What I bought - 11 June 2008

Another good week in the comics world, despite the fact that the only comic I bought from the Time/Warner Empire was from the "mature" section of their line. Yeah, there was nothing that was catching my attention from National Publications. Oh well - there were still a bunch of great floppies out there! But first, I must ask your indulgence as I conduct a totally non-scientific poll. Read on!

So earlier this week I was working on a post. Boy howdy, what a post it was. I recently read Green Lantern: Rebirth and I still haven't made up my mind whether it was, you know, any good or not. So I decided to do a review, but also do annotations for the series, as it is one continuity-heavy mofo. I even had six footnotes so far, and I had only started the second issue.1 Then, disaster struck.

In case you're not aware of the inner workings of blogging, especially on Wordpress, here's what can happen. There's a "save" button that also doubles as an "autosave," meaning, well, I don't have to click it to save my drafts. Usually this isn't a big deal, but the other day, I accidentally highlighted my entire post. You know how it is - you want to hit the "shift" button but you accidentally hit the "ctrl" button and it highlights the entire text, and then the next key you strike deletes the entire thing. So yes, I deleted my entire post, with its several links to various Wikipedia entries telling us all about the participants in the first (and a few pages of the second) issue of GL: Rebirth (including Ollie's sidekick, Mia), plus all the footnotes,2 plus all the specific older comics Johns made reference to in the first issue (I'm pretty sure it was six, but I might be misremembering, just like Andy Pettitte). This wouldn't be too much of a problem, because I can always open a new window, go into our draft file, and retrieve it from before I accidentally deleted everything ... except that the "autosave" is so damned quick, it saved the new draft (nothing but a letter "n") before I could do that. Thus, my entire draft was gone. Wordpress has no place (that I could find) that stores drafts from the last time you actually saved it (instead of the autosave taking care of it first), so I couldn't even go back to where I was before beginning typing that day. It was quite vexing, I'll tell you that much.

Anyway, my question to you is: Should I even bother starting over? Does anyone care to read the annotations and my thoughts on a four-year-old comic book that isn't, you know, all that important in the long run? I mean, whether it's good or not (and I'm still mulling), it's a superhero story in a universe where someone punching the walls of reality can change things, so it's not like it's Maus or anything. I just thought it would be interesting to see how continuity-thick is really is and if that helps or hurts it tell its story.

If one person expresses interest in this in the comments, I'll do it. If nobody does, I won't bother. I was having fun doing it, but it was kind of a pain doing Google searches for Hector Hammond and Mongul and all the others. It will take me a while (especially as I'm going on vacation next week), but if one person is keen on reading it, I'll do it! This doesn't work the other way, however, and if one person tells me never to write for this blog again I'll stop writing. You don't get rid of me that easily!

1 Yes, footnotes!2 Man, I love footnotes.

Okay, enough of that. On to the reviews! You might be missing one of the most amazing comics out there, and I don't want that!

The Boy Who Made Silence #4 (of 12) by Joshua Hagler (writer/artist/letterer) and Thomas Mauer (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Markosia.

I worry about you guys. In this summer of Skrull invasions and Final Crises and other sorts of goofy stuff, you might be missing a truly unbelievable comic book. Yes, I'm talking about this one, of which four issues have appeared in what seems like lightning speed (Hagler has been working on it for a while, so I hope the latter half of it is as quick as the first half). This is a breathtaking comic, not only in art, where Hagler's Sienkiewicz/McKean/Kieth influences don't overwhelm the beauty of it, but also in the storytelling, where an upside-down cat and a dog-faced stranger don't seem that weird and Nestor's teacher has concerns about his disabilities but doesn't come off as a snotty troglodyte, which could be too easy. In a comics landscape where it's far too convenient to portray adults as out of touch (if the focus of the book is on children) or to portray children as hellions (if the focus of the book is on adults), Hagler is doing something nice: showing the characters as people. I know, how shocking. Therefore, Nestor talks to a cat, and given what we already know about him, we don't think he's crazy even though no one else can see the cat. Therefore, his teacher might not understand Nestor (heck, we don't, really), but she's trying. Therefore, Nestor's mother might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but she's concerned about her son and about giving him the best chance she can. It's a melancholy comic, sure, but the strangeness with which Hagler tells it makes us stop and consider what Nestor is going through and how he doesn't necessarily see it as a bad thing.

Hagler's scripting, more than the plotting, is done well too. His use of the second person, which he uses sparingly and therefore more effectively with each issue, makes reading about Route 66, near which Nestor's house sits, more gripping and nostalgic for a true Route 66, the one of the song. The sparse dialogue between the teacher and her administrator makes Nestor's situation all the more heart-wrenching. And the cat's dialogue is strange without being too off-the-wall. It's a fine line, but Hagler strides it confidently.

It's getting to a point where I can't recommend this book enough. If you can't find the individual issues, I'm sure there will be a collection (of at least the first six issues) coming soon, and you should give it a look. It's turning into an amazing journey through a bleak but not hopeless reality, and it's fascinating to read.

Captain Britain and MI: 13 #2 by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC Marvel.

Come on - an invasion of Avalon by Skrulls in order to destroy the world's magic? How can you not love that????

Yes, it's another installment of what promises to be a wildly fun and ridiculously low-selling Marvel book. I mean, it doesn't star Wolverine or Spider-Man! Why would you buy it?

Well, it features a British Muslim doctor who happens to be a superhero fangirl and, in this issue, discovers she has some freaky powers, which leads to a completely freaky panel in which the Black Knight's skin and muscles and organs are separated from each other. It features Pete Wisdom asking Oberon what a cave looks like, which leads to the obvious (but funny) answer from the king of fairies. It features the Skrulls using technology to slaughter the magical hosts (boo, Skrulls!). And it features Excalibur in a stone. Who can pull it out? We all know who (as Wisdom points out in the issue), but Captain Britain is "dead," remember? Yes, the title character is still presumed dead, and is therefore missing completely from this comic. And it doesn't even matter, because it's so much fun. And no, I still haven't read Wisdom. Dang it, I really need to get around to that.

Just buy this before another book that is wild and fun and everything you could want in a superhero comic dies a swift death. Take a look at the unfortunately placed double-page spread in which the Skrulls attack Avalon. I say it's placed at an unfortunate spot not because it's bad, but because it comes right before Greg Land's double-page advertisement for Uncanny X-Men #500. Look at how much better Leonard Kirk's pages are than Land's, yet Kirk is not a "superstar" artist and therefore doesn't get any kind of love from Marvel and DC. I know his spread is doing something different than Land's (showing the action of a story rather than existing as an ad), but just look at the dynamism of Kirk's layout and the grittiness (such as it is) of the drawings that plop you right in the middle of a war zone, whereas Land's tracing removes us from the spread, and the vacuousness of the characters' expressions betray their origins. Each character in the Land drawing looks as if they are from a completely different place, as if they aren't right next to each other, while Kirk's drawing is completely integrated, and the action draws our eye around the page and nothing looks out of place. It's a good (not great) drawing in its own right, but compared to what follows directly after, it's a masterpiece. Kirk does a nice job with the rest of the issue, too, but I thought I'd point out what struck me about the way the issue was put together.

Charlatan Ball #1 by Joe Casey (writer), Andy Suriano (artist), Marc Letzmann (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.50, 18 pgs, FC, Image.

Joe Casey's latest trip into weirdness doesn't quite click as well as his previous trip into weirdness (Gødland), and I think it's because the narrator isn't as clever as he (or she or it) thinks he is and because the set-up feels a bit too familiar. In terms of the grand idea, it's not bad - Chuck Amok is a low-level magician who owes too much money to the wrong people, but just when he's about to get a beating, he's sucked into another dimension where magic actually works. He is there because of the machinations of Demon Empty, who is playing some kind of magical game where he's a top competitor and is therefore the focus of other players. He brings Chuck to the dimension to distract the other players so he, Demon Empty, can gain some advantage in the game. It's not the best set-up, but the idea of bringing in someone who is so hopelessly lousy at whatever it is he does that he can't help but get better at it isn't the most original idea in the world. Casey doesn't necessarily conform to our expectations, but Chuck has to become more heroic, doesn't he? He's not Ant-Man, after all.

The writing is fine, except for the aforementioned narrator. He (She? It?) isn't present too often in the book, but Casey makes the narrator far too obnoxious, and it takes us out of the story, which might, after all, be the point. There's a fine line, of course, between using an obnoxious, (presumably) omniscient narrator for story effect and going too far and thinking the narrator is not, actually, annoying. This narrator is definitely annoying. We'll just have to see how deliberate that is.

Suriano's art is the star of the show. Much like Gødland, there's a Kirby vide, but Suriano's work isn't as cosmic as Scioli's, plus it's much rougher, which suits the down-and-out milieu that Chuck inhabits early in the book. Suriano does a nice job with the wildness of the other dimension, cramming each panel with nice little touches, such as the flowers around the energy that the "muscle mage" wields when Chuck first arrives in the dimension. It's a neat-looking comic, and I'd like to see more of Suriano's art. It will probably keep me on board with this comic for a few issues to see what Casey does with the book. I do like Casey, and trust him to do something more interesting with the premise, so I'm giving it a chance.

It's an inauspicious beginning, but it's not a complete disaster. Charlatan Ball looks great and is at least interesting. So we'll see. The first issue just didn't blow me away.

ClanDestine #5 (of 5) by Alan Davis (writer/penciler), Mark Farmer (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The first of the "final issues" that I bought this week is ClanDestine #5, and it has some problems, not unlike the other two final issues. It looks amazing, of course, and it's certainly enjoyable to read. Davis does wonderful things with panel design and as he loves these characters, obviously, he has a blast writing them. The fact that the original Excalibur, another group he loves, shows up, also makes this fun to read.

The problem with the book is the plot, or should I say, plots. Each plot is interesting, but neither can carry the book, and that means neither plot feels like it's that threatening. The kids crossing dimensions with Excalibur is exciting, but the Inhumans don't turn out to be that scary. Meanwhile, the Omegans and their clones could be a problem, but they come in so late in the game that they don't do much before they're defeated. This mini-series, as great as it looks and as fun as it is to read occasionally, fails to come up with a credible threat to the family. It might not be a problem for you, but Davis spent a lot of time setting up the bad guys and then ... it fizzles. Part of the problem is that, for the second time that I can think of in the short history of the group, Adam arrives to save the day, and he's so powerful that nothing is much of a threat to him. It appears that Davis has a) decided to get rid of Adam for a while; and b) thinking about another series, so let's hope that Adam doesn't save the day next time. I would love another mini-series (or ongoing, if Davis can handle the workload), because this is a great concept for a superhero book and Davis obviously has a ball with it. The resolution to the two plots isn't horrible, but it's not as great as it could have been.

Contract #0 by Garan Madeiros (writer), Dave Ross (artist), Ariel Padilla (artist), Yvel Guichet (penciller), Kevin Sharpe (penciller), Joe Rubenstein (inker), and Mark McKenna (inker). $.25, 12 pgs, BW, First Salvo.

I ordered this because it was a quarter, so why the hell not, right? What I don't understand about this is that it's a teaser for the regular series, right? I can buy that. But at least one issue has already been solicited, so why have an issue that helps you decide if you want to order it when the first issue has already been offered before you can make up your mind about it? I mean, I'm going to assume that First Salvo doesn't get a lot of books into comics shoppes, so if you want to buy this, you're going to have to order it. I didn't order the first issue, because I didn't know if I wanted to. Because the preview hadn't come out yet. And now my brain hurts.

Gosh, I should probably talk about the actual issue, don't you think? There's not a lot to this, but it gives us a good idea of what the series will be about. In the future, three bounty hunters wander around doing their thing. That's about it. Jessie is the leader, and she has a martial arts guy and a big bruiser working with her. It's not bad, but it's not terribly good, either. The best thing about it is the various artists working on it. The regular artists are apparently Padilla and Guichet, who provide a couple of splash pages. Ross, who does the first quick story, has a nice attention to detail and a somewhat Hitchian look. Madeiros puts the stories together decently enough, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the scripting.

It's a nice teaser for 25 cents, and I'd like to at least check out the first issue, because it's going to be in color and it's going to have a different artist, but I don't think I'll buy it. It's not a bad idea, but it doesn't grab me in any significant way.

Gamekeeper vol. 2 #4 by Jeff Parker (writer), Ron Randall (layouts), Ron Chan (penciller), S. Sundarakannan (colorist), and Rakesh B. Mahadik (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Virgin.

Parker does this kind of thing well - we think the story is going to be about one thing, and it is, in a way, but we keep getting nice twists and turns to keep us guessing. Last issue we discovered the identity of the Raven, and this issue we find out that the gangsters who took Krista Morgan are not ones to be taken lightly. Parker slows things down in this issue to explain quite a bit, but we get some action at the end that sets up the final issue (at least I'm fairly sure it's the final issue) nicely. Parker is dealing with what turns out to be a large cast deftly, and it's interesting how he manages to give these formerly faceless bad guys some interesting personalities. Whereas the first series of this book, with Andy Diggle writing it, was more of a straightforward brutal action comic, Parker has made this much more of a spy thriller, and that's just dandy. I'll be interested to see how Parker resolves everything.

Local #12 (of 12) by Brian Wood (writer) and Ryan Kelly (artist). $2.99, 32 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

The second final issue of the week is Local, which has been a long time coming, I'll tell you that much. Issue #1 came out in November 2005, and it got slower as it went along, which is why I stopped reading the single issues after #7. So I got to sit down and re-read the ones I already had and read the new ones, and it's really a wonderful series. I stopped reading partially because I hated Megan so much and didn't want to, and with the gap between issues I wanted to track her (presumed) maturation quickly rather than waiting. So if I hated Megan after an issue, I could just read the next one and see if she changed. And what do you know? She did. But how? Ah, there's the rub.

First, the good things. Kelly's art on the series and this issue specifically is wonderful. Despite it looking a bit rushed on this issue, it's still amazing to go back through the series and look at the detail he puts into each page and marvel that it didn't take ten years to get this out as opposed to 2½. The way he shows Megan growing up is astounding, and the double-page spread in this issue of our heroine sitting alone at the dining room table is haunting and gorgeous. Each character is fully realized visually, to the point that we can tell immediately that Matthew is Megan's brother the first time he shows up, even though it takes a while before we learn that fact. Kelly has done amazing background work in this series, as well. I can't speak for all the locations, but he nailed both Portland and Tempe, so I have to believe he did for the other places Megan has visited over the course of her journey. This is the kind of work where you feel like you know these people, and although a lot of that has to do with Wood's writing, it also has a great deal to do with Kelly's art.

Wood's scripting is fantastic, as well. The "deep moments" of the series, such as they are, don't come about because the characters are speaking deeply, they simply arise from the situations in which Wood puts them. When the guy at the bar in Brooklyn tells Megan that his friend, her roommate, told him to visit the bar to see her, it's a devastating critique of Megan's behavior, but the guy doesn't necessarily mean it as such. He just tells her that his friend told him about her and how cool she was, and all the time he's sitting there Megan is destroying Gloria, which stems from her personality and how she feels about her roommate (which, when we consider it, is how she feels about her mother, and she takes it out on Gloria). This final issue, of course, wraps things up, so Wood is kind of going for "deep," and it doesn't work as well, but for the rest of the series, Wood's writing reveals so many little things about all the characters - not just Megan - without making it obvious. These are simply people, and although Megan does awful things (especially in the middle issues, which is when I started to hate her), by the time Nancy Bai gets through with her in issue #11, we feel pity for Megan. She hasn't done anything to make us feel better for her, but Nancy, who invades Megan's life and steals her experiences, does something worse. By comparison, Megan comes off looking good.

I have a couple of problems with the final issue, however. First, I got the feeling that Megan didn't "earn" her happy ending. This is a weird critique, I know, but let's consider what Megan has put other people in her life through, people who rarely did anything to deserve it. The only hardship Megan has gone through in her life is the death of her mother (her father's death couldn't have had that much of an effect on her, given that he was kind of a dick). Sure, she's had minor problems, but nothing that is all that traumatic. (I don't mean to belittle her mother's death, but she had been away from home for years, so was it that awful for her? I don't know.) Yet, in issue #11, she's working at a nice publishing company (we don't know what she does there, but she has what appears to be a good job and nice place to live), and then, in this issue, she inherits a wonderful house and a ton of land in Vermont. Now, I have no problem with her getting this stuff, but I get the feeling we're supposed to feel like she earned it somehow because she never compromised. Well, she had an overindulgent mother who let her do whatever she wanted, she got to spend over a decade wandering around being a jerk to almost everyone she comes in contact with, and in the end, she gets a house and a chunk of land? It's not fair, man! I just get the sense that we're supposed to feel as if Megan has learned from her travels, and this is her reward. She's not real, after all, so this isn't reality, where things like this happen all the time. I'm left wondering what the point was.

Because, let's face it, Megan doesn't grow up, not really. She just gets tired of traveling. She can't answer her ghosts when they confront her with what she's done, because she never accepted the responsibility for being a bitch to them. She "did what [she] did on [her] own terms, in [her] own way, and [she] made [her] own decisions." Well, that's great, Megan, but you never accepted responsiblity for your actions, and that's what makes you an adult. Megan simply got tired of wandering, and she luckily had a place to crash. Her forgiveness of Nancy in issue #11 goes a long way toward maturity, but we see at the end that she's still a child, just a child who has stopped running. She asks her mother, "Why were people so horrible to me?" Excuse me? Never, "Why was I so horrible to people?" Her asshat boyfriend in issue #1, yeah, he was horrible. The bass player of Theories and Defenses was a tool, but that was a momentary encounter that didn't leave a mark. Nancy is the only one who really wrongs her, and even that was only equal to some of the awful things Megan did throughout the series. It's this immaturity that keeps me from completely embracing the ending. Of course, maybe that's the point.

Despite my reservations, this is a masterful piece of work, and I encourage you, if you haven't been buying it, to get the hardcover edition that's coming out. It's 30 bucks, which is 6 dollars cheaper than you would have spent to buy each issue, but despite the presence of "bonus material," I wonder if it will have all the good stuff you could get at the back of each issue. If you get everything in each issue plus "bonus material," I'll be grumpy. Oh well. I'm sure it will be a fantastic package. And it's very much worth it. Local is a challenging work, and it should engender difficult emotions. I still don't like Megan all that much. But I love reading about her.

Moon Knight #19 by Mike Benson (plotter/writer), Charlie Huston (plotter), Mark Texeira (artist), Javier Saltares (layouts), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The third "final issue" this week is the conclusion to Mike Benson's first story arc on Moon Knight, "God and Country." It's imperfect (man, what's up with me this week?) but still shows why this has become one of Marvel's best books. Benson has taken Huston's view of the character and expanded it, and the result is a gripping piece of pulp fiction. And no, it still gets no respect. Whatever. As long as sales are okay, I'm fine.

First, the problem. Carson Knowles has spent this story arc showing Moon Knight in the worst possible light and building himself up, but Benson hasn't spent much time showing how Carson has gained the trust of the public. He's done a good job showing how poorly Spector is viewed these days, but we haven't really seen much in terms of Knowles becoming a beloved public figure again. So this issue, even with the presence of Stark nanites infecting the crowd, doesn't make much sense, because the crowd that has gathered seems to love Knowles inordinately much. The idea that he can inject them with microscopic machines and somehow control them is weird, too. If this story had been about the power of the media to tear down a (somewhat crazy) hero and build up a psychopath, that might have been more powerful. But Benson doesn't go that route, and the story suffers. The fact that the confrontation is played out at a Stark-sponsored celebration of the Initiative is odd, too. Benson is making a point about the fact that the people have forgotten about the way the Initiative was set up and simply fall down and worship the (literally) larger-than-life heroes, but the celebration seems to come out of nowhere and the people seem weirdly mesmerized - which is probably what Benson is going for, but it doesn't fit very well. He's also not very good at writing straight superheroes, as Simon Williams sounds like a doofus. Writing superheroes is a skill that often gets overlooked, and it's not as easy as it seems. Benson does a poor job with it, but luckily, Wonder Man doesn't say much.

The good news is that the Spector-Knowles dynamic is a brutal as ever, and Moon Knight's battle with Black Spectre is, like every other fight in this comic, notable for not shying away from showing the consequences of violence. Benson also brings up an interesting point about Spector: his use of drugs, specifically novacain [sic] and cortisone. Why wouldn't he use these? He's not super-powered, and to suggest that the beatings he takes have no effect on him is foolish. This is why Moon Knight is such an interesting comic - in other comics, people beat on each other, cause a great deal of damage, but there are no aftereffects. Someone might break a leg occasionally and be in a cast for a few issues, but these people take pounding after pounding and never show any ill effects, mostly because the writer decides to give them enhanced healing powers. Batman broke his freaking back, for crying out loud, and he came back better than ever. Spector has been pummeled in this comic's run, and it's refreshing that Benson acknowledges that he'd need something extra to help him. And then, at the end, Spector makes a fascinating decision that is sure to have ramifications. His uneasy relationship with the ghost of Bushman (we'll call it that for the sake of brevity) is about to move into a different phase, and although this particular arc is over, it's obvious that Spector has a lot of work to do to repair his ruined reputation.

Mike Deodato draws the next issue, and it's a standalone issue featuring Werewolf by Night, Moon Knight's first foe. Check it out and see why this is such a cool comic.

Young Liars #4 by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

This is really an insane comic book. I still don't know how I feel about it, but I have to admit it just grabs you and shakes you, demanding to be read. Can I resist? Can you?

Okay, probably, given that it doesn't actually reach out and demand anything. What is interesting about this issue is that up until now, we didn't really have a reason to believe the title of the series. In this issue, however, we come up agains the realization that all of these characters are probably lying, and although it makes for a depressing comment on people in general, it makes for fascinating reading. We want to trust Danny, and he appears to have proof to back up his version of Sadie's life, but who knows? It should make for some confusing reading, especially in a serial comic, but it has lots of possibilities.

I should point that Lapham has a weird prudish attitude toward showing frontal nudity. It's a Vertigo book, after all. I certainly don't want gratuitous nudity, but when Truman interrupts Sadie and Danny having sex, Lapham goes out of his way to put obstacles in front of Sadie's nipples. It's not like she's all that virginal, after all. It's not like Lapham is too puritanical, as later in the book we get a penis shot (a long shot, true, but still). So why the reluctance to show Sadie's nipples? It's weird.

Yes, only here can we end things with penis views and wondering about showing nipples. That's why you read this, isn't it? Join us next week where I wonder why we don't see more Batman/Catwoman fetish scenes in DC comics!

Your totally random lyric for the day:

"Woke up this morning, started to sneeze I had a cigarette and a cup of tea I looked in the mirror what did I see? A nine stone weakling with knobbly knees I did my knees bend, press ups, touch my toes I had another sneeze and I blew my nose I looked in the mirror at my pigeon chest I had to put on my clothes because it made me depressed"

Come on, that's an easy one, isn't it? You're getting off lightly this week!

Sound off like you have a pair, people! And don't forget my poll! Telling me to shove it will NOT endear you to anyone (except maybe Dan, but he's a bit off anyway)!

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