Box of Comics: May 2009

One of these days, I might actually write a review someone cares about, rather than something a month old that everyone else has already read and passed judgment on for themselves. One day, I might actually write a real review, and not just thinly disguised rants and/or raves. One day...

Thanks to DCBS for once again mailing me a fine box of comics, and not, you know, one dozen starving, crazed weasels, or the head of a Paltrow. And special thanks for including the Free Comic Book Day issue from Red 5! Dr. Dinosaur is the sensational character find of 2009!

This month: Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Fin Fang Foom, Time Lords, jetpacks, and more!

Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #1 by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, and more (Red 5)

Some folks think this series owes a lot to Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and frankly, I can't argue with them. From the Hellboy I've read and seen, however, I think Atomic Robo comes off as a far more wide-eyed, amusing, and just plain damn fun series. Yes, I used the dreaded f-word-- oh noes. This issue's a nice pint of set-up, as 1926 Robo is interrupted in his studies by a man named Charles Fort and his worried, raving friend, H. P. Lovecraft. Naturally, Cthulhu ensues, and its tied to Tunguska, and a team of adventurer hobbyists that include Nikola Tesla and Howard Houdini. If that sounds like a good time to you, pick the book up.

Here is why I enjoy Atomic Robo so much: Clevinger's snappy patter. Wegener's crisp cartooning. The zany spins on genre material they cobble together. It's 22 pages of cool story and a nifty 5-page backup tale for $3.50. Give it a go. Also, pick up Killer of Demons, also drawn by Scott Wegener, because it's equally awesome.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #25 by Doug Petrie, Georges Jeanty, and friends (Dark Horse)

Every recent review of this comic is written by somebody who admits to buying the series purely out of intertia, and I'm no different. Yes, I'm buying it because I've basically committed myself to buying the whole thing, even the Loeb and Meltzer issues, purely out of my love of the show and my loyalty to Joss Whedon. Yes, I'm one of those people. The series has started to lose sight of the plot, and hasn't given its main characters anything of value to do recently. The show I knew and loved didn't let the main arcs lag even while it was doing loopy one-offs, and never let the characters wander away. I miss the camaraderie, the homeiness-- the massive scope of this new series is off-setting; it's losing the reality the show was forced to have, and used well.

But then we've got this latest issue, with a script from Doug Petrie, one of my favorite writers of the TV show. He adapts pretty well to the comic format, finally wrapping up that long-brewing Dawn subplot, and giving us a pretty nice character moment at the end. The Scoobies feel that much more like the Scoobies here, which I'm glad to see.

Captain Britain and MI13 #13 by Paul Cornell, Leonard Kirk, Ardian Syaf, and some other dudes (Marvel)

You've disappointed me, comics readers. Not enough of you bought this series, and now it's dead. Well, not enough of you Americans, anyway. One quote-- and now I've lost where I read it, but no matter-- seemed to indicate that it sold well enough in Britain, but not in America, and apparently it's the American sales that really count. Profit is profit, isn't it? I guess not. Anyway. It's another awesome issue, and those of you who have neglected the series should pick up the trades and discover what you've missed-- things like pirate ships filled with vampires in space. It's one of those "point of no return" issues, and I'm really eager to see how those heroes do return-- because they're heroes, and that's what heroes do.

Doctor Who: The Time Machination by Tony Lee, Paul Grist, and Phil Elliott (IDW)

Here's my problem with this. Now, Tony Lee writes fun stories and Paul Grist draws fun comics. My problem is not with them. Nor is it with the premise of the issue, which involves the Doctor teaming up with H.G. Wells and being on the run from secret agents and stuff. No, that's fine too. The entire thing, however, is entrenched in Doctor Who continuity from decades previous. Yes, I realize Talons of Weng-Chiang is a popular Tom Baker serial from the 70s, but someone who might pick up this comic because they really like that sci-fi show with David Tennant just might not know plot points from the classic series. I understand why it's there-- the hardcore fans probably own all the DVDs, and they're probably the primary demographic for this comic, which is only available in American specialty shops anyway, so why not have flashbacks to Colin Baker and references to Magnus Greel, right?. But, hell, I watched Talons for the first time only a couple months ago (cheers, Netflix) and I didn't know what the hell they were talking about for a second. It's not essential to have seen these old Whos to grasp the story here, but it goes beyond a wink to the fans. Namedropping the town of Blackpool because Tennant starred in a show of the same name, or having the Doctor wear a deerstalker is a wink; having a reenactment of a scene from an episode that aired in 1977 is more of a forceful elbow to the ribs. I just don't want anyone to be left out. These comics should be for new fans, too.

Still, I had fun, at least; it's probably one of the best comics I read this month. I am very much looking forward to Tony Lee's ongoing stint at the Doctor comics-- but I'm hoping future endeavors are a bit more open and forward-looking. (Also, the paper stock for this book was different from the previous IDW Doctor Who comics. Not as slick, but I love the smell. Yes, I'm crazy.)

Fin Fang Four Return! #1 by Scott Gray and Roger Landridge (Marvel)

You know it's good, because it has an exclamation point in the title. And my, it is good. Forty-five pages of story for only four bucks; this is how I want my comics to be. And that 45 pages actually features six stories, five of which were new to me! I've heard this is a collection of some online stories I didn't read because I'm not paying money for that horrible online comics interface Marvel has. And my, what lovely stories they are, too! Psychiatric breakdowns; Fin Fang Foom discovering the cure for baldness and being accosted by bald super-villains; Googam, son of Goom, being adopted by a starlet and driven mad by the Latverian nanny; Elektro being confused for Electro and spending time in jail with lower-than-D-List Spidey baddies (including the return of the fabulous Hypno-Hustler!); or Foom fighting a giant Hydra'd Santa Claus robot! It's all brilliant, but the absolute best story in the whole thing is "Curious Gorgilla," in which Gorgilla the not-so-bright ape creature travels back in time with Zarrko the Tomorrow Man and saves Abraham Lincoln. It's drawn in a cutesy H.A. Ray style and told entirely through prose narration, and it's absolutely marvelous.

This is probably the best comic I read all month. Take that, Alan Moore!

Ignition City #1-3 by Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar)

Man, when they said it was an homage to Deadwood and Golden Age sci-fi at the same time, they were right. They were very right. Buck Rogers' daughter investigates the death of her father, running into Rocketeer dudes and Flash Gordon and his ex and all sorts of other stuff, except the names are all changed to protect the innocent. There's cursing, there's rayguns, there's whisky, and there's a tough chick at the center of it-- yep, it's like a lot of other Warren Ellis comics. It didn't wow me at first, but the story's growing on me, as it's brewing instead of galloping. I imagine it will become further complex as follow-up minis come out. Also, it has Russian cosmonaut Yuri, the sensational character find of-- oh, I did that one already.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout)

Alan Moore gets a lifetime pass, no doubt about it, for Watchmen and V for Vendetta and... well, you know. But his recent work in comics comes across, to me, like the world's most elaborate slash fiction. Take the League, here. It's well-researched-- I mean, insanely well-researched, to the point where you need six English degrees just to comprehend how researched it is-- but that makes it like those types of fanfics that are more interested in fellating the works cited than actually putting a story in there. We were promised a standalone story that also tied into an overarching plot for the rest of Century. I see the teases towards future episodes, but the only (presumably) standalone arc in this one is about Nemo's daughter, and that one falls into the much-maligned "gratuitous nudity" and "rape as motivation" camps that I'd be happy to do without. Sex and violence, sex and violence-- behind all the ambition, that's what Moore's work seems to be all about these days. Maybe that's all it was ever about-- there's probably a paper in there somewhere-- but it's even more blatant these days. That ambition, though, that's something. Rather than the world's most literate porno, this comic's a musical, apparently riffing on Brecht's Threepenny Opera, which I know nothing about aside from the fact that it existed at one point. But hey, Stardust the Space-Wizard is in the back-up text bit, look at that! I feel like I enjoy the act of reading this book rather than the material that is read. If that makes any sense at all. I fear it doesn't. But there's my pull quote.

On the other hand, Kevin O'Neill's art is exquisite. And I'll probably buy the next one anyway, because... it's Alan Moore!

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #2 by G-Mo and Cam-Stew (DC/Vertigo)

The first Seaguy mini-series was like a delicious candy bar filled with enlightenment instead of nougat. This one's more like a jawbreaker. That's not inherently bad-- I like jawbreakers-- but it's not the rich and creamy experience I expected. If this is unruly teenaged Seaguy, though, in contrast to the dreaming youngster of the first mini, then the jawbreaker analogy makes sense. Seaguy's more eager to break out of his environment, out of his own identity, trying to find his place-- but he grows up just enough to realize his place is the one he left, and he needs to go fix it. Aided, of course, by the spectre of a talking tuna. Hey man, that's comics.

I don't want to call this mini a disappointment, especially since I haven't read #3 yet, and especially since nothing could live up to my expectations, which were higher than for the Second Coming. It's not supposed to be like the first mini, of course, but I wish it invoked those feelings-- those feelings I had as a younger man, feelings I yearn to recapture. But isn't that what Seaguy's mission is all about here? I'm liking it more and more just thinking about it-- Seaguy has to rebel, he must, but not like the violent, f-bomb-dropping Threeguy-- no, he will find a better way. Perhaps.

This puppy's gonna sell a twentieth of Batman & Robin, at best. C'mon, comic readers. We can do better than that. Look at that lovely Cameron Stewart cartooning! Don't you want some of that?

Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba (Dark Horse)

And now it's all in perspective. This isn't just the "X-Men for cool people," as Grant Morrison has apparently called it, but "Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol for cool people," as Bill Reed puts it. It's filled with those ridiculous ideas, with that clinging family dysfunction that cast had, but the pieces, the mechanics, just fit better. The true secret of that day in Dallas in 1963 is revealed, a divide comes amongst the group again, and everything makes sense, a few lines of exposition bringing the whole plot together. This mini's been even better than the first one, which surprised me like a bolt of lightning indoors. I just want to grab all the issues and reread the whole series-- that comic from that dude who's in some band has become my favorite comic. Yes, the Ba art goes a long way-- my word, can that beautiful Brazilian draw the hell out of a comic-- but that story! I love this series. Roll on Book Three.

The Unwritten #1 by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)

DCBS was charging a measly quarter for this oversized promotional debut issue, so of course I bought it. Carey's underlying mythology of Tommy Taylor owes a helluva lot to Harry Potter, to the point where it starts to reach ripoff territory, but I'm assuming he's just relying on our engrained cultural awareness of that property to jump off onto new paths. I enjoyed the peeks into the various media outlets-- the book excerpts, the bits from the film, or from websites or television coverage-- but man, that world's insane if they've got Tommy Taylor cults popping up. It's as bad as those Twilight emo kids. Anyway. The story's engrossing enough to get me to pick up the eventual trade and Peter Gross' art is wonderful. I'd like to see more of these promo issues-- hopefully they're as good as this, in as handsome a package.

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