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What I bought – 24 September 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 24 September 2008

I didn’t think this was a big week, but it turned out to be one. Isn’t that always the way?

Ambush Bug: Year None #3 (of 6) by Keith Giffen (plotter/penciller), Robert Loren Fleming (dialoguer), Al Milgrom (inker), John J. Hill (letterer), Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

You know, I can’t really defend this comic. It’s basically a series of one-page jokes with very little connection between them. I mean, it’s hilarious, but ridiculously disjointed. I’m sure it will somehow all tie into the examination by Giffen and Fleming of the unused characters in DC’s back catalogue, but three issues in, it’s basically the Bug bouncing to different scenes, making a joke, interacting with DC characters who may or may not be acting strangely (Darkseid sings karoake, for instance), and then bopping off to a different place. It’s just wildly goofy, and although I’m sure I’m completely missing a lot of the jokes (Darkseid was married?), I don’t care. I mean, come on – Lois Lane tries to seduce the Bug! There are two appearances by Major Spoiler! Bug asks Neron to nullify his marriage! I mean, that last scenario is sooooooo stupid – who would fall for that?

Quote of the issue: “Caption, please!”

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #2): 14,267. Rank: 135. That’s not bad for an insular mini-series starring an obscure character, is it?

Blue Beetle #31 by Matthew Sturges (writer), Andre Coelho (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Sturges is still finding his footing a bit on this book, but I have a lot of confidence in him, because he’s been writing some very nice issues that stand on their own but fit into the larger story. With this issue, he steps beyond that a bit to tie some plot points together, as the bad guy is revealed and some threads lead into the bigger tapestry. Dr. Mid-Nite’s presence is explained deftly, and even though it’s an odd pairing, it’s always interesting to see a “legacy” character hook up with one of the “originals” in the DCU. It’s a strength of DC, and although they sometimes think this means they should overuse it, in small doses it can be very effective. Sturges does a good job bringing the illegal immigration subplot that has been brewing for a few issues to the forefront, although the district attorney who maneuvers Jaime into being a pawn for his “tough on illegals” stance doesn’t look Hispanic, which is odd, considering he is. I certainly don’t want a stereotypical Latino “look” for Bill Chacon, but it appears that Coelho goes out of his way to make him look Anglo, especially when you consider that every other Hispanic character in this comic is kind of stereotypically “Hispanic”-looking. I appreciate the story and hope Sturges does interesting things with it, but in a visual medium, the “coding” of characters is interesting to consider. Does Chacon “look” white because he’s taking a “white” viewpoint (Paco even makes the point that white Texans won’t vote for him as governor unless he’s “tough on immigration”)? I’m sure we’ll get more on this, and it will be interesting to see where Sturges goes with it.

It’s a cool issue with nice art from Coelho, even though he appears to be aping Albuquerque. It’s still nicely done. It’s a charming superhero book, and although Sturges hasn’t knocked it out of the park yet, he’s doing a good job with it.

Quote of the issue: “I find that the world looks beautiful in infrared. Every living thing becomes a shining light in the darkness.” “Not the cold-blooded living things.” “I was being poetic.”

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #30): 12,669. Rank: 154. Yeesh. How has this not been cancelled yet? (Not that I want it to be cancelled, but I’m surprised it’s still trucking along.)

Fables #76 by Bill Willingham (writer), Michael Allred (artist), Laura Allred (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

After the cataclysmic ending to the war against the Adversary, we get another down time issue, during which Geppetto walks around Fabletown and learns about his enemies. As you might expect, it doesn’t go well. The inhabitants don’t appreciate the fact that their mortal enemy is now living among them, and Geppetto doesn’t appreciate the fact that he’s forced to live among the peons. Stupid peons! It’s kind of a humorous issue, helped by Allred’s pop art, and even though Geppetto keeps telling people how happy he was to cause the death of millions, it’s still a little light-hearted – well, until the very end, when it takes a very dark turn. Willingham does a good job with setting up the terrifying few pages at the end and showing us a bit of what might happen in future issues. I was glad to read that the powers-that-be have plans for Geppetto, because when Bigby says, “Besides, the old duffer’s toothless now,” that just stinks of trouble! But at least they think about this kind of thing later in the issue!

I’d like to address Allred’s art, if I may. I’ve never been a huge fan of Allred, although I don’t hate his art, either. He does a great job with faces, but does anyone else think he doesn’t seem to place characters in the panel particularly well? This has been evident in his more recent work, and I wonder if he’s doing something different. I still like the fact that he has this distinctive style and that his characters, though a bit odd-looking, have interesting personalities, but there’s something weird about his art. It’s bugging me. But it may be just me.

Quote of the issue: “Bloodthirsty despots don’t go meekly into forced retirement.”

Latest sales figures (Jul., issue #74): 24,166. Rank: 101. I imagine this holds pretty steady, which is fine.

Golly! #2 by Phil Hester (writer), Brook Turner (penciller), Peter Palmiotti (inker), Sean Konot (letterer), and Rick Hiltbrunner (colorist). $3.50, 25 pgs, FC, Image.

Apparently this is an ongoing title, although who knows how long that will last, given the sales (see below). I enjoyed the first issue, but wasn’t too sure about it. I was hoping Hester wasn’t falling into the “preachers are automatically creatures of Satan” trap, and I’m glad to see that he didn’t. The story continues, as Golly tries to figure out what to do about the hog-headed holy man we met in issue #1. If you thought “were-hog,” give yourself a Gold Star! To be honest, when I started reading, I thought this wouldn’t go in a good direction. Then the beer can started talking.

Yes, a talking beer can. Add that the fact that Golly says “Shut your cakehole,” which is one of the few phrases guaranteed to make me laugh,* a ghost proves who he is by telling the carnies what kind of underwear they’re wearing, what happens at Bible Camp, a total dis of Cracker Barrel (come on, what’s wrong with Cracker Barrel?), and a baptism in toilet water, and you get a wildly entertaining issue. I was on the fence about this after issue #1, but issue #2 is a step up. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of this arc.

Quote of the issue: So, so many good quotes. I’ll go with two: “Queers is good folks, Golly. I got a new perspective on things, being dead and all. Don’t be down on the homos,” and “The tranny’s always right, my pop used to say.” Good stuff!

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #1): 5,242. Rank: 225. This is low, but who knows what the threshold for an Image title is?

* Well, it’s usually “piehole,” but “cakehole” works too; and no, I don’t know why; and, if you’re interested, saying “Jake and the Fat Fuck” also works on me; and yes, that’s a joke from my college days, so even if you’ve heard of Jake and the Fat Man, saying the actual title won’t work – it must be “fuck.”

I Kill Giants #3 (of 7) by Joe Kelly (writer), and JM Ken Niimura (artist). $2.99, 25 pgs, BW, Image.

Holy crap. After two decent issues, Kelly really ratchets up the tension in this issue, and it’s amazing. Barbara’s issues become more and more horrifying, and we get a clue about what’s bothering her, and we also see a little bit of how she sees the world, and this is now a must-read comic. If you were ambivalent about picking this comic up, I would encourage you to find the three issues, because this is fantastic.

Barbara, wearing armor, sits on a bench. Tiny elves (or something) show up and ask her what’s bothering her. This leads to a flashback, where she tells them about her day. The school psychologist continues to probe why Barbara feels this way and doesn’t get too far, and then Barbara has an “incident” in gym class. As good as the scene is, it again highlights the one problem I have with the book – the teacher is so cartoonishly evil that it’s kind of annoying. She’s only in the book for that one scene, so it doesn’t ruin the issue for me, but still – it’s a bit silly. But then the book picks up again, as Barbara almost opens her bag (the one she named Coveleski), and it’s a truly scary moment. Something horrible is going on in Barbara’s head, and Kelly and Niimura do a great job showing us that. Finally, we get two physical confrontations that are shocking in their intensity. In a comics scene that shows violence in such a matter-of-fact way, it’s astonishing to see this, because we practically feel it, and that makes it that much more powerful. It ends with a foreboding vision that, once again, offers us clues as to what’s bothering Barbara. Kelly has done a wonderful job setting this book up, and it looks like it’s about to kick into high gear.

I hadn’t decided yet on whether this comic was worth it or not, but this issue solves that problem. It’s an amazing comic, brought to life with a stunning story and fantastic art. Apparently, no one’s buying this, and that’s a shame. I hope, given that it’s a mini-series, it will continue to come out. Maybe people will discover it as it goes along.

Quote of the issue: “You couldn’t find your butt with both hands, Taylor.” What does that mean? That she has a small butt?

Latest sales figures: I couldn’t find it. The first issue came out in July, and the 300th title on ICv2’s list sold 4,256, so this was surely lower than that.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California by Duane Swierczynski (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Artmonkeys Studio (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I’m somewhat offended that Marvel (and, to a lesser degree, DC) keep pumping out “special” issues that tie into their main titles, jack up the price, and expect us to buy them. Of course, I do buy them, I do! I’m a sucker. But still – did you see that there’s a Skaar: Son of Hulk special out this week? The regular series has reached, what, issue #3? For crying out loud.

To make matters worse, there’s no reason for this comic to be longer and spendier. The extra ten pages could easily be trimmed and it could be a story that, for instance, comes after the first Swierczynski arc ends. I know that would mean that Marvel doesn’t make as much money as having an “extra” issue of the series, but I wonder how much money they make on these anyway? I mean, I considered skipping this for a while, and if it hadn’t been for Camuncoli’s art, I probably would have. I know I can’t bitch about this when I don’t take a stand and refuse to buy this, but I’m getting there, slowly. Damn.

Anyway, it’s an Orson Randall story, so Swierczynski gets to satisfy the jones a lot of comic book writers seem to have to write noir-ish stories set in the past. What’s up with that? I mean, we have that whole X-Men/Spider-Man/Daredevil clusterfuck coming up where everything is set in the Twenties (I say “clusterfuck” in the nicest possible way, as anything with Fred van Lente involved can’t suck completely), we have the random issues of this very title where we check in with Orson Randall doing dashing things back when men were men and women were dames (Orson himself calls the woman in this issue a “dame”), and we have dozens of other examples that I can’t be bothered to think of right now. I don’t really mind, but it seems like all these comic book writers ought to be writing cheap dime novels about Sam Spade. I like that a lot of writers seem to want to break out of the “superhero” mold, but how about they try different molds instead of all jumping into the pulp fiction one?

Man, I can rant when I get a good head of steam, can’t I? I guess I just don’t have a lot to say about this issue, which features nice art by Camuncoli and a fairly standard pulp/adventure/horror story by Swierczynski. Even the lesson we can gleam from it – dames are bad news – is standard. There’s no reason for it not to have 10 pages trimmed from it and have it as a standalone issue of the regular series. Oh, wait, yes there is – it’s a price gouge. I enjoyed reading it, but the ancillary emotions I experienced before, during, and after the reading of it makes it less enjoyable as I reflect. Is it too much to ask Marvel to have some respect for the readers? That is, in case you’re not sure, a rhetorical question.

Quote of the issue: “But I have this wicked craving for red meat.”

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #18): 27,430. Rank: 94. I don’t know what it was selling under Frubaker and Aja, but this seems solid for now.

Northlanders #10 by Brian Wood (writer), Dean Ormston (artist/colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

You know, if you’re looking for utter and complete carnage, this is the book for you. Hell, this is the series for you. Unlike the first arc, in which Wood threw in something other than Vikings slaughtering each other (because it was 8 issues, so there was time for more), in this two-issue story, we get the set-up in issue #9, and the cataclysm in issue #10. Of 22 pages, 16 feature bloody slaughter or the aftermath of bloody slaughter or violence of some kind. Our “hero,” Edwin, does lead the Vikings to Lindisfarne, and no, he doesn’t feel any remorse for it, even when things get, well, awful. Wood doesn’t quite clear up some of the problems I had with the first part of the story, but that’s okay, because what he does do is fascinating – he shows how even the Vikings, who respect manly things like conquest, can still have no respect for someone of a different “race.” Edwin, a Saxon, is not accepted by the Vikings even after he proves himself. It’s an interesting nugget that certainly is something that Wood can build a longer story on (if he so chooses), and it doesn’t distract from the main story, which is basically the Vikings killing everyone they can find.

This is a marvelous comic book. Ormston, as usual, does a great job, and next issue we get Ryan Kelly for an arc. Hot damn! Who doesn’t love Vikings?

Quote of the issue: “… That counts, right?”

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #9): 11,063. Rank: 165. Another Vertigo book, so I’m not sure if they care about sales of the singles too much. I hope this does well in trade, because it kicks ass.

Samurai: Legend #1 (of 4) by Jean-François Di Giorgio (writer), Frédéric Genêt (artist), and Delphine Rieu (colorist). $5.99, 46 pgs, FC, Marvel/Soleil.

I want to support the Soleil titles, because I think we need more comics diversification in the U. S., and if Marvel is at the forefront of that, it might actually happen. I don’t know if I’m going to continue buying this, however. It’s nice to look at, it’s an exciting story, and I don’t mind the price, so why wouldn’t I continue?

Well, it’s a samurai story. In an interview at the end of the book, the creators even bring the problem up: “The characters are all complementary and form a typical group appropriate for each tale of adventure: Takeo is an efficient and quiet hero, Shiro is a gabby and clumsy servant, and they’re accompanied by a little girl with a mysterious power, and Kinu, her very pretty nanny.” [My emphasis, by the way.] They’re admitting that this is all very familiar! It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but doesn’t that mean I could just, I don’t know, not read this because I’ve seen it all before? I mean, I get that stories often start familiar and then go in different directions, and that it’s usually good characters who make the story sing (as we’ve seen with Criminal, for instance, but I’m not getting into that right now!), but there’s nothing in this issue that makes me think it will turn out differently than any other samurai saga. Di Giorgio doesn’t do much to make the characters all that interesting – he sets up a plot and puts the characters through their paces, and while the story is entertaining, it’s not enough to carry this. If you absolutely love samurai stories, I would recommend this, but it’s not going to make anyone else a fan. Genêt’s art is quite good, and the evil ninjas who stalk our hero, Takeo, are nice and creepy, but again, there’s nothing here that’s so dazzling you need to pick it up. If you do, you’re in for an entertaining tale that you’ve seen dozens of times before. It’s a shame. I might try the next issue just to see if Di Giorgio goes anywhere different with it, but if I happen to miss it (my comic book store doesn’t order many of these), I won’t feel too bad.

Quote of the issue: “Red-faced peasant!”

Latest sales figures: Well, it’s not applicable, but issue #2 of Universal War One (the most recent Soleil title) sold 10,628 and ranked 168. This will probably do about the same.

She-Hulk #33 by Peter David (writer), Vincenzo Cucca (penciler), Vincenzo Acunzo (inker), Barbara Ciardo (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (inker). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I have mentioned this concern of mine before with regard to the myriad Secret Invasion tie-ins, and it makes me wonder why on earth people would buy them unless they’re buying the series in which they occur. And I have no idea why someone would buy, say, the X-Men “Secret Invasion” mini-series, which doesn’t even take place in the “regular” series. Basically, nothing of import can actually happen in the ancillary series, so it boils down to various Marvel heroes beating up Skrulls. I still would have bought She-Hulk, because I like the series, but once David claimed that the “Talisman” would be somehow crucial to defeating the Skrulls, I knew there would be something that made it impossible for Jennifer to actually make use of him. So we get an annoying deus ex machina that takes him out of the picture, and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s actually not a bad issue, as we learn why Super-Skrull hates his daughter and how Jazinda can come back from the dead. So that’s nice. The problem is, the way David writes his books, if some obsessive person is trying to buy every Secret Invasion tie-in (you’re not that person, are you?), this doesn’t have much to do with the main story (as far as I know; I’m not reading it, after all) but goes back to pre-SI stuff. Maybe it will make you go back and pick up the previous issues, or maybe it will piss you off. I don’t know.

I do know that I certainly don’t mind if Marvel tries to entice people to pick up other comics through their big tentpole events. It’s a business, after all. I do wish, however, they would do a better job of it. Make it a true crossover – make Jen go to New York in her own title, fight some Skrulls, tie it into Secret Invasion. Otherwise, don’t do it at all. Sure, Jen and Jazinda could be affected by the Invasion (I like how the airplane on the cover is trying to find a place to land because both O’Hare and JFK are in a bit of trouble), but only in a vague way. That way, people who read the title regularly (like me) wouldn’t feel like these are wheel-spinning issues, which is what they are, essentially. If they were true tie-ins to the main story, then I could happily ignore them. The way they’re doing it with the titles pisses me off as a regular reader, and I can’t imagine people who bought it thinking it would have anything to do with the main story being too happy either. Oh well. Next issue, I presume, we’re back to whatever David is doing with the title and Jen’s bounty-hunting, and I’ll be happy.

Quote of the issue: “No mercy! Pry the gem from her cold, dead fingers!”

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #32): 38,069. Rank: 62. I guess those are decent numbers, but it probably benefited from that confounded Skrull thing.

Station #3 (of 4) by Johanna Stokes (writer), Leno Carvalho (artist), Andrea Barreto (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

The hook of this book, And Then There Were None (no, I’m not referring to it by either of its original titles) set in space, is good enough to overcome the somewhat predictable plotting – once the crew started talking about how they’d be okay as long as the shuttle was fine, we knew something bad was going to happen to the shuttle – and with one issue to go, I’m looking forward to the solution to both the murder and how the crew will survive. Even if the plotting is predictable, the claustrophobic atmosphere keeps things tense, and when another crew member bites it in this issue, it’s actually an exciting moment. Carvalho does a good job with not a lot of material – space stations aren’t all that visually interesting, after all, and there’s a lot of talking in this issue – and at the end, he’s allowed to open up a little, and he does well. Despite the familiar plot, Stokes manages to keep the dialogue crisp and informative, building the tension nicely. I’m not entirely sure how the ending can be all that satisfactory, as there’s quite a lot to wrap up in the final 22 pages, but I’ll be there to find out.

Quote of the issue: “I think it’s fair to say things do not look good for us right now.”

Latest sales figures: Another one I couldn’t find. Issue #2 came out in August, in which the 300th title on ICv2 sold 2,041. That means this sold fewer than that. Depressing.

Wasteland #20 by Antony Johnston (writer), Chuck BB (artist), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

This is one of those fill-in titles so, presumably, Mitten can catch up, but he draws 6 pages of this, so what’s up with that? Give the guy a break, Johnston! Sheesh. Mitten draws the framing story, while Chuck BB’s wildly stylistic art is featured in the main stories, which are tales told to explain the founding of Newbegin. An old man tells the story of Marcus, and then two kids, who don’t believe him, tell their own versions. It’s an interesting issue about the power of myth and the hold Marcus has over the city, as even those who don’t see him in a favorable light still tell myths about him. BB’s art, which are full-page drawings of Marcus doing heroic things, are a mix between propaganda posters and hieroglyphics carved on the walls of Egyptian tombs. The drawings are exaggerated and wacky, but they convey the idea of Marcus as some of god-king, and that’s what Marcus wants the citizens to think. As usual, it’s a solid issue of world-building in between the longer story arcs.

Johnston writes something interesting in the back. The single-page prose vignettes aren’t in the trades, which I knew, but these “fill-in” issues aren’t either. That’s too bad. I hope that, when the book has run its course, all the fill-ins get collected, because they’re quite good. I imagine that if the trades continue to do well, the plan is to collect the fill-ins (this is, I think the third one) in a final trade. That would be only fair, right?

Unusually, the only problem I have with the issue is Sherwood’s lettering when the stories about Marcus are being told. I can’t remember the font name he uses (it’s a common one, though, or at least I think it is, because you can find something similar to it on Word), but it made my eyes hurt reading it. That may have something to do with my old eyes, though.

Anyway, I always like these fill-in issues, not only because they’re good single stories on their own, but because it whets my appetite for the next long story arc. Good times!

Quote of the issue: “It’s goatshit, is what it is.”

Latest sales figures: For July, the last time an issue of this came out, the only Oni title in the Top 300 was the Tek Jansen book. That makes me so depressed it’s barely worth talking about. Johnston says the trade sales are doing well, so that’s good.

Zorro #7 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

This has two covers, but I had to get the Diego-As-Fop cover! Look at it – that’s awesome.

I can’t really say anything new about this series. It’s well-written, looks great (the double-paged spread of Zorro riding Tornado is frickin’ breath-taking), and it does a good job establishing how Diego became Zorro, but when a priest is more bad-ass than Zorro in this issue, something is wrong. I get that Diego has to set up the fact that “Diego” is an unconcerned dandy and a big disappointment to his father so that no one will suspect him of being Zorro, but like a lot in this series so far, it’s stretched a bit too much. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again with regards to this series – I think a four-issue “origin” would have been enough. Most of what we’re getting from Wagner we can figure out pretty easily, and despite the length of the origin, we haven’t really seen enough swashbuckling Zorro-ness. You may wonder why I’m actually reading it. Well, as I’ve mentioned, I love Francesco Francavilla, and I like the actual writing in the series, I’m just not too keen on the plotting. Before people remind me again that Wagner is using Allende’s novel as a template, I think that this might work rather well as a novel, but it’s lacking a bit as a comic. I still think it’s a good read, but I’m really looking forward to issue #9, which is when the new story begins. By then Diego should be well-established as Zorro, and maybe we can get more ass-kicking. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Quote of the issue: “And I pray he continues to stick it to these rapacious fiends every chance he gets!” The priest even speaks bad-ass!

Latest sales figures (Aug., issue #6): 10,949. Rank: 166. That’s just below Northlanders, by the way. I don’t know what Dynamite expects from their books, but that seems okay.

Once again, we come to the end of another fun bunch o’ comics. And that means it’s time for some totally random lyrics!

“When I’m in the shower, I’m afraid to wash my hair
‘Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there!
People say I’m crazy, just a little touched
But maybe showers remind me of Psycho too much!”

Who doesn’t love this tune?

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