. The Clone Wars story, on the other hand, is just like one of the better episodes of the TV series. It features Jedi Master Kit Fisto overcoming difficult odds with the help of a sharpshooting clone named Cooker, some clever strategy, and some bad-ass lightsaber work. It's quite awesome. So, mostly duds in this book, but the one success saves it from being a complete loss.
Thumbs Up

DC Kids Mega Sampler #1
This book is exactly what it says it is: a sampler of all of DC's children's titles. Represented are Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam (a title I gave up on pretty quickly; the story included here is just a rather dull plot summary of everything that's come before), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (a comic based on the new cartoon; this rather clever and entertaining, if also formulaic, story features the new Blue Beetle teaming with Batman - and gamers around the world - to defeat a villain who's set himself up inside a World of Warcraft-style video game), Tiny Titans (even tinier, younger versions of the Teen Titans; I love the cute, simple art in this handful of short, comic stories, but sadly the writing is not at all funny or interesting, even for an all ages title), and Super Friends (the Super Friends don't even get a story in this book, just a couple of lame kids' puzzles). So, cute stuff and lame stuff in pretty equal measure, and nothing here convinces me I should be collecting any of these books.
Thumbs Sideways

IDW
IDW's sampler includes one Transformers Animated story, one G.I. Joe story, and one G.I. Joe: Origins story. The Transformers story is just okay. It features a "young" Optimus Prime fighting Megatron, and has an entirely unsurprising and unoriginal twist ending. Still, it's vaguely interesting to see Optimus in his youth, and doing well for himself even then.

The G.I. Joe stories are actually kind of cool. The first one (by Chuck Dixon) sees the team taking out some arms dealers and stumbling across the work of Cobra for the first time. The second one (by Larry Hama) reveals how the man code-named Duke was inducted into G.I. Joe. The latter story is particularly interesting because it gives you a peek into Duke's past, and into the Joe's recruiting methods, and portrays Duke's superiors as not particularly friendly or trustworthy. I still don't think I'm going to rush out and start collecting G.I. Joe comics, but these were pretty good.
Thumbs Up

Love and Capes #10
This is a vaguely realistic comedy/drama/romance in the form of a superhero comic. It's from Maerkle Press and focuses on a Superman-style hero called The Crusader (secret identity: Mark) and his relationship with a normal young woman named Abby. Abby wants to better understand Mark, and so gets a magician friend to throw together a potion to give her his powers temporarily. And she does come to understand him better, to both her joy and her sorrow. It's actually a pretty interesting story, and relatively effective, but the art is kind of lame, and the writing lacks subtlety. It's not a bad book, but it's not a great book, either.
Thumbs Sideways

Radical
I tried out the first issues of Radical's first two titles when the company launched last year and I wasn't impressed. Nothing in this sampler changed my mind. And really, there's not much here. It's mostly just art and short plot summaries from some of their upcoming titles, which include: an Aladdin adaptation; a new Hercules miniseries; something with the ridiculous title Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency; another book that takes old fairy tales and reimagines them as "dark" and "extreme" (c'mon, people, that is so lame and overdone); and some ridiculously dark horror comic with apparently only one thing going for it: it was written and illustrated by the son of Gene Simmons. Admittedly some of the art in here is pretty impressive, and there are a few stories that intrigue me. The Last Days of American Crime is a near-future story in which the American government is about to broadcast a signal that will make it impossible for anyone to knowingly commit a crime. Before the broadcast, a group of criminals try to make what will literally be the last big score. The problem with this story is that it was created and written by Rick Remender, whose work I've never been a big fan of. The other title in here that interested me is Alice Hotwire, Detective Exorcist. But all it has going for it is that it's based on a story by Warren Ellis. It's actually written and illustrated by some other guy I've never heard of. And that title is pretty dumb.

So, a predictably weak showing from Radical.
Thumbs Down

Resurrection
This book from Oni Press contains an introductory story to an upcoming ongoing series from the company called Resurrection, and a Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen backup story. The main story is actually kind of intriguing. It's about an alien invasion that nearly destroys the Earth. Then the aliens just disappear. One man who lived through it all knows secrets about the aliens and about what happened to them that the authorities don't want to get out. Like I said, neat premise, but the art and writing are not all that exciting. I think I'll stay away.

The Tek Jansen story is a very silly sci-fi parody about a rather stupid, bumbling secret agent of questionable morals, and the organization of even more questionable morals for which he works. In this particular tale his mission is to infiltrate an alien society and try to manipulate it to bring an end to racism. He actually succeeds, but too well. The conclusion is quite clever and darkly funny.
Thumbs Sideways

Savage Dragon
I read a Savage Dragon comic a long time ago, and I don't remember much about it except that I didn't like it. But this one was free, and I've actually heard some good things about the series, so I picked it up. Turns out, I still don't like it! The comic opens with three pages of illustrated backstory, catching us up on everything that's ever happened to Savage Dragon. Then it drops into a story wherein our hero teams up with Daredevil - not the Marvel Daredevil, but the old school Daredevil. The character is now in the public domain, so everybody is dragging him out and using him again. In this tale, Daredevil and his gang of scruffy kid sidekicks help Dragon find his own kids, who've been kidnapped by an old foe. Despite the lengthy prologue that caught us up with Dragon's backstory, author and artist Erik Larsen felt it necessary for Daredevil and Dragon to have a lengthy conversation repeating all of that information in awkward expository outbursts. While they're not doing that, they're saying other awkward, melodramatic things, and then occasionally beating up bad guys and moving the plot along. What I'm trying to say is, the writing is terrible.
Thumbs Down

Shonen Jump Special
It's a read right-to-left manga special! Sadly, the only thing in it is a zero issue prologue to an upcoming collaboration between Stan Lee and manga artist Hiroyuki Takei called Karakuridoji Ultimo. It's about a mad scientist (who looks suspiciously like Stan Lee) who creates twin robots, each embodying opposing Noh forces, and sets them to awaken many years hence to battle each other at the end of the world, apparently because he thinks it'll be funny. Sadly, it's not. It's just really lame.
Thumbs Down

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the birth of TMNT, here's a new TMNT comic by creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman! Uh, except that it's not. It's just a reprint of the original black and white first issue. This kind of disappointed me, but at the same time, it was fun to go back and read the original comic. I feel like TMNT is one of those things, like Penny Arcade's cardboard tube samurai and, to a lesser extent, The Goon, that's a silly, ridiculous, one-off concept that for whatever reason became really popular, so its creators tried to turn it into something serious and dramatic. But it's inherently a silly idea, so trying to turn it into something serious doesn't ever quite work. That being said, I still really enjoy TMNT and The Goon. I just feel a little weird and vaguely embarrassed about it sometimes.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine
Hey, what's this other book from Marvel? It's about Wolverine?! I never would have expected that!

But I kid Marvel. This particular Wolverine story tells the tale of the first mission he performed for the Canadian Department H, the secret division in charge of superhumans. They drop him into a town that's been taken over by some kind of weird metallic, robotic menace. Thanks to the reading he's been doing on the human brain, he's able to figure out what's going on and end the crisis. It's a pretty silly and contrived story, written for an all ages audience, and drawn in a clean, kid-friendly, cartoony kind of style. Which is just disturbing. I mean, this is Wolverine! He's not kid-friendly! Still, the story has its fun moments, and it's not all bad.
Thumbs Sideways

The World of Cars: The Rookie
Boom!'s contribution to FCBD is mostly an advertisement for the company's new line of kids' comics. I'm not sure if the main story is a prelude to the new Cars miniseries, or a preview of the first issue, but anyway it takes the form of an interview with main character Lightning McQueen on how he got his first big break. McQueen tells the story one way in the narration, while we see what really happened in the panels. Basically what we learn is that McQueen is a stupid jerk. Cars is one of the few Pixar movies I've never seen, so I hadn't planned to pick up this series, especially since I've heard bad things about the film. Now I know for sure I won't be collecting this one.

Also in the book is a preview of the first issue of Boom!'s Incredibles series (which I already own), and a one-page ad for the Muppet Show series, which I'm also collecting.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases from 5/6
Angel: Blood and Trenches #3
This issue jumps back in time to show us how Colonel Wyndam-Pryce got involved in this business, and how he's been tracking Angel's movements all along. We go back through some of the events we've already seen and see them again, this time from the Colonel's perspective. Then we finally take a step forward in time, and see Angel returning to the base. Only this time, unfortunately, he's been followed by Kakistos. And the requisite shocking reveal on the final page is actually pretty shocking!

I'm a little puzzled as to what happened to Angel between the events of last issue and the events of this issue. The last time we saw him, he was with Kakistos pretending to be Angelus and it looked like he was about to be found out. But in this issue, all of the sudden he's back and unharmed. Maybe they'll fill us in on how he escaped next issue. Anyway, this story is still a lot of fun. I really enjoy Wyndam-Pryce and his men; they're very funny and rather bad-ass in that wonderfully British way. And just in general I like John Byrne's writing and art. I'm looking forward to the conclusion of this series.
Thumbs Up

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #25
This story, by Doug Petrie, finally wraps up the arc about Dawn, her uncomfortable transformations, and her relationship with the thricewise. It's a good story, exciting and fun, with some strong moments of character development and a satisfying conclusion. Plus, Petrie does a great job on the Whedonesque dialog, with the silliness and the pop culture references. I like that Buffy gets to wear a Wolverine glove, that the little guy from The Yellow Submarine gets a cameo, and that Dawn borrowed Buffy's Veronica Mars DVD. Also, Dawn is naked for a few panels, and that's hot. The creepy living toys thing comes out of left field a little, but whatever.
Thumbs Up

Daredevil Noir #2
I really love Tomm Coker's art in this book. It's quite lovely. There are also some cool story moments here, like the sexy scene where Matt feels Eliza's face, and the drama over Matt discovering for certain (it seems) who killed his father. It's not as good as the first issue, because not all that much actually happens, but it is good and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
Thumbs Up

Destroyer #2
Woo hoo! Destroyer! Damn, I love this series. Cory Walker's art is fantastic, as are Val Staples colors, and Kirkman's writing is quite good. But what makes it really great are the characters, specifically the title character. I love how this unassuming-looking old white man can strike such fear in people and do so much damage. In the opening scene he's attending the funeral for his brother (the man he killed at the end of the last issue!) and gets a huge black man named Bruiser to start sweating and freaking out just by walking over to him and asking him a few questions. Anyway, it seems Destroyer is looking for the big bad guy: a villain named Scar. Scar has disappeared, and everyone warns Destroyer to just leave well enough alone and don't go poking around looking for him, but Destroyer wants all his enemies accounted for, and this one in particular put down for good.

I absolutely adore the gigantic two-page spread title page image of the tiny Destoyer leaping out of a helicopter onto a huge monster that's destroying the city. And I love that this is all that we see of that fight; right after this page, we cut to Destroyer describing the fight to his son-in-law after the fact, as they hit golf balls at a driving range. Then Destroyer identifies another of his enemies and, in a hilariously dark sequence, takes him out with cold-blooded cunning. A quieter scene afterward with his wife reveals the complexities of his relationship with her. She knows she'll always come second to his work. Then Scar makes his move and Destroyer teams up with his son-in-law, who comes out of superhero retirement to help him.

This is just fantastic, fantastic stuff. Looking back through this issue again made me realize how excellent it really is. The writing, the story, the characters, the art: all top notch. Funny, smart, subtle, twisted, creative. If you're not reading this series, you should be!
Thumbs Up

Fin Fang 4 Return #1
This was truly a great week for comics, but out of all the great books that came out, this might be the one I enjoyed the most. It's a one-shot anthology book that brings back four of Marvel's old monster characters, sticks them in a modern setting, and lets the hijinks ensue. All the stories are written by Scott Gray and drawn by Roger Langridge. The first story, "Shrink Rap," essentially sets up the premise of the book. Doc Samson is sent in by Reed Richards to meet with the four monsters Fin Fang Foom (an ancient, arrogant dragon), Googam (a tiny would-be dictator), Elektro (a robot who just wants love), and Gorgilla (a big gorilla monster who just wants bananas) to determine if they're psychologically ready for life as honest citizens. Fin Fang Foom doesn't show up at first, so Samson asks each of the three others what they want out of life and we get hilarious glimpses at their secret fantasies. Then Fin Fang Foom barges in with his lawyer and tries to stop the proceedings, but instead it just turns into a big fight. Next up is a Fin Fang Foom story: "The Bald Truth." Here we learn that FFF has had to become a chef in a Chinese restaurant to make a living. The final page, which includes a brief survey of the bald characters of the Marvel Universe all looking depressed, is truly hilarious. And that's followed by the possibly even more hilarious "Curious Gorgilla and The Man in the Stovepipe Hat," which, if you haven't guessed already, is a spot-on parody of Curious George that happens to also be a fantastic adventure involving time travel and Abraham Lincoln. Googam's story, "Little Orphan Angry," is up next. He's working as a parking attendant when he meets a rich and famous actress, clearly meant to be Angelina Jolie, who's known for adopting exotic orphans. Googam manages to trick her into adopting him, as well, and gets a taste of the good life (despite the actress' hard-ass Latverian nanny) before it all falls apart on him. Another brilliant and clever satire, and I love the Latveria references. "Jailhouse Crock" cleverly and hilariously turns the satire around and points it at the Marvel Universe itself. In this story, the robotic Elektro is mistaken for the current Marvel villain named Electro and thrown into prison with all the other failed Spider-Man villains. It's only when he finally gets frustrated, snaps, and leads a prison riot that his girlfriend (Reed Richards' receptionist robot) recognizes him on TV and sorts out the mistake.

All these stories are just great, so full of clever and funny references to the Marvel U and wonderful satire of pop culture in general. But the best of all just might be the last one, "How Fin Fang Foom Saved Christmas." I mean, just look at that title! You know that's going to be comedy gold. It's about Dr. Strange's manservant, Wong, running into his hero, Fin Fang Foom, on the street just as Hydra attacks the city with a giant killer Santa robot. Wong assumes FFF will jump into action to stop them, and is disappointed at first when it seems as if that's not going to happen, and that he will have to fight alone. But FFF eventually has a change of heart and helps out. It's heartwarming, funny, and exciting, all at once!

The only thing I don't like about this book is that it's a one-shot. I could read stories like this forever. I demand a Fin Fang 4 ongoing series!
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Run! #1
I thought I was going to avoid all the Final Crisis: Aftermath books, but instead I've been suckered into buying almost every one so far. This one grabbed me thanks to its amusing premise: the two-bit villain the Human Flame wakes up in a hospital immediately after the events of Final Crisis and realizes that everyone must hate him now - the villains for betraying them to Libra, and the heroes for taking part in the Martian Manhunter's murder. His only choice is to run for it. But before he can do that, he's got to get some cash. That means making one last big score before he gets out of town. And you know how well that always goes. Indeed, things go predictably and horrifically awry, leading to him making many more enemies and getting lots of people killed, maimed, and scarred for life. As if that weren't enough, he then proceeds to screw over his ex-wife and daughter - again - just so he can get his hands on a spare suit and a car. When it finally it looks like he's home free, some of his more recent poor decisions start to catch up with him.

Author Matthew Sturges and artist Freddie Williams II do a great job of showing us what a hideous, slimy bastard the Human Flame is. The very first time we see him, he's presented to us covered in greasy sweat and unsightly body hair, slugging a young nurse in the face just for showing concern for him. And he only gets worse from there! This is the story of a despicable bastard trying to get away from the consequences of his own poor decisions, only to get caught up in the consequences of even more poor decisions. Reading it will make you feel dirty, but it's also pretty brilliant and loaded with devilish dark comedy. I mean, crashing the children's party with a gun, leaving his dead friend in the ball pit, and then lighting a poor innocent guy in a sheep costume on fire? Wow! I think I'm going to have to read the rest of this series.
Thumbs Up

The Flash: Rebirth #2
I'm still not enjoying Geoff Johns' dialog in this series, and I can't say I find Barry Allen all that interesting a character, either, but dialog and character have never been Johns' strong points. What the man does well is tell stories, and he's doing it well again here. I like the way he shows us how fast Barry Allen is, even when he's just talking to somebody. We get an interesting glimpse into his past, where we see how he first met Iris, and the personal case he was investigating that kept him late in the office that fateful night when the lightning bolt struck. Back in the present, he and Wally go to investigate the dead body of the Black Flash. I was just thinking it was really hard to tell Wally and Barry apart, what with them wearing the same costume and all, when something happens that helpfully alters Barry's costume! It also explains a lot of the weird things that have been happening to him lately, and what's been happening to the speedsters he touches. Wow! I was having some doubts about this series until I got to that ending, but now I'm really excited to keep reading. What a great idea, a great twist to the story, and a fascinating transformation of the character.
Thumbs Up

The Human Torch Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
It's time for another one of these 70th Anniversary one-shot specials, this one focusing on the original Human Torch, a character I have a special fascination with, for one reason or another. The first story is a brand new tale set just nine months after Jim Hammond's "birth," and sees him struggling to understand who he is in the world, and what it means to be human. He rises to sudden fame, only to just as quickly fall into infamy, and then become a beloved hero yet again. The story ends up being an interesting and moving meditation on prejudice, on humanity, and on finding the best in people, no matter what they look like on the outside. It gets a little corny at times, but it's mostly quite well done. Nice work by writer Scott Snyder. I'm not as big a fan of Scott Wegener's art, but it does the job.

The second and final story in the book is a reprint of the origin story of the Human Torch's sidekick, Toro. The only credit on this story is given to Carl Burgos for writing; sadly, it's unknown who else might have been involved in its creation. It's a pretty generic Golden Age comic all around, though, in both art and story. The Human Torch happens to be passing by a circus when a fire-eating boy accidentally catches fire. Oddly, he escapes from the fire unharmed, and it's quickly discovered that he has the same abilities as the Torch, although there's never really any explanation for how that could be. Meanwhile, it turns out the strong man at the circus is a criminal and has a plot to rob the place which the Human Torch and his new sidekick must foil. It's all very silly and unlikely and contrived (especially the bit with the gun that can temporarily turn off the Torch's powers), but it has some fun moments, and it's certainly interesting to see this historic moment in the evolution of these characters.
Thumbs Up

Irredeemable #2
I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about this series yet after the first issue, but now that I've read this one, I think I've decided I like it and I'm probably going to stick with it. The remaining heroes, in their continuing attempts to find out how to stop the Plutonian, send Kaidan (a woman with the ability to make ghost stories become real - cool power!) to interview the Plutonian's girlfriend, Alana, to see if she knows anything useful. Alana is essentially the Lois Lane to the Plutonian's Superman, but in an interesting and realistic twist on the old story, when the Plutonian reveals his secret identity to Alana (as a prelude to proposing), she freaks out, rejects him, and reveals his identity to her colleagues. This doesn't make him happy. Really the only useful info Alana has for them is the identity of the villain who seemed to give the Plutonian the most trouble, and some vague information about the Plutonian's parents. Interestingly enough, our heroes (well, one of them, at least) seem to have already contacted the villain Alana mentions. But I'm betting getting in bed with the enemy, even when he's the only chance of saving the world, isn't going to turn out well.

This story is getting really intriguing, and is taking the classic superhero story in some really interesting, twisted new directions. I'm very curious to see where it goes next.
Thumbs Up

Kull #6
While Kull does some awkward verbal sparring with the Priest of the Great Serpent in the banquet hall, Brule does some actual sparring with serpent priests in their temple, making off with their sacred gem, the Eye of Terror. He manages to make it back to Kull with the gem, and Kull is able to use it as a bargaining chip to get Ka-Nu released. He even manages to hang onto the gem, too, which really upsets the serpent priest; he warns that Kull will bring destruction down on all of them if he keeps the Eye of Terror. What can he mean? Sadly we won't find out any time soon, as this miniseries is now over!

I started out loving Kull, but now that it's over I'm not sure how I really feel about it. It has some really cool scenes and some great ideas, but ultimately there isn't really all that much to it. Evil serpents have infiltrated humanity, and Kull kills a whole bunch of them and steals their gem. That's pretty much all that happens. If they do another Kull miniseries down the road, I might pick it up to see if the story goes anywhere. But if it's just more of the same, I'd probably drop it pretty quickly.
Thumbs Up

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century #1: 1910
The new League book is here! I wasn't as excited about this as I could have been, given how disappointed I was by Black Dossier, but I was still eager and hopeful. As the title suggests, this book jumps back quite a bit in time from the last storyline, all the way to the turn of the century, and deals with some past events referred to obliquely in Black Dossier. Page 1 features Carnacki having a vision about a cult attempting to perform an apocalyptic ceremony involving raising a moonchild (apparently a reference to an Aleister Crowley novel). And page 2 features full frontal nudity! Thank you, Alan Moore, you dirty old bastard. The naked lady in this case is Captain Nemo's daughter, Janni. She angrily refuses her father's dying wish that she succeed him and runs away to build a new life in England. She happens to arrive there on the same ship as a fellow named Jack MacHeath, who goes about singing very jauntily all the time, and who just might be Jack the Ripper. Oddly, there's another woman on the riverfront who also goes around singing all the time, but she sings only dreadful prophecies of doom. The two of them end up together at the end, as seems appropriate, although who she's meant to be I'm not sure. Mina and her group begin poking around based on the vague hints from Carnacki's vision, trying to find out what catastrophe could be coming and how they can prevent it, but all they really seem to succeed in doing is helping to fulfill Carnacki's prophecy by telling the evil cult about it, thus giving them the last ingredient they need to complete the moonchild ceremony! In this extremely dark and horrific story, the League is worse than useless, and we end on a scene of death, devastation, and terror, and with the line: "Mankind is kept alive by monstrous deeds." Which was in fact also the moral of the first two volumes of League.

Immediately after I finished reading this story, I decided I didn't really like it, but looking back over it and getting a better feel for it as a whole, I find I'm actually more impressed with it than I thought. It's actually a pretty neat story. Kevin O'Neill's finely detailed, expressive art is quite excellent. But I'm still a bit turned off by how very, very depraved it is. The scenes on the waterfront are horrifically filthy and wrong. Moore plays the rape card as part of an admittedly rather effective major plot point. Then there's all the gratuitous nudity, weird sex, and violence. It was also a bit difficult to like or sympathize with our main characters. They're really just a bunch of incompetent bumblers this time. Mina is a cold, hard bitch. Orlando is a tiresome fop. The other men in the group are mostly clumsy oafs. The most likable character in the story is probably Janni, and she ends up being a cruel, cold-blooded mass murderer.

But really, the unlikable characters and the depravity have been there from the beginning. And Mina and her buddies aren't that bad. Not all the time, anyway. There are also some really cool moments in here. Even though I understood very few of the references made in the Prisoner of London sequence, it was still a really cool sequence, and very cleverly done. In the end, this is a decent addition to the League series (even if it's not nearly as good as the first two volumes) and a powerful and complete story.

After the main story is the first chapter of a prose tale called "Minions of the Moon," supposedly by John Thomas. Really it's just a collection of short stories about the League, no doubt written by Alan Moore himself. First up is a short tale about Orlando's early years that actually pulls the story of 2001: A Space Odyssey into the League's fictional universe. After that is a short epilogue to the events of the book's main story, wherein Mina and Allan comfort each other with the hope that their love will last forever and comfort them throughout the long ages of eternity that loom before them. But a jump ahead in time to 1964 seems to reveal that their hopes were in vain, as we see Allan and Orlando (now female again) alone together and heading to some new debauchery, with Allan complaining that Mina doesn't seem to be up for the weird sex anymore. Meanwhile, Mina, now masquerading as Vull the Invisible, is hanging out with a superhero named Captain Universe. It seems Mina tried to put together a team of superheroes called The Seven Stars, but it didn't really work out. Next she, Golliwogg, and Golliwogg's wooden toy friends are called in by Prospero to help quiet some unrest on the moon, apparently mostly so humanity will not stumble upon the monolith hidden on the moon too early (they're not supposed to find it until 2001). The story breaks off before Mina and her companions arrive on the moon, so I assume this backup will continue in the next volume of Century.

It's always interesting to read a continuation of the League's adventures, of course, and I rather like the way Moore has worked the mythology of 2001 into his universe, not to mention superheroes. It's also interesting to see the weird relationship of Mina, Allan, and Orlando continue to transform as the years go by. But I'm once again put off by all the gratuitous weird sex. Did I need to know about Golliwogg lubing up his wooden toys with oil in preparation for wild group sex? The answer is no. And that's beside the fact that I'm really uncomfortable with the Golliwogg character in the first place. I suppose if you want to pull all fictional characters into your universe, the embarrassing, politically incorrect ones have to be there, too. But do they have to be given such a prominent role? Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

New Mutants #1
I have vague but fond memories of the original New Mutants comics (back when they really were new mutants; it's kind of silly that the series is still called that, but then again, what else could you call it? Old Mutants? Just Mutants?), and I read a preview of this new ongoing series that impressed me, so I decided to pick this book up, despite the fact that I didn't really expect it to be any good. Thankfully, I was really pleasantly surprised. Diogenes Neves' art is really excellent, especially with the addition of John Rauch's subtle, effective colors, and the story concocted by Zeb Wells is an intriguing one, with complex, realistic characters and clever, funny dialog. We open up two weeks in the past, with Shan discovering a little girl she and Dani have been looking for. Almost immediately, they're attacked by some kind of monster. Then we jump forward into the present and Illyana drops out of a magic portal into the middle of the young mutants at the X-Men's San Francisco HQ, spouting weird prophecies of doom and insisting that Shan and Dani are in grave danger. The rest of the New Mutants team decides to reform and set out to help their old friends. When they arrive in the little Colorado town where the bad stuff seems to have gone down, it's immediately clear that they've stumbled upon a strange mystery. They do find Shan - in fact, they find her two times over - but they also find a dangerous old enemy.

The story has definitely grabbed me, but what I really like about this comic is that, unlike some of the other books I've been reading recently, it's not just the story that's good. Everything else is, too! I particularly like the way Wells is handling Illyana. Her cryptic dialog about the future is fascinating and unsettling, as is the cruel way she toys with people. The scene where she's able to somehow instantly pry into Amara's secret thoughts and desires is particularly disturbing and effective.

Wow, great stuff! I'm very excited to see where this series goes.
Thumbs Up

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #2
Now that this series is acquiring a plot, I'm really starting to enjoy it! This issue opens where the last one ended, with Seaguy escaping from the hospital with the help of his mysterious trio of duplicates. Their identities and powers are quickly revealed: they're a real superhero team inspired by Seaguy's adventures! Treeguy, who can grow as tall as a tree! Peaguy, who can shrink as small as a pea! Threeguy, one man who can become three men! In fact, Threeguy contains within him both Peaguy and Treeguy. They have real super powers! And they use them to brutally and hilariously defeat Seaguy's pursuers. Then they all jump aboard the Octomarine, the octopus-like vehicle of the Octomariner, and flee. The Octomariner's plan is to hide Seaguy from his enemies by giving him a completely new identity: El Macho, king of the bulldressers of Los Huevos! Just as we think Seaguy's finally on the way to figuring things out, and has finally got himself in with some powerful rebels who are fighting back against the Eye and Lotharius, it comes out that even this adventure has all been set up by Seadog to give Seaguy the excitement he craves and keep him out of the way so Seadog can continue with his evil plans. Interestingly, it looks like Lotharius/Seadog is the real power behind everything, as he's able to boss around even the Eye. The Eye and his group appear to be "former" villains who have now taken over the world in order to enforce happiness for everyone, but while the Eye wants no one harmed in the process, Lotharius is not so picky. There's a surreal and hilarious interlude as Seaguy lives out his new life as El Macho, a type of bullfighter who, rather than hurting or fighting the bull, skillfully dresses it in ladies' underwear. But once again Seaguy's restless nature and desire to find out what's really going on breaks through the false world they've built for him and he runs off, loose again. Meanwhile, Seadog is preparing for some kind of endgame by getting all the old heroes even more out of the way than they already are. Doc Hero, sadly and disturbingly addicted to the Eye Go Round, is dragged away from the ride, missing a turn for the first time ever. They steal his signature hero's helmet, put some kind of creepy Eye crown on his head in its place, and throw him in the back of a van. That can't be good!

I'm so excited that so much stuff is happening in this series now that's still surreal and darkly funny, but that now actually makes a kind of sense! I love the three other versions of Seaguy, the creepy interlude with Doc Hero, the hilarious sequence on El Huevos, and the even more hilarious and twisted method that Maria Del Muerto employs to try to hold onto Seaguy ("When did this happen? You weren't eight months pregnant when you left this morning!!"). It's a wonderful collection of insanity and I'm excited to see it actually maybe come to some kind of conclusion in the next issue.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Crew #3
Yay, another John Byrne comic! This issue of this great series, more than any one so far, really reads like a classic episode of the original Star Trek. Our heroine leads an away team down to a colony that seems to be abandoned, and that looks like a perfectly preserved little suburban town, right out of 1960s America. The "colonists" eventually show up, but in fact the real colonists have been replaced, and the entity that did it is planning on replacing the crew of the starship Ventura, as well! Luckily, thanks to some quick thinking from our girl, the entity's creepy - although not entirely evil - plans are thwarted. For her heroic actions, she gets a promotion, and a transfer, back to the ship she vowed to return to: a beautiful lady called the Enterprise.

This is such a fun, exciting, well written series, and with great art, as well. I'm really enjoying it. It's really like having new episodes of Star Trek to watch.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: First Class - Finals #4
Time for the big conclusion of the Finals miniseries! Cyclops puts forward his theory that Jean is responsible for all the weird stuff that's been going on, so they all jump into her head and have some fun adventures in her unconscious until they can finally contact her and force her to face the lingering trauma, guilt, and fear that's causing her to manifest psychic enemies. It's not a particularly creative idea for a story, but it ends up being relatively entertaining. Plus, these characters and the way they interact are just a lot of fun. And it's interesting to see a dramatization of their transition from students to the first real full X-Men team. When Professor Xavier calls them "My X-Men" at the end, it feels like an important moment for them all.

This story will lead into a lengthily titled one-shot called Uncanny X-Men First Class Giant-Size Special, with writing by Jeff Parker and Scott Gray, and that in turn will lead into a new ongoing series called Uncanny X-Men First Class also by Scott Gray. I'll definitely be picking those up, because Gray is the guy who wrote Fin Fang 4 Return, which I loved so very much.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 5/13
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #5
With this issue, the latest B.P.R.D. story arc comes to an end, and - although I admit I may change my mind on a later reread - right now I feel like it's the worst B.P.R.D. miniseries ever. The great majority of it is people standing in rooms spouting exposition. And even when it's not exposition, the dialog is pretty poor. Plus, our heroes end up looking like stupid jerks. I'll admit there's something interesting and clever about making us question whether what the B.P.R.D. is doing is right, and if maybe the villain is the hero after all. But it could have been done in a much more interesting way.

That's not to say the series is all bad. In this issue there are some cool moments, like when Liz blows up the little frogs and takes out Gilfryd. And seeing Lobster Johnson again is fun. Although it's also really confusing. I mean, where does that guy keep coming from? And was Gilfryd right or not? Hopefully my confusion will be cleared up in future stories, and this one will get better in retrospect.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #13
To say that things look bad for our heroes at the end of this issue is an enormous understatement. In fact, they're all either dead, turned to the Dark Side, or missing, and Dracula has essentially won!! Wow. Some interesting moments: the cameos from Norman Osborn and the Mighty Avengers, the former popping in to say he can't help, and the latter popping in to say they can't help - oh and btw planes are going to start crashing into the air around Britain. I'm not a big fan of Faiza as a character, but I like her in this issue. She has very little dialog, but what she does have is believable and not annoying, and she goes out like a hero. I also like that Dracula is such a brilliant and deadly enemy. Really the only part of the book I don't like is the page where in one panel Blade and Captain Britain are fighting, and then in the next panel Cap is talking to some guy and not fighting anymore. After reading the scene a couple of times I decided the fight had just petered out, and that there were not actually two different guys dressed like Captain Britain in the room, but I wish the pencilers (Ardian Syaf and Leonard Kirk) could have found a less confusing way of getting that across.

The point is, it's an exciting, brutal, and dramatic comic, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.
Thumbs Up

Dark Reign: Young Avengers #1
Since there are already warring Avengers teams, I guess somebody decided there ought to be warring Young Avengers teams, too. Thus, this new miniseries by Paul Cornell with art by Mark Brooks. The new team also calls itself the Young Avengers and mostly they think of themselves as heroes, although they're having a hard time always knowing what a hero really is and what a hero should do - but that, it turns out, is the point. They were brought together by a woman named Coat of Arms (who apparently has a coat that gives her extra arms? Good lord, what a terrible pun/power) who's really more a high concept performance artist than a superhero. She calls their crime-fighting outings "scenes," and wants to use them, and the team as a whole, to illuminate the philosophical tensions that exist in this new world, a world where Norman Osborn and Barack Obama are both in charge, and there are good and bad Avengers, but nobody can agree which is which.

It's a really fascinating concept, and the other characters in the team are just as odd and effed up as Coat of Arms. The guy Coat of Arms chose to be the leader is a particularly conflicted and confused young man who goes by the name Melter, because he can melt things. He's always fighting to make sure he acts like the famous heroes he knows and loves, and trying to make his teammates do the same, but he has little control over them, and nearly as little over himself. His girlfriend is a magic-user named Enchantress. She claims to have been kicked out of Asgard, but her attempts to speak the way Asgardians do are clumsy and unconvincing. Big Zero is a racist bitch who can grow gigantic. She's trying to adjust the team's robot, Egghead, so he's racist, too. And Executioner is a Punisher rip-off who still gets anxious, nagging phone calls from his Mom. It's a unique, fascinating, deeply twisted comic, and I kind of love it. At the end of this first issue, the actual Young Avengers drop in to pay their rival team a visit, so there may already be a showdown between the two groups next issue! I'm looking forward to it.
Thumbs Up

Fables #84
Part 4 of "The Great Fables Crossover" picks up with Jack arriving at Fabletown, happily ignorant of everything that's been going on there lately. He jumps right into bed with Rose Red and, as soon as he learns that the absent Boy Blue has gained a fanatical following, impersonates him and takes over the town. Just as Rose Red finally (inevitably) gets disgusted with him and kicks him out, Jack Frost shows up to confront Jack Horner, his father. This should be interesting!

The last issue of Fables I read I found to be pretty dull and uneventful, and I missed the humor and wackiness of Jack. So it's unsurprising that, now that Jack has invaded Fables, the book has become entertaining. This issue is funny and engaging. I'm very curious to see how the showdown between the two Jacks turns out, and what will happen when Boy Blue actually returns.
Thumbs Up

Gravel #11
Wow! This is some issue. Gravel makes a move here against the Major Seven that's really shocking, and that actually made me question whether he's really the "hero" here anymore, if he ever was. What are his motives? Has he found out something we don't know yet? I don't know, and I like that I don't know! This series just became a lot more exciting. Oh, and there's plenty of the insane magic-fueled action and extreme violence we've come to love and expect from Gravel. And although I'm still not a fan of Mike Wolfer's art, I feel like he's maybe getting a little bit better. Not every person in this book looks ugly and clumsily drawn.
Thumbs Up

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1
I know, I know. But I had to at least try it! It's the first in a four-part, all ages miniseries focusing on an all-animal version of the Avengers. The book opens with Reed Richards meeting with the Inhumans to ask them to help him find one of the massively powerful, and thus incredibly dangerous, Infinity Gems, which he knows is on the moon somewhere. What he doesn't realize is that the Inhumans' super-powered teleporting dog, Lockjaw, has already found that particular gem. For some reason, instead of using the gem's mind powers to communicate to the Inhumans and/or Reed what he's found, Lockjaw decides to assemble his own team of animal Avengers so they can gather up the rest of the gems themselves. Each of the animals is reluctant at first, but all are quickly guilted, coaxed, or cajoled into joining. The Pet Avengers are: Throg (a frog version of Thor, with a melodramatic and unlikely origin story), Lockheed (Kitty Pryde's now deeply depressed dragon), Redwing (Falcon's arrogant bird sidekick), Hairball (formerly Niels, Speedball's cat), and Ms. Lion (a none-too-smart, inappropriately named male dog who belongs to Aunt May, and who actually has no superpowers, but asks to be taken along anyway). They're a goofy, crabby, argumentative bunch, but by the end of this first issue they've already got two of the Infinity Gems, so I guess they're pretty effective. The book is mildly amusing, but just as simplistic and silly as you might expect. I don't feel any need to buy another issue.
Thumbs Sideways

Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos #1
Holy crap is this freaking fantastic. It's a one-shot containing a story entitled "Shotgun Opera!" and it's set in 1942, chronicling a mission which Sergeant Nick Fury and his commandos are dropped into Nazi-held Yugoslavia to execute. They are to follow a mysterious set of train tracks back to their origin, photograph what they find there, and then return to base, all without engaging the enemy. But, as Fury puts it in the first line of the book, "No plan ever survives enemy contact," and the boys end up having to engage the enemy immediately, repeatedly, and with extreme prejudice. In fact, Fury is still falling out of the plane that got them to Yugoslavia, and hasn't even engaged his chute yet, when he personally shoots a Nazi aircraft out of the sky with a shotgun and a machine gun, which he's carrying in either hand as he falls. It's a hilarious, hotshot, bad-ass move, and the rest of the book is chock full of scenes exactly like it. Which is why it's my favorite comic that came out this week. I mean, in the very next scene, Fury parachutes directly onto a landmine and manages to not only survive the explosion intact, but also kill a squad of Nazi soldiers while spouting hilarious, cutting one-liners at them. Then he meets back up with his Howling Commandos, who are all just as insane and bad-ass as he is, but each in their own unique way. They team up with hot Russian agent Anya "Black Widow" Derevkova, who happens to be there on pretty much the same mission for her government, and who is pretty damn bad-ass herself. Shortly after meeting her, Fury takes out three tanks single-handedly with nothing but a belt of grenades and an umbrella. They use one of the tanks to liberate a village, and then take a short break to romance all the girls there. Then it's on to the Nazi secret base to defeat Baron Zemo and stop the Nazi nuclear program! And then they have to fight a giant armored Nazi mech suit called Panzer Max. And they defeat it. With their bare hands. At the very end is a brief glimpse at what's to come: a screening of a top secret film of Captain America in action. Fury's comment? "Now they've got this guy running around in his pajamas. I'll tell you one thing - he's sure as hell not going to do it alone."

\m/

Actually, looking through it again, I now believe this may be one of the greatest comic books of all time. It's beautifully drawn and colored by John Paul Leon, and brilliantly written by Jesse Alexander, who packs it with hilarious dialog; insane, over-the-top action; and simple but totally lovable characters. And did I mention the bad-assery? I think I did.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Mission's End #3
The other excellent IDW Star Trek miniseries going on at the moment is this one, which picks up here with Kirk still trying to get the giant spider entities of Archernar-IV into the Federation, while McCoy, Chekov, and a small away team have been kidnapped by the spider's surprisingly intelligent domestic animals, who are planning a revolution against their masters. There's a pretty hilarious moment where one of the red shirts explicitly talks about the fact that dudes in red shirts rarely come back from away missions! Then a new subplot is introduced: it turns out one of the Enterprise crew is a turncoat who's leaking the location of Archernar-IV's omega weapon to the dastardly Orion Syndicate! As if that weren't bad enough, just as the final ceremony on Archernar-IV is about to begin, the crawlers launch their rebellion, stealing part of the heart of the world's ancient and powerful technology. In the process, both Spock and Kirk are injured.

It's a very exciting, complex, and intriguing story (by Ty Templeton) with some quite excellent art (by Stephen Molnar), featuring accurately rendered portraits of all our favorite characters. Templeton also does a fine job at rendering the characters through the dialog and plot; I like the way Kirk is constantly hitting on Cassady, and the way she's constantly rejecting him. And I particularly like the subtle concern Spock shows for Kirk at the end of this issue, calling him "Jim" instead of "Captain." I'll be there for the next issue, definitely.
Thumbs Up

Thor: Tales of Asgard #1
I'm not entirely sure why I bought this. It's just a collection of reprints of a series of backup stories, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, called "Tales of Asgard," which retell/reimagine stories out of ancient Norse mythology. The first is a summary of the origin of the world and of Odin, told with a few pictures and a bunch of narration boxes. Then there's the story of how Odin defeated Ymir, King of the Ice Giants, and the story of how he defeated the fire demon Surtur. The next couple of tales are from the boyhood of Thor. He steals back the golden apples of the goddess Iduna from the Storm Giants, despite Loki's interference. He helps defend Asgard from a terrible attack that Loki brought about. At the end of each story, he tries again to lift Mjolnir, which he can only claim as his own when he has done enough heroic deeds and he can lift it over his head. In the next story, he finally does lift the hammer, when he hears that Balder's sister, Sif, has been kidnapped by the Storm Giants. He rushes off and saves her from Hela, the goddess of death herself. In the next story we see him as an adult, helping to bring about the birth of humanity. The final story tells us how Heimdall came to be the guardian of the rainbow bridge. In the back is a lovely, full-color map of Asgard, followed by a series of character portraits of the more important gods, demons, and giants, and finally a reproduction of the cover of the issue of Journey Into Mystery wherein the "Tales of Asgard" stories debuted.

It's fun to see the famous (if contentious) team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in action, of course, and these stories are reasonably fun and interesting. The best one is definitely "'Death' Comes to Thor!" as it features Thor lifting Mjolnir for the first time, without even thinking about it, so he can go to rescue fair Sif. And then later he's willing to sacrifice his own life for hers, and Hela is so touched by this that she lets both of them go. It's just a neat story. That being said, I've never been a big fan of Stan Lee's writing. It's so bombastic and overdone, and yet at the same time so simplistic. He's constantly describing things in narration that we can see perfectly well with our own eyes. And good God, the exclamation points! Sometimes it seems like the man can't end a sentence without one.

So it's a fun book in the old school Marvel manner, and a nice piece of comics history, but not something I'm going to pick up and read again any time soon.
Thumbs Sideways

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6
Another brilliant, powerful, darkly funny, mind-blowing Umbrella Academy miniseries comes to an end with this issue. I remember being a little disappointed with the end of the first arc when I read it for the first time, but I experienced no such disappointment with the end of this arc. With the help of Spaceboy and the others, the old-looking, younger Number Five takes out all the alternate shooters, and it seems as if JFK's assassination has been stopped again. But the young-looking, older Number Five points out, "[JFK]'s something special. He's an idea. And what you can't take down with bullets... you have to take down with words. That's why I needed her." And Rumor's amazing power is used again, brutally, incredibly. She does it to save Spaceboy, but he can't forgive her. "We put our lives on the line for them. Our lives aren't worth more than theirs. Certainly not his." But in a strange and awful way, the terrible thing Rumor has done has saved the world. Everything's back to normal when they return to the present. How, when they changed so much? Carmichael explains: "Another frail man of privilege in a dark suit will take Kennedy's place, and another after that... until another disaffected outcast decides to change the world with a bullet." It's a pretty dark and frightening view of history. A final act of violence from Number Five brings an oddly satisfying end to things, and each of the team heads off to find solace wherever they can from the horrors of the past.

It's a dark, harsh story, but also exceedingly clever, imaginative, and thrilling, and with the occasional twisted bit of humor. I think I actually enjoyed this UA miniseries even more than the first. And I can't wait for the next one.
Thumbs Up

Unthinkable #1
This comic has a fascinating premise. What if, after 9/11, our government responded by putting together a think-tank of specialists in various fields, all with slightly crazy creative minds, and had them think up all the unthinkable things the terrorists could do to us, so we could be ready for them? And what if all those terrible things they thought up started happening, as if someone were using their ideas as a playbook?

It's a pretty clever and horrific concept. The guy who came up with it is Mark Sable, but sadly he's not up to the task of executing it. This story is full of clumsy, wince-worthy dialog, unlikable, barely sketched-out characters, and a series of ridiculously unlikely events. The pacing is also quite poor; the story will be moving along steadily, then suddenly make a jarring jump six weeks into the future, then eight years into the future, only summarizing major plot events - either in a few panels, or in a few narration boxes - that really should have been fleshed out or dramatized rather than simply explained away. Show don't tell! It's pretty elementary. Sure, Julian Totino Tedesco's art is quite good, as are Juan Manuel Tumburus' colors. But that's nowhere near enough to save this comic.
Thumbs Down

The Unwritten #1
This is a new Vertigo title from writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross. It opens up by showing us the end of a series of fantasy novels about a young boy named Tommy Taylor, who's clearly meant to be a Harry Potter analog. Then we cut to a convention and meet the real Tom Taylor - the son of Wilson Taylor, the author who wrote the Tommy Taylor books, and the person the boy in the books is modeled after. Wilson himself recently disappeared, and now Tom Taylor makes appearances for him, living off of his weird pseudo-fame. But the truth is Tom hates being "Tommy," and is furious at his father for abandoning him. And things only get weirder and more disturbing for him when a fan points out that he doesn't seem to actually exist. Early photos of Tom Taylor as a boy aren't really of him. He has someone else's national insurance number. Where did he come from? Is he actually the Tommy Taylor from the books, somehow made flesh? And if he's out in the real world, could the villain from the books escape as well?

Besides being an eerie, exciting, and engaging story about a rather complex and realistic character, this book is also a meditation on stories - their true power and meaning, and how they're able to alter reality itself. I particularly love the scribbled notes from Wilson Taylor on the final page of the book, mulling over the power of stories, and hinting at what might actually be happening here. Carey's writing is excellent, Gross' art is wonderful. I'm hooked!
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #73
Marvel is doing a very strange thing with this title. When I saw #73 on the release schedule, I was very confused, because according to my spreadsheet, #72 should have been the next issue. But I've been known to forget to update my spreadsheet, or to miss an issue here and there, so when I got to the store I just picked up #73 and then went into the long boxes to see if I could find #72. No good. When I got to the cash register, the comic shop dude explained: the next entry in the "Old Man Logan" storyline wasn't ready in time for this week, but rather than change the numbering or let a month go by without a new issue of Wolverine (especially this soon after the release of the movie), they just skipped right on to the next issue. Confusing! Even more confusing, #72, when it does come out, after #73, will not be the final part of the "Old Man Logan" storyline. That will be in its own Old Man Logan Giant-Sized Special one-shot. Good lord.

But anyway. Let's talk about the actual comic! It has two stories in it, each of which is part one of its own new continuing storyline. The first story is "A Mile in My Moccasins" by writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert, and it's brilliant. It's a tour of what Wolverine's life is like in the form of a series of panels, each one labeled with a day of the week, and each one depicting Wolverine in the midst of some huge epic battle, often wordless, but sometimes accompanied by some amusing banter. Some of the panels show Wolverine enjoying some time off, and some days take more than one panel to sum up, but the point is clear: Wolverine's life is pretty much non-stop brutality. Every day he's taking a beating, getting a beating, or recovering from the last beating. It's hilarious dark comedy with a tragic twist, and it's a powerful characterization of Wolverine as a man haunted and running from his past.

The second story is called "One-Percenter" and it's written by Daniel Way with art by Tommy Lee Edwards. It sees Wolverine catching up with an old friend, nicknamed Horrorshow, who's head of a motorcycle gang. His son has gotten pretty wild; he's joined a rival gang, and has apparently just killed a couple of members of Horrorshow's gang. Horrorshow blames himself for how his son has gone wrong and wants to find some way of resolving the issue that won't involve him having to kill the boy. Wolverine sees strong parallels in Horrorshow's situation to his relationship with his own son, and sets out to look into the issue for his friend. But almost before he's started, there's another killing, and thing have gotten a lot more complicated.

I don't remember being a big fan of Daniel Way's work, but I like this story so far, especially the subtle connections to Wolverine's life that are driving him to get involved. And I definitely like Tommy Lee Edwards' art. I'm pleased that Wolverine is going to apparently continue to be a good title worth collecting, even after "Old Man Logan" is finally done.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Alan Moore (Not), Aliens (Not), Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Daredevil (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Flash (Not), Free Comic Book Day (Not), Fringe (Not), G.I. Joe (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Human Torch (Not), Joss Whedon (Not), Legion of Super-Heroes (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Predator (Not), Seaguy (Not), Sherlock Holmes (Not), Star Trek (Not), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Not), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not), Zombies (Not)
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Saturday, April 25, 2009 01:40 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

Maybe you thought I'd given up on reviewing comics, but it is not so! In fact, I just fell so horribly behind (partly because of the film festival) that I ended up with an intimidatingly huge pile of comics and it took me a while to even get up the courage to get started. But I did, and now I'm mostly caught up. This post covers new releases from 3/18, 3/25, 4/1, 4/8, and 4/15, plus a trade paperback.

Back issues and old data
Seaguy
When poppy asked me recently if there was anything I wanted from Amazon so she could round out her latest order, my newfound passion for Grant Morrison, and the fact that a new Seaguy miniseries was coming out soon, led me to request the trade paperback collection of Morrison's original Seaguy miniseries. After I read it, I really wasn't sure whether I wanted to read the new series or not (as you'll see later on in this post, I decided to pick up the first issue anyway). I thought I was starting to get used to Morrison's particular brand of weirdness, but this might be his weirdest series ever. Seaguy is a hero in some future, parallel world where heroes are no longer necessary - at first, it seems, because they won some final, huge fight against evil. But ultimately it seems clear that the heroes didn't really win; they were squeezed out, their minds crushed and taken over, by some kind of all-controlling corporation whose mascot is a walking eyeball named Mickey Eye. It's a world like that of The Matrix, where a huge and carefully constructed fantasy prison has been built for everyone to live in. A particularly disturbing sequence sees Seaguy and his pal Chubby (a talking fish who floats in the air and hates being in water) visiting a Mickey Eye theme park, where none of the rides or attractions are fun in the least; in fact, they all look hideous, terrifying, and depressing, and everywhere we look there are people screaming and crying in fear, or preparing to vomit in disgust.

The story, such as it is, is surreal in the extreme, and involves the moon being run by an ancient mummy, firing heiroglyph-covered rocks at the Earth, and a self-aware food product escaping and running amok in the ocean. If there is a purpose or a meaning, I'm not sure what it is. Maybe the book is about how life is a dark and terrible trick; powerful and unknowable forces control almost everything you do; and every day is another game played against death. If so... wow, that's depressing!
Thumbs Sideways

New releases, 3/18
Dark Avengers #3
Things are back on the up swing again with this series. Sort of. This issue opens with the little therapy session Osborn used to get the Sentry on his side, reveals how Morgana keeps surviving and coming back, sees Osborn getting a bit of a leg up on Doom, and promises another knock-down, drag-out between Doom and Morgana next issue, except this time perhaps on slightly more even terms. I still don't like the way the Sentry tore a woman's head off and then went out like a punk, but I have to admit the story remains interesting and exciting.
Thumbs Up

Kull #5
More intrigue, more treachery, and more serpent-killing! Good times.
Thumbs Up

Spider-Man: Noir #4
Although overall I really enjoyed this miniseries, I find this final issue a little disappointing and odd. The end is pretty formulaic, with the hero deciding not to kill the villain - because that would be Wrong - instead resolving to take him in and make him stand trial for his crimes - because it's The Right Thing to Do - but he's conveniently spared the trouble when someone else does the dirty work for him and kills the villain after all. No muss, no fuss! It's kind of a lame cop-out. But oddest of all is the fact that the last line of a comic with "Noir" in the title - a comic in which decent people were killed or brutally beaten constantly - is "in the end, when all's said and done, good guys always win." Um... what?! No they don't! You just got done showing us that most of the time they absolutely don't! Maybe Spider-Man's supposed to be an unreliable narrator here, but I don't think so; I think that's actually supposed to be the real moral of this story. And if so, that's totally lame.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Countdown #3
Nero's rather unconvincing transformation from loving, sympathetic family man to genocidal maniac is completed in this issue. A couple more familiar characters out of Star Trek lore - Worf and Geordi La Forge - make appearances, and we get a quick idea what they've been up to since the last time we saw them. I am still appreciating these glimpses into the futures of my favorite characters, but like I said, I just don't buy Nero's sudden, jarring metamorphosis. Not only does it not make sense to me emotionally, it also doesn't make sense to me that others would be willing to entrust Nero with
incredibly powerful and dangerous technology after just meeting him, or that he would suddenly become a master tactician and brutal warrior after being a miner his entire life. And as Nero and his story are really the heart of the comic - and, I assume, the heart of the upcoming movie - I'm having a hard time enjoying this series anymore.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Crew #1
Luckily there are still some really good Star Trek comics out there - like any Star Trek comic written by John Byrne. This miniseries takes us back before the beginning of the original series and tells us what the woman crew member featured prominently in "The Cage" was up to before that episode. This issue sees her on what's supposed to be a boring, routine shakedown cruise of a brand new constitution class starship - the Enterprise, in fact, before it was even commissioned. Of course, since it's the Enterprise, the routine cruise does not go as planned, but instead turns into a thrilling, fast-paced, tense, deadly fight for survival against Klingon saboteurs. It's a fantastic, tight little adventure story, and it even features some truly moving moments, and a neat bit of foreshadowing at the end.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #71
The truly fantastic "Old Man Logan" story arc continues with an awesome sequence in which Wolverine and Hawkeye are running from an en-Venomed Tyrannosaur, only to be saved at the last instant by Emma Frost and Black Bolt. Then there's the truly mind-blowing two-page spread of our dynamic duo traveling past Pym Falls. We finally figure out the nature of the package Hawkeye and Wolverine have been transporting, just in time for a terrible betrayal to ruin everything. It's pretty heart-breaking. I'll definitely be tuning in to find out how the story finishes up.
Thumbs Up

New releases, 3/25
Captain America #48
The third and final part of the "Old Friends and Enemies" story arc is quite good, with lots of action and drama, some brutal bad-assery from my man Namor, and a very moving and effective ending. I was kind of hoping they'd bring back the original Human Torch, but it's probably just as well they didn't.
Thumbs Up

The Incredibles #1
This is a new miniseries based on the Pixar film, and part of the Boom! Kids line of comics. I usually try to avoid all ages comics, as they tend to be juvenile and lack the complexity and adult sensibility that I want from my comics, but after seeing The Incredibles multiple times on TV recently reignited my love for the movie, I was primed and ready for this comic. It opens up in magnificent fashion, right in the middle of a fight between the Incredibles and a gang of dinosaur/animal hybrids led by a robot named Futurion. The Incredibles are victorious, of course, but then they have to face an even more difficult task: fitting in with a normal family during a get-together. And later we learn a terrible secret: Mr. Incredible is losing his powers! This issue is fast-paced, fun, and sets up an intriguing mystery. They've definitely hooked me in for at least one more issue.
Thumbs Up

The Muppet Show #1
The other new entry in the Boom! Kids line is this comic book adaptation of The Muppet Show. It seems like rather an odd choice, turning an old puppet variety show into a comic, but they do it, and they do it very faithfully; this is indeed nothing more or less than an episode of The Muppet Show translated directly into comic book format, complete with musical numbers, corny jokes, and an episode of Pigs in Space. The only thing missing is the celebrity guest star. I like the way the old familiar characters are drawn, and the book as a whole is mildly funny and wonderfully nostalgic. There's nothing really excellent in here, but I might buy another issue, just for old time's sake.
Thumbs Sideways

The New Avengers #51
The follow-up to the big, deluxe, totally disappointing 50th issue of New Avengers is the start of a new and interesting storyline, all about the search for the new Sorcerer Supreme. It seems Doctor Strange lost the title when he used some dark magics recently, and now somebody else has to take on the mantle. Strange is hoping he can find and train a good, honest replacement, but meanwhile The Hood is looking to kill him and take the title by force. Awesome stuff! Meanwhile, there's an amusing and awkward scene back at Avengers headquarters where Spider-Man is forced to reveal his secret identity (again, because of course the big dramatic reveal that happened during Civil War got retconned out of existence), and ends up deeply hurting Jessica Jones' feelings when it comes out that she had a crush on him in high school, but he doesn't even remember who she was. Thankfully the subject is changed when Doctor Strange crashes in looking for help.

#50 really disappointed me, so I was happy to see things getting back on track with this issue, which is exciting and funny and dramatic. Looking forward to the next issue!
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Alien Spotlight - Tribbles
I usually avoid the one-shot "Alien Spotlight" titles, but for whatever reason I broke down and decided to pick this one up. I think what caught my eye was when I flipped through the book in the store and saw there were sections narrated by the tribbles themselves. It's an interesting idea and they handle it pretty well here. The story is about some human traders with a shipment of dilithium to deliver who are attacked by Klingons and forced to crash land on a planet full of tribbles. The tribbles end up helping them defeat the Klingons and retake their ship. It's not a spectacularly wonderful comic or anything, but it's pretty cute.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Mission's End #1
I've been getting a lot of Star Trek comics lately! This one's by Ty Templeton with art by Stephen Molnar. It tells the story of an early mission for Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise - a first contact mission between humanity and a race of giant, intelligent spiders on a planet called Archernar IV. The spiders are sentient and have a reasonably complex society, but they're also brutal and war-like, and there's ancient technology on their planet which, if they learn to harness and control it, could make them unstoppable.

I was puzzled by this first issue, as I'd read that this series was about Kirk's last mission on the original Enterprise, not one of his first, but things became clearer when I read the second issue (reviewed below) and realized that this first issue was just giving us background information for the rest of the story. Regardless, it's interesting stuff, with good art, political intrigue, action, moral quandaries, fun interpersonal drama, and all the old, familiar characters - well written, even. I'm fascinated to see what happens.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #5
This strange and even rather creepy alternate universe miniseries finally comes to its deeply cheesy conclusion in this issue. They introduce a rather fascinating idea - that the Federation might ultimately be the cause of the complete destruction of the galaxy, and that going back through time to destroy it might be the only way to save everyone. They even slip in a pretty funny gag about Kirk and Star Trek IV. But then there's just a bunch of crap about time travel that really doesn't make any sense, more melodramatic self-sacrifice (I swear, sometimes it seems like all anybody ever wants to do in Star Trek is sacrifice themselves and blow up their own ships), and then they redo the speech at the end of Star Trek VI, but alter it to be even more cheesy and ridiculous and corny, even going so far as to end with a big group shot, and the Next Generation logo jammed into Picard's final word bubble. It's quite awful.
Thumbs Down

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #5
This is just another brilliant issue of a truly brilliant series. The crazy opening, featuring a magic corpse in Vietnam, had me totally confused for a while, until they finally explained that the time travel hadn't gone exactly according to plan. Most excellent. Then there's the truly hilarious and twisted interlude with Number Five, his dog, and his expendable helpers. And then there's a weird moment with Seance and his baby mama. I'm so excited to see the big showdown in the next issue.
Thumbs Up

War Machine #4
War Machine and Ares continue to fight, both physically and philosophically, leading to some interesting character development. Also, Ares is crazy and I kind of love him. But things aren't looking good for anybody at the end of this issue, as the Ultimo virus spreads, and Rhodey is at the edge of death with no new body to download into. There are some corny bits in this issue, so I can't quite love it all the way, but it's overall pretty good. My biggest complaint is with the final page, which has one of the worst drawings of a human being I've ever seen:


Thumbs Up

New releases, 4/1
Angel: Blood & Trenches #2
John Byrne strikes again, with more adventures of Angel during WWI. Angel has to do some masquerading as Angelus to get in to see the big bad guy who's really in charge of all the evil going down, but he may not have done his play-acting well enough. This continues to be an exciting comic with fine art.
Thumbs Up

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #24
This one-shot from writer Jim Krueger sees Faith and Giles helping out an inexperienced slayer named Courtney, who tells them about a place called Slayer Sanctuary, where slayers are being told they can come to be safe and avoid the dangers and horrors of fighting evil. Faith and Giles are intrigued and go to check it out. Of course it turns out to be a sinister and deadly trap, involving a face-to-face between Faith and the demons of her past. It's an okay issue, with a few interesting moments, but mostly it's rather predictable and formulaic.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
It's the 70th anniversary of Marvel Comics this year, and that means plenty of anniversary specials! This one has a frame story set in 1942, with Cap and Bucky leading a secret mission
to infiltrate a Nazi secret base. The main story is set back in 1940, and describes a little adventure Steve Rogers went on before he even became Captain America. The moral of the story is that the thing that makes Captain America really great isn't the super soldier serum - it's the good heart, loyal soul, and intelligent mind of Steve Rogers. It's a bit corny, but then, Captain America is a bit corny. Anyway the art is good. After this story is a reprint of a classic original Captain America tale called "Death Loads the Bases." It's a pretty ridiculous story about how Cap and Bucky take out a madman with a ridiculous plan to buy a baseball team for cheap by killing a bunch of its best players, thereby making it look like it's cursed. A highlight is the sequence where our heroes suit up and play some baseball themselves.
Thumbs Sideways

The Flash: Rebirth #1
Grant Morrison brought Barry Allen back to life in Final Crisis, but he didn't go into detail about the whys and wherefores. Now Geoff Johns plans to fill in those details, and give Barry Allen's Flash, and the whole Flash universe, the same kind of revamping he gave to Hal Jordan's Green Lantern and the whole Green Lantern universe. That's an idea I just can't resist, especially since I love speedsters and have been wanting to find a good Flash comic to read for a while now. This first issue gives us a quick look at how various groups of people are reacting to the news of Barry Allen's return - including Barry Allen himself. Allen finds himself in a very different, much faster world than the one he left. And he's got a lot of old ghosts he's still dealing with. We also get intriguing hints about the larger storyline - a character who claims to have brought Barry back, and seems to have given himself the same speed powers; and some kind of weird feedback in the speed force. There are some cheesy bits in here, but it doesn't matter; I'm totally hooked.
Thumbs Up

Gravel #10
I thought Gravel was really in trouble at the end of last issue, but this issue opens with him fine, and offers only vague explanations of how he escaped his perilous situation. Still, I'm willing to swallow that; after all, at this point we all know how good he is at getting out of bad scrapes. The rest of the issue is devoted to introducing us to Gravel's first pick for the new Minor Seven. It's a fun enough little story, with plenty of the old ultra violence. But I would like to register my old complaint about Mike Wolver's terrible art.
Thumbs Up

Irredeemable #1
This is an interesting new miniseries from Mark Waid and Boom! The premise is essentially: what if Superman was really insecure and couldn't stand criticism, and one day he just snapped and started killing everybody? Of course they can't really use Superman, so here he's the Plutonian. All of the other heroes are similarly familiar but unfamiliar. It's a pretty disturbing and brutal comic, and a fascinating premise. I'm definitely in for #2, at least.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #27
The series of one-shot character portraits continues with this deep, dark look at Agent Nitz. We finally figure out just why he has such a chip on his shoulder, and how much he's thrown away in pursuit of his revenge. As one might expect, he's just as twisted and broken as everybody else in this comic. It's a pretty good issue, but I can't say it's one of my favorites. They brought a different artist in for this one - Francesco Francavilla - and I kind of hope it's not a permanent change, because I don't think his rather cartoony style really fits the subject matter very well.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Countdown #4
The last issue of this miniseries finally explains how these events in the far future can possibly be connected to a prequel story set before the original television series. Spock is successful in delivering his payload and negating the supernova, but it creates a singularity that ends up sucking in both Spock's ship (there's that Star Trek self-sacrifice again!) and Nero's. Picard and the others all assume Spock and Nero are dead, but doubtless they've actually just been pulled back in time, and once he arrives in the past, Nero will attempt to continue his war of revenge against the whole galaxy.

The plot of this issue feels pretty clumsy and contrived, and the science behind the premise of the miniseries has seemed pretty questionable from the start. Plus, as I've said numerous times now, I just don't get Nero's character.

I'll be curious to see how much of the events of this miniseries are incorporated into the movie. Hopefully they'll be able to handle Nero and his story in a way that makes more emotional and logical sense.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Crew #2
Our bad-ass brunette crew member finds herself in the middle of another dangerous adventure, this time while working on an old ship called the U.S.S. Fortune. It's another clever, fast-paced, extremely exciting story well told by John Byrne. I'm really enjoying this series.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: First Class - Finals #3
The mysterious attacks and strange events continue in this issue, until Scott finally reveals he might know who's behind it all: Jean! Is this the start of the Phoenix storyline? Hmm. Anyway, there's the usual silly, sometimes slightly postmodern, humor, and the conclusion of the cute backup story about Jean and Scott on a date, which ends with them getting a tour of their past and their future courtesy the Man-Thing. It's a pretty good issue, and certainly intriguing enough to make me want to keep reading.
Thumbs Up

New releases, 4/8
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #4
This isn't a very exciting issue. There's a cool moment where the major events of the 20th century are summarized in one panel; there are some impressive battle scenes; and I'm curious as to what Johann is doing wandering around on his own, killing people. But otherwise not much changes here - guy keeps talking, monsters keep fighting. A little disappointing. Hopefully next issue will have more content. I'm getting a little tired of mystical snake guy just standing around dumping exposition on us.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #2
I still hate, hate, hate the way Tony Daniel is writing Damian here - like he's a helpless kid who's in over his head. He's supposed to be a snide, twisted little killing machine, not a scared brat! Ugh. Anyway, the identity of the killer Batman seems to have been revealed: Jason Todd. Makes sense. Alfred has clearly picked Dick Grayson as the best man to follow in Bruce Wayne's footsteps, and indeed he is the most obvious choice, maybe especially because he keeps refusing the mantle. Tim Drake is the other guy running around in a Batman costume, but it doesn't look good for him by the end of this issue. Meanwhile, the Black Mask is playing Two-Face and Penguin against each other, and dragging Gordon and the cops into it as well. It's bloody chaos!

I'm sticking with this miniseries because it's important to the future of Batman, and because, what the hell, there's only one issue left. But I can't say it's really all that good. The only thing that actively annoys me about it is, as I've already mentioned, the way Damian is being portrayed. But everything else - the story, the dialogue, the art - is just kind of bland and vaguely mediocre. There's nothing particularly exciting or imaginative going on. It's a shame.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #12
This series just seems to be getting better and better all the time. I love the writing, I love the character stuff they're doing - even with Faiza and Lady J - and I love the crazy combinations of technology and magic. I also really enjoyed the scene where Captain Britain talks to Blade about his burgeoning relationship with Jac, a scene which ends with Captain Britain telling Blade, "Well... you really are British." The vampires have a horrific plan for Dr. Hussain, for England, and for the Earth. I like the idea of the magic skull that keeps all vampires out of England unless they're individually invited, but unfortunately the good guys lead the bad guys right to it. Next issue promises shame and surrender, which certainly doesn't sound good. It's exciting, darkly funny, truly brilliant stuff, and it's constantly going off in directions I don't expect. Plus, vampires invading Earth from the moon? That's just awesome.
Thumbs Up

Daredevil: Noir #1
At first I was pretty excited about Marvel giving a noir spin to some of its major titles, but now that they're doing it to everything, I'm starting to get a little wary. I mean, did Daredevil really need a noir spin? It's already pretty noir. But I couldn't resist giving this a try, and as it turns out it's actually quite good. First off, Tomm Coker's art is really fantastic. It's a shadowy, stylized realism that's just loaded with atmosphere. The story is fascinating, beginning at the end - a final confrontation between Daredevil and the Kingpin - and flashing back to the beginning. In this version of the story, Matt wanted to be a lawyer but couldn't get the right education or opportunities, so he ended up a performer, and an assistant to a private detective - his friend Foggy. They meet a mysterious femme fatale, natch, whom Matt can't read like he can other people, and who hires them to save her from her ex-boyfriend, Orville Halloran, a nasty hood who's in the middle of a gang war with Fisk. He also just happens to be the dude who killed Matt's father. Fisk, meanwhile, is trying to manipulate Halloran into eliminating his most dangerous and persistent enemy: Daredevil.

It's an intriguing story that has noir written all over it and, like I said, I really love that art. I'll be back for the next issue.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #39
The Controllers think it'll be a piece of cake to steal the Orange Lantern's power for their own, but are greatly mistaken. The Orange Lantern decides this means the Guardians have broken their treaty with him and ventures outside of his home apparently for the first time in many, many years to confront his little blue enemies. But his move against them causes them to react aggressively, too. In fact, Scar proposes another change to the Book of Oa, and further suggests that the Guardians start taking part in the war themselves. That should be interesting! Meanwhile, Hal would really like to get that blue ring off his finger, but apparently he can't do so until he's drained its power. D'oh.

Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, is a pretty one dimensional character, which I guess is the point, but it's still a bit boring. And Hal is so petulant and whiny that I kind of want to slap him. Dude, you have two super-powered energy rings! Shut up and enjoy them!

But besides some minor annoyances, this is a pretty interesting issue, and takes the story to new and fascinating places. I'm especially looking forward to seeing what crazy crap the Guardians get up to next.
Thumbs Sideways

Ignition City #1
Warren Ellis' long in the making, steampunk alternate history adventure story begins here. We haven't been given the details of this world's history yet, but from what I've been able to glean so far, it appears as if space and air travel advanced more quickly in this world than in ours, and led to a devastating first contact with an aggressive alien race. Now space travel has become far less popular, and all the nations of the world are closing off access to space ports. Yuri Gagarin is drinking himself to death beneath the ruins of a rocket ship in the last space port on Earth: a filthy, muddy, wild, lawless place. The daughter of a famous pilot and adventurer shows up in town to collect his things, on the event of his recent death, and tries to find out what happened to him. Apparently it's not a happy story.

This is a relatively intriguing story, taking place in a relatively intriguing world, but it's also kind of brutal, hideous, and over the top. That's Warren Ellis for you! I hate to say it, but I think I might actually be getting a bit tired of the steampunk alternate history stuff. I was excited to read this comic, but now that I have, I find I'm a little bored by it. Still, I'll pick up the next issue and see where it goes; maybe it'll get more interesting.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Mission's End #2
It's got a silly cover, but this is a very good comic. The first issue of this series recounted an early adventure of the crew of the Enterprise; this issue jumps forward in time all the way to the final assignment for the Enterprise and her crew - being on hand to welcome Archernar IV into the Federation. It should theoretically be an easy, peaceful mission, but we all know the crew of the Enterprise never really gets any of those. Instead, there's revolution, assassination, brutal violence, and a surprise ending that could put everything the Federation knows about the civilization on Archernar IV into question. The story is fast-paced, thrilling, and intelligent, and all the characters are written well. I particularly like some of the moments with Kirk, and the references to his past and future career (including his infamous indiscretions with women!). IDW's Star Trek comics are surprisingly good, and this series is no exception.
Thumbs Up

Timestorm: 2009-2099 #1
I have pretty much no knowledge of the original 2099 versions of the Marvel heroes (introduced in the early '90s), so maybe it was a mistake for me to pick up the first issue of this new four-issue miniseries by Brian Reed, which is about Marvel heroes of our current time being mysteriously zapped forward in time to 2099. It features characters from those original 2099 stories, and is probably making various subtle references to them that I'm not picking up. The story is about a CEO who sends an agent back in time to make alterations to the timeline, apparently as part of a plan to fashion his present world into one more to his liking. But of course things start to get out of his control pretty quickly. I'm vaguely intrigued, but the dialogue is pretty corny, especially in the future scenes, where it's laced with lame future slang terms and jargon. And I can't say I'm interested at all in the story of the future teen and his relationship issues. I don't think I'll be getting another issue of this.
Thumbs Sideways

Wolverine: Weapon X #1
Why did I start collecting yet another ongoing Wolverine series? Because it's written by Jason Aaron, that's why! Sure, the last Wolverine miniseries I read by him (Wolverine: Manifest Destiny) ended up being pretty disappointing, but this one is about Wolverine discovering that somebody's found all the old records on the original Weapon X program, and is starting it up all over again on a new set of guinea pigs. That means mad science and super violence, and those are two of my favorite things. It also makes Wolverine angry, and an angry Wolverine makes good comics.

The series starts out very strong in this first issue. It opens with a small gang of terrorists being found and destroyed in quick, clean, clever, and brutal fashion. Then a drunk Wolverine on a subway train hilariously takes out some muggers before finding out about the new Weapon X program and slipping into one of their abandoned facilities, where the scope of the program becomes horrifyingly clear. The dialogue and narration are smart and funny, the story intriguing and exciting, and there's plenty of the super violence I was hoping for, if not that much of the mad science yet (although the fact that the new Weapon X agents have green lightsaber claws is pretty freaking awesome). I'll definitely be sticking with this one.

After the main story is a handy summary of the history of the character called Maverick, and the Weapon X program in general. Then there's an awesome six-page preview for Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire #1, which is apparently the start of a new miniseries from Jason Aaron about Johnny and the new Caretaker trying to get to Zadkiel while some other dude goes looking for the Anti-Christ. It looks creepy, darkly funny, and super fun. I'll keep an eye out for it.
Thumbs Up

New releases, 4/15
Captain America #49
This issue is basically just an interlude with Sharon Carter - a placeholder before the big explosions and craziness that will no doubt go down in the landmark 50th issue. Still, it has some moving moments, and some important things do happen: we find out that bad Cap is creeping around, trying to get information about the real Cap for some reason, and Sharon suddenly remembers all the terrible things that happened to her during the last big story arc - except what it is she saw during that final experiment that the Skull and Zola performed on her. I'm very curious about that! Overall, an okay issue, and I'll be back for the next one.
Thumbs Sideways

Fables #83
I don't usually read Fables, but as this issue is the first part in a nine-part story called "The Great Fables Crossover," which will naturally cross into Jack of Fables and the upcoming Literals, and as I've been meaning to give the series another try anyway, what with everybody always talking about how great it is, naturally I had to pick it up. Sadly, it mostly just reminded me why I didn't care so much for Fables in the first place. It's like Jack of Fables, but with most of the humor removed. Plus, the dialogue tends toward the pretentious. Mark Buckingham's art (with inks by Andrew Pepoy and colors by Lee Loughridge) is good, though, and the story's vaguely interesting; apparently there's some evil force at work in the world that's upping the violence and the anger all over, and it's especially affecting the Fables with beast-like natures, like Bigby. When Jack calls to warn about the danger of Kevin Thorn and his magic, reality-altering pen, it's decided that Bigby should go check on it, less because they really believe Jack, and more because Bigby needs to get further away from that evil influence for a while.

I'll probably try to read the rest of the crossover, even though the villain of the piece, who gets introduced at the end of this issue, doesn't seem particularly threatening or interesting and, like I said, the dialogue in this issue could really use some work. More interesting than the main story in this book is the preview in the back for Mike Carey's new Vertigo series The Unwritten. It's about a guy named Tom Taylor whose father wrote an extremely popular series of Harry Potter-like books about a boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. Thing is, Tom Taylor might not actually exist, and he might really be a wizard. Interesting stuff! I'll have to pick up at least the first issue of that when it comes out.
Thumbs Sideways

Incognito #3
This series has been getting steadily better with each issue, so obviously this is the best one yet! Zack's problems are piling up. Ava Destruction, an old flame of his brother, and the same crazy supervillain who screwed up Zack's hot, bitchy coworker, is looking for Zack and probably wants him dead. Zack agrees to perform all kinds of ridiculous favors for his blackmailing buddy (including an extremely funny series of demolitions of the guy's landlord's car) so as to keep his mind off his idea of robbing a bank, but it's not working. Then all the sudden a couple of Zack's old supervillain buddies show up and attack, and we get a brutal and awesome supervillain fight to round out the issue. Dark humor, smart writing, insane action, noir flavor, great art and colors - this is just a superb book. I also enjoyed this issue's backup essay, which focuses on the pulp hero The Spider. I wasn't too familiar with The Spider, but he sounds interesting, and I liked the author's analysis of the two major types of heroes in American popular culture: the Noble Hero and the Killer Vigilante.
Thumbs Up

Rampaging Wolverine #1
I assume this is a one-shot, but it's hard to say for sure. It's a collection of four Wolverine stories in black and white, each by a different creative team. The first, "Sense Memory," sees Wolverine returning to an island to exact revenge on an old man for a betrayal he committed many years ago. The interesting thing is, although the betrayal led to death and tragedy, that's not how the man meant it to happen, and he's led a good life since then. So Wolverine's terrible punishment seems harsh and perhaps undeserved, although it does make for a powerful, artful ending. It's an interesting look at Wolverine's character, and a reminder that he's a brutal, hard man who's never really been your typical, noble hero. It's a well written story from author Joshua Hale Fialkov, with pretty strong art by Paco Diaz Luque.

But the second story, "Unconfirmed Kill," is even better. It's told from the perspective of a sniper working for Hydra on a remote island base. All he's done every night for a year is take up his position in some cover on a hillside and shoot anything that passes in front of his sights. But on his last night, the thing that passes in front of his sights is Wolverine, and no matter how many times you shoot Wolverine, he won't go down. The sniper thinks he's the best there is at what he does, but it turns out there's somebody a little bit better. It's a great story which turns the typical Wolverine tale inside out, transforming it into a horror tale with Wolverine as the relentless, unstoppable monster. Well written (by Chris Yost) and well drawn (by Mateus Santolouco).

The next story, "Kiss, Kiss," is actually a prose tale by Robin Furth, accompanied by a few illustrations by a guy named Nelson. Interestingly enough, it opens with a retelling of "Unconfirmed Kill" from Wolverine's perspective, then moves on to reveal what Wolverine found when he fell asleep in a cave further up the island: namely, a Shelob-like monster. Although there are a few interesting ideas here, this is probably the weakest story of the bunch. The writing is clumsy, not particularly creative or imaginative, and painfully lacking in subtlety.

Last is "Modern Primitive," with writing and art by Ted McKeever. The art is the most interesting thing about this story; it's very unconventional - stylized, surreal, and artful. The story is a simple thing about Wolverine getting stranded on an island and accidentally becoming pack leader to a band of monkeys. It's vaguely funny.

Story anthologies like this are rarely all that good, but this one is of relatively high quality and I enjoyed it.
Thumbs Up

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #1
Seaguy is back! And I wasn't sure at first if that was a good thing or a bad thing. We pick up in this issue pretty much right where the first storyline left off. Seaguy has his new parrot pal Lucky and has mostly forgotten his previous adventures with Chubby. But only mostly. In fact, something is eating at him. He's unhappy in a world where everyone is supposed to be happy. Lucky is clearly less his friend, and more a spy sent to keep an eye on him (the scene where Seaguy tries to go out without him, and Lucky guilts him into taking him along, is quite creepy). Meanwhile, there's some mysterious new construction underway in town, and Sea Dog (really Lotharius, an upper up in Mickey Eye's organization) doesn't want anyone looking at it too closely for some reason. Seaguy follows what appears to be the ghost of Chubby and sees more things the folks in charge don't him to see, and experiences yet another horrific tragedy. Then suddenly there are three more Seaguys! Except I think they're actually Three-guy, Pee-guy and Tee-guy.

Yes, it's a pretty insane story, but actually not quite as insane as the first Seaguy story. In fact, things are starting to come together into an understandable narrative now. Clearly there's an oppressive force in control of the world, which took control after the giant fight between good and evil that's constantly mentioned. This force - Mickey Eye - is crushing everyone's minds - especially the minds of the heroes - keeping them stupid and happy while it goes about its mysterious business. What that business is I'm not clear on yet, but perhaps it will finally come to the surface in the course of this story.

A final note: the associate editor for this comic book is listed as Pornsak Pichershote. Seriously? Pornsak? That's a real name? Sir or madam, I'm sorry for you.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Alien Spotlight - Klingons
As I mentioned further up this post, I usually avoid these one-shot "Alien Spotlight" titles, but I read that this one was about the Klingon named Kang telling three different stories revolving around an old Klingon proverb: "Four thousand throats may be cut in a single night by a running man." And that right there is an irresistible premise. Unfortunately, each of the stories ends up being a very literal interpretation of the proverb, to the point of near ridiculousness. I mean, how often is it really going to come up that one guy is going to kill that many people in just that way? Not that often, I'm thinking. Still, through the telling of these stories, we learn a good deal about Kang as a character, and he turns out to be a fascinating man: stubborn, patient, brutal, and loyal to his code of honor to the bitter end. There are some neat ideas in here (story by Keith R.A. DeCandido), and some pretty impressive art (by J.K. Woodward), but overall it's just lacking a bit in terms of imagination, cleverness, and style.
Thumbs Sideways

Sub-Mariner Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
Marvel is continuing to celebrate 70 years in the biz with throwback, one-shot anthology comics. This one has three stories about the Sub-Mariner - two new ones, and one reprint. The new ones are "Sub-Mariner" by Roy Thomas with art by Mitch Breitweiser and color by Elizabeth Breitwesier (nepotism much?) and "Vergeltungswaffe!" by Mark Shultz with art by Al Williamson. The reprint is actually the origin story of our hero, "The Sub-Mariner," from Marvel Comics #1, published way the hell back in October of 1939. Bill Everett provided the art and the story.

The first story sees the Sub-Mariner stopping a U-boat attack on New York - but failing to destroy the sub. He has decided he should no longer take part in what he feels is a pointless war amongst the surface dwellers. But then he runs into a hot Nazi spy in a bar who tries to convince him to switch sides. She convinces him of something, all right! The dialogue and narration gets a bit corny and melodramatic, but overall this is an entertaining and dramatic story with some interesting analysis and development of Namor as a character. Plus the art is quite excellent - contemporary, but with a tinge of the classical.

The second story, "Vergeltungswaffe," uses a very old school, hyper-detailed, newspaper strip kind of art style, and tells the story of Namor's attempt to stop the Nazis at a secret island base from testing their weapons on his beloved reefs. His arrogance and inflated self-confidence get him captured, but he ends up getting some help from an American pilot who has randomly crash landed there. Then Hitler gets a cameo at the end! The writing here is nearly as old school as the art, and thus tends toward the flowery and verbose. Plus the Nazi commander's classic bad guy mistake of letting his prisoner wander around free while he explains to her his entire evil plan in great detail is a little tiring. But overall it's still a rather clever and entertaining story. I particularly like the inclusion of the kraken!

The final story is not the first Sub-Mariner story ever, but it is a very early one, and even includes his origin. It opens with some innocent divers trying to salvage a shipwreck only to be brutally murdered by Namor, who is not familiar with diving suits and naturally assumes the people in them must be robots. Although how he would have heard of robots and not diving suits is a little hard to understand. He brings the suits back home, realizes his error, and is then told his own origin in great detail by his mother. It's pretty funny how the origin is crammed into the last few pages of the story; it requires so much exposition that one panel is just all words, and a few more are almost all words with tiny pictures of Namor's mother squeezed in between or below them. The story doesn't make a lot of sense, either. She says she fell in love with and married Leonard McKenzie, the human in charge of a scientific expedition. Part of their investigations involved blasting the seabed with high explosives, a bombardment that killed nearly all of her people. But somehow throughout her relationship with McKenzie, she never seems to have mentioned to him what was going on, and never asked him if he could maybe stop blowing up all her family and friends. It's very strange. The art is also rather strange and awkward looking. Like most Golden Age comics I've encountered, it's not high art, but it is a fascinating piece of comic book history. It's also intriguing and imaginative; it was certainly an interesting idea to have the main character be an enemy of all surface dwellers who mistakenly murders two innocent human beings.

I'm starting to really become a fan of Namor as a character, so I was hoping for a little more from this comic. Still, what I got was okay.
Thumbs Sideways

Wolverine: Noir #1
Like Daredevil: Noir, Wolverine: Noir seemed like a rather unnecessary and redundant concept (I mean, how much darker can Wolverine's story get?), but also one I couldn't quite resist. So far I think it's my least favorite of Marvel's Noir series. It's set in 1937 and Wolverine is a detective at the Logan & Logan Detective Agency ("The Best There Is At What We Do"), along with a dude with mental problems named Dog. Naturally a beautiful, mysterious woman walks into the office with a case. And naturally it leads to death. A flashback reveals a little bit of the history between the Logans, as well as the highly unlikely fact that the gardener at Logan's house growing up had been to Japan and taught him all about samurai, honor, and how to fight with swords and knives. I understand that they wanted to keep Wolverine's Japanese past in the story somehow, but c'mon. That doesn't make any kind of sense. I also understand that they wanted to keep the idea of the claws, but I'm pretty sure you can't hold knives between your fingers like that and actually do anything useful with them. The dialogue and narration aren't terrible, but they're not great, either. And Dog is just a hideous character. It's hard to understand how Logan could think it was okay to send Dog out to complete any kind of task on his own, and it's even harder to understand how any client could come into the office, meet Dog, and still decide to hire the two of them. And overall the story is pretty tired. There's nothing here that makes me want to continue reading this series.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Angel (Not), Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Flash (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Illustrated (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Joss Whedon (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Muppets (Not), Noir (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Scalped (Not), Spider-Man (Not), ST:TNG (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 01:41 AM
The Take
 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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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!
Thumbs Up

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!
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Down

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Sideways

Fringe #3
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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Up

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.
Thumbs Sideways

Scalped #26
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.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Angel (Not), Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Flash (Not), Fringe (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hellboy (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Cassaday (Not), Kevin Smith (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), The Goon (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Saturday, February 7, 2009 10:23 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 1/28, plus a hardcover collection and a TPB.

Back issues and old data
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volume 2
This is a hardcover book that I got for Christmas which tells the rest of the story of the Sinestro Corps War (my review of Volume 1 can be found here). Well, most of the rest of the story, anyway. It's clear from various references made in this book that various tie-in stories were not included in these volumes, which is a little disappointing. Still, all the major plot points and big fights seem to be here.

This volume opens with pretty much the largest scale battle I've ever seen: living planets fighting each other, with huge armies of Green and Yellow Lanterns joining in. Sodam Yat is part of one group of Lanterns infiltrating Ranx, the Sinestro Corps' living planet, and he keeps trying to take over and give orders. Some prophecy says he'll be really important to the Green Lantern Corps in the future, and this book spends some time trying to develop him further, but he still ends up a mostly bland, annoying character. I was fascinated to learn that he's essentially a Kryptonian (really a Daxamite), which means he gets Superman's powers when under the light of a yellow sun. But when Superboy Prime describes him as "Superman-Lite with a power ring," he couldn't be more right.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the midst of the battle for Mogo, the Guardians decide things aren't going well and it's time to make their first major revision to the Book of Oa: they enable the use of lethal force. It's a huge and important step and, as we'll learn later, it's all Sinestro really wanted out of this war. It leads to a lot more carnage in a book that was already pretty bloody. The Lanterns start making a lot of big, green, glowy guns and swords and blowing Sinestro Corps members to bits with them. There's no question that it turns the tide of the battle (although interestingly some of the Lanterns still refuse to kill). In a particularly disturbing use of the new lethal force doctrine, Salaak captures one of the creepy suicidal kids and incinerates him. Wow.

Yat seems convinced he just can't die, and indeed he does not, even after being at the center of a huge explosion that destroys Ranx. Guess there's a yellow sun nearby?

But now that that battle's over, it's time to cut to the actual major Sinestro Corps assault: the invasion of Earth. And they've poured everything into this - the Warworld, Superboy Prime, Sinestro, Cyborg Superman and his Manhunters, Parallax, and pretty much everybody else in the Corps go crashing down to Earth and start wreaking havoc. I love the way Hal goes zooming back to his brother's place as soon as he learns Parallax is there, and then charges right into him. Sure, it's exactly what Sinestro wanted him to do, but it's still bad-ass. I also like that when Cyborg Superman tells Superman, "You can't kill me," Superman responds, "To be honest, Henshaw, I've never tried." Heh heh. Then when Superboy Prime jumps into the middle of things, he announces himself by saying, "I'm baaAaack. Jerks." I love the way he calls people jerks. He cracks me up.

Even though it's a little corny the way Hal talks Kyle into coming back out of Parallax, it's also a moving moment that's well illustrated. It's interesting that Ganthet and Sayd choose to cut Parallax up and seal the bits up into the four power batteries of the Green Lanterns from Earth. That seems like a dangerous move that could come back to bite them in the ass later. But what do I know. Another moving moment comes when the four Musketeers recharge their rings and get ready to kick some ass. (It's also pretty funny, and totally in-character, that Guy Gardner put a University of Michigan sticker on the side of his power battery.)

Btw, I feel I should mention here, although I like Kilowog, and I like the way he calls people "poozers," it's just possible that he uses that word a little too much. It seems like every writer in this book felt an obligation to have him say "poozers" every page he appeared on. Maybe dial it back a bit, guys! Regardless, it amused me a great deal that Arkillo and Kilowog's fight took them inside the San Diego Comic Con.

Next up, the Corps is called to NYC to take on the bulk of Sinestro's forces, including his biggest weapon: the Anti-Monitor. Sodam Yat rather foolishly attacks the Anti-Monitor head on multiple times, somehow surviving, although only barely. Thankfully the Guardians show up at that moment to fuse Yat with the power of Ion, making him the Corps' greatest weapon. He then faces off against Superboy Prime in a fight that takes up an entire issue. It should theoretically be a really good issue, too, but unfortunately it's written by Peter J. Tomasi, whose talents are uneven at best. Tomasi chooses to fill the fight with many gigantic narration boxes, wherein Sodam Yat goes on and on about how he's feeling and what he's doing and what it all means to him and blah blah blah. It's pretty bad. In between scenes from the fight, we get flashbacks that finally fill in a little of the backstory of Sodam Yat's character. Which is interesting, and good to know, but even that story is a bit lame and melodramatic. Still, it's not all bad. It's an exciting fight, and the art, by Patrick Gleason and Jamal Igle, with inks by Prentis Rollins and Jerry Ordway, and color by Guy Major, is quite excellent. After Prime is done giving Yat a thorough beating, we move on to the extra-long, epic conclusion to the war. To really get the feel for how insanely huge this war is, the issue opens with a couple of gigantic two-page splashes absolutely loaded to bursting with members of the Green Lantern Corps, the Sinestro Corps, and the Justice League, all fighting like crazy. There's some great little visual references in the background here, too; in the first two-page splash, there's one Yellow Lantern who's clearly based on a Predator, and another who's clearly based on an Alien from the Alien movies. Anyway, I won't go into too much detail on this particular issue, as I actually already reviewed it in a previous edition of The Take. My assessment of it has changed somewhat in the intervening months, however. I actually enjoy it a lot more now. I was more willing to accept Sinestro's motives in the war, after reading the entire story, and more willing to accept the immediate revival of all the villains. It's also really neat to look at the two-page spread predicting the gigantic war amongst all the corps and see a bunch of things that have since come to fruition. There's Atrocitus dressed as a Red Lantern; there's Saint Walker, the Blue Lantern; there are the Star Sapphires. The writers were really planning ahead here! And man is it bad-ass how the Lanterns take out the Anti-Monitor, Cyborg Superman, and Prime. It's neat also to see the rise of the Blue and Black Lanterns again, after seeing what the Blue Lanterns have been doing lately, and knowing that the Black Lanterns are going to start taking a hand in things soon.

The final story in the book is an epilogue by Peter J. Tomasi wherein we see how various Green Lanterns are dealing with the aftermath of the war. One of the more moving scenes here centers on a Lantern who is sitting in a bar saying the name of each and every fallen Lantern. The rebuilding of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a buddy-buddy conversation between Guy and Kyle, is a little corny, but reasonably effective. And I like Patrick Gleason's art.

The last thing in the book is an interesting and informative interview with a bunch of the writers and artists involved in Sinestro Corps War, wherein they talk about the making of the story and what's coming next.

Overall, a good book, and probably one of DC's best giant crossover stories.
Thumbs Up

Strange Killings: The Body Orchard
I've slowly been catching up on the past history of combat magician Bill Gravel via trades. This one is my most recent acquisition. Unfortunately, Mike Wolfer is on art duties throughout (I continue to find his work really amateurish), but Ellis is on writing duties, so it's not all bad.

The story opens with Gravel being seen by the police in the midst of performing another of his secret, private assassination missions, which he does between official missions for the British government. So he decides to lie low until he can deposit some cash he acquired during the mission. But then he stumbles into the middle of somebody else's secret mission. It's his old SAS team, and they're taking out a just-elected Mayor of New York. But why? And how did they learn all the magic they so ably make use of during their mission? And why do they try to kill Gravel when they recognize him? Curious and seriously pissed, Bill decides to find out the answers to these questions. He ends up fighting it out not only against the four men in his old SAS team (who are amateur magicians, but magicians nonetheless), but also against practically the entire NYPD, who blame him for the assassination of the mayor. When he tries to get help from his bosses back at HQ, he realizes they're out to get him, too. It's not a good day for Bill Gravel.

Eventually he follows his team into a strange, mystical realm known as the Body Orchard, where it's possible to grow weapons. We also get to see a flashback to a mission he went on with the SAS team in which they learned he was a magician, and got to see him duke it out with another magician. Back in the present, Gravel gets caught by the NYPD, fights his way out, and then follows his old team to the Pentagon, where they're killing everything that moves. He ultimately stops them by crashing a jet into the Pentagon. Yeah, Ellis went there. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of parallel universe explanation for the events of 9/11? Regardless, it's pretty twisted and offensive.

But then, Gravel's stories always are. This one is just a little more so, thanks in large part to the fact that many of the people he's blowing up and tearing apart this time are essentially innocents. Sure, the NYPD shoot at him, try to capture and imprison him, and later try to beat information out of him - but most of their actions are understandable, given what they know of Gravel. They think they're doing the right thing, going after the bad guy. Later it becomes clear that some of them are just being manipulated by Gravel's own superiors. Knowing all this, does Gravel perhaps take it easy on them? Just break their legs, instead of tearing their skin off? Nah. In fact, if anything, the stuff he does to them becomes more and more gruesome as the conflict goes on. It's pretty horrific.

Gravel's never been the kind of guy to pull punches, and he's never been particularly likable. But at least in the past when he was ripping people's eyeballs out and making them throw up their own guts, his victims were undeniably horrible people who deserved whatever they got. It's a little harder to watch him do the same stuff to policemen, some of whom are just passing by and don't even know what's going on.

I can't say I'm all that shocked and horrified. Like I said, we're talking Warren Ellis and Bill Gravel here. But I certainly didn't enjoy this book as much as the more recent adventures of Mr. Gravel.

It's not going to keep me from buying the next trade, though. The ending of this volume seems to suggest that the next story will be about Gravel going after his superiors in the British government, so that should be interesting.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases
Captain America #46
We open up here with Bucky and Namor flying to the rescue of the original Human Torch in an old jet of Namor's. It's just like old times! Namor acts like a dick, as always, but Bucky reads him well enough to know he approves, in his own way, of Bucky taking on the mantle of Captain America, and that he's just as determined as Bucky to save the Torch. A flashback reveals the evil Professor has been fascinated by the Human Torch since he first saw him, many years ago. Meanwhile, Black Widow, in the process of getting the info Cap and Namor need to track the Professor down, figures out that the Winter Soldier is wanted for crimes against the state of China for killing the Professor's wife during his last escape. D'oh.

It's great to see Namor and Cap together again, and on a mission to save the Human Torch, no less. And I always enjoy Namor when he's written well, and Brubaker captures his character perfectly here. It's not an incredibly exciting issue - but then, very few issues of Captain America do excite me all that much, what with the endlessly dark and muted color palette and the story that never comes to any real conclusions. But we do seem to be headed somewhere interesting this time, so I'm staying with it.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis #7
At long last, Final Crisis comes to an end. Sort of, anyway; not all of the tie-in miniseries are over yet. But this is definitely the last issue of the main miniseries, and I have to admit, it's pretty impressive. I particularly enjoyed the opening, which picks up in an alternate universe where an intelligent black President shuts himself in the Oval Office of the White House and removes his shirt to reveal Superman's "S" on his chest (although his is yellow on red instead of red on yellow). It's Super Barack Obama! Sort of. He and the Wonder Woman of his universe (whose name is Nubia) answer a distress call and discover that the Yellow Submarine from Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D has swum through the bleed into their world. Turns out all the Supermen of the multiverse are being called together again as a last ditch, life-or-death effort. Meanwhile, all that's left of Earth in our Superman's universe is the Watchtower. Everything else has been taken over by Darkseid. Lois Lane, we learn, has written the story of Final Crisis - "the story of all our stories" - into the final edition of the Daily Planet. That story, along with a few other mementos, is loaded into a rocket ship and fired off from the doomed world, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will find it. Sound familiar? It's Superman's story, again. The story at the heart of everything. The story of stories. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, we cut back to Superman facing off against the mortally wounded Darkseid, who points out that since he is now everything there is, when he dies, everything else will, too. He then fires the poisoned bullet back in time to kill Orion. He's only able to take Orion by surprise and kill him this way because at this point in time, Orion no longer exists. Swallow that paradox!

It's at this point that Wally and Barry Allen arrive with the Black Flash in tow and bowl Darkseid over, running death right into him. It's pretty awesome, even if it doesn't make all that much sense. I mean, isn't Darkseid already dying? Don't we not want to finish killing him just yet? Because it'll, like, destroy all reality and stuff?

Then we find out what the deal was with that God Machine that turns will into reality at the end of last issue. Turns out Superman didn't use it, he just looked at it, and memorized every part of it. Now he asks for everyone's help (even Lex Luthor and Sivana) to build it. I love the conversation between Lex and Sivana about it. Lex: "This looks to me like something capable of rewriting the laws of physics." Sivana: "Meh."

Checkmate's last ditch plan to move the Earth to another Earth seems to have gone disastrously awry. I think. I didn't quite follow that part. The story jumps back and forth through time and space so much, and shows you things in such quick flashes, that it's really hard to grasp all the details. Supergirl puts it best: "I don't think I've ever felt anything so strange... like it's all broken up from one minute to the next..." But it looks like Frankenstein (uh, where the hell did he come from?!?), Lex, and the supervillains switched sides and helped Superman win out against Darkseid. Wonder Woman was finally able to overcome the mind control and lasso Darkseid's body, I guess to keep him alive and disabled long enough for them to try to save the multiverse. After that, the surviving members of the human race were somehow shrunk down and preserved in a freezer (wha?). After completing the God Machine, Superman finally finishes off Darkseid by singing a countersong to Darkseid's vibrations of evil, or something. This, of course, ends everything. As it's all falling apart, Superman finds the final magic ingredient for the God Machine. But then Mandrakk shows up with the vampire Superman! When Mandrakk said he'd be back at the end of Superman Beyond, I assumed he meant he'd be back in the next Crisis, but apparently he was talking more short term! Anyway, Superman manages to activate the God Machine despite Mandrakk, but what he does with it is not explained until later. There's a ridiculously insane showdown, where freaking everybody shows up for a final face-off against Mandrakk - I'm talking all the Supermen of the multiverse (whose arrival is heralded by our own Superman saying, "Look, up in the sky" - awesome), a bunch of Green Lanterns, a Monitor, the Army of God, the forever people of the 5th World, and even the super animals from the old funny animal comics. Holy crap, dude! Morrison seems to throw in the funny animal guys seemingly as an afterthought, or because he was obligated to (it's been sort of a tradition since the first Crisis that every character owned by DC has to be involved somehow). Thankfully they don't do or say anything; they just kind of show up and then Morrison keeps going. "And... these guys, too! Okay, moving on..." Anyway, at that point, Morrison had me going to the extent that I was ready to let him do anything, even pull in the funny animals. And after all, on the page opposite the one in which he introduces those characters, he shows us a bunch of Green Lanterns teaming up and using the last of their power to drive a giant glowing green stake through the heart of the final enemy of reality, and that's pretty damn hot stuff right there.

We cut from the victory scene to the hall of Monitors, where Nix Uotan is giving his report. He says some really inspiring things about humanity, and concludes that it's time for the Monitors to cease all contact with the multiverse and become nameless and faceless again, for the sake of everyone and everything. There's also some interesting stuff about how a new creation was brought about by Darkseid's death, and how the Monitors cleaned up after the Crisis by pretty much rebuilding the multiverse, and correcting all the remaining time anomalies (by which I guess he means DCU continuity!). As the Monitors are being removed from reality, their story ending, Nix Uotan reveals finally what Superman wished for with the God Machine: a happy ending. And maybe even Nix Uotan gets one, as someone looking quite a lot like him seems to awaken immediately afterwards on Earth, as a human. I think? Then we jump to some other time and place, where an old man (referred to as "old man") has found the rocket launched earlier, containing the story of Final Crisis. Old man seems very important and final somehow, but who he is exactly is unclear to me. He dies, but there's another man in the cave with him, a man who looks quite a bit like Bruce Wayne. As he begins drawing a bat symbol on the cave wall, a narrative box informs us that "the fire burns forever."

Yeah, I'm pretty confused. But I'm also pretty blown away. Despite the fact that this series has been jumbled and puzzling, it's also been beautifully written and extremely moving and effective. Even if I didn't understand it all the time, I always had the sense there was a wise and intelligent storyteller behind it, and that even if he wasn't always clear, he was always artful. And there are so many astounding ideas in here, and so many wonderful things said about stories, and storytelling, and humanity. And I love that it ends on a hopeful note, and with a glimpse of Batman, and the clear sense that he's not really gone, and that great stories never die.

Final Crisis is truly an amazing piece of work. Grant Morrison, I salute you!
Thumbs Up

Fringe #2
The first issue of this miniseries, which ties in with the TV show, came out a long time ago, and I bought it and enjoyed it. Then I read that they'd resolicited the rest of the series for a much later date. I'm not sure why. Anyway, here's the second issue finally, and as it turns out, it was worth the wait. This series is way better than it has any right to be. First up is the second part of the main story, "Bell and Bishop," which tells the past history of William Bell and Walter Bishop - how they met, and what they did in that lab in Cambridge for all those years. I like that the comic is getting to tell what is actually some pretty important backstory. Anyway, as Bell and Bishop are toiling away in the lab, a mysterious man named R. Bradbury (ha!) shows up, claiming he's from a soap company and offering them unlimited resources to continue their experiments for said company. They get a tour of the company's facilities in Alaska and they're pretty impressive. When Bishop says, "This is some kind of secret weapons lab, isn't it? The soap is just a front," Bradbury responds, "Not at all. We have a very successful consumer products division. Trust me, gentlemen... we make excellent soap." And "Excellent Soap" is the title of this story. Great stuff! It's in this Alaska facility that Dr. Bishop meets a woman named Dr. Rachel Matheson. They hit it off immediately, thanks in part to the fact that he saves her from a giant monster. But things get a little complicated when Bell and Bishop stumble upon a room full of heads in jars.

The backup story is called "Strangers on a Train," and it's a fantastic little oneshot involving time travel that I really enjoyed. It's rather like an episode of Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. And the guy in it just happens to work for the same soap company mentioned in the main story.

I'm really impressed with the quality of this miniseries, especially considering it's just a tie-in with a TV show. Looking forward to the next issue!
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #4
In the course of Danny going out again and again on raids, trying to find Verminus Rex, he once more becomes thoroughly addicted to the power of the Ghost Rider. To the extent that when his friend the witch finds him again and tries to talk some sense into him, it's already too late. He chooses to leave her once again to go with Eleven, who orders him to suck up a Ghost Rider's powers - for her own good, of course. Then he reveals that "the boss" is an angel, and he has a job for Danny: leech the power out of all the other Ghost Riders. After defeating Verminus Rex, of course. But Rex is not so easy to beat. Danny needs full access to the Ghost Rider power if he's to do it. And that's what he finally gets. No doubt it's all part of Zadkiel's plan. The next issue is the last of this miniseries, so it should include Ketch's final showdown with Rex, as well as his first step on the quest that will lead him to the showdown with Johnny that's occurring now in the pages of Ghost Rider.

Pretty good issue! Author Simon Spurrier is actually doing a creditable job of showing how Danny could have ended up where he is now, killing Ghost Riders for a rebel angel. It's all about his addiction to the power, an addiction that Spurrier and artist Javier Saltares depict in brutal, realistic detail.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #30
Gary finally flips out at the beginning of this issue and really uses his power, causing the very walls, trees, and buildings of the Golden Boughs to rise up and fight. It all gets pretty epic! Meanwhile, Revise explains to Jack how and why he began revising Fables, and the relationships and history among Gary, Kevin, Revise, and Bookburner all start to make more sense. One of the best parts of the issue, however, is when the Fables get to read their original, unbowdlerized stories, thus getting back all their true power and viciousness. Unfortunately, at the end of the issue, it looks like Gary gets whacked, which would be a sad thing indeed. Hopefully we will learn in the next issue that that is not the case. Regardless, you can't call a comic anything but fun that includes the line, "Everybody read for your lives!"
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #49
This issue surprised me, and actually kind of disappointed me, too. I had assumed the subplot about Luke Cage's kid being kidnapped, and Cage joining with Osborn in order to find the child, would be a long term thing with lasting consequences. But it's all resolved right here in this issue. Or at least, it seems to be. Maybe I'm underestimating Brian Michael Bendis, and there's more of this story still to come. I'm worried, for instance, that the baby Cage got back might not actually be his baby. We'll see what happens.

It's interesting that we end up feeling bad for the Jarvis Skrull. That's something I didn't expect to happen. And even though I'm a little disappointed that Cage got out of his commitment to Osborn almost immediately (a deal with the devil with no consequences is not particularly horrifying), I have to say, I really did enjoy seeing him whack the shit out of Bullseye and Venom with the Wrecker's magic crowbar. His exit was pretty impressive, too. I also liked Captain America's reaction to having a baby in his hideout. "I've never been this close to a baby before." And speaking of reactions, Clint's reaction to seeing the unveiling of the Dark Avengers, featuring Bullseye as Hawkeye, was pretty much as I expected. He gets really pissed and decides they should just go right over there and kick butt. "Because he dressed up like you?" Iron Fist asks. "No," Clint responds. Then, "Yes!" (I like that Captain America's reaction is, "Well, that's just obnoxious.") Clint's plan is probably not the best one, but the other guys all seem to agree with him and go with it. The little preview tagline promises that next issue will be a double-sized fiftieth anniversary issue, and that it will feature an "Avengers battle royale." Sounds good to me!

Despite the bit with Luke Cage that kind of disappointed me, I really did enjoy this issue, and I'm very much looking forward to the next one. I've been pretending like I'm just buying this comic on an issue by issue basis, but I think eventually I'm just going to have to give in and admit that I'm collecting it.

Oh, and by the way, this comic, along with many other Marvel comics of the past week or two, includes a preview in the back for the new Black Panther series. Looks like it's pretty well done, but it also looks like they're going to kill off T'Challa, and that's something I'm not sure I can condone.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #6
I'm sad to say the final issue of this fantastic miniseries disappointed me a little bit. Maybe the fact that I'd seen that Chris Sims picked it as his best of the week on the Invincible Super-Blog before I read it put my expectations up too high. I don't know. I mean, Garth Ennis did deliver an insane gun battle involving the Punisher and a lesbian in her underwear mowing down an entire army of mobsters; a happily-ever-after ending for poor old Schitti and his pumpkin; and a brutal and ignominious defeat for the pathetic new Elite. But something about it just hit me the wrong way. Maybe it's the way poor von Richthofen gets treated. I don't know. Anyway, it's not like I hated it. It's still an entertaining comic. Just not as good as I was hoping.
Thumbs Sideways

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3
The insanity continues! As Seance is being tortured by the horrifying and hilarious Cha-Cha and Hazel, he manages to contact Spaceboy through the TV. But it's kind of too late by then, as the boys have already gotten the location of some nukes out of Seance, so they just shoot him in the head. At which point he finds himself in an odd kind of heaven with a cowboy God, who decides to send him back to Earth. Meanwhile, Number 5 finally explains to Rumor the true story of where he was all the time he was away and why a bunch of weirdos are after him. Turns out I was kind of right about the reason, only it's not that he saved JFK, it's that he refused to kill him. Through surgery and training, Number 5 has been transformed into the perfect assassin - an agent for fixing anomalies in the timeline. JFK was his final and most important assignment, but he ran out on it. Now he's being forced to come back. Oh, and it looks like maybe Spaceboy's dead. D'oh!

Another fantastic issue, loaded with brilliant ideas and completely unexpected twists. I also enjoyed Cha-Cha's Aliens reference ("It's the only way to be sure"). Good old Umbrella Academy.
Thumbs Up

The Wind Raider #1
The zero issue preview of this series convinced me to give it a try, and I have to say I remain impressed and surprised. It's actually pretty good! Gabriel Hardman's art (with colors by Micah Farritor) is beautiful - he has a gift for visual storytelling - and creators/authors Richard Finney and Dean Loftis have taken some imaginative ideas and turned them into an intriguing tale about some interesting characters. A little boy named Joshua strikes it rich for his family by finding a piece of valuable rock out in the desert, but some nasty fellows will do anything to find out where he got it - including track him down and attack his family. Joshua gives his life to try to save his father from them, but in vain. The lead criminal kidnaps Joshua's sister and takes off, but a Ki Warrior takes out the other criminals and brings Joshua back to life.

This is really just an introduction to the story, so it's hard to tell yet where this thing is going to go, and if it's going to remain as interesting as it has been so far, but I'll be sticking with it for now.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Fringe (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Punisher (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not)
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 08:30 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 12/24.

Angel: Smile Time #1
This is the first issue of a miniseries from IDW that is an adaptation of a specific episode of the Angel TV series. The episode was called "Smile Time," but everyone really knows it as "the one where Angel got turned into a muppet." I remembered the episode, but couldn't remember if I'd actually seen the whole thing or not. I decided reading the comic would be the next best thing, and picked it up.

Now that I've read it, I feel pretty confident that I did see this episode. So reading the rest of the miniseries seems pointless. Because it really is just an extremely faithful adaptation of that one episode. The art (by David Messina) is good, the dialogue (script by Scott Tipton) is pretty funny, the characters are their good old selves (pretty good at fighting evil, absolutely terrible at managing their love lives), and so forth and so on, but I just can't think of a reason to keep reading. It's all old news.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman #683
This issue continues the weird trip through Batman's real memories, paralleled with an adventure in a dream world where Bruce Wayne's parents never died and he never became Batman. In fact Batman's memories are being harvested, and he's so incredibly hardcore and bad-ass that he figures out what's going on while it's happening and fights back, using his own pain and bad memories as weapons. By the end it looks like he's on the verge of escaping, but we'll see what happens. Meanwhile, in voiceover narration, we get to read Alfred's stirring pseudo-obituary for Batman, on the occasion of his disappearance. Finally things become a bit more clear: apparently Batman disappeared while investigating the murder of a God, which is a storyline from Final Crisis. The final page of this issue tells us to "Follow the Dark Knight to his last adventure in Final Crisis #6." I'm almost tempted to actually do that. This is another fantastic issue from Morrison where he continues to define and redefine who Batman is, and remind us how incredible a warrior he really is. The art (pencils by Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, colors by Guy Major) is also quite excellent.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #3
In the latest issue of this miniseries about Danny's recent history, Mister Eleven finally explains to Danny what's really going on (sort of). Danny learns the true origin of the Ghost Riders, but is also told that they're unstable and a failed experiment. He is then taken to an insane old Ghost Rider and instructed to put it out of its misery, which he does. Well, he started down that road easily enough! Then Danny gets turned loose on a bunch of rat-men who are supposedly destroying the universe. Meanwhile, his technomage girlfriend is told in no uncertain terms - and by the Black Host, no less - to stop poking around into Danny Ketch's business.

It's interesting seeing the story from this perspective, and I like that we got a look back at Ghost Riders throughout history and from around the world. I also love the concepts and the language writer Simon Spurrier is playing with - living spirit-weapons; the massmind; memeforms; astral tunnels through the betweenspace. Good stuff. The art's not bad, either.
Thumbs Up

Mister X: Condemned #1
I read about this new Dark Horse miniseries in an issue of Comic News and thought it sounded neat, so I picked up the first issue. I won't be picking up any more. The setting is a city whose architecture was designed to affect its citizens psychologically, in a positive way. But something went wrong and now insanity is commonplace. In an attempt to fix things, the worst districts are being demolished by giant robots. Except there have been errors and some of the wrong buildings have been destroyed by mistake. We're introduced to various characters who have a stake in all this: criminals who are using the demolitions to their advantage; politicians and architects who are trying to save the city and their careers; and regular people just trying to live their lives. At the end of the story, the worst mistaken demolition yet occurs, and an appearance is finally made by the titular character.

The entire comic - all the writing and art - appears to have been put together by one man: Dean Motter. The story is a weird mix of Dark City, Metropolis, mecha anime, and crime noir, with the occasional reference to other things, as well - like The Fountainhead (the name Roark is written on the side of a building, and of course architecture is at the heart of the story). Which actually sounds like a recipe for something I'd really love. But it's full of dull narration and exposition, the dialogue isn't very strong, and none of the characters are interesting at all; in fact, they're so interchangeable, I had a hard time even telling them apart. There are some interesting concepts and the art is okay, but I just don't care enough about the characters or the story to keep reading.
Thumbs Down

The New Avengers #48
Yes, I picked up yet another issue of one of Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers titles because it ties into the current over-arching Marvel storyline (Dark Reign). This one returns us to the immediate aftermath of Secret Invasion, at the battlefield in Central Park, where Captain America wanders amongst the combatants, inviting a select few to a secret meeting at his hideout. The few include Ronin, Mockingbird, Spider-Man, Iron Fist, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Carol Danvers. Next we jump ahead a few days and all these characters are arriving at the meeting. When Spider-Woman shows up, Clint isn't too happy to see her, but most of the others try to be more understanding. Before Luke, Jessica, and Carol get there, Cap begins explaining that he's chosen them to be the new version of the underground Avengers, and that they can come hang at his crib any time. When Luke, Jessica, and Carol do finally show up, they do so rather dramatically, and all of the sudden the New Avengers have themselves their first mission: find Luke and Jessica's kid. They get some help from the Fantastic Four, then hit the pavement, shake some trees, and perform other metaphorical operations. Sadly, none of these actions produce any results (thanks in part to a bunch of drunk S.H.I.E.L.D. agents acting like assholes). Desperate and despairing, Luke Cage sees no other choice and makes a deal with the devil to get his child back.

Ouch! Great ending. As I was reading it, it was shocking and horrifying, but looking back on it, it feels inevitable - which is the sign of good writing! One thing I did find a little odd: the relationship between Mockingbird and Ronin. I just read Dark Reign: New Nation #1, an anthology of Dark Reign tie-in stories, and in that book it seemed clear that Mockingbird and Ronin were broken up and she wasn't interested in seeing him. My best guess is that this comic is meant to have taken place before Dark Reign: New Nation, and in between now and then, Mockingbird's discomfort with the situation grows until she finally flips out.

Regardless, it's a pretty decent comic, with pretty good art and an involving story. The dialogue could maybe be a bit stronger in places (Spider-Man's incessant joking and silliness is more irritating than amusing), but that's a small criticism.
Thumbs Up

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #4
It seems like a long time since I read an issue of this miniseries, so I was pretty excited to get into it again. Sadly, I was a little disappointed with what I found. The art (by David Lafuente with color by John Rauch) is excellent and beautiful; the recap page at the beginning is clever and hilarious; the story and dialogue are both pretty amusing. But... it's just so... odd. I mean, essentially what happens in this issue is that Patsy finds the kidnapped girl, only to discover that she's a spoiled brat who wasn't kidnapped at all - she just ran off to live her own life away from her family. It's a very old story. But it's told in such a strange and vaguely confusing way.

Really, I'm not even sure what I'm complaining about. Usually I like old stories told in new and strange ways. And I do intend to see this miniseries through to the end. This issue just left me a little... unsatisfied.
Thumbs Sideways

Punisher: War Zone #3
I guess they're running this book weekly? Wow. Anyways, this is another great issue, with a surprising and exciting opening, more amusing comedy from Schitti, an incredible fight wherein the Punisher gets to show off what a bad-ass assassin he really is, a pretty funny scene between the lesbian cop and the poor jerk she assaulted, and a climactic reveal with Elite that finally brings the subplots together and reveals (at least partially) what's really going on. Kick-ass action, a twisted and fascinating story, and plenty of dark humor. Excellent!
Thumbs Up

Secret Invasion: Requiem #1
This is a one-shot examining the rocky relationship between Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, with a frame story set in the present that includes flashbacks to two earlier stories, which are reprinted here in full. The frame story is written by Dan Slott with art by Khoi Pham and color by Christ Sotomayor. The narrator is Jocasta, a robot created by Pym and programmed with all of Janet's memories. She finds Pym watching the video of Janet's death over and over and over again, trying to determine exactly what the Skrulls did to her. He does figure it out, and continues working on some kind of project in the lab. Jocasta is worried for him and tries to get him to quit, but all she succeeds in getting out of him is the story of his first meeting with Jan, way back in Tales to Astonish #44 - plotted by Stan Lee with a script by H.E. Huntley, art by Jack Kirby, and ink by Don Heck. This story finds Pym, as Ant-Man, tired and wishing for a partner to help him. This gets him thinking of his first wife, and he flashes back to how he lost her and how Ant-Man was born. In some ways it's a pretty typical superhero origin story, but in others, it's quite unique and ridiculous. Pym's first wife was a woman named Maria who, along with her father, was a political prisoner in her native Hungary. They escaped to America, but Pym and Maria go back to Hungary for their honeymoon. Wha? Maria is convinced that, now that she's the wife of an American, no one will recognize her, despite the fact that she is not wearing a disguise of any kind, and despite the fact that she and her husband are constantly saying her full birth name out loud. D'oh! Unsurprisingly, she is found and killed, and just to make things even worse, so is her father, even though he's still back in America. Pym reacts the way superheroes have reacted throughout the ages: he says, eff it, I'm fighting crime! For his superhero identity, he chooses the ant, because ants figured in a random proverb his wife mentioned to him shortly before she died - "Go to the ants, thou sluggard!" Man, if only she'd have picked a better proverb.

Anyway, Pym develops some unlikely shrinking and growing gases, and a helmet that lets him communicate with, and lord it over, ants. And somehow this helps him fight crime. It's all very strange (and incredibly wordy! This is a Stan Lee comic, after all). Pym comes out of his reverie as another scientist comes to visit. He's brought his daughter, Janet, with him, and is hoping Pym can help him in his work. Pym is kind of a dick to him and gives him the brush-off. He's attracted to Janet - she reminds him of Maria - but decides she's too young for him. Janet finds him attractive, but decides he must be the boring, bookish type. Later, Janet's Dad has an experience similar to that of the scientist in the origin story of the Martian Manhunter - except in this case the "Martian" is an evil alien bent on destruction and world-ruling. Janet's first thought, when she finds her Dad's dead body, is to call Pym, thinking he'll know what to do. But he assumes her story is a joke and hangs up on her!!! It's just the first of many times Pym will be a dick to Janet. As Ant-Man, Pym discovers Janet's story is true and goes to visit her. She says, eff it, I'm fighting crime! He decides he's found the partner he's been looking for and tells her to go see Hank Pym. He reveals his secret identity to her and asks her to submit to some experimental treatments so she can become his partner, the Wasp. She agrees. On the way to fight the alien that killed her father, she tells Pym she's falling in love with him. Already?? His reaction is, "No! You mustn't say that, Janet! You're only a child!" He also says he doesn't want to love again, because he couldn't bear to lose another loved one. But she's determined to win him. They succeed in defeating the alien menace, and then it's back out to the frame story, where Jocasta asks about the time Pym hit Janet, which leads us into the next flashback/reprint: Avengers #215, written by Jim Shooter with pencils by Bob Hall and inks by Dan Green. One of the crossovers in the Ghost Rider Team-Up TPB I have took place immediately after Hank Pym was kicked out of the Avengers, but I hadn't read his actual court-martial and dismissal until now. I'm very glad I own this story because it's a pivotal moment in the history of the team, and of Hank Pym, and it's a pretty powerful issue, too. In the issue before this one, the Avengers had been in a fight with someone, but Cap had talked the person down and the confrontation looked like it was over when Hank Pym, desperate to prove himself, suddenly struck her in the back, reigniting the conflict. As the issue opens, the rest of the Avengers are preparing to put Pym on trial for this act. Pym is convinced that his conviction is a foregone conclusion, but being in the Avengers is all he has left, so he comes up with a crazy scheme that he thinks will save him: he builds a robot that will attack the weaknesses of all the Avengers, but that also has a weak spot of its own that only he knows about. When the trial starts to go bad, he'll signal the robot, let it rampage a bit, and then defeat it, saving everyone and restoring himself in their eyes. At least, this is what he imagines will happen in his feverish mind. Janet discovers his plan beforehand and tries to talk him out of it, but he freaks out and slaps her, demanding that she keep quiet and go along with the scheme. At the trial, he makes ridiculous defensive accusations, embarrassing himself. The bruise on Janet's face is revealed and everyone realizes what Hank has done. Desperate to somehow save the situation, he calls in his robot, but that goes horribly awry, too, and Jan has to save the day. It's a complete fiasco, and a dazed Pym wanders out, knowing he's lost everything.

It's a fantastic issue, and extremely dramatic. In the scenes leading up to the trial, we see all the characters struggling with their emotions. None of Pym's friends want to put him through this, and none of them want to convict him. Pym himself is dealing with extreme and chronic feelings of inadequacy. He sees himself as a failure who's not good enough for the Avengers, or for Jan (feelings which are exacerbated by the way Jan's servants and fans treat him), and so he can't understand how they could possibly respect and love him. Jan is ridiculously supportive of him, and wants nothing more than to comfort and love him, but he rejects her repeatedly, too twisted up in his unhappy view of the world and himself, and in his desperate need to save his career, to just accept her honest affection and advice. But of course in his insane attempts to build an escape hatch for himself, he just manufactures his own failure.

This is not a comic about fighting and superheroes. It's a comic about a bunch of human beings desperately trying to do the right thing by themselves and each other, and watching in agony as everything goes wrong anyway. It's really amazing stuff. Oh, and there's also some pretty funny scenes with the new girl, Tigra. (Given how she talks about Pym in this issue, it's interesting to think that she ends up in a relationship with him later.)

Back in the frame story, Pym finally completes the experiment he was working on in the lab, and takes on yet another in a long line of superhero identities. Although this move makes sense, knowing what we know of Pym, I'm not sure I like it, or how it's introduced here. Really, the frame story in general is a bit awkwardly written. Still, overall I really enjoyed this comic. It's interesting that even though it should theoretically be a look back at the life of Janet Van Dyne, it's really much more about Henry Pym than it is about her. Regardless, it's a fascinating examination of a really complicated relationship, and a deeply broken man.

In the back of the book are reprints of the covers of the two old issues included here, plus a detailed character profile and biography of Janet. This profile is also really interesting, as it provides a detailed history, not only of Jan herself, but also of her relationship with Hank, and of the Marvel universe in general. The whole thing about Ultron, the origin of Yellowjacket, and the Counter-Earth - it's all really interesting stuff that I knew little about.

But that's not all the book has for us! After the character profile is a three-page collage of reprinted panels from comics from throughout the history of Marvel, each one featuring Janet in a different costume. It's Wasp fashion through the ages! This is a really wonderful extra that I very much enjoyed. This is a $3.99 comic, but unlike most books given that price, I think it really contains $3.99 worth of content.
Thumbs Up

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2
The new Umbrella Academy miniseries continues, and holy Christ does it get effing weird! The characters whose coming was presaged at the end of last issue - Hazel and Cha-Cha - get introduced in the beginning of this issue in a horrifying, bloody, hilarious, jaw-dropping sequence that must be seen to be believed. They're like Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta's characters from Pulp Fiction - if those characters had had goofy, brightly-colored, cartoon character heads, were completely psychotic, and were each afflicted with an extreme sweet tooth. These guys are amazing, insanely dangerous, and they're looking for Number Five.

And they're not the only ones. The cops and the Kraken are after him, too; they suspect he's behind the recent mass murders of large groups of unidentifiable victims. But Kraken gets the cops to promise to lay off for a few days so he can try to resolve the issue himself. When he brings up the idea with Spaceboy that Number 5 could be responsible for some horrific crimes, Spaceboy flips out on him and the usual family spat begins. The Rumor overhears, gets an idea of what's going on, and heads out to find Number 5 for herself. Meanwhile, some crazy rich prick named Mr. Perseus flies in with a mysterious and important package. I'm not sure what that's going to have to do with anything, but I'm eager to stick around and find out.

If you thought the opening of the comic was disturbing, the ending is very possibly even more so, as Rumor catches up with Number 5 and catches him doing... well, you really have to see it for yourself. Then Seance contacts Pogo to get the word on Number 5, learning something pretty big right before Hazel and Cha-Cha show up and put him on the ground.

If I ever had any fear that Umbrella Academy might suffer a sophomore slump in its second miniseries, that fear is completely gone now. Dallas is incredible so far - if anything better than Apocalypse Suite - and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Ooh! And I think I may have just figured out what Number 5 did. The miniseries title... the reference to JFK at the end of this issue... I bet he went back in time and stopped the assassination! We'll see if I'm right...
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Punisher (Not), Secret Invasion (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not)
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Friday, December 5, 2008 02:35 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 11/26.

Batman #681
Grant Morrison's epic "Batman R.I.P." story arc comes to an end in this issue. There were times while I was reading this storyline when I thought Morrison had gone off his rocker, and other times when I thought the story was just dumb. But the last issue or two he really started to pull it together, and this final issue is just great. Basically it turns out the entire purpose of the storyline is to point out that no matter how bad-ass you think Batman is, he is way more bad-ass even than that, and whatever plan you have for defeating him is bound to fail, because he's already thought of it first and come up with a way around it. The opening page is really striking and brilliant, with six horizontal panels stacked on top of each other, the first four just completely black, with the last two showing Batman's pupil-less eyes opening in the darkness, and finally a narrative box that says, "But that's the thing about Batman." On the next page we see that Batman has awoken locked in a coffin and strapped in a straitjacket, and the narration continues: "Batman thinks of everything." Heh heh. Word. Next we get an awesome flashback where Bruce Wayne talks with a monk about what he experienced during the extreme psychological ordeal known as Thögal. And then there's poison! Back in the present, Robin is fighting some second-rate bad guys when some second-rate good guys show up and save his ass. Back to the flashback, where Batman is an extreme bad-ass again ("You blinked. I switched cups. Force of habit." Dude, he beat your plan to kill him out of force of habit). God, I love Batman. Back to the present, where the villains wait to see Batman's final moments, and learn what a mistake it is to try to control the Joker. Then, in an exciting twist, that little box that Batman's been carrying around turns out to actually be important. In the flashback, more Batman bad-assery. Back in the present, we reach possibly the pinnacle of Batman bad-assery, as he escapes the latest trap set for him, explaining that it was a tough one, but not too tough. Slowly it's revealed that Batman really has planned for everything, that he knew a trap was closing around him, that he was setting up his counter-attack all this time, that he knows a lot more about his enemies than they could ever have imagined. Some of the character backstory and other explanations that pop up in expository word bubbles and narrative boxes are a little ridiculous, but overall this sequence is just brilliant and awesome. I really, really love the hilarious scene where Damian, driving a red and black Batmobile, knocks an ambulance off the road, an ambulance that just happens to be driven by the Joker. Alfred's like, "Dude, that was an ambulance," and Damian's like, "Whatever. You think my Dad'll let me keep this awesome car??" Okay, those aren't exact quotes, but you get the idea. I love the way Morrison writes Damian.

At this point, the Black Glove guy is still trying to blackmail Batman, and asks him if he's ready to deal. His response? "Not now. Not ever." These are the last words he says aloud before disappearing in an explosion that seemingly takes out him and the Black Glove. There's even a nice visual pun in that final moment: "The Black Glove always wins," says Mangrove, but it's Batman's black glove that punches through the windshield and ends everything. Meanwhile, in narration, Batman is saying that he's afraid he stumbled upon something evil while he was delving deep into himself. "Did I finally reach the limits of reason? And find the Devil waiting? And was that fear in his eyes?" Did I mention that Batman is a bad-ass? Dude, even the freaking Devil is afraid of him.

But is Batman really dead? Personally, my answer is, not a chance. He might take a vacation for a while, put himself back together, but he's totally still alive. Despite what I think, it seems pretty clear that everybody in the comic thinks he's dead, with Nightwing pensively holding his discarded cowl, and Talia planning retribution. Later, Jezebel Jet gets a disturbing phone call and is attacked by weird bat creatures, which is cool (Talia's doing, perhaps?). And then we jump six months ahead in time. Now it seems that everyone thinks both Batman and Robin are dead (probably I'd have to read Robin to know why that is, but there's no chance of that happening; Robin sucks). But then a bat signal shines through a window on some criminals, and it's clear somebody's still out there carrying on the legacy. In the one-page epilogue, we finally learn where "Zur-en-arrh" came from.

So yeah, this final issue actually pulls this whole series together, and the whole thing somehow feels like it makes sense, something I never thought would happen when I was reading the first couple issues. Not only that, it's freaking awesome. I'm not always a fan of Morrison's weird, mystical take on Batman, but I love what he did with the character in this storyline. I think he really captured the essence of Batman, not to mention the Joker. He sort of summed up everything that's great about these character and this universe, while taking them all in an interesting new direction. I'm looking forward to the next couple issues, "Aftermath." These are going to be released in quick succession and will bridge the gap between R.I.P. and Final Crisis. I'm not sure I want to bridge a gap that has Final Crisis on the other side of it, but I trust Morrison enough with Batman now to give it a try.
Thumbs Up

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #19
The incredibly late final issue of the "Time of Your Life" story arc has at last arrived! But is it worth the wait?? I'd say so. We get huge climactic battles in the present and the future, we get to learn who orchestrated Buffy's trip to the future and why , we learn the identity of the person with whom Buffy had that mysterious rendezvous right before she jumped forward in time (but the art isn't that great, so I'm not entirely sure who it is - I think that one guy she liked that everybody hated?), and see the sad end of Willow's story (why Buffy has to be the one to do the deed is not entirely clear - "it's a long story" - but it makes for a very dramatic and powerful moment). Or, one possible ending, at least. It's deep stuff, very well done. And plus, there's the usual super-smart, super-funny Whedon dialogue. Awesome.
Thumbs Up

Captain America #44
Brubaker continues to weave the latest Cap story across multiple time periods. We already know Cap and Bucky were sent to save a Chinese scientist during the war. Now we learn that in '68, acting as the Winter Soldier, Bucky was sent to kill the same scientist. But the scientist recognized him as the one who'd saved him, and this recognition threw Bucky off balance. Then a mysterious protector in a hat and trench coat came out of the shadows to face-off against Bucky. In the present, the new Cap finds the UN is trying to hide something from him. But what? Hmmm. Meanwhile, he follows the trail of Batroc to a raid on some secret government cargo. But it's a setup, and he finds himself facing off against that same mysterious dude in the hat and trench coat again. Is it Death-Stalker? I'm not sure, but I assume all (or at least, most) will be made clear in the next issue, as that issue will be the last in this three-part story arc.

I like the way Brubaker is jumping from time period to time period here, weaving together a fascinating multi-layered story. And I like the way he's playing with Bucky's old Winter Soldier identity, and the character's guilt over what he did under that name. It's a very powerful, dramatic moment when the Winter Soldier's target recognizes his potential assassin as Bucky, his old savior. I'm also intrigued by the subplot about the UN hiding things from Cap. We'll have to see where this all goes...
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #2
This book opens with Danny's technomancer friend saving his butt, then cuts to him in his apartment the next day, where the mysterious woman from the bar the night before comes to talk to him. Here's where you see how far Danny's fallen; he's living in a dump full of garbage, walking around drunk in his underwear throwing up all over the place. He's also pretty thick, and totally doesn't put together who the woman is and what she wants (although admittedly he didn't know at the time that there were other Ghost Riders). We know, of course, that she's trying to recruit him to help save the other Ghost Riders, who at this point are already being killed off by someone. This is interesting, as we also know that in the present storyline, Danny himself is the one responsible for Ghost Riders getting wasted. So who was doing it before him? Hmm. Anyway, later on the technomancer girl (who seems to have an unrequited thing for Danny) tries to help him again, only to have him run off on her. (During their conversation, a disturbing and shameful fact about Danny's past comes up, making us realize all over again how lost he is without the Ghost Rider's power.) He follows the mysterious bird (who now has a name: Mister Eleven. Cool name!), with the hope that it will help him get the power back. That's when he figures out who the girl from the bar really is.

This miniseries is maybe getting slightly melodramatic, but overall Danny's addiction and desperate desire is handled pretty well, and the story remains interesting. I'll definitely be sticking around.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #28
In a lot of ways, this issue just feels like padding: a buffer issue between the last story arc and the big war that's coming. A few important things happen, but mostly it's just people waiting or preparing for stuff that's going to happen later. Which is a little disappointing. Still, the art (pencils by Tony Akins, inks by Jose Marzan Jr., colors by Daniel Vozzo) is truly excellent (I particularly like the way Gary is drawn), and there are a couple of neat moments, like when Kevin shows his true colors by making use of a magic pen that apparently causes to happen whatever events you write about with it. That is cool stuff. Plus, Jack gets a funny moment or two (like the thing with the tacos at the end). And next issue, we finally get the big war! Should be fun.
Thumbs Up

Secret Invasion: X-Men #4
I had been really enjoying this miniseries, but this final issue does some things that I don't think make a lot of sense. It opens with the Skrulls giving the X-Men a terrible ultimatum that forces our mutant heroes to make a tough decision very quickly: surrender in the hopes that it will save innocent humans; fight back with the very strong chance that many humans will die; or save humans by using germ warfare to commit genocide against the Skrulls. Scott chooses the latter option so fast, it really kind of disturbs Hank, who's a lot more unsure about taking such a horrific step. Anyway, soon they put the plan into action, and there's a final stand-off followed by a pretty bloody resolution. It's a fascinating, thought-provoking, tense, exciting, dramatic story. But here are my issues (plenty of spoilers ahead): first of all, why doesn't the virus affect the X-Men, too? They never even talk about this possibility, and it seems to me like it's a pretty important question! Maybe I'm just lacking basic information about the virus that the writers are assuming everyone will know. But it still seems like a weird omission. I mean, we know they have a cure for the virus, but does that mean all the mutants took the cure ahead of time, as a sort of vaccine? How could they have had time to do that? If they didn't take the cure first, how come they didn't get sick, too? If they did take it, why didn't it just kill the virus before they even got to the Skrulls, thus making it impossible for them to infect their enemies?

Maybe I'm over-thinking that part, I don't know. But the very end also bugs me. The Skrulls blow up all their spaceships. This means huge pieces of wreckage should fall all over San Francisco, killing many people. You could explain this away by making the assumption that the ships just completely disintegrated, leaving no wreckage behind, but it seems pretty clear from the illustration of the explosions, and the picture on the final page that shows a giant piece of Skrull spaceship jammed into a skyscraper, that that's not what happened. And if tons of wreckage did fall, killing many people, I very much doubt the citizens of San Francisco would be as celebratory and as thankful toward the X-Men as they are at the end of this comic. They'd probably actually be cursing the X-Men for waging such a destructive and costly war.

Maybe I'm picking at nits. But these issues really did take away from my enjoyment of what was an otherwise well done miniseries.
Thumbs Sideways

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1
Woo hoo! New Umbrella Academy miniseries! Very exciting. The first thing you'll notice about the book is that the back cover is done up to look like the front cover of a beat up old vintage issue of a magazine called The New Era, with a picture of Kennedy in the Oval Office, and headlines about "Kennedy's Secret Meetings," Lincoln's birthday celebration, and rumors of a little girl with god-like powers. Inside, we get a look at one of those "Secret Meetings," wherein Kennedy is asking Sir Reginald for help in subduing a rampaging Lincoln Monument. We cut to the fight, where Kraken makes a funny reference to their previous monument fight (remember the Eiffel Tower mission?), and the Rumor takes out Lincoln in hilarious fashion (I love the image of the giant John Wilkes Booth statue running away in the distance). Next we jump ahead to the present and find out where all the team members are at now, after the apocalyptic events of the last storyline. Spaceboy's taking it easy and really being kind of a lazy slob; Seance is primping and enjoying his newfound fame; the Rumor is torturing the White Violin (I know she tried to destroy the world and all, but that's still a pretty brutal scene); the Kraken is beating up guys and doing some detective work; and Number Five is throwing his money away at the track. Things seem pretty calm and quiet and normal, in other words - until a whole army of guys shows up to take out Number Five. From his conversation with them, it sounds like he was recruited into their organization, and they want him to complete some job, but he's gone rogue. Then there's a fricking insanely brutal, amazing, Matrix-style-but-bloodier, epic fight scene, with Number Five screaming out various crazy jungle and animal metaphors while he kills everyone. AWESOME. At the very end, the last of the weird army dudes, as he's dying, calls in some folks named Hazel and Cha-Cha whom even Number Five seems to be terribly afraid of.

Woah. Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba, and Dave Stewart have done it again. Totally intriguing story, fascinating characters, great art, insanely amazing action, and a twisted and hilarious sense of humor. I love this book!
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (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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