What I bought - 11 March 2009

Superb quality this week. Aren't comics awesome?

Captain Britain and MI 13 #11 ("Vampire State Part One") by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Mike Collins (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Robin Riggs (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Okay, so Mike Collins, who pencils page 12 and 15-22, isn't great, but I guess we'll just have to live with it. It's not embarrassing, so I suppose I'll just let it go, especially because the issue is so freakin' excellent.

There's a lot that's very good in this issue, but page 6, on which Faiza and Dane, falling from a plane, hit the ground, is stunning. Faiza decides she's going to use her healing power on them in the split second between them hitting the ground and them, well, dying, and Cornell writes a long prose section (well, it's not that long, as it's on just that page and it doesn't take up the whole page) about how she does it. It's fine reading as they fall, but when you get to "The impact kills her," it goes beyond fine reading and becomes absolutely thrilling. The way Cornell writes how she saves them is good enough, but the dark implications of her actions are gripping, too. In a storyline that's about things rising from the dead, it's creepy foreshadowing.

Cornell has really done a nice job with this book, as you may have heard. These people are professionals, and although they experience some angst, they get the job done and don't whine about it. Brian simply rips through a vampire early in the book, Faiza and Dane calmly discuss how they're going to survive while they approach 32 feet per second squared and burning chunks of their plane fall around them, and Wisdom roots out a traitor in the government efficiently and brutally. In between, Cornell allows them to recognize the tragedy that has befallen them (with regard to Faiza's parents), but Wisdom makes sure they realize they have a job to do, and revenge will come, but only as part of the plan. Cornell has forged these characters into a nice team, one that deals with threats instead of worrying about them. The ending is a bit predictable, but that's okay - it still has a great deal of power, mainly because of how well Cornell has done with the characters.

The main complaint I see about the book is that Cornell's stories run a bit too long - perhaps they need some shaving. I can see that. It doesn't bother me, but I can see that. This seems like it's going to be another one of those long arcs, if you're not happy with that. Oh well.

And can we get some ground rules for vampires in the DC and Marvel Universes? I seem to recall the vampires in the DCU not caring about holy water, but I guess the Marvel ones do, or at least one of them in this issue does. Are there any set rules, or is it whatever Writer A feels like it today?

Damn, I love this comic. "You won't harm or pursue Dracula until you're under orders to do so. And then you'll harm him a great deal." Awesome.

Charlatan Ball #6 ("The Main Event Comic") by Joe Casey (writer), Andy Suriano (artist), Marc Letzmann (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.50, 18 pgs, FC, Image.

Casey explains at the end of this issue that it's the end of "Season One" (man, I hate that term when it comes to comics), but I don't think I'll be back for Season Two, whenever it arrives. I wanted to see how Casey and Suriano finished out this arc, and while it's not awful, it's just missing some spark that makes it worthwhile. Casey can do this kind of whacked-out stuff easily, but here it's just lacking something, and I'm not sure what. I think it's because Chuck Amok and Caesar just don't have much in the way of personalities, and six issues in, that's kind of a problem. The weirdness of the plot doesn't make up for it, unfortunately. I'm still not sure why Casey and Suriano show up in the book every so often, either. I like Suriano's art, but that's not enough. Oh well. I gave it a try.

Elephantmen #16 ("Dark Heart") by Richard Starkings (writer/letterer), Chris Burnham (artist), and Tatto Caballero (colorist). Back-up story ("The Sleeze Brothers") by Andy Lanning (writer), John Carnell (artist), Gregory Wright (colorist), and Richard Starkings (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs + 12-pg back-up, FC, Image.

As always, this came out a few weeks ago, but I just received my copy from Richard Starkings, and I'm very thankful to him for sending it along to me. I just love this comic, as you might have known by the fact that my name is all over CBR these days in those adverts for War Toys. So sue me: It's a cool comic. And check out that coolio cover by Boo Cook. As usual, Starkings has some extra stuff in here that explains the inner workings of the book, in this case the cover, which is swiped (sorry, an "homage") from the Robert O. Saber (Milton Ozaki) novel The Dove (see the cover here, down the page a bit). As the cover promises, this is a noir tale about the mysterious man and the dame who haunts him. The mysterious man is the Silencer, who we have seen before in this series, training elephantmen in Africa and getting a tusk through his chest when the hybrids rose up in revolt. Now he kills them for a living. He still owes money for his life-saving surgery, however, and the daughter of the man who paid for it, Destiny, comes calling one night. They had a thing once, of course. She wants him back, he can't pay her father back yet, and things don't go well. Of course.

Starkings drenches the story in noir tropes, and it works well in that context. He has been building this world for so long, and now we're getting payoffs from unexpected places. The Silencer is obviously going to be a major part of the story, and Starkings reintroduces him to the comic with a flourish, as he tracks down his prey and dispatches him efficiently, showing how cold he really is. But when we go back and see his injuries and realize what has happened to him, it doesn't make him sympathetic (he deserved it, after all), but it does make his choice of profession more understandable. In a short tale that owes a great deal to a well-established genre, Starkings does a nice job making sure there's a bit more.

Meanwhile, Chris Burnham provides the art ... or does he? He has a nice eye for the details of Los Angeles in the future, filling it with trash and grime, and his elephantman is large and intimidating, but strangely pathetic too. The pages with the Silencer in the hospital after his skewering are horrifying but brutally effective. Weirdly enough, on the pages on which the Silencer meets Destiny, the art style noticeably shifts. It's very strange, because the art looks exactly like Igor Kordey, and Burnham's style does not resemble Kordey's at all. Did Burnham deliberately ape Kordey in those scenes (if so, why?) or did Kordey draw them? He's not credited, so I'm not sure what to think. The art looks nice, but it's much different than the rest of the book. It's very odd.

Still, yet another excellent issue of Elephantmen. That's not terribly shocking, is it?

Ex Machina Special #4 (FOUR?) ("Grassroots") by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), John Paul Leon (artist), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I can't be bothered to dig through my long boxes, but this is really the fourth Special? I remember the Halloween one a few years ago, but not the others. I'll trust the Wildstorm people to put the correct number on this, but it's bizarre. These Specials annoy me, because it seems like they're excuses to allow Wildstorm to claim that Tony Harris drew every issue of the series. It's not like there's a drop-off in talent to John Paul Leon (I'm sure some people see it as an improvement). And the actual issues could easily be regular issues of the series. It's strange. DC has begun releasing giant omnibus editions of this series, right? The Specials have to be included, and they should probably be included in between the issues where they were published, as they usually fit in there. I don't get it. But, as you probably have figured out by now, I often don't understand things.

It doesn't have anything to do with the quality of the specials, either. I didn't think the last one (about the Klan) was necessary, but this one, apparently, will have repercussions for the future, as Mitch meets a man who claims that he can talk to plants in the same way Mitch can talk to machines, and the plants tell him to kill people. Why Mitch doesn't believe him is annoying, but typical; in superhero comics, there's always someone who is obviously dangerous and obviously powered somehow but who is dismissed by the people who can fly, turn invisible, create fire, talk to machines, or duplicate themselves spontaneously as "crazy." The story is fine, with typically wonderful art by Leon, and it even has a "BKV" moment - those times he steps outside the story to provide non sequitur commentary about something that's on his mind; in this case, when the publisher of a newspaper rails against nerds. A few minor cuts here and there, and it could easily be a 22-page comic, issue #41 (the meta one was #40, right?). But I guess that would interfere with the "no guest artists" thing they have going on. Strange.

Fables #82 ("Waiting for the Blues") by Bill Willingham (writer), David Hahn (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). Back-up story ("Home From the Jungle Part Five of Five") by Bill Willingham (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 17 pgs + 5-pg back-up story, FC, DC/Vertigo.

That's a nice Mark Buckingham cover. I'm just sayin'.

This is an epilogue to the "Dark Ages" arc that ended last issue, and therefore, like so many comics before it, it's a wake. Well, not exactly, but it's the aftermath of a funeral service, and things are unraveling a bit, so we get several Fables talking to each other and trying to figure out what to do with themselves. It works because Willingham has been writing this for almost 7 years, so we know these characters extremely well and can understand why they're acting the way they do. He's obviously setting up quite a bit, from the animals' discontent on the Farm to Rose Red pining away to the end of Mowgli's mission in the back-up story. As is too common with an issue of Fables, it ends very weirdly, as if Willingham is writing along, realizes he's reached his allotted number of pages (for the main story this time around, it's 17), and thinks, "Okay, all done!" I'm sure it works fine in the trade (maybe, as I don't read the series that way), but it's very strange sometimes reading it in monthly installments.

David Hahn's art is always nice to see, too. His badger dude is adorable and menacing at the same time. That's a neat trick.

Next issue we get the "Great Fables Crossover." I'm sure it will be neat-o.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #1 ("A Kind of Eulogy") by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Cavallaro (artist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

Didn't I already review this? Oh, yeah, I did.

Northlanders #15 ("The Cross + the Hammer Part 5 of 6: The Red Road") by Brian Wood (writer), Ryan Kelly (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Brian Wood is frickin' awesome. I can't tell you why, but he is. The twist in this issue isn't completely unique, but it's still pretty stunning. Damn. Brian Wood rules.

Since I can't say much about the story, consider Kelly's amazing art. Most of the issue is a conversation between Magnus and Ragnar, but Kelly keeps it tense, and the look on Magnus's face when Wood drops his bombshell is quite staggering. Then Kelly gets to draw a two-page splash of the aftermath of the battle at Clontarf (info here!) that is horrifying, especially because of the casual way he shows people picking over the corpses. It's masterful work.

Man, I wish I could say more about this. If you haven't been buying the issues leading up to it, it won't have the same impact, but if you gave up on this arc after the last issue, you need to check this out. Damn, it's awesome.

Scalped #26 ("High Lonesome Part Two of Five: Been Down So Goddamn Long That It Looks Like Up to Me") by Jason Aaron (writer), Davide Furnò (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and *Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, this is "one of the best comics ever created." Well, I certainly wouldn't go that far, at least not yet, but it's pretty dang good. I think we need to watch the hyperbole, though.

Aaron is writing these single-issue stories that are part of a larger arc, which can be an effective way to build an arc. Last issue, we saw a con artist come to the casino and get involved with our principals. Now, we revisit Diesel, the one-sixteenth Kickapoo who desperately wants to be an Indian. He's in prison, and he spends his time reminiscing about how he got to where he is. We get his "secret origin," which includes teenagers being jerks to him, an abusive father, and a scheme to get revenge on both that works to perfection. It's a terribly bleak story, not at all pleasant, and perhaps somewhat unnecessary. I suppose Aaron will tie it into the bigger story arc, but did we really need to know what a scumbag Diesel is and why? We know he's a scumbag, and we can guess it's to do with his upbringing. It's not that it's a poorly-written story, but it feels like Aaron just wants to indulge in some nastiness, so he did. In the previous issue, some horrible things occurred, but it felt like it was in the service of the story. This doesn't. I guess we needed to check in on Diesel, but this entire issue seemed pointless.

Soul Kiss #2 ("The Pretender") by Steven T. Seagle (writer) and Marco Cinello (artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

Marco Cinello's art looks more like Frank Espinosa's in this issue (although Cinello's lines are a bit stronger), which is a good thing. It's still a bit of an odd tone to the series, but it certainly looks nice.

We get to the meat of the series in this issue - Lili, who made a deal with the devil in issue #1, must kiss ten people in ten days to get her boyfriend back. That would be the boyfriend she accidentally killed as payment for Satan's help. So, in order to get her boyfriend back, she makes another deal with the devil - her kiss kills people, you see, so when she kisses them ... you get the idea.

I understand that Lili is upset about killing Damon (interesting name for the boyfriend, there - foreshadowing?), but you think she would have learned her lesson from making a deal with Satan in the first place. Shouldn't she just be happy that she generally got off easy? When she tells Satan that she'll do what he wants to get Damon back, she should know it won't be easy, right? I know she feels guilty for Damon's state, but Lili, Lili, Lili - count yourself lucky that more wasn't required of you.

I think the problem is that the first issue didn't give us enough of Lili and Damon for us to believe that she loved him so much. Lili is a hard-as-nails chick, and although we get that she has a soft spot for Damon, we never get that she thinks he's "the one" or anything. I guess Lili needs to be a young, somewhat snotty chick to make this book work, but I wish that she and Damon had been together longer and we got a better sense of their relationship. Even her guilt, while obvious, doesn't seem to be such a huge motivator. It's frustrating, because from the brief glimpse we get of Damon and Lili, I wouldn't be surprised if they broke up in a year or two. Is that any reason to go deeper into hock to the devil?

Maybe I'm being a bit crass, but while I can believe that Lili feels guilty for killing Damon, that's mainly because I believe people in general aren't, you know, scum. As Lili is a character, however, we need to believe that she, specifically, would do this. Basically, Lili is going to have to kill ten people, and the book, it seems, will explore the notion of people "deserving" it and if anyone does. That's perfectly fine, and can be the basis for a very good series, but turning Lili into a serial killer when we know very little about her bugs me. Right now, I'm not sure if I want to root for her. I know that fiction doesn't always need sympathetic characters, but it helps, especially when the character isn't terribly compelling yet. I'm still on board with the series, because I like Seagle and Cinello's art is nice, but I worry about it. I worry too much, don't I?

Young Liars #13 ("Rock Life") by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I want to point out that David Lapham has written and drawn every issue of this series, and it hasn't taken a break yet. And he draws stuff like that cover, which is almost duplicated inside, so it's not like it's just sketchy art. I always love seeing good art done in a timely manner. It makes prima donna artists who need a year to draw a 22-page comic a bit silly (even if I like their art). I wonder how that final issue of Planetary is coming along?

Anyway, it's tempting to call this a "quiet" issue of Young Liars, but on page 6, Danny burns down a house, so "quiet" is in relative terms, of course. But it's still a less-than-nuts issue, as Danny, who ended up in Arizona at the end of last issue, lives with Loreli for a while until he starts to realize that the life is a lie. We already know this, of course, as Loreli calls him "Johnny," but it's interesting watching Danny begin to understand what's happening. It's a disturbing issue, mainly because when Danny begins to suss out what's going on, things get a bit weird ("weird," of course, also being a relative term in this series). What's nice about this series is that as insane as it gets, you can feel that Lapham is in total control of it, and I just hope the sales keep it going to see where on earth he's going with it.

Sorry I can't rant more about this week's comics. Captain Britain, Elephantmen, Ex Machina, Fables, Northlanders, Scalped, and Young Liars are some of my favorites, so it's difficult to come up with new ways to write how great they are. But you know you can trust me, right?

Nobody guessed last week's lyrics, which is good news for my wife as I promised to marry anyone who did. They're from the song "Eye for Eye" by the band Think Tree on the 1992 album Like the Idea. Think Tree was a Boston-based band that broke up after this album (their second), and they were rather odd, using all sorts of different instruments backing very intricate lyrics. I love this album to death, and I'm glad I own it. I found it in a record store in Auckland, New Zealand, of all places. But let's move on to new totally random lyrics!

"Silently she opens the drawerMother's little helperIs coming out for moreStrategically positionedBefore the midday showThe back is archedThose lips are parchedRepeated blow by blowLater, at the party, all the MPs rave'Bout the hummers she's been givingAnd the money that they save"

These are random, remember, so the fact that this song is relatively obscure, just like last week's, doesn't mean anything. I will say that I hope FunkyGreenJerusalem knows these lyrics!

Have a nice day, everyone!

Award-Winning Comic Book Journalist, Tom Spurgeon, Passes Away

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