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Wednesday, October 28, 2009 06:29 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from the week of 9/30. Beware spoilers!

Back issues and old data
The Hunter
Darwyn Cooke adapts as a graphic novel one of Donald Westlake's Parker novels, which Westlake wrote under the pen name Richard Stark. The story I'm familiar with from the film adaptations, but this is a different version of it altogether - from what I can tell, far more faithful to the source material. The great majority of the opening sequence is entirely wordless, making for some really powerful but subtle storytelling. About a quarter of the way through the book, Cooke takes a 180 and resorts to a whole lot of exposition to fill us in on the backstory, but the writing is so good it doesn't feel like cheating at all. One of the most fascinating things about the book is that it's a character portrait of a man who resists at all times any attempts to sympathize with him. The very first page of the book sees him responding to a kind offer of help with a curse. When his remorseful ex-lover tells him she takes pills every day to try to get over what she did to him, he says, "Take too many pills." When she does, he cuts up her face and dumps her in the woods so it will take longer for her to be found and identified, and he'll have more time to do what he needs to do. He's a hard, brutal man - not totally heartless, as his mission is one of passion and revenge, but certainly not sensitive or romantic. He's willing to do whatever it takes - even casually, efficiently, and single-handedly taking on a huge criminal empire - to get back at the people who hurt him, and to return to the pleasant, mechanical pattern that his life once had.

If the book has a flaw, it's that the ending is perhaps a bit anticlimactic, but really I'm just picking at nits. It's brilliant and riveting, and I can't wait for the next one, which we can apparently expect in summer of next year.
Thumbs Up

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets
An amazing collection of reprints of the Golden Age work of writer/artist Fletcher Hanks. Most of these stories star either the interplanetary techno wizard Stardust, or the magical jungle goddess Fantomah, although there are a couple of random stories featuring tough logger Big Red McLane and space cop Buzz Crandall. It doesn't really matter that much who's in the stories, however, as every one of them has exactly the same structure: an incredibly powerful hero discovers that a crazed villain is planning to wreak terrible havoc. After the villain has set his evil plans into motion, the hero intervenes, easily defeats the villain, and then gives him a horribly appropriate punishment, a la Dante's Inferno. The sameness of the plots does not lead to boredom, however, as the details are endlessly inventive. The stories and dialog are oddly simplistic and almost childish in terms of logic, conception, and motivation, and yet they're also epic in scope and surreally imaginative. (The title of the book is an actual line of dialog from one of the comics; the characters are spitting out fantastic stuff like that all the time!) Hanks' art perfectly complements his writing; it's big, bold, weird, and striking, and yet also simple in its colors and forms.

Hanks' heroes are impossibly, unimaginably strong, and yet one gets the sense they're not being quite as heroic as they could be. Each story opens with the hero somehow becoming aware of what the villain is about to do, but quickly thereafter the hero vanishes from the story, and for the next few pages we simply watch as the villain sets his horrible plan into motion and begins murdering innocent people and destroying whole cities or planets. It's only as the chaos is about to reach its peak that the hero finally strolls onto the scene and takes care of business.

Hanks' villains seem like children compared to his God-like heroes, and yet their powers and schemes are also epic in size. Inevitably they have whole squadrons of bombers at their disposal, or the ability to create tsunamis, or to stop the Earth from spinning. But rarely do they think their plans through. After you've thrown everyone else off the Earth to steal their wealth, what good will that wealth be to you? Hanks' heroes seem troubled by similar short-sightedness, which is never clearer than in this unintentionally hilarious text on the title page of one of the comics: "Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to racket-busting."

Hanks' stories are simple and clumsy, but also full of amazing magic, insane technology, indelible images, and incredible action. I will definitely have to pick up the second collection, You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the book's unique and wonderful afterword, "Whatever Happened to Fletcher Hanks?" This is a short autobiographical story by Paul Karasik, the guy who put this collection together, in which he explains how he became fascinated by Fletcher Hanks, what Hanks' work means to him, and how he started trying to track down what had happened to Hanks by finding and interviewing his son, Fletcher Hanks, Jr. The clever bit is that Karasik has chosen to write his afterword in the form of a comic - a smart, subtle, funny, and moving comic, at that. We learn some unsettling facts about Hanks here - that he was an abusive drunk who walked out on his own family. But he also made some incredible comics.
Thumbs Up

New releases
Aliens #3
This series is finally starting to get a little interesting. We get more backstory and explanations, and also the android is malfunctioning in pretty fascinating ways - he's even falling asleep and dreaming.
Thumbs Sideways

Dark Reign: Lethal Legion #3
All the secrets finally come out, and all the mysteries are revealed. Turns out everybody was betraying everybody else! It's actually a pretty complicated story, with a lot of little twists and turns, and some intriguing characters at the heart of it. I particularly liked the relationship between the Reaper and Wonder Man. And the Grey Gargoyle's totally wrongheaded guesses as to the true identities of Osborn's Avengers are pretty funny.
Thumbs Up

Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man #4
The end of this series does not disappoint. All of our subplots collide in a scene of extreme hilarity and chaos at Mayor JJJ's festival. I love Bullseye throwing a yap dog into Venom's eye, and the gangsters bonding over corn dogs. In the end, everyone of any importance mistakenly thinks Venom is a hero, and he's learned absolutely nothing from the entire ordeal. Fantastic!
Thumbs Up

Die Hard: Year One #1
I'm really tired of the whole "Year One" phenomenon, but I like the Die Hard franchise enough that this seemed worth trying. Unfortunately, it's quite bad. There's too much narration, it's poorly written, and nearly every character in the book is a completely disgusting and terrible human being. It's repulsive.
Thumbs Down

Green Lantern #46
We get to find out who those lovers are at the heart of the Star Sapphire's power battery: they're the original Hawk Girl and Hawkman. Sort of. I think. Meanwhile, there's lots of cheesy dialog, and then Sinestro gets to have his showdown with Mongul over ownership of the Yellow Lanterns. It's pretty cool how he wins. The arrival of Abin Sur and Arin Sur at the end is not at all a surprise, though it is rather melodramatic and over-the-top.
Thumbs Sideways

Jack of Fables #38
Jack Frost travels from fantasy world to fantasy world, and finally gets himself settled in a grand old fantasy adventure. Meanwhile, his Dad keeps getting uglier, fatter, and more disgusting. He's not anywhere near as charming as he used to be, and I don't see him coming to a good end. The dialog is still quite funny, and the tale reasonably entertaining, but I'm losing interest in this title.
Thumbs Sideways

Marvel Divas #3
Heh. I like the Runaways joke. I'm also really impressed with how this comic has turned into a funny, moving, realistic story about a woman dealing with cancer, and her friends rallying around her even as they deal with their own personal problems. Of course, because it's a superhero comic those personal problems have to do with winning a cursed monkey's paw at an auction, fighting with a super boyfriend over committing a robbery, and making a misbegotten deal with the son of the Devil. It's great stuff!
Thumbs Up

New Mutants #5
This issue ties up of some of the loose ends from the last story arc, gives us the return of Warlock, and introduces us to a new artist. Not sure how I feel about the weird new art, but I'm still loving the writing and the characters.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine: Weapon X #5
Another big showdown - this time including sharks! - a shocking reveal about Maverick's participation in all this, and that's it for the first story arc in this title. I have to say, I'm really disappointed. I was expecting a lot from Jason Aaron on Wolverine - especially Aaron on Wolverine versus new Weapon X soldiers armed with laser claws. But despite some great concepts and a few great scenes, overall this book has been pretty dull and mediocre. I think I'm dropping it.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Comic books (Not), Dark Reign (Not), Fables (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not)
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Friday, August 28, 2009 11:57 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 8/19. These days I'm trying hard to omit the plot synopses, but I still might slip in a spoiler now and then, so be warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolverine: Weapon X #4
Heh. I like how the dude in the opening gets fired. He asks for a severance package. "Ummm... is this a blindfold and a cigarette?" Poor bastard. I also really enjoy Logan's phone conversation with Maverick, where it turns out Logan is already way ahead of him. I approve of Logan's plan to just kill everybody. The way he attacks the Chief Executive is truly fantastic - driving headlong at the limo on his bike, and then leaping through the windshield with his claws out. Classic! It's nice that even the insane Wolverine and the scumbag from Blackguard wordlessly agree that it's going to far to fight in front of a school bus full of kids. Oh and hey, they can shoot those laser claws! That's a handy feature. Gotta love Logan's use of the gas pump combined with a spark from his claws to make a flame thrower. Artist Ron Garney does some great work in here; I particularly like the two-page splash of Wolverine's fight with the top Blackguard agent, where the battle is fractured into moments described by a collection of red-backed squares. I wish I'd read the particular Faulkner novel they talk about, though, so I would understand better what Aaron is trying to do by referencing it. Overall I enjoyed the epic fight between Wolverine and the Blackguard agent, but the way it ends is a little disappointing. I mean, it seems pretty clear the agent is supposed to be dead, but how can you really kill somebody with a healing factor just by stabbing him? Don't you have to do something pretty extreme, perhaps involving a wood chipper? Besides that, it's a good issue.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Gravel (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Monsters Inc. (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Paul Pope (Not), Pixar (Not), Punisher (Not), Star Trek (Not), Superman (Not), The Take (Not), Warren Ellis (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not)
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 12:43 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 7/22. 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.

Aliens #2
As I suspected, the only survivor of last issue's massacre is the ship's artificial person, but I had so little time to get to know the characters that I don't remember which guy he is. There's a pretty weak and rather contrived explanation for how he ends up getting in contact with the girl who's trapped and surrounded by aliens - without thinking, he just follows the basic procedure for taking off in a landing craft and tries to contact the "tower" first, but of course there is no tower, and he knows that. The girl picks up his random transmission and asks him to come save her - which he stupidly agrees to do! Dude, wtf? The planet is full of people who want to kill you (and who succeeded in killing all of your friends) and monsters that want to kill you. Get out while the getting's good! But of course, if he did that, there wouldn't be a story, so out he goes. We get a little more backstory on what happened to the people on the planet, but there's still no real solid explanation for why they all went crazy. Then our hero mistakenly saves the murderers instead of the little girl he was trying to find. Whoops! That should make next issue rather awkward.

I'm still not sure about this series. The story seems a bit clumsily written and I'm having a hard time mustering up any interest in the characters. But I'll hang in there for a bit longer. Maybe it'll go somewhere eventually.
Thumbs Sideways

The Amazing Spider-Man #600
I haven't bought a Spider-Man comic in a while, but I figured since it was the giant-sized, super-special 600th issue, I should make an exception. Believe it or not, there are actually seven separate stories in this thing. The first is the longest and tells the tale of the return of Doctor Octopus and the marriage of Aunt May to J. Jonah Jameson's dad (this is another one of those times in comics where it's hard not to stop and think, "Wait a minute, how old are these people now?!" But it's usually best to think of the characters as ageless and timeless and leave it at that). Dan Slott takes on writing duties, and John Romita, Jr. provides the pencils. I usually really dislike Slott's work, but he's not terrible here, and I always love John Romita, Jr.'s stuff. I like that there's actually consequences to an average human like Doc Ock getting bashed about all the time by superhumans. I'm a little sad that The Bar With No Name got trashed, but then again, it's happened before and the place has come back. I enjoy the scene where Blindside thinks he's got the drop on Daredevil when he uses special chemicals to make him... blind. Whoops! I also like the idea of the city of New York rising up to try to kill Spider-Man, and to try to stop Aunt May's wedding, all because Doc Ock is plugged into the infrastructure and his subconscious is full of hate and jealousy. Spider-Man has a few amusing comments, too, like his argument with Ronin over what the team is called, since there are three or four or five different "Avengers" these days. Also funny and effective is the relationship between the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, especially between Spider-Man and the Human Torch. I like that they remind us that Peter Parker is actually a pretty damn smart guy with some pretty mighty brainwave patterns of his own. In the end it's hard not to feel bad for Doc Ock; after all, he just wanted to do something great before his time ran out. Sure, he went about doing it in a psychopathic, megalomaniacal way, but he tried. Aww, and the FF gave Spider-Man an FF hoodie to cover up his burned off costume! I wish I had one of those. The marriage scene is actually quite touching, and I really enjoyed the classic byplay between Parker and JJJ. And then of course there's the rather dramatic return of MJ, which is fun. It's actually a surprisingly good story.

In between stories are a series of comedic illustrations: "Amazing Spider-Man Covers You'll Never See." The last one, which features a team-up between Batman and Spider-Man, is probably the best, but they're all reasonably clever and funny.

The next story is "Identity Crisis" by Stan Lee, with art by Marcos Martin, and is done totally for laughs. Spider-Man visits a psychiatrist named Dr. Gray Madder (who looks a bit like Stan Lee, actually) and tells him about all the craziest stuff that's happened to him through the years, in the hopes that the doctor can help him understand it and get past it. But Spider-Man's stories are so insane, they just end up driving the doctor crazy, too! It's not the best story ever, but it's fun for what it is.

"My Brother's Son," by Mark Waid with art by Colleen Doran, might be my favorite story in the book. It's about the relationship between Uncle Ben and a young Peter, and even though I saw the end coming, it's still a really sweet and moving story. The next one is also pretty cute. It's "If I Was Spider-Man..." by Bob Gale with art by Mario Alberti. Pete is sitting by a playground jungle gym and hears a bunch of kids discussing what it'd be like to be Spider-Man. At first one of them thinks it would be awesome, but the others convince him it would actually be a huge pain in the ass. Pete quietly, laughingly agrees, and wanders off to wash his costume at the laundromat.

Another rather sweet and moving story is "The Blessing" by Marc Guggenheim with art by Mitch Breitweiser. It's about Aunt May learning not to feel guilty about moving on and loving someone else now that Uncle Ben is gone. It's a bit corny, but still effective for all that.

"Fight at the Museum" by Zeb Wells with art by Derec Donovan is pretty funny, offering some meta, postmodern commentary on the history of Spider-Man. Pete and his friend are visiting a museum exhibit on superhero design when Pete is embarrassed to discover a bunch of folks standing around making fun of the Spider-Mobile (including a dude on a Segway who is clearly the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons). But he is moved to tears when one of the kids gets yelled at by his mom for making fun of Spider-Man; she points out that Spider-Man is a national hero and even saved the kid's father from a burning building.

The final story in the book I didn't really get, but it's possible I wasn't really supposed to. It's called "Violent Visions" and stars some character I've never heard of named Madame Web. She has some disturbing visions about the various spider-related characters of the Marvel Universe and their enemies, and then has an unfortunate run-in with a mysterious, and seemingly villainous, mother/daughter pair. The inset text at the end suggests this story is meant to be a prologue or setup for what's to come in future issues of Amazing Spider-Man, so it was probably meant to leave me confused and intrigued. Although I'm more the former than the latter.

But overall, this was really not a bad comic.
Thumbs Up

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2
We open with Geoff Johns' tale of how a sexy, winged alien princess went from being a sex slave to the Sinestro Corps to being the newest member of the Red Lantern Corps. Besides the gratuitous shower sequence, it's pretty lame. Johns also provides the words for the next story, "Lost Love," which is about how Carol Ferris is once again convinced to become a Star Sapphire. There are some flashbacks and some dime store psychoanalysis, and then Ferris is popping out of a pink crystal in a ridiculously revealing swimsuit screaming like she's having an orgasm. Jesus Christ I hate this Star Sapphire shit.

The final story, by Peter J. Tomasi, is actually a pretty neat, almost Twilight Zone-style parable about hunger and greed and what is considered valuable. If this story weren't here, the book would be a complete loss. In the back is a short essay by artist Ethan Van Sciver about the symbols of the various Lantern Corps - how they were designed, what they mean, etc. Kind of interesting.

I never thought I'd enjoy Peter J. Tomasi's writing more than Geoff Johns', but that definitely happened here. I think maybe the problem with Johns is that he's taken so many projects on, he can't afford to spend much time on any of them, so they all end up coming out half-assed.
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #15
Sadly this is the final issue of this great series, but the good news is that Cornell takes us out with a bang, tying up all the loose ends in a very satisfying and effective manner. The complete nature of Wisdom's incredibly clever and bad-ass plan is finally revealed, and Dracula and his friends don't weather it well. Some more British heroes I've never heard of show up to help out. I like the use of holy water mist, the cold way Blade dispatches Ken, and the absolutely awesome way Faiza dispatches Dracula. I also found myself powerfully moved by Captain Britain getting back together with his wife. "Brian — all I ever needed of you — my hope in hell — was that you'd stay the same." Then there's a very pleasant, appropriately British conclusion to everything. It's excellent stuff.
Thumbs Up

Dark Wolverine #76
We open with a discussion of meetings and what they mean philosophically and strategically, while Daken and Osborn continue to play a little chess game with each other, using the other Avengers and the Fantastic Four as their pawns. Daken is even trying to manipulate Osborn directly. His ultimate goal seems to be to turn everyone against each other and then sit back and watch while everything explodes. Daken is so convincing even I almost believed what he told the Fantastic Four. But it's not clear at the end whether Daken or Osborn has gotten the best of things.

I'm really loving Giuseppe Camuncoli's art here, and Daniel Way and Marjorie Liu's clever writing. I particularly like the way the FF are written.
Thumbs Up

Dethklok Versus The Goon
I've been looking forward to this rather unlikely one-shot since it was first announced. It's a combination of two of my favorite things: the brutal metal band from Cartoon Network's insane animated series Metalocalypse and Eric Powell's zombie-fighting anti-hero, The Goon. Powell does the writing and the art, with Brendon Small (creator of Metalocalypse) providing some dialog and plot assists. The colors are by Dave Stewart. The book opens with a warning (written in that special Dethklok way) for nerds and fanboys to not try to fit the story contained within into any existing continuity. Fair enough. The story itself begins as any episode of Metalocalypse begins: with a meeting of the secret group who are keeping a careful eye on the actions of everybody's favorite metal band. Hilariously, it turns out that William Murderface is the ultimate outcome of a secret breeding program attempting to create the perfect anti-human. Reminds me a bit of the Bene Gesserit breeding program attempting to create the perfect being: the Kwisatz Haderach. Anyway, to keep the anti-human from destroying everything, a programmed assassin dressed like a creepy clown is sent in to take out Dethklok once and for all, but ironically the code phrase chosen to toggle his killer programming is "peaches valentine," which any Goon fan knows is going to lead to hilarity down the line. I love Dethklok's marketing idea of shooting a thousand bald eagles out of a cannon into George Washington's face on Mt. Rushmore, and their belief that this is somehow patriotic. Anyway, a wizard dude shows up to activate Murderface's perfect anti-humanity and thereby take over the world, but he's shot dead in the middle of the act by the security people at the Dethklok castle. This somehow causes a space-time vortex that sucks Dethklok's castle into the Goon's universe. Despite the fact that something really weird has happened, the band isn't even interested in going outside and looking around until they realize the cable is out and they have no booze. And once they do go outside, they mistake the Goon's town for Cleveland. When they go into Norton's, they see the various monsters and decide a costume party is going on, which gives one band member the chance to finally use the inflatable Incredible Hulk chest muscles that he apparently always wears under his shirt, just in case. Heh.

Anyway, the collision of these two universes leads to some really horrible, awful things, like Franky taking cocaine and going wild; a member of Dethklok sleeping with Ma Norton; other members of Dethklok getting horrible things done to them by the Hairy Walnuts Gang; the townspeople becoming suicidal upon hearing the music of Dethklok; and lots and lots of people being mutilated or killed, including a couple of the main characters. Also, the Goon gets to have a thought balloon, which he decides is a first for him.

This is a pretty clever and funny comic that's true to the spirit of both the franchises that spawned it. That being said, I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I could have. It was just a little too disgusting and disturbing for me. Maybe if I read it again in a little while I'll feel differently, but for now...
Thumbs Sideways

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #3
This issue came out during Comic-Con, which I hope was on purpose, because the story works as a very clever and funny satire of fan conventions like Comic-Con. It opens with the team visiting a convention celebrating them: the first Super Young Team Fanfest Extravaganza. They find themselves distracted by all the pretty people dressed like them. Perpetually unable to make any headway with the real Shiny Happy Aquazon, Big Atomic Lantern Boy sneaks off for a dalliance with a fake one, while the real Aquazon has a similar encounter with a Sonic Lightning Flash impersonator. But funniest of all is when Superbat makes out with a girl dressed like him and tweets, "Sometimes dreams can come true." Meanwhile, an evil Nazi-like secret society called The Parasitic Teutons of Assimilation (the P.T.A. - heh) are planning to take over the world, starting with the con. They're very appropriate enemies, given the context; they're a horde of zealots able to copy the powers of the Super Young Team. It amuses me that there are multiple people podcasting from the floor of the Extravaganza, and that Superbat misses the entire fight while making out with his own double. Interestingly, that old Japanese superhero seems to have made some kind of deal with a great and mysterious power, and may have just taken down the villains who have been trying to distract the Super Young Team from doing their duty. Although oddly enough that doesn't look like it's really a good thing. And now the team appears to be breaking up!

Really loving this book. This may have been one of my favorite issues yet. Very smart, very funny, very exciting, and lots of effective character development.

In the back is a preview for Adventure Comics #1. It's Conner Kent, the reborn Superclone, trying to catch up on all the life he's missed by doing all the stuff the real Superman did. It looks kind of cute. I'll probably pick up the book when it comes out.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5
Geoff Johns' long-delayed Final Crisis tie-in miniseries finally comes to an end. And good lord is that end crazy and confusing, and accompanied by plenty of corny, melodramatic dialog. I thought all the Legions had already been pulled together in previous issues, but in this one, even more Legionnaires are called in for an even more insanely huge and epic battle against the Time Trapper and Superboy Prime. But ironically ultimate victory is only gained when our heroes bring their two enemies together, who neatly destroy each other. Prime is somehow sent back to his own planet, before it was destroyed. Mindbendingly, on this planet, this comic book miniseries also exists, and by reading it, Superboy Prime's disappointed and horrified parents have learned about all the terrible things he's done. Superboy Prime reads it, too, and makes some amusing meta commentary. Referring to the book's infamous difficulty with sticking to its release schedule, he complains, "I've been waiting for this stupid thing to end." On the next page he looks back over his shoulder at us and says, "Stop staring at me! This isn't right! You all know it. I was supposed to be the real Superboy! No, I'm not going away! You go away! Get out of here! They think I'm powerless. They think I can't do anything from here. They're wrong. They'll never get rid of me. I always survive." As he's saying these last few lines, he's visiting the DC website and typing something on his keyboard. It's a pretty hilarious and clever ending. The comic book fans and the Legion both hate Superboy Prime and want him to go away, but now he's become one of those annoying fans himself, hanging around in his parents' basement and cursing people off on the internet. Fantastic.

Overall this was a pretty fun and impressive series, but it kept one-upping itself so many times that it got a little ridiculous by the end. Plus the writing really did get quite corny and melodramatic.
Thumbs Sideways

Gotham City Sirens #2
A convenient (but reasonably believable) retcon saves Selina from giving up the true identity of Batman; instead, she offers an actually far more realistic explanation - that Batman is a part that's been played by many different people over the years. Then Harley gets herself kidnapped by the new Bruce Wayne, who's actually Hush. Ugh! Hush is going to come into this? I'm starting to lose my taste for this series. It's okay, but it's not great, and the writing's a little clumsy. I might just give up on it.
Thumbs Sideways

Green Lantern #44
Blackest Night continues! Hal Jordan and Barry Allen have a big fight with the newly resurrected Martian Manhunter. Interestingly, something weird happens to Barry when he touches that icky residue the Black Lanterns leave behind. Also, when J'onn looks at them, he sees Hal outlined in green ("Will") and Barry outlined in blue ("Hope"). He tries manipulating the two of them by bringing up the dark things from their past; when he scares Barry, he suddenly senses "Fear" in the same way he earlier sensed Hope. Apparently he can see in the emotional spectrum now. Does this mean Barry will be getting a blue or yellow ring later on? Or is J'onn just seeing the emotion Barry happens to feeling the strongest at the moment? Hmm. I like when J'onn says, "I'm as powerful as Superman. Why doesn't anyone ever remember that?" Then Scar points out he's not really betraying the Guardians - he's actually finally fulfilling their purpose. He's bringing order to the universe. Emotions cause chaos, so why not destroy them all? He goes on, "I learned this as my body died from the poisonous burn of the Anti-Monitor." Ah, so he's been dead and secretly a zombie for some time! He also says, "The Black Lanterns are collecting hearts full of the splintered light." That explains some things - it's the people who are most full of conflicted emotion that they're going after first. Next episode it looks like a whole planet full of dead people are coming back! I have to admit, Blackest Night is growing on me. This was a pretty interesting issue.
Thumbs Sideways

Immortal Weapons #1
Each issue of this new miniseries will focus on another member of the titular group of eternal warriors, of which the Iron Fist is the best known member. This first issue, written by Jason Aaron and with art by a whole team of folks, takes a look at Fat Cobra. Cobra is a rather ridiculous character, so I guess I was expecting a rather ridiculous story - fun and silly - but with Aaron at the wheel, I should have known better. Many parts of it are indeed darkly funny, but ultimately it takes the form of a rather horrific tragedy. It turns out Fat Cobra has lived so long and drank so much, he's forgotten most of the details of his life, so he's hired a man to research his past for him and write his biography. But Cobra's life story is not the glamorous, impressive tale of adventure and success he expected. Instead, it's full of shame, defeat, and dirty deeds. Some of the best sequences: Fat Cobra serves as a sidekick for Ulysses Bloodstone, and is the sole survivor of a team of kung fu commandos put together by Union Jack to take down "Hitler's secret death squad of S.S. ninjas led by the notorious butcher Herr Samurai." Later he beats Hercules, Volstagg, and what looks like Goom in an eating contest on Olympus, then joins Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. in defeating a team of Russian werewolves who'd overrun the American moon base. A quick glimpse of Fat Cobra's various romantic conquests reveals a Skrull and somebody who looks like Lilandra. A more detailed romantic sequence starts as a fight, with each of the kung fu moves named in narrative boxes, as is traditional (Diamond Slow Knife-Hand, Elbow of a Thousand Agonies), but then things take a turn for the passionate and the scene continues with each of the love-making moves being named in the same way (Kneading the Golden Dough, The Peddling Tortoise).

What Cobra really wants to hear, of course, is the story of his greatest triumph: how he defeated the Great Dragon and became an Immortal Weapon. But it turns out that wrapped up in the story of his greatest triumph is the story of his most shameful and terrible act. It's a powerful and moving tale. And in the end Cobra chooses to once again forget all about it, as he must have done many times before. Excellent stuff.

Next up is a backup story which will probably continue throughout each issue of this series. It's called "Caretakers," and it's about the Iron Fist trying to help a troubled student. It's by Duane Swierczynski, with art by Travel Foreman. It's okay so far, although I have the bad feeling it's going to get a bit preachy later on.
Thumbs Up

The Incredible Hercules #131
It's Hercules vs. Hercules, in a fight full of the clever sound effects and melodramatic, cheesy dialog I've come to expect from this book. As far as sound effects go, a couple of my favorites are BOSCH and ARDHISDOREE; these describe the noise of the twins kicking each other through and over a scene that looks like it's straight out of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Plotwise, Cho makes an exciting and disturbing discovery about his sister, which turns him against Athena and Hercules, and Zeus sort of reboots himself by drinking the waters of Lethe. These events should lead to some interesting new directions for the story. Although I again find myself tiring of Pak's writing, I'll probably hang in there for at least one more issue, just to see what this whole "Thorcules" thing is about, and to see if Cho ends up going anywhere interesting in the search for his sister (hey wait - this didn't just become The X-Files, did it??)
Thumbs Sideways

The Incredible Hulk #600
Because I like the Hulk, and because this was a big, historic issue, I decided to buy it, despite the fact that most of it is written by the archenemy of all that is good, Jeph Loeb. Loeb's first utterly ridiculous tale, which is also the main story in the book, is narrated by Ben Urich. In the story, he and Peter Parker play the parts of Woodward and Bernstein, and She-Hulk plays the part of Deep Throat. The Watergate comparison isn't my idea, by the way; Loeb actually makes the comparison himself in the text, despite the fact that it's completely inappropriate. In this case, the conspiracy that Urich and Pete are investigating reaches all the way back to the end of World War Hulk. It turns out that M.O.D.O.K. and General Ross, as part of yet another top secret super soldier program (sigh. Don't they have enough super soldiers yet?), had the presence of mind to tamper with the beam that Tony Stark shot the Hulk with, somehow creating the Red Hulk. She-Hulk starts Urich on the path to discovering all this by calling him and meeting him in a parking garage, where she tells him some tantalizing secrets from the shadows, but then almost immediately reveals her identity to him despite all her paranoia. This is all accompanied by plenty of brilliant Jeph Loeb dialog. Later, Parker and Urich are asked to put on A.I.M. beekeeper outfits, and She-Hulk says, "They're not for bees. They never were." Really?? I never would have guessed. I figured all A.I.M. did was keep bees! "What then?" Urich asks. "Radiation," she says. Dun dun dun! Or, more appropriately, duh duh duh! She-Hulk and Doc Samson keep speaking of Red Hulk as "he," like he's this horrible, unnameable thing. They see M.O.D.O.K. and Parker says, "Some guy with a big head is blocking the view." Samson responds, "That guy isn't with a big head... that guy is the big head." Wow. How long did it take you to come up with that one, Jeph? Then it turns out Samson has been brainwashed and has his own split personality now. "The good doctor is out," he says. "The bad doctor is in." Really? I mean... really? Also, the bad doctor is apparently somehow stronger and faster than the good doctor, even though that makes no sense. Spider-Man has equally stupid things to say - which are apparently meant to be funny - about rats and spiders and Albuquerque and the film adaptation of Watchmen. Later he tries to say a well known cliche, but messes it up. Then the Red Hulk somehow sucks the Hulk out of Banner. So I guess Banner isn't going to be the Hulk anymore. Which is lame.

Later Urich is walking in that parking garage again and this time the Red Hulk peeks out of the shadows to threaten him and his friends with death if he prints his story about all this madness. Seriously? The Red Hulk is hiding in a parking garage to threaten Ben Urich? Why exactly would he not just kill him? In fact, why wouldn't he just kill all of them? Why is he hiding? Since when do supervillains care about keeping their villainy secret? The story is stupid, nonsensical, and incredibly poorly written.

The next story is a very silly comedic story called "A Hulk of Many Colors." It's written by Stan Lee with art by Rodney Buchemi. As usual, Lee cameos in his own story, this time as a random military guy in a helicopter. The story itself is about the Hulk and the Red Hulk fighting. Something called the Wendihulk also shows up briefly. Galactus arrives just in time for the punchline - when asked if he can help by smashing the Red Hulk and saving the green Hulk, he says he won't be able to, because he's color blind. Argh! (I should point out that despite the fact that this is just a pointless bit of fluff full of weak jokes that only occasionally illicit a mild chuckle, it's still better than Loeb's story.)

The next bad story is by Fred Van Lente, and it's about "The All New Savage She-Hulk," Lyra. I've never been able to dredge up much interest in this character, and this story didn't help. It's about how she beats some techno-mages who are trying to take over the world by interpreting a prophecy. To put it another way, she solves a rather dumb riddle which reveals that she needs to punch a dude's heart out to kill him. Uh, regardless of what any prophecies might say, punching a dude's heart out usually is a good thing to try if you want to kill him.

I really wanted to like the final story. It's the first part of a six part series called Hulk: Gray, retelling the origin story of the Hulk. It has beautiful art throughout by Tim Sale, but sadly it also has terrible writing throughout by Jeph Loeb. In the frame story, Bruce has come to see Doc Samson on his wedding anniversary, and Samson seeks to help him by having him talk about his past. There's a really lame bit where Doc has Banner look at pictures of people he knows and say the first word that comes to mind. It's just a really weak excuse to get in some backstory and exposition. Then we finally get into a full-on flashback and the origin story begins in earnest. My favorite part is when Banner transforms in the doctor's office and we get to see the Hulk for the first time. The art here is just fantastic. Later there's a great panel that spreads across the entire width of the page, filled completely with the Hulk's massive back and shoulder, with just the corner of his face and his eye peeking up at the top right corner. Directly after this is a two-page splash of him smashing an army jeep. It's good stuff. It helps that during this sequence there is hardly any dialog - just the Hulk doing his thing. If only Jeph Loeb hadn't been the writer on this title, it might have turned out really well.

The rest of the book is a series of ads for future Hulk-related books. Loeb's Hulk #13 is advertised with the phrase "Hulk no more!" What the point is of a book called Hulk with no Hulk in it, I don't know. Incredible Hulk #601's teaser phrase is "Banner and son!" So it looks like this book will be focusing on Skaar as well as Banner from now on. Meanwhile, Incredible Hercules #133 promises to tell the "Secret Origin of Amadeus Cho." In the very back of the book is the traditional (by now, anyway) cover gallery, giving you little thumbnail-sized reprints of every cover of every book that Hulk ever starred in (although I believe they've gone a bit overboard and also included early issues of Tales to Astonish that didn't include him at all). This is kind of a cool feature, but it's hard to really get much out of it, as the covers have been made so tiny in order to fit them all in that it's almost impossible to get a good look at any of them.

After all of this are two final comedic one-page stories with fun cartoon art by Chris Giarrusso and writing by Jeph Loeb's daughter, Audrey Loeb. The first story is Green Hulk trying to pass his driver's test while Red Hulk and Blue Hulk sit in the back seat. Then Green Hulk tries working at HulkDonald's, but Red Hulk and Blue Hulk take too long ordering food. Needless to say, both stories end with disaster. They're kind of cute, but not as fun as it seems like they could be.

There are some moments of brilliance in this extra-large comic, but they're few and far between. The great majority of it is just garbage. It's really a shame.
Thumbs Down

The Incredibles #4
The first of what I hope will be multiple Incredibles miniseries comes to an end with this issue. It's action-packed and exciting, with moving character development, cool ideas, and amusing comedy. I love that the villain turns out to be, not an old enemy of Mr. Incredible as he suspected, but an old enemy of Elastigirl who tracked her down and became her neighbor, biding her time and planning to weaken her with power-stealing cookies, then strike when she was powerless. But Mr. Incredible unknowingly foiled her plan by eating all the food she sent over! Heh. Now Mr. Incredible has to foil her again, this time on purpose, and he does so brilliantly by having Dash sneak the defused devolution bomb into Futurion's prison cell so he'll fix it and Dash can run it back and use it to save them all. Both families, of course, have learned an important lesson: keeping big secrets from each other can get you all in serious trouble. There's also a really sweet ending where Violet has a cute chat with her boyfriend. Aww.

They've really captured everything that was great about The Incredibles and taken the story in a fun new direction. I hope more is one the way and soon!
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #36
This is a one-off tale from guest writer Chris Roberson about a time in Jack's life when he happened to stumble upon an enclave of Fable apes living together in the African jungle. When he first meets them, he quotes Planet of the Apes ("Get your paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"), and later another ape nicknames him "Bright Eyes." The apes have among their ranks pretty much every famous fictional ape: Curious George, the orangutans from those Clint Eastwood movies, King Kong, Magilla Gorilla, and so forth. Jack becomes their Tarzan, accepting an ape named Jane as his companion. (Yes, that kind of companion. Eeww.) Naturally, because he's Jack, he treats all the apes terribly and eventually abandons them. The story is reasonably amusing, and Tony Akins' art is excellent as always, but overall it's definitely not my favorite Jack of Fables tale ever.

In the back is a sneak preview of an upcoming graphic novel by Brian Azzarello and Victor Santos called Filthy Rich. It looks to be a classic crime noir story about a guy hired to keep a rich man's femme fatale daughter out of the papers. But it's clear from the very beginning she's going to pull him in over his head. Azzarello seems to be taking the classic archetypes and doing them up right. I'm tempted to check it out.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Spock - Reflections #1
This interesting new miniseries from IDW is set some time late in the Next Generation era (although presumably before the events of the recent movie prequel miniseries). It opens with Spock, having spent some time on Romulus as a teacher, leaving the planet to return to Earth, for reasons not yet explained. During the journey, a conversation with a rather pesky fellow passenger causes him to flash back to various moments throughout his past. A particularly fascinating scene sees him meeting with Captain Harriman, the man who took over the Enterprise B after the events of Star Trek: Generations. There are some fascinating emotions at play in the scene. Harriman, who was little more than a stereotype in the film, becomes a whole person in this book, with complex feelings of guilt and shame swirling in him, while Spock fights back his own set of complex emotions. Then we get to see another telling flashback, this time from Spock's childhood, developing his character further and illuminating the complicated relationship between him and his father. This is a surprisingly good comic, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Thumbs Up

Wednesday Comics #3
In the first two entries of the latest episode of Wednesday Comics, Batman listens in on an interesting conversation, while Kamandi meets up with another of his buddies and makes a startling discovery: a human girl! Superman, which took a dip in quality last week, is slightly better this week, as Clark decides to cure his ennui by flying back home to Smallville and hanging out with Ma and Pa. Deadman gets more interesting and more surreal as our title character falls through the swirling nightmare effect from Vertigo and into a flaming hell where he gains the solidity of the living again - although perhaps only for a brief time. I'm still surprised to be enjoying Green Lantern as much as I am. Hal has barely gotten through being fawned over by the crowd in the bar when he sees his buddy transform into a hideous alien on live TV and has to fly out again. It's great stuff. Metamorpho is following the same format as last week, with one big panel up top depicting all the action occurring simultaneously, and tiny panels down the bottom feature another amusing message from "The Metamorpho Fans of America." I could wish this one was moving along a little faster, but it's so pretty and so intriguing I'll give it a pass. As for Teen Titans... yep, still sucks. And Strange Adventures is still ridiculously awesome. The lush, beautiful art; the totally fun, over-the-top pulp sci-fi dialog - it's brilliant. The cutesy Supergirl and the bland, though unobjectionable, Metal Men both fail to interest me. And I just can't believe how poorly done Wonder Woman is. There are so many tiny panels, so tightly packed, that you practically need a magnifying glass to follow what's going on. And once you figure it out, you realize it wasn't worth the effort. Dull and dumb. I had high hopes for Sgt. Rock and Easy Co., but I'm starting to get a little frustrated with it. It really needs to start going somewhere soon. I feel like Rock has been getting beaten and Easy Company has been wandering randomly in caves forever. Meanwhile, the dynamic duo of Iris West and The Flash just keeps getting better. When Iris leaves both past Flash and future Flash again, they put their heads together and try to go even further into the past to give it another go, but find themselves instead zipping into the far future by mistake, and meeting yet another version of the Flash, who uses "Ether-Wiki" to fill them in on what's going to happen to Iris. It's totally brilliant. The real villain shows up in The Demon and Catwoman and Catwoman's name suddenly gets a bit more appropriate. Fun. Hawkman has gotten a bit better now that our titular character is fighting an alien, but it's still pretty clumsily written.

As usual, I find myself charmed by the overall experience of Wednesday Comics, even though some of its individual parts are less than great.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Blackest Night (Not), Captain Britain (Not), Comic books (Not), Duane Swierczynski (Not), Eric Powell (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Green Lantern (Not), Hulk (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Arcudi (Not), Legion of Super-Heroes (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), Pixar (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Trek (Not), The Goon (Not), The Take (Not), Wednesday Comics (Not), Wolverine (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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Tuesday, June 30, 2009 07:32 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 6/17.

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

Captain America #600
Holy crap is this a big comic book! It took me forever to finish it. It contains six separate stories and a cover gallery in the back. The first story is a reprint called "Origin" by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. It's just a two-page summary of Captain America's origin story, written in simple, rather corny phrases, and in first person from Cap's perspective. It's all done up in red, white, and blue, with your typical Ross-style art (his work is technically impressive, but I'm just not a fan). It's nothing special, but something like this almost had to be included, so okay. Next up is "One Year After" by Ed Brubaker with art by Butch Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja, and Mitch Breitweiser. This part of the book is itself split up into parts. The important things that Sharon is starting to remember about the day Steve died are suspiciously like retcons, but they're clever and believable, so I'm willing to go along. I was glad to get a look at what the fake Cap has been doing lately - but he apparently hasn't been doing much of anything, and all he has to say is some ancient cliches about how the world was different in his day, and kids these days have no respect. Boring! I was also glad to finally get a look at the "girl without a world" from the Captain America promo ads I've been seeing in all my Marvel comics, but I remain confused as to who she is, exactly. Apparently some young woman from another planet who used to hang out with Cap? But the thing about the secret black Captain America and where he's ended up is sad and moving, and it's rather touching how Patriot welcomes her to join him and the Young Avengers at the vigil for Steve. I particularly like the story about Crossbones and Sin, and how he plows through a bunch of guards to get to her in a twisted romantic gesture. The couple of pages we spend with the Red Skull are fun, as he thinks back on his long and painful relationship with Cap, and suggests there's still more to be revealed about what he did to Steve. And hey, did we already know that he was in one of Zola's robot bodies now? Because I didn't remember that. Creepy! The scene at the vigil at the end of this story is the highlight, however. I love the way Osborn is really blossoming as a character throughout this whole Dark Reign thing; how he cleverly does not turn the vigil into a war zone, but instead manages to use it as a way to make himself look good to the crowd. And the bit where he follows up his show-stealing announcement by bringing out Simon and Garfunkel for a reunion show is really hilarious. Then the big bombshell: Sharon arrives to tell them Steve could still be saved. I think I've said before that I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of them bringing Steve back. On the one hand I like it because I love the character and I'd love to see him return. But on the other hand, dude only just died! I only just got used to Bucky as the new Cap! And I like how Bucky's character is developing now that he's wearing the uniform. Can't anybody stay dead for at least a couple of years around here? Well, anyway, I'll just have to see how they do the resurrection. Maybe it'll be really cool.

The next story, "In Memoriam" (whose title is misspelled as "In Memorium" in the table of contents) is probably the worst one in the book. It's two people having a really clumsy, cheesy conversation that's nothing but thinly veiled backstory and exposition. Blargh. So corny and unsubtle. Roger Stern is the writer, so he is to be blamed (although oddly he also wrote a really good Captain America story in another comic I read this week). It's a shame because Kalman Andrasofszky's art is actually quite good.

Mark Waid provides the words and Dale Eaglesham provides the art for the next story, which is cleverly titled "The Persistence of Memorabilia." Interestingly, Marvel comics about Captain America exist within the Marvel Universe, as well, but in the MU they're fictionalized accounts of real events. It's neat seeing how the auctioning off of the largest collection of Captain America memorabilia in the world brings out many people that Cap helped over the years, hoping to purchase a memory - a piece of the man who touched them. And I'm pretty sure they modeled that old soldier after Stan Lee! Of course, the auction also brings out scumbags and villains. The guy who plans to publish a series of comics painting Steve Rogers as a traitor is a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, but it is fun seeing him get what he deserves. I also love that Tony Stark purchased one of the items.

The next piece is rather odd. It's just a non-fiction essay by Joe Simon, reflecting back on the old days when he and Jack Kirby were working together at Timely. But most of the stuff he has to say about Kirby is not particularly complimentary. He focuses on the guy's absent-mindedness. It is interesting to learn that legal troubles led to the decision to change the shape of Cap's shield to a circle, and how that actually ended up adding to the character and his abilities. But mostly this essay just made me uncomfortable.

The last story in the book is a reprint of a tale called "Red Skull's Deadly Revenge," first published in Captain America Comics #16 in July of 1942, written by Stan Lee with art by Al Avison. This is a pretty cool artifact: an old school Red Skull story! It opens with the Nazi villain busting out of prison in brutal fashion. Next we cut to Steve and Bucky getting into some hijinks at the army base, and then randomly meeting a goofy-looking archer in a beret and short pants doing target practice. But that's no normal archer! It's the Red Skull in disguise! There's a pretty hilarious panel of him prancing along with bow in hand and arrows on his back, screaming threats at America. The Skull ends up horribly wounding Bucky with his arrows, and Cap must rush the boy to a doctor to get him treated. The Skull ambushes and traps Captain America, and then learns his secret identity! Although how he does this is really quite ridiculous. Of course just taking the mask off and looking at Cap's face doesn't do much for him (it's not like Steve Rogers is famous), so he actually takes Cap's wallet out of his back pocket, and learns his enemy's real name from his driver's license! Steve, what the hell?! You carry your wallet and driver's license around with you when you're dressed as Captain America?! That is just plain stupid. Anyway, with Cap imprisoned in the Red Skull's basement, the Skull is free to go on a crime spree. Then, to make things even worse, he steals Cap's uniform and, masquerading as him, steals the nation's defense plans!

At this point, Bucky is finally well enough to get out of bed and go looking for Cap. Naturally he finds his buddy almost immediately and releases him. Then they get spare costumes at a costume shop (heh), and run off after the Red Skull, who's just about to fly back home with America's defense plans. They scare the Skull into falling out of his own plane to his death. The end!

I don't know what the later explanation was for how the Skull survived his tumble to Earth at the end of this story, but I'm sure it was a doozie! This story has a lot of ridiculous moments, and Avison's art is quite odd (his people look gangly and awkward), but it's still fun, and certainly an important and fascinating moment in the history of the conflict between Captain America and the Red Skull.

The last thing in the comic is an impressive and fascinating gallery of what appears to be the cover of every comic ever printed that prominently featured Captain America. I'm amused that for at least a couple of issues during the Golden Age of Timely Comics, Captain America became Captain America's Weird Tales.

So #600 turns out to be a rather uneven collection of Cap stories, featuring moments both powerful and lame. Here's hoping there's more and better to come!
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #14
WOW! Paul Cornell totally tricked me. And even though it was a variation on the old "it was all just a dream" gimmick, I still think it was terribly clever and I really enjoyed it. That's because it fits into the plot in a believable fashion, and it doesn't feel lame or unfair; a smart reader probably could have guessed what was going on, just as Dracula did, if he'd been reading more carefully than I was.

It's fascinating to see, not only Dracula's reaction to the deception, but also the heroes' reaction. After all, they just got a glimpse of Dracula's perception of them. Blade is particularly disturbed to realize that Dracula likes fighting him so much that in the Count's ultimate fantasy of victory, Blade was the only one left alive. Of course, besides being disturbed, getting a look at Dracula's vision of ultimate victory also gives the heroes' a glimpse at his strategy and his plan. Good stuff! I love when Pete is about to give Cap his orders, but then breaks off and says, "Nah, I don't need to say a word to you. You're Captain Britain." Cap responds, "I believe we've met," and they fist bump. Heh heh. Awesome. But the good guys have even more cleverness up their sleeves; in another fantastic and exciting sequence a couple of sleeper agents aboard Dracula's vessel are activated and wreak havoc. Excellent. Unfortunately, this doesn't lead to ultimate victory for our heroes. Instead, Doom makes a move that will give Dracula a powerful bargaining chip in the conflict - although Dracula is of two minds about the whole thing: "A gift from [Doom] is a sword - a sword without a hilt!"

A great, great issue of what is shaping up to be a really fantastic series. It's really a shame the thing is canceled. Still, I'm excited to see how it all wraps up.
Thumbs Up

Daily Bugle
This is actually not a comic, but a freebie done up in the style of a newspaper - and printed on newsprint, no less. It's actually quite clever. The premise is that you're looking at the actual issue of the Daily Bugle paper that was released on Friday, October 13th, 1939 on Earth-616. (Btw, I checked and October 13th was indeed a Friday in 1939. Nice touch!) Throughout are references to the mysterious "Marvels" that at the time were just beginning to appear around the world, especially in and around New York City. The writing here is quite subtle and clever; the first article is clearly about Namor the Submariner, but he is never mentioned by name because the reporters didn't know his name at this point, or even whether he was real or not. There are even subtler and cleverer references like this throughout: an article about a new and accomplished female member of the NYPD named Betty Dean; a piece about sightings of a mysterious, beast-like man along the Canadian border (clearly Wolverine, but the artist's sketch accompanying the story shows the man carrying a three-pronged knife because no one has guessed yet that his claws are a part of his body); an article about a young, patriotic artist named Steve Rogers; a piece about a cocky, precocious young kid named Nicholas Fury; a description of a Wild West exhibit containing information on lots of old gunfighters including Kid Colt, the Two-Gun Kid, the Rawhide Kid, and the Masked Raider; then there's the fashion section, with articles about Van Dyne's latest line, the winner of this year's Little Miss Brisket (Miss Patsy Walker), and the latest on the Hanover Agency; intriguing letters to the editor, including one from a patriotic little boy named James Barnes, and another from a man with some rather frightening ideas named Andrew Stryker; and a list of births, which include Ben Parker, Daniel Grimm, and Thaddeus Ross. And that's just a sampling of the stuff I "got;" there are plenty of other little references and allusions in here that went completely over my head. It's a brilliant little in-universe construct and I really enjoy both the concept and the execution.
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Dark Reign: Young Avengers #2
I love the clever ways comics are doing their recap/credits pages these days. This one does it as a post on a superhero gossip website. I enjoy that Coat of Arms starts the two teams fighting just because that's what happens in comics when two teams meet like this. It's also interesting to see the various surprising connections that exist between these two teams. Coat of Arms knows Speed! And Executioner knows Hawkeye! And the Executioner's mom is... some kind of snake-themed supervillain! Woah! Enchantress wants to be a part of the real Avengers team, and is even more tongue-tied than usual to find herself fighting its members. She's also way more powerful than she realizes, which is intriguing; she's even able to use her power to alter the other team member's viewpoints without them noticing. Some favorite moments: Coat of Arms' triptych of the Green Goblin - "Pop," "Crackle," and a very famous "SNAP!" So wrong, and yet so right. The conversation between Hulkling and Wiccan about Big Zero: "I could do without the one with the I-can't-believe-it's-not-Nazi-tattoos." "Maybe she just likes Cabaret." Melter's disturbing nightmare. And Executioner's creepy relationship with his creepy Mom. Now the plot's taking an interesting turn, with the real Young Avengers demanding that the new ones try out to join the team. This ought to be good.

Really enjoying this series! It's so twisted and clever. Excellent work again, Mr. Cornell!
Thumbs Up

Destroyer #3
Man, this is one brutal and bloody series! And the most brutal character of all is the hero. I mean, dude tortures villains to death for information! And when he gets caught in a trap set by Scar, his arch enemy, he sets one of his own; he lets himself be beat to a bloody pulp by the Scar's henchmen, saving up all his energy and waiting for the right moment to use it on Scar himself. And how does he kill Scar? He rips the dude's arm off with his bare hands and shoves it down his throat. Then he punches him over and over and over until everything in the immediate vicinity is bright red with blood.

This seems like the end of the story, but as Destroyer points out, he's still alive, so nothing's over yet! He's going to kill and keep killing until he can't kill anymore! God bless him.

This was a slightly less interesting issue of this series than the previous ones have been - perhaps because the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and the story had fewer twists - but it was still pretty freaking awesome. I'm confused as to how there can still be two issues left, but I'm looking forward to reading them regardless.
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Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #2
Now our heroes are in Vegas, and are being filmed for their own reality show! But it's all part of another attempt to keep them from realizing what's actually going on in the world - especially what's going on in Japan. Their PR guy says, "Take a look around," and the speedster replies, "I already did. Saw all the rooms. Just now. Not bad. Seen better." I love that guy. The team finds a supervillain nearby, so they attack him, just for the hell of it, but eventually a truce is called ("Not the face! Not the face!") and he actually ends up helping them out. Great scene. Meanwhile, Shiny Happy Aquazon decides to accept the chance to endorse a product, but the thing turns out to be a drug created by Brain Drain to take over the minds of the populace. Luckily the rest of the team swoops in and together they save the day. "Did something unusual happen?" "Nothing too complex. Forced binary fission via sonic death wail." Nice. I'm also still really loving Most Excellent Superbat's constant Twitter commentary. I can't believe this miniseries is so good! Looking forward to the next issue.
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Incognito #4
Hmm. Turns out the good guys are maybe not so good after all. They've apparently been doing mind-altering surgeries on the bad guys, often lobotomizing them by mistake. But their attempt to alter the mind of Black Death didn't take. (Funny fact: I'm pretty sure Colonel von Chance, the dude with the one bionic eye, is this universe's version of Nick Fury.) At first it seems like Overkill's going to be in even worse shape than before - stuck back into his old life, powerless, just waiting for the bad guys to show up and tear him to pieces. Then an unlikely savior swoops in to take him away from all of that. But is he really any better off with her?

It's a pretty harsh and darkly funny irony that Zack is identified as the guy who knew Farmer best and is asked to say a few words at a memorial for him at work. Zack is the one who got Farmer killed, and he never even knew the guy's first name!

I really love the scenes where the Black Death's lawyer comes to talk to him in prison, and their real conversation occurs telepathically. This time it looks like Black Death has some nasty plans for Zack that involve someone called The Sleeper. He starts laughing menacingly, and one of the guards listening says, "Okay, now that is fucking creepy." Heh. At the end we get a fascinating clue as to how powerful and special the Black Death really is: apparently he's 200 years old and it's taking enough energy to light the eastern seaboard just to keep his powers from working.

Still loving this book! In the back is an interesting essay by Jess Nevins (who's an interesting guy himself; I follow him on Twitter, where he's known, appropriately enough, as @jessnevins). It's about a pulp hero called Operator #5 who had some unique and epic battles with the "Yellow Peril." As usual, a fascinating look at the literary tradition that this comic comes out of.
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Jack of Fables #35
Poor Old Sam. Turns out he isn't up to destroying the pen after all. Babe gets two pages this issue; he spends the first trashing Snoopy, and the second doing some meta-commentary on how he's not used to having two pages. Then he wanders off. Deux Ex Machina drops in again for a little more tantalizing foreshadowing, there's some further amusing literary parody involving the genres... and then Bigby flies in and gets positively beast-like, tearing the genres to bloody bits! Wow, that was unexpectedly brutal! Anyway, now that that's taken care of, and Frost has joined the team, it's time for a final assault on Ken, which will take place in the last part of the crossover: Literals #3. It's been entertaining, and exciting.
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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Official Movie Adaptation #1
I'm happy to say I did not pay money for this; I got it for free at the preview screening I attended. Stunningly, the comic is even more rushed, clumsy, confusing, and poorly written than the film. For some reason, even though they weren't able to fit the entire plot of the movie into this comic (it ends just as Megatron is resurrected), and there is apparently no follow-up comic (the message on the final page says "To be continued in the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," and not "To be continued in issue #2"), they apparently were obligated to fit in a certain amount of the story in the 24 pages allotted them, and in order to do so, they cut out details left and right, making things even more puzzling than they already were. It's hard to blame writer Simon Furman too much, as he had little to work with here, but... wow. This is bad.
Thumbs Down

X-Men Origins: Gambit #1
Speaking of bad, here's this comic! I'm fascinated by the character of Gambit - his cool abilities; the fact that he can use playing cards as weapons - but I didn't know a lot about him, so I figured this would be a good comic to pick up. But no. Even though this is supposed to be an origin story, it turns out it's the kind of origin story where you have to already know the character's origin to understand it! It takes huge leaps through time to various selected scenes in Gambit's life, and assumes you'll be able to fill in the blanks yourself. Which would be annoying enough. But then there's the painfully clumsy, melodramatic dialog; the choppy, poorly paced plot; and, perhaps worst of all, Gambit's painfully awful accent. And that's not to mention Gambit's irritating habit of randomly dropping into French occasionally (um, I can't read French! Dick). I've also never been a fan of Mister Sinister. He's just so ridiculous, with his huge cape and his silly makeup.

I'm really disappointed in author Mike Carey. I don't understand how this guy can be such an uneven talent. I know I've read good things by him in the past, but how could somebody who's any good put out a piece of rubbish like this? If he'd settled down and chosen to tell just one story from Gambit's life, and if he'd also taken the time to polish the dialog a lot more than he has, he might have been able to make it interesting and moving. But this comic jumps around so much, and is written so very poorly, you don't even get to know the characters' names before he's moving you on to something else entirely. You don't have time to get involved as a reader, and consequently you don't care about anything that happens. It doesn't help that artists David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson do some pretty clumsy and ugly work, especially on the characters' faces. Just a tremendously bad comic.
Thumbs Down

Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special #1
Yes, it's time for another 70th anniversary one-shot special! This one focuses on some characters I'd never heard of before: a band of regular kids who fought alongside Cap, Bucky, and Toro, and who were known as the Young Allies. Contained in this collection is one new story, followed by reprints of three old stories. The new story is by Roger Stern with art by Paolo Rivera and it's quite moving and excellent. I love the page of old school art that leads into Bucky's flashback to when he first met the Young Allies, followed by another great little flashback about one of their adventures fighting the Red Skull. This story once again brings up the interesting fact, mentioned further up this post, that Marvel comics, including the old ones about Bucky and the Young Allies, are supposed to exist on Earth-616 as well as on our Earth. Bucky and his friends add another interesting dimension to this postmodern concept when they say here that the comics exaggerate the truth, "inventing wild fantasies about us." That's a rather neat way to retcon! Now they can deny and remove from canon any events they don't like from the old comics.

But anyway. Bucky's reunion with his old pals is really quite powerful. It's great seeing the flashback to their final mission together, and then reading a quick catchup on what the Young Allies have been up to since then. Bucky gets a chance to confess all his sins to his old friends, and receives in return a measure of closure and redemption. I have to say I choked up a bit at the very end, when he pours the last of the brandy out, salutes the monument, and says, "It was a privilege to serve with you." Excellent writing by Stern - who manages to include lots of exposition and recapping without being boring - and lovely, classical art by Rivera.

Next up is a vintage ad for the Sentinels of Liberty fan club, then a short text story about the Young Allies by Stan Lee. Wash mentioned in the previous story that he was made out to be some kind of ridiculous stereotype in these old comics, and boy was he right! I'm surprised Marvel had the guts to reprint this story, in which Wash is horribly stereotyped before he's even named: "'Hey, look where you-all am goin'!' cried one of the boys, as he dropped a piece of watermelon out of his hand." Argh! With the watermelon, even! The story itself is a simple and even rather dull adventure involving the Allies overhearing a plot to steal American secrets and thwarting said plot with the help of Captain America. Next up is another ad for the Sentinels of Liberty fan club, and then a comic starring "The School Boy Sleuth, Terry Vance." I'd never heard of this character before, but he turns out to be your typical young amateur detective, who happens to be accompanied by a real live monkey sidekick named Dr. Watson. Like a lot of Golden Age comics, it's a simple, ridiculous story, clumsily plotted, but fun in its own way. The last story in the book is another prose piece by Stan Lee about the Young Allies and Bucky helping Captain America stop people who are trying to steal American secrets. It's practically the same story we already read a handful of pages ago. The very end of the book is more interesting: it's a collection of vintage ads, puzzles, and games, including a wonderful ad for All Winners #4, which starred Captain America, Human Torch, Sub Mariner, Destroyer, and Whizzer. Sweet!

I really enjoyed the modern story in this comic, and the reprints and accompanying material are, as usual, vaguely entertaining, but more interesting as historical curiosities than anything else.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Captain America (Not), Captain Britain (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Mike Carey (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), The Take (Not), Transformers (Not), X-Men (Not)
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Thursday, June 18, 2009 02:43 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

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

This post covers new releases from 6/10, plus a back issue from a few weeks ago.

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

Back issues and old data
Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #1
This is one of the few Final Crisis: Aftermath miniseries that I thought for sure I could safely avoid. I was familiar neither with the character it focused on (a master of disguise named Nemesis, connected to that whole Checkmate thing of which I remain mostly ignorant), nor the artists writing and drawing it. When this first issue came out, I saw it on the shelf and calmly passed it by. But later, I read somewhere that it was not only really good, but similar in theme to The Prisoner. Upon reading this, I groaned, because I knew I was sunk. I'd have to collect this miniseries, too.

It is indeed very similar to The Prisoner, but possibly even more surreal. Tom Tresser (AKA Nemesis) is at home hanging out with his cat when he drinks some drugged milk and drops to the floor. He awakens in a strange bed, and is offered breakfast by a trio of identical, creepy, smiling girls. He rushes out only to find himself in a nightmarish labyrinth that seems to change as he moves through it, more fluid dream than solid reality. He keeps passing out and waking up again. He meets faceless guards, but also people he recognizes: Amanda Waller, former White Queen of Checkmate; fellow agents Cameron Chase, Vertigo, and Rick Flag. Sometimes they seem to want his help. Sometimes they seem completely indifferent to him. Sometimes they seem to want to hinder him. Are they fellow prisoners? Or are they his jailers?

It's all very strange and disturbing, especially the clinically detailed, repetitive narration, written in the third person like a field report, and often containing the ominous phrase "[WORD DELETED]." Ivan Brandon's writing is strong, and Marco Rudy's art is haunting and wonderfully psychedelic. It's a unique comic and very intriguing. It could still turn out to be really lame, depending on how it ends, but I'm going to remain hopeful for now.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 6/10
Angel: Blood & Trenches #4
As I suspected after reading the previous issue, the final issue of this miniseries goes back in time to explain how Angel escaped from Kakistos. Then we move forward from the end of last issue and see Angel defeat Kakistos, at least temporarily. This entire issue is thoroughly narrated by Angel himself, and I'm not sure why. The great majority of the narration is just unnecessary textual descriptions of what we're already seeing in the panel. It's pretty disappointing. And at this point the story has boiled down to an only mildly interesting action adventure tale. The interaction between Angel and the Colonel is fascinating, as is the fact that the other vampires assume that Angel must have lost many of his vampire abilities when he gained a soul. But that's about it. And I really didn't like the twist ending where it turns out the German soldier that they let go is actually Hitler. C'mon, was that necessary? Just because there are Germans and it's the past, one of them has to be Hitler? Sigh. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have annoyed me that much if I hadn't just read a vaguely similar twist ending in Fringe.
Thumbs Sideways

B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3
The latest one-shot set back during the time of the first war against the frog creatures focuses on Liz, as seen through the eyes of a female soldier who has a bit of a crush on her. There's a contrast drawn between the tough, energetic, reckless, action-oriented Liz of the past, who charged headfirst into all the frogs' nests and burned them to a crisp, and the Liz of recent times, trapped in the dark apocalyptic dreams put into her head by Memnan Saa. There's some cool art from Karl Moline and some neat action scenes, but I couldn't get over the feeling that this story is pretty pointless. It doesn't really tell us anything new about Liz, and there's not really much of a story here. It's vaguely interesting to see things from the perspective of the grunts at B.P.R.D., and the fact that one of them is a lesbian with a thing for Liz is a cute idea. But author John Arcudi doesn't really go anywhere with these ideas. Overall, pretty disappointing.
Thumbs Sideways

Batman #687
The new guy working the counter at my local comic shop wasn't too impressed with Batman and Robin #1, but said this comic and Red Robin #1 were both very good. I'll know not to trust his opinion from now on. This comic is quite bad. It marks Judd Winick's takeover of the book, and he uses this first issue to once again go over the fact that Dick Grayson is feeling conflicted about becoming Batman - even though Battle for the Cowl and Batman and Robin have already thoroughly covered that territory. There's an interesting scene that's actually kind of moving where Superman and Wonder Woman hand over Batman's cowl to Nightwing in the Batcave. And the scene where Dick demands there not be a funeral for Batman is also rather interesting, as is the scene where Dick chooses the basement of the Wayne Foundation Building for his new headquarters. But this issue has so many guys weeping in it, and so many corny, melodramatic speeches about grief, by the end I just wanted to pull a Godfather, slap these dudes in their faces, and tell them to act like men. I mean, for God's sake, there's such a thing as subtlety! Also, Winick seems to have picked up Tony Daniel's unfortunate tendency to write Damian as a stupid, incompetent, whiny brat. He is supposed to be a bit of a brat, but he is not stupid or incompetent. He's a brilliant and insane killer raised by expert assassins! Get the backstory and the characters right!! Another thing I disliked is the way the villains are written. They're dull stereotypes, spouting the same old villain cliches. The action scenes in this book are just boring.

Of course, it could be worse. In the back of this book is a preview for a Justice League comic by James Robinson that's so bad I couldn't even finish reading it.
Thumbs Down

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1
The only thing I know about Beta Ray Bill is that he's an alien version of Thor. But I wanted to know more, and the premise of this new miniseries is that Bill gets pissed at Galactus for eating his planet and resolves to hunt him down and kill him once and for all, and that is one fantastic premise. So here we are. The first issue opens with Thor and Bill teaming up to defeat a tsunami. It's pretty awesome. Then Thor tries to talk Bill out of his mad plan to take down Galactus, but Bill's determined. He gets the info on Galactus' location from Agent Brand, who asks him to take care of another deadly alien menace that happens to be on his way. Bill has no trouble with that, and quickly arrives at the scene of Galactus' latest conquest, where he comes into conflict with one of Galactus' heralds. It looks like he'll be facing off against the other - the Silver Surfer - next issue. Bill also reveals his plan for defeating Galactus: he won't fight the guy head on (that would be suicide); instead, he'll keep him from his food until he starves. "Any world which I cannot defend, I will destroy. No matter where he runs, he will find naught but dust to sustain him." Woah. That is bad-ass. I'm excited. This is a revenge story with lots of epic action, and it's well written (by Kieron Gillen) and well drawn (by Kano). Definitely looking forward to reading more of this.

I also really appreciate that in the back of this book they've reprinted the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill, from The Mighty Thor #337. Walter Simonson provides both art and story and does a pretty damn fine job at both (although the dialog and narration do get a bit corny and repetitive at times). The story is constructed like a crossover tale, wherein due to a misunderstanding our two heroes end up at odds with each other and get into a big fight, but we know eventually they'll figure out what's going wrong and team up against a greater evil. They run into each other in the first place because Nick Fury detects Bill's spaceship headed toward Earth, and it's so powerful and of such epic magnitude the only person he can think of to call on for help is a God: Thor. Bill assumes Thor is just one of the demons he's apparently been hunting, and rather than try to stop the fight and explain the truth to Bill, Thor stupidly fights back. After a while, Thor weakens and changes back into Donald Blake. For some reason, Bill is able to then take Blake's staff, tap it, and gain the power of Thor. Odin then mistakes Bill for Thor and whisks him home to Asgard, where there's trouble brewing. Whoops! Needless to say Blake/Thor is upset. I'm curious to see how this story wraps up, and I'm hoping the rest of it will be reprinted in future issues of this miniseries.
Thumbs Up

Fables #85
In part 7 of "The Great Fables Crossover," Jack Horner is finally forced to have a confrontation with his son, Jack Frost, and Sam manages to convince Kevin to hold off destroying the world, hopefully long enough for Sam to get his hands on the magic pen and possibly destroy it.

It's good to see Jack Horner finally get a little taste of what he deserves in this issue. His son gets so frustrated with him, he attacks him, and the Boy Blue cult finally turns against him as well when his duplicity is at last explained to them. But of course Jack learns nothing from all of this. Instead, in a hilarious sequence, he steals Bigby's liquor and teaches Bigby's kids how to play poker before tricking his own son into running off and confronting Kevin Thorn. What an unmitigated bastard he is. And yet somehow I still enjoy reading about him.

In the back of this comic is a preview, by way of a series of character portraits, of an upcoming comic called Greek Street. The premise is simple: it's a modern day update of ancient Greek mythology. I was actually vaguely interested in this when I first read about it, but this preview really turned me off. It's just poorly written. It looks as if they tried too hard - or didn't try hard enough - to link mythology with the modern world. I'm simultaneously amused and horrified that the Greek chorus is a bunch of strippers.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Escape #2
The second issue of this insane miniseries is pretty much more of the same, although some fascinating new clues do surface. Someone tells Tresser, "He wants you to leave. Not all of you. The real you." That seems significant. Also, a robotic-looking entity, possibly a guard, is surprised to find that Tresser can somehow see him; apparently he's supposed to be invisible. There's a fun interlude wherein Tresser, Cameron, and Vertigo beat the crap out of Captain Nazi. Then Tresser pulls an older version of himself out of a time pool! And maybe the Rick Flag he's been seeing is just a hallucination?!

Yep, it's some crazy crap, all right. It continues to be unclear what's real and what's not, but something interesting is definitely going on. I wonder if all of this will ever make sense. Or if it will perhaps end up making too much sense. If that makes sense.
Thumbs Up

The Flash: Rebirth #3
As this issue opens, the other superheroes have assembled to lock Barry in a stasis field until they can figure out how to make him not the Black Flash anymore. But Barry is certain the only way out is to return to the speed force again, so he just runs away as fast as he can. Superman tries to stop him. "I've raced you before, Barry," he says. "I even won some of those races." "Those were for charity, Clark," Barry says, and zooms away much faster than even Superman can follow. Somehow he leaves behind the Black Flash costume in the process, reverting to the old red and gold, but he just keeps going anyway. His life plays out in reverse in front of his eyes as he runs, his memory and his sense of self drifting away in the process. He repeats to himself, like a charm, "As long as I remember Iris, I'll be all right." It's an incredibly moving and heartbreaking sequence. But Barry doesn't die again at the end of it - instead he finds Johnny Quick and Max Mercury caught in some kind of weird vortex where their life force is being sucked out of them. And finally the villain who's really behind it all is revealed: Reverse Flash!

Wow! Very cool stuff. The sequence where Barry tries to sacrifice himself again to save everyone - easily running faster than Superman, and trying desperately to keep at least the memory of Iris, even if he must lose all the rest of himself - is really amazing.
Thumbs Up

Miss America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
These 70th anniversary one-shots are introducing me to a lot of old school Marvel characters I'd never heard of before. The first story in this one - a new tale written by Jen Van Meter with art by Andy MacDonald - opens with the Liberty Leionnaires - Miss America, Whizzer, and Blue Diamond - fighting off a gang of mind-controlled civilians. Miss America and Blue Diamond are pretty generic super-strong, nigh invulnerable types, while Whizzer is a speedster, natch. Whizzer is married to Miss America and is a little overprotective of her, but in order to root out a Nazi sabotage plot, she has to go undercover as a worker at a shipyard. Eventually it turns out that hidden among the regular workers are a whole band of super saboteurs: Madame Mauzer, Vichy Vixen, Axis Annie, Fraulein Fatale, and Penny Panzer! They briefly capture Miss America, but she gets assistance from the regular girls at the shipyard, who fight back to defend her, their ship, and their country. It's all a little silly and over-the-top, but in a wonderfully smart, funny, self-aware kind of way. I particularly enjoyed when Vichy Vixen spontaneously surrenders, and when one of the shipyard gals gives Penny Panzer a brutal slug to the face and says, "Don't fall down yet, sugar. I ain't done hittin' you." Ha! It's a cute story and it's a ton of fun.

Next up is "The Whizzer" from All-Winners Comics #9. Credits are hard to come by for old Golden Age comics, but they know Alan Mandel penciled this one. It features Whizzer foiling a plot to sabotage a test of a new high explosive armor piercing shell. He solves the case thanks to the fact that he was listening to a random channel on his powerful short wave radio and overheard the saboteurs talking to each other in coded language. It's quite goofy. Still, I rather enjoy the character of Whizzer; the current Marvel Universe is seriously lacking in speedsters.

The third story in the book is "The Whizzer: The Terror of the Triple Destruction" from All-Winners Comics #10, fall 1943. This is an even more ridiculous story than the previous one, and involves Whizzer fighting three saboteurs dressed as demons. These saboteurs boast that they will strike three war plants at the same time, but Whizzer is able to foil their plans by getting the Western Union people to agree to set their clocks slightly off in each of the plants. I could explain that further, but it doesn't get much less silly. The story feels like a commercial for Western Union. Also, like a lot of Golden Age stories, it's painfully over-narrated, describing things in text that we can see plainly with our own eyes. Still, it's fun in its own way.

The final story is "Let's Play Detective: The Mystery of the Ghost Killer" from All-Winners Comics #11, winter 1943-1944. It was written and drawn by Allen Bellman. It's a rather odd two-page, locked room murder mystery wherein a detective examines a few clues (really, just the one - some holes in the ground outside the window), interviews a few witnesses, and swiftly fingers the guilty party - a German gardener who used to be in the circus, and who was forced to kill by Nazis who threatened his family back in the fatherland. Interestingly enough, there's no suggestion that anybody's going to do anything about the people who coerced him - the murderer has been caught, and that's that! The trick to how the detective solved the murder is printed upside down in the final panel, so you can try to figure it out yourself first, then turn the book over to check your solution. (I was able to figure it out, btw, as it was rather glaringly obvious. I guess it's pretty hard to put together a complicated mystery in just two pages.)

Most of these 70th anniversary one-shots have been quite fun. Even when the old stories are lame or the new ones aren't all that exciting, it's still fascinating getting a peek into the history of Marvel Comics.
Thumbs Up

Red Robin #1
The Red Robin character has a strange and complicated history in the DC Universe, but this miniseries is about its latest incarnation: Tim Drake - or Tim Wayne, as he calls himself now (Bruce adopted him at some point, apparently). Tim - unsurprisingly, in retrospect - was pretty pissed at being passed over not only for the job of Batman, but also for the job of Robin, so he stormed off. Unable to face losing everything and everyone again, he became convinced that Bruce Wayne is somehow still alive. So he took on the Red Robin persona and went out in search of the original Batman. In this issue, he gets sidetracked from his search by some good old fashioned crime-fighting, and we learn that an old enemy is keeping track of his movements, and is possibly planning to kill him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this comic. The story is told in an interesting, non-chronological way, jumping back and forth through time until the whole thing has been pieced together for us. There's a lot of narration, but it's interesting, well-written, and not redundant. Tim himself is a fascinating character, complex, flawed, and hurting. I hadn't really thought about how he would react to Dick taking over the Batman identity and giving Damian the Robin identity, but his reaction here is totally believable, and it's the obvious way for him to feel in retrospect. I like that despite the fact that Tim is angry and maybe even a little crazy, he's still extremely competent. I'm really enjoying this story and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. I suspect it may turn out that Tim is right, and Bruce is somehow still alive. But I'd actually like it better if that weren't true, and this series ended up being about Tim trying to come to grips with that fact.
Thumbs Up

Sherlock Holmes #2
A couple of new and interesting twists pop up in this, the second part of "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." Turns out not only is Sherlock apparently guilty of murder, there were also papers at the crime scene that seem to show he himself was the mysterious Moriarty he was always talking about! Meanwhile, to save face, Scotland Yard is ordering both Watson and Lestrade to keep their noses entirely out of the case! But there's no way they can sit still while their friend is in trouble, so they begin investigating the case secretly, under cover of darkness. Meanwhile, Holmes has cleverly escaped his prison cell and is on the lam!

I'm enjoying this story. It's quite intriguing. The only complaint I have is with the way Aaron Campbell draws Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson looking all disheveled. I understand their concern for their friend would end up affecting their outward appearance, but I just can't imagine either of them - proper British folk like they are - letting themselves go quite that much. I mean, they look positively disgusting!
Thumbs Up

Toy Story #1
Boom! keeps churning out the new kids titles, and I keep buying them! This is the first issue in a four-part miniseries, and it tells a one-and-done story called "The Mysterious Stranger." It opens with Andy running in and dropping a strange, egg-like object off in his room before dashing out again to go somewhere with his family. The toys all approach the egg and try to figure out what it is. They are unsuccessful. Paranoia gets the better of a few of them, and those few stage a desperate and poorly thought-out attempt to get rid of the egg. Woody and the rest of the gang stop them, and then have to rush to put everything back the way it was before Andy returns. The object turns out to be harmless, and we all learn a valuable lesson.

But I kid Toy Story. Despite the simplicity of the story, and the obviousness of its message, I actually really enjoyed it. It was fun to see the old gang from the movies again, in an adventure full of fun, action, and comedy. I suspect I'll be picking up the next issue.
Thumbs Up

Uncanny X-Men: First Class Giant-Size #1
This is the one-shot special that bridges the gap between X-Men: First Class and Uncanny X-Men: First Class, with the old writer Jeff Parker handing off the reins to new writer Scott Gray, who's accompanied here by partner Roger Langridge. I had high hopes for this title, as I enjoyed Gray and Langridge's work on Fin Fang 4 Return, but sadly it's an uneven mess. It opens with Scott trying to get used to working with his new teammates: Banshee, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Storm. They're all a bit too crazy and undisciplined for his tastes, and they're not so good at following his orders. But Dr. MacTaggert tells him a series of stories that they told her about themselves which gives Cyclops more insight into who they are. At the end there's hope that Cyclops and his new team will learn to get along.

The device of having MacTaggert tell Cyclops stories about his teammates is a pretty contrived excuse to do a series of one-shot origin stories. And the stories themselves often leave a lot to be desired. Storm's story is beautifully drawn and relatively interesting, but a bit corny. Someone had the horrible idea of writing Banshee's story as a song, but the meter is all wrong and the language has been twisted about in all kinds of clumsy and awkward ways in order to try to make it rhyme. It's quite awful. The story itself is a pretty dull thing about Banshee fighting a bunch of monsters for a girl, only to discover he and the girl can't be together. I like the very end, where he realizes he'll meet her again in death, but that's about it.

Nightcrawler's story is a very childish, cartoony-looking thing about the fact that what he is scares people, and he has to hide behind lies to be accepted. The only really good stories are the last two: Colossus' and Wolverine's. Colossus describes an adventure that takes place shortly after he discovered his mutant ability. He's depressed about the recent death of his brother, and not sure what to do about his secret. His friends are trying to cheer him up when an accident nearly kills them all, but Colossus is able to save them with his mutant power. Not only that, but he finds new hope and a purpose in life. It sounds a bit corny, but it's handled well and is actually quite effective.

The last story - Wolverine's - might be the best. We all know that Wolverine doesn't actually remember his past at all at this point in his history, but instead of telling MacTaggert that, he makes up a bunch of totally ridiculous adventure stories about himself. He says he got his powers by being bitten by a radioactive wolverine at a science exhibition. We then get quick glimpses of his hilarious attempts to become a children's author, a theater actor (I love his take on Willy Loman - "This is one salesman who ain't dyin', bub!"), and a folk singer. Then he finally finds his purpose: punching creeps and blowing things up with the spy organization S.N.I.K.T.! He fights zombie clowns, mechanical lunar ticks on the moon, and the agents of B.I.M.B.O.! Then he saves Charles Xavier from B.I.M.B.O. and agrees to join the X-Men, where he totally macks on Jean Grey.

In the back of the book is an amusing collection of "International Mutants Who Didn't Make the Team" which includes people like Didgeri Dude, an Australian who can surf on anything and drain a tinny in ten seconds flat. I feel like some of the jokes in here went over my head, or are just so weird and random that I thought they'd gone over my head, but most of it is pretty funny.

After reading this rather clumsy, uneven book, I'm a little worried about the quality of the upcoming issues of Uncanny X-Men: First Class. But to be fair, this one-shot was written and illustrated by a large number of people all trying to work in concert, and I suspect it's difficult to produce good work that way. Maybe the ongoing series - written by just one writer and drawn by just one artist - will be stronger and less uneven. We'll see.
Thumbs Sideways

The Unwritten #2
I'm definitely still loving this series. I enjoy the quick glimpses we get into the Tommy Taylor novels - how they're so like and yet so unlike Harry Potter - and the quick glimpses we get into the completely believable internet reaction to the events surrounding Tom Taylor in the "real" world. Some shocking and exciting moments: a new Tommy Taylor novel arrives at the publisher! Then Tom visits his Dad's old flame for information, and it's clear she knows more than she's saying. "You know that trick where you pull away the tablecloth without disturbing the plates and dishes?" she says. "That's what the truth is." Then she tells him to count the stairs in her basement. Somehow, impossibly, he keeps going down and down, getting all the way to step number 1,708 before she turns the light on and tells him to come back. He turns around and finds there are only 12 steps going back up. Such a cool scene.

The villain who's tracking Tom threatens his Dad's old flame a bit after Tom leaves. It looks like she knows the thug, and is perhaps cooperating with him to a certain extent. But she did give Tom a tip on where to go next: the old house where his father wrote the Tommy Taylor novels. There Tom has a flashback to a horrific childhood memory of his father beating the crap out of some man, a man holding a mysterious map. Also at the house is the woman who called herself Lizzie Hexam, and she points out that Tom now has Tommy Taylor's tattoo on the back of his hand, something I've been expecting to see for some time now.

This is a really wonderful, magical mystery about the thin line between fiction and reality. Just my kind of thing.
Thumbs Up

Wolverine #74
Both stories that were launched in #73 conclude in this issue. The biker story really feels rushed and a little clumsy. I think it probably needed to have more space to develop. Also, it needed to be a little more subtle about the parallels to Wolverine's relationship with his own son. And it needed to be more interesting. I really didn't care that much about scummy drug-dealing bikers killing each other. Jason Aaron's "A Mile in My Moccasins" also gets a bit corny and unsubtle at times, but it's still a good story because it never takes itself too seriously. I especially enjoyed the moment when a bunch of unlucky criminals try to rob the bar where Wolverine and Spider-Man are having an argument. Big mistake! I also like when Wolverine's bartender answers the phone and says, "Logan, it's for you. It's that Cyclops guy." Heh. So yeah, a bit cheesy, but also clever and funny, and overall a pretty strong character portrait of Wolverine.

It looks like next issue this book is going to change its title to Dark Wolverine and start focusing on Logan's son, Daken. I'm not totally happy about that, and neither am I happy about the fact that Daniel Way will apparently be taking over writing duties. I remember that guy being pretty uneven. Still, I might give it a try, just to see what it's like.
Thumbs Sideways
Tagged (?): Angel (Not), B.P.R.D. (Not), Batman (Not), Comic books (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Geoff Johns (Not), Jason Aaron (Not), John Byrne (Not), Sherlock Holmes (Not), The Take (Not), Wolverine (Not), X-Men (Not)
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