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What I bought – 18 February 2009

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 18 February 2009

What a fine week for funny books. A bunch of comics I love arrived in stores, some after a delay of many months, and another mini-series I’ve been anticipating came out, and Peter David messed with our minds yet again … ah, a good week! Let’s check out the stuff, okay?

City of Dust #4 (of 5) by Steve Niles (writer), Brandon Chng (artist), Zid (artist), Garrie Gastonny (artist), Buddy Jiang (colorist), Leos ‘Okita’ Ng (colorist), Sixth Creation (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

As usual, I appreciate Radical sending these comics to me. It’s awfully groovy of them.

According to the advert for the final issue of this mini-series, it will be a “twisted conclusion.” That’s probably good, because as entertaining as this series has been (and it’s fairly entertaining), Niles really isn’t doing anything unexpected. Philip Khrome, who began the series as a hard-nosed cop in a world where imagination is outlawed, has slowly begun to realize he might be on the wrong side, as I (and anyone else in the world who reads this) suspected he would. He visits the father he betrayed and gets some crucial information about the murders, after getting a good chunk of the story from the doctor who created the monsters that are responsible for all the deaths. As an issue that needs to build to a coherent conclusion, it slows down a bit and there’s a lot of people talking about what’s happened and why. That doesn’t make it a bad issue, but a lot of what Niles writes can be inferred, and perhaps he didn’t need to explain everything. Or maybe he did, but it felt like he was spelling things out a bit too much. The art looks a bit odd, too. Throughout the series, we’ve had three different artists credited, and I have no idea how the breakdown of work goes. The art has been consistent, for the most part, but in this issue, Khrome especially but a few other people look slightly more robotic and less human than they have. I don’t know if this is foreshadowing (I doubt it), but it’s a weird look. Like all of the Radical books so far, the painted/computerized images tend to look better in long shots and in setting the scene – the action looks a bit more stilted than I’d like.

I suppose I’m damning with faint praise, but there’s nothing horribly wrong with City of Dust. Minor nitpicks aside, it’s a fun series. I’m just not sure if there’s anything tremendously right with it, either. As usual with mini-series (and story arcs), it definitely comes down to the ending. I’m curious to see what Niles does with it.

Dynamo 5 #0 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). 99¢, 10 pgs, FC, Image.

This is a 99-cent zero issue that serves as a jumping-on point, and it’s well done for what it is. It’s one page of the Dynamo 5 kids sitting around talking about how they should hang out more, and it’s impressive that in one page, Faerber lets us know so much about the characters – whose parents know they have superpowers, where some of them live, what some of them do for a living. Then there’s an emergency, so they spring into action. Faerber shows us what their powers are, shows us what the bad guy’s up to, and gives us a final page that introduces a new element to the story. Then we get a two-page text piece summing up the series. It’s a dense little piece of work, showing again that Faerber can put together a story like nobody’s business – you may not like his writing, but he knows how to get all the elements necessary for a successful story into a script in as little time as possible.

And Asrar is awesome. But you already knew that.

Four Eyes #2 by Joe Kelly (writer), Max Fiumara (artist), Nestor Pereyra (colorist), and Drew Gill (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

Many, many months after issue #1, Four Eyes #2 shows up, and although I’m disappointed that it probably won’t ever sell dick because people tend to forget about things after they’ve been gone for four months, I suppose a comic about dragons during the Great Depression was a tough sell anyway, and I should just be happy the damned thing came out at all, right? And it is quite awesome, in case you’re wondering.

In this issue, we find Enrico watching the illegal dragon fights where he found himself at the end of last issue. It’s a marvelous piece of writing and art by Kelly and Fiumara, as Kelly evokes a sense of the entire place, including the smells of the dragons and men, while Fiumara makes the dragons majestic and tragic as they tear each other apart. Kelly does a fine job giving us information through Enrico’s journeys through the city after the fight, from the girl who protests dragon fighting to the renter in his apartment who says dragons don’t exist. Fiumara is up to the task, with gorgeous drawings of the city and the horrible circumstances in which most of the people live. The final pages, where Enrico visits the man who employed his father, are wonderful, leading to a final page that is terrifying both because of what Enrico has taken on and how Fiumara draws him, in hateful triumph.

There’s so much to like about the concept of the book and, so far, the execution. I do hope it can come out a bit more regularly. We’ll see. In the meantime, you can still get into it – only two issues have been published!

Gødland #26 (“Trip Through Your Wires”) by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Bill Crabtree (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

Issue #25 of this fine periodical came out in September, but that just makes the length of time it’s with us (12-13 more issues, maybe?) that much longer! Yay! I assume that it sells well enough that the Powers-That-Be-At-Image are not going to drop the hammer before Casey and Scioli can finish their groovy space epic. I have no idea how long it’s going to take for the men to finish this sucker, but I know it’s one of those books that I will read again and again, not caring that its publication schedule slowed to a crawl. When Casey and Scioli miss the boat on an issue, as they did a few times not long ago, it makes it annoying, but when they’re hitting on all cylinders, like they did on issue #25 and do on this one, I don’t mind the wait.

Yes, this issue features Friedrich Nickelhead deciding that super-villains are a persecuted minority (he references protests to California’s Proposition 8 and yells, “Where’s our proposition?!” which doesn’t make a lot of sense, as Prop 8 was anti-gay at its core, but let’s just roll with it!) and marching on Washington while Basil and the Tormentor spy on him (and I still can’t get over Basil’s skull floating in a jar on top of a female body, because it’s awesome). The main story still concerns Adam’s search for Neela, which, as we saw last issue, put him right in the middle of a Kirby-style galactic throw-down between N’ull Pax Mizer on one side and Vayikra and Leviticus on the other. The latter beat on Adam until they realize he’s probably on their side (as N’ull Pax Mizer captures him and takes him away), so they rescue him and prepare for a giant battle next issue. Things, of course, don’t look good for our hero(es). It’s all amazingly drawn by Scioli, of course.

There are lots of excellent little snippets in the book, from Adam thinking he’d better use his “ocular dagger attack” to Pax Mizer saying he’s going to smite Adam with his righteous mind to our villain’s true form. And, of course, there’s another example of a “If the God of All Comics wrote this, you’d be calling it genius” line: “Let mainstream cynicism be obliterated by chaotic hope.” Yay, Gødland! You make me so happy.

Golly! #4 (“The Coven of Candy Creek Court Part 1”) by Phil Hester (writer), Brook Turner (artist), Bruce McCorkindale (colorist), and Aaron Gillespie (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

Here’s another book that hasn’t come out in quite some time. I was a bit wary about keeping up with it, because although the first three issues were enjoyable, I had some problems with the arc. But I had already pre-ordered at least this issue, and as my comics shoppe only orders very few of these “boutique” comics, I didn’t want them getting stuck with it. And I’m glad I did, because this new issue is pretty darned good. It was a lot of fun to read, especially the first few pages, when Hester sets up the situation. Satan takes some nasty revenge against a hick (this issue is set in Oklahoma) and Golly and Vaughan get lured into the portable toilets for some circus screwing. It’s a fun few pages, and then we find out that Golly is there to stop a “sex vampire” – and just what the entails is revealed in the second half of the book, where things take a decidedly darker tone.

It’s a creepy story, and Hester does a good job building to the actual horror in the story – part of it comes from the fact that he plays on the stereotypes of white-trashness. So far in this series, Hester has managed to balance the humor of the stereotypes with using them to tell some horrific stories, which is nice. It’s still early, so the characters aren’t perfectly drawn yet, but he does get in some nice moments.

I guess I’ll have to give the arc a chance, as this is a good issue. And it’s a good place to start, if you missed the first arc.

The Great Unknown #1 (of 5) by Duncan Rouleau (writer/artist) and Francis Takenaga (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

I’ve been looking forward to this series ever since it was solicited, so I’m glad it’s here. I’m still waiting on a softcover trade of Rouleau’s Metal Men, even though I heard it was a wacky mess, and The Nightmarist is a really cool graphic novel from a few years, so Rouleau, whose art is great, has some credit as a writer, so why wouldn’t I check this out?

Well, before I get to what’s good about this issue, I really need to go over what’s bad about it, because two things really, really bugged me about it. First, the coloring. Pretty much everything is blue or tinged with blue. What’s not blue is black. There are spots of color (a slice of pizza, vomit, some yellow lights), but the rest is blue. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it gets a bit annoying after 20 pages or so. More egregious is the grammar. I’ve been trying to ignore grammar in comics recently, as I’m perfectly aware that not everyone is as annoyed by it as I am. But I still cringe when I see “bring” instead of “take” (“I’ll bring him to the planet Oa,” as John Stewart said in a comie book recently – it’s “TAKE him to the planet Oa,” GL!), and I still wonder what’s so hard about grammar and, even more annoying, punctuation. In this issue, here are just some examples of lousy grammar and/or punctuation:

Even though you’ve got me on my back in this alleyway, you don’t have the upper-hand. (Page 2) [There’s no reason for a hyphen in “upper hand,” as it’s two separate words.]

… than you cow-goons collectively got inside yer beer addled skulls! (Page 4) [I don’t have a problem with “yer,” but “beer-addled” actually does need a hyphen.]

I know Hank AND Don’t worry gents there is a place … (Both page 5) [A comma is needed between “know” and “Hank” (he’s not saying he knows who Hank is, he’s saying that he understands what Hank is saying) and before and after “gents.” There are lots of examples like this, so I’ll just point out these two.]

Consider this a, ” ‘teaching moment.” (Page 6) [Okay, there’s no need for any punctuation in this sentence other than a period. There’s no reason for a comma after “a,” there’s no reason for quotation marks, although I suppose it wouldn’t be too awful to have them, and there’s definitely no reason for the extra quotation mark, especially as it’s not closed.]

“Endth” is spelled wrong on page 5. I suppose that might be a typo.
“Chauffer” is spelled wrong on page 7.

All right, I’ll stop. These are relatively minor infractions, but they happen all throughout the book – it’s not like one word is spelled wrong or one comma is missed. I’m sorry, but it bugs me. It’s not hard to fix stuff like this, and it speaks to someone not caring, and that’s a shame. I can deal with it when athletes on television use double negatives (“I don’t want nothing except more playing time!”), because they’re athletes – they’re not paid to speak correctly. When I see stuff like this in print, it bugs me because these people are writers and editors – shouldn’t they know better?

Anyway, it’s a shame, because The Great Unknown is a nifty little comic. Rouleau’s art is fantastic, with his cartoonish sensibilities but grounded details. His characters don’t look “real” in the sense that they’re photoshopped, but they are all very distinct and unique, and it’s fun to look at. And the story is interesting. Zach, the main character, isn’t particularly likeable, but Rouleau builds a quirky little story around him – he has all these great ideas for inventions, but somebody else always invents them before he can patent them. This has led him to become a huge slacker, always getting rescued by his brother, Zeb, when he gets drunk and starts insulting people. At the end of the issue, we find out that someone has actually been stealing his ideas directly from his mind. That’s the set-up for the series, and Rouleau has done a nice job getting us to that point. Although Zach is kind of a jerk, Rouleau has made him and the other characters believable, so we might not like Zach but we understand him. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Now, if only an editor would step in. That would be nice.

Hellblazer #252 (“Scab Part 2 of 3: Under the Skin”) by Peter Milligan (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (breakdowner), Stefano Landini (finisher), Jamie Grant (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

It’s too early to tell if this is “Good Milligan” yet, but it doesn’t appear to be “Bad Milligan,” so that’s a start. So far, it’s a fairly typical horror story, with John getting a weird scab all over his body, a new female friend of his experiencing some weirdness connected to it, and it all is somehow linked to a workers’ strike some years ago. There’s nothing too brilliant about it, but Milligan does throw in some nice touches. It’s always good to see John with an actual girlfriend (unless that’s too much of a high school term), and I hope Milligan has plans for her beyond this arc.

Okay, time for the question-and-answer segment! John ages in real time, right? So he’s almost 56, right? Is Vertigo still insisting on that? If so, he looks pretty good, doesn’t he? I mean, I know 60 is the new 40, but he still looks good for someone with such a rough life behind him. Has he been “de-aged” at any point? Does the demon blood keep him youthful, as the manufacturer of promises? Does he even still have the demon blood? I haven’t bought an issue of Hellblazer since Warren Ellis was writing it, so is there something I’m missing here?

I guess I’ll have to reserve judgment until Milligan finishes this first arc. And maybe another.

Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #1 (of 4) (“Read Me First”) by Steve Pugh (writer/artist/letterer) and Warren Ellis (general vague story idea). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

Radical sent me this, as well, which was nice of them. It came out a few weeks ago, so I’m sure you’ve already read about it. But now it’s my turn!

I guess if Steve Pugh had to leave Shark-Man, he left it for something like this rather than a big-time superhero comic. As you may know, this book is about the goofily-named Alice Hotwire, a “detective exorcist” in a dystopian future who, as the job title implies, investigates ghosts and exorcises them. The Ellis stink is all over this book (and I use that in the nicest way possible), from the idea that ghosts are electromagnetic haze that occasionally cause problems to the character of Alice herself, who seems like every other single female Ellis character ever. But that’s okay, because Pugh turns this into a nifty little mystery about why a certain ghost manifests itself in an apartment building and who that ghost actually is. Pugh’s art is the star, however, as the new style he’s adopted is really gorgeous. It’s painted and presumably aided by computer, but Pugh, unlike a lot of the artists Radical has used, began drawing back in the day when people used things called “pencils,” so his style is much more fluid and organic than many of the artists who can do beautiful pin-ups but have no sense of motion. It’s a wonderful book to look at, and it’s nice that the story keeps up, despite being a bit goofy when you think about it too much.

Radical has released some worthy comics (Hercules: The Thracian Wars is probably their best book so far), but this is a step up. I will always bemoan the tragic death of Shark-Man, but I’m happy to see that Pugh is doing something almost as wild as that.

Moon Knight #27 (“Down South: Chapter 2”) by Mike Benson (writer), Jefte Palo (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I don’t mind covers that have nothing to do with what’s inside, but I thought I’d point out that the Punisher appears in this comic on one page (the first) and never fires his gun nor has any interaction with the titular hero, while Moon Knight himself never gets into costume. So there’s that.

Benson had a nice set-up to Jake Lockley down in Mexico, but this issue doesn’t really do much. I mean, the plot moves along, but that’s to be expected, I guess. What Benson fails to do is make this story stand out – in previous arcs, Moon Knight’s insanity was front and center, and he walked a fine line because of that. Now, it appears that Lockley is the only personality, and there’s nothing wrong with him. He goes through the motions to rescue the girl he was hired to rescue, which of course leads to a not-terribly-original surprise about the rescue. Benson is obviously trying for a gritty crime drama feel, but this issue, at least, has a paint-by-numbers feel. I love the fact that he’s taken Moon Knight out of the costume and tried for something a bit new, but it has to be better done than this. The problem is that no writer has ever made much of an effort to make Moon Knight’s personalities all that unique. Moench created the idea, and while Spector, Grant, and Lockley were all different on the surface (Spector was the killer, Grant was the suave millionaire, Lockley the street tough), they were pretty much the same. In the third (and longest) series, the multiple personalities were shoved to the back burner. In this series, Huston and Benson have done a little bit with the personalities, but they have pretty much focused on the insanity of the character. Now, Benson is bringing back Jake Lockley, but why would he be any better to deal with his “death” than the others? If it’s just an alias, fine. But Benson shouldn’t have used an established personality then, he should have made up a new one. When you use a “personality” that has been around for 30 years, it seems that you need something to make it interesting.

Of course, Benson has been doing a great job on this title, and he’s very into writing these long arcs, so I doubt if this story is anywhere near being done. We get Mexican wrestler assassins next issue, and maybe Benson will work on “Lockley” more in subsequent issues. We’ll see.

Nobles Causes #39 (“Time Heals All Wounds”) by Jay Faerber (writer), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Jacob Baake (colorist), Ralph Niese (inker/colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

The penultimate issue of Noble Causes finally ships, and just reminds me how much I’ll miss the book when it leaves. I know Faerber says he just doesn’t have any more stories to tell about them, but it seems like there are still lots of things going on that can’t be wrapped up next issue (of course, Faerber can always write more Noble stories in the future if he wants to). In the final issue, we finally find out what happened to Race and Liz, for instance (although there’s a hint in this issue). That’s only ONE issue? Dang.

But this is issue #39, and we find out how Celeste happens to be married to a geezer with Alzheimer’s. If you guessed that she fell through a hole in time and ended up in the 1950s, during which time she romanced and married the younger version of Colonel Comet but was then taken back into the “present” because her body was breaking down and she promised to check in on the now elderly Comet, well, that’s a good guess! Faerber and Cinar (along with Ralph Niese, who makes the oldey-tyme parts of the book look oldey-tyme) have a good time telling the story, but of course, when Celeste finds out that the Colonel is sick in the present, the book takes a nifty serious turn. Faerber even links the story back to the “pre-five-year-jump” part of the series nicely. And everything is set up for the big finale. Which makes me sad.

I should point out how old-school this comic is – in the early pages, Doc gets raked across the eye by a pteradactyl. We see some blood, but in a later panel, that side of his face is deliberately hidden by the panel border. It’s one of those small things – not showing the gruesome sight his eye must be – that makes this feel like a “classic” superhero story. Even though it’s not, it’s still a great superhero comic. And it has that excellent cover, to boot!

Rex Mundi #16 (“First Communion”) by Arvid Nelson (writer/letterer) and Juan Ferreyra (artist/colorist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Daaaaammmmmmnnnnn. Rex Mundi is ending soon (I think), and Nelson isn’t pulling any punches as we come down the home stretch. This issue begins with a jail break, features a battle between two sorcerors, and ends with death. I won’t say who dies, obviously, or even hint at who dies (even though Dark Horse gave it away in a recent issue of Previews), because Nelson has done such a nice job over the course of 30-some issues with these characters that anyone dying is handled well. Ferreyra, naturally, is amazing. Damn. What a cool issue. What a cool series. I’m dying to see what happens next! Only two months until the next issue!

Uncanny X-Men #506 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciller), Rachel Dodson (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I guess the Annual last month was supposed to stand in for an issue of this, as #505 came out in December, but the fact that this book has two “regular” artists and the Dodsons still can’t keep to a schedule doesn’t fill me with glee. I know it’s annoying to read yet another complaint about schedules, but you know what? I wouldn’t fucking complain if it wasn’t a fucking problem. Jesus.

Anyway, I was giving this book until the end of the Dodsons’ first arc to decide whether I would keep it or not, because the first Greg Land arc was so boring, and although Fraction seems to be doing a better job with this arc, that’s mostly because Angel and Beast’s search for mutants to help figure out the whole X-gene problem is such a neat little story. Dr. Nemesis already kicks a ton of ass, and in this issue, the group is in Japan, and whenever a comic book goes to Japan, you know you’re getting giant monsters. That’s okay, because the giant monsters are pretty keen. Unfortunately, that’s only eight pages of the issue, while the rest is the tedious story about Colossus meeting that bad guy from his past and the X-Men offering sanctuary to mutants and ex-mutants, and it’s just dull. Fraction isn’t doing much with the characters, and the plot is the same as 90% of the mutant books ever published.* It looks nice, but it’s kind of depressing reading this comic. You read stuff Fraction was writing just a year ago and marvel at how it sparkles, and then you read eight pages of this and marvel at how he can still do that, and then you read the rest and wonder how Marvel (a-ha! a pun!) sucked his soul right out of him. Why bother hiring Matt Fraction if you’re not going to let him be Matt Fraction? At least DC lets the God of All Comics mostly be himself – Final Crisis, whether you liked it or not, couldn’t have been written by anyone else in comics. Anyone could have written the 14 pages dealing with the mutants seeking sanctuary and Colossus getting all pissed off. That’s just a shame.

The final page says “To be concluded.” After that we get more Greg Land, presumably, but we’ll see if issue #507 blows me away enough to keep up with it. Too bad – I want Fraction on Uncanny X-Men to be dazzling, but it’s not.

* N. B.: This is a totally unscientific number. It just feels like 90% sometimes.

Whatmen?! by Scott Lobdell (writer), Alejandro Figueroa (penciller), Aldo Giordanelli (inker), Amber Shields (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, IDW.

There’s very little to say about this. It’s a spoof of Watchmen, so your enjoyment of it will depend, obviously, on whether you’ve read Watchmen and whether you can deal with Lobdell taking shots at it. It’s done well – Lobdell is, weirdly enough, a good humor writer – and Figueroa apes Gibbons nicely. There’s an unnecessary cheap shot at George Bush, there’s a weird shot at the movie which seems odd as the movie isn’t out yet (Lobdell could have seen it, I suppose), but otherwise, it’s a fairly clever satire. One visual gag is neat – Dr. Manhattan always has his groin covered in some way, but often by something that protrudes in a very phallic way. It’s juvenile, but still funny.

And that’s that. Let’s move on!

X-Factor #40 (“Slings and Arrows”) by Peter David (writer), Valentine de Landro (penciler/inker), Pat Davidson (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Peter David asked the Internet nicely to keep the big shock from issue #39 under wraps, which the Internet apparently did to his satisfaction. Now he’s asking it to keep the big shock from issue #40 under wraps as well. Damn it, Mr. David, how much patience do you think the Internet has? All it wants to do is give away the secrets of comic books to deny readers who might not have gotten the issue yet the pleasure of discovering them on their own!!!!! If they were true fans, they would have bought your comics as early as possible on Wednesday and read them while still waiting to pay for them!!!!! That’s how true fans roll!!!!!

Okay, so last issue was pretty shocking. So is the ending to this, actually. I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say about this, because Madrox is suicidal in this issue because of what happened last issue, and as I don’t think the grace period on being free of spoilers has passed yet, I can’t in good conscience discuss what happened last issue, so just saying Madrox is suicidal begs the question, “Why is he suicidal?” HE JUST IS, OKAY! So he goes to visit his dupe who’s a priest and who he allowed to exist separately, and they talk, and then things go sideways. It’s a keen issue, but I’m not allowed to write about it!!!!! Just trust me, okay? Look at me – I’m trustworthy, aren’t I?

And that’s the week in quality comics. Let’s see – two of the best books out there, two of the best superhero comics out there (one truncated, sure, but still), two excellent books by very good creators, a Vertigo book that doesn’t break any new ground but still gives you the creeps, a Marvel book that dares to get its hero out of costume for two straight issues, a mainstream mutant book that isn’t dull, and a comic that almost makes me forget Shark-Man. A magnificent week all around! Plus: totally random lyrics!

“Under the stars which prick us and call us
Connect us to hope that perfection’s within us
Here on the ground we’re reckless and hopeless
Damned by the slip of a pen
Rambling poets, manic with vision
We are the drivers, yet we feel driven
Moths in the moonlight, fooled by a flashlight
Caught in a jam jar, gasping for air”

Excelsior!

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