What I bought – 17 March 2010

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 17 March 2010

When we were driving out of town I said, “I hate the corpses of empires, they stink as nothing else. They stink so badly that I cannot believe that even in life they were healthy.” “I do not think you can convince mankind,” said my husband, “that there is not a certain magnificence about a great empire in being.” “Of course there is,” I admitted, “but the hideousness outweighs the beauty. You are not, I hope, going to tell me that they impose law on lawless people. Empires live by the violation of law.” (Rebecca West, from Black Lamb and Grey Falcon)

Strange week this week. All Marvel and Vertigo. And lots of sex. Weird. And yes, I’m aware the fourth issue of Daytripper came out last week. I didn’t get it, for some reason. I should have it this weekend. Dang. Let’s move on!

Avengers vs. Atlas #3 (of 4) (“Hulk Smash!”/”Hey, Venus!”) by Jeff Parker (writer, “Hulk”), Paul Cornell (writer, “Venus”), Gabriel Hardman (artist, “Hulk”), Leonard Kirk (artist, “Venus”), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist, “Hulk”), Brad Anderson (colorist, “Venus”), Tom Orzechowski (letterer, “Hulk”), and Joe Sabino (letterer, “Venus”). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Everyone reading this should know what I’m going to rant about. When Thor transports the Avengers and the agents of Atlas to Norway, he says, “But I know of one place on Midgard I can bring us all to!” Sorry, Thor – it’s TAKE!!!!! Seriously, poor “take.” No one loves it. So sad.

I love how Parker casually makes Hank Pym a dick even when he’s not really trying. When the old-school Avengers find out that Bruce Banner is the Hulk (because Venus sang to him and calmed him down, turning him back to Banner), Pym says, “That’s Dr. Bruce Banner! He’s maybe the top physicist in the world — well, besides me …” Ha! And Parker makes Tony Stark a bit of a wuss, too – Marvel Boy telepathically informs Pym about what’s happening, and Stark says, “He could have put the knowledge in me … I would have gotten it.” If that’s not enough, in the next panel, Stark looks down at himself and says to no one in particular, “I built this suit …” Whenever a writer is clever enough to drop stuff like that into his fairly standard superhero team-up (which this is), I appreciate it, because it just humanizes them and makes it easier to deal with the wackiness of a team from the 1960s (or a decade ago, according to Pym) joining up with a team from the present thanks to some time anomaly. They all fight the Hulk, Bob figures out what’s up, and everything is set up for the final showdown. It’s good, clean fun!

In the back-up story, Cornell and Kirk bring us Venus, love advice columnist. It’s pretty hilarious (see the panel of awesome below), as she answers questions from Hercules, Deadpool (which is particularly hilarious), I assume Jocasta, the Hulk, Norman Osborn (more hilarity!), Kitty Pryde, and Clint Barton. It’s very dependent on knowing Marvel continuity (unsurprisingly), and the only one I didn’t get was the letter from Miss Dean. Help me out, more knowledgeable readers! It’s a fun little tale.

Sex in this comic? Hoo-boy, you bet. It stars Venus in both stories, for crying out loud! In the first, Venus has to sing to calm Bruce down, and two superheroes get caught in the sound wave. Macking commences! And in the second, well, Deadpool’s letter is the highlight, and I won’t spoil it.

One panel of awesome:

Fables #93 (“The Little Murder Part Two of Two”) by Bill Willingham (writer), David Lapham (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

It’s been two months since the last issue of Fables. Strange. Anyway, I always dig the short stories of this series because they seem to contain standalone stories, but Willingham always makes sure that things get tied into the main story later. In other words, I doubt we’ve seen the last of the some of these characters. The story itself is not great but not bad, as Ambrose needs to figure out a way to deal with the serious transgression from last issue in a way that doesn’t rip his kingdom apart. He does it, of course, but there’s still some restlessness among the subjects, and that can’t be good. I do like the only witness for the defense – at first, I thought it was absolutely idiotic, but once John started expanding on his story, it made better sense. And hey – those people who wish to read political intent into writers’ books can kind of have a field day here, as Willingham tackles the death penalty and the idea of culture leading to what some would call crime. I honestly don’t care when writers inject their political beliefs into comics (if, indeed, that’s what Willingham is doing here), because this issue, while not superb, does show how much difficulty Ambrose is going to have moving forward. That’s what makes this such a neat series.

Sex in this comic? Definitely. Off-panel and after the issue ends, but oh yeah, someone’s getting lucky!

One panel of awesome:

Hercules: Fall of an Avenger #1 (of 2) (Hercules main story/”Greek Tragedy”) by Greg Pak (writer, “Hercules”), Fred van Lente (writer, “Hercules”), Paul Tobin (writer, “Tragedy”), Ariel Olivetti (artist, “Hercules”), Reilly Brown (penciler, “Tragedy”), Jason Paz (inker, “Tragedy”), Wil Quintana (colorist, “Tragedy”), Simon Bowland (letterer, “Hercules”), and Joe Sabino (letterer, “Tragedy”). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel.

There are a few writers that I simply will not read. I’ve read their stuff, disliked it enough to know it’s kind of a pattern with them and not an anomaly, and won’t try it again. There are some writers who I dislike so much that even if they hook up with a fantastic artist, it’s not enough to get me to buy it. However, if I like the writer, usually I can take lousy art, because I’m much more interested in the writing in comics than the art. If the art doesn’t make my eyes bleed and tells the story serviceably, I can deal with it. Very rarely will the art on a book I want to read by a writer I like keep me from buying it. Let me tell you, I had one of those moments on Wednesday, when I looked at this book and Ariel Olivetti’s art.

I can’t really put my finger on why I don’t like Olivetti’s art. I didn’t always dislike it. A decade ago, when he was still drawing using heavy lines rather than whatever the hell he’s doing now, it wasn’t great art but it had a kind of mad energy to it. Then he started doing more and more delicate line work, it appears he’s given up on inking, and I don’t know what’s going on with the coloring (an Irene Y. Lee is credited with “production” on this book; does she do the coloring or does Olivetti?). It’s that faux-“realistic” look that, to me, is ridiculously static and, at times, downright creepy. It’s kind of the same thing that Salvador Larocca has done in the past five years or so, with color washes that drains everything heavy from the page but makes the art far too ephemeral. It’s not a good look. Olivetti is fine telling a story, but the art just repels me. But I bought this anyway, because I knew that Pak and Van Lente wouldn’t let me down. And, heck, they didn’t. Well, except for one brief exchange. I’ll ‘splain.

The premise of the book is that Amadues Cho and a bunch of heroes congregate at the Parthenon to honor Hercules. Amadeus is peeved at Athena and wants her to show up, but instead the heroes do. So they all tell stories about how groovy Hercules was. Thor talks about the time he and Herc had to outdrink a bunch of giants, while Namor tells them of the time Herc beat on him to get him out of a funk. (I wonder why Namor is wearing his new, “I’m so cool” outfit in his flashback when he’s wearing his old-school, “I’m so cool I can look UNcool” underpants in the original comic. I mean, will people reading this comic be that confused that he … changed his clothes?!?!?!?) These are not bad stories, and Thor’s is quite funny. Then the babes show up, talking about how hot Herc was (it’s true – they all say it!). Snowbird says that they all “lay” with him, then continues: “I know there are others in the crowd who should join us … don’t be shy.” At which Northstar says, “Is that the time? Gotta go!” while Namor looks on, a question mark above his head. Ha ha, Jean-Paul had sex with Herc and he’s embarrassed about it! Now, this bugged me. First of all, Herc is a god. And he’s, you know, Greek. I always assumed he was kind of pansexual, so the idea of him having sex with men isn’t that strange. Second, Northstar is (wait for it) gay. And everyone knows he’s gay! Who cares if he had sex with Herc? It felt, to me, that Van Lente and Pak were saying that a gay man would be embarrassed that he had sex with a man, while the women aren’t. This would have, actually, been a perfect opportunity for another Marvel hero to come out of the closet – the joke would have been funnier if Snowbird had said that and someone like Warren or Logan had shrugged and said, “Hey, it weren’t no big thing.” But it’s weird that Northstar is embarrassed about it. This weird feeling continues on the next page, when Alflyse starts talking about her time with Herc (see the panel of awesome below). Wolverine and Fandral looked shocked. After she’s done talking, Namor too looks shocked (and Thor looks like he’s fondly remembering his own experiences with the Elven Tickler, which isn’t too surprising, given that he’s, you know, Thor). Logan is older than a century, and he knows how to get with the ladies. Fandral is a freakin’ god. Namor, I suppose, is the most stuck-up of them, so him I can forgive. But the idea in mainstream comics, it seems, is that men like the sex as long as it’s not too weird, while the women kind of tolerate the sex but certainly don’t do anything wacky. Pak and Van Lente are subverting the second assumption, but reinforcing the first. Are you telling me Logan never got really weird with any of the seriously crazy women he hooked up with? Are you saying Fandral never did anything bizarre to mix things up after a thousand years of the missionary position? I’ve seen this attitude before in Marvel and DC comics, and it’s a bit strange. If someone who looks like Alflyse starts talking about how much she enjoyed Herc’s mastery of the Elven Tickler, I wouldn’t looked shocked, I’d be breaking out the instruction manual to figure it out!

And then Athena shows up and tells Amadeus that he’s the new leader of the Olympus group, which leads into next issue. And the back-up story has Venus and Namora going around telling people that Herc is dead. It’s a clever idea by Tobin – apparently Herc invested money in stuff and then forgot about it, so he has all sorts of weird holdings all over the world, some of which have done very well for him (he was an early investor in Stark Industries, for instance). It’s a nice little story that features a hydra. Which is never a bad thing to see.

Sex in this comic? See above. Plus, Venus get naked in a totally non-sexual situation (one of Herc’s holdings was a nudist colony), and all the people who lived in homes that Herc owned happened to be women. I wonder why?

One panel of awesome:

Joe the Barbarian #3 (of ВосемБ) (“The Dying Boy”) by Grant “Yes, this is just propaganda to get you to keep rats as pets, why do you ask?” Morrison (writer), Sean Murphy (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Morrison unveils a few more secrets in this issue, as Joe is shown something that makes his journey through the strange world of more import than it already was, and a new adventurer joins the team. And of course, because it’s a Grant Morrison comic, the very odd bad guys (well, I’m just going to assume they’re bad guys; they could be kindly monks for all I know) are revealed at the end. There are typical Morrisonisms sprinkled throughout the dialogue, and it all moves along at a nice clip. Murphy remains the absolutely stunning star of the comic, though. The chase at the beginning of the issue is terrifically exciting, and when Joe and Jack arrive in Draka’s town, Murphy gives us a full-page drawing that is simply gorgeous. When Joe collapses near the end of the issue, Murphy looks downward through his house, almost giving us vertigo. The book itself continues to get better, writing-wise, but Murphy’s art is so staggering you almost don’t need to read the text. That’s so rare with a Morrison comic that it’s almost unbelievable. But there it is!

Sex in this comic? It’s about a boy in a fantasy land. Let’s hope not!

One panel of awesome:

Marvel Boy: The Uranian #3 (of 3) (“Man of Two Worlds”) by Jeff Parker (writer), Felix Ruiz (artist/letterer), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.99, 22 pgs + 18 pgs of 3 back-up stories, FC, Marvel.

This isn’t a bad comic, and it looks great, but it does feel more like Parker is filling in the gaps of the characters from Agents of Atlas (or, I guess, Atlas) than telling a standalone story. He fleshed out some crucial points about Bob’s past, namely his connection to Uranus and what his overlords really want (and if I call them “overlords,” they can’t be too benign, can they?), but this feels a bit trifling, as if it could have been told in a flashback in the regular series over the course of an issue or possibly two. Three issues is a bit much. I mean, we get to see a giant 1950s Marvel monster (see below), some nice parts about Bob’s life, and a groovy mad scientist, but it still feels a bit too slight. Oh well. The art is fantastic, Parker’s writing is fine as ever (even if the book itself is slight), and we get to see a bunch of reprints drawn by Bill Everett. If you’re a fan of Jimmy Woo’s team or Parker’s writing, it’s a fun book. For four bucks a pop, though, it’s a bit steep.

Sex in this comic? Bob gets busy in a rocket with Violet. There’s nothing better than zero-gravity sex! (Or, you know, so I’m told. By my astronaut friends. Of which I have many.)

One panel of awesome:

Spider-Woman #7 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $3.99, 35 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Bendis writes at the end of this book that it’s over, because it’s way too much work for Maleev to do it, motion-comic style. Why they specifically had to do it motion-comic style isn’t addressed, but apparently putting together a motion comic takes a lot more time and effort by the artist, and it was killing Maleev. KILLING HIM!!!!!! So they pulled the plug. Oh well.

I’m not that put out by it, because I was probably going to drop the book anyway after the first arc. I will defend the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil to anyone who tries to put it down (which, to be honest, isn’t many people), but this just never got good. It had a nifty hook but Bendis simply didn’t do anything with it, and in the end, he had to bring in the Avengers to bail Jessica out. This issue is just a big ol’ dumb superhero fight with a few clever Bendisisms, but mostly, it’s dumb. And Jessica is a total bitch. She’s not a bitch in a charming, fucked-up way that Jessica Jones was in Alias, she’s a bitch in a “Gosh, I really hope that Skrull kills her” way. She keeps calling the Asian girl “dumb” because she claims that her Skrull boyfriend is Spider-Man. Now, the way Maleev draws her, it seems like she’s blind. Second, the Skrull is, you know, a shape-shifter, so even if she’s not blind, he could look like Spider-Man. Jessica points out that Spider-Man “famously” lives in New York, but she’s only been dating him three weeks, meaning he could be on vacation or something. So, um, Jessica? Shut the fuck up. As Abigail points out, your track record so far in this comic isn’t great in the intelligence department, so if the girl from Madripoor believes she was dating Spider-Man, you’re the last person in the world to call her dumb. And then, later, the Skrull tells her that the queen chose her form because “of all the people in the world … we discovered that no one on this entire planet cares enough about you to notice you at all.” Really, Skrull? Okay, from the way Jessica behaves in this comic, I see Skrull dude’s point, but that’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? I mean, she has plenty of friends, after all. It’s one of those things that sounds cool the first time you read it but then, once you think about it for more than a second, makes absolutely no sense. And then Wolverine tries to stab a shape-shifter to death. You’d think he’d know better.

So I would have ditched the book anyway, but now I don’t have to. If you’ve been thinking about getting the trade, I’d skip it. Spend it on something, you know, good.

Sex in this comic? Not a bit. Jessica finds the Skrull in a strip club, though.

One panel of “awesome”:

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #6 (“Shock and Awe Chapter 6”) by Gregg Hurwitz (writer), Jerome Opeña (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

And now, Moon Knight And Me: A Love Story.

I have never made my love of Moon Knight a secret. I dig him. I love the whole multiple personalities thing, I love the whole weird network of operatives, I love the Doug Moench/Bill Sienkiewicz run with a love that is probably a little unhealthy, I love the Doug Moench/Kevin Nowlan run that followed it, I love the “Fist of Khonshu” series that followed that only lasted six issues and wasn’t very good, I liked the 1990s series that also wasn’t very good but lasted longer than any Moon Knight series ever, I loved the James Fry issues in the latter part of that run that were really bizarre eye candy, I loved the Stephen Platt issues that ended the run … okay, that’s a lie. I hated those issues. They’re AWFUL. I loved the late 1990s mini-series that brought the character back from limbo, with Mark Texeira and then Tommy Lee Edwards on art. I loved the new series that launched a few years ago, which made our hero truly insane for, really, the first time (as much as Moench explored the idea of multiple personalities, you never got the sense that Moonie was all that crazy). And I loved the first few issues of this series, which returned Moon Knight to New York and brought back Bushman (okay, that wasn’t too great an idea) and featured out of this world art by Opeña. I bought the first Moon Knight Essential volume because I didn’t have the early appearances of the character. I’m going to buy the new hardcover of the Moench/Sienkiewicz collaborations before the first series launched even though I own some of them, because I love the character so much. I think that the first series is wildly underrated, as it was one of the first (if not the first) series to be released through the Direct Market, bypassing newstands and therefore allowing Moench and Sienkiewicz to tell more mature stories than mainstream comics before it. I think the character has a ton of potential that has been tapped a bit, but not enough. But that’s just me.

So why am I explaining this? Well, as much as I dug what Hurwitz did in these first few issues (even though I didn’t agree with bringing Bushman back and turning him into Bane), I thought this was a terrible way to end this arc and it makes me wonder if I will even buy the next arc. It makes me sad, but that’s the way it is. In the first issue, it seemed as if Hurwitz was poking fun at the silliness of superheroes, but doing it subtly. I can deal with Moon Knight as satire, because it’s an interesting take, especially as he’s a bit, you know, out there. But as we got further into the arc, Hurwitz stopped doing that and this became much more of a straight-forward superhero comic. And I’m just not that interested in that anymore. I mean, Hurwitz brought Bushman back. So what? What happens to him? He ends up in an insane asylum. So what? Bushman’s death was interesting because it pushed Moon Knight even further over the brink and set the stage for the previous series, which was excellent. Now he’s back, and he’s just another boring villain. Even in the mediocre 1990s series, he ruled a country, which added a bit of tension to his dealings with our hero. Now, he’s dull. And we get another joke about Crawley getting hit on the head and changing his personality, back to what it was. This wasn’t funny when it happened to Guy Gardner twenty years ago, and it’s still not funny. I realize that I’m too close to the situation and I should be able to laugh at head injuries just like those uptight [insert ethnic group here] should be able to laugh at jokes at their expense, but it’s not the fact that Crawley sustained a head injury and it changed his personality. It’s that this book isn’t a comedy, so tonally it was all wrong, and it’s also that nobody seems to care. That’s what bugged me when it happened to Guy – wouldn’t someone think, “Hey, maybe we should check him out?” even if they liked his new personality more? Shouldn’t Moon Knight have suggested that Crawley ought to get an MRI? It’s too fraught with potential pitfalls to make it really funny, and Hurwitz didn’t do anything with it anyway (at least Giffen and DeMatteis did a little bit with Guy’s new personality). It’s just a distraction, and not a particularly good one. Finally, Hurwitz gets into our hero’s former life as a mercenary. That’s not bad, but his guilt seems odd, as he’s already made his peace with it.

Hurwitz does a nice job with Khonshu, whom our hero is trying to ignore. The idea that Moon Knight’s god gets bigger as he, MK, ignores him is a good one, and it seems that Hurwitz is going somewhere with it (given the final page, which is pretty keen). He hasn’t done too much more than Charlie Huston and Mike Benson did in the previous series, but at least he’s not jettisoning it.

Opeña, who is either skipping the next arc or off the book completely, does a magnificent job. The fight between Moon Knight and Bushman is a beautiful ballet of violence, including the insane scene where Bushman is impaled on a machine gun yet still manages to fire it. The art alone on this art is worth checking out. Opeña is fantastic, and if he comes back after the next arc, it might be easier to stick with the book (if I’m still buying it, that is).

So we’ll see what happens next month. I’m not terribly interested in seeing a Deadpool appearance, but the solicit texts have sounded a bit intriguing. I really want to keep buying Moon Knight, because I love him so. But if he’s just going to be some guy beating on bad guys, I’m not interested. This arc, which started with some promise, turned into that quickly. And that’s not good enough, frankly.

Sex in this comic? Not exactly, although I’m sure MK and Marlene got it on soon after the comic ended, as evidenced by their candlelight dinner at the end of the book.

One panel of awesome:

So what’s the deal with the sex? In nine stories (two of the books had two stories, and I’m not counting the 1950s reprints in Marvel Boy: The Uranian), there’s intimations of sex in 7 of them. They range from innuendo to necking to obvious (if off-panel) beast-with-two-backs making. Not only that, none of it is the ugly, pseudo-rape that we get from some more cynical comics writers out there – it’s just good-looking people gettin’ it on. Not only that, in the books I got this week, there’s no pre-pubescent kids dying or heroes getting ripped in half or anyone losing an arm. Spider-Woman and Moon Knight are the two violent books this week, but even in the latter, which is often horrifically bloody, it’s about MK trying to resist his violent urges rather than giving into them. And you know what? I love it. I love that these superheroes often rut like crazed jaguars, totally unashamed. Way to go, comics! Let’s have more of the Elven Tickler!

What’s that, you say? You can’t go another second without The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle)? Well, okay:

1. “Groove Is In The Heart” – Deee-Lite (1990) “He’s not vicious or malicious, just de-lovely and delicious”
2. “This Strange Engine” – Marillion (1997) “Tell me tall tales of Montego Bay, Table mountain, flying fish, banana spiders, pots of paint”1
3. “Peaches And Cream” – Beck (1999) “You look good in that sweater and that aluminum crutch”
4. “Blueman’s Daughter” – Horse Flies (1987) “Blueman sifts his sand, feels her slipping through his hands”
5. “Thousands Are Sailing” – Pogues (1988) “We stepped hand in hand on Broadway like the first men on the moon”2
6. “Shattered” – Rolling Stones (1978) “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue”3
7. “Suzy-Hang-Around” – ABBA (1974) “Why can’t you play together in harmony?”
8. “London You’re A Lady” – Pogues (1989) “Your heart of gold it pulses between your scarred up thighs”4
9. “The Standing Still” – Chumbawamba (2000) “Who said the story had to end this way?”
10. “Barest Degree” – Midnight Oil (1996) “I walked on to the grave, the lizard king was sleeping”

1 I love songs that go over 15 minutes, especially if they’re, you know, good.
2 Is If I Should Fall From Grace With God the best Pogues album? Discuss.
3 Best post-1972 Stones song? Discuss.
4 Did Warren Ellis listen to entirely too many Pogues songs in his formative years? Discuss.

These are such easy totally random lyrics, I’m almost ashamed to reveal them. But that’s why they’re totally random!

“In the heat of the day
I hang my head down low
And hide my face from the sun
Through the light of the day
Until the evening time
I’m waiting for the night to come”

I should point out that today, 18 March, I put my kids in the car … and had to turn on the air conditioning. Jesus. I laugh all winter at the people digging out from under fifteen feet of snow while I’m hanging out in 65-degree weather, but it’s getting to that point in the year when the temperature gets into triple digits and I fear going outside in the event that I burst into flames. It’s the circle of life!

Have fun watching your brackets collapse!