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What I bought – 19 March 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 19 March 2008

The third week of the month has been very good recently, because a bunch of books I like come out.  So I was happy reading my books this week.  But (there’s always a “but” with me, isn’t there) I do want to examine an odd (or maybe not so odd, depending on your perspective) phenomenon in comics today – the pop culture reference!  What do I mean?  Look below the jump …

Catwoman #77 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David López (penciller), Álvaro López (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Guy Major (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Selina’s seemingly-interminable stay on the Salvation Run Planet continues, and even though it’s only been three issues but feels like three years, there’s still one more issue to go!  Someone last month bugged me about buying it and therefore validating this kind of crap, and that’s a point, but as I’ve often mentioned, if I know the detour is going to be brief, I’ll deal with it.  Pfeifer has done such a good job with this book, and these issues, which are crappy in terms of entertainment, still give us a good portrayal of Selina, from her desire to stay in this weird world that exists only in her head to the way she thinks about taking down Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and Flash.  As the world is created just for her, it’s not impressive that she’s able to do it, but her thought process as she runs this gauntlet is interesting.  But really, these have been pointless issues.  J’onn, who told her last issue that it wasn’t real, shows up again to tell her it’s not real, and she can only get out if she wants to.  So Selina wants to, and hey presto! she’s out.  It’s not a bad idea for a one-off issue, but stretching it to two is pushing it.  Oh well – one more issue to get Selina off the SRP, and then Pfeifer can get back to doing what has made this book one of DC’s best.

As I have nothing nice to say about the story, I should mention that López, as usual, does a stellar job with the art.  The fight between Selina and the Justice Leaguers is very nicely done, and I’m always impressed by how well López shows Selina’s facial expressions, even though she spends a lot of time with her eyes hidden.  He does a wonderful job with her mouth that conveys her emotions, and it’s greatly appreciated.  Even if I don’t like the story of these past few issues, the art has been, as usual, top-notch.  I’ll point out, once again, that López has drawn every issue for over two years, and the book is never late.  I guess he’s just not a prima donna.

Checkmate #24 by Greg Rucka (writer), Eric Trautmann (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Jack Jadson (inker), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Superman seems hopelessly naïve in this comic, doesn’t he?  When he attacks the Kobra base, all the darling little Kobra minions try to blow themselves up instead of getting captured.  Supes, of course, stops them (he’s quite super, after all), then says, as if he’s stunned, “He wanted to die.  He wanted to blow himself up.”  Sasha responds, “They all do.”  I don’t have a problem with Superman being all life-affirming, but to act as if he’s never heard of a suicide bomber before is strange.  Oh well.  It’s not that big a deal.

The big thing in this issue is that Checkmate has to do something they really didn’t want to do, and that’s reveal their secret weapons.  Kobra’s big plan is closer to fruition than ever, a bunch of pawns are killed when they discover what Kobra’s really up to (could we say they got “pwned”?  We could?  Excellent!), and nobody is available to help stop the really evil thing that Kobra is doing (as opposed to the minor evil things that turned out to be a distraction).  I know we’re supposed to be impressed with the end of the book, but it’s tough to be, because I have no idea who those people are (I have an idea about one, but are they supposed to be DC characters we’ve seen before, or all new?), and I don’t know what their capabilities are.  There must be a reason they’re Checkmate’s secret weapons, but I don’t know it.

Yes, I’m obscuring what happens, because I guess it’s a bit of a cliffhanger.  That’s fine.  Checkmate still shows why an espionage book set in the mainstream DCU (or Marvel U., of course) can work, because when a threat like this comes up, you can always call in superheroes, but they’re not necessary for the book most of the time.  It’s fun to see them occasionally, and Rucka and Trautmann obviously have a big enough threat that they’re important here.

One last thing: at one point the Castellan stands in front of a world map.  Boy, it’s the ugliest world map I’ve ever seen.  In this day and age of photoshopping, I don’t think anyone would be angry if Bennett didn’t actually draw a map on the panel, but just used an image he found on-line.  But if you’re not going to do that, at least make the map decent.  The British Isles, for example, don’t exist.  Australia has some kind of peninsula on its southern coast that, frankly, looks like a flaccid penis.  I know – I shouldn’t worry about shit like this.  But this is why you come here – to see if I get all worked up over stupid crap!

Next: Rucka’s last issue.  Who will die?  Who will live?  Who will have their face eaten off by some kind of snake-monster?  Only the writers know for sure!

The Circle #5 (of, it turns out, 5) by Brian Reed (writer), Ian Hosfeld (artist), and Len O’Grady (colorist).  $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

It’s rather sad to read the latest issue of The Circle.  At the back, Brian Reed writes, “Okay.  Look, I’m not going to lie to you, okay?  There probably isn’t a ‘next’ coming.  At least not any time soon.  And it’s not for lack of want on the behalf of Ian and myself.  It’s because, let’s be frank, sales of THE CIRCLE have been absolutely awful.  If we doubled our sales, we might achieve ‘abysmal.’  We’ve been in the red since issue 1, and Eric Stephenson has been kind enough to let us finish our first arc before shuffling us off this mortal coil.”

Well, that sucks.  I’m not terribly surprised, but it still sucks.  This has been a very exciting mini-series, with good art and some cool characters.  At the end of last issue, bombs were falling on the train with the nuke, and although this issue begins in a disappointing manner, in that the bombs don’t actually hit the train (and I’m sorry to spoil that, but it’s in the first few pages, and there’s a lot going on afterward; plus, what shitty bombadiers!), we still get a satisfying wrap-up.  The espionage aspect gets pushed aside just a bit in this issue so that we can have a beat-down, but Hosfeld does an excellent job with the action (even if there’s yet another silhouetted killing, which continues to vex me) and Reed does a good job setting up the rest of the series.  Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

I’m not terribly put out by the failure of The Circle.  It sucks, and I blame you (no, not you, of course – that guy right over there spending his money on Thor*), but it’s not going to ruin my life.  It speaks to a big problem in the comic book universe - getting the word out about new books.  Many people don’t use Previews because it costs a good chunk of money, and many comic book stores don’t order marginal books so that you (yes, you, standing there reading the latest godawful issue of JLA) might pick it up on a lark.  The Circle is a solid spy comic with far more interesting characters than you’ll find in The “Death” of the New Gods and better art than you’ll see in Amazing Spider-Man (and I even like Phil Jimenez).  It’s certainly not going to change the world, but it’s far more interesting than most of what you’ll find out there.  I know I’m banging my head against a brick wall and, for many readers here, preaching to the choir, but that’s just how I am.  I will certainly be interested in seeing if these two creators work together again and what they do.  They have a nice synergy.  If Image offers a trade, pick it up.  It’s pretty cool.

(* I mention Thor specifically because I had to go to the comic book store on Thursday, and some dude was there buying what looked like five or six issues of Thor, some quite old and, I think, the latest issue.  He actually said something like, “Why do they always destroy and then rebuild Asgard when they start Thor up again?”  He sounded so burned out and grumpy by the idea of recycling plot lines ad infinitum, yet he was still buying the new series.  I wanted to smack him.  I get that you love the character, but Jesus.  Use your freakin’ brain.

Here’s my one-word review of Thor #7, by the way: Lousy.)

Dark Ivory #1 (of 4) by Joseph Michael Linsner (writer/artist/colorist), Eva Hopkins (writer/colorist), and Jeff Eckleberry (letterer).  $2.99, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

This comic, however, will probably sell really well, because there’s no justice in the world and God hates puppies (it’s true, you know!).  This comic, as you might expect, is terrible.  Really awful.  It’s not just Linsner’s art, which is fine for pinup work but is very stiff otherwise.  The story is horrid as well.  I’ll try to go through it quickly, because I do want to examine the pop culture reference in this comic.  Ivory is a high-schooler who is kind of a goth girl, but kind of fakes it, too.  She hangs out with her best friend, Samson, and has a shitty home life.  She writes crappy high-school poetry, she wears fake leathery wings to clubs in New York (she lives in Hoboken), and she used to cut herself but doesn’t anymore.  One night, she goes to a club and meets a vampire (although she doesn’t know he’s a vampire) named Xander.  He licks her hand and invites her to the most exclusive club in town.  There’s also another strange dude wandering around called Esque, and at the end of the issue, some other goth girl gets killed, presumably by Esque, who likes to slice women’s throats and suck their blood.  It’s absolutely as shitty as it sounds.  It’s derivative and dull, and the art doesn’t help.  Ivory and Samson are stereotypes, and I suppose it’s to Linsner’s and Hopkins’ credit that they at least make them aware that they’re stereotypes, but that in itself is a stereotype – the self-aware cliche!  It’s as if they have these personality traits grafted onto them, and then, in a final “masterstroke,” made aware that they don’t have real personalities.  Blech.

My personal bugbear comes early on in the book, when Samson says, in response to someone cutting him off in traffic, “Some people should die.”  Ivory responds with “That’s just unconscious knowledge.”  This is, of course, a quote by Perry Farrell, from the song “Pigs in Zen,” which appears on the Jane’s Addiction album Nothing’s Shocking.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with quoting Jane’s Addiction, and there’s nothing wrong with quoting that particular part of a song (I’ve done it myself).  I was first bothered by it because Ivory is, after all, no older than 18, so a quote from a 20-year-old album is a bit odd, but it’s quite a good album, and we all own albums that are older than we are, right?  However, it’s not like Nothing’s Shocking is a particularly famous album, which means Ivory has a bit of an eclectic musical taste.  Groovy.  Later, however, she has no idea who Roxy Music is.  Roxy Music is somewhat older than Jane’s Addiction, but aren’t they a bit more famous than Jane’s?  Or, if you know who Jane’s Addiction is, doesn’t it seem odd that you don’t know who Roxy Music is?  Maybe I’m wrong.  This is Exhibit A, however.  Keep it in mind as we move forward.

And don’t buy this.  It’s not good.  Plus: this is technically called Dark Ivory, Book One: Blue Blood, Chapter One: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.  Phew!  That’s a mouthful!

Ex Machina #35 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (penciller), Jim Clark (inker), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

The one problem I have with this issue of Ex Machina, which is quite interesting in its discussion of race and so-called “white guilt,” is the reason Mitch flies down to confront the two kids that leads to his first meeting with David Wylie.  He flew down to ask these two kids why they weren’t in school.  What?  What the hell does he care?  As the kids point out, they could be both eighteen, and what business is it of his anyway?  Of course, they should have been in school, as we find out, but it seems like a lame reason to confront them.  Here in the desert we have crappy schools, but they often have unusual schedules to help kids who need to work during the day.  So it’s not strange to see teens on the street when you might think they should be in school.  They might be playing hooky, of course, but that’s not necessarily the reason they’re not in school.  It’s supposed to show that Mitch thinks that black kids wandering the street during so-called school hours are of course up to no good, to highlight his relatively benign racism, but it’s an odd way to show it.

This is probably not the forum to discuss Mitch and Wylie’s conversation about race, because it is, after all, a comic book blog.  Nothing much happens in this issue, except Mitch is somehow haunted by a dead slave, and even though he thinks he solves the problem, he really doesn’t.  It’s very nice that Vaughan is actually writing about this, and its timing is interesting, coming on the heels of Barack Obama’s speech earlier this week.  As usual with this book, he brings up several valid points and doesn’t make anything easy.  It’s just another reason why I like this comic so much.

Fables #71 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Damn, that’s a great cover.  It’s James Jean, so it’s not surprising, but still.

Willingham diverts our attention from the war for a few issues to show us some preparations for said war, as Cinderella heads to Tierra del Fuego to pick up a “package.”  I won’t ruin the nature of the package, but Willingham does a great job with this simple espionage story, as Cinderella comes across double-crossers and other shady characters, until she has to confront Hansel and we get a nice Watchmen moment.  It’s all wonderfully illustrated by Buckingham (he puts glass slippers in the borders, a nice touch, and then give Cinderella an outfit with glass slippers on it) and quite exciting.  Next issue promises “more gratuitous mayhem,” so that should be fun.

Cinderella, however, can’t be as vacuous as she seems on the first page, when she narrates that Tierra del Fuego translates as “land of fire” and then wonders why it’s so cold.  Hasn’t she been on our world long enough to learn a tiny bit about plate tectonics?  Oh well.  It’s still a fine issue.

FX #1 (of 6) by Wayne Osborne (writer), John Byrne (artist), John Workman (letterer), and Greg Cordier (letterer).  $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, IDW.

Brian has already gone over how this book exists, so I’ll just get to the nuts and bolts of it.  Osborne’s story concerns a boy named Tom who, while playing with a friend of his, gets bonked on the head with a stick.  He lapses into a coma, but wakes up no worse for wear and able to create “effects” with his mind – if he thinks about holding a bazooka, one appears and he can blow shit up.  As you can see from the cover, if he imagines he’s in a plane, he can fly.  He uses this power to fight that chap on the cover, a rogue, apparently intelligent super-ape named Silverback, and draws the attention of some other nefarious baddies.  When paired with Bryne’s art, this is about as old-school superheroing as you can get.  If that’s your thing.

Byrne’s art is quite nice, although there are some problems.  We never can pin down how old Tom is, because Byrne draws him like every other blond male he ever draws, albeit with less wavy hair.  On the cover and occasionally in the book, he looks like an adult.  The fault is partly Osborne’s, too – Tom and his friend Jack are battling with “swords” early in the book (the sticks that cause Tom so much trouble), which seems to indicate they’re, what, ten or eleven?  Later, we see that Tom has the hots for a girl who looks slightly older – maybe 13 – who is dating a bully who looks even older – maybe 15.  It’s a bit jarring, because they all go to the same school, but Tom looks and acts much younger than the other two.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s still annoying.  Plus, Byrne does a splash page at the end which I’m sure is supposed to remind us of other drawings he’s done before of heroes flying almost off the page.  I guess that’s kind of neat.

The biggest problem with the book is it’s just not that well-written.  I’m glad Osborne got it published, given what he went through to get Byrne to draw it, and he came by Brian’s post about it and seemed like a reasonable and pleasant fellow, but it’s still not that good.  The idea is fine, but Osborne doesn’t do enough to explain Silverback, for instance, and why he’s a sentient giant ape who is being transported from a zoo.  You’d think a talking monkey* would be something people don’t keep in a zoo.  The fight between Tom and Silverback is done well, although it’s another case of a hero getting bashed to the point where he’d be dead, but Tom shrugs it off easily.  It’s a marginally fun comic, but, as usual with IDW books, you have to take into consideration the fact that it’s a dollar more than usual comics.  It’s not really worth the 4-dollar price tag, although it has some charm.  The plot is decent, but nothing about Osborne’s scripting stands out.

It does contain, however, another pop culture reference, and I think this is somewhat interesting.  Early on, Jack mentions that they’re fans of The Cybernetic Man, a television show starring Austin Stevens.  Obviously, this is a reference to The Six Million Dollar Man, but what makes it less egregious to me is that we, as readers, know that the two boys are talking about a television show from the 1970s, but it could easily be a show they watch in the present day, so it’s more likely they would be familiar with it.  This is Exhibit B.

I can’t really recommend FX, because it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before, and for the money, that’s too much of an obstacle.  It’s a perfectly pleasant if derivative comic, and if you’re a huge fan of Byrne, this looks nice, but it’s nothing special.  It’s just kind of there.

* Yes, I know it’s not a monkey.  I just felt like writing “talking monkey,” damn it!  Leave me alone.

Ghost Rider #21 by Jason Aaron (writer), Roland Boschi (artist), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

With a lot of comics, it seems like the writer thinks to him- or herself: “Let’s see – let’s take A (which is awesome) and B (which has some weird kitsch value) and pair them with C (which the geeks love, even though no one else does) and that gives us D (which will naturally be super-awesome!).”  Of course, a lot of movies and other entertainment feels like that, too, but it seems quite prevalent in comics.  Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it “super-awesome,” because no matter what, you need to have some talent, but luckily, Jason Aaron has some talent.  So when he takes Ghost Rider, throws in a haunted highway, cannibalism, and hot killer nurses, we get a pretty darned good comic book.  Aaron reveals more about GR’s role in the war between Heaven and some rebellious angels, and we learn why the highway in Montana is haunted.  It’s well done and suspenseful, and even though I don’t love Boschi’s art, it’s not horrible.  I’m still unsure why the deputy would confront the dude at the end, because once he finds out the secret of the haunted highway, he should recognize right away that he’s in a horror comic and confronting the dude in the way he does will only lead to tragedy.  Am I right, people?  Once you find out why the highway is haunted, you call in the Army and let them bomb the town into oblivion!  Seriously.

A couple of other things: Ghost Rider gets a great line: “Nobody touches my ride,” and then shows how angry that makes him feel, and I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the way it seems like the hot nurses are in the book simply so that every male character can call them “bitches.”  That they are bitches makes it easier to accept, but it seems like we’re supposed to laugh when anyone calls them that, and it’s kind of weird.  I guess I’m just too PC for words, but there it is.

This isn’t a great comic, but it’s entertaining.  It’s always interesting when Marvel or DC lets one of their relatively mainstream books go full-on horror, and Aaron does seem to have a good handle on the character.  I’ll have to check out the rest of the arc to see where he’s going with it.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #5 (of eight) by Matt Wagner (writer/artist) and Tom Orzechowski (letterer).  $3.50, 20 pgs, BWR, Dark Horse.

One nice thing about Wagner and this series is that he’s using characters that have appeared before, but you needn’t have read the Black, White and Red stories in which they originally appeared.  It’s this use of “continuity” that I like – it’s just a wink to old readers, but you’re not drowning in it.  Frankly, if I hadn’t been immersing myself in all things Grendel recently, I would have forgotten that Liz Sparks, Locutious “Cush” Bradley, and Benito Emanuel Tomas “Toro” D’Oro had already appeared in other Hunter Rose stories.  But it doesn’t matter, because Wagner makes sure we know enough about them.

This is somewhat of an information-gathering issue, as Hunter visits Toro to find out if he knows what’s following him.  Toro does, and also tells Hunter how to stop it.  Lucas Ottoman, meanwhile, is stalking Hunter Rose to find out if he really is Grendel, and I still have very little hope that he’s going to survive this story arc (of course, Bradley survived his own run-in with Grendel, so maybe there’s hope for Lucas).  It’s a beautiful issue to look at, of course, but it’s a bit less exciting than the previous issues.  That’s okay, though, because we need to know what’s going on with this thing that is stalking our “hero,” and we get it in this issue.

Wagner still gives a fight, although it’s short.  Man, he can compose a page, can’t he?

The Incredible Hercules #115 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Khoi Pham (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Danny Miki (inker), Dennis Calero (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

If you’re still not reading The Incredible Hercules, allow me to quote, in its entirety, the recap page:

Thinkest thou life is all mutton and maidens?  Nay.  Consider powerful Hercules.  Greatest of heroes.  Paragon of masculinity.  His should be a life of grandeur.  And yet the pathway Hercules treads is fraught with peril, through fault principally of Amadeus Cho (with pup in tow).  Cho deems S.H.I.E.L.D. responsible for wounding his pup, and so a furious can of gangsta-style whup-ass [note: they use the @ sign and two dollar signs to denote “ass”] descends upon the mortal enforcement agency … in the shape of a self-replicating neo-virus that shall wreak bedlam upon yon jumpsuited spy-guys’ operations the world over.  But whilst Hercules endeavors to convince Cho to let his ire go, let us not forget that Ares, brother of Hercules and god of #%*&in’ war, waits to strike …

Now, if that recap doesn’t make you want to run out and buy this book, how about this: There’s a jail break, and a hapless defense attorney is hailed as “the greatest advocate known to the legions of Sakaar!!!”  Amadeus Cho steals a helicarrier, which is then beset by S.H.I.E.L.D. missiles.  Ares jumps Hercules before the missiles get there, but Hercules grabs Ares … and swats a missile with him.  And then, Pak and van Lente actually manage to get a shot in at comic book readers who obsess over continuity without it seeming mean-spirited.  After the insanity of the first part of the book, it actually gets serious, as we learn why Ares hates Hercules so much, and why Hercules wants Amadeus to stop the virus so much.  In the midst of a totally kick-ass fight scene, we get some very nice characterization.  It’s quite a powerful issue, and it sets up the continuing adventures of this suddenly awesome team.

Pham is fantastic, too, which has been a pleasant surprise.  Next issue, he’s taking a break, which might be a good thing, as it gives him some time to catch up.  I don’t know how long Marvel is going to keep this title going, and I hope Pak and van Lente never forget that Amadeus is supposed to be looking to help the Hulk, but if it’s going to be this entertaining, I just don’t care.  It’s a complete blast to read.

The Immortal Iron Fist #13 by Matt Fraction (writer), Ed Brubaker (writer), Tonci Zonjic (artist), David Aja (artist), Kano (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), and Artmonkeys Studios (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Speaking of fun comics, the penultimate issue of “The Capital Cities of Heaven” pulls many strands together, setting up what ought to be a slam-bang finale.  I’m a bit concerned with the slowness at which Aja seems to work, as he pencils only three pages in this issue, even though the main title took a month off, but Zonjic does a pretty decent job with the bulk of the book.  In terms of action, this is not quite as crazy as Iron Fist often is, but it’s brimming with tension as Xao finally gets his train going, Danny Rand gathers the tournament fighters to defend K’un-Lun, Davos is disillusioned, and the final page promises explosive fisticuffs.  It’s quite keen, as usual.

There’s a lot of clever dialogue, too, that doesn’t become too cute, which is nice.  It’s close, but it stays on this side of clever.  This might actually be the funniest issue of Iron Fist, which makes the lack of face-kicking (which disappointed poor Chris Sims this week) easier to take.  And I’m looking forward to next issue, as usual.  Let’s hope Aja is back for the majority of it.

The Order #9 by Matt Fraction (writer), Barry Kitson (breakdowns), Javier Saltares (penciler), Stefano Gaudiano (inker), Derek Fridolfs (inker), J. Roberts (colorist), and Artmonkeys Studios (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Really, what’s there to say?  I guess Kitson isn’t even going to pencil the last two issues, just provide “breakdowns.”  That’s weird.  Anyway, it’s excellent as usual, but who cares, right?

But … we have a pop culture reference!  Whoo-hoo!  Mulholland Black says, at one point, “Now I have a machine gun.  Ho ho ho.”  A few panels later, Ezekiel Stane says, “Shoot the glass.”  These quotes are, of course, from Die Hard, one of the kick-assest movies ever made.  I always wondered why Alexander Godunov didn’t understand Alan Rickman when Rickman spoke to him in German but did understand him when he spoke to him in English.  Wasn’t Godunov German, just like Rickman?  Anyway, I don’t have a big problem with this cute little exchange, even though Stane’s comment doesn’t make much sense in context, and it’s not like it’s the next line in the movie or anything.  I don’t have a problem with it because Die Hard is, after all, a hugely popular movie, and it’s shown on television all the freakin’ time.  It’s probably on right now!  This, of course, is Exhibit C.

Next: another fresh superhero book gets the axe so that Marvel can rehash another one of their “classic” heroes.  Yay!

The Programme #9 (of 12) by Peter Milligan (writer), C. P. Smith (artist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

This is really weird.  That is all.

War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #1 (of 5) by Garth Ennis (writer), Howard Chaykin (artist), Brian Reber (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer).  $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel/MAX.

I’m not really in the mood to write about this book, which is never a good sign.  It’s not even that it’s a bad comic.  It is fairly mediocre, however, in a Garth Ennis-is-a-good-writer-so-it’s-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be kind of way.  You can practically hear Ennis mailing it in, and the fact that Chaykin mails it in a bit too means this is a comic that, had it been done by a hack, would have been almost unreadable, but because it’s by Ennis and Chaykin means that it has its moments, but still isn’t very good.

I haven’t been a fan of Chaykin’s art in a long time.  He seems to be getting stiffer with his characters, his panel layouts are getting more staid and static, and this lacks the manic energy of, say, The Shadow mini-series or that Wolverine/Nick Fury graphic novel he did almost 20 years ago (I’d use American Flagg! as a touchstone, but I don’t own any of those issues and I’ve only seen excerpts from it).  As Jog points out, there are no sound effects in this comic, which robs it of some wildness (and Jog, as usual, does a far better job reviewing this book than I ever could – it’s all about pop culture references with me, while he approaches his reviews more seriously).  I don’t like the cutting-and-pasting of some of the biplanes, either, because they look completely out of place.  Oh well.

As for Ennis … this is strictly paint-by-numbers for him, and although I would love to see more war comics, it doesn’t seem like Ennis has anything new to say about war.  I have no idea if the Phantom Eagle that Ennis is writing about bears any resemblance to the Marvel hero from the 1970s, but he’s definitely a tool.  I guess this series is supposed to show how he matures, but so what?  Ennis has done this before, so I’m not sure what the draw here is.  Chaykin’s art?  Cassaday’s nifty cover?  Captain Clarke’s hi-LAR-ious fate?  Whatever it is, it’s not drawing me.

Wasteland #15 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer).  $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

As much as I like Wasteland and want you all to buy it, I have to say that this new issue, which begins a new story line, is perhaps not the smartest way to get people interested in the book.  Johnston shows the Sand-Eaters readying to lay siege to Newbegin, and then the beginnings of the siege.  It’s a fairly tense issue, and Mitten’s art is fantastic, as he shifts between his usual style and a more ethereal kind when a myth is told.  The mythic section is very creepy, but also somewhat child-like, which makes it even creepier.  The issue as a whole sets up the battle over Newbegin quite nicely.

So, you might ask, what’s the problem?  Well, the Sand-Eaters are the focus, and they speak rather unusually.  Here’s the dialogue from the first page: “Wekkuuuuuuup!  Saaaahahaha!”  “Naaaasti sandizz!  Wiiiisat?”  Tellltam!  Samantell sandizz tareeta kinasaaaan!  Kamkwiik … izzzastaaaartin.“  One tells the other to wake up, the sleepy one calls him nasty and asks what’s going on, the first says to tell someone something (I haven’t deciphered “tareeta kinasaaaan” yet), and then tells him to come quick, because it’s starting.  Almost the entire issue reads like this, and some of it is quite difficult to figure out.  Now, we get the gist of it, and I was willing to read it slowly and figure out what they were saying, but that’s because I’ve read every issue of this series and like it a lot.  I’m not so sure someone picking this up randomly would want to slog through it.  It’s fairly clever that Johnston did this, because it shows how similar yet different the Sand-Eaters are from the rest of the people in the book, and a great deal of the title itself has dealt with language, but it’s a tough road.

It’s kind of a shame, actually, because it seems like Johnston has a lot of things in place to make this arc quite a good one.  I wonder if he didn’t shoot himself in the foot a bit, however.  That would suck.

Okay, now that we’re done with the actual reviews, I’d like to return to the pop culture references in this week’s books.  I’ll start with Monet from last week and her detailed knowledge of Three’s Company.  I didn’t object to it because Monet is too young and too non-American to know anything about Three’s Company, I objected to it because her upbringing seemed a bit too isolated and because of her rather snooty attitude toward the base cultural leanings of her fellow students at the Massachusetts Academy back in the Generation X days.  But let’s lump that in with the other references from this week, none of which I really had too big a problem with.

1. A high-school girl, presumably 17 or 18 years old, quotes lyrics from a 20-year-old album, albeit an album by a band whose frontman is somewhat symbolic of the rise of “independent” music in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

2. Two young boys are very familiar with a television show from the 1970s, a show I have hardly ever seen replayed, even on TV Land.  (I do like the way Osborne changes it so it’s not really a reference to the 1970s television show, however.)

3. A teenager and a young man quote lines from a 20-year-old movie, but one that is very popular and is shown a lot on cable.

As with Monet, it’s not the fact that these people, who are young, make these references.  It’s that young comic book characters never make references to anything but these kinds of things.  This is, presumably, because most comics are written by white men over 30 and are written for white men over 30.  According to Wikipedia, Peter David is 51.  According to her MySpace page, Eva Hopkins is 36.  I saw somewhere on-line that Wayne Osborne is 42 (and now I can’t find the page where I saw that, so if it’s wrong, I apologize).  Wikipedia says that Matt Fraction is 32.  So these people are very familiar with television shows from the 1970s, albums from the 1980s, and blockbuster movies from the 1980s.  I don’t have a problem with a writer using references he or she knows for an audience that will appreciate them, but do any of these writers think, “What would a teenager actually say?”  Couldn’t they try to drop references that I wouldn’t get because I’m too old and square?  I, personally, have no idea what the kids today are into.  But would they always quote things that I used to quote 15 years ago?  That ain’t right, right?  Does this bother anyone else, or am I (as usual) overthinking things?  Again, before anyone misunderstands me (which many people do, unfortunately), I have no problem with any of these references, so I don’t want people commenting that they’re 20 and they quote John McClane all the time.  I just wonder why the only pop cultures references we ever see in comics are from 20-30 years ago.

Anyway, those are the comics for this week.  You know I’m right about them, you just can’t admit it!

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