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

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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