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Saturday, October 24, 2009 04:12 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from the week of 9/23. Beware spoilers!

New releases
Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #5
Super Young Team reunites, but of course they have to do it on a Dr. Phil-like talk show. Then it's time for the big showdown. Is that Mr. Mind in Rising Sun's head? This issue wasn't as fun as previous issues, but I'm hoping the conclusion will be exciting.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Size #1
Two of the most disturbing comics I've ever read came out the same week. This is one of them. There is so much in this book that is disgusting and wrong. It's depressing and horrific to see what's become of Bruce Banner. I mean, inbreeding and cannibalism? Ugh. And yeah, Wolverine is tough, but it's a little hard to believe he'd be able to kill the entire Hulk family so quickly and easily. I mean, the Hulk is practically impossible to kill! The odd ending with Wolverine riding off into the sunset with little baby Bruce on his back is almost too cute. An impressive and explosive - but also sickening and slightly disappointing - conclusion to a great series.
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hercules #135
I keep ditching this series and then picking it up again. This issue I had to get because it focuses on Amadeus Cho, one of my favorite characters, and it connects back to the old school Master Mind Excello stories. The introduction is done up as a combo of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel and a D&D module, and that thematic premise is carried forward throughout the rest of the book in a really clever and funny way. I'm impressed! But I think I'm leaving this series alone again until something similarly clever pops up.
Thumbs Up

Monsters, Inc.: Laugh Factory #2
This issue features the return of Mr. Waternoose, and the reveal of a powerful new "Master Door" technology. But just as in the first issue, interesting ideas that have the potential to be developed over an entire series are introduced and hastily resolved in only one issue. This series still feels rushed and clumsy, and is definitely not living up to its source material.
Thumbs Sideways

The Muppet Show: The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson #3
I enjoy the amusing board game gag, and the rather moving scene between Animal and the fleas. But yeah, this could be better.
Thumbs Sideways

The New Avengers #57
I am so loving this art, but the incredibly wordy thought bubbles are not so good. Show don't tell, Bendis! It's also a bit hard to believe that the crippled rogue Avengers could have escaped from the united forces of Norman's Avengers and the Hood's entire gang. Of course, Norman catches up with them almost immediately, but still. At least the ending is dramatic and exciting, and the subplot with Loki and the Hood is a ton of fun.
Thumbs Up

No Hero #7
I said earlier that two of the most disturbing comics I ever read came out this week. This is the other one. The conclusion of this miniseries makes it clear just how appropriate the title is. There are indeed no heroes here. The superhuman security team secretly controlling the world is morally bankrupt and awful. The agent sent in to destroy that team is a horrifically twisted, homicidal individual. The people and nations who have joined together to send him in are just as terrible; they don't want freedom for the world, they just want to steal back their power from the superhumans. And once the evil superhumans have fallen, the whole broken world falls with them. All is death and horror and evil. Even for Warren Ellis, this is an incredibly dark and depressing and cynical story. But also incredibly powerful and well told.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Spock - Reflections #3
More fascinating gap-filling recollections from Spock. First up is a telling meeting between T'Pring and Spock that takes place between the events of the original TV series and the first movie - she really does know him well. Then another example of how Kirk would commit daring acts of bravery that flaunted the regulations, and he'd still somehow get results. And then a moving letter from Picard explaining Kirk's death. This is really a fascinating and powerful series.
Thumbs Up

Superman: Secret Origin #1
A really emotionally effective, totally human and believable, and somehow wonderfully original retelling of Superman's childhood - how he learned to deal with his incredible powers and with the revelation that he's not from Earth, and even how he first met his nemesis, Lex Luthor. Once again Johns and Frank are a dynamite combination.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #12
Batman - Batman lets some shameless, murdering hussy find out his secret identity, and then kisses her while she's bloody and dead? I just don't buy it! This should not be a Batman story.

Kamandi - It's a bittersweet ending, but Kamandi still has some hope of finding more of his kind. Definitely one of the most beautifully drawn stories of the series, even if it didn't always move me.

Superman - A weirdly anticlimactic ending. The threat of danger at the end of the last episode is immediately defused and deflated at the start of this one, and everything is suddenly just fine. A little disappointing, but I do like that Batman got to save the day, and that Superman is now feeling at home again.

Deadman - This conclusion is pretty interesting. Deadman finds himself having to do the dirty work of Hell to maintain the balance he upset by interfering earlier.

Green Lantern - A fun, cute ending to one of the more solid and entertaining strips.

Metamorpho - Heh. The French chef and his helpers get left behind during the escape. I like the silly previews of future Metamorpho stories that will never be. This was an uneven strip, but definitely had its moments.

Teen Titans - Absolutely the worst strip in Wednesday Comics. Terrible from beginning to end.

Strange Adventures - One of my favorite strips has one of my favorite final episodes. Absolutely beautiful. "And the days roll by, one by one... days of strange adventure."

Supergirl - This strip ends with a really cutesy, Twilight Zone-style surprise reveal. Yawn.

Metal Men - A surprisingly moving, if also rather corny, conclusion to one of the less interesting strips in the book.

Wonder Woman - The lesbian make-out session between the villains in this episode is pretty much the only interesting thing that happens. Once again the action is so cramped, poorly drawn, and laid out that it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on. Lame. Just lame.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - This strip was mostly a huge disappointment to me, but this final episode has a bit of a twist ending that's actually quite moving.

The Flash - One of the better strips wraps up in true postmodern fashion, by concluding the action in a comic strip inside a comic strip. As Iris points out, it "doesn't make any sense at all," but it's still a ton of fun, especially when Barry whisks Iris off to the restaurant at the end.

The Demon and Catwoman - This strip was uneven, but this last episode is sexy and cute.

Hawkman - For about half of this strip's length, I really hated it, but then it took a sudden turn toward the totally awesome. This ending keeps the awesome going, as Hawkman kills a T. Rex by carving through to its brain from inside its mouth while Aquaman keeps its jaws open. Then there's this exchange - Superman: "Sorry we're late, Batman. There was a black hole in hyperspace. Don't ask." Batman: "Save the Earth, and all is forgiven." Heh.

Although the strips themselves were uneven, Wednesday Comics was a wonderful experiment and a great format in which to deliver comics. I hope they do something similar again in the future.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Comic books (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Flash (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Mark Millar (Not), Monsters (Not), Monsters Inc. (Not), Muppets (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Pixar (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not), Wolverine (Not)
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Friday, September 18, 2009 11:36 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 8/28 and a back issue 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.

Back issues and old data
Doctor Who #2
Meh. This is relatively fun and clever, and the silent movie comedy/chase sequence near the end is vaguely amusing, but overall it's just rather silly and bland. I'm not going to buy any more of these.
Thumbs Sideways

New releases from 8/28
Batman and Robin #3
When I started reading this issue, I was afraid I'd somehow missed the previous issue. It picks up right in the middle of the action, and has Batman talking about people and events that were unfamiliar to me. But that's just Grant Morrison's crazy style; you'd think I'd be used to it by now. This is just another insane, disturbing, confusing, exciting issue of Batman and Robin. I like that Dick gets to say the "I'm Batman" thing. I also like that Damian gets to prove he's a badass by beating the crap out of Pyg and his freakish slaves. But then he makes the terrible mistake of promising a girl he'll save her, and then failing to do so. Twisted and hurting, she's taken under the wing of the next villain B&R will have to face: the new Red Hood. And that's not the only hint at more evil to come, as Batman finds an ominous clue along with the antidote to Pyg's plague (which has "Antidote" written on it - heh). The end as a whole is quite eerie, actually, with Pyg mumbling creepy, threatening predictions in his cell, his freaks losing their faces, that poor girl smothering people, the Red Hood shooting cops - and just who is it that's watching Alfred from the gargoyle on the building across the street? There's also a funny bit between Dick and Damian. Damian: "So we're agreed. It's Robin and Batman from now on." Dick: "That'll catch on."
Thumbs Up

Batman: The Widening Gyre #1
Sometimes I like Kevin Smith's writing, but not here. I hate the way his Batman over-narrates and over-shares. It might be acceptable if the narration was really well written, but it's not. Smith's Batman, when interacting with Nightwing, ends up seeming rude and annoying instead of the cold, hard bad-ass he's supposed to be. Plus, the story just isn't that interesting or creative. A body turns up with weeds all over it - must by Poison Ivy! Oh, and look, she took over Arkham Asylum again. Yawn. Smith also seems to feel like he always has to take things that one step too far. His Ivy is ridiculously over-sexualized (I'll admit to enjoying artist Walt Flanagan's half-naked depictions of her, but Flanagan's Batman mostly just looks stupid), his Etrigan ridiculously violent and bloody, and his dialog ridiculously over-the-top. I don't see any reason to keep collecting this series.
Thumbs Down

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #3
Bill actually has Galactus on his knees, but finds to his horror and rage that the greater good lies in protecting Galactus from those who would finish him off. It's a powerful and well done sequence, beautifully drawn by Kano and well written by Kieron Gillen, although why the Silver Surfer didn't tell Bill in the first place that Galactus' death would cause a colossal and apocalyptic explosion I'm not sure. Galactus' act of mercy and creation is moving and effective, and it's good to see Bill whole again. This was an excellent little series. I even enjoyed the backup reprint tale - Beta Ray Bill's origin story - which is wonderfully drawn and written by Walter Simonson. It's full of sweeping, epic, mythological adventure, as well as sacrifice, heroism, nobility, and magic. There's even a little comedy and romance! It's just great comics.
Thumbs Up

Dark Avengers #8
Woah! Artist Luke Ross' interpretation of Hela is mighty sexy! Although what she has to do with the story isn't entirely clear to me. I also have no idea who all those people are fiddling about under the ocean, or what that place is that they drag up out of the water at the end. I'm guessing I need more background on the incredibly complex history of the X-Men. Anyway, throughout this series I've been complaining about characters acting in unlikely ways, but in this issue pretty much all of that is explained away, as various folks reveal themselves to be double agents. I had the feeling something like this might happen, although I probably should have been more prepared for it than I was. Why Norman Osborn wasn't more prepared for it, I really don't know. I mean, it's reasonably exciting and impressive, but not exactly a huge shock. The people he was trusting to stay on his side are people who notoriously change sides constantly. Ultimately, Scott's big plan isn't really all that impressive. I mean, he just orchestrates a big retreat to some island he dragged up out of the ocean. How does that really solve anything? And what was the point of even having moles in Osborn's organization if in the end all they did was just leave?

I'll admit at this point I'm a bit prejudiced against Matt Fraction, but c'mon, this story was just lame. The conclusion of it will be told in a one-shot which I obviously won't be buying.
Thumbs Sideways

Flash: Rebirth #4
In this issue, Geoff Johns starts outlining his new conceptual framework for the Speed Force, mostly via a lengthy lecture from Reverse Flash, and it's a bit confusing. I think I got the gist, though. Speedsters need a lightning rod - a person to keep them anchored to reality - so they can return from the Speed Force. Also, there's both a positive and negative Speed Force. Barry Allen appears to be the creator and personification of the positive Speed Force, and the Reverse Flash is the same for the negative Speed Force. But the two Speed Forces sort of attack and feed off of each other. The Reverse Flash brought Barry back to life so he could pollute him with negative Speed Force and torment him, but now his plan is backfiring on him.

Anyway, despite the fact that this issue is mostly a lot of really crazy, highly unlikely exposition, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm willing to buy the conflicting Speed Force idea for now, as it's kind of neat. And anyway, all that exposition is accompanied by plenty of exciting, fast-paced (natch) action, wonderfully visualized by artist Ethan Van Sciver. He uses some really inventive techniques to get across the incredible power that's being accessed here, and the incredible speed at which these characters are moving. One of my favorite panels, however, is one with very little detail where everything is still. It's the one where Wally is lining up like an Olympic runner before a race, preparing to dash into the Speed Force to save Barry. All we see is his silhouette, with the lightning bolts on his costume glowing, and a lightning bolt cracking the sky in the background, as the silhouettes of Bart and Jay look on. Run, runner!

I have to say, to my surprise, I'm still really loving this comic, and looking forward to more.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #45
Really? A zombie planet? I actually said, "Oh, c'mon!" aloud when I got to that part. There's an interesting moment a bit further on, when Carrol's ring tells her, "You shine the light of the immortal love that was crystallized eons ago between the two unknown souls whose bodies were brought from Earth to Zamaron." I'm assuming those two are going to turn out to be characters we know. Hmm... I enjoy how this issue successfully gets across the idea - more than ever before - that an epic, galaxies-spanning war is going on here, as we jump back and forth from world to world and see the fighting and killing going on everywhere. It's also fun seeing the black rings suddenly burst in on people all over and add a whole new dimension to the fighting. And hey, Laira's coming back! I bet she'll be pretty pissed at Hal. Another fascinating moment comes when Sinestro uses a giant construct of Hal Jordan against Carrol in their battle. We also get a glimpse at Sinestro's secret lost love, right before the Black Lanterns show up. But my favorite scene is when the black rings come to visit Agent Orange. There's a fantastic two-page splash of all the people he's murdered now rising against him. Doug Mahnke's human figures are sometimes a bit freakish looking, but he's pretty fantastic at monsters and huge battle scenes, so this comic generally looks great, thanks in part to Randy Mayor's fine coloring.

There are still things about Blackest Night that bug me, but I have to admit this is a good comic.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hulk #601
I'd pretty much decided I was going to drop this book before I even looked at this issue, but since I'd already bought it, and since I was curious to see where Pak was going to take the Hulk next, I decided to give it a read. Yeah, it's not so good. It opens with a really ridiculous and unbelievable sequence in which Bruce Banner (now de-powered after the highly ridiculous and unbelievable events of the previous issue) meets an abusive father and is somehow able to instantly hack the guy's phone, learn everything about him, and threaten him without getting himself beat to a pulp. Then he has a pissy conversation with Reed Richards, who takes him into the Baxter Building to be examined thoroughly and officially cleared of Hulkness, as it were. A while back I had a few debates with other comic fans over who the smartest people in the Marvel universe must be, and one of the most interesting things about this issue is when they give you some strong hints on that subject. Bruce says he's "one of the eight smartest people on the planet," suggesting that he must be number eight (otherwise, wouldn't he have said he was one of the seven smartest people on the planet, or some even lower number?). Later Reed assembles "a few of the smartest people on the planet" to help him examine Banner and they include Hank Pym, Hank McCoy, T'Challa, Amadeus Cho, and, of course, himself. Add Banner to that list and we've got six of the smartest people on Earth. Later Banner mentions Tony Stark, whom I believe is another member of the group. And nobody mentions Dr. Doom, but I think it's safe to put him in there, too. And that makes eight!

There are some subtle hints that Bruce isn't really as free of the Hulk as he seems, and then all of the sudden we're in the middle of a fight, as Skaar shows up out of nowhere and pounces on Banner. It really happens ridiculously quickly. The pacing feels all wrong. And it seems just a little silly that they've decided to bring back some kind of giant metal suit that Banner invented way the hell back in Tales to Astonish #60. He also has conveniently invented a personal shield that feeds off of gamma radiation and the Old Power, so he's completely protected from Skaar. He just threw together this magical, deus ex machina device during all his recent leisure hours, huh? It's all very silly. Although I do rather enjoy the ending, wherein Banner decides to pick a fight by hacking a H.A.M.M.E.R. satellite to shoot a laser at some guy (is that Juggernaut?? What does he have to do with anything?).

In the back, after the main story, is a pretty terrible backup story starring the new She-Hulk (Lyra). It's melodramatic and painfully poorly written by Fred Van Lente.

So yeah, I'm glad I decided to drop this book!
Thumbs Down

The Incredibles #0
Yay, an Incredibles ongoing series!! This zero issue jumps back in time to tell the story of Jack-Jack's birth. Doc Sunbright, just introduced in the previous Incredibles miniseries, has a major part in this story as well, as he's the only doctor they can really go to when the time comes for Helen to give birth. The problem is, when that time does come, Sunbright is being held hostage by a gang of supervillains, who demand that he give them a mysterious alien virus. Bob and family have to suit up and power up to save Sunbright and keep him and Helen safe long enough for Jack-Jack to be born. All goes well, of course (in fact, in an entertaining turn of events, Bob gets to work out his anxiety and aggression about the birth by beating the snot out of a whole load of bad guys - "I'm not trapped in here with you - you're trapped in here with me!"), but there's an ominous final shot of the alien virus that suggests we're not really done with it after all. I wonder if it will be at the center of the first story arc of the series?

It's great getting to read this fun, untold story from the past of the Incredibles. I also loved getting a look at some more of the supervillains in the Incredibles universe. Writers Mark Waid and Landry Walker deliver the characters we know and love having another exciting and funny adventure together, and artist Marcio Takara illustrates things perfectly. My only complaint is one of continuity. It was clear in the movie that the family had never fought together as a team until they did so on Syndrome's island. It was also clear that Violet had used her force field powers very rarely and really didn't know how to handle them. But this story has the four of them suiting up and going at it like old pros, and Violet creates a force field big enough and strong enough to contain her Dad and a whole bunch of angry supervillains. It just doesn't make sense. Still, overall I enjoyed this issue and I'm looking forward to more.
Thumbs Up

The Muppet Show: The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson #2
We open with a recap of the previous issue being sung to us by a three-piece hillbilly band sitting on the stoop outside the theater. Next, the "mahna mahna" guy and his pair of "doo doo" backup singers show up and do pretty much the same song, except instead of "mahna mahna," the guy says, "Machu Picchu." It's a cute reference. And as I suspected, it turns out the guy in the leather jacket is not, in fact, Kermit, but an impersonator - he even pulls the mirror gag on Kermit. I love Scooter's page, where he does some detective work and comes to the conclusion that the hypnotist hanging around the theater is most likely an evil hypnotist. He also eventually figures out the identity of the impersonator: it's a toad named Kismet. But as it turns out, he's not as shifty as he seems. Or maybe he is! This continues to be a fun comic, with wonderful art by Roger Langridge.
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #56
Most of the Avengers do not take well to being de-powered. The one or two who didn't have any powers in the first place are just as fine as ever - but also just as de-powered as their buddies, and thus not much of a match against the big bads. But as it turns out, the Wrecking Crew and their buddy Doctor Jonas Harrow are targeting a different set of Avengers - Norman's! And what the hell do you know - their de-powering device even works on the Sentry! Not only that, they hack Norman's armor and tear it to pieces! Very impressive stuff. Two teams of Avengers on their knees. And meanwhile, Loki is helping Parker Robbins find a new source of power now that his Hood is no more.

A really thrilling and engaging issue with some really interesting and unexpected plot twists. Brian Michael Bendis must have written this one on one of his good days. Still, I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did if it weren't for the mind-bogglingly excellent art of Stuart Immonen, accompanied by Dave McCaig's beautiful colors. Great, great work.
Thumbs Up

New Mutants #4
The first story arc comes to a satisfying conclusion in another fine issue of this series. It's really interesting seeing the uncomfortable interactions between the rest of the team and its de-powered member, Dani. Dani still wants to contribute, but Cannonball just wants her safely out of the way, and it makes for lots of tension and drama. Artist Diogenes Neves (with the help of colorist John Rauch) really kicks things up to the next level in this issue, especially in his depictions of Legion's mental landscape. I love the visual metaphors being used here, and the fantastic imagery. And the physical fight going on outside Legion's mindscape is nearly as thrilling and visually inventive. Meanwhile, writer Zeb Wells' deftly handles characters, dialog, and story with subtlety, realism, drama, and humor. I particularly like the final exchange between Cannonball and Cyclops. Cannonball: "I get the feeling that half of them think they could have done a better job, and one of them out-and-out hates me." Cyclops: "Heh. Welcome to my world."

I was afraid this series would start to let me down as the first story arc progressed, but it stuck to the same high level of quality in both writing and art from first issue to last. I'm very excited to see where this book goes next!
Thumbs Up

Predator #2
The first issue of this series really bored me, and I was prepared to drop it if this issue was lame as well, but as it turns out things got a lot more interesting this time around. Our group of soldiers and mercenaries manages to take down one Predator, and it looks like one of their number (Thorpe) knows a lot more than he's letting on about the creatures. But their problems aren't over. Not only are human rebels shooting at them, there's also a whole gang of Predators picking them off one by one. But the really cool and interesting moment comes at the end, when we realize there's at least one Predator who's hunting the other Predators, and is thus sort of on their side. Woah. Yeah, okay, I'm hooked! For now.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #31
Wow. Just, wow. Jason Aaron has been carefully building up a fistful of storylines over the past 30 issues, and now he's ratcheting up the tension in every single one of those storylines and building them all up to the breaking point. The overwhelming feeling is that the whole thing could bust open at any moment. Franklin might be about to solve not just the murder of the agents back in '75, but also Gina's murder. Bad Horse could be about to help Nitz nail Red Crow once and for all - if he doesn't get ratted out or killed first. Diesel is about to get out of jail and is planning to get revenge on Bad Horse - possibly by taking it out on Bad Horse's girlfriend. Meanwhile, the Hmongs are roaring into town with a load of guns in the trunk and war on their minds. Aaron is conducting a symphony here. It's brilliant how he's bringing this all together. And R.M. Guera's excellent art just adds another layer of drama and power. Comics at their finest.
Thumbs Up

Sherlock Holmes #4
Another series that's really coming together is Dynamite's Sherlock Holmes. Last issue left me a bit confused and impatient, but this one explains away some of those confusing bits and adds some interesting new layers. It seems Holmes is a lot more in command of things than he seemed, and he may in fact have been manipulating the situation from the beginning. The entire outlines of his plan aren't clear yet, but what is clear is that he has a plan and that it's under way, and that's good enough for me. I'm quite content to sit back and watch it unfold, and confident that I'll be impressed by his genius when all is revealed in the end. It's a great feeling!
Thumbs Up

Sinister Spider-Man #3
This series is so twisted and wrong. I love it. Pissed at a reporter, "Spider-Man" leaves a dead, half-digested, rabid squirrel on his desk along with a note reading "FROM YOUR F-N-SPIDER-MAN." Nice! Later he has a confrontation with the gang of freaks and geeks who want to "redeem" him. Things don't go well for the redeemers. In fact, Spider-Man does horrible, awful things to them. But he hands over only one to the police - the hilarious Doctor Manhattan parody. "I think he's magic or something? I dunno." Ha! Later, the poor armless Redeemer has to have someone else open an envelope for him - an envelope with which the Mayor can destroy Spider-Man. Theoretically. Should be fun to watch him try!
Thumbs Up

Skrull Kill Krew #4
Even taking into account Sinister Spider-Man, I think I still have to give the title of most twisted and wrong comic this week to Skrull Kill Krew #4. Now that the Krew know what they really are (and how they got that way - apparently what was left of their humanity has died off, leaving only Skrull behind), some of them are feeling understandably confused about what they should do, and of two minds about what they've done. There's an odd moment where Ryder and his girl apparently get it on while each of them are shifted into the other's shape. Then it turns out the hippie guy has figured out how to become incorporeal or something? And also some of the Skrulls they killed were innocents, and now pretty much the entire native Skrull population has showed up to kill them in revenge. Most of the members of the Krew have learned nothing from this, and believe Skrulls should still be killed wherever they are found. Really, the major members of the Skrull Kill Krew are looking less and less like heroes and more and more like villains. It's creepy stuff. This issue feels a bit clumsily written, and some of the plot points don't make all that much sense, but it's definitely interesting and thought-provoking.
Thumbs Up

Star Wars: Dark Times #14
After a long recess, the Blue Harvest storyline (not to mention Dark Times itself) finally continues. We get a fun peek at what Darth Vader is up to these days (it consists mainly of absentmindedly kicking ass in epic fashion while worrying about the Emperors plans), and then it's back to Dass Jennir, who is quickly discovering that his hot employer is not as good or as innocent as she seemed. Then again, Dass Jennir isn't as good or innocent as he used to be, either. He shows up at a mining platform where they're keeping slaves, and his droid looks around and says, "I'm going back to the ship. Let me know when you've killed them all." And indeed Jennir then proceeds to rather brutally and cold-bloodedly murder everybody. As the narration puts it: "As a Jedi, Jennir was a peacekeeper - protecting the innocent - supporting the laws of the Republic... but without laws - without the Republic - he will become a peacemaker - removing those who would harm the defenseless." He kills only bad guys, and frees a bunch of slaves, but still... sounds like you're on the path to the Dark Side there, Jennir! He's also rather cleverly setting the two gangs against each other, as I thought he would. Great action, a clever plot, and an interesting central character with a lot of depth and drama to him.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #8
Batman - Batman makes a rare mistake, and the Commissioner is pretty pissed at him. It's an odd scene, and feels out of place in a Batman comic. It's hard to believe that Batman could still fall for a pretty face. Meanwhile, the true villain is finally revealed.

Kamandi - More beautiful, epic art, and Kamandi and his pals gain some new, powerful allies.

Superman - Supes seems to finally be working out what's been happening to him all this time. These aliens are messing with his brain! It's taken us a while to get here, but the art is cool, and now we've got another fun fight going on, so...

Deadman - Axe-wielding demon dude does indeed appear to be the villain here, but I'm not sure I trust the hot ghost girls entirely yet. Or maybe I'm just saying that because of the hot, evil woman in the Batman strip...

Green Lantern - More fantastic art from Joe Quinones. He really does faces well. Plus, cool fight!

Metamorpho - A very unique strip this time around. The Element Man and his partner/competitor have to cross a room shaped like a periodic table, where they must turn into the correct element on each square or risk springing a death trap. Gaiman even managed to fit the chemical symbol for each element into the dialog the characters speak on each square. It's quite a crazy gimmick, and artist Mike and colorist Laura Allred do a fine job depicting it. The character's faces are particularly well done.

Teen Titans - Still sucks.

Strange Adventures - Adam's incredibly hot girlfriend shows up at Ragathan and makes a deal with the ruler there. An interesting device is used to skip their no doubt lengthy conference: Pope claims no recording of Alanna-Sardath's conversation with the ruler of Ragathan exists, and sticks narration boxes on top of the world bubbles so we can't read them. In the second half of the page, the narration boxes switch over into some rather philosophical musing about war and greed and family and alliances. The point being, another great episode, with more weird and wonderful art from Pope.

Supergirl - Another cute, but also not particularly exciting episode of this strip.

Metal Men - Sorry, I just don't care about this one at all.

Wonder Woman - This strip has been bad all along, but the writing and page layout are particularly bad in this episode. It's almost impossible to figure out what order you're supposed to read it in, and there's some clumsy postmodern gags about all the exposition they're dumping on us which don't at all make up for the fact that they're dumping a lot of exposition on us. You get the fleeting sense that this could have been an interesting story in the hands of a different writer/artist, as the idea of Wonder Woman getting back the golden lasso of the Amazons at the price of freeing the evil wolf Fenris is an interesting one. But alas.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - This strip has been such a disappointment. Slow and stuttering and clumsy and dull.

The Flash - This strip, however, is definitely one of my favorites. The gang of past and future Flashes manage to take down Grodd's gravity field by eating it up with a million tiny black holes. But are they already too late?? Their past self is still reeling from whatever poison he was given in the restaurant, and now it's affecting all of them! Time travel is just not good for you, people.

The Demon and Catwoman - Boy, that is one slutty witch.

Hawkman - This episode establishes that giant space battles are still going on elsewhere, and so nobody is available to help Hawkman fight off dinosaurs on Dinosaur Island - except Aquaman. D'oh! This strip has really surprised me. I hated the first four or five episodes, but now it's really picked up and is a lot more fun.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Blackest Night (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Doctor Who (Not), Flash (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hulk (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), Kevin Smith (Not), Mark Waid (Not), Matt Fraction (Not), Muppets (Not), Pixar (Not), Predator (Not), Scalped (Not), Sherlock Holmes (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Wars (Not), The Take (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not)
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009 05:30 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 8/12. 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.

Adventure Comics #1
Conner Kent is trying to get back into the swing of being alive by doing all the things Superman did - living with the Kents, going to Smallville High, joining a team of superheroes, and helping anyone who needs it. But some evil entity is already after him, presumably with the plan of making him dead all over again. And the final page of the comic reveals there's a lot more to Conner Kent than there at first appeared. It seems he's going to try to replicate the deeds of both of his "fathers." Very interesting! This is one of my favorite last page surprise reveals in a while. It really turns both the character and the story on their heads and opens up a whole new series of possibilities for the future. I'm impressed!

The backup story, also by Geoff Johns, focuses on the mentally disturbed Starman, who's trying to keep the various threads of his mind together long enough to complete some final mission for the Legion, but what that mission is isn't entirely clear. We get a few intriguing glimpses of the future to come, but they're mostly just puzzling fragments. I can't say I'm a huge fan of crazy Starman, but I'll probably stick with this book, for the main story if nothing else, and we'll see how it goes.
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2
Man am I loving this one! I always love stories about people crossing over into ghostly other worlds, and the fact that it's Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart's words and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon's drawings telling the story just makes it that much better. The drama, tension, and sense of threatening danger build as we cut back and forth between Simon and his friends. And I love the way Mignola handles witches in his universe - dancing with goats and giant toads. Simon is in trouble, but it looks like he might have gotten Konig in trouble, too. Good stuff. In the back of the book is a preview for the release of a trade collection of Guy Davis' The Marquis. It's hard to get a real feel for it from just these four enigmatic pages, but it certainly looks eerie and intriguing. I might have to check it out.
Thumbs Up

Blackest Night #2
I've already gone back and forth a few times on the whole Blackest Night thing, but now I feel pretty certain I'm just going to drop it. It's just ridiculous and cheesy and not very good. Sure, the idea of Deadman coming back to life is kind of interesting, as is the idea of an evil Aquaman going around making sharks eat people. The Spectre going bad is also fascinating, and I like the use of the "Flash Fact" thing. But those ideas aren't enough to make up for the general lameness. I've also noticed an unfortunate consequence of bringing characters back to life who have been dead for a long time: the guys who die and stay dead in comic books tend to be the expendable guys that nobody really cares about, and that nobody remembers. I had to look up Don Hall and Hank Hall online to figure out who they were.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the prose piece in the back from The Book of the Black. It's well written and uses metaphor and everything. I also like the preview of Superman: Secret Origin #1 in the very back. But it's done by the dynamite team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, so it was almost bound to be good. Just in this preview you get to see the historic first meeting of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor (it involves Kryptonite!), and Clark runs to save Lana from a tornado. Good stuff.
Thumbs Sideways

Blackest Night: Batman #1
How did I talk myself into buying the first issue of a Blackest Night spin-off miniseries written by Peter J. Tomasi? Sigh. I guess the word "Batman" was enough to pull me in. As one might expect, it is Not Good. Tomasi doesn't handle Damian or the relationship between him, Dick, and Bruce with anywhere near the subtlety and power of Grant Morrison. We get to see a bunch of villains come back to life, but they must be rather obscure second- or third-stringers because I recognized only one of them. Blackest Night is really over-the-top in many ways, but bringing the zombie Flying Graysons into it might be the most ridiculous thing yet. I'm definitely dropping this one.
Thumbs Down

Captain America: Theater of War - To Soldier On #1
I've been surprised at the high quality of most of these Captain America: Theater of War one-shots, but this might be the best one yet. Cap isn't even the main character here; instead, we focus on a regular soldier in the Iraq War, trying to make it through a tough situation with a bunch of his buddies. We see Cap from a different perspective: to the grunts he's an impossible, superhuman hero, but also a rather obtuse superior officer whose decisions sometimes irritate his men and put them in danger. Ultimately this is a story about what happens to regular people during and in the aftermath of warfare. It's powerful, insightful, and emotionally effective.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #4
I think I'm done with this series. It just keeps being odd and surreal and repetitive and not really going anywhere.
Thumbs Sideways

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5
Yay, Hellboy's back! Unfortunately for him, the Queen of witches is after him. In his desperation to save Alice from poison, Hellboy is tricked into making what could be some really dangerous mistakes. He frees a fly (probably a powerful demon) from its prison, and accepts the help of Morgan Le Fay. There's a really fantastic scene where the Queen of witches demands a terrible crime in worship of her, and says she will become a goddess of war. I love the regal, old timey, magical speeches she makes. And Duncan Fegredo's art, in combination with Dave Stewart's colors, is of course absolutely beautiful.

In the back is a very odd story indeed called "The MonsterMen in O Sinner Beneath Us!" It's written and drawn by Gary Gianni. I assume The MonsterMen are characters from some kind of ongoing series, but I don't know anything about them. The story itself is about a man in a suit and a knight's helmet, and a young woman trying to exorcise the ghost of a young girl from a house. In the process, they meet an old friend who turns out to have a terrible and powerful artifact that causes some trouble. I'm not sure how I feel about this story. There are some cool ideas, but overall it feels a bit confused and hurried. It looks like this is the first part of a two part story, so we'll see how it finishes up in the next issue.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hercules #132
I think it's time I gave up on this series again, too. It's not that it's bad, it's just not that good. The opening is pretty clever - it's a handful of panels quickly explaining Thor's origin, accompanied by sarcastic commentary by Hercules. Inside, Herc is given the task of hiding Zeus, but almost immediately screws up and gets the two of them embroiled in a dangerous adventure. There are some neat ideas, and the usual amusing sound effect words, but overall I'm just not impressed. Maybe it's time to put Greg Pak on my list of authors to be avoided. It's too bad, because I know he can be really good sometimes. It's just that most of the time he's really just mediocre.
Thumbs Sideways

Marvel Comics #1: 70th Anniversary Edition
This is one of the stranger of the 70th anniversary one-shots. I'm pretty sure this one is all reprints of old Golden Age stories - it might even be an exact reprint of the actual original Marvel Comics #1 - except that the art and coloring appears to have been cleaned up and redone so everything's a bit sleeker and prettier. There's a very odd black and white comic strip on the first page (which is not particularly funny), then we get the origin of the Human Torch, which is a rather strange story when you get right down to it. Despite being encased in a concrete block for most of his life, the Torch is surprisingly compassionate and knowledgeable; he immediately recognizes a racketeer at work when he sees one, and resolves to defeat him. It's interesting that Dr. Horton, the Torch's creator, isn't all that good himself; he too is touched by greed. The Torch is the only really good man in the story (despite the fact that he's not a man at all), and he spends the great majority of it being maligned, manipulated, and misunderstood. It's a pretty complex and well put together story for the Golden Age, although it certainly does have a bit of that Golden Age weirdness to it.

Next up is the story of The Angel. This character I don't know all that much about, so it was cool to read what's essentially his origin story. Interestingly, The Angel is really more like an early version of The Punisher than anything else. When he learns there's a group of racketeers called The Six Big Men controlling the city, he puts their names on a list and kills them off one by one. It's pretty brutal! Of course, it's also a bit silly and clumsily plotted, and the story is hurriedly wrapped up by squashing the conclusion into the last couple of panels; the final panel barely has enough space for a drawing of The Angel in it, as the rest of it is filled with a dialog balloon that's all exposition tying up the remaining loose ends.

Next up is a story I'd already seen reprinted in another recent special: the origin of The Sub-Mariner. I've already complained about how clumsy and unbelievable this story is. But this version of the story has an extra bit at the end that shows Namor and his cousin heading out to begin in earnest their war against the humans. It mostly involves Namor smashing things up and chucking people around while trying to keep his cousin safe. It's pretty fun, and the art throughout is unique and fascinating.

The next story in the book is arguably the worst. It's "The Masked Rider," and it reads like it was written by a rather confused child with a learning disability who was brought up on bad Western movies. There's the usual evil land baron unfairly running the other ranchers out of town, but one man resolves to do something about it, so he escapes from prison by pretending he's sick, puts a mask on, tames a wild horse, and comes back with a gun and starts beating up the bad guys, with the help of the other townspeople. When the bad guys see him, they say intelligent things like, "Yer masked!"

Nearly as silly as "The Masked Raider" is "Jungle Terror," which sees a young kid and an older man resolve to fly out to the Amazon and try to find the kid's uncle, a professor who went out there looking for diamonds and then went missing. After flying all the way to the Amazon from Florida, they suddenly have plane trouble: "Oh-oh! Something's wrong! Motor's missing!!" Uh... only now do you notice there's a motor missing?? Anyway, they crash and are captured by savages, but eventually make it out alive with a diamond. The art is very odd, and the people's faces sometimes take on weirdly demonic expressions, possibly thanks to the odd way their eyes are drawn. The writing is, as you might have already guessed, clumsy, stereotypical, and silly.

Speaking of bad writing, next up is a short prose story "About The Auto Race Tracks" called "Burning Rubber" by Raymond Gill. It's about a guy who's testing an experimental engine in a really dangerous manner, but his concerned girlfriend saves him and helps him out. He misunderstands and is a jerk to her at first, but then all is well. It's quite silly.

Surprisingly, one of the best stories in the book is "Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great," the origin story of a Tarzan-type character called Ka-Zar. His parents' plane crashes in the jungle when he's a boy and he grows up with the animals, making them his friends and learning to communicate with them. It's reasonably well written, and the art is dramatic and effective.
Thumbs Sideways

Marvel Divas #2
I love that Doctor Voodoo sent a zombie to Monica with flowers, like a moaning telegram. I also rather enjoy the depiction of Doctor Strange as a slightly arrogant rock star. This comic seems to have an oddly large number of thought bubbles in it, but not in an annoying way. It's rather touching that the Night Nurse tells Angelica her real name. It's funny that Felicia tries to get a loan from a bank that she robbed. Angelica's predicament and the way she's responding to it is realistic and moving. And Patsy now has a terrible choice to make. This is really a neat book: funny, touching, clever.
Thumbs Up

The Marvels Project #1
A preview of the opening section of this book has been in the back of a lot of Marvel comics lately. I was a little disappointed by that preview for whatever reason, but I knew I'd get the comic anyway because I was fascinated by the premise. And I'm glad I did because it's really living up to my expectations so far. I even liked the opening better reading it in context. It's cool that Brubaker was able to work the Two-Gun Kid into this story, and thus link the distant past of the Marvel Universe to its origins, and its future. I love the glimpse of the secret meeting with the President where the race to create the first superhuman is being orchestrated. Here it comes out that the Human Torch is secretly a government funded project. Meanwhile, the Nazis are at work on their own superhuman, and are killing Namor's people as part of their experiments. And guess who's in charge of that German program? A scientist named Erskine who wants to defect! But the Germans didn't count on Namor's rage or his vengeance. The Human Torch's origin story, which I'd just read in Marvel Comics #1, is retold here in a much smarter, realistic, and dramatic manner. Nick Fury and his pal Red are pulled in to help Erskine defect, and the man who will call himself The Angel finds his purpose fighting looters in the confusion that reigns after the Human Torch escapes his prison and mistakenly burns the city. Brubaker is polishing up all these old stories, giving them vibrant new life, and brilliantly weaving them all together into a new tale: the rise of the Marvels. If it continues to be as good as this first issue, this will be a truly excellent miniseries.
Thumbs Up

Red Robin #3
Suddenly the artist on this title (Ramon Bachs) is really reminding me of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Huh. Anyway, I've been impressed with this series so far, but this issue is kind of mediocre. There's another fun assassination sequence, but the dialog is getting a little weak and melodramatic, and the story is getting a bit dull. I might hang in there for at least one more issue, but... then again, maybe not.
Thumbs Sideways

Toy Story: Mysterious Stranger #4
The final issue of Boom!'s Toy Story miniseries is sadly the weakest. Once again it plays with the idea of the toys revealing the fact that they can talk to humans, but the motive behind revealing it is rather nonsensical, and the argument against revealing it is pretty weak. It seems odd that the toys would frequently think about revealing their secret to humans; surely a toy would have let the cat out of the bag by now if it's something they consider often. On the other hand, if it is a huge taboo, why would they think about breaking it just because one toy was briefly removed from the premises? And why, if Andy knew the toys could talk, would he no longer be able to pretend they were something other than themselves? When kids play with their friends they constantly pretend they're someone else, despite what Woody says. It's just a clumsy story, and not nearly as interesting or effective as some of the others have been.
Thumbs Sideways

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1
Ever since Jeph Loeb took over Marvel's Ultimate universe and made it really, really dumb and bad, I've been avoiding the titles set there. But seeing as how they're relaunching it now and putting it in the hands of more talented writers, I thought I'd give it another shot. I still wasn't expecting much, however, so when this book, with writing by Mark Millar and art by Carlos Pacheco, turned out to be really awesome, I was pretty startled. Apparently during the events of Loeb's Ultimatum there was a big flood. Luckily I didn't need to know much about any of that to pick up the thread of what was going on. Cap and Hawkeye are out on a mission doing ridiculously awesome and bad-ass things when they run into the Ultimate universe version of the Red Skull. The Skull reveals a horrible truth to Cap that leads to him going rogue and Hawkeye asking Nick Fury to come back to help capture him. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is drunk in some crazy sex club. It's a dramatic, funny, exciting start to the new series, and I'll definitely be tuning in next month for part two.
Thumbs Up

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1
Brian Michael Bendis is in charge of Spider-Man's new Ultimate title, and he's put together a fine first outing. I love the hilarious opening that features Peter Parker facing the overwhelming and horrific task of working at a fast food restaurant. Then an intriguing new hero appears on the scene - but is he really a good guy? He looks kind of like the Hood, if you ask me. Pete's relationship with Gwen Stacy is getting all hot and heavy; something bad happened to Johnny Storm; and the Kingpin is back, but a new villain shows up (is it Ultimate Electro?) and does something pretty stunning and awesome to him. It's an incredibly fun and action-packed first issue of what looks likely to be an exciting new comic. Which actually kind of pisses me off, because it's I really don't need a new series to collect.
Thumbs Up

Uncanny X-Men #514
Hey, Psylocke is back. And boy does she look stunning in that "wetsuit." Sadly Norm's Avengers and Emma's X-Men don't get to finish their fight. We're given a slightly better explanation for why Cloak and Dagger joined Emma's X-Men, which is nice. Dani Moonstar shows up in Vegas to make a deal with somebody, but I'm not sure who. I feel like maybe I'm supposed to know what's going on there from the clues I've been given, but I'm hoping I'm wrong, because I have no idea. It's good to see the real Wolverine show up and it's good to know Scott has sent him and some others on a mission to retrieve their people from prison (I was wondering when he was going to get to that). As for the last page, I have no idea what's going on there. I don't know who any of those people are or where they're going. And I'm pretty certain I'm supposed to know. Sigh.

I think it's time to drop this one again. I started collecting it again because of the whole Utopia thing, but I still really don't like Matt Fraction's very much, and I just don't care about Utopia anymore.
Thumbs Sideways

Wednesday Comics #6
Batman - Batman fights a guy! I'm not entirely sure who or why. Is he the assassin from before? I guess. Anyway, the art's good.

Kamandi - Speaking of good art, the art on this title continues to be amazingly beautiful. And the story is a fun and engaging adventure tale.

Superman - Looks like we're done watching Superman brood and something is actually going to happen now, as the buddies of the alien he beat up in the first issue seem to have shown up looking for revenge. Love the art on this one, too.

Deadman - Deadman has apparently died again, but at least he also got to meet some pretty ladies.

Green Lantern - We finally learn what Hal did to get himself kicked out of the astronaut program, and we get to see what part Dill played in it all. Interesting stuff. And now it looks like the flashback is over and we're going to get back into the action in the present. Fun.

Metamorpho - I just can't get a handle on this strip. Gaiman seems intent on trying every crazy idea he can think of with it. This time there's a fight with a snake on a ladder, the Metamorpho Fans of America intrude again, and then the rest of the strip is a Metamorpho-ized version of Snakes and Ladders. I appreciate the creativity on display here, but at the same time... it's just really weird.

Teen Titans - Still sucks.

Strange Adventures - Things take a really fascinating turn in this week's issue of this strip, as we find that Adam has returned to Earth, and to his own body - that of an old professor. Unable to find the chart of the Zeta-Beam's trajectory, he must remain on his home planet and move forward with his expedition to Machu Picchu. There are some fantastic images from the archaeological dig, and Adam begins to lose all sense of reality. Have all his adventures on Rann been a dream, and this is the dull reality? Or is his life on Earth the dream, and Rann the truth? Wonderful ideas + stunning imagery = great comics.

Supergirl - I actually rather like the latest episode of this strip, as it features an amusing modern interpretation of Aquaman (or is that Aqualad?). He's incredibly busy, dealing with one problem after another in the seas all over the Earth. He uses odd combinations of modern slang, and shells like cell phones (shell phones?).

Metal Men - I'm still not all that interested in this strip, but the addition of an evil giant robot does make it at least a little more attractive.

Wonder Woman - There are a couple of interesting things in this strip: a cool story about an ancient sword known as "The Red Death," and the introduction of the modern version of WW's buddy Etta, who gets to fight monsters with a lollipop - although that turns out to be a hallucination brought on by drugs, apparently. Despite these few interesting things, however, this strip continues to be cluttered, confused, and rather silly.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. - Hey, it looks like something is finally about to happen in this strip! In a rather surprising turn of events, Rock gets cut free by a traitor! Maybe he can beat up some Nazis next time. Assuming he's up to it.

Flash Comics and Gorilla Grodd - Yes, Iris West has been replaced by Gorilla Grodd! That's a nice surprise. Flash escapes from the horrific trap he was thrown into at the end of last issue via a crazy awesome use of his super powers, then dashes back to meet up with two more Flashes, one of whom is only interested in making his dinner date. Meanwhile, Gorilla Grodd seems to be telling us the fascinating origin story of its titular character. Cool stuff!

The Demon and Catwoman - I thought this issue would be the big fight between the Demon and the witch, but it's just more backstory explaining their relationship. Thankfully it's pretty interesting backstory, and well illustrated.

Hawkman - I'm pleased to say that this continues to not suck, although it looks like it might be about to turn into Lost, which is a little disturbing.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Blackest Night (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hellboy (Not), Mark Millar (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Paul Pope (Not), Pixar (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Toy Story (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Saturday, July 4, 2009 12:26 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 6/24. 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.

Astonishing X-Men #30
I have to say, I came down mostly on Forge's side in the conflict described by this latest story arc. I mean, he makes a lot of good points. They do need to rebuild the mutant population. He did make mutants - maybe they're rather freakish, as Henry rather unkindly points out, but they are mutants nonetheless. It's an impressive feat. And there is indeed an invasion on the way from another universe, which Forge discovered and has been trying to prevent. So what is with the X-Men being all high and mighty and telling him he's crazy? It's pretty annoying. Especially when, at the end of the issue, they pretty much do what he wanted them to do anyway and shoot a laser through at the other universe, killing many potential invaders. So... what exactly was the point of all the fighting and stuff? I'm just confused. And I still feel pretty strongly that Simone Bianchi's art is just not a good fit for this title.

On the other hand, I do like the dark flavor of the ending of this comic, with the X-Men feeling quiet and guilty and unhappy, and with Storm now sadly convinced that sometimes killing really is necessary. And, this being Warren Ellis, there's lots of clever and funny dialog throughout. I enjoy Agent Brand and her relationship with Henry, and I like that she's able to somehow get a call through to Armor's cell phone in the middle of Forge's secret hideout - and that Armor has been using the phone to talk to people on Twitter, during the mission. When Brand reveals she's aware of everything that's been going on, and now has a very powerful laser aimed at the site, Scott is a bit upset: "I should have let Logan stab her that time." Heh. In the middle of a fight later he says, "This is taking too long. Wolverine, you're getting old." Then when the laser fires and the facility blows up, Wolverine says, "Damn. You know I don't like the woman, but I gotta say, her problem-solvin' skills amuse the crap outta me."

So Ellis' dialog-writing skills amuse the crap outta me. But I found this story kind of clumsy and unsatisfying. I'm hoping the next storyline will be better.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Avengers #6
I was right - dudes from the end of last issue were Atlanteans. So naturally Norman calls his little junta together and asks Namor WTF is going on. Namor defies him and it looks like there's going to be a big blow-up, but then Norman just walks away. Disappointing. But it's interesting to see the cabal falling apart like we always knew it would. Meanwhile, Norman's Avengers are kind of falling apart, too. Norman himself is running himself ragged. Ares and Captain Marvel are AWOL. The team members that do show up are disobedient. And even though the Sentry is still following Norman's orders, Norman makes a really bad decision in this issue and asks him to let the Void loose to kill off the Atlanteans. You're playing with fire there, Norman! A fire the size of a million exploding suns, even. And now the darkness inside Norman himself is starting to peek out again.

I guess I realized this before, but this issue underlines once again that Norman and the Sentry have quite a bit in common. Both of them have an evil personality locked inside them that wreaks havoc when it comes out. Of course, the Sentry's is a little more dangerous than Norman's, but still.

I go up and down on this series, but I definitely enjoyed this month's entry.
Thumbs Up

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia #1
Marvel launches their Utopia crossover storyline with this one-shot. The story continues in alternating issues of Uncanny X-Men and Dark Avengers, and then comes to an end with another one-shot, this one with the rather intriguing title of Exodus. The over-arching story is about how the X-Men finally find themselves inescapably drawn into the whole Dark Reign thing, and how Norman finally finds it necessary to do something about the mutant problem - namely, putting together his own team of "Dark" X-Men. Everything explodes in this issue thanks to Simon Trask leading a humans-first march on San Francisco, demanding that mutant breeding be controlled. Predictably, their peaceful march turns into a violent riot. The best part is when Doom says, "Well, then, here's to things finally getting interesting," and Loki replies, "Indeed." Sending the Dark Avengers in only adds more violence, but eventually martial law is declared and the X-Men are taken into custody, with Professor X seemingly condoning the action - except the real Professor X is actually in a secret prison. Meanwhile, Emma's got a new black costume and is apparently happy to go along with whatever Norman's new plan is for mutants.

I came to this book as an ex-fan of author Matt Fraction. I only bought it because I wanted to see what happened. The writing here is only so-so, and Emma's sudden but inevitable betrayal is a bit of a disappointment, but the overall story is indeed intriguing, and Marc Silvestri's art is quite good. I might have to go back to collecting Uncanny X-Men for a while just to keep up with the plot.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: Lethal Legion #1
This new miniseries has an intriguing premise: a group of villains who still hate Norman Osborn, and are pissed they didn't get cut in for as big a piece of the pie as they think they deserved when he took over, gang up to go against him. The actual comic itself is sadly not that interesting. A couple of things stood out for me: the cool way Norman's Iron Patriot armor jumps onto him while he's punching Tiger Shark, and the really interesting surprise on the final page, when the identity of the team's final member is revealed. I can't decide if I want to bother getting another issue of this or not.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: Sinister Spider-Man #1
Brian Reed writes and Chris Bachalo draws a miniseries taking a look at the new Spider-Man: Mac Gargan, who used to go by the name Venom. Gargan is a true scumbag, through and through. But somehow he's managed to hide that fact enough to collect a lot of fans and groupies. If someone begins to suspect he's not the real Spider-Man, he just eats them. He likes the way things are going, but he's pissed at Osborn for yelling at him, and he still has a score to settle with Mayor J. Jonah Jameson. He sets his payback plan in motion at the end of this issue. Meanwhile, there's a dude going around calling himself The Redeemer who's pulled together a bunch of lame Spider-Man villains and is planning to go after Spider-Man with them. But which Spider-Man?

It seems a little unlikely to me that anyone could mistake Gargan for the real Spider-Man, or that it could somehow have gotten past people that there are two Spider-Men wandering the city at the moment, one in a black costume and one in the classic red and blue. But I guess it would be hard to keep up with the vagaries of the superheroes if you were just a regular person trying to live your life on Earth-616. The Redeemer, meanwhile, seems like a pretty lame villain whose motives are clouded and confusing, and whose influence over these other second string villains is a little hard to understand. Maybe that'll come together as the series goes on. I'm just not sure I'll be there to see it. I was hoping this comic would be more fun and interesting than it is. But there wasn't much here to excite me. Sure, Bachalo's art is unique and impressive. His figure work is great, the panel design is fascinating, and the way he uses stark black and white sometimes, almost like a photo negative, is interesting, even if it's also a bit puzzling and distracting.

I don't know, I might get one more issue. The Sinister Spider-Mail column in the back is kind of funny. And I would like to see J. Jonah Jameson get embroiled in a horrible scandal.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: Zodiac #1
Like Lethal Legion, this is another miniseries about a group of villains who team up to go after Osborn, but unlike Lethal Legion, this one is really well written (by Joe Casey), really beautifully drawn (by Nathan Fox, with colors by Jose Villarrubia), and really intriguing. It's also really stunningly violent! After I read the first couple pages, I checked the cover to see if this was part of Marvel's MAX line of explicit content comics, but nope, it's just a regular Marvel comic that happens to be loaded with brutal torture and bloody murder. It's a little disconcerting. But what makes it really good is the smart dialog and the fascinating characters. The title character, Zodiac, is a new villain on the scene who puts together a team because he loves the lawless, anarchic supervillain lifestyle, and hates that Osborn is trying to push everybody around and tell them how to act. Zodiac is intelligent and twisted, and he has a hot girlfriend covered in tattoos named Death Reaper. And I love that he recruits a sarcastic, filthy old clown villain who's seen it all; that guy's also a great character with some great dialog. He remembers a team of villains named Zodiac, based on the astrological signs, but the new Zodiac says he wanted to make sure the name was free to use, so he shows up with a bag full of all their heads. Great scene! I also really enjoy getting a look inside the day-to-day life of H.A.M.M.E.R. officers, and I love that the forensics guy explains his going outside to barf in his report as going exterior momentarily to confer with colleagues. It's also quite brilliant that Zodiac's inside man is Norman's pissed off chauffeur. When Norman tells him, "Driver, a little less bumpy on the landing, yes...?" he thinks, "Dick." I'm worried I'm supposed to recognize Zodiac when he takes his hood off at the end, but maybe not; maybe the surprise is just that he's so young. Anyway, it's great having a title centered on a villain who's really actually smart and competent, and who has a whole ethos behind his villainy. It helps that Fox's art is fantastic, full of wonderful details, and with a strong, Paul Pope kind of look to it. Villarrubia does a beautiful job on the colors, too. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the rest of this series. A really pleasant surprise.
Thumbs Up

Detective Comics #854
This issue marks a big change in direction for this title, as it sees Batwoman taking over the role of central character. I was curious to see where they were going to go with it, and to learn more about Batwoman, whom I'm completely unfamiliar with, so I picked up a copy despite the fact that it's written by Greg Rucka, whose work I generally dislike. I can't say he really changed my mind with this comic. It focuses on the whole religion of crime thing which Rucka made up for an earlier miniseries, and which I didn't like then. The new leader of the group calls herself Alice and speaks only in lines from Lewis Carroll's stories. Yawn. I mean, it's just kind of a dull story. Batwoman beats up punks to get information, then eventually meets the villain. That's all that happens. Yeah, there are some "character building" personal scenes where Batwoman talks to her Dad, deals with past trauma, and loses her girlfriend. But they're poorly written. J.H. Williams III's art is absolutely amazingly beautiful, especially with the addition of Dave Stewart's colors, which are perfect as always. Batwoman's breasts are maybe a little ridiculous sometimes, but otherwise his figure work is lovely and his panel and page design are incredible. And I love the idea of a sexy, tattooed, redheaded, lesbian Batwoman. It's also pretty funny when Batman gives her advice: "Do something about your hair. One pull, the fight's over for you." But overall, I'm just not sure there's anything here interesting enough for me to want to keep reading.

The series has an ongoing backup story focusing on the Question. But I'm really not a big fan of the new Question, and even though this story includes a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference, it's otherwise even more dull and boring than the main story. Disappointing.
Thumbs Sideways

Fringe #6
The final issue of this miniseries reveals that all the stories we've been reading so far about Walter Bishop's youth are stories he's telling a mysterious interrogator at the insane asylum. The interrogator wants to know something specific, about the night the Observer saved Walter and Peter after the car crash, but Walter won't tell him. It's interesting reading this episode from Walter's life in the asylum - we get to see him interact with Dashiell, put together a rather clever escape attempt, sing his little song about the lion tamer, and finally be saved by Olivia (the comic ends about where the TV series began). It's also interesting that someone was already trying to extract some kind of essential bit of information about Walter's past when he was still in the asylum. I'm sure that bit of information is still at the center of what's going on in the TV series. I think the earlier issues of this series were the best, but overall it still turned out to be a far more interesting supplement to the show than I thought it would be.

In the back of the book is a preview for North 40 #1, a Lovecraftian horror tale about a pair of teens who read a mysterious tome, thus allowing a bunch of monsters to take over the town. Actually, the comic is apparently not really about that; it's about what happens afterwards. The art looks kind of cool, and the story is interesting (especially the Lovecraftian elements, of course), but the writing leaves a bit to be desired. The preview included here is almost all exposition. There's definitely nothing here that convinces me I need to read this series.
Thumbs Up

Gotham City Sirens #1
I'm not a huge fan of Paul Dini, but I do generally enjoy his stories about Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, and that's exactly what this is, so here I am. Also sharing the spotlight with Harley and Ivy is Catwoman. The opening of this issue has some pretty poorly written exposition filling us in on the rather surprising and unlikely backstory that Catwoman had her heart ripped out of her chest by Hush, but then somebody put her heart back in and she got better. Okay then. I'm curious to know what that's all about, but I hate Hush with a flaming passion, so I don't intend to look into it too closely. Anyway, Catwoman's still having a hard time getting back into the groove of being a super... whatever she is, and nearly gets herself taken out by a green young villain fanboy. Luckily Ivy's got her back. They have a pretty funny, gossipy kind of conversation while Ivy's vines beat the crap out of the punk. It's also quite funny that Ivy is living at the Riddler's house, not because he really wants her there, but because she has him totally under her control with her drugs and poisons. As usual, Ivy has given away all her recently acquired cash to various charities involving plants, and Harley has wasted hers on frivolous shopping and rather foolish investments with Nigerian princes ("You got his e-mail, too?!"). Because Dini is a bit of a lecherous old bastard, and because he takes any excuse he can to put Zatanna in anything, he includes a completely gratuitous scene of Zatanna in a nightgown getting dunked in her bathtub repeatedly by Ivy. Sigh. I do really enjoy the way Dini writes Harley, though. And the scene where Nigma snaps out of it and takes out all his frustrations on the fanboy villain is really pretty fantastic. "You're going to kick my ass, aren't you?" "Oh my goodness, yes." I also really love that there's a guy called The Broker who specializes in selling lairs to supervillains. He sells Catwoman an abandoned animal shelter, and tries to sell a deserted storybook park to the Mad Hatter: "River view, numerous emergency exits, and, best of all, just down the street from an all-girls academy." Ha! I also like the exciting final twist, when the girls pin down Catwoman, drug her, and ask her who Batman is. That oughta be interesting!

So yeah, there are some corny bits, but overall I really enjoyed this comic, which means I'm afraid I'm going to have to buy at least one more issue of it.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #42
The longest prelude of all time continues! Turns out the arm-tearing from the end of last issue was just a trick of the blue ring. For a brief moment, Hal Jordan grabs hold of the Orange Lantern, and nearly falls under its control ("You could really go for a hamburger right now. Couldn't you? Two hamburgers!" OK, I like hamburgers and all, but an object of cosmic power that could theoretically alter the universe, and all it can think to offer him is hamburgers?? Is it the Lantern or Jordan that lacks imagination?). In another rather stupid moment, Hal finally gets the blue ring to work by telling it he hopes it'll stop asking him what he hopes for. Lame. The interesting thing is, he somehow gets a glimpse of the future, and the blue ring immediately flies off his hand. Does that mean he saw a bit of what's coming in the Blackest Night and lost all hope? It's not entirely clear. Anyway, the Guardians make another nasty deal with Larfleeze - they tell him where the home of the Blue Lanterns is. That's cold, man. The epilogue is pretty neat; the guy who can hear the dead is now deaf to the living, because the dead were so loud they ruptured his ear drums. He and his buddy find the corpse of the Anti-Monitor thanks to the voices of the dead - but it turns out the dead aren't friendly anymore. Those guys are probably gonna get eaten by zombies now. Another interesting moment: dude asks his ring where they are, and it tells him the location is classified. Why classified? Is that the result of another nasty little deal the Guardians made? Hmm.

The art in this issue is by Philip Tan and Eddy Barrows. I'm not sure who did what, but one of them I don't think I like very much, as some of the figure work in here is pretty poor.

I continue to be of two minds about this series. I'm intrigued by the story, but generally annoyed by the rather mediocre writing. I guess I'm sticking with it for now. One day this prelude's gonna be over!
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hercules #130
Heh. This time the recap page is done up as a travel brochure for hell. Nice. Sadly, the story itself is not all that clever or exciting. I mean, putting God on trial for his crimes against humanity has been done. It's kind of an interesting idea, but it's really hard to do well without getting melodramatic and pseudo-philosophical, and this book get a little of both. Plus, the way they split up Herc and Cho and send Cho off to Elysium just feels really contrived. And if the waters of the River Lethe induce instant and permanent amnesia, how come Cho's able to splash the water at some monsters with his bare hands without being affected by it himself? I do enjoy Pak's usual silly, highly descriptive sound effects ("PAPAKRAK" and "PAPASOK" when Hercules' papa punches him), and the idea of Hercules facing off against his own mortal shade is kind interesting, even if I saw it coming from miles away. But overall what I'm seeing in this issue is the kind of mediocrity that led me to drop this book in the first place. So maybe it's time to drop it again.
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredibles #3
Aww, Violet's got a boyfriend. That's nice. I loved getting a little peek at Mr. Incredible's Rogue's Gallery. It's pretty funny seeing him doing housework and sighing with regret that he can't be with his teammates while they fight monsters at the mall. And it's pretty exciting when he figures out the mystery of why he's been losing his powers. The full explanation hasn't been revealed to us yet, so I remain curious and look forward to next issue. But it involves a surprising betrayal by the neighbors. One detail I found odd: why are Violet, Dash, and Helen just walking into the front door of their house with their Incredibles costumes on?! It looks like it's late at night at that point, so there's a better than average chance they won't be seen, but still! Shouldn't they be more careful about keeping their secret identities secret?
Thumbs Up

The Literals #3
The Great Fables Crossover finally comes to an end with the last issue of the Literals miniseries. (At least, I think this is the last issue of The Literals - unless it's going to continue as an ongoing now?) It's a thrilling conclusion; the world is literally only a few letters away from being destroyed when an unlikely person manages to save them all. But they don't have a permanent solution to the problem of Kevin Thorn - until Deus Ex Machina shows up and provides... well, a deus ex machina ending! Usually such endings are bad, but this one is so cleverly done, and makes such wonderful sense, it's hard not to love it. Plus, they've set things up now so they have a whole new universe to play around in if they want to. And I'm glad to see Gary's still kicking around, even if he might no longer have his powers. It's not the greatest comic ever, but it's a fun enough conclusion to a well done crossover series.
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #54
The new Sorcerer Supreme gets crowned, as it were; the Avengers all team up and take shots at Dormammu; the wizards all team up to imprison and exorcise Dormammu; all kinds of cool, flashy magic gets done; Hellstrom points out that if Dormammu can come through to Earth via a cloak, the boundaries between things are breaking, the end of days is coming, and Brother Voodoo better be ready for the fight of his life (Spider-Man's response: "You... should write greeting cards. Really."); Parker Robbins ends up stripped of all his power, but offered a second chance by Loki (and an offer from Loki is never a good thing); and Hawkeye decides they have to kill Norman Osborn. Good comic!! Seriously, this is pretty fantastic stuff. It upsets me that my opinions of comic book authors end up being so variable, but in this book, at least, Brian Michael Bendis did a good job.
Thumbs Up

Predator #1
Military dudes in East Africa get killed by Predators. That's all this comic is about. It's a little... dull. It would be more interesting if the characters had personalities, but they're all pretty generic; a hard-ass military guy and a sarcastic, amoral mercenary who don't get along with each other very well. I'll get at least one more issue to see if it starts to go somewhere, but I'm pretty disappointed so far.
Thumbs Sideways

Rapture #2
I gave this series two issues to grab me, but now I'm done with it. It's a bit too melodramatic, the dialog's a bit too clumsy (I appreciate the Terminator reference, but it's shoehorned in there a bit; and what the hell is with the guy named Old Man? That's just weird), and I'm just kind of tired of the whiny, emo characters and the incredibly depressing post-apocalyptic story.
Thumbs Down

Skaar: Son of Hulk #12
Time for the big showdown between father and son! Which the other characters would be fine with, if it weren't for the fact that it was happening next to a nuclear power plant. Whoops! Naturally the fight ends up stopping so they can keep the plant from exploding. Which is slightly lame, but okay. What is interesting is the discovery that Hulk has apparently retreated into his dumb Hulk personality to avoid the pain of remembering everything that happened during Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Skaar is disappointed by this and decides he doesn't want to kill Hulk until Hulk remembers all the things he's done. As he's walking away he says, "This is my planet, now." Oh really?? I'll be fascinated to see how that works out for him.

So yeah, bit of an anti-climax on the big fight, and it's kind of a lame, overdone Hulk story cliche that they stop fighting each other to save innocent people being killed from the consequences of their fight. Then there's an epilogue where it's revealed that Galactus is now roaming the universe eating any planet that has any Old Power in it, because those are particularly tasty. The Silver Surfer is trying to warn all the people of said planets so they have time to prepare. He also, interestingly enough, bids them honor Caiera for trying to sacrifice herself and her world to save the universe, and curse Skaar for ruining her final gesture by reawakening Galactus. A rather powerful final sequence sees Skaar turning back into his humanoid child-self and cursing his own reflection.

The issue's a bit uneven, but overall pretty interesting and moving. Meanwhile, apparently big changes are on the way for this title! Next issue promises to have a new writer, a new artist, and a new direction. Guess I'll have to tune in for that. Unless the new writer is Jeph Loeb. That I won't tolerate.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Mission's End #4
Hooray for smart, old school Star Trek comics! This series is so good. I like the tough choices the ambassador is left with while Kirk is out of commission, and how she wrestles with them, and with her secret attraction to Kirk. I like that with Kirk out of the way, Spock recommends the ambassador make the harsh, logical choices, but as soon as Kirk is up and moving again, he's content to follow his friend's illogical lead. I like that Uhura is brilliant and traced an untraceable signal. I like that Sulu is a bad-ass and beats the crap out of the pirate mole. I like that Dr. McCoy is his old irascible, eminently peaceful and ethical self. I like that Lieutenant Arex makes a cameo. I just like this comic.
Thumbs Up

Dark Wolverine #75
This series goes off in a new direction in this issue, as Wolverine's son Daken, now recast as "Wolverine" by Norman Osborn, takes over as the book's main character. To signify this, the book gets "Dark" added on the front of its title, but keeps the original numbering. Although I had to read it out of curiosity, I was almost certain I would hate this book. I mean "Dark Wolverine?" C'mon. Wolverine's already dark! That's the whole point of the character! Furthermore, what little I've read of Daken I haven't liked, and what little I've read by Daniel Way I haven't liked. Plus, the whole numbering thing annoys me from an organizational perspective. I mean, do I file Dark Wolverine under "W" with my Wolverine comics, or do I file it under "D" for "Dark?" I went with the former idea when Incredible Hercules took over Incredible Hulk's numbering, and continued to file Herc with Hulk, with the understanding that eventually the title would change back to Hulk. But instead, Incredible Hulk is now coming back with new legacy numbering, and Hercules is going to continue using Incredible Hulk's old numbering. It's all going to hell.

But anyway. The point is, I was already predisposed to dislike this comic. But it defeated my expectations right away with a clever and darkly funny opening scene, wherein Osborn stabs Daken where it hurts by telling him, "You are Wolverine. But more importantly, you're my Wolverine." Daken stabs him right back by responding to the question, "Do you know what a hero is?" with, "You mean... like Spider-Man?" Heh. Right away I found out that Daken's a lot smarter than I thought. He knows how to manipulate people very well. And he's taken the trouble to weasel out the strengths and weaknesses of all his teammates and his boss, so he can manipulate them all even more effectively. There's a great scene in the conference room where he's gotten Venom all riled up and it looks like there's going to be a fight, but the Sentry completely defuses the situation by calmly and quietly saying, "Stop." Nobody effs with the Sentry! That's followed up by another great scene where all of Daken's rage over having to live in his hated father's shadow is perfectly summed up in two pages, where he shatters the glass case the Wolverine costume is in. His reflection and that of the woman he's just taken to bed are spread across the broken glass as she says, "I can't believe I slept with Wolverine," and he responds by telling her to get out. "I have to get dressed." At a party later, it becomes deadly clear why he earlier manipulated Bullseye into impaling him with a bolt - so he could catch the killer in a clever trap. Nice! I'm really looking forward to seeing where this goes next. It's good stuff.

There's a handy backup story called "Dark Wolverine Saga" that's just narration written from the perspective of the real Wolverine, telling us the backstory of Daken, accompanied by reprint illustrations. It's not the best writing ever, but it's not terrible, and I certainly needed the refresher course.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Weapon X #3
This series started off with a lot of promise, but is now disappointing me a little. Sure, the guys with the laser claws and the guns that shoot cancer are still here, but Wolverine's fight with them is edited down to a couple of quick panels of action, and mostly described in exposition. Some of the exposition is darkly funny, but I kind of wanted to see more of the actual fight. Meanwhile, Maverick comes back into the story in rather spectacular fashion, but the reporter subplot seems to hit a dead end when her expose article ends up being completely ineffective. Even Wolverine's clever plan fails, and we're left with the bad guys pretty much winning the day. Maybe that's what left a sour taste in my mouth, more than anything else. Regardless, it's still a pretty good story with some cool ideas, so I'll be back for next month's issue.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Fables (Not), Fringe (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hulk (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Saturday, June 13, 2009 09:00 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 5/20, 5/28, and 6/3, plus a trade paperback I got in Rehoboth, and another trade paperback that I found on my bookshelf; I stored it there and then forgot I owned it. I have to stop doing that.

(I should mention that, as usual, this post contains many spoilers.)

Back issues and old data
Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah
This is a black and white graphic novel in four chapters, written by Mike Mignola and Troy Nixey. Nixey also provides the art for the first three chapters, with Farel Dalrymple taking over for the final chapter. The plot is Lovecraftian, although the actual storytelling and characters are not - if that makes any sense. It appears to be set in 19th century London (or a nearby city in a nearby timeline). Strange tentacled monsters are being pulled up by fishermen, and even the regular fish are acting oddly, whispering "doom" over and over. A hideous, fishy plague starts spreading through the populace. Meanwhile, prostitutes are being murdered by a serial killer, and their ghosts haunt the streets. It all seems to be tied to a newcomer in town: a young whore named Jenny Finn. Thrown into the middle of this mystery by chance (or fate?) is a simple country boy named Joe who just moved to the city to earn a living there. The mystery ends up involving a secret society trying to bring about the birth of a hideous monster.

Troy Nixey's art is unique, eerie, fantastic, and perfectly suited to the story. Luckily Dalrymple's work is nearly as good (I'd like to believe he inserted Alan Moore into the book, as that dude wearing the snazzy tentacle hat at the secret society meeting at the end). The writing is fun and fascinating; the mystery is intriguing, and there's lots of great incidental dialog. And I have a hard time resisting anything with that lovely Lovecraftian flavor. I particularly like all the fish saying "doom" in the background all the time, and nobody really mentioning it at all. The ending comes rather abruptly, and doesn't make all that much sense to me (she was for everybody, high born and low? What does that even mean?), but I love the totally twisted Christmas Carol reference. Overall, a pretty wonderful graphic novel. Troy Nixey's sketchbook in the back is a true delight and is full of many wonderfully creepy portraits, including one of Hellboy!
Thumbs Up

John Woo's Seven Brothers
This is a trade paperback collection of a miniseries from the now defunct Virgin Comics, written by Garth Ennis with art by Jeevan Kang. What John Woo actually had to do with it, I'm not sure. Possibly he came up with the premise? On the title page, Garth Ennis' name appears under "Script," and under that it says, "with additional scenes from the cutting room floor of Tiger Hill Productions." Maybe this was going to be a movie before it became a comic book?

Anyway. The book is a crazy, modern day reimagining of the old folk tale about the seven (or five, or ten, depending on which version you're talking about) Chinese brothers with extraordinary abilities, a story I know about mostly thanks to poppy and REM. We open with the revelation that China sent a huge expedition to explore the world all the way back in the 1400s, thus discovering America and proving that the world was round before anybody else. But all history of this expedition was wiped away because it bankrupted the nation and everybody was pissed. It further turns out the expedition was being used by a great wizard, known as the Son of Hell, to place magic stones at certain key points along the "Dragon Lines," or ley lines of the Earth, and thus gain ultimate power over the entire planet. But the wizard's apprentice, Fong, realizing that a dude named Son of Hell shouldn't be allowed to have control of the Earth, used his charm to impregnate women all over the planet, passing different aspects of his powers into his children, so they would be there to fight back should the Son of Hell eventually succeed in putting all the stones in their places. When the Son of Hell tried to grasp the power of the dragon lines prematurely, Fong attacked him as a last resort. He died, but still managed to seal the wizard underground for hundreds of years. A modern day CEO, having learned about the Son of Hell and the dragon lines and all the power that could be had through them, digs up the Son of Hell and reawakens evil. Luckily, Fong's descendants are still around to fight back.

It's a neat premise and since it's written by Garth Ennis there's plenty of brutal insanity. The first scene after the prologue features one of our main characters - Ronald, a pathetic, would-be bad-ass pimp - getting the crap beat out of him by a bunch of whores. It's almost like Frank Miller's writing this! Luckily for Ronald, Rachel (descendant of Fong and carrier of his legacy) shows up and saves him using her magic powers: she can tell people how she beat them up, and then it happens. Very cool. Later we learn the various abilities of six of the seven "brothers," all of which turn out to be quite cool, as well. Only Ronald's powers remain a mystery. Then the Son of Hell reveals his plan: "I will slake my righteous anger in the bowels of whorish fate. And when I do, I'll use this world as a condom." That is some great villain dialog right there.

I was really shocked when all the heroes of the story got killed very early on. But then, in another very cool sequence, the first of Ronald's incredible powers are revealed: he knows the way out of hell! I'm kind of okay with Ronald being a pretty despicable person - at least we get to know him a little bit, which is more than you can really say for a lot of the other characters - but I'm not really okay with the way it turns out that he has so many, incredibly huge powers. It seems like kind of a cheat. He can dream the future, he knows the way out of hell, he knows the secret to defeating the Son of Hell, and also he's an incredibly powerful dragon? How does that all work? And why, as one of the other characters points out, is Ronald so powerful, while some of them can just jump really high? Still, the other guys do some cool stuff with their powers. I like when the guy with the incredibly powerful voice yells, "Son of Hell! Go back there!" And it is amusing when Ronald says, "I'm a muthafuckin' dragon, bitch!!"

Despite some occasional vicious attacks on my suspension of disbelief, and some other moments of ridiculousness, this is a pretty good book. The story is fast-paced, action-packed, and fun, with lots of clever ideas. According to Wikipedia there's a sequel, but I'm not sure what it would be about. This book is a complete story in and of itself. I might be interested if it was also written by Ennis, or someone else just as talented, but it was written by some guy I've never heard of named Ben Raab, so I don't plan to seek it out.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 5/20
Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3
Ugh! What a crummy comic this is. It's absolutely loaded with painfully cheesy narration and dialog from Dick Grayson, and some equally bad expository monologue from Tim Drake. Things get off on the wrong foot right away with a page full of bad narration, followed by a corny two-page spread of all the Batman-related heroes standing around posing heroically, followed by another page full of bad narration. There's a pretty neat one-page interlude with Commissioner Gordon, but we're back to the corny stuff soon enough.

Now for some spoilers. So far Tony Daniel has written Damian as a pathetic, incompetent, whiny brat, but for some reason Alfred puts him in the Robin costume in this book, as a reward for trying to knock the butler out with a wrench. Wha? The true identity of the new Black Mask remains a mystery, which is slightly irritating. Dick fights Jason with love and holographic messages from Bruce. Squire allows herself to be beaten up, robbed, and led around by the nose by a gimpy Damian. Tim explains aloud to himself and to us why he's still alive despite being stabbed by a Batarang in the chest. Jason dies again in one of those painfully cliche moments where the villain is hanging from a cliff by one hand and the hero offers him his hand because it's the heroic thing to do but the crazy villain drops anyway because he's crazy. Then Dick spouts even more corny, nonsensical narration and finally consents to be Batman like we all knew he was supposed to do from the beginning.

Blargh!

Tony Daniel's art is pretty good, but his writing is quite terrible. Still, it's good to see the identities of the new Batman and Robin finally settled and revealed. And now their story will be handed off to the all-star team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I can't wait to read what they're going to do with Dick and Damian.
Thumbs Down

Captain America #50
Marvel loves celebrating milestones! They've got the 70th Anniversary to celebrate all year. And of course they have to celebrate reaching #50 in the latest volume of Captain America, so this issue contains not only a new story looking back on Bucky's life, but also a summary of Captain America's entire life history, and a short comedic story summarizing the very brief career of the fake '60s Captain America. And next month they're returning to the legacy numbering of Captain America and presenting a big, super special issue #600! Good lord.

The first story in this issue - with writing by Ed Brubaker and art by Luke Ross, as usual - cleverly discusses these milestone celebrations via the metaphor of setting its events on Bucky's birthday. Bucky is in the middle of a fight with some mysterious jet-packed individuals, and thinking back he realizes this kind of thing happens to him every birthday. This is a good excuse to take a look back at Bucky's life, so we jump back to 1941 and see a young Bucky cooling his heels in a jail cell after getting into a bar brawl (I love it!). The Major who's looking after him decides the way to straighten him out is to send him to England for special combat training with the SAS. It's Bucky's first step along the path that will make him Cap's sidekick. The next birthday we see is in 1943. This is a fun little story wherein Toro mistakenly gives up the Invaders' position to the super-powered Nazi villain Master Man in a wrongheaded attempt to throw Bucky a surprise party. Then we fast forward through Bucky's other birthdays, and fall back into the present, where we finally figure out what the deal is with the guys who are attacking him: they're crazy patriots who love Captain America, but don't think Bucky is the real thing, and don't appreciate him wearing the uniform. This revelation hits Bucky a little too close to home, as he's still not sure himself he should be wearing Cap's colors. But luckily, all his super buddies are waiting at home to make him feel better. Even though it's a little corny, I was really touched by the happy ending, and the fact that Bucky doesn't need to make a birthday wish, because he has everything he needs (aww).

The next story, as I said, is just a simple summary of the history of Captain America, but it's wonderfully illustrated, with classic style and dramatic design, so I quite enjoyed it. It's apparently both written and illustrated by Marcos Martin. Nice job, Mr. Martin!

The last part of the book is "Passing the Torch!" which tells a story that originally appeared in Strange Tales #106 and 114 in 1963, about a petty criminal who dressed up as Captain America in a sad attempt to rob a bank. The story is told directly to us by the criminal himself in a simple monologue. Except for the first and last panels, none of the action is dramatized at all. It's kind of a boring way to tell a story. It still ends up being mildly amusing, but I had to struggle a bit to stay focused and read the whole thing. It's OK, but could have been better.
Thumbs Up

The Complete Dracula #1
This is the start of Dynamite's comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even though I think the novel is flawed, I love it, and was curious to see what a straight comic book adaptation would look like. Unfortunately, it's a bit boring. This is literally just the novel, edited down and accompanied by illustrations. Leah Moore and John Reppion have done a pretty good job of paring Stoker's text down to the essentials, but it's still just Stoker's text. Colton Worley's art, while sometimes realistic and evocative, is also often clumsy, blurry, and disappointing. It's interesting to see "Dracula's Guest," the rather controversial prologue/alternate opening to the novel, dramatized and added on the front of the story. But besides that there's really not much exciting going on here, and I'm just not sure what the point is of treading again over such already well-traveled ground. I love John Cassaday's cover art, naturally, and I'm almost tempted to pick up the next issue just for that, and for the adaptation of the Demeter sequence, always my favorite part of the book. But I don't think I'm tempted enough to actually do it.
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #1
This miniseries focuses on the exploits of some of my favorite characters from Final Crisis: the stylish and ridiculous Japanese hero group Super Young Team. Despite this fact, if I'd remembered that I really disliked everything else I'd read by author Joe Casey, I probably wouldn't have bought it. But I did, and I'm glad I did, because it's quite a bit of fun. (Which actually kind of annoys me. If Joe Casey isn't going to be crappy all the time, how do I know whether to buy his comics or not?! Bastard.) I kind of loved it right away when I opened it up and saw that the first line was Most Excellent Superbat saying, "Super Young Team! Suspension of disbelief: on." The characters are introduced on the title page by showing us their "Facespace" profiles on the screen of what looks like an iPhone. It's a brilliant idea, as is the idea to present Superbat's narration as Twitter updates throughout (his user name is @mosexbat - as of this writing not in use on Twitter!). Storywise, the team just got themselves a new PR guy and a new, high tech satellite headquarters. But they're all still a bit confused as to what their purpose is in this new world. They used to be all about style and popularity and fun, but now they want to be more than that - they want to be real heroes, and help rebuild Japan! Sort of - if they can still party and hang out with celebrities throughout. But their PR guy is focused on turning them away from real hero work - and perhaps for darker reasons than he's letting on. It's a fun and intriguing story, and I love these crazy characters. Superbat is a bit of an arrogant bastard, but in a funny way, and his heart's in the right place. I also love that the villain they fight at the end is just that sleazy, over-sexed guy who won't leave a girl alone at a party - but times two, and with super powers!

I'm very impressed with this comic. I even like the art, despite the fact that it's done by some guy who calls himself Chriscross. I just hope Joe Casey doesn't go back to being lame again before the series is over.
Thumbs Up

The Incredibles #2
When will Mr. Incredible learn?? You gotta tell your team when something's going wrong with you! Sigh. Before he finally has to break down and explain what's happening to him to his family, Bob visits the doctor to the superheroes, Doc Sunbright, who just happens to be the cousin of the tailor to the superheroes, Edna Mode. That those two are related is slightly stupid, but I'm willing to buy it, mostly because I enjoy the idea of there being a doctor to the superheros, and loved seeing Bob get a super checkup. Sadly, Doc Sunbright can't figure out what's wrong with Bob, and he fails to help out during the team's next mission. (I like how his line "I wasn't strong enough" mirrors one of my favorite of his lines from the movie: "I can't lose you again. I'm not strong enough.") So Elastigirl makes the command decision to ground him! Probably a good call, but I know Mr. Incredible isn't going to take it well. Hopefully they'll find out what's wrong with him soon!

Definitely still enjoying this series. Mark Waid's writing is strong, and so is Marcio Takara's art. They both get what was cool about the movie.
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Jack of Fables #34
Part 5 of "The Great Fables Crossover" picks up with Jack and the main characters from Fables having swapped books. Bigby is still reeling from his sudden transformation at the hands (or rather, pen) of Kevin Thorn when Thorn makes another attempt to destroy him, and again doesn't quite succeed. He can't figure out what's holding him back - until he finally notices the dude in the straightjacket who's been tailing him all along. Turns out I was right about that guy: he is indeed Writer's Block. Thorn reveals that he killed Writer's Block years ago, but it cost him his favorite pen to do it, and since the guy's a Literal, he just came back anyway. While he's trying to figure out what to do about this, he sends the genres out to protect him from Bigby and friends. Meanwhile, the Page sisters have finally lost patience with just sitting around the diner and are headed Kevin's way, too, with a car full of weapons. Also, Bigby is continuing to go through a series of more and more embarrassing, and more and more amusing, transformations. Lots of fun, imaginative, and funny stuff happens in this issue. I really enjoy the genres and how deliberately corny and cliche they are. I like the glimpse of apocalypse that we get while the Page sisters are discussing how Kevin might end the world. I like Revise's dry sarcasm. I like Gary's pure, child-like joy at Bigby's various transformations. And I like the Writer's Block concept.
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Marvel Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
The latest of these anniversary one-shots features one new story ("Project: Blockbuster" by writer Tom DeFalco and artist Chris Burnham) and two reprints of old stories ("The Human Torch" by Carl Burgos from Marvel Mystery Comics #4, February 1940, and "The Ferret" by Stockbridge Winslow and Irwin Hasen from Marvel Mystery Comics #5, March 1940). The first story is a team-up between Namor, the Ferret, the Angel, and the Human Torch and Toro. It opens with Namor fighting an enemy who's similar to the Human Torch, but is instead covered in a green fire that's freezing cold. The Ferret and Betty Dean figure the Green Flame might be just the first of a series of deadly weapons being created by a missing professor for the Nazis. Namor hates the Human Torch and is certain he's involved somehow, but in fact Torch gets kidnapped as well. The Angel helps them find out where he's being kept and the whole gang of heroes raids the place, where they're forced to fight not just an army of regular Green Flames, but also an extra large one called Project: Blockbuster, and the giant robot Electro! A huge battle ensues, and of course our heroes win. It's not a particularly imaginative story, and it's not exactly loaded with subtle character development, but it's pretty fun. It was interesting meeting the Ferret; he's a character I was not familiar with.

The next story features the first appearance of the Green Flame in the original comic. In this case, the Green Flame has so terrified New York, it's been put under martial law. The Human Torch is coming to see a friend in the city when the cops stop him and ask for his credentials; he tells them he's Jim Hamond, then they all run off when the Green Flame shows up. Hamond turns into the Human Torch and fights it, but it gets away. The cops come back, and since Hamond is no longer there, they stupidly assume the Human Torch must have killed him. They also refuse to believe that he is the Human Torch, but decide he must be some random other guy who happens to also be covered entirely with red fire. Admittedly, with these Green Flame guys running around this isn't an entirely ridiculous idea, but it's still pretty ridiculous (I mean, how many flaming dudes can there really be in the world?). Anyway, Torch escapes and meets up with his friend, who thinks it's hilarious that Torch is now wanted for the murder of himself. Then Torch fights off the Green Flame and defeats their creator, a mad scientist who helpfully calls himself Dr. Manyac. As in a lot of other Golden Age stories, the art is clumsy, and the story and the dialog are silly, but it's fun in its own way.

The final story shows us the Ferret in action. He's just a regular human detective with an actual ferret for a sidekick. He arrives at the scene of a murder and makes a bet with the cop in charge that he can solve the mystery with just one or two seemingly inconsequential clues. Of course, he succeeds. It's all quite ridiculous, and also very rushed and simplistic, as the whole story has to be crammed into just six pages. Can't say I'll be seeking out any collections of The Ferret anytime soon!
Thumbs Sideways

Planet Skaar: Prologue #1
Like Joe Casey, Greg Pak is an author who confounds me by being really good sometimes and really mediocre other times. I'd given up on Pak's Skaar: Son of Hulk series some time ago, but decided to grab this one-shot and see what it was about anyway. Turns out it's irritatingly good! Even worse, the recap in the beginning, which fills us in on Skaar's life story, makes it sound like the more recent issues of Skaar were really cool. Damn it! Now I might have to go back and get them, too.

This comic opens with Bruce Banner (apparently free and out in the world again?) getting pissed about some ketchup and turning into Hulk. But was the ketchup really to blame?? Jen Walters also finds herself Hulking out for no particular reason, and both she and Hulk are drawn toward the same location. Meanwhile, Dr. Waynesboro experiences a sudden flare of her inherited Old Power. We get an interesting glimpse of a letter Reed was writing to Bruce and probably never sent wherein he promises him that should he have had a child, and should it have somehow survived, Reed would do everything in his power to protect it. And then, of course, that child comes zapping down to Earth. It's his landing site that Hulk and She-Hulk are being drawn to. Skaar wants to see his father, but Osborn drops some bombs on him instead. Skaar disappears in the explosion and falls off the Hulk and She-Hulk's radar. What no one realizes is that he has simply reverted to a humanoid form and wandered off. It's a bit of a shocking revelation - for us, and for Skaar - that he has this ability, and the realization makes for an interesting and moving ending.

Other things I liked about this issue: it stays true to Marvel's tendency to get She-Hulk as close to naked as possible as often as possible (although well placed strips of cloth and gestures by other characters keep us from seeing her completely nude); the FF have a spare outfit for She-Hulk already, harking back to the time when she was a member of the team; the Thing and the Human Torch squabbling in that funny, friendly way they always do; Wolverine watching the arrival of Skaar on TV - his bartender says, "Kids, huh?" and he responds, "Tell me about it;" and Waynesboro's rather majestic speech about Skaar. Also, I find it both amusing and just slightly annoying that Pak is apparently turning Skaar into Amadeus Cho II, complete with injured wild coyote sidekick. How many rebel kids are gonna end up with injured wild coyote pets in Pak comics, exactly? On the other hand, I kind of enjoy the parallel (I do love Cho, after all), and the comic is otherwise so smart and funny and effective, I'm willing to forgive it the slightly unbelievable coincidence. Looks like I'm reading Pak on Skaar again, at least for a little while...
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Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time: Dragonmount #0
I'm really not sure what possessed me to buy this. Yes, I used to love Robert Jordan's fantasy epic The Wheel of Time when I was younger. I read the first couple books over and over, and waited eagerly for more. But after I finished book 6 or 7, I looked back on it and realized that nothing had really happened at all in the entire 900 or so pages, and I just gave up on the series. Since the fact that it wasn't going anywhere was really my main reason for stopping, when I heard that the series would finally be completed by Jordan's chosen successor, according to the notes he left behind, I thought I might actually read the entire series of books through from the beginning, for old time's sake, and to see how everything finally turned out. So I guess it's that feeling, plus my nostalgia for the series in general, that led me to pick up this zero issue of the Dabel Brothers' comic book adaptation, despite the fact that it was scripted by Chuck Dixon, an author whose work I generally dislike. It opens about where the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, opens. We're in the small town of Emond's Field, where nothing ever happens, and we briefly meet the main characters from the village: the young woman Egwene, her boyfriend Rand al'Thor, and his friends Mat, Ban, and Elam. We also meet Rand's father Tam, who tells the story of a legendary hero named Lews Therin Telamon, known as the Dragon, and how he defeated evil by sealing the Dark One back into his prison many years ago. But there's a sense of a lingering menace. In the back of the book is a prologue, which is a direct adaptation of the prologue of The Eye of the World, and shows us the terrible revenge the Dark One had on the Dragon after his victory.

The main story here is very obviously nothing more than a cursory introduction to this world and its characters. There's no real story; Egwene is used by the author as a narrative pawn, dragged here and there simply so we can see the other characters through her eyes. Her father says he's going to tell a story, but apparently just so we can hear him say a few lines, as he then immediately tells Tam to tell a story instead, and the storytelling sequence is just another thinly veiled attempt at exposition, filling us in on the important history of this world. We barely get to know Rand and his friends at all; some of them aren't even named in the text. What dialog there is is pretty clumsy, and the characters really protest too much that "all that happened long ago" and "nothing ever happens here." It's so obvious that they're about to be proven wrong that it's almost painful. The prologue (which inexplicably appears in the back of the book) is a bit better; this was always one of the most interesting parts of The Eye of the World. But it's still not particularly exciting. I don't think I'll be tricked into buying another issue of this.
Thumbs Down

Skrull Kill Krew #2
This series continues to be fun and interesting. In this issue, the band continues to get back together as Ryder recruits Riot (a lonely lesbian stuck in the form of a horrible monster because her shape-shifting powers have crapped out on her) to help him infiltrate a "Reverse Rodeo" where the Skrull-cows are roping humans, riding them, and killing them. Surprisingly, the humans aren't prisoners; they're actually there by choice, looking for some kind of kinky, S&M experience (they don't know about the killing part). Riot and Ryder start massacring the Skrulls, and are unexpectedly assisted by Wolverine, who claims to be among the humans as an undercover agent (although it seems clear he was there for the S&M thing, too). Later, Riot's shape-shifting powers come back, and Ryder decides to resurrect another member of the team. It turns out he has all their heads in jars in a garage, and all he has to do to bring one back is to dump it out on the floor and wait.

So yeah, that's all a little weird. Not sure what that's about. But it's an interesting and surprising story, and the dialog's quite funny.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Alien Spotlight - Romulans
I was hoping for great things from this one-shot, written by Ian Edgington with art by Wagner Reis, but it ended up being disappointing. It tells the story of a successful Romulan military commander who decides to go into politics, but doesn't bargain on how violently and underhandedly the Praetor will oppose him. It's an okay story with some vaguely interesting action and political intrigue, but it's hurt by the art. The characters are all ridiculously muscular, wearing ridiculously tight clothing; I expect this kind of thing from a superhero comic, but in a Star Trek comic? Worse, the space battle sequences are just pure confusion. The ships are all so similar-looking, and are depicted at such random angles with so many explosions and obstructions all around them, it's impossible to tell which is which and what's going on. It's just not very well done.
Thumbs Sideways

Wolverine: Weapon X #2
Jason Aaron's kick-ass Wolverine story continues! That woman reporter he met is getting obsessed with him, and with figuring out what his story is. Her interest gets her contacted by a mysterious informant who puts her on the same track he's on: the new Weapon X. Wolverine cleverly draws out the new Weapon X guys and attacks them, but gets more than he bargained for: these guys are just like him, but younger, and with laser claws. Plus, there are a whole lot of them. Luckily, he does have a few advantages on his side: his experience, and the fact that he's the best at what he does. He draws them into the jungle, where he can fight them where and how he wants to. Next issue, showdown! The original Weapon X versus the new models. Good times. This story is clever, darkly funny, and has plenty of exciting action. And it has guns that shoot cancer! Awesome.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 5/28
Aliens #1
Dark Horse relaunches its Aliens series with this comic, written by John Arcudi with art by Zach Howard. We open with some folks on a planet being killed by Aliens, then cut to the usual "group of people waking from hyper sleep on a spaceship" sequence. The memory loss from hyper sleep is used as a clumsy excuse to shoehorn in some exposition to explain who these folks are and why they're here (they're scientists who've traveled to this planet to examine an archaeological site uncovered by a mining company). Then things finally take a surprising and interesting turn when the scientists meet some miners who seem to have gone a bit crazy and perhaps joined some kind of religious cult. It's all rather curious and intriguing. There's more violence, but someone miraculously survives. I'm betting it's the ship's synthetic person.

For an Aliens comic written by John Arcudi, this is surprisingly boring, clumsy, and lacking in creativity and characterization, but like I said, it does get more interesting at the end. Hopefully the next issue will be better.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman in Barcelona: Dragon's Knight #1
This is an odd one-shot from writer Mark Waid and artist Diego Olmos. It's set pre-Final Crisis, when Bruce Wayne was still Batman and he wasn't busy fighting the Black Hand or an evil God. Killer Croc has escaped from Arkham - again! - and this time has apparently been tricked by the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow into believing he's the reincarnation of the dragon from the story of St. George and the Dragon, and that he has to go to Barcelona to find the knight who slayed him and take his revenge. It's a rather unlikely and contrived reason to move the action to Barcelona, but... whatever. Batman has, of course, planned ahead for just such a situation and has a mini-Bat Cave in that city, so he just flies over and sets up shop, inventing a reason for Bruce Wayne to be there, and taking the opportunity to catch up with and old friend. What he isn't prepared for is how Batman will be received in a city other than Gotham. The cops take shots at him and the citizens are afraid of him. It's an interesting twist.

I like the opening page of this one, which shows a Wayne jet flying into Barcelona, its shadow a giant bat symbol, but I do think it's a little corny to do that on the first page, and then immediately jump back 24 hours earlier on the next page. And like I already said, the plot in general is rather contrived and nonsensical. There are some neat character moments between Bruce and his old friend Cristina Llanero. It's also interesting seeing Batman off-balance in a new, alien city - but I feel like more could have been done with that idea. I mean, one time a woman is scared of him, and then another time the cops shoot at him, but that's it. I think the whole story should have been about Batman trying to adjust to working in a different city. That's an interesting fish out of water (bat out of cave?) type of story. As it is, this ends up being a pretty basic "Batman uses detective work to find a criminal and then they fight" story. At least there are a few scenes where the metaphor of knight vs. dragon is used in fun and interesting ways.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: The Hood #1
The first issue of this Dark Reign tie-in miniseries by Jeff Parker, with art by Kyle Hotz, is the most intimate look we've had at The Hood since his introductory miniseries. We see his gang pulling a job, and get an idea how he's been holding all these villains together. And we see how he's changed, and how the demon that owns his cloak is haunting him. After seeing him in all his brutal grandeur as The Hood, it's surreal and almost unbelievable to see him go back to his wife and try to pretend he's still just Parker Robbins - your everyday, average petty crook with a wife and a child. How much longer can he keep these lives separate? Especially now that an old enemy has returned to finish him once and for all?

The White Fang character is pretty lame and contrived, so I'm not sure how I feel about her being back, but at least she's not annoying in this issue. The Hood and his gang continue to be fascinating, and Hotz's art is good, especially during the creepy sequence where the demon speaks to The Hood through a dead body. I might have to get at least one more issue of this.
Thumbs Up

Ignition City #3
A look through her Dad's logbook and a talk with Gayle the bartender, plus some hard logic, leads our hero to the identity of her father's killer. Pretty shortly after she makes this discovery, the tension finally erupts into an all-out firefight with ray guns. In between, we get a further peek into the strange and violent history of his world, and Yuri has a hilarious drunken run-in with some alien beetles before finally actually being useful for once. I kind of love Yuri. It's a fascinating world Ellis is building here, with the help of illustrator Gianluca Pagliarani. The glimpses we get of the horrific acts of Kharg The Killer are particularly intriguing. And of course it's hard not to love our main character, a beautiful young rocket jockey just trying to do right by her poor dead Dad. It took a while but I think I'm finally hooked on this series.
Thumbs Up

The New Avengers #53
I think I might have become THAT comic fan. The one who goes on and on about how much he dislikes an author, and then continues to buy his comics anyway. The author I'm talking about in this case is Brian Michael Bendis. Even though his style has begun to seriously annoy me, I can't seem to keep myself from buying his books. In this issue, the same corny back and forth dialog is here again, but there's also a story about the Eye of Agamotto seeking out its new owner, who turns out to be (spoiler!) "Brudder" Voodoo. Huh. Not sure how to feel about that. I know almost nothing about the character. Although I can tell you I'm not a big fan of his silly accent. There are enough silly accents in comics. Anyway, in the meantime there are some fun fights; Captain America gets bad-ass and just shoots Madame Masque in the face, and Son of Satan and The Hood face off.

I just can't seem to come to a final decision about Bendis. I guess for now I'll keep reading his books. The stories are interesting, and integral to the Marvel Universe, and anyway sometimes he really is funny. I liked the thing about Spider-Man calling Captain America "Bucky Cap," and him not liking it.
Thumbs Sideways

Fringe #5
This isn't the best issue of this miniseries, but it's a decent one. Bishop actually manages to convince his future father he's his son thanks to the fact that the Nazis just turned on their own version of the time machine that Bishop and Bell used to get here. Which probably explains why their time machine brought them here in the first place; it's the first time the machine was turned on and thus, theoretically, the furthest back they could go - kind of a zero point. A Back to the Future-style fading person moment occurs, but they manage to save their futures and get back to their own time. There's even a fun final glimpse of how Hitler really died: he was eaten alive by dinosaurs! Nice.

The backup story is about an anchorwoman who's noticed a pattern in the recent weird stories she's been reporting: Massive Dynamic is connected to all of them. The company somehow knows she's figured this out and invites her out to a research facility to show her what they're really doing. But she just ends up becoming a part of their latest experiment. Kind of an obvious idea, but pretty eerie and fun anyway.
Thumbs Up

Ghost Rider #35
In the third of a series of one-shots taking a look at what our main characters are doing now that Zadkiel has conquered heaven, we see Johnny Blaze trying to find some kind of peace at a seaside town, only to end up having to fight a hideous demon known as The Skinbender, who resembles a woman who's had far too much plastic surgery, and who's horribly mutating everybody in town. Johnny tries to avoid calling on the Ghost Rider's help, but of course must eventually do so. When Johnny unleashes the Ghost Rider, the Skinbender kind of falls in love with him a little bit, but he just torches her anyway. And she likes it. Johnny seems on the verge once again of being subsumed by the Ghost Rider, but luckily the Caretaker shows up and talks Johnny into coming with her and helping her fight back against Zadkiel any way they can. All in all, a pretty brutal and twisted story. I like it! Tony Moore's art in particular is quite good.

If I understand correctly, this book is going to take a break until August, at which point it will come back as Ghost Riders: Heaven's on Fire, wherein Jason Aaron will finish up his run on the title. I'll be sad to see him leave the book, but am excited to see what he does with it before he goes, and curious to see who'll pick it up after him, and where they'll go with it.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern #41
The prelude to Blackest Night continues! Sigh. This Blackest Night thing better be pretty good after all the hype and buildup they've given it. Anyway, in this episode of the neverending prologue to the actual story, Larfleeze is keeping Hal Jordan alive because he wants to know what the deal is with the blue ring and how he can get it. Meanwhile, Fatality, now in purple love mode, saves John Stewart, but Sinestro and his Corps have some nasty things in mind for her and the Zamarons. Then that dude who's still looking for the Anti-Monitor's corpse is killing vampires or something? I didn't really quite follow what the deal was with that. Anyway, Hal figures out one way to stall Larfleeze, and try to figure out what's going on with him, is to tell him he'll give him the blue ring in exchange for information. Which is how he learns the rather fascinating origin of Agent Orange, how the Guardians' ended up agreeing to stay out of the Vega System, and a small piece of the story of Parallax. But after the story's told, Larfleeze gets impatient and does the smart thing: he lops Hal's arm off and steals the blue ring! Good call, man. It looks like he's in the Blue Lantern Corps now, and it looks like Hal's about to die. But both of those things seem unlikely, so we'll just have to see how it gets resolved in the next issue.

And yes, I will be getting the next issue. No matter how much I complain about Johns' poorly written dialog and narration, and his endlessly not-quite-starting Blackest Night, I have to admit the dude has got me hooked on this story.
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hercules #129
This series and its author, Greg Pak, really bug me. Sometimes really good, sometimes really mediocre. I keep picking them up and dropping them. But at this particular moment I'm in a picking up mood, because Pak's integration of ancient Greek mythology into the Marvel comics universe is really entertaining. This issue opens with Amadeus and Hercules washing themselves in the toxins of the Jersey Shore to burn away their sins before entering the afterlife, where they hope to take advantage of Pluto's disinterest in the domain of the dead to find Zeus and sneak him out of there, so he can help them defeat Hera. A casino in Atlantic City turns out to be one of the entrances to hell. A mythology refresher helps explain why that lady Hebe is stalking Herc. Cerberus has met a sad fate: he's now just a chained attraction in the casino. Herc and Cho's guide, Aegis, describes each afterlife as an interface, like a web browser, all accessing the same group of dead people. At the moment, because Pluto is interested in more Earthly pursuits, death is pretty variable; if you win at the games in the casino, you get to come back to life. Everybody's playing for their second chance. Which explains why everybody's always coming back to life in the Marvel Universe! The two-page spread where we get to see a bunch of familiar dead heroes playing slot machines and roulette is really fantastic. Cho then beats the system to win them some more chips to pay the ferryman, and Herc ends up tearing the place apart, in a scene that's both funny and moving. But now it looks like Pluto is going to put Zeus on trial, with a jury full of dead villains deciding his fate?

I just love what Pak is doing here, mixing together these two mythologies in such a clever and funny way. His dialog is clever and funny, too. Looks like I'm collecting this book again!
Thumbs Up

The Literals #2
I continue to be very amused by the personification of the Genres, as done by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges. It's pretty amusing satire. But man are they brutal to Fantasy! Sam and Hansel give Kevin quite different advice on how to deal with his little Writer's Block issue; Sam, of course, wants to try to save the world, while Hansel is eager to see it destroyed. Sam finally decides it's necessary to take drastic action against Hansel to keep him from unduly influencing Kevin (go Sam! That was bad-ass), but he makes his move too late! Bigby and his gang have joined up with the Page sisters and are doing fierce battle against the Genres practically on Kevin's doorstep, but they could be too late, as well. It's not looking good for the future of this world!

I was a little leery of this whole Great Fables Crossover thing, but I'm really enjoying it so far. Nice work, guys!
Thumbs Up

Muppet Robin Hood #1
Boom!'s main Muppet Show ongoing is apparently doing quite well, so now they're doing this miniseries, which is exactly what it sounds like: the Muppets doing Robin Hood. It's the standard Muppet adaptation: they tell the original story, but with an all-Muppet cast, and everything has been slightly twisted, with plenty of pop culture references and silly jokes added in. Kermit is Robin, which is slightly confusing, given that Kermit's nephew's name is Robin, and Robin also appears in the story. They solve this problem by changing Robin's name to Squirt for this story, and they make sure to mention how goofy all that is. The story opens with Robin (by which I mean Kermit) returning home from the Crusades to his ancestral swamp only to find it has been turned into a mini-golf course by Prince John - in fact, all of England has been turned into a cheesy, money-making tourist trap (I particularly like that the Manchester Marketplace is a literal tourist trap - they stick you in a maze and you have to pay to get out!). Naturally, Robin decides he must return England to its former glory. Luckily he meets up with Little John and his group of outcasts in the forest, and he quickly recruits them all to his cause. My favorite gag in the whole book is probably the one about the hippie band member who plays Willa Scarlet. Little John says of her: "You'll never meet someone with a better knowledge of herbs than her." Herbs, huh? Riiiight.

It's not exactly a knee-slappingly hilarious comic, but it's mildly amusing and generally pretty fun, so I'll probably keep reading it.
Thumbs Sideways

Rapture #1
I read a preview of this new Dark Horse miniseries ages ago and rather liked it, so naturally I picked up the first issue. The premise is interesting. Basically the superheroes in this particular universe have a huge, horrific war wherein they kill each other off and throw the Earth into a post-apocalyptic state, complete with bloodthirsty cannibals roaming the smoking ruins. One young woman is chosen by what appears to be an angel to protect the Earth now that the heroes are gone. She's offered a magical weapon and incredible power, but she keeps rejecting it, because she doesn't want the responsibility - she just wants to find her boyfriend, a young singer-songwriter whom she was separated from due to her own mixed feelings, and the chaos of the super-war. Finally the angel promises her that if she accepts her power and her destiny, she will be reunited with her boyfriend, and that convinces her to give in. Meanwhile, the lovesick boyfriend could be seeking comfort in the arms of another woman!

It's a pretty classic melodramatic doomed love story, but set in a post-apocalyptic, post-superhero context. The writing is by Taki Soma and Michael Avon Oeming, and Oeming also provides the art. The story is dramatic and intriguing, the dialog is realistic, and the visuals are powerful and effective, thanks in large part to Val Staples colors. I'm not a huge fan of melodrama, but it's pretty well done here. I'll probably get at least one more issue.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #72
Having skipped from #71 to #73, this series returns now to #72 for the penultimate episode in the Old Man Logan storyline. And boy is it fantastic. This has been a great arc, but this might be the greatest issue yet. It opens with a flashback to the brutal and awful final defeat of Captain America at the hands of the Red Skull, who now lives in a White House bedecked with Nazi insignia, wears Captain America's ragged, bloody costume for fun, and keeps a room full of the costumes and weaponry of all the old, dead heroes so he can look around and gloat. It's sick and twisted and just right. Naturally his henchmen bring the bodies of Wolverine and Hawkeye to him, but somebody's forgotten just how dangerous and resilient Wolverine can be. The way he finally defeats the Red Skull is so fantastic and bad-ass I just about hooted with joy when I saw it. Then he roars back across the country in an old Iron Man suit, focused even now only on getting back in time with the money that will save his family. But even after all of this, after everything he's been through, it wasn't enough, and he's too late. And that's the last straw. We know he's finally snapped back to his old brutal self thanks to a two-page spread that's just one gigantic, red word on a black background: "SNIKT!" Brilliant.

Holy crap, do I love this comic!! Looking forward to the conclusion in Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Sized Special, which I expect will be just as creative, bloody, insane, and awesome as the rest of the series has been.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 6/3
Batman and Robin #1
Writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely take on the new Batman and Robin in a new ongoing series. There aren't really words to describe how much I was looking forward to this. Which is usually a recipe for disappointment, but this book met pretty much all of my expectations. We open with B&R in the middle of a fantastic car chase. Quitely brilliantly writes the sound effects into the panels with the actual things that are making the sounds - so the explosion in the first panel bursts outwards in the form of two giant orange-red-yellow words: "BOOM BOOM." B&R are chasing an unfamiliar villain who calls himself Toad - and he looks like a toad, too. His dialog and that of his henchmen is hilarious. "The mingers can't catch us now!" he says. "They'd need wings to chase old Toad! They'd have to be Batman - and Batman's as dead as the sky is black! Belts, gentlemen, please! Safety first!" But of course, it is Batman, and he and Robin capture Toad handily, even putting him down with an old school simultaneous double punch. It turns out Toad isn't the head villain: he's working for someone else named Pyg. Afterwards, in a conversation with Alfred that spans two short pages, Morrison handles all of Dick Grayson's internal conflict over becoming Batman far more gracefully and powerfully than it was handled in all of Battle for the Cowl. Then there's a clever page that takes a sort of cross-section of the Wayne skyscraper, pulling out inset detail panels to show us what's going on at various points in the building as Alfred takes supper down to the boys. I love that Damian calls Alfred simply "Pennyworth," and treats him like a servant. Damian is such a stuck up little snot, but Morrison somehow makes him amusing anyway. Alfred takes his crap and responds with a simple arch of the eyebrow. The repartee between Dick and Alfred is wonderful. "Alfred, these chicken and jalapeno sandwiches are ferocious - I could eat them by the ton." The dialog in general is so old school comic-booky, but somehow without being over-the-top. As the Batmobile roars out of the cave, Batman says offhandedly, "Crime is doomed." Later, as they present themselves to Commissioner Gordon in grand fashion, flying down in answer to his signal on their new paracapes, Batman says, "This is it. Batman and Robin. Together again for the first time." This is followed shortly by a glorious, full-page illustration of them floating down with the signal behind them. These two feel so right in these costumes. They're not comfortable in them yet themselves, but I'm comfortable with them, as a reader.

In the book's final sequence, we meet Pyg for the first time as he grabs one of the henchmen who got away and tortures him for his failure in truly horrific fashion. So this issue has successfully introduced us to our new heroes, and our new villains. And in the back are four panels previewing what we can expect in future issues of the series. Is that Robin ripping off his cape? The Red Hood? Batman fighting Batwoman while another Batman walks out of molten lava? The Black Hand? Wow. I can't wait to see where Morrison and Quitely go next with this story. Batman and Robin are back, and they're in good hands.
Thumbs Up

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 - Tales of the Vampires
Since this isn't numbered at all, it would appear to be a one-shot, although the plurality of the title suggests otherwise. I don't know. Anyway, the idea is that we're taking a look at vampires in the context of the new world that the events of Season Eight have created: a world where the vampire is popular and accepted and the Slayer is hated and demonized (which is of course a clever metaphor for the current vampire fad in popular culture). The story is written by Becky Cloonan with art by Vasilis Lolos. It's about, and narrated by, a teen named Jacob who's bored with his life and desperate to feel something. He gets his kicks letting vampires suck his blood. His friend Alex doesn't approve, but likes him anyway, and agrees to go on a date with him. Feeling that his life is turning around, Jacob tells the vampires he's not in the mood to have his blood sucked tonight. But he quickly finds out that's not exactly how it works.

This ends up being a powerful character portrait and a really great story. A large part of what makes this such an excellent comic is the really lovely, Paul Pope-style art from Lolos, and the lush, candy-like colors from Dave Stewart. Seriously, Stewart has really outdone himself on this one. Just beautiful. I'm not sure if there will be any more Tales of the Vampires one-shots, but I certainly hope so!
Thumbs Up

Captain Britain and MI13 Annual #1
This book contains two stories by Paul Cornell: "The Harrowing of Hell" with art by Mike Collins and "British Magic" with art by Adrian Alphona. The first story gives us a short history of the life of Meggan, Captain Britain's lost love, and explains what she's been doing in hell and how she eventually got out. I didn't know anything about this character, so I was glad to read more about her, especially since her adventures in hell are so interesting and so well written. I particularly like the dialog of the other creatures there, especially the rulers of hell. I'm always fascinated by magical rules of give and take, so I enjoy the way Meggan barters with the rulers of hell, and the way they trick her and trap her with her own powers and her own hope. But it's hope and love that eventually leads her out of hell - into the arms of an unexpected savior. Interesting stuff! This ending seems to pull Meggan right into the current storyline of Captain Britain; it'll be interesting to see how she fits in.

"Harrowing" is a great story, but the art is just okay. The art in "British Magic," however, is quite excellent, with lots of fantastic use of perspective, and some really wonderful character portraits. The story here is set during a friendly game of cricket among the members of the team, and focuses on Captain Britain thinking back to his time with Meggan, and moping over having lost her. But eventually he realizes he's surrounded by loving friends who really understand him, and he's able to move on at least a little bit. It's a nice character-centered story. I just wish I understood cricket better. None of that part of the story makes any sense to me at all. The game is a complete mystery.
Thumbs Up

Daredevil Noir #3
Now feeling certain that Halloran is his father's killer, Daredevil tears the city apart looking for him. But when he finally gets to him, he discovers it's been a trap all along - Halloran wanted him to come, so he could take him out. But who'll do the deed? The Bull's-Eye Killer, of course, who is in fact none other than (drum roll) Eliza! An obvious plot twist in retrospect, but they cleverly threw Marvel fans off track by making them associate the Bull's-Eye Killer with Bullseye, and thus expect a man. Anyway, lucky for Daredevil Eliza is there to betray more than one person, and Halloran gets what's coming to him. Next issue I suppose we'll find out what went down between Eliza and Matt after that.

It's a rather beautifully written story (we can thank author Alexander Irvine for that), and even leaves me vaguely confused the way a labyrinthine noir plot should. And Tomm Coker's art is as realistic and artful as ever. I feel like if I look back over the plot once I've read the whole miniseries, it won't actually hold together, but I could be totally wrong about that. We'll see.
Thumbs Up

Dark Avengers #5
Yes, I went back to drink at Bendis' well yet again. But this time I really didn't regret the decision. I've got to hand it to the guy: this is a clever, funny, well-written comic. I particularly like the way he's written Norman Osborn during his live TV rebuttal of Hawkeye. We know, of course, that Osborn's being completely insincere - that he's really a madman and a scumbag. And that's what makes his reasoned arguments, his careful spin, and his false piety so very entertaining. Intercut with the masterful centerpiece of the issue (Osborn's interview) are various other scenes: a flashback showing us how Osborn talked the Sentry down after the events of last issue (although no one yet knows how he came back to life, including the Sentry himself), an interesting moment after that where Ares tried to straighten out his fellow Avengers and put them in their place (Bullseye seemed to calmly accept a bitch slap from the god of war, but I suspect he's just planning the best time to strike back), and a scene set after that when Ares comes home to find his son Alexander gone (which makes sense; that's the kid who's working for Nick Fury now). Then "Captain Marvel" and "Miss Marvel" have sex. Cap is a little disturbed by the way humans do the deed, and even more disturbed when Miss Marvel lets slip that the Dark Avengers is a team of psychotic criminals and murderers, a fact of which Cap was somehow unaware. Just around this time, a bunch of crazy guys on flying manta rays attack LA! Are those Namor's people? Anyway, Norman's pissed because coverage of the attack preempts his interview, so he calls the Avengers together. He can't quite bring himself to say the whole "Avengers assemble!" catchphrase, though: "Get 'em up and ready. Avengers... you know. Get them together." Heh.

So yeah, great stuff. Very funny and smart, and then there are explosions at the end.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Run! #2
Our hero (if you can call the Human Flame that) somehow survives the explosions and the killers from the end of last issue, but his money does not, so he's back at square one and still needs a big chunk of cash before he can hightail it out of town. Luckily, the guy from the Russian mob had his driver's license on him, complete with address ("Huh. Your name actually is Boris. Go figure."), so Mike heads over there, only to be attacked by the mobster's corgis, which, in true Human Flame style, he throws out the window (don't worry, they land safely in the pool below). He grabs the mobster's cash, but wants to use it to get some more weapons. He picks the wrong guy to try to buy from, however, and gets his ass beat. Now he needs a doctor. He foolishly accepts help from a two-bit supervillain who calls himself The Condiment King, and gets himself in with a whole gang of similar misfits led by a madman who calls himself Immortus. As usual, Mike's bad luck comes in about equal measure with his good: Immortus hooks him up with a bunch of super-human improvements, but also wants his obedience and is willing to enforce it through pain and torture.

Wow, this story has taken a crazy turn! But I still like it. Mike continues to be an entertainingly awful scumbag who's dragging himself through some serious mud. I'm curious to see if he'll get out of this, and how.
Thumbs Up

Irredeemable #3
I was on the fence about this series, until this issue. This one sealed the deal. I'm a fan for good now. The opening is seriously twisted: the Plutonian is forcing a couple of random people to play out a fantasy sex scene for him, with the man playing him and the girl playing his ex. Then we cut to a prison outside Philadelphia (yay, Philly!). Underneath the prison is the secret hideout of a now dead superhero named Inferno. Inferno's secret identity was a Bruce Wayne-like billionaire, and this was his Batcave. The supervillains found the hideout and have gathered there to loot the place, and to decide what to do about the Plutonian situation. Is he on their side now? Meanwhile, the heroes have some spies on the scene in the hopes that the villains will let something slip about the Plutonian's weaknesses. What no one has counted on is the Plutonian's cleverness; he anticipated this move and he's already on the scene. In an incredibly tense and nerve-wracking sequence, the Plutonian has a chat with the villains, calmly feeling them out and setting them up while the hero spy looks on, unable to move for fear he'll be spotted and killed on the spot. Ironically, the Plutonian never even notices the spy, or his partner, but manages to defeat them both anyway. Then he just gets ready to set up the twisted fantasy play from the beginning again, this time with new actors.

Holy crap is this brutal! The Plutonian is such a fearsome, horrific, unstoppable force: a brilliant, invincible madman with God-like powers. I loved meeting the villains of this universe, and I especially loved hearing them gripe at each other and take potshots at the heroes. Writer Mark Waid is using this story to turn the entire concept of superhero comics on its head. It's satire, but loving satire; this is a superhero comic, too, after all. And a damn good one at that: the ending of this issue is breath-takingly exciting. I can't wait to see what Waid has in store for us next month.
Thumbs Up

The Muppet Show #3
This is my favorite issue of this series yet. The overarching story this time is that the show is being visited by an insurance agent who needs to know the species of everybody on staff in order to renew the show's policy. Scooter sets about putting together a list for him, but the problem is, nobody really knows what Gonzo is - or rather, a lot of people think they know, but none of them agree. Finally, Scooter has an illuminating conversation with Rizzo, a chunk of which I'm going to copy down here because it's so hilarious and excellent:
Scooter: This Gonzo business is getting me down.
Rizzo: What Gonzo business is this? When he landed on a policeman or when he tried to set fire to one?
Scooter: Heh heh. January sure was a bad month to be a policeman, wasn't it? No, no, those were settled out of court. This is about figuring out what Gonzo actually is so we can insure the theater.
Rizzo: What he is? Isn't it obvious?
Scooter: Is it?
Rizzo: Sure! He's a Gonzo... Gonzo the Great! The one! The only! The best!

Scooter brings this answer to the agent, but in the end feels compelled to ask Gonzo what the real answer is, and Gonzo says, "Oh, Scooter... I thought you knew. I'm an artist. An artist..." And Scooter thinks, "Well... I guess he is, after all." That ending seriously put a little lump in my throat. Smart, moving, and funny. And some of the gags in between are pretty great, too. I particularly enjoyed the crime noir detective story parody, "Gumshoe McGurk, Private Eye!" and the parody of the Mad Hatter's tea party, both starring Gonzo. And I love the way they finally get the theater insured by scaring the crap out of the insurance agent.

I was still waffling on whether I wanted to continue collecting this book, but now I'm a solid fan.
Thumbs Up

New Mutants #2
The mysterious and disturbing events of last issue finally start to make sense in this issue, as we realize that Shan's mind has been projected outside of her body and is now trapped inside Legion's body, along with the mind of the missing girl, Marci, and all of Legion's many murderous, insane personalities. Shan has control of Legion's body at first, but then Legion wrests it away from her and goes off in search of Dani, planning to kill her. Meanwhile, the folks in town aren't exactly being helpful; they're prejudiced against mutants and have been trying to keep them out of their town. It's hard to blame them too much; I mean, they have a point! When mutants come to town, things tend to start blowing up and people tend to start dying. Just look what happens in this comic!

This series continues to be surprisingly excellent. It's an exciting, unique, creative story cleverly told (I particularly like the metaphorical representation of the interior of Legion's mind, where whoever holds the doll gets control of the body), interesting characters, and smart, funny dialog, all courtesy writer Zeb Wells; fantastic pencils courtesy Diogenes Neves; and subtle, beautiful colors courtesy John Rauch.
Thumbs Up

Scalped #29
In this issue, we finally get the story of the casino heist from Bad Horse's perspective, but it's told like a puzzle, shattered into overlapping shards of time. We get fragments of Bad Horse's twisted relationship with his girlfriend - their angry fights, frenzied love-making, desperate drug-taking - followed by a replay of the scene we saw in the first issue of this arc, where Bad Horse meets the mastermind of the heist at the casino bar. Then the heist starts. Then Bad Horse jumps back in time to the war. Then back to the heist. Back to his screwed up childhood. Back to the heist. Back to laying in bed with his girlfriend. Back to the heist. He's high and his mind is broken into pieces. As the thief prepares to kill him, he sobers up and gains sudden clarity. In a dark twist, it's pure luck, and the fact that someone else was trying to kill him earlier, that saves him. Furious in the wake of his near death, and the near loss of his cover, he makes a suicidal run at the other thieves and brutally guns them all down. But after barely saving himself and his cover story, he seems now prepared to tell his whacked out girlfriend who he really works for, which seems like a terrible idea to me.

This comic continues to be so excellent it's really kind of mind-blowing. This issue is quite simply a work of art; a brilliant jewel of a story, skillfully constructed and beautifully drawn. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera, I salute you! And I look forward to following this story through to what I'm sure will be a brutal and shattering conclusion.
Thumbs Up

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #3
The latest Seaguy miniseries comes to an end with this issue - and what an end it is! A horrific scene at Mickey Eye Park reveals some of the disturbing work that goes on underground there, and then we see more of how Lotharius plans to make everyone glad - by making them mindless consumers, enslaved by their televisions and housed in tiny pens. But Lotharius forgets the old proverb and makes the mistake of scorning a woman. He also underestimates Seaguy, who finally performs a real act of rebellion. Funnily enough, Seaguy's rebellion is a short-lived failure - he just gets his ass kicked - but it's enough to inspire other, more successful heroes to finally, gloriously fight back. At last they win the day! Mickey Eye is beaten! Sort of. In fact, another empire that sounds pretty similar to Mickey's gets started up almost right away, and everything returns to the status quo. Well, almost everything. Seaguy seems to have finally gained confidence and self-awareness, and he and She-Beard finally get together. Aww.

I really, really loved this series, much more than I did the original Seaguy series - although really, that one is necessary for this one to work, and it's the whole complete story that they tell together that I really enjoy. It's brilliant and strange and unique and romantic and funny and disturbing and moving. It's a return to Morrison's favorite type of story (and one of my favorite types of stories): the endless fight of chaos, rebellion, and individuality against order, the establishment, and society. And artist Cameron Stewart and colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart provide the perfect visual embodiment of Morrison's odd world. Excellent!
Thumbs Up

Skaar #11
The excellence of Planet Skaar: Prologue #1 sucked me back into this book, which now has a new, shorter title! Instead of Skaar, Son of Hulk, we have just Skaar. He's become his own man, as it were. As the issue opens, Kate Waynesboro has gone AWOL and hooked up with the Warbound to seek out Skaar. Osborn is totally okay with this, because now he can just follow these folks, see how they handle things, and hope they take care of the Skaar problem for him. The humanoid Skaar meets some puny Earthlings, there's a misunderstanding, he gets pissed, and boom, he turns right back into his big green self. Kind of saw that coming. His transformation turns back on whatever biological tracking device was acting on the Hulk and She-Hulk before, and brings the Warbound and the Hulk running. The Warbound try to befriend Skaar, but he's not having it; all he wants to do is fight his Dad - a wish it looks like he'll get granted next issue.

Nestled in the middle of the main story are a couple of interesting and illuminating flashbacks to the consumption of Sakaar by Galactus. Yep, definitely enjoying this story, and the characters in it. I also like Ron Lim and Dan Panosian's art. They're good at both intimate closeups and epic long shots. And I'm really looking forward to the titanic duel between father and son that's coming next!
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Crew #4
This issue is actually a sort of tie-in with Assignment: Earth, which meant I felt slightly left out, as I don't read that comic. Still, it was good to see our hero back on the Enterprise finally, and having another exciting adventure, this time at the side of Lieutenant Commander Christopher Pike, later to be Captain of the Enterprise. The two of them end up on what should be a routine away mission to a seemingly uninhabited planet, but of course nothing is ever routine for the Enterprise crew. In fact the planet turns out to be inhabited by a race of super-warriors bred only for battle. The away team has a rather bloody adventure there, and then end up just leaving the warriors to fight things out on their own. It's not a satisfactory conclusion, especially for our hero, but it seems like the only option. This was one of the less exciting issues of this miniseries - I couldn't muster up a lot of interest in the story of the primitive super-warriors - but still vaguely entertaining. The next issue will be the last one, and I'm hoping the series goes out with a bang. I wonder how far it will go, timeline-wise; I've been kind of assuming it would end just before the start of the events of the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," but who knows? I look forward to it regardless.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Avengers (Not), Batman (Not), Books (Not), Brian Michael Bendis (Not), Buffy (Not), Captain America (Not), Comic books (Not), Daredevil (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Frank Quitely (Not), Fringe (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Grant Morrison (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Greg Pak (Not), Hulk (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Byrne (Not), Mark Waid (Not), Mike Mignola (Not), Muppets (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Scalped (Not), Seaguy (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Take (Not), The Wheel of Time (Not), Vampires (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wolverine (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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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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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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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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