What I bought - 15 April 2009

This week, I protested against the government by not paying taxes on my comic book purchases! Look at me, I'm such a rebel!*

First of all, the only comic you need came out this week. I speak, of course, of this:

You all bought it, right? What? You mean you didn't? Sheesh, you people. I, of course, already own the issues of the series, but the graphic novel is included in this collection, and as it's long out of print, it was handier to simply buy this. Ah, Alison. Why can't writers treat you right?

But let's move on to the single issues!

Elephantmen #17 ("The Monster is Loose!") by Richard Starkings (writer), Rob Steen (artist), Moritat (artist), and Gregory Wright (colorist). $3.50, 29 pgs, FC, Image.

First up, I have to once again thank Richard Starkings for sending me the latest issue of his fine comics periodical, because it's swell of him. I know I gush about this book a lot, but that's because it's gushable. So there.

Ironically, this isn't a particularly great issue. Starkings does a nice enough job with the characters, but the plot itself is a bit recycled, and it's too bad. When last we saw Tusk, he was escaping from the hospital in which he was held for months. In this issue, the cops hunt him down. We see the standard sadistic cops, using their high-powered tasers on small animals as a warm-up to hunting their prey, we see the marginalized human (in this case, a poorly-sighted old woman who's a bit out of her mind) who can't tell that Tusk is inhuman and so doesn't judge him, we get the final confrontation where the humans prove they're as or more monstrous than the creatures they're chasing. This is a staple in fiction like this, and Starkings has done in himself in this series before and better. Of course, it's only one issue, and it's not going to ruin the series or anything, but Tusk's final stand isn't all that interesting, unfortunately. Still, the Erik Larsen cover is kind of fun (it's on the right above), especially because of the disclaimer "Story content may vary from cover." No, that scene does not appear in this comic!

Fables #83 ("The Great Fables Crossover Part 1 of 9: The Call") by Bill Willingham (writer), Matthew Sturges (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The Great Fables Crossover begins rather nicely, as the badger (who no longer wants to be called "Stinky") begins preaching about Boy Blue, and what's neat about the way he does it is that it fits in nicely with the entire idea of Fables - Mr. Dark in Fabletown, whom the Fables still don't know about, becomes a huge, freakish monster, already moving into legend. It's a neat trick - we've come to know these creations as "real," so we occasionally forget that they're myths, and myths change with the telling.

We get the completion of the Bigby/Beast throwdown, and Buckingham illustrates it wonderfully, and then the crossover kicks in, as Jack calls Snow to tell her that the world is about to end. Well, that sucks. As a set-up, it works perfectly well - there's the action of the fight, and then a lot of exposition, but it's interesting exposition, so there's that. As usual with Fables, Willingham chucks a lot of balls up in the air, and the fun is in seeing how they'll all line up eventually. The "religion" of Boy Blue, the animal revolt, the power of Kevin Thorn, Mr. Dark, the evil inside Bigby and the Beast - it's all here! Where will it all lead?

Gødland #27 ("Kill the Wabbit") by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Bill Crabtree (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

I guess Gødland is back on a sort-of regular schedule, which is nice to see. As usual, each page brings a smile to the reader's face (unless you have no soul, of course), from the cover (that awesome dude doesn't even show up until page 19) to the second page, on which Leviticus thinks that Adam "has been touched by the savage finger of the all-knowing," to the ninth page, on which a song in the "key of dream major" begins, to the seventeenth page, on which a tank gets dropped on several soldiers, to the final page, on which the Almighty Decimator does some decimating. All Hail Gødland!

Scioli is marvelous, of course - the designs of Leviticus, with his horse head on his helmet, and Vayikra, with what looks like pure energy undergarments, are stellar. Scioli does a great job taking the amazing cosmic stuff and making it accessible, and when Casey throws something horrific at him, he's perfectly able to shift gears. It's such a beautiful book to look at that the fact that Casey's wonderful scripts come with it seems almost unfair. What a cool comic.

Of course, you already knew that. Sorry for harping on it, but you know how cool this book is and that you should be buying it if you're not already!

Incognito #3 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 26 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

Speaking of characters on covers who barely appear in issues, there's the groan-inducingly named Ava Destruction on the cover of the latest issue of Incognito! She appears in nine panels and disappears after page 3! But who cares - it's a cool cover.

The rest of the issue is devoted to Zack trying to figure out how to get rid of his pal Farmer now that the latter has discovered who he is and is determined to blackmail him into doing crazy shit for him (including a running gag with Farmer's landlord's car). I never understood the idea that a regular person would blackmail someone a lot more powerful than they are, because you always get fucked in the end, don't you? But Farmer is drunk on power, and Zack goes through most of the issue figuring out how to fix the problem.

You rarely hear this in connection with an Ed Brubaker comic, but this comic is pretty freakin' hilarious. I mean, the humor is as black as coal, but it's still pretty funny. But it works perfectly. We rarely hear about what superpowered people do for fun, and while what Farmer has Zack do doesn't really count as "fun," I can believe that he'd do it just to mess with people. The solution to Zack's problem is pretty funny, too, as his confrontation with the two old friends sent to watch Zack who get a bit overzealous in their duty. Phillips, needless to say, is brilliant as well, especially in the one sequence that is deadly serious, a three-panel row that sets up something for future issues (presumably). Oh, and Jess Nevins' essay about The Spider is, predictably, excellent. Damn his eyes!

This week seems to be turning into a litany of books I love that I find difficult to review because they're always so damned good. Will there be more? Keep reading!

Moon Knight #29 ("Down South: Chapter Four") by Mike Benson (writer), Jefte Palo (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Yep, it's another one. I realize I continue to be in the minority of comics fans who think Moon Knight is a good comic, but I simply don't care, man. In a world where Dark Avengers sells well, I'd rather be wrong than right, you know what I mean? As we continue with MK's adventures south of the border, we get to see Frank Castle in drag, which has to be worth the price of admission, right? Plus, Palo draws a pretty cool Moon Knight (remember, last issue's final page was the first time we'd seen him in the arc), although his cape approaches McFarlane-esque proportions in a couple of panels. As this is the penultimate chapter in this arc, all the people need to move into position for the final bloodbath, so the Zapata brothers feature prominently, as they find the girl, "ally" with Moon Knight, set up Moon Knight for betrayal, and discuss the merits of Huey Lewis. It's a (relatively) light issue, punctuated by Benson reminding us that our hero is, technically, a bit nutty, as a dead dog talks to him. Yes, I get that an issue that begins with the Punisher killing a bunch of people and later has the Zapata brothers killing a bunch of people might not qualify as "light," but what I mean is that Benson is in full "adventure" mode in this issue, so the tone isn't quite as dark as it's been. It's still a fine comic, and next issue should be fun.

And I love the Mexican colors in the logo on the cover. That's neat.

Rex Mundi #17 ("The Third Day") by Arvid Nelson (writer/letterer) and Juan Ferreyra (artist/colorist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

First Elephantmen (usually, although not this month), Fables, then Gødland, then Incognito, then Moon Knight, and finally Rex Mundi: A list of comics I love and find difficult to review every month, as their quality hardly ever dips. As this comic hurtles toward its conclusion (two issues after this one to go!), Nelson is ratcheting up the action, but what's great about it is that it doesn't feel forced. The pace hasn't always been this fast, but the way Nelson has set the series up, it feels natural.

I'm a bit disappointed with the way Dark Horse has been soliciting this. You may or may not recall that I was bummed that they gave away a HUGE plot point in their solicitations some months back. So when the event to which they referred occurred, it didn't have as big an impact. Unfortunately, it also meant I didn't really think it was as big a deal as they implied, and this issue proves me right. I know a lot of people read this in trades, so I won't discuss it any more specifically, but I think Dark Horse could have done a better job keeping things on the QT.

Anyway, tons of stuff happens in this issue, and we learn the secret of the Grail lineage, and it's less of a doozy than a logical conclusion, which is nice. Nelson doesn't pull anything out of anyone's ass - he just points out something that's obvious. It's a good, solid twist and sets up an ending that ties back into the political aspects of the comic.

Ferreyra kicks so much ass on this issue and this comic in general that it's almost not worth talking about. There's a good amount of violence in this issue, and it's both gorgeous and extremely uncomfortable to look at, which is a nice trick. One of the nicest-looking panels in the book is someone getting bashed in the face with something heavy, said bashing ripping out their eye and a good chunk of their cheek. It's horrible but mesmerizing. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: Ferreyra is magnificent.

If the book stays on schedule, the comic should end by the end of the summer. While I'll be disappointed by it not coming out anymore, I can't wait to see how Nelson is going to end it. I'm just glad he's getting the opportunity.

Soul Kiss #3 (of 5) ("Let it Die") by Steven T. Seagle (writer) and Marco Cinello (artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

I'm still struggling to love Soul Kiss, not because of Cinello's art, which seems to get stronger every issue, and not even because of the premise, which is fascinating, but because I'm still not sure if Lily deserves this chance or not. This issue goes a long way toward convincing me that she's a decent character, because instead of being some overconfident bitch, we start to see some chinks in that armor, and the final page is quite a nice ending, both in the art department and in the way Seagle has brought Lily down a peg or two. As this is a five-issue series, I'm curious how this shift, right in the middle of the story (essentially), will change Lily's mission, if at all.

I'm a bit puzzled how Lily isn't getting arrested. She kills three people in this issue, and two of them rather publicly. The second one is clearly witnessed by at least two people. What's up with that? I'm not sure if Seagle is going to address it, but I would think he has to, doesn't he? Or is it a comment on our self-involved lives, how we miss such obvious things happening to people in whom we have no interest? Beats me. But someone ought to call the cops on Lily, is all I'm saying.

Uncanny X-Men #508 by Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Last month, when I bought Uncanny X-Men #507, Dan Bailey wrote "If you're not part of the solution (refusing to buy comics featuring Greg Land's plagiarism), you're part of the problem (the existence of comics featuring Greg Land's plagiarism). You know I'm right." Well, yeah, he probably is, but I flipped through this at the store and some of it didn't make my eyes bleed, and because I really, really, really want to like Fraction's X-Men, I gave it a try. I hope Dan can forgive me for doing my part to bring about the End of the World.

Of course, Land's art still is a big stumbling block in this issue. I mentioned the cover before, but let's consider it: The two figures at the bottom are obviously the same swipe, just reversed (can't he change a little bit to make it less obvious?); Lady Deathstrike looks excessively seductive, not because the character is (she isn't), but because whatever porn model this was swiped from was posing that way; and if there's one humanoid character Greg Land shouldn't draw, it's Spiral, as her extra arms are tacked on randomly, which looks really goofy (to be fair, Spiral is inexplicably often hard for comics artists, who need to be able to draw outer space warthogs, for crying out loud, to make look realistic; Land isn't alone in this). But let's move on!

Fraction drives me insane in this issue, as much as and then a bit more than he has for his entire brief run on the book. The plot involves (wait for it) the resurrection of Kwannon (or possibly Psylocke), which is a monumentally stupid idea but which Fraction manages to pull off with a bit of aplomb. Meanwhile, Beast continues meeting with the X-Club, Emma starts teaching, and Wolverine invites Northstar to join the team. Not that there's any solid roster in the X-books anymore, but there it is. On the surface, it's a fine issue of the main plot bubbling along and then a few subplots thrown in just for spice, which is how I like my Uncanny X-Men. And on a few pages, the art actually looks like Land drew it freehand, or at least with less swiping than he usually does. So there's that.

Of course, the fact that Fraction manages to make the main plot only slightly less awful than it is doesn't absolve him from coming up with the plot in the first place. The Kwannon/Psylocke fiasco was probably the low point, plot-wise, of anything in the main X-books in the past thirty years (with the exception of most of Austen's run, which exists in a separate universe of crap), and even if Fraction read it as an impressionable teenager (I don't know how old Fraction is, but let's say he's younger than I am, and I'm almost 38), he couldn't have thought it was a good idea. I read it as an impressionable 20-something, and although I wasn't quite as cool as others my age who had already graduated to clove cigarettes and Chris Ware comics, even I knew it sucked. When a lowest-common-denominator guy like me knows something sucks, it probably does. Yet Fraction brings it back. It's like Fred van Lente deciding that the Clone Sage is the height of Spider-Man's history and bringing that back. Oh dear - I hope I haven't given anyone any ideas.

Of course, now I want to find that Claremont one-shot to see what's going on with Betsy, because she shows up here a prisoner of Maddie Pryor and her girl-gang of porno lesbians (that's just how I think Land pictures them). And when "Kwannon" wakes up (presumably it's Betsy back in her original body), she doesn't seem to know who she is. Maddie specifically says she's in a "new body." So if it's Betsy, isn't it her "old body"? And if you're going to recruit Betsy, why does she need a new body? She has a perfectly good one! Now, I'm not opposed to Betsy getting her old body back. When I write the X-Men (give in to the inevitable, Joey Q!), I would do it too. So if Fraction is going to return Betsy to her semi-original state, I'm all for it. Unless he's going to make her evil. That would suck. There are ways, however, to return her to her original body without even bringing up Kwannon. It just reminds of a time I'd rather forget.

As usual with Fraction's run on this book, I simply don't like the way he does dialogue. Very few characters have a distinct personality, as they all speak in a devastatingly clever way, as if this is a very well-written sitcom. The demise of narrative boxes in comics means that the characters are solely responsible for exposition, and therefore we either don't get any information or we get information that doesn't sound like the characters speaking in a distinctive voice. Yes, it was extremely annoying back in the day having someone like Rogue exposit in a southern accent, but at least we knew it was Rogue and not anyone else. That's not the case here. And Emma continues to annoy the hell out of me.

You can tell I'm conflicted about this book, right? Sigh. Sales are dropping rapidly, so apparently I'm not the only one. It's frustrating, because the good stuff in the book works well, while the bad stuff doesn't work at all. In some books, the bad stuff is so bad and the good stuff isn't all that impressive, so it's easier to skip it. Here, the good stuff actually gives me hope, so I'm willing to stick with it. It's definitely an inner conflict for me whenever it comes out, though!

Sorry, Dan. I'm part of the problem.

X-Factor #42 by Peter David (writer), Valentine de Landro (penciler), Marco Santucci (artist), Pat Davidson (inker), Patrick Piazzalunga (inker), Craig Yeung (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

After a few issues of big happenings, this is a fairly boilerplate issue of X-Factor, as Jamie fights Sentinels in the future and meets a bunch of random mutants, while Rictor and Guido head off to check out Jamie's priest dupe, whose existence they stumble across. And Longshot gets frisky with the client he's supposed to be protecting, while doing a poor job of actually protecting her. David's version of Longshot troubles me (not to the point where I'm going to hope something bad happens to him, like apparently a lot of other people feel), because he acts so worldly and part of Longshot's original appeal was that he was rather naïve in our world (and his own, but perhaps not as much). Since he's come back in these pages, he's kind of smarmy, in a thoroughly charming way, but smarmy nonetheless. Oh well.

It's a fairly well-written issue, with (or course) an inconsistent art team (both pencilers are fine, but different) and David being grumpy on the recap page. Well, maybe he's not being grumpy, but it seems like he is. Don't be grumpy, Mr. David!

Zorro #12 by Matt Wagner (writer), Cezar Razek (artist), Salvatore Aiala (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Wagner continues with his fun tale, as the guv'ment steps up their efforts to track down Zorro and Diego decides to marry Lolita. Of course, she tells him to go jump in a lake, but at least he compliments her ("her teeth seem sturdy" - what woman wouldn't fall for that?)! There's not much of note going on in this issue, although the plot moves amiably along, with Zorro attempting to gather other caballeros to his cause and the bad guys increasingly frustrated by their lack of killing him. As usual, it's a fine comic, even if nothing stunning occurs.

Last week's totally random lyrics were from "I'm Lost and Then I'm Found" by The Godfathers on their 1989 album More Songs About Love and Hate. It's a kick-ass song on a pretty good album. I saw the band on Saturday Night Live in the spring of 1989, which is odd because I rarely watched SNL. They performed this song and I went out and bought the album the next day. The band didn't last long, but they could write some mean tunes! This week's random lyrics are a bit less obscure!

"One last thing before I quit I never wanted any more than I could fit into my head I still remember every single word you said and all the shit that somehow came along with it still there's one thing that comforts me since I was always caged and now I'm free"

Come on, everyone - scream along! And have a nice day!

* I actually get a 20% discount on anything I buy there, so I never pay taxes. But my version sounds cooler!

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