What I bought - 16 January 2013

If so, that impression was in his mind on that last day of 1807 when he was forty and played Surrey to Burr's Wolsey, exclaiming to the ravening crowd that Burr had "no religious principles, and little, if any sense of reverence to a moral Governor of the Universe." How could even an Adams purport to know such a thing? John Quincy Adams's theologically trained father would have been aware that one makes a statement about the state of another person's soul at great peril to one's own. (Roger Kennedy, from Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson)

The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 (of 4) by Francesco Francavilla (writer/artist/colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), and Jim Gibbons (editor). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Francavilla's pulp hero leaves the pages of Dark Horse Presents and gets his own mini-series, and it's pretty cool. Francavilla doesn't give us too astonishing of a story, but it's pretty solid. The Black Beetle is about to bust two mob bosses who happen to be meeting each other, but the bar in which they're meeting explodes, killing everyone inside. The Beetle tracks down one cousin who wasn't there, but that dude turned himself into the cops and is sitting in prison because he's apparently scared out of his mind of whoever did it. The Beetle finds him, but things don't go well, and the issue ends with an interesting-looking villain and the Beetle trapped by the cops. Because a hero must always find himself trapped by the cops at some point!

The story does zip along quite nicely, but it's Francavilla's artwork that is the big selling point. It's superb, of course. Francavilla has been good for years, but he's done two things in the past few years that has improved his art a lot. First, he started coloring his own work, and he's a brilliant colorist. Second, he's been using thicker lines and heavier inks, giving his artwork a bit more weight. Both of these things assist him with the pulpy comics that he obviously loves. And he pulls out all the stops on this one. On pages 2 and 3, we get a double-page spread packed with information about the two crime bosses and their operations. Then we get a big page seen through the eyes of the Beetle, which is also very cool. Later he uses a prison wall as a panel border, which is pretty clever. As usual with Francavilla's colors, there are lots of reds, oranges, yellows, and blues, creating a lurid, steamy, pulpy vibe. The book is absolutely beautiful, and it's a pleasure to linger on the pages.

Sure, The Black Beetle is a solid superhero pulp story. And I love the mysterious super-villain's costume. But damn, that art is excellent. You know it's true!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

This page looks simple, but let's consider it. Francavilla moves our eye effortlessly over the panels, from the circular one in the upper left, around the long, slanted ones, down to the larger one on the bottom. Notice, too, how two different things on this page are reminiscent of beetles. The obvious allusion is the Beetle's costume, the cape of which flares out like wings, but the panel layout, too, gives an impression of beetle's wings extending from a small body - the circular panel in the corner. It's a marvelously designed page, and Francavilla does this more often than not, which is nice.

Crawling Sky #1 (of 5) by Joe R. Lansdale (writer), Keith Lansdale (writer), and Brian Denham (artist). $3.99, 26 pgs, BW, Antarctic Press.

I first saw Brian Denham's artwork in 2005, maybe? and thought he deserved to be a bigger star, but he never really has made the leap. Either he's happy doing his own thing or the right people don't share my opinion, but I do try to keep an eye out for his artwork, and when he works with someone who can write a horror Western like Joe R. Lansdale (although this is based on a Lansdale story, so maybe his son wrote the actual script for this comic), I take some notice. Lansdale's comics are hit-or-miss for me, but I like to check them out, at least, because hope springs eternal! So I bought a comic from Antarctic Press. Don't look at me like that! Next I'll be buying trades of Gold Digger, and then all hope is lost!

As it's a first chapter, the Lansdales keep things mysterious. There's a dude and chick in a cabin who think something is out in the woods, but before we can find out anything, we shift to later, as a reverend rides into the town of Wood Tick. Charming name, that. He sees the same guy from the beginning - who's named Norville - in stocks, and the sheriff tells the reverend it's because Norville was telling stories about a "haint" that ran off with his wife. A "haint" is a ghost, in case you're wondering. The reverend frees Norville, which the sheriff allows as long as the reverend takes Norville with him. Then Norville tells the story of how he ended up in the woods, how he "married" Sissy - they're not married official-like, but they decided to live as a married couple - and that something terrible has happened to Sissy and now she's gone. The reverend, of course, believes him and decides to help him find Sissy's body. He also says that he has "business at the cabin," which implies he knows more about Norville than Norville knows (Norville ain't too bright), so I'm sure that will come up again. It's a solid horror story beginning, in other words.

Denham's art is quite good, as I figured it would be. The heads of his characters seem just a tiny bit large for their bodies, but that's a small complaint. He does a nice job giving Wood Tick and its surroundings plenty of good details, and his shading of the book is tremendous. The pages where Norville is telling his story flow nicely, as Denham uses fewer solid border panels and just lets one scene move into another, kind of like memory. The few pages where Norville finds Sissy and the haint are well done, too, as Denham doesn't show anything too awful, leaving that up to our imaginations, and he gives the pages a fierce, kinetic energy. Most people, perhaps, know Denham from Iron Man: Hypervelocity, the mini-series he did six years ago, and his art has matured nicely, as it's not as slick as that was (possibly because it's not in color) and it feels more organic. It's nice work.

Crawling Sky is an interesting beginning, and Joe Lansdale always makes his comics interesting, even if they're not always totally successful. If you see this lying around, you might want to give it a look. Don't give all your money to Marvel and DC!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

The shading in the first panel is nice, as it shows both the darkness of pre-electrical days and the shadow that is falling across Norville and Sissy's life. Denham uses traditional panels here, but he makes the gutters black so that it feels like the page flows a bit better. We get a fairly stereotypical shot in Panel 3, as it implies that something in the woods is watching Norville, and then the payoff of the dead raccoon is a good, horrific drawing. It's a good build of tension by Denham.

Elephantmen #45 ("Sleeping Partners Part Four: Earthly Desires Are Enlightenment") by Richard Starkings (writer), Axel Medellin (artist), and Tula Lotay (artist). $3.99, 28 pgs, FC, Image.

Starkings, as he does, wraps some things up but keeps a bunch of other balls in the air, and so while technically this is the final issue of an arc, there's still plenty going on that provides fodder for more issues. Ebony gives us a bit of a recap of some earlier events, which allows Starkings to retell the story of Buddha's birth, which is very nicely illustrated by Lotay (who's a pretty good artist; hopefully she'll be doing more work in the near future). Then we check back in with Hip, who last issue saw his girlfriend, Miki, kissing some dude. Hip freaks out, and then has a good conversation with Miki - well, it's not good because they hash everything out, but it's good because Starkings writes it very well, as if two people who care about each other but who have some issues are actually speaking. Hip says horrible things to Miki, but Miki has biting comebacks for them, and although it's only two pages long, it's very well done. Finally, Ebony says the wrong thing to Vanity. Oh dear. That can't be good.

Despite some of the action early on, it's a slower issue, as Starkings finishes (for now) examining some of the relationships in the book. I imagine he'll always be checking in on them, but this arc was more about the way the hybrids react to the women in their lives and how society reacts to that, and it's been a solid arc. The final page promises some action in the future, but who knows what's coming next issue - Shaky Kane is back to draw it, so I'm sure it will be quite bizarre.

The art, naturally, is good. Lotay has a dreamlike quality to her pencils, so the gauzy story of Siddhartha's mother having a vision of a white elephant feels more mystical, and the abundance of pink in the coloring helps with the soothing tone of the story. Medellin, meanwhile, continues to do a really nice job with both the line work and the coloring. He adds a nice sheen of soft neon-like coloring to some of the scenes, making them glow well and stand in contrast to the brutal fighting earlier in the issue, and at one point we get this full-page panel:

In case you're wondering, that is a cartoon representation of famed commented BeccaBlast, who let me know this was coming a few weeks ago. I will leave it to her or Medellin to say how true-to-life that drawing is, but it's pretty cool that she got to show up in a comic!

Anyway, this continues to be a fascinating and heartfelt comic book. Starkings continues to surprise with the routes the story goes, and Medellin always does a fine job with the artwork (and the guest artists are always good, too). Just another fine issue of Elephantmen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Hip goes crazy on this page because he thinks Miki has cheated on him (she didn't), and Medellin goes all out. In the first panel, he's punching an advertisement with Sahara on it that has been vandalized by people who don't like that she's having sex with Obadiah. He smashes that, but it's not enough, so he picks up a dumpster and chucks it against the wall. Panel 4 gives us a nice look at how strong his grip is, and Panel 5 smashes up through the line of panels above it, giving the page a much more chaotic look to it. The biggest problem is the last panel, as the sound effect over it and the thinness of the actual panel make it more difficult to see what Hip is doing. We know, because what else is he going to do with the dumpster, but it feels like the throwing of the dumpster should be more dramatic.

Saga #9 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist), and Fonografiks (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

I'm really having problems with Saga, because I don't want to drop it, but it's still not clicking with me. I'm kind of bummed out about this - I like Vaughan, I really like Staples, and the book keeps feeling like it should be better than it is. Why isn't it?

Take this issue. I'll SPOIL a bit for you - The Stalk isn't back from the dead. Vaughan spends the first five pages on ... a dream sequence. Why did that rub me the wrong way? Beats me, but it just feels like a waste of time. I don't mind dreams in my fiction, certainly, but this just felt ... off. It's tough to explain, but in genre fiction, everything means something. Character development is often done in the service of the story, and nothing should be wasted. You have Ms. Staples on art, and you have to give her months off so that she can draw every page of this series (a good choice, I think), and you waste five pages. What is the reason for the dream? It doesn't forward the story at all. It doesn't tell us anything new about the characters. It doesn't tell us that The Will wants to get revenge for her death, which we already knew anyway. It's there, I think, so readers can say, "Oh, hell yeah, The Stalk is motherfucking awesome!" Yes, but she's dead. Let's move on.

The rest of the issue is decent, although it's still somewhat vexing. The Will gets "Slave Girl" (are we really calling her that?) away from her owners, and it turns out she's pretty handy as a tracker. Meanwhile, The Will and Gwendolyn bicker a lot, and ... well, it's typical of the dialogue that Vaughan writes occasionally - he can write superb dialogue, but he can also write stuff that wants to be clever but isn't, and that's what we get a lot of in this issue. Then we get aliens wearing suits, which remains a bee in my bonnet regarding this book - the familiar elements are kind of dumb. It's like Vaughan and Staples put a TON of thought into about half the book, and for the other half they said "Fuck it, let's just chuck stuff in there" and left it at that. Some of Saga is so freakin' good that the bad stuff really stands out. I mean, if this were a mediocre superhero comic written by ... let's say Fabian Nicieza and drawn by ... let's say Tom Raney, then the really bad stuff wouldn't stand out too much because the good parts wouldn't really be that good. But when I'm reading Saga, some pages or scenes or even panels make me think this is a work of staggering genius, and then I read stuff like the wasted first five pages or the star-nosed moles wearing cheap suits and I think, "What the hell are those guys thinking?" It's a ridiculously weird experience reading Saga, because the quality veers so quickly all over the place. This is one of those issues that, in the grand scheme of things, works okay, because it moves the plot along and gives us some insight into the characters, but discrete parts of it are just lousy. It's really bizarre.

So ... yeah. This is one of the reasons why Saga didn't make my "Best Comics" list. You might wonder why I'm still buying it, and that's fair enough. Its leash is getting shorter, because more and more, I'm convinced that it's not going to change - some issues or parts of issues will be brilliant, and some will be really wrong-headed. I'm sure there will be another break coming up, and maybe I'll have to reassess at the point. But I'll keep buying it for now because, despite everything, there is some very interesting stuff going on in the book, and I still have hope. I HAVE HOPE!!!!! But it's getting low, I'll admit.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Really nice work from Staples here. Gwendolyn's shift from Panel 2 to 3 is impressive, as we can see her thinking if she wants to cross a line and then decides to go for it. The lightning bolt is well done, with Staples adding a nice red glow to it, which adds to its power, and the final panel is a good reaction shot, as both Slave Girl (really?) and Lying Cat are impressed with Gwendolyn's power. I might not like the fact that the bad guy is wearing a suit, but Staples still nails the page.

Savage Wolverine #1 ("Savage Part 1") by Frank Cho (writer/artist), Jason Keith (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), Jennifer M. Smith (assistant editor), Jeanine Schaefer (editor), and Nick Lowe (group editor). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel NOW!

Good old Rich Johnston reported that Frank Cho's cover for Savage Wolverine was "censored" because the original showed ass crack on Shanna. I mean, really. Why the fucking fuck does Cho do this? He knows Marvel isn't going to let him show anything even remotely close to nudity on their covers, yet he keeps drawing them and Marvel keeps covering them up. I mean, given what goes on inside this comic (see below), perhaps Cho is just having fun with Marvel - "Hey, I decapitate a person inside, can I show some ass crack on the cover?" - but to think that this is surprising is just dumb. I mean, if Frank Cho wants to do Naked Jungle Girls, he can presumably do it on his own. Or is it just that important for the nekkid chick to be Shanna?

Anyway, Savage Wolverine. Yep, it's a comic written and drawn by Frank Cho, all right. What that means is that it takes place in the Savage Land, and Shanna has to be in it, and Wolverine slices and dices some natives. It's entertaining enough, but like some of the Marvel NOW! books, it doesn't really have legs, does it? I mean, so many of these books seem to be six-issue mini-series masquerading as ongoing series, but Marvel doesn't want to nut up and call them that. I mean, how long is Cho even going to be on the book? And what happens at the end of this arc? Does the new writer come up with another convoluted reason for Logan to show up in the Savage Land? This time it's just a bright light that seems to transport him there, and he, being a fine superhero-type person, doesn't question it at all. The mystery is fine - Shanna and a S.H.I.E.L.D. team were mapping out a section of the Savage Land (answering the burning question of whether S.H.I.E.L.D. employs geological surveyors, because of course they fucking do!) when their ship crashed thanks to some weird "dampening field" around a big, creepy mountain. That was eight months ago, and now Shanna is the only person left alive (hilariously, in a flashback we see that, yes, the black guy dies first). The natives aren't too happy with her, and they're trying to kill her, and of course, the dinosaurs are trying to kill her too. Wolverine kills a dinosaur, kills some natives, and weirdly saves Shanna from a pterosaur even though he knows that she's a really capable killer and he's been a superhero for centuries, and superheroes should trust each other, shouldn't they? It's perfectly entertaining for pulpy jungle action fiction, and Shanna's teeny-tiny fur bikini somehow manages to stay on her giant breasts, but Cho does draw large women well, and that's really the only reason anyone is going to buy Savage Wolverine, right? I mean, there's no reason to read yet another Wolverine comic, and Wolverine in the Savage Land has even been done to death, so really, we're all here to check out Shanna in a tiny bikini. So yeah, Cho delivers that. It's awfully nice of him!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Despite the lack of ass crack, it's nice that Marvel allowed Cho to draw a beheading AND use red for the blood rather than black, which they have often thought makes it far less icky. Cho does some interesting things with the page designs in this book, not necessarily sticking to standard grids, and he uses the white areas well so that the panels don't get cluttered with words. Wolverine might go a bit overboard with the internal narration, but it's nice that Cho doesn't give him a lot of dialogue, even when he meets the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on the page following this one. It's also pretty cool that Keith colors the background red - it makes Wolverine's "berserker" rage feel more visceral.

X-Factor #250 ("Hell on Earth War Part One") by Peter David (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), Jennifer M. Smith (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (editor), and Nick Lowe (group editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Does Marvel even do wrap-around covers any more? Here's David Yardin's cover for the first two issues of this arc, which should be a wrap-around cover but which Marvel is doing as "interlocking" covers for X-Factor #250 and #251. Wrap-around covers for big event comics are frickin' cool. Thank Yahweh that Marvel puts that cool-ass Brooklyn Nets advert on the back of this issue. I mean, I know that the only important people in the U.S. live east of the Hudson River, so that advertisement is really, REALLY important, but Jeez-o-Pete, Marvel, spring for a fucking wrap-around cover every once in a while!

Anyway, let's return to those marvelous days of 1994, when Peter David was still firmly ensconced at The Incredible Hulk writing desk and had been for some time and would be for some time still. He married off Rick and Marlo, and in issue #418, we got the wedding. Mephisto claims that he needs "soldiers for the coming storm," and he's particularly interested in Mr. Banner. Then he disappears. A few years later, David was finally forced off the book (he didn't want to write the stories that Marvel editorial wanted him to write), and in his final issue, #467, Rick Jones mentions the "Hell on Earth War." But that was ten-years-in-the-future Rick, and Marvel and DC are notorious about showing things in the future and then summarily ignoring them. David went off and wrote other books. Then he returned to X-Factor and decided to write 100 issues of that - issue #250 is the 100th - and in this issue, he shows us what this "Hell on Earth War" is all about. Mephisto is there, as are several other Marvel "devils," and they're going to have a war. All clear? I can't believe that David had this all planned out in 1998, when he wrote Incredible Hulk #467, because the story revolves around Rahne's kid, and he's only been alive for a few years, but still - it's nice that David is able to revisit a throwaway line in his last issue of Incredible Hulk. According to Rick, "Thunderbolt" died in the Hell on Earth War. This Thunderbolt was in the Pantheon, and we've already seen in X-Factor that the Pantheon is still around, so maybe they'll show up in this arc. Why not, right?

This is a set-up issue, as Tier, Rahne's son, is still running from Darwin, so Rahne takes him to X-Factor, but then Jezebel, Mephisto's daughter, arrives and destroys their headquarters. She's using Guido as muscle, so he's back. She and all the other evil dudes want to kill Tier. David has explained why no one likes the kid, but it's really not clear yet - sure, he's a powerful demi-god who might bring on the apocalypse, but we've seen a lot of those kinds of characters in comics before, and I hope there's something else about Tier that makes him so special. We'll see.

As usual, David adds a lot of nice humor to the story, and Kirk is a solid superhero artist, so the book looks fine. There is, not surprisingly, a lot going on in X-Factor, and it's always fun to read. Who knows what will happen now that David finally gets to write this sucker?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf page:

Special effects - the bane of modern comics? Kirk does a nice job with the page, showing the headlights of the taxi in Panel 2 as it approaches Darwin (Rahne is driving, so this isn't an accident) and giving Darwin some gruesome injuries in Panel 3. But of course, we can't have a panel where something is going fast without blurring the car to make it look "faster" - that would be crazy! Still, this is the world we live in, so there you go.

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey by Camaren Subhiyah (writer) and Kyle Hilton (artist). $14.99, 126 pgs, BW, Andrews McMeel Publishing.

I have never watched Downton Abbey, but this is a parody of it, as the household staff at Devonton Abbey are really secret agents, and as this takes place in 1914, they're preparing for war! I imagine it will work fine if you've never seen the show ... or at least I hope so!

The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts by Paul Pope (writer/artist), Jamie Grant (colorist), Dominic Regan (colorist), Michael Neno (letterer), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $29.99, 286 pgs, FC, Image.

Mid- to late-Nineties Paul Pope stuff in a gorgeous hardcover? Yeah, I'll take that!


I don't have much else to say this week, especially because I'm doing a link post on Sundays these days (or I'm trying to; last week was my first one, and I certainly hope to do one every week), but I will say that I too watched the episode of The Big Bang Theory last week, a show which I haven't watched since the pilot, I think. But I saw that people were getting their panties in a twist about it, so I figured I'd check it out. I tend not to like "traditional" sitcoms too much anymore - you know, three-camera shows with laugh tracks - and I'm not even too big a fan of single-camera comedies, although they're usually better than the traditional kind. If last week's episode was indicative of the show, then I'm better off not watching - it certainly wasn't offensive, but it was only mildly amusing in places and, honestly, why would I watch something where I can see 95% of the jokes from a mile off? I was confused about why people were getting all bent out of shape about it - the comic shop proprietor seemed like a "good" stereotype, in that he didn't treat the women with disrespect and tried to find something that they might like (before, of course, they opted for Thor because "he's hot"), and even the other customers, who were more stereotypical, were just kind of goofy - I mean, it's not like they had any lines. As for the argument about Thor's hammer, I think that's perfectly plausible, and I think it does a good job of showing why "smart" people like the four male characters would read comics - it really is fun to argue minutiae, and comics are, at their best, addictive. The guys' story arc was dumber, but not terribly offensive either. Basically, The Big Bang Theory is a fairly typical sitcom - not really funny, not really good, but kind of like comfort food. I agree with Sonia even though I don't watch that show specifically - there's nothing wrong with watching stuff you know is "bad" - we all do it, but some people really can't accept that something they like is "bad," so they get really angry when people pick on it. Who cares, really? It's your life. I don't watch The Big Bang Theory, but I watch plenty of other stuff that I know is "bad." This particular show is just not for me, no matter how cute Kaley Cuoco is.

Man, I do go on, don't I? Let's dig into the Ten Most Recent Songs on My iPod (Which Is Always on Shuffle):

1. "Take it Off" - Donnas (2002) "Need your love 1,2,3 - stop starin' at my D cup"2. "The Musical Box" - Genesis (1971) "All your hearts now seem so far from me ... It hardly seems to matter now"3. "You're Not Drinking Enough" - Don Henley (1984) "Well, the perfume she wore you can buy down at the Five & Dime, but on some other woman it don't smell the same in your mind"4. "Obvious" - Jane's Addiction (1990) "I worked my fingers to the bone and I won't let you stop me going up"5. "Big as Life" - Hamell on Trial (1996) "I'm all alone but I got my guitar ... let's think about some stuff we can smash"6. "Mountains of Burma" - Midnight Oil (1990) "Pack your bags full of guns and ammunition, bills fall due for the industrial revolution" 7. "Evermore" - Neil Diamond (2005) "Where's the truth we took for granted? walking out's not how we planned it"8. "One Country" - Midnight Oil (1990) "Who hands out equal rights? Who starts and ends that fight?"9. "Incubus" - Marillion (1984) "You who I let bathe in the spotlight's glare, you who wiped me from your memory like a greasepaint mask" 10. "Sacrifice" - Liquid Jesus (1991) "I get pinned down, I don't know how to choose"

No beard update this week. I'll check in on it periodically, but not this week. It's going well, although it's still itchy. I really have to start taking care of it!

Have a nice day, everyone. I hope life is treating you well. After some cold weather here in Hell (for a few days, it barely got above 50 F, which for Arizona is astonishing), today we were back in the 70s. So maybe the chill is gone, which means that the news won't be able to misspell things for another eleven months or so:


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