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Friday, March 11, 2011 09:31 AM
Recyclotron
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Books (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comic books (Not), Links (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), News (Not), Punisher (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Video (Not), Werewolves (Not)
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Friday, August 28, 2009 11:57 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 8/19. 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.

One of the books I meant to pick up in this week's batch (Doctor Who #2) was sold out at my shop, so I'll have to get it at a later date and include it in an upcoming edition of The Take.

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #4
I was surprised to notice in this issue that Most Excellent Super Bat uses Batman's bat symbol quite a lot. Bats might want to consider trademarking that. We also get a look inside Super Bat's "Batcave" in this issue, and we get to meet Japan's most honorable hero team, Big Science Action. They fight some cool-looking bad guys. It's still not clear who or what has possessed Rising Sun, or what has happened to Japan, but it feels like we're getting closer to the heart of the mystery. It's a little disappointing that Sonic Lightning Flash pulled a Forrest Gump and is just walking across America. In fact, overall this is a disappointingly average issue of this series. It's nowhere near as clever, funny, or crazy as previous issues have been.
Thumbs Sideways

Gravel #13
Gravel continues interviewing members of the Major Seven as part of his investigation into the death of Avalon Lake, even as he's also recruiting new members of the Minor Seven. By the end of this issue he claims to have solved the murder mystery, although we as audience members are still in the dark. It's a similar format to previous issues, but slightly more interesting, thanks in large part to the character of Lost, who converses with Gravel by telling him a handful of fascinating old folk tales. The new member of the Minor Seven is pretty lame: a goth girl who does magic by cutting herself. And the final page where Gravel melodramatically announces to us that he's solved the mystery is also pretty lame. And of course I continue to dislike Mike Wolfer's art. I'll probably stick with the book to find out what happens, and because it's Warren Ellis, but unless the next story arc is really intriguing I might actually end up dropping this one.
Thumbs Sideways

Jack of Fables #37
This book looks to be turning off onto an interesting new path. It already sounded like Gary was going to lose his powers, but now it looks like Jack might lose his, too, as he's suddenly getting fat, ugly, and bald. There's some amusing meta humor, and Babe strikes out on his own. The focus then shifts onto Jack's son, Jack Frost, who's trying to find a new purpose in life and settles on being a hero. He discards a lot of his powers, in order to cut ties with his evil mother, gets into his first big fight against some orc-like monsters, and even picks up a sidekick (who reminds me of Bubo the owl from Clash of the Titans). This sequence of events is a bit contrived, but it's also fun, and I'm willing to hang in there to see where the story goes next.

In the back of the book is a preview of something called Sweet Tooth, about a boy with antlers. It looks melodramatic and bad.
Thumbs Up

Monsters, Inc.: Laugh Factory #1
This new miniseries is the continuation of Boom Kids' successful line of Pixar-inspired all-ages comics. It's set shortly after the end of the movie and introduces new problems for our heroes to deal with, while picking up a number of the plot threads from the original story. It's pretty cute, but it feels hurried and a bit uninspired. There's a decent idea for a story here, but it's one that should really have been developed over a number of issues, instead of being crammed into one book. And it's a little disappointing that in a lot of ways they just seem to be repeating the same gags and story ideas from the original movie, as if afraid to do anything new with this universe. I might pick up another issue, but I'll drop it if it doesn't start getting better soon.
Thumbs Sideways

Punisher: Noir #1
Making a noir version of The Punisher seems repetitive and unnecessary, but this book looked kind of cool when I flipped through it at the store, so I decided to give it a try. The opening is fantastic: it's done up as a pulp radio show intro, reminiscent of The Shadow, and artist Paul Azaceta's gritty, old school reimagining of The Punisher's outfit is very, very cool. After this opening, we jump back in time and discover that this Punisher's 'Nam is WWI, and his wife and child aren't killed by gangsters; instead, he loses his wife to cancer, and his son drifts away from him, joining up with street gangs. And that's not the only trouble Frank has with gangs - by the end of the issue, he's made a powerful and dangerous enemy in the person of Dutch Schultz. But he has yet to become The Punisher.

Visually this is a pretty neat comic, and I'm curious to see how the origin story will play out in this new universe, but overall I find it a bit dull. The story feels tired and cliche. I might buy the next issue to see if it gets more interesting, but I might not.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Spock - Reflections #2
The format of this comic is starting to feel a bit contrived and repetitive, but I'm enjoying the story so much that it doesn't really matter. By "format" I mean the structure of Spock talking to his traveling companion in the frame story, and that conversation bringing up concepts and topics that cause Spock to flash back to various points in his life. His first flashback in this issue is to a very brief meeting between himself and Doctor Chapel that's subtle, moving, and deeply sad. Then we jump all the way back to a very interesting early adventure that Spock has with Captain Pike. I love the idea of someone experimenting with a dangerous alternative to the transporter that involves small portals through space-time, and I love the characterization of Pike as a brave Captain who will risk anything to save a crew member, even an emotionless one he barely knows. The issue ends by finally revealing, with satisfying drama, the purpose of Spock's journey: he has been informed of the death of Captain Kirk, and is presumably going to attend his funeral services on Earth.

I'm really surprised at how excellent this comic is. Scott and David Tipton (who seem to have worked together on the writing and art) are doing a great job of visualizing the Star Trek universe, and also of somehow piecing together a series of untold stories about Spock that are intriguing, effective, illuminating, and, dare I say, fascinating.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #7
Batman - Bats is using some pretty nasty torture techniques on the shooting suspect to get information. And things wrap up this week with a murder. The identity of the killer seems clear, but maybe there'll turn out to be more to it. Can't say I'm all too thrilled about this story anymore. It's getting a bit dull. The art is quite good, though.

Kamandi - We're learning a bit more about the human girl Kamandi has adopted, but now it looks like the Tiger army has been smashed! Oh no! Such a pretty comic.

Superman - Finally, more fighting! Also, it seems clear to me now that these aliens are telepathic and are reading his mind. They also might actually be affecting his mind somehow; maybe it's their influence that's made him moody and depressed lately.

Deadman - The mysteries surrounding this story are finally clearing up. This issue is also rather sexy, in a really creepy, horror movie kind of way.

Green Lantern - Time for full-on action in this strip, as Hal finds himself in deadly combat with his horribly transformed friend. Good stuff!

Metamorpho - This is probably my favorite episode of this strip yet. The story takes some meaningful steps forward, and there's some very funny comedy, mostly involving Stagg's manservant, Java.

Teen Titans - It almost gets interesting, but then... no, it still sucks.

Strange Adventures - I think I've decided that this is my favorite Wednesday Comics strip. It's always beautiful, and it's always full of fantastic ideas and exciting adventure. This issue sees Adam in the midst of a strange dream where he meets his Black Dog of Fear, as well as Dr. Fate, who helps him regain what he's lost. Fate also gets some really cool lines: "I do know that in all the cosmos, there is nothing that is out of place.... except for you... man of two worlds!" Adam should be hurtling back into action on Rann next episode. Or, as he puts it, "I'm going home!!" Excellent. Adam's story is an inherently dramatic and powerful one, and Pope's writing and art are just making it all the more entrancing.

Supergirl - I have to admit, this one is growing on me. There's more fun with Aquaman, the writer managed to make me feel a bit bad for Supergirl, and I'm actually kind of looking forward to next issue, when she'll be meeting with Doctor Mid-Nite.

Metal Men - Hey, one of our heroes seems to have been terribly wounded! That's kind of interesting. But I'm still finding it really hard to care about this strip.

Wonder Woman - Huh. This is actually a pretty good episode of this strip. Some characters from previous episodes return, and the overarching story feels like it's starting to come together and really build into something. Also there's some fun action, decent drama, and I enjoy the irritable, ancient, talking skull.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - I'm still really disappointed in this strip. In this episode, they once again manage to put off having anything really happen. They even tease us by pretending like there's going to be an explosion, and then revealing that no, there won't be. But at least Rock is now armed and dangerous.

The Flash and Iris West - If Strange Adventures isn't my favorite strip, then it's this dynamic duo. In this week's issue, the two strips are woven together into one cleverly edited, full-page story. In one part of the tale, Flash is joined by many other Flashes and together they appear to finally be ready to stick it to Grodd. But meanwhile another version of Barry, who seemed safe and finally back on track, even arriving early for his dinner date with Iris, finds himself dragged back into the conflict with Grodd by an unlikely (but awesome!) attack from a poisoning monkey waiter. I love the concepts and the visuals.

The Demon and Catwoman - This week this strip gets filthy sexy, as the witch, in her slutty, ghostly form, plans to turn Jason into her own personal sex slave, and seems to want to involve Selina, too. But she sets Catwoman free as a prelude to enacting her plan, and that will probably be her downfall. Although I'm not sure Jason will appreciate Selina saving him. Being a sex slave to a naughty witch doesn't sound all that bad!

Hawkman - This strip is making a big comeback as far as I'm concerned, as in this issue we discover that Hawkman and the plane he was trying to save have crashed on Dinosaur Island! The final panel sees a kid standing in the middle of a giant dinosaur footprint with the words "NEXT WEEK: HOW MANY FOR DINNER?" written underneath. Awesome.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Weapon X #4
Heh. I like how the dude in the opening gets fired. He asks for a severance package. "Ummm... is this a blindfold and a cigarette?" Poor bastard. I also really enjoy Logan's phone conversation with Maverick, where it turns out Logan is already way ahead of him. I approve of Logan's plan to just kill everybody. The way he attacks the Chief Executive is truly fantastic - driving headlong at the limo on his bike, and then leaping through the windshield with his claws out. Classic! It's nice that even the insane Wolverine and the scumbag from Blackguard wordlessly agree that it's going to far to fight in front of a school bus full of kids. Oh and hey, they can shoot those laser claws! That's a handy feature. Gotta love Logan's use of the gas pump combined with a spark from his claws to make a flame thrower. Artist Ron Garney does some great work in here; I particularly like the two-page splash of Wolverine's fight with the top Blackguard agent, where the battle is fractured into moments described by a collection of red-backed squares. I wish I'd read the particular Faulkner novel they talk about, though, so I would understand better what Aaron is trying to do by referencing it. Overall I enjoyed the epic fight between Wolverine and the Blackguard agent, but the way it ends is a little disappointing. I mean, it seems pretty clear the agent is supposed to be dead, but how can you really kill somebody with a healing factor just by stabbing him? Don't you have to do something pretty extreme, perhaps involving a wood chipper? Besides that, it's a good issue.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Monsters Inc. (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Paul Pope (Not), Pixar (Not), Punisher (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not)
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Sunday, April 26, 2009 02:50 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The short story is "Ghosts," written by Jonathan Maberry with art by Tomm Coker and colors by Daniel Freedman, and it's also concerned with the death of Mariko, and with how Wolverine's life is so nightmarish, and so haunted by those he's lost. It's a bit surreal, and tries to gray out the line between waking and sleeping, between life and death. Wolverine's narration is a little melodramatic, but it's still a pretty neat story, and the art is quite impressive.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), Star Wars (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009 01:41 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

What with work and life being so busy lately, I've really let this feature slide, so it's time for a triple-length catch-up post! This covers new releases from the weeks of 2/25, 3/4, and 3/11, plus a handful of older books.

Back issues and old data
B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #2
If I'd realized that I'd missed this issue, I'd forgotten about it until #3 came out this past week and I saw #2 listed as the next issue in my comic wish list spreadsheet. Luckily, the shop had both issues and I was able to read them one after the other, which is actually a more pleasant experience than reading them a month apart anyway. This one sees the B.P.R.D. gang, plus a whole army of regular military backup, arriving at Memnan Saa's address with the intention of taking Liz back by force. But before they can attack, a monk comes out and invites three B.P.R.D.ers inside. A trip through a weird doorway and an eerie maze leads them to a magical city where they find Liz in a trance and Memnan Saa ready to talk. As he begins to explain everything to them, Memnan Saa's fortress, and the army outside, is attacked by a unified force of frogs and those little underground demon guys. It's crazy stuff. Memnan Saa keeps saying he's a good guy, and that he offers the last, desperate hope of saving the world. But how can he be on their side, when we've seen him do so many evil things? It's puzzling.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis #1-7
Final Crisis is awesome. Flash fact.

That may sound odd coming from somebody who clearly hated the first issue of the series the first time he read it, so much so that he dropped the series immediately afterward. I picked it up again, reluctantly, at issue #6 because I wanted to see what happened to Batman. What I've realized about Final Crisis since then is that any one part of it alone is confusing and a little off-putting; it's only once you've read the entire story, and you've seen it all come together as one epic, mind-bending, circular saga, that you realize the genius that went into it. Plus it takes a while to get used to the odd, almost overly dramatic style Morrison adopted when writing it.

Also, as I should have suspected, the plot of Final Crisis makes a lot more sense when you read the entire series in order from beginning to end. The story started really coming together for me even before I read the issues I'd missed; in fact, pretty much as soon as I read #1 again, the pieces began to fit together in my head. Even other stories, like Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D started to make more sense. And the dialogue that I'd originally found ridiculous and irritating I fell in love with almost immediately on a second pass.

Some of my favorite things about Final Crisis include: the romantic and beautiful story of Monitor Nix Uotan: the way he drops out of the orrery and into the world, only to find himself drawing sketches of the events of Superman Beyond, and of a lover he's forgotten, and the way he is reawakened to his true self; the crazy and funny Super Young Team, and the character whose super power is that he's incredibly wealthy; the way Orion is killed by Darkseid firing a poison bullet at him backwards through time, a bullet Orion can't dodge because he's already dead; the fact that the poison bullet, in its weird, circular trajectory, also mortally wounds the one firing it; that it's a man, just a man - albeit the most bad-ass man who's ever lived - who fires that bullet, making his last act the destruction of the God of evil; the triumphant return of Barry Allen; the funny and insanely imaginative things Morrison does with the Flashes and their incredible, mind-blowing speed; the way the Flashes outrun death, driving it into Darkseid; the hilarious and disturbing way that Anti-Life is sold, advertised with slogans, and packaged like a commodity; a Guardian of Oa saying to Hal: "You have 24 hours to save the universe, Lantern Jordan;" the miracle machine that turns thoughts into reality; the wonderfully sarcastic and cranky duo of Sivana and Luthor; the way the return of Superman is heralded by Wonder Woman saying, "Look! Up in the sky...;" the way the title of each issue is revealed only at the end; the brilliant title of #6: "How to Murder the Earth;" pretty much everything about #7; the black Superman who is also President of the United States; the way the story of Final Crisis is fired off in a rocket from a doomed world, just like Superman was; the ridiculously fantastic dialogue; all the crazily inventive science fiction ideas throughout; the way Superman shatters anti-life with the music of life; the way the coming of the Supermen of the multiverse is heralded by Superman saying, "Look up in the sky;" the way Nix Uotan shows up with freaking EVERYBODY at his back, chants the Green Lantern oath, and they all beat the crap out of Mandrakk and the vampire Superman; the way Superman gives everyone a happy ending; the incredible love shown in this book for people and their ability to survive; the incredible love shown in this book for stories and their ability to make surviving worth while; and that final page: the hope and the promise of it.

At some point in my comic reading career, I decided Grant Morrison was an uneven writer and that I should probably just avoid his work as much as possible. Recent books I've read by him, including this series, Superman Beyond, and All-Star Superman, have completely changed my mind. I need to track down everything this guy has written and read it all. He is freaking amazing. Final Crisis is freaking amazing. Even though I own all the issues, I'm seriously thinking about buying the trade when it comes out, just so I can have it in a more permanent form, all bound together nicely. It is a fantastic piece of work.
Thumbs Up

New releases, 2/25
Captain America #47
Cap gets himself captured - which was apparently his plan all along - and discovers the horrible truth behind the mad scientist's designs on the Human Torch. As is traditional, things do not look good at all for our heroes on the final page. This storyline is getting brutal, fast-paced, and exciting! I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #5
In the final issue of this miniseries, we finally see the full outlines of Zadkiel's plan for Danny, and come to a full understanding of how he was transformed and set on the path that led him to his actions in the main Ghost Rider series. It's pretty fascinating and effective stuff. We also get to see the real Mister Eleven, who turns out to be not so bad a guy after all. I'm curious about some of the seeds writer Simon Spurrier plants here. Whose body is the technomage going to end up in? Will she show up later in the Ghost Rider saga? Has she already done so and we just didn't know? Regardless, this was a decent mini.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #38
Woah! Some crazy crap goes down in this book. As if things weren't confusing enough for poor Hal, he gets a third ring and joins yet another Corps at the beginning of this issue. He's starting to look like he did when he was Parallax! Luckily the number of rings he's wearing goes back down by one later on in the issue, but he's still looking seriously confused and messed up. At the end, all kinds of stuff happens at once: a group of super-powered dudes who I don't recognize beat up a bunch of other people and find themselves some kind of hidden source of power; Agent Orange stirs; Atrocitus does some magic to try to find the home world of the Blue Lanterns; Carrol Ferris, who's been pining after the missing Hal, gets inducted into a Corps of her own; and Scar hangs around promising doom. It's very exciting and very fast-paced, and the story continues in the Origins & Omens backup, where we see a bit more of the new Carol, and a bit more of what's going on inside John Stewart and Hal Jordan, and then we get an intriguing glimpse of the future: John attacked by a zombie lover; Hal and Sinestro fighting together against mysterious attackers; the original Green Lantern shackled and accused by the Guardians; a Black Lantern kneeling. It's good stuff! I'm ready for Blackest Night!
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #31
Things don't look good for our heroes, and Jack makes things even worse by shooting Bookburner at a parley. Revise has only one trick left up his sleeve: releasing from their bonds three incredibly powerful Native American spirits named Wy'East, Klickitat, and Loowit. This would destroy everyone, but Jack figures out some way of evacuating the Golden Boughs beforehand. We're promised the explanation in the next issue. But for now the conflict seems to have been resolved. Plus, Gary's still alive at the moment, which pleases me. Pretty cool issue. The Native American spirits are an impressive addition to the story. There are also a couple of pretty funny moments here, as usual. I'm curious to see how Jack got everybody out of there, and what will happen to Bookburner's zombie Fables now that he's gone. Guess I'll have to tune in again next time to find out!
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #50
The fiftieth issue of New Avengers is meant to be a big, epic, landmark episode in the history of Marvel's flagship super team. Instead it's a disappointing story overflowing with corny, clumsy dialogue and narration. And in it, author Brian Michael Bendis even contradicts continuity he himself established in Dark Avengers!

We open up with the underground Avengers still reacting to the unveiling of Osborn's Avengers, and still trying to decide what to do about it. They talk and they talk and they talk. Some of it's reasonably clever and funny, but I'm really starting to get tired of Bendis' stilted, smart-ass dialogue style. Anyway, eventually they come up with a very dumb, simplistic plan to try to lure Osborn's Avengers to neutral ground where they hope to depower them and beat the snot out of them. We cut over to the Watchtower where an entire conversation from Dark Avengers is reenacted - except it now ends in a completely different way. Instead of a call coming in about Doctor Doom being attacked, followed by Osborn and his people suiting up and heading out, Spider-Woman appears and pretends to give up the underground Avengers' location in the hopes that Osborn will give her a job. Interestingly, instead of springing what he immediately knows to be a trap himself, Osborn sends the Hood and his gang of criminals in to do the job for him, then takes himself and his Avengers elsewhere. So there's a giant fight between the Avengers and the Hood's gang, during which all our heroes spew a lot of dialogue and narration that's supposed to give us a meaningful look inside their heads. But it's really just melodramatic, repetitive, and completely lacking in subtlety. At the end, Ronin walks out and gives a speech on the news fingering Osborn as a criminal and asking everyone to fight back against him and his people.

It all feels clumsy, overwritten, and contrived. I'll overlook the continuity issue, since I can't believe Bendis would have made such an obvious mistake, and after all they were going to have to erase the events of Dark Avengers from canon somehow anyway, probably via time travel or magic; we can't have all those major characters stay dead. But even with that set aside, this is just not a good comic. I'm pretty disappointed; I really wanted to like this issue, and I thought I was really becoming a fan of Bendis' work. Now I'm just not that sure.

After the main story is a preview from Dark Reign: Fantastic 4, a miniseries coming soon from Jonathan Hickman and Sean Chen. I didn't think I really liked Hickman's work very much, but this preview is actually rather intriguing and funny, and the characters are handled quite well. I just might have to pick up at least the first issue of this.
Thumbs Down

Star Trek: Countdown #2
This issue opens with Captain Data saving the day! Nero joins Spock on the Enterprise and they head to Vulcan with the hopes of enacting Spock's last ditch plan to save Romulus. Meanwhile, we learn how Data came back to life (his neural nets were imprinted onto B-4's existing programming), and Nero learns a bit about Captain Kirk from the ship's computers. Back home, the Romulans finally realize that Spock was right, but plan to fix things by evacuating the planet and invading Vulcan to steal the magic supernova-killing weapon from them. D'oh! The Vulcans are just as stupid and, before they even discover the Romulans' plans, refuse to hand over their technology to the Romulans. Nero rushes back home, but gets there too late. He blames the Vulcans. It's all gone wrong!

I believe Nero is actually the villain in the new Star Trek movie, which I assume means he travels back in time somehow and brings his grudge against Vulcan with him (and possibly also develops a grudge against Kirk for some reason). We'll have to see how that all develops. Regardless, this is an interesting series. It's dramatic with fascinating characters. And I love that we're getting to see what happened in the Star Trek universe after the events of the last movie.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #4
The insane alternate universe saga continues! Finally the Silver Ghost and Picard's resistance cell join together. I like that when Riker returns, his first line is, "I hope you didn't sell my trombone." Heh. Then we learn that Deanna Troi is Worf's consort! She's all tarted up, too, in too much makeup and a ridiculous gown. She's a spy for the resistance, natch, but Worf has known all along, and now that her usefulness has passed, he brutally murders her. Wow. There's an insane sword fight between Worf and Sulu that ends in mutual destruction, but also success: the resistance gets Data back. Which means it's time for that trip into the past.

This series is just so crazy and twisted, and really feels more like fan fiction than a licensed comic. But I have to admit there are some pretty effective and exciting moments, and now that I've stuck with it this long, I might as well see it through to the end. I'm pretty sure there's only one issue left anyway.
Thumbs Sideways

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4
Oh man, what a fantastic, fantastic issue. I swear, this comic just keeps getting better and better! We open up inside a dream of Spaceboy's which quickly devolves from happy utopia ("Holy *crap*, I missed you!") to horrific nightmare. He wakes to even more insanity, as Hazel and Cha-Cha return, loaded up on sugar, and activate the nukes! Luckily there's a timer. Also, Seance is way more powerful than I realized and pretty much takes care of everything (well, almost everything). Kraken's tries to join up with Seance and Spaceboy, but, in a rather hilarious twist, the televator is broken and he's stuck waiting for the subway. Meanwhile, that young rich guy who showed up a couple issues ago returns and performs a corporate takeover. Then we cut over to the office at the end of time where the assassins are all being briefed on their mission to take out JFK - after they stop Number Five, of course. The squad leader for the operation? Number Five! Brilliant! And it seems Number Five has a plan for stopping himself.

Back at the homestead, it turns out Pogo's not buried in his grave, but one of those time traveling assassins is, and somehow his body acts as a time machine, allowing Kraken, Spaceboy, and Seance to all head to Dallas, 1963, as well, just in time for the big showdown. And it's a good thing they leave, because it turns out Seance didn't defuse that detonator as well as he thought. Pop goes the world!

What an ending! Every comic should end that way. So brilliant and fantastic. So many amazing, wildly imaginative ideas in here. And it's all revving up to a big, climactic ending that I can't wait to read.
Thumbs Up

War Machine #3
This issue features the very cool confrontation between the God of War (who naturally has a very high kill number!) and the War Machine. Their fight is doubly interesting because not only is it a physical battle, it's also a war of words. Ares sees some things about Rhodey and his mission that even Rhodey himself is not aware of. In the end, the nasty, smart-ass, weapon-designing villain is taken out in excellent fashion - and as that was Osborn's objective, and Ares' mission, all along, that takes care of that. Right? Well, not quite. Ares is insane and decides to open up the vault that contains the ultimate weapon, just for fun. As I suspected, Glenda is not okay, and what was done to her is just a sample of what lies inside the vault. Ultimo, according to Wikipedia, is just some giant robot, but it looks like he's been reimagined as some kind of virus? I don't know, I'm sure it will all make more sense in time. The point is, great issue; well written, with many surprising plot twists and lots of exciting action.
Thumbs Up

New releases, 3/4
The Age of the Sentry #6
The final issue of this wonderful miniseries features a pull-quote on the cover from a fellow whose blog I read, Chris Sims: "The new apex of the artform... to which all others must be compared and, almost inevitably, fall short." I don't know if I'd describe the comic in terms as glowing as that, but it is indeed excellent.

Instead of having the usual two short stories, this issue has only one long one: "The Death of the Sentry." A narrative box immediately removes the power of the title by pointing out that this is just an imaginary story. But the quick and repeated insistence that it's imaginary only leads the reader to believe it might not be, especially once you get to the end. The story opens with a freak accident that reveals the Sentry's true identity to the world. Hilariously, everyone immediately recognizes the face of Rob Reynolds, crack entry investigator for America's #1 encyclopedia publisher. And oddly, no one working at the encyclopedia seems surprised in the least. Then the Void and Cranio team up and suck out all of the Sentry's life force, killing him! All of the classic Marvel heroes, and many of the original characters introduced in previous issues of this miniseries, show up for the Sentry's funeral. And with him gone, who will stop the asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth?? Luckily, the Sentry's not really dead after all; his body just went into a dormant state to stay alive while it recuperated (yep, same thing they pulled with Superman - the Superman parallels continue!). He's still weak, but he follows the Void and Cranio to get the rest of his power back anyway. Cranio isn't so much his enemy anymore, however; he shows up and finally explains all the mysterious stuff we've been seeing throughout the miniseries, as well as telling us the true origin of the Sentry and the Void! True to the series' continuing Superman/DC parallels, the origin story involves a multiverse, insane reality-warping events, and an epic, anti-monitor style enemy. Once we've heard the origin, it's time for a giant showdown between the Void and the Sentry. It seems the Sentry has no chance of winning, since he's already weakened, and each time the Void touches him, he loses more of his life force. But he quickly realizes that by losing, he will ultimately win. As the Void absorbs the last of the Sentry, he in effect becomes the Sentry, taking on all of his goodness, too. It's a fascinating new explanation for who the Sentry really is, and why the Void is inside him, and it's sort of a metaphor for how the Sentry was retconned into the Marvel Universe, and also a parallel to stuff DC has done with Superman. It's quite brilliant, and makes for a great final issue of the series, pulling together everything that's happened in the previous issues and sort of summing it all up.

I hope, now that this miniseries is over, that we'll see more of the Sentry in the near future. But hopefully he won't be in the hands of a writer like Brian Michael Bendis, who has him swooping in and tearing women's heads off over in Dark Avengers.
Thumbs Up

Batman: Cacophony #3
The Joker and Onomatopoeia seem to have turned the tables on Batman at the beginning of this issue, but, as Grant Morrison has taught us, Batman plans for everything, so he's able to turn things back his way soon enough. Then Onomatopoeia makes a clever move - he attacks the Joker instead of Batman. Batman has to make the same choice he's made many times, and he makes it the same way again: he chooses to save the Joker rather than let him die. And to save him, he must let Onomatopoeia go. I thought this series was going to be about Onomatopoeia - and it is, to a certain extent; we get a rather eerie look inside his other life at the end of this issue. But the series ends up being much more about Batman's relationship with the Joker, and the rather disturbing revelation that the Joker and his reign of terror is, in a very real sense, Batman's fault. It's an interesting concept, and an interesting look into this character dynamic. It kind of caught me off guard, however; it's not what I was expecting from this series. Also, I still am really not a fan of how Smith writes Batman; he makes him too melodramatic, wordy, and fallible. I much prefer Morrison's Batman. Overall, though, this was a pretty good series.
Thumbs Sideways

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #23
Here's an issue that focuses almost completely on Andrew, which makes for, as you might expect, not exactly the greatest issue ever. There is a pretty funny moment where Andrew and Buffy are traveling together and Andrew expounds on gay and geeky things of all kinds, including whether a Jedi could beat Superman in a fight, Smurfs, Battlestar Galactica, V for Vendetta, D&D, Terminator, Helen Killer, Heath Ledger, fashion, Jem, and James Bond. Anyway, storywise, he's helping Buffy track down the group of rebel Slayers who are going around robbing people - but the way he tracks them down is questionable in the extreme, and ends up causing more problems than it solves. And when did he learn to do genetic engineering?? The upshot is, they do get to the rebels' hideout, and they do get into a bit of a scuffle with them, but it ends in kind of a draw. In the end, Andrew realizes he's been accepted as part of the family now.

It's a decent issue, with some amusing and entertaining moments, but not one of my favorites.
Thumbs Sideways

Fringe #3
Things pick up speed in the main storyline here, starting with Rachel doing the little brain-sharing trick from the TV series with Dr. Bishop. This convinces him to trust her, but Bell isn't so sure. Still, he ends up going along with her plan to get the three of them out of there, which involves Bell and Bishop perfecting a teleporting device they've never seen before in the few minutes they have before men with guns come to kill them. It's pretty insane and brilliant. The end is really interesting; a guy from the "soap company" calls the president to let him know Bell and Bishop escaped, but that the company managed to get an implant of some kind in one of them. The president says, "When it's the right time... activate him." But which one? Bell or Bishop? Hmmm...

The backup story is a great little tale about a boy who's born a walking biological weapon. He's taken in by some nameless organization (probably the soap company, possibly Massive Dynamic), who cruelly train and test him in an attempt to reproduce his deadly abilities. Eventually, he escapes, and in pretty clever and dramatic fashion.

I continue to be really impressed by this series. The main storyline is fast-paced, exciting, clever, and is filling us in on fascinating details about the backstory of the television show which help inform the current events of the series. And the backup story is always something brilliant and wonderfully twisted.
Thumbs Up

The Goon #32
For the special tenth anniversary issue of his wonderful series, Eric Powell manages to tell a fantastic and hilarious story about the Goon's birthday that not only features silly cameos by celebrities, it also sums up the series, and acts as both an epilogue to the last arc of the book, and a prologue to the next arc. It's brilliant, and reminded me of everything that's great about this series. It's wonderful that what finally cheers up the Goon and gets him back to being his old self is not a birthday party with all his friends, a topless woman, or getting his hat back. It's beating up a hideous hobo demon! In between there's a singing birthday telegram from the rape gorilla, a Planet of the Apes parody, the battering down of the fourth wall, a surprising appearance by Frank Darabont, and a stunningly wrong but hilarious parody of The Shawshank Redemption starring bears. It's a true masterpiece, and is followed up by an awesome sketchbook featuring sketches of the Goon characters by comic book celebrities like Mike Mignola and Jeff Smith, and old sketches of the Goon characters and their predecessors by Powell himself, accompanied by a history of the comic's development. Fantastic.
Thumbs Up

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #4
Hellboy starts things out here by having another flashback to his slaughter of the giants. He sees himself, in the midst of that act, as the terrible, Earth-shattering demon he was meant to be. Meanwhile, in the present, just as it seems Hellboy is about to gain allies and perhaps even an army, he is betrayed again, and his friend is mortally wounded. Was Mab behind it? It doesn't seem like she could be, but it's hard to know for sure. Anyway, those bird entities who've been helping Hellboy on and off since forever show up to save his ass again, transporting him to a mysterious castle where they say their lady can save his friend. Interesting stuff! The backup story is a one-shot about Baba Yaga and how a mortal man is able to escape her and curse her. It's fantastic, of course. Another issue of Hellboy, another comic that's brilliant and beautiful from front cover to back cover.
Thumbs Up

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #2
Every issue of this comic is so long and complicated! It's also beautifully drawn, of course, by John Cassaday, and I'm still enjoying it quite a bit, but I had to go back and reread a couple of sections multiple times to understand them, and I still think I missed some stuff. I guess the important thing is, I'm getting the gist of it, and the gist is pretty cool. It's creepy and twisted and clever.
Thumbs Sideways

Jersey Gods #2
I really want to like this series. I really do. I love the concept. But it's just not that good. I don't really "get" any of the characters - there's nothing about them that's really familiar to me or that I can sympathize with - and that makes it really hard to care about them or their story. In this issue, the romance between the Jersey girl and the God-like alien takes its first tentative steps. The girl experiences some small drama at her job on Earth (she gets in trouble for criticizing a designer's ridiculous fashion collection), while the God runs into some more life-threatening problems trying to head off war on his planet. But like I said, I just don't care all that much. The tone is a weird mix of light and dramatic, and it just doesn't work for me. I like the Darwyn Cooke cover of this one, and I'm kind of curious about Mark Waid's backup story which is supposed to start in the next issue. But I'm not sure I can justify buying that issue.
Thumbs Sideways

New Avengers: The Reunion #1
This is a new miniseries taking a look at the adventures of Mockingbird and Ronin following Mockingbird's return from Skrull custody. It picks up shortly after the events of Dark Reign: New Nation #1, with Mockingbird still freaking out and being mysterious, and Ronin still chasing after her. This time he jumps her when she's in the middle of infiltrating a secret A.I.M. base. He helps her get in, and helps her escape, but she still won't reveal to him the secret information she got from the Skrulls, or exactly which old S.H.I.E.L.D. mission she's trying to complete with it. So he captures her with the idea of bringing her in to the Avengers.

There are some interesting concepts here, but I'm not a big fan of the writing. The script is by Jim McCann, whom I'm not familiar with. He fills this comic with lots and lots of dialogue and narration, which is rarely a good plan, and indeed most of it is clumsy and melodramatic. There's a scene where Captain America and Ronin almost come to blows for no good reason, and it reminds me of how bad filmmakers will use anger and shouting as a replacement for actual drama and acting talent. I very much doubt I'll buy another issue of this.
Thumbs Sideways

No Hero #4
Warren Ellis' twisted thought experiment - which attempts to answer the question, "How far would you go to be a superhero?" - continues. The answer turns out to be, at least in the case of our main character, pretty goddamn far. The poor bastard's junk has fallen off, along with a lot of his skin, but when he realizes he has superpowers, he's sort of okay with it. He's in no shape to fight evil - in fact, he's in no shape to even be seen by anyone - but the Front Line is desperate for new members, and desperate to show the world it's still alive and kicking, so the poor kid gets dragged out for a press conference anyway. They've got him covered up in a full bodysuit and mask, but when a faux camera guy in the crowd, who's apparently a part of the conspiracy that's been striking at the Front Line throughout the series, shoots off Josh's mask and then kills himself, the hideous new face of the Front Line is revealed to the world. The final panel is pathetic and devastating: the hideously mutated Josh, his alien face smoking and dripping goo, says, "Nothing wrong with me. I'm a superhuman now." Eee.

Very disturbing stuff! But I'd expect no less from Mr. Ellis. This is another of these series that takes a hard look at what the world would really be like if there were superheroes in it: the political and social consequences, the celebrity aspect, what it would take to be a superhero, and whether, after becoming a "superhero," you would really be a hero, or even a human, anymore. I am a fan of this book, and I'm very curious to see what dark and terrible place it takes us to.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: First Class - Finals #2
As the "finals" continue, the big ugly Frederick is giving the X-Men a pretty serious pounding when suddenly Juggernaut rolls in out of nowhere and runs him down. With Frederick taken care of, the kids try to locate Xavier using Cerebro, and continue to try to figure out what they'll do with their lives after they graduate. While looking for the Professor, they come across a different mutant signal and go to check it out, only to come face to face with a big pile of metal shaped like Magneto! Huh. The backup story about Jean and Scott's date continues as the couple sees on TV that Wanda has joined the Avengers. Scott, still fuming about the lame night they ended up having, decides to do something crazy and borrows Warren's car so the two of them can drive down to Manhattan. In the final cliffhanger panel, they seem to be about to run into something.

Both of these stories are fun and exciting, and feature subtle glimpses inside our heroes' heads as they try to figure themselves and their lives out. As usual with X-Men: First Class, I was not blown away, but I was entertained.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases, 3/11
After Watchmen... What's Next?
This is just a free promotional book that my comic shop guy dropped into my bag when I wasn't looking. I believe DC was giving it away at certain screenings of Watchmen. The idea was to capitalize on the popularity of the movie by giving viewers a checklist of books that are kinda sorta like Watchmen, in the hopes that they would then take that checklist into a comic shop, buy a bunch of stuff, and get well and truly addicted to the medium. Most of the stuff in here is good, or at least makes sense: more books by Alan Moore (although I would have picked From Hell instead of V for Vendetta); other challenging, non-standard, indie-style comics (Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man, neither of which I'm a huge fan of, but both of which make sense here); a couple of books by Warren Ellis (Planetary Volume One is an excellent choice, and one of the books I always recommend to somebody just trying comics for the first time, but I would probably have substituted something like Ocean for Transmetropolitan, which I've never liked as much as everybody else seems to); a couple of Frank Miller books (I give a big thumbs up to Dark Knight Returns, but I probably would have picked 300 or the first book of Sin City or Batman: Year One or really almost anything but Ronin); volume one of Sandman (practically a given); volume one of Fables; Kingdom Come; Joker; All-Star Superman Volume One (one of my all-time favorites); Superman: Red Son; and We3. Stuff I don't like: Identity Crisis (I've never read it, but from what I've read around the edges of it, so to speak, I get the impression it's pretty bad, and I've read stuff by the author, Brad Meltzer, that was just plain terrible. Plus, if you were going to recommend a Crisis to someone new to comics - and I don't know why you would, because they're probably the most confusing and off-putting things you could possibly read as a comics beginner - why would you not pick the best: Final Crisis??); Batman: Arkham Asylum (which I find painfully melodramatic and overwritten); and Preacher Volume 1 (which I just plain don't like, despite all the glowing things everybody else says about it).

And now that I've wasted far too many words on a promotional freebie, I'll move on.
Thumbs Sideways

Angel: Blood & Trenches #1
I didn't expect much from this comic, but I couldn't resist the idea of Angel running around fighting evil in the trenches during WWI. Happily, it turned out to be quite good. Angel, living in the gutters of NYC as an emo rat-sucker, learns that a vampire (or vampires) is ravaging soldiers on the front line, and leaving a strange sigil behind drawn in blood. He researches the symbol and discovers it's the mark of what looks like a particularly nasty vampire. He heads overseas to see if he can stop the guy, and finds an ally in a lovely young doctor. But he also finds plenty of enemies, and not just vampires: a Colonel Geoffery Wyndam-Price, presumably an ancestor of Angel's future friend Wesley (which is a clever, cool idea), is already aware of the vampire problem, discovers Angel's true nature, and exposes him to sunlight, making for a nice cliffhanger.

Author John Byrne writes the characters well, crafts an exciting and interesting story, and, perhaps most importantly, knows when not to write at all; there's a wordless sequence that tells the story of Angel's trip from America to the front very effectively. Impressively, Byrne also provides the comic's fantastic art. Very nice! I'll definitely be tuning in for episode 2.
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #3
The story continues much as it left off in #2, with Memnan Saa explaining his backstory and his purpose to the folks he's invited inside his fortress, while the folks outside fight a desperate battle against a horde of frogs and demons. Then Memnan Saa activates Liz and, as the prophecies say, tames fire to breed dragons. Some mighty impressive and epic stuff goes down here, and it's wonderfully illustrated by Guy Davis and Dave Stewart. I'm still trying to reconcile Memnan Saa's clearly evil nature with his seeming good deeds, which is keeping me off kilter. But it's another exciting and fascinating issue.
Thumbs Up

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1
The next big DC event officially begins here. In Batman's absence, Gotham is falling apart, and Nightwing has formed the Network - an alliance of Batman's friends and allies - to try to keep it together. Despite the city's obvious need for the return of Batman (a need that Tim and Alfred can see quite clearly), Dick is adamant that no one take up Bruce's mantle. Not everybody got the memo, though; a mysterious, ultra-violent loner is on the streets and in the alleys, taking out criminals and leaving notes that read simply, "I am Batman."

It's a pretty interesting concept, and the comic is generally pretty good. The huge villain team-up is a little melodramatic and hard to believe, but I was willing to swallow it, because it's cool. There's a lot of narration, all from Tim's perspective, but it's mostly okay (although what's with Tim referring to Batman as his father??). I know Alfred used to be in British intelligence, but the dude should be pretty old by now, and it's a little odd to see him sparring with, and casually defeating and disarming, Dick Grayson, whom he's watched grow up from a boy into a man nearly as bad-ass as Batman himself. But none of that stuff is really terrible. No, the only really terrible thing in the comic is the way Damian is written. He's depicted as a helpless, cowardly dumbass who picks up girls with the Batmobile and who nearly pisses his pants when some supervillains come gunning for him. What? This is not at all the character Grant Morrison created. Sure, Damian's a bit of a goof, but he's also extremely smart, highly skilled in all forms of warfare (thanks to relentless training from his mother and his father), competent, and confident. He's written so completely wrong here that it really frustrated me and almost pulled me out of the book entirely. Tony S. Daniel wrote and drew this book, and he did a pretty good job on both counts. But I really wish he'd done better research on Damian's character, or at least explained how he came to change so very, very much. I might still get the next issue of this comic, but it's going to be hard seeing this fake Damian wandering around its pages.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #11
It's really a shame that this book is getting so good just as it's being canceled. This issue opens with Captain Britain tearing a killer spell apart and then punching a vampire's heart out of its chest with his bare hands. (Oh, and it was good to get the explanation in the opening sum-up that the two women Pete and Cap were hanging out with last issue were just random backpackers; I hadn't understood that at all from reading the actual comic. I thought they were characters I was supposed to recognize.) And this is followed up by, wonder of wonders, a really, really good scene with Faiza. The scene I'm talking about is a page that's pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen in a comic. It's one big, surreal illustration with really long, detailed blocks of narration pasted on top of it, narration that describes, in the present tense, Faiza's thoughts and feelings as she and the Black Knight fall from a great height into the Earth, and she heals them both from their mortal injuries immediately as they receive them. It's wildly imaginative and brilliant and I love it. And it's followed immediately by a magical sword fight with vampires. Next we figure out what happened with Dracula and Faiza's family. Turns out Tepes of Wallachia left a special message just for Blade. There's a fantastic scene where Wisdom storms in and takes things over, handing out orders, putting on a new pair of sunglasses, and telling people to say "sir." It's hilarious and bad-ass. His scene later on, where he calls together all the heads of British intelligence, gives a little briefing, then outs a spy, and tells everybody to piss off, is possibly even cooler and more bad-ass. Finally, the horrific cliffhanger ending sees Dracula taking control of one of our heroes.

This is just a fantastic issue. Inventive, funny, brutal, thrilling, and crazy.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #33
I really wasn't sure how I felt about this issue until I got to the end. Then I decided I liked it. It's basically just a transitional issue, linking the last story arc with the next one, and centers entirely on Sara, the new Caretaker. She heads back to her old convent in search of comfort and a new direction, but finds only a bloodbath perpetrated by an old enemy. Now pretty much completely hopeless, she wanders aimlessly until she receives a message from the future that gives her new purpose. Throughout all this we get glimpses of the history of the spirits of vengeance, from the beginning of the world down to the present day, a history that includes many, many insane versions of the Ghost Rider fighting many, many insane perils. There's the Ghost Flyer thirsting for Luftwaffe blood during WWI; a whole tank full of Ghost Riders shooting hellfire shells during WWII; the Undead G-Man and his sidekick Knuckles O'Shaugnessy taking out an evil secret society with a tommy gun and a club; Ghost Rider versions of the characters from Smokey and the Bandit chasing down demon cops; and a redneck Ghost Rider punching zombies at a truck stop. All of this was almost too insane and ridiculous for me, especially the way it's interspersed with the very serious, dark, dramatic story set in present day. I also feel like the art style (from new series artist Tony Moore) isn't wacky enough to match the wacky content it's depicting.

But then the hilarious future Ghost Riders show up and say things like, "What about the Skrulls? Should we tell her about the Skrulls? Have you been invaded by Skrulls yet?" This final sequence, and Sara's reaction to it (not to mention her name), actually gives me a really strong Terminator vibe, which probably had a pretty large part in turning me around on my opinion of this issue. Regardless, the important thing is, I decided I liked it in the end, and I'm excited to see where things go next. And even though Moore's art didn't always seem to fit the subject matter, I do like his work.
Thumbs Up

The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #68
I really want to like Swierczynski's run on this title, and I've given it a lot of chances, but it's just not doing anything for me. For some reason I continue to find myself confused as to who's who and what's what, and I continue to dislike the art, especially the way the Punisher is drawn. I think my confusion has to do with the fact that there are a lot of characters, some of them look pretty similar, and I never really memorized properly what all their names are or how they're all related to each other. I'm not sure I can really blame any of that on Swierczynski; if I sat down and read the series through again from the beginning and really paid close attention this time, I'm sure I could follow it all without much trouble. And as it is I'm still getting the gist okay. But besides the confusion and the art I don't like, there's just something lacking about this story. I just find the whole thing kind of dull and off-putting. I know the Punisher isn't going to die, so there's not a lot of tension in the fact that he's poisoned and only has six hours to live. Plus that story concept is really old. And anybody in the story who's not the Punisher is just a sick, pathetic, disgusting human being that I don't want to know anything about. So yeah, I can't think of a reason to keep reading this.
Thumbs Sideways

Scalped #26
The latest issue of Scalped has a quote from the Philadelphia Daily News on the cover: "One of the best comics ever created." Woo! Go Daily News! Go Scalped! Inside, oddly enough, this issue has nothing to do with the casino heist storyline that was launched in the previous issue, and instead spends its entire length examining the character of Diesel, who is a seriously screwed up motherfucker. We get to see a brutal formative incident in Diesel's childhood intercut with what Diesel's up to now: scalping guys in prison. He's come a long way!

I'm guessing this one-shot detour into the mind and character of Diesel means he will be involved somehow in the casino heist story, but then again, maybe not; maybe this diversion was just for the heck of it. Regardless, it's typical Scalped: a powerful, violent, insightful look inside a seriously wounded human being.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Angel (Not), Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Flash (Not), Fringe (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hellboy (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Cassaday (Not), Kevin Smith (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), The Goon (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Sunday, February 22, 2009 09:34 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 2/18, plus a book I'd missed the week before.

Back issues and old data
Gravel #9
This is a really interesting issue, as Gravel spends almost the entire thing wandering about narrating about himself. Which sounds like it could be really terrible, but it's actually quite excellent. He takes a hard look at his own strengths and weaknesses, and performs some fascinating self-analysis. Meanwhile, he's investigating the death of his predecessor in the Major Seven, and learning more about who she was. At the very end his investigation gets him injured in a pretty horrible way - we'll have to see how he comes back from that. It's a really intriguing, exciting issue. It's interesting seeing the confident Gravel, usually so smooth and invincible, a bit lost and out of his element. Well, perhaps not that much out of his element; it turns out the Major Seven is a little more like the Minor Seven than they'd like to admit.
Thumbs Up

New releases
Dark Avengers #2
Okay, this series is getting a little crazy and I'm not sure how I feel about it. This issue opens with Morgana planning to kill Victor Von Doom in his past, when he was a defenseless child, but she decides this won't do, and she must instead take her vengeance on him in the present, when he'll fully understand what's happening to him and why. Meanwhile, Osborn's Avengers have an amusing little meeting after their press conference where Osborn explains how things are going to work and the team starts to get to know each other and their roles a little better. Osborn is definitely right to forbid them from talking to the media; his exchange with Ares about this is pretty funny. I also enjoyed the following scene wherein Morgana hits Doom hard and he screams, "Gyyaarrgghh!" She responds, "You would not believe how long I have waited to hear you say that." Finally news of the fight gets to Osborn and even though he's understandably unhappy that saving Doctor Doom will be his Avengers' first real mission, it's something he has to do to hold onto his ally, so off they go. Things only get worse for Osborn from there; as soon as they arrive at the fight, Morgana destroys his cool new gigantic aircraft. But then Osborn sends the Sentry after Morgana and, in a shocking full-page illustration, he swoops down and rips her head off.

Um... what? The Sentry I know doesn't rip people's heads off. I know he's a little mentally unstable, and incredibly powerful, and he's working for the bad guys now, but I just don't see him doing that. Not that it's a permanent thing or anything; Morgana is apparently effectively invincible, as a version of her from an earlier time period immediately pops back in and... kills the Sentry?? That's what it looks like, anyway. And it looks like she's going to do similarly horrible things to the rest of the team.

Woah. WTF is going on?? This is some crazy shit. Doom gets beaten, Sentry rips somebody's head off, then blows up himself, Ares gets eaten, and the rest of the Avengers seem about to be torn apart. I'm not sure how to feel about it all. I mean, it's certainly exciting and surprising. But obviously none of it is going to stick. And I really didn't like seeing my man the Sentry tearing somebody apart on one page and then getting blown up on the next.

I generally like Brian Michael Bendis' writing, but sometimes in his attempts to be funny he gets repetitive and irritating, and that happens a couple of times in this issue. Plus, what is with the monster who keeps hopping around saying, "Gagagoo! Gadapoo!" That's just incredibly stupid. I am going to come down firmly against baby-talking monsters.

I'm sticking with the series for now, because I want to see where this goes, but I'm getting a bit uneasy.
Thumbs Sideways

Ghost Rider #32
Jason Aaron's epic story arc, "The Last Stand of the Spirits of Vengeance," comes to an end in this issue. Soon after the giant battle begins, an interesting thing happens - when one of the hosts of the spirits of vengeance is killed by an angel, the spirit itself doesn't die, but merely moves on to a new host. This is why Danny told the angels to leave the Ghost Riders to him; the only way to really defeat them is to suck up their power. As seems only right and proper, Johnny and Danny decide to have a motorcycle race around the world to decide the fate of existence. But just when you've completely forgotten about that crazy one-armed cop, he shows up and shoots Johnny down. It's this sudden, shocking intervention that turns the tide. Danny swoops down on the injured Johnny and drains him dry, thus capturing the power of all of the Ghost Riders. He ascends into heaven to give the power to Zadkiel. It's such a huge moment that all the big Marvel players all over the world sense it when it happens. (The scene with the Punisher is particularly funny; there's a bunch of dead mobsters lying around a pool hall, and the only one who's still alive says from off-panel, "Wait, what was... did you just feel th—" "No," says the Punisher, and shoots him.) We don't see what happens next, but Danny comes hurtling back down to Earth and explains that he did indeed just knock down the walls of heaven. Thankfully he finally realized that was he doing was wrong at the last minute, and was able to hold back some of the power and bring it back with him, handing it off to Johnny and, interestingly enough, the crazy one-armed cop, who is now a Ghost Rider as well. Didn't see that coming! What I also did not see coming is that Zadkiel has won. Which I guess makes him the new God? Seems like God will be a pretty tough enemy to fight!

It's an appropriately dark and shocking ending to a pretty impressive story arc. But for some reason, just as with Aaron's recent miniseries Wolverine: Manifest Destiny, it left me a little underwhelmed and disappointed. I can't even explain exactly why. Maybe it's because this arc started out so crazy and inventive, with gun-toting nurses and cannibal ghosts and a bible-thumping killer, that when it turned out the ending was just a big fight and a race, I was a little let down. It seemed like Aaron expended all of his creativity in the early issues and had nothing exciting left for the conclusion.

I guess I'm being a little unfair. The art is still really impressive, and it was really cool that Johnny and Danny got to have a motorcycle race across the world to decide the fate of existence, and that the cop leaped in at the last second there to decide things. And the fact that the villain won and broke down the walls of heaven, and that the cop is now a Ghost Rider - that's interesting stuff. Still, I just have this feeling like something's missing. Maybe I need to step away from it and then come back and read it again in a month or so. Maybe then it'll seem much cooler and I'll realize I was just wrong when I wrote this review.
Thumbs Sideways

Highlander Origins: Kurgan #2
I only bought this because the first issue was kind of intriguing, and because the miniseries was only two issues long, so why not? But man, was it bad. Yeah, it's interesting to see the rest of the Kurgan's life story, and how it fits in with the events of the first movie. And there are some interesting concepts in here that put a bit of a new spin on the film. But the writing is really over the top and melodramatic. And there are some sequences - like the Kurgan's run-in with the Horsemen - that just don't make a lot of sense. His centuries long conflict with Ramirez is a fascinating subplot, but it's not handled all that well, and I find it odd that they just skip over the outcome. Sure, we saw Kurgan kill Ramirez in the movie, but it seems odd to not even spend one panel reminding us of that here, especially after so many panels are spent on the rest of the battle. It's also odd that the Kurgan keeps having visions of the future that show him the face and the name of the man who will kill him: Connor MacLeod. There's never any explanation for why this happens, although it does at least explain how the Kurgan knew Connor and knew to come after him in the beginning of the movie. Another thing I can't say I enjoyed very much is the gratuitous rape and murder sequence in the middle of this comic. Admittedly, "gratuitous" is what the Kurgan is all about as a character, but still. The final couple of pages with Connor and Brenda, while fascinating in that they give us a further glimpse into what happened to those two characters immediately after the end of the first film, are still really lame and poorly written. The art in the book also tends toward the clumsy, particularly in this scene.

So yeah, this turned out to be a pretty crummy miniseries. But hopefully now I've learned my lesson and I won't be buying any more Highlander comics.
Thumbs Down

The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #67
For some reason I'm having a little trouble keeping track of who everybody is in this story arc, and how they're all related to each other. There's Benji and Walter and Louis and Cavalier and Deirdre... I know it's not that many people, but it's all just a little confusing to me, partially because there's this kind of in medias res thing going on where we're dropped into the middle of conversations between these people and we have to kind of figure out what they're talking about as we go along. Still, I think I'm getting a hold on what is going on. And anyway, the Punisher's part of the story is simple enough - and fun, too. He's just going around killing as many bad guys as he can get his hands on before he dies. There's even a fun tie-in to the events of Punisher: Force of Nature, a one-shot by Swierczynski that I read a while back. Unfortunately, now the Punisher's got the Mayor after him, on top of all the usual people who want him dead. Interestingly enough, he runs out of nearby people to kill pretty quickly, and decides to take a look at the file on the guy he was hired to take out after all.

The story's kind of interesting, but also a little over-the-top, what with the brutality and the unnecessary subplot involving the veteran who was tortured and now pisses his pants. I really didn't need that. I wish I enjoyed Duane Swierczynski's comics; I really want to! But they always leave me disappointed for some reason. Part of the problem here is the artist, Michel Lacombe. He's not bad, but I just can't get over the weird way he draws the Punisher. He just doesn't look right. I might stick with the series anyway, just to see how it turns out. But then again, I might not.
Thumbs Sideways

Spider-Man: Noir #3
In the penultimate issue of this great miniseries, we come back around to the scene that started this whole thing: Spider-Man standing over the corpse of J.J.J. with a gun in his hand. But now we get a better idea what led to that scene and what it really means. Plus everything is building toward a big showdown between Osborn and Spider-Man. It's tense, exciting, and all around just very well done. I'm looking forward to the conclusion.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Comic books (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Gravel (Not), Highlander (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Punisher (Not), Spider-Man (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not)
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Saturday, February 7, 2009 10:23 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 1/28, plus a hardcover collection and a TPB.

Back issues and old data
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volume 2
This is a hardcover book that I got for Christmas which tells the rest of the story of the Sinestro Corps War (my review of Volume 1 can be found here). Well, most of the rest of the story, anyway. It's clear from various references made in this book that various tie-in stories were not included in these volumes, which is a little disappointing. Still, all the major plot points and big fights seem to be here.

This volume opens with pretty much the largest scale battle I've ever seen: living planets fighting each other, with huge armies of Green and Yellow Lanterns joining in. Sodam Yat is part of one group of Lanterns infiltrating Ranx, the Sinestro Corps' living planet, and he keeps trying to take over and give orders. Some prophecy says he'll be really important to the Green Lantern Corps in the future, and this book spends some time trying to develop him further, but he still ends up a mostly bland, annoying character. I was fascinated to learn that he's essentially a Kryptonian (really a Daxamite), which means he gets Superman's powers when under the light of a yellow sun. But when Superboy Prime describes him as "Superman-Lite with a power ring," he couldn't be more right.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. In the midst of the battle for Mogo, the Guardians decide things aren't going well and it's time to make their first major revision to the Book of Oa: they enable the use of lethal force. It's a huge and important step and, as we'll learn later, it's all Sinestro really wanted out of this war. It leads to a lot more carnage in a book that was already pretty bloody. The Lanterns start making a lot of big, green, glowy guns and swords and blowing Sinestro Corps members to bits with them. There's no question that it turns the tide of the battle (although interestingly some of the Lanterns still refuse to kill). In a particularly disturbing use of the new lethal force doctrine, Salaak captures one of the creepy suicidal kids and incinerates him. Wow.

Yat seems convinced he just can't die, and indeed he does not, even after being at the center of a huge explosion that destroys Ranx. Guess there's a yellow sun nearby?

But now that that battle's over, it's time to cut to the actual major Sinestro Corps assault: the invasion of Earth. And they've poured everything into this - the Warworld, Superboy Prime, Sinestro, Cyborg Superman and his Manhunters, Parallax, and pretty much everybody else in the Corps go crashing down to Earth and start wreaking havoc. I love the way Hal goes zooming back to his brother's place as soon as he learns Parallax is there, and then charges right into him. Sure, it's exactly what Sinestro wanted him to do, but it's still bad-ass. I also like that when Cyborg Superman tells Superman, "You can't kill me," Superman responds, "To be honest, Henshaw, I've never tried." Heh heh. Then when Superboy Prime jumps into the middle of things, he announces himself by saying, "I'm baaAaack. Jerks." I love the way he calls people jerks. He cracks me up.

Even though it's a little corny the way Hal talks Kyle into coming back out of Parallax, it's also a moving moment that's well illustrated. It's interesting that Ganthet and Sayd choose to cut Parallax up and seal the bits up into the four power batteries of the Green Lanterns from Earth. That seems like a dangerous move that could come back to bite them in the ass later. But what do I know. Another moving moment comes when the four Musketeers recharge their rings and get ready to kick some ass. (It's also pretty funny, and totally in-character, that Guy Gardner put a University of Michigan sticker on the side of his power battery.)

Btw, I feel I should mention here, although I like Kilowog, and I like the way he calls people "poozers," it's just possible that he uses that word a little too much. It seems like every writer in this book felt an obligation to have him say "poozers" every page he appeared on. Maybe dial it back a bit, guys! Regardless, it amused me a great deal that Arkillo and Kilowog's fight took them inside the San Diego Comic Con.

Next up, the Corps is called to NYC to take on the bulk of Sinestro's forces, including his biggest weapon: the Anti-Monitor. Sodam Yat rather foolishly attacks the Anti-Monitor head on multiple times, somehow surviving, although only barely. Thankfully the Guardians show up at that moment to fuse Yat with the power of Ion, making him the Corps' greatest weapon. He then faces off against Superboy Prime in a fight that takes up an entire issue. It should theoretically be a really good issue, too, but unfortunately it's written by Peter J. Tomasi, whose talents are uneven at best. Tomasi chooses to fill the fight with many gigantic narration boxes, wherein Sodam Yat goes on and on about how he's feeling and what he's doing and what it all means to him and blah blah blah. It's pretty bad. In between scenes from the fight, we get flashbacks that finally fill in a little of the backstory of Sodam Yat's character. Which is interesting, and good to know, but even that story is a bit lame and melodramatic. Still, it's not all bad. It's an exciting fight, and the art, by Patrick Gleason and Jamal Igle, with inks by Prentis Rollins and Jerry Ordway, and color by Guy Major, is quite excellent. After Prime is done giving Yat a thorough beating, we move on to the extra-long, epic conclusion to the war. To really get the feel for how insanely huge this war is, the issue opens with a couple of gigantic two-page splashes absolutely loaded to bursting with members of the Green Lantern Corps, the Sinestro Corps, and the Justice League, all fighting like crazy. There's some great little visual references in the background here, too; in the first two-page splash, there's one Yellow Lantern who's clearly based on a Predator, and another who's clearly based on an Alien from the Alien movies. Anyway, I won't go into too much detail on this particular issue, as I actually already reviewed it in a previous edition of The Take. My assessment of it has changed somewhat in the intervening months, however. I actually enjoy it a lot more now. I was more willing to accept Sinestro's motives in the war, after reading the entire story, and more willing to accept the immediate revival of all the villains. It's also really neat to look at the two-page spread predicting the gigantic war amongst all the corps and see a bunch of things that have since come to fruition. There's Atrocitus dressed as a Red Lantern; there's Saint Walker, the Blue Lantern; there are the Star Sapphires. The writers were really planning ahead here! And man is it bad-ass how the Lanterns take out the Anti-Monitor, Cyborg Superman, and Prime. It's neat also to see the rise of the Blue and Black Lanterns again, after seeing what the Blue Lanterns have been doing lately, and knowing that the Black Lanterns are going to start taking a hand in things soon.

The final story in the book is an epilogue by Peter J. Tomasi wherein we see how various Green Lanterns are dealing with the aftermath of the war. One of the more moving scenes here centers on a Lantern who is sitting in a bar saying the name of each and every fallen Lantern. The rebuilding of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a buddy-buddy conversation between Guy and Kyle, is a little corny, but reasonably effective. And I like Patrick Gleason's art.

The last thing in the book is an interesting and informative interview with a bunch of the writers and artists involved in Sinestro Corps War, wherein they talk about the making of the story and what's coming next.

Overall, a good book, and probably one of DC's best giant crossover stories.
Thumbs Up

Strange Killings: The Body Orchard
I've slowly been catching up on the past history of combat magician Bill Gravel via trades. This one is my most recent acquisition. Unfortunately, Mike Wolfer is on art duties throughout (I continue to find his work really amateurish), but Ellis is on writing duties, so it's not all bad.

The story opens with Gravel being seen by the police in the midst of performing another of his secret, private assassination missions, which he does between official missions for the British government. So he decides to lie low until he can deposit some cash he acquired during the mission. But then he stumbles into the middle of somebody else's secret mission. It's his old SAS team, and they're taking out a just-elected Mayor of New York. But why? And how did they learn all the magic they so ably make use of during their mission? And why do they try to kill Gravel when they recognize him? Curious and seriously pissed, Bill decides to find out the answers to these questions. He ends up fighting it out not only against the four men in his old SAS team (who are amateur magicians, but magicians nonetheless), but also against practically the entire NYPD, who blame him for the assassination of the mayor. When he tries to get help from his bosses back at HQ, he realizes they're out to get him, too. It's not a good day for Bill Gravel.

Eventually he follows his team into a strange, mystical realm known as the Body Orchard, where it's possible to grow weapons. We also get to see a flashback to a mission he went on with the SAS team in which they learned he was a magician, and got to see him duke it out with another magician. Back in the present, Gravel gets caught by the NYPD, fights his way out, and then follows his old team to the Pentagon, where they're killing everything that moves. He ultimately stops them by crashing a jet into the Pentagon. Yeah, Ellis went there. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of parallel universe explanation for the events of 9/11? Regardless, it's pretty twisted and offensive.

But then, Gravel's stories always are. This one is just a little more so, thanks in large part to the fact that many of the people he's blowing up and tearing apart this time are essentially innocents. Sure, the NYPD shoot at him, try to capture and imprison him, and later try to beat information out of him - but most of their actions are understandable, given what they know of Gravel. They think they're doing the right thing, going after the bad guy. Later it becomes clear that some of them are just being manipulated by Gravel's own superiors. Knowing all this, does Gravel perhaps take it easy on them? Just break their legs, instead of tearing their skin off? Nah. In fact, if anything, the stuff he does to them becomes more and more gruesome as the conflict goes on. It's pretty horrific.

Gravel's never been the kind of guy to pull punches, and he's never been particularly likable. But at least in the past when he was ripping people's eyeballs out and making them throw up their own guts, his victims were undeniably horrible people who deserved whatever they got. It's a little harder to watch him do the same stuff to policemen, some of whom are just passing by and don't even know what's going on.

I can't say I'm all that shocked and horrified. Like I said, we're talking Warren Ellis and Bill Gravel here. But I certainly didn't enjoy this book as much as the more recent adventures of Mr. Gravel.

It's not going to keep me from buying the next trade, though. The ending of this volume seems to suggest that the next story will be about Gravel going after his superiors in the British government, so that should be interesting.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases
Captain America #46
We open up here with Bucky and Namor flying to the rescue of the original Human Torch in an old jet of Namor's. It's just like old times! Namor acts like a dick, as always, but Bucky reads him well enough to know he approves, in his own way, of Bucky taking on the mantle of Captain America, and that he's just as determined as Bucky to save the Torch. A flashback reveals the evil Professor has been fascinated by the Human Torch since he first saw him, many years ago. Meanwhile, Black Widow, in the process of getting the info Cap and Namor need to track the Professor down, figures out that the Winter Soldier is wanted for crimes against the state of China for killing the Professor's wife during his last escape. D'oh.

It's great to see Namor and Cap together again, and on a mission to save the Human Torch, no less. And I always enjoy Namor when he's written well, and Brubaker captures his character perfectly here. It's not an incredibly exciting issue - but then, very few issues of Captain America do excite me all that much, what with the endlessly dark and muted color palette and the story that never comes to any real conclusions. But we do seem to be headed somewhere interesting this time, so I'm staying with it.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis #7
At long last, Final Crisis comes to an end. Sort of, anyway; not all of the tie-in miniseries are over yet. But this is definitely the last issue of the main miniseries, and I have to admit, it's pretty impressive. I particularly enjoyed the opening, which picks up in an alternate universe where an intelligent black President shuts himself in the Oval Office of the White House and removes his shirt to reveal Superman's "S" on his chest (although his is yellow on red instead of red on yellow). It's Super Barack Obama! Sort of. He and the Wonder Woman of his universe (whose name is Nubia) answer a distress call and discover that the Yellow Submarine from Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D has swum through the bleed into their world. Turns out all the Supermen of the multiverse are being called together again as a last ditch, life-or-death effort. Meanwhile, all that's left of Earth in our Superman's universe is the Watchtower. Everything else has been taken over by Darkseid. Lois Lane, we learn, has written the story of Final Crisis - "the story of all our stories" - into the final edition of the Daily Planet. That story, along with a few other mementos, is loaded into a rocket ship and fired off from the doomed world, in the hopes that someone, somewhere will find it. Sound familiar? It's Superman's story, again. The story at the heart of everything. The story of stories. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, we cut back to Superman facing off against the mortally wounded Darkseid, who points out that since he is now everything there is, when he dies, everything else will, too. He then fires the poisoned bullet back in time to kill Orion. He's only able to take Orion by surprise and kill him this way because at this point in time, Orion no longer exists. Swallow that paradox!

It's at this point that Wally and Barry Allen arrive with the Black Flash in tow and bowl Darkseid over, running death right into him. It's pretty awesome, even if it doesn't make all that much sense. I mean, isn't Darkseid already dying? Don't we not want to finish killing him just yet? Because it'll, like, destroy all reality and stuff?

Then we find out what the deal was with that God Machine that turns will into reality at the end of last issue. Turns out Superman didn't use it, he just looked at it, and memorized every part of it. Now he asks for everyone's help (even Lex Luthor and Sivana) to build it. I love the conversation between Lex and Sivana about it. Lex: "This looks to me like something capable of rewriting the laws of physics." Sivana: "Meh."

Checkmate's last ditch plan to move the Earth to another Earth seems to have gone disastrously awry. I think. I didn't quite follow that part. The story jumps back and forth through time and space so much, and shows you things in such quick flashes, that it's really hard to grasp all the details. Supergirl puts it best: "I don't think I've ever felt anything so strange... like it's all broken up from one minute to the next..." But it looks like Frankenstein (uh, where the hell did he come from?!?), Lex, and the supervillains switched sides and helped Superman win out against Darkseid. Wonder Woman was finally able to overcome the mind control and lasso Darkseid's body, I guess to keep him alive and disabled long enough for them to try to save the multiverse. After that, the surviving members of the human race were somehow shrunk down and preserved in a freezer (wha?). After completing the God Machine, Superman finally finishes off Darkseid by singing a countersong to Darkseid's vibrations of evil, or something. This, of course, ends everything. As it's all falling apart, Superman finds the final magic ingredient for the God Machine. But then Mandrakk shows up with the vampire Superman! When Mandrakk said he'd be back at the end of Superman Beyond, I assumed he meant he'd be back in the next Crisis, but apparently he was talking more short term! Anyway, Superman manages to activate the God Machine despite Mandrakk, but what he does with it is not explained until later. There's a ridiculously insane showdown, where freaking everybody shows up for a final face-off against Mandrakk - I'm talking all the Supermen of the multiverse (whose arrival is heralded by our own Superman saying, "Look, up in the sky" - awesome), a bunch of Green Lanterns, a Monitor, the Army of God, the forever people of the 5th World, and even the super animals from the old funny animal comics. Holy crap, dude! Morrison seems to throw in the funny animal guys seemingly as an afterthought, or because he was obligated to (it's been sort of a tradition since the first Crisis that every character owned by DC has to be involved somehow). Thankfully they don't do or say anything; they just kind of show up and then Morrison keeps going. "And... these guys, too! Okay, moving on..." Anyway, at that point, Morrison had me going to the extent that I was ready to let him do anything, even pull in the funny animals. And after all, on the page opposite the one in which he introduces those characters, he shows us a bunch of Green Lanterns teaming up and using the last of their power to drive a giant glowing green stake through the heart of the final enemy of reality, and that's pretty damn hot stuff right there.

We cut from the victory scene to the hall of Monitors, where Nix Uotan is giving his report. He says some really inspiring things about humanity, and concludes that it's time for the Monitors to cease all contact with the multiverse and become nameless and faceless again, for the sake of everyone and everything. There's also some interesting stuff about how a new creation was brought about by Darkseid's death, and how the Monitors cleaned up after the Crisis by pretty much rebuilding the multiverse, and correcting all the remaining time anomalies (by which I guess he means DCU continuity!). As the Monitors are being removed from reality, their story ending, Nix Uotan reveals finally what Superman wished for with the God Machine: a happy ending. And maybe even Nix Uotan gets one, as someone looking quite a lot like him seems to awaken immediately afterwards on Earth, as a human. I think? Then we jump to some other time and place, where an old man (referred to as "old man") has found the rocket launched earlier, containing the story of Final Crisis. Old man seems very important and final somehow, but who he is exactly is unclear to me. He dies, but there's another man in the cave with him, a man who looks quite a bit like Bruce Wayne. As he begins drawing a bat symbol on the cave wall, a narrative box informs us that "the fire burns forever."

Yeah, I'm pretty confused. But I'm also pretty blown away. Despite the fact that this series has been jumbled and puzzling, it's also been beautifully written and extremely moving and effective. Even if I didn't understand it all the time, I always had the sense there was a wise and intelligent storyteller behind it, and that even if he wasn't always clear, he was always artful. And there are so many astounding ideas in here, and so many wonderful things said about stories, and storytelling, and humanity. And I love that it ends on a hopeful note, and with a glimpse of Batman, and the clear sense that he's not really gone, and that great stories never die.

Final Crisis is truly an amazing piece of work. Grant Morrison, I salute you!
Thumbs Up

Fringe #2
The first issue of this miniseries, which ties in with the TV show, came out a long time ago, and I bought it and enjoyed it. Then I read that they'd resolicited the rest of the series for a much later date. I'm not sure why. Anyway, here's the second issue finally, and as it turns out, it was worth the wait. This series is way better than it has any right to be. First up is the second part of the main story, "Bell and Bishop," which tells the past history of William Bell and Walter Bishop - how they met, and what they did in that lab in Cambridge for all those years. I like that the comic is getting to tell what is actually some pretty important backstory. Anyway, as Bell and Bishop are toiling away in the lab, a mysterious man named R. Bradbury (ha!) shows up, claiming he's from a soap company and offering them unlimited resources to continue their experiments for said company. They get a tour of the company's facilities in Alaska and they're pretty impressive. When Bishop says, "This is some kind of secret weapons lab, isn't it? The soap is just a front," Bradbury responds, "Not at all. We have a very successful consumer products division. Trust me, gentlemen... we make excellent soap." And "Excellent Soap" is the title of this story. Great stuff! It's in this Alaska facility that Dr. Bishop meets a woman named Dr. Rachel Matheson. They hit it off immediately, thanks in part to the fact that he saves her from a giant monster. But things get a little complicated when Bell and Bishop stumble upon a room full of heads in jars.

The backup story is called "Strangers on a Train," and it's a fantastic little oneshot involving time travel that I really enjoyed. It's rather like an episode of Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. And the guy in it just happens to work for the same soap company mentioned in the main story.

I'm really impressed with the quality of this miniseries, especially considering it's just a tie-in with a TV show. Looking forward to the next issue!
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch #4
In the course of Danny going out again and again on raids, trying to find Verminus Rex, he once more becomes thoroughly addicted to the power of the Ghost Rider. To the extent that when his friend the witch finds him again and tries to talk some sense into him, it's already too late. He chooses to leave her once again to go with Eleven, who orders him to suck up a Ghost Rider's powers - for her own good, of course. Then he reveals that "the boss" is an angel, and he has a job for Danny: leech the power out of all the other Ghost Riders. After defeating Verminus Rex, of course. But Rex is not so easy to beat. Danny needs full access to the Ghost Rider power if he's to do it. And that's what he finally gets. No doubt it's all part of Zadkiel's plan. The next issue is the last of this miniseries, so it should include Ketch's final showdown with Rex, as well as his first step on the quest that will lead him to the showdown with Johnny that's occurring now in the pages of Ghost Rider.

Pretty good issue! Author Simon Spurrier is actually doing a creditable job of showing how Danny could have ended up where he is now, killing Ghost Riders for a rebel angel. It's all about his addiction to the power, an addiction that Spurrier and artist Javier Saltares depict in brutal, realistic detail.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #30
Gary finally flips out at the beginning of this issue and really uses his power, causing the very walls, trees, and buildings of the Golden Boughs to rise up and fight. It all gets pretty epic! Meanwhile, Revise explains to Jack how and why he began revising Fables, and the relationships and history among Gary, Kevin, Revise, and Bookburner all start to make more sense. One of the best parts of the issue, however, is when the Fables get to read their original, unbowdlerized stories, thus getting back all their true power and viciousness. Unfortunately, at the end of the issue, it looks like Gary gets whacked, which would be a sad thing indeed. Hopefully we will learn in the next issue that that is not the case. Regardless, you can't call a comic anything but fun that includes the line, "Everybody read for your lives!"
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #49
This issue surprised me, and actually kind of disappointed me, too. I had assumed the subplot about Luke Cage's kid being kidnapped, and Cage joining with Osborn in order to find the child, would be a long term thing with lasting consequences. But it's all resolved right here in this issue. Or at least, it seems to be. Maybe I'm underestimating Brian Michael Bendis, and there's more of this story still to come. I'm worried, for instance, that the baby Cage got back might not actually be his baby. We'll see what happens.

It's interesting that we end up feeling bad for the Jarvis Skrull. That's something I didn't expect to happen. And even though I'm a little disappointed that Cage got out of his commitment to Osborn almost immediately (a deal with the devil with no consequences is not particularly horrifying), I have to say, I really did enjoy seeing him whack the shit out of Bullseye and Venom with the Wrecker's magic crowbar. His exit was pretty impressive, too. I also liked Captain America's reaction to having a baby in his hideout. "I've never been this close to a baby before." And speaking of reactions, Clint's reaction to seeing the unveiling of the Dark Avengers, featuring Bullseye as Hawkeye, was pretty much as I expected. He gets really pissed and decides they should just go right over there and kick butt. "Because he dressed up like you?" Iron Fist asks. "No," Clint responds. Then, "Yes!" (I like that Captain America's reaction is, "Well, that's just obnoxious.") Clint's plan is probably not the best one, but the other guys all seem to agree with him and go with it. The little preview tagline promises that next issue will be a double-sized fiftieth anniversary issue, and that it will feature an "Avengers battle royale." Sounds good to me!

Despite the bit with Luke Cage that kind of disappointed me, I really did enjoy this issue, and I'm very much looking forward to the next one. I've been pretending like I'm just buying this comic on an issue by issue basis, but I think eventually I'm just going to have to give in and admit that I'm collecting it.

Oh, and by the way, this comic, along with many other Marvel comics of the past week or two, includes a preview in the back for the new Black Panther series. Looks like it's pretty well done, but it also looks like they're going to kill off T'Challa, and that's something I'm not sure I can condone.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #6
I'm sad to say the final issue of this fantastic miniseries disappointed me a little bit. Maybe the fact that I'd seen that Chris Sims picked it as his best of the week on the Invincible Super-Blog before I read it put my expectations up too high. I don't know. I mean, Garth Ennis did deliver an insane gun battle involving the Punisher and a lesbian in her underwear mowing down an entire army of mobsters; a happily-ever-after ending for poor old Schitti and his pumpkin; and a brutal and ignominious defeat for the pathetic new Elite. But something about it just hit me the wrong way. Maybe it's the way poor von Richthofen gets treated. I don't know. Anyway, it's not like I hated it. It's still an entertaining comic. Just not as good as I was hoping.
Thumbs Sideways

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3
The insanity continues! As Seance is being tortured by the horrifying and hilarious Cha-Cha and Hazel, he manages to contact Spaceboy through the TV. But it's kind of too late by then, as the boys have already gotten the location of some nukes out of Seance, so they just shoot him in the head. At which point he finds himself in an odd kind of heaven with a cowboy God, who decides to send him back to Earth. Meanwhile, Number 5 finally explains to Rumor the true story of where he was all the time he was away and why a bunch of weirdos are after him. Turns out I was kind of right about the reason, only it's not that he saved JFK, it's that he refused to kill him. Through surgery and training, Number 5 has been transformed into the perfect assassin - an agent for fixing anomalies in the timeline. JFK was his final and most important assignment, but he ran out on it. Now he's being forced to come back. Oh, and it looks like maybe Spaceboy's dead. D'oh!

Another fantastic issue, loaded with brilliant ideas and completely unexpected twists. I also enjoyed Cha-Cha's Aliens reference ("It's the only way to be sure"). Good old Umbrella Academy.
Thumbs Up

The Wind Raider #1
The zero issue preview of this series convinced me to give it a try, and I have to say I remain impressed and surprised. It's actually pretty good! Gabriel Hardman's art (with colors by Micah Farritor) is beautiful - he has a gift for visual storytelling - and creators/authors Richard Finney and Dean Loftis have taken some imaginative ideas and turned them into an intriguing tale about some interesting characters. A little boy named Joshua strikes it rich for his family by finding a piece of valuable rock out in the desert, but some nasty fellows will do anything to find out where he got it - including track him down and attack his family. Joshua gives his life to try to save his father from them, but in vain. The lead criminal kidnaps Joshua's sister and takes off, but a Ki Warrior takes out the other criminals and brings Joshua back to life.

This is really just an introduction to the story, so it's hard to tell yet where this thing is going to go, and if it's going to remain as interesting as it has been so far, but I'll be sticking with it for now.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Fringe (Not), Garth Ennis (Not), Ghost Rider (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Punisher (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Umbrella Academy (Not), Warren Ellis (Not)
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Monday, January 26, 2009 12:15 AM
(Last updated on Saturday, January 31, 2009 12:58 PM)
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 1/7, 1/14, and 1/21. Yep, my "weekly" comic book review post hasn't been very weekly lately. I'm way, way behind, so this is my big catchup entry. Settle in! Oh, and also, beware spoilers; they're all over the place down there.

Back issues and old data
The Goon Volume 6: Chinatown and the Mystery of Mr. Wicker
Just last week, in my review of The Goon #31, I said serious drama was not author Eric Powell's strong point. Now that I've read this hardcover volume (which I received for Christmas), I feel like I may have been unnecessarily hard on Mr. Powell. This book is serious drama through and through - which it warns you of itself by opening with a page that says, in very large letters, "This ain't funny." - but it's also extremely effective, beautiful, and brilliant. The story clears up a lot of the confusion I was feeling over various characters and relationships in the most recent Goon arc. In fact, it's two stories interwoven, one set in the past and explaining finally the Goon's history with Isabella and Chinatown, and the other set in the present and dealing with the rise of a powerful and mysterious new crime lord named Mr. Wicker. There's also a really wonderful flashback at the very beginning that goes all the way back to the Goon's days in the carnival with Kizzie. The story as a whole is touching, tragic, and artfully told. The way Powell illustrates is amazing. When the Goon meets Bella again after many years, and she's sitting close to him in his room, he sees her as a series of fractured images: lips, a shoulder, breasts, legs, an eye.
Later, when Bella rejects him, he steps into the bathroom and looks into the mirror. There follow five full-page illustrations of the Goon's face as he stares into his own eyes and sees only ugliness, and all of his agony is clear in his expression. When Franky comes to visit the Goon later at the hospital, he shares his pain in a tender, quiet moment where the strength of their friendship is made clear. It's a subtle, powerful story, exciting, engaging, and moving, and it completely swallowed me up. I read practically the entire thing in one sitting. It's very possibly Powell's greatest achievement, and that's really saying something. My hat is off, sir!
Thumbs Up

Terminator: Salvation #1
Comic book prequels to movies seem to be all the rage these days. This book is set before the events of the upcoming film of the same name, and is being put out by IDW (the Terminator license is a complex thing, with three or four different publishing houses putting out three or four different books, all set in different timelines). IDW is also putting out the prequel miniseries tied into the new Star Trek movie. Because I'm interested in both movies, I decided to give both books a shot. This one I couldn't find the week it came out, but I was able to pick it up this week (which is why it's appearing in this section). The Star Trek book you'll find a review of near the bottom of this post.

The issue opens in 2018, post-Judgment Day, and focuses on two resistance cells, one in Detroit, and one in Niger. They're trying to coordinate an operation called "Sand in the Gears," which apparently involves blowing up a mine that's important to the machines. Elena, the woman heading the Detroit cell, is having a kind of long distance, flirty affair with the guy in Niger, whom she's never met. But from a flashback we see later in the book, it looks like she also has an unrequited thing for John Connor (don't we all?). A dude and his family trying to survive out on their own in Detroit, away from the resistance, get bombed out, and the patriarch goes up against a Terminator. Meanwhile, a machine busts in and attacks the folks in Niger, as well.

There's nothing really terrible in this book, but nothing particularly exciting, either. It's very talky, but the dialogue isn't all that great. And there's some decent action sequences, and then the cliffhanger at the end, but I don't care enough about the characters for them to mean much to me. So yeah, I don't think I'll be wasting any more money picking up future issues of this.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases 1/7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #21
Wow, this was the best issue of this comic in a while - and I thought the recent ones were really good! The cover is done up like a fashion magazine, except with Harmony and vampires as its subject. That's because the story inside is about Harmony getting famous thanks to video of her sucking Andy Dick's blood ending up on TMZ. She gets a reality show, but the ratings are not so good... until she gets into a fight with a Slayer on TV. Then all of the sudden she's a star, and Slayers are in the public eye - as villains. It's a very interesting story that fits in perfectly with the arc of the "season" so far, and it's also very clever, very timely, and very, very funny - as in, brilliant pop culture satire. Just a great comic, from the front cover to the back.
Thumbs Up

Gravel #7
The latest Gravel arc comes to an end in this issue, but as is made very clear on the final page, it's just the beginning of a new direction for Bill's story. Gravel must make a decision here between the temptation of a life of ease amongst the upper class, with servants and an estate, or a continuation of his life of murder and dirty, blue collar brutality. He gives his servants and the remaining member of the Minor Seven a final test, and then makes his choice in spectacular and violent fashion. I wasn't always sure about this series, but I love the way Ellis and Wolfer pull everything together in this final issue and open the door to an even more exciting future story. I also enjoy Oscar Jimenez's art, and Gravel's trickery. Excellent!
Thumbs Up

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2
Yes! Hellboy! And this issue even includes a back-up story, something I don't usually expect to see in a Hellboy book. In the main story, written by Mike Mignola with beautiful art by Duncan Fegredo, Hellboy makes an unexpected visit to another realm full of the bones of dead kings, then he's back in the present and rather foolishly jumps into battle with some giants. Meanwhile, big doings with Gruagach! We get to learn more of his early history (which has the flavor of ancient fairy tales and Tolkien epics), and get a replay of his more recent history with Hellboy (which was a nice refresher). I also got confirmation on my suspicion that Gruagach hasn't really heard the lady in the box speak, and has been putting words in her mouth. But he won't have to do that anymore, as a mysterious stranger shows up with a very disturbing gift to help him finally awaken her. And that just can't be a good thing!

The back-up story, written by Mignola and with wonderful art by Guy Davis, is part one of the tale of how Koshchei became deathless - a really evocative story out of Russian folklore. It's comics like these that remind me why I love Mignola, his team, and the entire Hellboy-verse so very, very much.
Thumbs Up

Kull #3
In this issue, Kull learns the true history of the world and some of the dark secrets that lurk inside his own castle. Also, the arc of the series begins to take shape. Kull's in even more trouble than he knew! Evil lizards lurking everywhere waiting to kill him! And an angry wife! Ouch. I have to say, I'm not loving this series quite as much as I was at first, now that the mysteries are being solved and going away, but it's still pretty well written, with great art and some great ideas, so I'm sticking with it.
Thumbs Up

No Hero #3
At the end of last issue, our new recruit started to experience his horrific, hallucinatory transformation into a super human. In this issue, the transformation continues in four incredibly detailed, gruesome, nightmarish, two-page splash illustrations. But even as a new super human is being born, another one gets offed. And there's still little clue as to who's doing it, except that they know a great deal about super humans and how to destroy them. At the end, newbie guy seems to start falling apart, but it's probably just the next stage in his transformation.

I'm still really enjoying this little series. Ellis is creating a fascinating alternate history; he's making an interesting examination of what super humans could be; he's developing a crazy little dysfunctional family with an arrogant genius as its patriarch; and he's even got an intriguing murder mystery brewing. Plus, Juan Jose Ryp's art is impressive, as always - although I think he gets so carried away with capturing all the details that sometimes the images end up cluttered and confused and it's hard to understand the whole. A cleaner style, with fewer lines, might be better. But what do I know? The point is, it's fine comics, and I'm still firmly on board.
Thumbs Up

Punisher #1
I was very wary of this new Punisher ongoing, especially since it's written by Rick Remender, whose work has disappointed me in the past. But it's a Dark Reign tie-in, and thus important to the future of the Marvel Universe, and it features the Punisher (obviously) and the Sentry, both of whom I love, so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, as expected, I didn't care for it all that much. There's actually not all that much story here, as a lot of the back of the book is taken up with a preview of Agents of Atlas, and a detailed history of the Punisher, illustrated with reprints of selected panels from earlier Punisher comics. What story there is is interesting and well drawn (I particularly like the way the Sentry is depicted, and the way he just appears next to Frank immediately after stopping his bullet four miles away), but not well written. There's way, way too much narration, all very cheesy, and all from the perspective of the Punisher. The dialogue is also pretty weak. I might give the series one more issue, just to see where the story is going, but then again I might not.

As for the backup material, I did appreciate getting filled in on the strange and complex biography of the Punisher. I always like to catch up with the history of the Marvel Universe, and this was a part of it I was not familiar with. The preview of Agents of Atlas was less interesting. Some Feds bust into an Agents of Atlas building. The Agents show up and one of them says, "Feds, huh? what a coincidence. 'Cause we're Agents of Atlas." Uh... how is that a coincidence? That makes no sense. Really, it just doesn't.
Thumbs Sideways

War of Kings Saga
This isn't really an original comic, per se. It's a free book that tells the history of the Inhumans, with a particular focus on their connection with matters extraterrestrial, in order to get you ready for the War of Kings storyline that is currently ongoing. As with the history in the back of Punisher #1, I appreciated this book for the gaps it filled in for me in my knowledge of the Marvel Universe. I knew little about the Inhumans, and little about what happened to Vulcan and Havok after the events of X-Men: Deadly Genesis. There's also a bunch of other characters described here that I'd never even heard of before. All this history is conveyed in a pretty bland manner, however, with short bursts of words slapped on top of reprints of old illustrations. So I didn't really retain very much of it, and it wasn't really all that exciting to read. Plus, there's no way I'm jumping into another massive story arc that will spread itself over multiple books, especially since none of those books are ones I read.
Thumbs Sideways

X-Men: Noir #2
Hmmm. After reading another issue of this miniseries, I'm sad to say I think maybe my original feelings of dislike towards it were justified. The cliffhanger at the end of last issue is quickly discarded and deflated at the beginning of this one, and a lot of the mysteries are just as quickly swept out of the way with a few bursts of exposition. I still can't get used to the idea that mutations have been replaced with sociopathic tendencies. That's just not the same thing at all! It's also weird that Beast isn't actually smart here; in fact, he's dumb, and is constantly using big words in the wrong way. Plenty of the other character analogs take on similarly shameful and disappointing roles here. And the back-up sci-fi/pulp adventure story is really hard to read, it's so deliberately bad.

I probably won't pick up another issue of this. I'm curious as to where the story's going, but... not that curious.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases 1/14
Action Comics #873
Great line near the beginning of this one from General Lane: "What kills you makes you stronger." Heh. Anyway, apparently in the other episodes of the New Krypton storyline that I didn't read, a great big war started with the Green Lanterns, the Justice League, and the Justice Society on one side, and the people of Kandor on the other. It's getting pretty nasty until Kara's mother decides to end the fight by making it moot; she moves Kandor elsewhere. Woah. Well, that explains the storyline's title! Things aren't really taken care of for good, however; Superman still wants to see justice done on his fellow Kryptonians. And then we get a couple of epilogues (what is the deal with having multiple epilogues in comics, btw? Does anyone else think that's totally lame?) that throw a couple more big reveals into the mix. We find out where the mysterious Superwoman's true allegiances lie; some super dude gets wasted (I never did figure out who he was, but he's been skulking around this storyline for a while); and General Zod and friends drop back into the mix. Nice!

I still feel like this storyline was maybe a little too busy, trying to fit too many things in at once. There are a couple of panels thrown in at the end here showing Nightwing and Firebird, and some Bizarro people, almost as if to say, "Oh yeah, and this stuff is going on, too!" Like Geoff Johns felt obligated to mention those characters, even though there wasn't space to actually do anything with them.

I also can't say I really like the Superman who's depicted here. He's more self-righteous and annoying than he is just righteous. Part of the problem is the way the artists draw him; he just looks like a prick.

All that being said, there are some really neat things in here. I like the creation of New Krypton. I like the mysterious plotting of Lane and Luthor. And I like that Zod and friends are coming back into the story. This issue could have been a lot better, but it wasn't awful.
Thumbs Sideways

B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #1
The new B.P.R.D. miniseries starts out by making clear the connection between the current story arc and the recent Lobster Johnson miniseries (Iron Prometheus). I'm not sure why I never guessed that Martin Gilfryd and the villain in Iron Prometheus were one and the same person, but now that they made it explicit here, it was obvious in retrospect. Still, an exciting revelation, and it was also very neat to find out what happened to Lobster and his crew after the events of Iron Prometheus, and to learn a bit more of the story of Martin Gilfryd (although he remains quite mysterious). There's a weird two-page spread right in the middle of the issue where we see an old man in some kind of temple carving little stone frogs and painting red designs on their backs. I'm not sure what that's about. Meanwhile, Panya seems quite certain that Liz won't be coming back to B.P.R.D. headquarters, which is very disturbing. Things look bleak for the team finding a lead that will get them to Liz and Gilfryd, until Johnson's bad-ass old buddy comes through with freaking directions to Gilfryd's hideout. Nice!

I love the way everything they've been doing in B.P.R.D. almost since the beginning of the comic is all coming together and building to a big climax in this storyline. I also love that Lobster Johnson is involved, because he's awesome. As usual, Mike Mignola and John Arcudi do an excellent job with the words, and Guy Davis and Dave Stewart back them up with beautiful pictures and colors. I even like Kevin Nowlan's cover; it's interesting to see the familiar characters visualized in a unique, new way.
Thumbs Up

Captain Britain and MI13 #9
I just read online that this series has been canceled. Boo! I've really been enjoying this. It's a look at the British corner of the Marvel Universe, which rarely gets mentioned, and Paul Cornell's been putting some really interesting characters and concepts in here.

This particular issue sees Pete Wisdom tearing the Dream Corridor to bits and bringing everyone's fantasies crashing down with the help of the faux Black Blade. Which means we get a quick glimpse at a lot of different fantasies, including an old dude playing professional soccer, a guy in a bunny suit frolicking with a giant teddy bear (a plushie in a Marvel comic??), and a guy on a throne being served cheeseburgers and beers by beautiful young women. We also learn that scientific adviser Stewart is pretty bad-ass, and that Captain Britain can do anything. And Plokta, Duke of Hell, is finally disposed of in excellent fashion. A relationship seems to start up between Blade and Lady J (which is pretty impressive, given that they were trying to kill each other only a few issues ago), Captain Midlands ends up imprisoned and shamed, and tragically, it turns out that Captain Britain just missed seeing the real Meggan on his way out of the Dream Corridor. She's trapped in some kind of hell dimension. Argh! A powerful story with some very moving moments. I really liked the way they got Plokta in the end. And there wasn't much Faiza, which is always good!

At the very end, we get the preview for the next story arc, which will involve Dr. Doom teaming up with Dracula and an army of vampires to assault the Earth from the moon. Go back and look at that again, because it may just be the most awesome sentence I've ever written. Thankfully, it sounds like Marvel is going to print that story arc in its entirety before killing the book for good.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis #6
The last issue I read of this miniseries was the first one, so needless to say I was pretty confused as to what was going on in this one. Although frankly, I probably would have been pretty confused anyway, given that it's written by the master of confusion, Grant Morrison. But I saw some scans of this issue online and felt I had to pick it up and read it. After all, it features the death of Batman.

Yep, that's right. You'd figure Batman would have died in one of the comics that actually feature him as the main character, maybe during the story arc called Batman R.I.P.! But in fact at the end of that story he had merely disappeared. Then he started investigating the death of Orion, got captured briefly by Darkseid, and in this issue finally tracks down Darkseid and attacks him. But before that happens, Brainiac 5 lets Superman use a machine that turns thoughts into things (at least, I think that's what happens), although what Superman does with it is unclear. Then there's an insane war going on in the middle of a city, which involves Supergirl in a cat fight with an S&M obsessed Mary Marvel, who's possessed by Desaad. Mary calls Supergirl a slut. It's funny. Some tiger people have a showdown. There's a symbol you have to paint on your face to protect you from the Anti-Life Equation. A ton of characters I've never seen before and know nothing about huddle together and try to figure out how to fight back now that the world is ending. Checkmate initiates some kind of insane last minute plan to move the entire Earth onto another Earth in another universe. Which, as it turns out, may actually be a really bad idea. Luthor and Dr. Sivana turn on Libra and Darkseid because they decide they like life after all. The Flashes all get together to get to Darkseid and they plan to use some kind of Black Flash to do it. Batman sneaks into Darkseid's hideout and breaks his restriction against firearms to shoot Darkseid with a poison bullet. Somehow he's able to shoot Darkseid faster than Darkseid's able to shoot him with his eye beams, even after Batman has wasted time standing around explaining how we got to this point with some pointless exposition. It's a little silly, and a bit disappointing that Batman had to use a gun, but then again, if Batman had to go out, going out while killing an evil God and theoretically saving the entire world is a pretty good way to do it. That being said, even after Batman shoots Darkseid and Superman finally shows up and blows up some crap, it still doesn't look like either of them really succeeded in changing much, and the world is apparently still on the brink of ultimate destruction.

There are some really cool ideas in here: the God-weapon, or miracle machine, that Brainiac shows Superman; the way Luthor and Sivana turn on Libra (great dialogue in that scene); all the Flashes getting together and essentially outrunning death ("Godspeed" is a particularly appropriate thing for the woman to wish them as they dash off); and of course Batman sacrificing himself to kill Darkseid. But there's also some pretty odd stuff I don't quite get. (What does Superman do with the miracle machine, for instance?) I'm going to give Morrison the benefit of the doubt, however, and assume that most of those confusing bits either were already explained by earlier issues, or will be explained in the last issue. Regardless, I'm surprised to say it, but I really enjoyed this issue of Final Crisis, and I'm probably going to pick up the next (and final) one.
Thumbs Up

Gravel #8
Warren Ellis and Mike Wolfer apparently don't believe in dilly dallying! Only a week after the previous Gravel storyline ended, the next one begins here, with Gravel somehow surviving, with sanity intact, a marathon reading of the Sigsand manuscript. Then it's off to meet his new buddies, the Major Seven. At first it seems as if everything's going to be sunshine and daisies with this lot, but things quickly get more complicated. He's given two tasks: to reform the Minor Seven, and to establish a location in England that will be his place of power. But then he's also given a third, secret task by the sort of leader of the Major Seven: to discover which of the Major Seven killed Gravel's predecessor. D'oh! Here we go again. Or, as Gravel himself puts it, "Oh, bollocks."

As usual, I very much enjoyed this issue of Gravel. The character now finds himself at the start of a new phase in his life and his magical experience, and at the start of a new murder mystery. Should be exciting - although I was disappointed to see that Wolfer had taken over the art again. He's just not very good at it, so I'm really not sure why people keep letting him do it. Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #5
The Punisher and the still-drugged Schitti manage to escape from the trap Elite set for them, but not unscathed. The Punisher retreats to Schitti's place, takes out some more mobsters, and meets Von Richtofen, who agrees to not kill him or arrest him for a while, so he can help her survive an onslaught of wiseguys. The usual clever writing and dark humor run throughout, making this another entertaining entry in a wonderful miniseries. Sadly, there's only one more issue left, but I'm sure it'll be a doozy.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #3
Hoo boy. This series is starting to feel like cheesy slash fiction again. Wesley and Picard ready their two factions of the resistance for a last ditch struggle. Wesley cuts his hair and paints his face all punk rock. We have to watch as Picard exits a bed full of naked Guinan (argh! My eyes!!). The relationship I guessed at between Tasha and Ro is made explicit. Then Wesley effs everything up and gets somebody killed. It doesn't look good for our heroes! But they've got two issues left to fix everything.

The second issue of this really picked things up and started building a clever and interesting story that played with these familiar characters in new and different ways. But this issue was mostly just melodrama, and man I really didn't need that scene in Picard and Guinan's bedroom. I can't quite decide if I'll get the next issue or not. I guess we'll see when the time comes...
Thumbs Sideways

New releases from 1/21
Angel: After the Fall #16
This is a book I dropped a long time ago, but I saw Joss Whedon's name on the cover of this issue and, after flipping through it in the store, noticed that it seemed to be the conclusion of the recent story arc, and that it seemed to include some pretty pivotal events in the lives of the characters, so I decided to give it a try. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It opens with Connor dying, and with evil winning. But of course we can't have that. Luckily, Wesley and Angel discover a loophole that allows them to essentially reboot back to the beginning of the story arc (and thus back to the end of the last season of the TV show), but with everybody retaining their memories of everything that happened. So, everything's back to normal, except now everybody in the city remembers going to hell and back, and they all know and adore Angel as a hero. Which kind of freaks him out.

The reboot is a little lame, and I don't entirely understand how and why it happens, but it's an interesting turn of events, and it has some interesting consequences. There are some funny lines, too, like when the dude in the hospital says, "I made friends in hell, and now I have no idea where they are." Heh. It's a pretty good end to this part of the story, but probably not good enough to make me start reading this comic again on a regular basis. Not unless Whedon, or somebody equally talented, takes over the writing duties entirely (on this issue, Whedon just helped sketch out the plot, and Brian Lynch did the actual writing).
Thumbs Sideways

Astonishing X-Men #28
As this issue opens, the X-Men are still checking out that weird secret Chinese mutant hideout. They foolishly split up and end up getting attacked by a bunch of monstrous mutant creatures. Before that happens, Forge comes up in a couple of their conversations, which immediately made it clear to me that Forge would be involved in this storyline somehow, because why mention such a weird old character otherwise? And indeed, once the attacking creatures are subdued, they all talk about only one person: Forge.

I always thought Forge was an interesting character with an interesting power, so I'm glad he's being brought back, and I'll be curious to see what Ellis does with him. Is he going to be the ultimate villain here? Hmmm...

This is an okay issue, but not all that exciting, as it's mostly transitional. Plus it was a little clumsy the way Ellis threw that flag up about Forge. Still, I did enjoy the moment where Cyclops tells Wolverine and Armor to capture an enemy alive, but then Wolverine tells Armor, "Cyke's a good guy. You should listen to him. But if it comes down to it with some bastard out there, you kill him without even thinking about it." Nice.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Avengers #1
Brian Michael Bendis launches yet another Avengers book! This time it's a Dark Reign tie-in following the Avengers team that Norman Osborn puts together. It really surprised me how excellent this turned out to be. It opens with the official presentation of the team to the public and the press, but the actual identities of all the members aren't clear at first, until the book jumps back in time and shows you how Osborn assembled the group. It's quite a bunch he puts together! I'm disappointed in the Sentry for joining up, but apparently Osborn offered him something he couldn't refuse (probably some imaginary way of controlling the Void). None of the other guys in the group are much of a surprise, although it is interesting in some cases what superhero identity they've taken on. I kind of doubt Clint Barton will be very happy with what Bullseye's calling himself these days!

I love that Osborn came up with the acronym for his new version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (H.A.M.M.E.R.) and then left it to his new deputy director to figure out what it stands for. I also enjoy: the gratuitous shots of Ms. Marvel's ass; when Ares describes the food at a pizza place as "glorious crap;" the surprise expressed by all parties when Daken reveals that Wolverine is his father (but really, who didn't know that?); the scene where Ares points out what the team is still missing; when Osborn gets Stark's room full of Iron Man suits open (although, who is that Ghost guy? He's not familiar to me); and when Dr. Doom responds to a soldier's request to take a picture by just looking at him. Doom and Morgana get into it at the end of the comic; I'm not sure what that's about, as I'm not really knowledgeable about their history together. But it's just a really clever, really entertaining comic, and it looks like the start of a dark, funny, and exciting series. I should point out that possibly a large part of the reason I like it is that it's drawn by Mike Deodato, one of my favorite artists. He does a kick-ass job here, as usual.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2
Wow. This is just... wow. I'm not sure they should let anybody but Grant Morrison write Superman anymore, because what with this miniseries, and his recently completed run on All-Star Superman, he's put together two of the most amazing, imaginative, artful, wise, moving, insightful Superman stories ever written.

One thing I noticed in this issue that I didn't notice in the first is how similar Captain Adam is to Dr. Manhattan. In fact, I'm quite certain the character is meant to be Manhattan, and Morrison just couldn't use the name due to rights issues.

As far as the story goes, it starts out with the inhabitants of Limbo rising up against the invasion of their universe by Mandrakk. As Morrison describes it: "The forgotten versus the yet to be. Like some half-remembered dream." And the story as a whole is very much like a half-remembered dream - surreal, primal, insane, with beautiful, stilted, strange dialogue. Superman makes his way to Mandrakk by colliding with Ultraman. Anti-matter + matter = huge explosion. Captain Adam is able to use the resulting energy to broadcast Superman's pure essence to a receiver in a higher dimension.
That receiver is a Superman statue in the primal realm of the Monitors - a final living weapon, a thought-robot designed to defeat the ultimate enemy. As Captain Adam does this, he says, "Only Superman can save us now." Effing A! The Monitors, Superman learns, have 5,555 different words for nothing. They were "once numberless and faceless... until narratives formed around them, like crystals in solution." It turns out the story of the multiverse is a massive circle. The ultimate weapon awakes to face the ultimate enemy, and his awakening convinces the Monitors they made a mistake when they banished the primal outcast. They open the door for him, but now he has become the final enemy, and the ultimate battle begins. Superman realizes, "I'm inside a self-assembling hyper story! And it's trying its best to destroy me." But he also realizes, "This is my reason to be. My purpose is simply to stop him."

Superman seems beaten, until one of the other Monitors cries to Mandrakk, "You're using us to believe you into existence! But deep within the germ-worlds, I found a better story; one created to be unstoppable, indestructible! The story of a child rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet..." (It's so incredible what Morrison is doing here, and how it ties in with what he did in All-Star Superman - the way he's making not just Superman, but the story of Superman, a thing of momentous and archetypal importance.) Mandrakk kills this Monitor, only to realize too late it was the woman he loved. The battle begins again in earnest. Superman narrates: "We fight in the ruins of utopia. In the wreckage of dreams... We fight in the black floodlights of an eternal last sunset." Discovering who Mandrakk truly is - the primal outcast and the best of Monitors - Superman flings him into oblivion. But Mandrakk lands safely in Limbo with Ultraman, whom he makes his first knight of terror - a vampire Superman. Then he promises he will come back and fight Superman again. (Some final crisis, huh? But the last page of the comic will make it all okay.) As the thought-robot that contains his essence dies, Superman falls back into his own body and fights his way back to Lois. He was told that the Bleed was the only thing that could save Lois, but that there was also no way to contain it and carry it back to his own world. But he found away. He carried it within himself, and he administers it with a kiss. When Lois awakens, she remembers all that happened in Limbo and those other universes as if she were with Superman the whole time, and she demands a pen so she can write it all down, because it's such a wonderful story. Earlier, as the thought-robot Superman was inhabiting was dying, he told the Monitors, "There's something about stories that you should know. Mandrakk asked what words I'd have inscribed on my tombstone. Only these. [He carves them himself.] Let them be a warning." Lois says when she saw those words on the tombstone, she knew everything was going to be okay. On the final page, we see what those words were: TO BE CONTINUED.

So beautiful. An incredible story about stories, but also about love and life and existence itself, all told via the archetypes of comic books, and via great art by Doug Mahnke. And it's in 3D! (Btw, the author icon I used for this post is a picture of me wearing the 3D glasses the thing came with.) Quite simply one of the greatest comics I've ever read; a triumph of the medium, and another feather in Morrison's impressive cap.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #31
I was disappointed to find that this is yet another transitional issue of this title, and really not much happens in it. Instead, the big showdown is just pushed off for another issue. Which is not to say the book is utterly dull and pointless. We do get to figure out what's been going on with that poor, misguided, one-handed cop, Kowalski, which makes for a fun story; we get to meet the last two Ghost Riders and see their hidden city; there's a great full-page illustration that gives us glimpses of a bunch of the other, now dead, spirits of vengeance, including dudes riding elephants, bears, and even a freaking shark; we learn a bit more about the nature of the Riders, their power, heaven, and God; and finally, a couple of bad-ass kids manage to convince Johnny to get back into the fight. I was sure at the end of the last issue that this one would feature the final showdown, and it turned out I was wrong, but I'm almost certain this time that the final showdown will be in the next issue, especially since the words written in the bottom right of the final panel are "To Be Concluded" and not "To Be Continued."

Great, great art here from both Tan Eng Huat and Roland Boschi, and Jason Aaron delivers his usual fine work. Like I said, there could be more substance here, but it fills in some important gaps, and it was fun poring over all those headlines tacked to the wall of Kowalski's hotel room.
Thumbs Sideways

Green Lantern #37
This issue begins with Hal Jordan rejecting the Blue Lanterns and running ahead of them to get Sinestro off of Ysmault himself. Standing before Sinestro alone, he has his chance to kill him once and for all. But he keeps thinking back to everything they've been through together. He hesitates, and is distracted long enough to fall into Atrocitus' trap. It's an interesting moment.

This issue is part of the Faces of Evil event, which is a thing they're doing across the DCU that's supposed to center the stories more on the villains. It's a great idea, except that they're not really sticking to it; none of the Faces of Evil books I've read so far were actually told from the perspective of the villains at all. That aside, I did find it interesting that the villain they chose to put on the cover of this book is Laira, a former Green Lantern now fallen to the Red, who wants Hal Jordan dead. Before Atrocitus turns Jordan over to her, he pops out another of his interesting prophecies: Jordan will become a renegade again. The Guardians will take his greatest love from him. He'll revolt, and he'll lose everything as the universe divides. Interesting! Sounds pretty believable, too. Anyway, at this point things get really crazy, as both the Yellow Lanterns and the Blue Lanterns drop down and turn the whole thing into a crazy multi-colored battle. But the real twist comes at the end. Jordan is trying to talk Laira back to herself, and it seems like it be working, until suddenly Sinestro (now reunited with his ring) just wastes her. As Laira's ring goes looking for a nearby replacement, Jordan attacks Sinestro in a rage. Do you see where this is going? The red ring decides Jordan is the perfect guy for it, jumps on his finger, and all the sudden he's a Red Lantern (although he's still wearing the green ring on the other hand). Oh no! This should be interesting.

Still loving this series. The dialogue isn't stellar or anything, but it's a great adventure story from Geoff Johns, with great art by Ivan Reis. I'm looking forward to seeing how Jordan gets out of this one. Will he switch right back from red to green, or is this going to be a longterm thing? Hmmm...
Thumbs Up

Highlander Origins: The Kurgan #1
Finally, the origin of the Kurgan revealed!

The premise of this two-issue miniseries seems to be that Connor MacLeod is seeing the Kurgan's life replayed before his eyes as he takes in his essence after defeating him at the end of the first movie. The Kurgan's story begins with him as a small child on the Russian Steppes way back in 904 B.C.E. His people are trying to escape a flood, but he's been left behind. His mother tries to go back for him, but a man stops her, saying, "He's not even of your blood, woman!" (So she's not really his mother after all, which means the Kurgan's ultimate origins are still a mystery. You tricky writers, you!). So the boy is carried off by the flood, and later taken in by the Kurgan people (which is how he comes to be called the Kurgan). His new "father" hates him instantly, constantly abuses him, and finally even tries to kill him. The little boy Kurgan fights back, and his life of killing begins!

Much later, while he's traveling with a gang of thieves, the Kurgan experiences his first death, which awakens his true nature. He's taken in by a fellow immortal, who explains everything to him and trains him in sword fighting. This man also teaches the Kurgan not to suffer an immortal foe to live, a lesson the Kurgan learns well and exercises immediately.

Which brings up my one problem with the plot: why would one immortal ever take in another and teach him all of this, especially one who believes you should never leave an immortal foe alive? What was he expecting the Kurgan to do?

It's also a little hard to understand how the Kurgan survived all the terrible things that happened to him as a child, so that he could die for the first time as an adult. And besides the logic and believability issues, the book is just not written that well. Still, it's not terrible, and it is interesting finally learning this guy's story, so I might pick up the next issue, especially since it'll be the last one; it's only a two-part miniseries.
Thumbs Sideways

The Mighty Avengers #21
It's a new day for the Avengers! This Dark Reign tie-in issue, written by Dan Slott with art by Khoi Pham, reveals the new makeup of the team, and the first crisis they'll have to face. It also features Hank Pym as the Wasp. And that's why I bought it, despite the fact that it was written by the dreaded Dan Slott.

It starts off on the wrong foot by focusing on the Vision and Stature, two members of the Young Avengers, a team which, I think we'll all agree, sucks. They discover their teammates have been turned to stone. The Scarlet Witch is nearby, so naturally they suspect her. But before they can do anything about it, they all vanish. Meanwhile, it turns out that a few people turning to stone is the least of the world's worries, as horrible, large-scale, apocalyptic events are happening all over the planet. The Dark Avengers (who are actually officially known as the Mighty Avengers, confusingly enough) show up to take care of things, although they end up being mostly ineffectual. (I hadn't read Dark Avengers #1 yet at this point, so when I saw they were going to be major characters in this book, I put it down and read Dark Avengers first, then came back to this one.) Cho and Hercules have decided a new Avengers team is needed to save the world from these current crises, so they collect Jarvis (whom Cho has calculated is the constant element of successful Avengers teams) and go to convince Hank Pym to be the leader.

Of course, the question is, why assemble a new Avengers team when there are already two, including a "good" one that was assembled by the new Captain America? This question is not answered, although we do drop in on the Cap-led Avengers (who are... not mighty, I guess?) and find them fighting for their lives in Philadelphia against a bunch of plants that are taking over the city. In a couple of panels, they all seem to meet horrible deaths - yes, all of them, including Spider-Man and the new Captain America. What?!? Wanda (who, as it turns out, is also assembling a new Avengers team) had planned to grab Captain America for her team, but finding him already killed (by fricking plants, remember), she heads to Toronto (where, as an aside, we're told that most of Omega Flight is being eaten by bugs) and grabs U.S. Agent as a consolation prize. She also snags Hulk, then goes to meet Pym, Cho, Herc, and Jarvis as they arrive at the center of the disturbances. And then, for some silly reason that makes no sense, Pym has to say the old tagline ("Avengers assemble!") to actually make the whole team appear at once. It's kind of a cute idea, but c'mon. Meanwhile, we've learned that the guy behind all this is some dude named Modred who goes around with a talking cow as a sidekick. Good lord. Who thought digging up this character was a good idea? The old Slottster, apparently. Anyway, Modred's causing all the chaotic events apparently just as a side effect of turning himself into an old magic book called the Darkhold, and using the power of that book to call up Chthon the elder God and stick him in the body of Quicksilver. Why he wants to do all that I have no idea. (UPDATE: Actually, I have a slightly better idea, and some of this makes more sense, now that I've read these old scans explaining the origins of Bova, Chthon, Quicksilver, and Wanda.)

As you can probably tell, I really didn't like this comic. First off, Slott's writing is just not good. Secondly, it's ridiculous how suddenly and without warning he just drops the apocalypse on top of us. We learn there's an ocean of blood submerging New York, Philly is overrun with evil plants, and flesh-eating bugs are ravaging Toronto in the space of a few pages, and then the story just moves on. You can't just do that!! What the hell? For one thing, it really diminishes the power of your apocalypse if it's just the background of your story and you don't even slow down to let us appreciate the immensity of it. For another, because these things go by so fast and are treated so cavalierly, it's painfully clear they're all just going to be negated, either by the end of the next issue, or the end of the storyline. It's all a pathetic sham! Admittedly, stuff like that gets negated in comics all the time, but it's pretty poor form to make it so obvious that that's what you're going to do from the get-go.

It's the same with the way a bunch of big-name superheroes are killed off. They die in incredibly lame ways, sort of in the background, while the real story is going on in the foreground. I'm sorry, but you don't kill Spider-Man and Captain America with plants (plants!!), in two small panels, and then just move on like nothing happened. That their deaths will obviously be reversed later on in this storyline doesn't make it better; if anything, it makes it worse.

I really don't particularly care for the way Slott writes most of these characters. Pym, for instance, is an interesting, complex, tortured character, but Slott makes him arrogant and whiny. The Hulk is also dull in Slott's hands, and Cho is nowhere near as smart or as cool. And how did the Scarlet Witch suddenly get all articulate and well adjusted?

I don't like the team Slott has put together here, either. Why are two members of the Young Avengers being pulled into the Avengers? And they're not even two of the more interesting members of the Young Avengers, which is a team full of dull characters! And U.S. Agent? Seriously?

And did I mention the talking cow?

This is just bad, bad stuff. You better believe I won't be picking up another issue of this stinker.
Thumbs Down

The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #66
It's hard to believe, but yes, there is yet another Punisher book on the stands! The character's popular these days, I guess. This particular book is part of the explicit MAX series, and this issue is the start of a new story arc written by Duane Swierczynski. I like Swierczynski because he's a Philadelphian who sets all his stories in Philadelphia, and because I enjoyed his book The Blonde. I have yet to really enjoy any of the comic books he's written, but I was hoping this would be the exception, especially since it's about the Punisher, a character I figure he should be able to handle with some facility, given his crime writing background. Unsurprisingly, it's set in Philadelphia, and opens with the Punisher breaking up a child trafficking ring. As soon as he's done, he's kidnapped and injected with a poison that will kill him in six hours. He's then told to go kill a crime lord, and once he's done, he can have the antidote. It's unclear whether he'll bother doing the job - he doesn't seem interested in giving into people's demands just for a little thing like his life - but we'll see.

The "you have a limited time to live, now go do something" premise is a pretty old one, but it's been modified a bit here, and applied to a character who's reacting to it in his own special way, so it could be interesting. I'll probably stick with the story for at least one more issue, just to see where it goes next. Although I don't really like the way artist Michael Lacombe draws the Punisher.
Thumbs Up

Ruins #1
I didn't actually know what this was; I just saw that it was a Marvel book written by Warren Ellis and I picked it up. Turns out it's a reprint of a two-issue miniseries (collected here into one, extra-thick comic book) originally published in 1995 (thank you, Wikipedia) that's sort of a twisted, "What If?" companion piece to Kurt Busiek's Marvels. Like Marvels, it features Phil Sheldon as its main character, and he's wandering the world following a trail of paranormal events and beings. But this story isn't set in the Marvel Universe we know; it's set in a universe where everything went awry - where every event that could have created a hero instead led only to death and pain and horror. What with this and Ellis' recent Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes miniseries, it seems clear the man revels in taking the canon events of the Marvel Universe and twisting them into the most depressing and awful stories imaginable. The book is well written and effective, there's no doubt of that, and the painted art by Cliff and Terese Nielsen (who are supported by Chris Moeller in the second part) is beautiful and impressive. But my God, is it depressing. Creating a universe ruled by Murphy's Law is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure the story needed to be told in such excruciating detail and dragged out over so many pages.
Thumbs Sideways

Spider-Man: Noir #2
The second issue of X-Men: Noir really made the luster fall off that series for me, but the second issue of this title has made me love it twice as much. The X-Men title discarded superpowers altogether and turned mutants into sociopaths (a change I just don't like). I thought this title might also get rid of the superhuman element, but I was pleased to find in this issue that authors David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky had instead chosen to simply reimagine Spider-Man's powers in a pulp/noir context. Peter is bitten by a spider, but it's a cursed spider, not an irradiated one. The scene of his transformation is fantastically realized, in words and visuals. He has a horrific hallucination in which a giant spider god tells him, "My bite brings death only to those of evil intent... I will bestow on you a greater torment... the curse of power..." Awesome!

Parker doesn't sit around wondering what to do with his newfound abilities; instead he just goes right to the top and starts threatening the crime lord known as the Goblin. But he's shocked and horrified to discover his friend Urich in the Goblin's office, accepting a payoff. ("Everyone takes their cut," Ben warned him.) Even as Urich is trying to pull himself up and do the right thing - but too late, and in the wrong way - Parker is putting together his costume and his arsenal, using his Uncle's uniform and sidearm from the war. Urich, who went by the nickname the Spider, is destroyed, even as the Spider-Man is being born. It's brilliant stuff, perfectly executed. I love the writing and the panel layout, and although Carmine Di Giandomenico's art doesn't always work for me, it's good enough (and really quite excellent during the spider hallucination scene), and anyway I almost always end up liking the books he works on.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Countdown #1
The upcoming Star Trek movie is set in the past, before the original series, but interestingly enough this comic book series that's supposedly tied into that film is set far in the future, after the events of the most recent, Next Generation-era film. So I'm pretty curious how the two stories are going to connect. We open with a Romulan mining crew witnessing a strange and powerful supernova, then jump ahead a bit to Ambassador Spock addressing the Romulan Senate about that same supernova. Turns out it's spreading and will soon threaten the entire Romulan Empire, and the only way to stop it is to use technology from Vulcan. But the Romulans still dislike and distrust the Vulcans, and other scientists don't think the supernova is as dangerous, so Spock is ignored. Only the captain of the mining crew that witnessed the birth of the supernova believes him, and secretly offers to help him, even though he and his crew will be thrown in prison if they're found out. But before they even get a chance to start mining the material they need, they're attacked by Remans (whom I'd almost forgotten about, as they were introduced in that terrible movie Star Trek: Nemesis). The Remans are then just as quickly attacked by... the Enterprise! Commanded by Captain Data!!

Wha? I'm pretty sure Data got killed at the end of the last Star Trek movie, and the only android left like him is his retarded brother, B-4 (another element introduced by Star Trek: Nemesis that I hated; man, that's a terrible movie). So... that's confusing.

As in the Terminator prequel comic, there wasn't anything particularly terrible in here, but there also wasn't anything particularly exciting. I might stick with this series for at least one more issue, however, just because I'm really curious to see how it will connect with the movie, and how they're going to explain the Data thing.
Thumbs Sideways

War Machine #2
So, does Pak's new Dark Reign tie-in series still stand up after a second issue? Yeah, pretty much, mostly because Rhodes is just so bad-ass. We learn in this issue that he can immediately adapt pretty much any piece of weaponry to work with his systems - which means he can pick your missiles out of the sky, load them on his back, and fire them back at you. He can also merge himself with a tank. It's pretty awesome. His mission is made more difficult by the fact that he's being backed up by a guy he can't entirely trust, and by the fact that he's fighting people that he doesn't want to kill (ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. soldiers). Also, it looks like maybe he was manipulated into going on this mission in the first place by Norman Osborn. But War Machine isn't doing exactly what Osborn wants, so he goes to plan B and drops in Ares. Which means next issue should be really fun! A God of war versus a War Machine.

So yes, this comic is still good! Let's hope it stays that way.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Action Comics (Not), Angel (Not), Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Buffy (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Gravel (Not), Hellboy (Not), Joss Whedon (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Punisher (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), Terminator (Not), The Goon (Not), The Highlander (Not), The Sentry (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Thursday, January 8, 2009 03:58 PM
(Last updated on Saturday, January 10, 2009 11:36 AM)
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of 1/2.

Batman #684
Oh no! I bought a Denny O'Neil comic by mistake!

Don't get me wrong: I don't hate Denny O'Neil. I appreciate what he's done for comics, for Batman, and what he did with the Batman animated series. But the sad fact is that he's actually not very good at writing comics. And this comic is a good example of why. It's actually the second part of a two-part story that started in another comic (Detective Comics #851) that I didn't read. It sees Nightwing solving a mystery involving some stolen jewels and a Two-Face copycat. But he makes a lot of mistakes along the way, and beats himself up about it maybe more than he would usually, because now he's trying to pick up the slack for the missing Batman. He doesn't even want to think of himself as trying to fill those shoes, but Alfred gently pushes him in that direction, giving him the keys to a Batmobile when his bike gets stolen. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon is also having a hard time dealing with the idea that there's no Batman around, and that he has to settle for Nightwing instead.

It's a decent story, reasonably interesting, with some good character development. Plus, the art, by Guillem March, is fantastic. But O'Neil packs it with way too much cheesy narration, and gives his characters some seriously bad dialogue to say. ("Just call me Mister Snoopy-Pants" is not exactly the best hero comeback line I've ever read.)

Not my favorite issue of Batman ever, especially since I was expecting another fragment of weird brilliance from Grant Morrison. It looks like next issue is part of DC's big Faces of Evil event, and focuses on Catwoman. I'm not clear on who'll be writing that one, but I'll probably take a closer look at the cover before I pick it up this time.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman: Cacophony #2
It's really interesting reading the characterization of Joker in this book and comparing it to Morrison's Joker in Batman, and the Joker in The Dark Knight. In this comic, Batman describes the Joker as fairly predictable, and ridicules his fighting style. When Joker says he's Batman's greatest enemy, Batman scoffs that he's gone soft and he wouldn't even put him among his top 16 enemies anymore. In fact, in this story it turns out the Joker is merely bait laid out by Onomatopoeia. It's a far cry from the deadly dangerous mystical avatar of murderous genius that Morrison describes, and a far cry too from the equally dangerous and completely unpredictable character Heath Ledger played so well in the recent Batman film.

All that being said, I love this Joker, too. I love his hilarious dialogue; the vision of him as a Bat-Mite DJ at the beginning; the way he casually murders his henchmen; his rage at Maxie Zeus for turning his poison into a designer drug; and his silly gag weapons, like the giant hammer and ridiculously long-barreled gun. This may not be the same Joker that we've seen recently, but it is unquestionably faithful to the character's history - and entertaining to boot.

In general this is a very entertaining and funny comic, and I remain fascinated by Onomatopoeia and curious to see what his motives are here. The only flaw is the way Smith writes Batman. He makes him far too earnest, talky, and fallible. When Joker leaves a note for him that reads "Eat it Emo-Boy," it's funny because it's true.

Still it's a small flaw, especially since Batman is only one character among many here. I'll be tuning in for the final episode.
Thumbs Up

Captain America #45
Turns out the cloaked dude from the last issue does have a name: The Man with No Face. I Googled him and it looks like he was a villain from the 1950s Captain America comics. Bucky was able to disable him long enough to escape during his 1968 mission in China, but now the Man with No Face is back, and presumably so is his boss, Professor Chin. The suggestion is that it's Chin who's calling the shots in the present day heist of the mysterious cargo from the UN. The interesting part is that (spoiler alert!) that cargo is in fact the remains of the original Human Torch, and Bucky knows from a look into Chin's lab in 1968 that Chin has something really horrible in store for the Torch - something Bucky only hints at here.

Exciting stuff! I wish Brubaker's writing were a bit stronger, but he's got me hooked on the story. I'm fascinated by the original Human Torch, and I think it's interesting that Brubaker is bringing that character into this story, especially considering a recent connection I discovered between Bucky's Winter Soldier story and the story of the Human Torch. I read in my favorite Christmas present, a book called The Marvel Vault, that when they brought the Human Torch back in the '50s, his sidekick, Toro, was revealed to have been brainwashed into working for the Commies. Ah ha! So that's where you lifted your plot from, Brubaker! I wonder if he'll just ignore that storyline, since it's so similar to the one he wrote for Bucky, or if he will mention it, and use the similarities to create more drama? I'll just have to wait and see.
Thumbs Sideways

The Goon #31
I didn't realize that The Goon hasn't always been a monthly book. Because everything is done by Eric Powell himself, it usually takes him so long to finish each issue that he can't really sustain that kind of pace. But he committed to making it monthly for a whole year, and this is the last issue of that year's worth of comics, an issue that wraps up not just the story arc he's been building this year, but also a lot of the stuff he's been doing with the book since its origin. There's a big brutal showdown with lots of death and violence. Most of our main characters come out of it alive, but none of them unchanged or unscarred. There's also a rather melodramatic, soap operatic plot twist before the end ([spoiler]Goon has a son!! But he doesn't know!!! Because the kid's mother told only one other person, and that person happens to have an unrequited love for the Goon and is too jealous to tell him!!!![/spoiler]).

It's a pretty decent issue, exciting and dramatic. But I can't say I loved it. As I've said before in the past, Eric Powell's strong point as a writer is not serious drama. He's much better at the kind of goofy insane comedy The Goon used to be full of. This issue is almost entirely serious drama, with only one panel that can be described as comedic. So it tends a bit towards the cheesy melodrama. Still, the art is excellent, as always, and the story is mostly effective.

Sadly, with this issue done, The Goon will apparently go on hiatus for some time, possibly until March, when there's supposed to be a special tenth anniversary book coming out. I'll keep my eyes open for that.
Thumbs Sideways

Green Lantern #36
The Rage of the Red Lanterns storyline continues in this issue, with Sinestro now imprisoned by the Red instead of the Green Lanterns, but still smug and defiant - until Atrocitus uses a bit of magic and reveals that he now knows about Sinestro's daughter. Hmm. That's interesting. Meanwhile, Hal learns more about what Ganthet's been up to with the Blue Lanterns (whose power is based on hope), and what his future with them is expected to be. Ganthet and the Blues are convinced that Sinestro is very important to the fate of the universe, so they plan to save him, and it looks like Hal is going along for the ride. It also looks like John Stewart might have his own problems to prepare for; a Star Sapphire appears to be on the lookout for him.

I'm still really enjoying the epic mythology Johns is building in these books, with all the different Lanterns and their various powers, and the fateful conflict they're all flying towards. It's exciting stuff.
Thumbs Up

Incognito #1
This book I've been looking forward to for a long time. It's the first issue of a new miniseries from the Criminal team of Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Val Staples. They're actually dropping Criminal for a while to work on this. It's set in a superhero universe akin to those of Marvel or DC, but with more of a pulp feel to it. The main character is a supervillain who testified against his boss and went into the witness protection program. He's taking a drug that dampens his powers and has a crummy, mindless job as a file clerk in an office. He hates the dull daily grind, and feels like an alien amongst all of these hopeless normals. He starts taking some drugs to help him get through the day, but they have the unexpected side effect of reactivating his super powers. Almost by mistake, he ends up using them in classic superhero fashion, saving a lady from muggers in an alley. He thinks it was just a harmless fling, but it may have brought him to the attention of his former bosses, who until know thought he was dead. Uh oh!

I was expecting a lot from this book. Criminal, but with super powers? Awesome! It doesn't quite live up to my incredibly high expectations, but it's still quite good, with an interesting character at the center, and it has the potential to get even better as it goes on, so I'll definitely be sticking with it.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #29
The epic war between Fables has begun in earnest! There's lots of fighting in this one, plus the usual humorous moments and excellent art throughout. Jack the fearless leader does very little that's actually helpful, although he does express a great love of tacos. It doesn't look good for the folks at the Golden Boughs, until Gary talks Revise into opening up a secret room full of books, where it seems Revise will reverse his life's work, and give the Fables back their full powers so they can fight back against Bookburner. In other words, this little conflict is going to end up fixing all the world's problems! Maybe. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Thumbs Up

Punisher: War Zone #4
Yay, Punisher! Schitti spends this issue totally wasted on the drug he was shot up with at the end of last issue, which is the source of much comedy. There's a wonderful scene in which a dumb mobster pees in Schitti's fridge. Then poor Molly Von Richtofen gets trapped in the bathroom of Schitti's house, surrounded by mobsters. And the Punisher and Schitti get trapped by Elite. That's lots of trapping! It doesn't look good for our heroes!

I'm not sure what else to say about this series that I haven't said already. It's clever, twisted, funny, exciting, shocking, imaginative, and the art is excellent. I'm loving it way more than I thought I would.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #24
This comic almost gave me a heart attack. Chief Red Crow is trying to avoid conflict while he's looking over Gina's spirit, but his man Shunka makes him realize how terrible Mr. Brass is, and that something has to be done about him immediately. Unwilling to let anyone else take the heat for it (moving against the Hmongs means declaring war), Red Crow grabs a gun and goes after Mr. Brass himself. We find ourselves back at the moment we saw at the beginning of this storyline, with Red Crow apologizing to Gina's spirit before walking into a roadside bar. There he finds Brass torturing Dino. Oh no! This is where my heart really started beating fast. Like, nearly out of my chest. Crap goes down. People get shot. It's intense and dramatic. And then, to my surprise, Red Crow does not execute Brass (as I was kind of hoping he would) - he arrests him! I'd almost forgotten he was a policeman, too. Heh.

Throughout the issue, we also get Red Crow's flashbacks to some of his more violent encounters with Gina, and at the end, he returns her spirit to Granny Poor Bear, giving up on the idea of being "good," and going back to his old ways: doing whatever he feels he has to to protect the rez, and drowning his sorrows in drink and women.

It's another powerful, brutal issue with deep, insightful character development at its heart.
Thumbs Up

War Machine #1
The new ongoing series focusing on Tony Stark's friend Jim Rhodes debuts here, and it's all tied in with Dark Reign. Turns out a year ago Rhodes was blown apart in a battle. Tony found him and saw not just a friend in pain who needed help, but also an opportunity to create something he needed. He replaced the missing parts of Rhodes' body with machinery, plugged his brain into a computer, put him in an Iron Man-style suit that's bristling with weaponry, and installed him in a totally secret satellite orbiting the Earth, where he can keep an eye on what's going on everywhere, drop down anywhere, and take out anyone. Oh, and by the way, none of the technology in any of this is Stark Tech. That means Rhodes is funded by Tony, but not connected to him in any traceable way, and he's able to do the things Tony can't. He's essentially a high-powered, black ops Iron Man. He's also a cold-blooded, bad-ass killer. But his body is slowly dying, unable to stand the stresses of being tied into the War Machine armor. There's an organic body being built for him by Stark's people - but he might not get it, especially if Norman Osborn has anything to say about it.

This comic is written by Greg Pak, whose work I find uneven, but tend to enjoy more often than not. I definitely like what he's done with this title so far. I also really enjoy Leonardo Manco's art (and Jay David Ramos' colors). The Jim Rhodes being developed here is an interesting and multi-faceted character, much more than just another guy in Iron Man armor. The plot is intriguing, the action exciting, and there's a great deal of satisfying wish-fulfillment in the premise - being able to fly down and take out any scumbag committing atrocities anywhere in the world. Rhodes gets to decide who lives and who dies, which, as we all know, is the best Christmas present anyone could receive. Thanks, Tony!

But at the same time, Rhodes is not a God, and he's also not entirely a machine; he's a flawed human who could be in great danger. I'm sticking with this title for now; I'm looking forward to seeing where Pak goes with it.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #70
Most of this issue is taken up by old!Logan finally explaining to old!Hawkeye what happened on the day of the final battle that led to his decision to become a pacifist. And it's quite horrific, as one might expect. Then there's a very funny scene at Dwight's Toll where a little kid in an old Ant Man helmet demands eighty cents to cross the bridge, or else he sics his ants on them (they pay up). And then we get a harbinger of what's to come, and a look at the monster that's following them.

I continue to really enjoy this storyline. The flashback story in this one isn't entirely believable to me, partially because we've been primed to not believe such things (that many major characters could never possibly die in that way in a story set in the present, canon timeline - and if they could have died that way, certainly it would already have been done by now); partially because it's hard to believe even Wolverine could take out all the other X-Men single-handedly, even given that they might pull their punches a bit fighting their ally; and partially because there's no way Jubilee would be the one to hold out the longest against Wolverine. Are you kidding me? She'd be the first one down. She has nearly as lame a power as Dazzler.

But I'm willing to suspend my disbelief because it's a powerful idea and because the rest of the story is so good. Great art, too (with pencils by Steve McNiven, inks by Dexter Vines and Mark Morales, and colors by Morry Hollowell and Justin Ponsor). Can't wait to see how this one wraps up.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #3
This miniseries has such a great premise - Wolverine dropped into the middle of a story that's an homage to just about every kung fu movie ever made - but it doesn't always live up to the promise of that central concept. This issue, despite a number of wonderful moments, is a little disappointing. Turns out 50 years ago, Wolverine defeated the Black Dragon Tong by convincing all the kung fu schools in Chinatown (pretty much every one of which is named after a specific kung fu movie or character) to band together with him. Which is odd, because Wolverine's strength has never been that he's a persuasive talker. Anyway, he tries to do the same thing this time, but they all just beat him up and kick him out for the way he betrayed them last time (although how exactly he betrayed them hasn't been entirely explained yet). Afterwards, he crawls back into the sewer and gets beat up by his teacher, who berates him for being a terrible fighter. Wolverine protests that he's killed plenty of ninjas, and this hilarious exchange follows:
Master: Ninjas are unskilled imbeciles. Any fool can kill a ninja. My dog could kill a ninja.
Wolverine: You don't have a dog.
Master: That's because it was put to death. Just like you're going to be.

Then, later on:
Kid: How's it coming?
Master: He's been bragging about killing ninjas again.
Kid: Ninjas are morons.
Master: That's what I told him.

That is comedy gold right there.

Anyway, Logan heads off to another meeting, this time with the two guys who look like John Saxon and Jim Kelly from Enter the Dragon. But they also are not interested in joining with him. The bad guys find out he's there and come for him, so there's a big fight, and Wolverine ends up getting arrested. Nightcrawler springs him in amusing fashion (he made a comment to Wolverine about his mother, so I had to look up what the deal was with that - wow! I had no idea Mystique was his Mom). In the final panel Wolverine faces off against the Black Dragon and her killers again, but that climactic fight won't occur until the next and final issue. It's hard to understand how the outcome could be any different than it was the first time, as Wolverine appears to have had very little time for training (the training montage I expected and wanted to see never happened), but we'll see.

There's a lot of great dialogue in here, especially the part about the ninjas. There's also a decent action sequence, and some amusing references to various kung fu movies (yay, flying guillotines!). The art (by Stephen Segovia and Paco Diaz Luque, with colors by John Rauch) is also pretty good. But the idea that Wolverine was (at least at one time) a persuasive speaker, and that he's actually really bad at fighting, goes against everything I know about Wolverine. And I'm kind of unclear on why all these incredibly bad-ass fighters put up with the Black Dragon Tong ruling over them all this time, when they clearly dislike her. (Maybe that last bit will be explained more clearly next issue.) All that being said, this is still an entertaining issue, and I'll definitely be picking up the next one. I just feel like something is missing here - like this series could have been a lot better. Maybe if there were more wacky kung fu fighting, with crazy characters and insane magic - like in the first issue, but more so. Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: Magneto - Testament #4
The previous issues in this series were already very powerful and effective, but this one takes us inside a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and thus onto a whole new level of horror. Max is lucky enough to meet his kindly professor from school, Fritz Kalb, on the way in, and Kalb takes Max under his wing, showing him how to survive in the camp, and trying to get him on an easy work detail. But ultimately, Kalb cannot even save himself, let alone Max. Max ends up getting dragged into one of the most horrific work details in the camp: the Sonderkommando. He experiences too many terrible things and resolves to end it all - until he sees the girl he loves, Magda, again, somehow still alive, his necklace still around her neck, shining like the very last glimmer of hope in all the world. And he decides he will continue living after all.

This is one of the most excellent and moving comic books I've ever read. The two-page spread of the room full of eyeglasses hit me like a kick in the gut, taking my breath away. The totally black panels that followed, with narration boxes on them describing horrors too awful even to be illustrated, were nearly as powerful. This is truly incredible work. I look forward very much to the next and final issue.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Denny O'Neil (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Kevin Smith (Not), Movies (Not), Punisher (Not), Scalped (Not), The Goon (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008 08:30 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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