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What I bought -12 August 2009

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought  -12 August 2009

You know, this world is full of people who look a lot like Gavin McLeod!

Agents of Atlas #9 (“Terror of the Jade Claw Part 1”) by Jeff Parker (writer), Dan Panosian (artist), Elizabeth Dismang (colorist), and Tom Orzechowski (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I guess Agents of Atlas is safe from the chopping block for now, and they have a swanky crossover with the X-Men coming up, and you know that if you want to boost sales, you cross over with the X-Men! (Oh wait, this isn’t 1991, so maybe that’s changed.) I will say the lack of a stable art team is somewhat frustrating. It works for The Incredible Hercules mainly because one artist does an entire arc, whereas this book seems rotate them much faster. Panosian steps into the breach for this issue, and let’s hope he’s on board for the entire story, however long it might be. His art is less suited for the book than the other artists have been (even Pagulayan’s, with which I’ve had some issues), because it’s a bit more cartoony than it ought to be (although he does a fine job with the dragons). As we all noted when Brian featured him in his Month of Art Stars, Panosian’s art today looks miles better than it did at the height of the Image explosion, and it’s decent enough in this issue, but it doesn’t seem to fit as well as the other artists have. But that’s just me.

This issue isn’t quite as batshit insane as the past few, but it’s still an example of why this comic is one of Marvel’s best. Parker does a good job wrapping up with Bruce Banner and then keeps the throttle down as Jimmy Woo battles the Jade Claw for secret supremacy of the world. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a Dragon Clan War? Well, that’s what we’re going to get! As usual, there’s some nice humor, great action, and just a fun comic all around. Let’s just hope its sales continue to justify its existence!

Artesia Besieged #3 (of 6) (“As I Lay Dying”) by Mark Smylie (writer/artist). $3.95, 28 pgs, FC, Archaia.

I received a box full o’ Archaia comics recently, and this was among them, so I’d like to thank the fine folk at Archaia for sending it along (as well as the other stuff). This is the second issue of the Artesia saga I own, having received another one in the mail a few years ago, and I’ve come to the same conclusion: I should find the collected editions, because Smylie’s mythology is daunting to get into from just the random issue here and there. In this issue, however, he concentrates on our heroine, who was stabbed with a poisoned blade by one of her own, so the entire issue is Artesia hallucinating about her death and coming to terms with what I can only assume are her world’s goddesses. So it’s easier to follow because there’s not a lot of the battling between various sides, which would get confusing. It’s more about Artesia’s warrior spirit and how she overcomes the poison and the stabbing to take back the leadership of her army. Smylie does a good job showing us how tough Artesia is even as she’s lying on a bier for most of the issue. Plus, his art continues to impress, as he has done a magnificent job creating this pseudo-medieval world and populating it with hundreds of distinct characters. His figure art is interesting, as well, because his women are less beautiful and more exotic than we usually see in comics, which makes them far more interesting to look at.

I probably will track down the collections of Artesia at some point, because the issues I’ve read are well-constructed and obviously immerse us in an interesting world. I just don’t feel I can start buying the single issues so far into the saga. Still, it’s a neat comic.

Atomika #10 (of 12) (“The Deathless”) by Andrew Dabb (writer), Sal Abbinanti (penciler), Buzz (inker), Simone Peruzzi (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Mercury Comics.

As this fantastic mini-series hurtles toward its conclusion, it’s shaping up as a fairly standard Oedipal conflict, although Dabb might mess with us a bit in that regard, but the fact that Atomika needs to confront his “father” to save the world, while a staple of literature for millennia, doesn’t change the fact that the series continues to dazzle. It’s due in large part to Abbinanti’s dynamic art, but Dabb isn’t slacking off either. He takes the familiar and twists it nicely, so Atomika’s realization that fear is a good thing and his recognition that Arohnir must be destroyed doesn’t feel like a reused plot. Abbinanti, of course, does his usual astonishing work with the art, bringing real power to Atomika’s battle with Koschei the Deathless, but also showing us the brutal might of the Russian war machine as it attempts to destroy its former savior. The climax of the battle, in deep space, is a wonderful sequence of irregularly shaped panels that slowly confine Koschei, much like he’s being confined within the book itself. It’s a marvelous comic to look at, and Abbinanti’s distinct style suits the tone of the book perfectly.

I really can’t say enough good things about Atomika. I just wish more people were reading it, because it’s unlike almost anything out there right now.

Days Missing #1 (of 5) (“November 11th, 2004”) by Phil Hester (writer), Frazer Irving (artist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.95 (?), 22 pgs, FC, Archaia.

The first issue of this series is coming out, I believe, next week, but Archaia sent this sucker to me, so I thought I’d review it. It doesn’t have a price on it, so I took a guess of $3.95. That seems par for the course with Archaia books.

The idea of this series (each issue of which features a different writer and artist) is not bad – a mysterious man shows up when there’s a horrific event that threatens mankind and manages to solve the problem and then change time so that no one remembers it. Why he needs to change time so that no one remembers it isn’t really explained in the first issue, but we’ll see down the line if it’s addressed. This dude (he’s called Dr. Steward in this issue – get it, he’s like a steward of humanity? – but who knows what he’ll be called in the succeeding issues; he’s been around since the Dawn of Time, so he probably doesn’t have as pedestrian a name as “Steward”) turns up in this issue in Swaziland, where a plague is ravaging the population and threatens to kill everyone in the world. Dr. Steward figures out that a vaccine might have something to do with the royal family, but unfortunately, the royal family is on a plane heading out of the country. Dr. Steward gets on the plane and, by using the example of Hammurabi (Dr. Steward knew Hammurabi, of course), convinces the king that his legacy is more important than his life. Yay! Plague fixed! Again, it’s not clear why he has to erase the day from human memory, but he does.

Hester does a nice job setting up the premise, introducing the main character, and making the point about sacrificing one’s life for the greater good. It’s always enjoyable to see Irving’s art (I was so tempted to buy that Azrael thing he did recently, that’s how much I like his art), and he does a nice job here, even though Hester doesn’t give him too much to do. The best part of the book is the flashback to Dr. Steward watching the dinosaurs, because there’s a little bit of action as opposed to people in biohazard suits standing around talking. But it’s still wonderful art to look at.

This is an intriguing comic that promises some interesting creative teams (next issue is David Hine and Chris Burnham) looking at various points in the past. It will be neat to see how they address the mysteries of Dr. Steward. I assume there’s a mandate about who he is and what exactly he’s doing, because that would be strange if each writer wrote him without caring what had come before.

Fables #87 (“Witches Chapter One: Bufkin”) by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

There’s a comfort in Fables, which is why the lack of quality during the recent crossover was so upsetting. I’ve pointed out before that Willingham isn’t the greatest scripter, but his plotting is quite excellent, and Buckingham is conventional in his storytelling even though his actual drawings are very good. Fables simply tells a good story, month after month, to the point where it’s easy to forget how good it is at telling that story. Willingham keeps everything so tightly plotted, adds the right dash of humor (Franky rules in this issue), and builds tension beautifully throughout the issue, as Baba Yaga gains power by getting older and older (it’s bizarre seeing her as a young girl, but it’s also a cool moment) and we learn the obvious about the Dark Man’s attack on Fabletown – it screwed up all the spells keeping all the nasty things in their prisons, and now, not only is Baba Yaga out, but who the hell knows what else?

Fables isn’t a flashy as many comics, but it’s a wonderful read every month. Sure, you could get it in trades, but Willingham has really become a master at the 22-page format, so it’s fun to read in these installments.

GrimJack: The Manx Cat #1 by John Ostrander (writer), Timothy Truman (artist), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist), and John Workman (letterer). $3.99, 26 pgs, FC, IDW.

Ostrander + Truman + John Gaunt = Awesome. Just buy it! Maybe it will sell well and IDW will release the rest of the original series in trade paperback.

Hercules: The Knives of Kush #1 (of 5) by Steve Moore (writer), Cris Bolson (artist), Doug Sirois (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

The folk at Radical were nice enough to send this (and one other book) to me, so I’d like to thank them. I tried to say hello to their Grand Poobah at San Diego, but they were awfully busy.

I enjoyed the first Hercules series, and this sequel comes right on the heels of that one, as our band of adventurers is sailing from Thrace to Egypt. Of course, they’re beset by pirates and arrive on land with nothing but their weapons, whereupon they rescue an Egyptian train from bandits and are brought to the pharoah, Seti II, who asks them to be spies in his court as his half-brother, who is in rebellion against him, is sure to have a spy himself in the pharoah’s retinue. Said brother counts among his allies a strange cult, the Knives of Kush, the leader of which is a powerful sorceror. Hercules and his gang have no time to ferret out any traitors, as news comes that the rebels have annihilated Seti’s army and are heading toward Memphis – the capital of Egypt, not the city in Tennessee. Things look, well, bleak.

Moore, who wrote the first series, obviously has a ball writing this series, as he does a great job contrasting the Greeks with the Egyptians, who think Hercules and his band are uncouth barbarians, much as the Greeks thought the Thracians were in the first series. He also places actual historical events in the book – as far as we know, Seti (r. 1203-1197 BC) was set upon by a rival, who may or may not have been his half-brother. Moore also gives us some nice action, tempered by the narrator, Iolaus, who doesn’t particularly enjoy bloodshed. Bolson is fine on art, but as is often the case with Radical books, the book is too dark – it’s occasionally difficult to see what’s going on. It’s not as big a problem with this book as it is on some of their comics, because Bolson’s line is cleaner and more precise, but it’s still an issue.

The first Hercules series was one of the better ones that Radical has put out, and this continues in that vein. It’s an adventure, sure, but Moore never forgets that adventure comes with a price, and he gets enough of that into the book to make it a bit more interesting than just a standard adventure book. It’s a nice touch.

Hero Comics by a bunch of people. $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, IDW.

I mention this comic only because the proceeds go to the Hero Initiative, which is a worthy cause. It’s not really the kind of thing you review, because it just features a bunch of creators doing some fun stuff. The creators include: Howard Chaykin (doing a short American Flagg! story), David Lloyd, Gene Ha (drawing a hilarious Hollywood satire in which a producer gets exclusive rights to the Bible), Gene Colan, Bill Willingham, Arthur Adams (just doing pin-ups, but dang, they’re nice pin-ups), Kaare Andrews, and William Messner-Loebs. An interesting book, and it wouldn’t kill you to put down that reprint issue of Marvel Comics #1 and buy this, would it?

Incarnate #1 (of 3) (“Little Boy Death”) by Nick Simmons (writer/penciler), Matt Dalton (inker), Brian Buccellato (colorist), Nam Kim (assistant artist), Ben Harvey (assistant artist), Shi Hua Wang (assistant artist), and Rob Steen (letterer). $4.99, 44 pgs, FC, Radical.

This is the other Radical book I received for free, so that was swell. This is also one of the new series Radical is trying, with 44 pages of story for 5 bucks, which isn’t a bad deal. I don’t know what the three “art assistants” do on this issue, because the art looks very consistent throughout. So there’s that.

This is an interesting comic, certainly. Simmons’s art is different than the rest of Radical’s line, in that it’s a much more manga-influenced look and much brighter. It’s decent art, and Simmons has some wild energy in it, which makes the book speed along nicely. There’s a ton of violence in this comic, and although it’s fairly graphic, it’s not as intense as some books because the art keeps us distanced from it. The tone of the book doesn’t really demand too much emotional investment, so the fact that the art isn’t as “realistic” as it is on some violent books fits fairly well with the story.

Simmons tells a story of immortal creatures that look human and live among us, but feed on people to stay young and fresh. They’re not really vampires, as they devour the entire body, but we’re also not sure what they are. One of them calls the characters we meet in this issue “revenants” and “forgotten gods,” and it appears they might be creatures who once held sway over humanity but no longer do (on a stylized page showing past events, one of them is a dragon fighting a knight, but we’re not sure if that’s a literal drawing). Either way, their mortal enemies, the Vane family, has figured out a way to kill them. A team of soldiers shows up, and the bloodbath begins! Mot, the demon who looks like a small boy, is confident that no one can kill them, but then he meets the Vane family’s secret weapon, who may or may not be able to do just that. We shall see!

It’s certainly an interesting comic despite the fact that there aren’t any characters to whom we can really relate (I don’t even mean care about, because it’s not that kind of book, but there aren’t any human “point-of-view” characters that let us into the book), but Simmons keeps everything moving briskly along, and there’s some twisted fun watching the big fight at the end. It’s difficult to recommend it, because the ending leaves me thinking, “So what?” I mean, there’s a slight twist, but we wish Mot was going to get slaughtered, because he’s a nasty piece of work, so when he’s given a reprieve, we’re a bit disappointed. It’s not that it’s a bad comic, it just seems, after 44 pages, Simmons could have given us a better reason to keep reading.

But it might be right up your alley! As I wrote, it looks pretty good, and it’s a fun ride through an action-packed and bloody event. It just leaves me a bit empty, that’s all.

The Incredible Hercules #132 (“The Replacement Thor”) by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Reilly Brown (penciller), Nelson DeCastro (inker), Guillem Mari (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

That soulless husk Chad Nevett finally read an issue of The Incredible Hercules and gave it three out of five stars, which make me question his sanity, but not his soul, as we know he doesn’t have one! I guess he’s too busy camping out in front of the God of All Comics’ house hoping he’ll get spit on, which he will collect in a vial and wear around his neck in the hopes it will cure his gonorrhea. Oh, wait, that might be Tim Callahan … Either way, Chad’s dead to me!

I guess it’s not that bad that he only gives it three stars. He did like the issue, but not as much as he should have. Yes, I determine how much Mr. Nevett should like an issue! I mean, this is a typical issue of The Incredible Hercules, which means it’s freakin’ awesome, from the Kirby origin of Thor, with commentary by Herc himself, to the fun interplay between Hercules and Zeus, who has had his memory wiped and is now a young boy. It’s a very nice set-up to the arc, with an obvious but still nice twist at the end. Reilly Brown is quite good, as he always is, and Pak and van Lente add their usual bits of heart, as Hercules does not want to be reminded of Amadeus, even though Zeus needles him about it.

Don’t listen to Nevett! What does he know? He liked the soulless Ultimate Avengers more than he liked this! Can you really trust someone like that?

The Killer #10 (of 10) (“A Deadly Soul, Part Two”) by Matz (writer/translator), Luc Jacamon (artist), Edward Gauvin (translator), Marshall Dillon (letterer), and Joyce ElHayek (letterer). $3.95, 28 pgs, FC, Archaia.

As a final issue, this doesn’t really end with a bang (despite the evidence on the cover). It’s still a good series, but it has become a much more philosophical series as it’s gone on, so that our killer does less killing and more musing about his place within the human ecosystem. Sure, he takes care of all the loose ends in this issue, but he also considers what it means to be a killer now that we’ve seen him take care of business. That ties the book together, as he mused on his occupation way back in issue #1. The recent issues have a definite feel of inevitability about them, as the killer goes about his business with a ruthlessness that brooks no failure, so we know he’s going to succeed and have known for quite some time. The question is: What does this make him? How does he reflect society? Is he a hypocrite or are others? As it’s his narration, he sees himself as someone who exposes hypocrisy, but we must take his narration with a grain of salt. The hired gun exposing society’s hypocrisy is not a new theme, especially in recent popular entertainment, but Matz has done a good job with it in this series, as our killer never has to become a hero and rescue someone who’s downtrodden. He just does his job and wants to be left alone. The Killer is definitely less an action movie kind of book than a meditation on what people will do in order to have the life they want. And Matz has done it very well, without being too obnoxious about it.

I’m definitely curious to see the sequel, which will be out next year. Will Matz allow his hero to ride off into the sunset?

Starstruck #1 (of 13, apparently) by Elaine Lee (writer), Michael Wm. Kaluta (artist), Charles Vess (inker), Lee Moyer (painter), Todd Klein (letterer), and John Workman (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, IDW.

Starstruck was an Epic comic back in the 1980s, but it has an odd history, if we believe Wikipedia. Apparently Lee originally wrote it as a play and later adapted it for comics. Weird. But whatever, because it’s back, and if you’re not getting your fill of Kaluta art from Madame Xanadu, check it out here!

This is a gorgeous book, not surprisingly, and Kaluta’s art even shifts styles a bit when we reach the back-up, “The Galactic Girl Guides” (which is probably due to the inking of Vess). It’s very much an artifact of its time, as the bad guy looks like a sleazy Seventies/Eighties coke dealer, and the writing has some slang that feels very much of that time (despite this taking place in a different galaxy and presumably at a different time). There’s a lot of set-up in this issue, and a lot of things are hinted at but not fully developed, but that’s okay, because it’s odd enough to be enjoyable, and, as I mentioned, it looks great. The story about the Galactic Girl Guides has a nice sense of humor that makes it more gentle than the lead story, which has a harder edge to it. Both stories are interesting, but the first one is a bit more so, as the second is a bit slight.

To be honest, I bought this for Kaluta’s art, and it doesn’t disappoint. He has such a nice style and a bold line, and he does a fantastic job with the “futuristic” aspects of the book, making the unusual feel commonplace. While the story is fine, the art really makes it a good comic, and I’ll keep picking it up because of that.

The Unwritten #4 (“Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity: Conclusion”) by Mike Carey (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), Jeanne McGee (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

As much as I like this comic – and I do – I wonder about the wisdom of taking four issues to set up the premise of the book, plus the wisdom of calling this a “conclusion” when it doesn’t really end as a story. Personally, I like the fact that Carey simply leaves Tom in a bad situation after that dude with the sickle comes a-calling (as we saw he did last issue), but it’s an odd choice for a comic in today’s notorious short-attention span world. I also hope that this doesn’t become too much of a mocking of genre conventions while still indulging in them – just because you know it’s a cliché when you use it and you have the characters talk about what a cliché it is doesn’t mean you should use clichés – but I can forgive it this time. Still, this is shaping up as a nice comic, with typically great art, and Carey has a good plan for the book, as far as we can tell. I’m curious to see where Tom visits as he navigates the literary map his father bequeathed him, because that has a lot of potential.

Oh, and the way some things disintegrate still freaks me out. It’s a keen device.

Wednesday Comics #6 (of 12) by … You know who’s making these comics, damn it! $3.99, 15 pgs, FC, DC.

The only different opinions I have regarding the strips this week are: I was happy to see something actually happen in Superman; I’ve accepted the fact that Gaiman and Allred are apparently just having goofy fun with Metamorpho; I actually enjoyed Supergirl, mainly because of the appearance of Aquaman, harried CEO of the Ocean; I’m glad Rock is finally free so he can kick some ass; I’m more lost than ever re: The Flash; and I’d forgotten what kind of wacky spectacles that kid is wearing in the Hawkman strip.

On the other hand, Kamandi, Deadman, Adam Strange, and Metal Men are still very good, the Teen Titans strip still sucks, and as annoying as Wonder Woman is, Ben Caldwell should be writing and drawing a regular Wonder Woman comic book, because I bet it would be awesome.

Let’s move on – we have one more comic to visit with!

Zodiac #2 (of 3) (“Ill-Gotten Gains”) by Joe Casey (writer), Nathan Fox (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

After bashing Mr. Nevett above, I have to give him credit. Despite his creepy obsession with the works of Joe Casey, he’s also quite objective about the quality of Mr. Casey’s work, and he loved this issue when it arrived on the East Coast last week (Chad is technically on the “East Coast” even though he lives in Canada, which isn’t a real country and therefore should get their comics at least six months after those of us in real countries do). So when the Diamond delivery people finally escaped from the dank cellar in which they had been held and made it to the West Coast, I was able to buy this and wallow in the Casey and Fox awesomeness. Because this is a stellar mini-series. Even if I fear that Casey won’t be able to do much because it takes place in the Marvel Universe and the minor bad guys can’t win in the Marvel Universe (major bad guys like Norman Osborn get government positions, of course), the first two issues have been wonderful, full of evil people doing evil things, like Zodiac beating Johnny Storm half to death (naturally, he won’t have any ill effects of the beating, but that’s the way things are in comic books) and then, just to add insult (and more injury) to injury, he blows up the hospital in which Johnny is recovering. And then, of course, we get the fake Galactus assault (which you might consider a spoiler, but it’s obviously a ploy by Zodiac, so I don’t feel too bad revealing it) and the final page, which doesn’t have as much of an effect on me because I didn’t read Marvel comics when I was ten but is still pretty awesome. Fox is marvelous, bringing Casey’s nasty story to life with rich details and magnificent drawings of violence and terror. I’m a bit annoyed by the pixelated ass in one panel, because it’s another example of the Big Two trying to be clever with regard to nudity but only reminding us that it’s fine in American comics to show someone’s head exploding but a buttcrack will warp kids’ minds. There had to be a better way to draw that panel without pixelating an ass.

I don’t know if people will rag on me because I like something like this, in which the “hero” commits a heinous act of terrorism rather gleefully, but I can’t bring myself to read the latest kill-a-thon that features what looks to be a complete misunderstanding of what the Spectre actually is, but I can defend myself! It’s all about the way it’s done, and Casey is a better writer than Johns (yes, it’s true). Zodiac is, if not tongue-in-cheek, much less serious than Blackest Night, and it’s definitely not as graphic. Plus, so much of what happens in DC’s books (and in some of the more major Marvel ones, too) feels like it’s simply destroying characters just because it can be done, and it’s kind of annoying. Johns certainly isn’t “raping” my childhood, because I don’t give a rat’s ass about the characters per se, but it feels like some writers (and Johns certainly isn’t the only one) take perverse joy in showing horrible things happen. It’s a tonal thing – in this book, the character takes glee in fucking with Johnny Storm, for instance, but I don’t get the sense that Casey is sitting around saying, “Boy, the Torch is a dick – I’m going to make my character fuck him up!” Occasionally with Johns (and, I’ll point out again, other writers too), I get the sense that it’s not necessarily the characters who like fucking people up, but the writer.

If that makes any sense. Sorry for the soapbox. Zodiac is still a damned fine comic book, though.

I wonder if Brian has seen this: A New Jersey cop didn’t know who Bob Dylan was. The cop was only 24, so it’s not completely beyond the realm of belief, but it’s kind of strange. What I’d like to know is: What was Bob Dylan doing “wandering around the neighborhood”? Dylan is a bit of a weird dude, so the possibilities are endless!

This week’s totally random lyrics are below:

“If it seems a little time is needed
Decisions to be made
The good advice of friends unheeded
The best of plans mislaid
Just looking for a new direction
In an old familiar way
The forming of a new connection
To study or to play”

I apologize for the late posting this week. Not only did I have a ton of comics to review, but today, for the first time in a long time, I was completely child-free for many hours. So I went to the movies and saw District 9, which, while it had some problems, was still a pretty damned cool movie. Just so you know.

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