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What I bought – 31 January 2007

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 31 January 2007

This was a small week, but some good quality books.  Of course, that was offset by the fact that I had to endure Humberto Ramos’ art, but even that wasn’t enough to ruin the haul for me!  Let’s go below the fold and see how I’m wasting my money on crap this week, shall we?

This week’s theme: the problem with endings!

Batman and the Mad Monk #1-6 by Matt Wagner.  $3.50, DC. 

 

 

 

 

I have a few nits to pick with this series.  Yes, it’s time for a nitpicking alert!  First, why are all the landed aristocracy in Gotham City a bunch of bad people?  Except, of course, for the sainted Wayne clan.  The castle in which the Monk takes up residence used to be owned by the Rallstone family, who engaged in bootlegging and running slaves.  Whenever a rich person is mentioned in Gotham, they are indolent at best and criminal at worst.  Julie Madison doesn’t count, because presumably her father got rich on his own and is not part of a family.  I’m not singling out Wagner, because every writer does it.  We get it: the only way the rich are any good is if their parents are gunned down by a mugger and they’re raised by a kindly British butler.  Can we stop hammering home that point?

The other thing that bugs me is Batman’s decision at the end of this book to never get close to anyone ever again.  Not the decision; that’s perfectly fine.  His rationale, though, is a bit weird.  He talks about his mission claiming victims, presumably talking about Julie’s father, who in this series becomes more and more paranoid about the Batman, and Julie herself, who is almost vampirized by the Mad Monk.  But neither of those things happen because he’s involved.  Julie’s dad goes a bit nutty because of Batman, but he was involved with the gangsters on his own.  And the Monk didn’t want Julie because she was in bed with Bruce Wayne.  So the rationale is a bit weak.  It works better in Detective #600, in which someone is killed specifically because Batman/Bruce Wayne was involved.  It’s just a nagging little thing, but it bothered me.

Those two things aside, this is a nice mini-series, although the final issue wasn’t as up to par as I would have liked.  Wagner’s art is beautiful as always, and he has done a nice job in these two series with updating classic Batman stories but still keeping a sense of the originals.  Wagner, more than most people who work on Batman, understands the appeal of the “weird” part of “weird avenger of the night” (which is how he’s referred to in early issues).  It’s nice to see Batman fight gangsters and all that, but it’s also interesting to see him fight the strange things that lurk in the darkness – that’s part of his point, after all.  Six issues on Dr. Hugo Strange and his monsters, then six more on the Mad Monk, might be a bit much, but I like this Batman, because he has a classic feel to him.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit tired of stories set in the early years of his career, but when it’s Wagner, I can forgive it.  He brings a nice sense of newness to Batman’s career, especially when it comes to the truly terrifying stuff.  This Batman is confident but not yet completely sure of himself, and it’s a good mix.

I mentioned that the ending wasn’t up to snuff.  The only reason I say this is because the defeat of the Mad Monk is rather annoying, because it’s left to chance.  In the original story, Batman follows Julie to Europe and ends up stabbing the Monk and Dala while they sleep.  This ends more dramatically, but with less intervention by Batman himself.  It’s a bit strange.  I didn’t want Wagner to follow the original so faithfully, but I think a trip into the mountains of the Balkans would be right up his alley.  Oh well.

All in all, another very nice mini-series from Wagner.  Perhaps there will be more!

Chronicles of Wormwood #1 (of 6) by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows.  $3.99, Avatar.

This new series by Ennis and Burrows, who brought us 303, is familiar ground for Ennis, but he does it well, so I’m willing to give it a chance.  It’s the story of Danny Wormwood, who’s the Antichrist.  He lives a relatively normal existence, however, because he doesn’t have any interest in being the Antichrist.  His best friend, Jay, is better known as Jesus.  They hang out at a bar, where Danny defends Jesus, who is brain-damaged from a nasty blow to the head, from snotty bartenders.  We follow Danny through his day, from his apartment with his girlfriend and his talking rabbit, to his job as the head of a cutting-edge cable company, to the bar, where he does something horrible and rather funny to the aforementioned bartender, to a tryst with Joan of Arc (yes, that Joan of Arc), where he defends his cheating by mentioning that he is, after all, the Antichrist, back to his apartment, where his father, Satan, is waiting for him.  Dum-dum-dummmmmm!

For a set-up issue, we get quite a bit of information and not a lot of action.  Usually Ennis likes to blow shit up right away, but this is remarkably low-key – well, low-key for Ennis.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  Ennis, for all his bluster, can write relationships incredibly well (remember, his Superman-meets-Tommy Monagham story in Hitman is quite possibly the best Man of Steel portrayal ever), and this issue gives us some nice glimpses at Wormwood, who might be the Antichrist but is really just a guy.  Sure, he can be an asshole, but he’s not evil.  I’m not entirely sure where the book is going, because not much happens, but it’s a nice start.

Ennis’ take on religion is as simple-minded as ever.  There’s a lot of organized religion bashing, which he’s done before, and he takes a shot at the LAPD just because he can.  I’m not really all that interested in getting his take on right-wing crazies and religious nuts, because it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.  I know it’s going to be there, but unless it gets a lot deeper, it’s just typical lapsed Catholic window dressing (I’m going out on a limb by assuming that Ennis is a lapsed Catholic; he could be a lapsed Protestant for all I know; or he could have been raised a freakin’ Druid).  It doesn’t ruin the story, and it’s kind of necessary for it to be there, but it doesn’t make the story better.

Burrows does his usual stellar work on art.  It’s mostly talking heads (except for the sex scene with Joan of Arc), but his style is so smooth and beautiful that I don’t mind.  I still wonder why the big guys haven’t thrown some money at him – maybe he’s rejected it!  If you haven’t seen Burrows’ art, this won’t show off everything he can do all that well, but it’s still very nice.

One last thing about this, as it’s an Avatar book.  One would think that it would be chock full of gore and/or nudity, which is why Ennis and Ellis go there to tell these stories.  It’s ironic then that 303, which was also an Avatar book, and this first issue are remarkably understated for Ennis.  The Boys, which DC just axed, is FAR worse than this book, and I wonder if The Punisher is too.  Avatar has a reputation that is certainly well-earned, but some of what DC publishes under Vertigo is just as “bad.”  The only reasons DC wouldn’t publish this particular issue (maybe the book gets far worse) is because of one panel in the sex scene, which is just in shadows but describes something “weirder” than just “regular” sex, and a scene earlier in the book when Wormwood does something to the bartender, and a certain part of the male anatomy is clearly seen.  In other words – teenagers dressed like whores?  Supergirl and X-23 are GO!  Penises?  Not so much.  I love hypocrisy.

Man, I’ve gone on about this, haven’t I?  Well, it’s a neat little first issue.  Give it a try!

Daredevil #93 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

Speaking of endings, Brubaker has some trouble with his.  His first arc on Daredevil didn’t end too weakly, but it wasn’t as good as the build-up, and this arc ends weakly as well.  It’s not that it’s a bad issue, because it’s not, but for the ending of an arc, it kind of limps into the finish line.  Matt had his confrontation with Vanessa last issue, after all, and this issue simply ties up the loose ends.  So it’s a good issue in that Matt clears up everything and reunites with Foggy and all is well again (for a while, because of course it’s going to go to hell soon enough), but it feels a bit anti-climactic.  Perhaps because I have the feeling that Brubaker doesn’t really want to write this book in arcs but Marvel, in its infinite wisdom of chunking everything up into “arcs,” wanted it that way.  And the confrontation with Fisk is handled very nicely.  Ultimately, however, it feels like this arc could have been shorter, because Vanessa simply didn’t turn out to be much of a threat.

Then there’s the specter of Karen Page.  I’m starting to hate Karen Page.  Matt whines about her to Foggy after wrapping everything up, and what bothers me most about it is the absolutely shitty way Matt treated her while she was alive.  I mean, if she’s the love of his life, why was he such a dick to her?  I’m just wondering.  Milla gets a spotlight issue next, and maybe then Brubaker will finally bury Karen and we can all move on.  It wouldn’t take much to never mention her again.

Despite my slight disappointment at the way this arc wraps up, this is a good comic.  Brubaker seems to know what he’s doing with the title, and it has a nice, “real-world” kind of feel to it, as if Daredevil just happens to be a strange little side note in the messed-up world of Matt Murdock.  That’s kind of cool.

Elephantmen #6 by Richard Starkings, Moritat, David Hine, and Rob Steen.  $2.99, Image. 

I don’t often comment about covers, because I’m buying these books based on what’s inside them, not what’s one the cover, but that’s a stunning cover by Ladrönn.  Note the subtle eroticism of Sahara, with the shape of her breasts just barely hinted at (which is always better than showing something).  Her exotic nature comes through as well, as well as the steely resolve in her face, which is not hard, but still strong.  She looks delicate and tough at the same time, which is difficult to pull off.  Then, behind her, the hand of Obadiah Horn, her fiance, who is reaching for her possessively, like he reaches for everything else.  Will she break in his hands?  That’s the question.  It’s an amazing cover.

The stories inside aren’t bad, either.  As I have mentioned with this book, it grows on you slowly, and now we’re fully invested in the story, to the point that this issue, which contains two stories, one of which is a flashback and the other of which features mostly talking heads, builds the tension nicely without much actually happening.  The main story is split into two sections: a girl watches television, on which the announcement of Obadiah and Sahara’s engagement is made, and she thinks it’s a fairy tale come true.  Her mother believes a human marrying an elephantman is an abomination, and smacks the girl, who sneaks out later to visit Ebony, the elephantman who is in the hospital.  The scene switches to Obadiah’s penthouse, where Matt Lauer and Katie Couric (with different but similar names to avoid lawsuits) interview the happy couple.  We get a lot of information about the laws of the society in which they live (they aren’t allowed to have children) and the attitudes of people, even supposedly “enlightened” ones, about this union, and when the reporters leave, Sahara tries to calm Obadiah, and we see both his loving and his evil side.  It’s nicely done in a few short pages, showing that these two really love each other as well as how Obadiah has fooled Sahara.  One wonders how she’ll react when she finds out about the real Obadiah.

In the back-up story, we learn about Sahara’s mother, who was used as an incubator by the Mappo Corporation in their breeding of the elephantmen.  It’s a quick story that allows us to see more of Sahara and realize that Obadiah may have more to bargain with when he can no longer pull the wool over her eyes.  Linking the two stories, and the brief coda at the end of the first, is the wooden idol that the elephantmen have been fighting over throughout the series.  It’s important!!!!!

I’d like to thank Richard Starkings, once again, for sending this to me.  It’s a nice series that has improved a lot, even though the first couple issues were decent.  There are a lot of details in every issue that adds to the whole saga, and the art is very nice, as usual.  the trade of issues #1-8 will be out soon, so you might want to check it out.

Ex Machina #26 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

 

I don’t know what Tony Harris is doing with his art these days and how much is photo-referenced, but you have to admire the fact that he has done 26 issues of this series without a break and it comes out pretty regularly.  Other artists who do photo-reference stuff STILL work slowly, so it’s nice to see Harris cranking this out every month and keeping up the quality.

As is typical with this book, it’s hard to talk about it.  By now you’ve tried it and hate it and anything I say won’t get you back on board, or you love it and agree with me completely.  The nice thing about this issue is that it appears that we’re finally going to get some answers about Mitch’s powers.  Maybe we won’t, but it seems that way.  We have our usual flashback to start the issue, and we’re up to 11 September 2001, and Mitch is trying to help the survivors of the attack but the Air Force isn’t happy about it.  In the “present” (2003), Mitch debates the new buildings that are supposed to go up at Ground Zero, and then he visits his mother, who has been hanging out with Kremlin.  While they talk about that, a strange man who appears to have been time-traveling shows up, freaks out, and somehow shuts down the power all over a good chunk of New York State.  And that causes Mitch to lose his power.  Uh-oh.

I don’t really want to say that Vaughan is writing this book on auto-pilot, because that implies it’s dull.  It’s not.  The political discussions are fascinating as usual, even if it’s utopian stuff that we want our politicians to say and do but which never gets off the ground, and Kremlin’s plot to get Mitch back to superheroing is humming along.  It’s just that Vaughan has a formula for these books, and he sticks to it.  I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it, but I think that as long as things are moving forward, the formula is fine.  Apparently this is a finite series, and that’s cool, because we have moved forward in Mitch’s life.  Just because the book is structured formulaically doesn’t mean it’s boring.

Anyway, another fine issue and good beginning to a story.  We’ll see how it plays out.

Wasteland #6 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $2.99, Oni Press.

I have mentioned the weird way this book is divided into “arcs” that aren’t really arcs, and here’s another example of it.  This is the end of an arc, and next issue is a stand-alone story drawn by Carla Speed McNeil (whose art I don’t really like but who seems perfect for this kind of book), so I guess this is the end of the arc just to make the trade paperback more coherent.  But it’s not the end of an arc.  It’s the end of a particular segment of the story, but there is still a lot going on that will lead into the next “arc.”  This is why I hate the necessary evil of trade paperbacks.

But that’s neither here nor there.  This continues this very nice book’s improvement, as Johnston, who isn’t re-inventing the wheel here, does a nice job bringing the two threads of his tale – the refugees and the Newbeginners – together as Abi and her gang reach the city.  Abi has lost some of the trust the villagers placed in her, and their predicament when they reach the city won’t get any of it back.  Michael has disappeared again, but he’s on their shit list, so I’m sure that will come back around in time.  There’s an interesting two-page scene that involves the logo of the book (it’s between the two creators’ names, even though you can’t tell what it is in this scan), which I’m sure will be important down the road.  Finally, we learn what Marcus’ scheme is concerning the Sunners in Newbegin, and it’s not pleasant.  Too bad Abi and her bunch decided to show up right at that time!

As far as slow burns go, Johnston is doing a nice job building the story.  Details and characterization are paramount in stories that are beholden to a genre, and we’re getting a lot here, as each character is becoming full-fledged people, and even Marcus isn’t so evil that we can’t understand his motives.  We don’t like them, but we understand them.  Mitten’s art is fantastic as usual, with his full-page drawing of Newbegin a highlight.  He gives the book a wonderful gritty feel that complements the story very well.

In a wasteland of mediocre superhero books, it’s nice to see a book like this, because Johnston and Mitten are doing something different.  This kind of story works well in comics.  They don’t all have to be superheroes, do they?

X-Men #195 by Mike Carey, Humberto Ramos, and Carlos Cuevas.  $2.99, Marvel.

Oh, Humberto Ramos.  His presence on a book decreases my enjoyment of it exponentially, which is strange.  I mean, he’s bad, but it’s not like I can’t understand what’s going on, and usually I can just get past art as long as it doesn’t make the story incoherent.  But Ramos is just so outrageous with his women that it just makes me feel dirty reading it.  Why do I feel that way with Ramos but not with dozens of other superhero artists who draw women weirdly?  I don’t know.  Maybe I avoid those books, but I like what Carey’s doing with the X-Men, so I want to read this.

Anyway, as a middle issue of a story, this isn’t bad.  The X-Men go after Rogue, who was kidnapped by Pan last time, but Pan kicks the crap out of them.  I know this is standard operating procedure with superhero books, but Carey has done a nice job in his brief time on the team of making me believe that the X-Men are really outclassed and are in big trouble.  I know Brubaker is writing a different kind of story in Uncanny X-Men, but I haven’t really felt like his group is in any kind of peril.  And Cable’s ace in the hole is a nice touch.  Next issue: the big throwdown!

There’s not much else to say about this issue.  There are some freaky poses by women, there’s some bluster by Cannonball, of all people, and Carey does a good job keeping the action going before we get to the big blow-out.  We’ll see how he pulls it off.

All in all, not a bad week.  It’s quality over quantity this time!

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