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What I bought – 10 December 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 10 December 2008

You know, some people accuse me of being cynical and of dumping on mainstream superhero comics too much. Well, when the latest big event ends with a mass-murderer being handed the keys to the kingdom and ordering around two people who have, in the past, been sovereign monarchs and who, inexplicably, do not immediately slaughter him, I think I have a right to criticize. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that my cynicism stems from crappy comics. This week, however, many absolutely glorious comics came out. So it’s all about praising the crap out of comics this week. You’ll excuse me if I skip the shit.

Ambush Bug: Year None #5 (of 6) by Keith Giffen (plotter/penciller), Robert Loren Fleming (scripter), Al Milgrom (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), and Tom Smith (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Giffen and Fleming continue to take the piss out of Dan DiDio, and although I know it’s all in good fun (as he is their employer, so they’re not going to piss him off too much), it’s still refreshing to see someone doing it. The story of how DiDio, in his guise of Dex Duthor and then Darkdidio, turned an alternate earth from a cheery place into, well, today’s DCU is two pages of comics excellence. The quote, “All who live shall die, and then be reborn so that they may die again for a second sales spike!” just sums up both DC and Marvel so well, doesn’t it? As usual with this series, it helps if you’re a fan of DC comics, but it continues merrily along toward the stunning conclusion next issue. Good, goofy fun. Who doesn’t love that?

Captain Britain and MI 13 #8 by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Michael Bair (inker), Jay Leisten (inker), Craig Yeung (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I’ve liked this book from the beginning, but it keeps getting better as Cornell moves beyond the restrictions of a Skrull invasion and into other weird stuff. The whole idea of this story, that Plotka is going to use the Earth as a factory to make mindless ones, is solid, and the way Cornell has been teasing the principals with their heart’s desire has worked well too. It allows him to examine what makes them tick and how they can overcome it, and it also adds a nice emotional edge to the proceedings. In this issue, Brian realizes that he has succumbed to Plotka’s powers and manages to break free, but not without two beautiful moments. One is when Cornell does a nice job with Meggan’s powers and how they work, and the other is when Brian comes across a way out of his “heart’s desire” prison and makes a keen point about why he doesn’t take it. And then we get a superb twist at the end, one that flows so easily from the previous few chapters and sets up a (presumably) devastating ending. Plus, Cornell throws in two concepts that, if a certain God of All Comics had written the words, we’d all be giggling like schoolgirls at his casual genius. Blade uses a sword made out of pages from magical books to dispatch Plotka (temporarily), and the British government comes up with a nifty way to capture a mindless one. And yet, do we love Cornell with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns, like we do with G-Mozz? We do not. Come on, people, he’s British! Isn’t everything the Brits write so much better than anything we dumbass colonists can do? I mean, they spell things pronounced “er” as “re”! They have extra “u”s in words that don’t need it! They’re obviously so much smarter than we are!

Oh, wait a minute, where was I? Oh, yeah. This is a damned good comic. Excellent story, fantastic art, cool characters, pentagram tesseracts! Get the hell out there and buy this book!

Challenger Deep #4 (of 4) by Andrew Cosby (writer), Andy Schmidt (writer), Chee (artist), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Well, the world doesn’t end. In case you were wondering. The methane ice under the submarine doesn’t explode, so we’re all saved. Phew. Good to know.

When you set up a story like this, where the end of the world is threatened, you need to tell it in a way that the fact that the world doesn’t end isn’t a disappointment. We know going in that the hero will save the day, but Cosby and Schmidt do a good job with the way things play out. We’ve even been fairly certain that Eric Chase will die, mostly because of how his character has been set up, and it’s a credit to the writers that they keep us guessing about his ultimate fate. It’s a tense thriller with some nice character moments thrown in. It’s not a great comic, but it tells a solid story that, if it was in a movie, would be swamped by the special effects. As it’s in a comic, we can get a realistic rendering of a submarine trapped miles below the surface but still get plenty of nice interaction between the characters.

As usual with a lot of Boom! comics, this reads vaguely like a movie pitch, but it’s still a solid story. And Chee’s art has oddly become more David Lloyd-ish over the course of the series, and that’s not a bad thing.

Final Crisis #5 (of 7) by Grant “Rubik’s Cube, bitches!” Morrison (writer), J. G. Jones (artist), Carlos Pacheco (artist), Marco Rudy (artist), Jesus Merino (inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

There’s something weirdly off about Final Crisis, and through five issues, I just can’t put my finger on it. It really does feel like Morrison is writing this on auto-pilot, which means we get some interesting concepts and cool prose but nothing too coherent. It’s a frustrating read, because while it’s always fun to see a writer trying to make the reading experience more interactive, there’s a difference between allowing us as the reading audience to make the connections and forcing us to look for connectivity where none exists. I’m sure Morrison has this all mapped out and everything will look better holistically, but that means reading each chapter is an exercise in frustration. Plus, the plot seems to be pointing, at least in one aspect, toward yet another meditation on how there are several layers of existence, and Morrison has gone to that well so much he owns the deed.

This week, when I read Captain Britain, or I Kill Giants, or Phonogram, or Secret Six, or even The Lone Ranger and Young Liars, I was thrilled. I’m not thrilled by Final Crisis. It’s supposed to be thrilling, but it’s not. Too bad.

I Kill Giants #6 (of 7) by Joe Kelly (writer) and JM Ken Niimura (artist). $2.99, 25 pgs, BW, Image.

Speaking of thrilling (as I was, above), in one double-page spread, Niimura gives us a more exciting image than all the artists working on every issue of Final Crisis (even when Jones was working on it): Barbara finally takes Coveleski out of the pouch to fight the Titan, and it’s a stunning moment of power in a powerful mini-series. It’s a wonderful drawing, and it encapsulates so much: the magic lurking around the edges of the book, the anger and fear Barbara feels about facing the Titan, and even the sly humor that Kelly has put into the book, as Barbara wielding a gigantic weapon of war is rather incongruous (and even though Barbara wielding the hammer is on the cover, the drawing in the book still has power). All the questioning of whether or not Barbara actually fights literal giants is out the door, as she really does fight a giant, and most of the book is the fight scene, which is breathtaking in its dynamic energy and impact on Barbara and her environment. But, again, Kelly undercuts our expectations, as Barbara believes she’s fighting to save her mother, but learns the truth in an amazingly tender moment (considering she’s talking to a gigantic monster). It leads to a cliffhanger that I, for one, cannot wait to see. Come on, Image – release issue #7 next week!

This is an amazing series. It’s not surprising no one cares.

The Lone Ranger #16 by Brett Matthews (writer), Sergio Cariello (artist), Marcelo Pinto (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

This issue is a bit of an epilogue to the murder mystery of the last few issues, but it’s also a stand-alone story focusing on the Ranger’s archfoe, Cavendish, who decides it’s time to confess his sins! Yeah, that can’t be a good idea, although it’s less disturbing that the other confessional in this week’s comics (see Six, Secret). He tells the story of his life, and while it’s a fairly standard bad guy plotline – Daddy was mean as a snake, I had to be mean as a snake, and only when I finally killed that bastard did he respect me – it’s a tense set-up because we’re sure Cavendish is going to kill the preacher (after all, how can he confess to all that murder and let the preacher live?) and we’re wondering how said preacher will get out of it. Matthews does an interesting thing at the end, leaving us with a truly disturbing final page, which is a nice trick. Cariello does his usual stellar job with the art, including a full page drawing of our hero that springs directly from Cavendish’s imagination and is therefore more terrifying than any “real” picture of John Reid. It’s a very well-told tale that doesn’t really offer anything insightful but does give us a good look at both the villain and how the hero has taken on some mythic proportions. As this book is about a mythic West, that’s not a bad thing.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 (of 7) by Kieron Gillen (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist/letterer) and Matthew Wilson (colorist). Back-up stories by Kieron Gillen (writer) and Laurenn McCubbin (artist, “She Who Bleeds For Your Entertainment”) and Marc Ellerby (artist, “The Power Of Love”). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

Before I consider the glory that is Phonogram, I want to consider the price. Yes, I enjoy harping on prices, and I really don’t care who it annoys, because price has to be more and more of a factor about whether you’re going to buy a book. You can spend 4 dollars to read yet another crappy “event” book (and yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing that when I just reviewed Final Crisis, but my point is, I didn’t make a choice, I bought both of them; if people have to make a choice, they usually choose the crappy “event” book) or you can spend $3.50 for this. What do you get with this? You get a 16-page main story that manages to tell a complete story yet introduce several elements that will show up later in the mini-series. You get two pages of Gillen rambling about the comic. If you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you love writers rambling about their work almost as much as the work itself. You get two pages of frickin’ annotations, many of them humorous. You get a devastatingly insightful 4-page story illustrated by Laurenn McCubbin. And you get a hilarious 2-page story explaining why Huey Lewis can save the world and featuring the latest excellent quote in comics: “Do not array facts against me!” I love Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl in a way that is completely non-icky. My love is pure, man! Plus, a letters page. This comic demands to be savored, unlike so many others out there. It’s a phenomenal value just for the content, and if the content is any good (we’ll get to that), it’s even better. And, of course, the sales will make it seem as if you can get genital herpes just by touching it. Goddamn.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of content if the content sucks, right? Well, I like to think I’m not biased toward comics made by people I’ve met and enjoyed talking to, but Gillen and McKelvie are such swell guys I’m certainly favorably pre-disposed toward this. But you know what? I liked the first Phonogram before I knew they were swell guys, so I hope I can remain level-headed. It’s difficult, because Phonogram: The Singles Club KICKS SO MUCH ASS IT’S KICKING YOUR ASS WITH AWESOMENESS RIGHT NOW AND YOU DON’T EVEN REALIZE IT!!!!!!!!!! THAT PAIN IN YOUR ASS YOU HAVE RIGHT NOW THAT MAKES YOU WANT TO TURN OFF ANOTHER GODDAMNED ITERATION OF FUCKING SURVIVOR (THIS TIME IN GABON, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD) AND RUN, NOT WALK, TO YOUR LOCAL PROPRIETOR OF FINE COMIC-BOOKERY AND BUY THIS ISSUE IS THE ISSUE ITSELF, KICKING YOU IN THE ASS!!!!!!! WHY THE HELL ARE YOU RESISTING IT?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!

Phew. Have I made myself clear? The thing about Phonogram is, I shouldn’t like it. I’m too old for the club scene (and I wasn’t into it when I was younger), I don’t know much of the music that Gillen uses in the series, and I want to punch Penny B., the main character, in the face more than once. Before you think I’m misogynistic, I want to punch Seth Bingo in the face, too (it’s part of my non-icky love for him – why are you looking at me like that?). Yes, the characters in this comic often suck. Penny leads us through a night at her favorite club (or “favourite” club, as Gillen and McKelvie are more of those genius Brits with their extra letters and shit), and she’s trite and silly and immature and egotistical and gets her comeuppance by more than one person, but by the end we love her and want to see her be happy, and she is. And damn, it’s a wonderful shift in only 16 pages. And damn, McKelvie’s art is more stunning every time it appears. It was quite good in the first series, looked better in color in Suburban Glamour, and has gone to yet another level here. McKelvie is getting better at “action” scenes, too, as Penny on the dance floor is marvelous.

And, of course, there are the extra pages. That’s just gravy. Gillen’s takedown of misogynistic musicians and their fans (yes, I used that twice in the same review) in one story and a hilarious joke at Seth Bingo’s expense in the other are fantastic. This is how the series will go – a main story, followed by short back-ups. It’s a cool way to present the series, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the book.

GODDAMN, BUY PHONOGRAM! WOULD IT REALLY FUCKING KILL YOU TO SKIP SLEAZY CREEPY NAMOR? WOULD IT?!?!?!?!?????

Secret Six #4 by Gail Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (penciller), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Speaking of dang cool DC comics, look! it’s another issue of Secret Six! And why yes, our heroes are driving in an ice cream truck. That’s just how they fucking roll!

I suppose a SPOILER warning is in order, because I’m going to reference the thing everyone is going after, a revelation that came at the end of last issue, so it’s been out there for a month already. But I’ll still warn you, in case you’re waiting for the trade.

This is a bit of a lull issue in terms of action, as the Six try to figure out what it is they’re actually holding and Junior tracks them down in Las Vegas. Simone does a nice job with the various thoughts we ourselves have about a “get out of Hell free” card, from utter disbelief that it exists to desire for it. It’s an issue that relies on the interaction between the characters, and Simone handles it very well. Junior, meanwhile, visits a priest, and although it’s a scene straight out of a bunch of horror movies, it’s still effective because Simone has done such a nice job creating Junior and the sense of menace surrounding him. Of course, at the very end, our “heroes” fall into a trap, so Simone still gives us a bit of action, but mostly, this is a good issue because of how the group reacts to the card and how we can feel the tension coming off the pages.

Another solid issue with a nice mix of character development and just a bit of action, all drawn nicely by Scott. Apparently it’s not that difficult to do! Fancy that!

Time Management for Anarchists: Productivity Tips for Creative Malcontents by Jim Munroe (writer) and Marc Ngui (artist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

Munroe takes full advantage of comic-book conventions in this odd polemic. The first line of the book is “In a timeshifted Toronto, political firebrand Emma Goldman is paying the rent as a graphic designer, just a few cubicles away from likeminded historic radical Mikhail Bakunin.” There’s a goofy charm to that sentence that we just go along with, because we’ve read comics for years and don’t care how Emma Goldman and Mikhail Bakunin ended up in a modern Canadian city. The important point is that they’re there, innit?

Unfortunately, Munroe doesn’t do much with them. Goldman and Bakunin are there simply to provide an audience for Darren O’Donnell, a Canadian anarchist who has some ideas about how to make anarchy work in society. There’s really nothing like a story here, just Goldman and Bakunin whining about how they can’t fight the machine and then deciding to ask O’Donnell what his ideas about that are. It’s more of an advertisement than anything, and that’s fine, especially because it’s an advertisement for something interesting, but it’s certainly not anything I’m going to encourage you to buy. Apparently you can go to Munroe’s web site and download the comic for free, so if you’re interested, hit the link above and check it out!

Otherwise, this is a bit disappointing. Goldman and Bakunin sound extremely interesting in real life (whether or not you think they’re crazy, they’re interesting), and Munroe turns them into a couple of whiners. Bakunin once wrote, “The passion for destruction is a creative passion.” The Bakunin in Munroe’s comic is a wimp. It’s a weird choice. Both of the characters could have made this less of a rant and more of a story with good ideas. Oh well.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #1 (of eight) by Eric Shanower (writer), Skottie Young (artist), Jean-François Beaulieu (colorist), and Jeff Eckleberry (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Attention, good readers. This comic is the first one chosen exclusively by my three-year-old daughter. She liked the cover. It’s not bad, of course, but it’s something we’ve seen many times before, albeit this time beautifully illustrated by Young. I would have preferred waiting for the trade, but my daughter insisted. In fact, here’s a (paraphrased) version of our conversation about buying this:

Norah: I want this comic.
Daddy: You want this?
Norah: Yes.
Daddy: You’re sure?
Norah: Yes.
Daddy: Can we get the book when it comes out?
Norah: No.
Daddy: How about we get the book? [It’s 4 dollars, after all, and the inevitable hardcover version will probably be very cool.]
Norah: Okay.
Daddy: We can wait?
Norah: Yes.
[A minute or two passes, and Norah is back at the book.]
Norah: I want this.
Daddy: I’ll get it for you if you really want it. Do you really want it?
Norah: Yes.
Daddy: You don’t want to wait for the big book?
Norah: No.
Daddy: You really want this?
Norah: Yes.

Those of you who have or have ever had a three-year-old will recognize this kind of conversation, where their whims change from second to second. But she was adamant. And, to be honest, could you resist buying her whatever she wants?

I think not!

(As I was writing this, she came over, pointed at the cover, and said, “I like this.” So she hasn’t changed her mind yet!)

Young Liars #10 by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Surprisingly enough, this is a fairly straight-forward issue of Young Liars, as we get a peek into CeeCee’s life and what made her particularly fucked up. As usual, Lapham takes us through a wild journey of drugs and sex and violence, but there’s only one moment that matches the insanity of the past few issues, and that’s when CeeCee finds something really disturbing in the toilet bowl (no, not that, although that would have been less disturbing). Although it’s less of a pure adrenaline blast than the rest of the series has been so far, Lapham has managed, in between the craziness, to create some compelling characters, so although we still loathe pretty much everyone in the series (for various reasons and to varying degrees), CeeCee’s tragic plight can’t help but elicit some pity, and even when Danny is doing something dickish (which, you know, he does), it fits with how the characters have been built up over the course of the first nine issues. I can’t say that this is one of the better issues of the series, because part of its attraction is the sheer balls with which Lapham has been writing and drawing these, but even as a quieter issue, it helps propel the story along and bring up a whole mess of other issues for our despicable heroes to deal with.

And so we come to the end of another week of comics. I was going to respond to Brian’s review of Final Crisis a bit more, but I won’t. I think what we should do with all the bloggers here is have a group review of the entire epic when it actually ends. That might be fun. Until then, I’ll point out that there are so freakin’ excellent comics out this week that don’t feature Luthor in that idiotic armor. You should check them out!

But let’s dive into some totally random lyrics!

“I said hallelujah to the sixteen loyal fans
You’ll get down on your muthafuckin’ knees
And it’s time for your sickness again
Come on and tell me what you need
Tell me what is making you bleed
We got two more minutes and
We gonna cut to what you need”

Go buy good comics, people. Nothing is stopping you!

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