What I bought - 17 October 2007

A recent comment made me feel bad. Someone who shall remain nameless (because of their poor non-use of apostrophes) wrote: "And with no Joe, that means the only regular opinion we get is Gregs. GREGS!" That comment really hurt me, because it implies that I am a hack when it comes to reviewing things. I had to go club some baby seals and veto a kids' health care bill just to feel better about myself. Now, I'm sure many people actually do think I'm a hack, but to see it in print ... man ... the tears make it too difficult to continue ... maybe I'll just stop reviewing anything ...

Some of you might cheer when you read that, but you know I'm just funnin' with you! Despite my hurt feelings, I will plug on! You can't get rid of me that easily! Bwah-ha-ha-ha! And, with regard to this week's comics, the word of the day is "excellent"! So many good books came out!

I thought I'd break down some of the choices you guys gave me when I asked for your help in buying my comics this week. Some people, I think, get frustrated because they think I don't care what they have to say. But I do, I do! Let's see what some suggestions were: Avengers Classic #5 didn't look interesting. The only reason I would get it is for the backup story, and what was up with that? It didn't look good. I may pick up DMZ this weekend, but I won't review it here (I can only take five books at a time for free, so I have to go back and get more). I bought the first few issues and wasn't impressed, but apparently a lot of people like it. We'll see. I own a couple of Powers trades, so I probably won't buy those in single issues, because I'm way behind. I'm going to review The Brave and the Bold #7 for Atomic Comics. I didn't like the one issue I did read, though. I buy Conan and Captain America in trades. I don't like The Boys whenever I read it. See? I take you guys seriously, even though I don't always buy what you recommend! All right, let's move on.

Today, we have a bit of a mini-theme. In several of these books, characters either die or experience a great loss. Why does that work sometimes and doesn't work other times, beyond the obvious of "good writing"? We will delve into that, fear not!

Awakening #2 (of 10) by Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn. $3.50, Archaia Studios Press.

I read the first issue of this series and was impressed with the art but was a bit let down by the story. The art continues to look nice, with a very rough woodcut look. It's very dark, and not perfect, but the mood Eckman-Lawn sets keeps the story gripping, even as the story struggles to catch up. Tapalansky is doing a slow burn here, and that's frustrating, because depending on how this story ends, it might be a very cool book. But the way the book is coming out, in ten discrete packages, with big gaps between those packages, is a bit frustrating. There's a nice glimmer of an interesting story here, as our hero, Derrick Peters, meets up with the mysterious doctor, Daniel Howe, who has just shown up in town. They team up with some tacit approval of the police department (well, at least one cop knows what they're doing) and investigate the latest incident of people being eaten. A young woman is attacked but survives, so Peters has a witness, and then he digs into the Cline Pharmaceutical connection, discovering some strange things about the company. This has some potential, but I can certainly understand why people would want to wait for a collected edition. For comics like this, where a slow build-up leads to (we hope) a very cool payoff, the single issue format can't help very much. Let's hope Archaia realizes that and does a nice trade paperback release way down the line.

Catwoman #72 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López. $2.99, DC.

The first of the unbelievably excellent comics this week is, perhaps not surprisingly, Catwoman. A different commenter on this here blog (in the same thread on which I was insulted!) called Pfeifer "mediocre," but I can't believe that person has read this comic. Despite Pfeifer's attempts to defend Amazons Attack! and the fallout from that ill-conceived series, Catwoman just keeps getting better. In this issue, Selina decides that she simply can't keep Helena anymore because of the danger. She calls on Zatanna to make her forget about Helena, telling her in flashback about her appeal to Bruce Wayne to set up an adoption for Helena. Again, we see that Pfeifer gets Bruce. Selina confesses that she killed Black Mask, and Bruce tells her that he knew - of course he knew! He tells her that he didn't take her down because what she did protected the innocent, even though he disagrees with her methods. Bruce is angry at Selina, but he realizes why she did it. He helps her, of course, and when Selina gives up her baby, her devastation is palpable, and López's wonderful full-page panel showing her collapsed on the floor is brilliant. And then, Zatanna's "gift" to Selina is fantastic, too. This is a heart-breaking issue, but it follows logically from what has come before. Pfeifer recently adopted a daughter, and he writes a very good parent - both Selina and Bruce, as Tim's "father." He also does a nice job with Helena telling Tim his costume is "wed," and then repeating it over and over. Yes, that's what small children do.

The big debate about whether Selina will become "evil" again rears its head, but she's not becoming "evil" just for the hell of it, so I doubt it's going to take. However, Selina is going someplace not very nice, and I'm looking forward to it. It's an excellent comic book.

Checkmate #19 by Greg Rucka, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson. $2.99, DC.

Yawn - another excellent issue of Checkmate. Okay, the Negative Zone Prison seems a bit - how shall we say? - ripped off from somewhere*, but other than that, the middle chapter of "Fall of the Wall" shows us Amanda taking charge, just like it says on the cover. And it's as nasty as you might think. She rips Checkmate apart somewhat easily, and sets up some very interesting confrontations next issue, both on the battlefield, as Deadshot has the drop on Jessica Midnight and Fire, and in the political arena, as the United States gets the dirt on our international heroes and plans to use it. Rucka deftly shows the backroom deals and how petty shit affects policy, and Amanda has been doing that sort of thing for a long time. It's a very cool issue.

Last time, I mentioned that we're not exactly sure why Waller is doing what she's doing. We get some answers in this issue, as she's sending the super-villains through the Stargate to wherever it is they're going. Waller believes that Checkmate is a U. S. agency, and she wants to act according to the orders of the president. Rucka does a good job making a political statement about the War on Terror, as Waller is sending villains away without, presumably, due process, something Checkmate would object to. One wonders why Waller didn't just quit Checkmate. I guess she's using the resources of the group to put together her scheme, but it seems like the United States would be able to pony up the money for that. She's obviously at odds with the way Checkmate works, but what does Checkmate offer that makes her stay instead of quitting?

Anyway, another fantastic issue. As usual, I'm looking forward to the next one.

* Obviously, the idea of sending the super-villains "someplace else" - in DC's case, a different planet - is ripped off. Who came up with this idea? They can't claim that someone came up with this before the Negative Zone thing at Marvel, because that showed up, what, a year ago? So who decided this was a good idea? And even if they did come up with it five years ago, when Civil War came out, they had to change that, didn't they? I mean, I guess not, because they're doing it, but aren't they embarrassed to be ripping off the competition so blatantly?

The Death of the New Gods #1 (of eight) by Jim Starlin and Matt Banning. $3.50, DC.

Our Dread Lord and Master talked about the reaction to the end of this issue. I'm going to SPOIL it for you below!

So, Barda gets herself killed. That's after some other New Gods die. I hate to say it, but I had no reaction to it. Starlin does a decent job getting us up to speed on the whole History of the New Gods, and the issue is somewhat entertaining, but just like every other comic with something like this, I don't care. At this point, why do writers even kill characters? Does anyone have any emotional reaction to it? I mean, if it's a creator-owned series, when you know that nobody will ever write those again, that's different. But Barda? The mystery is reasonably interesting, but there's just no way anyone can care about this, or any big-time DC or Marvel characters, dying. Can they? I mean, did people get worked up over Connor Kent? Or Black Goliath? Or even Hawkeye? I mean, except for Looker (DAMN YOU, DAN DIDIO!!!!!!!!!), who cares? To set up a story so that the ending of the issue shows a long-standing character dying makes no sense, does it? We'll see.

I also don't like Darkseid narrating this sucker (well, for the most part - others get some narration, too). Darkseid is such a malevolent presence, and he's so condescending of everyone else, that is narration is just annoying to read. That's just me, I guess, but I think it keeps us from really getting into the story. It also keeps Scott Free distant from us, so at the end, when he's narrating his grief, it feels forced. I think it's a misstep.

Finally, although I'm not really all that disturbed by the fact that three people get their hearts ripped out of their chests in this issue and it's all shown, I find it funny that DC continues to show gory scenes like this with no warning on the cover. I don't really care about whether kids are going to be warped by this or not, because kids see far worse in video games and it's the parents' job to shield them if they want to, but DC obviously considers this kind of thing "appropriate," but, as I've pointed out before, nipples in comics warp children's minds. The funniest thing is that when the first victim shows up, Jimmy Olsen blocks the face of the victim, framing the gaping hole in the chest. It reminds me of when the comic book companies (movies and television do this, too) would block the horrific wound with something and have the characters tell us what was wrong - "Oh, God, I can't believe his face has been chewed off like that!" Except, in this case, they blocked the wrong thing! It just made me laugh.

Anyway, I didn't spend money on this, and I don't think you should either. It's kind of pointless.

Elephantmen #11 by Richard Starkings and Moritat. $2.99, Image.

Ye Olde Iowa suggested I get this issue, because I didn't include it on my list. I didn't include it because Richard Starkings has been nice enough to send me every issue, so I figured he might send this one to me. Well, he hasn't yet (don't make me beg, sir!), but I wanted to read it anyway, because this is a very good series, and this issue is a very good example of it. We get two concurrent stories (and no back-up this time around) focusing on Serengheti and Dr. Nikken, two of the more reprehensible characters in the series. Nikken created the Elephantmen, and in this issue, we flash back to his hearing in front of the United Nations, at which he defends himself by claiming he's a humanitarian and the U. N. are hypocrites, desperate for a scapegoat. Meanwhile, in the present, Serengheti the gangster reminisces about his life when that dude on the cover, Munt, brings him expensive "corpse markers," that were used for exactly that during the wars. We learn some very important things about Serengheti, Sahara, and the fetish that has been wending its way through the story. It's a horrifying tale of evil in many forms - both men are evil, but for very different reasons. Neither story exonerates them, but it does explain them, and the awful thing is that we can't say we're necessarily better than they are, because we don't know what we would do in the same situation. Starkings has done a wonderful job making this "sci-fi" epic relatable to us, and this issue shows that perfectly. And, as usual, the issue tells a gripping story on its own but still manages to fit into the bigger tale. It's very satisfying to read an issue of Elephantmen, because you know it's going to do that: find the balance between entertaining people on a single issue basis but also telling a bigger story. Moritat's art, as usual, is excellent, brutal when it has to be and staggeringly beautiful in one full-page panel. Moritat had (has?) carpal tunnel syndrome, which explains the book's lateness (isn't it nice when creators explain a book's lateness?), but let's hope it's back on schedule. Even if it's still late, that doesn't make it any less excellent.

Ex Machina #31 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark. $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Another of my favorite comics plugs along, with the usual flashback to begin, with a surprise visit from that gorilla on the cover, and then the "present" story taking Mitch to Rome for his visit with the Pope. The flashback ties into the main story obliquely, with the "bad guys" claiming religious freedom so they can slaughter a chicken, and, of course, there's that assassination plot to cover. The ending, in typical Vaughan fashion, is surprising without being a "shocking cliffhanger," and makes sense, to a certain degree. As usual with Ex Machina, it's tough to assess the issue, because it's built so much on the entire story. Unlike, say, Starkings in Elephantmen, Vaughan isn't particularly interested in telling a complete story in one issue. That's fine with me, because I can take both kinds of comics, but it makes it hard to really judge how these stories go until they're done. I liked the issue, but I realize that it's simply part of a whole, so it just moves along at its own pace, allowing Vaughan to tangent off on the Harlem Globetrotters and the fact that Bradbury speaks Italian. You know, like he does.

Fables #66 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha. $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

Fables continues on its merry way, and there's not much to say about it. Ambrose continues with his machinations, Shera Khan and Bluebeard overplay their hand and are banished, which is, of course, all part of Ambrose's plan, and there's the usual mix of humor and seriousness and adventure, all drawn beautifully by Buckingham. The issue ends with the Emperor's army at the borders of Ambrose's new kingdom, setting up the big fight issue. It's Fables. What can I say? It's awesome.

G. I. Joe #28 by Mark Powers and Mike Bear. $3.50, Devil's Due Publishing.

I haven't mentioned this story line recently, but this is a very good comic. Bear's rough lines add a nice "real-world" touch to the proceedings, countering the silliness of the look of Cobra Commander and Destro. It's a gripping story, too, as Powers has been building to the ending of this issue, in which the war has begun thanks to a horrible act of terrorism. Powers never lets up on the throttle, even when, like last issue, we had some quiet moments between Duke and his father. Those scenes lead directly to this issue, in which a Cobra soldier tries to break Duke and uses psychological pressure on his father to do it. Of course, we know it won't work, because it's Duke, after all, but it's thrilling to read, and it allows Powers to show some more character moments, which is nice. Plus, the way Cobra infiltrates a nuclear sub is dropped in throughout the book, heightening the tension. Powers has a lot going on in this story, but so far, for someone who has never read a G. I. Joe comic book, it's very easy to follow. This is a really cool book.

Lazarus #1 (of 3) by Juan Ferreyra and Diego Cortes. $3.50, Image/Shadowline.

It's Juan Ferreyra Week, as two comics featuring his art show up! This is a series he both wrote and drew (with Cortes helping on the writing chores), and although his art isn't as stunning as it is in Rex Mundi (he inked and colored both issues, so it's not that), it's still very nice.

This has potential to be a pretty good comic. The set-up is simple but effective: A man named James Trout picks up his girlfriend, Emily, a doctor at a company that specializes in genetic research. They speak cryptically about his "accident" and how Emily has been trying to find out more about him (implying that he has amnesia), but before she can tell him anything, they're run off the road and Emily is killed by a guy who looks like a pro. James should be dead (the guy works him over), but he survives and then disappears from the hospital before the cops can question him (they call themselves "police" but also "agents" - English problems for the Argentinian creators or an indication that Robinson and Barnes, the two cops, aren't what they seem?). The cops go to James's house, where he happens to, you know, be. They question him, but before they can get anywhere, a member of the South American Intelligence Agency shows up. Huh? Then bad guys show up, and things get bloody. James ends up in the morgue, but I doubt if it will surprise you, given the name of the comic, that he opens his eyes right at the end. Strange things, as Ted "Theodore" Logan might say, are afoot at the Circle K.

It's a nifty little book. Three issues, a weird mystery, nice art, and an interesting lead character. We'll see where it goes.

Marvel Comics Presents #2, with stories by Marc Guggenheim and Dave Wilkins; Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger; M. Zachary Sherman and Khoi Pham; and Rich Koslowski and Andrea Di Vito. $3.99, Marvel.

I still think this isn't going to last, because people aren't going to pay 4 dollars for it. I mean, the Immonen story, with Hellcat inexplicably meeting all kinds of versions of herself, is amusing, but it's only 8 pages long (and part 2 of 4). I dig the lead story by Guggenheim and Wilkins, because I like the idea of cops solving murder mysteries in the Marvel Universe. Stacy Dolan is far too tarted up for the story, but I like how she goes to Reed Richards to find out who the Watcher is, and even he can't figure out who the victim is. It's turning into a neat story, but again, it's 12 parts long, and I'm not sure how patient people will be. The Taskmaster story is somewhat obvious, but Pham's art, which looked rushed as his brief stint on X-Factor progressed, looks pretty good. The stories aren't bad, but I just don't think it's going to fly. I still think that Marvel could charge a dollar for this and give some small-time creators a chance to play with the characters. I know that's not going to happen, but I don't think this is going to survive otherwise. But that's just me.

The Programme #4 (of 12) by Peter Milligan and C. P. Smith. $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

I've decided to buy this, because it's been intriguing and Milligan obviously has something going on. I probably shouldn't read it in stages, because there's a lot going on and it's somewhat tough to keep track of it. There's plenty of cool stuff in this issue, like the superhero who thinks he's Joe McCarthy and the Russian in the gulag, but it's kind of pointless to discuss it. We're into the meat of the series, and that's that. If something comes up that needs discussing, I'll do it. Trust me.

Rex Mundi #8 by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra. $2.99, Dark Horse.

My favorite comic has really kicked up a notch in the last issue and this one, as Nelson takes us further into the war between France and Germany and the Inquisition tries to take Julien to the Grail Castle. The cover text, incidentally, has absolutely nothing to do with what's going on in the actual book, even though the scene takes place inside. Odd. The Duke of Lorraine is besieged in Carcassonne, and although he believes that his reinforcements will turn the tide against the Prussians, he is betrayed by his Allies, and things look bleak. Meanwhile, Julien and his captors are taken away by soldiers, and in the wilderness, things turn very ugly. It's a very tense issue, as we fear for the Duke even though he's a dictator, and we fear for Julien even though we're pretty sure he's not getting killed anytime soon. Nelson has done such a good job creating these characters that we're right there with them, and when one of the Inquisitors gets shot through the head, we're jolted by the violence, even though he's a completely disposable character. The Grand Inquisitor Moricant manages to escape, and even though we don't like him either, we're still hoping he makes it. Ferreyra's art is spectacular as usual - the face of the executioner is truly frightening and inhuman, and the final panel, of Lorraine contemplating defeat, is haunting.

For a while the comic, while still my favorite, was meandering a bit. Nelson has said in the past that the series will run about 36 issues. By my count, that means there's probably 10 or maybe 11 left. It certainly feels like the third and final act has begun and is in full swing. Which means that we should continue to see exciting issues like this and continue to learn more secrets about what exactly is going on. I can't wait.

Suburban Glamour #1 (of 4) by Jamie McKelvie. $3.50, Image.

Jamie McKelvie, the artist and co-creator of Phonogram, one of this year's best mini-series, finally gets around to Suburban Glamour #1, which I've been looking forward to for a while. McKelvie's art is tremendous - it looks simple, but he gives his characters such expressive and unique looks that you're just drawn into the story easily. It doesn't hurt that his main character, Astrid, is very well-developed (as a character, you perverts!), even in just the first issue. She's obviously gorgeous, but she's also funny, sarcastic without being cruel, intelligent, a teenager without being a punk, and a cool person to hang around with. Which is why her friends hang around with her. McKelvie does a fine job, freed from Kieron Gillen's "aspic of overwritten caption boxes" (I'm just joking, as Gillen's writing in Phonogram was intriguing and not overwrought; I'm simply quoting Gillen himself!), of establishing the relatively mundane existence of Astrid and her friends. He goes a teeny bit overboard when he has Astrid's friend Chris actually point out that they're living the lives of teenagers, but for the most part, he does a nice job showing us that they're kids without beating us over the head about it. That makes the contrast with the weird "dream" she has the creatures that show up on the last page more interesting. Her childhood friends who speak to her in the night are particularly bizarre, because they look very cuddly but are kind of scary. The monsters at the end are well done, but they're just monsters. Eblis and Miss Sally are freaky!

This is a very cool beginning. Most of the time, it seems like writers deliberately make teenagers unlikable, at least to fogies like me, and hope the plot carries us to a point where we can sympathize with the characters. Faker, for instance, is surviving on its plot for me, even though the characters are pretty much jerks. But McKelvie takes a different route, and it makes this a more enjoyable comic, because the plot is less central to the story, even though it's intriguing. It will be fun to follow this series. Let's hope it comes out promptly!

The Umbrella Academy #2 (of 6) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. $2.99, Dark Horse.

I like the Grant Morrison pull quote on the cover. Clever, in a meta sort of way.

The intriguing promise of the first issue is fulfilled a bit in this one, as the kids come together for the funeral of their "father," and all sorts of family issues arise. We also find out what's been going on with #5 and why he's still a kid. And we discover why the comic is called "The Apocalypse Suite," which is nice. Way does a very nice job making this like a "normal" family reunion - as normal as a group of odd superheroes can be - and that helps ground the comic more than we might expect. In books that are all about the weirdness, we need something to relate to, and the bickering of siblings and the pain in their mother's voice when she eulogizes Hargreeves offsets the fact that she's not exactly human. It's a nice balance so far, and it makes us care more about the group, so that when they go fight the weird "Terminauts" that show up at the beginning of the issue, it will mean more to us. It's nice to see that Way understands this. The art, of course, is fantastic.

So I'm on board for the rest of the series, unless it goes horribly off the rails. Let's see where it goes!

That's all for this week. I want to comment briefly on the idea of death or even loss in comics. DC and Marvel just don't understand that the audience doesn't fall for their tricks anymore. Starlin can be a good writer, but we know that Barda won't stay dead if someone comes up with a good story about her (hell, she might not even be dead at the end of this series), so the book loses any impact it might have. Killing a character off, especially one from the mainstream DC or Marvel Universes, just doesn't work from an artistic standpoint. I suppose it might from an economic standpoint, and that's all the Big Two care about anyway. But consider Selina's loss this week. Pfeifer has taken a character and made her his own, and we feel her pain because we can understand the horrible choice facing her. Similarly, in Elephantmen, the murder of a character means more to us because we know his death is final, but also because it fits in well with the way the murderer has always acted, and it ties into the bigger storyline. Starkings doesn't kill off a character just for shock effect, but because that's what would happen, if the plot plays out the way it does. It's easy to say that death means more if the characters are creator-owned, but that's not necessarily true. It's the way DC and Marvel market death these days, as if it's something fun for us to check out and guess who's going to die. It's not quite a number to call to vote, but it's close. The crassness of it all is what depresses me. I read something like Rex Mundi, where a minor character is shot in the head, and it's supposed to make us react in a negative and horrified manner. I'm sure the Big Two want us to react to Barda's death in the same way, but the relentless marketing of death - it's the name of the book, for crying out loud! - makes it something slightly voyeuristic and unsettling. In Catwoman, it's disturbing because we're sharing in Selina's grief. In The Death of the New Gods, we're spying on Scott's grief, and the editors are encouraging us. It's enough of a difference to make the feelings involved less empathetic and more gleeful.

I'm way off course, aren't I? Oh well. Why should I waste time worrying about a mediocre mini-series when there were so many good comics on the shelves? Why should any of us?

DC's Next Justice League Event Kicks Off in August

More in Comics