What I bought - 10 October 2007

I bought only two comics this week.  I know, I must be slipping.  And even though I looked and looked, I really didn't see much that interested me as an impulse purchase.  Am I becoming more mature, or are comics sucking more?  Hmmm ...

Of course, I read some comics for free.  Which two comics did I spend money on?  See if you can spot them!

Black Summer #3 by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp.  $2.99, Avatar.

When I reviewed issue #2, Warren Ellis came by and took me to task a bit, which I probably deserved, for thinking that his characters spoke for him.  I always wonder how much we can separate the writer from the material, especially when the writer has written so many comics with similar themes and essays that have nothing to do with comics.  I mentioned, with regard to issue #2, that comparing George Bush to Hitler is idiotic because even if you loathe Bush, he's still going to leave office in January 2009.  Someone mentioned that the character who says that line is supposed to be seen as foolish, and Mr. Ellis was happy that someone had seen that it was the character speaking and not the writer.  That's certainly a good point, and in this issue we get a bit more political discussion that makes the characters more unique and interesting.  It's not much, because the issue is about other things, but it makes the political problems of the superheroes with John Horus deeper.  I don't really have much to say about the issue, because I'm going to get the trade paperback if and when it comes out, I just got this to see if the quality, which I thought improved from the zero issue to the second, continued.  It's a good issue, so I figure I'll just wait until it all comes in a nice package.  I do wonder who the superheroes are about to kill on the last page, though.  I assume it's a soldier, but in the preceding panel, there's no soldier at their feet, and it appears all the soldiers either run away or get killed when Dominic chucks the tank at the helicopter.  I could be wrong.

My point in bringing up the response to last issue, especially the comment from Mr. Ellis (whom I'm sure will never come back here because he thinks I'm an idiot), is that I have read a great deal by him, both in comic book form and in essay form.  He is a bit obsessed with the bleeding edge of technology, and this comes through in both this book and Doktor Sleepless, as well as any number of other titles he's written.  I know he is obsessed with it, because he's written about his obsession before.  I also know that his political opinions are such that I wouldn't be surprised if he compared Bush to Hitler.  I understand that the character is speaking and not necessarily the writer, but my question is: How much do we need to know about the writer's preferences before we can make the leap to thinking his characters are speaking for him?  Can we ever do that?  I assumed that what Ellis wrote about Bush equalling Hitler was his belief because of what I've read by him before - and that's my fault, I guess.  But it's certainly true that a writer puts a great deal of himself into his writing, and can't we glean some personality traits of the writer from what's on the page?  If I wrote this exact same issue of Black Summer, I would not have put in all of Tom Noir's web surfing, because I'm not that interested in knowing that stuff, and I don't know it.  And I certainly couldn't write a book like Doktor Sleepless, because I'm just not a tech guy, and that book is a lot of tech.  Even if it's made-up, I can't even sound convincing writing about tech.  I could certainly read up on it, which would help me fake it a bit more, but it's not my thing.  Should I assume Ellis isn't into that sort of thing even though he puts it in his comic books?  Like I wrote, I'm just curious as to how much we can assume about a writer by their written work.

Boy, I can certainly ramble when I get going, can't I?  Let's move on.

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24 by J. Michael Straczynski, Joey Q, and Danny Miki.  $3.99, Marvel.

I don't really get this story line.  I mean, I understand what Peter is trying to do - save Aunt May - but two issues in to a four-issue arc, nothing has really happened, and I'm not exactly sure what JMS is trying to say.  That Peter loves his aunt?  Yeah, we know.  That he'd do anything to save her?  Yeah, we know.  That Joey Q's art has gotten worse over the years?  Check.  So what's the point?

This chapter is slightly worse than the last one, in that the issue of Amazing Spider-Man at least set up the story.  Now we're all set up, and ... Peter does nothing.  He goes to Dr. Strange, who tells him he can't do anything.  He sends Peter to every great scientist and doctor in the world instantaneously (using some o' that new-fangled "magic" all the kids are talking about), and they all tell them they can't help him.  Peter disobeys Dr. Strange's orders and uses the "heinous hands of death" (there they are on the cover!) to go back in time to the moment Aunt May was shot and discovers, unlike practically every single Marvel comic book ever published, that he can't affect the past.  And then some mysterious girl shows up and claims she can help him.

Basically, this story so far has come down to: Aunt May got shot, apparently in a place that didn't kill her instantly but also in a place where NO ONE on the planet can save her, and Peter doesn't like it.  There's no story.  Nothing happens.  The cover is the most exciting part of the comic.  Sheesh.  And before people accuse me of wanting only all-out action in the Mighty Marvel Manner and not appreciating the goodness of characterization, we don't get any of that, either.  Peter just whines because he thinks he got Aunt May killed.

So in two issues, we've had maybe 5-6 pages of actual story.  Sigh.  All for 4 dollars.  I really hope this story arc sells poorly.  I know that's a mean thing to say, but it's true.  This isn't awful so much as boring.  With, you know, a capital B.

Simon Dark #1 by Steve Niles and Scott Hampton.  $2.99, DC.

Speaking of fairly dull comics, Simon Dark debuts, and although I don't hate it, I can't imagine it lasting too long.  It doesn't have much to recommend it, and it lacks big-name creators that will get a long leash from The Powers That Be.

We begin with a strange ritual in which several hooded men take two blindfolded men to an abandoned church and threaten them.  One hooded dude shoots one of the men in the back of the head, but before he can kill the other one, Simon Dark shows up, says, "Not here.  Not in my neighorhood," and proceeds to leap over Hooded Dude, get a wire around his neck, and decapitate him.  The other hooded dudes claim that "enough blood has been spilled for one ceremony" and leave peacefully.  Simon frees the other blindfolded guy, indicates that he needs money for food, and when he gets it, disappears.  Spooky!

We then cut to the sympathetic outsider in our story (every story like this needs one, because the title character is too outre for us to relate), Beth Granger, the medical examiner.  She notes that the hooded dude's head was severed cleanly, making her think the weapon was some kind of machine.  She notices that the onlookers are remarkably subdued for a strange double homicide, and as she drives through the neighborhood, she hears children skipping rope and singing a song about "Simon Dark."  (As an aside, do kids in the city still skip rope and sing songs?  I don't live in "the city," and I've seen girls at Mia's school skipping rope, but the scene looks so "horror movie" that I question its veracity.  Does anyone walk through the mean streets of, say, Cleveland these days and see girls skipping rope and singing?  I'm just wondering.)  She learns that "Simon Dark" is a "protector of the children," which she finds interesting.  Then we meet a newcomer to the city, whose daughter doesn't want to be there.  When they move in, Simon shows up, take a book of Edgar Allan Poe stories, and leaves some money.  How nice of him!  We also learn that the hooded dudes were prominent businessmen in Gotham City, and one of them is going to "lead the next sacrifice."  Finally, we follow Simon himself, as he heads to the abandoned church, goes underground, and begins reading his new book.  There's a lot of internal narration, but it boils down to: he doesn't know who he is, and he protects the neighborhood, and the people don't rat him out.  To be continued!

The basic premise isn't all that bad.  I know Niles has a pretty poor reputation among readers of this blog, but I find his ideas interesting.  It's in the execution that he often breaks down.  Maybe he needs to be more like Keith Giffen and stick to plots.  It's not that this is a bad comic, it's just steeped in horror movie cliches.  The girls skipping rope is straight out of Nightmare on Elm Street (as is Simon's sweater, as you can see from the cover).  The ME must be a woman, not only so she can be a possible romantic interest for our hero (or, more likely given Simon's situation, a mother figure), but also so she can be a romantic interest to the new dude in town.  The businessmen, of course, are pure evil - this is standard comic book stuff, where the only good businessmen are the heroes who happen to be businessmen, like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark.  And the fact that this takes place in Gotham City means the inevitable appearance by Batman.  So far, the only reason this takes place in Gotham is because of that.  It might be a more interesting book if it took place in St. Louis or even Billings, but then Batman couldn't show up all the time!

Hampton's art is nice, but the book is mighty dark, which hurts it, I think.  His last collaboration with Niles, Gotham County Line, was also pretty dark, and Hampton's art, for me, works best when it's a bit brighter.  But that's just me.

There is some interesting stuff going on here, but certainly not enough to make it worthwhile.  It's kind of dull, and I'm not terribly keen on finding out what the deal with Simon is, because I have a feeling it won't be all that fascinating.  I could be wrong, I guess.

StormWatch: Post Human Division #12 by Christos Gage and Andy Smith.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

The latest iteration of a StormWatch comic bites the dust, which is kind of a shame.  Wildstorm is really doing poorly with its latest bunch of books, isn't it?  Man.

There's not a lot to say about this, because it doesn't really matter.  I never bought it when it started, so I'm to blame for it getting cancelled, but I did buy the first trade and enjoyed it, and I've read the past few issues.  It's a solid police procedural/superhero book, and it probably deserves better.  Smith's art, while decent, isn't as interesting as Mahnke's, but I doubt if even keeping him on the art would have rescued this.  Gage appears to be at that stage of his career where he writes very neat and somewhat critically lauded series that sell not at all.  Soon, because he's pretty talented, he will break out and be able to sell a series based on his name alone.  He hasn't reached that point yet, but the nice thing is he's writing a bunch of different kinds of things.  Soon, probably, enough people will know who he is.  Then you can tell people to go back and find the trade paperbacks of this series or Union Jack and say, "See?  I told you you should have bought those!"  Oh well.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this series, as I believe Our Dread Lord and Master pointed out once, is that StormWatch exists as a superhero team even though they don't actually have a comic book.  That was pretty neat throughout, as Jackson King or someone else would refer to the team, and Winter would show up and take care of the bad guys after the Post Human Division did all the grunt work.  It was a nice touch by Gage, but, as usual, I have a question.  I know I should never expect superheroes to stay dead, but when did Fahrenheit, Fuji, Winter, and Hellstrike come back to life?  I mean, that's a lot of resurrections, and it's not explained in the first issue of this series, so I assume it happened in a different Wildstorm book.  Anyone want to help me out?

You could do worse than buy the trades of this series.  One is out, and I assume another will be forthcoming.  It's a nice comic.   

Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #2 by John Ostrander, Javier Pina, and Robin Riggs.  $2.99, DC.

I'd like to nitpick a bit, because it's what I do best.  In this issue, Rick Flag and Rustam are in Skartaris, which is why Rick was getting menaced by a dinosaur at the end of the previous issue.  That's fine.  In this issue, we learn they it is a "velociraptor."  Now, my question is: did Ostrander read up on velociraptors before writing this scene, or did he just base what a velociraptor on what Michael Crichton thinks they are (which, to be honest, is what I would have done)?  I ask only because I read recently that experts now think velociraptors were actually the size of a bird like a flamingo and probably had some feathers.  I don't know if they were as vicious as portrayed in the movie, but the appearance is certainly different.  Now, this scene was written long before I read that, but I wonder if this has been suspected for a while and was just recently published, in which case someone probably could have found it out.  Unless he was just cribbing from Crichton.  Of course, the fact that these dinosaurs are in Skartaris and don't have to bear any resemblance to dinosaurs from our distant part is a good point, but I assume Ostrander called it a velociraptor because we all saw Jurassic Park and would be impressed with the menace confronting Flag.

By the way, yes, someone married me.  I bet she regrets it every single day.

Anyway, this is a somewhat exciting issue, as Flag and Rustam fight dinosaurs as they make their way across Skartaris.  Through flashbacks, we see how Flag escaped death, and we see a disastrous mission he went on with an earlier version of the Suicide Squad than the one in the comic (but later than the "classic" version).  We also see General Eiling putting some kind of hypnotic hex on him, which will be important later on, I imagine.  (This is also the third comic I read this week in which a character speaks Latin - Eiling's phrase to subdue Flag is "dies irae," which means "day of wrath.")  Finally, we learn something interesting about Rustam's scimitar.

Ostrander does a better job with this issue, I think, in that it's not quite so closely tied into the old book.  I haven't read Suicide Squad in 15 years, so trying to place the first issue in context was a bit tough.  This issue, however, gives us relevant background information, and even the brief scene with Waller is an entertaining info dump that brings us up to speed even on the first issue debacle.  Of course, it helps if you know what the hell "Skartaris" is, but it's not quite as continuity-heavy as issue #1, so although it feels a tad bit stretched out, it's still an entertaining read.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

X-Factor #24 by Peter David, Pablo Raimondi, Valentine De Landro, and Drew Hennessy.  $2.99, Marvel.

This is probably my least-favorite issue of X-Factor yet, and it's because of something that I usually praise Peter David about - namely, that he doesn't "write for the trade" and keeps story lines open beyond a six-issue arc.  That can work in your favor if you're in the book for the long haul, which David seems to be with all his comics, but for this arc, it works against him, because the Isolationist story comes to a weak, namby-pamby conclusion (yes, I wrote "namby-pamby" - deal with it).  The issue itself isn't bad, as the Isolationist, having dispatched Jamie, Guido, and Rahne to the Arctic somewhere, fights Rictor, who doesn't have any powers and therefore should be easy pickings for the superpowered Isolationist.  David gives us quite a bit of internal narration about the bad guy, too, basically explaining everything about him.  It's a bit of an info dump, but it comes while he and Rictor are smashing each other, so it doesn't slow us down.  Meanwhile, Layla figures out how to defeat Nicole, the French girl who was working with the Isolationist, Jamie, Guido, and Rahne try to stay alive, and the whole "racist kid singers" thing sort of ends, although Siryn is still with them, so we'll have to see.  It certainly seems like there's more to it.  However, despite all of this happening, the Isolationist comes off as a whiner, and when he can't kill Rictor, he simply leaves.  He goes back to his cave to plot anew.  It's oddly unsatisfying, especially because it seemed like he might be a good villain.  He still can be, of course, but not in this arc.

Despite my disappointment with the issue as a single piece of work, it's still a good comic book, and David leaves enough dangling to continue on his merry way.  What's up with the ice sticking - sort of - to Rictor's back, by the way?  I know it has something to do with how he could resist the Isolationist, but what?  Does he have some new "Teflon" power that simply makes everything slide off of him?  Does someone have a theory, or will we have to wait until David explains it?  Or did I miss something that explained it already?  I'm quite dull, you know.

And I honestly couldn't tell who was doing the art.  It's credited to three people, one of whom (Hennessy) I assume inked it, but I couldn't tell.  It's slick.  Take that as a compliement or a criticism, however you want to.

So that was a strange week in comics.  A usually good title with a subpar issue, a mini-series that has great potential, and a bunch of stuff.  I couldn't bring myself to pick up the latest abomination by Judd Winick, but I will SPOIL it here (are you ready?): "Ollie" is a shapeshifter and the actual Ollie is being held captive by Amazons.  I'm sure it's not as dumb as it sounds.  I did, however, pick up Shortcomings, so everyone who claims Adrian Tomine is a genius better be right, or I'll hunt you down like the dogs you are!   

Star Wars Reveals Rose Tico's New Resistance Role

More in Comics