What I bought - 15 December 2010

"You see," Lardner said at the long bar of the Artist and Writers Restaurant, "Duke thought if his dream came true he would be a different person. He's not unhappy about the dream. He's unhappy that he is still the same man. Happens to a lot of us. We get somewhere we wanted and find we're still ourselves." (Roger Kahn, from The Boys of Summer)

Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #2 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Red 5 Comics.

Above the egregious misspelling on the cover, Robo is quoted as saying, "I wear pants because it's the law." Oh, that Robo! So clever and law-abiding!

After a typically good first issue of volume 5, Clevinger settles in a bit more, with a bit more banter between the principals - Tarot's daughter is sweet on Robo, so Tarot decides that yeah, maybe it's better if he takes Robo out on patrol - and Tesla opens a portal to the vampire dimension that we've seen before. It even features some actual detective work! As always, Clevinger and Wegener are in perfect sync here, with Clevinger's comic timing working well with Wegener's uncanny ability to change a robot's facial expressions (which is impressive given that some artists can't do anything with actual human faces). It's so much fun to read an issue of Atomic Robo, because Clevinger has such an ear for comedic dialogue and Wegener does so many cool things with each panel. The four panels of Robo in the vampire dimension are really nice, as the creatures slowly come out from their hiding places and attack our hero. And Wegener, in addition to doing nice work with Robo, has a good touch with the humans as well.

I know - it's another very good issue of Atomic Robo. Don't be shocked!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Avengers Academy #7 ("Always on My Mind") by Christos Gage (writer), Tom Raney (penciler), Dave Meikis (inker), Scott Hanna (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Andrew Crossley (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Well, I guess Raney isn't the new regular artist, as McKone is back next issue. So this is just a fill-in, but Raney's a good artist, so I can't complain. I'd be a bit miffed if I were him, though - his name is on the cover but McKone is listed in the credits. This means war!

I like this issue perfectly well, even though it's less about the students and more about Hank Pym, who wants to bring Janet back from the dead. I really don't like stories where a character wants to bring another character back from the dead, because we know Janet will come back eventually and usually in the Marvel and DC universes, characters don't come back because a hero wants them to, they come back either completely spontaneously or because some villain brings them back to corrupt them. So the "Hank wants to bring Janet back" scenes in this comic feel really off. But I guess Hank gets some closure. Good for him! He also gets to battle the Absorbing Man and take him down in an interesting and (for me, at least) unique way. So he's got that going for him. As far as Hank Pym stories go, it's dandy. I'm just curious why he mocks the fact that he called himself "Dr. Pym" during his West Coast Avengers days. I mean, he's a doctor, and his last name is Pym, right? I call doctors "Dr. So-and-so" because, well, that's what people do. So why is he mocking himself? (As an aside, when I lived in Oregon we had a great doctor whose last name was Rosenbloom. We, of course, steeped in pop culture as we are, called - and still call him when we speak of him - "Dr. Rosen Rosen." Recently my lovely wife discovered that he's quite prominent on the Internet, writing about the unholy evils of liberalism. Seriously. It's fairly extreme - he actually thinks liberalism is a mental disorder. I wonder if he felt that way ten years ago, when he was our doctor, or if he's slowly developed that view. If he was, we never knew it, but I wonder if he's proselytizing during office visits these days. He was a really good doctor, so I'd be torn if I knew he was that virulent. Is it okay to go to an extreme - and diametrically opposed to you - political fanatic for treatment if he's excellent at his job? Oh, the morality! I guess I don't have to worry about it these days, but it's rather weird. Google "Dr. Frank Rosenbloom" if you want to read some of his stuff. It's ... well, it's something.)

Anyway, I always get weirded out when Tigra shows up. She has her half-Skrull son in this issue, and Hank tells her that the Skrull impersonated him so well that the kid basically has Pym genes (as opposed, I guess, to Pym particles). Tigra freaks out a bit when Hank dares call the kid "adorable" because if the genetic equivalent of the father calls the kid "adorable" that of course means he's trying to raise the kid as his own!!!!! Her reaction is a bit weird, and then she tells him that she doesn't want to raise the kid with Hank, but if she's killed in a horrible kitty litter accident she wants Hank to raise him. So let me get this straight - Hank isn't a good enough parent to help raise the kid with her, but if she dies, he's a great parent? Yeah, that makes sense. Hank, naturally, doesn't tell her to fuck right off and agrees to raise the kid if the tragic occurs. Of course, she has this entire conversation wearing her bikini. I get that she has fur and probably doesn't get cold, but the bikini just cracks me the fuck up every time. Every. Single. Time. So that was a weird little scene. And next issue, the video of her getting beaten goes up on the Internet! Wait - did you hear that? That was Kelly's soul dying just a little more. It's okay, Kelly - read an issue of female-friendly Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose right away to soothe yourself!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batman and Robin #18 ("The Sum of Her Parts Part 2 of 3") by Paul Cornell (writer), Scott McDaniel (penciller), Christopher Jones (penciller), Rob Hunter (inker), Art Thibert (inker), Andy Owens (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I really like that cover, as demented and even oddball, design-wise, as it is. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, I enjoyed the first issue of this three-issue story, so I picked up part 2. But man, does Cornell go off the rails with this issue. When last we left the Dynamic Duo, they were trapped by Una Nemo, an old girlfriend of Bruce Wayne who got shot through the head and then showed up, very much alive, with a giant hole in her forehead that goes straight through where her brain ought to be. Okay, a bit weird, but it's a comic book! Cornell explains her condition in true comic-book fashion, by using a real medical condition that has very little to do with having a giant hole straight through your head, and that's fine. This is basically the "secret origin" of "The Absence," as I suppose we must call her, and that's where it all goes horribly, horribly wrong. So: she was dating Bruce Wayne, and they'd made it to their sixth date and she was starting to wonder why he wasn't putting more moves on her. She claims she's wealthier than he is, but he still treats her like a gold-digger. She tells him she doesn't want to be his beard, and that she's breaking up with him. Bruce tells her there is a reason he's not working his mojo, but doesn't tell her what it is and accepts the dumping. Later on a yacht, she's talking to a friend of hers who tells her, "You run your company like a man, you're distant like a man, you're emotionally dumb like a man!" The friend - Terri - tells her that Bruce Wayne always acts like that, and he's just looking for someone to marry, and Una could have been the one. Really? Anyway, the bad guys then storm the yacht, kill Terri, and shoot Una in the head. After Una realizes she's not dead, she attends her own funeral and discovers that no one is really sad that she's dead and Bruce didn't even show up. This pisses her off, and then she realizes that Bruce doesn't even send his "Batmen" to figure out who killed her, so she comes up with a scheme: the Batman she currently has at her mercy - Dick - will tell Bruce Wayne about this, and then Bruce will notice her. And if that doesn't work, she decides to start killing ex-girlfriends of Bruce and taking their body parts, ending the issue in Vicki Vale's doorway telling her she's going to cut out her eyes (to be fair, she's standing there with giant scissors, which makes for a pretty neat visual).

I don't even know where to begin with how terrible a story that is. Oh, wait, yes I do - it wasn't even Bruce Wayne, it was Tommy Elliot pretending to be Bruce Wayne. Dear Sweet Jeebus, how I loathe Tommy Elliot. Not since Gambit has a character been so very, very terrible and yet inexplicably roach-like, showing up long after it should have been killed. I just can't believe that otherwise intelligent writers would keep using Tommy Elliot. So it wasn't even Bruce Wayne, which is dumb enough. Wait, I know another terrible part of the story - Dick tells Una she doesn't know all the facts, which is absolutely true (as it appears Dick realizes right before he says it that it wasn't Bruce, but - yuck - Tommy Elliot). Una, holding a knife inches away from his bulging man parts (seriously - it's impressive), tells him that she's more intelligent than he is and that he doesn't get to "mansplain" to her. Sigh. For those of you who are unaware of the term, "mansplaining" is when a person explains something in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of the other person to whom they are explaining. Usually, this means a man explaining something to a woman, because everyone knows women don't know much except how to match colors and patterns and how much oregano to add to the sauce! Now, mansplaining is somewhat of a dumb term - either gender can mansplain, after all, even though I'm sure the majority are men - but it boils down a serious problem with the way many men relate to women. However, Cornell is reducing it, and the reasons behind the creation of the term, to a joke, as Una is not only insane, she's actually wrong in this case. Is it still mansplaining if the man is actually correct and the woman is actually wrong? If the delightful Ms. Thompson shows up and says, "Boy, I really admire Charlemagne, because he helped end the Wars of the Roses and inaugurated the Tudor dynasty," is it mansplaining if I tell her that she's, in fact, incorrect? Or is it condescending? I don't know - I'm just using an extreme example (everyone knows Charlemagne led a tank brigade in North Africa during the Spanish-American War, after all). But Cornell seems to be turning the entire problem of men being condescending to women (which, let's be honest, happens a lot) into a goofy thing a crazy person would say.

Plus, there's the whole crazy ex-girlfriend thing. I know Una is slightly unhinged by the fact that she has a gaping hole in her head, but even before that, she's a bit wonky. She's hot and has more money than Bruce - if he doesn't want her, fuck him (not literally, I guess, because Bruce-Tommy didn't want to do the nasty). And now her whole revenge scheme is to kill other women Bruce fucked over, but not, you know, Bruce himself? Sheesh. What a mess.

So I hate this issue. I know that Cornell didn't have a lot of time to write it because he didn't know he'd have to, but it's still a completely wrong-headed story that manages to insult both women and men, which is pretty impressive. There's only one issue left of the arc, but I very much doubt if I will even pick it up to see if and how Cornell saves this or drives it further into idiocy. Maybe I will buy it - after this issue, it's kind of like a car crash.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chaos War #4 (of 5) ("Facing Oblivion") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Khoi Pham (penciler), Thomas Palmer (inker), Sunny Gho (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This continues to be a typical event comic, but I'm enjoying it quite a bit. You know - worlds collide, heroes die, gods are born! That sort of thing. Amadeus wants to flee to the pocket universe that Athena created, an idea most people think is pretty good, but Hercules doesn't want to, so Pele and her mom Gaea show him how to be a real all-powerful god. But is it too late?!?!?!?!?

Yeah, I doubt it. But Pak and van Lente do a nice job with it, and while I still don't like Pham's art, it doesn't ruin anything for me. It's a fun, exciting comic. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Elephantmen #27 and 28 by Richard Starkings (writer), Axel Medellin (artist), and Gregory Wright (colorist). $3.50 each, 25 pgs each, FC, Image.

It's been a while since Starkings sent me a copy of Elephantmen, to the point where I thought I had fallen out of his good graces (did I make fun of his hat? his accent? his beard?) and would no longer be receiving them for free. I actually was about to start looking for them to buy, because I would totally buy Elephantmen if Starkings didn't send them to me. It turns out they had lost my address, though, so once that got cleared up, I received the two latest issues. Huzzah!

As I mentioned with regard to recent issues, Starkings did such a nice job earlier in the series making the characters interesting that now, he can unleash some action and the reader really gets caught up in what's going on rather than just watching drawings fight on a page. Sahara's mysterious mission into the city is touched upon briefly - what's she up to? - and we check in on Vanity, who gets freaked out when she visits the police station. Mostly, however, these two issues are about Janis Blackthorne, Ebony, and Hip tracking down the crocodile hybrids that Mappo has re-activated and killing them. It's good and bloody, but Mappo, of course, has an ace up their sleeve and even though the good guys "win," the bad guys are still around pulling strings. Medellin, the new artist, does a good job, and I'm glad Starkings was able to get a regular guy for the art.

Starkings doesn't forget the other characters, as the fake guy from earlier in the series makes an appearance and Miki gets angry at the hybrids because her friend is in a coma (which happened a few issues ago). Starkings always makes sure to check in on his large cast, which is nice. It gives the reader a sense of the large world these characters inhabit and reminds us that there's a lot going on that we have to track. Starkings makes it a lot easier than you might think to keep up. It's also interesting how he keeps going back to the war when the hybrids were soldiers and shows how they evolve. Hip is kinder than the crocodiles, but he's still a soldier. Meanwhile, Ebony, even then, was beginning to understand what monsters they were, but even he can't resist the bloodlust. As we know that Mappo can control the hybrids whenever they want, it's chilling to see how they acted when they had no restraints, and it's just another plot thread that Starkings does a good job with.

Anyway, thanks to Starkings, who's a swell guy for sending these out to me even though he knows I'd pay good money for them. Elephantmen continues to be one of the best series out there, and I always look forward to where Starkings is going with it.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Magus #1 by Jon Price (writer), Rebekah Isaacs (artist), Charlie Kirchoff (colorist), and Ed Dukeshire (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, FC, 12-Gauge Comics.

I haven't been too interested in the output of 12-Gauge Comics so far, but this comic has an intriguing hook - magic has been kept away from the world for a long, long time, but now it's leaking back into it - and it has the tremendous Rebekah Isaacs on art, so I figured I'd give it a try. I'm glad I did.

The story is pretty neat. A girl wakes up in a mental institution as a guard is about to rape her, something which happens quite often, apparently. For some reason, this time his hand burns, and the girl ends up torching him. Then she escapes. Later, at what looks like a Catholic orphanage, two boys find her inside a shed. The priest is talking to a woman named Danae who knows all about the girl (whose name is Lena). The priest asks Danae if Lena is really the one who's bringing magic back into the world, and Danae says there's no other explanation, even though later on we get one, and Danae is wrong. Lena escapes with the connivance of one of the orphans, Darius (mainly because she's a cute red head, I would imagine), and then Price shifts the story to the larger scale just to give us a bigger view of what's happening now that magic is returning. It ain't pretty. There is, of course, a Secret, Ancient, and Powerful Organization (SAPO) that tracks this sort of thing, and one of their members briefs the president about the situation. He also shows us who the real source of the problem is, and it's not Lena! Dum-dum-DUMMMMMMMM!!!!

Price does a nice job setting the entire series up without giving too much away. We don't know a ton about Lena, Danae, Darius, Ben (Darius's friend), and Father Swain, but we get enough to make the interactions between them work. It's an interesting premise, mainly because of the potential for disaster that having all this magic unleashed on a world that's ill-equipped to deal with it. Price's dialogue is pretty good - the characters talk like real people even as they're expositing, which is a neat trick. The story is a good reason to buy the book.

Isaacs, of course, is phenomenal. She has a very solid line and nice attention to detail, and the double-page spread that shows what happens when magic is unleashed at a Nebraska mall is both breathtaking and chilling. She has a slick superhero style but she also knows, for instance, what real clothing looks like. The beginning scene sets the stage well, too - we know that Lena is going to burn the creepy guard to ash, but Isaacs does a nice job restraining herself so that it's not quite as gruesome as it sounds but it's still scary. I don't know how long Isaacs will last on this book before DC grabs her and offers her a mid-level crapfest like Outsiders, but let's just enjoy it while we can!

So yeah, I'm glad I got Magus #1. It's not just those chicks on that podcast that like it! It has hot chicks and violence! What's not to love?

(Roger of Wendover, who's quoted on the first page - whether the quote is real or not I don't know - was a real dude, by the way. He wrote "histories" of England back in the early 1200s, mostly culled from other sources that he passed off as his own, which was a common practice back then. From what I can find, Roger may have created Lady Godiva, although it's as likely he lifted her from an older source - he writes that the Lady Godiva incident took place in 1057, which was a bit before his time.)

One totally Airwolf panel:

Meta 4 #4 (of 5) ("Hobosapiens") by Ted McKeever (writer/artist/letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, BW, Image/Shadowline.

At this point, it's best to just relax and let McKeever finish his story. He reveals more in this issue, from what the scars on the astronaut's body mean (ew) to a childhood memory that has a large impact in the present to a little about the police dispatcher we've been hearing the entire series. It's still a weird stew, but it's still fascinating. As we let the story carry us along, it's best to simply marvel at McKeever's beautiful and twisted art, which is amazing. The flashback to the astronaut's childhood is haunting and a bit abstract, while the page where the government types discover him and Gasolina is marvelously muted by darkness, smoke, and a smearing of the linework so that it's more indistinct than the rest of the book, befitting the secrecy in which the characters operate. And, of course, there's the wonderfully weird final image in the book, which promises answers as we head to the final issue. Meta 4 is a strange comic, to be sure, but it's also a very impressive work, and I look forward to the last chapter even if McKeever doesn't explain eveything. Who needs everything explained anyway?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1 (of 6) by David Petersen (writer/artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Archaia.

Petersen returns with a story set years before the first two mini-series (37, to be exact), as a lone guard out in an isolated outpost is visited by a distant relative. For some reason, Em needs to find her cousin Celanawe (the guard) and seek out the black axe with him, but we don't find out why or what the black axe is in this issue. This issue is devoted to Em flying a crow to where Celanawe is posted, where the mice and crow are attacked by a group of fishers, from whom they barely escape. It's a very tense issue, as Celanawe shows Em that the law of the jungle is not pleasant and she needs to trust him. He, for his part, doesn't want anything to do with her until she shows him a letter she carries from the Matriarch, which means she's in charge! So they're off on their quest!

Petersen sets up the story well, but, as usual, his art is what makes any one chapter of Mouse Guard so wonderful (as each series is very much a six-chapter novel). In this case, the fishers are the highlight of the book. I wonder about their use of ornamentation - as far as I can remember, mice are the only sentient creatures in this world we've seen so far, so why are fishers apparently sentient as well? Their adornment is both weirdly beautiful - it's jewelry, really - and creepy, as they wear evidence of their kills - skulls, shells, quills, and the like. Their attack on the crow is horrifying, and the way they stalk Celanawe and Em is downright scary. Petersen's art is always fantastic, and I'm glad we get at least one more Mouse Guard series to look at it (although I do hope he has many more series planned).

I suppose you could wait for the fancy hardcovers that Archaia collects these in, but man, I don't like to wait! So yeah, this is a good comic. Big surprise.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Next Men #1 by John Byrne (writer/artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

The hatred of John Byrne one often sees on yonder Internets amuses me, because I've never met the man nor really had any interaction with him, so the virulent hatred and passionate defense of him is completely second-hand to me, which means I can enjoy it more. I wonder if people hate Byrne so much that they ignore his comics work or if the drop in quality of his comics work makes them hate him. Beats me. It's certainly true that in recent years he's done some odd work for IDW, but if it means we get more Next Men, I'm on board!

I was very late to Next Men, I must admit (no, I will never refer to it as "John Byrne's Next Men" because I will never refer to anything with someone's name in front of it) - I only read it when IDW released the giant black-and-white phone book editions a few years ago. But I enjoyed the series immensely and wondered if he'd ever come back to it. Whatever you might think of Byrne, he does old-school superhero stuff very well, and the fact that Next Men was a weird amalgam of old-school superhero stuff and bizarre science fiction was pretty keen. It's cool that he's now able to continue the story, whether it's how he originally planned to do it or not. Creator-owned comix RULE!!!!!

Of course, as it's been many, many years since a new issue of Next Men came out, Byrne spends most of this issue recapping. The entire series, mind you. It's an odd choice - people who buy this presumably have some history with Next Men, and while a new issue hasn't come out in years, the trades are readily available (unless they suddenly went out of print?), because a random reader probably won't get this unless they just discovered John Byrne, and how likely is that? So a 11-page recap in the middle of the comic is a bit weird, even though, thanks to Byrne's breakneck plotting, a lot happened in those 30 or so issues of Next Men. So a recap is nice, but I wonder if it's that completely necessary.

The recap means that not a lot new happens, although Byrne drops some cool stuff in the book, certainly. The Next Men wake up from yet another virtual reality, but Jasmine, who always seemed a bit ahead of the others, still doesn't believe anything is real and she freaks out a bit. Byrne keeps messing with our heads - is Jasmine living in prehistoric times where she's menaced by furry dinosaurs? Is Nathan actually with her or not? Is Tony really a dead ex-slave who saved President Lincoln's life? What the heck is going on around here? Who cares - Byrne is having fun, so why shouldn't we?

Byrne's art, while still Byrne-like, isn't as good as it used to be. The most unfortunate thing he's done is given up on the odd shading he was doing twenty years ago or so - it's most prominent in Namor, but he appeared to do it in Next Men as well (it's harder to tell in my version because of the lack of color). I suppose it was either too time-consuming or his fans rebelled, but I thought it was quite good. Later he reverted to a more classic, four-color style, and he's still doing that here, but it's a bit sloppier than his more high-profile work - his stuff on IDW has all looked like this, unfortunately. It's still good solid superhero art, but I know Byrne can do better and it's not in evidence here. Still, you know what Byrne's art looks like - if you like it, you'll enjoy it here!

Even if you hate Byrne, it's always nice to see a long-time comic creator get the ability to finish some of his (or her) more personal projects. I hope Byrne does Next Men for as long as he likes. I might not stick around for as long as that, but I'll continue to check this out for the foreseeable future.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Northern Guard #1 by Ty Templeton (writer), David Cutler (artist), and K. T. Smith (colorist/letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs + 6-pg reprint, FC, Moonstone.

While I'm sure that David Cutler, the artist of Northern Guard, is making this a superhero book with people who wear superhero costumes and, as we know, superheroes like to show off their physiques because they're basically narcissistic at their core, the third page of this comic cracked me up. On the first page, a woman named Anne Knight tries to stop an illegal drilling operation in the frozen north of Canada. The bad guys turn guns on her, and she tells them it's a bad idea. She chants in a strange language, calls down a snow tornado, and transforms into an Indian superhero. Anne Knight wears a parka and long pants, as it's freakin' winter in northern British Columbia. Nanook Iluak, the native spirit of the polar bear and Big Woman of the North, wears ... a fur bikini. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! Seriously - she wears a big cloak, fur on her forearms (but no gloves), a fur brassiere laced up the front, a fur thong, and fur knee-high mukluks. It's awesome. She looks like Raquel Welch. At least her feet are warm!

I'm not too bent out of shape by it, because it's just a goofy costume, and Nanook is some kind of spirit, so she probably doesn't feel the cold. It just cracked me up. But let's get back to this first issue, which stars a bunch of public domain Canadian heroes (at least I assume they're public domain) that Templeton and Cutler have dusted off and unleashed on an unsuspecting south of the border audience. Will we resist the onslaught of heroes talking about the Habs and their 110-yard-long football fields and how underrated Bryan Adams is? (He was TEN FREAKING YEARS OLD in 1969, people!) It's a pretty neat set-up - a Russian named Dimitri Tomkin attempted to shut down the world's nuclear arsenal remotely with an energy pulse (using a broadcast tower designed by the only scientist any comic book writer ever references, Nikola Tesla), but instead he altered the atomic structure of conductive metals worldwide, plunging the earth back into a dark age (batteries didn't work, for instance) - except in a small area directly in the pulse's path (which seems counter-intuitive), a swath of land that included most of Canada. Canada was saved the devastation! Yay! However, people in the pulse's path have begun to develop superpowers, and the government quickly began to organize them. So that's the basic outline.

Anne Knight stumbles across the mining operation and her alter ego is put out of commission by a mysterious dude wearing a nuclear containment suit. He doesn't remain mysterious for long - it's obvious who he is even before he lets us know - and he's on a mission to save the world. Why he can't just explain things instead of taking out superheroes remains vague. Back in Ontario, John Canuck, Anne's boytoy and scientist extraordinaire, is called in because the government has discovered the Russian presence. When they admit they haven't heard from Anne, he orders the teleporter in the room to send him there immediately, where he finds Anne, rescues her (she's all tied up and it appears the Russians are going to experiment on her), and they start to escape. But the mysterious dude shows up again and causes a volcano to erupt directly beneath them! Oh dear.

Templeton does a nice job dragging these characters into the modern world. One of the superheroes is Trick Merlin, an old character from the Golden Age who's now a punk magician. A reprint of one of his adventures in the back of the book shows how Templeton has changed him. John Canuck is well done, too - he's a genius, but he's also a bit of a loose cannon, and it makes for an interesting mix. He gets a new bodyguard in this issue - a young sharpshooter - who presumably will be a big part of the cast. Templeton manages to take a fairly ridiculous premise on which the book is based and squeeze some interesting social commentary out of it - Canuck lives right on the border, and he sees the unrest among the people who live without electricity and the problems they have. I'm a bit surprised that a simple barbed wire fence keeps them out, but whatever. I'm sure that as the series moves along, we'll see more of the contrast between the "dark age" people and the Canadians.

Cutler does a solid job with the art - it's nothing spectacular, but he's called on to draw quite a lot and handles it nicely. He does a good job with a fairly large cast, and there's nothing egregious about any of the drawing. Plus, he draws a mean polar bear. Never underestimate someone who can draw a mean polar bear!!!!!

So that's Northern Guard #1. Check it out, why don't you? It's better than Batman and Robin #18, and I bet you bought that!

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Secret History #13 ("Twilight of the Gods") by Jean-Pierre Pécau (writer), Igor Kordey (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), Edward Gauvin (translator), and Scott Newman (letterer). $5.95, 54 pgs, FC, Archaia.

Pécau does a really nice job incorporating all sorts of weird things that have happened in history and making them part of his vasy conspiracy involving the archons. Why wouldn't all the U-boats in the North Sea get bombed because of something to do with the archons? Why wouldn't the weather problems in June 1944 be caused by William of Lecce? Of course it's all connected!

That is all.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Strange Tales II #3 (of 3). "One Flew Over the Watcher's Nest" and "This Watcher Keeps on Tickin'" by Nick Bertozzi (writer/artist) and Chris Sinderson (colorist); "How Mjolnir Got Its Strap" by Terry Moore (writer/artist); "Silver Surfer" by James Stokoe (writer/artist); "U.S. Agent vs. the Terror-Saur!!" by Benjamin Marra (writer/artist); "Machine Man: Ectoplasmic & Mysterious Occurrences Investigator" by Tim Hamilton (writer/artist); "Rogue Gets in Trouble" by Kate Beaton (writer/artist) and Bill Crabtree (colorist); "The Left Hand of Boom" by Dean Haspiel (writer/artist); "1-555-Hero: Hero for Hire" by Toby Cypress (writer/artist); "Young People" by Michael DeForge (writer/artist); "Fantastic ... Before!!" by Alex Robinson (writer/artist) and Pat Lewis (colorist); "With a Little Help from My Friends" by Eduardo Medeiros (writer/artist); "Untitled Thor story" by Nick Gurewitch (writer) and Kate Beaton (artist); "Harvey Pekar Meets the Thing" by Harvey Pekar (writer), Ty Templeton (artist), and K. T. Smith (letterer). $4.99, 48 pgs, FC, Marvel.

So Strange Tales wraps up another nifty little three-issues series, and I just can't recommend these things enough. It's so much fun to see these creators turned loose on Marvel icons, and even though I doubt many of them would work in the "real" Marvel universe, giving us little glimpses of what they could do might be even more entertaining than if they did them all the time. (I'm still convinced that Matt Kindt would dominate on a Black Widow story, however.) This is just a wonderfully fun comic, showing off the vast amount of talent that works outside traditional superhero comics. Terry Moore's Thor story is hilarious, James Stokoe's Silver Surfer story is visually stunning, Tim Hamilton's Machine Man story is funny and emotionally overwrought (just like Stan would have wanted!), Kate Beaton's Rogue story opens up so many possibilities that no one has ever explored, Toby Cypress's Luke Cage story is, like almost every word uttered in it, cool, and Alex Robinson's tale of Reed Richards' brainiac girlfriend is poignantly funny and fits well into established continuity. I have some issues with the others - Benjamin Marra's parody of U.S. Agent seems a bit mean-spirited, Harvey Pekar's story about meeting Ben Grimm feels like Pekar talking to himself and whining a lot - but even the ones that aren't great are still very cool to read. Do yourself a favor and pick up this trade!

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Suicide Forest #1 (of 4?) by El Torres (writer), Gabriel Hernandez (artist), and Malaka Studio (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, IDW.

I was rather impressed with the last mini-series by these two gentlemen, last year's The Veil, so I was keen to read this when it was solicited. This first issue doesn't quite pack the punch that the first issue of The Veil did, but it's still a fine creepy beginning. The biggest problem is that one character's depiction bothers me, but I'll get to that.

As we all know from the first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (which we've all read, right?), outside Tokyo is the Aokigahara forest, which is a popular spot for emotionally bereft Japanese people to commit suicide. Yes, it actually exists, and it's a trendy suicide spot! So Torres gives us two separate storylines, one featuring two workers who discover yet another body in the forest. Ryoko, the female, lets the wussy guy, Taro, squirm out of his responsibility of spending the night in the same room with the corpse, which is supposed to settle its spirit. Of course a ghost shows up and speaks cryptically to Ryoko (see below). What could it mean?!?!?!?!?

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, a filthy gaijin named Alan falls in love with a sweet girl named Masami, who, a year later, goes a bit nutty when Alan finally dumps her. He leaves, she goes into the forest and, well ... it's the goddamned suicide forest!!!!!! What do you think she does? Presumably her spirit will not be happy with Alan. But I didn't like the way Torres presented the relationship. Alan and Masami are perfectly happy, and then a year later they're breaking up. That's fine, but Alan says it's not the first time he's tried to leave, and he always comes back. He meets with a friend who tells him that, basically, Japanese women are all totally fucked up and he just has to deal with it. Well, I saw Shall We Dance?, and Japanese men are pretty fucked up too, pal! What bugs me about Masami is that we have no idea how the relationship fell apart, and while that's not the most important thing, if Masami goes off and, well, offs herself, Torres ought to work harder to show why she's so suicidal instead of just letting a third party explain that Japanese women are nuts. I don't think Torres is trying to make Alan completely sympathetic - I'm almost positive that we'll find out that he's complicit in Masami's state of mind as the series goes on - but I do wish Masami hadn't been so stereotypically portrayed as the crazy love-starved girl who can't live without her man. It might offend a woman, but it doesn't offend me - it's just bad characterization because we don't know enough about the characters to simply accept it. But! I will keep buying the series, because I really liked The Veil and this is an intriguing first issue, what with the spooky ghost and all.

Hernandez has a nice, dark, moody style, one that works well on horror stories. He's gotten a little bit of Marvel work recently, but it's keen that he has time to do these kinds of stories, because it's so well-suited for them. His depiction of Masami's suicide is, frankly, a bit icky and unsettling, which is what it's supposed to be. So, good job, Mr. Hernandez!

I suppose a bunch of people will wait for the trade on this. That's cool and all, so I'll keep you updated on whether that will be worth it. So far, so pretty good. We shall see what Torres does with Masami and Alan moving forward.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Thunderbolts #151 ("Ghost Story") by Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I bought Thunderbolts #150 and liked it, but I wasn't sure if I would get issue #151, so I threw it open to the vote, and issue #151 once again took the prize! Actually, it tied with DeadpoolMAX #3, but my shoppe only got a few copies of that and I flipped through it and I really can't stand Baker's art on it - what the hell is he doing? So T-Bolts it was!

I may have to start buying this regularly, even though I buy too many comics already! I know Parker is probably going to write a good story, and I really like Walker's art. Maybe, like the Parker/Hardman Hulk, I'll see about trade paperbacks, but this is another solid issue, even though Parker doesn't do anything really new. Moonstone decides to ask Ghost about his secret origin, so he tells her. Ghost was once a computer programmer at a huge company who was put on a big project to create a processor that could alter its physical state, which apparently means it could store massive amounts of data. It's a comic book - don't argue with the logic! The unnamed programmer (whenever someone says his name, it's blacked out, which is a nice touch) does his job but soon realizes that his bosses are Capital E Evil - of course they are, they're businessmen in a comic book! Death and mayhem ensue, with the programmer becoming a literal ghost and taking his revenge!!!!! While it's a fairly predictable story, Parker does a nice job zipping it along and does a really keen job at the very end, when Ghost shows that he's far more diabolical than we thought (see below). Walker really does a tremendous job - Ghost's recollections are jumbled together in panels with rounded borders and free-flowing narrative captions, and his design work is really strong. When the programmer becomes a "ghost" and enters cyberspace, it's a really nice visual. The entire book is vibrant and strong, with nice blues and reds in the coloring by Martin (a blue base is commonplace in comics these days, but it works very well in the flashbacks).

I'm still not sure if I'm going to start buying this regularly. I may have to scoop up some of the back issues and see what Parker has been doing for more than just two issues. But the past two issues are pretty darned good!

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Unwritten #20 ("Leviathan Part 2") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Vince Locke (finisher), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Oh, The Unwritten. You're like that sweet, sweet Mongolian transvestite I once met in Burkina Faso, the one with the cattle prod and the chunky peanut butter, the one who was so very clever with the shaving cream and the razor but who also liked to insult my love of Manimal ... but I've said too much. Where were we?

Oh, yes, The Unwritten. I'm actually enjoying the Moby Dick story arc - Lizzie continues to become a more interesting character, Carey has decided to start dealing with the fact that Savoy just might be a vampire, and there's a two-page scene with Whistler's Mother that's, well, spooky. Even Tom gets a nifty story, as he goes into Moby-Dick the novel and meets Captain Ahab ... but it's not who he expects!!!!!

And so onward we go. The Unwritten dances on the edge of my cut list, but then I buy an issue and think, Hey, maybe this can work! Will Carey and Gross break my heart? Only their dark hearts know for sure!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #6 (of 6) ("Homecoming Part Six: Ending Note") by Gail Simone (writer), Horacio Domingues (artist), Carrie Strachan (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I have been wondering how Simone was going to pull the disparate threads of this mini-series together, and she does it fairly well. I wasn't too happy with the explanation about Mr. Articulate, but it made sense within the context of the story, so I won't complain too much. The ploy to slow Derek down is executed nicely, and although one weapon ought to have "Deus Ex Machina" stamped on the side, it's a superhero weapon to the core, so I can't be too mad about it. I love when Simone goes all meta and puts weird pages that are taken from comics in the Tranquility universe and puts them in her book, which she does in this issue. It's an odd device, but it works. I do wish that Simone returns to this comic, because she seems to enjoy writing these characters so much, but with Wildstorm's demise, who knows what's going to happen to the titles. Simone is a bigwig at DC these days - doesn't she have some leverage to use? I wouldn't mind seeing a 4-6-issue mini-series of Welcome to Tranquility once a year or so. I'm sure DiDio has done something that she can use for blackmail, right? Wasn't he in a Flock of Seagulls cover band once?

Boy, I'm getting punchy, aren't I? That's what happens when you try to review 18 comics, even given my low standards for reviewing!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

X-Factor #212 by Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (penciler), Pat Davidson (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Joe Rice's favorite writer fires up a nice resolution to the "X-Factor in Vegas" story, as Hela's complete scheme is revealed, and it's rather silly, because it's so comic-booky. But that's what we're reading, right? So while it's a somewhat goofy resolution, it's always interesting to see how David will get his characters through them, and in this case, he has Darwin "evolve" into the god of death, which freaks the crap out of Hela. As much as I dislike Darwin as a character, it's a pretty neat idea, and presumably makes Darwin reconsider his place on the team (as next issue is the one in which he quits). Rahne's Asgardian wolf friend makes an appearance, too, so David certainly hasn't forgotten about that fun little subplot. As usual with a David comic, there's some funny parts, good characterization, and even if the actual plot is a bit weak (as it is here), at least he moves the overall story forward and brings new stuff in that will pay off later. That way, when he does have a strong plot (as he often does), he's set it up well.

Lupacchino continues to be a wonderful artist, and I do hope she either sticks with this comic or gets put on a book I want to read. She has, for lack of a better word, such an "Italian" style - giant, sexy women and square-jawed, brawny men - this just looks like a tremendous superhero comic, so that even if David's plot isn't too wonderful, it's a pleasure to check out Lupacchino's art. De Landro is back next issue, but Lupacchino returns in issue #214. I can deal with that. She's really a tremendous artist.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart by Alexandro Jodorowsky (writer), Mœbius (artist), Florence Breton (colorist), Daniel Cacouault (colorist), Zoran Janjetoz (colorist), Scarlet Smulkowski (colorist), Natacha Ruck (translator), and Ken Grobe (translator). $29.95, 192 pgs, FC, Humanoids.

Isn't it time someone reprinted every single Lieutenant Blueberry comic?

Mystery Society by Steve Niles (writer), Fiona Staples (artist), Robbie Robbins (letterer), Chris Mowry (letterer), and Shawn Lee (letterer). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, IDW.

Fiona Staples is really good. That is all.

Two-Step by Warren Ellis (writer), Amanda Conner (penciller), Jimmy Palmiotti (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Ken Lopez (letterer). $19.99, 70 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I'm still not sure how I missed this when it first came out. Back in '03-'04, I was very keen on reading the work of Mr. Ellis, so it puzzles me that I didn't see this. I mean, I bought Tokyo Storm Warning, for crying out loud!

Unexplored Worlds: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 2. $39.99, 239 pgs, FC, Fantagraphics.

I hear tell that this Ditko fella is not a bad artist. We'll see, won't we?

Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars by Beau Smith (writer), Enrique Villagran (artist), Manuel Vidal (artist), Kris Carter (colorist), and Adriano Honorato Lucas (colorist). $17.99, 113 pgs, FC, IDW.

I'm fairly certain that Beau Smith is so manly he will be able to flex a muscle and emasculate you from afar if you don't buy this book, but even if I'm wrong, why would you take the chance? It's a descendant of Wyatt Earp fighting Yetis! That's gold, Jerry, gold!

I would say something about the weirdness of the Phillies signing Cliff Lee, but all I would want to write is Suck It, Yankees!!!!! I do find it humorous that Yankees fans who, a week ago, were singing the praises of Mr. Lee, suddenly think he's a bad pitcher because he didn't sign with their team. You can hate that he didn't sign with you, but how did he suddenly suck because he's not a Yankee? I know this signing doesn't guarantee a World Series win for my beloved Phillies next year - luck plays a much bigger role in the playoffs than most people want to admit, as Cody Fucking Ross proved this past season - but the regular season should be amazing to watch. I know the Phillies might be in trouble in three years or so when they all get old and ridiculously expensive all at once, but if they have two World Series wins in the meantime, I won't care. And in the meantime, it should be fun watching teams try desperately to score 2 runs off their pitchers!

How about we check out The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle)? That's always fun!

1. "Δ" - Thin White Rope (1990) "Sometimes I make burns on my arm"12. "A Month of Sundays" - Don Henley (1984) "Folks these days just don't do nothin' simply for the love of it"23. "Innocent Party" - Fish (2003) "And everyone stared but did anyone care; no one remembers your name"4. "E-Pro" - Beck (2005) "Hammer my bones on the anvil of daylight"5. "The Musical Box" - Genesis (1971) "And the nurse will tell you lies of a kingdom beyond the skies"36. "Harder Now That It's Over" - Ryan Adams (2001) "I was trying to make you angry but I didn't feed you to the cops"47. "Fix You" - Coldplay (2005) "But if you never try you'll never know just what you're worth"8. "Cannonball" - Breeders (1993) "I'll be your whatever you want"9. "No Man's Land" - Billy Joel (1993) "Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice"510. "On the Floe" - Thin White Rope (1990) "I look to the sky when I'm tired of the sea; constellations are moving, they're useless to me"6

1 That's really the name of the song. It's a triangle, not a delta.2 I like this song, but it's kind of ridiculous. Henley sings of noble farmers who worked the land because they loved growing crops, which is utter bullshit, and ends with this lyric, which is also utter bullshit. The reason the Luddites became angry at mechanization is not because they did things for the love of it, but because machines were putting them out of business and they wanted to keep making money. I still enjoy listening to the song, but the propaganda in it makes me chuckle. And yes, it is propaganda, before you go nuts again. Read any economic history book ever and you'll realize that Henley's vision of a gentleman farmer is bullshit.3 As much as I like "Supper's Ready," "The Musical Box" might be my favorite Gabriel Genesis song (I try to separate the two eras because the band changed so much from 1978 on). I love the music and the creepy lyrics, and the ending is awesome. And check out Phil in that video!4 Ryan Adams is married to Mandy Moore. Good for him! She just makes it in under the "half his age plus eight years" rule.5 I don't quite get this song. I get that it's about the evils of suburbanization, but it sounds like Mr. Joel is yearning for a time when factories dominated the landscape. That's perfectly fine, although it doesn't seem to jive with him bemoaning the destruction of the environment that's also present in the song.6 Behold the magic of "shuffle"! I probably have four Thin White Rope songs on my iPod, and two show up very close to each other. Thin White Rope is a weird band. I picked up their 1990 album, Sack Full of Silver, completely on a whim, and it's pretty darned good. Still, they were pretty weird. They cover a Can song on the album, for crying out loud!

And what's that below? Why, it's totally random lyrics!

"On the floating, shapeless oceansI did all my best to smile'Til your singing eyes and fingersDrew me loving into your eyes.And you sang, 'Sail to me, sail to me;Let me enfold you.'"

Have a grand weekend, everyone. I should probably get started with that Christmas shopping, shouldn't I?

Marvel Just Teased the Return of Its Strongest. Hulk. Ever.

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