What I bought - 18 June 2008

Better late than never, sez I!

Catwoman #80 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David López (penciller), Álvaro López (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Selina dispatches the "Thief" with seeming ease, but with great aplomb. This is a wildly enjoyable issue because, despite the fact that the Thief was the guy who screwed up her life a while ago and so has been a major factor in her life, we haven't seen him unmasked yet (have we? if we did, it was brief). So in this issue, we finally peek behind the curtain, but Selina quickly takes care of him. Obviously, Pfeifer is wrapping things up, but it still doesn't feel rushed, because once she strips away the mystery, he's not much of a threat, and it's fun to watch as Selina toys with him, not unlike her namesake with a bag full of catnip. So many comics feature characters either doing good things well or doing good things badly and barely holding it together, so after Selina's recent trials, it's a pleasure to read an issue where she does something "bad" - the guy did mess with her, after all, and he's a criminal, so it's not like he doesn't have it coming - and enjoys it so much. Her methods are a bit cruel, but we can't help cheering along.

López has been wonderful on this title, but he's also been so consistent it's tough to praise him for specific things. In one panel, however, he shows a descending elevator car with Selina perched on top, and her magnified shadow climbs the side of the shaft, showing how she has completely orchestrated the Thief's downfall and how ubiquitous she is in his life right now, even though he doesn't know it. It's a fantastic panel, and I really hope López gets some higher profile work after this (well, along with Pfeifer, of course, but he's already gotten some, so presumably he will continue to).

I'll miss this book, but at least Pfeifer is wrapping everything up nicely. Two more to go!

Checkmate #27 by Bruce Jones (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I was encouraged by the first Jones issue, but very much less so by this one. This is an espionage book, and what we get in this is a superhero comic disguised very poorly as an espionage book. Now, I realize that espionage books in the DCU are going to have to deal with superheroes, but Rucka seemed able to write espionage with superheroic elements. This is a superhero book with espionage elements, and it's not as good. Many people who dropped the book because of Jones coming on might say, "Well, what did you expect, you dope?" but I can always hope, can't I? Well, maybe not. This is a dull issue, with Chimera showing off what he can do and some goofy porcupine monster (yes, a porcupine monster) is coming back to the material world because man doesn't live in harmony with nature anymore. A nice idiotic environmental tale is always fun, but this is so ham-fisted that it's just annoying. Adam's fiancée, Chloe, is still convinced he's alive, but when she mentions this to his mother, she suddenly launches into a diatribe about destroying the planet and that this is the end of the world because "ancient religions" say so. Yawn. Wake me when Checkmate sends Beatriz to burn someone's nuts off. Now THAT'S a comic I can get behind!

There are a very few neat touches, and I'm going to stick around at least through this first story arc, just to see if Jones can recover. Garcia's art is quite excellent, but that's not going to be enough if this just turns into another superhero comic.

Giant porcupine monsters. God, I wish I was kidding.

Elephantmen #12 by Richard Starkings (writer) and Rob Steen (artist). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Image.

As usual, I'd like to thank Richard Starkings for sending this to me. He's a totally swell guy. He also sent me Unhuman: the Elephantmen Art of Ladrönn, which is a gorgeous package of sketches and character designs and concepts. It's 30 bucks, so it might be a bit steep for you, but it's still a nice book.

Anyway, Starkings gives us a creepy horror story about a worker who is cleaning up the MAPPO HQ after the UN moved in and took it apart. Keimond, the main character, is having nightmares about the skeletons he's cleaning up, and it's partly because he's robbing them. A co-worker, Vishoek, cautions him about treating the corpses with respect, but Keimond doesn't want to hear it. Things get bad quickly, and we get a couple of classic horror twists at the end. It's a nifty little story with nice Steen art - it's a bit like Richard Corben, and there's nothing wrong with that.

There's not much else to say. Keimond is apparently going to show up again, as the teaser for next issue mentions him, so that will be interesting to see what he does after this story. It's a disturbing and horrifying tale that, like the rest of the series, keeps the science fiction aspect while commenting on current events. Starkings does this very well, and I'm always happy to keep reading.

Ex Machina #37 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (penciller), Jim Clark (inker), Cliff Rathburn (inker), JD Mettler (colorist), Aviña & Rench (colorist), and Wes Abbott (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I don't have much to say about this issue. I mean, I like this comic a lot, but if you don't, this issue certainly isn't going to change your mind. Vaughan has never deviated from his formula with this comic - we start in the past for a few pages, see something that informs the present, switch to the "present" (2004), then get a splash page at the end that is occasionally shocking and occasionally not. I like this comic a lot, but I'm not sure how truly great it is. We'll see when it finishes up.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on at the end of this issue. Monica paints "Bush = Osama" on the side of the Empire State Building, and then, as she's climbing down, she sees a guy fucking his secretary (presumably; it's not his wife and he's her boss). She breaks in and encourages the guy to take her picture. When Mitch is fretting that the Republicans are going to pull the Convention out of the city because of her, a Secret Service dude shows up and says all is well, but if Monica continues, they'll have to consider her a threat to the president. He shows the picture that was taken, which is of Monica kicking the naked secretary in the jaw. He says that if she keeps this up, "she's deader than Oswald." See, I don't get that. What the heck is Monica doing, and why is her kicking a naked woman in the jaw evidence that she's going to kill the president? I'm sure that it will all be explained next issue, but this is a weird sequence of events. Is the woman more important than just a woman who's fucking her boss? Beats me.

Oh well. I dig how the cops take down the Great Machine without using weapons he can stop. That's clever.

Fallen Angel #27 by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

I can't say this is a bad issue, because it isn't. After Moloch won the battle of Bete Noire, Lee, Jude, and Mariah have fled and taken refuge at Lee's house. Jude decides to fight back because he's the magistrate and just can't let the city go. They need to go to the city of life (as opposed to Bete Noire, the city of sin, and the city of death, where Lee went a few issues back) and get help there, so they all go off in a plane. A demon tries to stop them, and he and Lee mix it up on the wing of the plane. That can't be good.

What is weird about this issue is the way it's structured. We start with Lee discovering the demon on the wing and fighting with him a while. Then we rather abruptly go into a flashback to Mariah pointing out that Bete Noire's evil influence is seeping into the world and Jude saying they're the only ones who can stop it. There's a quick switch back to the fight on the plane, which doesn't go well, and then more flashback. Finally, we return to the plane, where things go poorly for our heroes, and we get a weird cliffhanger (almost literally) that finishes the issue rather suddenly. It's certainly a good issue in terms of individual scenes and art, but the jarring way it's put together is a bit strange, because it doesn't flow particularly well. Still, it's always fun to see a fight with a demon on the wing of an airplane. That's good stuff!

Gemini #2 (of 5) by Jay Faerber (writer), Jon Sommariva (artist), Fco Plascencia (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

I'm not entirely sure how Jay Faerber gets superheroes so well. I mean, before Noble Causes, I had read a few of his comics ("a few" meaning at least one Generation X issue, but I'm not going back and checking how many more), but they didn't leave much of an impression. Since Noble Causes debuted (what, six, seven years ago by now?), he just seems to get superheroes. Every issue isn't perfect, there are occasional problems with scripting, but in general, he has complete command of the genre, more than almost anyone else in the business. Kirkman's Invincible is excellent, true, but the breadth of Faerber's universe is astonishing. Gemini is not on the same level as Noble Causes and Dynamo 5, but that's okay. It's still a very entertaining book, even though it seems to wallow in superhero clichés. How does that happen?

Take last issue's cliffhanger. Gemini obviously isn't dead, and the reason he's not dead is all-too-typical of superhero books, but Faerber immediately pulls the rug out from under us by pointing out that Gemini has never seen his real face, so when he revives without his mask, it's going to cause him some consternation when he does see his face. Why hasn't he seen his face? Well, when he's "Gemini" (as opposed to Dan, his civilian identity), his memory is always altered so he thinks he's a superhero all the time. Just as Dan doesn't realize he's a superhero, Gemini doesn't realize he's a civilian. This little twist on the story makes us appreciate it even more. Then The Constellation (the secret group that runs Gemini, as well as a bunch of other superheroes; and no, I don't think they were named in the first issue, but Faerber names them in the recap on the inside cover) sends Lynx after him to deactivate him (that's him on the cover), and we get another nifty twist on the "two heroes fight each other" motif that is all too common in superhero books. Faerber skews things just enough so that this is a good, old-fashioned superhero comic (he's not Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis, after all, and thank God for that) but it doesn't feel tired and old. It's fun to read, nice to look at (on the back cover, Randy Lander compares Sommariva's art to J. Scott Campbell, Skottie Young, and Joe Madureira, so that should give you an idea what it looks like, although it reminds me of someone else, but I can't think of who right now, because I suck), and has yet another good but fairly predictable twist at the end. It's refreshing to read something like this, because it doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is. And it's lots of fun, which is enough.

Ghost Rider #24 by Jason Aaron (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

After the craziness of Aaron's first arc, this issue is a bit of a letdown, even though it has some strong points. Aaron writes Johnny Blaze/GR quite well, and when he's around, the book has a nice world-weariness that seems fitting. His confrontation with the crazy preacher of Cell Block D is better because it's so understated. There's no shouting and posturing, just an acceptance of the status quo by both men. It's a nice moment. Huat's art, which I haven't seen since Doom Patrol a few years ago, looks pretty good, too - his angular style is softened a bit, and I'm not sure if he's doing it or Villarrubia's colors are doing it (probably a combination of both). His Ghost Rider is oddly freaky, too, as it's not quite a skull, more of a blending of Blaze's head and the skull, which makes it more unsettling.

The overall story is a bit limp, though. We've seen the variation of "men of God" going nuts and killing so often that the splash page at the beginning has little to no impact. I get that Zadkiel is a bad dude, but the hot nurses in Aaron's first arc were actually scarier than the crazy preacher, partly because they were hot, but also because they played on our fears far more than a crazy preacher. Then, the big reveal at the end is disappointing. Oh, it's just some big dude. We're supposed to be scared of him? Well, I'd be scared of him because I'm a wuss, but why would he scare Ghost Rider? I assume he's going to be meaner than he looks, but it didn't get much of a reaction from me. In between, we get a fairly standard prison drama, with the creepy guy in solitary confinement and the riot and the guard who isn't what he seems. It all feels too familiar.

I suppose Aaron couldn't keep up the manic energy of the first arc, and those issues were good enough (and Aaron is a good enough writer so far in his short career) that I'm willing to see where he's going with this. But it's a disappointment after the first arc. I'm just sayin'.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #8 (of eight) by Matt Wagner (writer/artist) and Tom Orzechowski (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, BWR, Dark Horse.

This is, unfortunately, a disappointing ending to a marvelous mini-series. It still looks fantastic, of course, but the story doesn't hold together because Hunter's demon was never much of a threat and Lucas Ottoman's long dark journey into night isn't as powerful as it could be. He's not much of a threat to Hunter, after all, and although the story isn't really about the confrontation between Grendel and Lucas, it doesn't help that their "showdown" is so anticlimactic. This is much more about Hunter finally doubting himself, which could easily tie into Lucas's attempts to find out who he really is, but Wagner doesn't do much with it. It's unfortunate, and speaks to the biggest problem with Hunter Rose: our inability to sympathize with him because he's so perfect. In this series, Wagner has managed to put a chink in his armor, and it was quite refreshing. But he never runs too far with it, and by this issue, he's back to his impervious self, which is, frankly, somewhat boring. Wagner recognized this long ago and rightly killed him off, and when he returned to Hunter in the recent series of short stories, he smartly focused on short, brief, and terribly impressive moments in the life of Grendel or, even more effectively, the lives of those around him. Hunter simply cannot support a series of this length unless Wagner makes him more interesting. For a great deal of this series, he did just that, but he has moved past that moment of doubt in this issue and is the implacable villain once more. It's too bad, because this goes quickly from a fascinating psychological breakdown of a character who has resisted such attempts before to just another notch on the belt of Grendel. Too bad. It's still a wonderful book to look at, and depending on how much the trade is, I would recommend it for much of the story, but it does break down a bit at the end.

The Incredible Hercules #118 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Rafa Sandoval (penciler), Roger Bonet (inker), Martegod Gracia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Why dost I loveth this comic? Let's see - the recap page shows the God Squad on faux-baseball cards ("collecteth all VI!"); one of the statements in this issue is "the razor-sharp proboscis of Ceffyad the Righteous once lanced the thoraxes of unbelievers for the Idoidea Swarm Collective" (anytime you can use the word "proboscis," it's a good thing); there exists in the Marvel Universe something called "fractal scriptures"; Amadeus's dog is named Kerberos, and the shortened form is "Kirby"; that same Kirby saves our heroes by, well, howling; of all the night terrors that Nightmate summons, one is a Rubik's cube; Hercules gives Atum the God-Eater a noogie; and for the second straight issue, the issue ends with a suggestion that one of the entourage is a Skrull. Oh no!

Yes, it's another crazy issue of this book, with lots of action, some nice introspection, and noogies. Sandoval provides more excellent art, although the panel where Hercules decks Nightmare doesn't make much sense. He appears to be uppercutting the villain, but Nightmare is behind him, so I'm not quite sure how it works. Other than that, it's spectacular as usual. I do wish Pak and Van Lente had made the "night terrors" a bit more ridiculous - I like the Rubik's cube and the IRS agent, but most of them are just monsters, and it would have been more fun if the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man had been there, is all I'm saying.

That's an extremely minor quibble, though. I love this comic. Put down the main mini-series and pick this up! It's cheaper and way more awesome!

My Inner Bimbo #5 (of 5) by Sam Kieth (writer/artist), Josh Hagler (artist), and Jill Beaton (letterer). $2.99, 33 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

Well. The first issue of this came out a long time ago (late 2006, I believe) and I read the first issue, shook my head with confusion, and decided to wait until the whole thing was done to read it. I figured it might take a while to come out (and it did) and I knew I'd be lost with every single issue I read, so why not just wait? Well, the final issue finally arrived, and I've read the whole thing.

I have no idea what to say about this. It looks great, as Kieth (and Hagler, whatever his contribution is to the series) pull out all the stops to bring us a hallucinogenic interior world of Lo and his inner bimbo, as well as the exterior world of Lo and his wife, Betsy. It's a truly unbelievably wonderful-looking book, with amazing perspectives, wild shifts in style to reflect the mood and tone of the scene, and some beautifully touching panels. The art is stunning.

As for the story ... well, I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. There's a LOT of talking in this series, and Lo and Betsy seem to go around the same subjects quite often while spinning their wheels. The series is about sex, ultimately, but sex in the context of love, and how we relate to others and how we can move beyond our hang-ups. It's a lot more than that, of course, but Kieth manages to take a man who is arguing with the manifestation of his feminine side and make it compelling. There's so much going on that I don't even want to approach it until I have more time, but I will say that it's definitely worth a look. I might have to sit down and read and re-read this to wrap my brain around it. We'll see if the trade gets solicited soon.

I will say that this is unlike almost anything you've ever read before. It's totally unique. It's tough to review, but the art is spectacular and Kieth does a marvelous job bringing the characters to life. They're completely real, and that's a good thing. I'm just trying to figure out the story. Man, it's weird.

Rasl #2 by Jeff Smith (writer/artist). $3.50, 32 pgs, BW, Cartoon Books.

I want to like Rasl, but so far, I'm kind of unimpressed. It's like Smith is trying too hard to make it completely different from Bone, and while I don't want it to be a clone of that book, the "gritty" thing Smith is going for seems off somehow. We do learn more about Rasl and what the heck was going on in issue #1, and that's cool, but then Smith falls into cliché by offing the woman Rasl sleeps with for no good reason. It's depressing that a good writer like Smith feels the need to kill her off. The entire issue feels like a kid trying desperately to be taken seriously. There's a way to write a "mature" title without being stereotypical. Smith hasn't mastered that yet. I'm going to give it a few more issues to see what's going on (it only comes out once every three months, after all, so it's not like it's costing me too much), but it's on a short leash. That's too bad, because I wish it were better.

Rex Mundi #12 by Arvid Nelson (writer/letterer) and Juan Ferreyra (artist/colorist). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

The end of another chapter of the Rex Mundi saga is well done, as Nelson sets things up nicely for the final big storyline. In a good evocation of Napoleon, the Duke of Lorraine crowns himself Emperor in Notre Dame cathedral (and Ferreyra does a nice job mimicking David's famous painting of the coronation, plus there's a nice panel using Yevgeny Khaldei's photograph of the Russians raising their flag on the Reichstag), while down in the south, his daugther Isabelle adds another piece of the puzzle to the grand tapestry of the book by explaining a bit about the blue pomegranates. Isabelle shows us, once again, that she's a formidable sorceress who you don't want to trifle with, and everything is moving nicely toward an apocalyptic conclusion. Ferreyra's art is amazing, as usual, and the way he colors the book is done well, too. Most of the comic is in shades of blue, showing both the prevalence of the pomegranates and the night-time setting. When we move to Notre Dame, the scene explodes in sunlight, nicely contrasting Lorraine's ascendance with the darkness behind the scenes. A flashback page in sepia tones with bright red blood pops off the page, too.

There's one thing that bugged me, and it's a question of continuity. On page 3 Isabelle very clearly gets wounded with a knife in her right hand. We see the wound very well on page 4. She stanches the bleeding throughout pages 4 and 5, and then Julien cauterizes the wound and begins to wrap it on pages 6 and 7. On page 8, panel 1, he's wrapping the left hand. This begins the bandage's odyssey. In panel 3 of page 8, the right hand is wrapped. Directly underneath it, in panel 5, Isabelle brushes the hair out of her face with her right hand, which is now wound-free. In panel 6, the right hand is once again bandaged. Moving on to page 11, on panel 3 it appears that Isabelle no longer has dressings on either hand, but her right hand is partially obscured behind leaves, so we'll let that go. On page 12, panels 3 and 5, her right hand is bandaged. In panel 2 of page 13, neither hand is wrapped. When Isabelle fights the French troops on pages 14-18, there is no bandage. Finally, on page 19 the bandage is back on her right hand. I'd like to say this is a clue, like a certain element of Dreadstar back in the 1980s (yeah, I'm going olde-schoolle on your asses!), but I think it's probably just a mistake. It doesn't ruin the issue, but it was humorous to track it.

Anyway, I implore you to buy the trade paperbacks. Once Johnny Depp shows up in the movie, you won't be able to say you're not a bandwagon-jumper! You want to be ahead of the curve, people!

Sparks #1 by Chris Folino (writer) and JM Ringuet (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Catastrophic Comics.

I already reviewed this, but I should point out that in the beginning, Sparks staggers into a newspaper editor's office, not a cop's as I wrote. I was looking at smaller reproductions of the art and couldn't tell too well where he was. It doesn't change much, except he's not confessing to an officer of the law, just some dude who can print his story. It's still a good debut issue with strong art and a nice noir premise. Folino was cool enough to send me previews of the next few issues, so I'll review those right prior to issue #2's arrival. I will point out that Ringuet lives in Suzhou, China, which I found pretty darned cool.

X-Factor #32 by Peter David (writer), Valentine de Landro (penciler), Drew Hennessy (inker), Craig Yeung (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Every so often, writers ought to reinvent the books they're working on, especially if it's a corporate franchise. It might not work too well (Preacher comes to mind) or it might only work after some time has passed (Starman going into space) or it might work pretty well from the get-go (well, I liked the post-Mutant Massacre issues of Uncanny X-Men). But it's not a bad thing and often serves to reinvigorate a title, even if there's nothing particularly wrong with it. Such is the case with X-Factor, which has been the most consistently good X-book since its launch almost three years ago. The recent issues have been good, but David probably felt that the original mission - Jamie running a detective agency - had been lost a bit, so he simply blows everything up (literally) and moves on. This is helpful because it allows him to move along in Theresa's pregnancy (in comic-book time, a woman could remain pregnant for a few years, so it's nice to jump) and re-establish the team and the mission and leave New York behind for a while. Being David, he doesn't completely sever ties from the past, but it will be neat to see where he's going with the title.

So this becomes a clearing-house issue, and although it does its job, it's not super-exciting. Jamie saves a dude but, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, realizes that mortality is inexorable and so decides to devote himself to being a good father. Layla shows up as a manifestation of his psyche and tells him he's going to be a father. Val Cooper tries to enlist the X-Factor gang, but they tell her to stick it. It's a well-written issue, but it's not terribly exciting. Still, as part of the whole, it's pretty good.

I'm pretty sure next issue is Larry Stroman's return to the book, plus a Secret Invasion thing. I'll get them, because it ties into David's other book, She-Hulk, and should therefore be a fun read, but I imagine David won't get started with the next phase of the book until after the Skrulls have been defeated. Still, a crossover issue by David is still worth reading.

Zorro #4 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Wagner's epic continues, and I'm starting to enjoy it more because we're seeing more of the titular character in action. You might recall that I haven't been a big fan of the way the story is structured, with far too much of Diego's childhood and not enough of Zorro being a hero. Well, the balance is beginning to shift just a bit, with more Zorro-riffic action in the present and less flashback, so I'm happy. Except for the fact that once again, we go to the well of violence against females to inspire the hero into action. Why is that the only thing that makes people want to fight injustice? It's such a cliché, and it's annoying, because Wagner is a better writer than that. But the way Zorro, in the present, takes out an entire cadre of soldiers almost makes up for it. I hope that the trend continues toward more stuff in the present, and that I can enjoy the book more. It's not a bad comic by any means, but it hasn't been thrilling yet, and Zorro is a thrilling character, so this should be a slam dunk, and it's not so far.

I apologized for the tardiness of this post. I went on "vacation" to Pennsylvania on Thursday night and have been very busy this weekend seeing my parents, my sister, and various friends whom I haven't seen in years. So I've had some trouble getting on-line and writing reviews. I'm sure nobody really missed them, but you never know. Everyone has been praising Greg's excellent insights into the culture of comics business, and I'm sure they're tired of all the positivity and want to lay into some idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about. Ladies and gentlemen, I am that man!!!!!

And finally, today's totally random lyrics:

"London boys are gazing as the girls go hand in handWith a pocket full of innocence, their entrance is grandAnd the queen of the dream stands before them allShe stretches out her hand as the curtains start to fall"

I'll be late next week, too. Be patient!

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