If you ask me, I think it’s presumptuous of people to release a “best of” list before the year, you know, ends. I guess everyone is better than I am and gets all their comics weeks ahead of time. I have to wait until they’re actually released! So although our Dread Lord and Master, who not only gets present comics downloaded directly into his brain but future comics as well (he’s read through 2011, I believe), can post his list, I will wait until the calendar turns over. In the meantime, it’s weekly stuff! That’s cool, isn’t it? I mean, this post has a geopolitical rant in it! Who doesn’t want to look below the jump?
As you know, I’ve been on the fence about Air, and I’m giving it my requisite six issues before I decide to continue with it. At least Wilson does some ‘splainin’ in this issue, as we learn some very interesting things about Clearfleet, Blythe’s airline, and why terrorists are after one of its planes. It’s an interesting idea, certainly, and Wilson does a decent job with what is largely an infodump issue, as she throws in a floating Casablanca-type airport/trading post just to give Perker something fun to draw. There’s a surprise ending for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the solicitations, and Blythe learns why she’s an employee of the airline and how to beat her acrophobia. It’s a weird issue, but it follows the thread that has been wending its way through the series so far, and Wilson has done a decent job introducing a lot of different wild ideas in a short amount of time. That’s both a good and a bad thing, as it keeps things jumping but doesn’t allow us to really take in whatever is going on in any particular issue before we zip on to the next one. In a book like Young Liars, this isn’t a problem as much because it’s deliberately high-octane, but it seems like Air is going for a bit more of a meditative bent, but we never have time to contemplate, because we have to wrap our minds around the next strange thing that comes down the pike. It’s a frustrating read, because Wilson has a gigantic story to tell, it seems, but I’m not sure if I want to wait that long for it to coalesce.
I would like to rant a bit as a warm-up to my later rant. My only question is, if the Aztecs possessed technology to fly through the air using the weird “technology as symbolism” thing as explained in the book, wouldn’t they have invented flush toilets along the way? Attributing fantastic technology to groups that were wiped out by evil Europeans always annoys me, because we know that the Aztecs, for all their wonders, weren’t wonderful benevolent scientists inventing environmentally-friendly super-engines, and I always believe authors are taking a subtle shot at the evil Europeans for taking away these glories from us with their smallpox and lust for gold. I would have been happier if the technology in this book had been attributed to Atlanteans. At least we don’t know anything about them, if they happened to exist. We know the Aztecs couldn’t have invented what they are claimed to have invented, and it’s annoying to see it.
Okay, rant over. I’m just getting started, believe me.
It’s been quite a while since an issue of Elephantmen hit the stands, and part of the reason must be because Moritat is no longer on the book, as Starkings explains at the back of the book. He requested a leave of absence, so we’ll see if he returns. Interestingly, he left San Diego early in July, and from what I heard, he was just tired of the whole scene. Moritat, if you’ve never met him, is a hell of a nice guy, and I hope if he’s burned out, he’s somewhere relaxing. [Note: That was all speculation about what his reasons are. He did leave the con early, and he did seemed exhausted, but I don’t know if that and his leaving the book are connected. If they are, I hope he’s relaxing on a beach. That’s all I meant.]
So Churchill and Cook step into place, and they do a fine job with it. The art has a slightly rougher look than when Moritat was pencilling, but other than that, it still looks very good. Churchill and Cook capture the horror of the spores on the beach infecting humans, and the full-page drawing of Obadiah Horn lying on an operating table manages to make him majestic and pathetic at the same time. It’s nicely done.
The story is excellent, as Starkings, who has spent a few years setting the table with regard to all these characters, is now putting them through their paces, and the increased speed of events works well, mainly because we know the characters so well. It’s a terrifying issue, as the meteor from space that landed in Santa Monica seemingly five years ago (given the space between issues) reveals that it contains the virus that wiped out Europe during the wars of conquest for which the elephantmen were bred, and therefore extreme measures must be taken. It’s shocking to see the way the Los Angeles Police Department deals with the threat, and truly sad to see what happens to Miki, even though I have a feeling she’ll get a last-minute reprieve next issue. Meanwhile, Sahara’s father moves to take Obadiah off the board. There hasn’t really been a bad issue of this marvelous series, but this ratchets up the stakes considerably, and it’s wonderful to read along.
Starkings sent this to me in the mail, so it’s been out for a week (I’m fairly certain it came out on 10 December). It’s difficult to jump right into this series, which is why the trades are a better option, but even if you choose to pick this up cold, you won’t be disappointed. And I’d like to thank Starkings, again, for sending it to me. I’d still spend 3 dollars on it, but it’s nice not to!
It’s only been a month since the last issue of Ex Machina, which is fairly unusual. Tony Harris, one of the characters in this comic, even comments on writers having no respect for deadlines on the first page, which is pretty funny. Actually, most of this issue is funny. Yes, it’s a meta-fictional issue, one in which Harris and Brian K. Vaughan show up in the book to audition for the gig of putting Mitchell Hundred’s life in comic book form. It’s all an elaborate joke, of course, including the obvious-but-still-humorous ending. Vaughan and Harris get to make fun of themselves (well, mostly Vaughan), and Vaughan gets to explain what New York means to him without being too maudlin. It’s a nifty little issue, one that allows us to get a sense of why New Yorkers are always so insufferable about why they love their damned city so much. They’re still insufferable, but Vaughan does a nice job giving them a reason to be. And, of course: Dracula werebears!
Fables #79 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). Back-up story by Bill Willingham (writer), Peter Gross (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.
Okay, it’s time for my geopolitical rant (although it’s not really a rant, just an off-topic essay). Why here? Well, it’s an issue of Fables, which means it’s excellent. Blah blah blah. But let’s consider what Willingham is implying with these issues in the aftermath of Geppetto’s fall and imprisonment. Yes, I’m going to attempt to suss out what a writer thinks by his use of fictional characters. This usually gets me in trouble. But do I learn my lesson? I do not!
Okay, so the scuttlebutt is that Willingham is conservative. I have no idea if that’s true, or if people writing that are basing it on hearsay or even just from fictional stuff he writes. But I’ve read it enough that I’m going to go with it. Note I did not write Republican, as the Republican Party these days is not terribly conservative in either the classical sense or even in the more modern sense. I don’t know what the hell you would call the Republicans these days. Anyway, even if we don’t accept that Willingham is conservative, it’s interesting that he’s writing a story arc in Fables that mirrors conservative criticism of European history over the past, let’s say 200 years. Let’s consider: A dictatorship (monarchy) is overthrown and the empire splintered. This monarchy was, at times, extremely malevolent, but also rather benevolent at other times. The forces that destroyed this monarchy claimed they were fighting for freedom from oppression, which is reasonable in the context of the comic. Once they succeed, however, they realize that granting freedom to everyone means granting freedom to some people who might not be particularly ready for freedom and might, indeed, use their new freedom to rise up and set themselves up as the new power, albeit on a smaller scope than the original monarchy. The forces that toppled the monarchy begin to see that there are some benefits to absolutism, even though the idea is repugnant to them.
What’s interesting about this scenario is that it encapsulates a theory of history about how the great monarchies of Europe fell apart over the course of 150 years or so, from the French Revolution to World War II. Napoleon was feared not because he was such a great general, but because he represented a threat to the “natural” order – that is, he wasn’t a king descended from a long line of kings. He knew this himself, which is why he tried to marry into the great lines and legitimize his rule by proclaiming himself emperor. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Great Powers (England, France under the restored Bourbons, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) tried to put the world back together the way it was before the French Revolution, and they held it that way for a century. The most conservative entity in Europe before World War I wasn’t Russia, it was Austria-Hungary, which ruled a motley collection of different nationalities. World War I shattered that arrangement, and Woodrow Wilson, believing he was acting in the best interest of humanity, tried to hasten the idea of “self-determination” – that is, the Serbs know how to best govern themselves, the Hungarians know how to best govern themselves, and so on (Wilson’s largesse didn’t extend to the Middle East, where he actively assisted the British and French in carving up the defunct Ottoman Empire, but that’s another story). The dismemberment of the Austrian patrimony began a trend that led, after World War II, to the decolonization of the British and French empires in Africa and Asia.
This is, for the most part, a good thing. Why shouldn’t people have self-determination? Why should an Austrian emperor rule over ethnic groups like Slavs who don’t even speak the same language as he does? Why should white people in Whitehall decide what’s best for people in sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia? A conservative view has evolved over the years, however, that doesn’t think this is a terribly good thing. If we look at the horrible problems in the Balkans recently, we might admit they have a point. After the Austrian Empire fell apart, Tito moved in and forged Yugoslavia, simply substituting one strongman for another. When he died and Yugoslavia disintegrated and the various ethnic groups clamored for independence, we got years of genocide as the groups fought it out. We can call these the “birth pangs” of democracy, as Condoleeza Rice famously did a few years back when referring to Iraq, but actual people are dying, and the argument is that these groups of people who hate each other were better off under a strong, non-democratic ruler who held them down and also focused their hatred on the ruler. The Slavs in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria lived in relative peace for centuries, loathing their rulers in Vienna or Istanbul. Once those rulers were taken away, they turned on each other.
It’s a tough question: How much is freedom worth? Many people in the United States say, “It’s worth everything.” Those are the people who have always lived with freedom and don’t really know what it is to have a good life without that freedom. What’s interesting about Fables is that Willingham is examining this idea. The Fables in New York were under the constant threat that the Adversary would attack them, but they also led fairly decent lives. As we got glimpses of the worlds under Geppetto’s rule, we didn’t see a lot of the horrors he had perpetuated on the inhabitants. We saw some of it, of course, but we also saw a lot of the peace he had brought to the worlds. Now, the inhabitants of Fabletown have to deal with the social order breaking down because of their own actions, while ancient horrors that were dealt with severely by the iron fist of a tyrant are being let loose by the very freedom the Fables have brought. Of course, for dramatic purposes, the book works better this way, because we have to have good guys and bad guys. But it’s interesting that Willingham is showing that “freedom” might not be everything that it’s cracked up to be. We still have this debate in this country today. The Bush Administration’s sins in this regard are well-known, but consider that many Democrats want to basically censor conservative talk radio if they can. Do we have the courage to grant freedom to people we don’t like? Or do some people need the iron fist of a dictator? And who makes that call? Willingham is bringing up these points in Fables, and it’s kind of neat seeing it. He hasn’t made it too explicit yet, but it’s there. It’s one of the reasons why this comic is such an interesting read, month in and month out.
The penultimate issue of the regular series shows, once again, why David is such a good comic book writer. He paces issues very well, and constantly subverts our expectations. Lee, Jude, and Mariah were fighting over the Sword last issue, which is its power – it destroys people who fight over it because they’re unworthy. Of course, they secure the blade, which makes us think their problems are over, or at least mitigated somewhat. After they leave Babel, however, Nimrod gets a visit from a tennis-racket-carrying young person (seriously), and it’s implied that things are still bad. Then, when our heroes return to Bete Noire, we find out that yes, things are still bad. David does a wonderful job of setting the story up so that we think it will read like a standard “triumph over evil” plot, but then yanks the rug out from under us. He does this constantly, too, and while you might noy enjoy that, it always keeps things interesting.
I’m curious to see who will survive next issue, and what David has in store for later in the year (when the book returns). Whatever happens, I probably won’t see it coming.
Every December/January, I try to cull my list of comics I read, and this year, Ghost Rider is on the block. I haven’t been buying it that long, of course, and I’m only getting it because I like Jason Aaron, but as I’ve mentioned before, he hasn’t been able to replicate the absolute insanity of his first arc, and I’m out of patience. There are a few nice moments in this issue (Huat’s double-paged spread of Zadkiel’s army attacking Heaven, for one), but it’s just not that interesting. In the past few issues, it’s just been superheroes beating on each other. It’s well done, but that’s not for me. Oh well. Scalped is still going strong!
Hellblazer #250. “Happy New Fucking Year” by Dave Gibbons (writer), Sean Phillips (artist/letterer), and Val Staples (colorist); “Christmas Cards” by Jamie Delano (writer), David Lloyd (artist/colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer); “All I Goat For Christmas” by Brian Azzarello (writer), Rafael Grampá (artist), Marcus Penna (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer); “The Curse Of Christmas” by Peter Milligan (writer), Eddie Campbell (artist), Dominic Regan (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer); “Snow Had Fallen” by China Miéville (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (breakdowner), Stefano Landini (finisher), Jamie Grant (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (guess). $3.99, 38 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.
I’m going to start buying Hellblazer next issue, when Milligan comes on as regular writer (at least for a while, to see if Milligan has his mojo working), so I figured I’d get this, as it features stories by several excellent creators. It’s the first of two $3.99-comics from the Big Two that I bought this week that are actually stuffed with content, which is always nice. You get your money’s worth with this one, for instance. Gibbons and Phillips contribute a funny story about a man who wants to live forever; Delano and Lloyd’s tale is about a poker game that takes some unusual turns when a ruthless player has an attack of conscience; Azzarello and Grampá send Constantine to Chicago to exorcise the “curse” on the Cubs (suck it, Cubs fans!); Milligan starts off with a nasty and cynical story about a death curse on Christmas; and Miéville and Camuncoli (who’s the new artist, I believe) give us a story that we think is going to be a typically nasty Constantine yarn but turns into something a bit more hopeful. They’re all good stories about who John Constantine is and why he’s not a complete bastard. Constantine himself gets the last word in the book: “I’m on the side of angels.” Well, it’s Christmas, after all!
This is a nice package from DC. It’s neat to see creators who have been associated with Hellblazer in the past, as well as getting a glimpse of the kind of story Milligan has in him. Even if you haven’t bought Hellblazer for some time (and I haven’t), this a good issue to get.
Andreyko uses the freedom of cancellation to pull a strange narrative trick: He jumps forward in time 15 years and tells a story that includes Kate’s son, Ramsey, as a superhero learning the ropes. It’s an odd choice, and it doesn’t really work that well. It’s a weird shift, especially because Andreyko hadn’t really resolved much of what he had set up by the end of issue #36. And, because next issue is the last one, he’s not really going to have much time to clear up nagging questions about the characters, is he? The story itself isn’t horrible, but it really doesn’t suck us in as well as it should, because we keep wondering what the hell happened “in the past.” Maybe next issue will clear some things up before the comic goes gently into that good night. We’ll see.
I usually don’t like Suydam’s covers, but I dig that one. It’s neat-o.
“The Death of Marc Spector” arc comes to an end with, well, the death of Marc Spector. Bullseye tracks Moon Knight back to his lair, and Spector decides that if he can’t beat the Thunderbolts, he might as well fall back on that hoariest of clichés – he fakes his death! This is actually a weaker issue, because Marvel has already spoiled what has happened in the solicitations, plus it’s kind of anticlimactic by design, as Marc realizes early on that he can’t beat Bullseye, so he doesn’t even try. But it continues to be an interesting series, mainly because of those two points – the hero simply gives up in this issue, which stems from his rejection by Khonshu earlier in the storyline. There’s simply no reason for him to fight – he’s beating up criminals, but in the brave new Marvel world, that’s not good enough. Whereas most Marvel writers have decided to ignore the ramifications of Civil War, Benson has done a good job examining what it means – how should we react to vigilantes who break the law but only beat up “bad” guys? Famously, other writers have Carol Danvers repeatedly letting the Avengers go, but Benson doesn’t take that easy way out. He drives Marc out of the country, which is much more logical in this context. Why are all these unregistered superheroes allowed to operate in the open? Because of money for Marvel, of course – nobody cares what happens to Moon Knight, but God forbid Spider-Man gets hounded out of New York. So Benson has more freedom to make this comic more “realistic,” meaning that Marc decides to abandon his country and become a mysterious gringo south of the border somewhere. I hope that Marvel allows Benson to explore this aspect of Marc’s new life. Unfortunately, Frank Castle shows up next issue, so I’ll have to deal with that, but I still appreciate Benson taking the risks he has with this comic.
Ah, another issue of Rex Mundi, as we hurtle toward a conclusion. Seriously, I don’t even want to review this anymore. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, Nelson moves the story along nicely, with betrayals and revelations and confrontations and despicable characters and heroic actions. If you’re not on board yet, you’re not going to start now, so what’s the point, right? But I encourage you to pick up the trades, because this is a marvelous comic book.
And Gerard Way does the cover. That’s weird.
Thor: God-Size Special by Matt Fraction (writer), Dan Brereton (artist, part one), Doug Braithwaite (artist, part two), Andy Troy (colorist, part two), Mike Allred (artist, part three), Laura Allred (colorist, part three), Miguel Ángel Sepulveda (artist, part four), Frank D’Armata (colorist, part four), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). Back-up story: reprint of Thor #362 by Walter Simonson (writer/artist), John Workman (letterer), and Max Scheele (colorist). $3.99, 38 pgs + 22 pgs of back-up story, FC, Marvel.
I looked through this at the comic book shoppe, and I told the proprietor, “I can’t not buy this.” Consider: It’s 4 dollars. For that you get a 38-page story PLUS a complete 22-page story of an old issue of The Mighty Thor. Said issue of Thor is written and drawn by Walt Simonson. Said issue of Thor, in fact, is the classic story in which Skurge the Executioner holds the bridge out of Hel so that Thor and a bunch of innocent souls can escape, and Skurge holds it with two automatic rifles and nothing else against the demon hordes. It’s a favorite of Dave Campbell, and if you never knew why, now you can find out for yourself. But that’s just the back-up story! The main story features Fraction, who is awesome, telling a new story about Skurge, one that first recaps the original Simonson story and then explores why Thor, Balder, and Loki don’t remember Skurge exactly as he lived. That leads to a tale of love gone horribly wrong and what some people will do to recapture that love and how best to honor the dead. It’s a cool story, but that’s not all! The recap of Skurge’s stand at the bridge is drawn by the awesome Dan Brereton, and then we get a section by Doug Braithwaite, who’s a fine artist, and then another section by Mike Allred, and finally the climax by Sepulveda, whose name I recognize but whose very good art I didn’t. That’s 60 pages of AWESOME, all for $3.99.
The question is not how can I not buy it, but how can anyone not buy it? THIS is the kind of comic Marvel should be publishing if they’re going to charge 4 lousy bucks for an issue. Will they continue this trend? Probably not. But for once, the Big Two did something right in regard to content versus price. Good move, Joey Q!
Uncanny X-Men #505 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Speaking of Fraction, after last issue, I thought he had all his problems with Uncanny X-Men out of his system, but it looks like he still has some. It’s not the actual writing this time, because that’s fine, for the most part. No, it’s the old anti-mutant thing that Fraction has revived. Well, not revived, because it’s never gone away, but it’s been kind of in the background for a while, and now Fraction is bringing it to the forefront, and it’s just not a fresh take anymore. When the X-Men moved to San Francisco, I was hoping that Fraction and Brubaker would begin to explore what happens when humans start to accept mutants, but instead, they went back to the old well, and now that Brubaker is no longer on the book, Fraction looks like he’s going to plough that row yet again. Sigh. And the evil bad guy from Peter’s past is interesting, I suppose, but it’s another one of those things that bugs me about comics in general – every bad guy has to have some kind of connection with the hero, so we get more and more people inserted into their back stories. Finally, it’s the return of the annoying identification narration. I almost wept when I saw the tags. Oh, and finally (really, I mean it this time!), I like how Ororo actually wears real clothing when she’s hanging out, but Emma still wears fetish gear when she’s just sitting around drinking wine and Scott never seems to take his costume off. Whatever.
However, there were parts of the book I loved. The whole sequence in Canada was pretty awesome, which isn’t surprising, as it features Dr. Nemesis, whom I love. I like what Fraction is doing with that part of the book. And the X-23 scene was neat. And whoever put Pixie in a T-shirt that reads “Doolittle” is clever, even though that album and band suck. Yes. I. Went. There.
As usual, I’m still feeling this title out. I give it a bit more rope because I love the X-Men so much, and Fraction obviously has some cool things going on. I guess the disappointing parts are more disappointing because the awesome parts are quite awesome.
X-Factor #38 by Peter David (writer), Nelson (artist), Larry Stroman (penciler), Jon Sibal (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Rob Schwager (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Dear Lord, is it too much to ask for X-Factor to have a regular artist? I don’t even know how many different artists have worked on this book, but I’m tempted to go through my run and find out. It’s ridiculous. Here we get Stroman for four pages and then Nelson for the rest. Their styles clash completely (Nelson’s art in this issue looks like Tom Grummett’s), and although I’m more of a story guy and as long as the art doesn’t actually suck to the point my eyes bleed I can put up with it, it’s really annoying that this book can’t keep an artist. Seriously, fuck the heck?
David, as usual, doesn’t let our heroes fall into superhero clichés, so they get out of trouble in a nice way. And bad things swirl around Teresa and her baby, even though nothing actually happens to the unborn baby (it’s not that kind of book). Next issue: The Birth! And, presumably, a new artist. Sheesh.
The next story arc of Zorro begins with a new artist but the same general theme – Diego acts like a buffoon around his father while chafing under the boot of the oppressors and he can’t wait to put on his black leather and carry his whip and dish out some punishment! Wow, that makes the book sound a lot more disturbing than it really is. Wagner begins by linking this story to the first arc, as the priest from the latter issues is recruited by Zorro to re-distribute the wealth he’s stolen from the rich. I’d make some crack about Communism here, but apparently redistribution of wealth is all-American now, so I guess I’ll just salute Zorro’s initiative! Wagner sets up this arc by bringing in a love interest for Diego, which will presumably give him a more vested interest in beating the bad guy (who also has his eye on Lolita Maria Immaculata de la Pulido – she’s an ancestor of Brian Pulido, I’m sure!) even if he doesn’t end up with her, and Rezik’s art, while not spectacular, looks fine. It’s a little less cartoony and slightly more polished than Francavilla’s, which is a bit to the detriment of the book, as Zorro ought to look a bit dusty and rough, but it still looks fine.
Zorro isn’t a great comic, but it’s entertaining, and now that Wagner has the origin out of the way, he can concentrate on the swash-buckling. This is a good start.
And so we reach the end of another week’s purchases. Lots of fine books out there, people! You know they’re there! But before you run out and buy things simply on my say-so, here are some totally random lyrics!
“It’s not as if this barricade
Blocks the only road
It’s not as if you’re all alone
In wanting to explode
Someone set a bad example
Made surrender seem all right
The act of a noble warrior
Who lost the will to fight”
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