What I bought - 19 November 2008

Two long-awaited mini-series come to an end! Can you stand the suspense from not knowing what they are? If not, read on!

Air #4 by G. Willow Wilson (writer), M. K. Perker (artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Air is still keeping me interested without really dazzling me, but it's getting to the point where I may have to drop it. Usually I give books six issues to grab hold, and although I admire a lot about Air, there's a lot that's not working too. Blythe's conversation with the masked priest who she thinks is Zayn works well, because we get some good insight into her character and what's going on in the book. The transition to Mexico City and the new players in the game is awkwardly handled, though, and as the conspiracy grows quickly, it ironically becomes less interesting. I'm not sure if it's a case of too much, too soon, because we've come very far from the weird premise of the first issue, but I also understand that doling out information in a work of serialized fiction is a delicate balance - too little and people lose interest; too much and it become overload. Air is veering toward overload, and it does seem like Wilson needs to slow down just a bit. There's hardly enough time to process what's going on, when suddenly we're shifting continents and plot points and then, just as suddenly, there's a weird flying machine on the last page. As much as the premise is intriguing, it feels like Wilson is desperate to cram too much plot into each issue.

Perker's art has some problems, too. His figure drawing is fine, but too often he skimps on the backgrounds, giving the book a strange "nowhere" look. The text says we're in Mexico City, but nothing about it feels like Mexico City (of course, I haven't been to Mexico City, but there's no sense of any place about the pages in Mexico) Perker certainly can do better - Cairo had a real sense of the city and the mysterious tunnels and passages under it - but perhaps the rush of a monthly book is not a good fit for him. Part of the weirdness of the book is that it takes place in "no place" - on bland airplanes - but that sense of unreality that comes from being on a plane shouldn't extend to actual locations. It's frustrating, because the first few pages, when Blythe is hallucinating about the winged serpent, work well and feature outdoor scenes that have a strong sense of place.

This is one of those comics that I really want to like. Four issues in, there's a lot to enjoy about it. But I still have to think about dropping it, and we'll see where the next two issues go.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#2 and #3, September and October): 8,777 (#2; rank: 194) and 10,061 (#3; rank: 195). That's weird. A fairly big jump in orders from one issue to the next.

Ambush Bug: Year None #4 (of 6) by Keith Giffen (plotter/penciller), Robert Loren Fleming (scripter), Al Milgrom (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC.

As usual with this comic, there's nothing really here except tons of gags that are really funny if you know a little about DC comics (and your enjoyment of them increases the more you know) and are perhaps mildly amusing if you don't know anything about DC. In this issue, Giffen rips Dan DiDio mercilessly, which is hilarious but sad when you realize how spot-on it is and how DiDio apparently doesn't care. And I find it the height of irony that facing the page on which Ambush Bug says, "I guess I'm going to have to get used to a kindler, gentler DC Universe," we get this ad:

Giffen obviously sees the idiocy of DC - why doesn't DiDio?

Again, this is very funny if you've read DC, but probably less so if you haven't. I like it, but it makes me sad, too.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#2 and #3, August and September): 14,627 (#2; rank: 135) and 13,477 (#3; rank: 150). As I've written before, this seems pretty good for an obscure character with no big names on the book. The Giffen factor?

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #4 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). Back-up story by Joshua and Jonathan Ross (story/artists), Brian Clevinger (scripter), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $2.95, 27 pgs (22 for the main story, 5 for the back-up), FC, Red 5 Comics.

Atomic Robo sails merrily along, with the penultimate issue revealing some things (like who's behind the big Nazi scheme) and, of course, featuring plenty of fighting. There's not much I can say about it, because it's just pure, unadulterated, comics joy. Clevinger continues to write wise cracks that flow easily from the action, Wegener continues to draw wonderfully, and it's all hurtling toward a big-time conclusion. People who complain about all comics being gloomy are obviously not reading Atomic Robo. Maybe they should.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#2 and #3, September and October): 4,925 (#2; rank: 246) and 4,906 (#3; rank: 284). I guess that's fine - it's holding steady.

Bad Planet #6 (of 6) by Thomas Jane (writer), Steve Niles (writer), James Daly III (penciller), Tim Bradstreet (inker), Grant Goleash (colorist), and Jason Hanley (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image/Raw Studios.

Shockingly enough, the final issue of Bad Planet showed up in stores on Wednesday. Bad Planet, you'll recall, was supposed to be a 12-issue series, but it's been truncated to six, although the ending leaves the possibility of a sequel wide open. It's a shame this was so delayed, because it's a fun, goofy comic full of 1950s-science fiction wackiness, from the deathspiders that have greatly reduced the Earth's population to the solution to humanity's problem, which goes back to Nikola Tesla (doesn't it always?). Daly does a fine job with the art, and although the story makes little sense on a macro level and I can forgive that, the fact that we cut away from important events (like Veronica's flight to Washington) is weird and halts the momentum of the book. At his blog, Tim Bradstreet explains some of the reasons for the hiatus, and now that it's "done," maybe people will discover this book in trade. I can't really say it's a great comic, but the creators go hell-for-leather magnificently to bring us this wild tale, and that's something we should all respect.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#4 and #5, November 2007 and April): 4,575 (#4; rank: 252) and 4,467 (#5; rank: 259). The delay hasn't hurt this comic, as it has one below!

City of Dust #2 (of 5) by Steve Niles (writer), Zid (artist), Garrie Gastonny (artist), Brandon Chng (artist), Buddy Jiang (colorist), Leos Ng (colorist), Sixth Creation (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

Radical was nice enough to send me this in the mail, so I get to read two Steve Niles books this week! Whoo-hoo!

I mentioned that the first issue of this had a couple of problems: it was too derivative, and the art was too murky. The art is a bit brighter in this issue, and just that small change makes this a better issue to read. The art (split between a few different people, although the styles are all similar) isn't great, but the brighter tones of the book help the storytelling, at least. So there's that.

Niles continues to tell a story of a dystopian future where imagination is a crime, and with the set-up out of the way, he can concentrate on what made the first issue interesting: the actual murder of some guy and the book that Philip Khrome found under the body. Khrome is, of course, under suspicion by the thought police (GBI, they're called in the book) because he looked at the book, and he's interrogated by the head dude, Agent Morgan. Niles does two interesting things with this comic: Khrome continues to be a "the system is right" kind of guy, which is far more interesting than someone who rebels instantly because he's persecuted by said system. I still see a spiritual awakening for Khrome down the line, where he realizes that he's been wrong all these years and people just need to read, damn it! Maybe that will happen, maybe it won't. For now, it's interesting to see Khrome trying to solve the crime without worrying about bringing down the system. The other thing Niles does is set up Morgan as Khrome's nemesis and then subvert our expectations. It's nicely done, and lets us know that things are not what they seem. Plus, Niles reveals the bad guys, and although they're nothing special, it's interesting how he ties them into the main theme of the comic.

This issue fleshes out the character of Khrome a bit more, gets us into the crime a bit more, and isn't difficult to read because the art is too dark. Niles, who seems to have problems with endings, doesn't have any problems with beginnings, and he's set up an interesting murder mystery. There's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned murder mystery!

Sales figures for issue #1 (October): 8,981 (rank: 209). I have to think that's pretty good.

Dynamo 5 #18 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Marcio Takara (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). Back-up story by Jay Faerber (writer), Joe Eisma (artist), Paul Little (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 27 pgs (20 for the main story, 6 for the back-up), FC, Image.

Over in Jay Faerber's neck of the woods, Dynamo 5 gets a guest artist (Asrar draws only three pages) and a back-up story, but keeps trucking along. Scrap's replacement team gets into a fight with a group of super-villains and doesn't fare very well (as you can see from the cover). As usual, it's simple kick-ass superheroing and supervillaining, but Faerber is able to do that so well that it feels fresh. Even the twist at the end, which comes from Superhero 101 class, hits us like a punch in the gut. It's very hard to describe how good Faerber's two ongoings for Image are (although Noble Causes is ending, it's still around for now), because not every issue stands out as truly superb. There are stellar moments, but even those don't show up all the time. If I wrote about the plot - supervillains collects other supervillains who match up well against the new Dynamo 5, said supervillains attack, said supervillains beat up Dynamo 5, something surprising happens at the end - you might think, "That's the scenario of every superhero comic I've ever read!" Well, true, but as always, it's in the execution. Faerber adds so many small touches that make this fun to read, like Timothy Lipinski going all gooey when he gets his people-killing armor back. Okay, that's not really fun, but it's something a slightly psychotic super-villain would do.

I'm not sure what's up with the back-up story. It's the tale of a private investigator who sets someone up, and it's a clever little story, but I don't know if Faerber is going to start a new series with the P. I. (who, interestingly enough, isn't named, although the title of the story is "Dodge's Bullets," indicating that Dodge is either his first or last name). Either way, it's a fun short story.

As Brian noted, prices for regular Marvel books ("regular" meaning 22 pages of story with no "extra" material) are going up to $3.99. Faerber himself stopped by to explain why Dynamo 5 is $3.50. Considering it's as good, if not better, than any other superhero comic you can buy, isn't it time you stopped hoping that Marvel will come to its senses with regard to pricing and checked this out instead?

Sales figures for the last two issues (#16 and #17, September and October): 5,014 (#16; rank: 241) and 4,792 (#17; rank: 287). I guess that's fine - the drop is odd, but not huge.

Ex Machina #39 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 frustrating thing about Ex Machina is that Vaughan is ending it with issue #50, but now we're going to have to wait two years for that to arrive. I look forward to every issue, even weaker ones like this one, and now that Vaughan has hinted about where the book is going (he may have done this in interviews prior to this, but I don't read interviews, so this is the first time within the comic he's hinted about the book's direction), I'm really looking forward to the end. But I have to wait so damned long!!!!!

As I wrote above, this is a weaker issue, mainly because Monica is such a dull "villain" to the point where she's not one at all, really. Vaughan's biggest weakness with this book is feeling that he has to put costumed weirdos in it, even if the book doesn't necessarily warrant it, and building story arcs around them. Monica's story could have been told in two issues, tops, but it was stretched out a bit, and that weakened it. Still, Kremlin's a-doings and the way Vaughan turns the book toward the future help mitigate that a bit. I'm fascinated to see the rest of the series.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#37 and #38, June and September): 14,921 (#37; rank: 131) and 14,973 (#38; rank: 137). Holding virtually steady. Those who buy it are invested, man!

Ghost Rider #29 by Jason Aaron (writer), Tan Eng Huat (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I said I wasn't going to buy this anymore because last issue was $3.99 with a lousy recap of Danny Ketch's career as Ghost Rider as the "extra" material. Well, I calmed down and decided to buy this, because I have been enjoying Aaron's run on the title. Unfortunately, I might drop it anyway.

It's not that this is bad. Aaron is writing a slam-bang action comic, and Huat's art continues to look better than it has in the past. But it's not as flat-out insane as Aaron's first arc, when we had killer nurses and haunted highways and cannibals. It's a fairly standard superhero comic, and although Aaron does it well, it doesn't give me any reason to keep coming back. I suppose if I was more invested in the Ghost Rider mythos, it would be more powerful, but I'm not, so the actual story and writing have to be dazzling, and for the past few issues, they haven't been. It's certainly keen to see Danny and Johnny throw down, but beyond that, I don't get the same sense of danger that I get, for instance, with Dynamo 5 and its big fight. It's just two really powerful dudes smashing each other, and that's tough to make interesting.

The end of the issue promises "more Ghost Riders," as we learned last issue that there are several wandering the Earth. It will come out in December, which means the following month I usually think about culling titles. I doubt if this will make the cut. I miss the craziness of the first arc, which was truly and wildly awesome. Oh well.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#27 and 28, September and October): 23,402 (#27; rank: 105) and 26,993 (#28; rank: 102). A slight boost with the 4-dollar issue that I ranted about. I guess I suck.

Moon Knight #24 by Mike Benson (writer), Mark Texeira (artist), Javier Saltares (layouts), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I like how the past two issues have featured Bullseye on the cover, even though the first time Bullseye shows up in this arc is on the last page of this issue. I guess he's just so freakin' cool that Suydam had to put him on two consecutive covers!

This isn't quite as excellent an issue as the last few, but it's still very good. When last we left our favorite crazy superhero, Venom was about to eat his brain. Of course, he doesn't, because that would be awkward, but there's a big fight between MK and the Thunderbolts, and what makes it interesting is that Moon Knight doesn't really win. It's his book, after all, so the usual thing to do is make him superhuman and have him mop the floor with his adversaries, which is what writers of, say, the Caped Crusader always do. He does a fine job beating up on the Thunderbolts, but it's not like he's whipping them. He's even in a bit of trouble until S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up. Isn't that always the way?

As this is the penultimate issue of the arc, we get some set-up for the final issue. Jean-Paul still wants revenge, and Marc actually has to act human a little bit. Frenchie tells a story about his mercenary days, which helps illuminate, once again, a major theme of this book - the consequences of violence and how no one escapes. Marvel has spoiled the end of this arc in the solicitations, which annoys the hell out of me, but it's still a bittersweet issue, as Marc knows he probably can't get out of this. We'll see exactly how this ends.

I guess Bullseye actually shows up next issue and does some ass-kicking. That'll be nice.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#22 and #23, September and October): 26,380 (#22; rank: 94) and 25,216 (#23; rank: 111). Holding relatively steady, which makes me happy.

Pax Romana #4 (of 4) by Jonathan Hickman (writer/artist). $3.50, 28 pgs, FC, Image.

Pax Romana finally concludes, and it's not quite as strong as Hickman's first series, The Nightly News. Despite that book's inevitably lackluster ending, it was ridiculously bold and a breath of fresh air both story-wise and art-wise. Pax Romana looks great, with that odd Hickman style that is gorgeous to look at, and the story is still compelling, but Hickman never quite pulls it off. It's always been a 4-issue mini-series, but perhaps it could have used an extra issue, because the characters never quite gel and in order to get his philosophical ramblings into the book (don't get me wrong - I like the philosophical ramblings), Hickman seems to have sacrificed some characterization and action. Like The Nightly News, Hickman has grand themes on his mind in this book, and one of the characters vocalizes them late in the comic. Overall, the idea of the book - sending people back in time to make sure the world doesn't fall into barbarism - is fascinating, and although Hickman gets his major point about the nature of people across, he doesn't manage it with the same flair that he brought to The Nightly News. Ironically, the end of this book probably works better than that earlier one, but the journey isn't as strong.

Still, Hickman continues to be an impressive voice in comics, both with his astonshing artwork and in the themes he examines in his work. I hope he does more work, and I hope he speeds up a bit. Waiting for his comics is frustrating, to say the least.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#2 and #3, March and September): 4,794 (#2; rank: 239) and 2,889 (#3; rank: 300). Who says delays in books don't hurt sales?

Scalped #23 by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guéra (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Aaron focuses on Dino Poor Bear in this issue, as he rides around the reservation doing his "job," which consists of giving drugs and guns to various people and collecting their money. It's a typical issue of Scalped, in that Aaron captures the essence of dirt-poor living and things build slowly to two incidents of horrific violence that leave their mark on Dino. As we've seen, Dino will never leave the rez, but he still clings to the notion that he will, which makes his life, as sad as it is, a bit more pathetic. He's not working toward anything, and he has a (relatively) clear head on his shoulders - think of the people who don't have clear heads! Aaron has done a fine job showing the absolute despair the people on the rez live with each day, and by now, he doesn't even make much of an effort - just by showing Dino go about his daily life is enough. Maybe, just maybe, Dino realizes in this issue that he has to change. But I doubt it.

I have read on-line that Scalped is a lousy representation of Native Americans. I don't know if it is or not - I have not met many Indians, so I can't speak to that. I do know that the reservations in Phoenix aren't much better than the fictional one in this comic, so he's onto something there. But that's a topic for another day. I won't say much about that, but I will say that whether or not Aaron is accurately portraying a Native American experience, he is accurately portraying a poor experience. The people in this comic are desperate, and they act desperately. They often act stupidly, but Aaron has done a nice job showing why they act this way. That's part of why this book is so gripping.

Sales figures for the last two issues (#21 and #22, September and October): 7,029 (#21; rank: 216) and 6,964 (#22; rank: 241). This is why I switched to the single issues. Anything to do my part!

Uncanny X-Men #504 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I appreciate Terry Dodson's drawing style with regard to women, because he makes them a bit more zaftig than your usual comic artist, but what's up with Emma's waist on that cover? I know the fur is hiding some of it, but it looks hideously thin compared to her bust. Weird.

Anyway, this is much more like what I was hoping for when Fraction came on board the X-Men express. Brubaker isn't even credited in this issue, so perhaps he's completely off the book? Either way, Fraction isn't quite back to form totally, but this is much better than the previous arc. Does Dodson make that much of a difference? Maybe.

Fraction almost completely ditches the annoying identifying tags for the characters (yay!), which improves the book immensely right there. Then, he gives us some weird ideas that don't overwhelm the nice interaction of the characters. We get Peter pining for Kitty, we get Emma going inside Scott's head (at his invitation), we get Hank and Warren recruiting a new X-Man. The "Peter pining for Kitty" thing is a bit forced, unfortunately, from the fact that for a long time prior to Peter's death he and Kitty weren't together, so Whedon's resurrection shouldn't necessarily have rebooted him to a time when he did care (and yes, I know Joss the Messiah had them hook up, but it seems weird to make Peter that in love with Kitty that quickly), to Scott and Emma being complete dicks to him about the pining away for Kitty. Oh, like other X-Men have never pined away for lost loves! Peter should have said, "Oh, okay, Scott. I guess I'll just go off and marry someone who looks exactly like Kitty, have a child with her, and then abandon her when Kitty inevitably comes back! That sounds like a good plan!" That would have shut Cyclops up!

But the trip through Scott's head is done well (and explains why Asian Psylocke and British Psylocke are on the cover, as it's all in Scott's head). Of course, if you'll allow me to put on my geek hat for a bit, I don't think Scott ever saw Savage Land Rogue, so how could he fantasize about her? Whatever. It's a nice look at Emma and Scott, and anything that makes me hate their relationship a little less is always fine. As for the bad guys - I'm always leery when bad guys from characters' pasts show up randomly, but Peter's bad guy is kind of creepy. And I love Dr. Nemesis, although I'm a bit bored by Nazi stuff in the present. I don't mind when they show up in Atomic Robo, as the book takes place in World War II, but it's been some time since the war, so maybe we could move on? Still, Dr. Nemesis is pretty danged awesome.

With this one issue, Fraction has swept away some of the bad stench of the previous story arc. This is why I waited through the Land issues, because Dodson is so much better it's not even funny. I hoped that the good art would help the story, and who knows? maybe it did. If Fraction continues with issues like this, I'll have to stick around!

Sales figures for the last two issues (#502 and #503, September and October): 82,883 (#502; rank: 7) and 81,074 (#503; rank: 9). This sells well? Who would have guessed?

X-Factor #37 by Peter David (writer), Valentine de Landro (penciler), Craig Yeung (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Those people who hated Larry Stroman, fret not! Stroman is gone, and De Landro is back, so there you go. I don't have a problem with either artist, but I do wonder why the book can't keep somebody on it for a while. What's up with that?

It's a normal issue of X-Factor, which means I like it. Val Cooper talks tough with Teresa, and then our pregnant one's water breaks. Finally! Meanwhile, the rest of the team is still looking for Darwin, and David reveals Mr. Manu's dastardly plan. I'm not sure when Longshot became so bloodthirsty, but otherwise, it's a fine, exciting issue. I love that Longshot always knows how to charm the ladies, and Madrox continues to have problems with his duplicates. As usual, stuff happens, and it's always interesting.

I haven't been reading the solicitations, so I don't know who's drawing the upcoming issues. Can Marvel please find someone to stay on the book for a while? Is that so hard?

Sales figures for the last two issues (#35 and #36, September and October): 44,481 (#35; rank: 49) and 38,552 (#36; rank: 70). A pretty big discrepancy; were people abandoning it because of Stroman's art?

Another fine week in the four-color world. And now ... totally random lyrics!

"I remember Christmas in the blistering coldIn a church on the Upper West SideBabe, I stood there singing, I was holding your armYou were holding my trust like a childFound a lot of trouble out on Avenue BBut I tried to keep the overhead lowFarewell to the city and the love of my lifeAt least we left before we had to go"

Okay, rant away below! You know you want to!

Dan DiDio Hopes to Rebuild MAD Magazine Someday

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