What I bought - 16 July 2008

This week: two Joe Casey books, two Jason Aaron books (okay, I didn't read one, but still), two of the best Marvel books right now, two references to a blind and deaf pioneer, and we examine in-house ads in depth! You get it all, right below the fold! And, as an added bonus: I write something I probably shouldn't. So what else is new?

Charlatan Ball #2 by Joe Casey (writer), Andy Suriano (artist), Marc Letzmann (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.50, 18 pgs, FC, Image.

I wasn't completely enthused by the first issue of this book, but I loved the art and Casey keeps me around, because he's that good. The second issue, however, elicits the same response from me: It's interesting, with great art, but doesn't pack the same emotional punch as Casey's other comic does. It's kind of like Gødland's younger brother - it jumps around and cries for attention and often does some good things, but when the older brother is dating the head cheerleader and leading the football team to the state championship and getting 1590 on the SATs, the parents can't help but love the older brother more! It's just simple math, people!

There's a lot of interesting things in this book, as Chuck and his rabbit, Caesar, enter the strange world where the series is set and try to find their footing. It's all in goofy fun until the Dancing Swami Revue raises the Hellion Keller, the Blind Destructor, who begins destroying the city. It is opposed by Donnarama, a giant Silver Age deity-type woman, who dishes out some punishment. There's a lot of odd things going on, and Suriano does a marvelous job with the insanity, but there's just something missing. Casey has found a nice voice for these kinds of manic books he's writing these days, but his characters aren't as clearly delineated in this as they are in Gødland, so their mannerisms tend to blur. Everyone does not talk the same in Gødland, despite the arch dialogue in the book. So far in this comic, everyone does talk the same way, and that makes it sound much more effected.

I'm willing to give it a few issues, however, because Casey might find his footing and Suriano's art is a joy to look at. It's not clicking right now, however, and that's too bad. Maybe next issue will be the one!

Checkmate #28 by Bruce Jones (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I know I said I would wait until the end of Bruce Jones' first arc to decide if I was keeping up with Checkmate, but it's hard. The promise of the first issue was sullied by the second, and unfortunately, the third one continues down that dark path. It's not that it's awful - Jones doesn't do anything too egregious in telling the story, and Garcia's art, as it's been for the previous two issues, is very nice - it just doesn't do anything for me. It's an adventure book, with monsters attacking key cities around the world and Checkmate trying to stop it. Where are the superheroes? In Rucka's Checkmate, there were reasons superheroes didn't get involved (except on the final arc). When you have a world-destroying threat like this, you need to at least pay lip service to why Checkmate is the only organization that can fight it. It stretches the suspension of disbelief we take into these books. Plus, the fight between Chimera and the giant porcupine monster, while drawn well, doesn't have as much verve as it should. It's as if Jones just decided he wanted to write a giant porcupine monster fight, and by God, he was going to do it! It doesn't feel terribly consequential, even though it should.

I honestly don't know what I'm going to do with this. It's not too horrible that I never want to read it again, but it's become a dull, mediocre superhero book. I don't know how long the arc is (I don't see how Jones can stretch it to six, but he might), but unless things change, it will be the last arc I buy.

Ghost Rider #25 by Jason Aaron (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The first of the two Aaron books I bought this week (and the other one isn't Hellblazer, just to spoil the suspense) is a decent read, but like last issue, it suffers a bit in comparison to the first Aaron arc. It's a fun little comic, but it seems like the Deacon is just not that powerful, even armed with weapons of the Lord (the "ark of Bezalel," by the way, is the Ark of the Covenant, while the "rock of Etam" actually exists in Israel). The fight between Ghost Rider and the Deacon, which is the highlight of the issue, looks great (Huat's art is very nice), but has GR never come across someone who feels no guilt for his actions? The Deacon doesn't feel the power of the penance stare because he's "not bothered" by what he's done. Ghost Rider seems a bit shocked. Really? Anyway, the climax of the fight is funny and blasphemous and violent, but fits in well with the rest of the book. Ghost Rider moves on, doing his thing.

This has been a decent interlude, if a bit disappointing. Aaron, however, has made me buy a Ghost Rider comic, which I never thought I would do. It's a well-written comic, naturally, and I don't regret buying it, but it seemed like the Deacon was a lot more powerful than he should have been. Oh well.

One of the fun things about letter columns is when people write silly stuff. I should know - I write silly stuff all the time! A certain letter writer actually complained that the nurses in issue #21 weren't killed. "Man, wholesale slaughter of evil bitches is why I read comics! What the fuck?" Good stuff. Letter columns are awesome.

Gødland #24 by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

We finish our second "year" on this title with Neela Archer's utopia shattering and Adam returning to his cosmic-ness, none of which is a terrible surprise. As I wrote above, the nice thing about this comic as opposed to Charlatan Ball (at least so far) is that although the characters speak in a highly arch style reminiscent of early Lee/Kirby books, at least they have discernible personalities. Therefore, Adam speaks in a different effected manner than Neela, and so although it might seem off-putting at first, it doesn't remain that way once we shift our expectations a bit to allow the odd style to settle in. It's the same as any other well-written book in that each character has a distinct voice, it's just that the "voices" are slightly off-kilter from our reality.

Anyway, Scioli's art is staggering as usual, and Casey continues to throw all sorts of weird shit at us, and it's a blast to read. There's not much to say about this particular issue, because it follows a path you'd expect (that's not really a knock; fiction often does what you expect, and it's all about the fun you have along the way) and ends at a good point to begin the final "year." Where is Neela? Are the aliens telling the truth when they say "Iboga is a lie"? What is Adam's true purpose????? So many questions!!!!!! But how much fun it will be finding out the answers.

The Incredible Hercules #119 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Rafa Sandoval (penciler), Roger Bonet (inker), Martegod Gracia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Sweet fancy Moses, but I love this comic. Each issue gets better, and each panel is better than the last! How do Pak and Van Lente do it? HOW?!?!?!?!?

Well, I don't care how they do it, just that they keep doing it. So, after last issue revealed the evil Skrull within the God Squad, we find out how those evil Skrulls infiltrated it in the first place. Of course, before that, we learn that the Skrulls ruled a world called "Satriani" - in the first panel of the book! Can the book get any more awesome, you ask? It can, IT CAN!

First, there's a funny spat between Herc and Snowbird. Then, the Skrull messes up the ship. Damned Skrull! Then, Atum kills the Skrull - in a gruesomely awesome way. Then Herc comes up with "strategy": "I punch stuff, it falls down!" Now that's a leader! Then Snowbird changes into something called Neooqtoq the Ravager, and if you think that it's only all about Pak and Van Lente, you haven't seen Sandoval draw Snowbird changing into Neooqtoq the MOTHERFUCKING Ravager!!!!! And then they all meet the Skrull gods. Just as an appetizer for next issue!

Dear Lord, if you haven't picked up any of Incredible Hercules, you're missing something grand. Even if you haven't been reading it, pick up any random issue and marvel at the awesomeness. How can Pak and Van Lente top themselves????? I don't know, but I'm dying to find out.

Can I get a "FUCK YEAH!" from the congregation? I knew I could!

Helen Killer #3 (of 4) by Andrew Kreisberg (writer), Matthew JLD Rice (artist), and Philip Clark (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, BW, Arcana Comics.

Somehow, Kreisberg and Rice have taken this silly concept and made a very interesting comic out of it. I'll reserve judgment on how good the entire series is until the end, but it's fascinating what they've been doing with Helen herself, as someone who balances on the razor's edge, desiring the benefits of the omnicle (the device that allows her to see and hear) while being terrified of the side effects (she becomes, well, crazed). It comes out in the most uncomfortable places, too, as when she asks for Agent Blaylock's help and ends up screaming at him. Blaylock is a fascinating character, too, as we see that after Leon Czolgosz shot the president, he led the crowd in almost beating him to death. Kreisberg and Rice don't overstate Blaylock's shame at losing control, which makes it more powerful. And, as it's the third issue of the four-issue mini-series, the villain stands revealed and we learn his dastardly plan. It's not bad. I mentioned that the person who was supposed to be the villain was technically dead when McKinley was killed, something that the creators address, and his plan fits in well with the United States at the turn of the century. Today, it wouldn't work, but back then ... solid.

Rice, as usual, dazzles with the art. It's quite excellent. He has a great sense of layout, and he does a great job conveying the characters' thoughts with subtle changes in facial expressions. It's a great-looking book, and that just makes the interesting story even better.

I had my doubts about the central conceit of the book, but Kreisberg and Rice are making it work. It will be interesting to see how they wrap it up.

Moon Knight #20 by Mike Benson (writer), Mike Deodato Jr. (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $3.99, 35 pgs,* FC, Marvel.

* The 35 pages are the original story. This book also includes a reprint of Werewolf by Night #32 and #33, which is the first appearance of Moon Knight.

One of Marvel's best books (yes, I'm still convinced of that fact) gives us a nice one-and-done story, so if you haven't been picking up Moon Knight (and, let's be honest, a lot of you haven't), look for the cover that gives you a nice view out of a werewolf's mouth! As our hero was left down and somewhat out last issue, this is a flashback issue (and it's strange that Benson actually gives us a date for the flashback - 1994 - instead of using the ambiguous "15 years ago" or something like that, so the date for the story isn't pegged so specifically; my theory is that he did it because that was about the time Deodato burst on the scene in Wonder Woman, and this issue, although it features the new, less severe Deodato pencil work, also has several elements of the Image-inspired Deodate, including a ridiculously long cape on MK, and gosh isn't this a long parenthetical?) to a time when Spector and Marlene discovered a ring of baddies using Jack Russell (yes, I'm sure someone has mentioned the fun part of a werewolf sharing a name with something like this, but I thought I'd do it again) to create a werewolf serum, which they then use on homeless people to make them into wolves and fight them for sport. Moon Knight goes in a busts the whole thing up, but of course he has to fight a wolfed-up Russell, and damn if Deodato doesn't draw a stupendous fight between the two. I've always had kind of a soft spot for the Brazilian Bombshell (I mean, look at him!), so I can deal with the goofy cape, but honestly - the whole angled panels spreading over two pages and the total beatdown Spector gives to a larger-than-ever Russell (seriously; he's like twelve feet tall!) left me breathless. And it all leads to Spector deciding, in the present, that he's not going to let Tony Stark kick him around anymore! Which, of course, leads to the next story arc, "The Death of Marc Spector." Whoops. Maybe he should have stayed in hiding just a bit longer.

So check this issue out if you've been skipping this title. You get a solid story, plus reprints where you can see this panel in glorious full color! (I just like that he says, "Where's my bread?" That crazy Spector dude!)

Reich #2 and 3 by Elijah Brubaker (writer/artist). $3.00 each, 24 pgs, BW, Spark Plug Comics.

Let's talk about Reich for a moment, shall we? I want to discuss creators' reaction to reviews and why I don't get them. I'm not going to be insulting, so maybe we can avoid some of the messes I've gotten into in the past. But Brubaker's reaction to my review of the first issue of Reich is interesting.

I reviewed the first issue in this post. It was an interesting issue, and I liked it, but I wasn't blown away by it. I mentioned that it wasn't very well-written, but Reich's life is so interesting that it doesn't really matter. I did have an issue with the art, in that I thought the heads were too big, but the surreal style helped the telling of the story. The shot about the heads was probably cheap, but I'm just somewhat amused that a lot of underground comix feature people with big heads. What's up with that? Anyway, I said it wasn't great, but it had a lot of potential. I had already ordered the second issue, and it was good enough that when the third issue was solicited, I had no problem ordering it.

Brubaker was a bit offended by this review. I shouldn't troll for links to the site on Technorati, but I do. I'm always interested to read what people like about the blog (I'm sure you're not surprised that Comic Book Urban Legends is a huge hit across the Internet) and, let's be honest, it's all about stroking one's ego. So I found what Brubaker had to say about it. He appears grumpy about the fact that I wrote about the size of the heads, but that wasn't really a bit part of the review. If he was peeved at me, I was peeved at him for writing "Props to the guy for trying though," as if I've never read an independent comic book ever and deigned to stretch out of my superhero comfort zone and as I only read superhero comics I couldn't possibly understand his work of genius. That was odd. It was one of those things that made me think if I should even support his work by, you know, buying it. I can understand hating reviewers if they take personal shots at the creator (I may have some experience with this), but to pick on someone who not only bought your book but liked it is kind of weird. I have never met Brubaker and probably never will (unless he heads down to San Diego next week!), but I obviously don't hold any ill will toward him - why would I? I bought the next two issues, after all. I just find it strange that someone who presumably wants to make money off his creation (why would you sell it, right?) gets grumpy at someone who is, theoretically, encouraging others to spend money on it.

Speaking of which, issues #2 and 3 are MUCH better than issue #1. The story is still told in a somewhat odd manner, in that Brubaker is counting on Reich to carry the narrative instead of trying to make the writing interesting. As I mentioned with the first issue, there's one page where he breaks the narrative and uses a "talking head interview" kind of trick, this time using a dead person (well, if he's not dead yet, he soon will be), which helps change this from a biography to a story. He also drops panels of Reich's father into the mix, leading up to a flashback to Reich's childhood in issue #3 and showing the influence his father had on his life. It's a neat technique. The art, however, has improved by leaps and bounds, as Brubaker seems more confident in using shading and some unusual esoteric designs in the panels. In the third issue, we get a nice mix between grounded, olde-tyme type drawings (like the nude models Reich finds in his father's desk) and more impressionistic panels (like the fires that consume Reich's family farm). It's a much nicer look than the relatively simple drawings in issue #1.

Once again, I'll point out that Wilhelm Reich is far more interesting than your average comic-book subject, and although Brubaker often writes as if he's delivering a lecture, it's a fascinating lecture, and the art, in these issues, is much more of a star than in the first one. If you're interested, check out the Spark Plug web site, from which I had to order issue #2, as it came out a while ago (issue #3 also came out about a month ago), as it never arrived at my comic book shoppe even though I ordered it. I wish Brubaker the best with this, and I hope he learns about other comics from this site. Then we'd all be happy!

Scalped #19 by Jason Aaron (writer), Davide Furnò (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Okay, so I didn't read this. I have bought the first two trades, and I'm waiting on the third, but I figured I ought to support this book by buying the singles. I will say that that's a great Bradstreet cover, and there appears to be A LOT of panels featuring nekkid people.

Anyway, this is a very good comic. I like the trades. I'm sure this issue is good. That's how good a reviewer I am - I know something is good without even reading it!

Universal War One #1 (of 3) by Denis Bajram (writer/artist/colorist). $5.99, 46 pgs, FC, Marvel/Soleil.

I hope that Marvel's partnership with Soleil works, because it's always good to get European comics over here. I was disappointed that DC's thing with Humanoids fell through, and I really hope Archaia Studios Press gets their act together and begins bringing their comics out again. I wasn't all that interested in Sky Doll, but this and the next two offerings (Samurai and Scourge of the Gods) look pretty cool. These aren't cheap, obviously, but they're so packed with content that, even if this book is only twice as long as your standard comic, it feels longer (in a good way). It takes you a while to get through this and appreciate what Bajram is doing, and it's cool to see.

Bajram is a marvelous artist - this book feels like it takes place in the orbit of Saturn on a space ship, in that it's gritty yet majestic. Each character is instantly recognizable, as Bajram gives them wonderfully distinct personalities and looks. When a bomb explodes and takes out a portion of Saturn's rings, it looks stunning.

Meanwhile, the story is gripping. An impenetrable black sphere, centered on Oberon, a moon of Uranus, suddenly appeared in space. It's three billion kilometers in diameter and resistant to all probes. A squadron of soldiers, led by June Williamson, ends up being the group that figures out how to breach the wall. And so the adventure begins.

Bajram spends the issue setting everything up and introducing the players. Williamson's "Purgatory Squadron" is so named, we discover, because everyone in it has done something that should have gotten them court-martialed. She gave them a second chance. When something occurs between two of them that brings the ugliness of the past to light, she reveals everyone's crime to all the others. It's an interesting set-up, much like the Dirty Dozen, and Bajram does a good job showing these people, all of whom have done horrible things but are capable of great things in their own way. When one of them recklessly tries to breach the wall, it's up to the rest of them to follow. It's a tense comic that manages to stay exciting while still creating interesting characters. And weird sci-fi comics not written by Warren Ellis are always good to see!

Check it out if you get a chance; it's not too weird that it's off-putting, but it's also something that we don't see often enough on these shores. It's good to see Marvel taking this chance, and I hope it continues.

X-Factor #33 by Peter David (writer), Larry Stroman (penciler), Jon Sibal (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Two things are significant about this issue of X-Factor. First, it's the beginning of a crossover with She-Hulk, and I don't mind crossovers to other books when they're both written by the same person, so this should be fun. More significantly, perhaps (unless you're a huge fan of X-Factor/She-Hulk crossovers), is the return of Larry Stroman to X-Factor. Stroman has already returned to comics, but this is the first monthly book he's tackling in a long time, and on the comic where he made the biggest name for himself (right?).

So, how's it look? Well, if you're not a Larry Stroman fan, this probably won't make you one. It looks like a Larry Stroman book, after all. He still draws somewhat odd faces and often includes exaggerated figures as caricatures, but that's part of his charm (for me, at least). Some panels are odd: On page 13, Monet tugs at her hair and stands with her left leg tilted outward slightly and her toe pointed, which makes no sense; on page 14, Mr. Munoz seems to disappear in one panel as Jamie duplicates himself. But the cool thing about Stroman has always been his somewhat disjointed drawing, and even if this might not be your cup of tea, it's certainly distinctive. I happen to like it, but your mileage may vary. I do think it needs a heavier line - Sibal's inks are too light, and it makes Stroman's eccentricities stand out more. Of course, maybe that's the point. But I think a heavier inking style would ground the book a little more.

As for the story - well, there's Longshot on the cover, and he shows up in the book, but it turns out he's a Skrull. Damn it! I like Longshot a lot, and haven't seen much of him since that J. M. DeMatteis/Michael Zulli (he was the artist, right?) one-shot a while ago. That's the problem with having so many mutants running around in so many books - I know Longshot showed up in Die by the Sword (right?), but I have no idea about his status quo right now. So I was immediately suspicious of his presence, and it turns out I was right to be suspicious. Plus, Darwin is hanging out with him. How do they know each other? Anyway, they get in trouble, and Jazinda (She-Hulk's pal) happens to be tracking Longshot, so she gets involved. X-Factor, of course, shows up, as does Jen, and there's going to be a beatdown, Detroit-style! But that will have to wait until the next issue of She-Hulk.

It's not the greatest issue of X-Factor, but it's pretty good. It fits in well with three things: the history of the team (both the original idea and David's revamp), the move from New York, and the bigger Skrull thing that you may have heard about. We'll see where David goes with it.

Zorro #5 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I'm still enjoying Zorro, but not as much as I want to, and it's mainly because of what I assume are the parts cribbed from Isabel Allende's novel, which is the "secret origin" part of the story. Hell, I don't know - the whole thing could be cribbed from the novel! It's an enjoyable enough comic, but if I didn't like Francavilla and didn't trust Wagner, I'm not sure if I would have kept up with it. It's not the overall plot that's annoying, but the details. In this issue (well, we heard about it last issue, but this issue gives us a closer look), we find out about the inner workings of La Justicia. They're (wait for it!) a secret society dedicated to fighting injustice. Sigh. I'm a bit tired of secret societies dedicated to fighting injustice, for so many reasons. The reason I don't buy this one is the same reason I don't buy the letter from Diego's father. This is the early 1800s, right? I can buy the random nobleman caring, really caring, about the plight of the oppressed. But in a lot of historical fiction, the "good" people seem to outweigh the "evil" people, and as we have seen throughout history, most noblemen are far more concerned with holding onto their own power than worrying about the lot of the unwashed. I suppose I can buy Alejandro de la Vega caring about "the people," and given what happened to his wife, I can deal with him hating the government to a degree. But I always laugh when I read about these noble noblemen who wanted to bring justice to the people. Almost invariably in history, when the nobility gives up power to those "lower" than they, they spend the rest of their lives trying to seize it back. I know I need to ignore that when it comes to comics, but the fact that this is based in "history" means I can't. It's a morality tale, I get it, but to ignore the huge subtleties of history irks me a bit. It's just who I am, man!

But there's some good swashbuckling. It's entertaining, certainly. It's just not as good as it could be. It doesn't appear Wagner is moving it toward that, either. He seems content to write this like a 1930s serial. That's fine, but I was hoping for some more depth.

Okay, let's talk about some general things. This week's comics feature lots of shape-shifters. That's not surprising, given that Marvel is in the middle of an event that features shape-shifters, but Chimera in Checkmate is also a shape-shifter. Has it ever been addressed how these shape-shifters can change size? Chimera goes from a man-sized being to a giant porcupine. Jazinda goes from a woman-sized being to a mouse. Where does Chimera's extra mass come from? Where does Jazinda's mass go? Are we just accepting that it's "comic-book science" and I shouldn't worry about it?

Checking in on the in-house advertisement in DC's comics this week, let's consider Adam Hughes' drawing of the women of DC. I read on a few blogs how people were all put out by DC's decision, in last week's comics, to crop off the right side of the drawing so that the black woman, the lesbian, and the two villains weren't included. So this week, the left side is lopped off and we get to see those four characters. Why DC couldn't size the drawing so that it could fit onto two pages is beyond me, but obviously, this was their plan all along, so the whiners last week should have just cooled their jets for a while. However, what I find amusing about the drawing is Batwoman. Yes, the lesbian is the only one in the drawing wearing pants. Because she's, you know, a lesbo! Good stuff! Let the righteous anger against Hughes begin!

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, we get a second vague advert for some X-Men event. This time it's Rogue holding a pistol with the tagline, "I want to be good." Excuse me for asking, but does this whet anyone's appetite? It leads to baseless speculation, of course, which is probably what Marvel wants, but as there's nothing on the radar about this, can't we just chill and wait to see what it is? Or is that too much to ask in the Internet Age?

Also in Marvel books, there's an ad for the new NYX mini-series. The tagline reads "The controversial series returns!" Maybe I missed it, but what was so controversial about it? The fact that it took 17 years for seven issues to come out? Someone explain, please!

Another house ad is for The Immortal Iron Fist. Now, beyond the fact that the tagline was written by Chris Sims ("Buy this book or Danny Rand will kick you in the face!"), it says that "The critically acclaimed series launches into a bold new direction!" I find that humorous, as the people who made it "critically acclaimed" are no longer involved with it. And if it's "critically acclaimed," why should it launch in a "bold new direction"? It's a bit weird.

Let's get the totally random lyric this week:

"I watched you through the window last nightAnd I thought I saw a girl in the candlelightYou think that's fair after all I've done? Restraining orders one by oneAnd I sure hope that was your sister"

Man, I do go on, don't I? Just wait - I'm still working on the annotations for Green Lantern: Rebirth! Holy crap, that's a big'un!

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