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Saturday, June 13, 2009 09:00 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 5/20, 5/28, and 6/3, plus a trade paperback I got in Rehoboth, and another trade paperback that I found on my bookshelf; I stored it there and then forgot I owned it. I have to stop doing that.

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

Back issues and old data
Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah
This is a black and white graphic novel in four chapters, written by Mike Mignola and Troy Nixey. Nixey also provides the art for the first three chapters, with Farel Dalrymple taking over for the final chapter. The plot is Lovecraftian, although the actual storytelling and characters are not - if that makes any sense. It appears to be set in 19th century London (or a nearby city in a nearby timeline). Strange tentacled monsters are being pulled up by fishermen, and even the regular fish are acting oddly, whispering "doom" over and over. A hideous, fishy plague starts spreading through the populace. Meanwhile, prostitutes are being murdered by a serial killer, and their ghosts haunt the streets. It all seems to be tied to a newcomer in town: a young whore named Jenny Finn. Thrown into the middle of this mystery by chance (or fate?) is a simple country boy named Joe who just moved to the city to earn a living there. The mystery ends up involving a secret society trying to bring about the birth of a hideous monster.

Troy Nixey's art is unique, eerie, fantastic, and perfectly suited to the story. Luckily Dalrymple's work is nearly as good (I'd like to believe he inserted Alan Moore into the book, as that dude wearing the snazzy tentacle hat at the secret society meeting at the end). The writing is fun and fascinating; the mystery is intriguing, and there's lots of great incidental dialog. And I have a hard time resisting anything with that lovely Lovecraftian flavor. I particularly like all the fish saying "doom" in the background all the time, and nobody really mentioning it at all. The ending comes rather abruptly, and doesn't make all that much sense to me (she was for everybody, high born and low? What does that even mean?), but I love the totally twisted Christmas Carol reference. Overall, a pretty wonderful graphic novel. Troy Nixey's sketchbook in the back is a true delight and is full of many wonderfully creepy portraits, including one of Hellboy!
Thumbs Up

John Woo's Seven Brothers
This is a trade paperback collection of a miniseries from the now defunct Virgin Comics, written by Garth Ennis with art by Jeevan Kang. What John Woo actually had to do with it, I'm not sure. Possibly he came up with the premise? On the title page, Garth Ennis' name appears under "Script," and under that it says, "with additional scenes from the cutting room floor of Tiger Hill Productions." Maybe this was going to be a movie before it became a comic book?

Anyway. The book is a crazy, modern day reimagining of the old folk tale about the seven (or five, or ten, depending on which version you're talking about) Chinese brothers with extraordinary abilities, a story I know about mostly thanks to poppy and REM. We open with the revelation that China sent a huge expedition to explore the world all the way back in the 1400s, thus discovering America and proving that the world was round before anybody else. But all history of this expedition was wiped away because it bankrupted the nation and everybody was pissed. It further turns out the expedition was being used by a great wizard, known as the Son of Hell, to place magic stones at certain key points along the "Dragon Lines," or ley lines of the Earth, and thus gain ultimate power over the entire planet. But the wizard's apprentice, Fong, realizing that a dude named Son of Hell shouldn't be allowed to have control of the Earth, used his charm to impregnate women all over the planet, passing different aspects of his powers into his children, so they would be there to fight back should the Son of Hell eventually succeed in putting all the stones in their places. When the Son of Hell tried to grasp the power of the dragon lines prematurely, Fong attacked him as a last resort. He died, but still managed to seal the wizard underground for hundreds of years. A modern day CEO, having learned about the Son of Hell and the dragon lines and all the power that could be had through them, digs up the Son of Hell and reawakens evil. Luckily, Fong's descendants are still around to fight back.

It's a neat premise and since it's written by Garth Ennis there's plenty of brutal insanity. The first scene after the prologue features one of our main characters - Ronald, a pathetic, would-be bad-ass pimp - getting the crap beat out of him by a bunch of whores. It's almost like Frank Miller's writing this! Luckily for Ronald, Rachel (descendant of Fong and carrier of his legacy) shows up and saves him using her magic powers: she can tell people how she beat them up, and then it happens. Very cool. Later we learn the various abilities of six of the seven "brothers," all of which turn out to be quite cool, as well. Only Ronald's powers remain a mystery. Then the Son of Hell reveals his plan: "I will slake my righteous anger in the bowels of whorish fate. And when I do, I'll use this world as a condom." That is some great villain dialog right there.

I was really shocked when all the heroes of the story got killed very early on. But then, in another very cool sequence, the first of Ronald's incredible powers are revealed: he knows the way out of hell! I'm kind of okay with Ronald being a pretty despicable person - at least we get to know him a little bit, which is more than you can really say for a lot of the other characters - but I'm not really okay with the way it turns out that he has so many, incredibly huge powers. It seems like kind of a cheat. He can dream the future, he knows the way out of hell, he knows the secret to defeating the Son of Hell, and also he's an incredibly powerful dragon? How does that all work? And why, as one of the other characters points out, is Ronald so powerful, while some of them can just jump really high? Still, the other guys do some cool stuff with their powers. I like when the guy with the incredibly powerful voice yells, "Son of Hell! Go back there!" And it is amusing when Ronald says, "I'm a muthafuckin' dragon, bitch!!"

Despite some occasional vicious attacks on my suspension of disbelief, and some other moments of ridiculousness, this is a pretty good book. The story is fast-paced, action-packed, and fun, with lots of clever ideas. According to Wikipedia there's a sequel, but I'm not sure what it would be about. This book is a complete story in and of itself. I might be interested if it was also written by Ennis, or someone else just as talented, but it was written by some guy I've never heard of named Ben Raab, so I don't plan to seek it out.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 5/20
Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3
Ugh! What a crummy comic this is. It's absolutely loaded with painfully cheesy narration and dialog from Dick Grayson, and some equally bad expository monologue from Tim Drake. Things get off on the wrong foot right away with a page full of bad narration, followed by a corny two-page spread of all the Batman-related heroes standing around posing heroically, followed by another page full of bad narration. There's a pretty neat one-page interlude with Commissioner Gordon, but we're back to the corny stuff soon enough.

Now for some spoilers. So far Tony Daniel has written Damian as a pathetic, incompetent, whiny brat, but for some reason Alfred puts him in the Robin costume in this book, as a reward for trying to knock the butler out with a wrench. Wha? The true identity of the new Black Mask remains a mystery, which is slightly irritating. Dick fights Jason with love and holographic messages from Bruce. Squire allows herself to be beaten up, robbed, and led around by the nose by a gimpy Damian. Tim explains aloud to himself and to us why he's still alive despite being stabbed by a Batarang in the chest. Jason dies again in one of those painfully cliche moments where the villain is hanging from a cliff by one hand and the hero offers him his hand because it's the heroic thing to do but the crazy villain drops anyway because he's crazy. Then Dick spouts even more corny, nonsensical narration and finally consents to be Batman like we all knew he was supposed to do from the beginning.

Blargh!

Tony Daniel's art is pretty good, but his writing is quite terrible. Still, it's good to see the identities of the new Batman and Robin finally settled and revealed. And now their story will be handed off to the all-star team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I can't wait to read what they're going to do with Dick and Damian.
Thumbs Down

Captain America #50
Marvel loves celebrating milestones! They've got the 70th Anniversary to celebrate all year. And of course they have to celebrate reaching #50 in the latest volume of Captain America, so this issue contains not only a new story looking back on Bucky's life, but also a summary of Captain America's entire life history, and a short comedic story summarizing the very brief career of the fake '60s Captain America. And next month they're returning to the legacy numbering of Captain America and presenting a big, super special issue #600! Good lord.

The first story in this issue - with writing by Ed Brubaker and art by Luke Ross, as usual - cleverly discusses these milestone celebrations via the metaphor of setting its events on Bucky's birthday. Bucky is in the middle of a fight with some mysterious jet-packed individuals, and thinking back he realizes this kind of thing happens to him every birthday. This is a good excuse to take a look back at Bucky's life, so we jump back to 1941 and see a young Bucky cooling his heels in a jail cell after getting into a bar brawl (I love it!). The Major who's looking after him decides the way to straighten him out is to send him to England for special combat training with the SAS. It's Bucky's first step along the path that will make him Cap's sidekick. The next birthday we see is in 1943. This is a fun little story wherein Toro mistakenly gives up the Invaders' position to the super-powered Nazi villain Master Man in a wrongheaded attempt to throw Bucky a surprise party. Then we fast forward through Bucky's other birthdays, and fall back into the present, where we finally figure out what the deal is with the guys who are attacking him: they're crazy patriots who love Captain America, but don't think Bucky is the real thing, and don't appreciate him wearing the uniform. This revelation hits Bucky a little too close to home, as he's still not sure himself he should be wearing Cap's colors. But luckily, all his super buddies are waiting at home to make him feel better. Even though it's a little corny, I was really touched by the happy ending, and the fact that Bucky doesn't need to make a birthday wish, because he has everything he needs (aww).

The next story, as I said, is just a simple summary of the history of Captain America, but it's wonderfully illustrated, with classic style and dramatic design, so I quite enjoyed it. It's apparently both written and illustrated by Marcos Martin. Nice job, Mr. Martin!

The last part of the book is "Passing the Torch!" which tells a story that originally appeared in Strange Tales #106 and 114 in 1963, about a petty criminal who dressed up as Captain America in a sad attempt to rob a bank. The story is told directly to us by the criminal himself in a simple monologue. Except for the first and last panels, none of the action is dramatized at all. It's kind of a boring way to tell a story. It still ends up being mildly amusing, but I had to struggle a bit to stay focused and read the whole thing. It's OK, but could have been better.
Thumbs Up

The Complete Dracula #1
This is the start of Dynamite's comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even though I think the novel is flawed, I love it, and was curious to see what a straight comic book adaptation would look like. Unfortunately, it's a bit boring. This is literally just the novel, edited down and accompanied by illustrations. Leah Moore and John Reppion have done a pretty good job of paring Stoker's text down to the essentials, but it's still just Stoker's text. Colton Worley's art, while sometimes realistic and evocative, is also often clumsy, blurry, and disappointing. It's interesting to see "Dracula's Guest," the rather controversial prologue/alternate opening to the novel, dramatized and added on the front of the story. But besides that there's really not much exciting going on here, and I'm just not sure what the point is of treading again over such already well-traveled ground. I love John Cassaday's cover art, naturally, and I'm almost tempted to pick up the next issue just for that, and for the adaptation of the Demeter sequence, always my favorite part of the book. But I don't think I'm tempted enough to actually do it.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #1
This miniseries focuses on the exploits of some of my favorite characters from Final Crisis: the stylish and ridiculous Japanese hero group Super Young Team. Despite this fact, if I'd remembered that I really disliked everything else I'd read by author Joe Casey, I probably wouldn't have bought it. But I did, and I'm glad I did, because it's quite a bit of fun. (Which actually kind of annoys me. If Joe Casey isn't going to be crappy all the time, how do I know whether to buy his comics or not?! Bastard.) I kind of loved it right away when I opened it up and saw that the first line was Most Excellent Superbat saying, "Super Young Team! Suspension of disbelief: on." The characters are introduced on the title page by showing us their "Facespace" profiles on the screen of what looks like an iPhone. It's a brilliant idea, as is the idea to present Superbat's narration as Twitter updates throughout (his user name is @mosexbat - as of this writing not in use on Twitter!). Storywise, the team just got themselves a new PR guy and a new, high tech satellite headquarters. But they're all still a bit confused as to what their purpose is in this new world. They used to be all about style and popularity and fun, but now they want to be more than that - they want to be real heroes, and help rebuild Japan! Sort of - if they can still party and hang out with celebrities throughout. But their PR guy is focused on turning them away from real hero work - and perhaps for darker reasons than he's letting on. It's a fun and intriguing story, and I love these crazy characters. Superbat is a bit of an arrogant bastard, but in a funny way, and his heart's in the right place. I also love that the villain they fight at the end is just that sleazy, over-sexed guy who won't leave a girl alone at a party - but times two, and with super powers!

I'm very impressed with this comic. I even like the art, despite the fact that it's done by some guy who calls himself Chriscross. I just hope Joe Casey doesn't go back to being lame again before the series is over.
Thumbs Up

The Incredibles #2
When will Mr. Incredible learn?? You gotta tell your team when something's going wrong with you! Sigh. Before he finally has to break down and explain what's happening to him to his family, Bob visits the doctor to the superheroes, Doc Sunbright, who just happens to be the cousin of the tailor to the superheroes, Edna Mode. That those two are related is slightly stupid, but I'm willing to buy it, mostly because I enjoy the idea of there being a doctor to the superheros, and loved seeing Bob get a super checkup. Sadly, Doc Sunbright can't figure out what's wrong with Bob, and he fails to help out during the team's next mission. (I like how his line "I wasn't strong enough" mirrors one of my favorite of his lines from the movie: "I can't lose you again. I'm not strong enough.") So Elastigirl makes the command decision to ground him! Probably a good call, but I know Mr. Incredible isn't going to take it well. Hopefully they'll find out what's wrong with him soon!

Definitely still enjoying this series. Mark Waid's writing is strong, and so is Marcio Takara's art. They both get what was cool about the movie.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #34
Part 5 of "The Great Fables Crossover" picks up with Jack and the main characters from Fables having swapped books. Bigby is still reeling from his sudden transformation at the hands (or rather, pen) of Kevin Thorn when Thorn makes another attempt to destroy him, and again doesn't quite succeed. He can't figure out what's holding him back - until he finally notices the dude in the straightjacket who's been tailing him all along. Turns out I was right about that guy: he is indeed Writer's Block. Thorn reveals that he killed Writer's Block years ago, but it cost him his favorite pen to do it, and since the guy's a Literal, he just came back anyway. While he's trying to figure out what to do about this, he sends the genres out to protect him from Bigby and friends. Meanwhile, the Page sisters have finally lost patience with just sitting around the diner and are headed Kevin's way, too, with a car full of weapons. Also, Bigby is continuing to go through a series of more and more embarrassing, and more and more amusing, transformations. Lots of fun, imaginative, and funny stuff happens in this issue. I really enjoy the genres and how deliberately corny and cliche they are. I like the glimpse of apocalypse that we get while the Page sisters are discussing how Kevin might end the world. I like Revise's dry sarcasm. I like Gary's pure, child-like joy at Bigby's various transformations. And I like the Writer's Block concept.
Thumbs Up

Marvel Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
The latest of these anniversary one-shots features one new story ("Project: Blockbuster" by writer Tom DeFalco and artist Chris Burnham) and two reprints of old stories ("The Human Torch" by Carl Burgos from Marvel Mystery Comics #4, February 1940, and "The Ferret" by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen from Marvel Mystery Comics #5, March 1940). The first story is a team-up between Namor, the Ferret, the Angel, and the Human Torch and Toro. It opens with Namor fighting an enemy who's similar to the Human Torch, but is instead covered in a green fire that's freezing cold. The Ferret and Betty Dean figure the Green Flame might be just the first of a series of deadly weapons being created by a missing professor for the Nazis. Namor hates the Human Torch and is certain he's involved somehow, but in fact Torch gets kidnapped as well. The Angel helps them find out where he's being kept and the whole gang of heroes raids the place, where they're forced to fight not just an army of regular Green Flames, but also an extra large one called Project: Blockbuster, and the giant robot Electro! A huge battle ensues, and of course our heroes win. It's not a particularly imaginative story, and it's not exactly loaded with subtle character development, but it's pretty fun. It was interesting meeting the Ferret; he's a character I was not familiar with.

The next story features the first appearance of the Green Flame in the original comic. In this case, the Green Flame has so terrified New York, it's been put under martial law. The Human Torch is coming to see a friend in the city when the cops stop him and ask for his credentials; he tells them he's Jim Hamond, then they all run off when the Green Flame shows up. Hamond turns into the Human Torch and fights it, but it gets away. The cops come back, and since Hamond is no longer there, they stupidly assume the Human Torch must have killed him. They also refuse to believe that he is the Human Torch, but decide he must be some random other guy who happens to also be covered entirely with red fire. Admittedly, with these Green Flame guys running around this isn't an entirely ridiculous idea, but it's still pretty ridiculous (I mean, how many flaming dudes can there really be in the world?). Anyway, Torch escapes and meets up with his friend, who thinks it's hilarious that Torch is now wanted for the murder of himself. Then Torch fights off the Green Flame and defeats their creator, a mad scientist who helpfully calls himself Dr. Manyac. As in a lot of other Golden Age stories, the art is clumsy, and the story and the dialog are silly, but it's fun in its own way.

The final story shows us the Ferret in action. He's just a regular human detective with an actual ferret for a sidekick. He arrives at the scene of a murder and makes a bet with the cop in charge that he can solve the mystery with just one or two seemingly inconsequential clues. Of course, he succeeds. It's all quite ridiculous, and also very rushed and simplistic, as the whole story has to be crammed into just six pages. Can't say I'll be seeking out any collections of The Ferret anytime soon!
Thumbs Sideways

Planet Skaar: Prologue #1
Like Joe Casey, Greg Pak is an author who confounds me by being really good sometimes and really mediocre other times. I'd given up on Pak's Skaar: Son of Hulk series some time ago, but decided to grab this one-shot and see what it was about anyway. Turns out it's irritatingly good! Even worse, the recap in the beginning, which fills us in on Skaar's life story, makes it sound like the more recent issues of Skaar were really cool. Damn it! Now I might have to go back and get them, too.

This comic opens with Bruce Banner (apparently free and out in the world again?) getting pissed about some ketchup and turning into Hulk. But was the ketchup really to blame?? Jen Walters also finds herself Hulking out for no particular reason, and both she and Hulk are drawn toward the same location. Meanwhile, Dr. Waynesboro experiences a sudden flare of her inherited Old Power. We get an interesting glimpse of a letter Reed was writing to Bruce and probably never sent wherein he promises him that should he have had a child, and should it have somehow survived, Reed would do everything in his power to protect it. And then, of course, that child comes zapping down to Earth. It's his landing site that Hulk and She-Hulk are being drawn to. Skaar wants to see his father, but Osborn drops some bombs on him instead. Skaar disappears in the explosion and falls off the Hulk and She-Hulk's radar. What no one realizes is that he has simply reverted to a humanoid form and wandered off. It's a bit of a shocking revelation - for us, and for Skaar - that he has this ability, and the realization makes for an interesting and moving ending.

Other things I liked about this issue: it stays true to Marvel's tendency to get She-Hulk as close to naked as possible as often as possible (although well placed strips of cloth and gestures by other characters keep us from seeing her completely nude); the FF have a spare outfit for She-Hulk already, harking back to the time when she was a member of the team; the Thing and the Human Torch squabbling in that funny, friendly way they always do; Wolverine watching the arrival of Skaar on TV - his bartender says, "Kids, huh?" and he responds, "Tell me about it;" and Waynesboro's rather majestic speech about Skaar. Also, I find it both amusing and just slightly annoying that Pak is apparently turning Skaar into Amadeus Cho II, complete with injured wild coyote sidekick. How many rebel kids are gonna end up with injured wild coyote pets in Pak comics, exactly? On the other hand, I kind of enjoy the parallel (I do love Cho, after all), and the comic is otherwise so smart and funny and effective, I'm willing to forgive it the slightly unbelievable coincidence. Looks like I'm reading Pak on Skaar again, at least for a little while...
Thumbs Up

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: Dragonmount #0
I'm really not sure what possessed me to buy this. Yes, I used to love Robert Jordan's fantasy epic The Wheel of Time when I was younger. I read the first couple books over and over, and waited eagerly for more. But after I finished book 6 or 7, I looked back on it and realized that nothing had really happened at all in the entire 900 or so pages, and I just gave up on the series. Since the fact that it wasn't going anywhere was really my main reason for stopping, when I heard that the series would finally be completed by Jordan's chosen successor, according to the notes he left behind, I thought I might actually read the entire series of books through from the beginning, for old time's sake, and to see how everything finally turned out. So I guess it's that feeling, plus my nostalgia for the series in general, that led me to pick up this zero issue of the Dabel Brothers' comic book adaptation, despite the fact that it was scripted by Chuck Dixon, an author whose work I generally dislike. It opens about where the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, opens. We're in the small town of Emond's Field, where nothing ever happens, and we briefly meet the main characters from the village: the young woman Egwene, her boyfriend Rand al'Thor, and his friends Mat, Ban, and Elam. We also meet Rand's father Tam, who tells the story of a legendary hero named Lews Therin Telamon, known as the Dragon, and how he defeated evil by sealing the Dark One back into his prison many years ago. But there's a sense of a lingering menace. In the back of the book is a prologue, which is a direct adaptation of the prologue of The Eye of the World, and shows us the terrible revenge the Dark One had on the Dragon after his victory.

The main story here is very obviously nothing more than a cursory introduction to this world and its characters. There's no real story; Egwene is used by the author as a narrative pawn, dragged here and there simply so we can see the other characters through her eyes. Her father says he's going to tell a story, but apparently just so we can hear him say a few lines, as he then immediately tells Tam to tell a story instead, and the storytelling sequence is just another thinly veiled attempt at exposition, filling us in on the important history of this world. We barely get to know Rand and his friends at all; some of them aren't even named in the text. What dialog there is is pretty clumsy, and the characters really protest too much that "all that happened long ago" and "nothing ever happens here." It's so obvious that they're about to be proven wrong that it's almost painful. The prologue (which inexplicably appears in the back of the book) is a bit better; this was always one of the most interesting parts of The Eye of the World. But it's still not particularly exciting. I don't think I'll be tricked into buying another issue of this.
Thumbs Down

Skrull Kill Krew #2
This series continues to be fun and interesting. In this issue, the band continues to get back together as Ryder recruits Riot (a lonely lesbian stuck in the form of a horrible monster because her shape-shifting powers have crapped out on her) to help him infiltrate a "Reverse Rodeo" where the Skrull-cows are roping humans, riding them, and killing them. Surprisingly, the humans aren't prisoners; they're actually there by choice, looking for some kind of kinky, S&M experience (they don't know about the killing part). Riot and Ryder start massacring the Skrulls, and are unexpectedly assisted by Wolverine, who claims to be among the humans as an undercover agent (although it seems clear he was there for the S&M thing, too). Later, Riot's shape-shifting powers come back, and Ryder decides to resurrect another member of the team. It turns out he has all their heads in jars in a garage, and all he has to do to bring one back is to dump it out on the floor and wait.

So yeah, that's all a little weird. Not sure what that's about. But it's an interesting and surprising story, and the dialog's quite funny.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Alien Spotlight - Romulans
I was hoping for great things from this one-shot, written by Ian Edgington with art by Wagner Reis, but it ended up being disappointing. It tells the story of a successful Romulan military commander who decides to go into politics, but doesn't bargain on how violently and underhandedly the Praetor will oppose him. It's an okay story with some vaguely interesting action and political intrigue, but it's hurt by the art. The characters are all ridiculously muscular, wearing ridiculously tight clothing; I expect this kind of thing from a superhero comic, but in a Star Trek comic? Worse, the space battle sequences are just pure confusion. The ships are all so similar-looking, and are depicted at such random angles with so many explosions and obstructions all around them, it's impossible to tell which is which and what's going on. It's just not very well done.
Thumbs Sideways

Wolverine: Weapon X #2
Jason Aaron's kick-ass Wolverine story continues! That woman reporter he met is getting obsessed with him, and with figuring out what his story is. Her interest gets her contacted by a mysterious informant who puts her on the same track he's on: the new Weapon X. Wolverine cleverly draws out the new Weapon X guys and attacks them, but gets more than he bargained for: these guys are just like him, but younger, and with laser claws. Plus, there are a whole lot of them. Luckily, he does have a few advantages on his side: his experience, and the fact that he's the best at what he does. He draws them into the jungle, where he can fight them where and how he wants to. Next issue, showdown! The original Weapon X versus the new models. Good times. This story is clever, darkly funny, and has plenty of exciting action. And it has guns that shoot cancer! Awesome.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 5/28
Aliens #1
Dark Horse relaunches its Aliens series with this comic, written by John Arcudi with art by Zach Howard. We open with some folks on a planet being killed by Aliens, then cut to the usual "group of people waking from hyper sleep on a spaceship" sequence. The memory loss from hyper sleep is used as a clumsy excuse to shoehorn in some exposition to explain who these folks are and why they're here (they're scientists who've traveled to this planet to examine an archaeological site uncovered by a mining company). Then things finally take a surprising and interesting turn when the scientists meet some miners who seem to have gone a bit crazy and perhaps joined some kind of religious cult. It's all rather curious and intriguing. There's more violence, but someone miraculously survives. I'm betting it's the ship's synthetic person.

For an Aliens comic written by John Arcudi, this is surprisingly boring, clumsy, and lacking in creativity and characterization, but like I said, it does get more interesting at the end. Hopefully the next issue will be better.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight #1
This is an odd one-shot from writer Mark Waid and artist Diego Olmos. It's set pre-Final Crisis, when Bruce Wayne was still Batman and he wasn't busy fighting the Black Hand or an evil God. Killer Croc has escaped from Arkham - again! - and this time has apparently been tricked by the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow into believing he's the reincarnation of the dragon from the story of St. George and the Dragon, and that he has to go to Barcelona to find the knight who slayed him and take his revenge. It's a rather unlikely and contrived reason to move the action to Barcelona, but... whatever. Batman has, of course, planned ahead for just such a situation and has a mini-Bat Cave in that city, so he just flies over and sets up shop, inventing a reason for Bruce Wayne to be there, and taking the opportunity to catch up with and old friend. What he isn't prepared for is how Batman will be received in a city other than Gotham. The cops take shots at him and the citizens are afraid of him. It's an interesting twist.

I like the opening page of this one, which shows a Wayne jet flying into Barcelona, its shadow a giant bat symbol, but I do think it's a little corny to do that on the first page, and then immediately jump back 24 hours earlier on the next page. And like I already said, the plot in general is rather contrived and nonsensical. There are some neat character moments between Bruce and his old friend Cristina Llanero. It's also interesting seeing Batman off-balance in a new, alien city - but I feel like more could have been done with that idea. I mean, one time a woman is scared of him, and then another time the cops shoot at him, but that's it. I think the whole story should have been about Batman trying to adjust to working in a different city. That's an interesting fish out of water (bat out of cave?) type of story. As it is, this ends up being a pretty basic "Batman uses detective work to find a criminal and then they fight" story. At least there are a few scenes where the metaphor of knight vs. dragon is used in fun and interesting ways.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: The Hood #1
The first issue of this Dark Reign tie-in miniseries by Jeff Parker, with art by Kyle Hotz, is the most intimate look we've had at The Hood since his introductory miniseries. We see his gang pulling a job, and get an idea how he's been holding all these villains together. And we see how he's changed, and how the demon that owns his cloak is haunting him. After seeing him in all his brutal grandeur as The Hood, it's surreal and almost unbelievable to see him go back to his wife and try to pretend he's still just Parker Robbins - your everyday, average petty crook with a wife and a child. How much longer can he keep these lives separate? Especially now that an old enemy has returned to finish him once and for all?

The White Fang character is pretty lame and contrived, so I'm not sure how I feel about her being back, but at least she's not annoying in this issue. The Hood and his gang continue to be fascinating, and Hotz's art is good, especially during the creepy sequence where the demon speaks to The Hood through a dead body. I might have to get at least one more issue of this.
Thumbs Up

Ignition City #3
A look through her Dad's logbook and a talk with Gayle the bartender, plus some hard logic, leads our hero to the identity of her father's killer. Pretty shortly after she makes this discovery, the tension finally erupts into an all-out firefight with ray guns. In between, we get a further peek into the strange and violent history of his world, and Yuri has a hilarious drunken run-in with some alien beetles before finally actually being useful for once. I kind of love Yuri. It's a fascinating world Ellis is building here, with the help of illustrator Gianluca Pagliarani. The glimpses we get of the horrific acts of Kharg The Killer are particularly intriguing. And of course it's hard not to love our main character, a beautiful young rocket jockey just trying to do right by her poor dead Dad. It took a while but I think I'm finally hooked on this series.
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The New Avengers #53
I think I might have become THAT comic fan. The one who goes on and on about how much he dislikes an author, and then continues to buy his comics anyway. The author I'm talking about in this case is Brian Michael Bendis. Even though his style has begun to seriously annoy me, I can't seem to keep myself from buying his books. In this issue, the same corny back and forth dialog is here again, but there's also a story about the Eye of Agamotto seeking out its new owner, who turns out to be (spoiler!) "Brudder" Voodoo. Huh. Not sure how to feel about that. I know almost nothing about the character. Although I can tell you I'm not a big fan of his silly accent. There are enough silly accents in comics. Anyway, in the meantime there are some fun fights; Captain America gets bad-ass and just shoots Madame Masque in the face, and Son of Satan and The Hood face off.

I just can't seem to come to a final decision about Bendis. I guess for now I'll keep reading his books. The stories are interesting, and integral to the Marvel Universe, and anyway sometimes he really is funny. I liked the thing about Spider-Man calling Captain America "Bucky Cap," and him not liking it.
Thumbs Sideways

Fringe #5
This isn't the best issue of this miniseries, but it's a decent one. Bishop actually manages to convince his future father he's his son thanks to the fact that the Nazis just turned on their own version of the time machine that Bishop and Bell used to get here. Which probably explains why their time machine brought them here in the first place; it's the first time the machine was turned on and thus, theoretically, the furthest back they could go - kind of a zero point. A Back to the Future-style fading person moment occurs, but they manage to save their futures and get back to their own time. There's even a fun final glimpse of how Hitler really died: he was eaten alive by dinosaurs! Nice.

The backup story is about an anchorwoman who's noticed a pattern in the recent weird stories she's been reporting: Massive Dynamic is connected to all of them. The company somehow knows she's figured this out and invites her out to a research facility to show her what they're really doing. But she just ends up becoming a part of their latest experiment. Kind of an obvious idea, but pretty eerie and fun anyway.
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Ghost Rider #35
In the third of a series of one-shots taking a look at what our main characters are doing now that Zadkiel has conquered heaven, we see Johnny Blaze trying to find some kind of peace at a seaside town, only to end up having to fight a hideous demon known as The Skinbender, who resembles a woman who's had far too much plastic surgery, and who's horribly mutating everybody in town. Johnny tries to avoid calling on the Ghost Rider's help, but of course must eventually do so. When Johnny unleashes the Ghost Rider, the Skinbender kind of falls in love with him a little bit, but he just torches her anyway. And she likes it. Johnny seems on the verge once again of being subsumed by the Ghost Rider, but luckily the Caretaker shows up and talks Johnny into coming with her and helping her fight back against Zadkiel any way they can. All in all, a pretty brutal and twisted story. I like it! Tony Moore's art in particular is quite good.

If I understand correctly, this book is going to take a break until August, at which point it will come back as Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire, wherein Jason Aaron will finish up his run on the title. I'll be sad to see him leave the book, but am excited to see what he does with it before he goes, and curious to see who'll pick it up after him, and where they'll go with it.
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Green Lantern #41
The prelude to Blackest Night continues! Sigh. This Blackest Night thing better be pretty good after all the hype and buildup they've given it. Anyway, in this episode of the neverending prologue to the actual story, Larfleeze is keeping Hal Jordan alive because he wants to know what the deal is with the blue ring and how he can get it. Meanwhile, Fatality, now in purple love mode, saves John Stewart, but Sinestro and his Corps have some nasty things in mind for her and the Zamarons. Then that dude who's still looking for the Anti-Monitor's corpse is killing vampires or something? I didn't really quite follow what the deal was with that. Anyway, Hal figures out one way to stall Larfleeze, and try to figure out what's going on with him, is to tell him he'll give him the blue ring in exchange for information. Which is how he learns the rather fascinating origin of Agent Orange, how the Guardians' ended up agreeing to stay out of the Vega System, and a small piece of the story of Parallax. But after the story's told, Larfleeze gets impatient and does the smart thing: he lops Hal's arm off and steals the blue ring! Good call, man. It looks like he's in the Blue Lantern Corps now, and it looks like Hal's about to die. But both of those things seem unlikely, so we'll just have to see how it gets resolved in the next issue.

And yes, I will be getting the next issue. No matter how much I complain about Johns' poorly written dialog and narration, and his endlessly not-quite-starting Blackest Night, I have to admit the dude has got me hooked on this story.
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hercules #129
This series and its author, Greg Pak, really bug me. Sometimes really good, sometimes really mediocre. I keep picking them up and dropping them. But at this particular moment I'm in a picking up mood, because Pak's integration of ancient Greek mythology into the Marvel comics universe is really entertaining. This issue opens with Amadeus and Hercules washing themselves in the toxins of the Jersey Shore to burn away their sins before entering the afterlife, where they hope to take advantage of Pluto's disinterest in the domain of the dead to find Zeus and sneak him out of there, so he can help them defeat Hera. A casino in Atlantic City turns out to be one of the entrances to hell. A mythology refresher helps explain why that lady Hebe is stalking Herc. Cerberus has met a sad fate: he's now just a chained attraction in the casino. Herc and Cho's guide, Aegis, describes each afterlife as an interface, like a web browser, all accessing the same group of dead people. At the moment, because Pluto is interested in more Earthly pursuits, death is pretty variable; if you win at the games in the casino, you get to come back to life. Everybody's playing for their second chance. Which explains why everybody's always coming back to life in the Marvel Universe! The two-page spread where we get to see a bunch of familiar dead heroes playing slot machines and roulette is really fantastic. Cho then beats the system to win them some more chips to pay the ferryman, and Herc ends up tearing the place apart, in a scene that's both funny and moving. But now it looks like Pluto is going to put Zeus on trial, with a jury full of dead villains deciding his fate?

I just love what Pak is doing here, mixing together these two mythologies in such a clever and funny way. His dialog is clever and funny, too. Looks like I'm collecting this book again!
Thumbs Up

The Literals #2
I continue to be very amused by the personification of the Genres, as done by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. It's pretty amusing satire. But man are they brutal to Fantasy! Sam and Hansel give Kevin quite different advice on how to deal with his little Writer's Block issue; Sam, of course, wants to try to save the world, while Hansel is eager to see it destroyed. Sam finally decides it's necessary to take drastic action against Hansel to keep him from unduly influencing Kevin (go Sam! That was bad-ass), but he makes his move too late! Bigby and his gang have joined up with the Page sisters and are doing fierce battle against the Genres practically on Kevin's doorstep, but they could be too late, as well. It's not looking good for the future of this world!

I was a little leery of this whole Great Fables Crossover thing, but I'm really enjoying it so far. Nice work, guys!
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Muppet Robin Hood #1
Boom!'s main Muppet Show ongoing is apparently doing quite well, so now they're doing this miniseries, which is exactly what it sounds like: the Muppets doing Robin Hood. It's the standard Muppet adaptation: they tell the original story, but with an all-Muppet cast, and everything has been slightly twisted, with plenty of pop culture references and silly jokes added in. Kermit is Robin, which is slightly confusing, given that Kermit's nephew's name is Robin, and Robin also appears in the story. They solve this problem by changing Robin's name to Squirt for this story, and they make sure to mention how goofy all that is. The story opens with Robin (by which I mean Kermit) returning home from the Crusades to his ancestral swamp only to find it has been turned into a mini-golf course by Prince John - in fact, all of England has been turned into a cheesy, money-making tourist trap (I particularly like that the Manchester Marketplace is a literal tourist trap - they stick you in a maze and you have to pay to get out!). Naturally, Robin decides he must return England to its former glory. Luckily he meets up with Little John and his group of outcasts in the forest, and he quickly recruits them all to his cause. My favorite gag in the whole book is probably the one about the hippie band member who plays Willa Scarlet. Little John says of her: "You'll never meet someone with a better knowledge of herbs than her." Herbs, huh? Riiiight.

It's not exactly a knee-slappingly hilarious comic, but it's mildly amusing and generally pretty fun, so I'll probably keep reading it.
Thumbs Sideways

Rapture #1
I read a preview of this new Dark Horse miniseries ages ago and rather liked it, so naturally I picked up the first issue. The premise is interesting. Basically the superheroes in this particular universe have a huge, horrific war wherein they kill each other off and throw the Earth into a post-apocalyptic state, complete with bloodthirsty cannibals roaming the smoking ruins. One young woman is chosen by what appears to be an angel to protect the Earth now that the heroes are gone. She's offered a magical weapon and incredible power, but she keeps rejecting it, because she doesn't want the responsibility - she just wants to find her boyfriend, a young singer-songwriter whom she was separated from due to her own mixed feelings, and the chaos of the super-war. Finally the angel promises her that if she accepts her power and her destiny, she will be reunited with her boyfriend, and that convinces her to give in. Meanwhile, the lovesick boyfriend could be seeking comfort in the arms of another woman!

It's a pretty classic melodramatic doomed love story, but set in a post-apocalyptic, post-superhero context. The writing is by Taki Soma and Michael Avon Oeming, and Oeming also provides the art. The story is dramatic and intriguing, the dialog is realistic, and the visuals are powerful and effective, thanks in large part to Val Staples colors. I'm not a huge fan of melodrama, but it's pretty well done here. I'll probably get at least one more issue.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #72
Having skipped from #71 to #73, this series returns now to #72 for the penultimate episode in the Old Man Logan storyline. And boy is it fantastic. This has been a great arc, but this might be the greatest issue yet. It opens with a flashback to the brutal and awful final defeat of Captain America at the hands of the Red Skull, who now lives in a White House bedecked with Nazi insignia, wears Captain America's ragged, bloody costume for fun, and keeps a room full of the costumes and weaponry of all the old, dead heroes so he can look around and gloat. It's sick and twisted and just right. Naturally his henchmen bring the bodies of Wolverine and Hawkeye to him, but somebody's forgotten just how dangerous and resilient Wolverine can be. The way he finally defeats the Red Skull is so fantastic and bad-ass I just about hooted with joy when I saw it. Then he roars back across the country in an old Iron Man suit, focused even now only on getting back in time with the money that will save his family. But even after all of this, after everything he's been through, it wasn't enough, and he's too late. And that's the last straw. We know he's finally snapped back to his old brutal self thanks to a two-page spread that's just one gigantic, red word on a black background: "SNIKT!" Brilliant.

Holy crap, do I love this comic!! Looking forward to the conclusion in Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Sized Special, which I expect will be just as creative, bloody, insane, and awesome as the rest of the series has been.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 6/3
Batman and Robin #1
Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely take on the new Batman and Robin in a new ongoing series. There aren't really words to describe how much I was looking forward to this. Which is usually a recipe for disappointment, but this book met pretty much all of my expectations. We open with B&R in the middle of a fantastic car chase. Quitely brilliantly writes the sound effects into the panels with the actual things that are making the sounds - so the explosion in the first panel bursts outwards in the form of two giant orange-red-yellow words: "BOOM BOOM." B&R are chasing an unfamiliar villain who calls himself Toad - and he looks like a toad, too. His dialog and that of his henchmen is hilarious. "The mingers can't catch us now!" he says. "They'd need wings to chase old Toad! They'd have to be Batman - and Batman's as dead as the sky is black! Belts, gentlemen, please! Safety first!" But of course, it is Batman, and he and Robin capture Toad handily, even putting him down with an old school simultaneous double punch. It turns out Toad isn't the head villain: he's working for someone else named Pyg. Afterwards, in a conversation with Alfred that spans two short pages, Morrison handles all of Dick Grayson's internal conflict over becoming Batman far more gracefully and powerfully than it was handled in all of Battle for the Cowl. Then there's a clever page that takes a sort of cross-section of the Wayne skyscraper, pulling out inset detail panels to show us what's going on at various points in the building as Alfred takes supper down to the boys. I love that Damian calls Alfred simply "Pennyworth," and treats him like a servant. Damian is such a stuck up little snot, but Morrison somehow makes him amusing anyway. Alfred takes his crap and responds with a simple arch of the eyebrow. The repartee between Dick and Alfred is wonderful. "Alfred, these chicken and jalapeno sandwiches are ferocious - I could eat them by the ton." The dialog in general is so old school comic-booky, but somehow without being over-the-top. As the Batmobile roars out of the cave, Batman says offhandedly, "Crime is doomed." Later, as they present themselves to Commissioner Gordon in grand fashion, flying down in answer to his signal on their new paracapes, Batman says, "This is it. Batman and Robin. Together again for the first time." This is followed shortly by a glorious, full-page illustration of them floating down with the signal behind them. These two feel so right in these costumes. They're not comfortable in them yet themselves, but I'm comfortable with them, as a reader.

In the book's final sequence, we meet Pyg for the first time as he grabs one of the henchmen who got away and tortures him for his failure in truly horrific fashion. So this issue has successfully introduced us to our new heroes, and our new villains. And in the back are four panels previewing what we can expect in future issues of the series. Is that Robin ripping off his cape? The Red Hood? Batman fighting Batwoman while another Batman walks out of molten lava? The Black Hand? Wow. I can't wait to see where Morrison and Quitely go next with this story. Batman and Robin are back, and they're in good hands.
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 - Tales of the Vampires
Since this isn't numbered at all, it would appear to be a one-shot, although the plurality of the title suggests otherwise. I don't know. Anyway, the idea is that we're taking a look at vampires in the context of the new world that the events of Season Eight have created: a world where the vampire is popular and accepted and the Slayer is hated and demonized (which is of course a clever metaphor for the current vampire fad in popular culture). The story is written by Becky Cloonan with art by Vasilis Lolos. It's about, and narrated by, a teen named Jacob who's bored with his life and desperate to feel something. He gets his kicks letting vampires suck his blood. His friend Alex doesn't approve, but likes him anyway, and agrees to go on a date with him. Feeling that his life is turning around, Jacob tells the vampires he's not in the mood to have his blood sucked tonight. But he quickly finds out that's not exactly how it works.

This ends up being a powerful character portrait and a really great story. A large part of what makes this such an excellent comic is the really lovely, Paul Pope-style art from Lolos, and the lush, candy-like colors from Dave Stewart. Seriously, Stewart has really outdone himself on this one. Just beautiful. I'm not sure if there will be any more Tales of the Vampires one-shots, but I certainly hope so!
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Captain Britain and MI13 Annual #1
This book contains two stories by Paul Cornell: "The Harrowing of Hell" with art by Mike Collins and "British Magic" with art by Adrian Alphona. The first story gives us a short history of the life of Meggan, Captain Britain's lost love, and explains what she's been doing in hell and how she eventually got out. I didn't know anything about this character, so I was glad to read more about her, especially since her adventures in hell are so interesting and so well written. I particularly like the dialog of the other creatures there, especially the rulers of hell. I'm always fascinated by magical rules of give and take, so I enjoy the way Meggan barters with the rulers of hell, and the way they trick her and trap her with her own powers and her own hope. But it's hope and love that eventually leads her out of hell - into the arms of an unexpected savior. Interesting stuff! This ending seems to pull Meggan right into the current storyline of Captain Britain; it'll be interesting to see how she fits in.

"Harrowing" is a great story, but the art is just okay. The art in "British Magic," however, is quite excellent, with lots of fantastic use of perspective, and some really wonderful character portraits. The story here is set during a friendly game of cricket among the members of the team, and focuses on Captain Britain thinking back to his time with Meggan, and moping over having lost her. But eventually he realizes he's surrounded by loving friends who really understand him, and he's able to move on at least a little bit. It's a nice character-centered story. I just wish I understood cricket better. None of that part of the story makes any sense to me at all. The game is a complete mystery.
Thumbs Up

Daredevil Noir #3
Now feeling certain that Halloran is his father's killer, Daredevil tears the city apart looking for him. But when he finally gets to him, he discovers it's been a trap all along - Halloran wanted him to come, so he could take him out. But who'll do the deed? The Bull's-Eye Killer, of course, who is in fact none other than (drum roll) Eliza! An obvious plot twist in retrospect, but they cleverly threw Marvel fans off track by making them associate the Bull's-Eye Killer with Bullseye, and thus expect a man. Anyway, lucky for Daredevil Eliza is there to betray more than one person, and Halloran gets what's coming to him. Next issue I suppose we'll find out what went down between Eliza and Matt after that.

It's a rather beautifully written story (we can thank author Alexander Irvine for that), and even leaves me vaguely confused the way a labyrinthine noir plot should. And Tomm Coker's art is as realistic and artful as ever. I feel like if I look back over the plot once I've read the whole miniseries, it won't actually hold together, but I could be totally wrong about that. We'll see.
Thumbs Up

Dark Avengers #5
Yes, I went back to drink at Bendis' well yet again. But this time I really didn't regret the decision. I've got to hand it to the guy: this is a clever, funny, well-written comic. I particularly like the way he's written Norman Osborn during his live TV rebuttal of Hawkeye. We know, of course, that Osborn's being completely insincere - that he's really a madman and a scumbag. And that's what makes his reasoned arguments, his careful spin, and his false piety so very entertaining. Intercut with the masterful centerpiece of the issue (Osborn's interview) are various other scenes: a flashback showing us how Osborn talked the Sentry down after the events of last issue (although no one yet knows how he came back to life, including the Sentry himself), an interesting moment after that where Ares tried to straighten out his fellow Avengers and put them in their place (Bullseye seemed to calmly accept a bitch slap from the god of war, but I suspect he's just planning the best time to strike back), and a scene set after that when Ares comes home to find his son Alexander gone (which makes sense; that's the kid who's working for Nick Fury now). Then "Captain Marvel" and "Miss Marvel" have sex. Cap is a little disturbed by the way humans do the deed, and even more disturbed when Miss Marvel lets slip that the Dark Avengers is a team of psychotic criminals and murderers, a fact of which Cap was somehow unaware. Just around this time, a bunch of crazy guys on flying manta rays attack LA! Are those Namor's people? Anyway, Norman's pissed because coverage of the attack preempts his interview, so he calls the Avengers together. He can't quite bring himself to say the whole "Avengers assemble!" catchphrase, though: "Get 'em up and ready. Avengers... you know. Get them together." Heh.

So yeah, great stuff. Very funny and smart, and then there are explosions at the end.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Run! #2
Our hero (if you can call the Human Flame that) somehow survives the explosions and the killers from the end of last issue, but his money does not, so he's back at square one and still needs a big chunk of cash before he can hightail it out of town. Luckily, the guy from the Russian mob had his driver's license on him, complete with address ("Huh. Your name actually is Boris. Go figure."), so Mike heads over there, only to be attacked by the mobster's corgis, which, in true Human Flame style, he throws out the window (don't worry, they land safely in the pool below). He grabs the mobster's cash, but wants to use it to get some more weapons. He picks the wrong guy to try to buy from, however, and gets his ass beat. Now he needs a doctor. He foolishly accepts help from a two-bit supervillain who calls himself The Condiment King, and gets himself in with a whole gang of similar misfits led by a madman who calls himself Immortus. As usual, Mike's bad luck comes in about equal measure with his good: Immortus hooks him up with a bunch of super-human improvements, but also wants his obedience and is willing to enforce it through pain and torture.

Wow, this story has taken a crazy turn! But I still like it. Mike continues to be an entertainingly awful scumbag who's dragging himself through some serious mud. I'm curious to see if he'll get out of this, and how.
Thumbs Up

Irredeemable #3
I was on the fence about this series, until this issue. This one sealed the deal. I'm a fan for good now. The opening is seriously twisted: the Plutonian is forcing a couple of random people to play out a fantasy sex scene for him, with the man playing him and the girl playing his ex. Then we cut to a prison outside Philadelphia (yay, Philly!). Underneath the prison is the secret hideout of a now dead superhero named Inferno. Inferno's secret identity was a Bruce Wayne-like billionaire, and this was his Batcave. The supervillains found the hideout and have gathered there to loot the place, and to decide what to do about the Plutonian situation. Is he on their side now? Meanwhile, the heroes have some spies on the scene in the hopes that the villains will let something slip about the Plutonian's weaknesses. What no one has counted on is the Plutonian's cleverness; he anticipated this move and he's already on the scene. In an incredibly tense and nerve-wracking sequence, the Plutonian has a chat with the villains, calmly feeling them out and setting them up while the hero spy looks on, unable to move for fear he'll be spotted and killed on the spot. Ironically, the Plutonian never even notices the spy, or his partner, but manages to defeat them both anyway. Then he just gets ready to set up the twisted fantasy play from the beginning again, this time with new actors.

Holy crap is this brutal! The Plutonian is such a fearsome, horrific, unstoppable force: a brilliant, invincible madman with God-like powers. I loved meeting the villains of this universe, and I especially loved hearing them gripe at each other and take potshots at the heroes. Writer Mark Waid is using this story to turn the entire concept of superhero comics on its head. It's satire, but loving satire; this is a superhero comic, too, after all. And a damn good one at that: the ending of this issue is breath-takingly exciting. I can't wait to see what Waid has in store for us next month.
Thumbs Up

The Muppet Show #3
This is my favorite issue of this series yet. The overarching story this time is that the show is being visited by an insurance agent who needs to know the species of everybody on staff in order to renew the show's policy. Scooter sets about putting together a list for him, but the problem is, nobody really knows what Gonzo is - or rather, a lot of people think they know, but none of them agree. Finally, Scooter has an illuminating conversation with Rizzo, a chunk of which I'm going to copy down here because it's so hilarious and excellent:
Scooter: This Gonzo business is getting me down.
Rizzo: What Gonzo business is this? When he landed on a policeman or when he tried to set fire to one?
Scooter: Heh heh. January sure was a bad month to be a policeman, wasn't it? No, no, those were settled out of court. This is about figuring out what Gonzo actually is so we can insure the theater.
Rizzo: What he is? Isn't it obvious?
Scooter: Is it?
Rizzo: Sure! He's a Gonzo... Gonzo the Great! The one! The only! The best!

Scooter brings this answer to the agent, but in the end feels compelled to ask Gonzo what the real answer is, and Gonzo says, "Oh, Scooter... I thought you knew. I'm an artist. An artist..." And Scooter thinks, "Well... I guess he is, after all." That ending seriously put a little lump in my throat. Smart, moving, and funny. And some of the gags in between are pretty great, too. I particularly enjoyed the crime noir detective story parody, "Gumshoe McGurk, Private Eye!" and the parody of the Mad Hatter's tea party, both starring Gonzo. And I love the way they finally get the theater insured by scaring the crap out of the insurance agent.

I was still waffling on whether I wanted to continue collecting this book, but now I'm a solid fan.
Thumbs Up

New Mutants #2
The mysterious and disturbing events of last issue finally start to make sense in this issue, as we realize that Shan's mind has been projected outside of her body and is now trapped inside Legion's body, along with the mind of the missing girl, Marci, and all of Legion's many murderous, insane personalities. Shan has control of Legion's body at first, but then Legion wrests it away from her and goes off in search of Dani, planning to kill her. Meanwhile, the folks in town aren't exactly being helpful; they're prejudiced against mutants and have been trying to keep them out of their town. It's hard to blame them too much; I mean, they have a point! When mutants come to town, things tend to start blowing up and people tend to start dying. Just look what happens in this comic!

This series continues to be surprisingly excellent. It's an exciting, unique, creative story cleverly told (I particularly like the metaphorical representation of the interior of Legion's mind, where whoever holds the doll gets control of the body), interesting characters, and smart, funny dialog, all courtesy writer Zeb Wells; fantastic pencils courtesy Diogenes Neves; and subtle, beautiful colors courtesy John Rauch.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #29
In this issue, we finally get the story of the casino heist from Bad Horse's perspective, but it's told like a puzzle, shattered into overlapping shards of time. We get fragments of Bad Horse's twisted relationship with his girlfriend - their angry fights, frenzied love-making, desperate drug-taking - followed by a replay of the scene we saw in the first issue of this arc, where Bad Horse meets the mastermind of the heist at the casino bar. Then the heist starts. Then Bad Horse jumps back in time to the war. Then back to the heist. Back to his screwed up childhood. Back to the heist. Back to laying in bed with his girlfriend. Back to the heist. He's high and his mind is broken into pieces. As the thief prepares to kill him, he sobers up and gains sudden clarity. In a dark twist, it's pure luck, and the fact that someone else was trying to kill him earlier, that saves him. Furious in the wake of his near death, and the near loss of his cover, he makes a suicidal run at the other thieves and brutally guns them all down. But after barely saving himself and his cover story, he seems now prepared to tell his whacked out girlfriend who he really works for, which seems like a terrible idea to me.

This comic continues to be so excellent it's really kind of mind-blowing. This issue is quite simply a work of art; a brilliant jewel of a story, skillfully constructed and beautifully drawn. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera, I salute you! And I look forward to following this story through to what I'm sure will be a brutal and shattering conclusion.
Thumbs Up

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3
The latest Seaguy miniseries comes to an end with this issue - and what an end it is! A horrific scene at Mickey Eye Park reveals some of the disturbing work that goes on underground there, and then we see more of how Lotharius plans to make everyone glad - by making them mindless consumers, enslaved by their televisions and housed in tiny pens. But Lotharius forgets the old proverb and makes the mistake of scorning a woman. He also underestimates Seaguy, who finally performs a real act of rebellion. Funnily enough, Seaguy's rebellion is a short-lived failure - he just gets his ass kicked - but it's enough to inspire other, more successful heroes to finally, gloriously fight back. At last they win the day! Mickey Eye is beaten! Sort of. In fact, another empire that sounds pretty similar to Mickey's gets started up almost right away, and everything returns to the status quo. Well, almost everything. Seaguy seems to have finally gained confidence and self-awareness, and he and She-Beard finally get together. Aww.

I really, really loved this series, much more than I did the original Seaguy series - although really, that one is necessary for this one to work, and it's the whole complete story that they tell together that I really enjoy. It's brilliant and strange and unique and romantic and funny and disturbing and moving. It's a return to Morrison's favorite type of story (and one of my favorite types of stories): the endless fight of chaos, rebellion, and individuality against order, the establishment, and society. And artist Cameron Stewart and colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart provide the perfect visual embodiment of Morrison's odd world. Excellent!
Thumbs Up

Skaar #11
The excellence of Planet Skaar: Prologue #1 sucked me back into this book, which now has a new, shorter title! Instead of Skaar, Son of Hulk, we have just Skaar. He's become his own man, as it were. As the issue opens, Kate Waynesboro has gone AWOL and hooked up with the Warbound to seek out Skaar. Osborn is totally okay with this, because now he can just follow these folks, see how they handle things, and hope they take care of the Skaar problem for him. The humanoid Skaar meets some puny Earthlings, there's a misunderstanding, he gets pissed, and boom, he turns right back into his big green self. Kind of saw that coming. His transformation turns back on whatever biological tracking device was acting on the Hulk and She-Hulk before, and brings the Warbound and the Hulk running. The Warbound try to befriend Skaar, but he's not having it; all he wants to do is fight his Dad - a wish it looks like he'll get granted next issue.

Nestled in the middle of the main story are a couple of interesting and illuminating flashbacks to the consumption of Sakaar by Galactus. Yep, definitely enjoying this story, and the characters in it. I also like Ron Lim and Dan Panosian's art. They're good at both intimate closeups and epic long shots. And I'm really looking forward to the titanic duel between father and son that's coming next!
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Crew #4
This issue is actually a sort of tie-in with Assignment: Earth, which meant I felt slightly left out, as I don't read that comic. Still, it was good to see our hero back on the Enterprise finally, and having another exciting adventure, this time at the side of Lieutenant Commander Christopher Pike, later to be Captain of the Enterprise. The two of them end up on what should be a routine away mission to a seemingly uninhabited planet, but of course nothing is ever routine for the Enterprise crew. In fact the planet turns out to be inhabited by a race of super-warriors bred only for battle. The away team has a rather bloody adventure there, and then end up just leaving the warriors to fight things out on their own. It's not a satisfactory conclusion, especially for our hero, but it seems like the only option. This was one of the less exciting issues of this miniseries - I couldn't muster up a lot of interest in the story of the primitive super-warriors - but still vaguely entertaining. The next issue will be the last one, and I'm hoping the series goes out with a bang. I wonder how far it will go, timeline-wise; I've been kind of assuming it would end just before the start of the events of the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," but who knows? I look forward to it regardless.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Books (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Daredevil (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Frank Quitely (Not), Fringe (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hulk (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Byrne (Not), Mark Waid (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Muppets (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Scalped (Not), Seaguy (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Take (Not), The Wheel of Time (Not), Vampires (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not)
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Sunday, May 24, 2009 11:48 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, a predictably weak showing from Radical.
Thumbs Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

\m/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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