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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 08:30 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ooh! And I think I may have just figured out what Number 5 did. The miniseries title... the reference to JFK at the end of this issue... I bet he went back in time and stopped the assassination! We'll see if I'm right...
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Punisher (Not), Secret Invasion (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not)
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Saturday, December 27, 2008 12:01 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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