What I bought – 4 January 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 4 January 2008

Whoo-hoo!  2008!  Time to turn over a new leaf!  Time to make resolutions!  Repeat after me: “I will not buy Secret Invasion!”  Really, who gives a crap?

I always try to cull my pull list every new year.  I wasn’t going to do it this year, but then I got some comics this week that, while they are decent, just aren’t doing it for me.  So this month, we’re culling some titles!  What will survive?  Oh, the drama!

First of all, let’s consider the ads for the new Terminator television series that are running in this week’s comics.  The ads show the comely young Terminator, or at least her torso, hanging from wires, with her midsection just an engine hanging below her skin.  SHE’S NOT REAL, SHE’S A ROBOT, screams the ad.  So what do they do?  They make sure her long hair is covering her nipples.  For crying out loud, why on earth would a robot need nipples?  Nipples are, after all, functional.  I know they want to make her as realistic as possible, because she needs to fool humans, but are there going to be a lot of opportunities for her to be naked (after she initially comes through from the future, that is)?  It seems like nipples would just be an extraneous thing that robots wouldn’t put on other robots.  She’s obviously fake, so why would they cover nipples that would be easier to make non-existent?  I think too much about advertisements, don’t I?

All right, onward to comics! 

The Black Diamond #6 (of 6) by Larry Young (writer), Jon Proctor (artist), Kate Kasenow (colorist), Whiskey Island, Josh Richardson, and the Cutler Group SF (letterer and letter placement).  $2.95, AiT/Planet Lar.

Larry Young’s rather goofy homage to 1970s drive-in movies comes to a strange close, as it ends somewhat unusually but with aplomb nevertheless.  It’s an interesting conclusion, even though it seems Young just couldn’t figure out to get out of what he had set up.  I’m sure he had the ending in mind when he started, but it still feels a bit like when you’re taking a blue-book test in high school or college and you haven’t budgeted your time correctly and suddenly the professor announces that time’s up and you try to wrap up in a few sentences without really making a cogent argument.  Or was that just me who did that?  Actually, it’s not bad, just strange.

Anyway, I’m not really making this sound very good, am I?  Well, I will say that I have enjoyed Proctor’s art on the series more and more throughout the comic.  In this issue, he does some gorgeous double-page spreads of the army confronting the rebels of the road.  They’re extremely stylistic and quite groovy, fitting the tone of the series perfectly.  He puts figures in front of backgrounds that don’t show a realistic scene, but more of the mood that Young has created.  Young, meanwhile, reunites Dr. Don with his wife (of course you knew that was going to happen!), but does a nifty metatextual trick that allows him to get out of the story without resolving much else.  But he makes his point about the story, and although one could look at it as a cop-out, I choose to look at it as a way to show that stories end differently for different people.  This is, after all, a story about a man looking for his kidnapped wife.  Right?

It’s a pretty fascinating mini-series, with a very cool “Comicscope” look.  I imagine the trade will come out some day.  It’s a cool book to check out!

Detective #840 by Paul Dini (writer), Dustin Nguyen (penciller), Derek Fridolfs (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer).  $2.99, DC.

I was of two minds about buying this, because we’re still dealing with the resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul in this, but I wanted to check out Nguyen’s art, because I dig Nguyen’s art.  I hope he stays on the book for a while.

This does deal with Ra’s al Ghul, but kind of oddly.  I mean, it’s a pretty damned good story, as Batman is made aware of a criminal who steals maps.  His crime is only a ruse, however, as Ra’s used him to lure Batman into a trap so he could kill him.  That, of course, isn’t very neighborly of Ra’s, as he tells Batman that he’s decided to move to Gotham all permanent-like.  So Batman decides to give him a proper Gotham welcome, and the results are quite nasty.  And here’s where I will SPOIL the comic, if you must know, because I have an important question to ask.

Um, didn’t you (meaning DC) just bring Ra’s back from the dead?  Again?  We just had a crossover, and now, based on what Batman did to him, he’s removed from the picture.  I get that any writer can simply write him back in, but that seems like an odd thing to do after you’ve spent so much time re-establishing him as a major villain.  I love what Dini does with him, but it seems strange.  I haven’t read the crossover, so I have no idea how “major” Ra’s now is, but you don’t devote a crossover to someone if you’re planning on writing him out so quickly.  So I’m a bit confused.

Either way, it’s a cool issue.  Nguyen, of course, makes it all look great.  He’s not doing the “soft-focus” style he used on Manifest Eternity, so it’s nice and sharp.  We’ll see what Dini does when he’s finally left the crossover behind, as he returns to his new Ventriloquist next issue.

Doktor Sleepless #4 by Warren Ellis (writer), Ivan Rodriguez (artist), and Greg Waller (colorist).  $3.99, Avatar.

Ever since this comic debuted, I’ve been on the fence with it.  It’s your typical Ellisian futuristic rant, but when he does them well, they’re very interesting.  He has a lot of cool stuff in this book, but so far it seems to exist as a set of neat ideas.  I know it’s all heading somewhere, especially when you consider what happens in this issue, but it just isn’t holding my interest.  Ellis doesn’t seem to be doing anything terribly different than he often does, and what else can he really say on the subject?  So I’m done with this.  Oh well.

Dynamo 5 #10 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer).  $2.99, Image.

I guess the fact that I don’t like something that’s a little bit odd and non-superheroic (see the previous selection) but love this old-school superhero book makes me someone who’s afraid to try new things, but when superheroes are done as well as this, I just don’t care.  Yes, Gage and Spencer fight in the book, in the grand style of teammates bashing on each other, but for one, it’s was set up well last issue, and for another, it’s resolved in a non-typical way, as the two young men realize they were making assumptions about each other that weren’t true.  Faerber hammers home the so-called racism of Gage so that Spencer can call him on it (I doubt if anyone would continually refer to “the black girl” – maybe once, but Gage does it three times in short order), but that’s fine, because he has a point to make.  Meanwhile, the bad guys figure out a way to find the team’s secret headquarters, and although it’s a standard superhero idea, it still works.  Plus, Hector’s mother has a chat with Maddie about what Maddie has done to her son.

Faerber keeps upping the ante with this title, as the cliffhanger ending shows, and he has done a great job making the characters real, so that when one is threatened at the end of the issue, we feel apprehensive and not sure if the gang can come to the rescue.  That’s what’s so nice about comics that exist outside the regular Marvel and DC mainstream – we’re never sure what’s going to happen, bad or good.  So Faerber (and Kirkman) can write superhero comics that are simply better than almost everything you’re going to find at Marvel or DC, because they don’t have editorial protecting their brand names.  Why do you think the most interesting superhero comics at the Big Two are the ones that sell like shit?  Because the big guns don’t really care what happens to the characters.  That’s the way it is with this comic, which is probably one of the top five superhero books out there right now.

Plus, there’s a preview of Noble Causes #32, which comes out in March and takes the book ahead five years.  It looks really neat.

Fearless #3 (of 4) by Mark Sable and David Roth (writers), PJ Holden (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Kristyn Ferretti (letterer).  $2.99, Image.

I give mini-series a bit more leeway than I do regular series, because I know the story is going to be wrapped up in four or six issues, so I’m going to buy the final issue of Fearless even though this issue wasn’t that great.  I really liked the set-up of the first issue – superhero who can only be a superhero by taking a drug that lets him overcome his fear – but the past two issues have been somewhat muddled.  I get that Adam, our hero, is fighting the son of the mob boss, Victor, who has kidnapped Adam’s mentor, Lionel, who created the drug.  Last issue, Victor lured Adam to a fight, and in this issue, they throw down!  Adam is not able to get more of his drug, and Victor appears unstoppable, partly because he’s able to become intangible.  We also get more flashbacks, as we find out that Lionel also helped Victor when he was younger, but the boy was too crazy and turned more to a life of crime.  The battle between Adam and Victor leads to the end of the book, where we discover that Victor has been busy synthesizing the drug and supplying it to his army of hoods.  It looks very bad for Adam, indeed.

The problem with the book is not that we can’t follow the overall plot, but that the details are often tough to figure out.  Holden’s drawings look fine, but the composition of the panels occasionally obscures what is happening.  There’s a page where Lionel and Adam rush at the place where Victor is making the drug, and Victor appears to push Lionel so hard that the older man flies across the room, bumps into Adam, and knocks them both over a balcony.  That’s one hard push!  But the way the panels are laid out, it’s difficult to tell if Victor ever actually puts a hand on Lionel.  Little things like this slow up the reading of what should be a good, solid superhero story.  Sable and Roth, meanwhile, are deliberately opaque in the scripting, especially when it comes to the flashbacks, which show Adam and Victor when they were young and trying to overcome their fear.  The device is helpful, because it shows the evolution of Victor’s rage, but it’s often confusing as to exactly what’s going on.

I was impressed with the first issue of this mini-series, because it was an interesting take on a superhero.  That idea will keep me going until the final issue, but I hope the writers and artist can make these middle two issues make more sense in the grand scheme of the overall series.  Otherwise, it will be a disappointment.  We’ll see next month!

Gravel #0 by Warren Ellis (story and script), Mike Wolfer (script), Raulo Caceres (artist), and Greg Waller (colorist).  $1.99, Avatar.

I am a huge fan of Ellis’ Strange Kiss/Strange Killings series of mini-series, starring everyone’s favorite SAS combat magician, William Gravel, so I was interested in checking out an ongoing about the character, especially as Caceres, the artist of Crecy, was providing the artwork (Wolfer drew the minis).  I like that Avatar puts out these 2-dollar previews, because it gives us a chance to check out the book, and I encourage you to pick this up to see if it’s your thing.  Unfortunately, it’s not really mine.

Caceres is great.  The first sequence in the book, when Gravel, invisible, rescues a British soldier from jihadists, is wonderful and gory at the same time.  But it’s not the main plot, which deals with Gravel, back in London, discovering that a magician has taken his place among “the Minor Seven,” a group of magicians who mix among the common folk of England (as opposed to “the Major Seven,” who presumably are too high-and-mighty for this plane of existence).  He beards the magician in his lair and finds out that he provided the other six with the “Sigsand manuscript,” which sounds like bad news, and since the other six thought Gravel was dead, they allowed this magician to join them.  So now Gravel has a mission, although Ellis leaves that mission vague.  Is he going to kill the Minor Seven?  If so, why?  Can’t he just re-take his place?  Is he getting the Sigsand manuscript back?  If so, why?  In this brief preview, Ellis doesn’t explain what it is, although it sounds creepy.  But I’m sure all those questions will be answered in the ongoing!

But I doubt if I’ll be there for it.  The previous mini-series that Gravel starred in were interesting because they were SAS missions that required his special talents.  They weren’t great literature by any means, but they were nice and bloody and occasionally very unsettling (especially the first two, Strange Kiss and Stranger Kisses).  This isn’t a mission, it’s just John Constantine with a license to kill.  I’m sure it will be entertaining in the way that Ellis makes things entertaining, but it’s not something I’m particularly interested in.  The problem with Avatar books is that they’re $3.99, so it’s tough when something is decent but not spectacular.  Both this and Doktor Sleepless appear to fall into the “decent” category, and I just can’t justify spending the money on them.

This preview, however, is only $1.99, so I think you should get it and decide for yourself!

Moon Knight #14 by Mike Benson (plot and script), Charlie Huston (plot), Mark Texeira (artist), Javier Saltares (layouts), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, Marvel.

Moon Knight has been on a brief hiatus before this storyline, but now it’s back, and it looks like Benson has a nice handle on the characters, at least for this issue.  He keeps Marc’s insanity (there’s a great panel early on, when Marc is in bed with Marlene and Bushman sits in a chair by the side of the bed, smelling Marlene’s panties – it’s creepy, disturbing, and spot-on all at once) and even ratchets it up a bit, as Marc now decides which bad guys he’s going after by the amount of pain he can dish out to them, all to satisfy his “god,” Bushman/Khonshu.  He gives Bushman a gruesome “offering” after one such excursion to a crime scene, and then he thrashes Killer Shrike, who’s out on bail, because KS crippled Jean-Paul back in the day.  As always with this book, the level of violence is deliberately disturbing, as this story arc deals with the fact that Moon Knight is, in fact, a registered superhero.  The news makes a big deal about his brutal methods, and Tony Stark himself wonders how he obtained a registration card (and, of course, we saw how he got one in issue #13, which is a fantastic comic).  There’s also a nice scene with Jean-Paul and Rob, who get accosted by two anti-homosexual bigots on the street (I like how they’re coming out of a random “sports bar,” because if you like sports, you MUST hate gay people!).  Benson is not quite as pulpy a writer as Huston was, which works pretty well, because he seems to have a better naturalistic feel for dialogue and the narration isn’t as hard-boiled.

Texeira’s art looks a lot better than it has in the past, and perhaps that has something to do with Saltares’ layouts or Brown’s colors.  His hard edges are softened a bit, and his faces aren’t quite as angular and fake-looking.  I’ve been a fan of Texeira since I first saw his stuff in Stalkers, circa 1990, but I admit he’s never been the most subtle of artists.  Here, he does a nice job with toning things down, and so when we see Tony Stark watching the news, there’s not only a touch of anger at Moon Knight’s actions, but regret, too.  When Jean-Paul confronts the two bigots, there’s a nice insane glint in his eyes, but not to a point where it overwhelms the reader.  The old Texeira would have gone a bit overboard making sure we got that Jean-Paul was willing to go medieval on someone’s ass, but here, it’s nicely understated.  He drew a couple of Moon Knight mini-series about a decade ago, and I’ll be interested to go back and compare those with this art.

After the previous story arc got a bit messed-up in the middle, the resolution of that was very good, issue #13 was excellent, and this issue is a strong start to the next arc.  I don’t know how Moon Knight is selling (especially now that Finch is gone), but I hope it stays around, because it’s such an interesting comic book.

Northlanders #2 by Brian Wood (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer).  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

Brian Wood was nice enough to come by here when issue #1 came out and explained that this book is ongoing, but set in different time periods throughout the Viking Age, with different characters.  That made me feel better, because Sven’s story, which is the first one, can end any number of ways, and it makes things a lot more interesting.  This issue continues the interesting set-up of Sven finding out what the current situation is under his uncle, Gorm.  So he talks with an old couple whom he knew in his younger days and scopes out the lay of the land, tries to rally sailors to his cause but fails, gets attacked by a warrior, visits the archer on the cliff who was shooting at him and makes it clear that he won’t tolerate it, and comes home to find a present in his bed – Gorm’s paramour, Thora, who obviously digs the younger guy for her carnal pleasures.  Man, that can’t be a good thing to get involved in!

Wood has already come up with a very convincing group of characters, but Sven is the star, and so he’s the most interesting one so far.  He’s a complete mercenary, so we don’t actually like him, but he’s very compelling.  He has no interest in staying in the Orkneys, but it appears he going to have to overthrow Gorm despite himself.  Because of the way the series is structured, there’s no guarantee that he’ll succeed.

Gianfelice, who did such a nice job with the first issue, continues his strong work.  His landscape scenes are beautiful and stark, capturing the bleakness of the Orkneys wonderfully.  He also does a very nice job with the two-page battle between Sven and the warrior, giving it a wonderful kinetic feel that allows us to follow it very clearly.  Gianfelice makes the roughness of the setting part of its natural beauty, which helps the book immensely.

I’m sure many people are waiting for the trade on these, but don’t you want to help some guys make some money by buying the singles?

Uncanny X-Men #494 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Billy Tan (penciller), Danny Miki with Allan Martinez (inkers), Frank D’Armata (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, Marvel.

Okay, here’s what I don’t get: the X-Men are trying to track down Cable because he stole the mutant baby (gender: still undetermined!).  They don’t have any reason at all to believe he’s going to do anything with the baby, but here in Marvel-land, we must always decide our course of action without having all the facts.  So, last issue we saw Bishop standing over Cable after having bopped Forge, and in this issue, Bishop is trying to decide whether or not to kill the kid.  The Marauders stop him and take the baby, leaving Bishop for the X-Men to find.  When the X-Men get there, they take Bishop at his word.  Why?  Bishop, we’ve seen in the past, isn’t the most stable of individuals, yet Cyclops believes him.  Why believe Bishop but think Cable isn’t acting in the best interest of the kid?  Because that wouldn’t fit the plot!  Here’s the point: Forge is right there.  Yes, he’s unconscious, but can’t Emma check out his mind and see that Bishop is lying?  To do that, they would have a reason to mistrust Bishop, but in this situation where they’re jumping to so many conclusions about Cable, it would seem that they wouldn’t trust others, either.  Sigh.

I do like how the guy who led the Original Marauders (O. M.s, don’t you know) to the Morlocks for the Mutant Massacre (Gambit) tells Bishop, “I must confess, it’s nice to see your true colors after all these years.”  Pot calling the kettle black there, Remy!

Also, I like how in the tempest in a teacup that is whether Rob Liefeld can draw feet or not, Emma’s leg on the cover kind of fades away into the wreckage.  No one likes to draw the feet, man!

So that’s the first week of the new year.  One title dropped, and I’ll have to consider others, as well.  Make your resolution today!