What I bought - 11 April 2007

Well, this post is certainly late this week, isn't it?  I apologize - my mother came to visit this week, and arrived on Thursday, so I've been doing stuff with her.  I mentioned that this weekend I would be in Tucson, but I bailed on that (we all need a break from the children once in a while!), so I have the whole house to myself until Monday morning.  Nothing but hookers and blow until then!!!!!

But before that, let's check out the unbelievable number of comics I bought this week.  I purchased 15 pamphlets, plus read one I got in the mail.  Man, that's a bunch of books!  I didn't buy Optic Nerve or MOME, because I have not found them anywhere.  Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the country, but in some ways it's still a cowtown.  Maybe someday I'll live near a comic book store that stocks some of the real indy stuff.  We'll see!

After the Cape #2 (of 3) by Howard Wong, Jim Valentino, and Marco Rudy.  $2.99, Image/Shadowline.

There's not much to say about this.  It's the middle issue of a three-issue mini-series, so it's all a set-up for the final, climactic issue.  Therefore, Ethan's ex-teammates find out he's gone bad, and one of them tells Ethan's wife.  At his big heist, things go horribly wrong when his superhero buddies show up.  Shit, as they say, will hit the fan ... but next issue.

Rudy's art is very nice.  He employs some interesting camera angles that skew things strangely, but he has a nice sense of detail and doesn't overdo it on the "powers" aspect of the superheroes, allowing us to understand their powers through usage.  These black-and-white books that Image has produced recently make great use of shadows (occasionally too much, but that's rare) to give a nice noir look to the books, especially this one, which is basically a capes saga.  It's a neat book to look at.

More about this after it wraps up.

Dynamo 5 #2 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud Asrar.  $3.50, Image.

Speaking of Image superhero books, further up the food chain is Dynamo 5, which is a bit pricier but comes in blazing Technicolor.  Faerber has honed his writing chops to the point where you know exactly what kind of book you're going to get, and it's still fun to read.  Take this issue: Faerber's version of the Lizard, Whiptail, attacks our intrepid heroes and escapes.  Maddie tells the team that the human who becomes Whiptail, Bernard Dempsey, is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's, but he could be faking.  Well, he's not, so they stake out his children, but none of them are Whiptail either.  When they find out who Whiptail is, it's not who they're expecting.  So they get some of the serum that turned Dempsey into Whiptail, and Maddie is planning to do something with it, but that will have to wait until next issue!

It's a fairly standard superhero plot, but as usual, the goodness is in the details, and Faerber knows what he's doing there.  The heroes don't know who Dempsey is because they weren't paying attention when Maddie briefed them.  Gage, the telepath, falls asleep in their post-fight meeting, because he's tired from football practice in the morning and he wants to have a semblance of a normal life.  We meet Maddie's ex-partner from her secret agent days, and he has a nice gruff personality.  The kids bond, and in just a few panels, we get very nice characterization.  It's a quick read, but there's a lot going on.

Faerber hasn't always been able to write superheroes this well, but he's at the top of his game right now.  If you like superheroes, there's no reason not to like this book a lot.

Elephantmen #8 by Richard Starkings and Moritat.  $2.99, Image.

This came out a few weeks ago, but I just got it in the mail, so I'd like to thank the fine folk at Active Images for sending it my way.  As usual, I have little to say about it because it's a good book that, in not a lot of pages, gives us action, character development, a flashback, and moving the plot forward (albeit slowly).  We learn how Trench lost his eye and why he's such a hard-ass.  Hip Flask and Ebony engage in some high-school gossip about who has a girlfriend, which, considering they're in the middle of a firefight, is rather funny.  And Moritat's art, while not as spectacular as Ladrönn's, is perfectly fine, especially in the flashback, which is a bit more textured and detailed than the stuff in the present.  Plus, there's a nice back-up story about Hip Flask's iFrog assistant, which is pretty funny.

The biggest complaint you could have about this book is its pacing, which is pretty glacial.  I'm not that bothered by it, because even in the brief moments we get that move the plot along, there are nice details about this world that Starkings is creating, and each issue, not matter how slowly it moves everything along, is a good vignette about Los Angeles in the 23rd century.  So I can be patient.  But it does move slowly, in case you're wondering about picking this up.

Fables #60 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

This is a return to form after last issue's weird reader-driven comic, as we begin another storyline and Ambrose decides to invade the Homelands.  Yes, we've seen it before, but this feels a bit different, as if Willingham is playing a bit of an endgame.  With all the other subplots that are introduced in this issue, it feels like something big is coming.  I could be wrong, but I would like to know that Willingham has an end in mind.  I'm not sure why this feels momentous, but I'm looking forward to the rest of the storyline.  The various plots - Baba Yaga in the cellar, the spies for Fabletown, the Foresworn Knight speaking, and Kay and Frau Totenkinder's rife-with-meaning conversation - all point to something big.

Sigh.  Not much to say about Fables.  Five years in, you're either on board or not.  However, I have been re-reading the earlier issues (even though I'm not doing a Comics You Should Own on this series, because it's not finished yet), and like a lot of these kinds of books, it's neat to see how much everything ties together.  Willingham has done a fine job with this book, and I look forward to it each and every month.  Unless he answers readers' questions again. 

Fell #8 by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith.  $1.99, Image.

I'm always amazed that certain books I love always come out on the same day.  Fables, Fell, and All Star Superman, which would probably be in my top five favorite comics if I thought about it, all arrived in stores this week.  It's a neat coincidence.

I wonder what Cronin thought of this issue, after he was disappointed with the last one.  This issue is certainly better than last, with Richard getting out into Snowtown and checking things out.  He does solve a crime, but it's incidental to the general theme of the book, which is just Richard giving us a portrait of the town, with his various thoughts about the people who live there.  It's a nice quiet issue (even with the beatings and dismemberments), and if you've never bought an issue of Fell before (whyever not?), it's a nice introduction to the series.  The one small problem I had with the issue is that Ellis structures it so that it's a bunch of pictures Richard takes as he makes his way through Snowtown.  It's a neat way to do an issue, but the last page breaks the continuum, and for some reason, it bothered me.  I would have liked to see the theme carried through the whole book, even if it meant Richard wouldn't figure out the murderer.  This is more of a travelogue anyway, so the murder is secondary.

Templesmith's art is really good for this sort of thing, because he does blurring really well.  When Ellis allows him to draw the exterior of Snowtown, he really shines.

It's always nice to see an issue of Fell.  Buy the trade if you've been waiting for it! 

JLA: Classified #37 by Peter Milligan and Carlos D'Anda.  $2.99, DC.

As I read this, I got a bit of a sinking feeling, because it seemed like Milligan was doing his usual "reining-in" that he does on superhero titles.  I mean, Amazo blah blah blah, whiny existential college student who talks weirdly about love instead of just banging his hot girlfriend blah blah blah.  But then Amazo saves said girl from a falling wall, and she snaps at Superman because he says it was accidental, and the book gets a bit more interesting.  And then we find out that the whiny college student is actually a cyborg made by Professor Ivo, and Amazo is there to "wake him up."  It will read much better in the trade, naturally, but this issue, while a decent enough set-up, retraces ground that has become a bit too familiar - will the robot overcome its programming and become "human"?  However, Milligan seems to be doing this with an appropriate sense of the absurd, which it demands, so it's more interesting than it has any right to be.  It's not a great issue, but it makes me curious about where it's going, so I'll be back.

Mr. Stuffins #1 (of 3) by Andrew Cosby, Johanna Stokes, and Lee Carter.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

Brian had an issue with the coloring of this book, and I have to say - it really does hurt the comic.  This is a ridiculously dark comic, and it makes it pretty difficult to read, as well as lends far too much gravity to the story of a secret agent Teddy bear.  Yes, Cosby and Stokes play it completely straight - which is the way to go - but as "dark" as the story is, the coloring should at least make it seem more whimsical than it is.  It's pretty annoying.

I don't have much to add beyond what Brian wrote.  A scientist places a disc that the government wants into a toy bear.  That bear becomes a top agent, and his new owner, Zachary, becomes his priority.  That means he beats up the bullies who torment Zachary, in a funny scene in the school bathroom.  The family drama - Zachary's parents are separated and not on good terms - isn't anything special, but it also doesn't hurt the book, and we're really interested in the weirdness of a stuffed bear dropping the hammer on bullies and interrogating a toy rabbit.  And on that aspect, it delivers a nice story and some good moments of absurdity.

Carter's art is nondescript, without really offending anyone.  Mr. Stuffins himself is done really well, with some good facial expressions that lets us know how exasperated he is because he has to guard this putz of a kid.  The humans are fine, but no one is as "human" as Mr. Stuffins is.

It's a comic that has some potential, but it's not like it's going to set the world on fire.  I'm going to see how it turns out, but it's nothing you have to run out and buy right now.

Rush City #1-6 by Chuck Dixon and Timothy Green II.  $2.99, DC.





Rush City is an odd comic.  It's kind of a pointless mini-series, because there are five different stories across the six issues.  One thing holds it together, and that's a city councilman who has it in for our hero, Diego Zhao, but I'll get back to him.  So the point becomes selling us the car, which is why this comic was created in the first place.  But the sales on this were awful, so perhaps Pontiac should rethink their strategy of using comic books to sell cars.

It's not that it's a bad comic book.  Dixon can write action adventure in his sleep, and for the most part, Green's pencils are full of nice details and a good sense of movement (pretty good for a comic with lots of speeding cars).  Zhao is an interesting enough character, as he finds missing people and gets involved in all sorts of trouble.  The individual stories are set up well, and they aren't the usual sort of shoot-'em-up stuff.  But the whole thing feels hollow.  Because it's essentially a car commercial.

Finally, there's the councilman.  I wonder why Dixon didn't focus more on him.  He is a major player in the tragedy that affects Zhao, and he's a mover of the plots, but Zhao finds out about him and deals with him ridiculously easily.  The resolution to the overarching plot - that the councilman is out to get him - takes place over two pages.  It felt very tacked on, and I wonder if maybe the final issue could have been about Zhao taking him down.  It feels odd, like most of the mini-series.

I really wonder if this would work better as an ongoing without the obnoxious advertising.  It's not going to happen, because the sales were so bad, but it's just a weird mini-series all around.  Soon forgotten, I'm sure.

She-Hulk #17 by Dan Slott, Rick Burchett, and Cliff Rathburn.  $2.99, Marvel.

I'm sticking with She-Hulk because it appears that after the "Jennifer-as-S.H.I.E.L.D.-agent" storyline, Slott will be heading back to the law firm, which is what makes this book interesting and unique.  However, it really seems to me that Slott is bored out of his mind with this story, and it's affecting the quality.

There are fun things in this comic, but none of them are really connected to Jen kicking butt.  The first page, where two comics geeks at the law firm argue that there's no need to fill two pages with a spread of how big the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier is, is hilarious on a lot of levels.  Mallory's visit to the Bar with No Name to confront all the super-villains who were her clients but now don't respect her because she was shacking up with Awesome Andy is a nice scene.  It still doesn't mean I'm not annoyed with the way that particular romance ended, but at least it's a funny scene that comes out of previous stories.  The rest of the issue, which is about various Hulk bad guys getting loose in the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier, is just superheroing, and it seems like Slott is writing it on autopilot - insert some jokes here, kick some butt there - and he has no interest in it.  Perhaps Marvel should have let him write the law firm subplots and hire someone else to write the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff.  That might have worked.

There are a couple of odd things in the book.  Clay Quartermain seems really eager to have sex with Tony Stark.  Quartermain's not gay, is he?  That was strange.  And Jen sleeps with Tony and then brings up the fact that when he sleeps around, he's a player, but when she does it, she's a skank.  Every time Slott brings this up (and he goes no further than that here, because the Hulk bad guys start attacking at that moment), it makes me uncomfortable, because ever since I read the first issue of the last series, where Jen wakes up with that European model, I have not enjoyed her bed-hopping.  Don't get me wrong - I don't like when male characters do it, either, but it seems like Slott is writing Jen as far more willing to leap into bed than a lot of the male characters in the Marvel U. these days.  Is that just me?  I'd like to go back through 29 issues of any male character's title and see if they've had sex with as many people as Jen has.  Guess what, Jen?  You and Tony are both skanks.  I don't know why it bothers me - maybe because Slott is making such a big deal about it.  When writers want to make women more like scumbag men who sleep around with no feelings (that chick on House bugs me too), it makes everyone look worse.  I guess I'm a prude.  Notice Jen is wearing a bra and panties even though she just had sex with Tony.  No weird non-nipple breasts, and I don't even notice the incongruity of her wearing clothes.

Anyway, I hope this story ends soon.  It's dull, and Slott isn't putting much of an effort into it. 

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #1 (of 4) by Jeff Parker, Mike Wieringo, and Wade von Grawbadger.  $2.99, Marvel.

This is the book I got based on your comments, and it really makes me wonder why on earth Marvel is insistent on killing Spider-Man's supporting cast and retroactively forcing Gwen to sleep with Norman Osborn.  This isn't a great comic, but it is a fun comic, and it's a very good depiction of both Spidey and the Fantastic Four.  I don't care if Spider-Man's own comic delves into serious issues - his uncle died in his first appearance, after all - but writers for years on the regular title have missed what makes Spidey a great character - his goofiness in the face of disaster.  When I read the early issues of Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man, I enjoyed the stories, but that sense of goofiness was missing.  Then I dropped it before it got really joyless.  It's tough to write Spider-Man, because he does have to deal with a lot of tragedy, but he should never turn into Batman or the Punisher or Moon Knight.

Parker seems to understand that.  Granted, he doesn't have to deal with Peter Parker, as this is a Spider-Man adventure, but he blends the humor with a bit more (just a bit) serious stuff, and even though Peter gets the snot beaten out of him in this book, it's all part of the superheroic fun!  Plus, there's a great Ben/Johnny gag.  Really great.

Oh, it's an issue about an alien invasion.  And it stars the Impossible Man, who's very fun in small doses.  Nothing spectacular, but we'll see where Parker goes with it.  And Wieringo's art isn't as cartoony as it usually is, which is nice.  I wonder if von Grawbadger has anything to do with it.  Sometimes he's a bit too cartoony for me, and it's a bit tempered here, which makes it better.

This is a fun comic.  Of course, it's probably better to wait for the trade.  Because that's just what we do these days! 

All Star Superman #7 by Grant "All the good parts of 52 are mine" Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant.  $2.99, DC.

Another book about which there isn't much to say.  It's beautiful, it's a hoot to read, and it comes out erratically but that's fine.  I will say (and I'm not the first) that I wonder where The God of All Comics is going with all these "duplicate" Supermans that keep showing up.  Yep, there are two more in this issue - Bizarro and Sbarro's, who serves pizza faster than anyone!  I wonder how much all these variations on the Superman theme has to do with Superman's cancer, which is, of course, slowly killing him.  We'll see.

Am I too stupid to "get" why the credits often just pop up on random pages in this comic, or do they sometimes forget about them and then say, "Whoops!  Better stick them in here somewhere!"  It's bizarre - ha! I slay me - where they place the credits, in this case on page 19 of 22.  Does anyone have a good reason?

Two Guns #1 (of 5) by Steven Grant and Mat Santalouco.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

It's been a while since this book was supposed to be out, so I'm wondering how long it will be before we see another one.  Based on this one issue, though, it's a nice intriguing crime comic, something that Grant does very well.  It's a crime comic with a wonderful twist, however, and I'm not going to spoil it because it's so much fun.

Basically, those two gentlemen on the cover are casing a bank to rob.  We learn very quickly that Bobby, the blond one, is working for the DEA (that's not the twist).  He was undercover in a drug lord's gang, but now that drug lord has gone free.  His boss decides to let him rob the bank, which they think is a front for drug money laundering.  The drug lord shows up at his home, and tells him that he can fix it so that it appears Bobby has been cutting a deal on the side.  So Bobby decides to rob the bank for real - he's screwed anyway, right?  The heist goes well, but then things go wrong - as we knew they must!  But not in the way you might expect ...

This is a neat little comic that keeps you on your toes.  Even before Greco (the drug lord) visits Bobby, we're not sure that he ISN'T going to rob the bank, despite what he tells his boss.  So there's a lot of misdirection, but not too much so we don't get what's going on.  It's a fast-paced ride, and it sets up the rest of the mini-series very well.

Santalouco's art is nothing special, but it gets the job done.  His faces all look vaguely similar, and it's very angular - what I would call the Image house style these days, because it looks like a low-rent version of Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley and Fran Buono and other artists plying their trade at Image.  Which isn't a bad thing, but there's nothing that makes it stand out.  It gets the job done.

Two Guns is a good book, and I'd like to see the remaining four issues come out before the year ends.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Uncanny X-Men #485 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki with Allen Martinez.  $2.99, Marvel.

Next issue I will be able to mull over the big ol' epic in space that is "The Rise and Fall of the Shi'ar Empire," but for now I'll just point out that if you didn't figure out early on who was going into the M'kraan Crystal (yes, I know a character says it's going to happen, but I think Brubaker did that just so we would think it wouldn't happen, but it's still obvious - did you get all that?), you need to turn in your nerd card, and as for the other big "shocking" event - well, that also wasn't terribly surprising.  Other than that, it's a big fight scene.  And it's done pretty well.  So we'll see how Brubaker will wrap the whole thing up next time.

Wasteland #8 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $3.50, Oni Press.

Christopher Mitten returns to the book, and reminds me again of the one problem I have with the comic: there's a huge cast of characters, and everyone looks vaguely alike, so it's tough keeping them straight.  As we read through the book, we get reminded a bit of who everyone is, but it's still a bit tough.  Oh well - I like reading comics in chunks, so it will be fine then.

We begin a new storyline, as our refugees have finally made it to the city of Newbegin only to discover they're to be enslaved.  So this issue is pretty much concerned with selling them off and showing more of the social castes of the city.  Michael returns, so that adds some intrigue to everything, but in this issue Johnston is primarily setting up the various political moves that the principals are going to make in the near future, as well as showing us where the main refugees are going.  So it's an interesting issue, but not very action-packed.  That's fine.  As I've been saying all along, Johnston is doing a fine job of creating this world as he goes, and even though I mentioned what I don't like about Mitten's art, there's so much I do like - the details of the city itself, for example - that I can deal with my confusion over who's who.  We're just moving along, and I'm sticking with it, because it's a fascinating comic.

Wolfskin #1-3 by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp.  $3.99, Avatar.



Wolfskin really isn't all that good, and the story plays out pretty much exactly how you think it will - the "Viking" warrior shows up in issue #1; kills some punks who don't know what a great warrior he is; he feels honor-bound to protect the village from which the punks came against the aggression of their neighbors; the two leaders of the villages, who are foreigners, are linked in enmity and trying to use our valiant warrior; he's reluctant to fight anymore, but does so anyway; at some point we know he's going to take his blackcap mushrooms, which turn him into a berserker who kills indiscriminately; he does.  Much slaughter follows!

It's illustrated very nicely be Ryp - the guy at the comic shoppe who mocked me for buying this called it the "Lady Death style" of drawing, but it's much more intricate and detailed and better than that - and competently told by Ellis, but there's nothing at all that distinguishes it.  A good deal of Ellis' work for Avatar - the Strange Kiss/Strange Killings series of mini-series, or Scars - are scary good, and even some of the lesser work is still intriguing (Bad World, for instance).  But this, while it doesn't cause you any grief to read it, because it's still a bloody battle comic from Warren Ellis, doesn't do anything to make you think "I must have it!"  Considering that Ellis has a hell of a lot more freedom at Avatar than anyplace else, simply writing a story in which people are killed by the bushel by a big honkin' sword doesn't make it a must-read comic.  Oh well.


The Nightly News #5 (of 6) by Jonathan Hickman.  $2.99, Image.

As I've said before, I'm really looking forward to this.  Maybe Stuart Immonen's column that he did here recently in which he mentioned this comic will get it a tiny bit of attention.  Seriously, people - even if you don't like the story (you might not!), this looks unlike any comic out there, and it's wonderful to just gaze at it.  I hope the last issue comes out soon.

Man, that's a lot of comic books!  Sorry for the delay - I'm sure you're paralyzed with doubt when you buy comics unless you've read my gripping and piercing insight!!!!

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