Trade paperbacks, older editions, and miscellaneous for November 2013

Yeah, I know it's December. That's just the way it is!

Planetoid by Ken Garing (writer/artist/letterer). $15.99, 159 pgs, FC, Image.

Planetoid is an interesting science fiction story that doesn't really break any new ground, but it's still solid entertainment. Garing introduces Silas, a pilot who crash lands on a small planet with a lot of mechanical wreckage. He finds out pretty soon that the planet emits some kind of electromagnetic radiation that keeps machinery from working, so any ship that comes into its orbit crashes on it. As the story unfolds, we find out that the humans on the planet are being used as resources by aliens who turn them into zombies, basically. They run things from a tower that reaches into space, past the electromagneticism, which allows spaceships to dock there for access to the rest of the universe. There are plenty of people on the rock, living in ragged, semi-civilized tribes, which allows Garing to do a science fiction story that also happens to be a Conan-the-barbarian-esque kind of thing, too. Silas meets Onica, a young woman who knows how to survive on the planet, and she explains how the tribes operate. Silas, being a Clint Eastwood loner type dude, strolls into a tribal situation and just shows he's the boss. Then the rebellion begins.

It's all fairly predictable, right down the epilogue (in which Garing reveals himself to be a anarchist socialist - won't someone think of the good American capitalist children!!!!!), but that doesn't mean it's not entertaining. It's a solid story, told well, and Garing does take his time with Silas showing the tribes how to function as more than beasts (there's a weird feeling of "white man's burden" to the proceedings - I doubt if it's intentional on Garing's part, but a white-haired white man coming down from the skies to teach the vaguely exotic-looking tribespeople about technology is fascinating nevertheless), which makes it feel more believable. Garing is as interested in the way this society gets set up as he is in the tribes fighting the aliens, so while the story trundles along to its predictable ending, it does have some interesting stops along the way. Garing's art is very nice, too. He gets the feel of a post-apocalyptic landscape down quite nicely, and Silas's early encounter with a strange mechanical beast is handled well, as are the later action scenes. The battle at the end is brutal, and Garing gives us a good sense of the struggles the humans have when fighting the aliens and their machines. It's a fully realized world, as Garing spends a lot of time with the details of the wrecked machinery, and he also does a nice job showing how the people of the world wear anything they can find in the mess. It's smart art, which helps the story feel more vital.

Planetoid is a cool little sci-fi comic, one that's fun to read and looks nice. I'm not sure if it's all that memorable, but it's not a waste of time or money. It's just entertaining, and that's cool.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

All Star Western volume 3: The Black Diamond Probability by Mike Atiyeh (colorist), Justin Gray (writer), Moritat (artist), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Phil Winslade (artist/colorist), and Rowena Yow (editor). $16.99, 151 pgs, FC, DC. Jonah Hex created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga. Amadeus Arkham created by Len Wein. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde created by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Volume 3 of All Star Western is the weakest one yet, although I'm not giving up on the title just because of that. Part of the problem is the editorially-mandated zero issue, which gives us a bland origin for Jonah Hex that, honestly, skips over the only interesting part: How did Jonah's dad go from a good man to a drunk wife-beater? In a few sentences, Palmiotti and Gray imply it's because of drought and drink, but it's annoying that Woodson Hex goes from a decent dude to a scumbag on a page turn. Anyway, then we get a promising tale that features Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde coming to Gotham. Someone stole Jekyll's formula for turning into Hyde and took it to the city, promising that it cures what ails you. Unfortunately, it turns them into murdering crazies without Hyde's, um, restraint. As it happens, the reason Hyde can control himself is because the formula needs an Eclipso black diamond to make it work perfectly. Palmiotti and Gray don't explain how the diamond is used (Hyde has it on a stopper on a bottle, from which the essence seeps into the formula?), but that's a neat twist. It doesn't make the book any more accessible to the casual reader (fuck the heck is that thing, I can hear discerning readers not well-versed in DC lore saying), but it's a pretty cool way to tie the book into the larger DC(n)U (it's far better than, I don't know, somehow bringing Hex into the present, but nobody would ever do something idiotic like that, would they?). Hex has to stop Hyde and rescue Amadeus Arkham, who gets a tiny little taste of the formula and becomes a raving madman. Finally, there's a Tomahawk story drawn by Phil Winslade. It's nice to look at, but it's a fairly clichéd "all white men are evil" story about the American frontier that has no concept of historical chronology.

The main story starts off promising, but it wraps up poorly, and it feels like it could have been longer. The set-up is done well, but then Hex gets seriously injured fighting Hyde and the story grinds to a halt as Hex spends the final issue-and-a-half sitting around convalescing at Arkham's manor and getting into spats with his hot nurse and yelling at Arkham's mother, who's upstairs. It's very odd, as is the way he finally defeats Hyde, which seems awfully easy. Meanwhile, Hyde has a big plan to turn Gotham into monsters like him (by poisoning the water supply, the favorite method of crazy people of all eras!), but it goes absolutely nowhere. It's very weird. Palmiotti and Gray obviously wanted to do a big story with Hyde and Arkham going a bit crazy, but why they cut it short is mystifying. I imagine if Justin Norman needed some time off because he couldn't keep up, they could have done a cliffhanger and inserted the Tomahawk story in the middle of the story - comics used to do that, and as annoying as it was, it at least helped the artist out - but it really does seem like this is the way they wanted the story to unfold. It's just odd.

Norman's art continues to be very nice, although the Barbary Ghost's outfit defies belief. He draws a good creepy clown and he does a nice job making Hyde not monstrous, just a larger, scarier dude than Jekyll. He and Atiyeh make the zero issue more interesting, as Atiyeh makes parts of the issue more nostalgic just by warming the colors while Hex's fight with the Indian at the end of the issue is really well choreographed. Norman's not always great with action (the fight in Chinatown features some odd panels), but he does a good job with this one.

I'm still keen to read All Star Western going forward, but I do hope Gray and Palmiotti can finish their stories stronger than they finish this one. We'll see, I guess.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Quantum and Woody! volume 1: The World’s Worst Superhero Team by James Asmus (writer), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tom Fowler (artist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), Jody LeHeup (editor), Alejandro Arbona (editor), and Warren Simons (executive editor). $9.99, 125 pgs, FC, Valiant.

For the first Q & W trade, Asmus gives us a fairly straight-forward origin story - a scientist is killed, and it turns out that he had a biological son - Eric Henderson - and a foster son - Woody - who want to find out what happened to him. The scientist - Derek Henderson - was working on some kind of top secret project dealing with energy, and when Eric and Woody investigate, they're caught in a COMIC BOOK SCIENCE!!!! explosion that gives them strange powers. They also both are wearing the bracelets you see on the cover, which means they have to stay near to each other, because if they separate, they start to degrade and only by tapping the bracelets together can they regenerate. Of course there's an evil cabal that wants the technology, and of course, because it's evil, it's linked to Thomas Edison (so help me God, if there's a benevolent secret society that's linked to Nikola Fucking Tesla in this comic, I will cut someone), and of course Eric and Woody get into a big fight with said cabal. It's a well-worn superhero story, in other words. There's nothing really wrong with it, of course, just that it's well-worn.

With these kinds of stories, it's always about the details, and Asmus and Fowler do a good job keeping the tone light even though some dark stuff happens (like Derek Henderson's murder, of course). Asmus introduces Eric and Woody as stereotypes - Eric is the straight-edged kind of guy who joined the Army and always tried to do what he thought his father would want, while Woody is the screw-up who drifts from one con to another and who always vexed his foster father. I don't know how close these characters are to the originals - I haven't read the original series - but that's what they are here. Then, of course, Asmus gradually introduces shades of character to them, so that by the end, if they're not exactly great characters, at least they're a bit more interesting. Nothing about the character arcs is particularly surprising, but it's still nice that Asmus introduces some nuance to the two.

Mostly, Asmus is having fun making Quantum (as Woody insists Eric call himself) and Woody's world as odd as possible, and he does a pretty good job with it. Despite the murder and the violence, he never takes things too seriously, even when we meet the horrific mastermind at the top of the cabal. The Nightmare Brigade, for instance, is an amalgam of the scariest things known to man, so they're a combination of spiders and clowns. It's silly, but still pretty creepy. When Woody gets captured by the E.R.A. (as the evil cabal is known), we get to see all sorts of weird and silly bad guys who are still capable of being very, very evil. And yes, there's the goat, which is a very funny sight gag. Asmus is good at jokes (not surprising), so where the dialogue really sparkles is when Woody and Eric are bickering, because then the jokes can come fast and furious. As long as Asmus can keep up the frenetic pace and the humor, it doesn't matter as much that the characters are clichés. The point of the book is to entertain and to make the reader laugh, and Asmus does that well.

It doesn't hurt to have Fowler drawing the book, because he's a very good artist. His cartooning style works very well for a lighter-hearted story, and the flexibility of his line means that he can do a very good job with facial expressions, which helps when the characters are so broad. Fowler is excellent at body language, too, so the flashbacks with Eric have a bit more resonance than Asmus's writing gives them. Of course, the action is great, as Fowler does a nice job keeping it light but still showing some nasty things going on. His designs for the Nightmare Brigade and the weird evil dudes in the secret lair are nice, too. I know Fowler isn't drawing the second arc, and that's too bad, but at least we get four issues with his work, because that's pretty keen.

The new iteration of Quantum and Woody! is off to a decent start - like a lot of Valiant books, it's entertaining without being particularly deep, but because it breaks out of Valiant's house style a bit more, it's better than most of them. I don't know if the second arc will be as good, but that's something to worry about later!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Spider volume 2: The Businessman from Hell! by Vinicius Andrade (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), Antonio Lima (inker), David Liss (writer), Alexandre Palomaro (inker), Ivan Rodriguez (artist), and Raul Sidharta (colorist). $19.99, 132 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment. The Spider created by Harry Steeger.

I have no idea why this volume is called "The Businessman from Hell!" (exclamation point = necessary!!!!). Is Richard Wentworth, alias the Spider, the titular businessman? It seems like he is, but I don't know. The volume contains three different stories, none of which involve a businessman arriving from Tartarus to claim souls or possibly mortgages. Wentworth actually does get involved in his father's business, so I guess the Spider is, indeed, the businessman from Hell. It's still a terrible title.

Anyway, I didn't love the first volume of The Spider, but it was okay, enough that I wanted to read the second volume. I kind of feel the same way about this second volume, although I'm probably not going to get the third. It's entertaining enough, but Liss can't keep away from awful, awful clichés, and the art is just serviceable. It's too bad - Liss has some intriguing notions about Wentworth getting exposed as the Spider, but he doesn't tell the story in any way that makes sense. In the first issue, Commissioner Kirkpatrick, Wentworth's best friend, is apparently killed (he gets better). Kirkpatrick is married to Nita, who really loves Wentworth (a love that is reciprocated). The night her husband dies, she hangs out with her friend Richard - and they promptly have sex. I mean, really, Richard and Nita. You can't keep your clothes on until the husband is in the ground? So of course, the next day, it turns out he's not really dead, so there's that hanging over them. Later, a bad guy gets Nita to confess on video that she loves Richard. The Spider busts in and takes everyone down, but he forgets to find the phone with the recording on it? Really? We never actually find out what happens to the phone, but I can't believe it's not going to show up at some point and cause trouble.

The three stories - there's a weird serial killer who gets his just desserts, but he's just a sidebar to the Richard-Nita banging; a group targeting Richard's business and trying to assemble a dirty bomb, while at the same time a hypnotist is trying to get Nita to kill Kirkpatrick; a new villain called the Fly teams up with another villain called the Lawgiver to wreak havoc - aren't terrible, and in fact, Liss gets some credit for showing how ineffective the Spider can be, as he only stops about half of the bad things from happening. For every victim he saves, there's the bad guys getting away with the plans for the bomb. It's not a bad tack to take - yes, we expect heroes to be superheroic, but sometimes, things just don't go your way. The Fly is an interesting villain, and while the Lawgiver is kind of obvious, he's not bad either. But the actual writing is trying so hard to be pulpy that it degenerates into laughability. The character work - which ought, in any genre comic, be the thing that raises it above everything else - is just not that good. The main characters are all dull clichés, so anything they talk about is dull as well.

Rodriguez isn't a great artist, but he doesn't do anything terrible. The only thing I can really say about the art is that it doesn't hinder the story in any way. Yay?

I was curious about this volume after the first one, and even though this ends on a cliffhanger, I doubt that I'll get the next one. Maybe I'll dive in, but I'm just not that jazzed by The Spider. Too bad - I would really like to like this. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Joe Kubert Presents by Pete Carlsson (writer/letterer), Brian Buniak (writer/artist), Sam Glanzman (writer/artist), Henrik Jonsson (artist), Adam Kubert (letterer), Joe Kubert (writer/artist), Paul Levitz (writer), Joe Panico (colorist), Brandon Vietti (writer/artist), Jason Wright (colorist), and Scott Nybakken (editor). $19.99, 304 pgs, FC, DC. Hawkman and Hawkwoman created by Gardner Fox and Joe Kubert. Sergeant Rock created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert. Angel and the Ape created by E. Nelson Bridwell.

As I've often mentioned, DC does trade paperbacks really well, at least in terms of value. This is 300 pages of comics for 20 dollars, at a time when Marvel is releasing 4-issue trades for 16 dollars, which is a crock. Plus, this is printed on old-school paper stock, so it't not glossy and it holds the coloring better. This is about as old-school a comic as you can get, and it's very cool.

As you might know, this is basically DC telling Joe Kubert, "Hey, you're old and freakin' brilliant - how'd you like to do a six-issue mini-series about whatever the hell you want?" Kubert wanted to give Buniak and Glanzman some exposure, so he enlisted them to do some work, and he filled in the rest. I assume Kubert either died or was too sick to finish it, because the final issue features some art by others, but for the most part, this is Kubert's, Glanzman's, and Buniak's show. Kubert gives us a Hawkman story, a Sergeant Rock story, and a story starring the Redeemer, a character he created in the early 1980s but never got around to using. He also does a running story about a boy who ends up on a whaler in the 1850s, which allows him to indulge his love of whaling during the 1850s. Glanzman, who was a seaman on a destroyer during World War II, tells stories about that, which is pretty interesting. Buniak does a nice job with Angel and the Ape, as he has a nice cartoony style and a good sense of humor. All the stories are really dense, too, which makes the reading experience more fulfilling.

Really, this is a chance to see Kubert drawing some of his classic characters, which is fun, and also to see him to his rougher pencil-and-gouache work that he was doing more in his old age, which is also absolutely beautiful. It's nice to see the work from Glanzman and Buniak, but this is Kubert's show. You know you want to see more of Kubert's work!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

X-Men Legacy volume 3: Revenants by Paul Davidson (artist), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Tan Eng Huat (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Cory Petit (letterer), Khoi Pham (artist), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Simon Spurrier (writer), José Villarrubia (colorist), Craig Yeung (inker), Jennifer M. Smith (assistant editor), Xander Jarowey (assistant editor), and Daniel Ketchum (editor). $15.99, 120 pgs, FC, Marvel. David Haller created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. Blindfold created by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. Pete Wisdom created by Warren Ellis and Ken Lashley. Chamber created by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo. Pixie created by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Michael Ryan. Liam Connaughton created by Karl Bollers and Salgood Sam. Psylocke created by Chris Claremont and Herb Trimpe. Lila Cheney created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod. Alchemy created by Paul Betsow. Gabrielle Haller and Magik created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum. Cyclops and Magneto created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Emma Frost created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Tempus and Triage created by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen.

I guess there are some SPOILERS, but I'll try to keep it vague.

I've been liking X-Men Legacy quite a bit, but this trade is a bit of a letdown. Spurrier still does a nice job with the characters, as he has their voices down well, and it's always nice to see oddball characters like Lila Cheney (although, hilariously, she never takes her guitar off, even when she's sitting down), but while I still appreciate that David is being proactive, it feels like Spurrier has gone about as far as he can with it. I know the series is ending, so why Spurrier can't do some different things I don't know, but in this trade, both stories hang upon David's ability to warp reality and the fact that nobody trusts him, things he uses to his advantage. Spurrier does turn that against him a bit at the end, but he's still going to that well a bit too much. I forgave it in the first arc, but then when it happened in the second story, I thought, "Come on, really?" The end of the book seems to signal a pretty significant shift in the status quo, but it still doesn't forgive the similarities of the stories.

Plus, Spurrier kills off a character. I absolutely hate it when writers kill characters, especially when they didn't create said characters. First of all, as we know, it probably won't stick. Second, it's not your character. Third, it's lazy. The death is specifically designed to make us feel bad, and it serves no other purpose. I hated it, and it made me annoyed with almost the entire trade.

As usual, Marvel's policy of releasing issues of their series every four days means that we get three different artists, and while Huat is still doing stunning work and Davidson is quite good, Pham's work is pretty bad. I have seen Pham do good work, but recently, he's been not very good at all. His work here is mushy and ugly - the figures look doughy, the lines are dull, and the details are terrible. I don't know what it is about Pham - maybe he needs a better inker (not him, in other words) or a better colorist. The art goes right downhill the minute Pham comes on board. It's too bad.

I'll still get the next trade, because Spurrier is a good writer and I know he's wrapping things up. I do wish this trade was better, though.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Marada the She-Wolf by John Bolton (artist), Chris Claremont (writer), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), Rare Repro (artwork scans), Tim Scrivens (artwork restorer), and Steve White (editor). $24.99, 111 pgs, FC, Titan Comics.

Marada is the creator-owned story that ran in Epic Illustrated in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, it never got finished, as Claremont leaves us in the middle of Marada's journey to return an orphan to her family, but that's the way life is. This has been nicely restored, and I imagine the art is a bit bigger than it was originally published, which is keen. Seeing Bolton's art nice and big and printed on nice glossy paper (I know I mentioned the paper in the review above and implied I don't like glossy paper, but it's really a matter of which better suits the art, and the glossy paper suits this very well).

Bolton really does nice work on this book. He does a wonderful job bringing the time period - around the time of Jesus's birth - to vivid life (there are some things that seem anachronistic, but it's not too realistic, of course), and the characters, while idealized, are really well done. Bolton gets to draw ugly demons and gruesome old wizards, and he rises to that well. The action scenes are tremendous, as Bolton makes sure that the stakes really do seem high, as the characters do get injured quite a lot. The painting is amazing, especially in the early stories, as in the final story ("Wizard's Masque"), the paint seems a bit rougher - it's not bad, but it is a bit different from the earlier stories. The art is a big reason to get this book.

Claremont is, well, Claremont. If you wonder if a character calls another one "poppet," well, you've read a Claremont comic before. The prose is typically turgid, and there's a demon raping Marada, and there are lots of good female characters (Marada, Arianrhod, Ashake, among others). Marada is a Strong Female Character™, and she starts to fall in love with a dude who is then killed, and his daughter is snatched away by a wizard who uses her as bait for Marada. Once she rescues Arianrhod, the two of them have to get back to Britain, where Arianrhod lives, and they have adventures on the way home. Claremont's prose might be painful (and, as Orzechowski letters this, if you ignore the artwork, you can occasionally imagine you're reading Uncanny X-Men), but one thing he can do is plot the hell out of books, and this is an exciting book. Claremont keeps everything zipping along, and he knows when to slow things down just enough to get some character development before throwing the characters back into the fray. It's too bad the book ends in the middle of the epic, but for what we get, it's an exciting sword-and-sorcery comic with wonderful artwork.

As usual with hardcovers, especially hardcovers of old material that is probably available elsewhere, this is the slightest bit spendy. However, it's one of those comics that's nice to have, and if you're going to have it, it's nice that Titan did such a superb job "remastering" it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Star Wars: Legacy Volume II Book 1: Prisoner of the Floating World by Corinna Bechko (writer), Gabriel Hardman (writer/artist), Michael Heisler (letterer), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Freddye Lins (assistant editor), and Randy Stradley (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, Dark Horse. Star Wars created by George Lucas.

I buy Star Wars comics based on the creative teams, with the John Ostrander ones usually the ones I stick to. Bechko and Hardman have been making good comics for a while, however, so I decided to check this one out. I haven't checked to see if Hardman is still drawing this comic, because while he and Bechko are solid writers, Hardman's art is very good, and it helps make the stories better (hey, that's how comics should work!). This is an intriguing story, but it's better because the art is so good.

The Star Wars comics I like tend to use the backdrop of the science fiction stuff to tell more intimate stories that are more espionage-y. I like espionage stories, of course, and because of the grand spectacle of so many planets and so many creatures, it's easy to tell twisty spy stories. "Prisoner of the Floating World" is not really a spy story, but it does feature elements of subterfuge and espionage, so it's fun to read. The main character is Ania Solo, who's living on a backwater world and working as a junk dealer with her friend Sauk (who's a Mon Cal). She has no idea about her lineage, but presumably over the course of the series, she'll learn a bit more about it. Meanwhile, the new galactic government - a triumvirate of Galactic Alliance, Jedis, and Imperials - is trying to build a communications array in the system, and they send a Jedi to oversee it. That Jedi gets kidnapped, though, and his replacement goes around sabotaging things. When another Jedi investigates, he meets up with Ania, who happened to find the kidnapped Jedi's light saber. Then it's on!

Bechko and Hardman do a good job setting everything up, as they zip back and forth to the various characters and slowly draw them together pretty skillfully. It's an exciting story, and the writers give us plenty of chases and fights, while they do a nice job contrasting Ania and Sauk's life with the bigger political reality. They also do a good job showing the fragility of the new government, as the rogue bad guy is able to use the reputation of the Jedi and the distance from a weak government to his advantage. Ania is a typical Strong Female Character™, but that's not the worst thing to be, and her journey, I imagine, will be the interesting thing in the comic. The biggest problem with the trade is that it's very much an ongoing, so very little is actually resolved. Such is life, I guess.

Hardman's art is always nice to see, and for a story that takes place on the fringes of the galaxy, it works very well. His grungy style fits the junk yard where Ania lives and the "floating world," which is just a dirty rock. AG-37, the big droid who helps Ania and Sauk, is beat up and draped in dirty clothes, and the chases are often through dark tunnels, which is perfect for Hardman. This comic is a bit bloodier than some of the other Star Wars comics I've read, as Hardman doesn't shy away from a bit more brutal violence than usual in this universe (not too bloody, but a bit). His space stuff isn't quite as good, but it's not too big a deal.

I'm not that interested in the main Star Wars title, but I like a lot of the ancillary stuff Dark Horse does. How long until Marvel takes over the license? I'm not sure, but Dark Horse does some nice work on the universe, and this is just another example of it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Green Arrow volume 1: Hunters Moon by John Costanza (letterer), Dick Giordano (inker), Mike Grell (writer), Ed Hannigan (penciller), Julia Lacquement (colorist), Frank McLaughlin (inker), and Rowena Yow (editor). $14.99, 144 pgs, FC, DC. Green Arrow created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp. Black Canary created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

I hope this trade sells well - it would be nice if DC collected all of Grell's run, because then I wouldn't have to buy it in single issues! This is a pretty good comic - Grell tells short, tough stories, three in this trade alone - and Hannigan is a good artist for the book, as it almost seems like Grell might have laid the book out and Hannigan penciled over that (he might have; Grell is, of course, a good artist). The first story is about a convicted rapist who gets out of jail after 18 years and is granted a retrial. The one survivor just happens to be the therapist treating Dinah after the torture she suffered in The Longbow Hunters (nice coincidence there), so of course Oliver gets involved. Grell doesn't even consider the possibility that the dude is innocent - the book is more about how they can prove he's sneaking out of his house (which is closely watched by the police) to finish what he started. In the second story, Oliver is recruited to find a virus that was being developed in space but fell to Earth in the San Juan Islands northwest of Seattle. He ends up facing off against Eddie Fyers, the dude he battled in The Longbow Hunters, in the middle of a snowstorm. In the final story, he investigates the assault of two gay men and discovers that it's an initiation ritual for a gang, but it might not have the sanction of the gang leader. The stories are good, and Grell puts Oliver in interesting situations where he has to use his "superhero" skills but also has to deal with things his arrows can't solve. Dinah's issue, of course, is paramount in this trade, as she tries to work through what happened to her. In the third story, Grell not only delves a bit into gay-bashing, but Oliver has to navigate the gang's politics without using his arrows. Obviously, comics were denser back in the late 1980s, but it's also fairly obvious that they had more pages - the 24 pages an issue of these comics really does make it seem like Grell can spend more time on, say, Dinah and Oliver's love life. If this book came out today, would that stuff have been excised because there's no room?

Hannigan, as I noted, seems to either be working from Grell's layouts or he's deliberately laying out the page in a similar manner as Grell did in The Longbow Hunters. He uses a lot of panels, and he does a good job keeping everything clear. This was when DC was making a bit of an attempt at "realism," so Oliver moved to Seattle, and Hannigan does nice work using the setting nicely. Hannigan isn't flashy, but he gets the job done. I don't love the fact that Lacquement colors Kira, the one Indian in the book, bright red, but that's how things were done back then. Interestingly enough, in the final story, the art looks a bit crisper. Hannigan, Giordano, and McLaughlin are still credited, so I'm not sure what the deal is, but it's kind of weird, because it looks quite a bit different. Maybe Hannigan was just laying things out and the "inkers" were finishing more?

I don't love this trade, but Grell writes some good stories, and Hannigan provides good art. There's nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 by H. W. Brands. 614 pgs, Doubleday, 2010.

Brands's book is a very comprehensive look at American society in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He views it through an economic lens, which isn't surprising given the name of the book, but it's far more far-reaching than you might expect. In the first section, he concentrates on the rise of the great capitalists - John Pierpont Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and others - and how they transformed the agrarian economy of early America. He does a good job explaining some of the more complex things in capitalism - Gould's attempt to corner the gold market in 1869 is fascinating - and how and why the society was transformed. That's not all he does, though. Brands examines the way the North changed the South after the Civil War, how capitalists went into the Plains and conquered it with the railroad, and the efforts to bring water to the Southwest, something we're still worrying about. He gets into immigration and how that, too, helped the capitalists, and he gets into the Gilded Age politics post-Grant, beginning with the compromise of 1876 that ended Reconstruction and helped split the Republican Party into the group that wanted still to be a civil rights-focused party and the group that wanted to be friendlier to business (guess which side won). Finally, Brands looks more closely at the 1890s, the exemplary decade of the capitalist revolution, when southern businessmen fought back against blacks and instituted Jim Crow laws, the Democrats fought against a gold standard for the currency and became as radical a political party as we've ever had in this country, the United States became an imperial power, taking over Hawaii because a bunch of capitalists wanted to, and J. P. Morgan single-handedly saved the Cleveland Administration from bankruptcy. The country has rarely slowed the engine of capitalism since.

Brands doesn't judge in the book - it's not a polemic. He notes that the standard of living in the States was far greater in 1900 than it had been in 1850, and while the capitalists created monopolies to stifle a free market so they would become richer and richer, the presence of unions meant that workers were still able to get some concessions from the owners. It's interesting to note that the swells in the economy were much more pronounced - the depression of 1893 was extremely serious, and the panic of 1873 was pretty awful, too - but the capitalists were able to keep regulation from going through to flatten everything out. What this meant was that the workers suffered quite a bit when the depressions hit, but Brands makes almost a side point that when the economy improved, the owners tended to share the largesse a bit more with the workers. Obviously, they didn't shower the workers with money, but when you think about today, where the economy is improving but wages are flat because the owners just take more for themselves, it's an interesting contrast. Brands does a good job showing both the good and the bad of the capitalist revolution. He also uses a lot of anecdotes about individuals, from the great owners to immigrants like Jacob Riis and ex-slaves like Frederick Douglass. It helps make the book more accessible - it's quite dense, but it's never boring because Brands can bring in stories of backroom dealings for the presidency or the travails of John Wesley Powell as he navigated the Colorado River or the way William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic National Convention. It's a smart move, because the book is packed with information, and it would get excessive if Brands didn't manage to make it lively.

The one thing that bugged the crap out of me with regard to the writing is that Brands uses "till" all the time when he means "until." I couldn't believe it the first time I saw it, because this is a book by an experienced author published by a reputable company. He keeps doing it, though, throughout the book. It drove me insane. Just like Dieter on "Sprockets."

This is my favorite era of American history, so I might be a bit biased that I got to read such an all-encompassing history of the time, but Brands really does a nice job with the period. The book is fascinating, full of personalities, and extremely comprehensive. As with a lot of books about the economy in the U.S., it's very interesting to read about a time in American history that many, many people today want to return to. It gives me the chills, I tells ya!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

This is a bit late, and I haven't gotten to Previews yet (I know Travis will be upset about that!), as this weekend has been pretty busy. There's been some good football on this weekend, as Penn State went into Wisconsin as a 24-point underdog and beat the Badgers, Auburn ripped the guts out of slimy Nick Saban (I'd say they ripped his heart out, but I don't think he has one) in one of the most improbable endings of a game ever, and today I actually got to watch the Eagles play, even though they tried to give the game away. I hope you'll forgive me for my tardiness!

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