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What I bought – 19 December 2007

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 19 December 2007

This might have been the greatest week in the history of comics.  I mean, in quantity as well as quality, there was excellent stuff all over the place.  This week, we got three of the best comics DC publishes, an highly entertaining kung fu comic (with a Whirling Devil Dervish and Foothammer Thunder Strike!), one of the best team books out there right now, three new series from Archaia, which consistently puts out good stuff, some very good espionage books, and my favorite book on the market at this moment.  It’s an embarrassment of riches!  So, what’s out there for the discerning reader?  What should you spend your money on instead of buying Aunt Ida another Matlock DVD and your brother a leaf blower that he’ll never use?  It’s Christmas – treat yourself!  As an added bonus, we ask if Dan DiDio should be the subject of new loathing, or if he’s just caving to fans’ desires!

First of all, let’s check out the comics people recommended and why I didn’t pick them up.  I really do appreciate the input and consider everyone’s suggestions carefully!  I don’t have much interest in Avengers Classic, but I think I’ll pick up the latest issue this weekend, so I’ll read it but not review it.  I read the first issue of Captain America: The Chosen and liked it, but it was pretty obvious that it’s written for the trade, so I will wait on that.  I tend to skip the Marvel Adventures books because I’m not a kid.  Yes, I have a cold black heart and hate fun comics.  Oh, I’m joking!  Actually, I do like what I’ve read of them, but not enough to make them a regular purchase.  I read the first issue of Angel: After the Fall and wasn’t too jazzed by it, so I skipped the second one.  I may pick up the Marvel Holiday Special, but there was a lot more I was more interested in, and I can only get five books for free out at a time.  I have given up on McDuffie’s Justice League, so I skipped the latest issue.  Plus, Benitez drew it, and I don’t like his art.  I probably ought to read an issue of Shadowpact, oughtn’t I?  I liked the first trade paperback, so maybe I’ll see if the issue that came out this week is good.  I’ve kind of given up on Cable & Deadpool as well.  The issues I read were amusing, but since Cable’s “death,” it’s kind of aimless.  I don’t have any interest in Exiles, so I did not get the last issue.  Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin seems pointless, but if I do buy it (because I like Joe Casey and Canete’s art is very good), it will be in trade paperback format.  The Cosh is grumpy because he always suggests 2000AD, but I never get it.  I bought two issues about six months ago, but here in the desert, it’s hard to find issues.  It’s kind of frustrating.  I don’t really want to commit to it by pre-ordering it, but it’s kind of annoying that it’s not around here more often.  I will probably pick up Glister on my second go-around this weekend, because Our Dread Lord and Master’s review convinced me to check it out.  I don’t, however, have much interest in The Cryptics.  As for DubipR suggesting I buy the Simpsons … well, he should be happy.  See below!  Let’s get to it!

Birds of Prey #113 by Sean McKeever, Nicola Scott, and Doug Hazelwood.  $2.99, DC.

Before I get to the book itself, I hope you all checked out that DC Nation page at the back of this week’s DC comics.  Dan DiDio, the Lord of Evil, has a Christmas wish list.  On it is written, next to Robin’s name: “A memorial for Stephanie Brown.”  DiDio has crossed it out and written “Can’t do!” above it.  Of course, a page earlier there’s an advert for Robin with the banner “Who is coming to SPOIL Robin’s day?”  Down in the bottom left corner (the “Rip Torn Square”) is a picture of Spoiler.  So, does DiDio mean they can’t do a memorial because Stephanie Brown is no longer dead, which would mean that entire idiotic story with Leslie Tompkins being the Most Evil Bitch Alive is going away?  Or is he just being a dick and saying Stephanie Brown doesn’t deserve a memorial?  With DiDio, it really could be either.

Phew!  I’m already ranting and I haven’t even gotten to a comic yet!  That’s why my fellow bloggers speak of me in hushed, reverent tones – I get all peeved about the smallest things while ignoring the bigger issues!  So this is Sean McKeever’s first issue on the title, and for some reason, this is supposed to mean great things.  I don’t know.  McKeever is a decent writer, and I have no doubt he’ll do a good job on the book, but why is everyone sure it’s a slam dunk?

It’s actually pretty good, of course.  The central image is absolutely ridiculous, and I’ll get to it, but McKeever focuses on Barbara (which is probably a good idea) and her relationships with the other team members and her doubts about her mission after the one in this issue goes a bit FUBAR.  It’s well done in that regard, as Barbara muses about Helena and the way her life could resemble the villain’s, as the particular villain in this issue is a psychopathic 17-year-old Mob princess who is trying to seize her father’s territories after killing him and using a wacky device to do it.  We also get some nice interaction with Barbara and her ward, Misfit, who wants to fight in the field but isn’t ready, and proves it when she disobeys orders and teleports to the villain’s side.  The mission goes south, the Mob psycho destroys several blocks in downtown Metropolis, and Superman delivers a verbal smackdown to Barbara in the aftermath.  It’s a nice issue in that regard, and ends on a note that promises some issues of soul-searching among the ladies of the group.  Will they survive????

The big problem I had with the issue is Tabby (the villain’s) method of destruction.  I know it’s a superhero book, so we need superhero things, but the truck she’s driving transforms into a giant robot, and that’s just silly.  First of all, the robot looks a lot bigger than the truck was, so where did all the extra material come from?  Then, the robot starts getting bigger!  Finally, I always wonder why robots in comics are specifically designed with a gender.  The robot has long “hair” and breasts, which can’t be an efficient way to build a robot!  I know, I need to just chill out and let it go, and we needed a threat that was tougher for the BoP to handle than their normal threat so that Superman could come along and deliver his aforementioned verbal smackdown, but it was just goofy, and kind of took me right out of the story.

But the rest of the book was good enough to intrigue me.  Maybe I’ll have to come back to see what McKeever does with this!

Catwoman #74 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Álvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

That’s a great cover.  I wish Selina were zipped up a bit more, but it’s Adam Hughes, so I guess we have to expect it.  I love the way she looks like Audrey Hepburn.  [Edit: Heidi Meeley has pointed out that this is NOT the original cover.  The original had her suit zipped up.  In the comments, Ragnell wonders if people complained about the lack of cleavage.  What a weird change.  I left a comment on Will Pfeifer’s blog asking him if he knew why they changed it.  Stay tuned!]

However, this isn’t the best issue, simply because Pfeifer is forced to tie this into Salvation Run, so the past two issues have been setting Selina up to get captured and sent to another flippin’ planet.  I hate the idea of Salvation Run, and now it’s going to mess up one of the best DC comics for a few issues.  I doubt if Pfeifer can screw it up too much, but it’s going to be annoying.  Oh well.  There’s not much to say about this, because it’s all set-up.  Selina gets out of the trap she was in at the end of last issue, finds the Calculator, threatens him, finds out who the new guy in town is, and gets captured by the Suicide Squad.  She’s off to another planet!  Just what a book grounded in the squalid East End of Gotham needs!  Sheesh.

Checkmate #21 by Greg Rucka, Eric Trautman, and Chris Samnee.  $2.99, DC. 

Another fantastic cover, by the way.  Lots of good ones this week.

Rucka is joined by co-writer Trautman and guest artist Chris Samnee for the tale of Josephine Tautin, who is the latest to bear the mantle of “Mademoiselle Marie.”  In the present, Sasha sends her alone into Bialya to rescue the daughter of a man with whom she once had an affair.  It’s a good story, as we get some more information about Tautin and her life, plus a nice parallel to the situation in Iraq.  Rucka can write this kind of thing in his sleep, and it’s good to see him in fine form here.  (Brian is happy that he’s stopped slagging on Waller, but I didn’t mind that.  Someone obviously wanted Waller back with the Suicide Squad, so Rucka had to get her out of Checkmate somehow.  It may have been his idea to kick her out, but it’s not like he characterized her any differently than everyone else always has.)

Meanwhile, we get the history of Mademoiselle Marie, who has been fighting for France for centuries.  We see a brief flashback to the French Revolution, where she rescues an aristocrat and his family from the sans-culottes who want to guillotine them, and then we get a different Marie (I suppose – it’s 39 years later) in 1830, helping overthrow the Bourbons and install Louis-Philippe on the throne (it’s interesting that in both cases, she’s more concerned with the aristocracy than the commoners, but let’s not dwell on it – and yes, I’m aware that Louis-Philippe was supposed to be a “king of the people,” but he was still a king).  Josephine learns all of this, presumably, when one of the Mademoiselles Marie from World War II shows her the history of the name.  It’s a nice story that adds a lot to the current one.

Finally, Valentina Vostok shows up as White Queen, which is pretty darned awesome, if you ask me.  When the heck was the last time we saw her?  It will be cool to see what Rucka does with her.  I always wondered why Larry Trainor didn’t become Rebis with her.  That would have been interesting.

Anyway, another fine issue of a very good comic.  I expected nothing less!

The Circle #2 by Brian Reed and Ian Hosfeld.  $2.99, Image.

Yet another cool cover.  It’s a smorgasbord of cover goodness!

As we get further into the story, the identity of the Goliath thief is revealed, and it’s not terribly surprising, and we also see how crazed Agent Y really is (that’s her on the cover, hence the way the light shows on her face).  After the ramped-up first issue, this one ratchets down the action slightly (although there’s plenty of it) to move the story along a bit.  MI-5 starts to wonder where Wallace Christopher, their agent who’s fascinated with the Circle, went off to, Ilona and Ulee head to Khazakstan (with Wallace in tow) to ferret out the actual thief, and things, perhaps not surprisingly, go all to hell at the very end of the book.  It’s an exciting comic with very solid art.  If you like action-adventure on a global scale, well, you should buy Checkmate, but if you like all that stuff without superpowers, you should buy this.  It’s very cool. 

Ex Machina #33 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

And yes, another great cover, one that illustrates the war going on inside Mitch’s head in this issue.  Well done, Tony Harris!

The final issue in the latest story arc ends better than some, but that’s not what I was interested in throughout the book.  What I was interested in was what Vaughan was going to do with the fact that this is very Catholic-heavy storyline and if he was going to cop out a bit.  Well, you may think he cops out a bit, but I thought the idea of Mitch meeting a God who seems more like the Spirit of New York (in an excellent two-page spread, where his fingers are the torch arms of the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building is growing upward from his nose – and no, it’s not as silly as it sounds) was pretty neat.  Mitch’s struggle with the remote control of his body leads to this epiphany, and Vaughan leaves it vague as to whether Mitch actually saw God or not.  What is really interesting is the way Vaughan has led us to the moment at the end (and I won’t ruin it), which is rather deliberately paralleling our current president’s ideas about God.  This could mean that Vaughan is mocking President Bush, but it runs deeper than that.  Mitch now believes that he is on a divine mission, which, if explored properly, could lead to some very fascinating insights into the nature of his “condition.”  Vaughan does a nice job in the beginning with the guy committing suicide.  The guy lost an election because it came out that he was … an atheist!  The horror!  Atheists, of course, are the least trusted group in the United States, according to a recent poll (I’d find it, but I don’t feel like it).  Yes, less trusted than Muslims.  Vaughan seems to imply that prior to this, Mitch was an atheist (or at least a skeptic), but in the political climate of 2003 (when the book is set), he “needs” to have a Road to Damascus Moment so that when and if the question about his belief in God comes up, he can answer in the affirmative.  It is possible I’m reading too much into this, but I still find this idea of private religious beliefs being relevant in a public forum fascinating.  It’s fascinating in this year’s presidential election, and it could be very interesting as Vaughan moves forward with the book.

Plus, the Swiss Guards kick ass.  But you already knew that.

G. I. Joe #30 by Mark Powers, Mike Bear, and Mike Shoyket.  $5.50, Devil’s Due.

Despite the fact that I’ve been enjoying this series, and this is a good issue in the series, I’m not really sure it’s worth $5.50.  It’s “double-sized,” but the actual story is only 30 pages long, and then there’s a bunch of pages detailing several Cobra operatives, which is fine, but a bit of padding.  It’s kind of a cheap ploy, and bugs me.  The story, however, continues to zip along, and it’s a shame we couldn’t get more of it or a bit less in this issue while retaining the normal cover price.

When last we checked in on World War III, Cobra had kidnapped the president and destroyed the White House.  And they attacked the Joes’ headquarters.  So that’s bad.  There’s a lot of shooting all over the place, and Storm Shadow tries to stop Cobra from busting everyone out of the Joes’ maximum security penitentiary in Greenland.  Does he succeed?  What do you think?  He’s frickin’ Storm Shadow, for crying out loud!  And we learn that there’s a mole inside Cobra.  Well, there kind of has to be, doesn’t there?

This is just one big action issue, with shit hitting the fan all over the world, and it moves along at a breakneck pace, never letting us catch our breath.  Bear and and Shoyket, who trade off pencilling duties throughout the book (Bear draws 17 pages, while Shoyket gets the rest, mainly the ones with Storm Shadow), each have distinctive styles, but both are comfortable with fights featuring lots of characters.  The one problem with this book is the one problem I always had with the cartoon: we know no one’s in real danger, because it’s G. I. Joe and Cobra, after all.  Despite the fact that Cobra bombed Boston a few issues ago, this book is remarkably short on actual bloodshed.  I don’t want it to be a slaughter (we get enough of that in DC books these days), but the story is called “World War III,” and it seems like nobody is dying.  What’s up with that?

It’s halfway through the event, and it’s rather remarkable how much has happened and how much seems like is going to happen.  This story arc is packed, and it’s a wildly fun read.  I’m just a bit disappointed that the price on this particular issue is so high for what content you actually get.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #2 (of eight) by Matt Wagner.  $3.50, Dark Horse.

Speaking of which, I was reading somewhere online that someone was disappointed with the first issue of this mini-series because it was such a quick read and for $3.50 it should be meatier.  Plus, buying every issue would mean you’re spending $28 for it, and there’s no way the trade will be over $25.  So why buy it now?  That person (whoever he was) has a very good point.  I get a discount on the comics I buy (the guy who runs the comic shoppe is cavalier toward MSRPs), so I won’t be spending as much as $28, but although I did like the first issue (it was tremendous to look at, for one thing), I admit it was a bit skimpy on story.  Another guy at the shoppe on Wednesday pointed out that it’s not even in color (with the obvious exception of the red parts), so why do they need to charge so much?  Ah, the mysteries of life!

Luckily, I tend to ignore price.  This makes me a buffoon, I know, but it also means I can buy stuff that I want to read and not worry about it.  When I review these books, however, I often consider the price and whether it’s worth it (see G. I. Joe right above this!).  I can be an idiot and buy stuff simply based on price.  Not everyone can, however, because they need to save their money for all the video games they buy!  Oh, I’m kidding!  You know I can afford it because I feed the kids bread dipped in water all the time.  It’s nutritious and delicious!  But to get back on track: Is this worth it?

Well, I wish it were $2.99, because I have a feeling it would sell better.  As you might expect, it’s absolutely stunning to look at, but it is only 20 pages long, and even though Wagner does cram more into this issue than the first one, it’s still the second issue in which not a whole lot happens.  Grendel still thinks he’s being watched, and at the very end, we learn that he is (and a hint about who it is: take a freakin’ guess, long-time Grendel fans).  Journalist Lucas Ottoman and Detective Liz Sparks are still tracking him with no success and sharing notes in bed.  Hunter is still happiest when he’s with his adopted daughter, Stacy.  We get a lot of information about the story, but it’s still mostly setting things up.  Next issue, I would imagine there’s going to be a big fight, but who knows with Wagner.  I do like the mood of the story, because most of the time we get Hunter Rose stories that are short and violent and show him at the top of his game.  It’s not clear how far into his career as Boss of New York he is here, but the implication is that he hasn’t met Argent yet (I could be very wrong, but that’s the feeling I got from these issues), so that could be an interesting meeting.

The presentation of the book is very nice, with a high-quality cover and a beautiful look to it, but I’m really not sure it’s worth $3.50, especially because the trade will be a nice package as well.  Why is this priced so darned high?  Sheesh.

The Incredible Hulk #112 by Greg Pak, Fred van Lente, and Khoi Pham.  $2.99, Marvel.

In the post-World War Hulk world, the Hulk’s title needs a star!  Who better than Hercules, who’s strong and dumb – just like the Hulk!

Oh, I kid, Herc fans.  But wait!  Someone calls him dumb on the very first page of this comic!  It must be true!  He doesn’t actually do many dumb things in this book, and Pak and van Lente do a good job showing him as perhaps not the greatest intellectual, but at least as someone who has learned a thing or two in his long lifetime.  Sure, he ends up going against S.H.I.E.L.D., which, as we see at the end, will bring Wonder Man, Ares, and the Black Widow down on his ass, but he manages to cause a ruckus before he busts out of S.H.I.E.L.D. holding.  Whether his plan was to get inside and then bust out or if he just couldn’t stand the smugness of Ares, who’s questioning him, any longer is up for debate.  I’ll believe the former, because that makes Hercules kind of clever!

There’s plenty to like about this issue, even though it’s nothing spectacular.  Pham’s art is quite good, and it makes me wonder why his brief stint on X-Factor went off the rails.  Was it that he needs more time and didn’t have it?  I don’t know.  Pak and van Lente do a nice job setting up this story arc, with Amadeus playing George Peppard to Hercules’ Mr. T, and we even get some nice mythology lessons about the life of our hero.  This arc will rise and fall on the relationship between Herc and Amadeus, and Pak, who’s already done a good job establishing it, keeps it up.  So I don’t have a problem continuing to follow this book even though, like the Hulk’s vendetta, it seems doomed to failure.  It will be a treat to see how it fails, however.

And hey – what are the odds that Amadeus is a Skrull?  Who[m] do you trust, Marvel Zombies!  WHOM DO YOU TRUST?!?!?!?!?

The Immortal Iron Fist #11 by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Kano.  $2.99, Marvel.

I really don’t see how you can’t love this comic.  It features a flying trans-dimensional train, the Heroes for Hire kicking Hydra ass, a big dragon, a Whirling Devil Dervish move being countered by a Foothamme Thunder Strike, a fighter in the tournament who uses razor-sharp fans to inflict damage, and Davos being a dick.  Frubaker continues to throw all sorts of awesome into this book, David Aja and the guest artists (in this case Kano) continue to draw the heck out of it (the scene where Davos defeats Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter is thrilling but turns horrific very quickly, mostly because of Aja’s rendering of it), and it’s a blast and a half to read.  It has everything you want and even some things you didn’t know you wanted, like a Hydra agent sort of acting honorably and Luke Cage arguing about registration with Misty and Colleen in the middle of Tibet!  That’s quality!

Seriously – what a cool comic.  This is an example of why comics are so freakin’ awesome it’s almost inconceivable that more people don’t read them.  Oh well -their loss!

The Long Count #1 (of 6) by Jason Blair and Leanne Buckley.  $3.50, Archaia Studios Press.

There are some problems with The Long Count, one of which is the price, which is $3.50.  All Archaia titles are either $3.50 or $3.95, and some are very much worth it and some aren’t.  I haven’t made up my mind on this one yet, based on the other problems in the issue.

First, it’s rather confusing.  On the back cover we get a synopsis: this takes place in a world where the Aztecs and Mayas defeated the Spanish, so Colombiana, the country in which they live, remains an Aztec/Mayan land (but why is it named after a European?).  The Mayas, by the way, believe that the world is going to end in 2012 (get your affairs in order!), and this book is set at the “time of closure.” The citizens of Colombiana don’t believe the legend anymore, even though the great dragon Quetzalcoatl has returned with warnings about it.  Carmen Sandoval, a “23-year old national sports hero,” believes Quetzalcoatl’s warnings, but no one heeds her.  She is in the capital city, Nueva Cempoala, to save a friend of hers, but she’s about to find out more secrets about herself and her place in the world.  This is all from the back cover.  Very little of this is in the issue itself.  We learn Carmen’s last name but not her first, and all she’s doing in this issue is running through the streets to meet Quetzalcoatl someplace (he shows up on the last page) and she has to avoid the demons who haunt the back alleys of Nueva Cempoala.  It’s a confusing issue, because we’re not sure what Carmen is doing or why these demons (literal demons, by the way) want to stop her.  She owes the demon somehow, but it’s vague about what the situation was.  She’s back in the city because Quetzalcoatl called her, but if he’s the “friend” referred to on the back cover, why does he need saving?  It’s a very intriguing introduction, but I wish we had gotten more information during the course of the issue rather than reading a synopsis off of the back cover.  Blair seems to have a decent handle on the character of Carmen Sandoval, but I hope he explains things a little better next time.

Buckley’s art is stunning, as she brings to life a world that is modern yet still looks Aztec.  It’s a bit murky, but that’s probably deliberate, as Carmen is in the seedier parts of town.  The demon, Paqok, is terrifying, and when Carmen taps into some kind of mystical ability to fight him and his living statues, it’s wonderful to see (part of that is due to the coloring, which I assume Buckley did as well, as none is credited).  She does a wonderful job with Carmen herself, making her look like an athlete instead of a bimbo, and with Quetzalcoatl, who looks dangerous and compassionate at the same time.  But even Buckley has problems, as Carmen’s two battles with the living Aztec statues (which take up seven full pages, with a break in between) is somewhat confusing.  We don’t get a clear sense of what is actually happening, and how Carmen is doing whatever she’s doing to them.  It appears that they leak oil, but I’m really not sure.  It’s a shame, because Buckley does a decent job earlier in the book when Carmen is accosted by a normal street punk, so she can do fluid action sequences.  The fights with the statues, however, are tough to follow.

All in all, it’s a very intriguing comic with a lot of potential.  I would say it’s worth the money, because, as usual with Archaia books, it looks great and most Archaia books turn out to be very good comics.  I hope it does get better, both in storytelling and art, because you can tell by reading this that it has a very good chance to actually be better.  We’ll see if Blair and Buckley are up to it.

Madame Mirage #4 (of 6) by Paul Dini and Kenneth Rocafort.  $2.99, Image/Top Cow.

You know, I read the third issue of this mini-series, and it was surprisingly, well, not “good,” exactly, but entertaining.  And Dini’s explanation for why Madame Mirage looks the way she does was quite clever.  It was enough to get me to at least pick this up and read it, although I probably wouldn’t spend money on it.  But this issue isn’t quite as clever.  Madame Mirage tracks down the bad guy who killed “her” father and fights a variety of exotic killers to get to him.  There they are on the cover!  So we get Pachy-Doom, a Rhino knockoff who ain’t too bright; Weeping Willow, who has living hair; Aphrodisiac, who can make anyone want her and do what she wants; and Cotton-Eyed Joe, who’s a teleporter.  Madame Mirage dispatches them all with aplomb, and then makes a deal with the bad guy.  What does it portend?  I don’t know, and I’m not terribly interested in finding out.

Dini’s writing and plotting isn’t bad in this issue, as we get some interesting showdowns interspersed with scenes of a federal agent investigating the mystery of Madame Mirage.  So things move along, but it’s not all that compelling.  The story lacks the verve of some of his better issues of Detective.  It’s as if he came up with a rather clever idea (Madame Mirage’s identity) and is trying to force a story around it.  It’s not helped by Rocafort’s art, which is (mostly) technically proficient but lacks charm.  Weeping Willow, for instance, ought to be creepy, but Rocafort can’t resist making her sexy.  He doesn’t seem interested in doing anything unusual with the art, so we get overly rendered drawings, a few odd panels that futz with the storytelling, and one shot of Madame Mirage where her arm looks like it grew three feet longer than it should be.  It’s not downright ugly art, but it’s not helping the matter, either.

This could have been a more interesting revenge tale, but it’s kind of dull.  Oh well. 

The Mighty Avengers #6 by Brian Michael Bendis and Frank Cho.  $2.99, Marvel.

I love that cover.  Not only do we have C-3PO in the pile behind Carol, but we have an Iron Man leg with roller skates on it.  When was the last time Iron Man used that feature of his armor?

So, in this issue the Mighty Avengers (and whenever I read that title, I think of the Mighty Heroes, which would make this book MUCH better) defeat the Fembot calling itself Ultron blah blah blah.  It’s a superhero book – of course they win!  I don’t care about any of that.  I want to discuss some other things.

First, the thought balloons.  Leave it to Bendis to make them annoying.  While I agree that slipping them into the book in between what the characters say, so that the exchanges between the characters sound more “real” (we often say things while thinking something else, so that part is clever), is a good idea, it’s still an example of Bendis being more clever than he needs to be.  Most of the things in thought balloons are fairly evident, because that’s what the art in a comic is supposed to do – let us read the characters’ faces so we understand that they’re thinking something different than what they’re saying.  In only a few places in this book does a thought balloon give us insight into a character that we really couldn’t glean from their facial expressions and the situation in which they find themselves.  So the thought balloons, far from being info dumps, which is what they were back in the day, are just asides that are mildly interesting when used sparingly, but I doubt if the phrase “use sparingly” is in Bendis’s vocabulary.

Then we get to the end of the issue, which shows Spider-Woman showing up in Tony’s hospital room with the corpse of Skrullektra.  Wow, she’s been wandering around with that thing for something like three months, hasn’t she?  Considering we’ve already seen the issue in which Tony tells the rest of the Illuminati about the Skrulls, this is an annoying reminder that the book is horribly late.  Bendis wants everything in the Marvel Universe to tie into his “Secret Invasion” plan, and that’s perfectly cool, but the problem is that when Marvel did this more consistently, back in the 1980s and ’90s, if a book was late they slapped a fill-in artist on it.  That’s not “cool” anymore, so we must allow Frank Cho to finish this even if it takes him longer than it takes most of us to finish high school.  Bendis and Joey Q can’t have it both ways: if they want a bunch of titles to tie together, they have to make sure those issues come out on time.  Or they could commit to an artist and allow that book to exist somewhat outside continuity.  Marvel got into trouble with this when Civil War came out, and then World War Hulk was a bit late (not as late of CW, but still) and now we have a massive crossover in the works that rests on the idea that a series of shocking revelations will rip the Marvel U. apart.  Is Marvel going to hold up the issues of all the books that tie into Secret Invasion so we don’t find out that Reed Richards is a Skrull in the pages of Fantastic Four before the Big Reveal in the main mini-series?  I’m just wondering.  Marvel needs to get their schedules together.  It might not have hurt sales of Civil War, but will people be more gunshy about this new Big Event?  Sadly, probably not.  But this bad scheduling is still annoying.

So, Ultron is beaten.  But not yet!  And somehow, it ended up in deep space.  Anyone have an explanation for that?

New X-Men #45 by Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Humberto Ramos, and Carlos Cuevas.  $2.99, Marvel.

I like how, in this issue, Cable takes the kid out of the ridiculous carrier it (do we even know its gender yet?) was in – you know, the one that gave a newborn absolutely no neck support – and is now carrying it in his arms.  All while shooting a large gun at Deathstrike and the Reavers.  I think the kid’s mutant power is the power to survive poor parenting skills!

Sigh.  This is Ramos, so it’s odd-looking, and it’s Kyle and Yost, so people are getting carved up all over the place.  I know that the last time I asked, people who have read this book long-term said it wasn’t as bloodthirsty as it seems, but I’ve read about the last six issues or so, and it seems like Kyle and Yost love to go for the jugular.  Man, this is a bloody book!  Two more main characters bite the dust, along with some random Reavers (I admit, the panel where the Reaver gets Warpath’s knife right through his face was pretty cool), and Cable escapes.  Again.  And once again, there’s a lot of action with very little forward movement of the plot.  Oh well.  That’s the way it is, I guess.

So: the baby.  Is it Jean Grey, somehow reincarnated?  Are the writers going to pull a Jenny Quantum on us?  Is it Jean’s soul possessing an innocent baby?  Or is Jean Grey’s return a complete by-product of the main plot and has nothing to do with the baby?  Or is the cover of X-Men #208 just a tease showing Xavier reminiscing about the good old days and the book is morphing into X-Men: First Class?  Let’s hear your theories, good readers!

The Order #6 by Matt Fraction, Barry Kitson, Mark Morales, and Scott Koblish.  $2.99, Marvel.

Speaking of books written by Matt Fraction that kick a lot of ass, there’s a new issue of The Order out, two weeks after the last one, and that’s good news!  Khari Evans is nowhere to be seen, but unfortunately, there’s not a lot of female full body panels, so I can’t really compare Kitson’s versions with the Kitson/Evans ones, which I thought were a bit too well endowed and skinny.  But that’s a minor thing.

There’s plenty going on in this issue, as Henry dresses down Mulholland because of her association with the Black Dahlias, and it doesn’t end well.  Out in the desert, Supernaut and Aralune fight more weird monsters, and when they defeat them, they discover they’re trespassing on S.H.A.D.O.W. land, which is bad news.  The government (in the person of General Softly) starts hunting them down, and as they’re incapacitated after their fight, they can’t do much but hide.  Finally, a big wave surrounds San Francisco, and the Order members who head up there (thereby abandoning Supernaut and Aralune to their fate – to their credit, they didn’t know their fellows were in trouble) are confronted with a pissed-off Namor.  Um.  Yeah.

Up until Namor’s appearance, this was crackling with its usual energy.  General Softly, it turns out, hired the Black Dahlias to kill the ex-Order member, and he’s turning out to be quite the evil nemesis for our heroes.  It’s a measure of how well Fraction has done creating these characters that when Henry tells Mulholland, “This is precisely the moment when I stopped caring about you,” it’s a horribly uncomfortable and sad moment.  Right then Fraction twists things by having Tony Stark call Henry with a bizarre offer to star in a movie directed by a four-time Oscar winner, and that juxtaposition, from the awkward to the surreal, is why this book is so good at keeping us on our toes.  Then Namor shows up.  Sigh.

It’s really not that I object to Namor at all.  He can certainly work.  But he’s ranting about the American government treating him like a terrorist and spilling Atlantean blood, and he demands to be taken to their “leader.”  It’s a very odd speech, because I have no idea where it’s coming from.  Has Namor been attacked again by the “surface world”?  Is this something from that mini-series he was in?  What the heck is going on?  Warren Simons, editor, needs to put in a footnote!  Can anyone help me out?  What’d I miss?

Anyway, it’s generally awesome.  Even Namor’s appearance is kind of cool, even though it’s baffling.  Still, it’s a lot better than those East Coast Marvel superhero groups.  You know who you are!

The Programme #6 (of 12) by Peter Milligan and C. P. Smith.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

The title of this chapter is perhaps the best one you’ll ever see: “The President of the United States is a Dangerous Psychopath.”  Considering in this issue, he drops a nuke to kill a handful of people, perhaps the title is correct!  In the issue, FOX News likes the nuking.  Aren’t they the arbiter of all that is good and pure?

This continues to be a very odd comic.  I actually think this might be the best one so far, because stuff actually happens in a timely manner, and we get a sense of where the book is going.  It’s still weird, but that’s to be expected with Millgan.  Smith’s art is still too dark, but I’ve learned to live with it.  It’s difficult to say much about this, because it’s right in the middle of the epic, and it’s obvious Milligan knows what he wants to do with it, and all that’s left is to see if he’ll do it.  Milligan is one writer that I trust, so I’m going to see this through (if this were “bad” Milligan, it would have been obvious by now, so it’s either “good” Milligan or “not good but still interesting” Milligan).  To give you an example of how strange this comic is, Max gets angry because he is going to have to fight the Russian dolls while wearing a Steely Dan T-shirt.  It’s just that kind of book.

Rex Mundi #9 by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

My favorite comic continues to entertain and look great doing it.  In this issue, the tables suddenly turn on the Prussians and Austrians who were about to destroy the French army at Carcassonne, and Lorraine gets a reprieve as his desperate gambit of the last few issues works out.  Actually, at the beginning of the issue, the battle is already over, which is a tad disappointing, but Nelson has more important things to worry about, and the crucial point is that Lorraine is once again victorious, and he returns to Paris as the conquering hero.  The bulk of the issue deals with the Grand Inquisitor, who was almost shot by government forces last issue, and his recovery at a nunnery, and especially Julien’s rescue from those same government forces by partisans, after the troops get butchered by a griffin.  Yes, a griffin.  It’s somewhat weird, but it’s a weird world Julien and his pals live in!

The story doesn’t get into too much depth with regard to the Holy Grail and the grand storyline, but it does move the plot along nicely, as Lorraine is back in charge, Julien is free again, and the Grand Inquisitor is on the run.  The best part of this issue is Ferreyra’s art, as Nelson lets him cut loose, especially when the griffin attacks.  It’s a fantastically brutal and gory sequence, as the beast rips through the soldiers with remarkable efficiency.  It’s actually quite terrifying – Ferreyra does a wonderful job keeping the griffin hidden through most of the attack, which heightens the stark fear on the soldiers’ faces.  It’s an amazing sequence in the middle of a typically gorgeous comic.

I love Rex Mundi day.  It makes me happy.

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More #1 (of 4) by Alex Sheikman and David Moran.  $3.95, Archaia Studios Press.

I already reviewed this here, so check it out if you missed it.  Give it a chance!  Yes, it’s four dollars, but it’s probably the coolest-looking book out this week – and I say that as a big fan of Juan Ferreyra on Rex Mundi.  Plus, it has two pretty cool stories.  Seek it out!

The Scream #2 (of 4) by Peter David, Bart Sears, and Randy Elliot.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Apparently nobody knew about this because Dark Horse hasn’t promoted it at all.  It’s kind of strange.  I wonder why.  It’s by some prominent creators, after all, no matter what you might think of them.  Weird.

Sears is a bit more cartoony here than normal, and it doesn’t really work.  The monster looks neat, but the other characters look a bit too goofy, and it lessens the impact of David’s story, which isn’t exactly all that heavy, but demands a bit more weight than Sears gives it.  It’s a bit weird – some people around here have expressed a great deal of loathing for Sears’ work on The Path, but I think this book requires a bit more of that kind of art, because it had heavier lines than this.  Maybe it’s Randy Elliot’s fault.  Anyway, I like Sears, but it doesn’t work perfectly here.

David is writing a nifty little story here, as Danny Duncan, who turned into a monster at the end of last issue during a bank robbery, scares the crap out of the robbers while Sian, the photojournalist who was in the bank at the same time, takes a bunch of pictures.  Danny gets away, and back at the post office, we learn more about his abilities, which have to do with affecting the cognition of people through his emotions.  Sian also discovers that she didn’t actually get a picture of the monster, but she did get a picture of Danny cowering where the monster was.  Finally, Danny seeks refuge with an old friend, but sees something about the guy that disturbs him greatly.  Lastly, he saves a woman he knows from the post office from a gang of thugs, but when he looks inside the box she was carrying, he gets a very nasty surprise.  It’s a fun story with plenty of twists and turns, and David is the guy to do it.  It features your typical Peter David cleverness (a cop tells the big lug who’s trying to drag Danny back to the hospital but has told him he’s waiting for a friend, “I don’t care if you’re waiting for Godot, you’ll have to move”), but I don’t mind that as much as some people seem to.  I like how he tells a story, and this one is full of interesting stuff.  I just wish it looked a little better.

She-Hulk #24 by Peter David, Shawn Moll, and Victor Olazaba.  $2.99, Marvel.

Look at that – another Peter David comic!

This is a bit of a slow issue, as Jen brings her charge back to New York and then she and Jazinda, the Skrull posing as her human half, get some down time.  A building does blow up, but it’s not part of some master plan (well, it might be, but it’s not part of a master plan that we find out about in this issue).  David simply shows why Jen is a hero, which is always good to show every once in a while.  Meanwhile, Jazinda helps a girl in their trailer park find out if her father really loves her by using a twisted, kind of Skrully plan.  It does work, however, so there’s that.  Jazinda has her own father issues, so this part of the book is very interesting, as she wants to make sure Roz (the girl) knows how lucky she is to have a father who cares about her.  David is good at making his characters very real very quickly, and he does this with Jazinda here.  Again, like The Scream, there are some instances of the David sense of humor, but again, the way David tells a story helps mitigate that a bit.  Despite the change from lawyering to bounty hunting, so far the transition from Slott’s run to David’s has been pretty smooth.  Jen still sort of works for the law firm (the bail bonds company is a subsidiary of the firm), so it’s not like David completely changed everything.  I like what he’s doing, and I’m interested to see where he’s going with it.

Simpsons Comics #137 by Chuck Dixon (!), John Costanza, and Phyllis Novin.  $2.99, Bongo Comics Group.

Chuck Dixon writing a Simpsons comic?  Does he always do this sort of thing?

A while back I picked up Futurama, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was anything great.  The same holds true for this issue.  It’s amusing, but it treads very familiar ground if you’ve ever seen the television show.  The Simpsons has been on for, what, 18 years?  The fact that the status quo never, ever changes (even less than in comic books!) means that the writers have been recycling ideas for years, and this issue does the same thing.  If you like the show, you might enjoy this, but why read this when you can watch the show for free?  It’s not like it does anything that different.  The plot reads like a typical episode, in that Homer tries to lose weight but the story veers wildly away from that central tenet.  He causes a meltdown, hides out in the shelter in the basement, and comes out to find that the radiation causes everyone to lose weight.  As he’s the last fat man in Springfield, everyone wants to either experiment on him or eat him, as he discovers when Cletus gives him a ride.  It’s a charming riff on 28 Days Later (Homer spends 28 hours in the shelter), but the ending is really forced, and makes even less sense than most Simpsons episodes do.  It’s as if Dixon realized he had only a few pages left and also realized he hadn’t reset the status quo yet, so he just threw something together that keeps with the controlled chaos of a normal day in the lives of the Simpsons without even a semblance of reason.

The final problem with the comic is the fact that it’s not all that funny, and a great deal of this has to with the fact that we’re reading the jokes instead of hearing them.  Part of the fun of The Simpsons is the voice parts, and reading Dr. Hibbert’s inappropriate chuckling is less amusing than hearing it.  So while some of the jokes work, a lot don’t, because they rely too much on our perception of how the characters would speak, and the actual words aren’t that humorous.  The show has suffered in recent years from stale situations and jokes, but you can always rely on the voices to bring a smile.  Here, that’s lacking, and it hurts the overall comic.

There’s nothing in here that you can’t get by watching the show, and that means there’s no reason to buy it.  I love the show, but recognize that it’s been weak for some time.  But I still watch it, because I don’t have to pay for it.  This is three dollars, and it’s not really worth it.

Some New Kind of Slaughter #1 (of 4) by mpMann and A. David Lewis.  $3.95, Archaia Studios Press.

Lewis and Mann worked on The Lone and Level Sands, a graphic novel about Moses, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they chose to tackle another Old Testament story, that of Noah.  However, they expand their focus to include all flood myths, and then add a modern twist to the story, as an environmentalist tries to warn people in the present of the cost of abusing the world.  The two creators give the narration duties to a Mesopotamian king of the land of Sharrupak (I would look him up, but I don’t want to because I want to let the story speak for itself), who was told by his god Enki to build an ark before the land was flooded.  As he stands on his ark, he experiences visions of other cultures and other floods, plus the story in the modern world of Sharon Boatwright (clever name, there), who is about to be caught in the Mother of All Storms.  It’s a nice device, because it keeps the narrative voice consistent but still allows Lewis and Mann to jump around in time.  Despite the rather serious and gloomy subject matter, plus the fact that all the stories are essentially the same, there’s still a great deal of tension in the way the king narrates and experiences the myths.  Of course, the modern story is unwritten, so that has plenty of potential too.  Lewis and Mann never confuse the reader, which is important in a broad amalgamation like this, and they raise some very pertinent questions about man and his relationship not only to the world in which he lives, but with his gods as well.

Mann’s rough and relatively simple artwork is a plus, as well.  He switches styles between the various myths and the modern day effortlessly, but retains a overall look that serves to tie everything together.  The earthiness of Noah’s world, the sterile atmosphere of the modern, and the loneliness of the Sharrupak king’s existence are all brought to life, and Mann does a fine job with all of them.  Even the fact that you read this book by turning it on its side didn’t annoy me all that much, although it’s somewhat bothersome.

This is another of Archaia’s fine offerings, and I hope it stays on schedule, because they appear to have a problem with that.  Lewis and Mann do a wonderful job with these myths, and this is a book that deserves an audience.  It’s thoughtful, nice to look at, exciting, and raises important questions.  I’m not always sure that the Archaia books are worth the extra price, but this is.  Go check it out!

Special Forces #2 (of 6) by Kyle Baker.  $2.99, Image.

I was kind of disappointed by the first issue of this mini-series, and although the second issue is better than the first, it doesn’t really do much to fill me with confidence that it will be anything more than a somewhat simplistic satire.  This issue is pretty much all action, as Felony and Zone, the autistic kid, flee the scene of last issue’s massacre and start killing all the bad guys they can find.  Felony gets to fight a tough bad guy, but it’s just a cover for the Arabs to kidnap Zone.  Felony doesn’t know where they’ve taken him, but she knows it’s her responsibility to find him.

Baker again does a good job with Zone, showing us how Felony keeps him busy while she’s killing bad guys.  And the art works well, too – it’s a good mix of the cartoony style Baker often has with a more gritty, down-to-earth look.  It’s just not interesting to me.  This issue, despite being better than the first, lacks that issue’s satirical elements, and this doesn’t really work as a straight-up war story.  So I’m left wondering exactly what the point is.  I imagine it will work better as a whole, but the individual chapters, so far, don’t make me want to read more.  Maybe I’ll check out the third issue and see if Baker does anything different.  We’ll see.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #4 (of 6) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.  $2.99, Dark Horse. 

The last book in the post (no, I didn’t actually read every issue that came out this week) is the latest issue of this wildly fun mini-series, which continues to prove that Gerard Way knows how to write a damned fine comic book.  Vanya goes through a horrific transformation and becomes the White Violin, who will help the Orchestra Verdammten bring about the Apocalypse.  We learn that Vanya is needed because her soul is not tainted, so she can overcome the fatal flaw in the orchestra.  This leads to a marvelous and nasty scene when she is first revealed.  It’s a great scene because it’s so unexpected yet logical.  Then Vanya takes charge and begins the campaign to kill her siblings and destroy the world.  All in a day’s work, right?

Back at the Academy, the rest of the group is bickering, but Way makes each character have good points even as they argue, so we’re not on anyone’s “side,” just watching a family disintegrate.  It’s nicely done.  And we also get a new strange trio, who wear bright yellow tunics with “Temps” written on them and appear to have several watches strapped all over their bodies.  Just another day with the Umbrella Academy!

Bá’s art, of course, brings this all to life beautifully.  Vanya’s transformation is very scary, and when Number Five flies over the city, Bá is very good at showing the seediness of life on the streets.  It’s a weird book, for sure, but Bá can keep up with that while still giving every character enough personality to ground it.  It’s nice to see him and his brother drawing books at the same time, because they have similarities but also have very cool differences, and it’s fun to compare and contrast.  This comic requires, it seems, a bit more humanity than Bá’s run on Casanova, and he’s up to the task.  And the White Violin’s daring display of power is disturbing but brilliant.

Yes, it’s just another great issue of The Umbrella Academy.  I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Man, what a great week of comics.  I hope you enjoyed your reading.  At that time of year where we think of getting together with family and arguing about who gets the last piece of ham and why you and your cousins don’t get along, it’s nice to know that we can seek solace in excellent comic books.  So don’t whine about the ending of a bloated Bat-crossover that went nowhere!  Put down that book about a decade-old fifth week event!  Why should you care if we find out all the ways a certain fraternal conflict might have worked out?  There are too many good comics out there!  Get reading, good people!

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