Monday, September 21, 2009 11:47 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 9/2. 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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #28
Another rather silly Andrew issue, in which he films himself seeking out the spy he's sure is in their midst. He finds all the girls pretty pissed with the new "no powers" doctrine (understandably! I'd be pissed, too! In fact, I am pissed!), except perhaps Faith and Buffy (who seem to have finally come to an understanding). An aside: it's cute that Buffy is wearing a T-shirt with the Count from Sesame Street on it. This issue carefully sets us up to believe that Xander and Buffy are at long last going to get together, but then takes a sudden sharp turn at the last minute and throws Xander and Dawn together instead. Woah. That's a little... creepy. The moment when Buffy walks in on them kissing is a classic, heart-breaking, Whedon-esque relationship moment. Meanwhile, Oz helps Willow deal with her darkness, and she comes to believe that she, and even Buffy, might be able to eventually have real, normal lives after all.

Oh, and also, turns out there really was a spy, and it was the cat! That's unexpected. Looks like next issue could be the start of the big showdown, or at least another large battle. Exciting!
Thumbs Up

Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
Our first story is by David Liss with art by Jason Armstrong, and it focuses on a reimagining of the origin story of an old Marvel character I'd never heard of before: The Phantom Reporter. He's a regular guy working as a journalist who, in the process of chasing down a story, becomes frustrated with just writing about the bad guys and determines to do something about them himself. So he puts on a mask and uses his smarts and his experience as an athlete and a fighter to beat the truth out of the villains and ultimately take them down. It's all a bit hard to believe, really, and the fact that the big bad guy is a mad, immortal genius who always goes around with a monkey on his shoulder and who's stolen the formula for the philosopher's stone doesn't help with the credibility. Another silly moment comes at the very beginning of the issue in the frame story, wherein the Phantom Reporter mentions off-hand that he was frozen back in WWII, like a lot of other mystery men, and thawed out in the present day. C'mon, how many people can that have happened to?? I'm willing to buy Captain America, and Bucky, but after a while it starts to get pretty ridiculous.

All that being said, one has to expect to suspend one's disbelief quite a bit for a superhero comic book, and Liss' writing is good enough that it's pretty easy to overlook most of the story's more unlikely elements. Interestingly enough, there's a short essay by Liss after the story where he talks about the fact that he's a novelist, and this was his first comic, but he enjoyed it quite a bit and plans to do it again.

Next up in this book is a reprint of the original origin story for the Phantom Reporter. It's your typical Golden Age story about corrupt politicians in bed with street-talking thugs who are beating people up as part of a scheme to make money. The title character is a crummy reporter by day, but by night he puts on a mask, ties on a cape over his suit jacket, and heads out to interrogate criminals with truth serum and beat the snot out of their bosses. Unlike in the modern reimagining, where the Reporter gets a backstory and is carefully developed, here we learn little to nothing about him. It's not the weirdest or worst Golden Age story I've ever read, but it is rather silly.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Run! #5
Another very funny and entertaining issue of this mini. Our "hero" continues burning bridges before he's even finished crossing them, and running head-on into any crazy thing that might give him more power, even if it's insanely dangerous for himself and everyone else in a 100-mile radius. He manages to survive a direct confrontation with some Justice Leaguers, but it remains to be seen whether he'll survive his own stupidity and recklessness.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire #2
Jason Aaron opens this issue with a very odd, darkly funny, and vaguely disturbing sequence in which he reintroduces a weird old character known as Master Pandemonium, who has demons for arms and a gateway to hell in his belly. Danny Ketch uses him to make a deal with the devil. Danny, Johnny, the Caretaker, Daimon, Jaine, and the Anti-Christ all end up getting together, and Danny says he has a plan to take on Zadkiel. It's pretty thrilling, and it's also funny what a mismatched gang this is. The scene where Daimon comes onto the Caretaker is particularly amusing. But there's even more fun and dark humor in store at the end of the issue, as a whole gang of old and new Ghost Rider villains team up to take on their old foes. I love how crazy and epic Aaron is making this story. I mean, he brought back the Trull the Inhuman, a living steam shovel! Awesome.

In the back of the book is the continuation of the reprinted storyline which originally introduced Daimon Hellstrom. It's a bit wordy and melodramatic, but also surprisingly interesting and engaging. It's really legitimately horrifying when Johnny's replacement crashes into the cliff side.
Thumbs Up

Immortal Weapons #2
This issue's Immortal Weapon is the sexy/creepy Bride of Nine Spiders. Her story is, appropriately enough, a Twilight Zone-style tale about an inter-dimensional spider and its haunting song. Unlike the first issue, this one does not reveal the origin story of its subject. The furthest it goes back in the Bride's history is 1935, when she faces off against a psychotic killer who meant to make her his bride. It's then that she leaves one of her magic spiders behind on Earth. In modern times, the spider is bought by a man who unwisely attempts to pry open the secret of its powers and only calls down horror and death upon himself. A team of mercenaries go in to try to get the spider back, only to find themselves caught in the same web. The story structure isn't particularly imaginative, but there are some cool moments. The second part of the backup story, "The Caretakers," is a bit melodramatic and frankly not all that interesting, but Travel Foreman's art is very effective.
Thumbs Sideways

Incognito #6
This issue brings an end to what will hopefully be only the first of many stories set in the Incognito universe. Some really cool backstory reveals that Zack's origin is tied up with the origins of superhumans on Earth, and that his heritage is more heroic than we knew. His brother's girlfriend and her story about the coin flip is pretty funny. Some bad-ass moves from Zack and some quick thinking from Zoe save the day. Then Zack gets just a little bit of revenge on the Black Death before officially (sort of) joining the other side.

Yes, our anti-hero drops the "anti," which is frankly a little disappointing. I think I would have liked it better if he'd remained a scumbag right to the end. Still, the comic was kind of headed this way all along, and I like the future story possibilities that this opens up. Brubaker and Phillips have built a fascinating little world here that I hope they'll revisit soon.

In the back of the book is another highly entertaining essay from Jess Nevins about forgotten pulp history. This time he focuses on an odd sub-genre: zeppelin pulps. These were stories about pulp heroes who flew around in giant airships, and their origins lie in the Army and Navy attempting to redeem the image of zeppelins in the eyes of the public after the Macon disaster. A lot of the story elements from these zeppelin pulps sound familiar; they appear to have been borrowed by Brubaker when he was writing Incognito. There's a Zeppelin of Silence where operations are performed to remove the "sickness of evil" from the brains of criminals; there's a villain named Black Death; and later a two-gun wielding rip-off of the Shadow named Lazarus the Returned Man is introduced. (Turns out Lazarus died in nearly every appearance, only to reappear in the next episode. Cool!) Some of the other story elements are just insane. Villains included a Nazi aviator named Pontius Pilot; Amenhotep, the simian Pharaoh of the Congo; and Baron Nosferatu, the Flying Vampire. Dude, I want to read about those characters! I also kind of want to read the wildly unpopular Spicy Zeppelin Stories, and Strange Tales of the Black Zeppelin, a weird menace pulp. Anyway, ultimately the popularity of zeppelins as a means of transport, and as a focus for pulps, was destroyed by the Hindenberg disaster.

I hadn't meant to copy down so much of that, but it's totally fascinating stuff.
Thumbs Up

Irredeemable #6
I love this series so much, and this is another great issue of it. We get a very telling look at the Plutonian's (or rather, Danny's) tough childhood, and even see the surprisingly terrestrial origin of the symbol on his chest. Meanwhile, our heroes track down and disable the Modeus-bots, but not before one of them sets off a distress signal that brings the Plutonian zooming straight at their location. They escape to the only place they know the Plutonian is not: his own secret lair! Charybdis sticks around to slow down the Plutonian, not by fighting him (as that would hardly work), but by talking to him. He brings up a disturbing story out of the Plutonian's past, back when he was a hero, and reveals there might be more to the story than even the Plutonian realized. Meanwhile, the rest of our heroes stumble upon something horrific in the Plutonian's lair - but we don't get to see what it is! Bastards!

I feel like this story is hurtling towards its conclusion now, and I can't wait to read it and figure out the solutions to all the hidden mysteries.
Thumbs Up

Moon Knight Saga
This is one of those freebies that summarizes the entire history of a character. It's written in first person, from the perspective of the Moon Knight himself. I'm vaguely curious about Moon Knight's story, but I just can't get into him as a character, and I have yet to read a really good comic about him. Sadly, this book did not change my opinion; the writing is so bad and so melodramatic I couldn't even finish it.
Thumbs Down

Mystic Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
Turns out the original version of The Vision was really freaking weird. We open with a new story about the character, set back in his original time period. The premise is that The Vision is a supernatural being who can appear wherever there is smoke - the smoke from a fire, from a pipe, any kind of smoke. It's a pretty silly concept really, and you can see them stretching it almost right out of the gate, as the Vision has to use the smoke from a convenient fire in the kitchen of a restaurant to transport himself into said restaurant and attack a couple of criminals who've busted in to assassinate somebody with tommy guns. He tricks one into shooting the other, then makes it look like the getaway car is driving into his mouth and dropping down into his guts, when really they've just swerved off the pier and into the river. It's pretty surreal. Later, The Vision has taken the guise of a normal human, and we learn that he entered our world from his own supernatural realm through a portal opened by a scientist. Almost before he's done warning us that something awful could come through that same portal if they're not careful... something does. Like The Vision, this hideous monster is able to travel through smoke, and show people horrible visions that trick them into doing terrible things to each other (there's the strong suggestion that one man kills his wife because he was tricked into thinking she was a giant spider, and The Vision's love interest nearly commits suicide to avoid being molested by a zombie that's not even there). In the end The Vision triumphs in epic fashion, and turns the gangsters behind all the trouble against each other by subtly influencing their minds. It's a strange, eerie story. It's not excellent, but it is occasionally effective. It's followed up by reprints of two original stories about The Vision. In these stories, there's no mention of a scientist or a portal, and The Vision never takes on the guise of a normal human. The Vision just appears mysteriously out of smoke wherever and whenever he's needed, and then vanishes again just as mysteriously. I imagine him sitting in a room full of mystical windows, one for each spot on the Earth where there's smoke, all of them appearing and disappearing as smoke is generated and dissipates, and when he sees something through one of them that he feels he should interfere with, he simply leaps through. Anyway, in the first story, The Vision finds himself facing off against a couple of werewolves, one the innocent victim of the other. The victim explains the backstory in a series of lengthy bits of exposition-heavy dialog and then, having achieved his story purpose (info-dump), he is promptly killed. Attacked by the other werewolf, The Vision simply shoots it with a mystical beam which instantly turns it back into a human and kills it. He says: "They're both dead now.... My work here is done! There are others who need my aid. Farewell, Earthman." Um... help?? You just made sure everybody was dead and then took off! That's not really particularly helpful. The panel layout in this story is also quite awkward; they find it necessary more than once to slap big red arrows on the page to explain which panel you're supposed to read next. One particular page has to be read in an awkward, circular direction.

The final story is quite silly, but also kind of awesome. A businessman has made himself his own little Jurassic Park, and of course almost before he's done explaining how safe it is to the press, the dinosaurs have smashed out of their cages and are rampaging through the city. The Vision pops up out of the smoke of a demolished building and runs off to get some dynamite. And this is where things get a bit weird. The businessman who started all this calls his press agent and demands that he recapture the dinosaurs alive. Apparently this isn't just any press agent, as he immediately grabs a tommy gun, rounds up a crowd of goons (who even call him "boss"), and orders them to shoot anybody who interferes with them grabbing the monsters! It's almost as if the writer was contractually obligated to include a gang of criminals in the story for The Vision to fight. Anyway, next up The Vision chucks some dynamite into one dinosaur's mouth, where it explodes, blowing the animal's head off! The businessman, blindly raging about his dead dinosaur, is swiftly eaten by the one that's still alive, which in turn is also blown to bits by The Vision and his dynamite. It's a ridiculous - but also ridiculously fun - little story.
Thumbs Sideways

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: In the Service of Angels #3
This issue opens up with a big, bloody fight with the demon monster. Afterwards, Grey and his new medium friend talk through everything that's happened and finally work out what's going on. But things are complicated by the interference of The Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, a group that fans of the Hellboyverse will recognize immediately. Turns out they want the monster's bones. On a hunch, the medium takes them into the Church of the Inner World, a weird little temple whose members believe in the Hollow Earth concept. These church members were tricked into believing the demon was an angel, and it's sucked them all dry. (This is finally the pay-off to that weird scene we saw earlier in the series of the old man saying, "Thank you, Lord," when the monster entered his office.) It's an extremely eerie and effective sequence, and it reveals even more connections into the larger story of the Hellboyverse. The demon is in fact one of many slave monsters that tended the war machines of the Old Ones deep in the Earth. Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. will run into these little guys a number of times in the future. But right now, Grey and his friends aren't well equipped to take them on, and could be in serious trouble.

I'm loving this series more and more all the time. I'm constantly impressed by what a huge, epic, millenia-spanning story Mignola is building. All of these books are connected, and there are things happening in this comic that actually illuminate stuff going on in other books that are set some 200 years in the future. But it's not just a part of that bigger story; it's also its own powerfully atmospheric Gothic horror tale, with its own set of fascinating characters, and it alludes to all kinds of wonderful myths and fairy tales and ghost stories. It's excellent stuff.
Thumbs Up

Strange Tales #1
This is the first issue of a fascinating new Marvel Knights three-part anthology miniseries, collecting weird stories by indie comic creators. First up is a totally cute and fun story about the Inhumans (well, really just Lockjaw - the other Inhumans are just supporting characters) by Paul Pope. It's a pretty hilarious, deliberately over-the-top adventure story about all the work Lockjaw has to do just to get his dinner. I love it. Next up is a story about She-Hulk, reimagined as a 19th century period story about a woman whose true self, in all its power and ferocity, is being repressed by her mother. The title of the book she's reading is prominently displayed: The Yellow Wallpaper. Ha! This is another fun one, with unique art from Molly Crabapple and amusing writing from John Leavitt. "Welcome to the Spider Town" is a very odd, cutesy, manga-style tale from Junko Mizuno about MJ trying to help Spider-Man fit in in their new home: a city populated entirely by spider people. "Dr. Strange vs. Nightmare" by Dash Shaw is very, very funny. Tricked by a soup that says it was not poisoned by Nightmare, Dr. Strange falls into the dream realm and gets into a big fight with the supervillain. When Nightmare leaves to get his evil unicorn (ha!), Strange wakes up, but then must keep himself awake or face Nightmare again. So it's off to a diner to drink coffee and try not to yawn. Funny stuff. The silliest and most childish story in the book is probably James Kochalka's "Hulk Squad, Smash!" in which a trio of variously colored Hulks fight the regular green Hulk. Johnny Ryan provides an amusing interlude with "Marvel's Most Embarrassing Moments." Included is Doctor Strange's rap album and Cyclops getting caught peeping in the girls' locker room. Ryan also gives us "Scared Smart," starring The Punisher. As you might imagine, it's about him threatening a slacker into getting a decent education, and hilariously ends with him and the post-post-graduate laughing and hugging each other.

Even though M. Kupperman's "Fed Up with Man," starring Namor, is exceedingly odd and pointless, I still got a real kick out of it. "Mankind- ugh!" says Namor. "A dog, a barrel... ridiculous! ...Yet they make such delicious pizza!"

Next is the first part of what will apparently be a longer, continuing story called "The Incorrigible Hulk," written and drawn by P. Bagge. The art, satire, uncomfortable social situations, and sexual references all remind me of R. Crumb - which of course means I'm not a big fan of this story. I've always hated Crumb and his ilk.

"And Call My Lover M.O.D.O.K." by Nick Bertozzi is at first a rather amusing story about M.O.D.O.K.'s long-term, squabbling relationship with one of his AIM henchwomen, but halfway through it takes a turn for the extremely dark and by the end it has become almost punishingly sad and depressing. I guess it's good in its own way, but it's certainly not fun to read. The rest of the book is a handful of really quick, goofy stories: The Perry Bible Fellowship shows us how Bruce Banner opens a pickle jar in "The Green Menace," and how a case of mistaken identity leads to tragedy in "The Blue Hair." And finally, Jason (yeah, just Jason) gives us the fun and silly tale of how Peter Parker finally manages to get into a bar fight.

There are some misses among the hits, as with any anthology comic, but overall this is a great little book with a wonderful premise and thematic arc to it.
Thumbs Up

Thulsa Doom #1
I loved the character of Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, and the world of that film in general, so I was interested to try out this new miniseries from Dynamite which focuses on Doom's backstory. Adding to my curiosity is the fact that Djimon Hounsou has apparently already signed on to star in a film adaptation of this comic. In fact artist Lui Antonio has taken things one step further and already cast Hounsou in the lead role of the comic itself; Doom is the spitting image of Hounsou, just with more muscles. He shows up out of nowhere at the start of the issue and saves some folks from slavery by bloodily murdering their captors. Then he is in turn saved from a giant monster by soldiers who show up out of nowhere. He joins them, but he's not really there to help people; he's looking for some mysterious object. Meanwhile, in the remnants of Atlantis, an impossibly voluptuous evil sorceress steps naked out of a bath in order to drink the blood of a pretty young slave as part of some black magic ritual to recover her beauty. Needless to say, she's the villain who'll be hunting Thulsa Doom. There's an unnecessary and odd wordless final panel of Thulsa sitting at a campfire, and then the issue comes to an end.

This comic is ridiculous, over-the-top, and utterly gratuitous from top to bottom. I understand why they've drawn the main character as the actor they expect to play him, but it still feels cheesy and vaguely pathetic, especially the overly dramatic way he's introduced in a full-page panel that seems to linger on his impossibly large and ropey muscles. It doesn't help that there's really almost nothing imaginative or interesting going on here. I won't be buying another issue of this.
Thumbs Down

The Torch #1
I love the Human Torch as a character, so I couldn't resist trying out this new Marvel/Dynamite miniseries, written by Mike Carey and Alex Ross with art by Patrick Berkenkotter. It's set in the modern day, with the Torch's sidekick Toro taking the role of narrator and main character. Apparently Toro was brought back to life by Bucky, when at some point he managed to grab the Cosmic Cube for a few seconds. Like other characters who've experienced something similar, Toro is feeling all sulky and depressed and aimless and out of place. The original Vision shows up to try to cheer Toro up, and ultimately Toro asks for his help in finding the guy who killed him: a supervillain known as The Thinker. But The Thinker is in the midst of some serious supervillainy, and Toro's sudden appearance actually just helps inspire him to new and more terrible evil involving the Human Torch himself.

Although the premise and story of this book are vaguely interesting (I was particularly fascinated by the new, reimagined origin for Toro's powers), the writing is quite melodramatic and over-the-top, and Toro's sulking is just irritating. I think I'll save my money and drop this one now.
Thumbs Sideways

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #2
For now the Kingpin appears to be staying dead! The guy who killed him is Mysterio, and he's planning on becoming a big player. Spider-Man's nightmarish vision of all the heroes chained and drowned underwater is very powerful. It's also interesting seeing Kitty Pryde getting persecuted in the lunch room at school. I didn't realize that in this universe mutants are outlawed. Peter and Gwen are totally cute together, but Pete has to dash off to fight some brand new supervillains: a mother/daughter pair whose explosive projectile powers only activate when they're near each other. Spidey's still having a hard time getting used to everybody loving him, and the mystery surround the Human Torch's sudden reappearance (not that Human Torch, the other Human Torch) has yet to be solved.

I keep expecting and almost hoping that this series will get lame, so I can drop it, but it continues to be fun and funny.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #9
Batman - This strip has been... stuttering a bit lately, you might say. Unsurprisingly, thug guy is betrayed and shot by his femme fatale lover. As he's dying in Batman's arms, Batman says to him, "Hardy, you're going to have to..." But Hardy interrupts, "...make peace. Don't... Go easy. That's all I ask. Luna... I love her." Uh... did anybody else think that dialog exchange was really confusing at first? I think I have it worked out now (Batman wants Hardy to give up his lover, but Hardy, even though he's just been shot by her, wants Batman to go easy on her, and let her go), but still. It shouldn't have been so hard to follow.

Kamandi - I still love the art in this one, but the writing leaves a bit to be desired this time; the strip feels over-narrated, with too much exposition. The deus ex machina at the end is particularly clumsy: "Just in time, the computer printouts that Kamandi and Dr. Canus brought with them from the Command D bunker have enabled them to locate the secret armories buried deep beneath Shintun." Riiiight.

Superman - Lots of exposition in this strip, too, as Superman explains to the aliens what they've been doing to him and how he figured it out. Except he's clearly explaining it to us, not to them. "That's what all the soul-searching was about," he says. Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Supes. Apparently he also knows the aliens' secret weakness. We'll have to wait until next week to get the exposition explaining that. Lee Bermejo's art continues to be impressive, but John Arcudi's writing is awkward.

Deadman - Deadman fights a demon with a stone, but then he gets in trouble. Blah. I'm finding myself losing interest in this one again.

Green Lantern - This strip is going the way of Hawkman and suddenly introducing a gigantic alien invasion force into the story. Fun and exciting.

Metamorpho - Okay, the periodic table gimmick in the previous issue was pretty impressive, but it was already getting a little tired before I'd even gotten to the bottom of the page, and now there's a whole other page of it in this issue! Jamming those chemical symbol letter combinations into the dialog makes for some really awkward and clumsy writing. Can't say I'm a big fan of this episode.

Teen Titans - Yep. Still sucks.

Strange Adventures - Despite Alanna's diplomacy last issue, which allows her to lead an army against the evil Korgo, things still look bad for our heroes - until Adam finally drops back into the story and prepares to save the day. Thrilling action and adventure, and the usual beautiful art.

Supergirl - At long last, we get an idea just what's driving the superpets crazy. Supergirl zooms off to take care of it, but unbeknownst to her and Doc Mid-Nite, both pets sneak off after her. Yeah, I still can't really get into this one. It's kind of cute, and some of the background details in this episode are amusing, but mostly I just find it dull.

Metal Men - I still don't care.

Wonder Woman - This is maybe slightly better than usual, as the story is finally building to a conclusion and is getting a bit tense and exciting. But the writing is still clumsy and lame, and the panel layout is still confusing and cluttered.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - A brief moment of action, a lame joke, and a stupid move by Rock. Blah.

The Flash - This one's a real trip this week! Apparently due to Grodd's poison, the Flash finds himself having visions all centering around his past and future life with Iris, depicted in the styles of various famous newspaper comic strips. It's clever, imaginative, immensely entertaining, and wonderfully executed.

The Demon and Catwoman - A very exciting episode of this strip, as things erupt into a crazy, back-and-forth battle that's both physical and magical. And of course there's all the fun, high-falutin' language being thrown about.

Hawkman - Hawkman has an oddly and almost annoyingly protracted argument with a museum curator over whether the survivors of the plane crash should run from the T. Rex or not. He finally wins the argument by pointing out that, "I'm Hawkman, dammit!" Heh. He stole that from Batman. Anyway, despite the slightly irritating and drawn out back-and-forth between Hawkman and the curator, this is a fun episode, thanks in large part to the giant, epic panel at the bottom showing the T. Rex and Hawkman soaring into battle with each other.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Buffy (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Flash (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Joss Whedon (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Paul Pope (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Ultimate Comics (Not), Wednesday Comics (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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