What I bought - 15 October 2008

After a few relatively small weeks, the books came in a flood this week. Will I be swept away? Plus: What's up with the back-up stories? They're like dandelions in this week's batch o' books!

Air #3 by G. Willow Wilson (writer), M. K. Perker (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Boy, that's a cool cover, especially when you consider that that dude (whatever his name is; I forget) has a scar on his face where the map is. That's nifty.

I'm still feeling this book out, and it appears we're done with the first story arc, as Blythe learns some answers about Narimar and the Narimari fight back against the Etesian interlopers. It's kind of anticlimactic, but Wilson is going for a long-term kind of thing with this book, and it doesn't appear it will be sectioned easily into chunks. I'm not even sure if we can call it an "arc," as it feels like an ending but can easily slip into the next story.

It's kind of a strange book, because it has an interesting premise, but Wilson is still finding her way, and that makes the actual page-to-page writing odd, as it's sometimes stilted and trying to simply push the plot along, and sometimes hits the right notes and feels more real. Part of the problem, it seems after three issues, is that Wilson wants it to be too mysterious, and therefore the characters talk around things and leave us a bit puzzled. Wilson does a nice job "explaining" Narimar, but it also feels a bit condensed, as she takes what would have been a complex political process and boils it down to simplicities. It's strange, because we really don't need Narimar explained right now - we get that it's a strange, unknown part of the map, and Wilson should leave it at that for the time being. The book is a lot like that - it feels rushed to explain things, but by the end, we really don't know much more than we started with. I know that doesn't make much sense, but it's hard to really explain. That's why I was an English major, don't you know - my mad skillz with da words!

I'm still curious about the book, and what Wilson is doing is intriguing, but I wonder about the pace of the book. It feels rushed, yet we don't know a lot more than when we started. It's kind of vertiginous, which isn't a bad feeling, but it might turn out to be bad eventually.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #3 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). Back-up story by Brian Clevinger (writer), Lauren Pettapiece (artist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $2.95, 26 pgs, FC, Red 5 Comics.

I worried about the first issue lacking the wit of the first series, but in the past two, Clevinger has rebounded, and the book is flying once again. In this issue, Robo and a British spy, the Sparrow, both jump a Nazi train to stop the mastermind behind the monsters of the first two issues. For a time, they think each other is a Nazi, and when they discover differently, their targets have escaped. The Nazi mad scientist somehow manages to disable Robo just as the train is heading for a blown-out bridge over a gorge. Yeah, that can't be good.

It's a fun and exciting issue, with the excellent Wegener art we've come to expect and a fun script by Clevinger. The back-up story is fun as well, as Jenkins, one of Robo's operatives, goes on vacation. Jenkins is quite awesome, and his vacation is just what the doctor ordered. It's four pages with more character development and awesome action in it than your standard DC comic. And it's just the back-up! Imagine how good the regular story is?

Seriously, people: Buy Atomic Robo! You have nothing to lose except your cynicism!

Captain Britain and MI 13 #6 by Paul Cornell (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jesse Delperdang (inker), Brian Reber (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

When last we left our British heroes, things weren't going well, as Blade had just met Spitfire, who's a vampire. Yeah, that wasn't a smart idea. But that's not important - Birmingham is in trouble! Our heroes head north (I guess - weren't they in London to start?) to help Captain Midlands, who sent out a distress call from that fair city (okay, I've never been to Birmingham, but come on - it's the garden spot of England, right?) and then disappeared. Captain Britain flies in and discovers that the apartment building in the center of the problem is giving everyone their heart's desire. He finds the source of the problem, and we learn what his heart's desire is. Given his history, it's not that hard to figure out what it is. Meanwhile, Wisdom, Dane, and Faiza rescue Captain Midlands while Blade hunts Spitfire. Lots of stuff going on!

Obviously, this is more action-packed than the last issue, which wrapped up the first story arc and set this one up. So Cornell throws us into the deep end, as we learn a bit of why everything is happening, but it's more just weird things happening and our team trying to deal with it. It's a fun roller coaster ride, aided nicely by the return of Kirk (not that there was anything wrong with Oliffe's fill-in issue last time out, but Kirk is really on his game on this book), who does a great job with everything, particularly the fight between Blade and Spitfire.

Cornell is obviously having a blast writing this, and it's a very good comic. It's just another example of a well done superhero comic that, because it doesn't star a name character, might not make a dent in the market. That would be a damned shame.

Challenger Deep #3 (of 4) by Andrew Cosby (story), Andy Schmidt (story/scripter), Chee (artist), Andrew Dalhouse (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Boom! seems committed to getting its books out on time these days, which is nice, because they're putting out some good products, and it's frustrating waiting for them (which is a problem with a few books below this, as we'll learn). Challenger Deep isn't a great comic by any means, but it's entertaining, and the fact that it's been coming out regularly means we don't get frustrated by long delays. It might be odd that the reaction to a comic can depend on how often it comes out, but it can. If it's a work of staggering genius, we're more willing to wait. If this third issue had come out six months after the second, people might not come back, because it's not a work of staggering genius. Because it comes out regularly, it's easier to stay with it and enjoy it on a basic level, which is: Is this entertaining?

Well, yes, it is. In our last installment, Eric Chase landed on the stranded sub with 17 minutes left until the nuclear warheads on board exploded. We get a bit more information about the death of his wife, although it's filtered through his guilt, so it might be a bit exaggerated. We also get more of the drama on board the sub, as the captain tries to get the bombs to explode so the "bad guys" (the Russians?) don't get them. Of course, he doesn't know that if the warheads blow, the entire world goes with it, but he's still nutty. Chase, naturally, turns off the countdown, but all he does is reset it, so when the shelf on which the sub sits shifts (say that three times fast!), he can't get back to the console to turn off the new countdown. Well, damn. So we still have the nukes ready to go off, the captain is still kooky, and Chase can't stop the explosion. Sounds like a good place to pause until the next issue!

As usual with these kinds of comics (and I'm not singling out comics, as it's the same in movies and television), we can see pretty much where it's going. The world is not going to blow up, Chase probably won't survive but save the world heroically, and if he does survive, the captain will come to his senses somehow and save the world heroically. Or go all Michael Biehn in The Abyss. That's a possibility! But it's a fun, exciting, enjoyable read, and that's nothing to be ashamed of, is it?

Charlatan Ball #4 by Joe Casey (writer), Andy Suriano (artist), Marc Letzmann (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.50, 18 pgs, FC, Image.

I'd like to say that Casey has finally made this a worthwhile comic, but he hasn't. Four issues in, and we're still seeing a lot of wackiness and some interesting plot devices hampered by a been-there-done-that feeling from the book (thanks to Gødland, which is as kooky but far superior) and a tone that doesn't seem to know whether this is a serious comic (well, as far as it can be) or a straight-up parody. The Kirby stylings of Suriano's art (which is certainly fun to look at) and the knowing winks at early Marvel history (the ridiculous Fifth Apparition, who emotes angstily as well as Norrin Radd ever did) seem to point toward a parody, but it's too gentle a parody for that and might just be homaging those bygone comics. It's that problem with tone that bugs me about the comic, because it never seems to cohere into something solid. It occasionally feels stream-of-consciousness, but then suddenly shifts so that it seems like Casey has a plan. It's just too jarring to be successful.

I usually give comics I don't like a story arc to impress me. Casey seems to eschew regular arcs, though, and that's one of the things that I like about him. I should probably just drop the book now, but I'm probably going to give it two more before I decide. Six issues should be long enough to make a book worthwhile, right? For now, Charlatan Ball is more of an interesting failure than a good comic book. We'll see where it goes over the next two issues.

Dynamo 5 #17 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). Back-up story by Brian Jones (writer), Neil Edwards (artist), Ian Sharman (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 26 pgs, FC, Image.

Asrar is pencilling a She-Hulk book that's coming out in a few months, so everyone who stubbornly refuses to buy superhero comics that don't star characters from their childhood can see what they're missing when they refuse to buy Dynamo 5. The nice thing about Asrar is he's getting better, which is great for the look of this comic but sucks because DC or Marvel would be foolish to leave him alone. Faerber's story in this issue, which looks at key moments in the life of Maddie and Captain Dynamo, works fine, but it's made more real by Asrar, who nails Maddie's pain whenever something bad happens and she thinks it's her fault. Maddie has always been a tough chick in this comic, and this trolling of her memories (Gage is inside her head) does a nice job showing how betrayed she feels and how she can't get over it. Faerber does a nice job with the dialogue, but Asrar really makes sure the characters express how they feel through their facial expressions. All superhero artists have to be able to handle kinetic scenes, and the big splash page in this book works well because Asrar skews the angles of our perception, making the scene almost vertiginous (man, using that word twice in one post - I gotta get a new vocabulary). But as it's taking place while Maddie is falling from a great height, that works well.

So if you want to see a great new artist but can't bring yourself to buy an Image comic because you must purchase everything from the Big Two, check out the She-Hulk book when it comes out. Maybe that will get you to buy this comic, because it deserves to be bought by a bigger audience. It even features a villain speaking in third person! What could be more Marvel than that?

Fables #77 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). Back-up story by Bill Willingham (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The surprising thing about this issue is that Willingham writes about the next 75 (or so) issues of Fables and his plans for it. I knew he was going to continue after the war, but I was surprised that he had that much in mind. That would be kind of neat, wouldn't it?

Oh, the comic. Yes. Well, it's the aftermath of the war, so things are still sorting themselves out. Boy Blue is still suffering from the wound he incurred during the war, factions are jockeying for position, Geppetto is scheming and failing, and Sinbad tells Rose Red about what happened to Prince Charming (after, you know, nailing her). Meanwhile, on a distant, recently-liberated world, two characters who call each other "Freddy" and "Mouse" but are, I guess, analogues of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser find a huge chained trunk in a deep treasure trove. As they obviously have never seen any horror movies, they believe there's a huge treasure inside the huge trunk instead of some horrible creature bound for the protection of the world, so they open it. Yeah, that's not a good idea.

It's another solid issue of Fables, with a back-up story that adds another thread to the post-war development, as Bigby sends Mogwai to his old jungle world to scout. There's a lot going on, and it's always an enjoyable read with good Buckingham art. Let's hope Willingham isn't funnin' with us and we get another six or seven years of this book. That would be keen.

Ghost Rider #28 by Jason Aaron (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Marvel.

We all know higher prices for DC and Marvel books are coming. It would be nice if they don't jump a dollar to $3.99, because there are perfectly good prices in between $2.99 and $3.99 ($3.15, anyone?). But they're coming. Marvel and DC are already trying this out with their "specials," which clock in at 32 pages (usually) and cost 4 bucks. I wonder if they'll try it with mini-series before moving the price to their regular books (as Marvel has with Secret Invasion). I'm not sure why we have to leap a dollar, but I don't set the prices for the Big Two, so I'm sure I don't understand all the myriad costs that go into producing our favorite funny books. What does annoy me is when they jack up the price on a comic with "extras," which usually means reprints. Fucking reprints. But at least those comics, as I pointed out, are "specials," so it's not like you're in the middle of a series and Marvel springs this on you. However, they're starting to do even that, and it's pissing me off. Case in point: the latest issue of Ghost Rider.

This is a regular issue of Ghost Rider. The main story is 22 pages long, so there's no extra story. There's no back-up story (I'll get to why it's 4 dollars in a second). It's not even the beginning or the ending of a story arc, even though it sets up the next big event in the life of Johnny Blaze and Danny Ketch nicely. Aaron has done a nice job balancing the insanity of a man possessed by the Spirit of Vengeance with the fact that this is, you know, a curse, and Huat, despite not being the perfect artist for this kind of book, is doing fine. And there's a nifty cover by Marc Silvestri! But it's 4 dollars. Pour quoi?

At the end of the book, Marvel chooses to explain the history of Danny Ketch as Ghost Rider. That means we get a text piece accompanied by early '90s Texeira art and mullets. Oh, yes, there are mullets. That's it. No reprint of the first issue of that particular Ghost Rider series. No reprints whatsover. So Marvel has gone from reprinting old issues with some updated coloring (which, even if you can find the reprints in cheaper format elsewhere, does often look nice) to giving us a text piece that anyone, if they care, can find on-line (it's true!). Plus, whenever you look at the long-term history of a character, it gets to be ridiculous: "Captain Punchalot suffered third-degree burns over most of his body, but recovered in time to fight Lord Irondick, during which battle his leg and arm were shattered and his spleen magically transported to another dimension. After a week in the hospital, Captain Punchalot's healing factor allowed him to recover enough to enter that dimension and rescue his spleen, but in the process he was driven irrevocably insane by the dimension's violently nauseating mauve coloring. Returning to Earth, he was nursed back to health by his long-suffering love, Lucy Skye Diamond, who helped him return to sanity by showing him that it wasn't his fault that Ishtar was such a box-office bomb. Rejuvenated, he grappled with Yegg-Dra-Zil, the tree-like god of Iceland, who was trying to lure unsuspecting tourists into the soothing hot springs near Reykjavik. He defeated that horror but was decapitated by Yegg at the last moment. Lucy, clutching his head, went to see ..." You see? Each of those issues in and of itself is awesome, but strung together, they begin to look silly. It's the same thing with most comic book characters. So there's no reason to point out the silliness of Danny Ketch's history. We already accept the silliness. So this becomes a regular 22-page comic for 4 dollars masquerading as something more special. And I, for one, don't appreciate it.

How little do I appreciate it? So much that I'm done with Ghost Rider. I'm sorry it has to be this way, because I like what Aaron is doing with the book. He'll be fine, though - I'm still buying Scalped, after all, and that counts for more than Ghost Rider. I'm extremely pissed about this, and I fear the moral stance I'll have to take when Marvel pulls this crap on books I've been buying for a long time or really like (I like GR, but I don't love it). I hope they don't do it on Moon Knight or Captain Britain and MI 13, for instance. That would suck.

Don't stand for this crap, people. We're better than this.

Grant Morrison's Doctor Who #1 by Grant "Duh! My Name's In the Title!" Morrison (writer), John Ridgway (artist, "Changes"), Bryan Hitch (artist, "Culture Shock!"), Annie Halfacree (letterer, "Changes"), and Zed (letterer, "Culture Shock!"). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, IDW.

Yes, I'm a Whorrison. I freely admit it. You may wonder why I bash the God of All Comics so much, but it's mainly because I know how transcendent his comics can be, so when he doesn't reach that plateau, I get miffed. Maybe that's unfair, but it's the way it is. I'm still a Whorrison. So when IDW decided to reprint a few stories about Doctor Who written by the GoAC, I had to get them, even though I have never had any interest whatsoever in the good doctor. I have no idea even of the basic premise of Doctor Who (I suppose I could look it up, but I don't care that much). He flies around in a telephone box, apparently, and must be blind from the way he dresses. But it's Morrison, for crying out loud!

The stories aren't bad. They show the Morrison wit that we all love (even T. - you can admit it, T.!) and some wacky Morrisonian ideas, but the brevity of the stories means the GoAC has to get through them quickly without lingering on anything cool. They're fun to read, and Ridgway's art in the main story is nice to look at, but it's more just appreciating the style of Morrison's writing than anything else. These comics aren't going to make anyone a fan of Morrison, but for those people who like him a lot, they're nice minor short stories. In the second one, we get an early look at Bryan Hitch's art, which looks nothing like the artist he has become. It's kind of fun to see.

I'm certainly not raving about this issue, but I enjoyed it. It's one of those things that is interesting from the point of view of a comic book historian, but it's nothing that will change your life or make you re-consider your lack of interest in Doctor Who. I should point out that in the back there's an advert for Legion of the Supernatural, which is now available. It's written by Rick Remender and drawn by ... Bret Blevins. Holy cow, it's a Bret Blevins sighting! Where has he been?

Hawaiian Dick #5 by B. Clay Moore (writer), Scott Chantler (artist), and Steven Griffin (colorist/letterer). Back-up story by B. Clay Moore (writer) and Shane White (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

I think I'm done with Hawaiian Dick, too. Well, in single issue format. I can wait the five years between completion of story arcs and the release of the trades, because if the creators aren't interested in getting the book out on time, why should I? Let's review:

Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #4: May 2008.Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #3: February 2008.Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #2: January 2008.Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #1: November 2007.Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #4: July 2006.Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #3: December 2005.Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #2: October (?) 2004.Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #1: September 2004.

I don't have the dates in front of me for the first mini-series, but I remember it took a while, too. That was three issues, meaning it's October 2008, the 12th issue of this series (which began as two mini-series and is now "ongoing"), and it's been coming out for at least five years. I know some books have taken longer to get out their issues, but this is still vexing. I have no idea why it takes so long, either. Is it Chantler? Is it Moore? Is it a combination of the two? It's annoying.

And what makes it even more frustrating is that these are not standalone issues, either. With All Star Superman, the three-year wait for 12 issues was mitigated slightly because each issue (except for the lousy Bizarro/Zibarro two-parter) was, if not necessarily a standalone issue, at least able to be read as a discrete unit. Yes, the 12 parts make up a greater whole, but each issue gave you something like a complete story to tide you over for the six months until the next issue came out. In Hawaiian Dick, Moore is not only using each issue as a individual chapter in a longer story, which means he's not interested in making each issue a single story (nothing wrong with that, actually), but he's using characters from the previous mini-series, so it goes even further back (again, there's nothing wrong with that, I'm just pointing out that you need a long memory with this comic, and I'm too old for that - I'm lucky if I remember my kids' names). And although it's a decent series, it's not good enough to make us wait.

Consider this issue, which is the wrap-up to the first arc. Nothing much happens. Byrd's solution to the ghost Zero that has menaced the Black Thunder air show was effected last issue, and in this issue, we simply get confirmation that it worked. The Black Thunder pilots get revenge on the dudes who put their leader in the hospital, but that was a minor subplot anyway. And something is going on with the mob lawyer, "The Thinker," but it appears that it will be the subject of the next story arc, so we only get a taste. For a final issue of an arc, this is remarkably dull. In the first two mini-series, Byrd actually had a mysteries to solve. They weren't perfectly constructed mysteries, but at least he was on a case. In these five issues, he's not. The ghost in the Zero is just that - a ghost, and it doesn't have any particular agenda. Ironically, the 8-page back-up story is much more interesting, even though Byrd is hardly in it. It's tightly plotted (well, it would have to be, right?) and wryly humorous and hits all the right notes and packs a nice punch at the end. So why did the main story meander all over the place and never find itself?

Moore is a good writer. This series proves it. The dead, lamented Expatriate proves it. He's not the greatest writer, but he does a good job (usually) with plots, and his writing is good enough in the service of those plots. And he's done a good job creating this world of Hawaii in the 1950s. I read at his blog that he's wondering how to continue the series, and I would much rather a new graphic novel or even a "novella" once a year instead of the interminable waits between issues, especially with the way he chooses to write them (as chapters of a book, as I pointed out above). I'm not sure if I've pre-ordered issue #6, which he claims will be out soon. If I did, I'm stuck. But I think I'll probably switch to trades on this book, because it's way too frustrating waiting this long for a story in increments.

Moon Knight #23 by Mike Benson (writer), Mark Texeira (artist), Javier Saltares (layouts), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

So my rant about Nightwing has made me infamous, I tells ya. Complete strangers are stopping me at the Safeway or at my daughter's swimming lessons and yelling at me, "Why do you hate Nightwing and, by extension, DC and, by extension, America?" When I try to defend myself by pointing out that Dan DiDio is, in fact, an exiled Bolivian dictator and that DC uses all its profits to finance the Hawaiian and Vermont independence movements, they scoff at the facts and claim that Sarah Palin sleeps on Nightwing sheets and that John McCain writes DC comics under the pen name "Geoff Johns." Then they bring up Moon Knight. "Hey, Osama," they say, "how come you hate Batman's sidekick's book, with its awesome depictions of crocodile eye-gouging, but love Moon Knight, with its skinned-face-wearing protagonist? What do you say about that, Che?" Well, let's look at this issue for answers.

Norman Osborn, frustrated by the Thunderbolts' poor showing against our wacky hero last issue, hires, well, Alex from A Clockwork Orange, apparently, who has a crescent moon on his forehead and a way to draw our hero out from his bolthole. Meanwhile, Marc Spector is taking drugs and asking Khonshu to forgive him. Khonshu, in the form of the defaced Bushman, shows up and rejects him. Then Alex (okay, his real name is Finn, but he's clearly modeled on Malcolm McDowell) and his gang descend on Frenchie and Rob's café with the intent of doing some gay-bashing. Which, you know, they do. Jean-Paul, who has not forgotten his kick-ass ways even though Huston swishified him, throws a knife in one of the dudes, head butts another, and takes a chunk out of the third's cheek ... with his own teeth. Jean-Paul is hard core! Of course, those Frenchies will eat anything, won't they? Later, after promising a cop he wouldn't take matters into his own hands, he does just that, but just when things look bad for our favorite Gallic dude (one of the gang members shoots him in the shoulder), Moon Knight shows up for some ass-kicking of his own! One bad dude gets two crescents in the arm, another gets one in the leg, but they've done their job, which is luring MK out into the open, where the Thunderbolts can pounce on him. But that's next issue!

So let's consider this. It's not quite as violent as Nightwing #149, although it has its moments. If we take Moon Knight as a whole, however, it's probably the most violent mainstream superhero book from DC and Marvel right now. As I've read every issue, I understand the context of what's going on, but because I read Nightwing with no context (and was scolded for it by, among others, Rags Morales), let's consider this with no context. Marc Spector is obviously insane - we get that from the pages in which he begs Khonshu to forgive him, even if Huston and Benson hadn't been laying the groundwork for two years now. That's somewhat interesting, because we rarely see a hero so far over the edge. The violence is sudden but not too shocking. A person picking this up for the first time might wonder what drives Jean-Paul to turn cannibal, and they'd have a point, I guess. However, even in this issue, where it's hardly mentioned, the relationship of Jean-Paul and Rob (one of the best and, sadly, only homosexual relationships in mainstream comics) comes through nicely. Frenchie is defending the man he loves, and that's why he's so violent. Texeira does a wonderful job showing the horror in Rob's eyes as he lies on the floor, possibly paralyzed, and is forced to watch Jean-Paul go all prehistoric. A page later, we see the deflation of Jean-Paul as he realizes Rob is seriously hurt. Then, lo and behold, there's a scene in a hospital. Yes, instead of ignoring the effects of violence, Benson shows what happens to somebody when they suffer such an attack. Marlene comes to the hospital to see Jean-Paul, and in a few panels, we see how close these two are and the pain they've been through. When Jean-Paul returns home, we understand quickly how much he loves Rob and what this attack has done to him. Again, Benson doesn't shy away from showing how violence destroys lives, whether you're dishing it out or taking it. When Frenchie seeks revenge, he's not Superman. He gets his licks in, but he also gets shot. Almost every panel of the book deals with violence and its aftermath and how no one escapes its effects. Unlike Nightwing #149, which revels in the violence because it's "just a dream," when Moon Knight commits horrible acts, the consequences linger. Even if you don't get that from this issue (if we take it out of context), the violence in this issue is more realistic in that nobody gets away unscathed.

That's what makes this such a good comic, and one of the most mature that Marvel and DC are publishing right now. Sure, it's kind of trashy pulp fiction. But like Criminal, which gets lauded while this doesn't, Moon Knight is brave enough to show real violence and real effects. People are hurt in this book, and it doesn't go away in between issues. This is a gutsy comic for Marvel to publish, and I hope the sales warrant a continuation for a long time. It really is a fascinating book. You can trust me. Even if I hate America.

Rasl #3 by Jeff Smith (writer/artist). $3.50, 32 pgs, BW, Cartoon Books.

Rasl is another book I think I'm done with, at least for single issues. Three issues in, it's not bad, but it's moving so glacially, not only within each issue but in the time between each issue (#4 is shipping in March, for instance) that it seems prudent to simply wait for the trade. It just feels like it will read much better at one time, even if that time is a decade from now.

Smith's art is a nice as ever, and the story does move along, but nothing too momentous happens. We do get a brief flashback to Rob's life before he became "Rasl," and although I can't believe that Maya would make out with him in front of her husband, it's nice to see a bit of the backstory of the main character. It's just that, in 32 pages, it feels like we should learn more. We get more this issue than we've gotten in the first two, which is nice, but the tidbits we get in each issue aren't enough.

There's a lot to like about Rasl. It's just not working for me in individual issues. It's a shame that Smith has to release them as single issues instead of doing the whole thing at once and releasing it that way. Oh well.

Uncanny X-Men #503 by Matt Fraction (writer), Ed Brubaker (writer), Greg Land (artist), Jay Leisten (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I wrote this last month, and I'll write it again: I want so much to like this comic. I yearn to like this comic. But I don't. And it makes me sad.

I will say that I like the cover. Not really the drawing, because it's typical Land faux-porn, but the design. Then we get into the comic itself, and I'm not sure why everyone looks alike. Why? All the women look the same, and even most of the men. Now, Greg Land can copy any celebrity he wants to - that's cool. But doesn't he have access to a myriad facial choices? I mean, I know everyone he swipes from is an air-brushed model, but Tyra Banks looks a lot different from Pamela Anderson, doesn't she? Why does he use the same pictures for different characters? The annoying identifiers for the characters are necessary, because I had no idea that was Cannonball in the first scene. It looks, I swear, like Warren and Scott in the previous few issues. Why doesn't he "cast" Sam in his mind, go find pictures of, I don't know, Seth Green, and trace him for Sam? Then he could "cast" different people for Warren and Scott. I loathe what he's doing, but at least he could do it well. And hey! check it out! Let's put Dani in feathered earrings, because she's Native American! Isn't that cool? Sheesh.

There are people who comment here who attest that this book is better than it's been in years. Well, that's fine, although I can't believe they're talking about the art. But let's say they're just talking about the writing. As I do with this book every month, I'm going to nitpick this book a lot more than I do other books. It's partly because Frubaker is such a presence in the comic, so the writing style is more, well, stylistic than in other comics, and partly because of the things that just jar with me. Plus, I know tons of people read this, so I can speak confidently about certain things on a page and know a lot of people will be able to follow along. (Oh, and I guess I'm going to SPOIL the ending, so be aware before you read on.)

First, Sam. Is he really that much of an idiot? I suppose I can let that go. It's a bit weird, but whatever. Then we get to Empath escaping the X-Men. I do NOT like how Brubaction is writing Nightcrawler. It was strange last issue, and then we get him calling Logan "liebchen." "Liebchen" means "sweetheart," by the way. I don't know if Frubaker is going to have Kurt come out in a few issues, and I wouldn't care one way or the other, but calling Logan "sweetheart" just seems ... off, somehow. It's just a weird relationship the two of them have recently. I've always liked Logan and Kurt being friends, but that word was just bizarre. The sex thing with "Emma" (it's really Madelyne, right?) and Scott is fine, too, given the way Brubaction has been playing up the libidos of our heroes. Then we get Pixie fighting Empath. I never like it when a bad guy is suddenly more powerful than ever and our heroes can't take him down and, in this case, even mention how powerful he is, when suddenly, a character who has never shown to be this powerful kicks the crap out of him. Pixie can take him down when the entire group of X-Men can't? Yeah, I don't buy it. And then there's Madelyne, who shows up at the end. Maddie Pryor, one of the worst-treated of Claremont's creations. I am not filled with hope or even interest in her return. The only thing that would make it worthwhile is if everyone called Scott a total dick for the way he treated her. We'll see.

This is less egregious an issue than the previous three, but it's still weaker than the Brubaker/Fraction collaboration in Iron Fist. It doesn't crackle with energy like that book did. It feels like the writers are forcing it, and it hasn't come together yet. This is less annoying than the issues that came before it, but all it does is achieve mediocrity. It has a long way to go before it becomes something special. This issue gives me a tiny glimmer of hope, but it doesn't anger me as much as the last few. I'm still sticking with this through the first Dodson arc, so we'll see then what I think. Man, I wish this was better.

Zorro #8 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

In the final issue of the Origin Story of Zorro, we finally get what we should have gotten throughout, which is complete swashbuckling action. Diego is ready to kick ass and take names, and he rescues priests and carves initials on bad guy's faces and effects classic escapes. Isn't that why we want to read Zorro? I know it's why I want to!

That's not to say the first seven issues haven't been good. I just wish that Wagner had started with more action and pared this down to four issues and maybe waited until later to tell the origin. This is by far the most fun issue yet, right down to Bernardo helping out as best he can during the escape. It's exciting, it looks great (Francavilla is taking an arc off, but Dynamite promises he'll be back, and I hope he will), and it does almost as good a job establishing who Zorro is and what he stands for as the previous seven issues of origin did. I imagine now that Wagner has laid the foundation for the character, we'll get to more fun issues like this one.

I would certainly recommend the trade if you've been waiting, because I imagine it will read better in one sitting, but it definitely picks up in the final chapter. I've been waiting, but this is the kind of book I was looking for. I'm glad it showed up!

Wow, that's a ton of comics. Lots of cool stuff, too. Even good superhero books! Who woulda thunk it? Plus, I got this by some snooty guy who calls himself "Timothy." Who the hell does he think he is, taking on airs like that? His damned book better be good!

Let's check out some totally random lyrics! What a treat!

"I've listened to preachersI've listened to foolsI've watched all the dropoutsWho make their own rulesOne person conditioned to rule and controlThe media sells it and you have the role"

Powerful stuff, there. Think wild guitar solo!

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