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What I bought – 19 July 2006

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 19 July 2006

It was a pretty good week for comics for those of us who were left behind when the SDCC opened.  Yes, we must cling to our love of comics by buying floppies instead of standing in line for hours so some creator can sign our mint-condition #1 issue!  Sigh.  Of course, it just wouldn’t be a good week if I didn’t trash one book!  Luckily, that book is first in our alphabetical round-up!

Casanova #2 by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá.  $1.99, Image.

Okay, I’m not going to trash Casanova as much as scratch my head over it.  Listen, I’m not stupid.  I’m stupid in the vein of “Oh, gee, I forgot to turn on the pool vacuum” stupid, but that’s more absentmindedness than anything.  I’ve read Heart of Darkness.  I grasp the concepts of chaos theory (the very basic concepts, but still).  I can name the top ten home run hitters of all time.  I know every British sovereign from William the Conquerer to the Glorious Revolution (and then William died, and Anne took over, and I start to get lost – there are a lot of Georges in there, I know).  I can still do algebra even though I haven’t taken an algebra class in well over fifteen years.  But I don’t understand Casanova.

That doesn’t mean I’m simply giving up on it.  It’s kind of fun to read, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.  The art is beautiful, and certain things are nifty, like the executive director of Image showing up on page two to remind us that the Casanova Quinn we see is an imposter from another dimension, but it’s all kind of empty.  I get the feeling that Fraction wants this to be some kind of bizarre, surreal science fiction masterpiece and that he is trying to prove how clever he is, but when he has to explain half the book in the endnotes and even then I still don’t get it, I start to wonder if Fraction is trying way too hard to be esoteric.  There’s a fine line between writing good surreal fiction and just throwing ideas out there with absolutely no connection whatsoever to each other. It’s not really that hard to write surreal fiction (heck, even I’ve done it!), so there has to be more of a reason for me to buy this.  Maybe I’m just not the target audience.

I’m going to read a few more issues to see where Fraction is going with this, because, like I said, there are some keen ideas here – the town the runs on sex energy, the idea that this is somehow a fictional world being written by the agent Casanova kills – but it needs to cohere a bit more.  We’ll see.  My patience wears thin.

Catwoman #57 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro Lopez.  $2.99, DC.

 

The biggest problem I have with this issue is also why it’s a good issue.  Ah ha – you don’t think I can explain that, do you?  Well, Selina beats up Angle Man and the Film Freak and saves her baby, as we knew she would.  Holly is arrested for the murder of Black Mask, even though she didn’t do it!!!!!  I don’t mind that the Film Freak is beaten in such an idiotic and “James Bond villain not killing Bond when he has the chance” way, because it fits in with his character – of course he’d want to get one more classy shot – he’s the Film Freak, for crying out loud!  But then we get to the end.  What can Selina do?  Bend and Edison know who she is, and they will come after her again.  Oh dear.  She calls Zatanna and tells her it’s mind-wiping time!

This is my big problem with the issue.  Now that Meltzer has opened that can of worms, it appears that there is no bigger can to put them in.  So therefore Selina calling Zatanna makes sense, especially because, as she puts it, Zatanna owes her one.  I absolutely hate this plot contrivance, and wish that Wanda Maximoff would utter some magic words and we could go back to pre-Identity Crisis days, when we didn’t think about what happened when super-villains switched bodies with the Justice League.  DC has reset their universe dozens of times in 20 years – what’s one more time?  However, the reason I like this issue is because Pfeifer is willing to deal with the 800-pound elephant in the room, and from what I read about upcoming issues, this is going to be something that Selina has to deal with.  So although I loathe the idea of Zatanna mind-wiping everyone in sight, at least Pfeifer is trying to work it into a story and (I hope) deal with the consequences.  We’ll see how he deals with them, because that’s the key.  Batman dealt with it by creating killer spy robots.  Yeah, that wasn’t such a great idea, Bruce.  I doubt if Selina will deal with it the same way.

So it’s an interesting ending to the story, because we get two plots for the future – Selina and her identity, and Holly and her arrest.  Lots of possibilities there.

Checkmate #4 by Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz.  $2.99, DC.

 

Checkmate is quickly becoming one of my favorite books, because, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s right up Rucka’s alley.  We have espionage, which is never as pretty as the planners think it will be, and in this issue, just when we think things are going to go all pear-shaped, Rucka throws us a changeup and we get Sasha’s team and the Chinese trying to work things out.  Then, when that goes wrong (thanks to the hot-headedness of good ol’ Count Vertigo), Alan Scott shows up to chill everyone out.  Through diplomacy (and his ring, of course) he finds the Kobra agent, but to the satisfaction of the Chinese, because the Americans can’t prove that they are manufacturing metahumans.  This action saves Checkmate but costs Scott his job.

It’s a very interesting opening arc because Rucka has done a pretty good job of setting up all the players (not a perfect job, but a pretty good one) while making sure that Checkmate operates on an international scale.  We haven’t seen something like this since the glory days of Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (which is being revived in this title soon, I guess), when the Squad ran into all kinds of international super-people.  I love the idea, because it seems obvious that metahumans would be all over the place, and it’s interesting to read about them.  It’s also interesting that the United Nations has a fighting group again, because that will certainly cause problems with the Americans, and I hope Rucka runs with that.  The tensions within the group are simmering nicely, too, and I hope Alan Scott sticks around even though he’s no longer in the group, because his feud with Waller is a nice component of the group.  If he’s gone for good, I hope someone else picks up the slack.  Waller needs an adversary to make her more interesting.

This is a very cool book.  Check it out and you’ll see!

Elephantmen #1 by Richard Starkings and Moritat.  $2.99, Image. 

 

Like Brian, I also got this from Image, and that was very nice of them.  Unlike Brian, I am not enamoured of this.  But you know what?  I’m not sure why.

I bought one of the original Hip Flask books back in 2002 and felt the same way.  I liked it, but not enough to keep up with it.  It’s strange – in this book we get a nice story about Ebony the Elephantman, who was bred to be a warrior (and we see his bloody past in flashbacks) but somehow escaped and is now living in Santa Monica in the 23rd century.  He meets a young girl who asks him all kinds of questions, which is how we get to see snippets of his past, until her mother grabs her away because talking to human-animal hybrids is apparently a no-no.  The art is gorgeous, the story is simple yet serves as a nice introduction to the series, and Ebony is pretty much instantly sympathetic as a slave who has somehow escaped but still feels out of place in a world that rejects him.  The second story, although pretty, doesn’t really do much except establish that the hybrids are part of life now and the humans resent them, something we got from the first story.  It’s a nice little slice of science fiction.

I’m not sure why I don’t like it more.  It just doesn’t grab me.  It’s a perfectly fine story, but I guess I was expecting more.  An introduction is needed, I guess, but there’s nothing here that makes you say, “Wow!”  I will admit that I’m kind of curious about Ebony and where he’s going, which means I may pick up the next issue, but we’ll see.  It’s strange.  It’s a book I should like more than I do.  And I can’t really explain why I don’t.  Now that’s decisiveness!

Eternals #2 (of 6) by Neil Gaiman, John Romita Jr., and Danny Miki with Tom Palmer.  $3.99, Marvel.

 

I know I said I was only going to read the first issue of a mini-series and then wait until it was finished to read the whole thing, but the first issue of Eternals was much more of an introduction than I wanted it to be, so I figured I’ll read the second issue and make up my mind.  This gets the plot going a bit more, and I’m confident that Gaiman will at least make this entertaining, so now I will stop reading and wait until the end.

The thing I like about this issue is the secretive nature of the Eternals.  Sprite is the most obvious, of course, but even Mark and Sersi are very careful in this issue, even though Mark doesn’t believe any of it and it’s unclear if Sersi knows anything.  The idea of these immortal people wandering among us, some of whom use it to their advantage and some of whom don’t even know it, is interesting.  The kidnapping plot ties in somehow, I’m sure, and I’m certainly willing to go along with it.  As usual with Gaiman (and all good writers), it’s the little things that elevate the story.  The fact that the superheroes at the party can’t save anyone because they’re contractually bound not to is clever.  The fact that Thena Eliot is working for Stark Industries but doesn’t know that Tony “came out” as Iron Man (and the fact that she thinks he actually came out) is fun.  The matter-of-fact way the bad guys try to kill Ikaris is nice, too.  These are guys just doing a job.  The fact that it involved killing an immortal doesn’t make it any different – they just do their job and get paid.  Although it’s a horrible thing that they’re doing, Gaiman gives them enough personality that we become just sympathetic enough to them so that when they actually kill Ikaris we’re even more horrified.  It’s a nice touch.

So I’m on board for the rest of the series.  I trust Gaiman not to let me down!

Rush City #1 by Chuck Dixon and Timothy Green II.  $2.99, DC.

 

Rush City pissed me off.  I knew it would, yet I bought it anyway.  Why?  Is it because I’m a corporate whore?  Well, that may be.  This comic book is already somewhat famous because of its advertising – “Rush” drives some sort of Pontiac (and no, I don’t care what kind it is – I roll in my Toyota mini-van with the two kids in back, yo!) and I’m not completely sure if the series exists just to showcase the car.  It would be one thing if Dixon pitched the series and then Pontiac got involved.  It would be another thing if Pontiac said, “Can you create a series that features our car?”  That would annoy me.

Of course, the question is – how is the quality of the book?  Well, it’s a Chuck Dixon book, which means it will be heavy on the ass-kicking and light on the deep introspection.  We follow Diego Zhao – who calls himself Rush – as he finds a woman’s lost daughter.  This is what he does, apparently.  It’s fast and fun, and there’s a bit of added danger because the girl is diabetic, but we know she’ll be fine.  That’s not the point.  The point is to establish Rush as someone who gets the job done.  The cops are interested in him for reasons unknown, and at the end of the book the big villain is revealed (I’ll get to him, because it’s not that big a deal), and Rush drives his Pontiac and does seemingly impossible things with it.  I can buy that he can drive on train tracks – it’s silly, but within the realm of possibility – but how does he get off the tracks?  There’s no ramp for him, is there?  And I’m a bit confused by what he does at the end – it appears that he pulls forward, then backs up in front of Moto’s vehicle, but why does he pull forward?  And the stunts he pulls would scratch the hell out of his car, but it looks freshly washed at the end.  Minor annoyances, but still.

Green’s art is very nice.  Occasionally he has a Geoff Darrow look, especially when the cars are getting smashed up.  His art matches the story – fast and loose, but with a nice gritty edge that makes it feel more real.  I have never heard of Green, but he’s very good.

The villain is Gearhead, by the way.  For an instant, I thought it was unbelievably dumb (okay, I still do), but then I remembered that Dixon (probably) created Gearhead in the first place a decade ago during his run on Detective.  Did he create him?  Anyone?  If he didn’t, he at least really likes him.  I suppose in a series like this, with cars being so front and center, we could have a worse villain than Gearhead.  I just think he’s kind of dumb.

Advertising has worked its way into the stories and art of comics, people!  Should we be outraged?  Well, I’m not really that outraged, and this is a good book, especially as a single issue story, so I will get the rest of the mini-series.  Please pray for my cold, dark, corporate soul.

She-Hulk #9 by Dan Slott, Paul Smith, and Joe Rubinstein, with Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

Now this is what I like to see from She-Hulk!  After the past few issues, which were neither fun nor funny nor, you know, particularly good, Slott regains his form with a story in which we get Jennifer’s quickie marriage to John Jameson, J. Jonah ranting about, well, everything, Pug figuring out that Starfox put the whammy on Jen, and Awesome Andy in a tub with Mallory Book.  Holy cow!  It’s a very funny book, but more importantly, it’s a fun book, and I can forgive Slott (a little) for his misguided Starfox-as-rapist story if he continues with this kind of story.

The annoying thing about this book and X-Factor is that they have to tie into Civil War.  However, both Slott and David are talented enough that they take what they’re given and fit it into the ongoing story.  I still don’t like it, but I can deal with it.  In this book, Jameson wants to sue Peter Parker for fraud, but finds out that he can’t because every hero that has come forward gets amnesty.  He’s also quite angry to find out that his son ran off to Vegas to marry a big green superhero.  The news comes a shock to everyone, which leads to what might be the funniest comic book page of the year:

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I saw that page, or I would have joined all of those people!  Jonah, of course, is furious because Jen is not only a superhero but a lawyer, and this leads to the second story of the book, when John and Jen have dinner with Jonah and his wife Marla.  Meanwhile, Pug decides to tell Jen what he has learned, but he tells Ditto (disguised as Jen) instead, which makes him realize he needs to approach the problem from a different angle.  That’s the end of the first story, but Slott then gives us the back-up, which is hilarious.  Jonah gets so angry about the prospect of green grandchildren that he drags his old Spider-Slayer robot out of storage and attacks Jen.  She calms him down with the only thing Jonah ever thinks about – the prospect of sticking it to Spider-Man.  Jen tells him that he can sue him for fraud because he took pictures of someone he knew wasn’t Spider-Man and sold them to Jonah.  This is a great idea, because, as Jen tells John, she can keep it in court for years, and it makes Jonah happy.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?

This is a very good book, after a few months of disappointing ones for the title.  I hope this means it’s back on track, because we don’t have enough sheer fun books in the world.

And hey! there’s a footnote.  Tom Brevoort is old-school, apparently.

Ultimate X-Men #72 by Robert Kirkman, Tom Raney, and Scott Hanna.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

Why do I keep coming back to Ultimate X-Men?  I have bought every issue of it, and I don’t see any reason to stop.  Of all the X-books, Ultimate X-Men – with a few dips, I’ll agree – has been the most consistently good for, what, six years?  That’s a pretty good track record.  So far, Kirkman has been a good choice for the book after Vaughan left.  He has brought in a pet character, the Magician, but this issue makes that worthwhile, as there are obviously strange doings transpiring at the X-Mansion concerning our magical friend, as well as Jean’s simmering weirdness.  This is what the X-Men should be about – long storylines that you really have to deal with for a long time before they pay off.  You might get impatient, but you should be willing to allow it to happen, because unlike the Avengers, say, the X-Men aren’t necessarily about showing up to fight a threat.  They’re much more like a huge extended family, where something that happens to one person takes a while to affect another.  Vaughan did this particularly well with Ultimate X-Men, and it appears that Kirkman is doing it too.  We get some action with the Ultimate version of the Friends of Humanity, a fight that exists only for the Magician to show his stuff, but the real meat of the issue is when Charles chats briefly with Jean and we see that she’s still a bit crazy and/or possessed by the Phoenix, and Nick Fury’s visit to the mansion, when we learn something disturbing.  The fight scene is fine, but these two scenes propel the plot forward, and add another layer to the tapestry.

Raney’s art is fantastic, too.  I wish he wouldn’t take three issues off after each three issues he draws, but when it’s here, it’s very good.

Anyway, as usual, this is a very good book.  Consistently the best X-book out there.

Uncanny X-Men #476 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

The second issue of the Brubaker era moves things along nicely, as our heroes steal a spaceship from an abandoned Shi’ar complex in upstate New York (handy that it’s not in, I don’t know, Mongolia) and takes off in search of Vulcan, who has prepared a nasty surprise for them.  Although I have never been a huge fan of “X-Men in Space” stories, I don’t have anything really against them as long as the characters are interesting, and with Alex along to deal with the Summers family thing and Rachel getting snippy with Xavier and James being psycho and Lorna doing her thing, this will probably work.  As usual with the convoluted back story, things bug me.

I assume all of this is stemming out of X-Men: Deadly Genesis.  Brubaker wrote that, so why shouldn’t he use it?  However, how many X-teams does this make that no one ever knew about?  That Charles – he’s pretty good at keeping secrets!  This is one of the reasons why I don’t like piling on events in the past, for any character.  Pretty soon they have so much in the past that it seems impossible for them to have had any time to do the things that actually happened in the comic books.  It’s annoying, but I suppose I can let it go.

Tom Brevoort is obviously not the editor of this book, because it could use some footnotes.  Darwin?  Who the hell is he?  And Xavier references D’Ken as the Shi’ar Emperor.  Holy freakin’ crap, that was thirty years ago!  The only reason I knew that Xavier had formed a “secret” team was because the page at the front told me so.  But it didn’t tell me who the hell Darwin is!  It’s this kind of thing – the same kind of thing I bitched about last issue – that is keeping me from enjoying this completely.  I’m enjoying the interaction between all the mutants, and the fight scene is nicely done, and we have this tension, but things like who the hell Darwin is nag me.  I don’t like being troubled when I’m reading Uncanny X-Men.  It should be a breezy, enjoyable read.

X-Factor #9 by Peter David and Dennis Calero.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

Here’s another Civil War tie-in, as well as a continuing Decimation tie-in, but again, David manages to bring both of these convoluted messes into the story and craft something interesting.  Pietro is at X-Factor HQ, and they don’t quite know what to do with him.  Jamie bails on them because he can’t make up his mind, and after a weighted exchange with Layla (in which she tells him they eventually get married), he helps Aegis escape from the government forces who are trying to arrest him.  The X-Men show up to take Pietro into custody, and David makes them sound ridiculous.  Are they really “neutral” in this whole Civil War brou-ha-ha?  That’s just dumb.  Scott has always been a wussy character, and here he just comes off as even more wussy.  Grow a new pair, Cyclops, to replace the ones Emma keeps on a shelf at home!

This is a nice issue because it shows how insane the Registration Act is.  From some comments around this very blog, it sounds as if the anti-Registration people aren’t really that coherent, but here, Pietro and X-Factor make all the right points, while the government and the X-Men are either shooting first and asking questions later or fumbling about for the right words to say.  The fact that they’re “neutral” makes it even worse.  Hey, remember when the X-Men stood for something?  Good times.

David doesn’t make a big deal about it, but using Morrison’s concept of Mutant Town is nice, too, because essentially mutants – who I assume have to register just for being alive – have ghetto-ized themselves by moving into Mutant Town.  It’s an interesting way to go, and I’m wondering where David will go with it.  It’s a nice juxtaposition to Pietro and Jamie’s speeches about opposing the Registration Act.  They’ve already made it pretty easy to find any mutants the government wants to, anyway.

God, Cyclops is a dick.  Why haven’t they killed him yet?

Well, that’s all she wrote this week, good people.  A fine week for comics.  And a footnote!!!!!

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