What I bought - 10 November 2010

"Bonding is like the romance in an Arnold Schwarzeneggar movie."

If it happens along the way, fine."

But it ain't the reason you go there." (Bruce Feirstein, from Real Men Don't Bond)

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #1 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Red 5 Comics.

Atomic Robo returns with volume 5, and if you think the world is a little better because there's a new comic starring Atomic Robo, well, you'd be right. Why, I saw a liberal and a conservative hugging each other on the street today! It's a new age!

This is a fairly typical Atomic Robo comic, in that it's exciting and funny and filled with excellent little bits of character development and good Wegener art (it's impressive how Jack Tarot's body language shows us his mood, as he's wearing a mask over his face so we can't see his expressions). I know, it's almost boring how good the book is! What makes it consistently excellent, however (in addition to the art, of course) is that Clevinger does a very good job writing Robo as an evolving character, not just a robot. This story takes place in 1930, and Robo is, for all intents and purposes, an adolescent (I'm sure it's been revealed when Tesla built him, but I can't remember). So early on in the book he's bored by Tesla's science experiments, a marked difference from the hardcore scientist he would later become. When Jack Tarot, Gunfighter, zips by the lab hanging onto a car, Robo naturally wants in on the action. But Tarot wants nothing to do with him because he's a greenhorn, which of course doesn't deter Robo, who follows Jack to his secret hideout. This is, again, contrasting with Robo's older self, who is now the experienced one and often has to help out the neophytes - he's much nicer than Tarot is, but there's a hint of eye-rolling whenever Robo has to save some new person who ought to know better. It's nice to see in this issue that Clevinger reverses the roles of the characters, and it should make Robo's character development interesting as we move through the series.

I'm very happy that both these gentlemen are getting some work from the companies that actually pay them some money, but I'm also glad they still find time to fire off these mini-series. If you trade-wait on these, fine. But if you've somehow never experienced the joy that is reading Atomic Robo, you really ought to check this issue out. You won't be disappointed!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (of 6) ("The All-Over") by Grant "It's called 'The All-Over' because that's where I'm shaved!" Morrison (writer), Lee Garbett (penciller), Pere Pérez (artist), Alejandro Sicat (inker), Walden Wong (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

Every once in a while, the God of All Comics reminds us that he's just a sentimental old sap, and he does so here in this very good final issue of a mini-series that, really, is just part of another mini-series that came out a couple years ago and also the ongoing companion series being published concurrently. Only the Big Two would have the balls to imply that this is a standalone mini-series when we all know it's not! But that's neither here nor there. I won't get into specifics about this, because it's so very convoluted, tying into so many other stories, but it's a fun, exciting issue - Bruce Wayne returns, of course, and once again Morrison shows that he's so many moves ahead of everyone else they don't even realize they're playing a game. It's still a baldly sentimental issue, but I don't care - I like that in small doses.

I will say that while Morrison is hit-or-miss with characterization, in only a few sentences he encapsulates Hal Jordan's douchebaggery and animosity toward Batman. That's not bad at all. Well played, Mr. Morrison!

What I wanted to write about with regard to this issue is the art. Back when it was solicited, I mocked DC for allowing Lee Garbett to draw it. A few people took me to task, reminding me that he drew The Highwaymen, which is not bad-looking at all, plus some other stuff on which he acquitted himself well. I went back and looked at the few issues of Batman that he drew, and the art still stinks, but I will eat my words about this issue, because the art is very good. He has a Jim Lee vibe, but without some of the harsher lines (and abundance of them) that we see when Lee is inked by Scott Williams. Pérez is still going for a Ryan Sook look, so the two styles blend very well, and the book looks excellent, especially as it's a fairly straight-forward superhero book. I don't know why Garbett's work looks so good on this book - was it extra time, Sicat and Wong's inking, Major's coloring, or a combination of it all? - but it's a big step up from the previous time I've seen his work. I know he's been working on some of the other Bat-books that I don't read, and I wonder if it's just that he's getting better and that art is as good as this, or if it's some other factor. Anyway, I was wrong for mocking DC for using Garbett. I hope he continues to do work as nice as this - it might get me to check out something he's drawing!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Booster Gold #38 ("Glory Days!") by Keith Giffen (writer), J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Chris Batista (penciller), Rich Perrotta (inker), Hi-Fi (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

This is the first issue of Booster Gold with the new writers that I've been disappointed in, mainly because Giffen and DeMatteis dredge up General Glory to star in it, and if there's one character who need never be featured in a comic again, it's General Glory. General Glory, for those who don't know, is a Captain America/Captain Marvel/Miracleman kind of character from the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, a guy who needed to recite an oath so he could transform into a superhero and fight Nazis, but as the years passed he forgot the oath and got old. None of that really matters here, as Booster travels back to World War II to rescue Rani, the girl he brought back from the future a few issues ago, who stole a time sphere and went back to 1943. Booster has to get her and avoid doing too much damage to the Nazis (space-time continuum and all that), but of course he runs into General Glory along the way. This gives Giffen and DeMatteis a chance to make fun of the character that they created and take some shots at the devil-may-care attitude of World War II superheroes who took kids into combat (like Captain American, say). It's mildly amusing, but a very little of General Glory goes a very long way, and after a while, this issue just becomes boring, as General Glory has never had much of a personality, so there's nothing interesting about him except for the fact that everyone picks on him. Anyway, the best part of the issue is when Booster figures out how to solve the problem, which is actually pretty clever. But it's still not a very good issue.

Well, Batista is pretty good. His General Glory is much better than Linda Medley's.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chaos War #3 (of 5) ("Paradises Lost") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Khoi Pham (penciler), Thomas Palmer (inker), Sunny Gho (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This came out last week, but it was sold out by the time I reached the comics shoppe, so I had to wait until this week to buy it. It follows your standard structure in events like this - we've reached the point where the bad guy is triumphant and we learn a shocking secret about his campaign, but we haven't reached the point where the good guys figure out what to do about it. It's very entertaining even though it treads very familiar ground, and we get the typical nice writing from Pak and van Lente and the usual hilarious sound effects.

I'm going to have to drag out my issues of The Incredible Hercules that Pham drew, because I really wonder why this art is so terrible. I mean, the big picture stuff is okay, which is good because the story features a lot of big picture stuff, but whenever Pham needs to pull in close, it's just awful. Two examples leap to mind: Right before Galactus falls, his face is lined as he wonders why he can't defeat Zeus. It looks ridiculous - there's no definition to his face, just a bunch of thick lines that make his face look like it's cheap, melting rubber. When Amadeus freaks out because he realizes that there's no way to defeat the Chaos King (and yes, I'm aware that it's ridiculous that he checked the numbers "infinite times," because he'd still be running them if that were the case), his face looks like it was drawn by Rob Liefeld. I find it difficult to even describe it. It's a thickly inked Liefeld face, that's the best I can do. Pham isn't a bad artist by any means, but I have no idea what he's doing differently on this series, because it really does look terrible. It doesn't offend me like Ariel Olivetti's art does, so it won't repel me from the book, but I really do speed through the speech balloons and glance only briefly at the art when I'm reading this, and given that van Lente and Pak are working on a cosmic scale, I should appreciate the art more. But I can't. So sad!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chew #15 ("Just Desserts Part 5 of 5") by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Steven Struble (color assistant). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

The 15th issue of Chew is a weird one, because while it's ostensibly the end of an arc, this arc has been a hodge-podge of plot threads that set up future storylines, so this ends on a cliffhanger that, while it doesn't come out of nowhere, doesn't come from anywhere in this arc. Each issue of this arc has been marked by the usual good writing and good art, but as a whole, it's pretty incoherent. I'm just pointing that out for those people who read this in trade paperback format - this trade won't consist of one story, but a bunch of little ones, some of which resolve, and some of which set up things to come. This issue in particular does that. Mason Savoy discovers something out about Tony, and while it remains a mystery to us for a while, by the end of the issue we know what it is as well. Meanwhile, Tony goes home for Thanksgiving dinner, which takes up the bulk of the issue. We meet his fraternal twin sister, Toni (if only they were fraternal triplets, the third named Toné), a bunch of other family members, learn that Tony's brother is still angry about what happened to him on Yamapalu, see Tony make up with Amelia, and get a preview of the next issue, which hearkens back to events from quite some time ago (and Layman does a nice job foreshadowing it when Toni tells Colby about her new job). While as a single issue and the end of an arc, this doesn't work all that well, as a chapter of the far longer story Layman is telling, it's quite good - it gives us plenty of information we didn't already have, answers a few questions, ties into earlier plots, and points the way to the future. That ain't bad at all.

And Guillory absolutely rocks. Just check out that cover! Plus, the opening sequence of Savoy slowly discovering what he needs to know about Tony (and it took me a second to realize what he was eating at the end of the sequence, but once you see what he's doing, it's gleefully twisted and perfectly logical) is handled brilliantly. It's amazing to think that Layman pays Guillory in Monopoly money but the artist keeps churning out gorgeous art like this. That sneaky Layman!

The trade of this arc should be out next month. Look for it at fine purveyors of graphic entertainment!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Feeding Ground #1 (of 6) ("Part One: One in Ten") by Swifty Lang (writer/story), Michael Lapinski (artist/story/letterer), Chris Mangun (story), and Diego Merino (translator). $3.95, 29 pgs, FC, Archaia.

Archaia sent me a big box with several comics in it, so I'm going to review them all here. So whenever you see an Archaia book this week, just know that I didn't pay for it. A few I've already ordered, so I'll pay for copies eventually, but not these. As always, I'd like to thank the fine people at Archaia for sending these along. It's awfully swell of them.

The first of these, Feeding Ground, is an interesting comic with a lot of potential, some of which is realized fairly well in this initial issue. The creators (all three of them are listed as such) have a pretty grand story to tell, so quite a bit of the book is set-up, but it's intriguing set-up, so that's a plus. The story begins in a small town in Mexico (it appears to be near the American border, but it's unclear), where a young girl trespasses on a private farm (complete with guard towers!) and is dragged into the corn. Meanwhile, in town, her mother exposits that the farm has driven many men, such as her husband, out of work while she fends off the unwanted attention of a rich local dude. Then we get a group of Mexicans crossing the border into the United States (led by the young girl's father, who works as a coyote), and one of them runs off, apparently because he's afflicted with something. Later, at night, he's wandering around naked screaming that his skin burns, so he cuts open his arm with a sharp rock and drinks his own blood. At about the same time, the Mexicans are picked up by a group who work for the corporation that owns the farm. The men, naturally, think the corporation is taking them to get them jobs in the States, but we know better. Finally, the young girl's brother and an older man (I'm pretty sure it's his grandfather, unless I'm completely misreading it) find the girl - Flaca - in a shopping cart surrounded by a bunch of dogs. She has a small cut on her hand, but otherwise in unharmed ... however, she's covered in blood. When she gets home, the rich dude - Don Oso - shows up and tells her mother he wants to take Flaca away. It's all very portentous!

As you can see, in 29 pages the creators pack a lot into this comic. There's something creepy going on at the farm, the dad is luring his fellow countrymen into the desert and letting the corporation take them away, there's something weird in the blood - it's all very spooky. Lang does a nice job keeping things mysterious while giving us some decent information. Lapinski, who sent me an e-mail about the comic a while back and whose blog is a record of his attempts to draw a comic while learning how to draw a comic, does a fairly good job. He appears to use plenty of photo references, but he does a good job integrating it all into the panels, and when Flaca goes to the farm, it's a genuinely creepy moment. As this story takes place in the desert, the pallid coloring works very nicely, especially when you consider that it's difficult to get a true feeling of horror in a place as sunny as the Sonoran desert (which is why you rarely see horror movies set in Arizona, for instance). But Lapinski does well with that. He's still learning, however, so occasionally the figures are stiff and posed awkwardly, and the perspective is off in some places - there's a particularly egregious overhead shot of Don Oso throwing candy to kids where his hand looks like an animal's hoof, but that's because Lapinski chooses to show it from directly overhead and he's still working on point of view. In general, this is a very nice-looking comic.

The creators do something else really interesting: They give the story in both English and Spanish. The book is a flip-book, with the exact same art on both sides but the words on one side in English and the other in Spanish. I don't know enough Spanish to know if it's "Mexican" Spanish or not (I know there are some differences between New World Spanish and Old World Spanish), but even so, it's a keen idea. I don't know if they're going to do it for every issue (printing costs might be too high), but it's pretty neat.

If you're looking for a horror story that's a bit out of the ordinary, you could do worse than to give this a look. I don't know if it will all pan out, but it's off to a pretty decent start.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #5 (of 6) ("The Natural Order of Things") by Matz (writer/translator), Luc Jacamon (artist), Edward Gauvin (translator), and Scott Newman (letterer). $3.95, 26 pgs, FC, Archaia.

It's been a while since an issue of The Killer came out, which is too bad, because the sequel, while not as morally complex as the original series, is still a good action/adventure story that involves a lot of politics Yankees ignore, so it's fun to read it and get your horizon expanded a bit. Our hero has been tasked by the Cubans (and his new lover) to sow some confusion among the Venezuelans, so he kills some higher-ups in the government. Of course, his old friend Mariano points out that maybe, just maybe, his hot Cuban lass is playing him, as oil - and therefore big money - is involved, so presumably the killer is going to find out what's really going on. There's not much else going on - he visits his wife and son to make sure they're safe, he has crazy sex with his Cuban contact, he kills some people. But, as always, it's a fun and intriguing read, and Jacamon's art is stellar. So it's got that going for it!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Like That by Patrick Rills (writer/photographer/letterer) and Allen Gladfelter (layouter/inker). $6.00, 42 pgs, BW, Icon Studios.

This is an interesting project, partly because it bears a copyright date of 2006 on it - Rills has been working on it for a while! It's also put together interestingly - Rills cast people to play the parts of his characters, then took photographs of them which he turned into panels in the book. Gladfelter then laid them out and inked them. Gladfelter is a pretty good artist in his own right, so I wonder if he hadn't quite gotten the hang of it back when the book was starting out and wasn't confident enough to draw this. We see a lot of photo-referencing in art these days, so it's not like doing a book this way is too stunning, but what makes it work is that it's not just photographs with filters applied to them - these pages look drawn, giving the book a bit more of an organic feel, even more so than something like Scarlet, which is created by a long-time comics veteran.

Story-wise, this is a charming little love story, as we track a romance through its various stages. Reed comes home one night and tells his two friends that he was going to break up with his girlfriend, Melanie, but they got in a fight before he could (which amuses his friends to no end). One of the friends tells him that he's in love, but Reed, exhibiting the idiocy of men everywhere, claims he doesn't have time to be in love right now. Rills tells the story of their courtship in flashbacks, as Reed discovers things on his person and around town that remind him of certain moments, including the reason they had a fight. Rills ends the story on a hopeful but still ambiguous note, which isn't a bad way to go. We think Reed has gotten his head out of his butt, but we're left with that little kernel of doubt.

Rills does a nice job with the dialogue between Reed and Melanie - they don't speak in prepared speeches, but in snippets of meaning among banalities. The one place where the story doesn't work is when Reed claims he doesn't have time for a girlfriend - he says it twice, but Rills doesn't give us much to show why he feels that way. He writes, but that's not his career - he and Melanie are in college, actually. So is it just that he's taking a bunch of classes? His friend, Ben, hints that he has more going on, but we don't get evidence that it's something that would keep him from being romantically involved. So either it's something and we never find out what it is, or it's nothing, and Reed becomes a stereotypical man acting like a dick. Either way, it's unsatisfying. And Melanie uses "retard" in a way that really annoys me, but I suppose I've gone on about that too much, so I'll just point it out. We don't know enough about Melanie to know if it's her just being ignorant or if she has a mean streak.

At 42 pages, this is a bit too short to address everything we need to know about Reed and Melanie. It's a nice effort at showing how two people can fall in love, and the events in their relationship ring very true (in a much better way than most romantic comedies in the movies, as a contrast), but because we don't know enough about the two as individuals, it's hard to care too much whether they get together or not. Rills could have taken a few more pages to flesh out the characters a bit more and it would probably have worked a bit better. But it's still a nice comic, and we can all use more romantic fiction in our lives, right?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Lucid #2 (of 4) by Michael McMillian (writer), Anna Wieszczyk (artist), and Shawn DePasquale (letterer). $3.95, 22 pgs, FC, Archaia/Before the Door.

I wasn't a huge fan of the first issue of this mini-series, even though it did give me an excuse to link to a picture of Anna Camp, who played McMillian's wife on True Blood. But it was a bit of a mess, even if the concept - magicians in the present acting as Secret Service agents - wasn't bad. This issue is a bit better, as our hero, Matthew, has to save the president from assassination and then track the killer - or at least the person behind the killing, as he kills the assassin at the spot. McMillian gets some mileage out of putting spells on bullets - he takes the term "magic bullet" very literally, which adds some humor to the comic (if you recollect where that term first gained cachet in American history), and the book zips along nicely. It doesn't seem to build on last issue's revelations about other-dimensional beings trying to take over our reality or Matthew's mysterious love life (he vaguely mentions something about it, but that's it), but it's a nifty little single issue story that, from the ending, will tie in somehow to the bigger story. It's still not wonderfully written, but it's fairly entertaining.

Wieszczyk's art remains the impediment, for me, to this being a pretty good comic. We get more of the murky, indistinct, and obviously Photoshopped backgrounds standing in stark contrast to the sharp figure work, and it just doesn't work and makes the book look like it takes place in the fog. I can live with Wieszczyk's stiff figures, even through a fight on scaffolding between Matthew and the assassin, but that fight is a perfect example of what's wrong with the art - Matthew and the assassin look like they've been dropped into a background, which they probably have been, and nothing has been done to integrate them into that background. Wieszczyk's style isn't to my liking, sure, but I'd like the art a lot more if she drew everything. That she doesn't makes the art look far sloppier than it needs to be. I guess it's not going to change throughout this series, so if Archaia sends the final two issues to me, I guess I'll have the same complaints. We shall see.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #4 (of 4). "The Lion and the Mouse" by Craig Rousseau (writer/artist); "Bowen's Tale" by Karl Kerschl (writer/artist); "Crown of Silver, Crown of Gold" by Mark Smylie (writer/artist); framing story by David Petersen (writer/artist). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Archaia.

Here's something really weird: The hardcover collection of Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard came out this week. Why is that weird, you might ask? Well, when I was talking to the guy at my comics store, a guy who buys Mouse Guard in collected format, I mentioned that I was puzzled that the hardcover was coming out ... because issue #4 hadn't come out yet. He told me that he was glad I mentioned it, because he thought he was going crazy. I pre-ordered issue #4, of course, and usually Archaia sends these books to me a week or two (or even three) after they've been out in the comics shoppes. But as far as I know, issue #4 hasn't shipped yet ... but Archaia is releasing the hardcover this week. That's strange, to say the least.

Anyway, there are some typically good stories in this issue. Rousseau's is a riff on Aesop's "lion and the mouse" fable, with some cleverness and common sense thrown in. Nothing much happens in Kerschl's wordless story, but it looks gorgeous. And Smylie, channeling his own Artesia, tells a story of a warrior mouse sent on a quest from which the king is certain he won't return just so he can score with the warrior's mouse lady. Hmmm ... that sounds familiar (okay, it's not an exact parallel, but close enough!). Smylie puts his own twist on that, too, as of course evil kings can't win when matched up against noble warriors and virtuous ladies! It's a fun story, and Smylie's art is always fantastic.

This has been a nice little caesura between the main Mouse Guard mini-series, and let's hope it gave Petersen time to write and draw the next one. Most of the stories were well done, and it's always cool to see a bunch of artists cutting loose! The hardcover has an extra story in it plus sketches in the back, so it's not a bad way to go. Or you could just wait until issue #4 comes out ... if it ever does!!!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Secret History Book Twelve ("Lucky Point") by Jean-Pierre Pécau (writer), Igor Kordey (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), Edward Gauvin (translator), and Scott Newman (letterer). $5.95, 46 pgs, FC, Archaia.

As I've mentioned before, the most impressive thing about The Secret History is how Pécau "explains" things in history by showing how obvious it is that the runestones were used. I mean, of course! So now we're deep into World War II, and weird things keep happening, and there's a perfectly good reason why so many casinos have sprung up near Los Alamos and why the Americans won the Battle of Midway so decisively. Of course! What's most interesting about these issues that feature recurring characters is what a cool guy Kim Philby is. I mean, he's obviously loyal to no one, and it fits in with what we know about Philby, but Pécau has made him very compelling and, while not actually heroic, at least more heroic than we expect a future Soviet spy to be. He's a total cad, but whenever he shows up, the book gets more interesting.

I do wish these issues would come out more often, and I hope they don't get held up too much as the series moves forward (toward an inevitable conclusion, one would think), because it really is an entertaining story. Archaia's publication schedule, of course, never fills me with hope, but I can dream, can't I?

One totally Airwolf panel:

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 ("The High Road") by Nick Spencer (writer), Cafu (penciller), Bit (inker), Santiago Arcas (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.

For the second week in a row, commenters picked a #1 issue for me to buy. The vote was a bit more lopsided than last week (althought fewer people voted), and I wonder if there's going to be a week where no #1 issue is coming out and I'll have to jump right into the middle of a storyline!

I have yet to make up my mind about Spencer as a writer, mainly because I've never read anything of his for long enough to see how he can finish things. Existence 2.0/3.0 was okay, but not great, and Morning Glories has just started. Shuddertown is not very good, and while a lot of that has to do with the art, Spencer's writing on it isn't great either. So I wasn't sure if I wanted to get this, mainly because my jury is still out on Spencer.

He starts things well, though, and this is no exception. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a solid first issue, as Spencer throws us right into a rescue operation, and when two of the rescuers die, we wonder what went wrong. As it turns out, nothing went wrong - even if we didn't know from the promotional material, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. agents die because of the abilities they're given - it burns them out somehow. I'm sure if anyone read the original series, this is explained, but Spencer leaves it mysterious for now. What he does here is give us an exciting mission that goes horribly wrong for some weirdly humorous reasons (see below), and sets up the rest of the arc when he activates some new agents. Oh, what wackiness is in store for them!

Of course, if you have a series where the superheroes die (and presumably Spencer will kill them off and not just threaten to do it), you need characters who might stick around to form the foundation that will keep readers coming back. In this case, it's Toby and Colleen, who work behind the lines, so to speak. Toby is the salesman, who convinces people with very little hope to join the organization and become superheroes, even if for a short time. Colleen ... well, she does something. She's obviously high up in the organization, but it's unclear what she does. The book is ostensibly told in flashbacks, as a reporter is interviewing Colleen in Sri Lanka while a riot goes on outside the facility (hotel?) in which the interview takes place, and while we see Colleen running around the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. agents' secret base, we still don't know what she does. The time frame of the issue is a bit odd - it begins with Toby practicing a pitch, even though it's obvious he's done this a lot, and then tells us it's "eleven months later" in Sri Lanka, and Colleen is telling about the rescue mission that went wrong. Then we're in Colombia, "twelve months ago," which is when the mission took place. Does this mean that the rescue took place, say in November 2010, and then, in December, Toby was practicing his pitch, and then in November 2011 Colleen is eating a steak in Sri Lanka? I suppose so, but the opening scene still sounds like Toby is new to the job, but after the mission goes wrong, it's clear Toby has been around for a while. It's weird.

Anyway, it's a solid issue. Cafu (or is it CAFU?) does a good job with the art - it's a nice, clean style, bright and shiny and superheroic, a bit like Gary Frank before he started putting so many lines in his work. He seems to be equally at home with action and with talking heads, which is a good skill to have. As always, I wonder how long he'll last on the book or even how long before they need a guest artist, but I hope he does the entire arc, at least.

It's a four-dollar comic, but it is 30 pages long, so there's that. If Spencer is allowed or has the stones to kill off heroes as the thesis promises, this could be a nice, quirky, subversive series. Let us hope he hasn't had his spirit crushed yet by the Big Two!

(The "T" in T.H.U.N.D.E.R. stands for "The," by the way. That seems dumb. But maybe that's just me.)

(Spencer gets the etymology of "soldier" wrong, by the way. It has nothing to do with salt. "Salary" comes from the Latin "sal," and originally meant a soldier's allowance for buying salt, but "soldier" itself comes from "solidarius," someone who served for pay. They weren't paid in salt, they were paid in solidi, a Roman coin. Hence the name. Colleen gets this sort-of right, but soldier does not come from "sal dare," as she (and Spencer) attest. The history of salt is pretty keen, actually. I have not read Mark Kurlansky's book on the subject, but I remember that merchants in the Sahara used to take their salt south into the jungles along the coast and trade it for gold, which the tribes had lying around. But they didn't have salt, which is fairly crucial to, you know, living. I used to tell my students this to illustrate that things have no intrinsic value - the sub-Saharan tribes didn't care about gold because they had it in abundance, but they desperately needed salt. The Muslims of Timbuktu used to build houses out of salt because they had so much of it, and couldn't believe they could trade it for gold. Economics is FUN!)

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Unwritten #19 ("Leviathan Part One") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Vince Locke (finisher on five pages), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Yes, I bought The Unwritten. Oh, the shame! Why can't I quit it? WHY?!?!?!?

Well, it's not like it's a terrible comic, after all. It's well written and it always looks good, but it just hasn't been clicking with me. But I was curious to see if a new story, in which Tom and his cohorts get away from the machinations of the evil organization and head off to the colonies to check out Moby-Dick, might be what the book needs. And this is a pretty good issue with a particularly effective ending and a creepy new character, but I'm still on the fence. I just find it difficult, 19 issues in, to care much about these characters. It was the same problem I had with Lucifer - I read four trades and while I admired the craft that went into it, I just didn't care about the characters at all. Is it a problem with Carey? I don't know - before X-Men #200, he was really doing a good job with those characters, even making me care a bit about Cable, but perhaps he had the foundation to build on. Lucifer wasn't much of a character when Gaiman wrote him, and these are new characters - does Carey have a problem if there's no foundation? Again, I don't know. As always, I'm really frustrated with The Unwritten, because I read this, enjoyed it, and then started thinking about it a bit more and whether I would care at all if it disappeared from the schedule. No, I wouldn't. I don't get bent out of shape by cancellations, but for books that I really enjoy that don't seem to be in danger - Gødland, Scalped, Chew - I would be bothered if for some reason the creators just stopped doing them. If that happened to The Unwritten, I might not even notice. That doesn't sound like an endorsement, does it? I know the book has its fans, but I've been reading it for a year-and-a-half and I just can't figure out why I don't love it more. I know I've written this before, but it's really perplexing. Weird.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #5 (of 6) ("Homecoming Part Five: Battle of the Bands") by Gail Simone (writer), Horacio Domingues (artist), Jonny Rench (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

The colorist of this series, Jonny Rench, died about a month ago of a heart attack at 28. As always with people I don't know, I'm not sad about it, but it is a depressing event. I wonder what happened, as 28-year-old men don't usually die of heart attacks. Anyway, it's a bit late, but my condolescences to his family and friends. It sucks to lose someone close to you.

I'm increasingly puzzled by this series, because while Simone has settled on a through-plot and it's perfectly fine (I don't love the "powerful kid who turns evil" storyline, but Simone is doing a decent job with it), I'm still not sure what the whole deal was with a character returning from the dead. Someone last time wondered if she was setting up future mini-series, but with Wildstorm going away, what's the future hold for the series? Beats me.

So while I have made my peace with the plot, the romance between Derek and Tommy borders on cliché, mostly because pregnancy rears its ugly head. I'll reserve judgment about it until the final issue, but I'd like to point out that in my high school, for instance, with its 600+ students in my graduating class, probably 400 of whom were having sex, we had, I think, one pregnancy in the three years I went there. Just because teenagers have sex doesn't mean they get pregnant! But ... I will reserve judgment. We shall see what Simone does with it.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan (writer/artist). $12.95, 135 pgs, BW, SLG.

Alanguilan's comic takes place in an alternate universe where chickens are fully sentient (and kind of giant). It's an allegory, man! It looks pretty keen.

Mage: The Hero Discovered by Matt Wagner (writer/artist), Jeromy Cox (colorist), James Rochelle (colorist), and Sam Kieth (inker). $39.99, 421 pgs, FC, Image.

Yes, I've finally gotten around to getting this. I know this hardcover has been around for years, but I just never picked it up. I figured it was probably time for it.

Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen, edited by Richard Bensam. $19.95, 171 pgs, Sequart Research & Literacy Organization.

Tim Callahan would have haunted my dreams if I didn't buy this (even though I've lost his respect forever recently), but I probably would have gotten it even if he and everyone's favorite random thought guy, Chad Nevett, didn't have essays in it (well, everyone's but Tom's favorite random thoughts guy, that is). It's about Watchmen, after all, and I dig me some critical examinations of comics! Of course, I TOTALLY disagreed with the first essay, but it sure was interesting!

Two Generals by Scott Chantler (writer/artist). $24.95, 137 pgs, FC, McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

This is bound like an olde-tyme leather journal, which is kind of neat. Comics packaging doesn't get enough attention. Plus, it's Scott Chantler, so I'm sure the insides are good, too.

Vampire Boy by Carlos Trillo (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist), and Zeljko Medic (translator). $24.99, 474 pgs, BW, Dark Horse/SAF Comics.

Yes, it's vampires, so I shouldn't like it, but it's Trillo and Risso, which means I have to give it a shot, at least. It certainly looks pretty danged cool!

Let's consider the news of the world. I forgot to mention this last week, but Bob Guccione died. He was 79. I was never a Penthouse guy when I was growing up, preferring the nude women in Playboy, who seemed a bit more classy, than the women of Penthouse, who seemed a bit gross. But Guccione knew what he was doing, apparently, because he made some major coin back in the day. I suppose the monument to his hubris was Caligula, which I still haven't seen and probably never will. But getting that many noted actors to star in what is, apparently, a hardcore porn movie is pretty impressive.

I'm enjoying the hell out of the collapse of the Dallas Cowboys, because I would like it if the Cowboys never won another football game. I'm a bit puzzled by commentators who talk about teams who "need" to be good because it's good for the league. This comes up whenever the Cowboys suck - "The NFL is more interesting when the Cowboys are good," say the commentators, but I call bullshit. Since the Cowboys last won the Super Bowl, they've won one (1) playoff game, and that was last season. That's one (1) playoff game in 15 years, and the NFL is doing just fine even as the Cowboys have become more and more irrelevant. I heard someone say today that the league is more interesting when the Raiders are good. Again, bullshit. This happens quite often in college football - ESPN likes it when the "power" teams are good, because their fan bases are more rabid and ratings go up. I can't imagine how much drama is at ESPN HQ this season, when Oregon is a great team, Auburn has some sudden problems with their Heisman candidate, a team from Idaho and a team with "Christian" in their name are undefeated, and Texas blows chunks. I love that the Longhorns suck. I'm waiting for the Eagles to suck so someone can say that the NFL is more interesting when they're good. Yeah, that probably won't happen.

My five-year-old has started taking a drawing class, and she loves it. Check out some of her early efforts:

This is a crying boy. You'll note the closed eyes and the wide open mouth (I think that's a hat on his head, but I don't know why the black dots are on it). According to Norah, he ate some chips (you see them in his mouth there) and choked on the bag (it's sticking out of his mouth) and started screaming. In the stream of screaming going off to the right, you see what looks like an ear. I forgot to ask her, but I think that's supposed to indicate that it's loud. And no, he has no arms. So sad!

Here's another guy. I didn't get any story out of her about it. But it's a fun drawing!

One thing I noticed they have told her is how to use lines. In other words, lines to indicate movement and such. Her drawings weren't bad before (for, you know, a five-year-old), but putting the lines in really makes the drawings look a lot better. Such a simple thing!

This week I added 400+ songs to my iPod, so in honor of that and to give you more opportunity to admire/mock my musical tastes, I've expanded this to The TWENTY Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Big Time Operator" - Dead Milkmen (1987) "And when it comes to doing nothing, I'm really in the know"2. "Lay My Head Down" - Indigo Girls (2006) "Years later I think that I would have been much more alive to have taken you up on your offer and taken that drive"3. "Firecracker" - Ryan Adams (2001) "Kiss me slow and softly make me dream of you"4. "Play the Game" - Queen (1980) "This is your life, don't play hard to get"15. "It's a Long Way to the Top (If Ya Wanna Rock and Roll)" - AC/DC (1975) "Gettin' robbed, gettin' stoned, gettin' beat up, broken boned"26. "Gentle Groove" - Mother Love Bone (1990) "I'm gonna be your boyfriend, and you call call me names"7. "The Confessor" - Joe Walsh (1985) "On the bottom words are shallow, on the surface talk is cheap"38. "Red Marty" - Hamell on Trial (1997)9. "I Lost It" - Lucinda Williams (1998) "Are you heavy enough to make me stay, I feel like I might blow away"10. "Living With the Big Lie" - Marillion (1994) "You drink it in and marvel at it all, but you never really figure it out"11. "In the Cage" - Genesis (1974) "I'm helpless in my violent rage"12. "Forgotten Years" - Midnight Oil (1990) "Our sons need never be soldiers, our daughters will never need guns"13. "Brother Wolf, Sister Moon" - The Cult (1985) "Hang your head no more and beg no more"414. "The Rain Song" - Led Zeppelin (1973) "I've felt the coldness of my winter, I never thought it would ever go"15. "People and Places" - Journey (1980) "Every single face there lies a trace of sadness felt before"16. "Hey, Johnny Park!" - Foo Fighters (1997) "Your eyes still remind me of angels that hover above"17. "Waterfall" - James (2008) "How much junk in my life do I really need?"518. "Seven Nation Army" - White Stripes (2003) "I'm going to Wichita, far from this opera forevermore"19. "A Place Called Home" - PJ Harvey (2000) "Now the message is sent, let's bring it to its final end"20. "Land of Sunshine" - Faith No More (1992) "Does emotional music have quite an effect on you?"

1 Olde-tyme videos are awesome. Check out the technical wizardry in this clip, plus Freddie Mercury shirtless. If that's your thing.2 Bagpipe solo, bitches!3 Joe Walsh writes a lot of crap, but "The Confessor" kicks so much ass I can almost forgive it all. And that video is why the 1980s rule. Bad special effects, goofy symbolism, a nearly-naked Walsh (yeah, we didn't need to see that), gallons of hairspray on the chick - it's awesome. Cool guitar solo, though!4 Ian Astbury was born near Liverpool. I'm just sayin'. His obsession with American Indians, while interesting, is a bit odd.5 My daughter not only knows this song, she requests it occasionally. Because she's awesome.

Who wants totally random lyrics? You do!

"His rival it seems had broken his dreamsBy stealing the girl of his fancyHer name was Magil and she called herself LilBut everyone knew her as Nancy"

If you had the chance, I'm sure you hugged a veteran today. Remember, on this day in 1918, the armistice ending World War I was signed. The "war to end all wars" was so horrific that everyone in the world decided that no one would ever go to war again, and we've had 92 years of absolute peace, with differences between nation-states decided in the most civilized way - the leaders wrestle in jello! Wouldn't that be groovy?

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