What I bought - 1 July 2009

Man, I love the new blog format! Although I guess only Brad and I are MAN enough to use the tags. Come on, my fellow bloggers, tag it up!

Agents of Atlas #7 ("Secrets of the Deep Part Two" and "Mr. Lao is Sleeping") by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist, "Secrets"), Jana Schirmer (colorist, "Secrets"), Nate Piekos (letterer, "Secrets"), Carlo Pagulayan (penciler, "Mr. Lao"), Jason Paz (inker, "Mr. Lao"), Elizabeth Dismang (colorist, "Mr. Lao"), and Tom Orzechowski (letterer, "Mr. Lao"). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

So, in the second story contained in this issue, a dragon fights a genie. A DRAGON FIGHTS A GENIE!!!! Do I really need to go into more detail?

Oh, I guess I do. Well, the Namor/Namora romance is dealt with so that no one can point at Marvel and say, "Hey, they support incest!"1 It was kind of a haphazard kind of mess, that first story, as the principals kind of wander around by a giant sea anenome that looks like a flower but is far deadlier than everyone (well, almost everyone) suspects until Bob figures it all out and everyone goes home. It's definitely not bad, but it feels kind of like Parker thought it would be cool to show Namor mackin' on Namora but wasn't sure how to extricate himself from that untenable situation. (I doubt if that's the case, as I'm sure Parker plotted the whole thing out long before issue #6 saw print, but it just feels like he wasn't sure how to get out of it.) It's notable for the subplot with Derek Khanata that continues to bubble as well as Hardman's fantastic art, as he really does a wonderful job with the underwater scenes. I'll get back to the coloring, which has been a bugbear2 of mine since the title began.

The second story is the secret history of Mr. Lao, Jimmy Woo's dragon friend, as "told" to Temugin through a psychic link. And yes, he fights a genie ... and loses. So sad, Mr. Lao! It's a fun story that apparently leads into more secret history, and it's gorgeously illustrated by Pagulayan and Paz, which might sound odd given that I've been critical of that team since the title began. But you'll notice who's coloring the stories. Hardman's art is colored by Jana Schirmer, while Pagulayan's is colored by Elizabeth Dismang (who was recently featured right here on the blog, where you can see some of the pages from this issue). I don't mean to pick on Schirmer, but I just haven't liked her work on this book, as she seems to soften Pagulayan's lines far too much and, although Hardman's work resists that a bit, his work is a bit softer than it has been when Dismang (or should we call her Breitweiser?) colors it. Pagulayan's lines are much stronger in his section, and I have to assume that's due to Dismang's influence. This title has been fascinating when it comes to the influence that colorists can have on the art. I mean, I've known for years how much influence inkers and colorists have on the pencils, but this series is a fine example of that. I don't doubt that Schirmer is quite good (check out her DeviantArt site if you don't believe me), but I don't like the style she employs with the artists on this series.

Anyway, A DRAGON FIGHTS A GENIE!!!!!! And the recap page is quite awesome, as many of Marvel's are. I'd rather read the recap page than see yet another alien get shot through the head. You know which book I'm talking about!

Finally, Mark Paniccia edits both this and The Incredible Hercules. In a comics universe where it seems editors do, well, dick, Paniccia is editing two of Marvel's best books right now and throwing in footnotes when he gets the chance. I don't think it's coincidence. I'd just like to give a shout-out to Paniccia, because I rag on editors quite a bit.

1 I don't know what the big deal with incest is. Okay, I do know what the big deal with incest is, but it's not like royalty for centuries haven't married cousins and whatnot. I mean, how closely related are Namor and Namora, anyway? It's not like they're fraternal twins or anything. Sheesh.2 "Bugbear" is a weird word. I don't know if I've ever used it before, either in speech or writing. Look at you, good readers - in on the ground floor of me using a word!

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #3 (of 4) ("Into the Abyss Part Three of Four: Deep Cover") by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent E. Anderson (artist), John Roshell (letterer), and Alex Sinclair (colorist). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I'm sure this has been pointed out before, possibly even by me, but one of the nice things about Astro City is how Busiek writes superpower encounters. He not only writes them from a bystander's point of view, which helps the reader get into it even more than usual, but because he is writing from this viewpoint, his superpowered fights are often disjointed, as we never see it all because the bystander is always ducking for cover and whatnot. In this issue, we actually get a bit more than we're used to getting, but it's interesting that the climactic moment, when Charles and Royal confront their parents' killer, is interrupted by superpowered beings, and Busiek does a nice job implying that this sort of thing is just a fact of life in Astro City - as he has often done in the past. Just because he's done it before doesn't mean it's not effective, and it's always interesting to see how Busiek comes up with all these characters with fascinating powers and basically uses them as a backdrop.

And we get some more interesting facts about the Silver Agent, which is kind of neat. Busiek is always cognizant of the world he's created, and I wonder how many charts and graphs and timelines and genealogies he has lying around to keep track of all this stuff (or maybe he's just a super-genius). As good as this book is in single issues, the pleasure lies in the entire epic, and it's always keen to re-read these (even though I don't always have the time). Yes, the saga of Charles and Royal is interesting, but it's interesting on more than one level - we have the human drama, but it also fills in a bunch of gaps in the history of this universe, and it's fun to read that part of it. And the Incarnate is pretty keen, even if I'm not sure how scary someone named Egron the Sifter could have been. Look out - he has a sieve!

Atomika: God is Red #9 (of 12) ("Test") by Andrew Dabb (writer), Sal Abbinanti (artist), Simone Peruzzi (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Mercury Comics.

I really can't stress how uniquely wonderful this book is, because it's hard to do that in a world where so many different and cool comics exist. When issue #8 came out two weeks ago, The Dude wrote that it reminds him of Miracleman, and that's not as crazy as comparison as you might think. It's epic storytelling, the kind we get occasionally on something like Thor, except that Dabb and Abbinanti have, yes, gone to 11 on this book, and they've never turned it down yet. Even the "quiet" moments, such as early in this issue, when Atomika is reunited with his son Chernobyl, is impressive because of Abbinanti's art, which remains a blend of fantasy and Soviet-style propaganda that hits you right between the eyes. Yes, his thighs are gigantic, but these are gods we're talking about, people! They ought to have gigantic thighs, oughtn't they?

Of course, Dabb and Abbinanti continue to throw all sorts of insane concepts into the book, such as Chernobyl testing himself by opening the gates of hell and fighting all the demons contained within. The battle is visualized brilliantly enough, but Dabb keeps up with the purplest of prose, which still fits the bombast perfectly, and when Chernobyl does what he does to defeat the demons, Atomika's narration is pretentious in the best way possible, in that describing what Chernobyl does almost goes beyond words, and Atomika is just trying to keep up. Dabb does a fine job in the smaller moments, too, giving us a glimpse into Atomika's mind when he first sees his son after long decades apart and setting up the final act of this story on the final few pages. The machinations behind the scene are good enough, but it's Atomika's "humanity" - for lack of a better word, as he's a god - that helps ground the insanity and make this such a great book. In a comic book landscape littered with tinpot dictators who don't really earn their exaggerated speech, Atomika does, and it's fun to follow him through the years.

Come on - put down that book with whiny Hal and worshipful Oliver going off to make out (let's hope) and give this a chance! You know you want to!

Batman and Robin #2 ("Batman Reborn Part Two: The Circus of Strange") by Grant "It's nothing like 'Prodigal'! Shut up!" Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, DC.

You know what's funny about Dick Grayson desperately trying to get Damian to listen to him? In a weird way, it's the same as Morrison and the other Bat-writers trying desperately to get the readers to listen to them: "Damian's really cool, you'll see! Dick can be Batman, you'll see! Hey, where are you going? Put that copy of Reborn down! Come on, what kind of lame explanation is that? We're DC, man! Didn't you love Dark Knight?" It's quite humorous. Or maybe I just see it that way.

Anyway, as much as the current regime would like us to forget it, I just can't get "Prodigal" out of my mind. I guess that was never meant to be permanent while this change surely is (wink, wink), but Dick's woe-is-me attitude in this book doesn't ring true because he's already replaced Batman once. Gordon and the cops sussing out that something is wrong doesn't ring true either, because Gordon already knows that others have taken up the Batman role, and he wasn't too jazzed the first time it happened. Morrison's writing isn't bad when Dick is speaking to Alfred about how sucky it is that Gordon just won't respect him (wah!), but it's just odd because Dick knows what replacing Bruce is like, and he should have gotten this out of his system long ago. It points out the fatal flaw with both "Prodigal" and "Batman: Reborn" - there's no reason why Batman is necessary. Nightwing can patrol the streets of Gotham as easily as Batman can, and while he might not have the same relationship with the cops or the same effect on punks, leading to a spike in crime initially, once he beats the snot out of some of them, he'll be established and everything can return to normal. Pretending to be Batman just makes people question you, as Gordon and the cops do, and as Damian does. Damian respected the man inside the suit, not the suit itself. Why should he respect Dick?

Anyway, the Circus of Strange part is still the best part of the book, and Quitely does a marvelous job with the fight in the police station. But, at the risk of opening myself up to ridicule from those smarter than I am who claim that if you don't understand every single thing in a Morrison/Quitely production you're basically a moron, what's going on in the last panel of the book? In the penultimate panel, Damian is getting overwhelmed by the freaky red-haired things, and the pig dude walks around the corner of the carousel (yes, I know a carousel is a circle, but he's coming around the corner of it anyway!) and watches as Damian gets overwhelmed. In the next panel, he continues with his eeeeevil monologue, implying that the final panel is happening simultaneously and, somewhat, in the same place. But I don't think it is taking place at the abandoned circus. It seems clear that this is Pig's "big plan" - have those red-haired dolls detonate bombs all over the place, and it appears that's what's happening here, as we see (I think) innocent bystanders caught in the blast of one of them. Is that what's happening? If so, boo. Have we heard anything about his big plan? Did I miss it in B & R #1, because there's nothing in this issue that points to this conclusion. I know that G-Mozz is all about making us do some leg work, but wouldn't a panel or two of the red-haired things assembling throughout the city been a nice bone to throw to us stupid readers? When you have red-haired things overwhelming Damian in one panel and in the very next one we see more red-haired things, we instantly connect that they are in the same place unless we have something to indicate they're not. That's not being stupid, that's the nature of reading a sequential narrative. If Morrison wants to get all Mark Danielewski or Milorad Pavic or James Joyce on us, he should get better at it.

Anyway, this is better than "Prodigal," I suppose. Boy, is that damning with faint praise. Oh, I'm just joking - I like it quite a bit. It's just that, as usual, I hold people like the God of All Comics to a higher standard than I do almost everyone else, so he tends to bug me more. It's still a gorgeous book, and overall, it features the kind of weird villains I like seeing "Batman" fighting.

And does Lucius know Batman's secret identity or not?

Chew #2 ("Taster's Choice Part 2 of 5") by John Layman (writer/letterer) and Rob Guillory (artist/colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Layman is still feeling this series out, so we get a few superfluous pages of Tony Chu arguing with his stereotypically assholish boss, but otherwise, he's just putting Tony through his paces on this first case. He introduces a love interest who probably isn't what she seems, gives us more about the main case and its connection to the chicken ban, and a bit more background about Mason Savoy, Tony himself, and the mysterious villain behind everything. It's certainly still a fun comic to read (well, "fun" being relative, as Tony does eat a human finger), but that's not why it's worth a look. It's worth a look for Guillory's art.

Yes, it's cartoonish, but so what? Guillory manages to mitigate the confrontation between Tony and his assholish boss with body language and facial expressions, showing just how assholish the boss is without Layman having to do anything, really. When Tony snaps and throws a punch at said boss, Guillory does a wonderful job showing how fast a big dude like Mason Savoy can move. The love interest (who appears to be some kind of food critic, but we don't actually meet her, so I guess we'll find out) gets a wonderful reaction shot to a hamburger into which she bites, while Daniel, the fast food worker who found a finger on a burger, goes from snotty to desperate beautifully (why he goes through this range of emotions is a highlight of the book). Then, when Savoy gets in a fight against Yakuza, Guillory really takes off, as the battle is choreographed as wonderfully as Quitely's is in Batman and Robin (their styles are completely different, of course, and Quitely takes more chances with his panel layouts, but in terms of choreography, they're similar). I still don't know how Layman will be able to keep this series going, but I hope he grows into the writing more, because his artistic partner is firing on all cylinders. It's not a badly-written book, but it gets a big boost from the art. And that, plus the strangeness of the concept, is good enough for right now. We'll see after the first story arc if it is.

Elephantmen #20 ("Star Bright") by Richard Starkings (writer) and Marian Churchland (artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

As always, this review is a bit late because I was waiting to receive it in the mail. Mad props to Richard Starkings for sending it out to me. (Can a 38-year-old white man get away with using "mad props"? Such are the sociological conundra I pose here at the blog, folk!) It came out two weeks ago, but you might have missed it!

It's fascinating to consider how long Starkings has been working on this concept, as you look at the cover and realize it's signed "Ladrönn 2000." Starkings has just been sitting on the drawing, waiting to use it as a cover! Luckily, this issue focuses on Vanity and her relationship with Hip. Funny how that works out, doesn't it?

This is yet another quiet issue, as Vanity and Hip head out to the sticks to visit the only friend of a man killed back in issue #9. Hip tells Vanity it's agency policy to offer condolences in the cases of deaths in the line of duty, so that's why he's hanging out in a diner in the middle of nowhere. (As an aside: you rarely see the singular version of "condolences." I wonder why not?) He brought Vanity along to ease her into field work. That's the set-up, but in Starkings's hands, it becomes much more. When he brings up why they're there, he mentions it's also part of his rehabilitation. Vanity is curious about that, and we're reminded that Hip, as well as his elephantmen brethren, were killers back in the day, but before he can bring that up to Vanity, she's off on another topic, reminding us how flighty she can be. There's the usual prejudice against elephantmen, Vanity kicks some ass, and overall, it's a fine issue that once again examines the world of the 23rd century and how it's both very different and very similar to ours. It's also an insightful look into Vanity's relationship with Hip and how "normal" it is despite the obvious obstacles. Starkings has gotten better at writing this kind of issue, where things unsaid are as important as things said, and it continues to give the book more depth than it did when it started. Early on, the science fiction was more front and center, but as it's gone along, Starkings has gotten better at the social commentary, which has become a bit more subtle.

As with the last two issues, Churchland is a good choice for this kind of story. I'm not sure if she could do as good a job with the "hard" sci-fi parts of the book, but with these stories that have focused more on the "human" parts of the book, she's done a very good job. Starkings has taken the story out of the brooding city and into the country, and Churchland's soft watercolor look suits that very well. Her Vanity, interestingly, is a bit more innocent than Moritat's or Ladrönn's, which is interesting for this issue, as she shows herself to be a bit more vulnerable than we've seen her before (granted, she still kicks some dude's ass, but other than that). It's a nice contrast to the other artists who have worked on the book.

This book is definitely worth the time I have to wait for it. Of course, the free-ness of it factors in, too, but as I've said before, I'd be buying this even if Starkings cuts me off tomorrow! But I hope he won't.

Greek Street #1 ("Blood Calls for Blood Part One: The Monster of Greek Street") by Peter Milligan (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Patricia Mulvihill (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $1.00, 32 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Vertigo continues the category of "Why on earth wouldn't you buy this," as we get the first issue of Greek Street, which has 32 pages of story for one thin dollar, 100 meager pennies! And hey! naked chicks on the first page! Gold!

The conceit of this book, in case you didn't know, is that Greek characters from myths are still (or again?) living in London and doing the same old nasty stuff to each other. It's an idea with a lot of potential, and Milligan is twisted enough to pull it off. The main character, Eddie, gets involved in a gang feud and, if you know anything about Oedipus ... well, he fulfills some of that prophecy, too (ewwwww). Then there's a murder that a police officer named Dedalus is looking into, the aforementioned gang feud, and something odd going on in a house somewhere. Frankly, this issue is kind of a mess, as Milligan simply chucks what appears to be every plot thread into this and just hopes we can keep up. It revolves around Eddie, of course, but it's still a mess.

But guess what? Gianfelice, whose art isn't as rough as it was on the first arc of Northlanders, draws it all nicely, even almost giving us male genitalia (but doesn't, as even though this is a Vertigo book, we still can't have that, can we? we might all go gay, right?). It's a horribly creepy book, and Gianfelice does a great job with it, especially the ending, which made me and ought to make you cringe. And despite the mess, it's really compelling. Milligan does a fine job creating a bunch of characters and giving them interesting personalities. There's a ton in this book, and unlike the most recent Vertigo #1, The Unwritten, it doesn't have a straightforward plot - Milligan just throws us in and commands us to swim! And why wouldn't I? And why wouldn't you pick up issue #1? Maybe it's just wacky enough to lure you in!

Mr. Stuffins #3 (of 3) by Andrew Cosby (writer), Johanna Stokes (writer), Axel Medellin Machain (artist), Andres Lozano (colorist), Daniela Fiore (colorist), and Johnny Lowe (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

This series ends as predictably as you might expect, but Cosby and Stokes still have a lot of fun with it, from Mr. Stuffins acting like Rambo to Zack acting like, well, Rambo. Like a lot of Boom! books, it seems like it might have benefitted from (possibly) one more issue, but perhaps that would have been taking the conceit a bit too far. I guess it's fine as a three-issue series. The problem is that this comic is about the father as much as anything else, and David doesn't get as much screen time as he should. Unlike Mr. Stuffins, he's not terribly heroic, but he does what he has to because his family's in jeopardy. As fun as it is to watch a teddy bear kick ass, the real core of the book is a man desperately fighting forces against which he shouldn't have a chance, but doing it anyway. It makes for a nice comic, but it had a bit more potential than that, and I wish it had been realized.

Of course, as with every Boom! book, there's the price that often keeps people away. I guess they do fine (they've been around for a while, after all), but it's frustrating. I'd certainly rather read this for four dollars than a comic where the latest iteration of the Avengers goes around shooting people in the head just for fun, but that $3.99 on the cover is still daunting, I admit. I wish Boom! could figure out a way to bring down the price of the trade, at least. Oh well. That makes these difficult to recommend, because while I'd say for $2.99 this is a fine comic, I'm not sure it's worth the extra three dollars. I'm aware that I harp on prices far too much around here, but it's always in the back of my mind when I'm writing about these comics (not so much when I buy them, as I just dip into the kids' college funds - they won't mind, as by the time they're college age, we'll be eating random strangers and living in caves anyway). So it's something to think about. Sorry if it bores you.

Secret Six #11 ("Depths Part Two: Amazons Unleashed") by Gail Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (penciller), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Mark McKenna (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

There's so much to love about this comic that I'm not sure where to begin. I mean, in the opening scene, that chick enforcer of Mr. Smyth is just wandering around with heads tied to her belt. Actual-sized human heads, that is. It's a tiny detail (I missed it last issue, if indeed it was there, which I suspect it was) that shows that both Simone and Scott are really at the tops of their games. Simone's dialogue is as crisp as ever - Rag Doll's quips are, of course, the highlight of the book, but Artemis's speech to the "nice" jailer is chilling and the team's argument at the end is great - while Scott continues to shine with every character, translating Simone's script into disturbing reality. When Jeannette wakes up to rescue Artemis, Scott gives her a truly inhuman look that reminds us that she's just not like us. Plus, there's another detail like the one above: Doll's butt flap on his pajamas is open, which cracked me up. Again, I don't know if that was in the script or if Scott just threw it in there, but it's awfully perfect.

I'm not sure about the idea of the prison, although Smyth's contention that great things have usually been built by slaves has, unfortunately, some merit. The grand concept of this arc isn't quite as kick in your guts awesome as the first arc, but this story seems to be exploring more of the moral boundaries of the team, and that's cool. Of course, Rag Doll is there to remind us who these people are: "Oh, dear, not slavers! Why, that's almost nearly sort of kind of barely a little bit about half as bad as the murderers and despots we normally work for!" Testify, Mr. Merkel! (Merkel?)

You know, you could buy a comic in which it appears a doctor bites someone's face off, or you could get this. Okay, it's nasty, but at least it's nasty with a ton of wit! That counts for something, right? And did you know the creators are women? That means you need to atone for your misogynistic past by buying it! It's your duty!

So much for this week. Not a lot of books, but damn, some good ones. And I suppose it's time for some totally random lyrics!

"Still feel it all slipping away but it doesn't matter anymoreEverybody's still chipping away but it doesn't matter anymoreLook through these blackened eyesYou'll see ten thousand liesMy lips may promise but my heart is a whore"


"Unstuck in time"? Really?

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