Sunday, April 26, 2009 02:50 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 4/22, plus a hard copy collection I'd forgotten I owned, and a couple of back issues I missed when they originally came out.

Back issues and old data
Jack of Fables #32
This issue opens with Jack still harboring dreams of bagging all three of the Page sisters at the same time, but only one of them seems into the idea. Jack also fills us in on how he and the other Fables escaped from the explosion at the end of last issue - sort of. He tells the story in his own way, with him as the hero, accompanied by hilariously skewed illustrations. A quick aside from the other characters reveals what really happened. Afterwards, the whole gang splits up and goes their separate ways. Then Revise reveals that Jack is half Literal and, further, that the Page sisters are his half-sisters!! Everybody is shocked and disgusted at this news, a fact that is driven home in humorous fashion by a couple panels of the four of them just staring wide-eyed off into nothing.

This isn't a particularly exceptional issue, but it's got some fun moments, and of course the interesting revelation about Jack's heritage.
Thumbs Up

The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank
After reading and (mostly) enjoying the follow-up to this storyline, I thought I'd better go back and check out the original. It's the same creative team and a lot of the same characters in a similar story, so I (mostly) enjoyed it, too. It's a Marvel Knights series first published in 2000 and 2001. The Punisher hadn't appeared in a Marvel comic for some time, and the last time he had had been in a series where he was resurrected as the agent of angels and other supernatural forces. Which, I think you'll agree, is a really weird idea. In this book, Ennis wisely mentions that part of the Punisher's history only briefly, putting it swiftly to bed and then moving on. He takes the Punisher back to his roots: killing mobsters. Specifically, Frank sets his sights on Ma Gnucci's huge criminal empire and methodically dismantles it with the application of extreme violence. While he's not doing that, he's living quietly in an apartment building under the name John Smith, along with a collection of other colorful characters, who befriend him, and whom he ends up befriending in turn, in his own rather moving way. There's a particularly interesting dynamic between him and the frightened, mousy Joan, which actually reminds me of the dynamic between Ballard and Mellie in Dollhouse.

I could read about the Punisher killing mobsters in various horrifically brutal, darkly humorous ways for just about forever, so that part of the story is fantastic. I particularly enjoy the sequence where he easily picks off the three assassins hired to kill him, before they've even collected their weapons. The narration is well written, too, and gives us an insight into the Punisher's rather twisted psyche, besides further underlining how incredibly bad-ass he is.

There are a couple of subplots running throughout the story: the tale of the hated and disgraced cops who are given the thankless and impossible jobs of capturing the Punisher and Ma Gnucci's gang, and the tales of the three copycat vigilantes who show up around the same time that the Punisher comes back on the scene. The vigilantes storyline is interesting because it attempts to examine where the fine line lies between crazed murderers like them and the Punisher. The cops storyline I find... less fun. Ennis has a pretty sick sense of humor, but I'm generally okay with it - until he applies it to poor, pathetic characters like detective Martin Soap and criminal psychologist Bud Plugg. Plugg's story is particularly sad, pathetic, and horrific, but it's played entirely for laughs, and worse, it's completely gratuitous. It doesn't add a thing to the story, and it just made me feel dirty reading it. It reminds me too much of R. Crumb and his whole twisted, shameful, pathetic sad-sack genre. I really wish it just wasn't here.

One of the only other things I don't like about the book is, believe it or not, the lettering, which is provided by Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Wes Abbott. Lettering is one of those things that you don't notice until it's done poorly, and sadly it is done poorly here. The font just doesn't seem right to me, and the fact that all the text is in italics throughout makes it annoying to look at.

But stuff like that aside, the series is quite funny, clever, thought-provoking, and entertaining. It mostly doesn't cross over into the greater Marvel Universe, except when Daredevil does get involved in a powerful, disturbing, and memorable sequence in which the Punisher basically picks apart DD's entire moral and ethical universe. There's also the fantastic sequence featuring a huge, comically unstoppable killer called the Russian, who talks at length about his love of superheroes. Another favorite scene of mine, although it doesn't involve superheroes, is the one in which the Punisher uses the animals at the zoo to horribly slaughter and maim his enemies. He even punches a polar bear! That's comedy.

The interior art, by penciler Steve Dillon, inker Jimmy Palmiotti, and colorist Chris Sotomayor, is quite good, and I'm very impressed by Tim Bradstreet's covers. So overall, it's a pretty fantastic book. But I remain a bit uneasy about Ennis' twisted sense of humor. I think it's mostly that that kept me from enjoying his acclaimed Preacher series, and that keeps me from being an all-out fan of his work in general.
Thumbs Up

The Wind Raider #2
I was pretty surprised that I liked #0 and #1 of this miniseries as much as I did, so I'm actually kind of reassured by the fact that in this issue, the luster is starting to wear off. I'm still impressed by Gabriel Hardman's art and his gift for visual storytelling, but the writing (provided by Richard Finney and Dean Loftis) leaves a lot to be desired. The Ki Warrior sayings are embarrassingly dumb, and the villains - Barfog in particular - just sound like idiots. There are some original ideas, but overall the story and concepts tend to be derivative and dull. I think it's time I dropped this book.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases, 4/22
Astonishing X-Men #29
I'm still not enjoying Warren Ellis' run on this title nearly as much as I thought I would. I think a large part of the problem is that I just can't get used to Simone Bianchi's surreal, stylized art; it just doesn't seem to fit the story at all. He also often draws the characters in odd poses and positions. Storywise, we're looking at an invasion by evil mutants from a parallel Earth, an invasion which Forge has apparently been trying to counter by creating his own mutants. That's a cool idea, so I'm sticking with the book for now.
Thumbs Sideways

Buck Rogers #0
This is a 25 cent preview issue of a new series rebooting the story of the titular adventurer from the past who fights evil in the future. It's... not good. The dialogue is ridiculous, the plot is pretty dull, and I generally dislike stories that begin with the hero dying. But hey, I only had to spend 25 cents to find out I don't need to collect this comic! Good stuff.
Thumbs Down

Detective Comics #853
At long last, the second and final part of Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" story is here. Batman's friends, enemies, and lovers continue to arrive at a weird imaginary wake and tell tales about different imaginary Batmen and how they died. Slowly the false stories begin to build a true portrait of the real Batman. And finally we find out where we are and what this all is. The reveal is a little disappointing, as it turns out to essentially be an "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" kind of thing. There are also some corny bits where Batman talks about what he learned from the experience. But as corny as the story gets, it's still extremely moving and effective. I was warned that I might cry reading this story, and indeed, when Bruce started saying good-bye to everything and everyone, I seriously began weeping like a baby. Ultimately this is a powerful, philosophical, and emotional eulogy to the character of Batman.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #34
I feel like the quality of Jason Aaron's run on this series has gone up and down, but this issue is definitely a high point. I was laughing like a maniac throughout the entire thing. It's just brilliant. It opens with the origin story of a trucker who made a deal with the devil and now roams the highways lopping people's heads off and stealing their souls. He's known as the Highwayman, and is apparently a real Marvel character from back in the day. Jason Aaron brings him back for some brutal, hilarious mayhem, and for a fight with Danny Ketch, who is roaming the highways himself, aimless and hopeless, cursed to seek vengeance on evil wherever he finds it as the Ghost Rider. As far as Ketch is concerned, the only thing to look forward to now is the end of the world, and he's hoping Zadkiel will bring that about very soon. Despite Ketch's moping, this issue is pretty much pure fun, thanks to a fantastic action sequence and the wonderful character that is the Highwayman. He and his hellish 18 wheeler are well designed and look fantastic, thanks to the art of Tony Moore and the colors of Dave McCaig, and his dialogue is hilarious, thanks to Jason Aaron. Here's hoping the Highwayman returns again soon!
Thumbs Up

I Am Legion #3
I seriously need a chart of all the characters, their names, and their relationships with each other to follow this story. I spend most of every issue with my brow furrowed in confusion. Maybe if I read it all together in one go I'd be able to remember who they all were and keep it all together in my head. But I don't know. It doesn't help that some of the word bubbles in here are clearly being attributed to the wrong characters. Anyway, this issue features a secret mission to disrupt and/or destroy the Nazi project involving the little girl who can control people from afar. Actually it might not even be just the one secret mission; there might be two groups trying to stop the project. I'm not entirely clear on that. Like I said, I'm confused. But there are some exciting sequences, and John Cassaday's art is excellent as always. I might stick around for at least one more issue.
Thumbs Sideways

Ignition City #2
I was pretty bored by the first issue of this series, but things pick up a bit in this one. Mary pokes around some more and we get a better idea what kind of world her Dad was living in and what kind of twisted, broken people populate it. We also get to know her a little better; she's really quite experienced and clever. The mystery deepens and so does the danger, and there's also some pretty funny dialogue. I think I'm officially hooked.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hercules #128
This is one of those series that I read and complained about for a long time before finally dropping it, and that I still keep coming back to every once in a while. The reason I couldn't resist this particular issue is because it's a "Dark Reign" tie-in that sees our heroes facing off against not only a bunch of evil Olympians, but also the Dark Avengers themselves. It's a ton of fun. There's plenty of action and comedy, and some pretty clever plot twists. I love the ridiculously silly, onomatopoetic sound effect words, like "N-TU-DASUNNN!" and "BRAKKAFACE!" I love Hercules facing off against Venom, quickly realizing he's not Spider-Man, and then spending the rest of the fight trying to get Venom's mouth off of his hand. I like all the tie-ins with stories out of ancient Greek mythology. And I freaking love Bullseye. That guy is hilarious. I even like the way authors Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente write the Sentry. Sure, he ends up getting beat by Herc, but that's because, as Herc points out, he's not fighting like he means it - he's afraid to use his full power. That's the Sentry I know. I like the byplay among Herc, Cho, and Athena, and the sequence where they sink the cruise ship and thus force the Avengers to stop fighting in order to act like the heroes they're really not. I love Osborn's line: "The boy Cho is utterly calculating and devious. Next time I'm going to offer him a job." I'm a little confused by the thing at the end with the woman who's obsessed with Herc, but that might make more sense if I read previous issues.

Obviously this issue tempts me to start collecting this comic again, but maybe I'll limit myself to picking it up only when it sounds particularly interesting.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #33
"The Great Fables Crossover" begins in earnest in this issue, as Bigby and Snow show up at the diner where Jack and the others are all hanging out; Bigby and Jack end up getting in a fight; and not only does Bigby win, he even steals Jack's sidekick. Meanwhile, Jack Frost comes into his own somehow or other, for some reason (that seems to be connected to a past storyline I'm not familiar with), and Kevin Thorn begins practicing for a major rewrite of reality by doing horrible things to random people. This book has always been happy to do crazy postmodern things and break the fourth wall, so it's not particularly surprising when, in the final panel, Jack says, "I'm headed back to the real Fables book, where I've always belonged! And I'm taking my favorite artist with me!"

There are some amusing scenes in here - like the disturbing transformation that occurs when Thorn rewrites reality, and Babe's story, which this month involves a barbarian of the northern wastes strewing corpses in a particular way. And as usual, I like the art (Jack has good taste). But I find myself a bit bored by the issue as a whole. I mean, nothing really happens, does it?
Thumbs Sideways

The New Avengers #52
Okay, I am officially tired of the way Brian Michael Bendis writes dialogue. The verbosity, the little asides, the slang, the faux realistic pauses, the repetitions - it was all cute at first. But now it's just annoying. And it ends up turning pretty much every character in a smarmy jackass. I particularly dislike the monologue from the Son of Satan at the end of the issue, even though it does sort of tangentially bring Patsy Walker into the story (whom I like). I'm fascinated by the story here, and I like the art (which is provided by a huge gang of people this issue for some reason), but I'm just not sure I can put up with Bendis' writing anymore.
Thumbs Down

No Hero #5
I enjoy the character of Carrick and his dialogue very much. He's cursing left, right, up, and down as this issue starts, frustrated with how his organization seems to be getting attacked from all sides by all its old enemies. Meanwhile, it's time to send Revere out into the world again so people can get a look at him, and so the Front Line can show it's not afraid. Revere even gets a chance to look like a real hero in the eyes of the city - but horrifically, at the end of the issue we learn that the entire near tragedy has been staged at Carrick's orders for publicity purposes. The dark underbelly of the Front Line is really starting to show now. Revere's reaction is to simply say, "Guess I'm a real hero now. Thanks." It's hard to tell if he's serious or not. Has he completely thrown away his principles in his single-minded quest to be a hero - and thus, by becoming one, actually become its opposite - or has he just cracked completely now? I'm really fascinated to see where this goes next.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #28
The last couple of issues were each a portrait of a single character, and offered only small advancements of the overall story, but in this issue we get back to that story in a big, big way. The twin mysteries of who murdered those two FBI agents all those years ago, and who murdered Gina Bad Horse more recently, are all of the sudden solved (or at least, we as readers now know the culprit, even if few of the other characters do). And the solution is quite shocking. Meanwhile, Officer Falls Down is back and has been put on the case of the exotic dancer the grifter from a few issues ago killed in his hotel room. Unfortunately he's been paired with Agent Newsome, Nitz's asshole partner. The two of them have a nasty little argument that's a joy to read. In the midst of their conversation, Newsome mentions "what happened at the casino a couple nights ago," no doubt referring to when the grifter tried to blackmail Officer Bad Horse into helping him rob the place. But he doesn't say any more about it, so we'll have to wait for a future issue to fill us in on how that all went down. Damn it. In the end, Catcher makes a surprising vow to save Officer Bad Horse, although how he intends to do that, or what he thinks "saving" means, is a little unclear.

I was a bit disappointed with the previous issue, but this one is a big improvement, in terms of both story and art (series regular R.M. Guera is back on the job, thank God). Things are really starting to come together!
Thumbs Up

Skrull Kill Krew #1
I enjoyed the preview issue of this that came out some months ago, so I've been waiting for the series proper to start. The first issue is just as amusing and surreal as the zero issue. It opens with a very funny sum-up of recent Skrull history, from the point of view of a Skrull being killed by the book's main character: Ryder, a one-man, shape-shifting, Skrull-killing machine. Then we cut to a group of Skrulls living secretly in the middle of the city, apparently descended from a half-Skrull, half-cow hybrid, dating back to that time Reed Richards forced a bunch of Skrulls to turn into cows and stay that way. Which is a damn crazy story, but not even as crazy as the origin of the Skrull Kill Krew - a bunch of folks who ate the meat of those Skrull cows and thus got mutated. (Apparently the original Skrull Kill Krew miniseries was written by Grant Morrison, which is why it's such a twisted, crazy story. I'm definitely going to have to check that out.) Anyway, the cow/Skrull hybrids are hanging out, doing bad Thor impersonations, and slaughtering drunk humans. Ryder turns the tables on them, slaughtering them all, and then gets a friend at H.A.M.M.E.R. to test their blood. She also tests Ryder's blood, however, and discovers something unsettling about his true nature.

Interesting stuff! And like I said, quite funny. I'll probably end up collecting the entire mini, since it's only five issues long.
Thumbs Up

Star Wars: Dark Times #13
I don't get a chance to check very often. But when I saw that this issue of Dark Times - the first in some months - had a prologue that was free to read on that website, I knew it was time to give it another look. Besides reading the prologue, which was very good, with excellent art, I also got to check out Joss Whedon's hilariously imaginative and insanely stream-of-consciousness Sugarshock, which is a ton of fun.

Anyways, as for the comic itself, it features Vader finally returning to the Emperor after the disastrous events of Vector, worried that Palpatine might have somehow found out about the plotting Vader was doing behind his master's back. His suspicions are not assuaged when the Emperor sends him away on another mission clearly just to get him out of the way, and mentions a plan set in motion to deal with surviving Jedi - a plan that Vader will apparently not be a part of. Very interesting! I love seeing this other side of these two characters - the intrigue, the scheming.

Meanwhile, Jedi Dass Jennir is surviving by working as a mercenary, and decides to take a job offer from a beautiful woman to save a small world from violent gangs, but discovers when he gets there the job is not exactly how the woman described it. In fact, the story appears to be an interesting mixture of a film noir (femme fatale and all) and Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars. So it's a little derivative, but it's derivative of stuff I love. Plus there's a couple of fantastic action scenes, and the dialogue is great; I particularly like the way Jennir's droid is constantly mentioning the fact that Jennir killed his previous master. It's a little contrived that on this world they follow a code of honor that requires everyone to fight with swords, but I'm willing to accept it; I like sword fighting!

After I tried out most of the Star Wars comics, I settled on this one as the best, and it hasn't let me down yet. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this new storyline (which is entitled, by the way, "Blue Harvest" - a reference I appreciate).
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: The Anniversary #1
I hadn't planned to get this comic - in fact, I didn't remember seeing it on the release list, and was surprised to find it on the shelf - but I have a hard time resisting comics about Wolverine, even anthology one-shots, which tend to be pretty uneven. Plus, that title, "The Anniversary," made me think it was an important book. In fact, it's barely an anthology - it contains one long story, followed by one very short story - and it's not particularly important as far as comic stories go. But it is surprisingly good.

The long story is, in fact, called "The Anniversary," and it's written by William Harms with art by Jefte Palo and colors by Lee Loughridge. It's about Wolverine flying to Japan to pay his respects to his lover Mariko on the anniversary of her death. But the plane he's on just happens to be hijacked by terrorists. This does not make him happy. I really enjoy the art, and you can't go wrong with a story about Wolverine making mincemeat out of terrorists, especially with the added drama of his painful memories of Mariko's death driving him on to revenge. There's also a nice irony in the way Wolverine ultimately tracks down the man responsible.

The short story is "Ghosts," written by Jonathan Maberry with art by Tomm Coker and colors by Daniel Freedman, and it's also concerned with the death of Mariko, and with how Wolverine's life is so nightmarish, and so haunted by those he's lost. It's a bit surreal, and tries to gray out the line between waking and sleeping, between life and death. Wolverine's narration is a little melodramatic, but it's still a pretty neat story, and the art is quite impressive.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), Star Wars (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)

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