What I bought - 11 October 2006

Another fine week in the four-color world.  Two, two, two! mini-series concluded, which meant I had a bunch to read, and they were both very, very good.  Oh happy day! 

Emissary #5 by Christopher E. Long and Juan Ferreyra.  $3.50, Image/Shadowline.

After the first four issues, which were promising but a bit disjointed thanks to Jason Rand leaving after three issues and Long taking over, we get Long's first story arc, which promises to delve more deeply into the world's reaction to Emissary.  This is essentially a recap issue, one that tells us a few pertinent things from the first four issues while setting the stage for the rest of the arc.  So, if you've missed the first four, this would be a good place to start.

Ah, but should you?

Well, it's kind of  dicey issue that doesn't bode well for the future.  I'm going to buy it through Long's first full arc, because I want to see how it looks in toto, but the problem I have with this issue is the same one I usually have when comics delve too deeply into politics: it is almost impossible to write well about politics in the context of a superhero comic, which is pretty much what Emissary is.  Sure, there's the Christological aspects of the book, but that's kind of part-and-parcel with a lot of superhero books, if you think about it, and Long is just emphasizing it.  The only current book that even attempts to bring the subtleties of politics to a superhero comic is Ex Machina, and you can debate how successful Vaughan is with it.  Long, unfortunately, doesn't have much room to try, and the book suffers because of it.

The whole book is a reporter doing a special on Emissary.  So we get talking heads a lot, which is fine, and Long does give us enough to provide a kind of rainbow of opinions about Emissary.  What he does nicely is show us that the opinions are completely mixed, and people are very confused.  However, only one person - the senator (?) who condemns another senator's war-mongering statements - is rational enough to say what everyone should - they know almost nothing about Emissary, so shouldn't everyone chill out and see what happens?  Yes, I know that people often act irrationally, but it's strange that so many people are ready to either kill or worship him when he hasn't actually done much.  I'm sure the fact that he grows a garden in the African desert will stir up something, but that comes at the end of the book, so we'll have to wait.

So, what's bothersome about the rest of the people?  Okay, the reporter asks "prominent religious leaders" about Emissary in the wake of the pope saying he's jake.  One, a white guy who is otherwise not identified (but he's sitting in an apartment across the street from a cathedral - are we supposed to believe he's a Catholic priest?), says that black people are the descendants of Cain and therefore no black person can be a messenger of God.  Eh?  The next panel shows a black preacher who says that there's no way Jesus would return as a "whitey."  What's that, now?  On the next page we get the Klan, predictably, burning Emissary in effigy.  And then we get the "word on the street" page, on which one older white man says he has no problem with black people, because "his maid is black," a white woman says crime by black people is up since Emissary showed up because "them blacks are feeling empowered" by him, another white woman likes him because Oprah says he's okay (which is kind of funny, actually), and a guy with two earrings and a tank top (I wonder what sexual persuasion he is?) calls him "delicious."  Finally, on the next page, the junior senator from Arizona is caught on tape saying he doesn't think a white woman (FBI agent Tara Bright, last seen doing the nasty with Emissary) should be hanging around with a black man.  When am I, 1955?  What does Long have against Arizona, anyway?  I'm sure he's making a clever comment about the state's problems ratifying Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but that was a long time ago.  Sheesh.  Racists in Arizona hate Hispanics, not black people.

There is a lot to like about the themes of Emissary, and Ferreyra's art, although somewhat spotty in this issue, is good enough to make the book interesting, but I fear that Long won't be able to pull this off.  We have seen the superhero-as-messiah bit done, not quite to death, but almost, and it's going to take something for this to rise above.  The fact that Emissary is black is the central theme of the book, and I really hope that Long does more with it than say some people are racist.  Yes, we know that.  Thank you for pointing it out.  If he can raise the discourse beyond that (the fact that black crime has gone up is interesting, for instance - can we explore that a bit?), this book can be great.  I hope he can.

Fables #54 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Mike Allred.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

It's the secret origin of ... Hansel!  Yes, of "and Gretel" fame.  And as he is the official ambassador of the Empire, you can bet his back story is full of ickiness.  And you'd be right!  What on earth might a young boy who shoved a witch into an oven grow up to do?  An orthodontist?  A janitor?  CEO of a major corporation?

This is just another fine issue of Fables, and Beauty and Frau Totenkinder's tale of Hansel takes up most of it (in case you weren't quite sure yet with a name like "Totenkinder," we finally find out who she is).  He is one of the few people who have been banned from Fabletown, and his presence is sure to rile things up.  Good to see.  Willingham continues to add layers to this world he's created, and it's wonderful to read.  I have two questions, one of which involves Gretel and therefore I won't say anything so I don't spoil it, but the other involves Flycatcher: why can't Beauty remember how to get him out of his frog state?  Did I miss something, or has it just been so long since it happened that they've forgotten?

Anyway, I hate to simply skim over an issue of one of the best books out there, but that's what happens when it is up to its usual excellence.  Hansel is a jerk, and we find out what he's been doing.  That's good enough for me!

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game #4 (of 4) by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli.  $2.99, Dark Horse.




Ever since I read the graphic novel that preceded this mini-series, I've been looking forward to the sequel.  Then Dark Horse delayed the thing for a year (grrrr.)  Well, it's finally finished, and the question is: was it worth the wait?

The answer would be: hell yes.  This is simply one of the best mini-series of the year.

First, of course, is D'Israeli's art.  It's gorgeously painted, and he perfectly evokes a world both futuristic and old (the story takes place in the 1930s, after all).  This issue takes place entirely in space, but the preceding ones have done a wonderful job of showing us how the world of the 1930s might look if the English has been using Martian technology for forty years.  It's beautiful to look at, and is a great deal of the charm of the book.

The story is fascinating, too, because in the first issue (and, honestly, in the graphic novel), Edginton led us to believe that this was going to be something different, but it turns out that he is being much more subtle than first glance.  In the first issue, we were introduced to Charlotte, a photojournalist who likes to stick her nose in the government's business.  The government is fighting a forty-year war against the Martians, and has clamped down on the free press and all those sorts of things.  So we're set up for a confrontation between the forces of the "liberal media" and the repressive English government, whose representatives say stuff like "if you're not with us, you're against us" and other stuff that couldn't possibly have any bearing on the situation in the world today.  As Charlotte gets more involved in discovering the mystery of why no one comes back from Mars, however, she finds out that it's not as simple as simply exposing government abuses.  Edginton makes wonderful points about whether or not it's okay to suppress information for the good of the nation, and whether, indeed, the Martians deserve killing.  We might not like his conclusions, but he does a very good job setting up a situation in which Charlotte has to decide between her journalistic ethics and the good of the population at large.  It's much more interesting than just a story about the big bad government picking on the poor reporter.

If you haven't read the original graphic novel, Robert Autumn recaps it in issue #2, but I still recommend it highly.  That book and this mini-series form a very nice two-pack of Edginton/D'Israeli goodness.  Even if you can't find the graphic novel, this mini-series is one of the best of the year.  Pick it up today!

Ultimate X-Men #75 by Robert Kirkman and Ben Oliver, with Sean McKeever, Mark Brooks, and Jaime Mendoza on the back-up story.  $3.99, Marvel.

Someone asked in the comments last week why Kirkman has been getting bad press.  I'm not sure, because I don't read The Walking Dead or Marvel Team-Up, but in the former, he recently had an all-rape issue (charming, I'm sure) and in the latter, he slaughtered a gay character.  Am I right?  Or at least close?

Anyway, Kirkman on Ultimate X-Men continues to write nice, simple superhero stories that could easily go any which way with several different plotlines.  This issue is notable because Cable shows up, and although I absolutely hate Cable, that's the regular Marvel U. guy, so I'm willing to see what's up with this one.  One thing that always bugs me about new characters: why are they so freakin' good at taking down the heroes, but get beaten so easily eventually?  Cable has a weapon for everyone, including some sort of plant for Colossus, and although he doesn't get defeated in this issue, I imagine he will be soon.  Maybe he won't.  He's pretty freakin' indestructible in this issue.

There's not a whole lot to say about this issue.  It's Jean's birthday (her 20th) and Xavier gives her a gift from Nick Fury - a bracelet that's supposed to control her craziness.  Kitty is thinking about something but never gets a chance to talk to the professor about it, Kurt is still sedated (I guess) and kicks Xavier out of his mind, and Rogue is grumpy because she can't touch anyone anymore and therefore can't bump-n-grind with Bobby.  Typical soap opera stuff, really.  Like I said, nice, simple superhero stories.  There's nothing particularly great about Ultimate X-Men, but it's entertaining.  That's really all it needs to be, right?

Umbra #3 (of 3) by Murphy and Mike Hawthorne.  $5.99, Image.



Image books are so slow in coming out (for example, Hawthorne's other book, Hysteria: One Man Gang - where the heck is that?) that it's somewhat shocking that this three-issue mini-series came out in such a timely fashion.  I almost fell over when it appeared on the shelf!  I mean - June, July, and then October is pretty darned good for Image!

This is not quite as good as Scarlet Traces, but it's still one of the better mini-series you will find this year.  In case you've forgotten, in the first issue (each book is 48 pages, hence the price) we were introduced to Askja Thorasdottir, an Icelandic policewoman who discovers (well, she doesn't discover, but she's the first cop on the scene) a skeleton in a cave out on a glaciar.  Nothing strange about that, except that the skeleton is a Neanderthal woman wrapped in a Benetton shawl with a filling in one tooth, who happened to be shot with a Soviet bullet.  What the hell?  And Askja dreams of great auks, birds that have been extinct since 1844.  Poor auks!

Yes, it's as weird as all that.  It gets a bit weirder, but it all gets explained in the third issue.  The "explanation" solves the problems that have been set up, but it's a bit rushed and, unfortunately, explains it a bit too well.  The mystery is certainly bizarre, but Askja's dreams are telling her things, and Murphy doesn't make the whole thing "dreamy" enough.  It becomes too "normal" a solution, despite the weirdness of it all.  It makes too much sense, in other words.

I have complained about endings being too ambiguous in books before - most notably, in Sudden Gravity - and I know I'm now complaining about an ending being not ambiguous enough.  I'm funny that way.  There's a fine line in books like this, and that's that.  However, this is a very good mini-series.  It's unusual, it's unique, it's gripping, and it has good characters that are well developed.  Askja is a very neat character, and Freyja, her superior, with whom she starts an affair, is also nicely developed.  I wasn't too impressed with their love story, but that's okay.  It didn't go very far and didn't really add too much to the story - I assume Freyja would have gone after Askja whether she was hot for her or not, because it's her job - but it didn't detract from the story at all.  I doubt if it would have made a difference if it didn't exist, but it wasn't annoying.

It's 18 dollars for the three issues, but it's something completely different and interesting.  I haven't seen a trade solicited, but it's something to look for if you're burned out on, I don't know, Iron Man being a tool or the Justice League ruminating for four issues about whether or not they should admit Red Tornado.  Just a thought!

Uncanny X-Men #479 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki with Allen Martinez.  $2.99, Marvel.

I understand that the laws of physics and other universal constants go out the door in comics, as everyone worships the Law of Awesome, but the big sword that Korvus carries around (it's right there on the cover, right above Nightcrawler's weirdly deformed hand) is a bit ridiculous.  He should barely be able to carry it, much less swing it around like a weapon.  It needs more to balance the blade!  It could have still looked cool and been functional, right????

This is a difficult issue to review, as we're pretty much smack in the middle of a big ol' storyline (part 5 of 12) and if you didn't like the first couple of issues, you probably jumped ship and won't be back, while if you did like the first couple of issues, you're in it for the long haul and it won't matter if this issue stinks.  It doesn't stink, by the way.  The interesting thing about it is the way Rachel handles Korvus.  I love when big superhero fights are settled when people actually become rational, and I really like that Brubaker bothers to remember what Rachel's past is like.  She is someone for whom fighting would be completely antithetical, so of course she's going to try to reason with Korvus, even though she gets a couple of shots in.  She's defending herself, and when she gets the upper hand, she doesn't use it to beat the crap out of Korvus.  That would not be in character, and instead we get detente and a chance for the two of them to reassess their positions.  It's handled nicely, and bodes well for how Brubaker will handle this book.  As many of you know, I have a soft spot in my cold, black heart for the X-Men, and I want their books to be good.  And that means that they're not just a bunch of superheroes who beat people up.

And I find it humorous whenever any X-Man mentions a plan.  Kurt asks Alex if they're going to use "Plan 9," which is probably a reference to the Ed Wood movie but apparently means rushing the bad guy and getting their asses kicked.  Nice plan, guys!


The Next #4 (of 6) by Tad Williams, Dietrich Smith, and Walden Wong.  $2.99, DC.

That's a pretty freaky cover.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective #2 (of 3) by Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson.  $2.99, Image/Shadowline.

Is it me, or does that cover look like Scott McDaniel?  The interiors don't, really, so it's kind of strange.

X Isle #3 (of 5) by Andrew Cosby, Michael A. Nelson, and Greg Scott.  $2.99, Boom! Studios.

It still looks weird, so I'm thinking it will still be entertaining once it's done.

There we have it.  Another week chock full of good reading!

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