What I bought - 11 November 2009

"I love my dead gay son!"

The Anchor #2 ("Five Furies Part Two: Bark and Hide, Bone and Root") by Phil Hester (writer), Brian Churilla (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), and Johnny Lowe (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

We continue the first arc, as we get a bit of backstory about "Clem" on the first two pages, hearkening back to when the Vikings roamed the seas and men lugging anchors crawled out of the ocean. Then we're back to the present, and our hero and his new pal, Hofi, head to Scotland to battle a half-man, half-elk, who, unfortunately, can't keep his mouth shut. Oh, and the ghost of a teenager joins the cast. And some mean United States government people show up, because the United States government just can't keep its grubby little paws out of things, can it? It's mostly plot-building, although Hester does a nice job with it, and Churilla does a great job with the fight between Clem and the Elkman. Churilla makes the Elkman really frightening and majestic - he's a formidable challenge for Clem. And Churilla has fun with the brief scene in Hell, too.

As always, I'll give this series an arc and see where we stand. It's still an intriguing idea, and Hester has a good idea of where he's going with it (or so it seems), even though I wish the United States government wasn't quite so sinister. But both the writing and art are strong in this book, and Hester has a lot going on here.

Batman and Robin #6 ("Revenge of the Red Hood Part Three: Flamingo is Here") by Grant "All right, you bastards, next issue you get Cameron Stewart - are you happy now?" Morrison (writer), Philip Tan (penciller), Jonathan Glapion (inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC.

I've been defending Tan on this book, and I still don't think he's awful, but he screws up the Flamingo, and it's a shame. It doesn't help that Quitely draws him on the cover and Tan draws the interiors, because we can compare a good version with a not-so-good version. Quitely's Flamingo is suave and dangerous, while Tan's is just nutty. He's just another somewhat dull Batman villain, and it's too bad. Batman's villains are often as well-defined by their look as by their characterization, and Tan's Flamingo lacks the flair that makes him a truly great Batman villain (I guess technically he's a Red Hood villain, but you get my drift). He's just a wacko. Robin's line, "I was expecting scary, not gay," doesn't work too well, because Tan's Flamingo isn't as "gay" as Quitely's. Tan does a few things well - his Scarlet lying on the ground, beaten to a pulp, is a tragic panel - but his biggest problem when teamed with Morrison on Batman is that he lacks the slight cartoony edge that Morrison's scripts seem to demand. Quitely has that, and so does Stewart, while his collaborators on his earlier run are more like Tan (with the exception of the ever-changeable Williams III). If this issue weren't quite as "brutal" in the way Tan draws it, Flamingo's abilities might feel more brutal, if that makes sense.

Because, for a fight issue, it's pretty effective. Flamingo's lack of speaking makes him more creepy, and Damian's slow journey to non-bastardness reaches an important signpost in this issue. Morrison also does a nice job at the end, when Jason confronts Dick about his feelings toward Bruce, because it's accurate. The entire epilogue of the issue is well done, from that confrontation to the fate of Scarlet to the scene with Oberon Sexton. I'm sure smarter people than I am can delve into the "W" on the back of El Penitente (I'm going to assume that's El Penitente), but I am unsure why the final page is supposed to be dramatic. Can anyone help?

Anyway, everyone who couldn't stand Tan's art can relax now. It's certainly not great, but for the most part, it did its job. And Morrison continues to have his moments of brilliance in a solid story. I'm glad he's doing something with Damian, because I'm still annoyed that Bruce is "dead." It's frustrating reading his take on Dick and Damian, because we know Bruce is coming back, so Morrison can't do too much with establishing them as the true Batman and Robin. This doesn't bug me as much as it does Jog, but it's definitely hindering the God of All Comics, it seems. When Morrison focuses on the good guys versus the bad guys, he does a good job, but the world-building isn't as strong.

The Black Coat: ... Or Give Me Death #1 and 2 by Ben Lichius (writer/colorist), Adam Cogan (story), Francesco Francavilla (artist, part one), Dean Kotz (artist, part two), and Chris Studabaker (letterer). $4.50, 44 pgs, FC (mostly), Ape Entertainment.

Man, I've been waiting for The Black Coat to return, and here it is! Life is good! Now, if only the next two issues could come out in a timely fashion, I'll be a happy camper!

For those of you who don't know, The Black Coat tells the tale of a mysterious vigilante in 1775 New York who fights the "tyranny" of the British (who weren't all that tyrannical, after all) as the colonies gear up for war. The Black Coat fights weird supernatural beings in league with the British and an evil organization called the League, and at the end of the first series, he battled a scientist who had created an immortality serum. They both ended up in the harbor, seemingly dead, but they both had ingested the serum, so of course they're still alive! At the beginning of this comic, the Black Coat's lady friend, Ursula, finds his body in the harbor (she's wearing a diving suit and traveling in a submarine, don't you know) and manages to get him home, where he eventually revives. Of course, he needs to keep taking the serum or he'll go nutty, and there's very little serum left. So he has a problem - he needs to create more serum, or all will be lost!!!!!

Lichius and Cogan not only give us a story about the Black Coat's quest for the scientist's brother, who may be able to synthesize more serum, but also a larger story about the beginnings of the war and what the colonists are doing to rebel. Lichius places it in a larger framework of supernatural evil, which doesn't work perfectly (it always bugs me when writers attribute war to grand machinations of the few when men are perfectly willing to kill each other without any nudging in that direction), but I don't mind in the context of the story. It's a terrifically exciting comic, with a giant gargoyle menacing our hero, back alley dealings, a creepy bandaged dude, and the Black Coat going slowly insane, which adds nice tension to the proceedings.

Francavilla started on art, but the delays in the book meant he moved on, which is a shame (although I'm certainly glad to see him on Zorro; it just would have been nice if he could have finished this). However, Kotz is quite good (I don't like him as much as Francavilla, but he's still good), and he's a good fit to finish the series, because he has a similar style to Francavilla. He draws a mean-looking gargoyle, too.

I know this is going to sell about 200 copies, which really stinks. It's an exciting, interesting, nicely-drawn comic that remains grounded in historical reality (sort of) even though Lichius and Cogan take it into supernatural territory. They don't go overboard, however, which is nice. The build-up to the war is as interesting as the supernatural stuff. If you've missed The Black Coat until now, it's time to rectify that oversight!

Comic Book Comics #4 ("Leagelese!") by Fred van Lente (writer) and Ryan Dunlavey (artist). $3.99, 40 pgs, BW, Evil Twin Comics.

Speaking of long-delayed comics, it's the fourth issue of Comic Book Comics!!!! Yay!!!!

I have no problem with this taking so long, because of a few reasons. First, it's 40 pages for 4 dollars. Second, Dunlavey packs the issue with detailed panels full of wacky sight gags, so if takes him a while to draw it, that's cool. Third, van Lente has to, presumably, do a ton of meticulous detail for these (I imagine he doesn't know all this stuff off the top of his head), which takes a while but makes each issue a blast-and-a-half to read. Fourth, given the fickle comics-buying public, I'm sure van Lente and Dunlavey make no frickin' money at all on this, so they have to earn a living somewhere and fit this in when they can (like, one of those nights when you've eaten too many Doritos to sleep and your subscription to Skinemax has been cancelled and you figure it's time to work on an issue!). Van Lente and Dunlavey can take as long as they want with this, in my opinion.

This might be the best issue of the series yet, probably because the Fifties through Seventies are a bit more documented than the early days of comics, and several people involved are still alive, so it feels like van Lente gets deeper into the dirt behind the creators, which makes it more interesting. It's funnier, too, presumably for the same reason. Dunlavey is also able to cut loose a bit, which again might have to do with my familiarity with the material, so I get more of the jokes. Maybe. But the subject matter, from crime comics of the 1950s to the Marvel explosion of the 1960s to underground comix of the late '60s and 1970s, lends itself to satirizing and weirdness a bit more than the earlier stuff. This certainly feels the most joyous of the series so far. Plus, it features Metaa, The Thing That Walked Like a Man That Walked Like a Thing That Walked Like a Man! Of course it did!

If you haven't been buying Comic Book Comics, there's no reason to find the first three issues, because each issue is pretty much self-contained. Seek this one out, because it's a wildly fun comic. And I do hope van Lente and Dunlavey can finish this (buy the new Action Philosophers! trade when it shows up soon, so you can give them some funds!), but they can take as long as they need to. I'll be here when issue #5 comes out!

Fables #90 ("Witches Chapter Four: Ozma") by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

It's always so difficult to review an issue of Fables, especially when it's in the middle of a story arc. Willingham sets them up extremely well, often doesn't end them too strongly, but in between, he just lets the plot carry the characters along, and it's a pleasure to read. We get Bufkin figuring out how to defeat Baba Yaga, and it's quite nifty. We get the witches deciding that Ozma should take the leadership of the group because Totenkinder has disappeared, and for some reason, I don't trust Ozma. We get Geppetto plotting with an oak tree (come on, it's Fables - of course he can do that!). We get Totenkinder still helping the Fables even though she's ... elsewhere. We get the return of Dunster Happ! Yay! And it's all wonderfully drawn by Buckingham.

See? Willingham just turns the characters loose, and they do their thing. I love reading each issue. They make me happy.

Plus, there's a preview of Gabriel Bá's and Fábio Moon's Daytripper. Goddamn, it looks awesome.

Rapture #5 (of 6) by Taki Soma (writer/layouter), Michael Avon Oeming (writer/artist), Val Staples (colorist), and Thomas Mauer (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I'm fearing the final issue of Rapture, because the way Soma and Oeming set it up, it feels like it's going to be a superhero fight, and I'm really hoping it's not. The early part of this issue is actually quite good, because Evelyn finds Gil under the absolute worst circumstances, and their reunion is definitely not what she was hoping it would be. Of course, she did tell Gil that she needed "space," so she has only herself to blame, but the pages on which they argue, with a young boy who has turned evil insensate at their feet, are gripping to read. The art shows Evelyn's isolation nicely, too, from one panel that has her in a long shot to another where her eyes are black holes of despair. Even Gil's decision about what to do with the boy is handled well. Then the weird dude who gave Evelyn the spear shows up, and it goes sideways a bit. The art still looks great, but the set-up to the final issue indicates that Evelyn and Gil are going to fight it out, and that would be disappointing.

I will, of course, read it, and hope that Soma and Oeming have something up their sleeve. That would be nice.

Starstruck #3 (of 13) ("Mirage à Troi" and "Buy, Buy, Birdy!") by Elaine Lee (writer), Michael Wm. Kaluta (artist), Charles Vess (inker, "Buy, Buy Birdy!"), Lee Moyer (painter), Todd Klein (letterer, "Mirage à Troi"), and John Workman (letterer, "Buy, Buy, Birdy!"). $3.99, 27 pgs, FC, IDW.

There's a nice post about the history of Starstruck here, in case you're interested. The author wonders why this latest incarnation isn't getting the love he feels it deserves. Well, I'm trying, man! I'm trying!

I think the problem with Starstruck is that it's so extremely dense that it's very hard to judge it based on the individual issues. I can rave about Kaluta's art all I want (and I will continue to do so, because it's amazing), but as interesting as Lee's story is, it's obvious that each issue is a tiny part of a much, MUCH bigger whole, and she's not really interesting in telling a shorter story in each issue that leads into a bigger story, she's just interested in telling the large story and the issue ends when IDW doesn't want to put any more pages in it. (I should point out that because of the ways this was originally released, I doubt if Lee had any intention of making it fit into a 22-page format, so I don't blame her in the least.) I'm not even sure if this is how the book was originally released - a few things I've read about it (including the link above) seem to indicate that some of the Epic Illustrated stuff is not here. So there's that.

I'm not going to go as far as the writer of that post, who compares this to Watchmen - at least not yet. It is refreshing reading something like this, however, because Lee is throwing all sorts of interesting stuff in here, from sexual politics to space opera to a fairly standard rebels-vs-establishment kind of fight, yet with plenty of twists, to a critique of objectification. Plus, both the main story and the Galactic Girl Guides are really funny. Lee has created this entire insane universe from scratch, and it shows on the page, because she confidently writes about this made-up world as if she's lived there her entire life.

I still like reading it, but I have a feeling I'll appreciate it a lot more when it's all done. Until then, I'll just revel in the artwork. It's so damned gorgeous!

And in the back of the book, there's an advertisement for J. Scott Campbell's "Fairytale Fantasies" calendar. You know, I don't know if I can watch my daughters' Disney DVDs ever again without thinking of stuff like this:

I know that Zenescope has been doing this for years, but Campbell is a bit higher-profile than they are, so this will get more pub, I expect. Sigh. The IDW link has Ariel, by the way. Sigh.

S.W.O.R.D. #1 ("No Time to Breathe" and "Not Yet") by Kieron Gillen (writer), Steven Sanders (penciler, "No Time to Breathe"), Jamie McKelvie (artist, "Not Yet"), Craig Yeung (inker, "No Time to Breathe"), Matt Wilson (colorist, "Not Yet"), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Let's consider S.W.O.R.D. #1. I have been on the Kieron Gillen bandwagon since Phonogram #1 came out, over three years ago. I told you to buy it. I ordered you to buy it. I begged you to buy it. I bribed you to buy it. I blackmailed you to buy it. I offered sex, booze, and video games if you bought it. And none of it worked. You didn't believe me when I told you that Gillen (and McKelvie, of course, but he's a different subject) was awesome. Then he started writing for Marvel, and far hipper people than I like Chris Sims told you to read his Beta Ray Bill stuff (to be fair to Sims, he also recognizes the awesomeness that is Phonogram). I've accepted that you're not going to listen to me, because I'm, you know, square. But if you don't believe Sims, then I just don't know what to tell you. There's just no hope.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that S.W.O.R.D. is pretty frickin' keen. I've been skipping Gillen's Marvel stuff, not because I don't think it would be good, but because I really don't have a lot of interest in Thor and Thor-related stories unless Walt Simonson is writing and drawing them. But I was jazzed about S.W.O.R.D., not because I have a fondness for Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men, but because it sounds like the kind of series that Gillen can just go nuts on, probably because (as I mentioned when it showed up in Previews), no one will read it and the PTB will ignore what he does until the sales figures come back. You know, kind of like The Order. I certainly hope that it smashes sales records and Gillen gets to write it for the next decade (even though, as I pointed out at his blog, that would mean he'd be too big a star to talk to me next year at San Diego), but it's always a tough go with new series that don't star one of Marvel's big guns, and when your biggest gun in this issue is Henry McCoy ... well, I think that speaks for itself. But hey! it's a Marvel book, and maybe someone who avoids indies like the plague will pick it up and think, "I wonder what else that Gillen bloke has written ... Phonogram, you say? The next issue of which comes out next week? I'll give that a whirl!" That happens all the time, right?

Of course, I should probably write a bit about the actual issue, shouldn't I? Well, it's mostly set-up, but a very entertaining set-up, as we get the internal tension between Henry Gyrich and Abigail Brand, co-commanders of S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department). Gyrich wants Abigail out, obviously, and Gillen sets up a nifty sub-plot in which Gyrich wants to kick all aliens - all of them - off the Earth so that something like "Secret Invasion" doesn't happen again. Of course, that was secret, so how would it stop that? But we'll run with it. We get a quick look at the inner workings of S.W.O.R.D. - some aliens want tribute or they'll steal North Carolina - before Abigail learns that her half-brother is running from a bounty hunter and has requested sanctuary. When she gives it to him, the bounty hunter simply takes him and skedaddles, leaving Abigail, Henry McCoy, and Lockheed - who's drinking himself into a stupor because Kitty Pryde is "lost" (not dead, as we learn in the second story) - to go fetch him. Oh, yes, the bounty hunter is Death's Head. Oh, those wacky British writers and their love of Marvel UK characters! Death's Head is, of course, goddamned awesome. And he has a big motherfucking gun.

In the second story, Abigail explains to Lockheed how they're trying to save Kitty. Lockheed doesn't think she's doing a good enough job, so he visits the robot in the basement. This is the same robot who helped Abigail in the first story, and Gillen is trying (and, to be fair, succeeding) in making him kind of creepy. I can't wait to see what he does when he (inevitably) gets out.

It's been some years since I read Five Fists of Science, which is the only place I've seen Sanders' art, but it's quite good - his Abigail looks slightly less repressed than McKelvie's, with hair out of place and stylin' sunglasses on. His Death's Head is quite menacing, and he draws some other keen aliens, too. The only problem I have with the art is Henry McCoy. Frankly, he looks like a goat. It's not a good look. The second story is not necessarily built to show off McKelvie's strengths - he does a fine job with the Kitty Bullet and what it's doing out there in the universe, but that doesn't give him much opportunity to show off - but the final page, where Lockheed speaks to the robot, is a nice page, on which the robot looks even creepier thanks to the way McKelvie draws him (that is, cheery as hell). I'm always happy to see McKelvie's art, but I'll be much happier to see it when the next issue of Phonogram comes out, which ought to be (if that lying Brit Gillen can be believed) next week.

So S.W.O.R.D. is pretty cool. Gillen doesn't go for the one-and-done big crazy issue, deciding instead on a longer arc, but with established characters, that's not necessarily a bad way to go. And it features Death's Head, for crying out loud! Can Motormouth be far behind?????

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #3 ("The Bushman Cometh") by Gregg Hurwitz (writer), Jerome Opeña (penciler), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Man, Opeña is really good. I mean, I've known that for a while, but it's worth noting again. I just love his casual tiny Khonshu thing (whatever that thing is haunting MK these days) checking out the museum after our hero takes out the punks. On the same page, I love the panel showing enough of Marlene's face to let us know that Moonie's getting lucky tonight! This is just a beautiful issue, and the fact that Opeña switches easily from the big gaudy superheroics in issue #1 to the extremely dark invasion of Ravencroft Asylum in this issue is very cool.

As you might have heard, this is the beginning of "Knightfall," in which Bane breaks all of the inmates out of Arkham to soften up Batman before the coup de grace. Oh, wait a minute, no, this is where Bushman breaks all of the inmates out of Ravencroft to soften up Moon Knight before the coup de grace. You can see where I'd get things confused a bit! Seriously, Marvel and Gregg Hurwitz - you guys thought this would be a good idea? I realize "Knightfall" was almost two decades ago, but comics fans these days have really, really long memories, and when commentators for years have called your character a Batman rip-off (I've never been one of those people), it's probably not a good idea to mimic one of Batman's most famous stories from the past 30-40 years or so. I mean, it's just ... well, it's silly, even by the standards of comics, where stories get recycled all the time. It gets back to the tone of this series so far, where I'm not terribly sure if Hurwitz is satirizing superheroes in general. I mean, this reads perfectly straight, but I can't decide if Hurwitz is pointing out the idiocy of "Knightfall" and the revolving door policy of prisons and asylums in the Marvel and DCU or if he's not that subtle. I mean, this hews so closely to "Knightfall" that I can't believe Hurwitz isn't making some kind of comment on it. Bushman could easily get an army from any number of sources, but he deliberately breaks inmates out of an insane asylum. His freakin' face is tattooed like a luchador (despite the fact that he's an African mercenary), much like Bane's was, for crying out loud (yes, I know Bushman predates Bane, but work with me, people!). The Scarecrow is even in this issue! It's just ... odd. Hurwitz writes is fairly effectively, but it's still weird.

But damn, it's nice to look at. And it's an exciting issue, for all the ripping off of old Batman stories. So I'll stick with it and see what Hurwitz is doing with it, but that's just very strange, the way they've set up this story.

So there it is: the week in comics. Any thoughts?

And look! totally random lyrics!

"I'm gnawing on the knowledgeThat I have been burnedAnd I'm learning things that I Should've already learnedEveryone I ever knewWas so kind and coyI was with a girlBut it felt like I was with a boy"

Sing it loud! Sing it proud!

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