What I bought - 19 January 2011

"Do you know what it is to throw a child in the air and catch it on a knife in front of its mother? To be tied to a burning log? To have your ass split with an axe so that you beg the Serbs, beg them, to shoot you in the head and they don't?

"And they go to their church after. They go to their goddamn church. I have no words ..."

Ismail shuddered. "There are things that are beyond evil, that you just can't speak about." (Robert Kaplan, from Balkan Ghosts)

Avengers Academy #8 ("Powerless") by Christos Gage (writer), Mike McKone (penciler), Rebecca Buchman (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Gage ups the ante nicely in this issue, as he's done introducing the characters and can move on to how they're dealing with celebrity and being Avengers and how to be heroes. So in this issue he brings back the infamous "Tigra getting beaten" incident to teach the kids a lesson, which they spectacularly fail to learn. When they see a video of the incident that has been leaked to various web sites, they ask Tigra about it and decide that she's kind of a wuss because she didn't beat the Hood to within an inch of his life. When they find out that the guy in prison is not actually the Hood, they decide to find him and, you know, beat him within an inch of his life, catching it all on videotape and getting him to apologize. Now, anyone who's ever read a comic book knows this is a spectacularly dumb idea, because villains will simply be villainous, take their licking, and return to kill everyone. I think Marvel has referenced the fact that their universe has superhero comics - it would have been funny if Gage had had a character say something like "Haven't you ever read a comic, you idiots?" It's still an interesting idea, given that we know these kids are the ones whom the Avengers fear will go bad - this is something people with shaky moral compasses would do even if they think it's the right thing. Tigra handles it much better, as we would expect her to do, and Gage does a nice job contrasting those two. I still think the whole Tigra beating was a terrible, terrible idea, but it's out there, and Gage handles it as well as can be expected.

I assume the Hood's words in the videotape are taken verbatim from the original, in which case I'm not sure what the hell Bendis is talking about (Bendis wrote them, right?). The Hood tells Tigra, "And after you've finally grieved the fact that you let me kill your mother ..." Does he mean that she's going to mourn, not her mother, but that she let the Hood kill her mother? "Grieved" seems like a very strange word to use in that situation. When I first read it, it sounded like the Hood was saying something like Tigra would become aware of the fact that she was to blame for her mother's death, in which case "grieved" is the wrong word. But now I think he's using it the correct way, but it seems like such a weird word to use there. Oh well.

Anyway, this has been a solid book from the beginning, but this amps up the tension a bit, as the divide between the teachers and the students that Gage has shown throughout the book becomes greater and portends bad things for the group. It's still an interesting distinction he's making, and it will be neat to see where he goes with it.

(Gage has a really interesting response to a letter-writer in the back of the book. The guy was wondering about the sexual content in Avengers Academy and why it was in the book. Gage didn't belittle him and answered as best he could, but I think Gage isn't the best person to address the concern. The guy wondered about the inappropriate teacher-student relationship between Quicksilver and Finesse as well as the scene where it appeared Finesse and Reptil were bumpin' uglies. Gage points out that he didn't mean to imply that Reptil and Finesse were screwing and he could have handled it better, which was a good response. I agree with him that showing Quicksilver and Finesse having an odd relationship isn't necessarily bad - I think it's a good part of the book, actually. He also points out that when he read Avengers comics when he was 9 or 10, the sexual innuendo went right over his head. I would argue with him on that point because I think the sexual innuendo in today's comics is a lot more explicit, so while kids might not understand it, they might also wonder what the heck is going on. I could be wrong. Gage is the wrong person to ask about this, though, because this is another situation like last week's Thor: The Mighty Avenger, which was also rated "A" and which featured the scene with Tony Stark about to have a threesome. Gage can write whatever he wants, and that's cool. I think he's right to address some of these strange things that teenagers are going through. It's up to Marvel to rate the book correctly, and perhaps "A" is not the right rating for this comic. Marvel has a rating for teens and up, so why not use that one? Much like movie ratings, I wonder if it's less about what's inside the book than where it can be sold and who buys it. NC-17 movies cannot be promoted on television and big box stores won't sell them, which is why nobody wants to make them. I wonder if some booksellers won't place a comic on their racks unless it's "all-ages," so Marvel rates them that way, confident that nobody putting it out to sell will look at the interior. Beats me, but it's not Gage's fault that he's writing a book that 15- and 16-year-olds could read and handle while, perhaps, 9- and 10-year-olds can't yet Marvel chooses to claim it's for "all ages." Personally, I think all ratings systems suck and should be abandoned - parents ought to be capable of determining what their children can and can't handle, and that's all kids need. Gage gives a nice response, but he's the wrong person to give it. Why didn't one of the book's three editors field that question?)

Ratings: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier #3 (of 4) by Andrew E. C. Gaska (writer), Daniel Dussault (artist), and Nina L. Kester (letterer). $3.95, 40 pgs, FC, Archaia.

I've been enjoying this weird science fiction story, but I should have known better about something: Next issue is the "conclusion of the first miniseries," according to the "next issue" blurb on the inside back cover. That really bugs me, because it's slow enough as it is, and to claim it's four issues when it's really eight or twelve or even longer is extremely annoying, especially when it's all one story. As we got into issue #2 and through issue #3, I wondered exactly how Gaska was going to be able to finish the story, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but I just wonder why Archaia would market this series this way. On the one hand, perhaps trying to get people to commit to a longer series is just too daunting, so they figured they'd hook them with four issues and then explain that, ha ha, it's not really four issues? On the other hand, will people who are reading this get angry because they thought it would be over in four but it's much longer? I don't know - I'm grumpy about it, but more because I always fear that series from the smaller companies will simply vanish and I won't get to read the entire damned thing, so if these creators take a break to "recharge" or whatever, I wonder if they'll come back. (I know creators protest that they'll definitely finish stuff, and I believe them, but at the same time, things happen.) It's kind of annoying. If the creators have a story that takes six or eight or ten or twelve issues, advertise it as such and let the chips fall where they may.

Because I do like this story quite a bit, and I'd like to see it finished. We remain on Earth in this issue, as the two principals, Thomm and Eryc, prepare for their deep space journey by trying to recruit more people and training the crew, while the dastardly prime minister rails against them and the terrorist group fighting for white people's right (which remains one of the more clever and fun parts of the book) tries to sabotage them. The issue is packed as usual - Gaska and Dussault overwhelm the reader with wild images and dense prose, but it all fits together rather well. Critical Millennium is an entertaining comic and one that has a lot of good stuff in it, but with the long stretches between issues and now an indication that the story is much longer than originally solicited, I wonder if anyone will read it. Too bad, because it's pretty keen.

(In my constant ranting about poor writing, I want to point out something in this comic that is not unique to it. A few years ago I noticed that a lot of writers were using "discreet" when they meant "discrete," and I was annoyed. Then, suddenly, it shifted, and now it seems more writers are using "discrete" when they mean "discreet," as happens in this comic. So what, you might say. Well, they're two different words with two different meanings, that's what. Just because they're homonyms doesn't mean we should confuse them. If someone means "son" would you be okay with them writing "sun"? Just because "discreet" and "discrete" are slightly longer words doesn't mean we should let people off the hook. This is lazy writing, and it's something that really bothers me, as long-term readers know all too well. I've tried to relax about grammar mistakes because nobody cares and I do get that "people talk that way" so if it's in dialogue, it's "okay" - which is bullshit, but whatever - but spelling mistakes still really bother me, and when it's stuff like this, where it's not really a spelling mistake - this might be, I suppose, but "discrete" really is a word - it makes me think that the writer is just lazy. Lazy writing bothers me even more than bad writing, if that's possible. Okay, I'm done now.)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Cyclops #2 (of eight) ("The Recruit Part Two") by Matz (writer/translator), Luc Jacamon (artist), Edward Gauvin (translator), Scott Newman (letterer). $3.95, 26 pgs, FC, Archaia.

The only problem I've had with Cyclops so far is that it's not terribly surprising. I've mentioned this before with regard to comics - you can only do so many plots, so other factors come into whether or not I like the book: the writing, the art, the characterization, the dialogue, and anything different you can do with it. Jacamon is a fine artist, so that's not a problem on this book. Matz has an interesting idea about the future of warfare that, while not particularly original, is still prescient enough that it has legs. He also does a nice job with the hero, Doug Pistoia, who is being used by the corporation that runs the army as their poster boy but has no problem with it because it makes him more money and is less dangerous. But the reason I don't love the book yet (despite enjoying it quite a bit) is because Matz is leading us to a point where the suits turn evil and Pistoia becomes a hero, and there's not much interesting about that. I could be wrong about where the book is going and I dearly hope I am, but so far, that's what it feels like. There's a nice section of the book where the suits want to test Doug's loyalty before they make him their hero - on his first mission, he saved his captain's life by running out into open ground and dragging her back to safety, so the corporation decides to capitalize on this - and it shows that Pistoia is perfectly willing to be the company man they need him to be, but I have a feeling he can't remain that way for long. He wouldn't be a hero if he did, would he?

I'm sticking with it because I like the art and Matz has proven that he can do moral ambiguity very well, but I do hope it doesn't become too clichéd. I'm sure someone out there can tell me whether it does or not - the book is over a decade old, after all. But don't tell me!!!! I want to be surprised!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hellblazer #275 ("Bloody Carnations Part Five: Confetti and Brimstone") by Peter Milligan (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (penciller), Stefano Landini (finisher), Shawn Martinbrough (finisher), Trish Mulvihill (colorist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $4.99, 38 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

As the best ongoing DC currently publishes (yeah, I'm as surprised as you are) hits issue #275, Milligan has some fun with it, as John gets married. Not without some problems, of course, but it's Hellblazer - of course there will be problems! John, as we know, is being stalked by, as he puts it, his "demon self," who of course takes his place for a time and causes all sorts of issues. Meanwhile, Nergal is still gallumphing around. John's scheme to take care of both of them is typical Constantinian mischief and mayhem, but it works. All is well! Well, not exactly, but I'll get back to that.

The highlight of this issue is Milligan's work with the characters. Epiphany really shines in this issue, as she finally seems worthy of John - she was a decent character before this, but Milligan really pushes her to new heights here, especially when she's talking to Kit. Speaking of Kit, her reunion with John is another wonderfully written scene. There are dozens of scenes like that in this comic, where everyone says the perfect thing and Milligan hits all the right notes. It's a wonderfully crafted issue, bringing John's past and present together very well without destroying anything, showing us that John can have a positive effect on some people even though he's left so many dead. I know Milligan isn't leaving the title (which is good), but this wraps up his two years on the book so far very nicely, and I'm looking forward to seeing where he's going with a married John, if indeed he stays married (I'm sorry I'm cynical, but that's just the way it is).

There is one big problem with the issue, and that's Gemma. (Oh, SPOILERS from now on, by the way.) I'm glad that Milligan brought her back, and I knew she was going to play a big part in some upcoming issues, but it seemed forced how Milligan got her to the state she's in. John's doppelgänger corners her in the bathroom and either rapes her or attempts to rape her (it's not clear, but it seems like he doesn't succeed), which is apparently the impetus to the future issues (she thinks it's John, of course). The problem is that he does this, then John sorts it all out, and nobody thinks to find Gemma. It seems wildly irresponsible of them to ignore the fact that she just disappeared, especially because they knew she was acting strangely. Epiphany is looking for her when Nergal shows up to exact his revenge, after all. Now, I can understand in the immediate aftermath they're not thinking about Gemma, but you'd think that when they go through with the ceremony again, they'd start to wonder what the hell happened to her. It's an awkward way to leap into future issues, because I understand that Milligan is going to have her dabble in magic again (at least that's what I assume from the conversation she has with her therapist) and that he needs her to be traumatized by the event, but I wish he had been able to get her out of the picture in a better way. Maybe Demon John put a spell on her that didn't last too long, so she was able to go to the ceremony but then went a bit wonky? I don't know.

The core of the issue, however, is very good. I love what Milligan has done on this book, and I hope he stays on it as long as he likes.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Memoir #1 (of 6) by Ben McCool (writer), Nikki Cook (artist), and Tom B. Long (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, BW, Image.

Ben McCool brings us another six-issue Image mini-series, which, one hopes, will come out a bit more consistently than his other six-issue Image mini-series, Choker. Wouldn't that be nice?

Memoir has a cool hook - ten years ago, the entire population of Lowesville had its memory erased. On the first page, we see a bit of this event, and it's creepy because of two things: One, the man who's about to have his (and his daughters') memories erased says, "They've found us," implying this is not a natural phenomenon (not that we really believed that); two, the stuff coming toward the man and his kids is a white liquid, which adds a level of weirdness to the scene. So no one (or so we think) remembers that day, and now, a decade later, journalist Trent MacGowan, all-around scumbag (seriously - he's a total jerk) decides to investigate. What a fool! Hasn't Trent ever seen a movie? You don't want to head into a town like this - there has to be someone out in the field saying, "He wants you too, Malachi"! That's why it's fun that McCool makes Trent a jerk - anyone with an ounce of sense would steer way the hell clear of Lowesville, but Trent is so arrogant that he thinks he can uncover the truth. Good luck with that, Trent.

The story unfolds effectively, although there are some problems with it. McCool tries way too hard to make Lowesville a weird place - Trent comments on how 1950s it is (not that he lived during the 1950s, but that's the cliché); everyone is eerily silent when they're out on the street; the librarian is a conspiracy nut; the butcher sits around his shop sadly and warns Trent not to eat the meat; there's a weird dude digging up the street. Finally, Trent gets an e-mail from a source who claims that he/she (I'm betting on a "she") didn't lose their memory ten years earlier and can help him. And then there's the children, both dead and alive. Yeah, spooky children. I think the last time spooky children were effective was when that kid dragged the knife along the wall in Dark City. Man, that was a cool-ass movie, wasn't it?

However, the book is good for a couple of reasons. One, McCool does, after all, have a pretty neat hook, and I'm curious to see what he does with it. The fact that the protagonist is a jerk is always risky, but it works pretty well in this initial offering. Cook is a big part of the book's success, too - any weirdness Lowesville possesses is almost solely due to her, as she gives the people a bizarre, slightly misshapen look that makes it seem as if they've been hung in sacks and beaten into that shape. They're ugly but "cast" well - they look like a group of people who have been used by something much bigger than they are and don't much like it. Cook draws the creepy parts of the book well, too - it's probably easy to show the wilderness and give it a strange spin, but what the dude digs up in the street is horrifying, and Cook does a very nice job with it. So while McCool hasn't quite sold the story yet, Cook's art more than makes up for it.

I haven't read enough of McCool's work to trust him completely to pull this off, but Memoir has a cool hook and very good art, which is enough for me right now. I hope the more stereotypical aspects of it fade away as we learn more about what happened, but we shall see.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Morning Glories #6 by Nick Spencer (writer), Joe Eisma (artist), Alex Sollazzo (colorist), and Johnny Lowe (letterer). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image/Shadowline.

Well, that was strange.

It's kind of easy to guess who the person on the cover is (much like the cover, we don't see her face until the last panel of the book), except for the fact that there's no reason to believe she is who we think she is. Because it's who we suspect it might be, it signals that Spencer has something really wacky on his mind with regard to this series, and it kind of pushes everything forward in very interesting directions. So there's that.

Apparently Bell's Theorem is going to be very important in this series, because this is the second time Spencer has written about it. Now, I don't pretend to understand how Spencer is implying that Bell's Theorem works - in comics, theories that apply to subatomic particles are often conflated to justify time travel and teleportation and shit like that, without any real thinking behind it - but it's obviously important, and I'm curious to see where he's going with it. It certainly makes this a far more interesting comic.

So that's the first "arc," which I suppose doesn't feel like a complete arc but it fits into a trade paperback, which should be out soon. Give it a look - Morning Glories is a nifty comic, and it just got a lot better with this issue.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Northlanders #36 ("The Girl in the Ice Part Two of Two") by Brian Wood (writer), Becky Cloonan (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The usual interesting thing that Wood does with Northlanders is set up a situation and then not go where he implies he's going, yet the direction he goes in feels much more natural. I don't know if that makes sense, but oh well. He does this a lot, but with something like DMZ, he seems to go in a more, I dunno, predictable direction? I suppose that's because Northlanders isn't an ongoing starring the same cast, so Wood can just fuck with us if he wants to, killing off characters willy-nilly or completely twisting our expectations. Last issue, the old man (Jon) found the body of a girl in the ice. He realizes she was probably murdered by someone of note and her body disposed of, and he claims he will not abandon her. He has to replace her in the ice because if someone finds her in his house he'll be accused of her murder, but he's planning to come back to figure out how to give her a proper burial. Of course, his plans go horribly awry and he is, in fact, accused of her murder. Oh dear.

So we thought this might be an old man trying to get justice and either getting it (unlikely, given that he's low down on the social scale in a very hierarchical society) or failing nobly (more likely). Instead, Wood gives us neither, and that feels more natural. This turns into a subtle indictment of religion (I've had a few issues with how Wood deals with Christianity in this series before, but he does a nice job here in only a few pages), a condemnation of the caste system under which Jon lives, and an elegy about the futility of seeking justice in such a system. What's most interesting about it is Jon understands exactly why things have happened the way they have, an acceptance that is alien to modern Americans (and most other modern people as well) but is an important part of human history. An unfortunate part, but important nevertheless. Wood has shown that he's quite good at illuminating uncomfortable aspects of human society, and that's one reason why Northlanders as a whole and this short story in particular work so well.

Plus, you know, Becky Cloonan is awesome. It's a FACT!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Scarlet #4 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $3.95, 27 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

Oh, Scarlet. What a weird thing you are!

I wonder if anyone has noticed that Bendis is, apparently quite deliberately, reversing every gender role we usually see in superhero comics. We have the Punisher as the heroine, of course, but in this issue Bendis introduces the one sympathetic cop on the force, and it's a woman. The person who sets the stage for Scarlet to enter the scene at the end is, predictably, a woman. There are no good male characters in this book - Brandon is the closest, I suppose, but he's a typical ineffectual secondary character, a role that is often reserved for women. Gabriel is the ideal - the "man in the refrigerator," I suppose - created simply to die and give Scarlet a point to her crusade. All the other men are basically moustache-twirling villains, cardboard characters unworthy of our attention. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, you understand - God knows women have been written this way for decades in comics, so if Bendis wants to switch things up, I say go nuts - but it's not, so far, a particularly well written comic with regard to the characters. Brandon is the closest to a real creation, but he's still relegated to "whiny wuss" status when he's really Cassandra. It's interesting that someone who's quite good at giving his characters real depth is not doing it in this book.

I'm sure plenty of people are wondering why I'm still buying this book, and I honestly can't say. It's a train wreck, but it's a fascinating train wreck, and I really wonder what the hell Bendis is doing with this comic. In this issue, he introduces Angela Going, the sympathetic cop who explains to the FBI (and by extension, the reader) that the reason Scarlet is getting away with what she's doing is because the Portland cops don't want to arrest her, because they're afraid of what she'll say on the witness stand. Going (I should point out that in the grand tradition of Matt Groening giving his characters last names of Portland streets, so does Bendis with Ms. Going) knows that Scarlet is right and that the cops are corrupt, so everyone is scared of her. This leads to Brandon begging Scarlet not to go to the "flashmob" in Pioneer Courthouse Square (which is where the series started, a nice bit of symmetry) because he fears someone will shoot her. But of course she goes. Meanwhile, the mayor is getting different advice on how to handle the gathering in the square - some people want him to leave them alone so it doesn't escalate, some want him to send the cops down. He decides on a middle course, sending the cops but telling them to be nice. I wonder if that will hold up next issue, now that Scarlet has shown up.

This remains idiotic, but it's a fascinating kind of idiotic. If the cops are so scared of Scarlet and are as corrupt as she claims, why don't they just kill her? If they know where she is, arrest her and then make sure she never stands trial. If they're so corrupt, they can figure out how to do that, right? Going's contention that they're stonewalling the investigation so that Scarlet remains free because they fear her is dumb. The rest of the book isn't much better, either - Scarlet's mother shows up and the conversation feels totally fake; Scarlet hands out care packages to homeless people and thinks that's going to help (Brandon points out that it probably won't); the flashmobbers (and Scarlet) emphasize the point that not all cops are bad, which seems like a cop-out (so to speak) from the uncompromising attitude we've seen from our heroine so far; before Scarlet, apparently no one ever considered the cops might be corrupt, which seems, again, dumb. See what a mess this is?

I'm sure Bendis doesn't care if I like the book or not - I'm still buying it. I can't recommend it except for the sheer odd pleasure of watching this slow-motion disaster unfold and hoping it's all a big feint by Bendis. Unlike Spider-Woman, which was just dull, Scarlet is an almost surreal failure (so far), something that seems like it can't exist yet does. I guess that's something!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Secret History #14 ("The Watchers") by Jean-Pierre Pécau (writer), Igor Kordey (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), Edward Gauvin (translator), and Scott Newman (letterer). $5.95, 46 pgs, FC, Archaia.

I was under the impression that The Secret History was going to end with issue #18, yet issue #14 ends "the second cycle" and presumably will be collected in a giant hardcover trade like the first seven issues. Pécau doesn't have much history left - this issue wraps up World War II and sets the stage for the Cold War, and from the front of the book, it looks like the story will end pretty much in the present, so I doubt they can get another seven issues out of it to make three giant-sized hardcovers. If issue #18 is the final one, I'll be curious to see if Archaia just releases a smaller hardcover, which seems logical. But I don't care that much, as I buy these in single issues.

This is an interesting issue of the series as it focuses on one character, Daniel Rosenthal, and his adventures in post-war Paris as he tries to figure out what's going on with the tarot card a fellow concentration camp prisoner gave him. Daniel is a weasel of a character, but he's also fairly compelling, because we know what kind of crap he went through and can understand some of the reasons why he's a weasel. Through him, we also get a sense of the post-war power politics that are being played among the major figures of the book, two of whom show up at the very end of the issue. It's an interesting shift in storytelling style - it's much less epic than the previous issues, but Pécau manages to keep hinting at the great changes going on even as he keeps the story street-level. And, of course, there's always more "hidden" history about the tarot and the runes, which keeps the grand narrative going. It's a fun way to wrap up the second section of the book, which, as it telescoped the history into the period of World War I and II, was much more focused on recurring characters than the previous section had been. Pécau has gotten it down to following one character around for most of the entire issue, and it's pretty keen.

I'm curious to see how Pécau "ends" his secret history, as there doesn't seem to be any reason for the players to stop going at it - will the final issue simply imply they keep going? Either way, I'm looking forward to the "third cycle." I encourage you to pick up the trade of this second section - as good as the art was on the first section, the fact that Kordey does this entire section helps keep everything consistent, and the fact that Kordey is, you know, a damned good artist helps too.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

X-Factor #214 by Peter David (writer), Emanuela Lupacchino (penciler), Guillermo Ortego (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

After Darwin left the team last issue, David made it clear he wasn't abandoning the character, and in this very next issue, he proves it as he tells an all-Darwin issue. David has gone some way in making Darwin a viable character - in the post-Maggott X-World, he might be the worst character - and this is a pretty good way of doing it: Darwin needed to evolve to fight Hela, and he didn't like what he turned into - in this issue we learn that it might be something nasty. This is, we know, a drug-induced (or cactus-induced) hallucination, but it contains several key plot points that will come back to haunt the team in three or five years, if I know Peter David's writing. It's all apocalyptic and time-travelly, but as usual, it's a fun read. Plus, Lupacchino proves that she can draw more than just well-endowed women - her dragon-thing is very cool-looking, and her bad guy's look subtly hints at who he is even before he reveals it, which is nice. I assume she can't draw every issue, but I'm glad she's doing more and more.

I should point out that the town Darwin stumbles into after he fights the dragon-thing actually exists, or at least David is basing it on a real place. If you head into the mountains just west of Tucson, you come across Old Tucson, which used to be a movie set but is now a tourist attraction. It didn't, as the man Darwin meets on his way into town, shut down and become a haven for squatters (although it did close temporarily in the mid-1990s due to a fire), but it's still a similar situation. I honestly don't know if there are other places like it around the country and if David is basing it on one of those places or if he just made the whole thing up or if he's actually basing it on Old Tucson, but I just thought it was interesting. You may disagree.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Rat Catcher by Andy Diggle (writer), Victor Ibañez (artist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer).

Another Vertigo crime comic! Am I the only one in existence buying these?

Sherlock Holmes and the Painful Predicament of Alice Faulkner by Bret M. Herholz (writer/artist) and Rori Shapiro (graytoner). $11.99, 112 pgs, BW, Alterna Comics.

This is based on a play written in 1899. It looks neat.

After the kerfuffle over the ratings I gave two books last week, it was pointed out to me that I should probably explain my ratings. I'm not going to stop doing them, because they're kind of fun, but I should explain them so that you can get a sense of what I think about the comics. So here's my thought process about what a number of stars means:

9-10: Excellent, obviously. Something that has potential to be on my best of the year list.8-8½: Very good, and something I have no problem recommending to others even if they've never read it.7-7½: I like the issue but can understand why someone else might not. I would recommend it to others based on certain factors, like if they like the creators or if they like the type of comic it is. It might not be great, but it has a je ne sais quoi about it that makes it worth my time and money, which I'll usually cover in the actual review.6-6½: Mediocre. If a series has three of these in a row, I'm probably dropping it (everyone can have an off-issue or even two). I wouldn't recommend it and if I keep reading it, I probably have a perverse reason for doing so (like I inexplicably love the character). A comic that might be enjoyable occasionally but if it disappeared I wouldn't miss it.Under 6: Bad. Some bad comics are better than others (like Scarlet, which is at least entertainingly bad), but if a series has two of these issues in a row, I don't see any reason to keep buying it. Scarlet is currently the worst comic I buy regularly, and like I wrote, it's compellingly bad and I have some faith in Bendis, so that might keep it off the block. We'll see. But books under 6 stars have lousy writing, lousy art, lousy coloring, a lousy story, lousy characters, and generally have no reason for existing.

Obviously, the biggest problem with comics is their ongoing nature, so if I like a series, I'm much more forgiving of a misstep than if I'm coming to a series cold, plus it's often hard to judge an issue based solely on that issue and not on the series as a whole. I know what's coming up in Casanova, to pick a comic I love, and I'm not sure if the emotional devastation that will be wrought works if you come to the comic cold, so maybe that issue itself isn't that good for you, but for me, I'm sure I'll give it a 9 or higher. So it's not a perfect system, but like I said, I'm having fun with it, so I'll stick with it for a while.

So how about we check out The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "The Final Cut" - Pink Floyd (1983) "And if I show you my dark side will you still hold me tonight?"12. "The Other Half" - Marillion (2007) "And I'm falling, but I'm rising downward into blue sky"3. "Hell Yeah" - Neil Diamond (2005) "If you're asking for my time, isn't much left to give you"4. "Wish" - Nine Inch Nails (1992) "Gotta listen to your big time, hard line, bad luck fist fuck"5. "Wargasm" - L7 (1992) "Body bags and dropping bombs, the Pentagon knows how to turn us on"6. "Just Sex" - Janet Speaks French (1994) "Lay down your head, arch your back real slow"7. "Boys Light Up" - Australian Crawl (1983) "She's got fifteen ways to lead that boy astray"8. "Thousands Are Sailing" - Pogues (1988) "We stepped hand in hand on Broadway like the first men on the moon"29. "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" - Lucinda Williams (1998) "Could tell a lie but my heart would know"10. "Mind Riot" - Soundgarden (1991) "I was tight rope walking in two ton shoes"3

1 This may be heresy, but I like The Final Cut a whole hell of a lot more than The Wall, even though David Gilmour disagrees with me. The Wall is pompous almost to the point of ridiculousness, while The Final Cut is much more understated and emotionally powerful. Sure, it's depressing, but it's also hauntingly beautiful, especially the title track.2 Best Pogues song? Discuss!3 Best Soundgarden album? No discussion, because it's FACT!

Last week's Totally Random Movie Quote was from Highlander, which one person knew but didn't name, so I'm doing it here! Highlander is a decent movie that, of course, spawned quite possibly the worst sequel in history, a sequel so bad they simply ignored its existence for the third film (a wise move). When the characters in the movie comment on how idiotic the story is, perhaps you shouldn't be making that movie. Oh well. This week's quote is:

"My mom's been fucking a dead guy for thirty years. I call him Dad."

Sure, probably another easy one. But what the hell, right?

Tomorrow: I skipped my shorter reviews today, so they'll be back!

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