This post covers new releases from the week of 5/12. Beware spoilers!
New releases Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 Warren Ellis returns to play in X country again for a new five-issue miniseries. This time he sends the team to Africa to investigate a mysterious rash of mutant births. Along the way, he highlights some of the more awful and violent parts of the socio-political history of Africa, and has the characters banter with each other in highly amusing ways. ("There's beer on the plane, Logan.") I thought from the sample of his art on the cover that I would dislike Kaare Andrews' work, but I actually enjoy it quite a bit. It's exaggerated in a funny, clever way that fits Ellis' writing well. I particularly like how he's highlighted the ridiculousness of Emma Frost's figure and costume. A good start to the series!
B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #5 This issue reveals the horrific consequences of the events of the previous issue, and they are pretty shocking. Apparently Liz's most recent use of her powers really was nearly apocalyptic in its strength, and incredibly draining for her. Our heroes were teleported out of harm's way, but many thousands of people were not. Zinco is back and making some seemingly humanitarian gestures which no doubt have evil motives behind them, and one of Abe's old "friends" is still puttering around underwater in his big metal diving suit. Speaking of Abe, it makes me sad that Devon doesn't even want to be near him anymore, but considering what the Black Flame said about the guy, it's hard to blame him. In one of the more interesting subplots, it looks like reality is about to come crashing down on B.P.R.D.'s head. When you read these stories, you don't think much about the political consequences of the epic events that take place, but obviously the huge, world-altering supernatural things that have been going down would put B.P.R.D. on the spot, and they'd have to answer to somebody. But what starts as a dressing down turns into a sort of promotion. This should make the future of B.P.R.D. pretty interesting.
I like that they don't spell everything out for you in the Hellboyverse, but at the same time, I felt a bit lost after reading this issue. What exactly happened, and why? And who was the dude with the red hand on his face again? And what's going to happen to Liz now?? But maybe all that will be answered in future issues. Or maybe I should go back and read the old issues a bit more closely.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 Bruce is back!! This first issue of Grant Morrison's six-issue miniseries picks up right where Final Crisis left off, with Bruce hanging out with a dying old man in a cave and drawing some familiar-looking graffiti on the wall. It looks like when Bruce's corpse was shot off into space along with other artifacts of the dying Earth, he was somehow resurrected? And sent back in time? I assume they'll explain that in more detail later. Anyway, by the end of this issue, it becomes clear that he's going to be leapfrogging forward in time at random moments, sort of Quantum Leap-like, and the Justice League is going to be following him. Superman says if he makes it to the present he could destroy the universe! Another thing I assume they'll explain later. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the fun of Batman-through-time! In this issue, he fights cavemen, gets himself a caveman Robin, and experiences a weird summarized, nightmare version of his superhero origin story. Then it's forward to Puritan times where he'll fight extra-dimensional monsters with a sword! Excellent.
The Marvels Project #8 The final issue of this miniseries gives us an interesting look at the Marvel Universe version of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the very end brings us full circle in a satisfying way. But I have to repeat the same complaint I've been making about this series for the past couple of issues: there's far too much summarizing via narration and far too little actual comic book story-telling. They either needed to take more time and more issues to tell this story the right way, without clumsy, expository summarizing, or they needed to tell a smaller, shorter story in a tighter, more economic fashion. I like the concept of this series, and the art, but overall it's a disappointment, and doesn't live up to its potential.
The Sentry: Fallen Sun #1 Oh sweet lord, what an awful, awful comic this is. I had to force myself to even skim it. It's another of these one-shots, which are becoming woefully popular lately, where we spend an entire comic at the funeral of the latest dead superhero (whom we all know will be brought back to life in a year at the most anyway), and get to wallow in grief for over twenty pages. It's a really cheap way to elicit emotion from the audience. I'm not saying it can't be done well, but it certainly is not done well here. There is zero subtlety in Paul Jenkins' overwrought, ridiculously melodramatic writing. Tony's agonizingly long and awful speech about alcoholism and addiction and friendship is practically unreadable. And there are plenty more speeches of similar quality. What makes the book particularly odd and ineffective is that these characters are all speaking lovingly of events that I've never heard of before and that I'm pretty sure were never even dramatized in a comic before, because they were all retconned into this universe via the Sentry's origin story. Regardless, this comic is so full of corny, overly earnest, cliched dialog that it's totally unbearable. It's an embarrassment.
Siege #4 I expressed surprise in my review of New Avengers #64 that I learned about Loki's final double-cross in the pages of that book instead of in the pages of the main Siege miniseries. Well, this last entry in said miniseries finally explains Loki's actions. It's pretty much another version of the end of Secret Invasion, with one of the traditional Marvel villains stepping up to help the heroes defeat an even more dangerous villain. It's also, as I guessed from New Avengers, pretty much a literal deus ex machina. It's really quite lame. Basically this comic involves the heroes hitting a guy until they've finally hit him enough that he stops moving. Then Cap gets Norman Osborn's job. Yawn. Olivier Coipel's art is excellent, but I'm really tired of Brian Michael Bendis. His writing is just not very good, and the whole Siege story is tired and cliche. The Sentry character arc, for instance, is just a repeat, not only of many other, better stories about many other, better characters, but of stories that have already been told about this very same character. The same could be said for the Siege story as a whole. It feels like Bendis is just recycling the plots from Civil War and Secret Invasion because people seemed to like those. How about we try something new, huh?
Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2 Another intriguing medical puzzle for everybody's favorite grumpy frontier doctor, this time with a cameo from Scotty. The solution to the puzzle involves the behavior of an ancient transporter system, and is pretty standard Trek stuff, but like I said about the first issue, it's really just fun seeing these beloved characters in action again.
The Unwritten #13 This issue opens with an intriguing look into the traditions and secrets of "The Order," and gives us a better idea of what's really going on. The two-page spread in which Tom sees a crowd of people rear up like a giant monster is very cool. We figure out who Richie is really working for just before he gets taken out of the picture for good in a really horrific manner. Damn! I was just starting to like that guy. But hey, it's fun meeting Frankenstein's monster again. All-in-all, another enjoyable issue.
This post covers new releases from the weeks of 4/7 and 4/14. Beware spoilers!
New releases B.P.R.D.: King of Fear #4 Liz goes hunting in the ruins of a future apocalypse that she supposedly helped create and finds evidence that seems to support the Black Flame's disturbing claim that Abe is just a slightly more evolved frog creature. The whole second half of the book is incredibly thrilling, as Hellboy makes a cameo and it is strongly suggested that since he was/will be unable or unwilling to end the world, Liz took/will take over for him. Luckily, in a truly ass-kicking climactic conflagration, a mysterious man with a red hand on his forehead shows up and helps direct Liz's power at the right people. It's nice when a super-powerful magician shows up to fight on the side of good for a change! Excellent, excellent stuff.
Batman and Robin #11 I'll admit it, I had to do some googling to figure out just who everybody was supposed to be in this comic (I finally found my answers here, if you're interested). I guess I'm just not that good at holding all these story threads in my head at once, and I don't know as much about the history of the DCU as I'd like. I didn't know that Dr. Hurt and El Penitente were the same guy (or if I did know, I forgot), or that that's who that guy was in the opening scene. And I definitely didn't recognize the villain who showed up in the final panel (which is too bad, as I'm sure that was meant to be a shocking reveal). Ah, well. I still really enjoyed the comic. Morrison's kooky dialog and wild story ideas are just fantastic. I love the 99 Fiends, and Batman's Indiana Jones-like investigation under Wayne Manor. I'm glad Robin is thinking the same thing about Sexton I was thinking, but I'd sure like to know if we're right. And the thrilling, cliffhanger ending is very exciting.
Irredeemable: Special #1 This is the kind of book that, if Marvel or DC were putting it out, would probably be called an "Annual." It's bigger than your average issue and has three separate stories done by three separate creative teams (although they were all written by Mark Waid). It opens with a short sum-up of the story so far, and some intriguing hints as to where the story will go next, revealing that the three characters who are at the center of each of these three stories will take a critical role in the events to come. The first tale tells the story of one of the Plutonian's former teammates, a guy called the Hornet, who would have been the first superhero (albeit without any powers) if the Plutonian hadn't showed up first. His story is pretty similar to that of Plutonian's other former teammates, except for one difference: the Hornet had a contingency plan in case the Plutonian ever went bad, and he was able to activate it before he was killed. But what is it, and what does it do? I guess we'll see...
Next up is the origin story of Kaidan, done in an appropriately manga-type style. It's a little melodramatic, but does give us a bit more of an insight into her powers and her past. Last is the story of how Max Damage met Jailbait. This one's possibly the weakest and least interesting of the three; it just feels perfunctory and doesn't really add anything to what we know about the characters.
Still, overall this is a pretty fun book. Really, I'm just excited about the fact that it exists. If Irredeemable is putting out "special" issues, that must mean the series is doing well!
Siege: Loki #1 This is a one-shot revealing more of Loki's motives and machinations as far as the events of Siege are concerned. I picked it up because it was written by Kieron Gillen, whose work I've enjoyed in the past, and because I have a bit of a soft spot for Loki. The setup is interesting: Loki realizes that despite all his meddling, Asgard and its citizens - including Thor and himself - remain essentially the same. This frustrates and angers him, and he decides he's going to have to work some real chaos if he's to see any kind of true change in the nature of things. So he puts a bug in Osborn's ear about Asgard, then seeks out the terrible Disir and makes himself their master, so that he can make a deal with Hela and Mephisto which will not only cause some serious strife, but also leave him truly immortal and fateless. It's an entertaining and clever series of machinations, and gives us an interesting look into Loki as a character. In the back of the book, we're told Loki's endgame will play out in Thor #609 and Siege #4. I was probably going to buy those anyway, so that's cool.
Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #1 John Byrne returns to the Star Trek universe for a new miniseries focusing on what Dr. McCoy was up to in between the original Enterprise's final mission and the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I always like these kinds of stories that fill in gaps in the overall plotline of a larger saga, and Byrne is particularly good at writing them. His prose is smart and he treats the characters with respect. We learn in this issue that McCoy, after sitting around being retired for a while, got restless and signed up to be a frontier doctor, meaning he's out cruising the spaceways with a fellow doctor, answering random medical emergency calls from various alien planets. He and his friend pick up a stowaway and then have to fight a mysterious and fast-moving disease. The stowaway character is basically a stereotype, and many of the other plot elements are pretty familiar, but it's still a reasonably entertaining story, and as I said, it's really just fun seeing these beloved characters moving around again, and learning more about their past.
Star Wars: Dark Times #16 The "Blue Harvest" storyline continues with Dass Jennir's Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars-style gambit playing out pretty much as planned (except maybe for that beating he takes). This continues to be an entertaining series with beautiful art.
This post has really gotten out of control lately. It takes so long to write that I've started to look at it as a chore, and I've purposefully avoided working on it, which doesn't make sense; this is supposed to be something I'm writing for myself, for fun, on my own blog! And when I do get it done, it's so long that even I don't want to read it. For now I'm going to stick with it, but try to keep my reviews as short as I possibly can. If it remains a chore, I might drop it altogether.
This post covers new releases from the week of 9/16, plus a back-issue I missed. Beware spoilers!
Back-issues and old data Dark Wolverine #77 The first story arc of Dark Wolverine ends with a kind of stalemate. But Daken has gained allies and is owed favors. Clever guy. Clever book.
New releases Batman and Robin #4 Scarlet is seriously creepy. She and the new Red Hood are taking a violent but effective approach to crime-fighting. But who is Oberon Sexton, and who is the Flamingo? Hmm.
Blackest Night #3 Flash: "Whoever did this... crossed one hell of a line." I couldn't have said it better myself, Barry! The new Firestorm is seriously lame, and there's lots of corny dialog and melodrama in this issue. But it's good to see the Indigo Lanterns finally showing up and explaining how to defeat the Black Lanterns. It feels satisfyingly right that to counter the absence of light you'd need to combine the whole light spectrum to make White.
Captain America: Reborn #3 More emotionally effective time-shifting scenes with Steve. He figures out a clever way to send a message to the present that reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bucky makes a bad-ass escape, Sharon makes another in a long line of really bad choices, and then there's a really effective and creepy ending.
Dark Avengers #9 A surprisingly moving and effective issue focusing on Ares' relationship with his son, and his reaction to discovering that the kid is essentially working with his enemies. Also features a shocking sequence with the Sentry, and another amusing Osborn freakout.
Dark Reign: M.O.D.O.K. - Reign Delay #1 A comedic one-shot in which M.O.D.O.K. is tricked by Norman Osborn into returning to his hometown of Erie, PA, where he comes face to face with what a desperate & pathetic a loser he used to be - and still is. It's only when he meets a hero even more desperate & pathetic than he is that he stumbles on success. The book relies on shame and the incompetence of its main character to generate humor, and that's my least favorite type of comedy. Still, the book has its moments.
Dark Wolverine #78 This issue reminds us that Daken and Norman Osborn are not nice guys. In fact, they're both extremely clever and manipulative scum bags who aren't afraid to kill innocent people to get what they want. Fun!
Star Trek: Romulans - Schism #1 Klingon sex is scary. I've enjoyed Byrne's other books in this storyline, but I'm having a hard time getting into this one. Maybe it'll get better.
Ultimate Armor Wars #1 I was expecting a lot from a new Warren Ellis book set in the Ultimate universe, so naturally I was a bit disappointed in this rather dull story about Tony getting robbed and saving a girl. But it does have a classic Ellis-style line of dialog: "I'm dying of super-powers."
Wednesday Comics #11 Batman - More clumsy dialog and hard-to-believe emotional reactions from Batman and our villainess. Is her heart made of ice or gold? Azzarello can't seem to decide. And I can't shake the feeling this is a mediocre crime noir story that shouldn't have Batman in it at all.
Kamandi - Our happy ending is interrupted by a deus ex tragedy. Argh! That sucks.
Superman - Some fun action and an exciting ending, but the dialog, though occasionally effective, is mostly just a load of clumsy exposition.
Deadman - The other shoe finally drops and what's really going on is at last revealed. Only thing is, everything seems to be resolved, so I'm not sure what's left for the last issue.
Green Lantern - Giant space fight! I don't really get why the narration says, "They came, they saw-" and then never finishes the phrase. But otherwise, fun.
Metamorpho - Another big reveal/happy ending that seems to leave little room for another issue's worth of doings. Cool art, some fun action, but not as exciting as one might hope.
Teen Titans - I believe I've read comics that sucked worse than this one, but I can't really think of any right now.
Strange Adventures - A slightly disappointing entry in an otherwise great strip; basically this episode just repeats and slightly augments the ending of the last episode. Still, it's pretty fun and the art is great, so...
Supergirl - Supergirl sucks at nonverbal communication, and the aliens shoot her. Luckily, the superpets are coming to save the day. I remain unable to get into this strip. It is cutesy and dull.
Metal Men - A terrible sacrifice is made by the few for the good of the many! It's actually slightly moving. Slightly.
Wonder Woman - Another cluttered and confused episode of this strip. Well, at least it's consistent. All the gleeful bondage harks back to the rather embarrassing origins of this character. But hey, since when did the lasso make you a slave? I thought it just made you tell the truth.
Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - Finally, a real action scene! Unfortunately, it's a pretty clumsy action scene, with more unbelievable back and forth between Rock and the Nazi Captain. Sigh.
Flash - A surreal, powerful, dramatic climax with more unique and imaginative panel layout - this time the strip spirals down toward a point in the bottom right corner. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but it's an interesting, emotionally effective story with well written dialog, so I'm okay with it.
The Demon and Catwoman - Exciting magical action! The Demon even breathes flame. But Catwoman's jokes at the end fall a bit flat.
Hawkman - Aquaman sets a shark and an octopus on a T. Rex! That might be the coolest thing I've ever seen Aquaman do. Awesome!
This post covers new releases from 7/15. These days I'm trying hard to omit the plot synopses, but I still might slip in a spoiler now and then, so be warned.
All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 There are two new stories this time: a pretty poor Blonde Phantom murder mystery by Marc Guggenheim, with art by Javier Pulido, and a very strange and even rather disturbing parody story by Michael Kupperman called "Marvex the Super Robot." The reprints are two (I think the first two, and possibly the only two) Marvex the Super Robot stories from issues #3 and 4 of Daring Mystery Comics from April-May of 1940.
The Blonde Phantom story is called "Murder on Another Planet," but sadly the title is just a metaphor and no alien worlds are involved. Instead, we just see the Phantom getting back into her snazzy superhero outfit after many years out of it in order to solve the murder of her friend Michael Brayden. The tale is told mostly through noir-style narration; really it's more an illustrated short story than a comic book. The art is quite excellent, but sadly, the writing is cheesy, melodramatic, and overdone, particularly during the final sequence. Not so good.
Kupperman's Marvex story is absurd to the point of being almost frighteningly deranged, but it's only slightly more insane than the original Marvex stories of which it's a parody. I probably should have read the original stories first, then come back to Kupperman's story; perhaps it would have been slightly less disturbing that way. As it is, I have to say I found it more weird than funny, although I enjoy the art and the premise. Marvex's actual origin story comes next. It's a classic Golden Age story - a super-powered good guy versus gangsters who are trying to steal military secrets - but in this case the good guy is a robot, modeled after Earthlings by aliens from another dimension and created to be a slave to them. Only they seem to have mistakenly given him self-awareness, as immediately after being created he decides he doesn't like them and their plan of enslavement and promptly KILLS ALL OF THEM. Then we are presented with this brilliant piece of narration: "By some strange turn of events Marvex is blown out of the fifth dimension onto Earth." There's no time for pesky explanations! Let's just move things along. Later Marvex saves a woman from a fire and she sends him after the spies who stole her father's secret military plans. Marvex doesn't mince words with them, or pull any punches. He yanks one out of a speeding car by his hair, telling him, "You are no good! You die!" When the crook asks to be let go, Marvex hurls him into a nearby boulder, saying, "There! I let you go!" When he corners the mastermind behind the heist, Marvex throws him through the wall of an office, presumably to his death, as the office is clearly not on the first floor. When Marvex returns the plans to the woman, she says, "Oh, thank you! You are the only friend I have!" He responds, "But remember - we can never be more than friends." (Uh, I don't think she asked to be!) She asks, "Why not?" and in response he removes his shirt and says, "Because I am not human - I am Marvex the Super-Robot." A narration box at the bottom of the panel helpfully explains, "The Super-Robot quickly disrobes showing his metal body."
Wow. I mean... wow.
In the next story, despite the fact that it's the very next episode in the Marvex saga and came out only a month after the previous one, Marvex already has a different character design. His face is now less human and more obviously robotic, and he has odd white circles around his eyes. He also now speaks in huge bold letters at all times, as if he's constantly shouting at the top of his super-robotic lungs. He takes out some more gangsters for his blonde girlfriend, but when she tells him at the end of the story, "Marvex - you're the most wonderful man I know!" he insists, "I AM NOT A MAN - ONLY A MACHINE!" What is your deal, dude? Almost every robotic man throughout the history of science fiction has wanted desperately to be human, and has tried at all times to act like a human and be seen as a human. But Marvex insists at all times that he is a robot, so you'd better not try to have relations of any kind with him! His desire to not be touched by your fleshy appendages reminds me of Machine Man.
The last thing in the book is a short preview of issue #570 of Fantastic Four. Looks like this is the issue in which a new creative team takes over (Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham). The art is nice, the flashback is rather effective, and the fight with the weird human-powered machines is intriguing. Still, not sure I'm up for giving that series yet another try.
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #2 Man, those poor little furry aliens sure have terrible luck! I enjoy the dark humor surrounding their adventures, and their fascinating backstory. I also love the epic knock-down, drag-out between Silver Surfer and Beta Ray Bill. Then Bill makes a terrible choice, and the consequences are dramatized in subtle and powerful fashion. This is such a great series! I'm also pleased that, as I'd hoped, they're continuing to run the reprints of Bill's origin story as a backup throughout. Interestingly enough, when Thor and Bill stop fighting long enough to realize they're on the same side, we don't move directly to them joining forces - instead they end up having another, even more brutal fight... to the death! It's thrilling stuff, and there's even an amusing interlude with Volstagg.
Blackest Night #1 Here it is at last, after all the hype and all the preludes: Blackest Night. And I have to say, I'm not really a fan. My main complaint is one I'm not used to making: I feel like it crosses lines that didn't need to be crossed. I didn't need to see the Black Hand sloppily licking Bruce Wayne's skull, accompanied by the sound effect "SLLK." I didn't need to revisit the infamous "girl in the fridge" scene. I didn't need to see Scar the evil Guardian bite another Guardian in the throat, tear his heart out of his chest, and eat it, and then follow that up by barfing out some disgusting black substance and encasing the rest of the Guardians in it. I didn't need to see Ralph and Sue Dibny come back to life so they could savagely beat Hawkman and Hawkgirl to death before ripping their hearts out.
Admittedly, maybe I would have accepted all this more readily if the comic were well written. But it most definitely is not. It's loaded with clumsy, melodramatic dialog and far too much painfully corny narration. It is the complete opposite of subtle.
I won't say the entire thing is garbage. There are some good ideas in here, and some powerful emotional moments, and Ivan Reis' art is quite excellent. I remain intrigued by the story, and yes, I will probably buy the next issue to find out what happens. But I sure hope it gets better!
Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1 Despite the title, this book isn't really so much about Blackest Night. It's more a series of character portraits of people involved (in some cases rather tangentially) in the War of Light. There's the origin story of Saint Walker, which takes the form of a religious parable; a darkly funny story about Mongul; and a rather enigmatic tale about the mysterious Indigo Tribe. The first story is by Geoff Johns, with art by Jerry Ordway, and although it's a bit melodramatic and reminiscent of many a story before it (especially the Book of Job), it's surprisingly effective. I don't always like the work of Peter J. Tomasi, but his Mongul story is moving and clever; it's a look at the DCU inverted, from the villain's perspective. The final story, again by Geoff Johns, this time with art by Rags Morales, doesn't explain much about the Indigo Tribe, and it features a lot of them talking in rather irritating nonsense language, but it does reveal that they seem to be able to take in the powers of the other Lanterns and turn them back on their wielders. Where they stand in the conflict is also unclear; they end up killing a Green Lantern (perhaps it's more correct to say they put him out of his misery), but also attacking and scaring off a Yellow Lantern.
I didn't love this book - it's okay, not great - but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting it to be.
Captain America #601 This comic turned me off right away by actually printing "A VERY SPECIAL ISSUE OF CAPTAIN AMERICA" on the cover. Seriously, who does that? That's a bad cliche they used to use to decribe the episode of a TV show that's about sex or drug abuse, or an incurable disease. That's not something you say with complete sincerity about your own comic book in 2009.
The reason why the issue is so special is because the art was provided by comic legend Gene Colan. And indeed the art is reasonably impressive with interesting page/panel design and a real painterly look to it. But some of the character faces - especially, unfortunately, Captain America's - are oddly misshapen. And Brubaker really dropped the ball as far as the writing goes. The story is clumsily constructed, opening up in a frame that's already a flashback, set during the Civil War, which then flashes back again to 1945, and then a couple pages later flashes back yet again to Cap's many-times-retold origin story. A flashback within a flashback within a flashback? Come on! The story ends up being a silly, melodramatic thing about vampires during WWII. Which is kind of a cool idea, but it's been done. And the payoff as to who the vampires are, and what Cap has to do to finally stop them, is quite lame and cliche. The dialog throughout is pretty ridiculous and clunky, and the last panel, which features Bucky winking - winking! - as he talks about the horrors he and Cap have been through seems really inappropriate. It's a really disappointing comic and, as I said on Twitter after I finished reading it, the only thing "special" about it is that it's especially bad.
Dark Avengers #7 I was pretty surprised when, after I finished reading this comic, I turned it over and saw Matt Fraction's name on the cover. But... it's funny and clever! And I thought Brian Michael Bendis wrote this title! These comic book authors are always throwing me off. Anyway, one of the things I really enjoy about this comic are the clever descriptions Fraction slips into the narrative boxes introducing each character. Norman Osborn, for instance, is described as "Director of H.A.M.M.E.R. Slowly boiling cauldron of insanity." Mimic's box says, "Powers of the original five X-Men. Mimics other powers in proximity. Really happy to be here." Emma Frost's box reveals she's going by "Black Queen" now, which is rather silly, but okay. Cyclops, meanwhile, flies in on a jetpack to meet with Norman Osborn on Alcatraz, so his box says, "Leader of the X-Men. Owner of a jetpack." Heh. More fun character descriptions: Bullseye - "Psychotic killing machine. Bored." Ms. Marvel - "Team leader. Hooks up with everything that moves."
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the confrontation between Scott and Norman. Norman starts in on this big speech, and Scott just suddenly interrupts him with one word: "Surrender." It's the last thing anybody expects him to say. Osborn blows up on him: "Or... or what? Are you... are you insane? Hm?" It's pretty great. Plus it makes me think Scott's being cleverer here than I thought he was.
I also enjoy Bullseye ranting in the next scene. He complains about Wolverine ("Give me a break. How many teams can that guy be on?!?") and says he wants to get out there and fight. "And what about you, big guy?" he asks Ares. "You with me?" Ares responds with the only word he says in the entire scene: "Aye." (His box describes him as "Greek God of war. Orator." Pfft.) When Bullseye finally taunts Wolverine in person, he responds, "I would love - quite literally, love - to see you try, you ridiculous carny." Then, big fight!! Awesome. Meanwhile, Emma demands to know what's really happening to all the captured mutants. It's pretty funny seeing Norman and Dark Beast try to keep straight faces while lying to her about what they're doing. Finally, one of the more interesting character intro boxes describes Simon Trask as "Human Sentinel Zero." Oh really? This might explain this whole thing he's doing where he seems to be controlling people's minds and commanding them to destroy. That should be interesting!
I was totally down on this whole Utopia thing before, but I have to admit Fraction has turned me nearly completely around with this issue. I even like Luke Ross' art. I'll be damned.
Doctor Who #1 I've been a fan of Doctor Who since I was a kid, but for whatever reason I've mostly avoided the comic books. When I saw there was a new ongoing series starting, though, I knew I had to check it out. The first issue is written by Tony Lee with art by Al Davison and it stars the current Doctor from the BBC TV series in the title role. This time he's in Hollywood in 1926, hobnobbing with famous and soon-to-be-famous actors. Amusingly, whenever they ask his name, he gives the name of a different famous 20th century Hollywood actor. Inevitably he discovers there's an evil alien plot afoot that he has to stop, with the help of some contemporary folks, including the actor "Archie Maplin," who's clearly meant to be a stand-in for Charlie Chaplin (although why they didn't just use the real name instead of making up a fake one is a little confusing to me). The end features the Doctor in a classic silent movie predicament and is really quite clever and fun; I like how the panels on the penultimate page are drawn like train tracks, or like a strip of film. And the final page is wonderfully dramatic.
It's not a fantastic comic - it's actually rather silly and formulaic - but it's still pretty fun and I'm curious to see where it goes, so I'll most likely pick up the next issue.
Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #3 The surreal Prisoner-like adventures continue! Our "heroes" get together and try to figure things out, but it's like they're each having a different conversation all at the same time. Then the "bad guys" put some folks on a wheel and spin it to decide the fates of others, like in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It's kind of cool. The story remains confusing in the extreme, however. I'll stick around to see if it actually resolves into something understandable.
Incognito #5 In this issue, lots of cool little secrets start to leak out about: the creepy, twisted relationship between Xander, his brother, and Ava Destruction (when they're about to hook up, Zack asks, "You don't think it'll be too weird?" and Ava says, "It fucking better be..."); the connection between the twins; the explanation for Ava's looks and the price she paid for them; a look at the mole the villains have placed amongst their enemies; where the twins came from, and that there's something about them that frightens the other villains; the origin of superpowers in this universe; just what "The Sleeper" is, and just what the villains plan to do with him. And hey, Lazarus looks a lot like The Hood! Although I guess he's supposed to be a Shadow analog.
Anyway, the point is, awesome issue!! This series is really picking up speed and adding all kinds of interesting new story elements. Fun, creative, exciting. And there's even an interesting essay in the back about Fu Manchu by Jess Nevins!
New Mutants #3 This issue starts off on the right foot with a kick-ass cover, featuring Dani Moonstar walking towards us and pointing a pistol directly at us, while completely festooned in a whole arsenal of other weaponry. I'm actually not sure if this is the standard cover or the alternate cover; I'm thinking standard, in which case it's by Adam Kubert & Justin Ponsor. Anyway, inside the book there's a great scene where Legion gets a brutal kick to the head, and then Sam makes the decision to leave Dani locked up to keep her safe, a decision which ends up putting her in more danger, which she does not appreciate, and which interestingly underlines the rift that's opened between the powered and depowered mutants. I like the scene where Legion suddenly becomes impossibly muscular, almost like in a Dragonball-style anime. At the same time he screams, "NOBODY LOVES ME!!!" Bobby responds, "I... I have no idea what to say to that." There's a creepy scene where one of the seemingly "good" personalities in Legion attacks the defenseless Dani, but is stopped in time. Then Illyana decides to enter Legion herself to try to save the missing girl. Sam points out she could lose herself forever in there, but she responds, "What makes you so sure, Sam, that I have a self to lose?" Okay, so she's still crazy, then. It looks like it might be time to call in the X-Men, but Dani says no, let's go after Legion ourselves - with guns! Meanwhile, inside Legion, Illyana throws caution to the wind and starts laying about with her soul sword with extreme prejudice. Very nice!
Definitely still loving Diogenes Neves' art and Zeb Wells' writing here. It's an exciting and intriguing story with a good mix of action, drama, and humor.
Scalped #30 This is the first part of a new story arc, and boy is it a doozie. It opens with the wise old lady telling Falls Down an old Cheyenne story about how the great white grandfather beaver of the North is always gnawing at the pole that holds up the Earth. Then she says, "Sometimes when I first wake up I feel like I can hear it." "Hear what?" he asks. "The gnawing," she answers, and that's also the title of the arc: "The Gnawing." Excellent.
Bad Horse ends up with Catcher in the back of his squad car, and they have an eerie coversation wherein Catcher drops some heavy info on Bad Horse, revealing that he knows all kinds of things he shouldn't. Then he says, "Wanbli." "What the fuck does that mean?" Bad Horse asks. "Eagle," Catcher says, pointing, and there ahead of them is an eagle, which crashes into the windshield, sending the car out of control. Bad Horse stumbles out and Catcher disappears. Another great scene!
But the next scene ramps things up even further, as Red Crow reveals to Bad Horse that not only does he know Nitz has a mole in his organization, he wants Bad Horse to find that mole! Delicious irony. Everything and everyone is pressing down on Bad Horse now. For both Nitz and Red Crow, this is his final test. Meanwhile, Red Crow reveals to the Hmongs what he's done to Brass. When their leader demands he put Brass on the phone, Red Crow does so - but then shoots Brass in the head. It's the greatest, most bad-ass scene of all time. I cackled with glee as I read it. But now a huge, bloody war seems inevitable.
Such a fantastic issue! Explosive and insane and transformative. Everything is coming to a head now. But then, it feels like that's happening in practically every issue of Scalped - like everything's always teetering on the edge of complete collapse. Which is why it's so good.
Sherlock Holmes #3 I love the way Holmes, dressed as an old guy, totally dismantles a rich guy's bodyguard. That's bad-ass. I don't quite get what's supposed to be happening in the scene where Holmes sneaks back into his house and knocks over a pie. Is he causing a distraction to keep the reporter from getting something important out of Mrs. Hudson? I'm not clear on that. Maybe it will make more sense in a future issue. Anyway, there's also an exciting assassination attempt that's thwarted by a quick-thinking Lestrade, whose name is apparently familiar to the Baron, which is a bit odd. Maybe that will also be explained later on. Meanwhile Watson tries to get some help from Mycroft, but is unsuccessful. Then Holmes himself goes to see Mycroft, looking for answers. It should be interesting to see how that turns out!
This is getting more and more intriguing. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Star Trek: Crew #5 A science officer named Ensign Spock is introduced in this issue. Exciting! We also learn that our nameless main character has been constantly refusing promotions, and we learn at the end of the issue why: she wants to remain in the middle of the action, and not be held back by rules and regulations. In fact, she wants to be first officer! But before we get there, the Enterprise has an adventure chasing vanishing star systems, and is eventually sucked after one of them and into a vast emptiness. The story is actually pretty odd, over-the-top, and even depressing. Thanks to Spock's telepathic mind, they're able to learn that super-advanced, but oddly childish, entities in the future have been stealing star systems from the past in an attempt to stave off entropy and keep the universe from ending. But it's not doing any good, and the crew of the Enterprise is slowly dying from the effects of entropy themselves. Finally the future entities are talked into returning the ship and its crew to their own time, and giving up their vain attempts to stop the universe's ultimate destruction.
I can't say I really enjoyed this issue very much. It's more unbelievable even than your average Star Trek comic, and like I said, it's a bit more depressing than I really like. Still, it has some cool moments, and I believe we're now all set up for the concluding issue of this rather strong miniseries.
Wednesday Comics #2 I was a bit harsh on the first issue of Wednesday Comics in my last edition of The Take. The truth is, I love the format and the concept so much that I really enjoy reading even the weakest stories in it. We open up here once again with Azzarello's Batman, and it's a really well done little story. We meet the widow of the rich man killed in the last episode, and Bruce Wayne cleverly saves her life from an assassin's bullet in a really beautifully and cleverly drawn series of panels (compliments go to artist Risso). Meanwhile, Ryan Sook contributes more beautiful, classical art to Dave Gibbons' Kamandi, which continues with our title character meeting up with Prince Tuftan and fighting off some giant rats. Arcudi's Superman also has some fantastic art, this time from Lee Bermejo, but I'm not as happy with some of the writing here. Superman talks to his friend Batman about his unease over his confrontation with the mysterious alien last issue, but Batman is less than helpful, and Superman storms off all bitter and petulant. It's kind of lame, and I'm not sure I see the two of them having that kind of interaction. I don't think Bruce is that simplistic and brutal, and I don't think Clark is that sensitive. But maybe I'm being picky. We'll see where this one goes. I'm also still not a huge fan of Deadman. The story does get a little more intriguing when the goddess intervenes to warn Deadman off from his latest investigation. He defies her and leaps inside the body of the murderer anyway, only to find himself sucked into some kind of mysterious darkness. Hmm... Meanwhile, I continue to enjoy Busiek's Green Lantern! In this episode, we get to see the emerald guardian in action, fighting some dudes with jetpacks and laser guns, and then we cut over to an astronaut being transformed by some kind of space fungus on live TV. Nice! And the art is, as usual, classical and fun. Gaiman and Allred's Metamorpho uses an interesting stylistic conceit in this episode: all the action occurs simultaneously in one gigantic panel, just like in old paintings. Metamorpho asks if there will be dinosaurs in the hidden land they're visiting. His mad scientist boss says, "Possibly a couple," and he responds, "Neat." Fun! Also, across the bottom of the page is a fake message from the "Metamorpho Fans of America," all done up in old school Ben-day dot printing style, explaining that there have been other "element men" (and women!) throughout the history of comics. Good to know! Thanks, little guys!
I still don't like Sean Galloway's art on Teen Titans, but this episode is thankfully not as blandly abstract or melodramatic as the first one. Once again it's all narration, but this time it's from the perspective of Robin, whose voice is bitter, sarcastic, and slightly more interesting than Trident's. Still not great writing, though, and the story remains rather lame.
The second part of Paul Pope's Strange Adventures is just as beautiful, fun, and stylish as the first. He's hit just the right note with the language - it has that wonderful, bombastic, over-the-top, Silver Age kind of flavor to it, without being corny or lame. Adam nearly quotes Planet of the Apes in the fourth panel: "Get your paws off her, you-!" Later, he agrees to the big villain's demands in the hopes that he can turn things to his advantage later. Should be fun!
Part two of Supergirl is more of the same: she's still chasing the superpets, and the superpets are still making a mess of everything. It's cutesy and rather dull. Metal Men is also still kind of fun, but mostly just bland and silly. Wonder Woman is still squished and hurried. I don't understand why Ben Caldwell, when he was given the chance to use this extra-large, epic-sized format, broke his story into episodes that are so long and detailed, he had to squeeze them into a bunch of tiny little panels with so many words in them you can barely read them, and such small pictures you can barely see them. The story's not even that complex; I don't think it required so much detail to tell it. Weak.
Sgt. Rock continues with a bit of exposition and then a flashback that starts to explain how Rock got into this position. Not as exciting as the opening chapter, but now we're getting more into the story, and there's the promise of some serious Nazi beatings in the future.
This time around Iris West and Flash have switched places on the page, but it's still just one story that continues through each of them in turn. We start off by learning that Barry's vanishing act at the end of the last issue was him accidentally going back through time. It leads to him having a fight with himself over Iris' note, which is pretty interesting. Still definitely having fun with these two linked comics.
The Demon and Catwoman starts to get a little more interesting, as Selina gets sucked through a magic doorway, and the Demon mentions a witch whom he thinks is behind all of this. Hmm. The final story, Hawkman, is thankfully not narrated by birds this time, but there is still a lot of narration and it is still very clumsy and cheesy. It's loaded with exposition, and tells a story that's barely even believable. This is still the worst strip in the book.
But despite the many misses nestled among the hits, I still really enjoy Wednesday Comics.
This post covers new releases from 6/10, plus a back issue from a few weeks ago.
(I should mention that, as usual, this post contains many spoilers.)
Back issues and old data Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #1 This is one of the few Final Crisis: Aftermath miniseries that I thought for sure I could safely avoid. I was familiar neither with the character it focused on (a master of disguise named Nemesis, connected to that whole Checkmate thing of which I remain mostly ignorant), nor the artists writing and drawing it. When this first issue came out, I saw it on the shelf and calmly passed it by. But later, I read somewhere that it was not only really good, but similar in theme to The Prisoner. Upon reading this, I groaned, because I knew I was sunk. I'd have to collect this miniseries, too.
It is indeed very similar to The Prisoner, but possibly even more surreal. Tom Tresser (AKA Nemesis) is at home hanging out with his cat when he drinks some drugged milk and drops to the floor. He awakens in a strange bed, and is offered breakfast by a trio of identical, creepy, smiling girls. He rushes out only to find himself in a nightmarish labyrinth that seems to change as he moves through it, more fluid dream than solid reality. He keeps passing out and waking up again. He meets faceless guards, but also people he recognizes: Amanda Waller, former White Queen of Checkmate; fellow agents Cameron Chase, Vertigo, and Rick Flag. Sometimes they seem to want his help. Sometimes they seem completely indifferent to him. Sometimes they seem to want to hinder him. Are they fellow prisoners? Or are they his jailers?
It's all very strange and disturbing, especially the clinically detailed, repetitive narration, written in the third person like a field report, and often containing the ominous phrase "[WORD DELETED]." Ivan Brandon's writing is strong, and Marco Rudy's art is haunting and wonderfully psychedelic. It's a unique comic and very intriguing. It could still turn out to be really lame, depending on how it ends, but I'm going to remain hopeful for now.
New releases from 6/10 Angel: Blood & Trenches #4 As I suspected after reading the previous issue, the final issue of this miniseries goes back in time to explain how Angel escaped from Kakistos. Then we move forward from the end of last issue and see Angel defeat Kakistos, at least temporarily. This entire issue is thoroughly narrated by Angel himself, and I'm not sure why. The great majority of the narration is just unnecessary textual descriptions of what we're already seeing in the panel. It's pretty disappointing. And at this point the story has boiled down to an only mildly interesting action adventure tale. The interaction between Angel and the Colonel is fascinating, as is the fact that the other vampires assume that Angel must have lost many of his vampire abilities when he gained a soul. But that's about it. And I really didn't like the twist ending where it turns out the German soldier that they let go is actually Hitler. C'mon, was that necessary? Just because there are Germans and it's the past, one of them has to be Hitler? Sigh. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have annoyed me that much if I hadn't just read a vaguely similar twist ending in Fringe.
B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3 The latest one-shot set back during the time of the first war against the frog creatures focuses on Liz, as seen through the eyes of a female soldier who has a bit of a crush on her. There's a contrast drawn between the tough, energetic, reckless, action-oriented Liz of the past, who charged headfirst into all the frogs' nests and burned them to a crisp, and the Liz of recent times, trapped in the dark apocalyptic dreams put into her head by Memnan Saa. There's some cool art from Karl Moline and some neat action scenes, but I couldn't get over the feeling that this story is pretty pointless. It doesn't really tell us anything new about Liz, and there's not really much of a story here. It's vaguely interesting to see things from the perspective of the grunts at B.P.R.D., and the fact that one of them is a lesbian with a thing for Liz is a cute idea. But author John Arcudi doesn't really go anywhere with these ideas. Overall, pretty disappointing.
Batman #687 The new guy working the counter at my local comic shop wasn't too impressed with Batman and Robin #1, but said this comic and Red Robin #1 were both very good. I'll know not to trust his opinion from now on. This comic is quite bad. It marks Judd Winick's takeover of the book, and he uses this first issue to once again go over the fact that Dick Grayson is feeling conflicted about becoming Batman - even though Battle for the Cowl and Batman and Robin have already thoroughly covered that territory. There's an interesting scene that's actually kind of moving where Superman and Wonder Woman hand over Batman's cowl to Nightwing in the Batcave. And the scene where Dick demands there not be a funeral for Batman is also rather interesting, as is the scene where Dick chooses the basement of the Wayne Foundation Building for his new headquarters. But this issue has so many guys weeping in it, and so many corny, melodramatic speeches about grief, by the end I just wanted to pull a Godfather, slap these dudes in their faces, and tell them to act like men. I mean, for God's sake, there's such a thing as subtlety! Also, Winick seems to have picked up Tony Daniel's unfortunate tendency to write Damian as a stupid, incompetent, whiny brat. He is supposed to be a bit of a brat, but he is not stupid or incompetent. He's a brilliant and insane killer raised by expert assassins! Get the backstory and the characters right!! Another thing I disliked is the way the villains are written. They're dull stereotypes, spouting the same old villain cliches. The action scenes in this book are just boring.
Of course, it could be worse. In the back of this book is a preview for a Justice League comic by James Robinson that's so bad I couldn't even finish reading it.
Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1 The only thing I know about Beta Ray Bill is that he's an alien version of Thor. But I wanted to know more, and the premise of this new miniseries is that Bill gets pissed at Galactus for eating his planet and resolves to hunt him down and kill him once and for all, and that is one fantastic premise. So here we are. The first issue opens with Thor and Bill teaming up to defeat a tsunami. It's pretty awesome. Then Thor tries to talk Bill out of his mad plan to take down Galactus, but Bill's determined. He gets the info on Galactus' location from Agent Brand, who asks him to take care of another deadly alien menace that happens to be on his way. Bill has no trouble with that, and quickly arrives at the scene of Galactus' latest conquest, where he comes into conflict with one of Galactus' heralds. It looks like he'll be facing off against the other - the Silver Surfer - next issue. Bill also reveals his plan for defeating Galactus: he won't fight the guy head on (that would be suicide); instead, he'll keep him from his food until he starves. "Any world which I cannot defend, I will destroy. No matter where he runs, he will find naught but dust to sustain him." Woah. That is bad-ass. I'm excited. This is a revenge story with lots of epic action, and it's well written (by Kieron Gillen) and well drawn (by Kano). Definitely looking forward to reading more of this.
I also really appreciate that in the back of this book they've reprinted the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, from The Mighty Thor #337. Walter Simonson provides both art and story and does a pretty damn fine job at both (although the dialog and narration do get a bit corny and repetitive at times). The story is constructed like a crossover tale, wherein due to a misunderstanding our two heroes end up at odds with each other and get into a big fight, but we know eventually they'll figure out what's going wrong and team up against a greater evil. They run into each other in the first place because Nick Fury detects Bill's spaceship headed toward Earth, and it's so powerful and of such epic magnitude the only person he can think of to call on for help is a God: Thor. Bill assumes Thor is just one of the demons he's apparently been hunting, and rather than try to stop the fight and explain the truth to Bill, Thor stupidly fights back. After a while, Thor weakens and changes back into Donald Blake. For some reason, Bill is able to then take Blake's staff, tap it, and gain the power of Thor. Odin then mistakes Bill for Thor and whisks him home to Asgard, where there's trouble brewing. Whoops! Needless to say Blake/Thor is upset. I'm curious to see how this story wraps up, and I'm hoping the rest of it will be reprinted in future issues of this miniseries.
Fables #85 In part 7 of "The Great Fables Crossover," Jack Horner is finally forced to have a confrontation with his son, Jack Frost, and Sam manages to convince Kevin to hold off destroying the world, hopefully long enough for Sam to get his hands on the magic pen and possibly destroy it.
It's good to see Jack Horner finally get a little taste of what he deserves in this issue. His son gets so frustrated with him, he attacks him, and the Boy Blue cult finally turns against him as well when his duplicity is at last explained to them. But of course Jack learns nothing from all of this. Instead, in a hilarious sequence, he steals Bigby's liquor and teaches Bigby's kids how to play poker before tricking his own son into running off and confronting Kevin Thorn. What an unmitigated bastard he is. And yet somehow I still enjoy reading about him.
In the back of this comic is a preview, by way of a series of character portraits, of an upcoming comic called Greek Street. The premise is simple: it's a modern day update of ancient Greek mythology. I was actually vaguely interested in this when I first read about it, but this preview really turned me off. It's just poorly written. It looks as if they tried too hard - or didn't try hard enough - to link mythology with the modern world. I'm simultaneously amused and horrified that the Greek chorus is a bunch of strippers.
Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #2 The second issue of this insane miniseries is pretty much more of the same, although some fascinating new clues do surface. Someone tells Tresser, "He wants you to leave. Not all of you. The real you." That seems significant. Also, a robotic-looking entity, possibly a guard, is surprised to find that Tresser can somehow see him; apparently he's supposed to be invisible. There's a fun interlude wherein Tresser, Cameron, and Vertigo beat the crap out of Captain Nazi. Then Tresser pulls an older version of himself out of a time pool! And maybe the Rick Flag he's been seeing is just a hallucination?!
Yep, it's some crazy crap, all right. It continues to be unclear what's real and what's not, but something interesting is definitely going on. I wonder if all of this will ever make sense. Or if it will perhaps end up making too much sense. If that makes sense.
The Flash: Rebirth #3 As this issue opens, the other superheroes have assembled to lock Barry in a stasis field until they can figure out how to make him not the Black Flash anymore. But Barry is certain the only way out is to return to the speed force again, so he just runs away as fast as he can. Superman tries to stop him. "I've raced you before, Barry," he says. "I even won some of those races." "Those were for charity, Clark," Barry says, and zooms away much faster than even Superman can follow. Somehow he leaves behind the Black Flash costume in the process, reverting to the old red and gold, but he just keeps going anyway. His life plays out in reverse in front of his eyes as he runs, his memory and his sense of self drifting away in the process. He repeats to himself, like a charm, "As long as I remember Iris, I'll be all right." It's an incredibly moving and heartbreaking sequence. But Barry doesn't die again at the end of it - instead he finds Johnny Quick and Max Mercury caught in some kind of weird vortex where their life force is being sucked out of them. And finally the villain who's really behind it all is revealed: Reverse Flash!
Wow! Very cool stuff. The sequence where Barry tries to sacrifice himself again to save everyone - easily running faster than Superman, and trying desperately to keep at least the memory of Iris, even if he must lose all the rest of himself - is really amazing.
Miss America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 These 70th anniversary one-shots are introducing me to a lot of old school Marvel characters I'd never heard of before. The first story in this one - a new tale written by Jen Van Meter with art by Andy MacDonald - opens with the Liberty Leionnaires - Miss America, Whizzer, and Blue Diamond - fighting off a gang of mind-controlled civilians. Miss America and Blue Diamond are pretty generic super-strong, nigh invulnerable types, while Whizzer is a speedster, natch. Whizzer is married to Miss America and is a little overprotective of her, but in order to root out a Nazi sabotage plot, she has to go undercover as a worker at a shipyard. Eventually it turns out that hidden among the regular workers are a whole band of super saboteurs: Madame Mauzer, Vichy Vixen, Axis Annie, Fraulein Fatale, and Penny Panzer! They briefly capture Miss America, but she gets assistance from the regular girls at the shipyard, who fight back to defend her, their ship, and their country. It's all a little silly and over-the-top, but in a wonderfully smart, funny, self-aware kind of way. I particularly enjoyed when Vichy Vixen spontaneously surrenders, and when one of the shipyard gals gives Penny Panzer a brutal slug to the face and says, "Don't fall down yet, sugar. I ain't done hittin' you." Ha! It's a cute story and it's a ton of fun.
Next up is "The Whizzer" from All-Winners Comics #9. Credits are hard to come by for old Golden Age comics, but they know Alan Mandel penciled this one. It features Whizzer foiling a plot to sabotage a test of a new high explosive armor piercing shell. He solves the case thanks to the fact that he was listening to a random channel on his powerful short wave radio and overheard the saboteurs talking to each other in coded language. It's quite goofy. Still, I rather enjoy the character of Whizzer; the current Marvel Universe is seriously lacking in speedsters.
The third story in the book is "The Whizzer: The Terror of the Triple Destruction" from All-Winners Comics #10, fall 1943. This is an even more ridiculous story than the previous one, and involves Whizzer fighting three saboteurs dressed as demons. These saboteurs boast that they will strike three war plants at the same time, but Whizzer is able to foil their plans by getting the Western Union people to agree to set their clocks slightly off in each of the plants. I could explain that further, but it doesn't get much less silly. The story feels like a commercial for Western Union. Also, like a lot of Golden Age stories, it's painfully over-narrated, describing things in text that we can see plainly with our own eyes. Still, it's fun in its own way.
The final story is "Let's Play Detective: The Mystery of the Ghost Killer" from All-Winners Comics #11, winter 1943-1944. It was written and drawn by Allen Bellman. It's a rather odd two-page, locked room murder mystery wherein a detective examines a few clues (really, just the one - some holes in the ground outside the window), interviews a few witnesses, and swiftly fingers the guilty party - a German gardener who used to be in the circus, and who was forced to kill by Nazis who threatened his family back in the fatherland. Interestingly enough, there's no suggestion that anybody's going to do anything about the people who coerced him - the murderer has been caught, and that's that! The trick to how the detective solved the murder is printed upside down in the final panel, so you can try to figure it out yourself first, then turn the book over to check your solution. (I was able to figure it out, btw, as it was rather glaringly obvious. I guess it's pretty hard to put together a complicated mystery in just two pages.)
Most of these 70th anniversary one-shots have been quite fun. Even when the old stories are lame or the new ones aren't all that exciting, it's still fascinating getting a peek into the history of Marvel Comics.
Red Robin #1 The Red Robin character has a strange and complicated history in the DC Universe, but this miniseries is about its latest incarnation: Tim Drake - or Tim Wayne, as he calls himself now (Bruce adopted him at some point, apparently). Tim - unsurprisingly, in retrospect - was pretty pissed at being passed over not only for the job of Batman, but also for the job of Robin, so he stormed off. Unable to face losing everything and everyone again, he became convinced that Bruce Wayne is somehow still alive. So he took on the Red Robin persona and went out in search of the original Batman. In this issue, he gets sidetracked from his search by some good old fashioned crime-fighting, and we learn that an old enemy is keeping track of his movements, and is possibly planning to kill him.
I was pleasantly surprised by this comic. The story is told in an interesting, non-chronological way, jumping back and forth through time until the whole thing has been pieced together for us. There's a lot of narration, but it's interesting, well-written, and not redundant. Tim himself is a fascinating character, complex, flawed, and hurting. I hadn't really thought about how he would react to Dick taking over the Batman identity and giving Damian the Robin identity, but his reaction here is totally believable, and it's the obvious way for him to feel in retrospect. I like that despite the fact that Tim is angry and maybe even a little crazy, he's still extremely competent. I'm really enjoying this story and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. I suspect it may turn out that Tim is right, and Bruce is somehow still alive. But I'd actually like it better if that weren't true, and this series ended up being about Tim trying to come to grips with that fact.
Sherlock Holmes #2 A couple of new and interesting twists pop up in this, the second part of "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." Turns out not only is Sherlock apparently guilty of murder, there were also papers at the crime scene that seem to show he himself was the mysterious Moriarty he was always talking about! Meanwhile, to save face, Scotland Yard is ordering both Watson and Lestrade to keep their noses entirely out of the case! But there's no way they can sit still while their friend is in trouble, so they begin investigating the case secretly, under cover of darkness. Meanwhile, Holmes has cleverly escaped his prison cell and is on the lam!
I'm enjoying this story. It's quite intriguing. The only complaint I have is with the way Aaron Campbell draws Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson looking all disheveled. I understand their concern for their friend would end up affecting their outward appearance, but I just can't imagine either of them - proper British folk like they are - letting themselves go quite that much. I mean, they look positively disgusting!
Toy Story #1 Boom! keeps churning out the new kids titles, and I keep buying them! This is the first issue in a four-part miniseries, and it tells a one-and-done story called "The Mysterious Stranger." It opens with Andy running in and dropping a strange, egg-like object off in his room before dashing out again to go somewhere with his family. The toys all approach the egg and try to figure out what it is. They are unsuccessful. Paranoia gets the better of a few of them, and those few stage a desperate and poorly thought-out attempt to get rid of the egg. Woody and the rest of the gang stop them, and then have to rush to put everything back the way it was before Andy returns. The object turns out to be harmless, and we all learn a valuable lesson.
But I kid Toy Story. Despite the simplicity of the story, and the obviousness of its message, I actually really enjoyed it. It was fun to see the old gang from the movies again, in an adventure full of fun, action, and comedy. I suspect I'll be picking up the next issue.
Uncanny X-Men: First Class Giant-Size #1 This is the one-shot special that bridges the gap between X-Men: First Class and Uncanny X-Men: First Class, with the old writer Jeff Parker handing off the reins to new writer Scott Gray, who's accompanied here by partner Roger Langridge. I had high hopes for this title, as I enjoyed Gray and Langridge's work on Fin Fang 4 Return, but sadly it's an uneven mess. It opens with Scott trying to get used to working with his new teammates: Banshee, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. They're all a bit too crazy and undisciplined for his tastes, and they're not so good at following his orders. But Dr. MacTaggert tells him a series of stories that they told her about themselves which gives Cyclops more insight into who they are. At the end there's hope that Cyclops and his new team will learn to get along.
The device of having MacTaggert tell Cyclops stories about his teammates is a pretty contrived excuse to do a series of one-shot origin stories. And the stories themselves often leave a lot to be desired. Storm's story is beautifully drawn and relatively interesting, but a bit corny. Someone had the horrible idea of writing Banshee's story as a song, but the meter is all wrong and the language has been twisted about in all kinds of clumsy and awkward ways in order to try to make it rhyme. It's quite awful. The story itself is a pretty dull thing about Banshee fighting a bunch of monsters for a girl, only to discover he and the girl can't be together. I like the very end, where he realizes he'll meet her again in death, but that's about it.
Nightcrawler's story is a very childish, cartoony-looking thing about the fact that what he is scares people, and he has to hide behind lies to be accepted. The only really good stories are the last two: Colossus' and Wolverine's. Colossus describes an adventure that takes place shortly after he discovered his mutant ability. He's depressed about the recent death of his brother, and not sure what to do about his secret. His friends are trying to cheer him up when an accident nearly kills them all, but Colossus is able to save them with his mutant power. Not only that, but he finds new hope and a purpose in life. It sounds a bit corny, but it's handled well and is actually quite effective.
The last story - Wolverine's - might be the best. We all know that Wolverine doesn't actually remember his past at all at this point in his history, but instead of telling MacTaggert that, he makes up a bunch of totally ridiculous adventure stories about himself. He says he got his powers by being bitten by a radioactive wolverine at a science exhibition. We then get quick glimpses of his hilarious attempts to become a children's author, a theater actor (I love his take on Willy Loman - "This is one salesman who ain't dyin', bub!"), and a folk singer. Then he finally finds his purpose: punching creeps and blowing things up with the spy organization S.N.I.K.T.! He fights zombie clowns, mechanical lunar ticks on the moon, and the agents of B.I.M.B.O.! Then he saves Charles Xavier from B.I.M.B.O. and agrees to join the X-Men, where he totally macks on Jean Grey.
In the back of the book is an amusing collection of "International Mutants Who Didn't Make the Team" which includes people like Didgeri Dude, an Australian who can surf on anything and drain a tinny in ten seconds flat. I feel like some of the jokes in here went over my head, or are just so weird and random that I thought they'd gone over my head, but most of it is pretty funny.
After reading this rather clumsy, uneven book, I'm a little worried about the quality of the upcoming issues of Uncanny X-Men: First Class. But to be fair, this one-shot was written and illustrated by a large number of people all trying to work in concert, and I suspect it's difficult to produce good work that way. Maybe the ongoing series - written by just one writer and drawn by just one artist - will be stronger and less uneven. We'll see.
The Unwritten #2 I'm definitely still loving this series. I enjoy the quick glimpses we get into the Tommy Taylor novels - how they're so like and yet so unlike Harry Potter - and the quick glimpses we get into the completely believable internet reaction to the events surrounding Tom Taylor in the "real" world. Some shocking and exciting moments: a new Tommy Taylor novel arrives at the publisher! Then Tom visits his Dad's old flame for information, and it's clear she knows more than she's saying. "You know that trick where you pull away the tablecloth without disturbing the plates and dishes?" she says. "That's what the truth is." Then she tells him to count the stairs in her basement. Somehow, impossibly, he keeps going down and down, getting all the way to step number 1,708 before she turns the light on and tells him to come back. He turns around and finds there are only 12 steps going back up. Such a cool scene.
The villain who's tracking Tom threatens his Dad's old flame a bit after Tom leaves. It looks like she knows the thug, and is perhaps cooperating with him to a certain extent. But she did give Tom a tip on where to go next: the old house where his father wrote the Tommy Taylor novels. There Tom has a flashback to a horrific childhood memory of his father beating the crap out of some man, a man holding a mysterious map. Also at the house is the woman who called herself Lizzie Hexam, and she points out that Tom now has Tommy Taylor's tattoo on the back of his hand, something I've been expecting to see for some time now.
This is a really wonderful, magical mystery about the thin line between fiction and reality. Just my kind of thing.
Wolverine #74 Both stories that were launched in #73 conclude in this issue. The biker story really feels rushed and a little clumsy. I think it probably needed to have more space to develop. Also, it needed to be a little more subtle about the parallels to Wolverine's relationship with his own son. And it needed to be more interesting. I really didn't care that much about scummy drug-dealing bikers killing each other. Jason Aaron's "A Mile in My Moccasins" also gets a bit corny and unsubtle at times, but it's still a good story because it never takes itself too seriously. I especially enjoyed the moment when a bunch of unlucky criminals try to rob the bar where Wolverine and Spider-Man are having an argument. Big mistake! I also like when Wolverine's bartender answers the phone and says, "Logan, it's for you. It's that Cyclops guy." Heh. So yeah, a bit cheesy, but also clever and funny, and overall a pretty strong character portrait of Wolverine.
It looks like next issue this book is going to change its title to Dark Wolverine and start focusing on Logan's son, Daken. I'm not totally happy about that, and neither am I happy about the fact that Daniel Way will apparently be taking over writing duties. I remember that guy being pretty uneven. Still, I might give it a try, just to see what it's like.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.