What I bought - 18 August 2010

"It never occurs to you that the beautiful princess and the wicked old witch believe exactly the same thing: Anything at all, including cunning and lies, will work for the beautiful; nothing helps the ugly." (John Gardner, from Freddy's Book)

Hi! Did you miss me? I mentioned last week that I would be journeying to the wilds of southeastern Pennsylvania this weekend, so this post would be delayed a bit. I decided to have some fun with this. As I was seeing a bunch of old friends from high school, I thought I'd let them review my comics this week. For the most part, these guys do not read comics, so I figured it would be a fun experiment to see what they got out of them. I couldn't get enough people to read every single one of the comics I got, so some feature reviews by boring old me. But most of them are by neophyte readers who have no preconceptions whatsoever about comics. So I hope you enjoy their thoughts, and I provide a brief summary of what happened in the issue, in case they miss some stuff. Most of them e-mailed me a review, but for two of them, I sat down with a 1980s old-school tape recorder and conversated with them, as you'll see. Of course, the first few reviews are me, because nobody picked those when I gave them a choice!

Atlas #4 (of 5) ("The Return of the Three Dimensional Man Parts 4 and 5") by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist, Part 4), Ramon Rosanas (artist, Part 5), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist, Part 4), and Ed Dukeshire (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

It's too bad nobody picked this (I was not influencing anyone at all - they picked them based on a number of reasons, but I didn't tell them what ones I really dug), because it continues to be wildly fun. Parker reveals what Bob really looks like (he's Uranian, after all) and we also get a lot of back story about the logo on Delroy's chest and what it means. Plus, there's a great shot of a dragon breathing fire (the first of two dragons in comics this week, mind you). The second story takes some of the team to an alternate dimension where everyone's an Avenger. It's kind of neat how Parker, instead of using the back-up pages to tell a back-up story, simply continues with the main story, but because it's a different artist, the alterate dimension feels more alternate. It's all leading up to the final showdown next issue, after which, sadly, we won't get any more of Atlas for a time. So sad!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Avengers Academy #3 ("Scared Straight Part 1: Boyfriend in a Coma") by Christos Gage (writer), Mike McKone (penciler), Andrew Hennessy (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This time around, Gage uses Hazmat as the narrator, and she has a big plan to kill Norman Osborn because, well, he's a meanie. The Avengers are going to take the kids to the Raft to "scare them straight," and she knows that Osborn will be there, so it's the perfect time to kill him. That's basically the main plot.

What makes this such a good issue, however, is Gage's sharp dialogue. He's doing a good job with the sarcastic teen-speak the kids exhibit, and Valkyrie's truly excellent speech about fighting "the oppression of the phallocentric society" in which the kids live is brilliant. Gage, of course, cuts her off before she can extol the virtues of various toys with which a female can bypass a male for her pleasure, but it's still a hilarious scene. The villains at the Raft are used well, too, especially the Juggernaut, who's weary of saying his catch-phrase even though the kids ask him to. Gage's characterization on this series so far has been good, and this is the best one yet.

New inker Hennessy (McKone inked himself on the first two issues) gives a slightly harder edge to McKone's pencils, which is fine for the most part, but Moonstone in particular looks a bit stilted because the lines are more rigid. When I'm getting to the point where I notice changes in inking like that, I've probably read too many comics. Will that stop me? Of course not!!!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chew #13 ("Just Desserts Part 3 of 5") by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Steven Struble (color assist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Summary: We learn how we reached the end of last issue, with a flashback that tracks Mason and his partner. Plus, we find out more about the marvelous chicken substitute that's sweeping the nation.

Guest reader/reviewer: Frank Alvaro. Frank is a senior-level software engineer (and, according to him, a shepherd, although he lives in a suburban development) and father of two boys. He is one of the twin brothers who lived directly behind me when I was growing up, and therefore I've been friends with him since about 1975 or so. He likes Philadelphia sports teams, especially the Flyers, and likes reality science-related television shows. He listens to local original rock bands, jazz, and some country/western. Frank is quite a damned good guitarist, if I might interject. The only comic he's read is some Sandman, which I gave him 20 years or so ago.

What he thought of Chew: I enjoyed the story behind this one; funny and original (of sorts), just off-the-wall and dry enough to pique my interest. What I found pretty good was that even though this was #3 of 5 [of the arc], I had no problems just "jumping right in" to this story because of the excellent prologue; characters were introduced with just enough information needed to get you into and then through the current story. The art was pretty good, and not over the top - I don't know that you want to have ultra-extravagant art for a comic that is (IMO, anyway) more about the story than eye-candy. The characters themselves were pretty good, too, and close to their likenesses from the "big screen." [I didn't get a chance to ask him about this; I assume because Layman is going for a Pulp Fiction vibe, he means Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta.]

The flow was very easy to follow, both in the layout of the panels, and the dialogue - separate "verbal thoughts" were broken into different, connected balloons, making it easy to understand when there was a slight "intentional pause" in the dialogue. To be honest, it read like what I expected a comic should read like - and I mean any comic, from Garfield to Bloom County, to the Sunday funnies. Didn't take too long, and it wasn't very difficult to follow. Not sure if that's good or bad.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ex Machina #50 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (artist), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $4.99, 47 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I'm not surprised that nobody picked this, because "The Final Issue" is clearly printed on the front and maybe that was a bit daunting. Or maybe the cover just wasn't that appealing. Anyway, Vaughan still has plenty of surprises to throw at us in this final issue, and for me, it's much more satisfying than the ending of Y: The Last Man (of course, I'm on record as saying this title, as a whole, is better than that book, so it's perhaps not surprising that Vaughan ends it better). I won't spoil it, but I love how Mitchell remains a true politician even when things are coming apart on him, and Vaughan does some very nice stuff with Mitch's moral choices and what he should do without beating us over the head with a lesson, one that we can figure out ourselves (and to say more would spoil it, so I shan't). Mitchell remains a tortured soul, and that's why he's so interesting - the choices he's made throughout the series remain ones that he has to live with, and Vaughan hints around at whether he can or not.

Anyway, we've seen some less-than-stellar endings to long-running series (and, to be fair, some excellent ones), and this is definitely a good one. Vaughan is presumably abandoning comics these days, which is a shame because he's such an interesting writer, but at least we have some very good work out of him, and this series probably should be at the top. And the delay worked pretty well for Harris, because the art is very good. (Well, except for the one panel where one character punches another - the movement is just weird.)

One totally Airwolf panel:

Fables #97 ("Rose Red Chapter Four: Dark Age Party Girl") by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Dan Green (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Summary: Rose Red causes problems in Snow White's new kingdom, realizes that maybe she wasn't the nicest sister, and her mother tells her she has to take care of the Farm and reveals who she really is, which we don't see. Bigby decides it's time to do something about Fabletown. Geppetto meets with the badger and the young witch (I can't remember her name) to plot, but they don't realize they themselves are being watched!

Guest reader/reviewer: Deb Alvaro. Deb is a Recruiting Assistant for a company called Emcare, which recruits emergency room staff, and a mother of two rambunctious boys (she's married to Frank, who reviewed Chew above). She likes movies but she's never awake to watch any. She likes all kinds of music, from Pavarotti to the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack. She wonders if it's wrong to like Family Guy. And she had never read a comic book before!

What she thought of Fables: My first opinion before I read the comic book was, "Comic books seem unrealistic, goofy, immature dreamlike things people read to keep some part of their childhood alive ... the nerds who want to be bullies, the bullies who want to be magical, the girls who want to be pretty." But after reading this, I'm not even sure. I'm not saying that I've completely changed my mind but I have it a little more opened. I can't really say I know for sure why people read them. I wouldn't be against reading them ... I just don't know when I would. I don't know why I'm currently stuck on "Why would someone read a comic book, or when would they find the time," but what's neat is I told the kids I had to read it, I got my glasses on, poured a cup of coffee and actually had quiet for 10 minutes while I read it. SOOOOOOOOOOOO, heck - bring them on! So - back to your questions. The art was good, of course. The cover of Fables is pretty amazing, actually, and I fear if I continued reading them, I would probably get all tatted up because I do love art and this seems pretty cool and inspiring. One thing I did notice was the lack of shoes. NO SHOES - great outfits, great hair styles - lots of bare feet, side boob and abs but NO shoes. WHAT????!!!

Sorry ... okay - the story was okay, but are they all about sex drive, competition, defeat, and revenge? Maybe. What I did find interesting was that I had resistence on reading it, but when it was over, I was really trying to find another page ... I realized I'd have to get "RED DAWN" [The next issue] to continue. [Am I] tempted? A little, which speaks volumes considering I didn't want to read one. Did this do anything? I believe the comic book world is an acquired habit, interest, taste. Thanks for giving me the taste of this, I'll be sure to let you know if I go for it again.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hellblazer #270 ("Sectioned Part Four: Psychotic Love") by Peter Milligan (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (layouter), Stefano Landini (finisher), Trish Mulvihill (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Summary: John finally figures out what happened to him, and takes appropriate measures to rectify the situation. Shade helps, and offers Epiphany (who isn't dead, by the way) a difficult choice about her future.

Guest reader/reviewer: Jen Smith. Jen has been my friend since my freshman year of college, even though we were in the same class in high school (my graduating class was over 600 people, so I didn't know everyone). She has since become one of my best friends. She's married to the reviewer of The Sixth Gun (see below). Jen has actually read quite a few comics - Watchmen, some Sandman, Morrison's Doom Patrol and Arkham Asylum, a bit of The Tick - so she knows what's what.

As I noted, Jen was sick all weekend, so she didn't get a chance to write anything down and I didn't get a chance to record her. She was disappointed by this issue because she didn't know what was going on. She knew a bit about Constantine from the Keanu Reeves movie, so she knew what he was about, but she didn't think it was all that clear. Why was Epiphany's face screwed up? What did Shade do with the cream in her lab? Who the heck is Kathy George? She did say that she liked Shade the best, which made her wonder what that said about her when her favorite character in the book is a sociopath.

As someone who's been reading all along, I'll say that this is a fantastic ending to the story arc (even though I guess technically the next story arc is just a continuation of this one) - Milligan does a nice job showing Constantine's soft side and his bastard side, even in the same scene. The ending of the issue is emotionally devastating because both Epiphany and the reader want to believe John, but we can't. It's a fine piece of writing. And, yes, Shade is quite compelling. The reason John was freaking out is handled nicely, too. Camuncoli does a wonderful job with the art, as usual. He's doing such a good job on this title. I really can't wait to see what happens next on this book.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Honey West #1 ("Killer on the Keys Chapter 1: Bikini Death") by Trina Robbins (writer), Cynthia Martin (artist), Mark Simmons (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Moonstone.

Summary: Honey West gets hired by the owner of a strip club who believes someone is trying to kill her, as her piano player and waitress were killed by someone who she thinks mistook the girl for her. Honey goes undercover at the club, gets in a fight with one of the dancers, and hangs out with the hippie costume designer. They end up in Hollywood protesting a new war movie, a gun goes off, and someone drops dead. Dum-dum-DUMMMMMM!

Guest reader/reviewer: Sharon is an elementary school teacher and a mother of two boys, both of whom were very interested in my bunch of comics, many of which were totally inappropriate for children. She enjoys popular fiction and she digs the theater. I've been friends with Sharon since seventh grade.

What she thought of Honey West:

Sharon: The story is okay. I like a good crime kind of story. I think the dialogue is a little ... I don't know what the word is ... hokey? Is that a good word?

Greg: That's not a bad word. Now do you think ... It's set in the Sixties.

Sharon: Well, that's what I mean. Are they trying to be hokey? This is like, Sixties slang?

Greg: Well, if you're reading it, do you think that she's being serious?

Sharon: That's what my question was. Is it meant to be making fun of the Sixties or is it meant as real ...

Greg: What do you think? Because I don't know. I've never seen the show, and I've never read the ...

Sharon: Looking at the pictures, it almost seems like ...

Greg: I tend to think it's deliberate --

Sharon: Kind of like Batman [The television show, of course!]

Greg: -- In that this is a comic written in the 21st century that says 'Look, it's the Sixties!' Not quite as goofy as Austin Powers, because there's obviously crime going on, but still this, kind of, this is what the Sixties are like, even though it wasn't really.

Sharon: That was my question - is it deliberate?

Greg: The question is: By saying the dialogue is 'hokey,' does that make it unenjoyable? Not whether it's deep or not - I don't really care about depth --

Sharon: Well, it's certainly not ...

Greg: -- But is it enjoyable or not? Because then it doesn't really matter if it's deliberate or not.

Sharon: Right, right. Well, I guess it depends on the audience. Like to me, this is not geared toward a woman.

Greg: Okay, why not?

Sharon: Because, just the visual part of it, they're banking on selling the sex part of it. I think. Who's her audience?

Greg: So it's not geared toward a woman:

Sharon: I don't think.

Greg: Did it make sense?

Sharon: Yeah. Like I said, I like the idea of the story, but for me, personally, it's not my kind of thing. I like something with a little more depth to it.

Greg: Could you read it? You'd be surprised how many people can't read comics.

Sharon: They can't follow it?

Greg: Yeah, they don't know where to go.

Sharon: No, I had no problem with it.

Greg: Okay, what'd you think of the art? Having no basis of comparison to anything else?

Sharon: It's good. I can see it being visually appealing, just more to a man.

Greg: That's fine. I'm talking about the workmanship --

Sharon: The workmanship is fine. I can tell who's who, which character is which.

Greg: For a person who's never read one before ... I know you don't like the idea of what they're showing, but do you like the figure drawing, the placement of the characters in the panel - the storytelling, is what I'm talking about. Because art is partly the aesthestic, but a lot of artists are bad storytellers.

Sharon: Yeah, right, but the facial expressions are good, and they're showing things that aren't necessarily in the dialogue ... no, it does tell a story.

Greg: The thing I want to ask you about ... Do you simply object to the clothing? Or do you object to ... Because they're not really showing anything. They don't show anything too objectionable, I think you'd agree. But do you object to the fact that they are showing stuff, or ... Like, why do you think, as a woman, it's not visually appealing to you? Is it just because of the fact that they're showing woman with not a lot of clothes on?

Sharon: It's not objectionable to me, it just doesn't appeal to me.

Greg: Because one of the reasons I like this comic is that the woman look like real women.

Sharon: Oh, yeah, they're definitely built more realistically. They have hips, thighs ...

Greg: Because you get stuff like this (I showed her Valkyrie as drawn by Mike Deodato in Secret Avengers) ... which is a little extreme.

Sharon: (Laughs at Valkyrie)

Sharon: But in this setting (back to Honey West) they're supposed to be built that way.

Greg: That's pretty much all I needed. I just wanted to get your thoughts on it.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Light #5 (of 5) ("Burn Out Bright") by Nathan Edmondson (writer) and Brett Weldele (artist/letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Image.

Summary: Coyle, still on the run, makes a decision about his daughter and follows through to the bitter end. We don't get too much explanation about the entire phenomenon, but as the story was about one unlikeable man's quest for redemption (and it's nice that there remains some ambiguity about it), do we really need a larger picture about the plague? Only the individual reader can decide that!

Guest reader/reviewer: Randy Solly. Randy is a respiratory therapist at the University of Pennsylvania hospital and the father of two boys. He has read one comic book, Batman: The Cult by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson. Randy and I have also been friends since seventh grade.

What he thought of The Light: He liked the minimalistic art, as it conveyed the story well. He was a bit confused by the final few pages, but that was mostly because he wasn't aware of Coyle's grand plan [which is outlined in earlier issues, but not in this one]. He believed that Coyle killed Avery's mother, because she says he did, but we know that's not true [Coyle's ex-wife, Avery's mother, died from the plague, but Avery blames Coyle for the death]. He liked that the dialogue was minimal because it allowed the art to tell the story. He figured out that it was taking place in Portland [good visual clues by Weldele] and that something terrible has happened to humanity. He appreciated the essay at the end in which Edmondson writes about the way light has been viewed over the centuries in art and physics. Randy also didn't get the full impact of the ending [which I won't spoil] because he felt he didn't know the characters well enough. Obviously, he knew that he'd feel more for them if he had read the previous issues, but he wasn't sure of the significance of what Coyle was doing. He knew what Coyle was doing, just not why it was so important for him. I found it interesting that he didn't get that light was causing all of this. Edmondson doesn't explain it in this issue, of course, because it's the final issue, but it's not all that clear from the artwork either, or from any dialogue. It didn't ruin Randy's enjoyment of the book, but it does make, perhaps, the ending a bit more powerful if you know exactly how they got to it. Again, the fifth issue of a five-issue mini-series is probably not where you're going to find a lot of exposition, but it is a point. I thought it was pretty cool, though, that Randy enjoyed it. Of all the books I bought this week, this one, I believed, was the most impenetrable to a layperson. I'm glad it wasn't totally the case.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Lone Ranger #23 ("Resolve Part 7") by Brett Matthews (writer), Sergio Cariello (artist), Marcelo Pinto (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Summary: The bad news continues as Cavendish gets further under John's skin by committing some horrible acts, while John sends Tonto and Linda away because he's fixin' to do some killin'. It's all coming to a head!

Guest reader/reviewer: Kelli Solly (wife of Randy, see above). Kelli is a research biologist at Merck. According to her, she's currently cloning dinosaur DNA. I'd take that with a grain of salt, however. I met Kelli in tenth grade, as she lived too far away to go to my junior high school. She's never read a comic book, which I have to believe makes her just a little bit sadder than those of us who have. She, just like her husband, has two boys (imagine that!). She and Randy were high-school sweethearts, which makes it highly unlikely that she's going to run away with me. Because I'm sure that's the only reason she wouldn't!

What she thought of The Lone Ranger: She picked it because, well, it's the Lone Ranger! He's all-American goodness! She thought Cariello's art was just okay. She liked the close-ups of the faces but was disappointed that the backgrounds lacked detail and were rather bland. I tried to explain that it's, you know, the desert, but she would not be moved! She thought the facial expressions did a good job conveying emotion, which is good in a book that is so dialogue-free. She didn't like all the advertisements sprinkled throughout the book, but she did think the art in the advertisements was better than the interior art in this issue. Of course, she didn't realize that the cover art is often wildly different from the interior art, so who knows if those striking Dynamite covers hide crappy art within?!?!?!?

She liked the complex story because she appreciated the many subplots going on. She figured out that Cavendish has hurt or scarred everyone in John's life - she thought Linda was his sister, not his sister-in-law, but that's okay - and she liked how it was pushing John to become more of an unwilling vigilante [That's a major theme of the book, so I was glad she picked up on it]. She's not sure who Winthrop is or what kind of deal he made with Cavendish, but as it's not spelled out in the text, that's not surprising. She thought the dialogue, though cryptic, did a good job of getting the story across. [I thought that was cool, because the book is all about cryptic and portentous dialogue, so I'm glad a first-timer was able to appreciate it and still figure out what was going on.]

One totally Airwolf panel:

Secret Avengers #4 ("Secret Histories Part 4 of 4") by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato Jr. (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $3.99, 25 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Summary: Steve Rogers puts on Nova's helmet so he can beat Nova into the ground. I'll let you wonder whether he succeeds. Ant-Man has to thwart a plan to nuke the Mars site and everyone at it. I'll let you wonder whether he succeeds. Sharon Carter discovers Nick Fury hanging out with the bad guys. Well, that can't be good.

Guest reader/reviewer: My long-time friend Patti, whom I met in May of 1979. She and I have been good friends ever since. She's now a full-time mom of two boys, having ditched the rat race of elementary school teaching four years ago. She actually read a Muppet Show comic last year that she got at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA. Her husband used to collect comics and they still have them hidden away in the house, so she said that in a few years, she'll unleash them on her children.

What she thought of Secret Avengers:

Patti: I loved the artwork. The illustrations were awesome. I also enjoyed the fact that the female character was just like one of the gang.

Greg: Valkyrie is the most prominent female character, but there's a couple of them. Black Widow - I don't know where she is, she's around, and Sharon - she's not really on the team, she's like the coordinator, because she doesn't have any superpowers as far as I know right now. (Patti laughs) She may have had in the past, but ...

Patti: Now, coming in, just reading it from not having the back stories, I was getting a little frustrated because I couldn't figure, like the characters, it wasn't clear right away who and what their ... I wanted, I was wishing for a little thing on this very page --

Greg: The recap page --

Patti: I read that! It wasn't helpful until about the fifth time I read it, then, when I went back to it, I was like, 'Ohhhh ...' Because, I guessing it's Nova with the three dots? The first time I read it, I thought he was the bad guy, second time I got that he was wearing this possessed thing on his head, still didn't know who he was, because it's never actually said anywhere who he is and I was really curious about him, and then what his powers were. Because it says the transfer of the powers to this guy - Captain America --

Greg: Well, it's Steve Rogers right now --

Patti: But then when he got the helmet I didn't know what he really did with it and what the powers were, because it just looked like he went in and fought and I wondered, 'Well what did that give him power to do?' Because I don't know, just coming in. So on this same type of page [the recap] I was imagining, or wishing, there was just like a little strip over here that said like, 'In this issue' and had the six characters and like a little brief thing about them, so obviously anybody like you can just skip right over it --

Greg: Well, they do that ... sometimes. They used to do it a lot more, they don't do it as much anymore. And I agree - it'd be kind of nice, and you can just skip it if you know it. And it's easy even for comic book people who have never read that particular comic before - you can just kind of review their powers real quick.

Patti: Well, the reason is, especially coming in new, if I weren't doing this for you, I wouldn't have read it five times ... so, I did start with this [the recap page] but I'm like, 'What? What? What?' and then finally, 'Ohhh, that's who that is!' But I did enjoy ... the banter back and forth was good, I liked the way they were speaking to each other and I could catch the action --

Greg: You didn't think the dialogue was ... silly?

Patti: No, it was fine. And I loved seeing the [sound effects] - it brought me back to the days of watching Batman on TV. And then that guy - I didn't get him at all, like what was going on, I still don't know who this is.

Greg: That's Ant-Man. So he can shrink.

Patti: So he was the one who found the thing in the beginning [the secret base on Earth]. Okay. It was hard, I guess 'cause they're all in blue, and it's dark ... But - I was trying! That's why it would have been helpful to have the little thing ... And, what else ... I didn't really ... I'm still not quite sure - these guys - I mean they're going into a vortex, but what were they trying ... they were blowing up Mars?

Greg: Yes, they were going to blow up whatever they were doing on Mars.

Patti: And it made me curious, which I guess is a good thing ... I mean, the whole crown thing, okay, so, see if I got it right - there's some other guy that owns these three crowns and sticks them on people's heads? And it happened to be on Nova's head, so he was bad for a while --

Greg: He put it on accidentally, I mean, he didn't know what it was. He saw it, and put it on.

Patti: Okay. And then he has a helmet that has its own powers. So all they had to was rip it off his head? But why did they wait to do that?

Greg: Because they couldn't get near him. Because he was so super-powerful, they needed to distract him and fight him ...

Patti: Okay, so that was the goal here, and not so much the minions ... the mission wasn't clear ... (laughs)

Greg: That's because it's the fourth issue, so ...

Patti: I wasn't sure if the mission was to remove the hat, or to get rid of the little guys ...

Greg: Well, it started with them kind of wondering what was going on on Mars ... it started, actually, with what was going on on Earth, the bad guys were doing something on Earth, and then, they realized that something was going on on Mars ... so Nova, because he could fly around in space, they sent him to Mars to check it out, and then he took his helmet off and put the thing on, and then he's trying to do all this weird crap, so they had to stop him.

Patti: And [the] archon, was he one of the big metal men?

Greg: Yeah, he's the big metal guy, and he's the protector of the crown, that's what his job is. That's why at the end he puts it in his chest

Patti: Gotcha. Sort of like a ring of power [Look at Patti, going all nerdy on us!].

[We discussed exposition in old comics, from thought balloons to recaps and caption boxes and such. Nothing you haven't heard before. She said how much she likes reading Tolkien with a companion book ready so that she could consult it. Of course, comics are ever-changing, so even though they have those, unlike Tolkien's stuff, six months from now it will be out of date.]

Patti: It was fun, it made me curious.

Greg: And you were talking about the coloring. So you like the art, even though it's a little stylized?

Patti: I do, I really did. The only thing that was a little hard was that some of the characters looked the same, but they're all on the same team.

Greg: Looked the same in terms of the outfits, or the faces?

Patti: The outfits, like it's the same except for the dots [she means Steve's and Nova's costumes are a bit similar].

Greg: Yeah, they're supposed to be, they're on the 'black-ops' team, so they don't wear flashy costumes ... and they're on Mars, so they gotta have spacesuits on ... the reason they don't have helmets on is because Nova made the area where they're fighting ... he gave them oxygen, basically.

[We discussed some of the back stories of the characters, including why Steve Rogers isn't dressed like Captain America. She actually talked a bit about Mon-El, which was surprising.]

Patti: There were a couple of times where I was confused [with the flow of the book]. Like, this, for example - it was a different color, and was I supposed to get something --

Greg: The helmet's talking, the helmet is talking to [Steve].

Patti: Ohhhhh. Because I was getting lost here, like the Worldmind ...

Greg: Is in the helmet.

Patti: Ohhhhh. I thought he was just not on-screen.

Greg: No, it's in the helmet.

Patti: I did not get that.

Greg: But you could still follow the comic, basically.

Patti: Well, yeah, except for that part, obviously ... But yeah, it was fun. I definitely did not follow comics when I was younger, but the first X-Men movie got me wishing that I did, I mean, the characters in the movie were cool - I thought Storm was really cool ...

Greg: If you thought Storm was cool in the movie, she's much cooler in the comics!

Patti: I figured that!

Greg: Did you accept the conventions of the story?

Patti: Oh, sure.

Greg: Because the Worldmind thing ... you were just kind of like, 'Oh, it's a helmet that gives powers.' You accepted that.

Patti: Oh, yeah.

Greg: That's good, because it's a long and convoluted back story about why he's got a helmet that gives powers, and I don't know if people are willing to accept it, because anybody who's read comics knows what's going on, and if you don't, you just have to accept that it's this sentient computer that gives people powers.

Patti: But what did it do for him? I still don't know.

Greg: Well, he can fly and he's got those blasters and stuff like that ... it doesn't really matter in the context of this comic, because all that matters is that he can beat Nova - it does a lot of other stuff, as it's basically a super-powered computer, but they don't really tell you, and I don't think it's that important for this particular story.

Patti: Well, all those little things, when I'm picking this up, if I had a bit more information, I'd be more curious ...

Greg: Well, I'm glad it didn't turn you off - I'm not expecting you to go out and buy comics, but ...

Patti: Anyway, it was interesting, and it would have been cool to have another [completely different title] for comparison. [I considered it lucky that my friends were willing to read one book, so I wasn't going to push my luck!]

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Sixth Gun #3 by Cullen Bunn (writer) and Brian Hurtt (artist/letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

Summary: Bunn gives us quite a lot of exposition about not only the sixth gun, but all the other guns as well. We find out a lot about General Hume, the undead bad guy of the comic, and we also find out that Becky is quite the good shot with her spooky gun. There's a chase across the desert, visions of things to come, and an ending that promises some bloodshed. Ah, bloodshed. Who doesn't love it?

Guest reader/reviewer: Jeff Smith, who does risk management for BARC Developmental Services (which helps people with developmental disabilities). I've known Jeff for years, mainly because I was very good friends with his older brother, with whom I graduated (and with whom I shared every class in senior year). Jeff then married Jen, who read Hellblazer for me, so in the past fifteen years I've gotten to know him a lot better.

What he thought of The Sixth Gun: I selected this comic from the set because of the image on the cover of the comic at the top, which depicts a Civil War battle of some sort. History interests me, and the Confederate Flag caught my eye. The last comic I read was Watchmen in early 2009, a few months prior to the film's release. This may not seem like that long ago, but it's significant to note that I don't remember the last comic I read prior to that. I was probably in grade school or something.

I thought this comic was engaging and had a compelling storyline. The mixture of historical themes with the supernatural makes for an atypical contrast. Being a bit of a comic book ignoramus, there were a couple things that I had to become accustomed to, which I'm certain are old hat for the experienced comic book reader. Firstly, it took me a few seconds to realize that misshapen dialogue balloons were words spoken by the "undead" General Hume, as opposed to his lady friend. Duh. Secondly, there were 2 pages where a story rectangle (I have no idea what they're supposed to really be called [although I should point that down below, Jeff calls them panels]) goes across both pages, suggesting that the reader should read across each row for both pages, as opposed to staying on one page then going to another. Duh again. Moving beyond my comic book reading inadequacies, I'll address the comic book itself.

The artwork is exceptional. I very much like the simplistic, shape-driven visual style of the artwork. The fact that the artist does not get too bogged down in visual detail - for example, putting a few dozen wrinkle lines in a hat - allows the reader to stay better focused on the plot and move through the panels efficiently while remaining interested. One of my favorite aspects of comics as a medium is when there's some sort of narration occurring, with images that are only vague references to what is being stated in a specific panel, or - even better - unknown to the narrator of the panel. An intriguing example of this was General Hume's actual discovery of the supernatural guns on some sort of demon goat in a cave. The obvious implication to me was that Satan himself, in the form of a goat, personally delivered these guns to the General so that he could foment earthly chaos. The narrator at the time, Sinclair, admitted himself that he had no idea how the General acquired the guns (or at least that's what he wanted the "poppet" [Becky] to believe anyway). One of the later visions she has seems to suggest that Sinclair is (or will be?) part of the General's posse. My suspicion is that Sinclair has his sights on usurping the General himself. The colors are bold and rich, with hues of red, orange and purple. This parallels nicely with the Southwestern and Western motif of the era. Several images of the skies are especially cool looking. Faces on people that are tiny or in the distance would've been nice on some occasions, vs. a blank face like a kid from Pink Floyd: The Wall.

The writing is functional, allowing the reader to grasp what is transpiring, but I wished there was more. To have a meager amount of word balloons filling up several pages seemed a bit sparse to me. Tell me more about these characters, their motivations and inner dialogues! (The inner dialogue of the comic book character is another aspect I think the medium can do very well.) Is it me or does the villainous dude at the end look a bit like Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show but showing a bit more rib cage? Probably purposeful and tongue-in-cheek. [If I had done this before Comic-Con, I could have asked Hurtt.] I definitely understood what was going on, and was genuinely curious about the origins of all the characters, particularly the other evil dudes that have the dastardly guns, and the General's woman. The suspense was there, and provides several questions leading into issue #4. Perhaps you had some of the same ones, but here are some of the ones forefront in my mind (perhaps already explained in issues #1 and #2): What is The Gallows Tree? What is Sinclair really up to, and who is he 'working for'? What exactly is that thing that's about to pounce on Riff Raff and the (protagonist?) chick? What is The Maw? [We saw the Gallows Tree in issue #1 - Sinclair goes there because it can point him to Becky, the preacher's daughter. We have no idea what's going to pounce on 'Riff Raff' and Becky. This is the first time we hear of the Maw, so I assume it's going to be fairly important down the line.]

One totally Airwolf panel:

Sweets #2 (of 5) by Kody Chamberlain (writer/artist/colorist/letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Summary: More murders and more flashbacks that have something to do with the murders (more explicitly this time). Chamberlain adds some black-and-white flashbacks that show some of the events leading up to the crimes, as well. And there's a fortune teller who helps Curt but may have a more sinister agenda.

Guest reader/reviewer: Dave Alvaro, the twin of Frank, who reviewed Chew above. Dave and I have been friends for over 30 years, and he was my roommate for my senior year in college. I remain his friend even though I accidentally missed his wedding, at which I was supposed to read a nice poem. Yes, I suck. Like his brother, Dave is a software engineer and an excellent musician - he plays the bass in more than one band. Dave picked Sweets because he likes New Orleans.

What he thought of Sweets: This comic was IMO pretty typical comic book crime story stuff. The main character, a NOPD detective, is a gritty guy with a seemingly shady past, and is personally involved in some way with the murders taking place (including having a past romantic affair with one of the possible? suspects). Although some parts of the plot and character development / association can be gleaned from this particular issue, some parts are still confusing - mainly the "flashback" panels (easily identifiable, at least, by the different artistic style). The artwork itself was good, nothing spectacular popped out at me. This was the artist's first attempt at writing, so with that in mind I'd say it was a pretty decent comic. Nothing earth-shattering, though.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Harry 20 on the High Rock by Gerry Finley-Day (writer), Alan Davis (artist), and Tony Jacob (letterer). $16.99, 122 pgs, BW, Rebellion/2000AD.

Well, this looks pretty keen. Of course - it's Alan Davis!

As always, it's time for The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle) (and which reached the end of my playlist, so it reset):

1. "The Show Must Go On" - Queen (1991) "My make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on"2. "Scenario" - A Tribe Called Quest (1991) "Change your little drawers 'cause your pants are saggin'"3. "Never Satisfied" - Living Colour (1993) "I got no hopes, no dreams"4. "Chelsea Monday" - Marillion (1983) "One day they'll really love you, you'll charm them with that smile"5. "High 5 (Rock the Catskills)" - Beck (1996) "All the ladies say: Sergio Valente!"6. "Solace of You" - Living Colour (1990) "They can hurt me, jail my body - I'll still be free"7. "(Thinking and Wondering) What I'm Gonna Do" - King's X (1996) "Sometimes I wish I didn't have an answer or a clue to anything"8. "Rearviewmirror" - Pearl Jam (1993) "But I'm not about to give thanks or apologize"9. "Get Real Paid" - Beck (1999) "Thursday night, I think I'm pregnant again"10. "Epic" - Faith No More (1989) "It's magic, it's tragic, it's a loss, it's a win"

Now, some totally random lyrics:

"You never change your socksAnd the little streams of alcoholCome trickling down the rocksThe brakemen have to tip their hats And the railway bulls are blindThere's a lake of stewAnd of whiskey tooYou can paddle all around itIn a big canoe"

I'd like to thank all my friends for participating in this. And I'm sure everyone's going to be very civil to them in the comments, right? We're all friends here, right?

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