What I bought - 16 March 2011

For Vida, that moment was the beginning of happiness, and in that happiness, like some kind of disease, the beginning of her titanic jealousy, which stayed with her forever and finally drove her to her grave. Because one dies of happiness sooner than of misery. (Milorad Pavić, from Landscape Painted With Tea)

After Dark #3 (of 3) by Peter Milligan (writer), Leonardo Manco (artist), Kinsun Loh (painter), Jerry Choo (painter), Sansan Saw (painter), and Clayton Cowles (letterer). $4.99, 47 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

Milligan's weird little comic comes to an unsatisfying end - given that this was "created" by Antoine Fuqua and Wesley Snipes, presumably so Snipes could play the role of Omar the Bedouin, it's not surprising that it sets up a sequel. Some of Milligan's more interesting tics come out in this book, but basically it's a very by-the-numbers science fiction story, as in this issue the group finds Angel, the woman who presumably will save the world, and page by page, they discover that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't a good idea to find Angel. It's a distressingly depressing comic, with people dying left and right, and the only interesting character, Ana, doesn't get quite enough to do. Manco's art isn't as good as he often is, mainly because he's working in the Radical house style, with slick pencils and digital painting, but at least he doesn't actually "cast" any of the characters with obvious actors (Daniel Craig might be one of the characters, but that's about as far as it goes). It's colored slightly better than most Radical books, but it's still very much in the murky realm that too many of their books inhabit.

When you hire Peter Milligan to write a comic, the best thing to do is let him do his thing. Otherwise, why bother? This constantly feels like Milligan had some interesting ideas but was reined in by the general plot. I mean, heck, I can't imagine Milligan's name is that big a draw - they could have paid me and I could have written a middle-of-the-road science fiction story! So while I'm happy to thank Radical for sending this along to me, it just feels like this is a lot of wasted potential.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Avengers Academy #11 ("Growing Up") by Christos Gage (writer), Tom Raney (penciler), Scott Hanna (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

You know how comics starring new characters are often confronted by the biggest villains of that company's stable of bad guys and even though it takes the heavy hitters a really long time to defeat them, the new characters always seem to beat them handily? Well, in this issue of Avengers Academy, Korvac shows up and throws the Big-Time Avengers around like chew toys. Oh, Christos Gage - you're going to fall into the trap, aren't you? AREN'T YOU?!?!?!?

Well, no. That's what's keen about this issue. Sure, the kids are going to fight Korvac (tune in next issue!), but the way they're equipped to do so is rather clever, given that the other guest star is Korvac's estranged wife, Carina, who has interesting time-based powers of her own (Spider-Man 2099 makes a freakin' cameo in this issue, for crying out loud). So while this issue is a bit text-heavy - the kids don't know much about Korvac, so Gage allows Carina to spend several pages explaining to them and the audience who exactly he is and what his deal is - it's clever enough that I don't mind too much. Raney gets to have fun showing the Avengers get the stuffing knocked out of them while Carina is explaining, so there's that. I do like how halfway through the book, Carina decides that the coat that's covering her isn't giving her quite enough coverage in the front, so she simply magics up an outfit. I wonder if Raney was busy drawing the issue when he suddenly realized that she came out of Hank's weird dimensional machine completely naked and, even though Quicksilver put a coat on her to cover her breasts, she never closed it all that much, so she was giving the kids a view of her naughty bits (not to mention her butt) while she was talking to them, so he (Raney, that is, since the subject of this sentence is far away by now) simply gave her a costume. That would be pretty funny.

Avengers Academy continues to be a fine comics publication. Gage is doing a nice job with the kids, and I look forward to seeing how he shows them using their "new" powers next issue. That'll be neat.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Casanova: Gula #3 (of 4) ("Fuck Shit Up"/"Some of the Things that Happened to the Murderers and Murdered Among Us") by Matt Fraction (writer), Fábio Moon (artist), Cris Peter (colorist), and Dustin K. Harbin (letterer). $3.99, 38 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

I remember when I first read these two issues, that I was a bit disappointed by the reveal in the second issue after Zephyr carves her way through the moon base killing everyone in her path. I wasn't too disappointed, you understand, just a bit. However, re-reading the issues back-to-back, that disappointment is lessened, partly because I don't have days and weeks and months to stew about it (I can't remember if the second issue was later than a month after the first) but mainly because I know what's going to happen in the final issue(s) of this arc, and also because Fraction's main point in the second issue is that Kaito gives meaning to Ruby's life, and this is contrasted with the casual way Cornelius treats Seychelle's creations - Ruby is just as real as anyone, and Kaito wants to treat her as such, even though they could download her consciousness into another, identical body. Much like Zephyr's seduction and assassination of Suki in the previous issue, Ruby's death shows how Fraction, by taking his time to build this world, has managed to create glorious little emotional moments that are devastating and real, even in the context of this wacky world. It still feels fresh and powerful years later, and I can't wait to re-read the final two issues in one package.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Generation Hope #5 ("The Daddy Issue") by Kieron Gillen (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Ah, Jamie McKelvie. Espin on this book has been good, but McKelvie is wonderful, and I certainly wouldn't mind if he took over the art chores on this book. Man, that would be cool. I was a bit worried when I first opened the book, because even though McKelvie was being colored by Matt Wilson, who worked on Phonogram, Xavier and Magneto looked terrible, and I wonder why Wilson chose to color them that way. But then we get the rest of the book, with McKelvie's crisp lines and Wilson's bright colors, and all is right with the world. Emma's eyebrow is cocked in just the right way when we first see her, Laurie's conflicted face and gripping hands when Hope storms out of the class are perfect, and even though Scott looks like a blank slate when Hope talks to him (deliberate or a misstep by McKelvie?), Hope's facial expressions make up for it. Man, I love McKelvie's art. It pains me to think that he probably made more money on this issue than he did for the 13 issues of Phonogram.

So I've been out of the loop in the X-world for a while, so what's up with Xavier walking around? Is it a simple explanation? I like how Barbara Gordon is perpetually trapped in a wheelchair yet Xavier seems to get new legs every other year or so, which then subsequently get crushed and put him right back into a wheelchair. As a father of a kid in a wheelchair, I'm not sure which is more offensive - that Barbara doesn't take advantage of the vast technology in the DCU to stand the hell up, or that Xavier does take advantage of the vast technology (and, you know, cloning) of the Marvel U. yet is constantly crippled afterward. Actually, I'm not offended by either, because I have far more important things to be offended by, but those are still stupid situations. So what's the deal with Xavier? When did he come back and why he is strolling around?

Oh, Kieron Gillen writes this. I'd write something about it, but he just got married, so he could give two shits about what I say about it. Go congratulate him at his blog!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Morning Glories #8 by Nick Spencer (writer), Joe Eisma (artist), Alex Sollazzo (colorist), and Johnny Lowe (letterer). $2.99, 30 pgs, FC, Image/Shadowline.

For the most part, this is a good comic. Spencer has Hunter ask Casey out on a date, which leads to her setting a time, which leads to us learning that for some mysterious reason, every clock he looks at when he has an important appointment reads 8.13, so he's always late, and he doesn't want to be late for his date. Of course, this being a comic book, you know he will be, but at least he has a good excuse - he gets beaten up and almost killed. Basically, it's another weird issue in a series of weird issues, with several hints about what's going on, intriguing subplots, and mysterious violence. So far, so good. I do hope that Casey, who looks a bit peeved that he missed their date, doesn't hold it against him - he has the bruises to prove he was beaten up!

The one thing that bugs me is Chad. Hunter bumps into Chad in the hallway, and everything is cool. Later, inexplicably, Chad is one of the bullies who beats him up. From the way the issue ends, I very much doubt we'll ever find out why Chad suddenly acted differently, but I'm going to assume it was because someone else was calling the shots, but if Chad is a nice guy, you'd think he'd be a bit more conflicted about beating on Hunter, and if he's not a nice guy, you'd think he'd be slightly more of a dick when Hunter bumps into him. It's odd.

Anyway, while I'm still puzzled why nobody seems to care that people die horribly at this school and that the administration seems to encourage violence, Spencer has done a good job with this book so far, so I can wait for explanations. At least the journey is pretty keen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Northlanders #38 ("The Siege of Paris Part 2 of 3") by Brian Wood (writer), Simon Gane (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Oddly, Northlanders seems to have suffered the most of all the DC books I read from the imposition of the 20-page story. Both chapters of "The Siege of Paris" feel a bit truncated, but I'm not sure if Wood wrote them before the edict came down or not. I imagine that he can write a 20-page story as well as any other kind, so it's weird that both of these issues have felt like there are scenes or pages missing. It's not that what we have is bad, it's just that it feels a bit rushed. Mads, for instance, loses all his men pretty quickly - the siege is taking a while and we see the attacks, but it still feels a bit sudden that all of his men are dead. The way Mads destroys the bridge linking the Paris tower to the mainland is well done (and beautifully drawn by Gane), but it seems like Mads decides to do it on a whim and nobody notices until it's too late, and one man doing that much damage seems odd. Mads himself, who seemed like an angry warrior who loathed Abbo in the first issue of this arc, suddenly seems to be good friends with him. I enjoy this story, because Wood is telling an interesting story and Gane is drawing it very well, but it's a bit off-kilter, it seems, like small bits and pieces have been excised. If it's because of the cut pages, that's fine. If it's something else ... well, I suppose I'll have to live with it. Still, the fact that the siege ends with a peace treaty instead of a glorious battle should make the final issue of the arc interesting, because Mads, of course, wants BLOOD!!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Red Robin #21 ("The Rabbit Hole Part 3: Sinsanity") by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Marcus To (penciler), Ray McCarthy (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC.

Tim's weird journey through the Ünternet comes to an end in this issue, although Nicieza pulls one of those "hand coming out of the grave" endings that shows he's not done with this subplot by any means. Like the other two issues of Red Robin that I've bought, this is a breezy superhero comic, nothing stunning but perfectly solid. It's notable for the presence of four bad guys who happen to be living servers through which the information on the Ünternet flows, because they're fairly humorous dudes. Nicieza manages to get a masturbation joke and an erectile dysfunction joke (see below) into this comic, which are funny because they're not overdone. Tim gets stuck in a Morton's fork, which I always enjoy seeing in superhero books, because it actually shows the world as a bit more messy than the four-color world implies, and To turns in another bouncy, vivid visual script, with a great final panel.

Plus, Jason Bard shows up in this comic. It sounds like he's been in the book since its inception, and since I dig Jason Bard, I'm jazzed to see him here. Yay, Jason Bard!

Red Robin is a perfectly groovy superhero comic. It won't change your life, but it's a pleasant read. I'm skipping the next issue because it's part of a crossover that I have no interest in, but I hope Nicieza and To continue this nice run after that issue!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Spider #1 ("Death Siege of the Frankenstein Legion"/"The Faithful" starring Operator 5) by Martin Powell (writer, "Death Siege"), Gary Phillips (writer, "The Faithful"), Pablo Marcos (artist, "Death Siege"), Roberto Castro (artist, "The Faithful"), Jay Piscopo (colorist), and Josh Aitken (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, BWR, Moonstone.

I really want to like Moonstone's comics, because they feature all these old pulp characters (the ones that make Greg Hatcher go weak in the knees), and I like old pulp characters. Usually, however, Moonstone's comics aren't quite up to snuff, because they can't afford to get top talent on books. So while they might strike gold every once in a while with a good story or good art, it's rare those two come together on the same book. The Spider, despite some cool stuff, isn't one of those rare exceptions.

It's not that either story is terrible, it's just that they're not terribly inspired. The main story starring the Spider feels like a continuation of an earlier story, and while it's perfectly easy to figure out, it's kind of an odd way to launch a series (Moonstone has done some other Spider material, so perhaps that leads into this, but they don't put a note anywhere in it, so maybe Powell just dropped us in and trusts us to catch up?). The Spider has to rescue his lady friend Nita, who proves to be somewhat tougher than we might expect, from Frankenstein-monster types, and of course there's a twist as to who's really in control of things. It's not bad, but as it's only 11 pages long, it's kind of hard for Powell to really do much with the characters, so it's hard to care. Marcos does a decent job on the art - some of his poses are a bit awkward, but he has a solid, old-school feel that fits well with both the pulpiness and horror of the proceedings. Phillips gives us a story of Operator 5 infiltrating a white supremacist group in the 1930s, which is also decent. The bad guys easily get the drop on our hero, though, so I wonder how good a secret agent he really is (he, of course, lets a scantily-clad hot woman distract him - will these secret agents never learn that you never trust the woman!!!!!). I'm a bit tired of ministers/priests being white supremacists in popular fiction, and I can't believe a supposedly respectable minister in the 1930s would have long hair like Reverend Mather sports, but that's that, I suppose. There's a subplot with a Marcus Garvey-type character that might be intriguing - we'll have to see. Castro's art is largely inoffensive, and it tells the story fine, so I have no problem with it. The most interesting thing about this comic is that Piscopo colors both stories in a lurid blend of blacks, whites, grays, and reds, giving both of them an almost hellish look. It's visually arresting, and by far the coolest thing in the book. If Matt Wagner's Grendel stuff in these colors didn't influence others, I doubt this will, but I would love to see weirder coloring options like this used on more mainstream books. It really adds a great deal of verve to the artwork.

I pre-ordered the second issue of this series, but I doubt if I'll get any after that. It's not a terrible comic, but it doesn't really grab me. I really do wish these pulp characters' comics would be better, because I want to read about them, man!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 ("Never the Whole Truth") by Nick Spencer (writer), CAFU (penciller), Ryan Sook (artist/colorist), Bit (inker), Santiago Arcas (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC.

Chad Nevett is quoted on the cover of this book. I bet he feels pretty damned proud of himself. Do I ever get quoted on the covers of DC books? Of course not. I blame Jonah. Everything is Jonah's fault!!!!!!

So I guess T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents isn't selling particularly well, which is too bad. As this is DC, I imagine it will get more rope than at Marvel, but who knows. It's a shame, because as Chad puts it, the only reason not to buy this is if you hate well-crafted comics. Spencer has done a nice job building the tension throughout the series, and last month's revelation of the traitor is followed up nicely with the story of how the traitor became the traitor. Plus, the fact that Colleen has it well in hand is nice, too, because she doesn't have superpowers, just her brain. She totally outthinks you, man! Plus, we really don't get enough Ryan Sook interior art these days. His five pages are nothing great in terms of wild shit, but man! that dude can draw.

I wonder if the book isn't selling well not only because this is Spencer's "apprentice" period - hot indy creator gets a job at the Big Two, must fail to sell weird quirky book before he gets put on powerhouse comic, builds a following, then can do a different weird quirky book that sells because people know who he is now - but because of the way Spencer writes. He enjoys puzzles and secrets, and while you can get away with that on Morning Glories because nobody cares too much how much it sells (well, I suppose Spencer, Eisma, Sollazzo, and Lowe care, but nobody else does), perhaps when you're writing a superhero comic, people want straightforward superhero comics. It's not that T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is all that complicated, but it's a bit less linear than your usual superhero comic, so maybe it's bothering people. Or maybe the first two issues, which cost $3.99 but were both 30 pages of story (it's cheaper, people!) turned readers off. Who knows. This is still a pretty good comic, and it's worth your while to check out. Of course, I'm sure DC will not get a trade out until issue #12 comes out, because they're so damned slow, but we'll see about that, won't we.

I love to complain, don't I? But not about the comic! The comic is good. That's all we want, right?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Thunderbolts #155 by Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Jason Gorder (additional inker), Frank Martin (colorist), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

As the first issue of an arc, this one is a lot of set-up, but Parker and Walker are a good team, so it's an enjoyable issue. Parker spends some time with his "Thunderbolts Beta" team, as the warden and Songbird begin trying out prisoners who might make good members if and when the current members die, but the main part of the issue deals with Dr. Strange, Luke Cage, and Man-Thing heading to the Himalayas to ask Satana to join the team. That's the visually interesting part of the book, as Walker gets to draw giant creatures bursting from the snow and ice and rock creatures and naked chicks (relax - it's a Marvel book, so they all have long hair to cover their parental-frenzy-inducing nipples), and in the end, of course, Satana joins up ... but why she does is an interesting twist. Parker pulls a "childish" trick on Satana (her word), but it's all good in the end. Oh, and Satana's outfit is as ridiculous as ever, but whattayagonnado?

I imagine, given the set-up back in the prison, that people will die soon, so we have that to look forward to. Like I wrote, there's a lot of groundwork-laying in this issue, but it's still a pretty cool comic. It's a good place to jump on board!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Unwritten #23 ("Leviathan Part 5") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Vince Locke (finisher), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I honestly don't know what to do with The Unwritten. I've threatened to drop it before, but I stuck around, and while this arc started well, this final issue of the storyline feels like Carey desperately wanted to give people some answers, so he does so, rather ponderously. I get that, but if the book is in any kind of trouble, sales-wise, Carey's written himself into such a deep hole there's no way he can wrap things up quickly (unlike Unknown Soldier, which felt rushed but at least had a resolution), so why bother? This issue has a whiff of that desperation about it, as if Carey knows the book is about to get cancelled and figures he needs to dump a lot of information on us. The book keeps getting solicited, however, so I don't think that's quite true. If it's not, this is just an inelegant way of giving the reader information, with a big old "tell-don't-show" that is so blatant Carey doesn't even let Gross draw much - we just get Tom for a page against a white background. I mean, that's pretty annoying, if you ask me. The explanation is perfectly fine, I guess, but the way Carey got to this point is awkward, and it doesn't fill me with hope for the future.

I don't know - I've been reading the book far longer than most books I don't love, mainly because I still find the idea of jumping through literature fascinating. Carey hasn't done anything terribly noteworthy with that conceit even though some brief instances have been inspired, so I honestly think this is the last straw. I'm really worried I'll buy the next issue even though I don't want to. I may have to ask the proprietor of my shoppe to rip it from my hands and tell me it's just not working out between us. Could he be that cruel???????

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Warlord of Mars #5 by Arvid Nelson (writer), Lui Antonio (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Nelson keeps trucking along with Warlord of Mars, and while it's not a great comic, it's an enjoyable one. Nelson is doing a nice job revealing facets of Martian society slowly, through the actions of the characters, so we're learning along with John Carter what to do and what not to do. It's a good way to show how people live on Mars, because it adds tension to the narrative, as Carter never knows if he's going to do or say something that will get him in trouble. He insults Dejah Thoris inadvertently in this issue, shows the Martians how to treat their steeds with kindness, and gets in yet another fight. In between, he speaks to Tars Tarkas and discovers a few things about the rifts in Martian society. Antonio is still just decent on art, but nothing he draws is hard to figure out, so it's serviceable.

This is one of those comics that I personally enjoy but can't really recommend. I suppose if you're really interested in John Carter and his adventures, this is a fun read. For me, it's a decent science fiction story, but I don't know how long I'll be getting it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

X-Factor #217 ("Deep Scars") by Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (penciler), Guillermo Ortego (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Ugh. So right in the middle of this issue, which deals with the three women who killed J. Jonah Jameson's friend the general and now are stalking him, David brings the narrative to a screeching halt when first Monet and then Jameson lectures a bunch of protestors about immigration. It's only four pages long, but it feels like forty, because it drags so very much. Monet, Guido, and Jameson argue for tolerance (funny coming from Jameson, who addresses his hatred of Spider-Man, not very convincingly), the mouth-breathers in the crowd argue that those filthy foreigners are ruining the country, and Jameson wins! Yay! It's really annoying for any number of reasons, and even though I totally agree with David, it's still lousy storytelling. The cardboard villains of the crowd don't really stand a chance against our heroes, simply because David makes sure they're idiots. Now, if you listen to most of the anti-immigrant crowd in a place like, say, Arizona, they often sound like idiots, so I'm not surprised the protestors sound that way, but it still doesn't mean that, story-wise, it's a good narrative to have Jameson stand around and lecture (and according to David on his blog, he took the quotes directly from people featured on FOX News, which doesn't mitigate it at all because he carefully crafts Jameson's responses to make him sound far smarter than the protestors, when in actuality if you took protestors from either side of the political spectrum and put them on the spot they sound fairly dumb because they don't have time to come with stuff very easily when it's extemporaneous). Who is David going to convince? Russell Pearce (Google him) isn't going to read this comic and think, "Hey, I've been wrong all these years, man! Thanks, Peter David!" This is preaching to the choir at its most extreme, and it's completely dumb to have it in this comic book, especially as it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the murder of General Ryan and the attempted murder of Jameson. Maybe it will tie in next issue, but in that case, there's no reason to shut down the narrative for four pages. We get it - cosmopolitan intellectuals are better than troglodytes. Immigration issues ... solved!

It's too bad, too, because the rest of the issue is a typically good issue of X-Factor. Felicia Hardy, who for some reason works for the mayor (yes, I'm sure it's explained in the Spider-Man books, but I don't read those, do I?), doesn't like the fact that he hired X-Factor without consulting her, so she gets into her Black Cat costume to keep an eye on him. Jamie, Longshot, Rictor, and Shatterstar visit General Ryan's wife's grave, where Longshot gets a visual impression of the woman who shot Ryan and Shatterstar messes with Rictor's head, first telling him there's a connection between him and Longshot, then, before he can tell Rictor the actual connection, reversing course and telling him it was a joke. (I know the rumor is that Shatterstar is Longshot's kid, but that's still just a rumor, right?) Meanwhile, the first assassin, Ballistique, fails to kill Jameson but seriously wounds Guido, and so the second assassin, Rococo, steps in after beating up Felicia. All clear? With the exception of the four pages in the middle, it's a fun, taut issue, exquisitely drawn by Lupacchino (David has to set up his stories so she gets to draw the arcs with lots of women in them, right?). I can forgive the lecture because it's kind of what you get every so often in a comic book when a writer decides he has something important to say, and it's usually as ham-fisted as this is, but soon enough we get back to the escapist fiction, and all is well in the world. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Xombi #1 ("The Ninth Stronghold Part One: Prison of Industry") by John Rozum (writer), Frazer Irving (artist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

This issue is dedicated to Dwayne McDuffie. I point that out not because he created the character (even though he did), but because David Brothers has pointed out, in two separate posts (here and here, with one million Internet points for referencing A Tribe Called Quest), that DC is planning a "homage" to McDuffie but is not going to donate any of the money to McDuffie's estate or any charity. He gets into the ins and outs of calling something a "homage" rather than a "tribute," but the fact is that this kind of sucks. I stayed out of the McDuffie panegyric cycle mainly because I haven't read enough McDuffie to get a good sense of his writing and what I have read wasn't very good, but he was certainly influential, perhaps not in his writing, but in opening doors for black comic creators, so the fact that DC kept screwing him around when he worked on JLA and continues to screw with him after his death is a bit obnoxious on their part. Would it really kill them to do a series of Milestone one-shots and donate a good chunk of what they make on those books to McDuffie's family or a charity his family chooses? Companies do P.R. shit like that all the time, and take a bath financially for the shot of goodwill it gives them. Oh wait - comic book companies aren't real companies. I tend to forget that occasionally.

Anyway, I can't believe Xombi will last very long. It's a decent enough book, although Rozum is channeling his inner Grant Morrison a bit too much ("an occult organization commanded by oppressive rod puppets papier-mached [sic] out of discarded religious and political tracts" - really?). David Kim, who is infused with nanomachines that keep him young and fit, gets a call from a friend in Brazil who tells him he needs to go to a secret prison under the city of Dakota and make sure a certain prisoner does not escape. He's assisted in this by a bunch of Catholic superheroines - Catholic Girl herself and a bunch of nuns with silly names like Nun of the Above and, well, see below. Of course the prisoner has escaped, and of course creepy things come out of the walls and start attacking them. That's how comics roll, man!

So it's a pleasant enough read, with Irving really nailing the artwork. There's really not much to say about Irving - he has such a distinctive style that you either really love it (like I do) or hate it (like some do). You know exactly what you're going to get with Irving's art, and I, for one, can't get enough of it. He colors his own work, too, which is kind of cool to see, because he does a wonderful job with primary colors - Julian is blue in the São Paulo shadows as the Startling Parade, in vivid yellow, marches by in the sunshine; the lurid pink of the prison as Kim and the nuns investigate; the blues of the snow angels contrasted with Catholic Girl's yellow force field. Irving's linework is always interesting, but when he adds his own colors, the art becomes a thing of awkward beauty.

I say I can't believe this will last very long because neither Rozum nor Irving seems to be a big enough star to sell this, plus I don't know how long it takes Irving to work, so if they need to get a guest artist the script might be in trouble. But it's a pretty keen introductory issue. Buy it just to support Milestone Media, if you choose. It's what Dwayne McDuffie would have wanted!

(I thought I'd get through a review of something Irving drew without mentioning Gutsville, but then I saw on his blog that he actually is still working on it. Huzzah! That would certainly be something if it actually finished, wouldn't it?)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Gantz volume 16 by Hiroya Oku (writer/artist). $12.99, 218 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.

Man, this series just keeps getting weirder. I was a bit disappointed with the big death in this issue, because it seemed gratuitous, but using the word "gratuitous" when discussing Gantz seems really, really inappropriate, so let's just move on!

Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi (writer/artist). $16.99, 137 pgs, BW, First Second.

I'm a big fan of Bertozzi, so I'm looking forward to reading this. There's a lot of white space in this book, which makes me curious because I wonder how Bertozzi uses it.

The Vesha Valentine Story by Des Taylor (writer/artist). $12.95, 88 pgs, FC, SLG.

This is billed as a "pin-up story book," and that's what it is, essentially, with a lot of text interspersed among a lot of pin-up drawings of the fictional title character. It does look kind of neat, though, so we'll see.

I'm sure everyone has heard by now that Michael Gough, who played Alfred in the Tim Burton Batman movies (and the two non-Tim Burton Batman movies, but we shan't speak of those), has died at 94. Gough was so old that, technically, he could have been Batman's butler from the moment Alfred debuted in 1943 to the time he died. Gough, I think, is the best Alfred to appear on screen - Michael Caine is a better actor, certainly, but Gough felt more aristocratic than Mr. Micklewhite does, as if he worked hard to overcome a working-class background to be the butler of one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Caine sometimes sounds as if he's going to go cockney on Christian Bale, which would be a bit odd. (Caine turned 78 a few days ago, and I learned some trivia - he's one of only two actors who has been nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. Quick - who's the other one?)

I've been reading Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre, which is a fascinating book about India's independence. I find it rather interesting that Gandhi was not a fan of Jawaharlal Nehru's socialist economic vision for India. The Mohatma said a welfare state leads to the people "becoming a herd of sheep, always relying on the shepherd to drive them to good pastures. The shepherd's staff soon turns to iron, and the shepherds turn to wolves." I would LOVE if someone like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich started quoting Gandhi to support their vision of deregulation and less government intrusion. That would be awesome. Of course, Gandhi was even less of a fan of Western capitalism, preferring instead some form of rudimentary and rickety mercantilism, but Newt wouldn't have to mention that, would he?

I mentioned last week that I got my daughter a Moon Knight action figure, because it's awesome. This week she said something about Moon Knight being a "dance superhero," but I'm not sure what she meant. I'll tell you what, if MK busts a move after he beats up a bad guy in the new Bendis/Maleev series, it will be the greatest comic EVER!!!! This week she decided she needed a girl superhero to hang out with Moon Knight, so when I took her to the comic book store this week, she had her pick. She immediately spotted a Witchblade figure, but I convinced her that an almost-naked Sara Pezzini might not be the best choice. Finally she decided on Rogue, and now her two superheroes are happy ... except now she says that she needs a villain for them to fight. The indoctrination continues!!!!! Here's Norah showing off her new action figures:

Even though it's been a long and trying week (it's Spring Break, hence the lateness of this post), my daughters are still awesome.

I don't care much about college basketball and I don't fill out a bracket (I don't work, so I don't interact with enough people for an office pool), I do like it when Penn State makes the tournament, because it's oh so rare. This year they got bounced in an entertaining first game, but what bugged me was that if Penn State isn't around, I want teams from Philadelphia to do well. So of course the Committee matched the Nittany Lions up against ... Temple. Sheesh. I guess if Penn State couldn't win, I'm glad a Philly team moved on, but couldn't they have played different teams and both moved on? Dang it.

After a week off, let's return to The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Way Down Now" - World Party (1990) "She took us by the hand, hell was the promised land"2. "Maybellene" - Chuck Berry (1955) "The Cadillac doin' about ninety-five, she's bumper to bumper, rollin' side to side"3. "Don't Wait That Long" - James (1992) "God made me to her own design; bad planning, too many flaws"4. "Foxy Lady" - The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967) "I'm tired of wasting all my precious time"5. "Happiness in Slavery" - Nine Inch Nails (1992) "Don't open your eyes you won't like what you see, the blind have been blessed with security"6. "Sleeping with the Television On" - Billy Joel (1980) "I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more a fool who's not afraid of rejection"7. "Haunted" - Shane MacGowan and the Popes (with Sinéad O'Connor) (1995) "You were so cool you could have put out Vietnam"8. "Mr. Roboto" - Styx (1983) "I'm not a robot without emotions, I'm not what you see"9. "Middle Man" - Living Colour (1988) "Just biding my time, waiting for a sign, to tell me that I'm something special"10. "Battle Flag" - Lo Fidelity Allstars "featuring" Pigeonhed (1998) "Tell me what is making you bleed"

Finally, a Totally Random Movie Quote!

"You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."

You might notice I'm in a better mood this week. We're still dealing with some shit here, but it's certainly better than it was! We're probably going to have some strange news to do with our family, which I'll probably share when it becomes final, so won't that be fun? Thanks for letting me rant last week - it felt pretty good. I'll try to keep it to a minimum from now on, though!

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

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