What I bought - 1 June 2006

Occasionally I am a true corporate whore - I embrace the DC and Marvel side of the comic book market, and revel in it! Then, there are days like today, when the closest thing to a Big Two superhero book I purchased is Ultimate Extinction. It's funny how things work out like that, ain't it? But fret not, good people - today was a bountiful day in comicdom, with much awesomeness and wonderfulness! Can you handle the indie goodness? Can you????

Emissary #1 by Jason Rand, Juan Ferreyra, and Clayton Brown. $3.50, Image

Everyone had their chance to see Rand and Ferreyra's work in Small Gods, one of the best titles of the past few years. But nobody did, and it died. Now you have a second chance, this time in full color, and I encourage you to pick this book up, because the first issue is excellent.

The focal point of the book is the Emissary (I don't know why it's Jim Valentino's Emissary on the cover; it's his little boutique line within Image, but I don't know if he created the character), a man who shows up in the middle of Times Square one day and flies. He tells the assembled throng that he has come to lead humanity into the future and bring us all to enlightenment. That's mighty nice of him, don't you think? People freak out, people stare, people weep with joy. It's all very weird. And then the military sends jets to blow him up. He is having none of this, and stops one of the jets in mid-air just by raising his hand. He's hella powerful!

The real meat of the book, it appears, will be the human characters around the Emissary, and this is where the comic really shines. In Small Gods, Rand showed that he was very good at character development, and with this new title, he continues that trend. We are quickly introduced to two police officers, a reporter, and a military officer. The two cops - Josh and Tara - are talking about one of their cases and Tara's divorce when the Emissary shows up. Rand does an excellent job with the dialogue - it's Bendis-esque in that it's rapid-fire, but unlike Bendis, each word is crucial and reveals more about the characters. They switch rapidly back and forth from the case and Tara's problems at home, and it's breathtaking to read. Meanwhile, a reporter wants to do a story on a corrupt senator, while his editor wants him to write something on the mob. The Emissary comes along and Nick realizes where the real story is. Finally, we meet Captain Honor Rivas, who is having relationship issues with a pilot (the same pilot who tries to attack the Emissary - what a coincidence!) and is frustrated because her old-school male chauvenist boss treats her like a secretary. When the general orders an attack on the Emissary, Rivas doesn't think it's a great idea, but she is shouted down. And so the tension builds! Rand does a poor job with General Lang, as he is simply a walking stereotype, but it's fine for now - he may or may not play a bigger role in the story, and let's hope if he does he'll get better character development. Josh, Tara, Nick, and Honor are very interesting characters already, one issue in.

Ferreyra's art is spectacular, especially in color. He's also working on Rex Mundi right now, but his few issues there haven't given him the opportunity to cut loose yet (although it's very nice). Here, he gives us a couple of beautiful double-page spreads, and the page showing the Emissary stopping the jet in mid-air is breathtaking - even the details of thousands of flashbulbs going off in the background is wonderfully done. It won't be long before DC and Marvel begin throwing money at both these guys, and it would be nice if they can resist for a time, at least until they tell these stories for Image.

This is a strong first issue that sets up good characters, an interesting situation, and a mystery about who or what the Emissary is. If you missed Small Gods, go buy this, and you'll see why that was one of my favorite books. Don't wait until these guys are writing Avengers and their early work is rare and expensive!

Gødland #11 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli. $2.99, Image

Speaking of excellent titles from Image, Gødland rips toward its first year hiatus with a vengeance, as Adam fights "a thing which has no name!" (and yes, Friedrich Nickelhead actually calls it that), Supra, Eeg-Oh, and Ed discover a nuclear bomb and have nefarious plans for it, Angie gets inside the weird pyramid that destroyed the Statue of Liberty, and Neela goes deeper into space and gets to have a Dave Bowman Experience! It's all in groovy fun for the grooviest title since Steranko was drawing regularly!

Adam's fight with Nickelhead and the thing that has no name is actually not the main part of the issue. It's a nifty fight, but really only a fight. Angie penetrating the pyramid and finding what's inside is the important part of the story. She is attacked by The Never, who makes the impossible possible! The Never is working for King Janus (who loves The Never like a second cousin), the lone terrestrial emissary (there's that word again) of the mighty J'Rhogan, who is planning to destroy New York. Oh dear. Angie can't stop him, Maxim invades the pyramid to help her, and Adam, after dispatching the thing with no name, is flying quickly back to New York to assist. It all comes to a head next issue!

I know many people have complained about the Kirby-esque nature of this book, and it's certainly something to react to, but I love it because it's not only fun and frenetic, but Casey has been able to keep several sub-plots going for months and he is able to slip in character development without sacrificing momentum. Nickelhead, of course, gets most of the good lines, as he has the whole series, but everyone involved is fun to read and interesting to follow. After next issue the book goes on hiatus for three months, but the second trade paperback will be out in the meantime. This is another book you should buy. It's the antidote for the boring crap that the Big Two occasionally (often?) publishes.

Hero Squared #1 by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham. $3.99, Boom! Studios

Ross Ritchie is trying to become Larry Young, and that's fine, but he's following AiT/Planet Lar's business model too closely - his books are sometimes a little late! This was supposed to be out a while ago, and who knows when we're going to see another issue of Planetary Brigade, especially because Caliginous drops a rather crucial statement about the group. But that's okay - to a degree. Late books are part of the charm of small publishers. And for the most part, this book is worth it.

We pick up where the mini-series left off (I imagine it's out in trade, so look for it!), and it's your typical Giffen/DeMatteis joke fest. As I mentioned with the mini-series and Planetary Brigade, the difference between this and, say, Defenders is that in this book, the jokes come somewhat organically from the situation in which our four principal characters find themselves. This is basically an issue to review the mini-series and set up the regular series, as Milo tells his best friend Blaine about what happened when he first met Captain Valor, including having sex with Caliginous. Captain Valor shows up and insists that Milo tell Stephie. So they head out to find her. Meanwhile, Stephie ends up having coffee with Caliginous, who tries to convince her that she's not evil. As we saw in the mini-series, there's something strange going on between Caliginous and Captain Valor - we're still not really sure who's telling the truth about what happened in the other universe, even though we want to believe the superhero. Of course, before Milo can tell Stephie about his infidelity, Caliginous tells her right before she teleports away, and the shit hits the fan. We pity Milo, but at the same time we cheer Stephie for not taking his crap. What happens next between these four is why this is an interesting book and remains why I will keep reading. There is no action in the book at all, and I know the banter might grate on some people's nerves, but I have no doubt that things will blow up soon, and like I said - the banter is good because it comes from who the characters are, rather than Giffen and DeMatteis simply forcing jokes on them. So it's funny, but at the same time, it's real. Giffen and DeMatteis are obviously enjoying themselves, and it makes the book stronger.

Abraham's art is fine. It's basically a talking heads issue, so it's not brilliant, but he nails a lot of the facial expressions, which is harder than it sounds, so that's cool. I can't really say much about it because he's not asked to do much.

This is an interesting book, and I hope it's going to come out on a decent schedule. Usually these books die not because they're bad, but because people forget about them. It would be a shame if that happened here.

I really should be reading this is one shot, because it's a 12-issue series, but since each issue tells a pretty self-contained story, I haven't been. After issue #5, I should, because this issue angered me.

That's not to say it's not good. I enjoyed it. The art continues to impress, and Wood's story is very nice - I'll get to it in a second. It's just that Megan is ... well, she's kind of a dick, and I know we're not supposed to like her very much in this issue, but so far she's been somewhat sympathetic, and I'm not sure why she's such a dick in this issue. Maybe if I read them all at once when the series is finished, her arc will be more clear, but I wanted to punch her in the face when I finished this issue, and I didn't even know why she was acting like she was.

As for the story: Megan, comicdom's best-traveled young lady, shows up in Nova Scotia a year after she was in Montana, and she's working at the Oxford movie palace. On the first page Wood establishes that this is someplace where she can re-invent herself, and that's the theme of the issue. She switches name tags and introduces herself as someone different each time she sells tickets, but this gets her in trouble, as anyone with a brain should have realized it would. It begins when she sits down next to a patron and tries to talk to him, but he gets annoyed when she won't shut up after the movie begins and he moves. Then we find out she was asking inappropriate questions of a 15-year-old boy, whose mother comes to complain. Finally, a young man with whom she flirted as "Jenny" tries to talk to her, but she claims to be "Rachel" and brushes him off. When he confronts her about it and tries to draw her out, she still won't trust him and lies again. Finally, she quits her job and disappears.

It's a very well-written story, as Wood allows Kelly to show the emotions raging in Megan rather than spell them out for us - this is the kind of thing that comics do really well but not often enough. Megan is somehow damaged - possibly from her role in last issue's bloody showdown in Missoula. The young man, Tim, who wants to talk to her, is reminiscent of her imaginary boyfriend from a few issues ago, and that might have something to do with why she brushes him off. And, of course, the constant changing of her story evokes the first issue, when she imagined different scenarios in the drugstore in Portland.

Wood is writing beautiful little human interest stories while following Megan through the years of her life, but the reason I wonder if I should just stop reading this and save it for when it's done is because of how Megan acts in this issue, which doesn't seem quite out of character for her (as we've seen this before), but simply unnecessarily cruel. I know we're focusing on Megan again next issue, and I wonder if this side of her personality will be explored a bit more (I hope, if only to explain it a little). She obviously has problems, and this is just a way for her to escape them - even if for a few minutes.

This continues to be an intriguing series. Yes, its schedule is slow, but each issue, so far, has been worth it, even the weaker ones. And this one is one of the stronger ones, actually. Even though Megan's a dick.

The Middleman Vol. 2 #4 (of 4) by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine. $2.95, Viper Comics

If you're still resisting buying The Middleman, not only do I fear for your immortal soul, but I fear that you are not worthy to buy any comics at all. Don't make me come to your house and rip that XBox right out of your hands and force you to read The Middleman! 'Cause I'll do it!

Here's some out-of-context hilarious lines that you have missed because you're not buying The Middleman:

"Buddy, Fashion Week at Milan's been all downhill since Tom Ford bailed on Gucci." "True dat."

"[T]here are three things I must remember when I meet him - A) Never ask him why he wears a Mexican wrestler mask. B) Never ask his age. And C) Never, ever bring up the topic of the clan of the pointed stick."

"Remember, this is the only man alive who knows the Wu-Han Thumb of Death."

"Ahhh! The Lincoln Town Car - one of America's great contributions to harmony in this world."

"And never - EVER - let Sensei Ping's Louis Vitton trunk touch pavement!"

"To call it a 'car' would be an insult to all automobiles. This is a soiled prophylactic on wheels."

And that's all from the first issue! There have been three more like it! This has been a super-fun mini-series, as Sensei Ping gets kidnapped by a bunch of Mexican wrestlers, and the Middleman goes after him, telling Wendy to stay behind because it's too dangerous. Wendy does some reconaissance of her own, and we all end up in the same place - the Yucatan, inside an old Mayan pyramid. And if you didn't see that Sensei Ping was going to bust out the Wu-Han Thumb of Death, I really don't know what I'm going to do with you. And yes, we do learn why he wears a Mexican wrestler mask.

Grillo-Marxuach tries to inject some real emotion into the story, as Wendy visits her ex-boyfriend Ben in the hospital at the end of the book. Ben was shot when he followed Wendy to a warehouse on the docks where Sensei Ping was being held captive, and Wendy abandoned him to go after the bad guys. It's a sad little scene, but it doesn't really ring true, because Wendy is right, after all - Ben was acting like a child. He went to "Winnebagoes," the Hooters substitute, and was obsessing over a waitress who looked like Wendy, except she has a bigger rack. Wendy told him to be a real man, so he ran after her and ended up getting shot. Now, in the hospital, he makes her feel all guilty and tells her he never wants to see her again. It's a strange downbeat ending to a madcap comic.

It's a minor quibble, however, because this series (and its predecessor) are eight of the more fun issues you will read. Unlike Giffen and DeMatteis' Hero Squared, so far The Middleman has been all about the jokes. But you know what? It doesn't matter when the writing is so freakin' funny. You can get the first trade for a mere ten dollars, and this trade should probably be priced about the same. Support excellent comics, people - buy The Middleman!

My Inner Bimbo #1 (of 5) by Sam Kieth. $2.99, Oni Press

The nice thing about Kieth is that you can never accuse him of taking the easy way out. With all his creator-owned stuff (and a good deal of his corporate stuff), he throws us right into strange situations where we are completely off-kilter and need to find our way out - and he doesn't make it easy for us. He structures stories in such a non-linear way that we flounder about, desperate for links that will allow us to make our way through the story with some sort of understanding.

And usually, it's totally worth it.

Now, that's not completely the case with My Inner Bimbo, the first issue of which came out this week. Based on Kieth's work, especially Four Women, which was one of the best mini-series of the year a few years ago, I'm willing to give this a chance, but it's less compelling than Four Women, for example, and much stranger. But that's okay - like I said, Kieth tends to do this, and it will all work out in the end.

The story, when you really break it down, is relatively simple. Lo and Betsy, an old married couple, are the principals. Betsy is seventeen years older than Lo, who is 60 when the book begins. They have problems, but not really the normal problems married couples might have. Lo somehow conjures up a nubile teenager - his inner bimbo - which "rejuvenates" him - meaning he is actually able to get an erection. Bunny, his bimbo, follows him to his dead-end job, goes to a weird seminar with him and Betsy, and has lots of sex with him (of course, technically it's masturbation, but we see it as sex between two people). Lo also discusses what Bunny actually is with a girl on the Internet, and it's in their exchanges that the book veers into sheer weirdness and, unfortunately, loses us for a while. Lo is chased by a magic trout (yes, you read that right) and builds a magic box. He meets Dana, a girl in cyberspace, who claims to know everything about magic trout. She and Lo debate what Bunny is, and Dana finally warns Lo that Bunny might not be exactly what he thinks she is. It's all very ominous, but we're still stuck on the trout and the magic box trying to process things, so it might lose some people.

It's still a very intriguing first issue. Kieth's art is typically gorgeous, even in black-and-white, and there are moments of real sadness, and Lo and Betsy's relationship is fascinating in a car accident kind of way. It's not for everyone, but if it sounds like it's for you, check it out!

Robotika #4 (of 4) by Alex Sheikman. $3.95, Archaia Studios Press

Robotika stands or falls on its art, and Sheikman's art is absolutely stunning. I mentioned when it first came out that it's a mix of Tony Harris and the Pander Bros., and it's the absolute highlight of this mini-series. Yes, 16 dollars is a bit steep for four issues, but it's worth it almost for the art alone.

As for the story ... well, it's a bit more interesting in concept than in execution. I happen to enjoy this mini-series a lot, but I recognize that there are problems with the story. The first two issues seem self-contained, as Niko the silent agent of the Queen retrieves a stolen thingy that will make cyborgs obsolete. He gives it back to the Queen and she destroys it, which seems to depress Niko. He gives up his sword, which becomes a problem when, in issues #3-4, he joins up with his old pal Cherokee Geisha to escort some pilgrims to meet their god across some treacherous territory. He hasn't given up fighting, however, as he kicks ass and takes names and finally begins to realize exactly what he is. By the end of the mini-series, however, he still has questions about himself, there's a magic sword to find, and our three yojimbos (they have been joined by Bronski, a haiku-writing one-eyed cowboy) are off on more adventures, which will be published next year. So, like another very good mini-series (Samurai: Heaven and Earth), we have a nice story somewhat ruined by the promise a sequel. At least in this case, I have more confidence that Sheikman will follow through and give us said sequel.

If we dig a bit deeper into this series, however, it's not all that disappointing. If you like plot resolution, obviously you'll be a bit ticked off, and while I certainly like plot resolution, occasionally I don't mind if we don't get it. Especially as this series is much more of an abstract kind of story, in which metaphors figure heavily and mood matters as much as plot. Niko is on a spiritual journey to discover his soul, and he makes major progress in that area, even though he still has questions. Cherokee Geisha and Bronski become different aspects of his personality. Niko is the quiet religious ascetic, Cherokee is the manic unbridled whirlwind, and Bronski is the tough-yet-sensitive manly man. These three form a whole, and Bronski coming with them at the end is something he has to do, because the three are now linked. It's an interesting dynamic that Sheikman has set up, and promises interesting things in the future.

There will be a collected edition of this coming out in a few months. The story is certainly intriguing, but the art is what will grab you. It's a beautiful book by someone who will not be unknown for long.

Ultimate Extinction #5 (of 5) by Warren Ellis and Brandon Peterson. $2.99, Marvel

The "good" Warren Ellis has shown up in the saga of Ultimate Galactus, and I'm very happy about it. Yes, the three mini-series dragged at times. Now that it's done, I am planning on going through it and figuring out how long it should have been. But let's face it - in today's comic book world, very few writers are even writing science fiction, and no one really does it as well as Ellis. He loves it, and it shows. Especially in this mini-series, where our heroes actually confront Gah Lak Tus. This series has been sheer excitement from the get-go, with Misty Knight, Captain America, and the Falcon beating the crap out of one Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel and Iron Man going at it with another one, Ultimate Moondragon showing up as the clone of a dead woman, and Reed Richards creating the ultimate weapon to defeat Gah Lak Tus while Professor Xavier and Jean Grey try something different - and both things work. It's a marvelous comic book, full of "awesome" moments that mean something because they've been built up to, glorious pseudo-science that Ellis loves, and it's always nice to see that Ellis the miserable bastard can't ever quite defeat Ellis the hopeful dreamer, which is why we get stirring moments like Jean pleading with everyone on Earth to think about someone they love. That's the kind of thing that makes Ellis a great writer, and in this series he uses it nicely.

This group of mini-series was a lot better than I thought it would be. I had high hopes going in, was a bit annoyed by the pace, and then was concerned that the resolution would be somewhat dumb. Well, the pace still annoys me, but unlike some other Ellis sci-fi stuff (Ocean and Orbiter come to mind), the ending is very cool and unlike what I expected. Good stuff from Marvel - not surprising, since it's the Ultimate line and not the regular line. We wouldn't want to put this much effort into our "real" superheroes, now would we?


Mouse Guard #3 (of 6) by David Petersen. $3.50, Archaia Studios Press

Haven't you bought this yet? Okay, if you're waiting for the trade, that's fine. But if you're just ignoring it because it has mice, then you are an evil person who likes torturing voles. And nobody wants to hang out with that person!

Wow. A very good week in comics, plus Five Fists of Science came out! (But I haven't finished it yet, so I won't comment on it.) And yet some of you might have missed all of these because you were too busy reading 52. For shame!

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