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What I bought – 22 October 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 22 October 2008

As usual, lots of good stuff out there, and all anyone will want to talk about is what’s-his-name and his comic. I mean, it’s okay and all, but there’s other books out there, you know!

Blue Beetle #32 by Matthew Sturges (writer), Andre Coelho (artist), Sal Cipriano (letterer), and Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Although Sturges has done a good job so far with this title, I’m afraid he’s biting off a bit more than he can chew. None of his issues has seemed like a coherent whole yet, and it seems like he wants to tackle some serious issues (nothing wrong with that) while still keeping the (relative) light-heartedness of this book, and it feels like he’s having some trouble reconciling the two. This issue is a perfect example of that. Dr. Polaris, for all his menace, is just another costumed villain, so although Sturges gives him a dastardly origin (this isn’t the original Dr. Polaris, I guess, and that’s cool), it’s still a super-villain’s origin and belongs in a slightly goofy superhero world. That’s fine. Jaime tracks down the bad guys he was experimenting on and there’s a fight, ended cleverly by Traci Thirteen even though she can only manifest carrots because something weird has happened to her magic. That takes up most of the issue, and it works fine. But then Sturges continues with the illegal immigration subplot and Jaime’s unexpected new role as guardian of the border, and his father takes him to the Mexican town whence came his family (and leaving open the tantalizing possibility that Jaime’s father is himself an illegal immigrant). Later, the book abruptly ends with a confrontation between nativists and immigrants that Peacemaker claims is about to get ugly. The odd ending notwithstanding, the subplot is interesting, but it feels out of place. I appreciate that Sturges is writing about this and I hope he continues to make this story interesting (as it’s been so far), but it just feels strange coming in between a story about a super-villain. The two plots are linked, after all, so it’s not completely disjointed, but it still feels weird. It’s as if Sturges felt the need to insert a super-villain into the book to boost sales, even though I doubt that Dr. Polaris is the kind of villain who would do that. I’m fascinated by choices like this – is Sturges a huge Dr. Polaris fan? He’s behind a lot of the bad things going on in El Paso, but so far, there doesn’t seem a reason for it to be Dr. Polaris behind everything any more than it could be anyone. Plus, the realities of illegal immigration are probably too complex for a standard superhero comic, and although it’s nice to see someone from DC or Marvel tackling it, I’m not sure how he’s going to be able to pull it off.

The writing is sharp, Coelho’s fill-in art is nice, and the book hasn’t dipped in quality much from the end of Rogers’ run. Sturges, as I mentioned, is still figuring out where he wants to go, but he writes the characters well, and that goes a long way.

Criminal vol. 2 #6 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

I’ve been damning this book with faint praise for a while, and last time, Ed Brubaker took me to task for it. My problem with the book has never been its quality, but the fact that so many people think it’s the greatest comic out there. But I did feel bad about always bringing that up, because it’s a remarkably well-written and beautifully-drawn comic. I would certainly recommend it to anyone at all, even if they’ve never read comics. What Brubaker and Phillips have done, certainly, is create this completely real world. There’s never a misstep in terms of the storytelling or the way events unfold. Even if we think we know things are going to go horribly wrong and they usually do, the way they go horribly wrong is always fascinating to watch. I’ve said this before, but Brubaker creates these characters that we don’t want to know and don’t even like, but through his writing style, we come to sympathize with them. In the case of “Bad Night,” Jacob is not particularly likeable, but we sympathize with him as his life spins out of control, even though anyone who’s ever read a noir tale knew Iris was bad news. The twist in this issue was a mild surprise, but it was more about Jacob digging into what happened on his “bad night” and finding out how deep it goes and feeling more and more claustrophobic. Brubaker does a nice job tying various plot strands together, and it will be interesting to read the last chapter and find out what happens to Jacob.

Criminal is a great comic. It’s Brubaker and Phillips at the top of their game, and although I don’t think it’s the best comic out there, it’s still excellent. And you get the extras in the back! This time around, Jay Faerber writes about Harry O, an obscure television show from the early 1970s. Sounds neat, except Faerber, surprisingly enough, never tells us who played Harry! What the crap is up with that? I have to look it up myself? Bad form, Faerber! (It was Dr. Richard Kimble, by the way. That’s precious seconds of my time, Faerber!)

Final Crisis #4 (of 7) by Grant “The dude on the last page of this issue is ME, fanboys!” Morrison (writer), J. G. Jones (artist), Carlos Pacheco (penciller), Jesus Merino (inker), Alex Sinclair (inker), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.

Well, it’s only six weeks late, so I guess that’s something.

There’s certainly a lot of interesting stuff here, but it’s a bit underwhelming, mainly because the God of All Comics seems to be just tearing everything down, and while it’s done with some panache, it’s not terribly interesting to see that. Everything Morrison writes has panache, after all, and although I’m not going to give up on this because at this point I’m kind of interested in the entire direction of DC, it feels that this is edifice. I know people are going to jump on me and tell me I’m not getting it, and that’s cool, but it lacks the subtext of the best of Morrison’s work. Both this and his run on Batman are telling stories that we’ve seen before, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but even though his writing on Batman is uneven, at least he’s trying to integrate pre-Crisis Batman in with the modern version. That’s something. Here, he’s just showing what happens when evil wins. It’s interesting on one level, and Morrison does have some nice moments sprinkled throughout, but maybe I should have trusted my instincts and skipped all the big-timey superhero crossovers that change everything you’ve ever known! But no, I went against my instincts. Again, I don’t mind getting the rest of the series, but I doubt it will approach the wildness of, say, Seven Soldiers.

One minor point that I hope will spark many, many comments about how ignorant I am: On the page where we see what happened to the Blüdhaven Strike Force, it appears that Valentina Vostok is not doing so well. Is that Valentina? She’s no longer Negative Woman, is she? Didn’t we just see her in Checkmate? I’m just wondering.

Noble Causes #37 by Jay Faerber (writer), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Jacob Baake (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

Boy, after Faerber drops the ball in the text piece of Criminal, now he expects me to review his comic! But I’m so grumpy!

As we hurtle toward the end of this series, we get an odd issue. Celeste visits the woman who infiltrated the Nobles’ stronghold and said woman tells Celeste they know each other. Then, at the end, something bad happens to Cosmic Rae that leads into next issue. That’s two pages of the comic. The rest of the issue is, weirdly, filler. Okay, it’s not really filler, as Faerber decides to let Cinar go nuts an illustrate an old-fashioned superhero slugfest, and Cinar is completely up to the task. It’s a fantastic book to look at, as the energy builds and Baake, who colors the book, goes from “realistic” tones to red and orange, showing the intensity of the bashing. It’s a marvelous book to look at, much in the tradition of the oldest of olde-skool Marvel and DC comics.

But … the fight is between Invincible and Slate Blackthorne, who is married to Zephyr Noble and has changed sides. Invincible shows up to arrest Slate’s sister, and originally Slate helps him, but then decides, out of simple jealousy (he doesn’t like that Zephyr gets so much attention from the press, although later he claims it’s because he worries about her), to attack him. His sister escapes, and he and Invincible beat on each other for a while. I liked watching the fight unfold, but it seemed rather pointless. When you’re wrapping up a series, it seems kind of odd to devote an entire issue to a fake fight (yes, they’re beating on each other, but both of them admit it was more of a workout than anything antagonistic) when things are winding down. This issue has the typically good Faerber characterization and implications for the future, but the issue itself is somewhat slight. It will fit better into the massive archives of this comic (there will be a second big volume after the series ends) because you don’t have to wait until next issue, but as a single chapter in a longer work, it’s somewhat disappointing. That’s okay, though. I have confidence next issue will be good.

Scalped #22 by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guera (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist) and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The third trade, “Dead Mothers,” finally came out last week, so I could start reading the single issues #19-22 that I had bought but not read. I wanted to start buying the singles because the book sells so poorly, but I admit I’m torn, because the trades are so nice to read. Like a lot of these kinds of comics, Scalped is meant to be read as a complete whole, so each individual chapter reads that way. Aaron doesn’t make much of an effort to tell a complete story in the service of a larger whole, like some writers do, and therefore we get scenes like the one with Dino Poor Bear that ties back into much earlier issues (it ties into issue #21, but that was the first time we’d seen Dino in a while, which isn’t that big a deal when we read the trades but is more evident when we read the singles). This issue shows Red Crow dealing with the person he believes betrayed them to the Feds back in the 1970s, which of course still haunts him (as he visits the relative of the person he killed). This all ties into the present, as he is told he has an FBI agent inside his current organization, even though he doesn’t believe it. And, as he is supposed to make sure Gina’s spirit is able to move on, he’s trying to be a good person. It’s a fascinating chapter in the saga, to be sure, but I just think it works better in trades. Then I feel guilty about not buying the individual issues. Woe is me!

I hope that Scalped has reached the point (three trades out, 22 issues in the can) where DC can see if the trade sales are good enough to justify continuing the poorly-selling singles. That would be nice. I guess I’ll keep buying the monthlies, just to do my small part keeping it alive. But the trades are quite good, and I urge you to track them down.

She-Hulk #34 by Peter David (writer), Vincenzo Cucca (penciler), Vincenzo Acunzo (inker), Barbara Ciardo (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This cover is a good example of why I’m not in love with “pin-up” covers. Deodato has to fit everyone on the cover, and they have to be in “tough-chick” mode, plus there has to be cheesecake, so Valkyrie decides, inexplicably, to stand with her back to the “camera” and flash some ass. Plus, what’s up with Sue’s hips? She’d have to be standing really awkwardly for her left hip to be that much higher than her right one. After some strong covers recently, Deodato screws this one up all for the sake of a pin-up. It’s annoying.

Anyway, a few things stood out for me in this issue, in which Jennifer decides to get Sue, Thundra, and Valkyrie together to deliver earthquake relief supplies in a country ruled by a corrupt regime. It’s a nice idea that gets brought up every so often – superheroes helping the luckless instead of punching bad guys – and usually goes nowhere, but it’s always nice to see a writer make a go at it. I’ve been digging the new art team, and David writes Valkyrie wonderfully (sample line of dialogue: “I believe my fabulousness will be undiminished by entering [Jen’s grungy trailer]”).

But a few things stand out. First, is that a footnote? Holy crap! On page 3, we learn that the so-called “Lady Liberators” showed up in Hulk #7. Hey, that came out the same day as this issue of She-Hulk! Oh well, I guess that title is running just a little behind. Whoops! It’s still nice to see someone at Marvel pointing out where you can find the first appearance of this incarnation of the Lady Liberators. That was nice of them. Bring back footnotes! I have no interest in reading the Jeph Loeb-Frank Cho soon-to-be-classic second tale in Hulk #7, but as always with footnotes, I feel like I’m more connected to the greater Marvel Universe just by that little information. Footnotes rule, man.

Jazinda, meanwhile, is reading Stephen Colbert’s book. Joey Q has a man-crush on Colbert, obviously, as he’s somewhat of a presence in the Marvel U., and even though our favorite curmudgeon T. is unimpressed with Colbert, it’s fun to see his existence in this universe. What I would really like to see is a major revelation that Colbert is really a Skrull. That, I reckon, would be pretty awesome. Get on it, Joey Q!

So the Winter Guard shows up at the end to stop Jen and her pals from distributing supplies to the dispossessed of Marinmer. Maybe we’ll get more footnotes explaining what happened the last time She-Hulk came across these Russian heroes! Woo, footnotes!

True Believers #4 (of 5) by Cary Bates (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

As Payback blew kinda up last issue, in this issue we get some background on the three other members of her team while she recovers, while at the same time more of the grand plot is revealed and, just for the hell of it, the Armadillo shows up. Yes, the Armadillo. While the big reveal at the end of this issue is not terribly shocking, it does set up a nice finale, as the True Believers are going to have to take down something a little more substantial than fetish freaks dressing up like superheroes. I doubt very much if what happens in the next issue will have any impact whatsoever on the Marvel Universe as a whole, but it sounds like it will be a fun, espionage-filled conclusion.

That’s really all there is to say about this. It’s an enjoyable read, packed with information about these characters and even the world in which they live (which you can’t say about every comic set in the Marvel U. or DCU, where writers often assume we just know who characters like, say, the Armadillo are), and it zips along at a nice clip. Payback doesn’t actually fight Madame Hydra, as is implied on the cover, but it gives Gulacy a chance to draw Mavis showing both breasts and her ass – how is that pose even possible? – so there’s that. I’m looking forward to the final issue.

Unknown Soldier #1 by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Oscar Celestini (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I don’t want to pick on this comic before I even delve into it, but the pull quote by Garth Ennis bothers me. First, do pull quotes by comics professionals get anyone to buy a comic? If Ennis likes it, do you assume you will? I say this because I very much doubt that most comics professionals are going to trash someone else’s work. As I mentioned when I wrote about the San Diego con, comics pros seem to go out of their way to avoid even hinting that they don’t like someone else’s work. That’s cool as far as it goes, but it makes me suspicious of pull quotes by comics professionals. Of course Garth Ennis likes this. I know that if he didn’t they wouldn’t use a pull quote by him, but of course he likes it. Good for him, but it’s not going to make any difference to me, and I wonder if it will make any difference to anyone.

As for the actual quote, it reads “A story with teeth, unafraid to confront some horrific truths about the world we live in. Joshua Dysart’s UNKNOWN SOLDIER is a comic that genuinely matters.” Whenever I read something like that, I get a bit wary, especially when we consider Dysart’s text piece in the back of the book. Look, I love comics. I love relevant comics. I love comics that tackle tough ideas and visit places in the world that most of us don’t get to see. I love creators taking chances with their books. This fits into all of those categories. But, ultimately, do any comics really matter? I mean, maybe Maus does. Maybe. But how is this going to matter? Will it tell us something we don’t already know? Possibly. Will it spur us into action to help the dispossessed of Uganda? I doubt it. Will it make us better people? Again, I doubt it. Dysart himself almost apologizes for even writing it in the “Vertigo Voices” column at the back of the book. He talks about his preparation for the comic and how he spent a month in Uganda and tried to really figure out the country, and that’s fine, but he can’t whitewash what this book is. He writes, “I fear that a lot of people think they’re getting a sensitive, Bono-approved version of Africa here. They’re not. This book is violent, and if I may say so, a little kick-ass. It’s not hollow, it certainly has things it wants to say, but in the end I think the level of pulp inside this monster will surprise you.” Given that the book is called Unknown Soldier, I doubt I’ll be surprised by the level of pulp, but okay. Later on, he concludes: “[T]here’s something inherently immoral about crafting a sensitive, exciting, anti-war piece of pop entertainment that claims a love for a people while using the worst aspects of their lives to create drama. But hey … I’m willing to sell the ticket if you’re willing to take the ride.” That’s why I wonder about this comic. It doesn’t matter, not in the way I think Ennis means. It’s “pop entertainment,” and although it’s nice to see Dysart attempt to set this in a real place in a real war and try to illuminate a part of the world we rarely hear about and would rather ignore, the fact of the matter remains that in this comic a man of peace grabs a rifle and kills a child. Yes, he hears voices in his head. Yes, he understands the horror of what he’s done and how it betrays everything he claims to be. But Dysart isn’t really interested in examining the effects of war on Uganda. He’s interested in examining what happens when a man becomes a killing machine, thereby allowing himself to claim it’s an anti-war book while still showing lots of people getting shot. I’m not putting words in his mouth – he calls it “anti-war” in that quote from above, yet it’s fairly obvious Dr. Lwanga is going to do a lot of killing to satisfy the blood lust in the readers.

As for the actual comic, it’s pretty good. Ponticelli does a marvelous job with the setting, evoking both the beauty and squalor of eastern Africa (I’ve never been to Uganda, but I’ve seen the beauty and squalor of Egypt, which is not all that close to Uganda, but at least it’s on the same continent) and the awful violence taking place there. Dysart does a solid job establishing Lwanga Moses and his wife, Sera, doctors who head into the war zone to do hands-on work. Moses is having nightmares about committing violence (in a particularly brutal scene where he fantasizes about killing his wife), and when a wounded boy is brought to them, he freaks out and heads into the bush. There he kills one of the enemy “soldiers” (who’s the child I wrote about above) while hearing a voice in his head and seeing visions. Apparently there’s going to be some tension between Moses and the voice, if the final scene is to be believed.

It’s an interesting start, and I’m glad Dysart is doing something a bit out of the ordinary. It’s still a war comic, though, and it’s hard to pull that off if you want to be more subtle than square-jawed Americans (or Brits if you’re Garth Ennis) fighting troglodyte Nazis. I’m going to stick with this for a few issues at least to see where Dysart goes with it. Given his column at the end, I’m not overwhelmingly confident, but it’s still an interesting start.

X-Factor #36 by Peter David (writer), Larry Stroman (penciler), Jon Sibal (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

David, as usual, continues doing a fine job with this title, although there’s nothing spectacular about this particular issue, just solid storytelling. Darwin figures out how to get out of his prison, but it doesn’t help him, and the rest of the team figure out how to track him. They’re up against a powerful enemy, one who can see Longshot while he’s “reading” objects and who can figure out how to neutralize Darwin. Speaking of which, he’s holding the thing that neutralizes Darwin in a champagne glass? And he never spills it? Really? That’s odd.

Stroman’s art seems a bit more solid this issue. The figures look more fully integrated into the panels, which was a problem a few issues ago. He still doesn’t draw Longshot very well, but otherwise, Stroman seems to be gaining confidence on the book. I imagine it’s been a while since he pencilled a monthly comic, so perhaps he was a bit off-kilter earlier.

This is, as usual, not a dazzling comic. But it’s a Peter David book, so it’s consistently good and always builds toward something stunning and then reloads. It’s building again, and I’m happy to read along as it does so.

And once again, we come to the end of another week’s purchases. It’s always fun to see what’s happening in the world of the funny books! But let’s look at some totally random lyrics!

“I went to Vegas, didn’t think it’d do any harm
I walked into this girl named Lucky Charm
For some reason we walked in the rain
She had a four-leaf clover and a big gold chain
She had a salary that was full of calories, for real
And I was in the mood for a home-cooked meal
So we went to be alone
But we had to be quiet, ’cause her Corn Pops was home
Kissed her neck, kissed her back, kissed her arms
I said ‘Forget it, let me see your Lucky Charms’
When we began her hair style was neat
But when I left the next morning it looked like Shredded Wheat”

Have fun letting me know that I should have picked up the other Final Crisis book! But I refused! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

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