What I bought - 13 October 2010

Our nation has grown by its need for the unnecessary -- another name for human progress. (Daniel Boorstin, from Cleopatra's Nose)

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (of 6) ("Masquerade") by Grant "Everyone loves dames, man!" Morrison (writer), Ryan Sook (penciller), Pere Pérez (artist), Mick Gray (inker), José Villarrubia (colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

SPOILERS, I guess? It's a noir tale - you should know what's coming!

Grant Morrison lies to us in the very first panel of this comic. In it, Red Robin - who is, I suppose, still Tim Drake - says "I was Batman's partner longer than anyone else." These are the first words in this comic, and it's a lie. Now, if I were a crazed conspiracy theorist (like, you know, Tim Callahan) and believed that "Grant Morrison" was just another name for God/Satan/Odin/Jack Kirby/Tamerlane and he's writing these comics from the far distant future, etching each script directly onto the cerebral cortices of his artists by using a laser that shoots backward through time, then I might read a lot into this lie. I might think that this Red Robin is really the Candlemaker, rising up out of the Justice League's subconscious to lead them to damnation, or perhaps Mr. Whisper, casting no shadow and trying to release a flesh-eating virus into the air supply, or perhaps a reborn Reverend Goodfellow, using Batman to bring a true demon to Earth. I don't know, I just know that the first line of this comic is a bald-faced lie. And like a relationship, if a comic book starts off with a lie, what hope does it have?

One might think that Morrison is a great writer (as I often do), but it's interesting that even he falls into the noir clichés in this comic. I mean, what's the point of knowing the clichés of a genre if you can't mess with them? But hey, look, it's a dame, and can Bruce trust her? He most assuredly can not. It's kind of annoying that one of the overarching themes of popular culture is that you can't trust women, but it's even more frustrating when a writer as good as Morrison does it. Anyway, you can't trust the dame. I know, shocking.

If we put that aside, this isn't a bad issue. Sook is fantastic, of course, and Pérez isn't bad subbing for him. As with far too much Morrison Batman stuff, it relies far too much on stuff that doesn't necessarily come from this particular mini-series, which, as I often point out, won't be too bad if you sit down with all of Morrison's Batman stuff at once and read it all through, but is a bit vexing when you're reading it this way. But one thing Morrison does almost better than anyone is create mood, and the guy in the iron lung with the wasps buzzing around his head as he tries to warn Bruce (presumably) but can't because he can't speak clearly is really creepy. It's a nifty little horror story, and while plot-wise it's a bit weak, in terms of mood, it's quite good. I find the fact that Morrison wants to write a noir tale but can't set it in the Thirties so everything in the comic is artifice rather appropriate, as the GoAC is very, very concerned with artifice in his comics, occasionally to their detriment. This is a weird comic, in other words. It's a puzzle box, and if you like those sorts of things, you'll probably like this.

And hey, it's a pretty damned cool final page. I hope the next issue comes out before we all grow old!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Booster Gold #37 ("The Big Meoww!") by Keith Giffen (writer), J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Chris Batista (penciller), Rich Perrotta (inker), *Hi-Fi (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

There's not much to write about this issue, except that Giffen and DeMatteis keep managing to figure out ways to keep Booster firmly in the JLI days, as when the problems in this issue are resolved, Ted points out that they still have a job to do, so they might as well do it. It's kind of interesting that the writers are building a case that Booster peaked during those years, so it's not surprising that they're sending him back to that time. They're not being too overt about it, but it's there, and it's both comforting for a long-time reader and kind of sad that no one has done much with the character in 20 years. Anyway, Estrogina and Booster escape from prison after Estrogina eats Ted (who was turned into a chipmunk, so he's all tiny), causing Booster no small amount of grief. It's actually clever that Booster simply goes to the future - but still his past - and asks Ted how he got out of her stomach. So he just waits for it to happen. So this is basically a fun prison escape issue with some flirting thrown in, as Estrogina tells Booster she's going to mate with him and then kill him. Charming!

And if there isn't an Estrogina and the Zamoran pirate book soon, I may cry. Because it would be awesome.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Casanova #4 ("Women and Men") by Matt Fraction (writer), Gabrial Bá (artist), Cris Peter (colorist), and Dustin K. Harbin (letterer). $3.99, 39 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

Reading Casanova again, four years later, depresses me somewhat. It's not because it's bad, but because nothing that Fraction has done for Marvel even remotely comes close to its quality. I know I haven't read a ton of Fraction's Marvel stuff, but even Iron Fist, which was a very good comic, only comes close to the insanity that is Casanova. I don't really want Fraction to repeat himself, but it's kind of unfortunate that the Big Two simply don't allow creators to go this nuts on a big-time book. They're all comics, after all, and in Casanova, Fraction embraces the wonderful wackiness of the genre (see below for just one example). Obviously, Marvel won't allow him to show Cass photographing nude pop stars, but other things in this comic could easily feel just as inspired as it does here. Fraction tried a bit in the early issues of Uncanny X-Men to do stuff like this (before I dropped it), but that was hampered by atrocious Greg Land art and, frankly, Fraction's problems with the cast (which he might have worked out by now). It's not that we haven't seen giant robots in mainstream comic before, but when your giant robot is the least interesting thing in the issue, as it is in this one, that's what sets it apart from Marvel and DC books - in those comics, the giant robot is often the most interesting thing, and that's just sad. You may or may not like Casanova (and hey, that's cool - we're all friends here), but you can't deny that if you just flip through it, you see so many things that just pulse with energy. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but it makes me a bit sad when a creator I like goes to one of the Big Two and loses some of that energy. They might write very good stuff, but because the bigwigs don't want to push any boundaries except the ones that involve decapitation, it often lacks as much spark as their non-mainstream stuff. Oh well.

Anyway, it's fun re-reading this, and it will be fun re-reading it again, because Casanova is really a tightly plotted creature, and in this, the final issue of the arc, it comes together nicely and opens up plenty of stuff for the next arc. So maybe you should check this sucker out!

(And hey, I just read about La Pérouse in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So the first time I read this, that reference went right over my head, but I caught it this time!)

One totally Airwolf panel:

Frenemy of the State #3 (of 5) ("Codename: Noob Part Three") by Rashida Jones (writer), Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis (writers), Jeff Wamester (artist), Rob Ruffolo (colorist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

Apparently this has become a five-issue mini-series, which it probably should have been all along. I mean, it's from a small publisher, so that's one strike. And it has a lot of cooks, so that's another strike. Single creators or two-person teams who work really well together can probably make an ongoing work for a bit longer, but a big group like this is less stable, especially when artists get noticed by other companies (as Wamester already has been). There's nothing wrong with ambition, but with the delays in publication and the fact that your artist is moonlighting, there's not much hope. Of course, this will make a nifty little trade, and Weir and DeFilippis have a good track record, so I wonder if they're going to take a year or so, come up with another story, and do that one. That's the way many, many indy books have gone (can we call it the "Hellboy model"?), so why not this one?

This is actually a pretty good issue, especially because it's the traditional "padding" issue in a five-issue arc. When last we left Ariana, she was surrounded by mean Arabs who wanted to beat her up. In a clever fight scene, Ariana manages to take them all down and still keep her cover - she acts like an imbecilic girl because that's what the bad guys expect, but all her moves are carefully planned. She is about to go on another mission related to the whole nuclear weapon sale that she's trying to stop, but her life as a spoiled rich girl gets in her way. The ending is rather clever - we don't quite know where the book is going, and the writers spring it on us just like they spring it on Ariana - it fits very well within the parameters of the book and the character, but it's still a surprise. It also takes the traditional cliffhanger and spins it nicely, because while we often can't imagine how a character will get out of it, the ending of this issue really makes it hard to conceive of a way for Ariana to escape.

I'm still liking Frenemy of the State, and I do hope that the final two issues come out soon, because a trade would be a nice little story (if Weir and DeFilippis end it well, which I imagine they will). It's too bad it can't be an ongoing, but what the heck - five issues ain't bad!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Northlanders #33 ("Metal Part Three: The Death Black") by Brian Wood (writer), Riccardo Burchielli (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

So this arc and this series have been zipping along with not a lot of supernatural aspects except for a personal vision kind of thing (like in this arc when Erik sees the old Norse gods), but in this issue, Wood goes ... someplace else. I don't want to ruin it, but it seems like something very strange happens at the end of this issue, and it can't be chalked up to Erik's feverish imagination ... can it? I don't know, it's just very odd.

Actually, "Metal" as a whole is odd. It's a pretty good story, but I have a feeling Wood is toying with us because Erik seems to be invincible as he kills his way through the Christian communities in his way ... but why is he? Is it just because he has the blessing of the old gods? Considering they allowed the Christians to infiltrate Norway in the first place, that doesn't seem likely. And then he hears about something else wreaking havoc, and he starts to doubt. Is that why the apparition at the end appears, because a small sliver of doubt enters Erik's mind? I don't know, but next issue is the final one of the arc, so I assume we'll find out more about the ending. Unless Wood is just fucking with us!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Strange Tales II #1 (of 3). "Who Will Watcher the Watchermen?" by Nick Bertozzi (writer/artist) and Chris Sinderson (colorist); "Dear Logan" by Rafael Grampá (writer/artist); "The Fabulous Frog-Man" by Gene Luen Yang (writer/artist) and Thien Pham (colorist); "Silver Surfer" by Frank Santoro (writer/artist); "A Distraction" by Kate Beaton (writer/artist) and Bill Crabtree (colorist); "The After-Party" by Jillian Tamaki (writer/artist); "Red Skull" by Shannon Wheeler (writer/artist); "The Marvel of Mysterio" by Dash Shaw (writer/artist); "Fight or Run: Marvel Edition" by Kevin Huizenga (writer/artist); "A Civilized-Thing" by Jeff Lemire (writer/artist); "Meanwhile ... in the Park!!" by Jhonen Vasquez (writer/artist) and Rikki Simons (colorist); "Galactus and Magneto" by Nicholas Gurewitch (writer/artist). $4.99, 47 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I was thinking about waiting on Strange Tales II: The Rise of the Temple of the Empire of the Fallen until the trade, but while I wouldn't want to see many of these creators on regular superhero books (many of them simply don't have a superhero style), in short bits, they often rock, so I jumped right in. I couldn't resist that awesome Grampá cover, after all!

As usual, some of these stories are good and some aren't. The Frank Santoro Silver Surfer story is kind of inert, Tamaki's Dazzler story looks pretty cool but is a bit silly (even though I love Dazzler and like that Tamaki referenced her ongoing from lo those many years ago), Dash Shaw's Spider-Man/Mysterio story is terrible, and Kevin Huizenga's Wolverine-vs-Silver Surfer story is kind of pointless, even though the last few panels are funny. Even the stories where one aspect of the tale is weak - Wheeler is channeling a 1960s vibe poorly in his Red Skull story - the other makes up for it (as in Wheeler's case, with its oddly surreal story). However, the highs almost make up for the dips. Grampá's first story is probably the reason this has a MAX label, even though I honestly can't believe it does actually have one (let's be honest - after that dude ripped that other dude in half in a regular Marvel book, the violence ship in the mainstream Marvel U. has sailed, I would think). Grampá's story is the kind of thing I would love to see in the regular Marvel Universe, even though it would have to be more implied than anything - I won't spoil it, but something like Wolverine's healing factor is sure to lend itself to ... strange people. Yang's Frog-Man story is hilarious because of three panels in succession, one of which features the White Rabbit, who is of course an awesome villain. Beaton's rough art is somewhat perfect for her tale of how Spider-Man gets Kraven off his back for a night (and features a final panel that should be the final panel of every Spider-Man comic ever written from now on). Jeff Lemire's twisted little story goes one way when he's making you think it's going another, and Jhonen Vasquez's horribly dark story of Wolverine and why a sentinel doesn't want to kill him is hilarious. And Nicholas Gurewitch's two-page gag is a great way to end the issue, as it makes perfect sense!

Even the weaker stories are interesting, mainly because of how fun it is to see iconic characters filtered through this odd perception. It's why I will always check out Strange Tales, even though I really ought to get the trade. Oh well - I'm a sucker. At least I'm self-aware!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Thor: The Mighty Avengers #5 ("Thursday Morning") by Roger Langridge (writer), Chris Samnee (artist), Matt Wilson (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger is such a charming book, and I do hope it's selling well enough to last a little while (unlike, say, Young Allies, which got the axe this week). Langridge is treading familiar ground, but the fact that Loki is more of an impish fellow rather than a true villain makes me happy, for some reason. Loki as totally evil dude never sits well with me, even though he often is in the actual myths. Even in the myths, he slowly becomes more evil, and it's refreshing that Langridge seems to be going for a characterization of Loki in which he's more of a Tom Sawyer kind of dude - he gets into trouble, but he shrugs his shoulder and says, "Whoops," and everyone laughs and tousles his hair. That's just me, I guess.

And then there's Namor, who also gets "rehabilitated" a bit in this issue. For a long time, whenever I've read a comic with Namor in it (which, admittedly, isn't many), he's kind of a dick. He's still a dick in this issue (see below), but he definitely doesn't have as short a fuse as he seems to have in the regular Marvel U. Again, this might be an accretion of stories over the years so that today's Namor is just sick of surface dwellers so he's dickish toward them, but I do like a portrayal of Namor where he doesn't fly off the handle just because someone looks at him sideways. Thor vexes him, but Namor realizes that Thor deserves his respect as well. I don't know - with this and Booster Gold, maybe I'm just feeling the tug of nostalgia for superhero comics where not everyone has a shitty attitude and nobody gets flayed and skinned. I didn't realize the bar was that fucking low. Sigh.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Unwritten #18 ("MIX") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I guess this is the end of the arc, because next issue it appears our intrepid heroes are off to Nantucket to find a certain alabaster cetacean. Two issues ago, I was going to drop this, but I stuck it out through the "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" issue and this one, just to see what's what. I enjoyed this issue, but it definitely slowed down a bit to wrap everything up, so there's that. I just don't know why I don't like The Unwritten more. The confrontation between Pullman and the cabal is well done, and Tom going into ... someplace ... to confront his father's creation is neat, too. I don't know - it just doesn't connect with me, which I've always thought was surprising, given how much I like the basic premise of the series. I'm fairly sure that I won't be back, but I will flip through issue #19 just to see if anything grabs me. I won't count on it, though.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Warlord of Mars #1 ("A Tale of Two Planets, Part 1") by Arvid Nelson (writer), Stephen Sadowski (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $1.00, 24 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I managed to avoid the J. Scott Campbell cover of issue #1 of Warlord of Mars, and I like that Jusko one quite a bit. I've never read any John Carter stuff, so I'm coming to it cold, and Nelson takes an interesting tack - he splits the book into two parts, one focusing on John Carter in the Arizona Territory before he somehow goes to Mars, the second part focusing on a Martian named Tars from before he met John. I imagine this will be the trend until Carter actually arrives on Mars, and I don't have a problem with that.

As this is a split story, not too much happens in either one, although both are action-packed. John shoots it out with some Union soldiers who insult the South and Virginia, and as Carter is a good Virginia man, he takes umbrage to that. Meanwhile, Tars rescues a bunch of young Martians from the white apes who, apparently, like to eat them, and gets in trouble because a foxy Martian is insufficiently martial for his companion and rival, Tarkas (which is odd, because it seems like Tars' last name - or is it a title? - is Tarkas, so it's confusing about what that means), who wants the foxy Martian to be thrown off a cliff. Well, dang. So we have John Carter going all rogue and Tars defending the woman. Oh dear.

It's not a bad first issue, plus it's only a dollar, so you might want to pick it up. Sadowski is a solid artist, and he does a decent job here, although I question the wisdom of giving the Martians bottom teeth that stick up out of their mouth so high - it seems evolution would have swept that right out of the family tree. I do have a couple of nits to pick, as I'm sure you knew I would. First, I'm a bit tired of the noble Southern rebel fighting troglodyte Union soldiers. Edgar Rice Burroughs himself was not a Southern gentleman, so I assume the romance of a doomed underdog was too much for him to pass up, but it bothers me, because all these Southern heroes never show a shred of badness. I mean, I don't want Carter to be a slave-owner, but you can't tell me he wouldn't be a bit racist. When his partner, Powell, finds Apache scalps on the Union soldiers' horses and says that one is from a child, there's a hint that Carter just doesn't approve of that. But why wouldn't he? We know nothing about Carter, so why wouldn't he be just as ignorant as everyone else in the Arizona Territory in 1866 and consider Indians something less than human? I mean, he's the hero, so of course he won't be, but I think it would be far more interesting if he goes to Mars and realizes that maybe he should jettison his racist attitudes because the Martians are weird-looking but far superior to white people. But that's just me.

Second, we have the design of the Martians (and the white apes, but that's not as important). The Martians, as we can see below, have four arms. The males also have four pectoral areas, which isn't surprising. We don't get a great look at Sola, the young woman that Tars saves, but it appears she only has two breasts even though she has four arms. I do hope the Martian females have four breasts, as that would be logical. Yes, I just used the word "logical" when discussing the design of Martians in a fantasy/science fiction comic. Deal with it!

Anyway, Warlord of Mars is off to a decent start. I'm curious to see if Dejah Thoris has four arms (probably not, given the covers of this issue, even though she's a Martian) or is nekkid as Burroughs intended her (again, probably not, although a Google image search shows that plenty of other artists don't have to worry about a mass audience, so they go a bit nuts). But I like Nelson as a writer, and I like Sadowski's art, so I'll give this a chance. Why not?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #4 (of 6) ("Homecoming Part Four: Home to Roost") by Gail Simone (writer), Horacio Domingues (artist), Jonny Rench (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I'm still not terribly happy with the direction in which Simone has taken this mini-series, because it feels so much like Kid Miracleman that I just can't get past it. However, she does a nice job at the end of this issue, when Derek fights the Coyote Kid, whom Tommy sics on Derek because, as the Kid is dead, he can't much deader, can he? As this book has always blended "real" life (as represented by life in the town) with "comic" life (as many of the characters were featured in comic books), the way Simone couches the fight in comic book terms and then goes right into a kid reading a comic that has the same scenario is interesting. It's a clever device and makes the fight more mythic than we'd expect.

I don't think this is a bad mini-series, of course. Simone builds the drama very well throughout this issue, leading up to that climactic confrontation, but I just don't like the way she has presented Derek. I mean, yes, it's familiar, but that's okay - it's more that he's so over the top with the raping and the joking about raping and all that. I don't think Simone is satirizing these kinds of villains, but because she's playing it straight, it just feels excessive. It's partly Domingues's art, which is a bit too cartoony to deal with this heavy material (that's not to say he's not good, and the final few pages are a highlight, but his style does clash a bit with the tone), but it's also as if Simone just thought of as much unpleasant stuff as she could to pack into the comic, and it's weirdly off. I may be contradictory here because I love her Secret Six, but as usual, it's all in the execution, and even though the first Welcome to Tranquility series dealt with some dark stuff, it just feels off here while it doesn't in Secret Six. Since this mini-series started, I've just felt like the various characters and plot points in this book don't fit. I'm certainly not giving up on it, but I wonder where Simone is going with it all and if she'll be able to pull it off. We'll see.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Bloom County: The Complete Library volume three: 1984-1986 by Berkeley Breathed. $39.99, 266 pgs, BW/FC, IDW/The Library of American Comics.

Man, I love this comic strip. Love love love it.

Conan: Free Companions by Timothy Truman (writer/artist), Joe Kubert (artist), Tomàs Giorello (artist), Tell-A-Graphics, Inc. (colorist/letterer), José Villarrubia (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $17.99, 187 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Okay, it's not chock full of Kuberty goodness, but it has SOME Kuberty goodness, and some is a million times better than none!

Gantz volume 13 by Hiroya Oku. $12.99, 217 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.

Each volume of Gantz takes me about five minutes to read. But what fun five minutes!

Scary Godmother by Jill Thompson (writer/artist). $24.99, 207 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I bought this for my younger daughter because she digs Jill Thompson's art - who doesn't, really - but I was flipping through, and hot damn, it looks cool. I probably won't read it until I sit down with her and read it - which won't be for a while, as she's just learning phonograms right now - but it's so freakin' cool-looking, I might have to.

The Wednesday Conspiracy by Sergio Bleda (writer/artist). $19.99, 150 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Look at me, buying European comics. How cool am I?

Hey, look! It's The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Leave Your Boyfriends Behind" - Leona Naess (2008) "Let's call our friends and pretend we've got ages 'til the sun comes along"2. "Cassandra" - ABBA (1982) "You're grieving deeply but still moving on"3. "Falling Down" - James (2001) "And love's just something that alway goes wrong"4. "Chiquitita" - ABBA (1979) "You'll be dancing once again, and the pain will end"5. "Sing About Love" - Chumbawamba (2008) "I don't want to sing about war and greed"6. "Finding My Way" - Liquid Jesus (1991) "Let the heartbeat of the music take you through the day"7. "Dear Friend" - Fish (1991) "Does your past lie under a dustsheet in the corner of a musty garage?"8. "Pass It Along" - Chumbawamba (2000) "Because a virtual office in a virtual home means you'll never have to drive through the wrong side of town"9. "You Said Something" - PJ Harvey (2000) "How did we get here, to this point of living?"10. "I Will Walk on Water" - Marillion (1992) "What we have here is bigger than fear"

And, for your consideration, some totally random lyrics:

"Loopy says he sure does like the good lifeYes, he knows all those women who schemeAre just pretty pictures in the pretty machine

He knows if he ever even gets to tryHe will bite down hard to make the monster cryHe knows if he ever gets the chanceHe'd sell his soul to make the monster danceThey can't hurt you unless you let them"

I think this is fairly easy, but what the heck do I know, right?

Today's Fun Fact: Velma Dinkley reads Chinese. It's true!

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