What I bought - 13 August 2008

This week: Two, count 'em, two Philip Hester books! What are the odds? And I bought quite a bunch of comics, yet only one from the House of Ideas. When all of your "ideas" involve shape-shifting aliens, it's kind of easy to skip them. Of course, the one Marvel book I did buy involves - hey, what do you know? - shape-shifting aliens, so even I cannot resist the allure!!!!

Antoine Sharp: The Atheist vol. 2 #1 (of 4) by Phil Hester (writer), Kevin Mellon (artist), and Nate Pride (letterer). $3.99, 26 pgs*, BW, Desperado Publishing.

Hester brings back Antoine Sharp (which is never spelled consistently, as I'm fairly certain it started as "Sharpe," and indeed, it's spelled that way inside the issue) for another mini-series. The premise, as I'm sure you recall, is that Sharp doesn't believe in the paranormal, so he goes around debunking things. Of course, that becomes a problem in Comic Book World, where the paranormal is, well, "normal." But it's a nice way to get Sharp involved in weirdness but keep the whole thing grounded. Sharp is autistic, as well (at least I think he is, if I remember), which means, for this comic, that he doesn't work and play well with others. This odd out-of-step way he has is part of the book's charm, actually.

After an initial episode to establish how doggoned smart Sharp is, Hester fires up the main plot, which involves our hero heading down to Asheville, North Carolina (a lovely city, by the way), near which a small town is having a problem: new brides are disappearing. And, of course, there are strange lights in the mountains. What the hell?

Hester does a nice job setting up the story, but the fun of the book is the way Hester writes Sharp, because he's so socially inadequate. His driver, who has heard stories about him and what happens to his partners (they end up dead), is also written well, even though I have a feeling he, too, is not destined for a long life. Mellon's art isn't as distinctive as John McCrea's (the original series artist), but he does a good job telling the story. The biggest problem is that Sharp doesn't quite look as spiffy as he did in the first series. He looks a bit haggard, and part of the appeal of the first series was that Sharp looked aloof from the craziness around him. Here, he looks seedy. I know, it's a petty complaint, but that's how I roll, man!

If you have never read a Hester comic before, give this a try. Or the other one that came out this week. It's a wealth of Hester comics!

* There's a six-page back-up story that's apparently over a decade old. I didn't feel like writing about it.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #1 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $2.95, 26 pgs (22-page main story, 4-page back-up story), FC, Red 5 Comics.

If you missed the first Atomic Robo series, you can still pick up the trade (it's quite good), plus you can get the brand new mini-series. Come on! Robots! Versus Nazis! Who also have robots! Can it go wrong?

Well, I'll start by pointing out that Wegener's art has gotten a lot better in this series. It was decent in the first series, but it's more detailed and more realistic in this issue without losing the sense of goofy fun from the original run. The issue features the invasion of Sicily by the Allies in World War II, and the war scenes are excellently rendered.

Interestingly enough, it's not quite as much fun as the first series. It's a fairly standard "the Allies invade Italy" story, without Robo's dry wit. That's unfortunate, because although it's an exciting read, it's not as thrilling as the original mini-series. The final page, which features a giant Nazi robot, promises that the rest of the story will ramp up the wackiness, but as a set-up issue, this is somewhat lacking in pop. Robo gets some mildly humorous lines, it's true, but nothing laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, the back-up story (with art by Zack Finfrock), which has only 44 words, features two laugh-out-loud lines, which is two more than the main story has.

Still, it's Atomic Robo! What the hell else are you going to buy? Simon Dark?

Batman #679 by Grant "Do I shave it, or am I bald?" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Morrison's run on Batman has been uneven, there's no denying that, and what's even more amazing is how each issue can be uneven from page to page. This is one of the better ones, as the "R.I.P." storyline has been a good one throughout, but even this has some odd points. Morrison's revelation about the "Batman of Zur-en-arrh" is quite excellent, and just continues the interesting way he's digging into Bruce's psychoses. The best parts of the book are those with our crazy hero and how the bad guys react to him, because, as Charlie Caligula tells him, "You're crazier than all of us!" The way Morrison has constructed crazy Batman is what makes him a fascinating character, even though other writers have gone this route before. Morrison has written good "crazy" people before - Kay Challis comes to mind - and perhaps that's why Bruce seems to be so at home in his insanity. Morrison is also having fun with the identity of the Black Glove and other speculations, as he brings up and then immediately punctures the idea that Dr. Hurt is really Thomas Wayne and that Alfred is Bruce's real father. It's neat.

Morrison's problem with dialogue rears its head throughout the book, though. When he writes arch dialogue, it tends to work. When Bats is acting nutty, or Dr. Hurt is prancing around threatening people, or even when Cyril and Beryl are talking about Robin's phone call, it works, because it's so unreal and the archness helps highlight the fact that it, you know, a superhero book. The few times the scene calls for more "realistic" dialogue (for lack of a better word), it immediately sounds clunky. The poor doomed cop who, when he talks about his kid, is instantly condemned to death (even if we didn't see it on the facing page), sounds like a cliché. It's little stuff like this that drags the comic down a bit. Morrison has always been somewhat baroque as a writer, and these attempts at modernism don't always work. When they do, we get masterpieces. When they don't, we still get a good comic, but not a great one. So far, this has been a good comic. It doesn't look like it's going to rise above that tag. But that's okay. Comics should be good, after all. They don't have to be great.

For those people who don't get why I'm not the biggest fan of Tony Daniel (although I don't hate him as much as some), check out page 12, where Kraken kills the henchman. It appears as though Kraken's hand simply disappears without actually doing anything to the henchman. It's an awkward panel that appears to be a drawing of a henchman super-imposed over a drawing of Kraken's hand, with no relation to it. It's this kind of odd design that keeps me from loving the art, even though I'm not going to blame Daniel for failing to realize some of Morrison's perfect ideas. I'm not willing to let the God of All Comics off the hook for some things the book hasn't done well.

Not surprisingly, Tim Callahan has his latest annotations up, and they're excellent, as usual. He makes the point that the idea of Gotham City as a supernatural force ties into Morrison's "Gothic" story arc in Legends of the Dark Knight. I haven't read that in years, but was Gotham all that supernatural in it? And when did it come out in relation to Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City," which is an excellent examination of the city as entity? Around the same time, as far as I recall. But whatever.

Captain Britain and MI 13 #4 by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This is the end of the first story arc on this book, and it's as frickin' excellent as the first three. There's very little more to say about it, because at the end of a story, the Skrulls are obviously defeated (after revealing that Brian returns from the dead last issue and being criticized about that particular spoiler, I hope this isn't a surprise), but it's how they're defeated that makes this such an excellent beginning. It's sad, exciting, thrilling, nice to look at (Kirk has been really knocking this series out of the park), and gives us a good reason for a team to exist. And Faiza is awesome. Sensational Character Find of 2008? She's in the running!

I'd like to write more, but it's so fun to find out for yourself. Trust me. Buy the trade. Or find the issues. DO IT!

Checkmate #29 by Bruce Jones (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I'm a bit puzzled about Checkmate. Unfortunately, Bruce Jones is just not the writer for this comic. Given Jones' recent track record, we have to wonder if he's the writer for anything, but he's definitely not the writer for this comic. It's cancelled as of issue #31, so it doesn't really matter, but I still wonder. The sales were, apparently, kind of in the toilet when Rucka was writing it, but I guess DC didn't want to piss him off and let it live. Beats me. So why didn't they just kill the book when Rucka left? This is Jones' fourth issue, but DC announced it was cancelled in the last issue of Previews, so they knew about it at least a few months back. Did they look at the sales of Jones' first issue and kill it? I have to think so. But they couldn't have thought Jones would drum up sales, could they? If Rucka, who writes this kind of thing a lot better than almost anyone in the business and has a bit of a name with DC, couldn't do it, why could Jones? This was just a pointless six-issue arc that ended up costing a lot of trees their lives.

It would be mitigated a bit if the story was any good. Unfortunately, it's not.

Elephantmen #13 by Richard Starkings (writer) and Moritat (artist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

This came out a while ago (before the convention, I know), but I just got it in the mail. As always, it's ridiculously cool of Starkings to send this to me, and I'd like to thank him. It's been a while since we visited the main story of Elephantmen, and although the "War Toys" mini-series was excellent, it's nice to get back to the present and what's going on. There's a meteorite on the beach in Santa Monica, for crying out loud! We needed to know what the hell that was!

Surprisingly enough, it's a fine issue (I know, just like all the others). Starkings, aware that it's been quite a while since we saw these characters in the "present," gives us updates on all our players, which is nice. That slows the issue up just a bit, but there's still plenty of action. It begins with a car accident, after all, and ends with humans melting. Now that's quality stuff! After several issues that slowly drew things together, Starkings really lets everything take off in this, and the payoff of the previous 15 issues (12 of the regular series, 3 of "War Toys") is appreciated. Moritat does his usual excellent job, especially on the page when Hip Flask comes out of the surf. It's interesting to compare his black-and-white work in "War Toys," which was much rougher, and the work here is smoother. In some smaller panels with more close-up work, the pencils become more similar, but in the bigger scenes, you can see the difference. It's quite cool to look at.

This is the first of a three-part story, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the heck is going on. Even if you haven't bought an issue of this series yet, this is actually not a bad place to start, because all the characters are present and we get a sense of who they are and how they relate to each other. So check it out, if you're in the mood for one of the best comics on the market!

Golly! #1 by Phil Hester (writer), Brook Turner (artist), Rick Hiltbrunner (colorist), and Sean Konot (letterer). $2.99, 29 pgs, FC, Image.

This comic was originally solicited in October of 2006, from a company that probably isn't around anymore, and I ordered it because Hester is a good writer and the premise - that the Apocalypse has been called off due to lack of interest, but some forces of darkness on Earth don't know it - sounded fun. Then, naturally, it disappeared. So now it's two years later, and Image picked it up, and here it is. Obviously, I haven't been sitting around waiting for it, but it's always nice to see a cool little comic see the light of day.

That's Golly there on the cover (which is by Andy Brase, who does not do the interiors), showing us just what's up. He's a mechanic at a circus, one at which a star attraction is Satan. We don't know if it's THE Satan, but he does pull all his skin off of his skull in the first couple of pages, to the delight and disgust of the teenaged boys who wanted to see "something scary," so there's that to consider. This first issue is basically a set-up, as we meet several circus characters (who smell like cabbage and have small hands), including more of Satan and the evangelist who shares the tent with his devilish co-performer. Gosh, I wonder what's going to happen with that?

Golly gets knocked out at one point (it involves stock car racing and grabbing someone's ass) and finds himself talking to an angel. Hester and Turner do a nice job visualizing the angel, by the way. The angel tells Golly that the aforementioned Apocalypse is off, and that he has been chosen to clean up the bad guys. He gets superhero powers - once he says yes, which takes him a bit of time to decide - and at the end, begins to "see" things as they really are. The final page is a bit disappointing, because it's such a cliché, but it's an intriguing enough issue to start things off.

Turner does a good job with the art, giving it a rough, backwoods kind of feel and making sure the people, especially Golly himself, look like rednecks. That's not a criticism, because this takes place out in the country (we don't know where, but it's nowhere near a city), so the setting needs to reflect that. We'll see how he handles the more supernatural aspects of the book, but given that he does well with Satan pulling his face off, we can assume he'll do fine.

I thought this was a three-issue series, but we'll see. It's a decent start.

Helen Killer #4 (of 4) by Andrew Kreisberg (writer), Matthew JLD Rice (artist), and Philip Clark (letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, BW, Arcana.

This mini-series, which started with one of the oddest premises you'll ever read and sounds too much like a turn-of-the-century superhero story, somehow manages to be an excellent book. Kreisberg has kept it inoffensive, with Helen truly struggling to overcome a different handicap, that of the dark side of her personality coming out when she puts on the Omnicle, the device that allows her to see and hear. He has reminded us, rather subtly, that what we see as handicaps - Helen's inability to see and hear - aren't necessarily so, and what we take for granted might be a horror to someone else. It's remarkable how he's done that, and he should be commended for just that. That he wraps this in a steampunk adventure that somehow almost skips over yet doesn't trivialize the assassination of a president is even more astonishing. I went into this series wanting it to be awesome - Helen Keller as a superhero is high concept heaven - but looking for areas in which it would suck. I'm somewhat surprised that in four issues, it never does. Some things don't work as well as others - I have to go back and re-read it, but I'm not sure why Helen can speak so much better at the end of the book than at the beginning; did Kreisberg mention that the Omnicle has some residual effect on her even when she's not wearing it? - but overall, it's a thrilling story of a young woman's attempts to live a normal life as well as a top-notch adventure. This issue, which features a battle royale on top of the Flatiron Building, is just another chapter in what has been a very exciting series.

Rice provides more stunning art, especially because this is a very busy issue. He draws the fight magnificently, full of pipes to the face, arms getting hacked off, and blood. It's a brutal issue, but Rice also does an excellent job with Helen's inner battle, especially on the page where Helen finally freaks out and attacks Blaylock. It's an absolutely gorgeous comic, and that makes the fact that the story doesn't let us down even nicer.

Kreisberg and Rice leave the possibility of a sequel open, although I kind of hope they don't go that route. I'd rather see them tackle something completely different. They have a nice collaboration going on, and it would be cool to see what else they can come up with. I can't remember if a trade of this has been offered yet, but I encourage you to check it out. It's very good.

The Lone Ranger #12 by Brett Matthews (writer), Sergio Cariello (artist), Marcelo Pinto (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I've really missed The Lone Ranger, which has fallen off the scheduling map for undisclosed reasons. Okay, maybe the reasons have been disclosed, but I haven't been looking for them. Anyway, it's been a while since issue #11, and the previous story arc took far too long to finish, but we get a chance to start fresh in issue #12, and maybe Matthews and Cariello are back on task. It would be nice, because this is such an interesting comic. In this issue, John decides to go after his arch-enemy, Cavendish, and he sets what appears to be a complicated plan in motion. As in all good Westerns, there are tough guys aplenty, and what makes this such a keen comic is that, like all good Westerns, the principals just don't talk a lot. John makes a wry comment to Tonto about how easy things were when he, Tonto, didn't talk so much, but it's an interesting way to create a book - we rely on Cariello a lot to tell the story, and he's been up to the task so far. Perhaps that's what makes the book slow - a lot of the storytelling comes from facial expressions and body language, and maybe Cariello needs longer to get it perfect. I don't know. What I do know is that it's a pleasure to study each panel in this book, letting the effect of a classic Western sink in. This is a marvelous hardscrabble comic, and I hope it's back on track. That would be nice.

Sparks #3 (of eight) by Christopher Folino (writer) and JM Ringuet (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Catastrophic Comics.

Both stories - the one in the past and the one in the present - continue in this story, as we learn how Sparks survived his suicide attempt and what he learned from the mysterious benefactor who rescued him from the hospital. This is the bulk of the issue, but there's still the mysterious bad guy in the present who is stalking Sparks and does some bloody damage to a character we've already met. It's, not surprisingly, very mysterious, but Folino has done a very good job establishing this world, and after three issues, we're invested in this story quite well. I'm still very impressed that Folino is not overwriting this sucker - many panels are completely wordless - and allowing Ringuet to tell the story. It makes for a quick read, to be sure, but Folino is going for an atmospheric vibe to the tale, and he's succeeded.

Ringuet continues to do an excellent job, although the decision to put most of the issue in a snowstorm was a mistake. Snowflakes obscure almost all of the exterior panels, and as the action takes place at night, very often it's hard to tell what's going on in panels. That's the problem with a lot of movies these days - to hide the CGI, it seems, things take place in semi-darkness, which is extremely annoying - but in a comic, which doesn't have CGI, that shouldn't be an issue. I get that Folino and Ringuet are going for a dark feel to the book, but it shouldn't be this dark. Ringuet's pencils are still solid, as he continues to give the book a noirish, old-school vibe, but I just wish I had been able to see more of it.

So it's another good issue of Sparks. We'll see if Folino and Ringuet can keep it up!

Station #2 (of 4) by Johanna Stokes (writer), Leno Carvalho (artist), Andrea Barreto (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Right in the middle of this issue is one of the weirdest double-paged spreads you're going to see in a comic. Dyson, the civilian tourist on board the space station who acts as our surrogate among all the scientists, floats in the middle of the page (no gravity, remember?). The rest of the crew surround him, arguing about the murder (which he and Karen, who last issue decided it was murder, have just told them about). It's weird because Dyson and the scientists are arranged kind of like, well, like Dyson is Jesus and the scientists are the disciples. Dyson's head is in front of a porthole, and he's ringed by an aura that no one shares. His arms are by his side with his palms up, not unlike someone willingly giving himself up to the authorities (like, say, Roman soldiers). He's the only one not speaking on the page, and he looks at the others with a sad and somewhat bemused expression on his face. Meanwhile, the others argue, not unlike the disciples when they found out someone who betray Jesus. I don't know what the hell is going on on those two pages, but if Dyson ends up sacrificing himself to save the rest, this becomes somewhat obvious, doesn't it? And if he doesn't, then what's the point?

As for the rest of the issue, well, there's a fire on board, the radio is down, and the station's life support system is screwed up. And there's a murderer on board. Stokes and Carvalho continue their good work from issue #1 in creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, and now they've raised the stakes even more. Carvalho then shows us on the last page what's in store for them, as he shows the vastness of space and the first victim, dead and gone, drifting further away from everything. It's a chilling image, and is a good contrast to the penned-in scientists who don't know if they're going to survive long enough to get killed by the murderer.

Still - what's up with Dyson-as-Jesus? It's freaky.

Young Liars #6 by David Lapham (writer/artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

And, once again, Young Liars comes out. And every time I review it, I provide better quotes than "this is one twisted book," but do I get on the front cover? No! I'm going to go sulk now.

Oh, I'm just kidding. This is one twisted book, and when the horrific death of one of the main characters takes place so quickly we almost miss it and isn't commented upon at all by any of the other characters because they're too distracted by Sadie doing something, well, Sadie-ish, you know it's twisted. This is like the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino once seemed like he could make but doesn't seem capable of making anymore. (Yes, it would be easy to say, "a good one," but that's not what I mean. What I mean is that it's wickedly funny without relying solely on pop-culture references, and the violence is bizarre, unexpected, and even a bit humorous without being played totally for laughs. I probably shouldn't have put all this inside parentheses, should I? Oh well.) Of course, it helps that Lapham is trying to give these characters some depth, and the revelations we get about Danny and Sadie are horrifying and tragic, while the lies and the lying liars who tell them continue to give this book a crazy edge that most books simply do not have. And the twisted love story between Danny and Sadie continues to be riveting, because it's disturbingly honest.

As I've written for each issue, I can't decide if this is really that good. It's getting better, I think, but it's more that I simply have no idea what Lapham is going to do next, and just when I think he can't go any further, he simply ramps it up again, and I can't turn away. Even if this turns out to be a train wreck of a comic, it's the freakin' mother of all train wrecks, and there's something weirdly compelling about that.

There. Suck on that, IGN.com and Vertigo!

Zorro #6 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I've been picking on Zorro for its "origin story" arc and the fact that it's kind of a dull ride, mainly because there's nothing all that original about it. But I really am enjoying this comic, even though I don't love it completely. The parts in the present are very good, and although I'm still not sold on the way Diego and Bernardo have moved through childhood, it's not like it's poorly-written or doesn't look good, so I can deal with it. I do like how in all forms of entertainment, everything that could happen does happen. Therefore, even though dozens of ships crossed the Atlantic back in the day without getting attacked by pirates, that's not going to happen here! Of course they get attacked by pirates! It's stuff like this that makes me not love this book as much as I'd like. But it's entertaining enough that I'm looking forward to the rest of the arc.

That's all she wrote for this week. I'd like to point out that The Middleman: The Collected Series Indispensability came out this week. 20 bucks for the only comic this decade that comes close to Scurvy Dogs as the funniest slice of sequential storytelling you can find! You know you want it! Or, you can wait until I give it away, as I now own the original issues and two copies of the collected edition. But can you wait? I think not!

I'm a bit disappointed that no one got the totally random lyrics last week. The song was "Drunken Boat" by the Pogues on the album Waiting for Herb. It's one of the two best Pogues songs after Shane MacGowan left the band. Damn, it's good. Anyway, let's get some more totally random lyrics:

"Take a look in the mirror now tell me what you seeAnother satisfied customer in the front of the line for the American dreamI remember when we was both out on the boulevard talkin' revolution and singin' the bluesNowadays letters to the editor and cheatin' on our taxes is the best that we can do"

Isn't that always the way?

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