What I bought - 13 December 2006

Some very good comics today, including a contender for best single issue of the year.  Not the runaway favorite, mind you, but definitely a contender!  So let's boogie!

Batman #660 by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake.  $2.99, DC.

There's a lot to like about Ostrander's take on Batman, even though a few people I read hated the last issue with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.  How you can enjoy Dini's last few issues and not Ostrander's fill-in story is beyond me.  But that's why I'm not too bright.  This issue certainly ends poorly (it's not really a cliffhanger, just Bats getting ready to lay down some smack), but for a second-in-a-four-part story, it moves the plot along, introduces yet another villain (Johnny Karaoke and his Giesha Grrls, who on the one hand are as ridiculous as they sound, but on the other hand fit in well in the loopy world of Gotham City), and dangles more clues in front of us, which are leading us, I'm sure, to the wrong person.  At least I hope it's the wrong person, because if it's not, then this will probably be disappointing.  Of course, I have faith in Ostrander, but I still fear that Grotesk is actually who everyone thinks he is, and that's just not very fun.

I'll repeat what I said about last issue: this is a solid, meat-and-potatoes kind of Batman story.  There's a mystery to be solved.  There's a weird villain.  There are ancillary bad guys, who range from the ridiculous yet dangerous (Johnny Karaoke and his vixens) to the all-to-real and dangerous (the Russian mob).  There's a damsel in distress, who may know (and probably does) a lot more than she's letting on.  There's a connection to Bruce Wayne.  There's even a nice homage to Frankenstein movies, as Wayne Franklin's invention is called I-Gore.  I can't think of a reason for it to be called something so unsettling unless it was hearkening back to Viktor Frankenstein's assistant.  Mandrake's art is obviously very nice, although Batman's fight with the Geisha Grrls on top of the elevators is a bit muddled.  He draws a nice smiling Batman, though!

And, like I said about last issue, this is not a story that is going to make you change your religion or your sexual preference.  It's an entertaining Batman story.  And that's all it has to be.

Ex Machina #25 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Vaughan calls this story "Standalone," which is a pun on both the fact that this story is a single-issue story focusing on Bradbury, Mitchell's bodyguard, and the fact that it's the story of Bradbury's life, in which we learn that he, indeed, stands alone.  As usual with Ex Machina, it's tough to review this book, because it's one of my favorites, and doesn't step wrong very often.  This isn't the best issue of the run, nor is it, despite being an "anniversary" issue, the best place to jump on board for new readers, even though we get a decent sketch of Mitch's career.  It's a nice look at what makes Bradbury tick, and considering he's been a cipher for much of the run, because the politicos in the book get more character development, it's nice to see.  The biggest problem with the book is that Bradbury is remembering these events (his life is passing before his eyes as someone holds a gun to his head), so we get snippets of things and then move on, without really getting resolution to them or even finding out a little of "what happens next."  That's not really the point, I understand, because we are just seeing a few things that make up the character of Bradbury, but it was a bit frustrating to get these peeks at his life but learn no more about, say, what happened to his stripper wife.  Bradbury gets a nice speech at the end which tells us more about how he views himself than what is actually true, and it appears he is still covering up deeper issues with machismo.  He's a very good bodyguard, but he has problems with the man he's protecting, even though he looks up to Mitch.  Vaughan does a very nice job in very few pages of fleshing out this enigmatic character.  It's tantalizingly frustrating, which is why, despite some good work, it's not a better issue.  We didn't need all this in one issue - we could have gotten it over the course of the run, and therefore each piece could have been developed a little more.

But that's a minor complaint.  It's still one of the best comics on the market.  And good golly, Tony Harris is a good artist.

Fallen Angel #11 by Peter David and J. K. Woodward.  $3.99, IDW.

It's interesting the way comics come out on a regular schedule, because some come out semi-regularly and some come out every other month, and it's fun when comics I really look forward to come out in the same week.  Ex Machina is one of those books that when I see it on the shelves, I get very happy about my purchases.  Fallen Angel is another one of those.  There are others, of course, but it's neat when two or more come out in the same week, because they follow independent schedules that only coincide every once in a while.  So when it happens, all is well.

That's not to say I don't like most of what I buy.  I just don't get excited about an issue of, say, X-Men the way I do an issue of Ex Machina or Fallen Angel or Rex Mundi or Noble Causes.  But that's getting further away from the point of this, which is that this is another excellent issue in a series of excellent issues of an excellent book.  It's 4 dollars, yes, but well worth a look.

The nicest thing about this book is that Lee, our protagonist, is not a terribly nice person.  Why is that nice?  Because she's a real character.  She does a lot of good things, she can be very nice, but she has also suffered a great deal and knows that sometimes she has to be evil to get things done.  So she's, you know, complicated.  David writes those kinds of characters extremely well.

The other nice thing about the book is that even though Lee is the title character, Bete Noire is packed with other interesting characters.  I'm not terribly keen on Sachs and Violens, but they're not here that much.  Jude is a fascinating magistrate, because he is, after all, a priest, and he believes he can do good in the city.  Jubal is also fascinating, because he lives in the shadow of Jude, and he believes he can do a better job running the city than Jude can.  And Xia, who thankfully has stopped looking like Lucy Liu, is shaping up nicely too.  So whenever Lee isn't around, which is often, the book is still a good read.

This issue is a good example of Lee being, well, a bitch.  A junkie bites one of Dolf's workers, and the junkie's girlfriend gets angry when Lee starts tossing him around.  That night the junkie dies, and the girlfriend comes to see Lee so that she can go after the dealer that pushed a new drug on them.  Lee, naturally, is unsympathetic, so the girl goes to Jude, who promises to punish the dealer.  The girl gets a nice shot at Lee about her drinking, but it's the set-up of the issue, with Jude taking on an active role to purge the city of sin, which distracts him from the not-so-pure thoughts he was probably having when Xia was putting the moves on him (and I kept thinking of the Great Keanu in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - "Dude, it's your mom!) and Lee wondering if she should have done something, despite her muted glee at the junkie's death.  Then, when Dolf asks her to track Asia Minor (the dealer) to see if he can help his worker, a showdown between Lee and her son, Jude, is imminent.  Fine stuff.

Woodward's art, which has gotten less slick since the series started, is looking better because of its roughness.  It's not as polished as it was, but it reflects the gritty reality of Bete Noire better.  And it doesn't look as photo-referenced, which is nice, too.

Another good issue of a very good series.  Does the price scare people off?  How silly.

The Spirit #1 by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone.  $2.99, DC.

Before I bought this issue, here's what I knew about the Spirit: Will Eisner created him and wrote and drew him for a long time.  That's it.  Yes, you may mock me for my lack of comic book knowledge!  I suck.  I know the lyrics to every ABBA song, though.  So there's that.

Robert, the excellent purveyor of comic book goodness at my local shoppe, basically called me out to buy this book.  I was on the fence, but his questioning of my manhood if I didn't buy it pushed me over the edge!  Why, you may ask, was I on the fence?  Well, I enjoy Darwyn Cooke's work, and although I haven't read a ton of stuff by him, what I have read has been enjoyable.  But I don't think he's the greatest comic book creator EVER, which is how, apparently, a lot of people view him.  He's not the kind of person who will get me to buy a character in which I have no interest, in other words.  Maybe he will be down the line, but not now.  And I have no interest in the Spirit.  Sorry, but I don't.

But what the hell.  I buy other books that are worse, and it's only 3 bucks, right?  What do I have to lose?

The nice thing about this book is it's a single-issue story, so if you aren't jazzed by it, you're not lured into the promise of bigger things.  You can judge it on its own merits, not as part of a bigger storyline.  And it's a damned fine comic.

It's not great.  I still know very little about the Spirit.  Either Cooke just thinks we all know everything there is to know about him, or he just wants to whet our appetites for the future, when more will be revealed.  I have a feeling it's the latter, and that's perfectly fine with me.  What we get in this issue is a simple rescue of a hostage.  Like a lot of fiction, however, it's all in the execution.  And Cooke is, from what I've read about him, pretty good at this sort of thing.  He has fun with it and never lets it get to downbeat, because we know that the Spirit will succeed.  We have to enjoy the way he succeeds, and we do.  We get to see his fun interaction with the rescued hostage, newswoman Ginger Coffee, who cannot, it seems, stop talking like she's delivering the news.  This lends the story a lot of humor but also a weird, surreal feel to it.  The characters deliver their lines like one of those snappy Coen brothers screenplays - Ginger Coffee could be played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, circa The Hudsucker Proxy and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.  (What the hell ever happened to Jennifer Jason Leigh, anyway?  What a great actress.  She's one of those people that you bring up when you say, "You know?  Ben Affleck has an Oscar, but [insert more talented person here] doesn't.")  And she gets in a good line at the Spirit's expense at the end.  Plus, there's a creepy villain who wouldn't be out of place in a Dick Tracy comic strip from the 1930s, and there's a bit of yuckiness involving said villain, but there's nothing too awful.

This is a fun comic.  It's a good old-fashioned superhero comic.  We've all read the whining about a lack of good old-fashioned superhero comics, and how no one "gets" what made superheroes great in the first place.  Darwyn Cooke obviously loves good old-fashioned superheroes, so all those whiners (I'm not one of them, you understand, because I love today's comics) should go buy this.  If you're one of them and you don't buy this, you need to shut up.  Everytime a good old-fashioned superhero comic shows up, nobody buys it, it gets cancelled, and then everyone whines again.  So buy this.  Or shut up.

Ultimate X-Men #77 by Robert Kirkman, Yanick Paquette, and Serge LaPointe.  $2.99, Marvel.

I like Paquette's art.  It's nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.  And when he needs to draw something shocking, he's good for it!

Kirkman has done a nice job with this title, and this is a fine issue.  Bishop gives the X-Men the skinny on Cable, and takes our friendly mutants to get Jean back.  He orders Scott to stay with the Professor, which Scott does not enjoy.  The fight goes ... well, awry, and there's a horrific scene that I won't spoil, even though it doesn't really affect the status quo.  I hated the scene, but wished Kirkman had had the stones to keep it.  The fight is a good one, but the rest of the issue is nicely done, too.  Cable knows things about Jean that no one else knows, Professor Xavier is conniving with his secret agent, and he reveals a secret to Scott at the end.  It's all about the drama, man!

As I've said before, this is the kind of X-book that should be done in the "real" Marvel U.  Kirkman is a recent writer on the book, but he knows the history of the book, and uses bits and pieces of others' continuity.  When a writer doesn't need a mutant, that mutant disappears for a time.  In the "real" Marvel U., there appears to be a necessity for every single mutant to be in one book or another, and it's annoying.  I like this book because characters could disappear for 50 issues and then they show up when needed.  Now, footnotes would be nice, but that's okay.  What's nice is that some mutants don't need to show up every month.

Ultimate Cable is kind of cool.  In that way, he's already light-years ahead of "regular" Cable, who was lame from the first moment we saw him.  You know it's true!!!!!

X-Factor #14 by Peter David and Pablo Raimondi.  $2.99, Marvel. 

This is a contender for best issue of the year.  I know that last issue, with the psychiatric evaluations of the group, was good, but this issue is better.  It shows the fall-out from Leonard Samson's chats with each member, plus it sets up the future storyline about Jamie Madrox, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  But because it shows some of the consequences of X-Factor's recent actions, it's much more powerful than the previous issue.  Plus, two spit-takes in one issue!  How can you go wrong????

There are a lot of nice scenes in this comic.  Guido goes to see Henry Buchanan's widow and confesses that he killed Buchanan.  This is such a wonderful scene, and it reminds us again that David, despite his jokey manner, can write beautiful prose when it's called for.  It's a fantastic exchange, and it even has some jokes in it.  This is just a small part of the book - we also find out who is better in bed, Teresa or Monet, and we find out how Monet eases her own pain.  And then Val Cooper shows up!  Yay, Val Cooper!  And the bad guys are ... well, okay, the bad guys are kind of lame, but they could be cool, if a writer takes them seriously.  I imagine that David will make them cool.

This is the kind of title that is just fun to read, because David places it firmly in the context of the Marvel Universe but it's still accessible.  It's nice to know the backstories of some of these characters, but it's not all that necessary.  Some writers can do this very well, and David is one of them.  This continues to be one of the best mainstream superhero books out there.


Bullet Points #2 (of 5) by J. Michael Straczynski and Tommy Lee Edwards.  $2.99, Marvel.

The first issue was good, despite some JMS verbosity.  Edwards' art looks very nice, but not as spectacular as it did in The Question last year.  Is he coasting?????

The Damned #3 (of 5) by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt.  $3.50, Oni Press.

This still looks way cool.  You should buy it, even though I've only told you about the first issue.  Don't you trust me?????

Finally, I read Justice League #4 in the store.  That, I must say, was a piece of shit.  So, I'm sure it's selling well.  But it sucks.  Sucks sucks sucks.  I don't mean to be angry about it, but it annoys me when shit sells and decent stuff doesn't.  And I don't mean that you should just buy whatever I like (even though, you know, you should).  But this just sucks.  In case you were wondering.

But you don't have to put up with that!  There were a bunch of good books out there!  Go seek them out!

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