What I bought - 12 July 2006

This was a pretty good week, and surprisingly, I read everything I bought.  So let's forego the small talk and get right to it!  This week's mini-theme: Where the hell have you been????

Fables #51 by Bill Willingham and Shawn McManus.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

You know, Fables is like 100 Bullets.  It makes a big splash, everyone talks about it, and then, despite the high quality of excellence it upholds month after month, it kind of fades out of our consciousness.  Which is a shame.  Like 100 Bullets, this continues, month after month, to be a brilliant comic book.  Case in point: issue #51, drawn by Shawn McManus, who, let's face it, is the perfect artist for a book like this.  I like Buckingham's work on Fables, but I'm a bit puzzled why nobody approached McManus for this in the first place (maybe they did and he spurned them!).  Anyway, back to the issue: Willingham tells the story of Cinderella, who has become a spy for the Fables, and her diplomatic mission to the Cloud Kingdoms, the existence of which we just discovered.  She needs to get the High King, who is inept, to sign the treaty, but the High Kingship is apparently a lousy job and gets transferred among all the kings, so if she can't get this High King to sign, she'll have to go through the whole thing again with the next one.  Unfortunately, the king is suffering from an ear infection, and his doctor is a quack.  So Cinderella goes back to Fabletown and tries to get a cure before the king gives up his title.  It's a bit wacky, and very fun, and introduces us to Smalltown, where everyone is, well, small.  Cinderella completes her mission and the story moves along a bit, and even though it's a light-hearted tale, Willingham still manages to introduce a bit of darkness in the tale, because Cinderella has to pay a price to Frau Totenkinder for her help, and she knows it's going to come back to haunt her - and, most likely, have consequences in the larger storyline as well.

It's a speedy tale, nicely done, with that slightly cartoonish art that McManus does, as well as his wonderful flair for the dramatic.  It fits into the grand tale of the Fables vs. the Adversary.  It's just a shame that consistently excellent books like this don't get the publicity they deserve.  Or maybe they do.  I don't see it, though, which means only that I don't spend enough time on the Internet.

Buy Fables.  It will make you happy.   

Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #4 (of 4) by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin.  $2.99, Image.

Remember the good old days of September 2004?  Ah, good times.  Roosevelt, I think, was in the White House, gas cost 15 cents a gallon, Al Gore had just invented something called the Internet, and the Boston Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since 1918.  It seems like so long ago.  That month also saw the debut issue of a four-issue mini-series.  Remember?  Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort?  Good times.

Well, almost two years later, the fourth issue hits stores.  Holy Jumpin' Jeebus, it's been a while.  This is the Image version of Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do, although I'm not sure what Moore's excuse is.  The biggest problem I have with ridiculously late books like this, especially ones that are in the middle of a story (I'll get to another one soon that isn't), is that yes, it will eventually be collected and yes, when I read this in ten years I won't remember or care how long it took to come out, but how many people even care about this anymore?  I suppose Moore, who has been talking about making a movie of this, doesn't particularly care, because some big studio is going to throw a big chunk of cash at him, but why, unless you're weird like me, would you buy this issue?  Issue #3 came out in December, well over a year after issue #2, and now this, which was solicited in the October 2005 issue of Previews, comes out.  The sad thing is, Moore is simply shooting himself in the foot to the point where he will become irrelevant as a comic book writer.  Remember The Expatriate?  Great book, but where the hell is it?

The problem is, of course, that Hawaiian Dick is a very good comic book, and Moore is a good writer.  I wouldn't care if it sucked.  Griffin's art is very evocative of the 1950s, and is very Pander Brothers-ish and occasionally looks like a woodcut, which is kind of cool.  Moore is good at bringing a nice "tropical noir" vibe to the whole proceedings, and the addition of the supernatural is fun because it's there but it never becomes the whole focus of the book.  In this issue we get a nice Mexican standoff between the Italians and the Irish, and it gets resolved in an unlikely fashion.  The whole thing (I read all seven issues of both mini-series last night) is a goofy ride through a lost time period and a lost place, and it's a fun read.

But still.  For now, it pisses me off.  And allow me the first bit of movie snarking - Moore says that New Line has gotten Frank Coraci to direct.  If you go to his IMDb page, you'll either be ecstatic or apprehensive.  Me, I'm apprehensive, because he'll get Adam Sandler to play Byrd (whose first name I can't find anywhere - does he have one?) and then the movie will surely suck.  ADAM SANDLER SUCKS!!!!!!  There, I said it.  Whaddaya gonna do????

Anyway, the trades of these two series are definitely worth it.  No waiting two years for it to finish! 

Hero Squared #2 by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

The reason everyone reminisces about the greatness that was the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League is NOT because it was funny.  Well, maybe it is, but it shouldn't be the reason.  The reason should be because of issues like this, which contain some laughs, but are more about the craziness that is so common in the lives of superheroes and how they deal with it when they act like real people.  That was always the appeal of the JLI - they were away from the public, so they could act like real people, and it was sometimes funny but sometimes not.  The same holds true for this book - yes, it's funny, but it's also painful to watch as Milo and Captain Valor deal with each other and how their relationship is affected by their relationship with Stephie/Caliginous.  As promised, the whole issue is the two of them sitting in a therapist's office (with a few breaks, as when Captain Valor flies to Antarctica to blow off some steam, and when he flies Milo there to cool him off), but the dialogue is so crackling and Abraham's work on the facial expressions and the way both men move (Milo somewhat wimpily, Captain Valor somewhat arrogantly) that we don't mind that it's pages and pages of two characters talking and occasionally yelling at each other.  DeMatteis (who wrote the dialogue in the old days, and I presume still does) does a wonderful job and getting both men to drag information out of each other without them just coming out and saying it, and when we finally learn that Captain Valor dumped his Stephie so she wouldn't be in danger and then slept with another woman, it's a great moment, because the dialogue has been leading us there and Abraham shows a nice range of emotions on Valor's face.  And then the session ends.

It's a nice book because Giffen and DeMatteis treat their characters like real people, despite giving them whip-crack dialogue that sitcom writers would like to have.  It's nice to see them having fun with the characters, but it's also nice to see them taking the characters seriously.  Too often "funny" means cracking jokes and having the characters do ridiculous things - Nextwave comes to mind.  That book can be a blast, but this book is ultimately more satisfying. 

JLA: Classified #24 by Steve Englehart, Tom Derenick, and Mark Farmer.  $2.99, DC.

I was worried that Englehart was going to stretch this out for six issues, but next issue is the big conclusion, so I'm happy.  I guess next issue we get Gypsy's narration, because Mari takes the stage this time, as she leads her teammates out of the forest fire that is raging around her.  Aquaman shows up to rescue them and gets in trouble himself because of the fire, but, in a scene that feels grotesque but is actually necessary, coats himself in the blood of the dead Royal Flush Gang members to stay alive.  Like I said, it feels out of place in a JL Detroit adventure, but it also makes sense.  Weird.  The New Royal Flush Gang kills the King, but Jack escapes.  I wonder if that will be a big deal next issue?

This is pretty much a by-the-numbers superhero comics.  It's done well, and like I said last time, Mark Farmer has to be one of the best inkers out there, because Derenick's pencils look wonderful.  We get a nice narration by Mari, even though the left turn into her past was kind of weird and felt unnecessary.  It's also not very well written.  And is that Thomas and Martha Wayne getting killed on page 11?  God I hope not - poor Bruce can't escape that moment even when he's not in the book!  And I have to believe Englehart is making fun of Steel, as he thinks again about how much pain he's in.  We get it!

This is certainly nothing great, and I can't really say you should buy it, but if you want to read a simple good guys versus bad guys kind of book, you could do a lot worse than this.

The Next #1 (of 6) by Tad Williams, Dietrich Smith, and Walden Wong.  $2.99, DC.

The problem with books like this is that their quality doesn't matter.  What do I mean?  Well, DC will publish them, give them no publicity push whatsoever, because they have to promote the hell out of something everyone already knows about, like the new Flash series or something, and then, once this book is done, is will be subsumed back into the potpourri of forgotten DC characters, who only exist to be killed in the next big crossover and comic book geeks can say, "Hey!  They just killed Tweet!  How dare they!  He was awesome!"  Now, I don't know where Williams is going with this six issue mini-series, but all these characters will belong to DC, so after he goes back to writing gigantic science fiction novels (which I've never read), they can fold, spindle, or mutilate them as they see fit.

Sweet fancy Moses, I'm cynical today, aren't I?  Well, you don't come here for straight reviews, you come here for my cynical ramblings!  I got this book on a lark, and enjoyed the hell out of it.  It's a bit heavy on the narration, which I assume is because Williams comes from a heavy-on-the-prose tradition, but it's still a blast.  This is the first caption box in the book: "There are many ways to travel.  This one is called a singularity harpoon and it's one of the fastest.  You can't do it.  Not unless you know some folks like these."  Fun stuff.  These creatures are fleeing the oppressive rulers of their dimension, the Iron Ring, but one of them, called Dog, jumps into our dimension.  When Monikka Wong, a teenager, finds him, she accidentally gets hit by a bus.  The four creatures come to our dimension to save her, because they're responsible for her plight, and they all give up some of their life-force to revive her.  But, of course, now they're stuck there.  They all take sort-of human forms and try to master English, which is a very funny part of the book (the one who takes the form of a blond bimbo flight attendant decides to be called Cindy Cindy Cindy, with its echoes of The Brady Bunch and whiny Jan, while that red large-breasted woman on the cover wants to be called Poetry Slam).  The Iron Ring, of course, sends an assassin after them.  Superman shows up (that's him on the cover with the big "S" on his chest, in case you're unfamiliar with him) and contains the leak through which our heroes entered our dimension, but in doing so, he accidentally allows something mean and nasty to enter our universe.  Bad Superman!  And there's a temporal breach around Monikka's home town of Santa Valda, California, which allows a bicyclist from the 1880s to enter our time period.  Makes sense, doesn't it?

This is a goofy sci-fi ride, and I'm perfectly willing to go along with it for the time being.  In a flagrant reversal of policy, I may have to read the next issue to really decide if I want to continue reading it, but this issue is a lot of fun.  Smith's wild and wacky pencils add a nice touch of insanity to the proceedings, and he does a nice job with both the science fiction stuff and the more grounded stuff (relatively, since none of this is all that grounded).  It fits very nicely with the story.

Of course, then it will end and DC will kill everyone.  You heard it here first!

Scarlet Traces: The Great Game #1 (of 4) by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Speaking of where the hell has it been, we finally get Scarlet Traces: The Great Game.  I'm not as grumpy about this as I am about Hawaiian Dick, because this is, after all, the first issue, so they didn't leave us hanging in the middle of the story, but it is over a year late, so I'm still a little grumpy.  I never got around to reviewing the original book, Scarlet Traces, but it's a damned fine slice of science fiction goodness.  So I've been anxiously awaiting this book.  So.  Does it deliver?

Well, for the most part.  It's a sequel to the first book, and takes place 30 years later, in the 1930s.  I was going to re-read Scarlet Traces before I delved into this one, because it's been a while and I'm a bit sketchy on all the details.  But I didn't, because I wanted to see if you could follow the story without having read the first book.  Basically, Scarlet Traces tells of the aftermath of a Martian invasion not dissimilar to the one in War of the Worlds ("not dissimilar" meaning almost exactly the same) and examined what would happen if the Earthlings - more specifically, the British - stole Martian technology to become the dominant power in the world.  And there's a murder mystery.  This story continues that idea, as England is still fighting the war, to a certain degree, as well as continuing to dominate the world.  Their government has evolved into a borderline fascist one, and there's only one newspaper left that still challenges them, one they leave alone because it promotes the illusion of a free press.

The newspaper's star reporter, Lotte, is the star of the book.  She is in the right place at the right time when a Scottish separatist blows up the BBC, and her boss wants her to go to Mars to dig around into what's really going on there.  Just after he tells her this, a couple of soldiers disguised as common thugs beat him to death, but Lotte is rescued by an old man with one arm.  This is where I need to go back and check the first book, because I assume he was in it.  Oh well - I'm old, and my memory isn't what it used to be. [Update: it's Robert Autumn, who investigated the murders in the first book.  I should have known that.]  This is really the only place in the book that a neophyte to the story might be a bit lost.  Everything else is clearly explained, and it's a good set up for the story.

The biggest problem I have with the book is Edginton's relentless comparisons to the current War on Terror.  I have mentioned this before that every war comic that comes out now has to be compared to the current war, and in this case, Edginton goes a bit too far to express his disapproval of Bush's policies.  We get the League of Nations protesting Great Britain's "stalemated conflict," we get the Home Secretary telling the world to stuff it and that "the Martian [Muslim terrorist?] cannot be appeased," we get Canada, New Zealand, and Australia threatening to withdraw their troops (I'm surprised Edginton didn't call it "the coalition of the willing"), we have the Prime Minister saying "in times of crisis, personal freedom must be measured against the needs of national security."  Sigh.  "But Greg!" you say, "Edginton could be paralleling them to Nazi Germany, which was the big thing in the 1930s.  The thugs who kill Bernie use anti-Semitic and anti-gay language, and we all know the Nazis were big into that scene!"  Well, sure.  I have no doubt that Edginton is doing that.  But I also have no doubt that he is comparing the Brits to George Bush.  Okay, I have a little doubt, but not much.  I don't know where Edginton stands on our current mess, but from reading this, I can safely guess he's against it.

It's not that it's that horrible a thing, but it's a bit heavy-handed.  I'm not entirely sure how he could have done it differently, but in the first book, the Martians were a clear and present danger.  In this issue, they are briefly seen trying to pretend to be humans and are killed.  But were those Martians?  We never actually find out.  They could be humans.  I'm hoping Edginton addresses it (I'm pretty positive he will).  The story is good enough without the overt condemnation of our war.  And this is from someone, I'll remind you, who thinks Bush is an idiot and thinks the war in Iraq is a complete and total disaster.  It's just annoying when it starts to get in the way of a good story.  It hasn't in this book, but I fear it will.  Don't go down that road, Mr. Edginton!

I look forward to the rest of the series.  I hope it will come out in a timely fashion, now that it has actually appeared.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Squadron Supreme #5 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, and Jonathan Sibal.  $2.99, Marvel.

I'm giving Squadron Supreme a few more issues to redeem itself after last issue's craptacular piece of crap, and this is a baby step in the right direction.  On the one hand, we get a flashback showing how Edith violently resolves all her personal issues, while in the present she sets it up so a girl whose male relatives killed her mother and sister because they were raped and brought disgrace on the family can do the same, and it's not the worst way things could have been resolved, but it's certainly still annoying to have to put up with it.  On the other hand, the conflicts within the group are simmering nicely, as Stan doesn't want to kill the bad guys and is getting a difficult education in the realities of war from killers like Zarda, and Edith catches Zarda and Dr. Spectrum chatting about something sinister, and the Chinese aren't happy that the Americans have a supergroup and start to make their own, beginning with a nasty guy from the Squadron's past.  That stuff is good.  And, of course, Frank's art is beautiful.

I hope now that Edith and her trauma is in the past, the book can return to doing what is does best - showing how superheroes would be used by a government in a sort-of real world situation and showing how tensions within the group will affect them.  That's what I like to see.  I'll give it two more issues.  We shall see.

Wasteland #1 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $2.99, Oni Press.

Here's another book I bought on a lark and really enjoyed.  It's packed, too, as you can see - 48 pages for 3 dollars.  Way to hook me!  It's an interesting-looking book - the first time I saw Mitten's art was in Past Lies, and although his characters look similar, he does a nice job with the desert landscape that the story needs.  There is a suitably gritty feel about this book, and Mitten does a nice job, especially with the brutal fight scene at the end.

Johnston's story is in a fine tradition of post-Apocalyptic stories.  Of course, his world is the way it is because of global warming, which we all know is a big myth, but the cause of the problems in the world isn't all that important (I think it's because some time in the past Hank Hall became a supervillain, but I could be wrong), it's what the survivors are doing that is, and this has a nice pulpy science fiction feel to it.  We have the mysterious stranger with eerie abilities; we have the creepy semi-humans that live out in the desert and do despicable things; we have the lonely town that is defended by a hardy sheriff (in this case, a woman) against the creepy semi-humans; we have the attack of said town by said creepy semi-humans; we have a journey across the wasteland.  Sure, it's ridden with cliches, but so are most superhero comics, and that doesn't stop us from reading them, does it?  Does it?  It's the execution that matters, and Michael, our mysterious stranger, and Abi, our plucky sheriff, are good characters, and there is, of course, a fine mystery to be solved.  It's a fine beginning to what could be a nice epic.

And, in his text piece at the end, Johnston makes reference to Hardware as influencing the book.  I'm pretty sure I'm the only one I know who has ever seen Hardware.  It's freakin' awesome (plus the soundtrack kicks ass).  Johnston gets points just for that.

X-Men #188 by Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, and Tim Townsend with Jaime Mendoza.  $2.99, Marvel.

Yes, Marvel has sucked me back into my mutant addiction.  Just when I thought I was out, too.  First Brubaker, now Carey.  I'm still debating whether I will keep buying both the books, but both are off to good starts.  Bachalo's art isn't as murky and confusing as it can be, even though it's still not as good as it can be, either.  The big spread of Rogue after she zaps the bad guys is cool, though.  I still don't like the tension between Xavier and Scott/Emma (remember, Emma does all the thinking for them), but I suppose I will have to live with it for a while.  The two plots of the book are interesting.  In the one, we have some mysterious bad guys trying to turn ordinary humans into mutants.  This is such a great idea I'm surprised nobody has thought of it before, except, of course, for me, about eight years ago while I was plotting out my decade-long epic on the X-Men.  You think I'm kidding?  The place where I worked was extremely boring, and I still have my notes.  Damn you, Carey!  Anyway, it's a neat idea.  The second plot, about mysterious bad guys tracking Sabretooth and trying to kill him, is not as good, but not because of the idea of mysterious bad guys tracking Sabretooth and trying to kill him, which they don't do particularly well (he's not, after all, dead at the end), but because it gives Carey an excuse to have Sabretooth end up at the mansion and apply for sanctuary, which the X-Men stupidly offered.  Creed claims it's with no questions asked, but if I were an X-Man, the one question I'd ask is, "Are you going to try to gut anyone this time, like you did the last time you were here?"  And then I'd tell him to go jump in a lake.  But the wimps in the X-Men won't do that.  Meanwhile, the mysterious bad guys tracking Sabretooth and trying to kill him show how bad-ass they are by obliterating a bar in which Sabretooth stopped and planting the idea in the head of the only witness - a wee bairn, as Banshee might say - that the X-Men did it.  Oh, those dastardly bad guys!

Like Uncanny X-Men last week, this is not a groundbreaking issue.  It's not bad, and it's intriguing, but unlike Brubaker, Carey doesn't do as good a job at justifying who is on the team.  I like that Rogue is the leader, because I love Rogue and her move in the hospital at the beginning is pretty bad-ass, but why are Sam and Bobby "solid gold," to use her words.  They've always been two of the flakier X-Men.  Mystique, I can understand, but not Sabretooth.  And Cable sucks.  SUCKS!!!!!!  Not unlike, you know, Adam Sandler.  Why anyone thinks Cable is a good idea is beyond me.  I like Carey, but I don't think Alan Moore's brain grafted onto Grant Morrison's brain grafted onto Peter Milligan's brain grafted onto John Ostrander's brain and housed in some sort of super-writer body could make me like Cable.

But we'll see.  It's a six-issue arc, and for now, I'm on board.  Mysterious bad guys obliterating city blocks intrigue me.

Well, that's all she wrote for this week.  Lots o' good stuff, as usual.  Comics are, after all, awesome.  The next installment of "Where the hell have you been????" is scheduled for November, when a certain issue about a certain number of Soldiers is supposed to come out.  Note the use of the word "supposed."

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