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What I bought – 13 February 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 13 February 2008

This week: One reason I like reading books without paying for them; plus, because of certain accusations levelled at this very blog and our “evil corporate overlords,” absolutely NO Marvel books! I respond to our constituency! I’m a man of the people, people!

Oh, and in case you missed it, the greatest comic book ever conceived came out this week. Just so you know.

30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow #3 (of 3) by Steve Niles (writer), Bill Sienkiewicz (artist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

I like Steve Niles more than a lot of people on this blog, because I think the man comes up with some excellent plots. Like Keith Giffen, however, it seems like he needs to be a plotter more than a scripter, because it seems like he often falls apart in the details of his comics. I still think the “primary” stories of his sprawling 30 Days of Night franchise – the original mini-series, Dark Days, and Return to Barrow – are quite good, but maybe Ben Templesmith had something to do with that. I was buying this series mainly because of Sienkiewicz’s art, but even that let me down. Sigh. I wanted to like this more than I did.

The biggest problem with this book is that we get three issues, and we don’t really know much about any of the characters. In the original, Eben and Stella were very good characters, and the book was ultimately a love story. Here, however, the characters who do survive aren’t developed all that much, so we don’t really care when they’re in peril and don’t really care when they get out of it. The “secret” of the vampires isn’t developed particularly well, either, so we’re left with a half-baked idea that might work, given some more time. I haven’t gone back and counted the pages of the original series (which was also three issues), but it felt longer and more time was devoted to giving us a sense of the principals. Here, it’s just random people getting slaughtered or doing some slaughtering, and it’s tough to get involved.

Sienkiewicz’s art (two books this week with his art, which is rare) disappoints, too. The first issue looked great, the second looked a bit rushed, and this is all over the map. Some of the individual panels are excellent, but when the vampire-hunting family goes inside a cave that turns out to be a lair for the creatures (not terribly surprising, that), the art gets very poor. It’s much sloppier than Sienkiewicz is usually, as it looks like he tries to tone down some of his usual quirks and actually pencil some panels, which comes off looking worse than when he cuts loose. It’s an odd result, but the middle pages of this comic, inside the cave, are just ugly. I’m more disappointed by the art than I am by the story, because Sienkiewicz usually makes things so visually interesting.

It’s too bad, really, because despite my general aversion to pure “horror” kind of work – I’m sick of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and their ilk – I do like it when it’s done well. But it’s not done well here.

Astro City Special: Beautie #1 by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent Anderson (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and John Roshell (letterer). $3.99, 40 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Astro City comes out at a glacial pace, presumably because Busiek and Anderson take their love of “old-school” comics so far that they have monks in a mountain scriptorium copying down each issue before it can be distributed by pack animals to the four corners of the world, but when it does come out, it’s a joy to read. Whereas “The Dark Age” has had its moments of blandness among its overarching interesting story line, the specials that come out between the arcs (this is the second such one) are very good. Busiek isn’t re-inventing the wheel here, but he keeps coming up with ways of looking at superheroes that feel familiar yet fresh at the same time.

In this case, it’s a superhero that looks like a line of dolls that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Barbies. Beautie has no recollection of why she is a life-sized doll who happens to be alive, and this sets up a more-creepy-than-we-might-expect story. It’s creepy from page 1, too, as Beautie stands in the toy section of a department store and wonders what the dolls are thinking. It’s an odd moment, because Beautie is supposed to be familiar but we get right away how alien she feels. When she battles villains with the Honor Guard, she feels “right,” but when the fighting is over, she’s left with an identity crisis. There are several very well done scenes that show how misplaced she is in society, from the way she fends off a man’s advance (which is funny and horrifying at the same time) to the way homosexuals in AC accept her because they too feel so different. What Busiek continues to do, however, is subvert our expectations. She is accepted by the city’s gay community, but she still feels separate. MPH, her fellow Honor Guard member, tries to help her, but she doesn’t even know how to respond to his kindness. And when she starts to figure out the mystery of her origin, the way Busiek shows her breaking through her “programming” is excellently done and still very upsetting. Finally, the resolution of the mystery is somewhat tragic, very logical, yet offers some hope for the future. It’s a very good story, despite the familiarity of the plot elements.

Busiek and Anderson take their time with Astro City, which is frustrating because it’s easily one of the best superhero comics of the past decade. I understand the delays, but I hope that they get to work on it more often, because the gaps between the issues are depressing. Still, I always look forward to an issue. If you haven’t bought it yet, this is a great place to check it out – 4 bucks, 40 pages, no commitment beyond this issue if you don’t want it. Now, let’s hope the next stage of “The Dark Age” comes out before my kids go to college!

Booster Gold #0 by Geoff Johns (writer), Jeff Katz (writer), Dan Jurgens (penciller), Norm Rapmund (finisher), Hi-Fi (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I’ve read a few issues of Booster Gold (this is the third of the series I’ve picked up), and I don’t know why I can’t get into it. It’s a bit of a critical darling, at least here in cyberspace, and it’s certainly well done, but for me at least, something is lacking. That happens, and I’m not going to bash the book or anyone who buys it, because I can see its appeal. But I don’t feel it. Oh well.

I do like the idea of having a “Zero Hour” crossover in this issue, because it’s goofy enough for this book and reminds us of a time when DC’s mainstream comics really, really sucked. Oh, maybe DC didn’t want to do that. Too late! This isn’t really a Zero Hour tie-in, but more of those zero issues DC put out back then in that we get a new look at Booster’s “origin.” Sure, Extant and Parallax are present, but they’re kind of more of a nuisance than anything. The main plot concerns Booster’s attempts to still go back in time, but convince his sister, who followed him back and died at some point (I’m fuzzy on my Booster Gold history), that she shouldn’t follow him. His plan is predictably convoluted (which is one of the reasons I hate time travel stories), but it hits a snag when he and Ted get back to the “present.” Said snag is in the form of bad guys who want to kill them (but why would I ruin who the bad guys are for you?).

Again, it’s a competent comic, with some nice characterization – Dan Garrett and Jaime Reyes are along for the ride, and it’s nice to see the heroes interact – but something keeps me from enjoying it completely. Perhaps it’s because it’s so steeped in DC history that I feel like I’m missing a lot. I mean, I read Zero Hour (God help me) and I read the DeMatteis/Giffen Justice League, so I know some of what’s going on, but I still feel like there’s stuff here that is supposed to impress me more because I’ve read about it elsewhere, and because I haven’t read about it elsewhere, it falls flat. Plus, I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth noting again: the DeMatteis/Giffen Justice League was nowhere near as ineffectual as recent DC revisionists would have you believe. It’s kind of annoying hearing that trotted out every time someone mentions Maxwell Lord. Have the current crop of DC bigwigs not read those comics? Are they just going by conventional belief about the group? (Of course, given the fact that DC doesn’t want to release those old issues in trades, maybe they don’t have any lying around and therefore haven’t read them.)

Anyway, this is a decent and somewhat charming superhero comic. I’m just not interested in it.

The Evil Dead #2 (of 4) by Mark Verheiden (writer), John Bolton (artist), and Steve Dutro (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

This is a wildly unpleasant book, full of gore and little else, lacking even any kind of black humor that we might hope for. I have never seen the original movie, but it’s apparently a bit mocking of the genre. I know the second movie is definitely tongue-in-cheek, but is the first one? If it is, then this book – or at least this particular issue – is lacking that. Ash, who narrates, is supposed to be a bit of a smart-ass, but his narration isn’t biting at all – it’s just bitter (given the circumstances – all his friends are turning into demons – that’s not surprising). Basically, this is simply an issue of two women turning into flesh-eating creatures, a lot of the non-affected people calling them “bitches,” and the sense that everyone is going to die. I guess everyone except Ash does, but who really cares? There’s absolutely no reason to buy this at all. Well, I guess Bolton’s art is okay, but not good enough to pay money for this.

Fantastic Comics #24. (Wait for it!) “Samson” by Erik Larsen (writer/artist/colorist/letterer); “Flip Falcon” by Joe Casey (writer), Bill Sienkiewicz (artist), Larsen (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer); “Golden Knight” by Thomas Yeates (writer/artist/letterer), Bryan Rutherford (writer), and Larsen (colorist); “Yank Wilson” by Andy Kuhn (writer/artist/colorist) and Thomas Mauer (letterer); “Carlton Riggs and the Flaming Cavern” by B. Clay Moore (writer) and Jason Latour (artist/colorist); “Space Smith” by Tom Scioli (writer/artist/colorist/letterer); “Captain Kidd” by Jim Rugg (writer/artist/colorist/letterer) and Brian Maruca (writer); “Professor Fiend” by Fred Hembeck (writer/artist/letterer) and Larsen (colorist); “Stardust” by Joe Keatinge (writer), Mike Allred (artist), Laura Allred (colorist), and Val Nunez (letterer); “Sub Saunders” by Ashley Wood (writer/artist/colorist/letterer). $5.99, 61 pgs, FC, Image.

This is the first of the “next issue” projects that Image is publishing, an idea I absolutely love. We get a huge-ass comic (64 pages for 6 bucks is a good value) with creators tackling Golden Age heroes and writing brand-new stories about them. It should be awesome, right?

Well, it’s a mixed bag, which is not surprising, given that it’s an anthology. It looks like an olde-timey comick, with a few strange adverts sprinkled in and much of it printed on dull paper (the quality is good, just the look is archaic). Some of the comics even evoke the Golden Age, such as Jim Rugg’s story about an air ace who battles an unusual maniac on a mysterious island or Tom Yeates’ Prince Valiant pastiche. Some of the stories aren’t that good – Andy Kuhn’s is too anti-female, even though I know it’s done with tongue in cheek, and I still haven’t figured out Ashley Wood’s story, which is mostly in German and mostly features black panels with sound effects in them. Most of the stories are interesting, at the very least, but there’s something wrong with the tone of the book, and it makes the comic not work, at least for me.

So what’s my problem? Well, for a comic that promises a “next issue” of various Golden Age properties, most of these stories don’t really have a “Golden Age” vibe. I get that that’s not really the point, but it seems that it kind of misses a golden – if you’ll pardon the pun – opportunity. The stories that work the best – Yeates’, Moore’s (which is a prose story with some illustrations), Rugg’s, and Hembeck’s – have that vibe, and poke gentle fun at the themes of the Golden Age while still telling stories set in the period. It’s not that the other stories are bad, it’s just that they feel too “modern,” which messes up the entire feel of what they ought to be going for. I realize it’s a strange criticism, because I should just judge the stories on their own merits, but it seems like they should have gone for something different. For the most part, it’s an enjoyable comic, but I’m not sure it’s worth 6 dollars. I am curious about the next “next issue” comic, though. We’ll see.

Fantastic Four #554 by Mark Millar (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Timely Comics.

I will defend Mark Millar’s run on Swamp Thing no matter how many bamboo sticks you put under my fingernails. Seriously, it’s awesome. But then … he decided he was a rock star. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a rock star, except for the fact that you feel like you need to act like a rock star. So you write things that reinforce your rock star status, which means we get bombast, pyrotechnics, false emotion, and false realism. Reading a Mark Millar comic these days is like listening to, I don’t know, Styx. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and occasionally there’s a gem (“Miss America” is a kick-ass song, man!), but ultimately, it’s easily forgettable. And years later, you see it in the quarter bin (the equivalent of “classic rock” radio) and you’re not surprised.

Okay, the specifics. Millar gives us a fairly standard beginning of a Fantastic Four run, with time travel, Ben in Restoration garb, and Johnny acting stupidly (hey – Johnny wants to be a rock star too!). One of the few things that was nice about the early part of Waid’s run was Johnny being put in a position of responsibility and learning to deal with it. I guess that went by the boards, and he’s back to acting like a teenager. Then Reed and Ben go to Ben’s old school to talk to kids, and Reed’s boring! How novel! And Ben is way fun! How surprising! Then Reed’s old girlfriend whisks him away to the North Pole to kick-start the big plot. It actually looks kind of cool.

There’s really nothing here that makes this interesting, except maybe for the ending. It’s a “greatest hits” kind of book, with Millar’s attempts at “adult” humor thrown in. It’s rated T+, which means it’s “okay” for kids 13 and up, yet Ben tries to pick up a woman for a one-night stand and another woman explains that she and her husband can violate their wedding vows if they have a chance to bag a superhero. Yes, I know I’m being prudish, but Millar’s attempts to be “mature” always boil down to superheroes having sex. It’s a bit icky. Plus, his dialogue always sounds like a slick television show where everyone says the perfect thing. It doesn’t have to be Bendisian, but it should be a bit less honed.

Hitch is fine, but again, he’s gotten too slick for me. People who prefer him over Alan Davis, after whom he obviously modeled himself, should look at last week’s ClanDestine and compare it to this. Davis is much more accomplished a penciler, and his art, though still slick, has soul. Hitch does a nice job with the big scenes, though – Nu-World is pretty keen.

Every once in a while I like to check in on Millar, just to remind myself that I’m not really missing anything. That’s what it looks like here.

Atlas Comics Presents #6. “Vanguard” by Marc Guggenheim (writer), Dave Wilkins (artist), Francis Tsai (artist), Tony Washington (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); “Savage Land” by Christos N. Gage (writer), Joyce Chin (artist), June Chung (colorist), and Sharpe (letterer); “4F” by Robert Venditti (writer), Jeremy Haun (penciler), Ande Parks (inker), J. Brown (colorist), and Sharpe (letterer); “Weapon Omega” by Rich Koslowski (writer), Andrea di Vito (artist), Laura Villari (colorist), and Sharpe (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Atlas Comics.

I’m really liking “Vanguard,” as Stacy Dolan learns more about the mysterious murder and finds herself a target of Dominic Fortune, of all people. It’s not the only reason I’m buying this comic, but it’s a big reason.

Meanwhile, there’s a very odd panel in the Savage Land story. In the middle of waiting for the bad guys to attack again, Ka-Zar comes up behind Shanna and hugs her. She reaches up and puts her hands behind his head, and he puts his hands on her arms, just above her armpits. Given that she’s wearing hardly anything (nor, you know, is he, but we can’t really see him as he’s behind her), it’s an oddly sexual scene. It reminds me of Al Pacino about to get busy with Ellen Barkin in Sea of Love. It’s strange and incongruous.

The third story, by Venditti and Haun, is why I wish Atlas Comics would make this a cheaper comic. Venditti and Haun, like many of the other creators that have been featured so far in this comic, deserve a wider audience, but they’re not going to get it because the book is priced so high, and I fear it won’t last very long. I’m not that depressed about it, but it’s always nice to see a book from the Big Two that gives lesser-known people a chance.

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #6 (of eight) by John Ostrander (writer), Javier Pina (penciller), Robin Riggs (inker), Rob Leigh (letterer), and Jason Wright (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Man, I just love it when the shit hits the fan, and Ostrander is so very good at hitting the fan with, you know, shit. There’s not really a hell of a lot to say about this issue, as the Squad goes on its mission, General Eiling sets his terms, and the evil businessmen decide to cave to the general, at which everything … well, you know.

I do like the discussion between Windfall and Twister, where they decide that God wants us to cause pain. It’s quite excellent.

Anyway, it’s the sixth issue of an eight-issue mini-series, so there’s not much to say. I’m enjoying the hell out of it, though.

Tiny Titans #1 by Art Baltazar (writer/artist), Franco (writer), and Nick J. Napolitano (letterer). $2.25, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Well, I doubt you thought the greatest comic ever conceived would arrive in the middle of February 2008, but it has arrived. Run, minions, run to your LCS and buy 100 copies of Tiny Titans! There is absolutely no excuse to miss this!

Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbole. This is a charming comic, and perfect for the kiddies. A few things are quite humorous – the Titans’ new principal and their new substitute teacher, the person (?) Barbara Gordon thinks is cute – but I don’t want to spoil them because that’s all the book really is. It’s like a Pixy Stik – sweet, sugary, and silly. It’s fine in small doses, but you wouldn’t want to go too nuts with it!

X-Factor #28 by Peter David (writer), Pablo Raimondi (artist), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Timely Comics.

Usually I really like Glenn Fabry’s covers, but that one is really ugly. Just ugly. Too bad.

After the big crossover, David can get back to writing the best mutant comic around right now, which is welcome. He has to deal with the aftermath of “Messiah Complex,” but at least he can do it with his own style, which makes it more palatable. He introduces some new plot elements – the split in Mutant Town between the Pans and the Rems, the contractor who’s buying up property, the politician dude (I’ll get to him) – that have some potential, picks up the pregnancy thread, and gets Rahne off the team so she can go carve people up in X-Force. It’s not a great issue, but it’s a solid one, and as we come out of the crossover, that’s really all I’m asking for.

The “Vote Saxon” stickers and graffiti we see around town worry me. Now, I don’t want to predict David’s plots, because that way lies madness!, but let’s consider the name. “Saxon” is code for “Angry Racist White Guy Who Hates Mutants.” You know it’s true! Now, David might go a completely different way with it, but I’m worried. We’ve seen the racist politician in the X-books before, and I really hope David does something interesting with it. I’m reserving judgment, but when I see that name, I wonder.

Then there’s Rahne. I know she has to leave because Timely Editorial demanded it, but I always wonder why these characters think that everyone needs to stay together all the time. Whenever someone leaves a team, it’s like it’s the end of the world. Rahne is an adult, isn’t she? Why the hell does she need to stay, or give any reason for leaving? She tells Jamie it’s because she saw that vision of her killing him and Layla on their wedding night, but why should she have to give any reason? Can’t she just say “I can do whatever the hell I want”?

Okay, rant’s over. It’s a nice way to enter the post-crossover world. And as usual, I look forward to the next issue.

So there you have it for this week. You can call me a lot of things (and believe me, people have), but I’m no corporate shill!

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