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What I bought – 31 October 2007

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

Halloween comics!  Who could ask for anything more?

This week: some good comics, but others that I didn’t love, but didn’t hate either.  It’s a lukewarm kind of week!  Plus: I will prove once again why nobody in the comics blognoscenti takes me seriously, because I don’t slobber all over a book that the highbrows will no doubt love (even though I did think it was decent, just not great).  You may call me “Philistine” or “mouth-breather” in the comments.  I can take it!  And: dare I return to the scene of the crime?  I dare, I dare!

Action Comics #858 by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal.  $3.50, DC.

Oh, you scamps in the comments section!  Encouraging me to buy a Geoff Johns book!  How dare you!

Actually, this isn’t bad.  I’m not interested enough to come back for more, but Johns tells a decent story, and Frank’s art doesn’t hurt, either.  We begin in 3008 with Superman Origin Redux, which ends somewhat unexpectedly.  One wonders if this is just showing how crappy the 31st century is or if the little dude will show up again.  We’ll see.  Then we’re back in the present, and Clark Kent is a geek.  Wow!  That’s fascinating!  Superman is needed to fight Brainiac, but it’s really Brainiac 5, who zaps Supes with something and makes him recall his adolescence and his first meeting with three of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Superman then remembers who Brainiac 5 is (even though they’ve met), and Brainiac tells him that he needs to come into the future, even though other Legionnaires didn’t want Supes there.  In 3008, Superman ends up hanging out with some other Legionnaires, who are being hunted by the cops.  Damned cops!  One of them takes a shot at Superman, who holds up his hand to stop the bullet, which goes right through!  Damn!  Yes, in 3008, Earth’s sun is … red!  That has to suck.

It’s an entertaining enough story, although I don’t have a lot of interest in it.  I don’t like time travel stories, and I’ve never been a fan of the Legion.  Johns does a good enough job introducing the Legion for people, like me, who don’t know much about them, and the premise is okay, I guess.  I’m just not enthusiastic about it.  I’m sure the first question that Superman will have next issue is “Why in the hell is the sun red?”  I’m also sure the Johns will have some gobbledygook pseudo-scientific explanation, because I don’t think the sun is due to turn red here for several million years.

I guess this is the “return” of the “original” Legion, but what I’m a bit puzzled about is the fact that there have been plenty of Legions since then, but Superman doesn’t seem to be aware of them.  Haven’t some of the Legions been in this time?  Oh, the befuddlement!

If you’re a fan of the Legion, this is fine.  I’m not, and Johns doesn’t make it much more than a simple adventure story.  He relies on our fondness for the characters, and I don’t have any fondness for them.  So it doesn’t really work for me. 

Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood #1 (of 5) by Greg Rucka and Tom Mandrake.  $2.99, DC.

Rucka and Mandrake on a weird crime book!  I should love it, right?

But I don’t.  I don’t know why, really.  The central idea, that a society exists that teaches how to commit crime and venerates Cain, is kind of neat, and I always liked Renee Montoya, who shows up as the Question to fight the bad guys.  Rucka gives us a professor who has written a book debunking this society, which we know is going to get him into all sorts of trouble, and Renee thinks she has sussed out his motives, but there’s the obligatory twist at the end that shows us she doesn’t really have a handle on things.  Apparently she’s somehow connected to this society, although I’m not sure if this is a new development or something that took place in 52.  It doesn’t really matter, because I’m sure it will become clearer as the mini-series progresses.

This is lacking something, and I’m not sure what it is.  It’s a good story, it has very nice art, and Renee is a cool character.  I honestly don’t know why I don’t like this more.  I’ve been trying to figure it out, and I haven’t yet.  I’m not even completely turned off by the book, so I might pick up the next issue to decide.  It’s very weird.  Did anyone else have this reaction?

Daredevil Annual #1 by Ed Brubaker, Ande Parks, Leandro Fernández, and Scott Koblish.  $3.99, Marvel.

This is a pretty cool comic that seems to set up a Black Tarantula ongoing.  I’d write it!  It would be sort of like The A-Team, except not as cool (I mean, come on – it wouldn’t have George Peppard!).  Brubaker provides the story, Parks scripts it, and we get a story about Carlos LaMuerto, who gets out of jail and doesn’t know what to do with his life.  He gets a job with Matt Murdock, but can he escape his past?  As it turns out, not really, but at the end, he’s trying to fix the problems he’s caused in his life.  It’s a nice tale of unexpected redemption, and even though Daredevil and Tarantula end up at odds, each has a point about why they arrive at their outlook on the events of the book.  It’s about as complex morally as a mainstream superhero comic can be, and although some of is probably due to Brubaker’s story, Parks is a fine writer as well, so it’s not surprising this works so well.  Fernández has a bit of an Eduardo Risso thing going on in this, which is fine.  He does a nice job with the story, which doesn’t require all that much wackiness.  It’s a down-to-earth crime story, and Fernández helps it along.  It’s not a great comic, but it fits in well with what Brubaker is doing on the main title, yet still stands on its own.

Dynamo 5 #8 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar.  $2.99, Image.

In terms of storytelling, the superhero comics that Image is publishing right now, which are pretty much the domain of Kirkman and Faerber, are so much better than almost anything you can get from the Big Two that it’s not funny.  Invincible continues to hum along, the latest issue of Noble Causes is a bombshell (I just got it, even though it’s been out for some time, so I’m not going to talk about it, but it was awesome), and Dynamo 5 has established itself as the Avengers to Noble Causes’ X-Men.  The Grand Old Man, Savage Dragon, continues as well, and even though I don’t buy it, you have to appreciate Erik Larsen’s devotion to it.  When you add the ancillary titles (Brit, Firebirds), you have a nice little universe that manages to be fantastically entertaining every time out.  Image just lowered the price on this book from $3.50 to $2.99, so even that excuse for not buying this is out the door!

This issue is a perfect example.  We are reminded that the group is made up of kids with families, so Hector (Visionary) gets grounded for not checking in, while Maddie asks Spencer (Myriad) to pretend to be Gage (Scatterbrain) because the latter is in a coma after the events of last issue.  Spencer finds that Gage’s home life is bizarre, not because it’s awful, but because it’s so normal.  There’s a bad guy, too, and the girls handle it, with some help from the mother-daughter team of Firebirds, who show up because Maddie asks them.  It’s a nice, solid superhero fight, but Faerber adds some intrigue when we find out there’s some weird history between Maddie and Firebird.  So, in one issue, we get teenage angst, problems that we can relate to even if we’re not teenagers anymore, a good battle with a bad guy, and some subtext of greater problems to come, all illustrated by Asrar’s fine pencils.  That’s some good quality storytelling! 

Infinite Halloween Special #1.  $5.99, DC.

False advertising: “13 Tales of Terror!”  Not really.  “Scary” is almost as hard as “funny,” and although some of these are good stories, they ain’t scary.  I’m just saying.

Your enjoyment of this 6-dollar comic will depend on your enjoyment of the creative teams involved.  The stories are sufficiently Halloweeny, and most of them look good, and the framing story is clever.  Is it worth 6 dollars?  I can’t really say it is, but it’s charming, in its way.

The one story that bugged me was the one with the Resurrection Man.  There’s nothing really wrong with it, but the other stories either try to explain who the characters are or don’t rely on a pre-existing character.  Is the Resurrection Man that well-known that we’re supposed to know why he’s able to come back from the dead?  I’m just wondering.  Did anyone reading this think, “Who the hell is that guy and why isn’t Croc able to kill him?”  It’s strange.

Mouse Guard #2 (of 6) by David Petersen.  $3.50, Archaia Studios Press.

There’s really not much to say about this book.  It’s absolutely gorgeous, and in this mini-series, it seems that Petersen has a firmer grip on the story he’s trying to tell.  The first series was somewhat standard fantasy, but in this series so far, Petersen seems to be going for a bit more development of the characters and a more thoughtful approach to how the story unfolds.  That’s not to say that this is boring, because it’s not, but he seems to be relying more on tension within the group to drive the story.  Of course, it’s still an adventure comic, so the mice that fell down the hole last issue discover that the hole leads into a tunnel, which may or may not lead to an inhabited city.  Only next issue will tell, but it looks nasty for our heroes.

What a beautiful book.  It’s $3.50, but it’s almost worth it for the art alone.  It’s a good thing the story, which is a bit secondary, is still interesting.

The Secret History #3 by Jean-Pierre Pecau, Goran Sudzuka, and Geto; #4 by Pecau and Leo Pilipovic.  $5.95, Archaia Studios Press.

 

For the second week in a row, Archaia releases two different issues of the same book on the same day.  Again, it’s an old series that needs to be translated.  What the heck?

I like this series a lot.  However, I admit it’s not for everyone.  It’s drenched in history, and it might not appeal to people who aren’t into history, because although the adventure story that flows through the book is decent, the historical aspects may overwhelm some people.  I mean, do many people care that the immortals who drive the story fight through their proxies, the Guelphs and Ghibellines?  Is the thirteenth-century struggle between Emperor (in this case, Frederick II) and Pope (Honorius III and, especially, Gregory IX) really that fascinating?  (In my case, the answer is “yes.”  Your mileage may vary.)  In the second issue, the struggle between Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Francis I, the king of France, takes center stage, with the Pope (Clement VII) facing the imperial army (this was the same Clement who refused Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, because Charles basically took him prisoner, and Catherine was Charles’ aunt).  Nostradamus and Benvenuto Cellini end up fighting the imperial troops and using more magic than is healthy.  In both issues, things go poorly for the “good guys,” even though one of the neat things about this comic is that there really aren’t any good guys, just people playing politics.

This is a tough comic to review, because it’s come out so infrequently and then, suddenly, two issues appear.  I hesitate to say it’s worth 6 dollars a pop, although it’s longer than your usual comic and it tells an interesting story fitted nicely into history (although recent research suggests that Frederick II wasn’t as enlightened as people think; he was a fairly typical medieval ruler).  I’m certainly enjoying it, but even though it doesn’t really require that you know about, say, the Cathar heresy, it does help.  I’m not sure if this would work better in Europe, because of its obvious Euro-centric focus (it was originally published in France), because I don’t know if French comics readers would know more about their history than we do.  Do we have any Europeans out there who can laud the educational system?  Would it work better here if it were drenched in American history?  I mean, not everyone here knows who Frederick II was, but everyone here knows that George Washington wrote the Constitution at Valley Forge while fighting Nazi vampires.  I mean, that’s just common knowledge, people!

Special Forces #1 by Kyle Baker.  $2.99, Image.

So we come to the strangest book of the week.  How so, say you?  Well, in the comments section of this post by Brian, I made the point that Image claims this is in their “Slimline” format – like Fell and Casanova – but in this case, it costs $2.99 instead of $3.50, which is what it would be for a full-sized book.  I based this, not on solid information (what, you expect me to check these things out?), but on the fact that I recall reading somewhere (perhaps on this blog, perhaps not) that Image was going to be using the “Slimline” format for some of its books to avoid charging $3.50 (which kind of defeats the purpose, if you ask me), and also because my copy of Special Forces has only 16 pages, which is the length of a “Slimline” comic.  Our very own Bill Reed challenged me on this assertion, not because he’s a punk (well, he could be, but not in this instance), but because his copy of Special Forces had 32 pages.  We both re-counted the pages in our copies, and unless one of us doesn’t know how to count (I suspect him, because I watch so many educational programs that teach kids how to count I had to have absorbed some of it!), we’re reading two different books.  I have looked at mine very carefully, and there’s nothing to indicate that I got a preview copy or that parts of the book fell out of mine.  It’s stapled competently, says #1 on the inside cover, and doesn’t say anything about the “real” issue #1 coming soon from Image.  It ends a bit abruptly, but it doesn’t end in the middle of a conversation and I’ve gotten used to comics ending without a tag that says, “To be continued,” so I thought nothing of it.

Our good man Bully pointed out that my copy begins on page 9 and goes to page 24.  That’s because that little stuffed bull is way smart, and that’s why we all dig him.  The mystery deepens!

Then, today (Friday the 2nd), I went back to my shoppe.  The owner found a copy of this that had, indeed, the requisite number of pages.  Apparently I got the only defective one.  It’s all a big conspiracy to deny me my rights as a consumer!  So now, armed with a regular-sized copy of Special Forces instead of the abridged version, I can tell you what I think of it.

It’s okay.  No, I don’t think it’s the greatest thing ever published, and this may be why I don’t get invited to the “cool bloggers'” parties I hear so much about.  Baker’s art is fantastic, from the first page, on which someone’s head explodes, to the double-page spread in the middle of the book when an Apache helicopter crashes into a building.  He does a fine job showing the horrific nature of war and the sudden death that lurks everywhere.  In any war book, the artist needs to make us feel the immediacy of death, and Baker does a good job with this.

I’m not as enamored with the story, which seems to be trying too hard.  The idea of using a real story, about a kid with autism who was recruited into the Army because of a shortage of soldiers, is fine, and the way Baker writes Zone is the best part of the book.  However, his attempt to satirize the Army’s policy toward homosexuals is wide of the mark, as he ends up insulting the gay character as much as the Army’s policy.  I guess it’s the point that the Army will recruit flamboyant homosexuals and use the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to plead ignorance, but I’m just really tired of seeing flamboyant gay characters in fiction, and it’s beneath someone as obviously talented as Baker.  Sergeant Ramirez is a pretty good character, so there’s that, and then we get to Felony, the star (with Zone, I guess) of the book.  I’m a bit sick of characters like Felony – tough-but-hot’n’sexy chicks who nevertheless have a soft spot.  Baker goes out of his way to spoof the conventions of fiction – the first line of the book is “The black guy dies first” – but I doubt he would ever think of killing Felony in the same way, because comic book writers are in love with the kind of character that Felony is.  She’s not a bad character in the book, but she feels totally artificial in the context of the story, especially because she spends the entire issue in that outfit on the cover.  No explanation for it is offered, and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be one.  With the other characters, Baker attempts to make them “realistic” and then point out the absurdity of the situation.  Zone, for instance, is a pretty decent example of a person with autism.  It’s somewhat interesting that the two “ridiculous” characters are Hummer, the gay character (funny nickname, though), and Felony, the female character.  Doberman, for instance, might be goofy, but his portrayal is still within the realm of possibility.  Felony, however, complains about getting broken glass in her elbow.  Hey, why don’t you put on a shirt, young lady?  I don’t see any reason for her to be dressed like this.  The book does not appear to be like Veitch’s Army @ Love, which explicitly makes a connection between combat and sex, so Felony’s attire doesn’t make sense.  Can anyone explain to me why we needed a full-page panel of her lying on rubble with her shirt barely covering her breasts?  Am I missing something?

The lack of subtlety in parts of the book make this not as good as it could be.  Think of M*A*S*H, a great war satire, where the characters did absurd things but not “unrealistic” things, and the parallels to Vietnam were never stated explicitly.  Of course, there’s great satire and there’s attempts at great satire, and this is in the latter camp.  It could be great, though, and it’s unfortunate that it’s not.  I’m not giving up on it just yet, because I’m curious where Baker goes with the book, at least for now.  I hope it gets better, because it’s more interesting than a lot of what’s coming out.  It has a way to go, however.

True Story Swear to God #9 by Tom Beland.  $3.50, Image.

Check it out!  An issue of True Story Swear to God!  I’ve never – NEVER – read an issue of this, but lots of people like it, so I thought I’d see what’s what.  That certainly couldn’t lead to any controversy, could it?

All right, so that’s not really true.  Long-time readers of the blog might recall that a little over a year ago, I wrote a really nasty review of the first Image issue of this title.  Tom Beland came here and tore me a new one, and the feud was on!  After we buried the hatchet at San Diego this year, I decided to read another issue of Beland’s epic, just to see if I might have missed the boat.  Since I actually think Beland is kind of a cool guy, I must love his comic, right?

Well, no.  I’m still not a fan.  I did try, though.  This issue is far better than issue #1, to the point where I can understand why it has plenty of fans.  In this issue, Beland tells about his move into a new house (his wife’s sister’s, as she moves to Tampa); his wife’s book getting published; his difficulties with his wife’s other sister, who comes with the house; his problems with the plumbing; and the weird way people keep dying in front of him.  He does a good job examining mortality without being too obvious about it, and the strange dynamic of Lily and her younger sister, who is young enough to be her daughter, fitting into Beland’s life is nicely done.  There’s some good humor as well, as Beland and Cristy, the younger sister, have a battle over Coca-Cola through Lily, as proxy.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the book.

So why don’t I still not like it enough to come back?  Well, it’s still an autobiography, and Beland’s format – a monthly “diary” – works against him.  There’s still a lot of space in this book where it’s just Beland and Lily talking, and it’s not always fascinating.  My dislike of autobiographies stems from the fact that people’s lives just aren’t interesting all the time, and although I know (or assume) that Beland is skipping plenty of stuff, the fact that this isn’t in a big graphic novel format where it could take the form of a narrative and the events could be chosen to propel that narrative forward makes each issue a bit harder to take.  The plumbing episode, for instance.  Beland believes something is blocking the shower, but Lily doesn’t believe him, and neither do the plumbers who keep showing up.  Beland makes the point that the gringo is never believed, and even later, when he’s proven right, Lily ignores that little fact.  It’s a funny episode, but it feels disjointed from the rest of the book.  It makes a point about Beland being a fish out of water in Puerto Rico and how his relationship with Lily is still evolving, but it’s strangely out-of-context, and if it were in a bigger comic it might work better.  The frustration of getting these nuggets so slowly, and thinking that Beland is (occasionally) a bit of a jerk and Lily doesn’t pay any attention to him, which makes them both look bad, means that it’s hard to get into it too much.  Both Beland and Lily are better characters now then they were in issue #1, and that’s based just on this issue, but it’s still a problem.

There is a lot to like about this comic, but I still can’t get into it.  This time, however, I think it’s more my problem than anything else.  I can live with that.

Wasteland #13 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $3.50, Oni Press.

As Johnston gets further into his epic, we accrue characters that might make the book a bit tougher to follow.  What makes the book good, however, is that the two main characters, Abi and Michael, are well developed, and despite the occasional confusion over who’s who, as we read each issue it comes back to us – “Oh yeah, I remember that guy!”  I’m sure it’s just me being stupid, but if I can follow the book despite the fact that people keep showing up, anyone can!

This issue ends the second arc, as all hell breaks loose in Newbegin, which gives Mitten the opportunity for some good action.  Mitten, who has the unenviable task of drawing a bunch of people wearing cloaks, has always done a fine job with giving each character enough personality so that we’re able to keep track of them.  Plus, in this issue he gets to draw some big, epic-style panels, and he does a great job with them.  Johnston easily sets up the next arc, as Abi and Michael head into the sewers to escape the city.  As always, we get some answers in each issue, but more questions.  Johnston has been doing an excellent job with this sort of thing, making sure we’re never frustrated with the lack of answers, but keeping everything mysterious so we want to come back for more.  It’s a neat trick that some writers can’t master.

Next issue is a flashback, as Mitten gets a rest (well, an issue off – I doubt if he’s resting) and we learn more about Michael’s past.  I like how Johnston has set the book up – Mitten does the “main” story, while we get some one-off stories in between with guest artists.  Other books have done this in the past (Robinson did it with the “Times Past” stories in Starman, for instance), and it’s a fine idea, I think.  I wish more comics would work this way.  Oh well.

X-Men: Messiah Complex #1 by Ed Brubaker, Marc Silvestri, Joe Weems, and Marco Galli.  $3.99, Marvel.

The complaint Brian had about this issue is that nothing much happens, which is the same problem I had with it.  Much like the “Endangered Species” back-up stories, this issue sets up the big crossover without really much occurring.  I understand the need to have all your ducks in a row, but there are ways to do that and still make an engaging comic.  In this issue, Professor Xavier detects a mutant in Alaska, and when the X-Men get there, they’ve missed all the action.  The Purifiers and the Marauders have already been there, and the Purifiers have killed all the kids in the town and someone has absconded with the mutant baby, whose birth is what Xavier detected.  So we do get a bit of action, in flashback, but as our heroes are late to the party, there’s not a lot of tension.  Michael made the point that perhaps the story should have been about the destruction of the town, instead of showing that in flashback.  That’s not a bad idea, actually.  We suspect, when the X-Men arrive in the town, that everything is already over – there could have been something lurking, but it turns out that there isn’t – and that robs the story of a lot of its tension.  I know things are going to start happening, but this boils down to: A mutant baby is born, everyone wants it.  It’s in how the story is told that it bogs down a bit.  It’s a shame, because the action that we do see is pretty cool, and the fact that the Purifiers are killing everyone should come as more of a shock, but it doesn’t – because we know from the beginning that everyone’s dead.  Flashbacks are fine for some things, but here it seems to backfire, because the book relies on the fact that the baby was born and then kidnapped.  So it’s less compelling than it could be.

The thing that has always bugged me about the whole mutant thing is the manifestation and detection of mutants.  For a long time, mutants showed their powers with puberty, which was a nice parallel to becoming a teenager and all the weirdness that comes with it.  Then we got Artie and Leech and several others who revealed powers earlier.  As for detection – was it always possible to detect mutants at birth?  I know Xavier says this one is really powerful and that’s why Cerebra goes nuts, but it seems like they can detect them before they show their powers these days.  Has that always been true?  If so, why were any mutants ever surprised when they starting shooting chocolate syrup out of their ears (now that’s a mutant power!)?  Has Marvel ever codified this stuff?  If not, why the hell not?

One final point: When Xavier mentally tells the X-Men to assemble, does he look evil, or is it me?  I can buy that he’s smiling because he detected a new mutant, but he doesn’t look happy, he looks e-v-i-l.  Am I losing it?  Okay, am I losing it more than usual?  Help me, good readers!

As for the price of the book, Brian also wondered about the price of $3.99 when the “extra” stuff is just pin-ups.  Someone wondered why Marvel wouldn’t price it lower than their regular books to entice people into the crossover, which is a great idea.  I am blissfully unaware of the economies of pricing comicc books, but remember DC and those 10-cent adventures?  I know they took a loss on those books, but apparently they did pretty well on the subsequent stories, because people were interested after picking up the cheap book.  Couldn’t Marvel have priced this at $1 and made the money back on the sales of the rest of it?  I don’t know.  As I said, the pricing strategy of the comic book companies escape me.

So that’s the week in comics, at least on my end.  It’s a fifth week, so it’s a bit slow, but there’s some good stuff out there.  Remember: “Philistine” and “mouth-breather” are acceptable insults.  Why do the poor Philistines get such a bad rap????

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