What I bought - 1 October 2008

I have a feeling the comments this week will be about only one comic I bought. I hope not, because, stunningly, it's probably the worst comic in this post, but that's the way it is. Lots of good stuff below, but I just have this feeling that one book will be the focus. We'll see.

Antoine Sharpe: The Atheist vol. 2 #2 (of 4) by Phil Hester (writer), Kevin Mellon (artist), and Nate Pride (letterer). $3.99, 20 pgs, BW, Desperado.

Hester really has a twisted mind, and that's a good thing, of course. As a horror comic, this is almost perfect, because Hester understands that it's not about the blood and gore and screaming people, but the quiet stuff that makes our skin crawl. Antoine Sharpe, who in the first series seemed to be in control and in the first issue of the new series seemed to know what was going on, suddenly finds a situation that freaks him out. It's interesting, because he says he's scared calmly, which adds to the creepiness of it (as if the situation he's in wasn't creepy enough). The final page is creepy, too, because it's not necessarily a terrifying reveal, but it still turns the world enough on its head to be unnerving. This is why good horror sends that thrill through us - not because of the things leaping out at us, which is a momentary jolt anyway, but because it gets under our skin and shows us a world that is recognizable, but skewed just enough to make us question what we know. That's exciting but also, in a way, upsetting.

Hester also does something nice: lets us follow Sharpe's line of reasoning. Sharpe doesn't have superpowers, he just notices more things. A lot of television programs have a character like this, and those shows do a mixed job of showing us how the person works things out. Hester manages to explain a horrible crime quite well, and grounding Sharpe's perceptions and showing there's nothing supernatural about them is part of the cleverness of this comic. When something truly strange happens, it hits us harder because the seemingly supernatural has been explained away. If Sharpe can't explain it, there's something definitely weird going on.

This is a pretty cool comic. There's no law against checking it out!

Batman #680 by Grant "Watch me turn Batman into an imbecile!" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC.

Sigh. Just when I think Morrison has it all figured out, he gives us this. I'm tempted to call it a "turd," but that's just crude. It's a fairly misguided comic book, though, and coming as it does near the climax of his long-running story, it's somewhat depressing. I'm going to get the finale, because I've known since the beginning of this run that we were getting one of these long-form Morrison specials where you really have to read the entire thing, but I don't know. SPOILERS AHEAD, in case you haven't read it yet.

The problem with this issue isn't that it doesn't make any sense. I know exactly what's happening on each page, pretty much, and if I don't, I can always consult Tim Callahan's annotations to find out if I missed anything. That's not the point. It's fairly difficult to articulate what's wrong with a Morrison comic without everyone jumping your shit and saying you don't get it. I do get it, trust me, I just don't think it's very good. Sound and fury, indeed.

So what we get in this issue is the big reveal. Okay, A big reveal, not necessarily The Big Reveal. Anyone who trusted Jezebel is, well, crazy, but I'm sure that's not what Morrison is going for. The various allusions to clues and Wikipedia and the last line of the issue - "Now do you get it?" - seems to indicate that Morrison is turning this into yet another commentary on comicdom and the titles and the fans. Fine. Whatever. Wake me when you decide to do something different. If that's all this is, what's the point?

As for the actual story - you know, the reason why we read - the heavy-handedness is getting to me. Morrison has always been interested in symbolism and hidden meanings and weird shit like that, but too often he allows it overwhelm things. The Joker turning it around and saying nothing makes sense doesn't change the fact that this thing is loaded with symbolism, and the Joker mocking it doesn't have the same oomph as, say, Willoughby Kipling doing it (I apologize for referencing Morrison's Doom Patrol, but 15 years later, it's still the standard by which I judge Morrison's work). After trying to peel away the layers of Batman's psyche in previous issues (to varying degrees of success), Morrison decides to abandon that and revert (or "revert back," just to piss off some commenters here) to showing the Joker as insane. Ooh, look, the Joker slices his tongue so he looks like a snake! How crazy! I've seen Crazy Joker. Morrison's Crazy Joker just isn't interesting. Morrison's Crazy Batman had a lot of potential. But he goes for the cheap trick of making Batman's insanity pale in comparison to the Joker's. Why does he do this? Because Morrison falls for the oldest trick in the (comic) book. His comic has become all about one thing: WHO IS THE BLACK GLOVE? At this point, who cares?

Okay, not who cares, exactly, but when a book becomes all about The Big Reveal, it becomes less interesting in nearly every other way. Why is Jezebel a lousy character? It's not because Morrison didn't do a good job writing her, it's because she was eeeeeeevil. Why would Dr. Hurt try to tame the Joker? It makes no sense, and if it happened in a book that wasn't written by The God Of All Comics, we would laugh at its stupidity. YOU NEVER FUCKING TRUST THE JOKER! Why is Batman such an imbecile? Has he been drugged the entire time he was with Jezebel? Why wouldn't he figure out what she's up to, if indeed she has ever been up to anything? I'm sure there was one panel where Jezebel slipped something in his drink to make him fall madly in love with her and never question her, so I'm sorry if I missed it. Whatever. The problem is Morrison has made this entire run about who the Black Glove is, and therefore the interesting part of the book - Batman going insane - becomes a plot device, dropped when it's not longer needed. Everything in this book - including the somewhat random appearance of Talia and Damian - feels like it's pushing the plot forward. And the plot, frankly, isn't that interesting.

I hate feeling like this. Morrison is probably my favorite comic book writer ever (you may find that hard to believe, but it's true), and he's writing my favorite comic book character ever. Over at Marvel, we have two of my favorite current writers (I can't say if Brubaker and Fraction are all-time yet, but right now, I like them a lot) working on my favorite team ever, and I don't like that either. Goddamn. I really hope this book rallies one last time. Whenever Morrison has given us a, yes, turd like this, he's come back with a very interesting issue. Next issue is the big finale, so we'll see if a) it delivers; b) it shows up before March; and c) it shows up before the next issue of Final Crisis. Wouldn't that be a hoot?

Challenger Deep #2 (of 4) by Andrew Cosby (writer), Andy Schmidt (writer), Chee (artist), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

And now for a completely different kind of comic and a completely different expectation from the reader. I don't expect much from comics like this, just that they be entertaining. In the first issue, we got the set-up: nuclear sub sitting on a shelf of frozen methane, and in 72 hours, when the sub's nukes self-destruct, the world will blow up. The government gets an oceanographer with a tortured past (the heroes in stories like this always have tortured pasts) to return to the ocean one last time and save the world. In this issue, he assembles his team (who all have distinct personalities that can be ascertained with a few lines of dialogue) and heads down into the Marianas Trench to disable the nukes. Meanwhile, the sub's captain is still convinced something is outside the sub, trying to get in. That can't be good for morale!

I'm making light of this, but it's fine for what it is. These kind of stories are why comics are such a cool medium - if they tried to do this on television, they wouldn't have a big budget and this would end up being a Sci-Fi Channel original starring Ian Ziering, John Rhys-Davies, and a Nepalese hottie. But in comics, there's no price tag, so we can see the "realness" of it without worrying that it's bad CGI. In this issue, Eric Chase - our tortured oceanographer - hits bottom. He has 17 minutes to defuse the bombs. Of course, I have a feeling he thinks he has 3 hours, but that particular confusing nugget of information might be explained next issue. We'll see.

It's an entertaining comic that seems like it's about to kick into high gear, what with the time factor and the fact that there might be something else to worry about. I just hope it doesn't get made into a Sci-Fi Channel original starring Ian Ziering. That would suck.

City of Dust #1 (of 5) by Steve Niles (writer), Zid (artist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $3.99, 44 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

I want to like Steve Niles' work. I do. The man has some cool ideas, really. His execution is often lacking, especially in his resolutions, but I appreciate someone trying to do lots of different kinds of horror. He always returns to his bread-and-butter, which is the 30 Days of Night franchise (which I have criticized in the past, but I can't blame him for doing it if it brings in the coin), but he also does a lot of different kinds of horror, and it's nice to see.

Radical sent me his latest, City of Dust, and I will say it's good value - 44 pages for 4 bucks. Not bad! As with all the Radical books, it looks very slick and features that odd computer art that looks great in long shots but falters a bit on the close shots. It's also very dark - why can't comics with this kind of art be brighter? But as dystopian futures go, Zid does a nice job blending a futuristic vibe with a Thirties kind of sensibility. This is influenced, whether consciously or not, by stuff like Metropolis and other 1930s science fiction movies (yes, I'm aware Metropolis was made in the Twenties), so there are jet packs and such among spires reaching to the heavens and mad scientists and flashy rich folk slumming in the bad parts of town (never a good idea). Unfortunately, the dark coloring makes it often difficult to appreciate the visual aesthetic.

Niles tells a story that has some potential. We begin with a rich couple flying their car into the bad parts of town. When they get a bit frisky standing outside their car, something attacks them and rips them to pieces. Then we're introduced to our main character, Philip Khrome, a detective who explains how, when he was seven years old, he got his father arrested. How? His father told him a story which sounds suspiciously like Animal Farm, but it turns out that in Khrome's world, imagination is a crime. That means no stories, no religion, and no independent thought, pretty much. Khrome doesn't deal with these kinds of crime, but of course, as he investigates a murder, he comes across a problem: the corpse has a book underneath it (a children's rhyming book, if you must know). When he calls it in, he's told not to touch it, but of course he can't resist! That's not good. Meanwhile, the corpse was killed, more than likely, by the thing in the beginning, and there's a subplot with an old guy who is apparently very important to the way modern society has turned out. Lots of stuff going on!

The problem with the book is that everything that Niles throws into it is familiar. I mean, 1984 is the obvious antecedent, but you can probably rattle off a dozen works that deal in these themes. They're not done poorly here, and the book does kick in a bit when Khrome finds the body, because the mystery of the killer is the most interesting part of the book. Khrome, of course, will most likely realize that maybe killing people for using their imaginations isn't the best thing to do. I hope he won't, but he probably will. So while the story is done well technically, it feels a bit too familiar. Maybe Niles will do something interesting with it. The murder mystery is neat.

I always have to thank Radical for sending these to me. I hope they do well, obviously, because it's always good to have more comic book companies!

Four Eyes #1 by Joe Kelly (writer), Max Fiumara (artist), Nestor Pereyra (colorist), and Drew Gill (letterer). $3.50, 25 pgs, FC, Image.

Ever since I saw this offered in Previews, I've been looking forward to it. Kelly is a decent writer, especially on non-superhero stuff, and I love Fiumara's artwork. Plus, the high concept is awesome: It's the Depression in New York, and dragons happen to live among humans. That's gold! Okay, maybe you don't think so, but you probably bought Terror Titans, so is there really any hope for you?????

Kelly does a nice job with the set-up. Enrico, a young boy, heads to the beach in Queens in 1934 with his mother and father for a rare family day. While there, his father heads off for a "walk," and when Enrico follows him, he finds him inside a dragon's cave. The dragon, of course, awakens, and Enrico's father, who comes out of the cave with a bag, is fried when he tries to escape. Enrico finds out his father was securing baby dragons for a local mob boss, which piques his curiosity to find out why Mr. Boccioni, the mobster, wants baby dragons. It's an interesting way to get us into this world, and Kelly does a good job with it.

Fiumara is excellent, as usual. He does a great job with the Depression-Era atmosphere, which is good, because it grounds the book, and that allows his drawings of the dragons to really dazzle. The final page is magnificent, and it really shows how good Fiumara can be. As this isn't a DC book that needs to sell very well and come out monthly, I hope this sells well enough so Fiumara stays on the book and it comes out when it's ready. Image, as we know, isn't too particular about getting their comics out on any kind of decent schedule, so maybe that means Fiumara can keep up, because his art is stellar.

The high concept is fun, and Kelly makes it feel real. Put down that issue of Cable and check this out!

Love and Capes #8 by Thomas F. Zahler (writer/artist). $3.95, 24 pgs, FC, Maerkle Press.

Zahler was nice enough to send this to me, so I'd like to thank him. Apparently it will be available on 15 October, so look for it! That is, if you want to. Should you?

Well, I like the concept of the book more than the execution. It's a romantic comedy dressed up as a superhero book, with commentary on comic fans and comics in general thrown in. The main romance, between Mark and Abby, is charming. Mark is an accountant and, of course, a superhero. He has recently proposed to Abby, so this issue briefly shows them preparing for the wedding and realizing that maybe working together isn't the best idea. We also see how people close to the hero deal when he's suddenly whisked off, Secret Wars-style, to another planet, as Mark leaves Abby in Paris with no passport and no record of how she got there. This has a lot of nice touches like that, and Zahler does a good job with the characterization. The book is packed with characters, but they are all distinctive and fairly interesting.

The problem with the book is that it deals too much in stereotypes. When Mark and Abby wander into a comic book convention, playing on the stereotypes is funny if obvious (the fat guy wearing Mark's costume, for instance). The commentary about comic book events (Mark mentions that it's "Crisis season" at one point, which is quite funny) is also obvious, but still humorous. The heart of the book, as I pointed out, is the relationship between Mark and Abby, and while those two as characters are fine, their relationship feels familiar. It's charming how quaint they are, but their working agreement (he works for her while she looks for a new helper at her bookstore) is dull because it's predictable. When they work together, they realize that they run out of things to say to each other. Then Abby hires a scrumptious young dude to work at the store. I'm not saying Zahler will do what so many before him have done, but just introducing this doubt into the story makes it dull. I get that real relationships are unbelievably boring and we must always have love triangles in fiction, but it would be nice to see someone challenge that notion. I could be completely wrong about what's going to happen, but the fact that Zahler brings this up is worrisome.

There's a lot to like about Love and Capes, even though I don't love it completely. It's always nice to see romance comics, and the wry comments on superheroes make it more than just two people making googly-eyes at each other. If you're looking for an old-fashioned superhero love story (and who isn't?), you might want to track this down.

Manhunter #35 by Marc Andreyko (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), Carlos Magno (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I kind of wish Andreyko hadn't relaunched Manhunter with a six-part story. It feels a bit drawn out, especially because of the subplots going on as well in the book. The main story doesn't feel like it's long enough for six issues, so the subplots seem to be taking over a bit. I appreciate that we have two subplots going on while Kate is away, but it takes some focus off the main story and reveals that there's probably less there than is needed. Did that make any sense?

Well, even if it didn't, that's okay. I haven't been too dazzled by Kate's mission in this first story after the relaunch, but why I liked Manhunter in the first place and continue to like it now is because it feels like these people are living real lives. Ramsey's conversation with his grandmother is well done, and Cameron's concern over Dylan is palpable. The fact that the main story doesn't blow me away is largely unimportant - plots aren't always going to work perfectly, so what we need to look for is the underlying dynamic between the characters, and Andreyko has always done a good job with that. Except for the fact that nobody - and I mean nobody - in fiction has ever heard of birth control. What's up with that?

I hope that Gaydos is back full-time next issue. Magno's art isn't terrible, but it's off somehow. Don't ask me to elaborate!

I don't know how Manhunter is doing since its return. I gave up looking at sales after the last two weeks, because it was too depressing. But it's a good comic. I hope it's gotten to a point that Andreyko can tell the story he wants and then DC can decide what to do with it. It would be a shame if it died before Andreyko could get through what he wants to do.

Pistolfist #3 (of 4) by J. S. Earls (writer), David A. Flanary, Jr. (writer), Andres Guinaldo (penciler), Victor Short (colorist), and Kel Nuttall (letterer). $3.99, 21 pgs, FC, Bluewater Comics.

Third issues are tricky. If the series is six or five issues, the third one is often padding, as the initial threat or situation has been presented, but the climax hasn't quite been reached yet. In a four-issue series, things are compacted a bit, so the third issue has to continue building on what has come before while setting up the conclusion. The problem with four-issue series is that character development often gets left behind, because there's only room for plot plot plot! That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if your plot is good.

Pistolfist's plot is pretty good, so the fact that Earls and Flanary aren't focusing too much on the characters (they do a little, but not enough) doesn't bother me too much. Of course, I'm a bit of a sucker for stories where historical figures come up with futuristic stuff using technology that was available at the time, so the fact that Ben Franklin gives our hero batteries made me happy. Of course it's silly, but I like to think that there's a world where this kind of thing happened.

As I wrote, Earls and Flanary haven't done much with the fact that Salem is black. You might think it's commendable that we have a black hero and it's not commented upon, but in 1776, that would have been a big deal. It's part of the lack of character development in service to the plot - Pistolfist, Franklin, and Dyani have evil plots to thwart, and they'll be damned if they sit down and chat about it! Again, I'm not that concerned, because I recognize what the series is supposed to be, but I wonder if the creative team is going to follow the newer trend in comics - a series of mini-series - and in later stories we'll see a bit more with Salem and how he deals with racial issues in revolutionary America.

Earls is nice enough to stop by occasionally and comment, and I'd like to be more unequivocal about my support for the book. It's entertaining and fun, and although it's 4 bucks, it has the advantage of not making you angry because the writer is ruining your childhood. So there's that. Come on - Ben Franklin, Action Hero! That's gold!

Sparks #4 (of 6) by Christopher Folino (writer) and JM Ringuet (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Catastrophic Comics.

I really can't say much about this. It continues the story, both the one in the "present" and the one Sparks is telling about his past, which dominates the issue. It's interesting because Folino has a nice grasp on the "noir superhero" story he's telling - these are damaged people trying to do their best, and they're not perfect, so things can go horribly wrong, like when the super-villain they're trying to take down turns out to be smarter than they expected. We often see superheroes' plan go FUBAR, but Folino does a good job showing how this goes sideways - the heroes are so concerned with vengeance that they forget to take precautions. This goes back to the fact that these heroes have deep psychological problems, and it's fascinating to watch it all go wrong.

Ringuet continues to do a fine job with the art, although the darkness is getting to me. It's not as bad as in City of Dust, mainly because it's not as computer-generated (at least it doesn't look it) and therefore the pencils are stronger, but it's still dark in too many panels. This has long been a problem with movies, and it's seeping into comics. We get it - the world is dark. But shouldn't we be able to see the art? That's part of the cool look of the comic, after all.

This has slipped a little in the schedule, and issue #5 wasn't listed in Previews (a situation they address in the book). I hope that doesn't hurt the sales!

Tales to Suffice #1 by Kenny Keil (writer/artist). $3.95, 33 pgs, FC, SLG.

Finally, Kenny Keil sent this to me a while back, and I wanted to wait to review it until October, because that's when it's coming out. I'm not sure when it's coming out, but Mr. Keil assures me it's in October, so look for it!

The cover proclaims that it's "32 pages of mind-blowing adequacy," but Keil is being overly modest. This book is hilarious. It begins on the inside front cover with an advertisement for a "Singing" John Oates Digital Clock Radio and just gets funnier from there. First, there's Stan Lee as Indiana Jones, unearthing a rare treasure that just happens to be this comic. Then we get Adam Strange as Ray Gunn, Space Sleuth, who has to rescue a damsel in distress in a story that takes a sweet and hilarious turn. Up next is the horrifying tale of "Reed Richards," who once ran a corner drugstore until one day, to pass the time, he read a comic book. Oh, the horror! We finish with a story of Corporate Zombie and then the origin of the Red Atom, the world's laziest superhero. The book is packed, as you can see, and it's all illustrated in Keil's manic Giarrusso-on-acid style (that's totally a good thing, by the way, and Keil shows a few different styles, which is nice). Yes, he skewers comics fans much like Zahler does, but whereas Zahler is a bit nicer, Keil lampoons us mercilessly, from "Uncle Morty" in the first bit to the way "Reed" slowly devolves to the Red Atom discovering how hard it is to climb out a window, Keil nails us in the way only a true fan could. He puts "fake" ads for other products, including other comics (I would totally read Planet of the Abes), throughout the book, and there's laughs on almost every page. And the asset that Corporate Zombie can bring to a company is extremely obvious, but you just can't help laughing.

This is a very funny comic. Keil has said he's done with issue #2, and I hope there are more. It's pretty insular, but I doubt if anyone who doesn't read comics already will pick this up. But you all read comics, don't you? Find this and laugh!

Well, that's another week. I'm sure you're going to tell me why I'm too pin-headed to get Morrison, and that's cool. I just wanted to type "pin-headed." But let's get to some totally random lyrics!

"I don't know what's going on the TV news has got me confusedSo Bobby King is paying his dues for bald-faced avariceWas it the CIA, or the same, or the other side, somebody's lyingThey write in black and white but it comes out gray to me, I can't believe it"

Have a nice day! Remember: It's a glorious world where the Cubs always lose, and the Phillies are going to the World Series! Suck it, Cubs fans!

(Sorry. Philadelphia sports gets me emotional. I was 12 when the teams in the city last won a major championship. I'm getting a bit antsy.)

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