What I bought - 16 May 2007

Yet another big week, and I didn't even buy the two long-delayed comics.  But let's check out what I did purchase!

After the Cape #3 by Howard Wong, Jim Valentino, Marco Rudy, and Manny Trembley.  $2.99, Image/Shadowline.

This issue, and the end of the mini-series, was a big disappointment, as we don't really get a resolution (and there's a promise of more, of course, but would it kill everyone to resolve something before merrily moving on to the next series?) to Ethan's problems, and the ending we do get feels like Wong and Valentino simply ran out of space.  Ethan fights his former teammates, who are torn between beating him up and trying to help him with his alcoholism, and his wife realizes what kind of man he's become.  The problem is that Wong and Valentino spend far too much time with Ethan moaning about his drinking and showing us how he became an alcoholic in the first place (which, with apologies to any alcoholics out there, isn't really that interesting) rather than trying to either redeem Ethan or show us how he deals with his family.  At its center, this mini-series should have been about Ethan trying to make things right for his family and then dealing with it when they found out about his drinking.  At times, that theme is at the forefront, but Ethan talks about it far more than he does anything about it, and we get sidetracked by a silly superhero fight.  I know that Image is giving us neat, three-issue mini-series these days, but perhaps a fourth issue might have been in order for this.

The art, which was a strong point through the first two issues, falters a bit.  In the first half of the book, Rudy's compositions are unclear a lot and somewhat sloppy, while Trembley, who draws the latter part of the book, shows none of the flair he did on the two Sam Noir series.  It's rougher than that, and contrasted with Rudy's lusher style, it looks worse.  Trembley certainly can do better, so I wonder if he was a bit rushed on the pages.  The black-and-white actually helps him more than it does Rudy, because Rudy's art is so detailed that they get lost in the shadows occasionally.  Trembley's art is starker, so although it's not as good, it at least uses the lack of colors better.

An alcoholic superhero trying to figure out a way to make ends meet is a pretty good idea for a comic book, and for two issues, the creators pulled it off.  They stumbled badly with this one, however, and nullify the decent set-up of the first two issues.

Batman #665 by Grant "I've reached the point where I can write goofy crap and nobody will challenge me" Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang.  $2.99, DC.

Whenever I read a sub-par offering from a good (and powerful within the industry) writer, I wonder if the editors are simply afraid of the writer, or if they are blinded by the goodness of the writer and can't see the less-than-stellar work.  I'm sure smarter people than I am can tell me why this issue of Batman is freakin' brilliant, but like the rest of Morrison's (brief) run on this book, it's very uneven.  Morrison doesn't really seem to know where he's going with the book or even how to write the characters.  It gives it a wildly disjointed feel, and it also leads to scene shifts that leave us disoriented.  Again, smart people can explain why this is part of Morrison's "paradigmatic oscillation of the superhero trope that illuminates the depravity of Batman's surroudings vis-à-vis his moral compass" or something like that, but I'm not buying it.  What I am buying is that Morrison seems bored recently, except for All Star Superman.

It's not that this is a bad comic book.  Morrison could be drunk on absinthe and half-asleep and still probably write a decent comic.  Some of the touches are nice, like the return of Bruce's penthouse in downtown Gotham, the black casebook, and the fact that the bad guy is being mysteriously protected by the powers-that-be in the city.  But it feels, to use Dick's favorite word, a bit perfunctory.  The fight with the Big Dude isn't terribly interesting, Damian's appearance is odd, and Bruce's romance with Jezebel Jet isn't doing it for me.  Kubert's art, which I have defended before, is bizarre - his faces occasionally don't match what we think should be the emotion involved, and his Tim Drake goes from looking like a young teenager to a person in his 20s within the space of a few panels.  And I'm still not sure why Morrison is trying to out-Miller Miller with the narration.  Has Batman become such an icon that there's no way to write him without mocking him?  Dini doesn't think so, whatever you think of the quality of his stories.

Next issue is the big demonic one, so maybe it will hold some answers to why Morrison seems to be writing this in a fog.  Maybe.

Cable & Deadpool #40 by Fabian Nicieza, Reilly Brown, and Jeremy Freeman.  $2.99, Marvel.

I didn't get this because the commenters told me to, although many people have been singing its praises for a time.  I got it because I wanted to see how it tied into X-Men, because the last issue of X-Men didn't tell us we needed to pick it up, but it turns out that it might be somewhat crucial to the story of the thing tearing up Providence.  So I can see what's up with the book while keeping up with the main storyline.

First of all, while it's not a bad comic, I don't see what all the fuss is about.  Perhaps it's not the best example of the book, but it doesn't rise much above the standard superhero book, although it doesn't do anything to embarrass itself, either.  This is the kind of book that, if you like the characters, you'll probably enjoy.  I get that, because that's what I do occasionally, especially if the characters are the X-Men.  I mean, I have enjoyed Carey's work on X-Men and Brubaker's work on Uncanny (to a lesser extent), but I certainly wouldn't call those books brilliant.  They're enjoyable reads for someone with a bit of history with the characters.  This seems like the same thing, and I don't like Cable very much and have never really thought much about Deadpool, so I can't be bothered to care too much.  Nicieza isn't a writer who is going to make me drop everything and read what he writes, so the characters are going to have to help carry it, and for me, they don't.  Wade Wilson, again, plays very little part in this book, but his strip poker scenes just weren't all that interesting.  Cable spends most of the issue talking to himself about choices he has to make to save Providence, which involves regaining his powers at the expense of his big plan to save humanity in the future.  He does something unspeakable to Rogue in order to regain his powers (literally, as we never find out what he does - presumably because it's more important to the bigger title, so we'll find out in X-Men #199) and then it's game on!

Brown's pencils are quite good, actually.  His woman are realistic, his Cable is a big dude without the freaky musculature that a lot of artists want to give him, and although his Hecatomb isn't as freaky as Bachalo's, it's still pretty daunting.  It's a solid effort.

Which can be said about the comic as a whole.  It's nothing special, and I don't even know if it's all that necessary if you're just reading X-Men (based on how much Carey will reference it in that book), but I don't regret buying it.  It's just that it doesn't really make me want to come back, because it lacks a "wow" factor.

Catwoman #67 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Álvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

The problem with having a female lead who hangs out with other women in a comic book is the inherent threat of violence in superhero comics.  I don't mind the beating Selina takes on a regular basis, and I don't even mind the beating Holly takes on a semi-regular basis (recently), because they're playing superhero.  At the end of this issue, Karon, Holly's squeeze, is about to be menaced by Boris (of Hammer and Sickle fame).  Now, nothing may happen next issue.  But the fact that Selina is friends with women is great for the fact that "normal" women aren't often present in mainstream superhero comics but bad for the fact that the friends of the hero are often maimed or killed in some way.  So should we be more concerned that Karon is in danger than if, say, Alfred was?  I don't know.  I do know that Pfeifer has done a good job making these characters real, so when they get the shit kicked out of them, I get uncomfortable.  I just hope Karon survives the encounter (I know Selina's kid will, because this is a mainstream DC book).

This is basically a big fight issue, and it's pretty good.  It looks great (López, like Pfeifer, is getting better and better) and it feels like a fight between someone with no power and two superpowered psychos would feel.  So I enjoyed it, and then got to the last page, and I'm trepidatious about next issue.  Pfeifer wouldn't dare kill Karon, would he?

Checkmate #14 by Greg Rucka, Judd Winick, Joe Bennett, Eddy Barrows, and Jack Jadson.  $2.99, DC.

The difference between Winick's crappy dialogue and Rucka's pretty good dialogue is remarkable, even though there are a few lame jokes and exchanges in this book.  Rucka's characters talk like someone on a secret mission might speak (I'm not going to say "do" speak, because I've never been on a secret mission) and not like a situation comedy version of a secret mission.  The issue simply continues the mission, as the group gets out of the problem they encountered in Outsiders #47 but gets into another problem.  Such is the nature of multi-part crossovers.

Rucka, however, doesn't let the fact that this is a multi-part crossover deter him from continuing his story of the super-secret spy organization.  Beatriz is going to have to deal with the fact that she killed someone, and Waller's use of a Suicide Squad-esque group comes out, and the shit is going to hit the fan soon, I'm sure.  Those two nuggets are the nice parts of the book.  The rest is old-fashioned blow-'em-up action, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The one thing I didn't like, and it happened in Outsiders too, is Dick and Sasha's mooning over Batman.  For eight panels (and it feels like eight pages) they talk about Batman without mentioning his name.  Good Christ, Dick, we know that you had a crush on Batman!  You too, Sasha!  You know what?  He was a dick to both of you.  Seriously - they're like an abuse victim who keeps returning to the abuser.  I'm getting tired of it.  But that's just me.

So, eight panels aside, a nice little action book.  Next time: more awful Winick dialogue, I'm sure.

Ex Machina #28 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

As the backlash against this book continues, I still dig it.  Yes, Vaughan has a formula.  Show me a freakin' writer who doesn't!  If I read one more "we're all characters in a comic book" comic book from The God of All Comics, I may dig my eyes out with a blunt plastic spoon.  Yes, Vaughan has some issues with endings.  I don't really mind it in this book, because it feels more organic that way - some things just don't end well.  On another book it might not work, but I know that Vaughan has a plan for the rest of the series (well, at least an ending point), so I will judge the "ending" of the entire book, not just a storyline.  The stories are fascinating, the politics are interesting, the subplots are gripping, and the art is gorgeous.  There's not much more I want from my comics.

Oh, the story of this issue?  Well, if every issue is the same, you know what happens.  Why would you want me to go over it?

Fables #61 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

Of course, the fact that Vaughan does use a bit of a formula on Ex Machina is why it's not a better book than Fables, which sets things up well but then still manages to confound our expectations.  Boy Blue and Ambrose's conversation to start the book is wonderful and unexpected, Frau Totenkinder's machinations fit perfectly but are still surprising, and the secret of the Forsworn Knight is also handled well.  It's another good issue of one of the best titles on the stands, and so of course I can't really write about it too much.  What's nice is that both Willingham and Buckingham, who have been around forever without really breaking out, are both putting so much into this - it really is as much Buckingham's masterpiece as it is Willingham's.  It's such a wonderful book to read every month.  I'm looking forward to seeing what happens as the storm clouds build, because in this book, when the shit hits the fan, it does so in a big way.

General Jack Cosmo Presents #1 Aaron M. Shaps, Nate Lovett, Dave Golding, Andrew Froedge, Jamie Snell, and Gabe Pena.  $3.50, General Jack Cosmo Productions.

Remember Countdown to Infinite Crisis?  Hell, of course you do - Ted Kord got a bullet in the brain!  Remember how it was a piece of shit story but served as an advertisement for the four mini-series that DC was publishing that led into Infinite Crisis?  Sure you do!  Well, that's what this book is - except for, you know, the snuff film climax.  It's not the greatest comic book in the world, but for $3.50, you get a bunch of action and a bunch of sneak peaks at comics that may - or, hell, may not, depending on how long the publisher lasts - be coming to a comics shoppe near you.

This is not a bad way to get the word out about your new releases.  We get four stories starring General Jack Cosmo and some of his friends, and they give a nice flavor to what we can expect.  The writing is slightly amateurish but full of verve, the art is about what you'd expect - cartoony, a bit overwrought, but with its heart in the right place, and the stories are stitched together from various pulp/science fiction/horror cliches.  The saving grace of the book is the fact that the stories are very fun, and, like I pointed out, the neat way to advertise for future releases.  This is certainly a lot better than Countdown, despite its heftier price tag.  We get General Jack Cosmo (whose costume makes him look like, well, Satan) battling werewolves; Hadrain Hilliard, Gentleman Barbarian (whom I love) battling a gorilla in a fez and a giant four-armed mummy, along with a bunch of undead; the Red Ranger fighting, uh, werewolves on the frontier (I'm not a big werewolf fan, so seeing them twice in one comic was a bit disappointing); and the American Eagle and the Golden Star fighting a war on a Flash Gordon-esque world.  Like I said, nothing too original, but the passion is there.

I do encourage people to check this out, because it gives you a good idea of the kinds of things we can expect from this publisher.  It's a fun book to read, and you might see something you want to look for down the road.  You never know!

Hero Squared #6 by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

Of the superhero books that Giffen and DeMatteis are writing for Boom!, this continues to be the best one.  The two Planetary Brigade titles they have done don't have the same gravitas (yes, I'm using that word to describe a Giffen/DeMatteis superhero book) that this comic has.  The other two remain shallow, but this book is actually trying to accomplish something and look at the both the nature of heroism and the nature of villainy.  Therefore, we get the two different sides of the story in this issue, featuring Captain Valor's origin from his point of view and Caliginous' origin from her point of view (and another cover to use when Brian asks for an homage to Detective #38).  Both stories are relatively typical of the Giffen/DeMatteis mold, with some humor, twists on common superhero origins, and some drama.  What makes this issue a good one is the way that Captain Valor is "interacting" with Stephie, and the way that Caliginous is doing the same with Milo.  The idea of a love square has always been there with this book, and it looks like things are going to continue to get complicated.  The other nice thing is that we still don't trust Evil Stephie, so we're still not quite sure if she's telling the truth.  This, in turn, leads us to doubt Captain Valor, despite his never giving us a reason to.  It's a nice way to color our perceptions about the two of them, and Giffen and DeMatteis have been doing this long enough to make it seem effortless.

I recall reading that this comic has only three more issues, and then Giffen and DeMatteis will be done with superheroes.  I can't remember where I read it, though, so I could be wrong, but if it's true, we're set up for a very interesting finale, with lots of soap opera drama done right.  Good to see.

Moon Knight #10 by Charlie Huston and Mico Suayan.  $2.99, Marvel.

Ex-Moon Knight artist extraordinaire David Finch, apparently, is doing storyboards for the Watchmen movie, so there's some news for you.  I deliver the goods!

This is the first issue of Moon Knight that I didn't like.  Yes, I can admit it!  The problem that some people have with this book - that it's too opaque for the casual reader and appeals only to hardcore fans - is very evident in this issue, and it's somewhat vexing.  In the first arc, Huston was able to use Bushman well even if people didn't know who he was.  In this arc, using Moon Knight's former sidekick is strange because he was never that important a character, and at the end of this book, we get yet another character who I don't recognize (Randall Spector, maybe, despite him being dead?).  Maybe I should do some research, as a certain commenter told me last week, but why should I?  It's just a pain in the ass.  There's a lot of this in the book - Moon Knight talks to the Punisher about his brother, Randall, but it's a lot of dancing around the subject, and then we get a bit of news about Crowley's past.  The funny thing is, the dialogue in the book - with people avoiding what they really want to say and only vaguely referencing it - isn't bad, and when you read it, it feels like the way people who have been badly wounded by life would talk.  Huston, however, forgets that this is a comic book, and one with a long and not particularly distinguished publishing history, so readers can't be expected to remember everything.  In comics, people occasionally CAN'T talk like they would in real life, because they have to give information to the audience, which we don't have in real life.  When it's something like Moon Knight, whose last ongoing series ended over a decade ago, it's even more important.  What I do like about the series - Huston's examination of what makes Spector so broken - doesn't work when you're trying to shoehorn in a story about a minor character from 15 years ago.  We need more exposition!

Suayan's art doesn't help, although it's more comprehensible now that word balloons have been added.  It's not awful art, but it is occasionally too busy, and it switches from a smoother style to a rougher style seemingly at random.  The layout of the pages isn't the greatest, either.  It's a shame, because so far in this series, the story has been able to compensate for Finch's extreme line work (again, I like Finch, but his art does get very cluttered) and Suayan's weak storytelling.  In this issue, however, that's not the case.

Huston's run on the book has only three more issues (unless he's signed on for more), and I'm still very interested in the comic.  But this is a serious misstep, and I'd like to see him get back on track.  Maybe next issue!

Uncanny X-Men #486 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki.  $2.99, Marvel.

Man, that's an ugly cover.

This might be the most disappointing comic I've read in a while, simply because I know Brubaker is better than this.  It's kind of ugly, too, as Tan goes a bit nuts, and while I appreciate his effort at jamming every panel with every kind of detail, the art still leaves me breathless, and not in a good way.  But this is Tan's last issue (forever?), and he was never the draw, so that's okay.  Brubaker's story, however, is ... inexplicable, really.

Here's a twelve-part story that accomplishes one important thing: It killed off D'Ken, the crazy Shi'ar emperor.  (Yes, someone else dies in this issue, but, let's face it, no one cares.)  However, it replaced him with Vulcan, who's even crazier, so basically, it's a twelve-part story about ... nothing.  Jerry Seinfeld would be proud.  Yes, Brubaker shunts off a few X-Men into space so that they can continue the good fight against Vulcan, and Xavier gets his powers back, but Xavier's always losing and getting his powers back, so I doubt if we needed a long, drawn-out tale of Charles's Voyage to the M'Kraan Crystal for that.  Yes, Hepzibah ends up on Earth, but how long will that last?  I just don't know what the point of this entire story was.  All the changes are relatively superficial, and it wasn't all that interesting a story.  The only reason to have the X-Men go anywhere near the M'Kraan crystal is because the universe is about to be destroyed, but that didn't happen here.  Other than that, "X-Men in Space" stories tend to be lame excuses to have big fight scenes.  Remember Uncanny X-Men #275?  Jim Lee drew a big fight scene.  200 issues later, Billy Tan draws a big fight scene.  Yawn.

The big question for me becomes: Should I give Brubaker another chance?  We're back on Earth, Larroca is coming on as artist (for a while, at least), and maybe this book won't stink.  I might check out the next story arc (it's not a twelve-issue one, is it?), but the book is on thin ice.  Blech.

Someone in the letters column begs for the return of Gambit.  That's one good thing we can say about this book, at least: No Gambit!  Yay! 

Wasteland #9 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $3.50, Oni Press.

Wasteland is becoming increasingly difficult to write about, because it's getting to that point where it's so good every month that there's not much point.  We can anticipate what's going to happen to a reasonable degree (the betrayal in this issue should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever seen a movie or television show), there will be drama and intrigue, and Mitten will draw the heck out of it.  The only problem I have with the book - keeping track of who's who - will remain, too, but I won't have that big an issue with it, because Johnston is writing for the long haul, so these will read better all together.  There's really nothing else to say.  Michael gets Abi to a place where she can recover, and the man who owns the house thinks she can somehow cure his daughter.  The flashbacks - at least I think they're flashbacks - are a bit confusing, but I'm willing to wait and see how they fit in.  These minor annoyances that would bother me in other books get a pass with books that I like and that have a track record, which Wasteland (despite its short life) has.  I trust Johnston to make everything clear more than I trust, say, Judd Winick.  So this is another fine issue in a title that is still improving every issue out.

X-Factor #19 by Peter David, Khoi Pham, and Sandu Florea.  $2.99, Marvel.

So, in this issue, we get a Gloria Gaynor reference and a Three Stooges joke.  That's about it for the "Peter David Awful Pun and Pop Cultural Reference Watch," which I guess we have to do, because it's not like any other writer ever does it.

The funny thing about this issue is the fact that David keeps dragging really crappy characters out of mothballs.  I mean, Abyss?  Really?  Even David can't really make these characters good, but what he does is at least show the desperation of some of these losers to get their powers back.  Other than that, it's a big fight issue with some nice David touches, like Layla freaking out Nicole when she tells her that she electrocuted someone, and Rahne ending up in the sewer, which is where Layla wanted her in the first place.  The whole idea of the issue is "survival," as Jamie reabsorbs a duplicate who's been poisoned in the hopes it will diffuse sufficiently, and Rictor contemplates throwing his lot in with Pietro.  Not a great issue (and not helped by Pham's art, which has been okay but here suffers occasionally from bad layouts within panels, confusing us), but nothing to make you run screaming to the hills.  It moves the story along, which is fine for a middle section of an arc.

X-Men First Class Special #1 by Jeff Parker, Kevin Nowlan, Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred, Paul Smith, and Colleen Coover.  $3.99, Marvel. 

Lots of people suggested I get this, and it's a nice idea by Marvel - the "limited" series is over, and the ongoing has yet to begin, so this is a good introduction to what Parker is doing here.  It's nice to see Nowlan's art (it's much better on the inside than on the cover, which is bizarre), and although Paul Smith's work is, sadly, a bit sketchy, it's still pretty good.  Coover's drawings of Parker's one-page jokes are very funny, especially when Xavier uses Cerebro to determine that ducklings are 40% more lovable than any other species.  Now that's handy!  (Of course, based on that page, there must now be a Duckling vs. Otter comic to determine who's cuter.)  The stories are light and breezy, with a typical 1960s feel to Dragotta's story, a slighty creepy feel to Nowlan's, and a more traditional superhero feel to Smith's.  It's a nicely done book.

The problem I have with it is twofold.  One, I don't care about the original X-Men in the slightest.  If I wrote the X-Men (where's that phone call, Joey Q!), I would never use them.  They have never been interesting, no matter which writer gets a hold of them.  Therefore, these stories didn't fill me with glee as much as I'm sure they did many other people, for whom Parker is the latest greatest writer ever.  He does a good job with the stories, but very little with the characters, and when the characters are inherently boring (there's a reason why X-Men was cancelled back in the day, after all), the cuteness of the stories only goes so far.  Second, I am getting increasingly tired of "hidden" stories from characters' pasts.  I don't know why.  I've mentioned this before with regard to Matt Wagner's two excellent mini-series about Batman's early years.  Wagner is better than Parker and these artists, though, so I went along, even though I had a vague feeling in my head that everyone would be better served if Wagner just wrote stories that took place in the present.  This annoyance with "hidden" stories is one reason why I didn't buy the mini-series, and will probably skip the ongoing.  I could go into a long, drawn-out reasoning behind my annoyance with these kinds of stories, but I'm not going to.  Suffice it to say that I just don't like them all that much, so when they do show up, they better be freakin' brilliant.  This is a charming comic, but it's not brilliant.  Probably the only way I would enjoy this is if Parker really went all out and set them damned thing in the 1960s, since Marvel cares no longer about the passage of time.  The Dragotta story, in which the gang visits a poetry reading in the Village, works for a page ... until Bobby uses his cell phone.  If it actually took place in the 1960s, and Parker made reference to things that happened in the 1960s, it might work better for me.  But otherwise, I'm just not that interested.

This, however, is a pretty good comic.  I just have no interest in pursuing it further.


Local #9 (of 12) by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.  $2.99, Oni Press.

Let's see ... it's May, so this MIGHT finish before the end of the year.  Yeah, I know.  But we'll see.  It's certainly worth waiting for!

Well, another big week in the books.  I'm really not bitter about what I bought this week, despite my tone in some of these reviews.  It's always fun to see what's out there!

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