What I bought – 3 March 2010

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 3 March 2010

I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. ‘The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar,’ I read. ‘Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.’

So it goes.

Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them.

And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. (Kurt Vonnegut, from Slaughterhouse-5)

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #2 (of 4) (“Vengeance is Mine Part Two of Four: Storms of the Heart”)* by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent E. Anderson (artist), John Roshell (letterer), and Alex Sinclair (colorist). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

* Busiek just loves titling things, doesn’t he? That is, I swear, the complete title of this comic book!

I always enjoy an issue of Astro City, but for some reason, this issue really worked well. I’m not sure why, but it does. We get more tantalizing information about the Silver Agent and his trip backward through time, and Busiek revisits the fact that the super-weapon got fired a while back and did something fairly awful to the universe. Plus, it appears that the Williams brothers get their revenge, but knowing Busiek, it’s definitely not over. As always, we get a bunch of nice throwaway things that may or may not ever show up again, but it’s just keen that Busiek chucks all this stuff in. The main story zips along, and we get hints of the Apocalypse to come, and it’s a blast. It’s always fun to read into what comic book writers are doing (well, fun for me, at least), and this “darkening” of the book, which has spanned over a decade in Astro City time, is coming to a head in 1984, which has so many connotations, both in the real world and the comic world. It’s the Orwell year, of course, but it’s also the year that the so-called “Reagan Revolution” was validated with his huge election win. In comics, it was just about the time that the old order was swept away and Alan Moore and Frank Miller changed superheroes forever. So what Busiek has been doing with this book, both in terms of the way comic books evolved and the way the real world evolved (for many, remember, the Eighties were horrible because Reagan was the devil – I turned 9 in May 1980 and graduated from high school in June 1989, so the Eighties rocked for me, personally), is interesting. I’m curious to see how he wraps up this epic, because it’s kind of neat the way he’s been moving through the years during this giant arc.

One panel of awesome:

Chew #9 (“International Flavor, Part 4 of 5”) by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), Lisa Gonzalez (color flatterer), and Steven Struble (color flatterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

After last issue, in which Layman piled prologue upon prologue to the point of absurdity (I mean that in the best way possible), in this issue we get three, count ’em, three cliffhangers on the penultimate page. Each panel has a caption box that reads “Cliffhanger” with increasing number of exclamation points, and then, just when we think we can’t handle any more cliffhangers, we get to the actual final page, which is simply hilarious. Layman continues to weave every plot point into these issues, with the Russian chick from a few issues back showing up in the morgue back in the States while Tony continues his investigation on Yamapalu. We also get yet another character with strange food-based power, Tony going all Schwarzeneggar, and his partner, John, creating a diversion so his boss back in the U. S. doesn’t get too pissed. It’s this diversion that ends the book so memorably. This issue, as usual, is entertaining as all get-out, and Guillory adds so many nice touches to the art (several Yamapalu tourist posters, for instance; my favorite one proclaims “Get laid here”) in addition to the great design of the characters themselves (the governor, Peter Lorre, and his tiny hat crack me up) and the excellent way he moves them through the story. It’s just another fantastic issue of Chew. I guess I should expect it by now!

One panel of awesome:

Demo #2 (of 6) (“Pangs”) by Brian Wood (writer)*, Becky Cloonan (artist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, BW, DC/Vertigo.

* On his blog, Wood lists six great novels. The only one I’ve read is Don DeLillo’s White Noise, which is indeed a great novel. It’s one of my five or six favorite books, actually.

Cloonan shifts her style again, and it actually looks a bit more like the old Demo – the lines are heavier, less delicate than issue #1, and the inking often overwhelms the pencil work, which is somewhat fitting for this darker tale. She makes the main character haunted, as he definitely is, and actually makes him thinner as the book moves along, turning him more and more into some odd, gaunt, medieval figure who wouldn’t look out of place in a Bosch painting. It’s a horrifying artistic vision, very effective when coupled with Wood’s story. I like the art style in issue #1 more, but this fits the story very well.

Wood, meanwhile, tells the story of a cannibal. Who falls in love. This presents all sorts of problems for him, and Wood’s story is a creepy examination of what happens when a man is pulled in opposite directions by two different urges. “Pangs” doesn’t simply refer to his hunger, it refers to his desire for love, and it’s a fascinating little tale about what he will do. Will he succumb to one hunger or the other? The ending is not, perhaps, what you might expect from a lesser writer, but it’s still somewhat stomach-turning. It’s a terrific tale of horror. I wasn’t blown away by issue #1, and while I don’t want to like this story because it’s so icky in so many ways, it shows how good Wood is at constructing a story and creating compelling characters in a short time. And, as always, you can buy it without worrying that you’re on the hook for any other issues! It’s all one-and-done, people!

One panel of awesome:

Detective #862 (“Cutter Part 2 of 3″/”Pipeline Chapter Two Part Three”) by Greg Rucka (writer), Jock (artist, “Cutter”), Cully Hamner (artist, “Pipeline”), David Baron (colorist, “Cutter”), Dave McCaig (colorist, “Pipeline”), Todd Klein (letterer, “Cutter”), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer, “Pipeline”). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.

The past two issues of Detective have been strange, because the Question’s story is unquestioningly better than the main story, and even though Rucka has been writing them both all along, I wonder why, rather suddenly, Renee’s story is better than Kathy’s. Is it the addition of Helena Bertinelli, who is usually written very well, and is written particularly well by Rucka? Is it the loss of Williams? I doubt that latter assumption, because Jock does a fine job with the art. It’s as if Rucka had a minor good idea – link Batwoman and Batman’s cases and let them solve each, with presumably the two converging in the final installment – but didn’t think about how to make it three issues. I mean, consider: Last issue, Batwoman let “Cutter” escape for, apparently, no reason. In this issue, she lets him escape … twice. Now, in the first instance, she’s fighting him on a truck and gets thrown out of the open door onto the highway, which is understandable. In the second instance, Rucka uses the old “an errant knife throw happens to hit an innocent bystander” ploy, which is somewhat annoying. I mean, Cutter is just flinging knives at Batwoman and one happens to hit someone square in the chest? Really? There’s also the question of who’s driving the truck when Cutter escapes the first time, which I think is somewhat obvious, and then the secret Kathy’s cousin is keeping, which I don’t get. I suppose it’s supposed to mean something, but it’s one of those reveals that means nothing unless you’ve read the right DC comics, and I guess I just haven’t. Oh well. And let’s not forget that Batman lets his bad guy escape, too, and he’s not even a super-duper knife-throwing crazy like Cutter is. Come on, Dick, suck it up! So the score card currently reads: Batman and Batwoman, 0 for 4. Against two bad guys who have no powers. I know it’s supposed to be dramatic, but instead, it’s laughable. No wonder the Batpeople can’t stop crazed supervillains.

Meanwhile, Renee and Helena continue to track down the human traffickers, and it’s fun to read. Well, Renee’s continued amazement at the identity of Oracle gets annoying, but at least Helena tells her to shut it. Of course, Helene has never heard of a napkin, so maybe she shouldn’t be telling others to shut it. But the way she handles the bad guys is fun – she says “Secret is boring” and proceeds to beat the shit out of them. Go, Helena! It’s a nice character touch that doesn’t come from endless navel-gazing, just a few words and a few actions and we learn a great deal about Helena. Hamner’s line work looks stronger, too, from the early installments. I’ll have to go back and check it out. Maybe as the story has gotten better, he’s had more fun with it.

I’ll still stick around for the final chapter, and I hope Rucka can pull it all together. That would be nice. Of course, I’d rather another issue of Stumptown come out, but oh well.

One panel of awesome:

Girl Comics #1 (of 3). “Introduction” by Colleen Coover; “Moritat” by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Ming Doyle (artist), Cris Peter (colorist), and Kathleen Marinaccio (letterer); “Venus” by Trina Robbins (writer), Stephanie Buscema (artist), and Kristyn Ferretti (letterer); “A Brief Rendezvous” by Valerie D’Orazio (writer), Nikki Cook (artist), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist), and Kristyn Ferretti (letterer); “She-Hulk pin-up” by Sana Takeda; “Shop Doc” by Lucy Knisley; “Clockwork Nightmare” by Robin Furth (writer), Agnes Garbowska (artist), and Kristyn Ferretti (letterer); “Head Space” by Devin Grayson (writer), Emma Rios (artist), Barbara Ciardo (colorist), and Kathleen Marinaccio (letterer). $4.99, 41 pgs, FC, Marvel.

As with any anthology series, there’s going to be good and bad stories, but this shades a bit toward the “bad” side, unfortunately. None of the stories are really terrible, but only one – the two-pager about Doc Octopus – is really fantastic. Colleen Coover, unfortunately, contributes only two pages, and one of those is just 12 small panels with female superhero head shots. Wilson’s Nightcrawler story is bland, redeemed by Doyle’s vaguely Paul Popish art (I met Doyle last year at San Diego and sat at a table with her at the Eisners, but as I’m ridiculously forgettable, I’m sure she doesn’t remember me; I did see doodles she did, however, which were quite good, so I was looking forward to her work here); Robbins’ and Buscema’s Venus tale looks pretty keen but is also somewhat dull. D’Orazio’s story about the Punisher feels really familiar; wasn’t the ploy used before, if not in a Punisher story, then somewhere else? In the “Reed and Sue are TERRIBLE parents” category, Furth shows us Franklin and Val getting into potentially life-ending trouble in Reed’s forbidden laboratory and not getting punished even when they’re found out; Garbowska’s fairy-tale art is gorgeous, though. Grayson’s story briefly examines the Cyclops-Wolverine-Jean Grey love triangle without really telling us anything new, but Rios does a nice job with the art, and I hope she gets more work soon now that the Strange mini-series is over. Knisley’s Doc Ock story, though, is flat-out hilarious, down to Otto’s reading material when he gets back from the grocery store. I wish the creators had done more stories in this vein – in a book like this, it’s very hard to create a good dramatic situation, and slice-of-life stories often work much better. The best written stories in last year’s Strange Tales were those types of stories, and I hope the next two issues of this contain more of those. Still, this is a fun comic, mostly for the same reason Strange Tales was – we get to see creators we don’t often see on Marvel characters going a bit nuts. There’s nothing wrong with that! Oh, and bondage. Can’t have a Marvel comic written and drawn by women without some bondage!

One panel of awesome:

Sparta U.S.A. #1 (of 6) (“Where We Are”) by David Lapham (writer), Johnny Timmons (artist), Wildstorm FX (colorist), and Wes Abbott (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I’ve been trying to get my Big Two mini-series in trade, because why not? Marvel has skewered this by moving to three-issue mini-series that get collected with other mini-series that I don’t want to read, goddamnit, but I’d still like to trade-wait for most of them. Lapham, however, knows how to put together a single issue, so I figured I’d get this when it comes out instead of waiting for the trade, because it’s my prerogative, confound it! It sounded intriguing – in a town deep in a valley, no one ever leaves and true American values hold sway. To this town – called Sparta, of course – a former football hero returns. Mayhem ensues. I wasn’t sure what Lapham would do with it, but it sounded interesting enough. The first issue is even more interesting than the premise, because apparently this book is a bit weirder than the solicit information would have you believe. Football is somehow important beyond just the fact that everyone likes to play it. In a town of less than 10,000, there are 12 professional football teams. It’s strange. Meanwhile, when Godfrey McClaine – the quarterback who left the town and whose return is the impetus of the series – shows up, he’s red. His skin is colored rather bright red. Why? We don’t know yet. And in town, it seems like there’s a system of organized looting in place, and when that becomes public, there are dire consequences. We also see a “pep rally” at which orphaned babies are distributed to townspeople. Finally, there’s the Maestro, who apparently rules the town. His skin is blue. It’s all very weird. Lapham obviously has a lot of bizarre stuff going on, and while this first issue is mostly set-up, it’s entertaining and intriguing set-up, so I’m willing to go along with it.

I’ve never seen Timmons’ art before, but it’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. It tells the story well, but lacks any real distinctive qualities that I can discuss competently. It doesn’t bug me, and I’ll be interested to see if Timmons can handle more difficult things if Lapham throws them at him. We shall see, won’t we?

I can understand anyone waiting for the trade on this one (DC’s policy of releasing trades seem a bit slower than Marvel’s, so who knows when it will show up), but this is an pretty good issue, and Lapham is the kind of creator where you just have no idea what he’s going to do next, so it should be fun!

One panel of awesome:

Starstruck #7 (of 13) (“The Right Bait”/”Dead Reckoning”/”What I Did On My Summer Vacation!”) by Elaine Lee (writer), Michael Wm. Kaluta (artist), Charles Vess (inker, “What I Did”), Lee Moyer (painter), and Todd Klein (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, IDW.

As Lee’s story gets more and more convoluted as she continues to introduce new stuff while checking back in on some of the characters from earlier issues, I’m afraid I’m going to get lost and not appreciate what she’s doing until I re-read the thing in one sitting. This issue begins fairly conventionally, with a character’s “secret origin” and then what she’s doing in the present, but then Lee brings us a bit up to date on some characters from several issues ago, and although I know who they are, it’s difficult for me to fit them into where they’re supposed to be right now. That’s okay, though – I know I’m not too bright, so I can just enjoy each issue for the way Lee continues to create this dazzling world and worry about the connections later. Mainly, I can drool over Kaluta’s art, which is simply astonishing. Each panel is packed with detail, and Kaluta’s alien creations are plausible yet still odd enough to be completely foreign to us. I don’t know how much imput Lee had into the visuals of this comic, but when your artist is making sure that fashion sense is part of the package, you know you’re looking at something special. Many artists would simply put the characters in either “regular” clothing or some bland, pseudo-futuristic jump suit we’ve seen in bad sci-fi movies for years. Kaluta blends “Earth” fashion with outré design sense, so we get people with hot dog-print pants, pixie slippers, ornate headdresses, weirdly-shaped eyebrows, and kicky hats. Each character looks distinctive, too, and when you’re dealing with dozens of them, that’s a hard trick, but Kaluta pulls it off very well. Moyer’s sumptuous colors help the look of the book nicely, as well. The amusement park in the beginning of the issue is a riot of detail and color, while the two full-page spreads when Bronwyn reads a character’s mind accidentally is stunning, both in the way Kaluta draws our eye across the page as well as the vividness of the painting. As I always write, this is a truly tremendous work of art, and it’s a pleasure to read it. It’s great that IDW decided to bring it back.

One panel of awesome:

Underground #5 (of 5) by Jeff Parker (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), and Ron Chan (colorist). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

Underground finished a tad late, but given the way Image books are often tardy, the fact that this is only, what, six weeks late doesn’t seem so bad! And, like a lot of what Image publishes, it’s totally worth the wait, because Parker and Lieber really finish strong. The art, naturally, is stupendous, with Lieber continuing his wonderful tour through the cave, giving us more claustrophobic spaces and more eerie corners. Parker’s script is interesting in that he simply goes from one point to the next, always building on what has come before but never going overboard. Nothing happens in this comic that feels out of place, even the sort-of “twist” at the end (which is in quotes because it’s not really even much of a twist; it might feel like one because of what we think we know of Wes, but then, when we think of what we really know of Wes, it becomes much more fitting). Parker simply tells a compelling story, with all sorts of people, none of whom are really evil and most of whom think they’re doing the right thing. Even Winston Barefoot, the boogedy-man of the series, gets what’s coming to him but doesn’t suffer in the way that supervillains suffer. He’s just a dude, trying to do what he thinks is right.

If you’ve only read Parker’s Marvel stuff, you might not realize what a good writer he is and how well he creates characters. His “awesome” moments for Marvel might overshadow the fact that he really knows what he’s doing. So here’s your chance to see what he can do when he doesn’t have talking gorillas to fall back on. Plus, it’s always cool to see Lieber’s art. He needs more work, consarnit!

One panel of awesome:

Zorro #20 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist/colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

The latest storyline ends, and perhaps with it Francavilla’s involvement in the book. Francavilla’s next project is a mini-series from Wildstorm, and while I wish him the best because he ought to get more high-profile work, I do hope that he can do every other arc of Zorro as he’s done so far. That would be nice. His art on the series, especially this arc, has been so good and so well suited to the character that I’d miss it if he’s gone for good. And his coloring on this arc has been superb, too, with the lurid reds befitting Zorro’s pulpy origins and also highlighting the fact that almost every time we see Zorro in this arc, it’s in a recollection of others, so the coloring just adds to the fact that it’s from someone’s imagination.

The final issue is much like the others, as Wagner doesn’t really have a grand ending as much as he has an idea for the rest of the series – General Mancado has been collecting information about our hero, and in this issue he finally takes action, but it’s more of an opening move in a chess match, and while he wishes it had gone better, he’s still around as a foe and has shown that he has patience. While this arc doled out the swashbuckling in smaller doses and Wagner did more with building the legend and Francavilla did more with atmosphere, it’s still a fascinating comic, and Wagner gives us a nice cliffhanger to whet our appetite for the next arc. It shows, once again, that Wagner knows what he’s doing with regard to pacing a story.

Zorro is going on a break for a bit, and I don’t know if that means Francavilla will be back or not for the next arc or if another artist is making sure everything is done before they start soliciting the issues. I like this title a lot, and I hope Wagner has a lot of ideas for the future. No matter who’s drawing it!

One panel of awesome:

Hey, is that The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle)? Why, yes, it is!

1. “What Colour Is God?” – Fish (1997) “Don’t keep looking down at me as if I don’t exist, as if I’m not here”
2. “Put Down That Weapon” – Midnight Oil (1986) “And it happens to be an emergency”
3. “Andy” – Indigo Girls (1999) “I have watched you watch an empty road”
4. “We” – Neil Diamond (2005)* “Love is not about young or old”
5. “Mamma Mia” – ABBA (1975)** “I can’t count all the times that I told you we’re through”
6. “Wonderland” – The Cult (1991) “I feel defeated but not for long”
7. “Weirdo” – Charlatans (1992) “Most of the time you are demanding what am I doing here?”
8. “Your Own Special Way” – Genesis (1976) “Won’t you come out whoever you are, you’ve followed me quite long enough”
9. “Go!” – Marillion (1999) “Wide awake on the edge of the world”
10. “Swagger” – Flogging Molly (2002) “Don’t know where I’m going”

* This one’s for Bill Reed!
** This is Rob Schmidt’s favorite ABBA song. That’s because he has impeccable taste! (Okay, it’s not my favorite, but it’s in the top ten, maybe top five.)

Who wants totally random lyrics! You know you do!

“That’s right here’s where the talkin’ ends
Well listen this night there’ll be some action spent
Drive hard I’m callin’ all the shots
I got an ace card comin’ down on the rocks”

What’s on your mind today, good readers?