What I bought - 10 September 2009

If your best friend Harry has a brother Larry, who in five days from now is gonna marry, why would Larry hope you can make it there, if you can, 'cause in the ceremony you'll be the best man? That doesn't make any sense!

Domino Lady #2 ("The Zeppelin Affair" and "Orange Blossom Murders Part 2") by Nancy Holder (writer), Reno Maniquis (penciller, "The Zeppelin Affair"), Keith Williams (inker, "The Zeppelin Affair"), Leeahd Goldberg (artist, "Orange Blossom Murders"), Jason Jensen (colorist), Renato Guerra (colorist, "Orange Blossom Murders"), and Josh Aitken (letterer). $3.99, 27 pgs, FC, Moonstone.

I mentioned when the first issue of this series came out that I had already pre-ordered issue #2, which I probably wouldn't have bought otherwise. Well, here it is, and I'm glad I didn't pre-order issue #3. I really want to like this series, because I dig the pulpy character of it, and the idea of a socialite crime-solving vigilante who sleeps around is kind of neat. Holder doesn't do much with it, though. The dialogue is silly, the cases Domino Lady solves are interesting in the set-up but kind of dull in the execution (she does very little solving of crimes, for instance, as the bad guys generally confess), and the art, like the stories, is fairly standard. There's nothing that makes this stand out, and when you have the main character that Holder has created, the stories ought to be far more interesting. But they're not.

It's too bad. I had high hopes that this would be a fun, sort-of noir series that turns the standard clichés of the genre upside-down, but it doesn't. Oh well.

Fallen Angel: Reborn #3 (of 5) by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

There's always a problem with Peter David's stories after he's written a series for a long time - we know pretty much what we're going to get (even if it's completely unpredictable), and he does it very well, to the point that it's very difficult to discuss an individual issue. Things happen, the plot moves forward, Illyria and Liandra have a stand-off and David writes very good dialogue between them as they try to find the next plot device - I mean Illyria's symbols of power - and it leads up to a fight that is, as usual, clever. People who don't read David's comics might think it sounds boring, but it's not. David constructs single issues very well, and even if a single issue might feel a bit pre-fabricated, David adds good touches that make each chapter of each title work both as a snapshot of the characters' lives and a part of a larger whole. You might think it would make it difficult to pick up a David comic idly, but because he is so good at single issues, a new reader can ease into things pretty well. In this issue, for instance, Illyria and Liandra discuss how Lee fell, and although David doesn't repeat the whole story (which he's told before), we get the gist of it in a few pages, and David is able to create a nice emotional moment when we didn't see it coming. It's this kind of storytelling that, for me, always trumps David's unfortunate tendency to pun at the worst possible time, and why I'll always at least check out a comic that David writes.

I do wish I had gotten the "retailer incentive" cover, which shows Lee and Illyria standing next to four penguins and Lee saying, "Well, this sucks," a la Madagascar. Funny stuff!

The Incredible Hercules #134 ("W.W.T.D.?") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Reilly Brown (penciler), Nelson DeCastro (inker), Guillem Mari (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Every so often there's a slightly weaker issue of The Incredible Hercules (meaning, a 12 on a scale of 10 rather than the usual 15 or 20) and I think, "Maybe Pak and van Lente are finally running out of ideas." And then they come back with an issue that blows the doors off of anything else on the stands, and I am comforted. This is one such issue. The last issue, with Amadeus Cho out there on his own checking out what happened to his sister, was pretty good, but only a 12 on a scale of 10. In this issue, which focuses back on Hercules pretending to be Thor, Pak and van Lente made me laugh on pretty much every page, and Reilly Brown is back on art, so that gets stepped up a bit as well.

This issue is pure pleasure. The recap page mocks Oliver Coipel's version of Thor, which is hilarious ("thipples"?), and from there, we just page after page of sheer insane delight. From Hercules believing that sunlight turns trolls to stone because he saw a documentary about The Hobbit to Alflyse's dramatic entrance, from the Acme anvil that lands on Herc to his knowledge of Star Trek pop culture (and the elf's rejoinder), and finally the ending, with the Warriors Three playing their ace in the hole, this is a wonderful comic. It's very funny (and Pak and van Lente manage a sexual double entendre that isn't too obnoxious) and very exciting. And just when I think that maybe, just maybe, van Lente and Pak are slipping just a tiny bit, I am reassured.

Dang, this is a great comic book. And soon: Agents of Atlas back-up feature! That'll be worth the extra dollar!

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #5 (of 5) by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Cavallaro (artist), Andrew Covalt (colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 25 pgs, FC, IDW.

The mini-series comes to an end with a solid issue, a bit wordy (not surprisingly, as DeMatteis is often verbose) but summing up the thoughts that DeMatteis wants to get across. This is a thoughtful comic that ends pretty much the only way it could, not breaking any new ground, but telling a story that makes you pause and wonder what kind of people superheroes really are and what kind of people we are. Cavallaro has been doing a strong job on the art, and he continues here, giving us several full-page drawings that bring Savior 28's life to life, so to speak. He also shines in some of the smaller moments, like when he shows how apprehensive some of the characters are about Savior 28's lifestyle change. We get a good sense of how earth-shattering his desire to create peace on earth is from the way Cavallaro draws people reacting to him. DeMatteis tells us, of course, but it's still good that we see it on characters' faces.

I haven't seen a trade offered for this (I imagine there either is one or will be one), but you could do a lot worse if you check it out. Yes, it's a deconstruction of superheroes, something we've seen a lot of in the past, but DeMatteis is always interesting, because unlike a lot of deconstructions, he doesn't think of superheroes as fascists in costumes. DeMatteis is very good at creating real characters who act like real humans, and that's what makes this comic a nice read.

Secret Six #13 ("Depths Part Four: Fit For a King") by Gail Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (pencillers), Carlos Rodriguez (penciller/inker), Doug Hazlewood (inker), Rodney Ramos (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

The second of the brilliant comics I read this week is completely different than the first. Where The Incredible Hercules is fun, Secret Six is brutal. Where The Incredible Hercules is joyfully exciting, Secret Six is horrifyingly exciting. They're both excellent comics, but it's interesting how polar opposite they are from each other. Except for Ragdoll, who's very funny. But his humor is really, really disturbing.

I've said this before with regard to Simone, and I'll say it again: I didn't see this coming. As much praise as was heaped on her Birds of Prey, the issues I've read were fairly bland - not awful but nothing great. Same thing with Wonder Woman (although it's been a while since I've read that - maybe it's better). Welcome to Tranquility was a good comic, but unlike this (although there were flashes of darkness in it). Her previous mini-series with these villains were some of her best work, but they only hinted at the depravity (in a good way) that lurks in Simone's brain. In this series, she's given full rein to that depravity, and it's magnificent. I've defended my love of this series with regard to my disgust with some other recent DC superhero work, and I'll do it again: The characters are despicable, so I can deal with them doing despicable things, and Simone's level of writing is simply higher than the other gorefests that DC is publishing. This issue, for instance, is packed with beautiful moments: Ragdoll trying on Wonder Woman's boots, which for some reason is extremely creepy; the interlude with Liana; Scandal's offer to the guards who are trying to kill her and the way Joseph reacts to it; the peek into Bane's psyche; Ragdoll (again); Scandal's gauntlet; Grendel's proclamations. As the characters spiral into darker and darker depths (hence the name of the arc), it's fascinating to watch what drives them and what changes them. Except Ragdoll. Don't ever change, Ragdoll! And it's gloriously illustrated by Scott, who keep getting better, even if she's forced to cover a nipple with a bloody axe. Remember, kids: Spikes coming out of a man's head - fine and dandy; nipples - won't someone think of the children?!?!?!?

Dang, this is a great comic. Oh, I already wrote that? Well, it's true about this as well.

The Unwritten #5 ("How the Whale Became") by Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I guess this is the way this series is going to go. We get the initial arc, then a single issue that fills in some history. I'm okay with that, even though issue #4 didn't really end the story arc. This issue is excellent, not only because it teases us with some information about the mysterious forces at work in Tom Taylor's life, but also because Carey does a fine job integrating Kipling's life into the story. He gives us a "secret" biography of Kipling, who is recruited by the mysterious forces that are now part of Tom's life, and begins writing about the glory of the British Empire. It's a nice tale of his fall from grace and why, for instance, he began writing children's stories, until he gets his revenge in death. Carey uses the tragedy in Kipling's life (which might be tactless if he hadn't died 70 years ago) in his narrative nicely, and he leads us to the cliffhanger very well. Gross is magnificent, as always, giving us a fantastic Victorian-looking comic that integrates fables and Kipling's children's stories nicely. Gross is always good, but occasionally he is wonderful, and this is one of those issues.

I can even forgive the typo that lets Oscar Wilde live past 1900. Where's that fact-checker?!?!?

Wednesday Comics #10 (of 12) by creators who think they're better than you are. Are you going to stand for that? $3.99, 15 pgs, FC, DC.

"Give yourself up.""Do your worst, monkey! My father and I will die on our feet like the warriors we are!""Read this!""That was a helluva thing, dollface ... a helluva thing.""We take what we like. And there is only one of you.""Will there be giant vegetables?""But do you remember who you really are?""There are many strange wonders on Earth, your highness - but talking blue baboons are not among them ...!""I wonder what it's like to be a genius.""Enough of this mushy stuff. We've got a city to save!""But the habits of beasts can be studied ... and mastered!""Take it, kid. Spoils of war.""I'm gonna ask you one more time, and then I'm vibrating my fist through your face.""Now come, my sweet! This fate is not for thee!""Look! Look what I can do!"

It all makes sense when you break it down logically, doesn't it?

(I should point out that Gaiman gets his Latin wrong. "Ego sum regem mundi" is incorrect, because "regem" shouldn't be accusative. It should be "Ego sum rex mundi," because "to be" verbs take the nominative - it's the appositive, technically. In fact, you probably don't even need the "ego," as "sum" means "I am," so it's a bit redundant.)

So that's the week. Not a ton of quantity, but two absolutely brilliant comics, and three others that are pretty good. And that Flash strip was freakin' excellent. And Java continues to crack me up. And now ... totally random lyrics!

"When her robe is unfurled she will show you the world,If you step up and tell her where.For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree,Or Washington crossing The Delaware."

Good stuff!

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