What I bought - 11 July 2007

Thanks to my abuse of my powers at Atomic Comics, I can read books that might, quite literally, make your eyes explode.  One such book lurks below!  I bet you can't guess what it is!

Annihilation: Conquest - The Wraith #1 (of 4) by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Kyle Hotz.  $2.99, Marvel.

No, it's not this one.  I picked this up because I was curious about the whole Annihilation thing that Marvel has been doing for (it seems like) five years now.  I have avoided it because it seems like there's about eighteen different titles and six different stages to the crossover, and man! that's a lot of stuff to buy.  Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, has yet to bring out a softcover trade for the first wave of this (I'm also waiting on the Planet Hulk softcover - come on, Marvel!), so I can't even read that.  But I figured - Grillo-Marxuach, the man responsible for one of the absolute most fun comics of the past three years (The Middleman) and Hotz, who's a damned fine artist?  What's not to love?

Marvel's recap page gets us up to speed, and then we dive right into a seedy space adventure, with our main character, the Wraith, slaughtering a bunch of Phalanx dudes and escaping to a conquered Kree world in search of the man he's going to kill.  He joins up with a Kree rebel group because their leader claims she can find the man, but before he can get any information, the Phalanx attacks.  They manage to subdue him this time, and when he wakes up, he's confronted by ... well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?  Suffice it to say, it sets up the mini-series nicely.

I wouldn't have thought Hotz would be a good artist for an outer-space adventure, but since a great deal of this book takes place in the run-down sections of a conquered city, he does a good job.  The Wraith and his whip-gun are sufficiently mysterious (even if Cronin hates his weapon - come on, Brian, it's awesome!), and Grillo-Marxuach blends action and exposition pretty well, even adding a small touch of humor.  I have a bit of a problem with how awesomely bad-ass the Wraith is.  The rebels tell him that the Phalanx fears him, an emotion they've never felt, which is kind of cool in its way.  Then I remember that Generation X pretty much kicked the Phalanx's ass, and they seem far less tough.  But that's okay - in this book they're a pretty formidable threat.

This is a pretty cool book.  If you haven't been buying this crossover, it's certainly a decent place to start, and I wonder for those of you that have been, are all the series like this?  What I mean is, Do they all take place independently, with the big Phalanx threat hanging over everything?  That would be cool.  And if you like Grillo-Marxuach's writing here, go buy The Middleman.  I never stop pimping that book!

Banzai Girls - The New Adventures of Jinky Coronado #2 by Jinky Coronado with Larry Tuazon.  $3.95, Arcana.

And then there's Banzai Girls.  A few weeks ago, I said I would bet my sanity that JLA #10 was worse than Banzai Girls.  Well, I figured I better at least read an issue before I made that claim, so here it is.  I may be able to keep my sanity, but only barely.  Because this comic, my good people, may make you reconsider admitting that you're a comic book fan.

First of all, in order to get linked by When Fangirls Attack, I must address the female thing.  This comic is written and drawn by a woman.  In fact, Jinky is also the main character in the book!  (I'll refer to her as "Jinky" when it's the character.)  Now, I have a question that might get me into trouble.  If you are a man, when you see women modeling in bikinis and other stages of undress, do you think anything about those women except for, "Man, she's hot!  I'd get with that!"?  In other words, do you look at those women as anything other than a sexual object?  I consider myself somewhat enlightened, and I still don't see how taking your clothes off and posing for a men's magazine is "empowering."  It seems to me it just perpetuates a stereotype, and it's unfortunate.  But that's just me.  Then we have Jinky, who not only does that, but also writes and draws a comic book in which teenaged girls (I have no idea how old "Jinky" and her friends Michelle and Katie are, but they still live at home and dress like schoolgirls, so I'm assuming they're teenagers) wear skimpy clothes and lingerie and parade around in front of their parents and get their clothes ripped off at the earliest opportunity.  It's somewhat admirable that Jinky is able to write and draw her own comic, but just reading this comic made me uncomfortable.  "Jinky" goes downstairs at one point with that plaid skirt and a frilly bra on, and her father is just hanging out and doesn't say, "Dear Lord, girl, put some clothes on!"  It's very creepy.  I just wonder if Jinky the writer/artist would get angry at someone treating her like a sex object, when she depicts herself that way.  Yes, that would be wrong, but is the only difference that Jinky is exploiting herself instead of letting some man do it?  And how is that better?  I'm not trying to be snotty, I'm really curious.

As for the comic itself, well, it's as bad as you might expect.  There's a really long plot summary on the inside front cover that makes sense, if by "sense" you mean, "It feels like I just lost IQ points just reading it," and then "Jinky" is on the phone to Michelle, her best friend, and they decide to try to find their other friend, Katie J, who's apparently disappeared.  A strange alien being named Wilfred, who has inhabited a plush toy (really), finds Katie's backpack, which lets "Jinky" know something bad has happened to her.  She puts on her Catholic schoolgirl costume, while Michelle puts on a black leather body suit, and they're off (with Michelle's boyfriend in tow).  Weird creatures attack them and rip off all their clothes, naturally (leading to Michelle's immortal line as they grab her breasts: "Hands off my twins!!"), and then they discover that Katie J and her boyfriend have been abducted by a giant ogre thing who enjoys their company because he likes listening to the music they have on the iPod they brought with them, specifically "Jinky" and Michelle's CD (yes, they have a CD out, under the name Banzai Girls).  So their rescue is complete, and we abruptly shift to "Jinky's" father's workplace, where a weird Rubik's cube almost sucks them into another dimension (or something), blowing up "Jinky's" skirt in the process (which pretty much goes without saying for this comic - whenever anything happens, "Jinky's" skirt blows up to reveal her panties) and they see a giant robot figure that "Jinky" just happened to be dreaming about in an earlier issue, and they weren't pleasant dreams, I'll tell you that much.  It's just really dull and awful and poorly written and poorly drawn.  So of course it has a huge cult following.

So, is this worse than JLA #10?  Well, we have to consider some factors.  It costs a dollar more, so that's a point for JLA.  Shockingly enough, Jinky's art is not immeasurably worse than Ed Benes', and that's sad.  Meltzer is a better writer by far than Jinky, but you know what?  Stuff happens in Banzai Girls, which is more than can be said for JLA #10.  Yes, it's idiotic and stupid stuff, but this is actually a more exciting read than JLA, which might be the saddest sentence I've ever had to type.  The reason I get to keep my sanity, however, is because this is so stupid that it doesn't take itself seriously at all.  JLA #10 is all very ponderous, as if moments of great import are happening, when it's just a superhero comic book.  It's our expectations that make this a tiny bit better than JLA #10.  We expect this to be exploitative and awful, and it is, but it's energetic.  We expect JLA to be a decent comic book, and it lets us down in so many ways it's not funny.  As horrible a conclusion to reach as this is, this comic is better than DC's flagship superhero title.  What that says about DC I leave up to you.  I would, of course, recommend you stay away from both of them unless you're a masochistic freak, but that's just me.

Just for the hell of it, here's the first page of Banzai Girls #2, just to give you an idea of what to expect:

Man, I hope the next comic is good!

Deadpool/GLI - Summer Fun Spectacular by Fabien Nicieza, Dan Slott, Kieron Dwyer, Nelson, Paul Pelletier, Dave Meikis, and Clio Chiang.  $3.99, Marvel.

Well, it's not bad.  The thing about goofy comedy comics like this is that the philosophy really has to be: "Let's throw everything we can think of in there and hope 75% of it is funny."  That's not a bad philosophy, because it's slapstick humor, and you hope the audience simply zips by both the good and the bad, forgetting the bad instantly because something good happens right away.  Nicieza and Slott take that attitude, and what we get is a comic book that is very funny in parts and groan-inducing in some spots.  Whether you like the comic will rely very much on your personal ratio of "what's funny" to "what's not," because the stories are pretty silly.

For the most part, it worked for me.  I'm always happy to see the Big Two allow their creators to make fun of the company, so the writers' shots at Penance were nice to see.  I will point out, however, that it's probably a pretty dumb thing of Marvel to let mockery of that particular character go by.  I'll 'splain: if Slott/Nicieza were making fun of one of the company's iconic characters, that would be one thing.  They can survive it.  But Penance is a character who hasn't really ever been that big a deal, and now Marvel is trying to make him one.  By allowing Nicieza/Slott to mock him (as he readily deserves to be mocked), Marvel is basically giving up on the character before he's even given a chance.  How can Ellis make him a character we like if the creators themselves don't take him seriously?  I mean, it's funny that Doctor Doom is scared of Squirrel Girl, because it's such an absurd idea (even though, as Tippy-Toe reminds us, it's "in continuity") that we don't think of it when Doom shows up to menace the Fantastic Four.  Speedball turning into Penance is such an absurd idea on its own, but we're supposed to take it seriously.  If the creators don't take the characters seriously, how are we supposed to?  So Penance, if he had any credibility before this, has now lost it, and Marvel should just kill him off or change him back to Speedball.

The one other thing that didn't really work for me is the excessive references to "continuity."  It works in DC comics, because of the mess they've made.  But Marvel has never had a "Crisis" event, so as far as I know, everything they publish is in continuity, unless it's the MAX line, and even that's a bit fuzzy.  Do we know if Ennis' Fury mini-series is the Marvel U. Fury?  Anyway, reminding us that Squirrel Girl has taken down Doom and M.O.D.O.K. and Thanos is funny when it's because the AIM people are terrified of her (they call her "the Slayer of all that Breathes"), but it's annoying when Deadpool complains that those stories can't be in continuity.  It's one thing for a single character (She-Hulk) to know she's a character in a comic book, but it loses its impact if characters in the comics are always complaining about continuity.

Boy, I'm thinking way too much about this, aren't I?  It's a goofy and mostly funny comic.  If that's your thing, check it out.

Fables #63 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

This isn't a bad issue of Fables, but it feels a bit weird.  The exiles and the Emperor are preparing for war, and it's interesting to see what both sides are doing (although we only get a little bit about the Emperor; most of it is devoted to our plucky band of heroes), but it feels like a whole bunch of "meanwhiles."  This isn't helped by the passage of time in the issue.  A year, probably, passes in the space of the issue, and it makes the proceedings feel disjointed a bit.  It's still a wonderful comic to look at and the various threads of the stories are very interesting, but it feels like we're zipping around too much.  I know, that's my problem.  But I'm the one writing this!

The nice thing about this particular issue is seeing how it fits into the first storyline of Jack of Fables, which was a cool touch, plus keeping track of all the machinations the Fables are making.  We catch up with Ambrose and learn what happens when you're thrown down the well.  We reunite with several characters we didn't think to see again, and we get a nice sense of how a group prepares for war.  It's a neat glimpse into the Fables' world, but it's still kind of unsatisfying.  Still, it's better than most of what you're going to find out there! 

JLA: Classified #40 by Peter Milligan and Carlos D'Anda.  $2.99, DC.

This is another odd bird.  I'm enjoying the philosophical underpinnings of the story, as simplistic as they are, because it's rare in a superhero comic to read a character who is honestly torn between being a hero and being a villain.  Sure, we get good people who become villains, but Kid Amazo is going through a process, and Milligan makes that part of the book interesting.  As usual with Milligan, however, all of this comes with a bit of a detached tone, as if the writer couldn't really be bothered with it at all one way or another.  Milligan does this a lot with his superhero stuff, without the total commitment to strangeness or even characterization that typifies his best non-superhero stuff.  I still can't figure out why he does this.  Anyway, it all hits the fan for good next issue, and I'm still around.  We'll see how the Kid Amazo saga plays out.

Left on Mission #3 (of 5) by Chip Mosher and Francesco Francavilla.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

As is perhaps inevitable, this is the third issue of a five-issue mini-series, or, as I like to call it, the "padding" issue.  I'm really not sure why five- and six-issue mini-series have to have a "padding" issue.  There's nothing really wrong with this issue, but it doesn't feel substantial enough to be a complete issue.

Basically, it's a flashback, as our hero, Eric, who's taking a slow boat from Ibiza to Morocco (find an atlas if you're an ignorant American), reminisces about his relationship with Emma, the rogue agent who's planning on selling a laptop full of governmental secrets to the Russians.  What's interesting about the issue is what's interesting about the series so far: the notion of broken people doing what they can to survive and maybe serve their country.  Eric and Emma hook up because they don't need to lie to each other about their jobs, and it's a rather poignant reminder that these people lie all the time, and they have to convince themselves somehow that what they're doing will serve the greater good.

That's all well and good, but it's something that we've seen in the first two issues, and doesn't need to be reiterated too much here.  Plus, we know Eric and Emma had a relationship, so going into it in so much detail here feels like overkill.  But that's what the "padding" issue is for!

Still, I would recommend finding this series, unless you're waiting for the trade.  Neat story, well-written, and nice artwork.  But why the "padding" issue?  WHY?!?!?!?

Madman Atomic Comics #3 by Mike Allred.  $2.99, Image.

I know Mike Allred is a genius, and this book looks superb (especially this issue, in which Allred draws panels in the style of a whole mess of artists, even though he spells "Windsor McCay" and "Sam Keith" wrong, but that's okay), but I think I'm giving it one more issue to see what happens.  It's fun to look at, and it doesn't make me angry to read it, but there's not a lot going on.  It's not really that deep, either, even though Frank has been discussing existence and his role in it for three issues now.  It's just kind of dull.  Next issue promises something more, as Frank and Astroman have been shot into space because everyone thinks they're dead, and now they have to, you know, get back to Earth, but it's really a make-or-break kind of thing.

I would encourage you to check this issue out, however, because the art is pretty wonderful, and the journey through comic book art history is magnificent.

The New Avengers #32 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu.  $2.99, Marvel.

If BMB claims that he knew five years ago that Elektra was a Skrull, I will eat my hat.  Seriously.  I want to see the notes from some meeting in 2002 with Joey Q and Bendis during which our Rasputin says, "See, Joey Q, I'm going to be writing every title in your stable in a few years anyway, so let's just have a Skrull invasion going on but not tell anyone for a while.  Wouldn't that be cool?"  I would love to see that.  I doubt if we will, though.

Anyway, this is a perfectly decent issue, as the Avengers discuss what to do about the Elektra-Skrull.  It pretty much expresses what all the fanboys have been discussing for the past three or four years, and that's perfectly fine, even though it would have been nice for Bendis to have someone mention that the Skrulls have done this before, during the Kree-Skrull War.  Or is that not "in continuity" anymore?  The question is, of course, is a message board discussion really a good thing to base a comic book on?  I guess so - Bendis does a decent job of summarizing the situation.  Luke Cage mentions that someone is pulling the strings, and Jessica goes back over the big Marvel events from the past few years, which is where we get back to that secret 2002 meeting.  If those notes exist, then fine.  If not, then making everyone a Skrull is a cop-out.  Which is it?

Yu's art is awful, by the way.  I'm a big fan of Yu, but this art is really scratchy and rushed and ugly, quite honestly.  The excessive line work is supposed to make the characters look haggard, I guess, but it just gets in the way.  Yu is capable of far better than this.

Spawn #169 by David Hine and Brian Haberlin.  $2.95, Image.

Spawn is a weird comic.  It just keeps chugging along, doesn't it?  I have no idea if it sells well or not, but as McFarlane has more money than God, he can probably keep it going no matter how it sells.  I also rarely read anything about it.  It gets a mention on the Internet occasionally, but it doesn't seem to get much press, but it keeps keeping on.  Odd.

David Hine is the latest writer, and I've actually seen a few people say he and Haberlin are doing a good job on the book, so I picked this one up (for free, so it wasn't that big a gamble) to see.  I mean, come on - sexy Goth chick on the cover!  Who doesn't dig that?

Well, it's not a bad comic, but like a lot of stuff out there, it's mediocre.  Haberlin's art is along the lines of others who use models and scan photos into the computer and manipulate them that way (at least that's what it looks like he does), in that it's pretty and occasionally very sterile, especially when it comes to movement.  I admire artists like Dennis Calero and I enjoy looking at the art, but it leaves me a little cold.  Meanwhile, the story is a voodoo tale of possession and revenge, starring Heaven's Greatest Warrior and our cute little Spawn himself, although he plays a peripheral role for much of the book.  It's readable and mildly entertaining, but isn't all that good.  It's amazingly forgettable.

Except for sexy Goth chick.  She's awesome.

(By the way, I know I've mentioned the Toddster's presence here in the Basin before, but I'll do so again, because he was back on the radio recently.  I find it fascinating that because someone overspends for a baseball that a 'roided-up dude hit out of a ballpark, that automatically makes him a sports authority, but that's what McFarlane is around these parts.  Well, maybe not an authority, but the sports talk radio shows love him.  I'm not sure why, even though he's interesting and engaging to talk to.  But so am I, damn it!!!!!!  And I'm far more controversial than Todd.  He always takes the opportunity to pimp his latest statues, too.  You may hate McFarlane's art, but the dude knows how to make money.  I guess that's a talent.)

Star Wars: Legacy #14 by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, and Dan Parsons.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

I've been giving this book a look-see, as some of you may remember, because Ostrander is a good writer and Duursema a good artist, and although it's a good comic, I'm still not sure if I'm ready to endorse it wholeheartedly.  Like a lot of Ostrander comics, each issue tells a nice little story that obviously ties into a greater whole, but unlike a lot of Ostrander comics, it's lacking a certain je ne sais quoi that, you know, I can't quite put my finger on.  (All right, that's a lame joke.  But still.)  Last issue's fight between the assassin and the deposed Emperor was an exception, as that crackled with energy, so maybe it's Cade Skywalker who doesn't seem to quite resonate with me, as we return to his story in this issue and the quality drops a bit.  Ostrander does a good job with the characters, giving even the bad guys some nice personalities, and the fight at the end is drawn nicely, and we get fun lines like "No one wants to see an unhappy Wookiee" (don't I know it!), but there's something missing.  I'll give it a few more issues to figure it out.  I know, good job reviewing a book, isn't it - "there's something missing."  That's why I get paid the big bucks!

X-Factor #21 by Peter David and Pablo Raimondi.  $2.99, Marvel.

The milk on the cover says "100% Booze Free."  I think all milk should come with that label.

As I am as ignorant of Marvel history as I am of DC history, I assume that guy on the cover is someone we've seen before, and I just don't know who.  Of course, knowing David, he's completely new and I'm just supposed to think he's someone already established.  Can anyone help out?  Is he the "mysterious individual" who helped Nicole get out of France?  Do I have to dig through my back issues?

Raimondi returns on art, and although it's not perfect, it's better than Pham was, so I'm happy.  There are some odd-looking faces, but generally it's good, and the big panel of the truck smashing into the cover dude is pretty darned cool.  David, meanwhile, has just finished a story arc, so he throws a bunch of threads into the mix and we'll see where each leads.  David does a nice job with the interactions between characters in this issue, as Jamie tries to make nice with Monet and Teresa and fails, although he made more headway than he knows; Layla and Nicole continue to bond even though Layla doesn't like Nicole and Nicole apparently has a connection with the dude on the cover, which is why I wonder if he's the dude from France.  Rahne, meanwhile, jumps Rictor's bones, and Val Cooper offers Guido a job.  Plus, a couple arrives with a case for the detective agency.  Oh yeah, they're supposed to be a detective agency.  I'm glad the writer of the comic remembered!

All in all, it's not a terribly exciting issue, but unlike a lot of other set-up issues that show up, this sets up a bunch of stories, and that's always nice to see.  X-Factor continues to be a good book because David really understands the characters.  If you have that, everything else just works out for itself.

I do wonder, though: why does Monet get sick when she smells Rahne's "weird doggie breath"?  I'm sure it's unpleasant, but enough to make someone nauseous?  Really?

Well, another week in the books.  And as usual, some fine books are out there if you know where to look.  Just don't look in the direction of Banzai Girls and you'll be fine.  However, you should always remember:

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