What I bought - 10 July 2008

There may be some comics reviews beneath the fold ... or there may be a tasty treat! Which will it be? Only one way to know for sure!

The Black Coat: 52-Page Special. "Heart of Ice" by Ben Lichius (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist), and Dave Rothe (letterer); "First Blood" by Ben Lichius (writer/penciller), Jeremy Colwell (inker), Joe Suitor (colorist), and Chris Studabaker (letterer). $6.95, 46 pgs (?), BW & FC, Ape Entertainment.

This was solicited as a "48-Page Special," is labeled as a "52-Page Special," and contains 46 pages of original stuff (I decided to count two pages of sketches, because that's always interesting to see). That's just the kind of things I notice, man!

Anyway, after a good Black Coat mini-series and the beginning of a second one, this book disappeared last year, and I was very happy to see it return, at least briefly (the rest of the second mini-series has not been re-solicited yet). The book doesn't quite measure up to the five issues we've had so far (and not because Francesco Francavilla, the original artist, isn't on board here, as Hardman and Lichius do a fine job with the art), and the reason is simple: this special is too "superheroey." In the first story, the Black Coat battles a man who changes, Walter Langowski-style, into a great angry beast. In the second, he battles a dragon. Oh dear. For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, the Black Coat is a masked man fighting for truth, justice, and the proto-American way in 1770s New York. The mini-series dealt in supernatural themes, true, but they were more in keeping with the time period. This book just turns our hero into an eighteenth-century Batman, fighting monsters using cool gadgets. It's not as good.

The stories aren't bad, certainly. In the first one, Lichius does a good job building suspense out of what is a fairly stock plot, while in the second one, at least the reason for the dragon's appearance is interesting. It's just that the stories lack the spark of the previous tales, which had a better feeling of menace and impending disaster in them. The "impending disaster" comes from the powder keg of revolution, which tinges the earlier stories with a crackle that is missing in these, which are set a few years earlier in time (1769/1770). Yes, there was trouble a-brewing in the colonies in those years, but it wasn't as dire as a few years later. That, plus the fact that we lose the feeling of "reality" we got from the original issues (the supernatural elements of the mini-series were Frankenstein-esque, and "felt" more "real," if you get my drift) makes this a decent enough primer to the series, but a book that also makes me wish the second mini-series would continue. I don't know where it is, but I guess I can ask the creators at San Diego. I'd recommend this book if you haven't been picking up the mini-series (yes, it's 7 dollars, so that may factor into your decision), but I'd really recommend the trade paperback of the first series, which you can get at the web site. That's good stuff!

Captain Britain and MI: 13 #3 by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Scott Hanna (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

At no time in this comic book does Spitfire do anything remotely like what she's doing on the cover. I'm just saying.

Anyway, this is an enjoyable comic, as Captain Britain returns from the dead and gets ready to kick Skrull ass (and no, I'm not giving anything away by saying Captain Britain returns from the dead - his name is in the title, so I hope no one thought he was staying dead!), and that's about that. Leonard Kirk's art is fantastic, too. But.

Yes, there's a "but." Of course there is! Okay, on page 20 (get your copies out - you all bought this, right?), Dane attacks the Dr. Strange/Dormammu Skrull thing (whatever it is - it looks like a Dr. Strange/Dormammu Skrull, anyway) In panel 1, he leaps, sword about to plunge directly into Evil Skrull's fiery forehead. In panel 2 (below panel 1, which stretches across the entire page), Faiza says "Dane" as someone (presumably Dane) screams "Arrgggghhhh!" In panel 3, Faiza is silhouetted in the foreground, while in front of her, someone is lit up like a Roman candle screaming "Get away! Before --! Yearrggghhh!" Who is that? Is it Dane? It doesn't appear to be, as this person has a belt with pouches on it around his waist (what is this, the 1990s?) and Dane doesn't have that. Plus, the person appears to have some kind of cap on. In the next panel, we don't see Dane - in fact, we only see him once more, on the final page, where Captain Britain stands there all challenging and shit while Dane lies in the background, obviously incapacitated. Now, that means that Evil Skrull succeeded in taking him out, but is that dude in panel 2 really Dane? If so, where is he in panel 3? These things keep me up at night.

A bigger problem I have with the issue is Merlin and Brian's resurrection. Not that Brian was resurrected - I've grown numb to dead people coming back in comics, and, as I pointed out above, it would be silly to have a book called Captain Britain and MI: 13 if the first part of that equation was, you know, dead all the time (unless Marvel is a lot more tricky than I give them credit for and just kept him dead to mess with our heads). Merlin has a piece of the Fury in him. Apparently this happened in the Die by the Sword mini-series. He quotes Alan Moore by saying, "It kills super heroes." He then says that magic reverses "such words." Then he brings Brian back. Okay, fine and dandy. The Fury killed Captain Britain, what, 27 years ago? Something like that. And Merlin brought him back from that death. This most recent death wasn't caused by the Fury. So what's Merlin talking about? It appears he uses the shards of the Fury to bring Brian back to life. Is that it? Why does that work? Am I thinking too much about this?

Anyway, it's a cool comic. I shouldn't think so much about it.

Gamekeeper vol. 2 #5 by Jeff Parker (writer), Ron Randall (layouts), Ron Chan (penciller), S. Sundarakannan (colorist), and Rakesh B. Mahadik (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Virgin.

There's not much to say about this, even though it's the end of an arc. I mean, no one who is reading this book thought that Brock WASN'T going to rescue Krista Morgan, so that's not a surprise. Where Krista hid the formula is an interesting twist, but otherwise, Brock and his new cronies do their thing and kick some ass. If you like action/adventure, it's a pretty good read. Parker, as I've said before, knows how to write these kinds of books pretty well, and Randall and Chen make it look good. I'm not sure what else there is to say about it. I was entertained by it, but I'm not sure if I'm going to continue getting it. Probably not, but I'll have to think about it when the next issue comes out.

I Kill Giants #1 (of 7) by Joe Kelly (writer) and JM Ken Niimura (artist). $2.99, 25 pgs, BW, Image.

Joe Kelly's new book is interesting for a number of reasons. Niimura's manga-influenced art is very nice, with some expressive landscapes that are somewhat reminiscent of those cool Chinese paintings. You know the kind!

Niimura's art aside, Kelly's story of fifth-grader Barbara Thorson is a bit odd. On the one hand, Barbara herself is an interesting character who believes that she, well, kills giants. She has a big old attitude, mainly because no one believes her, and Kelly does a nice job balancing the mundane parts of Barbara's life with the fantastic, as well as keeping things vague as to whether she actually fights giants or is, you know, nuts (given the title, I'm going with the former, but Kelly might surprise us all!). The fact that Barbara is such a pain in the ass is kind of cool, not because we've never seen this kind of thing before, but because Kelly makes her so convincing as a snotty pre-teen. I still don't get why she has rabbit ears, though. WHY????

On the other hand, my standard complaint about stories that have school-aged kids as their stars is valid here, as the adults in the book are complete tools, and it's kind of annoying. In the first part of the book, Barbara is reading quietly during Career Day and her teacher gets on her case. The father who is there, a motivational speaker, tries to get Barbara enthused about things, which is when she states frankly that she already has a career - she hunts and kills giants. This earns her a trip to the principal's office, where she's quite a fixture. The buffoonish principal (his name is Marx, and that in itself is kind of annoying) tells her that she needs to straighten up and fly right. Yawn.

The problem with the teacher and principal isn't that they're stereotypes. Okay, that is the problem, but I wouldn't have a problem with it if the tone of this book was different. The girls on the bus home are stereotypes, too, but they don't have an impact on Barbara's life - they're just there for contrast. But the authority figures in Barbara's life DO have an impact on her life, and this doesn't read like it's going to be a farcical kind of comic - there might be elements of it, but it seems like Kelly is really going for something a bit darker. Therefore, characters that might be important deserve a bit more thought. Now, we might never see the teacher (Ms. Dean) and Principal Marx again, but the point is that Kelly is setting this up as Barbara against a world that doesn't believe her. The teacher and principal are prime examples of this.

Frankly, their portrayal offends me because of the fact that I used to teach, and although it was high school, if I had seen a kid reading a big book of taxonomy, I would have been thrilled that they were reading anything, much less something like that. And if someone announced they killed giants in class, instead of getting angry, I'd probably try to figure out a) if that person liked to imagine things a lot; b) had issues at home that might make them imagine that they were a giant-killer; c) ask them about it; or d) wonder if they were telling the truth (okay, probably not, because I'm an old unimaginative bastard, but still). I realize the book needs "villains" beyond the giants that Barbara kills, but the fact that Kelly relies on stereotypical shorthand to establish some characters is disappointing.

There's a lot that's interesting about this book, and perhaps Ms. Dean and Principal Marx will either never be seen again or will be far more complex the next time we see them. I liked the first issue to a degree, and want to like the series as a whole. I hope I do!

The Invincible Iron Man #3 by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I was going to finish this arc to make up my mind about this title, but I might not even make it that far. A super-villain who just wants to kill Tony Stark? Is that it? How boring. Plus, the execution is kind of dull, too. The first issue made it sound like this would be some kind of intense psychological battle between Tony and Ezekiel Stane, but it's turned into Stane blowing shit up and Tony fighting unmanned armored droids. Blah. It's just not interesting at all, and even when I haven't been dazzled by Fraction (which hasn't been often, true, but it has happened), he's always been interesting. Here, he's trying to be all hip and cutting edge, but that doesn't disguise the fact that this is a boring story about a spoiled brat who wants to kill Iron Man. So what?

I probably will finish the arc, because Fraction might pull it out of mediocrity, but these past two issues haven't filled me with confidence. We'll see.

Joker's Asylum: Penguin #1 by Jason Aaron (writer), Jason Pearson (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Speaking of disappointing comics (man, did I like anything this week?), this issue is one of the reasons why I don't like single issue stories. There's only so much you can do in 22 pages, and a lot of it's been done to death, especially when it comes to Batman villains. This is a tale of obsessive love and why Oswald Cobblepot can't find a woman, and although there are some very nice touches, overall it doesn't really do anything to illuminate the character of the Penguin. The nice touches are: Penguin's revenge against an imagined slight, which shows how powerful and insane he really is, and the way he tells Batman about his new love, which is a very funny two-page scene. But do a couple of interesting scenes make it worth it? Maybe, if that's your thing. The story tells us very little beyond what we already know, and if you absolutely adore Jason Pearson, his art is very nice and more than a little creepy.

I don't know what I was expecting from this. Aaron is a good writer, and this certainly isn't a bad story, but the limitations of the format make it difficult to really do anything interesting. It's a shame.

Shark-Man #3 by Michael Town (story), David Elliott (story), Ronald Shusett (story), and Steve Pugh (writer/artist/letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Alas, this is the last issue of Shark-Man for a time, if not ever. Steve Pugh is doing something else, and who knows if he'll be back, or if the creators will find an artist. So it doesn't really matter what I say about this, does it?

Except that it's Shark-Man, the comic that was too unbelievably awesome to survive. Just imagine: You hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series to win the game for your team while eating Steak Diane and drinking Waikato Draught (the world's best "regular" beer) or perhaps Wisconsin Belgian Red (the world's best "specialty" beer) and as you round the bases, you happen to have sex with 1990-era Sherilyn Fenn and then you trip over the autobiography of Jesus as you round second base and then at third base your base coach tells you that you're the first-born love child of Bill Gates and he wants to leave his entire fortune to you. That's what reading three issues of Shark-Man is like. Only reading three issues of Shark-Man is even better.

That's right, Shark-Man could not survive because if too many people read it, the euphoria they would experience would lead to world peace, a cure for cancer, new episodes of Manimal, the resurrection of James K. Polk (the United States' greatest president), the instant end of global warming (or, if you think it's a "myth," it will cause the crazy liberals to shut up about it), the domination of Philadelphia sports teams (sorry, I'm a homer), the recognition of wallyball and tchoukball as the greatest things ever, and a new source of energy that would end our dependence on foreign oil forever. Yes, such is the power of Shark-Man. And yes, the military-industrial-geezer complex has exerted all their efforts to keep Shark-Man out of the homes of everyone in the world. They need to clutch onto power with their liver-spotted hands!

And so it ends. For now. Perhaps one day the world will be ready for Shark-Man. Only then will we be able to truly reach the stars and become a mature species. The Federation of Planets that Recognize Shark-Man for the Genius Work It Is (FPRS-MGWII) will welcome us. And what a glorious time it shall be!

Pilot Season: Urban Myths #1 by Jay Faerber (writer), Jorge Molina (artist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image/Top Cow.

Another interesting concept by Faerber: Jack Medusa (not his real last name, but he's Medusa's son, so that's what people call him) is a private investigator in a world where Greek myths are real. He's on a case to find a missing girl, who it turns out has done something that could only be possible in this world: taken a drug to visit Hades to try to get her recently deceased father back. Jack has to go to Hades to get her, and things happen. As it's part of the Pilot Season thing, it's a single issue story, but like the most recent offering, Alibi, it ends with a promise of more. Sheesh. I want both of these books to be ongoing series! The concept of this one works very well, and the casual references to the Greek myths (I loved the fact that Apollo actually pulls the sun across the sky) are very nice. I also dig PI stories, especially if they're done well, and although Jack doesn't do a ton of investigating, it's an interesting tale.

The only problem with the book is Molina's art. It's not really the line work, which is cartoonish but fine. Molina does a pretty good job with what is either a packed script or with the stuff he himself decided to throw in (based on who came up with it). However, the colors aren't very good (Molina colored it himself, I assume, as no one is credited) - they're pretty murky throughout, and although a lot of the book takes place at night and in, you know, hell, it's still not a good coloring job. A lot of the panels feature some blurry images, too, either the main character in the panel, or (more commonly) in the background. I don't know if this is a deliberate effect (I have to think it is), but it doesn't work very well. There's a difference between this kind of effect in a movie, where the images are fluid and the lack of focus doesn't last long, and in comics, where the images are static and don't shift as you look at them. Those images will always be fuzzy, and that's why it doesn't work. This kind of art has always bothered me, and with the dark colors, the book is often not as attractive as it should be.

This would be another neat ongoing. We'll see what happens!

Young Liars #5 by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I still haven't decided if I like this comic or not, but what's wonderful about it is the sheer insanity of the plot. When last we left our little band, they had just arrived in Ibiza and Sadie had announced their presence to the beachcombers. In this issue, Danny believes she's out fucking everyone she can find while he recuperates from all the fucking of Sadie he's been doing, and so for the first half we get another flashback, during which we find out how Sadie got a bullet in her head, and we also get the cast sniping at each other, which isn't really that interesting. Sadie, meanwhile, is beating on big dudes in bars and not fucking everyone she can find, which makes the fact that Danny ends up fucking someone else a little awkward. Sadie doesn't know, because she's busy surfing on top of a plane. Yeah, that's right. But the book really goes nuts when Pinkerton Maxim, a bullfighter-costume-wearing midget who is searching for Sadie, finds Danny and Ceecee having sex. This begins seven pages of the most insane comics we've seen in a while, as Maxim does horrible things to our cast before Big C does something horrible to him. I don't know if this is a good comic, but I was riveted as I read the horror, and it made me cringe more than once. But I couldn't turn away!

I'll decide soon enough if this is something I want to continue to buy. At least it's not boring!

No more comics; here's a totally random lyric for you:

"Twelve o'clock comes with mass hysteria, everybody rushes down to the cafeteria, picked up my tray to have Thursday's lunch, and as I tried the apple sauce, I heard it crunch.I'm running up the stairs with my front tooth broken, the nurse just laughed, and said you must be joking, I looked up at her with a smile on my face, no joke 'cause my front tooth is out of place."

Yeah, that's probably too easy. But what the hell! And sorry - no tasty treat!

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