What I bought - 18 November 2009

Since my dear soul was mistress of her choiceAnd could of men distinguish her election,Sh' hath seal'd thee for herself, for thou hast beenAs one in suff'ring all that suffers nothing,A man that Fortune's buffets and rewardsHast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are thoseWhose blood and judgment are so well co-meddled,That they are not a pipe for Fortune's fingerTo sound what stop she please.

Batman: Unseen #4 (of 5) ("Blur") by Doug Moench (writer), Kelley Jones (artist), Michelle Madsen (colorist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I always love when Batman actually does some detecting, and although he doesn't do a ton of it in this book, it's still fun to see. Bats finally figures out how to make an invisible man visible (in a totally lo-tech way), and of course, Nigel Glass's "translux" serum doesn't last forever, so by the end of the book he's semi-visible again, but he still escapes, setting up the big finale. Unlike the previous issues, Moench reins in the purple prose a bit and lets Jones cut loose, and it's glorious to see. On the first page, we get a panel of Batman, sans cape and cowl, in the Batcave, working a gargatuan machine like Dr. Frankenstein, with said machine peppered with different colored bulbs and parts of it hanging from chains (and why the hell not?). This entire machine is ... to make new lenses for his cowl. Now that's efficient! And then there's the stained-glass window in the city morgue (which itself has kind of an Egyptian city of the dead motif going on, exterior-wise), the corpse in the river casually chained to a big rock (which, needless to say, has nothing to do with the story and just shows the danger level, generally, in Gotham), and Batman's bat-shaped and portable heart-monitor. And, of course, Batman's glorious cape, which seems alive when Jones draws it. I know that certain crazy people hate Jones's Batman, but we should pity those people, not scorn them. Moench and Jones doing a Batman comic is such a weird, wild experience, and despite the darkness of the script and the art, it's usually a tremendously fun read. This series especially.

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "It's supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion."*

* That sums up Jones's style, doesn't it? It's up to you if you like it or not.

One panel of awesome:

The Black Coat: ... Or Give Me Death #3 (of 4) by Ben Lichius (story/writer/colorist), Adam Cogan (story), Dean Kotz (artist), and Chris Studabaker (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Ape Entertainment.

One week after the double-sized issue combining issues 1 and 2, we get the third issue, which is groovy with me. Lichius speeds things up in this issue, which is a tiny bit annoying, as our hero goes from freaking out at the end of issue #2 to Bellevue at the beginning of this issue, and then suddenly, he's all better! (Well, not suddenly, but he does recover rather quickly.) Also, Ursula gets the formula for the immortality serum rather quickly and easily, even though we have no idea how she does it. But that's okay. Lichius and Cogan continue to hurl all sorts of awesome stuff at us, from Ben Franklin guest-starring to the Gypsy assassin, and the Black Coat finally tumbles on the League's grand scheme, which is devious and dastardly, to say the least. And Kotz continues to be a decent replacement for Francavilla.

Even though the immortality serum makes this slightly more of a superhero book than the previous series (the Black Coat gets severely stabbed and shot, but nothing happens to him), it's still enough of a cool historical spy/supernatural story to balance that. The race is on next issue to start the Revolution yet thwart the League. I wonder if our heroes will succeed?

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "I'm sick wit dis, straight gangsta mack."*

* The Black Coat is indeed "straight gangsta mack."

One panel of awesome:

Hellblazer #261 ("India Part One: White Man's Burden") by Peter Milligan (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (layouter), Stefano Landini (finisher), Trish Mulvihill (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I've been a bit critical of Camuncoli's and Landini's art on Hellblazer, mainly because I don't think Camuncoli's superheroic style fits John Constantine's universe, not because I don't like Camuncoli (which I do). Interestingly enough, all Milligan had to do was move John to India, and Camuncoli's/Landini's art looks a lot better - it looks less muddled, John looks seedier set against the wider vistas of Mumbai (having never been to India, I doubt if Mumbai is less packed together than London, but Camuncoli makes it look that way), and his monster (that dude on the cover) looks keen. Of course, the coloring helps. I've been critical of Mulvihill's murky coloring, which seems to be the Vertigo "house style," but here she cranks up the reds and yellows and blues and gives the book a clearer and cleaner look, making the dark parts even creepier. As two characters discuss a Bollywood movie at one point, I have to think some of the more technicolory parts are deliberate. It works.

Milligan takes John to India because John believes that's where he'll find the means to resurrect Phoebe. He meets up with an old friend who is now bilking tourists as a guru but who's also involved in some other, even less savory business. And that dude on the cover is murdering young women - of course he is! The one murder we see is actually quite well done - Milligan and Camuncoli do a nice job with the fact that only she can see her attacker. Milligan continues to do a nice job showing how very immature John is - Charles basically says it, and in that moment, we're on his side ... until we learn what he's up to. It's a nifty trick to get us turned against John and on the side of a different character, and then Milligan deftly switches it back.

I'm reserving judgment on the colonialism aspect to the story, because I want to see where Milligan is going with it. But it's a solid beginning to the arc, and I'm glad Camuncoli's art fits better here (he did a nice job on that Bangkok Nights story a few years ago; maybe he likes Asia?). It's good to see!

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "I'm the one who said 'Just grab 'em in the biscuits'."*

* Okay, so John doesn't do this, but he would, wouldn't he?

One panel of awesome:

Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 (of 7) ("Lust, Etc." and "Ska Attack Squad") by Kieron Gillen (writer), Jamie McKelvie (artist/letterer, "Lust, Etc."), Dan Boultwood (artist, "Ska Attack Squad"), and Matthew Wilson (colorist). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

After a long delay which had more to do with Image than Gillen and McKelvie being slackers, apparently (although I'm sure they've been busy eating Ring Dings, playing Donkey Kong, and violating the civil rights of several woodland creatures instead of, you know, working), Phonogram #5 comes out, a week after it showed up at some shops, therefore allowing those people who shop at those shops an extra week to soak in the Phonogram goodness while the rest of us went without. Where, I ask you, is the justice?!?!?!??!?!?!

As usual, an issue of Phonogram means I do less of a review than a paean to its greatness, and although I really, really want to savage an issue just so Gillen and McKelvie don't get swelled heads more than they are already swelled, I just can't. (Okay, I don't really want to savage an issue. It's only fun to do that when it's a Green Lantern gore-fest or an interminably dull Justice League story.) This would be the perfect issue to do it, because this issue focuses on Laura Heaven, the girl from the series whom everyone (the characters in the comic, I mean) seems to think is dull as dishwater. Not only that, she thinks and quotes large chunks of lyrics almost pathologically. Now, I suspect many, many people do that (long ago when I was in college, I could quote large segments of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, among other movies), but we usually do it when we're hanging around with friends who can also do it, and it's a bonding experience from a shared kind of gestalt. It's not done as a defensive maneuver to put people off and distance yourself from them, as Laura does it. (I could be wrong - maybe many people do that.) For instance, I never say, "The important thing here is that you ask me what kind of car it is" unless I'm 99% positive the response will be, "A BITCHIN' CAMARO!" (Or some variation thereof.) But Laura walls herself off with her quotes, and therefore she's the kind of person we should hate.

But we don't. Or at least I don't. Gillen and McKelvie make it so we can't hate her. We can't even pity her, which might be worse. I'm not sure we exactly like her, but we realize why she does what she does, which is almost as good. It starts early, when McKelvie shows Laura staring in at Penny, and the desire in her eye (we only see one, as she's peeping through a narrow aperture) is almost palpable. As she and Penny head to the club, we get the anger and longing from Laura when Penny goes off with her perfect boy, and her envy of the barmaid who seems to float above it all where she can't. Her encounter with Emily in the bathroom (which we've seen a few times in the series, always from a different perspective) is a sweet moment, even if Emily wouldn't think so, and then Laura's sadness at being Lloyd's second choice sums up the book perfectly. When she thinks of another quote and then crosses it out (a bit heavy-handed by Gillen, but still effective), we see her transformation into her own person completed. Gillen explains the issue in his end notes, which he didn't need to do (seriously, KG, we totally got it, and you need to trust your writing more), but if you just read the story and skip the end notes, you'll once again sit back, amazed at how the two creators can so sharply delineate these characters in such a short time. I mean, the tender touch of Emily's fingers on Laura's forehead or the second-to-last panel of the book, in which Laura is both beautiful and terrifying, have more emotion in them than most DC or Marvel books do in their entire issue ... and that's just the art. When you combine it with Gillen's brilliant dialogue, you get Phonogram. And once again, I can't just review it, I must sing its praises to the skies. That's just the way I am, man!

Oh, and the back-up story is cute, too. The cover promises the "most gratuitous double-page spread of all time." I'd have to agree!

Let us hope that Image has its production problems sorted out and issues #6 and 7 come quickly. Damn, I love this comic. But here's my savaging of it! In one panel (the one where Laura's at the bar, bored), I don't like how McKelvie draws her fingers. Ha! Take that, you smug Brits! Can you stand the withering criticism of how Laura's fingers look? I think not!!!!!

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "I'll eat up all your crackers and your licorice."*

* You just know those freeloaders Gillen and McKelvie would do that if they came over to your house!

One panel of awesome:

Spider-Woman #3 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

And then there's Spider-Woman, which I'm still trying to figure out. I really have no problem with Bendis's pacing, as long as the story is interesting. I think Alias and Daredevil are wonderful, for instance. And the story in this series, so far, isn't bad. I don't know where Bendis is going with it, which is okay, and although I'm not terribly jazzed by HYDRA, I don't have that big a problem with them. The issue I do have with it is the way Bendis writes the two female leads. I've come to grips with the fact that Bendis often writes his female leads in the same way (Rucka, the other man writing lots of comics these days who seems to write decent female leads, does this too). I don't mind it when that female is the only strong female in the book, but now that Viper is in this comic, it sounds like the exact same person is carrying on a conversation with herself. Viper is a bit more confident than Jessica, but they still sound the same. It's somewhat annoying. I know that Bendis doesn't necessarily have to do this - his Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy were sufficiently different, but perhaps that's because the book was more superheroic and not as focused on the characters - and that makes it more annoying. Jessica tells us that Viper believes that she's her (Jessica's) mother, but that doesn't explain it away. Oh well. I suppose I'll have to deal with it if I decide to keep buying the book.

As for Maleev ... I'm still not digging his art on this comic. I know he's done the photo-referencing thing for some time, and it never bugged me too much, but it seems like a few things are working against it here. First, Madripoor isn't a real place, and Maleev doesn't do much to make it feel real. The city is extremely vaguely-defined, and it hurts the general misc-en-scene. Second, as this book is a bit more superheroic than Daredevil, we get the various gadgets, and they don't fit together well in the book. The flying car looks really weird, for instance. Finally, Maleev seems to be taking some shortcuts in integrating the foreground in with the background. The flying car's battle with the helicopters looks like a badly-shot movie against a blue screen, with the background added later. I guess that could be how it was done, but with a comic, it seems like the foreground could be integrated better into the background. I like Maleev quite a bit, but this isn't working as well as it could.

Anyway, Bendis and Maleev have a couple of issues to win me over. This is still the kind of comic that Bendis seems to do well on, so I'm certainly willing to give him some leeway. We shall see what he does with it!

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "I'm spunky; I like my oatmeal lumpy."*

* I like to think this is how Jessica Drew likes her oatmeal, and she sure is spunky!

One panel of awesome:

Super Friends #21 ("Happily Never After") by Sholly Fisch (writer), Stewart McKenny (penciller), Dan Davis (inker), Sal Cipriano (letterer), and Heroic Age (colorist). $2.50, 20 pgs, FC, DC.

It's a bit sad that when I'm in the mood to read a good, old-fashioned, single-issue superhero comic, often the best place to go is Johnny DC's line and Super Friends (or the Brave and the Bold title they also publish). There's nothing complicated about this issue, and it could easily be a single issue of Justice League of America, if those guys weren't so busy wallowing in angst. I usually buy these issues based on the covers, and that one's pretty awesome, isn't it?

As for the story ... Remember Waid and Hitch's "Queen of Fables" story in JLA #47-49? Well, Fisch does it in one issue, and it's more entertaining than that entire story! I love the set-up: the Justice League finds a book on their satellite, Superman opens it, and they're whisked away to the Queen of Fables' realm! One page, no worry about "explaining" anything, and they're into the story. Good stuff! Anyway, the queen wants the Super Friends to stay in her land because they're so good for stories, and she splits them up (in classic JLA style), sends them each to a different part of her world, and challenges them to get back. Of course they do, and Fisch does an excellent job (in limited space, remember) of showing how each character tackles the challenges differently based on their personality. Superman uses his strength, Batman his brains, Flash his speed, Wonder Woman her compassion ('cause she's a weak woman, don't you know), Aquaman his ... well, his intelligence too, in a different way than Bats, and John Stewart his ... well, his wisdom too. Dang, those Justice Leaguers sure are smart! They all use their brains in one way or another, and even though it's a kid's book so Fisch doesn't want to show them punching things out, it's more refreshing to see them being, you know, heroic instead of just bashing things because they can. And, of course, they solve the problem of being trapped in the Queen's world using their heads, too.

It's really a wonderful little story about heroes being heroes, drawn very nicely by McKenny, who adds little touches in the gutters that evoke various fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It's quite funny. There's really nothing "childish" about this comic, and it's too bad that a lot of comics in the "regular" continuity can't seem to get this kind of story right. Oh well.

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "Ya stare, ya glare, ya constantly try to compare me, but ya can't get near me."*

* Normal DC superhero books can't compare to this!

One panel of awesome:

Underground #3 (of 5) by Jeff Parker (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), and Ron Chan (colorist). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

I don't know how much credit Parker should get for this issue, as a lot of the dialogue deals with Wes and Seth getting attacked by the punks who were sabotaging the cave. If Parker had a lot to do with the layout of this issue, that's one thing, because Lieber does a fantastic job making this a very claustrophobic and even terrifying issue, as it takes place almost entirely inside the cave, even deeper than the principals have gone before, which means the characters have less knowledge of what's going on with the topography. Of course, there's no light, either, and Lieber does a wonderful job by bringing the "camera" in to focus on characters' faces, pulling out to show the emptiness that surrounds them, and it's quite disorienting, which is very keen. It feels like a movie, but because the images are static, we can concentrate on them a bit more and get a good feel for what's happening more than we can a movie, where the cuts come more quickly. The ending isn't quite as dramatic as Lieber's full-page drawing warrants, mainly because we don't care too much about the person in the drawing, but it does show the dangers of, you know, fucking around in a hole in the ground.

This continues to be a tense comic that looks great. If you've only read Parker's Marvel stuff, give it a look, because it does allow him to show some other strengths in his writing. And Lieber is always good!

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "I'm the new fool in town and my sound's laid down by the Underground."*

* Duh.

One panel of awesome:

Zorro #17 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I'm still loving this story arc, in which Wagner shows us all the reactions to Zorro from various people who have come across him. It makes Zorro a more mysterious figure - in the first two arcs, he was a large presence, and while they were very good, it made Zorro less of a figure of the night and more of a superhero. Wagner, in this arc, has lessened his presence and made him more dangerous, and it's neat. There's very little in these stories that surprise us - there's a bad guy, Zorro shows him what's what - but the way Wagner constructs them, we're on the edge of our seats as we wait for the inevitable moment when Zorro shows up. And the reveal of what Zorro does to Don Rafael - again, even though we anticipate what he's going to do - is excellent. A lot of this credit goes to Wagner, of course, but a lot goes to Francavilla, who is, as usual, marvelous. His pencil work is great, but his coloring (I assume he does it, as no one is credited) is as good, as he gives most of the book a rich yellow-brown color, evoking the windswept coast of California, until Zorro shows up, when the primary color switches to red, showing our hero's anger at Don Rafael's poor treatment of his workers. It's always nice to see artists thinking about more than just the pencils, and Francavilla (and the colorist, if he didn't do it) gives us that.

Anyway, it's another fine issue of Zorro. I'm completely unsurprised.

What line from "The Humpty Dance" best describes this? "And all the rappers in the top ten; please allow me to bump thee."*

* The "rappers" in this instance are the fat landowners exploiting the proletariat. It totally works, people!

One panel of awesome:

I mentioned a while back that I'm busy indoctrinating my daughter into the ways of comics. I'm not being as aggressive with my other daughter, mainly because she can't read, but my lovely wife bought her a cool T-shirt recently, and I thought I'd share it with you:

That's Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man on a T-shirt that reads "I Love Superheroes." Remember when they were all friends? Good times! Once Mia starts reading (which may be quite some time), I'll have to give her some comics! She'll be sure to dig Tony Stark trying to put Steve Rogers in jail! That's what the United States is all about!!!!

Let's get some totally random lyrics:

"'Twas 1659 forgotten now for sureThey dragged us from our homelandWith the musket and their gunCromwell and his roundheadsBattered all we knowShackled hopes of freedomWe're now but stolen goodsDarken the horizonBlackened from the sunThis rotten cage of BridgetownIs where I now belong"


Fire away with your opinions, people, about comics or otherwise! What do you think of the new format? I'm just experimenting. Yay or nay?

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