What I bought – 31 March 2010

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 31 March 2010

I watched Count Tolstoy leave and thought how it is not he who knows the truth who is right, but he who is convinced of the truth of his lie. (Milorad Pavić, from Landscape Painted With Tea)

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #3 of 4 (“Vengeance Is Mine Part Three: Hoofbeats”) by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent E. Anderson (artist), John Roshell (letterer), and Wendy Broome (colorist). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Some people must have skimmed my post on Kurt Busiek unwittingly destroying superheroes, because they seem to think I don’t read Astro City. That would be silly, because Astro City is quite excellent. I don’t even mind the length of “The Dark Age,” which some people, apparently, are griping about. Sure, sixteen issues is a bit long especially when you consider the large gaps between some of the issues, but it’s been a very good story, and with it careening headlong toward a resolution, Busiek is just picking up steam. That fellow on the cover, the Pale Horseman, arrives in Astro City and begins wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, the killer of the Williams’ parents escapes again, but this time full of whatever power he had at the end of the last issue, which is not inconsiderable. So there’s that. Anderson is the real star of this issue, as the Horseman’s arrival is a fantastic moment, with jagged panels shattering the pages and the Horseman almost bursting off the page. Anderson’s depiction of Aubrey Jason’s predicament is pretty keen, too. Every so often, Anderson gives us a panel or two that looks a bit rushed, and this issue is no exception, but overall, this is a wonderfully dynamic issue. And it’s always cool to see Busiek simply throwing some of the many, many characters he’s created over the past fifteen years into the book just to keep Anderson on his toes.

Busiek may have destroyed Marvel and DC superheroes, but that’s why Astro City is so much better than they are! You know it’s true!

One panel of awesome:

Detective Comics #863 (“Cutter Part 3/”Pipeline Chapter Two Part Four”) by Greg Rucka (writer), Jock (artist, “Cutter”), Scott Kolins (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.

SPOILERS? I guess? I’m discussing the last page, which I guess is a spoiler. Anyway.

So much is disappointing about this issue of Detective that I don’t know where to start. Let’s begin with the fact that Jock doesn’t do all the art. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Scott Kolins, and his Batman and Batwoman are very well done. But his style is very different from Jock’s, and the shift is a bit jarring. Plus, what the hell? Three issues and Jock couldn’t finish them? If there’s a good reason, that’s one thing. If it’s that he’s slow, that’s annoying. Hell, get Scott Kolins to draw the whole thing – he’s a fine artist, after all (or, hey! Kolins on the “past” portion of the arc, and Jock on the “present” … or vice versa).

The second disappointing thing was the whole story. The lack of an interesting villain can always kill a story, and “Cutter” is not an interesting villain, nor is the twisted motivation behind his crimes very interesting. Rucka doesn’t do enough with the fact that he’s cutting off body parts, the revelation about which is actually kind of neat … if it were developed more. This arc was far too rushed and probably could have benefitted from another issue, but that would have meant less Jock, but maybe it would have meant one faster artist throughout.

Third, we have Cousin Bette. I have no history with Bette Kane or Flamebird, so the big dramatic “back-story” of the main story in this, that Bette wants to be a costumed superhero again, has absolutely no impact on me. I mean, Rucka chooses to end this story with Bette dramatically taking off her jacket and revealing her Flamebird outfit (which, I’m sorry, has big flares at the shoulders and thighs and would stick out of the trenchcoat she’s wearing, thereby robbing the scene of its dramatics because Kate would say, “What the hell are you wearing under that coat?” when she first sees Bette). That’s the ending? What a stupid ending. First of all, it has no meaning unless you’ve been reading other DC comics, and not only that, but DC comics that really have no connection to Detective whatsoever. Second, it implies a knowledge of DC comics that is too extensive for a minor story about a serial slasher. Third, tying into the other two, Rucka himself gives us no markers to indicate who the hell Bette Kane is. It’s not like Batman, where we can assume someone reading Detective Comics might – just might – know the deal with Batman. Why the hell should I know who Flamebird is? This is a total failure by Rucka as a writer, and colors the rest of the story, because it feels like the entire point of the story – as he didn’t develop the villain terribly well – is to get Bette to want to be Flamebird again. Well, who cares? What a rotten waste.

Rucka is done with Detective, which is good, because I’d be done with it if he was staying. It’s too bad – Rucka is a good writer, but his brief return to Detective just never rose above competent. When Williams was drawing it, it was worth it, but these last three issues have been a waste. Too bad.

One panel of awesome:

Fantastic Four #577 (“Prime Elements 3: Universal Inhumans”) by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dale Eaglesham (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Speaking of disappointing comics (man, I’m grumpy today, aren’t I?), we get the third in the four-part “Prime Elements” story, which is an arc in name only (in the letters column, Hickman even uses quotes to describe it) and continues to be fairly dull. Hickman, another solid writer, seems to be having difficulty transitioning to ongoing series. His mini-series packed some punch, narrative-wise, because he was constrained by space and needed to, you know, get to the point. It’s obvious on FF (and Secret Warriors, the latest issue of which I still haven’t gotten) that he’s setting up a ton of stuff for the long-term, but in the short-term, the comics don’t have to be so boring. You know what happens in this issue? Our heroes head to the moon and listen to a lecture about how the Inhumans are uniting the various races created by the Kree (including the Dire Wraiths, which surely means ROM can’t be far behind, right, Marvel?*) and are going to, well, take over the Earth. I mean, it’s supposed to be all dramatic and shit, but dear lord, it’s a dull road to walk. This is an info-dump issue, and while I’m not opposed to info-dumps in theory, when they tell us so little and waste so much space, I get grumpy. This is gorgouesly illustrated by Eaglesham, which mitigates it a bit, but it’s obvious that Hickman has been building to something that may or may not get resolved next issue (technically, the “end” of the “arc”), and while that’s admirable, you have to make the journey as good as the destination, don’t you? The pacing of Hickman’s run so far is really off, and it makes the book far less interesting than it ought to be, what with all the big ideas he’s throwing out there. The problem is that he seems to have nothing but big ideas, and when he tries to do some nifty character work, it doesn’t work too well. When you’re reading a superhero comic, the one thing you shouldn’t be is bored, and this is boring. Next issue will probably be my last (I do want to finish the arc, at least). I can’t imagine it changing my mind, but maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

* I wonder if Hickman put the Dire Wraiths in the book to cruelly taunt Chris Sims with its (legally mandated) lack of ROM. That would be mean.

One panel of awesome:

FVZA #3 (of 3) by David Hine (writer), Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson (conceivers), Roy Allen Martinez (layouter), Wayne Nichols (penciller), Kinsun Loh (painter), Jerry Choo (painter), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $4.99, 48 pgs, FC, Radical.

There’s quite a bit wrong with this issue, but I can’t stay mad at it. Nichols’ pencils over Martinez’ layouts with Loh’s and Choo’s paints make this look like many of the other Radical books, which has its pros and cons. It’s a bit slick for me, but it also has a “realistic” sheen that makes the story of vampires a bit creepier. I didn’t read the second issue, but it’s easy to pick up what’s going on, and while Hine doesn’t really do too much new with the concept of vampires (or zombies, which don’t appear in this issue) – this feels a lot like the Blade trilogy – he’s a good horror writer, and he makes this entertaining, with a good resolution to the story. Some plot points are telegraphed, but Hine also does some nifty stuff with the characters. It’s not perfect, but it is a fun read. I’m not sure it’s worth 5 bucks, even though you get a well-produced package for your hard-earned cash. It’s frustrating because for that price, it really needs to blow you away. This is a decent comic, but it doesn’t blow you away.

One panel of awesome:

Gødland #31 (“Prophecy Plus”) by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Bill Crabtree (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

On the second page of Gødland #31, R@d-Ur Rezz says, and I quote, “This massive planetary gripper ship — built from the corpses of countless, armored space giants slain in a violent orgy of my own making — has your orbworld in its clutches!” Sentences like that remind me, once again, why I GODDAMN FUCKING LOVE FUCKING COMIC BOOKS!!!!! Why should I even write anything else about this issue? Once you read that sentence, you simply abandoned this post and ran out to your local comic book shoppe and bought this issue, didn’t you? Well, you should have.

Oh, there’s more, including a stunning two-page spread, more cosmicity than should be allowed in a comic, Friedrich Nickelhead and the butterfly and the surprise guest star (which I’m still not revealing) deciding to save the world, and the Tormentor changing Basil into … something even more excellent. If you haven’t seen the cover to next issue, I won’t spoil it, but goddamn. Joe Casey and Tom Scioli must have vials of awesomeness that they inject directly into their motherfucking brains!!!!!!

One panel of awesome:

She-Hulk Sensational (“The She-Hulk Story That’s a Riff on Christmas Carol”/”Ladies’ Night”) by Peter David (writer, “The She-Hulk Story”), Brian Reed (writer, “Ladies’ Night”), Jonboy Meyers (artist, “The She-Hulk Story”), Iban Coello (artist, “Ladies’ Night”), Jim Charalampidis (colorist, “The She-Hulk Story”), Matt Milla (colorist, “Ladies’ Night”), Dave Sharpe (letterer, “The She-Hulk Story”), and Andrew Hennessy (letterer, “Ladies’ Night”). $4.99, 50 pgs + reprint of Sensational She-Hulk #40, FC, Marvel.

As much as I like Gary Frank and as much as I like the technical aspects of the cover, what the hell is going on? It appears that Jen is going to work, so I guess in the Marvel Universe, that’s what lawyers wear to work. Really? I mean, I don’t want to take it too seriously, because it’s just cheesecake, but I suppose I’ve reached the point where I look at the actual drawing than the spirit of it. I get the spirit of it, but Frank could have managed the spirit without making her look so, well, unprofessional. But that’s just me, I guess.

Anyway, despite that, this is a five-dollar comic that might actually be worth it. Peter David’s “anniversary” issue (about which She-Hulk is grumpy, as she doesn’t want to turn 30) is flat-out hilarious, and not with puns and those other things that people who don’t like David’s humor complain about, but just with good jokes. He goes the whole “Jen knows she’s in a comic” route that Byrne used so well, from Jen cruching up a narration caption to Spider-Man chiding her use of an obscene gesture that they can’t show in the book. Plus, we get Jen’s dentist, Dr. Doom (Bob Doom, that is), Stan Lee (see below), and a wonderful Ghost of She-Hulk Future. Meyers’ art is vibrant and energetic and only becomes distracting when he draws Jen’s boobs, which are apparently water balloons that she shoved under her shirt. But it’s a very funny story, nevertheless.

Reed’s back-up story puzzles me for one reason: It’s specifically placed before “Secret Invasion” and features Jessica Drew. Wasn’t Jessica a Skrull then? I kept waiting for Reed to drop a clue that she was an alien, but apparently he meant to set it long, long before “Secret Invasion” – as in, before Jessica was replaced. She’s apparently robbing a bank and Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk track her down, but it’s all a ploy to get close to Hydra. Mayhem ensues. I did like that the three ladies went to a club in “civilian” clothing and then, when the fit hits the shan, they change into their combat gear. Carol apparently has some sort of transformation process (sue me; I don’t keep up with how her power works) and I suppose you could make the case that Jen is wearing her costume under her skimpy clothes and when she hulks out, her clothes rip off, revealing her spandex (that is what happens, but based on what she was wearing to the club, it’s hard to see that her costume was hidden underneath), but I love that Jessica is shown wearing skimpy clothing and is pulling on yellow gloves when Hydra attacks, and in the very next panel, she leaps forward fully garbed in the red and yellow outfit. No time has passed, either, as they’re surrounded in one panel, and in the next her civilian clothes are flying out behind her and she’s pulling on her mask. When comics demand suspension of disbelief from their readers, they don’t mean that Galactus might come and eat the planet. They mean that heroes can change from regular clothes into skin-tight spandex with no visible zippers or snaps in the blink of an eye!

The reprint of John Byrne’s She-Hulk #40 is pretty hilarious, too. I’ve never read the issues from when Byrne returned to the book, but this makes me want to hunt them down. It’s the famous one in which Jen skips rope for the first four pages, seemingly in the nude (until editor Renée Witterstaetter shows up to stop her) and features Byrne’s new use of duo-shade paper … until halfway through the book, when he drops a note into the panel telling us he ran out. It’s a very funny issue, and it’s nice that Marvel reprinted it (because God forbid they collect those later Byrne issues in a trade).

This is the same price as FVZA, but it feels meatier. If you have to spend five bucks on a single issue this week, I’d definitely go with this one. Of course, I’d also tell you to buy two issue of Gødland instead of either, but that’s just me.

One panel of awesome:

Unknown Soldier #18 (“Dry Season Conclusion”) by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Oscar Celestini (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Dysart ends this arc oddly, right in the middle of what seems like the climactic scene, but Moses is moving on to a different place and the murder mystery has been resolved, so I suppose it’s as good a place as any to end it. Dysart is really cranking up the insanity of our hero in this issue, and others are starting to notice and make plans accordingly. There’s a beautiful scene where Moses tells his young charge, Paul, that he can’t come with him anymore because he’s going to do some bad things, and Dysart does a nice job showing that Moses can’t even trust his own senses any longer.

This is a gripping read that gets better with every issue, as Dysart becomes more confident with his storytelling and Ponticelli continues to bring the situations to horrific life. It’s impressive that Moses can be so expressive when his entire face is covered with bandages, but Ponticelli makes it work. I’m not sure if he’s going to continue with this kind of style (I believe he’s not inking the pages and letting Celestini color them from pencils, but I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to check), but I’m getting used to it. He mentioned on the Vertigo blog a while back (I think it was there) that he was doing it to match the tone of the arc, so I don’t know if he’ll return to heavier lines and more angular art after this. Right now, I like the old style a bit more and think it fits the book better, but this style worked well for this pseudo-noir tale and I’ve gotten more used to it.

Either way, this continues to be a quiet comic that is getting better each time out. Don’t sleep on Unknown Soldier, people!

One panel of awesome:

I think it’s about time to check out The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. “The Last Mile” – Cinderella (1988) “Monkeys on my back I gotta find a better way”
2. “Rush” – Big Audio Dynamite (1991) “But life just carries on even when I’m not there”
3. “Hey, Johnny Park!” – Foo Fighters (1997) “Everything fades in time, it’s true”
4. “Common People” – Pulp (1995) “I said pretend you’ve got no money, she just laughed and said, ‘You’re so funny'”
5. “Promises Of Eternity” – Magnetic Fields (1999) “What if we all got jobs and got to bed before dawn?”
6. “Shake Me” – Cinderella (1986) “In the morning we were still going strong”
7. “Inside Information” – Foreigner (1987) “Get hooked on the power, gotta stay in the game”1
8. “Summer’s End” – Foo Fighters (2007) “I had that dream again that the sun was dead”
9. “Walk This Way” – Aerosmith (1975) “There was three young ladies in the school gym locker and I noticed they was looking at me”2
10. “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – Genesis (1974) “There’s something moving in the sidewalk steam”

1 Yes, there was never a time when I wasn’t uncool, and this, I think, proves it.
2 The first time I ever heard this song was when Run-DMC covered it. In fact, I had never heard of Aerosmith before that. Chew on that for a while.

How about some totally random lyrics?

“I heard a song today
Reminded me of Spain
We were the innocent in springtime
I never liked you much
We never keep in touch
I know your stories from the grapevine
And though I found it strange
To watch the change
When what you couldn’t say was
Look at me, look at me”

If you haven’t been checking out Chad Nevett’s month-long look at artists who have interpreted the scripts of Warren Ellis, you really ought to, because it’s quite a good read. Start here. The only suggestion I would have made to Mr. Chad is that I wished he had looked at some artists from before Ellis was “Warren Ellis” – Lazarus Churchyard or some early Marvel stuff, for instance. I don’t know if Chad actually has those, but it would have been neat to see how the artists interpreted Ellis before he was fully developed as a writer. Otherwise, it was a great read throughout the month!

It’s April Fool’s Day (or is it April Fools’ Day?), but I don’t think I can ever top my prank from two years ago, so you’ll just have to be satisfied with straight-up comics reviews. Sorry!