What I bought - 10 March 2010

It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful. (A. S. Byatt, from Possession)

Batman and Robin #10 ("Batman vs. Robin Part 1: The Haunting of Wayne Manor") by Grant "A six-issue mini-series isn't enough for my big ideas!" Morrison (writer), Andy Clarke (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Morrison gets back on track a bit with this issue, as he sets up the "Bruce Wayne Through The Ages" mini-series that will follow up this arc, and shows us Damien's hidden agenda in the process. I'm of two minds about this. I'm almost sure the mini-series will be able to be read without reading this arc, but I can't say, and it's not as if Morrison hasn't done this before (the Superman story that wasn't a part of Final Crisis, for instance, but is fairly important to the main story, plus JLA: Classified #1-3, which explains why the Sheeda don't attract the attention of the Justice League and why they don't go after them). They do proclaim on the cover that "The Return of Bruce Wayne Begins Here!", but it's a bit annoying that DC does this (or Morrison does this). Oh well. What's done is done.

The actual issue is fine, although I'm always amused when characters in comics from the "present" go back in time and leave clues for the people in the "present" to find and no one has ever stumbled across them before. Dick grew up in Wayne Manor. He never noticed some of these things, even the hidden passageway? Hell, Bruce himself didn't notice? And I love how the line of succession from Wayne to Wayne is completely unbroken, one male giving way to another male in rigid generational progression, with no icky girls or sickly invalids to mar the lineage, and the one mysterious black sheep who will turn out to be misunderstood, surely (as it was probably Bruce to begin with). Oh well - suspension of disbelief and all that, but it made me chuckle.

The best parts of the issue didn't have to do with time-traveling Bruce, anyway. Morrison gets back to the relationship between Dick and Damien which has been the strength of the comic, and it works very well as we realize what Damien is up to. The return of Oberon Sexton is welcome, and Morrison draws on some of the better aspects of his run on Batman. It makes the issue a neat little story, and I'm looking forward to the rest of it. Of course, Morrison's first issue with Stewart was good, too, and faltered in the final two. So we'll see.

Andy Clarke bugs me. The art is fine, but it reminds of someone else's. Whose? Help me out, comics aficiandos!

One panel of awesome:

Criminal: The Sinners #5 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 26 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

I've written about what makes Criminal so interesting before, but I'm going to do it again. Brubaker does such a nice job setting up the plots that when they get set in motion, it simply feels like real people working their way through real problems. Yes, not many people have to deal with the problems that Tracy Lawless and the people of his world have to deal with, but because of the way Brubaker has set things up, we understand that the way Tracy tries to get out of the predicament he's in is really his only option. There's no deus ex machina, there's just people trying their best to stay alive. If the appearance of a character or the resolution of a conflict seems a bit too easy, it's not because it doesn't make sense. The way Tracy wraps up his "assignment" leaves plenty of scars, but he has still thought it out, and Brubaker has allowed us to see his thought process. There's nothing gimmicky about Criminal, and that's part of its greatness. It might seem like utterly brutal storytelling, and there's that, certainly, but it's also a very nice series about people who make bad choices and pay for them. We might not make their bad choices (we might, but not necessarily), but Brubaker does a nice job of making us understand why they make them. Yes, things play out somewhat as we expect, but that's not the point. Brubaker, unlike many of his contemporaries, isn't concerned about the "gotcha" moment. He's much more concerned with showing how every step of the story is horribly inevitable. That's the kind of storytelling I enjoy. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

Criminal is once again going on hiatus, and it's a shame. I enjoy Incognito, which is returning in a bit, but it's in a slightly different vein than Criminal, and it doesn't work quite as well (it's still good, of course, because Brubillips are seriously talented - and should I try to add Staples into that name to make one giant German-esque conglomeration of a word?). But I'm hoping that our creators can rake in some actual dough in their next projects (Avengers for Brubaker, a Stephen King thing for Phillips) and get back to this groovy comic. That would be keen.

One panel of awesome:

Ex Machina #48 ("Pro-Life Part Four") by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (artist), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Well, two more issues to go, so it's kind of pointless to dig into this, isn't it? I'll have something more substantial to say when the final issue drops, but for now, Vaughan is just hurtling toward issue #50. Suzanne is evil, Mitch finds out the horrible thing that happened last issue and doesn't take it well, and things are going to shit, generally. It's quite gripping, and except for the panel in which Mitch walks quickly across the room (is that his apartment, because it looks like a banquet hall of some sort), the art is typically groovy. I have one question, though: Suzanne broadcasts her commands over the radio, and New York goes nuts. All those people were listening to the radio? Were enough people listening to that particular radio station to make it such a problem? It seems strange that it's such a catastrophe. I mean, it's not like she interrupted the M*A*S*H finale or anything. But that's okay. It was just a bit odd.

More later. I'm looking forward to the final couple of issues.

One panel of awesome:

Ghost Projekt #1 (of 5) ("Cold Warriors") by Joe Harris (writer), Steve Rolston (artist), Dean Trippe (colorist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

I don't know how many people know about this book, but dang, it's a good first issue. I wouldn't blame anyone for waiting for the trade, but that's not how I roll, so I'm very glad I got this. Rolston is a very good artist, of course, and I don't think I've ever seen his work in color before, so Trippe's work is very strong as well, adding a nice dimension to the pencil art. (Last week I mentioned I sat at the same table as Ming Doyle at last year's Eisners. Tim Callahan commented that he was there as well, and so was Trippe. It was an all-star table! I'm sure I brought the cool quotient of the group down significantly, but nobody wanted to mention it. Because they're swell.) Rolston does a nice job blending his cartoonish qualities with a grounded realism, which makes his depiction of Russia in the winter nice but not too bleak and makes his work with the cat (oh, the cat's important, you betcha!) a bit more easy to accept. His character work is very good, too - Will and Kip look like normal, everyday schlubs who are about to get caught up in something really bad, while Anya is a total bad-ass. It's a nice, creepy comic that, thanks to Rolston, isn't too overwhelmingly dark. Trippe, meanwhile, uses sickening greens in the first part of the book when he doesn't really have to (it's just nighttime, so it could be anything darker), but given the subject matter, it's a good choice.

Harris tells a story of a research station in Siberia that hides a secret. Two Russians go there to steal something, and they get far more than they bargained for. And there's some old Soviet dudes in Moscow hiding something. And the U. S. Department of Defense sends Will and Kip to figure out what's going on, and they get stonewalled by Anya, the bad-ass cop. She even smokes bad-assily! And there's the cat. And possibly a ghost. Spooky!

This is a really good first issue of what seems like a very nifty series. If you've never seen Rolston's art, it would mean you've never read, among other things, Queen and Country, so shame on you, but here's a good chance in full-color glory. And who doesn't love stories about creepy Soviet-era research stations where weird a-doings were transpiring and now might be haunted? Commies, that's who. Don't be a Commie!

One panel of awesome:

Secret Six #19 ("Cats in the Cradle Part One of Four: Misconceived") by Gail Simone (writer), Jim Calafiore (artist), Jason Wright (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Fuck Wonder Woman.

Seriously. Fuck Birds of Prey, for that matter. Back in the day, late in Simone's first run on BoP, I read a few issues. They did nothing for me. I got a few of the trades from the start of her run. Nothing. Then she took over Wonder Woman, and I read a few issues. Still nothing. And now she's leaving Wonder Woman, and many people are sad. That's cool, but I'm not. She's relaunching Birds of Prey, and many people are happy. That's cool, but I'm not. Simone is a good writer, but it seems like she's at her best when she's writing really, really nasty characters. Even Welcome to Tranquility, her Wildstorm series that she's bringing back this summer, featured some nasty characters and, shall we say, morally challenged people. She just doesn't seem inspired by purity, and she might say she loves writing about Diana, but something about it never clicked. Of course, all those people who are sad by her leaving Wonder Woman should, you know, go buy Secret Six. Because with the exception of a few missteps, this is a fantastic series, and it seems like the only way you could pry Simone away from these characters is by cancelling the series and then freeze-drying Simone in some sort of storage chamber so she doesn't rip your head off. But I could be wrong.

Let's take this issue, which is as good a place as ever to jump on, now that the "Blackest Night" pseudo-crossover is over. It's a new storyline! The group tries to rescue a man from Brother Blood's cult, find out he's dead, and then get betrayed by the man who hired them (this group seriously needs to vet their clients better; have they made any money since being together?). It's a nice little story with a killer ending that sets up the rest of the arc. Seriously, that last page - on the one hand, it doesn't make too much sense, for reasons I can't divulge, but on the other hand, it just punches you right in the gut. Simone does this quite often on this book - reveals something on the last page that is just so fucked-up and nasty that you just have to love it (remember Junior?). But while the story is fairly standard until the final page, the interplay between the characters is so crackling it's a joy to read. Consider Ragdoll's soliloquy on the first page, which cracks me up. DC really should label this a "Mature Readers" comic (it certainly deserves it) because then Simone could actually have Ragdoll say "fuck," which would make the joke on the first page even funnier. But then she nails the Brother Blood cultists wonderfully ("And you'll undergo blessed tonsure, of course!") and the dysfunction of the group when they disobey Bane. We get a particularly nasty scene with Cheshire and some really, really stupid men. We get Alice's weird attraction to Ragdoll. And we get the creepy scene at the end, which is creepy not only for the killer ending but for the few pages preceding it, when the client starts talking and we know things are about to go pear-shaped. Simone makes it all work. And consider her character work, especially with the women: Alice is a goofy teenager who happens to have all sorts of weird powers, but her attraction to Ragdoll is completely believable, especially when you consider how weird teenagers are (and before you jump down my throat, I don't mean that pejoratively, just that teens have a lot going on in their bodies and brains that make them a bit weird). Cheshire is bad-ass, toying with the men sent to ... well, I won't spoil what they're there for, but it's also nice that Simone makes her tough but not quite tough enough. It's a nice touch.

I've never met Ms. Simone, even though she's stopped by the blog a few times. I'm sure she's sad about not writing Wonder Woman anymore, as she's probably the highest profile female writer in comics and Diana is the highest profile female character in comics. I don't know what precipitated her leaving the book, nor do I particularly care. As sad as she might be, she seems to have so much goddamned fun writing this series that I hope this is the one DC can't get her to leave. I hope the sales justify keeping it going (I haven't heard anything about it being in trouble, so there's that). I even think Bill Reed should just get the hell over his loathing of Jim Calafiore and buy the damned book. Because when the client walks out in a tuxedo shirt, tie, and coat and khaki shorts, you know you're in really skeevy territory. And who doesn't love that? Commies, that's who. Commies who hate ice cream. Those are the worst kind of Commies!

One panel of awesome:

S.W.O.R.D. #5 by Kieron Gillen (writer), Steven Sanders (penciler), Craig Yeung (inker), Matt Wilson (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Ah, fuck it. It's over. Buy the trade, won't you? If only for Abigail's explanation of why S.W.O.R.D. actually exists.

Oh, and Gillen knows the correct spelling of "vermilion." Or someone at Marvel does. That's quite gratifying. And damn. I just want to write about each and every awesome thing that happens in this issue, but I won't because it won't make any difference. Trust me. The trade will rock. Would I lie? And if you're at the convention in Seattle this weekend, stop by and say hello to Gillen. He's swell.

One panel of awesome:

The Unwritten #11 ("Jud Süss: The Canker") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Jimmy Broxton (finisher), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The Unwritten is starting to remind me of Lucifer, and that's not necessarily a good thing. I know Lucifer gets praised to the skies, but I've read about five of the trades (I think, without looking, that's how many I own), and it just never took off for me. There would be some really cool things, and you could see that Carey was going somewhere with it, but then it would get sidetracked into mediocrity for a bit, and then it would be good again. It's not that it wasn't consistently great (very few series are), it's that when it did falter, it faltered pretty badly. I haven't thought any of the issues of The Unwritten have been really bad yet, but the quality goes up and down, sometime in the same issue, and Carey still doesn't seem to have a really good handle on the characters yet. That said, issue #11 was quite good, finishing up a nifty little two-parter, but I still find myself wondering how long Carey is going to meander. Again, I'm sure he has a plan and a destination in mind, but like Lucifer, if he takes too long getting there it might get annoying. Ah, I'm babbling. I just wonder if he's focused so much on Tom's grand quest that he occasionally forgets that we have to read every page to get there.

Anyway, this is actually an issue that brings some new things to the fore, including some of Tom's abilities. Lizzie also tells us something interesting about Jud Süss the novel and the movie, which seems fairly important. Gross' art and Broxton's finishes are very keen, especially when Tom confronts the novel/movie directly (it makes sense in the book, trust me). I'm sticking around, because unlike Greek Street (which Chad Nevett claims is getting better), which was fairly incomprehensible from the beginning, at least Carey is keeping most of this weirdness in check so dumb people like me don't get lost. I just wish he'd try to make the characters more interesting and not worry about the grand narrative for an issue or two. We'll see.

One panel of awesome:

Zorro: Matanzas #2 (of 4) ("Terrible Incident in a Place of Skulls") by Don McGregor (writer), Mike Mayhew (artist), Sam Parsons (colorist), John Costanza (letterer), Kel-O-Graphics (digital inker). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

McGregor continues with his dense prose, making this a book that takes a while to read, if that's what you like from your comics. I don't care either way as long as it's good, and this is a decent adventure so far - it doesn't set the world on fire, but that's okay. McGregor does a nice job giving us thumbnail sketches of the characters and of slowly, inevitably, leading us toward the conclusion, but when he wants to show action, he does a fairly good job of letting Mayhew show it, and Zorro's fight against the grizzly bear (yes, the cover actually shows something that happens in the book) is a good example - McGregor doesn't go silent, but he at least trusts his artist to show us what's happening. I'm a bit confused by Machete's plan, though - he causes a bull to run wild, but then tries to save one of the bull's victims (McGregor explains why he saves that particular victim, but still). So what is his plan? I hope it all comes together! And why, if Zorro is so close by, did no one notice his battle against the bear?

This is a pretty rollicking adventure with some purple prose, which I don't mind in small doses. And I always enjoy sudden violence, and Mayhew does a nice job with that. So we'll see where McGregor is going with it!

One panel of awesome:

In family-related news, my older daughter Mia got her cast off on Wednesday, so life is back to normal, somewhat. She's very happy about it, naturally, and her legs are much looser than they've been recently. Her muscle tone will probably still be high, so we're trying to keep her limber, but at least she can sleep on her side and sit in a regular chair and we can carry her non-awkwardly again. Yay! I was pretty happy that the doctor said she could get them off. It was no fun carrying her around with both her legs in casts.

Moving on, let's peruse The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Could We Start Again Please?" - Yvonne Elliman, Michael Jason, Marc Pressel (1970) "I think you've made your point now"2. "Revolution Calling" - Queensryche (1988) "I used to trust the media to tell us the truth"3. "Waiting To Happen" - Marillion (1991) "We took ourselves apart, we talked about our faces"4. "This Is Your Life" - En Vogue (1992) "And when I spoke up to my friends they made fun of my dreams"5. "I Believe" - Blessid Union Of Souls (1995) "Violence is spread worldwide and there are families in the street"6. "Night Songs" - Cinderella (1986) "Sleepin' all day but never get a rest"7. "Warm Wet Circles" - Marillion (1987) "She faithfully traces his name with quick-bitten fingernails"8. "Lay All Your Love On Me" - ABBA (1980) "A little small talk, a smile, and baby, I was stuck"9. "Hotwax" - Beck (1996) "Silver foxes looking for romance in the chain smoke Kansas flashdance ass pants"10. "Now" - Prince (1995) "Don't worry 'bout my name it's too long to remember, I could tell you now but we'd be here 'til next September"

Ah, totally random lyrics. Who can identify you?

"Slice you open like a Taun TaunFaster than the AutobahnOr a motorbike in TronDo the deed and then I'm gone"

Last but not least, I bought a book last week called How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein. It's flippin' awesome. I love books that fill my head with arcane knowledge that pushes out useful stuff, like my anniversary or my childrens' birthdays or my ability to operate a motor vehicle. So if you live in the United States and you're curious as to how your state got its shape, ask me and I will tell you. Sorry, non-Yankees, I can't tell you why Queensland has the borders it does or why Saskatchewan looks like that or why the Jura canton is shaped that way or why Lincolnshire isn't bigger or smaller. Sorry! That's why the U. S. rules, man!!!!

Have a charming day!

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