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Friday, July 2, 2010 11:30 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from the weeks of 6/2, 6/9, and 6/16, as well as a handful of back issues. Beware spoilers!

New releases (6/2)
Avengers Prime #1
Another Avengers book? By Brian Michael Bendis? I thought I said I was going to stop buying these? Apparently not. This one seems to be squeezing its story between the end of Siege and the beginning of the other new Avengers books. Bendis is using it to attempt to establish Thor, Iron Man, and Steve Rogers as Marvel's major trinity of heroes. Our heroic trinity start out this book by bitching and moaning at each other for a bit, in such a way as to catch the reader up on recent events. Then, thankfully, they get sucked into a magical portal and sent to another world - or worlds; it's not clear if they've gone to totally different places or the same general place yet, as they've all landed in different locations. Each have their own separate adventures. Tony is approached by an unseen character, which is vaguely intriguing. Thor is attacked by the Enchantress, who spouts the usual villain cliches at him. Not very interesting. The best scene in the book, which is so good it almost makes me want to keep reading the series, is when Steve Rogers stumbles into an inn full of monsters, politely asks for their help, and then politely kicks all of their asses, to their own incredulity - how could one little human beat them all?? Because that human is Captain America, that's why! Very enjoyable.
Thumbs Sideways

Heralds #1
A new miniseries from Kathryn Immonen! I often find her writing a bit opaque, but also very intelligent, creative, and unique. This book opens with Emma's surprise birthday party being interrupted by a mysterious event that's hard to explain, but which involves an alien intelligence, a bunch of clones in a secret S.W.O.R.D. facility, and a waitress going berserk. The gang of ladies who show up to Emma's surprise party are our main characters for the series, and they're a fun bunch, especially the way Immonen writes them and Tonci Zonjic draws them. The dialog is snappy, sarcastic, and witty, and I really enjoy the enthusiasm with which the girls go after the dead scientist clones. "Come on! Haven't you always wanted to punch Einstein in the face?" I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but I like it!
Thumbs Up

New releases 6/9
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #2
I really love the way Ellis and Andrews are using Emma Frost in this book. Very funny stuff. Scott says to her, "You're... holding a baby." She responds, "Full marks, Mr. Summers. Save any further comments for a time when I can beat you in private." Story-wise, looks like Ellis is dragging the Ghost Boxes back into it again. I have to say I'm a little tired of those, but I'm willing to hear him out.
Thumbs Up

Batman #700
For this special, extra-long anniversary issue, DC wisely turned the reins over to the best writer in their stable: Grant Morrison. Morrison delivers four separate short stories, each set in different time periods, but each dealing with part of the same overarching locked-room mystery. The time travel aspect of the story just kind of hurts my brain a little, but I think I follow what's going on. I also think I know the answer to the story's central riddle (the answer - spoiler alert! - is time). Regardless, it's a joy to read, as Morrison gets to play with every version of Batman there is - Bruce, Dick, Damian, Terry, and even a couple of post-apocalyptic Batmen, one living in a world that reminds me of Miller's Dark Knight Returns (the mutant gang from that book makes a cameo in the present day timeline), and another living in a world that reminds me of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Also along for the ride are a lot of Batman's most famous villains and allies, in various guises and incarnations. Morrison tosses in his usual handful of truly insane and amazing ideas, like time hypnosis helmets, and 2-Face-2, a new version of Two-Face who has two coins and a separate monster face living on his own normal human face. And of course every version of Batman gets to engage in the usual combination of brilliant detective work and bad-ass fighting. There's also a truly great, uplifting ending, promising us that no matter what or when, there will always be a Batman. Amen!
Thumbs Up

Buzzard #1
Eric Powell's strength is in wild, off-the-wall, offensive comedy, but for some reason he insists on writing morbid, melodramatic stories about humorless, moping, emo characters. This is another one of those. Still, it has its moments. It's certainly not as melodramatic as it could be, and it's vaguely intriguing. In the back is a continuation of the story Powell began in Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities. Again, kind of interesting, but not terribly exciting.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain America #606
We pick up with Bucky still trying to deal with the guilt over what he had to do to crazy Cap. But he needs to get his head back in the game soon, because Baron Zemo is putting the band back together. A fun start to a new storyline.
Thumbs Sideways

Gravel #19
Finally we get the creepy, twisted backstory on Gravel's latest mysterious enemy. He manages to hit Gravel where it hurts, and then somebody else - possibly another combat magician working for the British government? - sneaks in and steals a lot of Gravel's stuff. It's a hard day to be Gravel!
Thumbs Up

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2
Still really enjoying this series. This issue reveals there are two factions of S.H.I.E.L.D. - the Da Vinci faction, which believes there's always a way forward for humanity, and the group currently in charge, which believes there's an inevitable end for humanity that we must move toward. It's cool stuff. There's an interesting moment where the comic gets all postmodern and turns into a plain text script, as if Da Vinci and our young hero are passing through different story formats in their journey. I also love the surreal scene in which Agent Richards reaches for the exploding Night Machine, in a heroic attempt to save everyone, and it seems as if every member of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout past and future is reaching with him. Like I said about Heralds: I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but I like it.
Thumbs Up

The Unwritten #14
This issue opens by giving us a peek at the hilariously awful and cliched fake Tommy Taylor book, which makes a bunch of deliberately clumsy references to the His Dark Materials trilogy. We also get to see Lizzie using another method of communicating with Wilson, and the conspiracy's method of tracking it - "Someone's touching the grid." Then it turns out Savoy is still alive, but he's not exactly himself anymore - Count Ambrosio is looking out through his eyes. Meanwhile, Pullman casually kills an innocent stranger by turning the ladder he's climbing into insubstantial words. It's all brilliant, creative stuff, thrilling and disturbing. But with Lizzie gone back to where she came from, how will Tom make it on his own? I look forward to finding out.
Thumbs Up

New releases, back issues, and old data (6/16)
Heralds #2 & #3
I love the news report at the opening of #2, in which we learn S.W.O.R.D.'s hilarious cover story for the events of the previous issue: "Cirque Du Soleil has claimed full responsibility for the late night appearance of scientist-impersonators, aliens and dinosaurs!" She-Hulk's comment: "Puppets can make the bravest of us panic." Later, Patsy learns she missed out on a chance to fight a clone of Hitler and is very upset. Valkyrie has some amusing outbursts. I also like that Scott parked the Blackbird parked on top of the hotel for Emma. And Scott owned a Miata. Hee! Next up are some weird moments for Johnny Storm, including a short stay in a surreal mental landscape where Johnny and Frankie fight about their relationship. Did I mention I really love the art in both issues? Seeing the Thing and Valeria prance into the Baxter Building both wearing pink princess hats is wonderful. Patsy also expresses a truth about how weird it is to be a superhero: "We've all had other lives." Finally, it turns out it's a bad idea to shoot a former herald of Galactus with a big space gun, because it can turn her into a black hole. Whoops! All-in-all, good stuff. An interesting mix of humor, intense drama, sci-fi action, and complex character development.
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #1
Yes, another Avengers book by Bendis. I just can't resist them for some reason! This one explains how there can possibly be yet another Avengers team - turns out there's still some bad blood between the former renegade Avengers and the former official Avengers. Anticipating this, Tony and Steve sell Luke Cage and his buddies the newly renovated Avengers Mansion for a dollar and let them be Avengers over there, on their own terms. "Who do we get?" Luke asks. "Who do you want?" Steve answers, then quickly adds, "You can't have Thor or Iron Man." Heh. Meanwhile, some evil entity is going around possessing people. And at the end it makes Luke really big somehow? I don't know. It's your typical Avengers-level threat, I suppose. I don't think I need to read this book anymore. It has its moments, but it also has lots of Bendis-speak. Yuck.
Thumbs Sideways

New Mutants #13 & #14
Zeb Wells' New Mutants is currently being taken over by another of those multi-book mutant miniseries that seem to happen every other week. However, I don't collect any of the other books involved, which means these issues are two parts of a much larger story of which I haven't read any of the other parts. The laughably long "Previously..." summary at the front of each issue helps, but I still feel a bit lost. The short version is that that whole thing with Cable and Hope - the girl who's supposedly the last hope for mutantkind - is coming to head. Hope is now an annoying teenager, and the villains are trying to eliminate all the teleporters for some reason, which means lots of famous mutants are getting offed. Also, turns out Cyclops can kill people with his eye beams when he wants to. Huh.

I like the idea of using Legion against the enemy - dangerous but cool. And I like the art during the Legion sequences. But hey, dude, what the hell is with Rogue's costume? I know women superheroes tend to have ridiculous costumes, but jeez. Meanwhile, the mutants end up in a typical hopeless-looking last stand. A bit cliche, but reasonably well handled here. I also like the very ominous giant Sentinel thing that Wolverine and friends are fighting in the future. And how bad-ass Magneto is at the end. I'm not a fan of these big mutant storylines, but with the exception of a few cheesy sequences, Wells handles his part of it pretty well.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Gravel (Not), Mike Carey (Not), S.H.I.E.L.D. (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:43 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 7/22. These days I'm trying hard to omit the plot synopses, but I still might slip in a spoiler now and then, so be warned.

Aliens #2
As I suspected, the only survivor of last issue's massacre is the ship's artificial person, but I had so little time to get to know the characters that I don't remember which guy he is. There's a pretty weak and rather contrived explanation for how he ends up getting in contact with the girl who's trapped and surrounded by aliens - without thinking, he just follows the basic procedure for taking off in a landing craft and tries to contact the "tower" first, but of course there is no tower, and he knows that. The girl picks up his random transmission and asks him to come save her - which he stupidly agrees to do! Dude, wtf? The planet is full of people who want to kill you (and who succeeded in killing all of your friends) and monsters that want to kill you. Get out while the getting's good! But of course, if he did that, there wouldn't be a story, so out he goes. We get a little more backstory on what happened to the people on the planet, but there's still no real solid explanation for why they all went crazy. Then our hero mistakenly saves the murderers instead of the little girl he was trying to find. Whoops! That should make next issue rather awkward.

I'm still not sure about this series. The story seems a bit clumsily written and I'm having a hard time mustering up any interest in the characters. But I'll hang in there for a bit longer. Maybe it'll go somewhere eventually.
Thumbs Sideways

The Amazing Spider-Man #600
I haven't bought a Spider-Man comic in a while, but I figured since it was the giant-sized, super-special 600th issue, I should make an exception. Believe it or not, there are actually seven separate stories in this thing. The first is the longest and tells the tale of the return of Doctor Octopus and the marriage of Aunt May to J. Jonah Jameson's dad (this is another one of those times in comics where it's hard not to stop and think, "Wait a minute, how old are these people now?!" But it's usually best to think of the characters as ageless and timeless and leave it at that). Dan Slott takes on writing duties, and John Romita, Jr. provides the pencils. I usually really dislike Slott's work, but he's not terrible here, and I always love John Romita, Jr.'s stuff. I like that there's actually consequences to an average human like Doc Ock getting bashed about all the time by superhumans. I'm a little sad that The Bar With No Name got trashed, but then again, it's happened before and the place has come back. I enjoy the scene where Blindside thinks he's got the drop on Daredevil when he uses special chemicals to make him... blind. Whoops! I also like the idea of the city of New York rising up to try to kill Spider-Man, and to try to stop Aunt May's wedding, all because Doc Ock is plugged into the infrastructure and his subconscious is full of hate and jealousy. Spider-Man has a few amusing comments, too, like his argument with Ronin over what the team is called, since there are three or four or five different "Avengers" these days. Also funny and effective is the relationship between the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, especially between Spider-Man and the Human Torch. I like that they remind us that Peter Parker is actually a pretty damn smart guy with some pretty mighty brainwave patterns of his own. In the end it's hard not to feel bad for Doc Ock; after all, he just wanted to do something great before his time ran out. Sure, he went about doing it in a psychopathic, megalomaniacal way, but he tried. Aww, and the FF gave Spider-Man an FF hoodie to cover up his burned off costume! I wish I had one of those. The marriage scene is actually quite touching, and I really enjoyed the classic byplay between Parker and JJJ. And then of course there's the rather dramatic return of MJ, which is fun. It's actually a surprisingly good story.

In between stories are a series of comedic illustrations: "Amazing Spider-Man Covers You'll Never See." The last one, which features a team-up between Batman and Spider-Man, is probably the best, but they're all reasonably clever and funny.

The next story is "Identity Crisis" by Stan Lee, with art by Marcos Martin, and is done totally for laughs. Spider-Man visits a psychiatrist named Dr. Gray Madder (who looks a bit like Stan Lee, actually) and tells him about all the craziest stuff that's happened to him through the years, in the hopes that the doctor can help him understand it and get past it. But Spider-Man's stories are so insane, they just end up driving the doctor crazy, too! It's not the best story ever, but it's fun for what it is.

"My Brother's Son," by Mark Waid with art by Colleen Doran, might be my favorite story in the book. It's about the relationship between Uncle Ben and a young Peter, and even though I saw the end coming, it's still a really sweet and moving story. The next one is also pretty cute. It's "If I Was Spider-Man..." by Bob Gale with art by Mario Alberti. Pete is sitting by a playground jungle gym and hears a bunch of kids discussing what it'd be like to be Spider-Man. At first one of them thinks it would be awesome, but the others convince him it would actually be a huge pain in the ass. Pete quietly, laughingly agrees, and wanders off to wash his costume at the laundromat.

Another rather sweet and moving story is "The Blessing" by Marc Guggenheim with art by Mitch Breitweiser. It's about Aunt May learning not to feel guilty about moving on and loving someone else now that Uncle Ben is gone. It's a bit corny, but still effective for all that.

"Fight at the Museum" by Zeb Wells with art by Derec Donovan is pretty funny, offering some meta, postmodern commentary on the history of Spider-Man. Pete and his friend are visiting a museum exhibit on superhero design when Pete is embarrassed to discover a bunch of folks standing around making fun of the Spider-Mobile (including a dude on a Segway who is clearly the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons). But he is moved to tears when one of the kids gets yelled at by his mom for making fun of Spider-Man; she points out that Spider-Man is a national hero and even saved the kid's father from a burning building.

The final story in the book I didn't really get, but it's possible I wasn't really supposed to. It's called "Violent Visions" and stars some character I've never heard of named Madame Web. She has some disturbing visions about the various spider-related characters of the Marvel Universe and their enemies, and then has an unfortunate run-in with a mysterious, and seemingly villainous, mother/daughter pair. The inset text at the end suggests this story is meant to be a prologue or setup for what's to come in future issues of Amazing Spider-Man, so it was probably meant to leave me confused and intrigued. Although I'm more the former than the latter.

But overall, this was really not a bad comic.
Thumbs Up

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2
We open with Geoff Johns' tale of how a sexy, winged alien princess went from being a sex slave to the Sinestro Corps to being the newest member of the Red Lantern Corps. Besides the gratuitous shower sequence, it's pretty lame. Johns also provides the words for the next story, "Lost Love," which is about how Carol Ferris is once again convinced to become a Star Sapphire. There are some flashbacks and some dime store psychoanalysis, and then Ferris is popping out of a pink crystal in a ridiculously revealing swimsuit screaming like she's having an orgasm. Jesus Christ I hate this Star Sapphire shit.

The final story, by Peter J. Tomasi, is actually a pretty neat, almost Twilight Zone-style parable about hunger and greed and what is considered valuable. If this story weren't here, the book would be a complete loss. In the back is a short essay by artist Ethan Van Sciver about the symbols of the various Lantern Corps - how they were designed, what they mean, etc. Kind of interesting.

I never thought I'd enjoy Peter J. Tomasi's writing more than Geoff Johns', but that definitely happened here. I think maybe the problem with Johns is that he's taken so many projects on, he can't afford to spend much time on any of them, so they all end up coming out half-assed.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #15
Sadly this is the final issue of this great series, but the good news is that Cornell takes us out with a bang, tying up all the loose ends in a very satisfying and effective manner. The complete nature of Wisdom's incredibly clever and bad-ass plan is finally revealed, and Dracula and his friends don't weather it well. Some more British heroes I've never heard of show up to help out. I like the use of holy water mist, the cold way Blade dispatches Ken, and the absolutely awesome way Faiza dispatches Dracula. I also found myself powerfully moved by Captain Britain getting back together with his wife. "Brian — all I ever needed of you — my hope in hell — was that you'd stay the same." Then there's a very pleasant, appropriately British conclusion to everything. It's excellent stuff.
Thumbs Up

Dark Wolverine #76
We open with a discussion of meetings and what they mean philosophically and strategically, while Daken and Osborn continue to play a little chess game with each other, using the other Avengers and the Fantastic Four as their pawns. Daken is even trying to manipulate Osborn directly. His ultimate goal seems to be to turn everyone against each other and then sit back and watch while everything explodes. Daken is so convincing even I almost believed what he told the Fantastic Four. But it's not clear at the end whether Daken or Osborn has gotten the best of things.

I'm really loving Giuseppe Camuncoli's art here, and Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu's clever writing. I particularly like the way the FF are written.
Thumbs Up

Dethklok Versus The Goon
I've been looking forward to this rather unlikely one-shot since it was first announced. It's a combination of two of my favorite things: the brutal metal band from Cartoon Network's insane animated series Metalocalypse and Eric Powell's zombie-fighting anti-hero, The Goon. Powell does the writing and the art, with Brendon Small (creator of Metalocalypse) providing some dialog and plot assists. The colors are by Dave Stewart. The book opens with a warning (written in that special Dethklok way) for nerds and fanboys to not try to fit the story contained within into any existing continuity. Fair enough. The story itself begins as any episode of Metalocalypse begins: with a meeting of the secret group who are keeping a careful eye on the actions of everybody's favorite metal band. Hilariously, it turns out that William Murderface is the ultimate outcome of a secret breeding program attempting to create the perfect anti-human. Reminds me a bit of the Bene Gesserit breeding program attempting to create the perfect being: the Kwisatz Haderach. Anyway, to keep the anti-human from destroying everything, a programmed assassin dressed like a creepy clown is sent in to take out Dethklok once and for all, but ironically the code phrase chosen to toggle his killer programming is "peaches valentine," which any Goon fan knows is going to lead to hilarity down the line. I love Dethklok's marketing idea of shooting a thousand bald eagles out of a cannon into George Washington's face on Mt. Rushmore, and their belief that this is somehow patriotic. Anyway, a wizard dude shows up to activate Murderface's perfect anti-humanity and thereby take over the world, but he's shot dead in the middle of the act by the security people at the Dethklok castle. This somehow causes a space-time vortex that sucks Dethklok's castle into the Goon's universe. Despite the fact that something really weird has happened, the band isn't even interested in going outside and looking around until they realize the cable is out and they have no booze. And once they do go outside, they mistake the Goon's town for Cleveland. When they go into Norton's, they see the various monsters and decide a costume party is going on, which gives one band member the chance to finally use the inflatable Incredible Hulk chest muscles that he apparently always wears under his shirt, just in case. Heh.

Anyway, the collision of these two universes leads to some really horrible, awful things, like Franky taking cocaine and going wild; a member of Dethklok sleeping with Ma Norton; other members of Dethklok getting horrible things done to them by the Hairy Walnuts Gang; the townspeople becoming suicidal upon hearing the music of Dethklok; and lots and lots of people being mutilated or killed, including a couple of the main characters. Also, the Goon gets to have a thought balloon, which he decides is a first for him.

This is a pretty clever and funny comic that's true to the spirit of both the franchises that spawned it. That being said, I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I could have. It was just a little too disgusting and disturbing for me. Maybe if I read it again in a little while I'll feel differently, but for now...
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #3
This issue came out during Comic-Con, which I hope was on purpose, because the story works as a very clever and funny satire of fan conventions like Comic-Con. It opens with the team visiting a convention celebrating them: the first Super Young Team Fanfest Extravaganza. They find themselves distracted by all the pretty people dressed like them. Perpetually unable to make any headway with the real Shiny Happy Aquazon, Big Atomic Lantern Boy sneaks off for a dalliance with a fake one, while the real Aquazon has a similar encounter with a Sonic Lightning Flash impersonator. But funniest of all is when Superbat makes out with a girl dressed like him and tweets, "Sometimes dreams can come true." Meanwhile, an evil Nazi-like secret society called The Parasitic Teutons of Assimilation (the P.T.A. - heh) are planning to take over the world, starting with the con. They're very appropriate enemies, given the context; they're a horde of zealots able to copy the powers of the Super Young Team. It amuses me that there are multiple people podcasting from the floor of the Extravaganza, and that Superbat misses the entire fight while making out with his own double. Interestingly, that old Japanese superhero seems to have made some kind of deal with a great and mysterious power, and may have just taken down the villains who have been trying to distract the Super Young Team from doing their duty. Although oddly enough that doesn't look like it's really a good thing. And now the team appears to be breaking up!

Really loving this book. This may have been one of my favorite issues yet. Very smart, very funny, very exciting, and lots of effective character development.

In the back is a preview for Adventure Comics #1. It's Conner Kent, the reborn Superclone, trying to catch up on all the life he's missed by doing all the stuff the real Superman did. It looks kind of cute. I'll probably pick up the book when it comes out.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5
Geoff Johns' long-delayed Final Crisis tie-in miniseries finally comes to an end. And good lord is that end crazy and confusing, and accompanied by plenty of corny, melodramatic dialog. I thought all the Legions had already been pulled together in previous issues, but in this one, even more Legionnaires are called in for an even more insanely huge and epic battle against the Time Trapper and Superboy Prime. But ironically ultimate victory is only gained when our heroes bring their two enemies together, who neatly destroy each other. Prime is somehow sent back to his own planet, before it was destroyed. Mindbendingly, on this planet, this comic book miniseries also exists, and by reading it, Superboy Prime's disappointed and horrified parents have learned about all the terrible things he's done. Superboy Prime reads it, too, and makes some amusing meta commentary. Referring to the book's infamous difficulty with sticking to its release schedule, he complains, "I've been waiting for this stupid thing to end." On the next page he looks back over his shoulder at us and says, "Stop staring at me! This isn't right! You all know it. I was supposed to be the real Superboy! No, I'm not going away! You go away! Get out of here! They think I'm powerless. They think I can't do anything from here. They're wrong. They'll never get rid of me. I always survive." As he's saying these last few lines, he's visiting the DC website and typing something on his keyboard. It's a pretty hilarious and clever ending. The comic book fans and the Legion both hate Superboy Prime and want him to go away, but now he's become one of those annoying fans himself, hanging around in his parents' basement and cursing people off on the internet. Fantastic.

Overall this was a pretty fun and impressive series, but it kept one-upping itself so many times that it got a little ridiculous by the end. Plus the writing really did get quite corny and melodramatic.
Thumbs Sideways

Gotham City Sirens #2
A convenient (but reasonably believable) retcon saves Selina from giving up the true identity of Batman; instead, she offers an actually far more realistic explanation - that Batman is a part that's been played by many different people over the years. Then Harley gets herself kidnapped by the new Bruce Wayne, who's actually Hush. Ugh! Hush is going to come into this? I'm starting to lose my taste for this series. It's okay, but it's not great, and the writing's a little clumsy. I might just give up on it.
Thumbs Sideways

Green Lantern #44
Blackest Night continues! Hal Jordan and Barry Allen have a big fight with the newly resurrected Martian Manhunter. Interestingly, something weird happens to Barry when he touches that icky residue the Black Lanterns leave behind. Also, when J'onn looks at them, he sees Hal outlined in green ("Will") and Barry outlined in blue ("Hope"). He tries manipulating the two of them by bringing up the dark things from their past; when he scares Barry, he suddenly senses "Fear" in the same way he earlier sensed Hope. Apparently he can see in the emotional spectrum now. Does this mean Barry will be getting a blue or yellow ring later on? Or is J'onn just seeing the emotion Barry happens to feeling the strongest at the moment? Hmm. I like when J'onn says, "I'm as powerful as Superman. Why doesn't anyone ever remember that?" Then Scar points out he's not really betraying the Guardians - he's actually finally fulfilling their purpose. He's bringing order to the universe. Emotions cause chaos, so why not destroy them all? He goes on, "I learned this as my body died from the poisonous burn of the Anti-Monitor." Ah, so he's been dead and secretly a zombie for some time! He also says, "The Black Lanterns are collecting hearts full of the splintered light." That explains some things - it's the people who are most full of conflicted emotion that they're going after first. Next episode it looks like a whole planet full of dead people are coming back! I have to admit, Blackest Night is growing on me. This was a pretty interesting issue.
Thumbs Sideways

Immortal Weapons #1
Each issue of this new miniseries will focus on another member of the titular group of eternal warriors, of which the Iron Fist is the best known member. This first issue, written by Jason Aaron and with art by a whole team of folks, takes a look at Fat Cobra. Cobra is a rather ridiculous character, so I guess I was expecting a rather ridiculous story - fun and silly - but with Aaron at the wheel, I should have known better. Many parts of it are indeed darkly funny, but ultimately it takes the form of a rather horrific tragedy. It turns out Fat Cobra has lived so long and drank so much, he's forgotten most of the details of his life, so he's hired a man to research his past for him and write his biography. But Cobra's life story is not the glamorous, impressive tale of adventure and success he expected. Instead, it's full of shame, defeat, and dirty deeds. Some of the best sequences: Fat Cobra serves as a sidekick for Ulysses Bloodstone, and is the sole survivor of a team of kung fu commandos put together by Union Jack to take down "Hitler's secret death squad of S.S. ninjas led by the notorious butcher Herr Samurai." Later he beats Hercules, Volstagg, and what looks like Goom in an eating contest on Olympus, then joins Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. in defeating a team of Russian werewolves who'd overrun the American moon base. A quick glimpse of Fat Cobra's various romantic conquests reveals a Skrull and somebody who looks like Lilandra. A more detailed romantic sequence starts as a fight, with each of the kung fu moves named in narrative boxes, as is traditional (Diamond Slow Knife-Hand, Elbow of a Thousand Agonies), but then things take a turn for the passionate and the scene continues with each of the love-making moves being named in the same way (Kneading the Golden Dough, The Peddling Tortoise).

What Cobra really wants to hear, of course, is the story of his greatest triumph: how he defeated the Great Dragon and became an Immortal Weapon. But it turns out that wrapped up in the story of his greatest triumph is the story of his most shameful and terrible act. It's a powerful and moving tale. And in the end Cobra chooses to once again forget all about it, as he must have done many times before. Excellent stuff.

Next up is a backup story which will probably continue throughout each issue of this series. It's called "Caretakers," and it's about the Iron Fist trying to help a troubled student. It's by Duane Swierczynski, with art by Travel Foreman. It's okay so far, although I have the bad feeling it's going to get a bit preachy later on.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hercules #131
It's Hercules vs. Hercules, in a fight full of the clever sound effects and melodramatic, cheesy dialog I've come to expect from this book. As far as sound effects go, a couple of my favorites are BOSCH and ARDHISDOREE; these describe the noise of the twins kicking each other through and over a scene that looks like it's straight out of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Plotwise, Cho makes an exciting and disturbing discovery about his sister, which turns him against Athena and Hercules, and Zeus sort of reboots himself by drinking the waters of Lethe. These events should lead to some interesting new directions for the story. Although I again find myself tiring of Pak's writing, I'll probably hang in there for at least one more issue, just to see what this whole "Thorcules" thing is about, and to see if Cho ends up going anywhere interesting in the search for his sister (hey wait - this didn't just become The X-Files, did it??)
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hulk #600
Because I like the Hulk, and because this was a big, historic issue, I decided to buy it, despite the fact that most of it is written by the archenemy of all that is good, Jeph Loeb. Loeb's first utterly ridiculous tale, which is also the main story in the book, is narrated by Ben Urich. In the story, he and Peter Parker play the parts of Woodward and Bernstein, and She-Hulk plays the part of Deep Throat. The Watergate comparison isn't my idea, by the way; Loeb actually makes the comparison himself in the text, despite the fact that it's completely inappropriate. In this case, the conspiracy that Urich and Pete are investigating reaches all the way back to the end of World War Hulk. It turns out that M.O.D.O.K. and General Ross, as part of yet another top secret super soldier program (sigh. Don't they have enough super soldiers yet?), had the presence of mind to tamper with the beam that Tony Stark shot the Hulk with, somehow creating the Red Hulk. She-Hulk starts Urich on the path to discovering all this by calling him and meeting him in a parking garage, where she tells him some tantalizing secrets from the shadows, but then almost immediately reveals her identity to him despite all her paranoia. This is all accompanied by plenty of brilliant Jeph Loeb dialog. Later, Parker and Urich are asked to put on A.I.M. beekeeper outfits, and She-Hulk says, "They're not for bees. They never were." Really?? I never would have guessed. I figured all A.I.M. did was keep bees! "What then?" Urich asks. "Radiation," she says. Dun dun dun! Or, more appropriately, duh duh duh! She-Hulk and Doc Samson keep speaking of Red Hulk as "he," like he's this horrible, unnameable thing. They see M.O.D.O.K. and Parker says, "Some guy with a big head is blocking the view." Samson responds, "That guy isn't with a big head... that guy is the big head." Wow. How long did it take you to come up with that one, Jeph? Then it turns out Samson has been brainwashed and has his own split personality now. "The good doctor is out," he says. "The bad doctor is in." Really? I mean... really? Also, the bad doctor is apparently somehow stronger and faster than the good doctor, even though that makes no sense. Spider-Man has equally stupid things to say - which are apparently meant to be funny - about rats and spiders and Albuquerque and the film adaptation of Watchmen. Later he tries to say a well known cliche, but messes it up. Then the Red Hulk somehow sucks the Hulk out of Banner. So I guess Banner isn't going to be the Hulk anymore. Which is lame.

Later Urich is walking in that parking garage again and this time the Red Hulk peeks out of the shadows to threaten him and his friends with death if he prints his story about all this madness. Seriously? The Red Hulk is hiding in a parking garage to threaten Ben Urich? Why exactly would he not just kill him? In fact, why wouldn't he just kill all of them? Why is he hiding? Since when do supervillains care about keeping their villainy secret? The story is stupid, nonsensical, and incredibly poorly written.

The next story is a very silly comedic story called "A Hulk of Many Colors." It's written by Stan Lee with art by Rodney Buchemi. As usual, Lee cameos in his own story, this time as a random military guy in a helicopter. The story itself is about the Hulk and the Red Hulk fighting. Something called the Wendihulk also shows up briefly. Galactus arrives just in time for the punchline - when asked if he can help by smashing the Red Hulk and saving the green Hulk, he says he won't be able to, because he's color blind. Argh! (I should point out that despite the fact that this is just a pointless bit of fluff full of weak jokes that only occasionally illicit a mild chuckle, it's still better than Loeb's story.)

The next bad story is by Fred Van Lente, and it's about "The All New Savage She-Hulk," Lyra. I've never been able to dredge up much interest in this character, and this story didn't help. It's about how she beats some techno-mages who are trying to take over the world by interpreting a prophecy. To put it another way, she solves a rather dumb riddle which reveals that she needs to punch a dude's heart out to kill him. Uh, regardless of what any prophecies might say, punching a dude's heart out usually is a good thing to try if you want to kill him.

I really wanted to like the final story. It's the first part of a six part series called Hulk: Gray, retelling the origin story of the Hulk. It has beautiful art throughout by Tim Sale, but sadly it also has terrible writing throughout by Jeph Loeb. In the frame story, Bruce has come to see Doc Samson on his wedding anniversary, and Samson seeks to help him by having him talk about his past. There's a really lame bit where Doc has Banner look at pictures of people he knows and say the first word that comes to mind. It's just a really weak excuse to get in some backstory and exposition. Then we finally get into a full-on flashback and the origin story begins in earnest. My favorite part is when Banner transforms in the doctor's office and we get to see the Hulk for the first time. The art here is just fantastic. Later there's a great panel that spreads across the entire width of the page, filled completely with the Hulk's massive back and shoulder, with just the corner of his face and his eye peeking up at the top right corner. Directly after this is a two-page splash of him smashing an army jeep. It's good stuff. It helps that during this sequence there is hardly any dialog - just the Hulk doing his thing. If only Jeph Loeb hadn't been the writer on this title, it might have turned out really well.

The rest of the book is a series of ads for future Hulk-related books. Loeb's Hulk #13 is advertised with the phrase "Hulk no more!" What the point is of a book called Hulk with no Hulk in it, I don't know. Incredible Hulk #601's teaser phrase is "Banner and son!" So it looks like this book will be focusing on Skaar as well as Banner from now on. Meanwhile, Incredible Hercules #133 promises to tell the "Secret Origin of Amadeus Cho." In the very back of the book is the traditional (by now, anyway) cover gallery, giving you little thumbnail-sized reprints of every cover of every book that Hulk ever starred in (although I believe they've gone a bit overboard and also included early issues of Tales to Astonish that didn't include him at all). This is kind of a cool feature, but it's hard to really get much out of it, as the covers have been made so tiny in order to fit them all in that it's almost impossible to get a good look at any of them.

After all of this are two final comedic one-page stories with fun cartoon art by Chris Giarrusso and writing by Jeph Loeb's daughter, Audrey Loeb. The first story is Green Hulk trying to pass his driver's test while Red Hulk and Blue Hulk sit in the back seat. Then Green Hulk tries working at HulkDonald's, but Red Hulk and Blue Hulk take too long ordering food. Needless to say, both stories end with disaster. They're kind of cute, but not as fun as it seems like they could be.

There are some moments of brilliance in this extra-large comic, but they're few and far between. The great majority of it is just garbage. It's really a shame.
Thumbs Down

The Incredibles #4
The first of what I hope will be multiple Incredibles miniseries comes to an end with this issue. It's action-packed and exciting, with moving character development, cool ideas, and amusing comedy. I love that the villain turns out to be, not an old enemy of Mr. Incredible as he suspected, but an old enemy of Elastigirl who tracked her down and became her neighbor, biding her time and planning to weaken her with power-stealing cookies, then strike when she was powerless. But Mr. Incredible unknowingly foiled her plan by eating all the food she sent over! Heh. Now Mr. Incredible has to foil her again, this time on purpose, and he does so brilliantly by having Dash sneak the defused devolution bomb into Futurion's prison cell so he'll fix it and Dash can run it back and use it to save them all. Both families, of course, have learned an important lesson: keeping big secrets from each other can get you all in serious trouble. There's also a really sweet ending where Violet has a cute chat with her boyfriend. Aww.

They've really captured everything that was great about The Incredibles and taken the story in a fun new direction. I hope more is one the way and soon!
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #36
This is a one-off tale from guest writer Chris Roberson about a time in Jack's life when he happened to stumble upon an enclave of Fable apes living together in the African jungle. When he first meets them, he quotes Planet of the Apes ("Get your paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"), and later another ape nicknames him "Bright Eyes." The apes have among their ranks pretty much every famous fictional ape: Curious George, the orangutans from those Clint Eastwood movies, King Kong, Magilla Gorilla, and so forth. Jack becomes their Tarzan, accepting an ape named Jane as his companion. (Yes, that kind of companion. Eeww.) Naturally, because he's Jack, he treats all the apes terribly and eventually abandons them. The story is reasonably amusing, and Tony Akins' art is excellent as always, but overall it's definitely not my favorite Jack of Fables tale ever.

In the back is a sneak preview of an upcoming graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos called Filthy Rich. It looks to be a classic crime noir story about a guy hired to keep a rich man's femme fatale daughter out of the papers. But it's clear from the very beginning she's going to pull him in over his head. Azzarello seems to be taking the classic archetypes and doing them up right. I'm tempted to check it out.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Spock - Reflections #1
This interesting new miniseries from IDW is set some time late in the Next Generation era (although presumably before the events of the recent movie prequel miniseries). It opens with Spock, having spent some time on Romulus as a teacher, leaving the planet to return to Earth, for reasons not yet explained. During the journey, a conversation with a rather pesky fellow passenger causes him to flash back to various moments throughout his past. A particularly fascinating scene sees him meeting with Captain Harriman, the man who took over the Enterprise B after the events of Star Trek: Generations. There are some fascinating emotions at play in the scene. Harriman, who was little more than a stereotype in the film, becomes a whole person in this book, with complex feelings of guilt and shame swirling in him, while Spock fights back his own set of complex emotions. Then we get to see another telling flashback, this time from Spock's childhood, developing his character further and illuminating the complicated relationship between him and his father. This is a surprisingly good comic, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #3
In the first two entries of the latest episode of Wednesday Comics, Batman listens in on an interesting conversation, while Kamandi meets up with another of his buddies and makes a startling discovery: a human girl! Superman, which took a dip in quality last week, is slightly better this week, as Clark decides to cure his ennui by flying back home to Smallville and hanging out with Ma and Pa. Deadman gets more interesting and more surreal as our title character falls through the swirling nightmare effect from Vertigo and into a flaming hell where he gains the solidity of the living again - although perhaps only for a brief time. I'm still surprised to be enjoying Green Lantern as much as I am. Hal has barely gotten through being fawned over by the crowd in the bar when he sees his buddy transform into a hideous alien on live TV and has to fly out again. It's great stuff. Metamorpho is following the same format as last week, with one big panel up top depicting all the action occurring simultaneously, and tiny panels down the bottom feature another amusing message from "The Metamorpho Fans of America." I could wish this one was moving along a little faster, but it's so pretty and so intriguing I'll give it a pass. As for Teen Titans... yep, still sucks. And Strange Adventures is still ridiculously awesome. The lush, beautiful art; the totally fun, over-the-top pulp sci-fi dialog - it's brilliant. The cutesy Supergirl and the bland, though unobjectionable, Metal Men both fail to interest me. And I just can't believe how poorly done Wonder Woman is. There are so many tiny panels, so tightly packed, that you practically need a magnifying glass to follow what's going on. And once you figure it out, you realize it wasn't worth the effort. Dull and dumb. I had high hopes for Sgt. Rock and Easy Co., but I'm starting to get a little frustrated with it. It really needs to start going somewhere soon. I feel like Rock has been getting beaten and Easy Company has been wandering randomly in caves forever. Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Iris West and The Flash just keeps getting better. When Iris leaves both past Flash and future Flash again, they put their heads together and try to go even further into the past to give it another go, but find themselves instead zipping into the far future by mistake, and meeting yet another version of the Flash, who uses "Ether-Wiki" to fill them in on what's going to happen to Iris. It's totally brilliant. The real villain shows up in The Demon and Catwoman and Catwoman's name suddenly gets a bit more appropriate. Fun. Hawkman has gotten a bit better now that our titular character is fighting an alien, but it's still pretty clumsily written.

As usual, I find myself charmed by the overall experience of Wednesday Comics, even though some of its individual parts are less than great.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Blackest Night (Not), Captain Britain (Not), Comic books (Not), Duane Swierczynski (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Hulk (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Legion of Super-Heroes (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Goon (Not), The Take (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not), Wolverine (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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Thursday, January 8, 2009 03:58 PM
(Last updated on Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:36 AM)
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 1/2.

Batman #684
Oh no! I bought a Denny O'Neil comic by mistake!

Don't get me wrong: I don't hate Denny O'Neil. I appreciate what he's done for comics, for Batman, and what he did with the Batman animated series. But the sad fact is that he's actually not very good at writing comics. And this comic is a good example of why. It's actually the second part of a two-part story that started in another comic (Detective Comics #851) that I didn't read. It sees Nightwing solving a mystery involving some stolen jewels and a Two-Face copycat. But he makes a lot of mistakes along the way, and beats himself up about it maybe more than he would usually, because now he's trying to pick up the slack for the missing Batman. He doesn't even want to think of himself as trying to fill those shoes, but Alfred gently pushes him in that direction, giving him the keys to a Batmobile when his bike gets stolen. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon is also having a hard time dealing with the idea that there's no Batman around, and that he has to settle for Nightwing instead.

It's a decent story, reasonably interesting, with some good character development. Plus, the art, by Guillem March, is fantastic. But O'Neil packs it with way too much cheesy narration, and gives his characters some seriously bad dialogue to say. ("Just call me Mister Snoopy-Pants" is not exactly the best hero comeback line I've ever read.)

Not my favorite issue of Batman ever, especially since I was expecting another fragment of weird brilliance from Grant Morrison. It looks like next issue is part of DC's big Faces of Evil event, and focuses on Catwoman. I'm not clear on who'll be writing that one, but I'll probably take a closer look at the cover before I pick it up this time.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman: Cacophony #2
It's really interesting reading the characterization of Joker in this book and comparing it to Morrison's Joker in Batman, and the Joker in The Dark Knight. In this comic, Batman describes the Joker as fairly predictable, and ridicules his fighting style. When Joker says he's Batman's greatest enemy, Batman scoffs that he's gone soft and he wouldn't even put him among his top 16 enemies anymore. In fact, in this story it turns out the Joker is merely bait laid out by Onomatopoeia. It's a far cry from the deadly dangerous mystical avatar of murderous genius that Morrison describes, and a far cry too from the equally dangerous and completely unpredictable character Heath Ledger played so well in the recent Batman film.

All that being said, I love this Joker, too. I love his hilarious dialogue; the vision of him as a Bat-Mite DJ at the beginning; the way he casually murders his henchmen; his rage at Maxie Zeus for turning his poison into a designer drug; and his silly gag weapons, like the giant hammer and ridiculously long-barreled gun. This may not be the same Joker that we've seen recently, but it is unquestionably faithful to the character's history - and entertaining to boot.

In general this is a very entertaining and funny comic, and I remain fascinated by Onomatopoeia and curious to see what his motives are here. The only flaw is the way Smith writes Batman. He makes him far too earnest, talky, and fallible. When Joker leaves a note for him that reads "Eat it Emo-Boy," it's funny because it's true.

Still it's a small flaw, especially since Batman is only one character among many here. I'll be tuning in for the final episode.
Thumbs Up

Captain America #45
Turns out the cloaked dude from the last issue does have a name: The Man with No Face. I Googled him and it looks like he was a villain from the 1950s Captain America comics. Bucky was able to disable him long enough to escape during his 1968 mission in China, but now the Man with No Face is back, and presumably so is his boss, Professor Chin. The suggestion is that it's Chin who's calling the shots in the present day heist of the mysterious cargo from the UN. The interesting part is that (spoiler alert!) that cargo is in fact the remains of the original Human Torch, and Bucky knows from a look into Chin's lab in 1968 that Chin has something really horrible in store for the Torch - something Bucky only hints at here.

Exciting stuff! I wish Brubaker's writing were a bit stronger, but he's got me hooked on the story. I'm fascinated by the original Human Torch, and I think it's interesting that Brubaker is bringing that character into this story, especially considering a recent connection I discovered between Bucky's Winter Soldier story and the story of the Human Torch. I read in my favorite Christmas present, a book called The Marvel Vault, that when they brought the Human Torch back in the '50s, his sidekick, Toro, was revealed to have been brainwashed into working for the Commies. Ah ha! So that's where you lifted your plot from, Brubaker! I wonder if he'll just ignore that storyline, since it's so similar to the one he wrote for Bucky, or if he will mention it, and use the similarities to create more drama? I'll just have to wait and see.
Thumbs Sideways

The Goon #31
I didn't realize that The Goon hasn't always been a monthly book. Because everything is done by Eric Powell himself, it usually takes him so long to finish each issue that he can't really sustain that kind of pace. But he committed to making it monthly for a whole year, and this is the last issue of that year's worth of comics, an issue that wraps up not just the story arc he's been building this year, but also a lot of the stuff he's been doing with the book since its origin. There's a big brutal showdown with lots of death and violence. Most of our main characters come out of it alive, but none of them unchanged or unscarred. There's also a rather melodramatic, soap operatic plot twist before the end ([spoiler]Goon has a son!! But he doesn't know!!! Because the kid's mother told only one other person, and that person happens to have an unrequited love for the Goon and is too jealous to tell him!!!![/spoiler]).

It's a pretty decent issue, exciting and dramatic. But I can't say I loved it. As I've said before in the past, Eric Powell's strong point as a writer is not serious drama. He's much better at the kind of goofy insane comedy The Goon used to be full of. This issue is almost entirely serious drama, with only one panel that can be described as comedic. So it tends a bit towards the cheesy melodrama. Still, the art is excellent, as always, and the story is mostly effective.

Sadly, with this issue done, The Goon will apparently go on hiatus for some time, possibly until March, when there's supposed to be a special tenth anniversary book coming out. I'll keep my eyes open for that.
Thumbs Sideways

Green Lantern #36
The Rage of the Red Lanterns storyline continues in this issue, with Sinestro now imprisoned by the Red instead of the Green Lanterns, but still smug and defiant - until Atrocitus uses a bit of magic and reveals that he now knows about Sinestro's daughter. Hmm. That's interesting. Meanwhile, Hal learns more about what Ganthet's been up to with the Blue Lanterns (whose power is based on hope), and what his future with them is expected to be. Ganthet and the Blues are convinced that Sinestro is very important to the fate of the universe, so they plan to save him, and it looks like Hal is going along for the ride. It also looks like John Stewart might have his own problems to prepare for; a Star Sapphire appears to be on the lookout for him.

I'm still really enjoying the epic mythology Johns is building in these books, with all the different Lanterns and their various powers, and the fateful conflict they're all flying towards. It's exciting stuff.
Thumbs Up

Incognito #1
This book I've been looking forward to for a long time. It's the first issue of a new miniseries from the Criminal team of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples. They're actually dropping Criminal for a while to work on this. It's set in a superhero universe akin to those of Marvel or DC, but with more of a pulp feel to it. The main character is a supervillain who testified against his boss and went into the witness protection program. He's taking a drug that dampens his powers and has a crummy, mindless job as a file clerk in an office. He hates the dull daily grind, and feels like an alien amongst all of these hopeless normals. He starts taking some drugs to help him get through the day, but they have the unexpected side effect of reactivating his super powers. Almost by mistake, he ends up using them in classic superhero fashion, saving a lady from muggers in an alley. He thinks it was just a harmless fling, but it may have brought him to the attention of his former bosses, who until know thought he was dead. Uh oh!

I was expecting a lot from this book. Criminal, but with super powers? Awesome! It doesn't quite live up to my incredibly high expectations, but it's still quite good, with an interesting character at the center, and it has the potential to get even better as it goes on, so I'll definitely be sticking with it.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #29
The epic war between Fables has begun in earnest! There's lots of fighting in this one, plus the usual humorous moments and excellent art throughout. Jack the fearless leader does very little that's actually helpful, although he does express a great love of tacos. It doesn't look good for the folks at the Golden Boughs, until Gary talks Revise into opening up a secret room full of books, where it seems Revise will reverse his life's work, and give the Fables back their full powers so they can fight back against Bookburner. In other words, this little conflict is going to end up fixing all the world's problems! Maybe. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #4
Yay, Punisher! Schitti spends this issue totally wasted on the drug he was shot up with at the end of last issue, which is the source of much comedy. There's a wonderful scene in which a dumb mobster pees in Schitti's fridge. Then poor Molly Von Richtofen gets trapped in the bathroom of Schitti's house, surrounded by mobsters. And the Punisher and Schitti get trapped by Elite. That's lots of trapping! It doesn't look good for our heroes!

I'm not sure what else to say about this series that I haven't said already. It's clever, twisted, funny, exciting, shocking, imaginative, and the art is excellent. I'm loving it way more than I thought I would.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #24
This comic almost gave me a heart attack. Chief Red Crow is trying to avoid conflict while he's looking over Gina's spirit, but his man Shunka makes him realize how terrible Mr. Brass is, and that something has to be done about him immediately. Unwilling to let anyone else take the heat for it (moving against the Hmongs means declaring war), Red Crow grabs a gun and goes after Mr. Brass himself. We find ourselves back at the moment we saw at the beginning of this storyline, with Red Crow apologizing to Gina's spirit before walking into a roadside bar. There he finds Brass torturing Dino. Oh no! This is where my heart really started beating fast. Like, nearly out of my chest. Crap goes down. People get shot. It's intense and dramatic. And then, to my surprise, Red Crow does not execute Brass (as I was kind of hoping he would) - he arrests him! I'd almost forgotten he was a policeman, too. Heh.

Throughout the issue, we also get Red Crow's flashbacks to some of his more violent encounters with Gina, and at the end, he returns her spirit to Granny Poor Bear, giving up on the idea of being "good," and going back to his old ways: doing whatever he feels he has to to protect the rez, and drowning his sorrows in drink and women.

It's another powerful, brutal issue with deep, insightful character development at its heart.
Thumbs Up

War Machine #1
The new ongoing series focusing on Tony Stark's friend Jim Rhodes debuts here, and it's all tied in with Dark Reign. Turns out a year ago Rhodes was blown apart in a battle. Tony found him and saw not just a friend in pain who needed help, but also an opportunity to create something he needed. He replaced the missing parts of Rhodes' body with machinery, plugged his brain into a computer, put him in an Iron Man-style suit that's bristling with weaponry, and installed him in a totally secret satellite orbiting the Earth, where he can keep an eye on what's going on everywhere, drop down anywhere, and take out anyone. Oh, and by the way, none of the technology in any of this is Stark Tech. That means Rhodes is funded by Tony, but not connected to him in any traceable way, and he's able to do the things Tony can't. He's essentially a high-powered, black ops Iron Man. He's also a cold-blooded, bad-ass killer. But his body is slowly dying, unable to stand the stresses of being tied into the War Machine armor. There's an organic body being built for him by Stark's people - but he might not get it, especially if Norman Osborn has anything to say about it.

This comic is written by Greg Pak, whose work I find uneven, but tend to enjoy more often than not. I definitely like what he's done with this title so far. I also really enjoy Leonardo Manco's art (and Jay David Ramos' colors). The Jim Rhodes being developed here is an interesting and multi-faceted character, much more than just another guy in Iron Man armor. The plot is intriguing, the action exciting, and there's a great deal of satisfying wish-fulfillment in the premise - being able to fly down and take out any scumbag committing atrocities anywhere in the world. Rhodes gets to decide who lives and who dies, which, as we all know, is the best Christmas present anyone could receive. Thanks, Tony!

But at the same time, Rhodes is not a God, and he's also not entirely a machine; he's a flawed human who could be in great danger. I'm sticking with this title for now; I'm looking forward to seeing where Pak goes with it.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #70
Most of this issue is taken up by old!Logan finally explaining to old!Hawkeye what happened on the day of the final battle that led to his decision to become a pacifist. And it's quite horrific, as one might expect. Then there's a very funny scene at Dwight's Toll where a little kid in an old Ant Man helmet demands eighty cents to cross the bridge, or else he sics his ants on them (they pay up). And then we get a harbinger of what's to come, and a look at the monster that's following them.

I continue to really enjoy this storyline. The flashback story in this one isn't entirely believable to me, partially because we've been primed to not believe such things (that many major characters could never possibly die in that way in a story set in the present, canon timeline - and if they could have died that way, certainly it would already have been done by now); partially because it's hard to believe even Wolverine could take out all the other X-Men single-handedly, even given that they might pull their punches a bit fighting their ally; and partially because there's no way Jubilee would be the one to hold out the longest against Wolverine. Are you kidding me? She'd be the first one down. She has nearly as lame a power as Dazzler.

But I'm willing to suspend my disbelief because it's a powerful idea and because the rest of the story is so good. Great art, too (with pencils by Steve McNiven, inks by Dexter Vines and Mark Morales, and colors by Morry Hollowell and Justin Ponsor). Can't wait to see how this one wraps up.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #3
This miniseries has such a great premise - Wolverine dropped into the middle of a story that's an homage to just about every kung fu movie ever made - but it doesn't always live up to the promise of that central concept. This issue, despite a number of wonderful moments, is a little disappointing. Turns out 50 years ago, Wolverine defeated the Black Dragon Tong by convincing all the kung fu schools in Chinatown (pretty much every one of which is named after a specific kung fu movie or character) to band together with him. Which is odd, because Wolverine's strength has never been that he's a persuasive talker. Anyway, he tries to do the same thing this time, but they all just beat him up and kick him out for the way he betrayed them last time (although how exactly he betrayed them hasn't been entirely explained yet). Afterwards, he crawls back into the sewer and gets beat up by his teacher, who berates him for being a terrible fighter. Wolverine protests that he's killed plenty of ninjas, and this hilarious exchange follows:
Master: Ninjas are unskilled imbeciles. Any fool can kill a ninja. My dog could kill a ninja.
Wolverine: You don't have a dog.
Master: That's because it was put to death. Just like you're going to be.

Then, later on:
Kid: How's it coming?
Master: He's been bragging about killing ninjas again.
Kid: Ninjas are morons.
Master: That's what I told him.

That is comedy gold right there.

Anyway, Logan heads off to another meeting, this time with the two guys who look like John Saxon and Jim Kelly from Enter the Dragon. But they also are not interested in joining with him. The bad guys find out he's there and come for him, so there's a big fight, and Wolverine ends up getting arrested. Nightcrawler springs him in amusing fashion (he made a comment to Wolverine about his mother, so I had to look up what the deal was with that - wow! I had no idea Mystique was his Mom). In the final panel Wolverine faces off against the Black Dragon and her killers again, but that climactic fight won't occur until the next and final issue. It's hard to understand how the outcome could be any different than it was the first time, as Wolverine appears to have had very little time for training (the training montage I expected and wanted to see never happened), but we'll see.

There's a lot of great dialogue in here, especially the part about the ninjas. There's also a decent action sequence, and some amusing references to various kung fu movies (yay, flying guillotines!). The art (by Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz Luque, with colors by John Rauch) is also pretty good. But the idea that Wolverine was (at least at one time) a persuasive speaker, and that he's actually really bad at fighting, goes against everything I know about Wolverine. And I'm kind of unclear on why all these incredibly bad-ass fighters put up with the Black Dragon Tong ruling over them all this time, when they clearly dislike her. (Maybe that last bit will be explained more clearly next issue.) All that being said, this is still an entertaining issue, and I'll definitely be picking up the next one. I just feel like something is missing here - like this series could have been a lot better. Maybe if there were more wacky kung fu fighting, with crazy characters and insane magic - like in the first issue, but more so. Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: Magneto - Testament #4
The previous issues in this series were already very powerful and effective, but this one takes us inside a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and thus onto a whole new level of horror. Max is lucky enough to meet his kindly professor from school, Fritz Kalb, on the way in, and Kalb takes Max under his wing, showing him how to survive in the camp, and trying to get him on an easy work detail. But ultimately, Kalb cannot even save himself, let alone Max. Max ends up getting dragged into one of the most horrific work details in the camp: the Sonderkommando. He experiences too many terrible things and resolves to end it all - until he sees the girl he loves, Magda, again, somehow still alive, his necklace still around her neck, shining like the very last glimmer of hope in all the world. And he decides he will continue living after all.

This is one of the most excellent and moving comic books I've ever read. The two-page spread of the room full of eyeglasses hit me like a kick in the gut, taking my breath away. The totally black panels that followed, with narration boxes on them describing horrors too awful even to be illustrated, were nearly as powerful. This is truly incredible work. I look forward very much to the next and final issue.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Denny O'Neil (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Kevin Smith (Not), Movies (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), The Goon (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Saturday, December 27, 2008 12:01 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 12/17, plus a trade paperback poppy found for me at the library.

Back issues and old data
Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities
Poppy knows I like Eric Powell, so when she found this TPB with his name in the credits, she snapped it up for me. She's nice like that. The book, it turns out, is strange indeed. Powell wrote it and colored it, but Kyle Hotz provided the art. It opens with a news article about the killing of Billy the Kid, then introduces us to our main character as he's having a nightmarish flashback to his horrific childhood. He awakes suddenly on a train. Turns out Billy wasn't actually killed the way everyone thought. Someone else died in his stead, and he's gone underground, under an assumed name. The freakish man sitting across from Billy on the train (Fineas Sproule, who has more than the usual number of arms) reveals that he knows his traveling companion's true identity, but that he's willing to keep it a secret if Billy will help him with a certain undertaking. Billy isn't doing much else, and doesn't have much of a choice, so he agrees. Fineas introduces him to the other members of his traveling "biological curiosities" show, and reveals the outlines of the plan: they are to infiltrate the castle of one Frankenstein (yes, that one) and steal from him a legendary jewel known as the Golem's Heart. But there's more to the adventure than they're revealing to Billy, and it turns out to be more costly than any of them expected.

As one might expect from a story by Powell, this book is extremely twisted and violent, and it's full of freaks and monsters. Billy's childhood consisted of his hooker mother stuffing him in a box whenever her gentleman callers came over. This naturally left him a deeply scarred individual. Actually, he's a scumbag and a bastard. You can sort of sympathize with him in certain parts of the book, but it's pretty hard to actually like him. The freaks he takes up with are more likable, but the story is over before they get anything more than a cursory characterization; they're mostly stereotypes. The sequence in Frankenstein's castle is horrific, bloody, and disturbing, but makes for some pretty exciting reading. In the end, Billy has become a marginally better person - but only marginally.

I love the premise of this book (a secretly still-alive Billy the Kid helping the performers in a freak show to break into Frankenstein's castle), and it turns out to be a pretty interesting story, with good art. But it also had the potential to be much, much better than it is.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases
The Age of the Sentry #4
This issue starts out by extending the series' loving parody of the comics of the past even further back in time with a story called "The Golden-Age Sentry." In this story, the Sentry's recurring enemy, Cranio, steals a time machine and starts screwing around in the past. His meddling actually brings about the origin of Harrison Oogar, the Caveman of Wall Street. He also opens up a rift between worlds, allowing a Golden Age Sentry to cross over. So back in the present, there are now two Sentries: the one we know, and another one from an earlier age, with different slang, a different sensibility, a different secret identity, and even a different origin! While the Silver Age Sentry's origin involves science and an experimental serum, the Golden Age Sentry's involves magic (he doesn't get to tell the whole story, but it sounds a lot like the origin of DC's Captain Marvel). Which is of course the usual difference between Golden Age and Silver Age origins. Plus the Golden Age Sentry is secretly Ed Eckles (there are those double E's again - is somebody trying to tell the Sentry something?), an apple industry millionaire and playboy. This is again familiar, as Golden Age characters were almost always millionaires and playboys (although they were rarely in the apple industry... heh). Also, in a particularly knowing and hilarious sequence, we learn that the Golden Age Sentry (like the Golden Age Batman) used a gun! "No need for me to get in close when my pal Colt .45 can do the talking for me! ...I learned back in the Big One, you never know when a gun will come in handy!" Awesome. Golden Age Sentry also takes to calling Silver Age Sentry "Sentry 2," in a sly reference to the Earth One and Earth Two Supermen. Being number two kind of upsets Silver Age Sentry, as does the thing with the gun, but he deals with it. There's also a great scene where Golden Age Sentry mistakes some beatniks for criminals and starts punching them. Eventually the two Sentries pull a fun trick and send the Golden Age Sentry back to his own world. Then there's an amusing and slightly unsettling foreshadowing of things to come ("Years in the future people might be surprised that you're a real hero in this age!"). Before the conclusion, however, there's a weird moment when Cranio says he has to tell the Sentry the truth - but then he vanishes. This scene will be continued, sort of, in the next story: "All You Need Is Sentry." But before that starts, there's another of those quick frame story interludes where we see a father telling all these stories to his son. Only now the identity of the father and son is finally revealed: it's Reed Richards and Franklin Richards. At least, that sure looks like Reed, with that white streak in his hair.

The next story features a version of the Beatles called the Crick-Hits - there's even a list of goofy new versions of Beatles song titles, and a parody of the Sgt. Pepper's album cover. The story opens with the Sentry-Siren going off. "The signal is audible only to me!" says the Sentry. "Well, me and dogs. Sorry about that Fido!" Heh. Anyway, it turns out the emergency is that a subway train carrying the Crick-Hits has disappeared - a tragedy which causes the Sentry to exclaim: "Dang! Oh, sorry about my language, ma'am." The woman he's speaking to, who's standing nearby, responds, "No offense taken," but she's thinking, "Gosh! The Sentry! He's so passionate and forceful! *sigh*" Heh. Once the Sentry arrives at the subway station where the train was last seen, he teams up with a lovely blonde in a snazzy red dress named the Blonde Phantom. I'd never heard of the Blonde Phantom before, but luckily Wikipedia filled me in. I don't think the whole idea of her taking over the Avengers from a retiring Captain America is canon, however, which raises interesting questions about where this story fits in the Marvel universe. But to get back to the story: as the Sentry is talking to the Blonde Phantom, he suddenly finds himself elsewhere. In a three-panel sequence done in a completely different, more modern art style, Cranio shows the Sentry planets exploding all over the universe, and suggests that some infinitely powerful villain has caused this, and there was nothing anyone could do. Of course, the obvious inference is that he's referring to the Void. The Sentry flips out, but then finds himself back with the Blonde Phantom underground, being attacked by Moloids. Wow! Creepy stuff. They beat up the Moloids, then follow them back to where they came from, and find a guy named Tyrannus, whom they assume is another of Mole Man's henchmen, since everybody associates Moloids with the Mole Man. This Tyrannus finds very insulting. They easily knock him down and are about to beat him up when it finally comes out that the Crick-Hits are here on purpose to headline an underground concert. Then it all turns into a great big fun dance party.

Another very funny, very clever issue of this fantastic miniseries, with all kinds of fun references to, and fun-loving parodies of, Silver and Golden Age comics, and Silver and Golden Age culture. I suspect in the last issue this whole thing is going to blow apart and get really creepy and disturbing. Should be interesting!
Thumbs Up

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #20
One of my cardinal rules of comics, which I've developed after much hardship and pain, is to never buy anything written by Jeph Loeb. And this comic was written by Jeph Loeb. But it's also Buffy, and it contains a look at the Buffy animated series that could have been, so I had to break my rule.

The animated series was set during the time frame of the early part of the original television series, so in order to come up with an excuse to go back to that time, they have Buffy fall asleep and have a dream, and the dream is done up in a completely different, cartoon-like art style. The dream is very real, so Buffy is at first very confused and disturbed to find herself back in high school, with her mother still alive, Willow still just a shy young girl, and her old flame Angel still very much her new flame. But she quickly decides to just go with it, especially since things were so much simpler during this time in her life. Her adventures in the past are very reminiscent of the original TV show; Giles gives them a mission which conflicts with their high school social life, so Buffy tries to knock it out quickly so she can get to the big party, but of course her duty as a Slayer gets in the way. It's fun and amusing, if not incredibly exciting or original. I'm happy to say that Jeph Loeb doesn't do anything really horrible here, probably because he was trying to write like Joss Whedon, and thus wasn't writing like himself. I'd love to see a Buffy animated series on TV, but I guess if the only way they can use the material is to put it in a comic book, the chances of that happening are pretty slim.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: New Nation #1
I assumed the previews in the back of Secret Invasion: Dark Reign (which I read last week) were made up of material excerpted from the first issues of the various new series they were advertising, which tie into Dark Reign, but apparently they were all excerpted from the various stories included in this one-shot anthology, stories which themselves are essentially previews of those new series. Very strange and confusing. The good news is, whereas I was not particularly impressed by the excerpts I read last week, I was very impressed by the full short stories that I read in this title.

First up is "Secret Warriors: Declaration," by Brian Michael Bendis and Jonathan Hickman with art by Stefano Caselli and color by Daniele Rudoni. It's a surprisingly moving story that intercuts Nick Fury in the present (watching Norman Osborn taking over, and then traveling to meet and speak with his new secret commandos), and Nick Fury in the past (listening to a speech from Captain America before a big WWII battle). Cap's speech is very powerful, and of course informs what Fury says to his men in the present.

"Agents of Atlas: The Heist" is written by Jeff Parker with pencils by Carlo Pagulayan, inks by Jason Paz, and colors by Jana Schirmer. In this story, the Agents of Atlas rob Fort Knox and declare war on the United States - but it turns out it's all just so they can go undercover and figure out who the real criminals are. Cool!

"War Machine: Crossing the Line" is by Greg Pak with art by Leonardo Manco and color by Jay David Ramos. War Machine witnesses an old enemy of his do some nasty deeds, but frustratingly finds himself unable to act against the man directly. Luckily, he finds a clever, bad-ass way to take him out anyway. It's a fun story, and also a strong character portrait of Rhodes as a soldier who's perhaps living up to his superhero name a bit too well.

The next story is a straight-up comedy called "Skrull Kill Krew: Breakfast in America," and it's written by Adam Felber with pencils by Paulo Siqueira, inks by Amilton Santos & Paulo Siqueira, and color by Chris Sotomayor. The premise of this one is that there are still a lot of Skrulls hiding out on the Earth after the invasion, and it's the Skrull Kill Krew's job to clean things up and take them out. In this story, the Krew consists entirely of a guy whose arms turn into guns, and the Skrulls are all pretending to be cows. There's a lot of hilarious dialogue as gun-arm-guy tries to explain to a couple of dumb (but surprisingly knowledgeable) farmers just what's going on. It all gives off a Monty Python vibe, with the farmers discussing pointless trivia (on the order of the air speed velocity of a laden swallow) when they should be scared for their lives. It's good stuff.

Last up is "New Avengers: The Reunion - Suspicion," which sees Clint Barton (previously Hawkeye, now Ronin) and Bobbi Morse (Mockingbird) - the former recently dead, the latter recently presumed dead - trying to get to know one another again. Clint wants things to go back to the way they were before, but Bobbi is having a hard time dealing with everything that's happened. Is she definitely not a Skrull? Is he definitely not? How can they really be sure? She does some weird stuff during the story, and has some weird flashes. It looks like she may have infiltrated the Skrulls on purpose, for S.H.I.E.L.D., and has come back with important information. Anyway, there's definitely more going on than she's telling. It's intriguing. But man. Poor Clint. He gets the crappy end of the stick in every one of these over-arching storylines!

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed all the stories in this book, especially considering I'd read parts of a number of them before, and disliked them! Anyway, my confidence in the Dark Reign storyline has just increased slightly.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #30
Danny goes after the Japanese Ghost Rider (it's funny that his Caretaker looks almost exactly the same as the American one), and Johnny and friends get there too late to help. But there are apparently still two more Ghost Riders left, on top of Johnny and the two he's hanging out with now, so the five of them are going to get together and make a final stand against Danny and Zadkiel. Unfortunately for them, that fits prefectly into Zadkiel's plan; he sends an army of angels to Danny and tells him to go finish the rest of the Ghost Riders off in one fell swoop. We also get a look at what Zadkiel's been telling Danny to convince him to take this course of action. It's a little surprising Danny would fall for such obvious BS, but maybe Zadkiel is also exerting some kind of influence on his mind. Besides, as we're learning in the Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch miniseries, Danny was so desperate to have the Ghost Rider power back, he would have swallowed any line of bull necessary to justify its reacquisition. A surprising final scene reveals that we haven't seen the last of the cop who got his hand eaten, and that he has chosen to blame the Ghost Rider for his loss.

This was not my favorite issue of this series, because it's mostly just a transition issue with lots of rehashing and exposition, but it's not terrible, and it paves the way for an exciting showdown in the near future.
Thumbs Sideways

Hellblazer #250
I don't usually buy this title, but this issue was the "Hellblazer Holiday Special," with stories by a number of famous writers, so I had to get it. First up is "Happy New Fucking Year" by Dave Gibbons with art by Sean Phillips and color by Val Staples (both of Criminal fame). This is one of the best stories in the book, and sees Constantine stuck investigating a museum theft on New Year's Eve, instead of partying. The robber turns out to be a scientist who's gone mad and is trying to sacrifice a baby with an ancient scythe to gain power. Constantine is able to save the day with the application of a good old fashioned kick in the balls, and then enjoy the rest of his New Year's with a naughty nurse. Good show!

In "Christmas Cards," by Jamie Delano (who was the second guy to write Constantine after Alan Moore) with art by David Lloyd, is about a pair of guys playing poker. Constantine uses his gift for reading people and situations and is able to see the weird relationship between the two men, and predict who has which cards, but even he's surprised by the good deed one of them does for the other. This one's pretty twisted and sordid, and I found myself a bit confused as to who was who. The art's very good, but the story is not my favorite.

"All I Goat for Christmas" is pretty brilliant in its own special way. It's written by Brian Azzarello with art by Rafael Grampa and colors by Marcus Penna. The poem that makes up the entire text of the comic isn't particularly well written, but the story that it tells, together with the spectacular and unique art, is quite clever and funny. Basically, Constantine is called in to help break the curse on the Chicago Cubs - but there's a pretty disgusting price that has to be paid.

Speaking of curses, next up is "The Curse of Christmas," by Peter Milligan, with art by Eddie Campbell and colors by Dominic Regan. This story has one cool idea at its heart, but the rest of it is pretty dull. Constantine is being haunted by a dead guy and finally discovers that (cool idea coming!) he was killed by a curse that someone had cleverly inserted into the Queen's Christmas speech. But there's nobody you can really sympathize with or like - even the dead guy - and it's just generally a pretty hateful story.

The last story in the book is "Snow Had Fallen" by China Mieville, with colors by Jamie Grant, breakdowns by Giuseppe Camuncoli, and finishes by Stefano Landini (no, I'm not entirely sure what breakdowns and finishes are, but I'm guessing it means Camuncoli drew up the preliminary art and Landini finished it off). This time Constantine's called in to figure out why some sick children and the priest who runs their hospital are being haunted by faceless, winged creatures, ever since an accident at a nearby plant caused some kind of ash to rain down on them. Were they poisoned by a mystical industrial accident? Actually, no. It turns out they've been given a strange kind of gift, which the priest makes use of in a very appropriate way. Cool concept, powerful resolution. I could do without Constantine's final speech, and the art is rather odd (why are they always drawing everybody's eyeballs so freakishly huge??), but otherwise this is a really good one.

I have to say, I really enjoy holiday specials like this. They seem to turn out really well most of the time.
Thumbs Up

Hulk Family: Green Genes #1
This one-shot anthology of stories about the Hulk and his crazy family was supposed to come out a few weeks back, but I didn't find it on the shelf until this past week. *shrug* The first story is "Your Lucky Day," written by Fred Van Lente, with pencils by Scott Clark, inks by Greg Adams, and colors by Ulises Areola (is that a real name??). It's set during the strange time in Hulk's life when he was a big gray guy going by the name Joe Fixit. Joe is working as muscle for a casino, the same casino where Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk happens to be having her law school reunion. Joe is still hiding his true identity from everyone, so he's not exactly happy to see Jen there. She's sure she recognizes him, but his brutish actions and constant denials finally convince her she's wrong. Meanwhile, the two of them end up getting in a fight with some passing supervillains. The main themes of the story are fate and chance. Is it fate that all these characters ended up in the same place at the same time, or pure chance? Is it fate or chance that created the Hulk and She-Hulk? What if things had happened differently? They're vaguely interesting questions, but the comic is clumsy about asking them, and doesn't really do anything very interesting with them. I know Van Lente can be a pretty decent writer, but the dialogue and narration he provides here are not very good. The art is pretty good, at least (She-Hulk is hot!), but overall it's really not a great story.

Next up is another not-great story! It's "School for Savages" by Greg Pak with pencils by Jheremy Raapack, inks by Greg Adams, and colors by Chris Sotomayor. It's a story from the youth of Skaar, son of Hulk, and features Old Sam trying to get Skaar to embrace his destiny and save the world, and Skaar trying to teach Old Sam a series of harsh lessons about the world. It's an okay idea for a story, but it's not executed all that well. Pretty good art, pretty lame writing.

The next story is called "Daughter of Hulk" and is written by Paul Tobin with art by Benton Jew and colors by Moose Baumann (seriously, these are all real names?). Yep, the Hulk has a daughter, too! At least one, in fact. The guy drops kids all over the place! Anyway, the daughter we're talking about here is a woman whose name is never mentioned. Thundra made her by combining her own genetic material with that of the Hulk. This daughter of Hulk and Thundra lives on a future Earth where a warrior tribe of women known as the Femizons (sigh) is constantly at war with the men. In this story, Thundra's daughter discovers how the men are reproducing. She could strike a final blow in the Femizons' war against men, but some part of her - maybe some part of Banner - keeps her from doing so. Disturbed by her moment of compassion, which caused her to waver from her purpose, she throws herself back into battle. I like the art here quite a lot, but the story is kind of corny. It's hard to care much about these characters, or about the stark, ridiculous world they live in.

The last of the new stories is "Scorpion: Emerald Highway." Fred Van Lente again provides the words, with Diedrich O'Clark on pencils, Al Vey on inks, and Lee Loughridge on colors. This story is set immediately after the events of World War Hulk, and sees the green-haired, poisonous assassin Scorpion attacking a convoy to try to get a tissue sample from the imprisoned Bruce Banner, so she can determine whether he's really her father or not (a possibility that Amadeus Cho brought up to her during WWH). This is probably one of the better stories in the bunch; it's reasonably effective and interesting. But it's still not all that exciting.

The last thing in the book is a reprint of The Savage She-Hulk #1, featuring the origin story of She-Hulk. It's an old comic by Stan Lee, so it's not exactly a masterpiece of writing and characterization. It has the usual, clumsy, slang- and exposition-laden dialogue. Still, it's fun, and it's a great piece of comics history; I'm very glad to have read the original origin story of a classic character like She-Hulk.

Of course, what this one-shot is really all about is selling you other books. In the back are ads for She-Hulk, Skaar, Son of Hulk, Hulk: Raging Thunder (which features the origin story of Thundra's daughter), Scorpion: Poison Tomorrow, and Jeph Loeb's Hulk (the next issue of which apparently features She-Hulk and her Lady Liberators, a team which includes Thundra and a bunch of other ladies with giant breasts in tight outfits - seriously, you should see the cover graphic included here; it's ridiculous). Thing is, this book is so mediocre, all it's done is convince me not to buy any of those books (not that I needed any more convincing as far as Hulk and Skaar are concerned; I already know they suck).
Thumbs Down

The Mighty Avengers #20
The last one of these Avengers Secret Invasion tie-ins I read (The New Avengers #47) was disappointing, so I was a little leery of buying another one. But this issue is being billed as the epilogue to Secret Invasion, and features a closer look at the reaction to the death of Janet van Dyne, so I felt like I had to get it. And I was pleasantly surprised. This is a very well done, very moving comic. It's written by Brian Michael Bendis, natch, with pencils by Lee Weeks, Jim Cheung, and Carlo Pagulayan, inks by Weeks, Cheung, and Jeffrey Huet, and colors by Dean White and Jason Keith. It opens with Hank Pym flashing back to when the Avengers discovered Captain America frozen in the ice. He and Janet talk about what it would be like to wake up out of stasis like that and find yourself in a brand new world. There's also some romantic talk, and Janet says half-jokingly if Hank were frozen in a block of ice, she'd wait for him. Then we cut to Hank Pym with some other heroes, talking to a man about the funeral arrangements. Hank doesn't look good, can't deal, and has to leave. In the car, Carol Danvers tells him about all the terrible things he missed while he was away. Each big story arc is summarized by a huge full-page graphic, with Danvers' and Pyms' faces below, reacting to the telling. It's slightly comical seeing it all paraded out this way, but at the same time really powerful and even a little horrific. Of course, Pym was the man trapped in ice this time; he's the one waking up to a new world - but Janet wasn't able to wait for him after all. It's pretty agonizing, especially considering all the other crap he and Janet went through, and when he breaks down in the car with Carol, it's hard not to feel for him, especially since the scene is depicted with such realism and emotion. At the funeral, Pym stands up to speak, and quickly starts shouting in a rage, blaming Tony Stark for everything. Finally Thor steps up and defuses the situation with a pretty speech of his own, and then takes Pym out. That's not the last of the freak-outs at the funeral, though! Clint Barton sees Norman Osborn as everyone's filing out, and he just can't resist going over and being belligerent. Some pretty nasty words are exchanged. Later we see Osborn standing in Avengers Tower, holding a glass of champagne and smirking. Eee.

It's an achingly sad book, with a very dark ending, but it's all done very artfully and I enjoyed it very much.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #2
Oh, man. This series is just brilliant. This issue starts off with a rather amusing vision of the new Elite's worst nightmare. Then Ennis takes your expectations for the story and blows them apart. When the Punisher saw someone who appeared to be Ma Gnucci at the end of the last issue, I assumed there would be some cat-and-mouse stuff as he tried to figure out if it was really her, and then eventually there would be a showdown in the last issue of the miniseries. Instead, the Punisher just immediately shoots everybody. It's brutal and brilliant and darkly hilarious. He is so hardcore. But anyway, according to Schitti, there's still yet another Ma Gnucci rolling around out there, so things get curiouser and curiouser. Meanwhile, the lesbian cop takes shit from no one, and brutally beats anybody who goes anywhere near her girlfriend. She's some character. I love the reference to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the end, and how it ties into the last scene at the cemetery. Ennis' dialogue is hilarious and fantastic, especially as far as the mobsters are concerned; he has wiseguy patter down pat. I never thought I'd turn around so completely on my estimation of Ennis, but I seem to have. I'll definitely have to track down his other Punisher stuff soon.
Thumbs Up

Spider-Man: Noir #1
Marvel is giving both the X-Men and Spider-Man the noir treatment in two new miniseries. I already tried the first issue of X-Men: Noir and enjoyed it, so I thought I'd give this a shot, too. Actually, it had "noir" in the title, so I was probably going to buy it anyway, but whatever. This was written by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky, with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico. I recognized Di Giandomenico as the guy who does X-Men: Magneto - Testament, and sadly I continue to mostly dislike his work. There's something almost childish about the way he draws people. They come out looking rumpled and ugly. There's also a panel or two in here where the art is so clumsy I can't even tell what's supposed to be going on. As for the story and the writing, I didn't like those all that much at first, either - but that may have actually had a lot to do with my dislike of the art. Once I got further into book, I found myself enjoying it more and more, and going back over it, it really is a pretty neat story. It opens with the cops discovering a cloaked, armed, masked vigilante crouching over the bullet-ridden body of J. Jonah Jameson. He professes innocence, but they don't believe him, so he takes off, catching one of the cops in a web before he goes. Yep, it's Spider-Man!

We immediately jump back in time three weeks to see how things got to this pass. Turns out the story is set during the Great Depression, in an incredibly corrupt New York run by crime lord Norman Osborn, who goes by the name Goblin (no one knows why). His enforcers are all ex-carnies: the Vulture was a geek, Kraven was an animal trainer. While they enjoy the fruits of their illegal labors, people are starving and in dire straits all over. Aunt May is a socialist organizer who speaks out against the corrupt government. Uncle Ben was killed for pretty much the same thing. Peter is full of rage and a desire for revenge, but is also pretty much entirely powerless. Photographer Ben Urich serves as our narrator. When he meets Peter, he's both moved and irritated by the boy's righteous naivete, and takes him to a speakeasy called the Black Cat to try to show him the harsh realities of the world - but it only gives Peter a list of enemies, and new determination to see justice done. To protect him, Urich takes him under his wing and gets him a job helping him take photos for the Bugle. But Urich isn't telling Peter everything he knows about his uncle's death.

It's quite clever the way the writers have mapped Spider-Man's story onto a noir universe. There's maybe a bit more melodrama and dark angst here than I'd like, but overall it's a great story full of great ideas and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next. Plus, the Vulture is a far more disturbing and threatening villain in this comic than he ever has been in the regular Marvel universe.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #2
I wasn't sure I even wanted to buy another issue of this miniseries after the ridiculousness I witnessed in the first issue, but after flipping through this book in the store, I decided it looked interesting enough to give it a try. Now that I've read it, I remain a bit conflicted, but I'm mostly converted. There's the occasional moments of melodrama here that leave a bad taste in my mouth, but there are so many cool ideas that are so well executed that I'm mostly able to ignore them.

This issue is book-ended in a really cool way. The holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (they manage to work nearly every character from every series into here somehow; it's really pretty impressive) tells Data there's no cure for not being human, and at the end of the issue, Data points out there's no cure for being human, either. Powerfully done, and a very Star Trek concept. Data has a lot of great lines in the issue, actually. Anyway, there's an exciting and tense sequence wherein Riker, Geordi, and Data are waiting to transport to the home base of the resistance on Earth, unaware that they've been followed by a Klingon ship commanded by Alexander, Worf's son. Luckily the Ghost is there, too, and helps out. Plus, Alexander gets anxious and makes a critical error. Then he gets the end he so richly deserves. I always hated Alexander. Anyways, Data gets to the resistance, and Picard figures out what's caused the timeline to go all screwy - a time-traveling dude named Braxton who stopped Kirk from stopping the assassination back at Khitomer. Picard wants to restore the timeline where Klingons and humans are at peace. But Wesley stomps in, exuding pure melodrama, and says he wants no peace with the Klingons. So now we have two factions.

It's interesting stuff! The sequences with Wesley are pretty awful, but then, they always were. I'm going to stick with this series and see where it goes.
Thumbs Up

The X-Files #2
This is the end of a two-issue miniseries by TV series co-creator Frank Spotnitz. At the end of last issue, Mulder was showing the same symptoms as a guy who'd killed himself. Skinner busts into his apartment and gets him to the hospital before he can actually kick the bucket, however, and the Lone Gunmen reveal what happened to both Mulder and the poor dude from the first issue: they absorbed a naturally occurring protein with a powerful psychotropic effect: it can make you paranoiac to the extent that your mind literally takes your own life. Which is similar to an idea in a recent episode of Fringe. Anyways, Scully goes back to the guy from the company that seems to be behind all of this and tries to push him into giving away something. There are more deaths, eliminating all the witnesses who could testify - except Mulder himself. So he goes and talks to the Congressional committee that's making the decision on the company's contract. And they believe him! But Mulder and Scully still fail to get the outcome they're hoping for.

The art's pretty cool - it's a bit dark, but the color choices are interesting and the depictions of the actors are very true to life - and the story's pretty cool, too, with some intriguing ideas and fun (if not terribly surprising) twists. But the story is also pretty simplistic, and some of my least favorite things about the TV show - like the angsty melodrama - have been copied over. This wasn't a terrible miniseries, but I wish it could have been better than just okay.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hulk (Not), Punisher (Not), Secret Invasion (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), TV (Not), X-Files (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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