What I bought - 19 September 2007

At the comics shoppe this week, an employee claimed it wasn't a big week.  People who think there wasn't a lot coming out this week just aren't trying.  I thought last week was big.  Now I long for those kinds of weeks!  But you know what?  There was tons of excellent stuff coming out this week.  Maybe some of these are new to you!

But first, a rant.  This week I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio.  Cowherd is a bit of a tool; that's part of what makes him entertaining.  Somehow he had gotten in a discussion about whether Batman is a superhero or crimefighter.  He claimed Batman was a superhero because he wears a costume and has all those gadgets - you know, the ones Jack Nicholson dug.  So, after announcing a "nerd alert," he opened the phones to his listeners to make their points (I love sports people calling people who read comics nerds - fantasy sports are about ten times nerdier than reading comics).  So people were calling up and arguing one way or another.  Some guy mentioned The Dark Knight Returns, in which Superman goes bad, beats up all the other superheroes, and is taken down by Batman.  This was proof to Cowherd that he's a superhero.  His producer agreed.  Cowherd compared him to Aquaman, whose only power is that he "can talk to fish."  A few people pointed out that Batman has no powers, but Cowherd thinks that the fact that Batman is rich makes him a superhero.  I guess that makes Bill Gates a superhero too.  His producer also mentioned that Wonder Woman's power is that she can force people to tell the truth, by using "gamma rays."  I'm not making this up.  I didn't hear the final word on the subject, but what I objected to is that if somebody had called up and said that Rex Grossman is a good quarterback or Notre Dame is a good football team, Cowherd would have told him to shut up because he didn't do his research.  Yet if someone called up and told Cowherd he's an idiot for his statements about Batman, Cowherd would have called him a nerd.  Cowherd actually said the intelligence level of the listeners, him included, had gone down because of the Batman discussion.  Yet Cowherd has repeatedly called Charlie Weis the third most intelligent man ... in the history of the human race (not recently, though - I love when Notre Dame sucks).  If you're going to talk about a subject, Colin, why don't you do some research instead of just spouting off?

Okay, my rant is over.  Of course, ironically, I'm often accused of not knowing idiotic things about comics because I don't do research.  But at least I know that Wonder Woman gets people to tell the truth because of her awesome hummers.  Everyone knows that!   

30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow #1 by Steve Niles and Bill Sienkiewicz.  $3.99, IDW.

I haven't bought a 30 Days of Night story in a while, but come on - it's Bill Sienkiewicz, who doesn't do enough work these days.  And I did enjoy the original mini-series and its sequel, I'm just not that into vampires to follow it.  But come on - Sienkiewicz!  This is a nice first issue, as Niles begins with vampires considering attacking Barrow even though the townsfolk are ready for them, but then something eerie happens and a bunch of them are killed.  Then we get to the human part of the story, as a billionaire, Richard Denning (who couldn't possibly be similar to another billionaire owner of Virgin at all) brings his entourage to town to find some vampires.  Niles goes a bit overboard on the narration telling us who all the people are, plus he names Denning's wife and their daughter the same thing (Kelly, and when he first shows the wife her name is spelled "Kelly" and then when he introduces the daughter her name is spelled "Kelly" and her mother's name is "Kelley"), which is sure to be annoying if not downright confusing.  The group jumps in Denning's Humvee and heads into the snow despite the warnings of the townspeople.  Bad things, as they say, are imminent.

The story works pretty well, but it's Sienkiewicz who makes the book, of course, as it was Templesmith who made the original (taking nothing away from Niles, who came up with a killer idea, but he's not the greatest scripter in the world).  His full-page spreads are gorgeous, despite the restriction of drawing everything in a snowstorm.  But he does a wonderful job with the blizzard that is raging throughout the book, and the white is both a nice contrast to the blood early on and a disturbing cover for the horrors out in the wild.  If Beyond Barrow is worth the 4 dollars, it's mostly because of the art.

IDW is releasing this slowly, which is nice because it allows Sienkiewicz plenty of time to finish.  When the art is this nice, you don't want to rush it.  So I'm fine with it coming out somewhat slowly (the second issue was just solicited in the latest Previews).  It's that cool to look at.

Abandoned by James Pruett and Michael Gaydos.  $5.99, Desperado Publishing.

This book came out years ago (it's one of Gaydos' very early works), but it's been re-released in color this time.  It's not a perfect comic, but it's pretty interesting in the way that it addresses a fall from grace and redemption without being too preachy.  It's a bit preachy, but not excessively so.  Mainly, the preachiness comes from the way the characters act, which is much better than having a character talk about it.  So there's that.

We begin with a man and a woman abandoning their adolescent son, who has been stuffed in a burlap sack, in the middle of the forest.  The man, Billy, claims they can't afford him anymore.  The woman, Sue, is upset but fearful of her husband, so she acquiesces.  The boy, Josh, is released from the sack by a mysterious force and manages to make his way through the forest, eventually running a bit afoul of a wolf.  However, he's saved from the wolf by what looks like an angel, who claims the wolf is a demon sent to take Josh's soul.  The angel, whose name is Adriel, sets Josh on the right course to the road, but when he's about to be run down by his father, whose car he sees, Adriel causes the car to crash, which kills Billy and puts Sue into a coma.  Adriel then undergoes a crisis of faith that leads him to Hell, where Lucifer tempts him to fall, just like he did.  Adriel must somehow make amends for his crime.

It's an interesting take on redemption, because although it's not terribly deep as a book, it does show how people can regain grace once they have lost it.  Adriel, obviously, isn't a man, but his situation isn't too far removed from reality that we can't relate to it.  Adriel meets a family camping in the woods, and the father gets a tiny bit preachy and far too ironic, but it's still a nice book about someone's journey from the depths back to the heights.

For me at least, Gaydos was the reason I got this, and his art, while influenced by Sienkiewicz and John K. Snyder III, is still very nice to look at.  I can't imagine seeing this in black and white; in color, it's very dark, and I imagine the uncolored original looked even murkier.  Gaydos, however, does a good job with the darkness of the forest and the many moods of Adriel as he moves on his journey.  It's a fascinating comic to look at, despite its roughness.  Gaydos transfers from painted panels to pencil art in flashbacks and in the antiseptic hospital at the end of the book, and it's interesting to see the contrast.  Gaydos adds some gravity to the story, which is nice.

This isn't a great comic, but it's something different that's nice to look at.  You could do a lot worse with your 6 dollars.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #12 (of 12) by Robert Kirkman, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks.  $2.99, Marvel.

Let's just pretend it was a 12-issue mini-series, okay?  That makes it easier.

I'm not sure about everyone on the cover.  Sleepwalker had his own series, as did the Thing (twice, right?) and Dazzler, and I guess that's Woodgod, and didn't he have a series?  But did that hog guy from She-Hulk who's holding Eric ever get a series?  If not, how could he be cancelled?  Yes, I'm thinking far too much about the cover of a defunct series.  Deal with it!

There's not really a lot to say about this series.  It wasn't the greatest book, but it's always nice to see Marvel try something different, and the fact that Eric pretty much remains a dick throughout the series is fine with me.  It was also nice to see that he actually wants to change - I guess we'll see what Slott does with him over in that Initiative book.  This was never my favorite book, but the fact that it actually made it into publication and lasted 12 issues is kind of cool.  Everyone always whines about how regular superhero books aren't all that good, but whenever something that's a bit different comes along, no one tries it.  I don't care if you don't like it - that's fine - but to not try new things is kind of strange, especially if you're dissatisfied with the mainstream superhero stuff.  It's strange.

It was a nifty little book.  Oh well.  If you've been buying it and are grumpy it's gone, try something new and unusual!  Wouldn't that be fun?

Catwoman #71 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

As I will prove to my good readers below, Judd Winick is not a good writer.  Will Pfeifer, even if you hate what he did with the Amazons, is.  How can I tell the difference?  Because of the way Pfeifer writes Batman.  He understands that Batman is not only about righting wrongs, but also, as Selina puts it, "protecting the innocent."  Some of the best Batman stories are when we see the positive impact of what he's doing, and not just the hard-ass.  He can be hard-ass all he wants, but when Selina needs his help, he doesn't hesitate, except to cradle her daughter for a moment because Helena is an innocent and Bruce Wayne wants all children to remain that way - at least until they can handle the truth about the world.  So he helps Selina disappear like she asks, and we get a beautiful portrait of a relationship that has moved past the usual bullshit and is founded on something strong.  It's interesting reading this comic and the Wedding Special on the same day.  Pfeifer writes a real relationship; Winick writes a cartoon one.

Selina still has one more thing to ask of Bruce.  What it is, we'll find out.  It doesn't sound good.

Man, this is a good comic.

Checkmate #18 by Greg Rucka, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson.  $2.99, DC.

Speaking of good comics, Checkmate continues to hum along, as Rucka begins his "Fall of the Wall" story, a story I'm probably going to be a bit uncomfortable with.  I'm sure it will be as well-written as this issue and the rest of the series has been, but I'm not exactly sure what the point is.  Is DC starting up Suicide Squad again and they want Waller out of Checkmate?  Is this story tying into Ostrander's new mini-series, which would be annoying (Rick Flag is in this issue, so there's that)?  I know that Waller has done some things in this very book prior to this story arc, but it still feels like it's coming out of nowhere, simply because it doesn't seem like she has many good reasons for doing what she's doing.  Waller has done a lot of ranting in this comic, but not a whole lot of introspection about why she not only feels that a Suicide Squad is necessary, but why she has to attempt to kill the people in Checkmate to accomplish that.  Or have I just missed it?

The issue itself is fine.  Rucka does a nice job setting up all the pieces and showing how, in espionage, there are no real winners.  And the insertion of J'Onn J'Onzz into the proceedings is kind of cool, too (as I surmised when the cover image for Checkmate #19 appeared, showing J'Onn on it as a clear spoiler that he would be involved, his appearance is the last thing we see, so the cover for next issue wouldn't give anything away unless DC decided to post it on-line a few months ago, which they did).  As with the entire series, it's a bunch of interesting characters doing morally ambiguous things in the pursuit of something they believe is necessary, and it's a fine read.  I'm just wondering about why Waller is being sacrificed.  What's the big plan for her?

Oh well.  We'll find out, won't we?

Countdown to Mystery #1 (of eight) with stories by Stever Gerber, Justiniano, and Walden Wong; and Matthew Sturges and Stephen Jorge Segovia.  $3.99, DC.

This is an interesting comic, although I'm not sure it's worth 4 dollars.  I do appreciate DC trying to give us some heft for our money, as we get two pretty decent tales, but as usual, it will probably read better in the trade(s).  I can't complain about the quality of the stories, but I can't really tell you to run out and buy the book either.

In the first story, Gerber brings back Dr. Fate.  His name is Kent Nelson, and although Gerber hints around at a connection to the original Dr. Fate, he doesn't come right out and say what it is.  Someone left a comment a while back that it's the original's son, which is fine, but why wouldn't he know about the whole Dr. Fate thing?  He seems somewhat surprised by the helmet.  Other than that, it's a story about Kent Nelson, down-on-his-luck psychiatrist, who ends up in a dumpster in Las Vegas, where the helmet finds him.  He puts it on and goes on magical mystery tour that could have been lifted directly from J. M. DeMatteis's notes for the Dr. Fate series back in the day, complete with parentheses.  It's a bit excessively wordy, but luckily Justiniano's excellent art helps move the story along.  Then some weird creature that has been alluded to earlier in the book shows up, and then its master, who isn't happy with Dr. Fate.  Oh dear.

The art, as I mentioned, is wonderful, and the story gets us where we need to be, even though it feels like Gerber could have hurried it along a bit more.  Que sera, sera, I guess.  Then we move onto the back-up story, which is also very nice to look at but is even more convoluted.  A man kills another man who testified against him at a murder trial.  The Spectre shows up and enacts his ironic form of punishment.  But the dead guy, William Hanson, is an atheist, so he goes nowhere after he's dead.  He tags along when the Spectre realizes that Eclipso is loose.  We shift to Eclipso, who shows up to ... well, tempt Plastic Man with something.  I'm not sure what happened there, to be honest.  Then, we shift back two days, to when Eclipso was still floating in space, and we discover that some beings took her to Darkseid, who claimed to be her master.  It's a weird way to structure the story, because it jumps all over the place rather jarringly.  I'm sure it will all flow together, but again, that's why you buy the trade.  Sturges's narration is a bit awkward at times, but gets the job done, and Segovia's art looks not dissimilar to Leinil Yu's, which is a compliment.

It's not a bad issue by any means, and it's always nice to see the weirder corners of DC's mainstream universe explored.  I just doubt it's worth shelling out 32 dollars (plus tax or minus any discounts your comics store might offer) for the eight issues.  That seems a bit hefty.

Dynamo 5 #7 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar.  $3.50, Image.

It's a big-ass fight issue, as Chrysalis and her daughter take on Maddie and the gang, who manage to escape from F.L.A.G.'s headquarters with the help of Maddie's old partner.  Actually, it's Dynamo 5 against Maddie for a while, because she injected herself with a serum that turned her into that dinosaur on the cover.  Once they take her down (with, I must admit, a really bad dirty joke), they concentrate on the bad guys.  Of course they win, but not without some casualties.  It's a tightly-written comic, and it gives Asrar a good chance to show off his chops, and as he's done throughout, he comes through with flying colors.  Asrar has shown such a command over the superhero style, and he's excellent with the dynamism that superhero fights demand.  It's a wonderful comic to look at.

The price drops next issue, so if you've been squeamish about spending $3.50, pick up next issue for $2.99.  Plus, the first seven issues are being collected in a trade for 10 bucks.  If you like superhero comics, this is rapidly becoming one of the best.

Ex Machina #30 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

MarkAndrew made me doubt my enjoyment of this comic a bit, but this issue is a fine one, probably because it's Vaughan setting things up, which he's very good at.  We get the obligatory flashback, which doesn't appear to tie into the "present" story, but I guess it will eventually.  The main story deals with Pope John Paul II asking to meet Mitch, an invitation he decides to accept.  The first thing I thought is "Why?" which doesn't occur to Mitch until someone points it out to him.  Of course, there's a bad guy who is planning to assassinate the pope, using Mitch to do it!  Oh nos!

It's a good comic.  It has nice art, it has a gripping story, it does its thing.  If you like it, you're buying this.  If you don't, you made up your mind a long time ago.  Oh well.

Ghosting #2 (of 5) by Fred van Lente and Charles Carvalho.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

In case you missed the first issue of this mini-series, the second one has a nice recap on the inside front cover.  And then we're off!

When we left, our two female heroines - Maggie and Sarah - were locked in a crypt, with an apparently undead girl in there with them.  But it turns out it was just a robot!  Ha!  As we move through the book, it becomes more apparent that there's something very weird going on, and it's going to lead to tragedy.  I mean, just look at that cover.  That can't be good, can it?  This is actually a somewhat creepy issue, but the interesting thing is that we're still not sure if something supernatural is going on at all.  I mean, it looks like bad things are happening, but we've been led to believe that this stuff is all made up, so perhaps it means that it's still all made up.  Hmmmm.

It's a nifty book.  Nice art, an interesting story, and something weird going on.  And seeing fraternity punks get what's coming to them is never bad! 

Green Arrow and Black Canary Wedding Special by Judd Winick and Amanda Conner.  $3.99, DC.

This book has exactly one thing going for it: Conner's wonderful art (and even that's not perfect, as I'll point out).  It has one big debit: Winick's writing, which has reached a level of skill that seems to have stabilized, not unlike many long-time comics veterans, except that it's not very good.  It doesn't appear Winick is getting better, in other words, so if you like him, you're happy, but if you don't like him, you have no hope to ever like him.  I guess that's a shame, but at least it frees me from ever picking up a Winick comic even if he gets tapped to write that Looker mini-series that I'm sure is in the pipeline.  That's kind of a comfort.

The story itself isn't horrible.  It's the wedding of Dinah and Oliver, and a bunch of villains show up to disrupt the proceedings even though they know they can't win.  But that's okay, because Deathstroke (or someone working for him) does something not-very-nice to Oliver that is only revealed in the last few pages, leading to a cliffhanger ending that leads into the monthly title starring the newly-married couple.  In much the same way as the Justice League of America Wedding Special thing was (sheesh, how many wedding specials is DC planning?) and a lot of other DC books have been recently (going all the way back to Countdown), this is basically an advertisement for a new series (and let's ignore the continuity problems this has with a book that came out last week).  It's a weak story that is supposed to give Winick a chance to flex his characterization muscles and get us all interested in the new series.  That's not a terrible idea, but did they have to charge us 4 dollars for it?  At least we got to see Ted Kord get shot through the head for a measly dollar.

It's in the details that this falls apart, which isn't surprising, as most generic comics stand or fail on that.  Winick plugs in his Cliche-O-Matic, and we're off!  We begin with three pages summing up our heroes' long relationship, with all the standard platitudes you might expect.  Then the happy couple is arguing about who screwed up a fight and let the bad guys get away (the bad guys are unidentified, but it doesn't matter) and just when things are about to get really violent (Dinah slaps him because he brings up all the guys she's slept with), they start tongue-wrestling and ripping each others' clothes off.  This whole scene is dumb, because it's one of those things that you always see in "romantic" pot-boilers that have no basis in reality.  I'm so tired of watching a movie or a television show or reading something like this where the couple is about to come to blows and then they're screwing.  It's not clever.  Was Winick trying to make a joke about what a stereotype it is?  Oh, and Oliver bringing up all the men Dinah's boinked?  Tiresome.  Then, Dinah tells him she wants to wait to have sex until after the wedding.  Fair enough, even though he points out it's kind of stupid.  But she doesn't give any credible reason beyond she wants it to be "special."  That's kind of lame.  These aren't good characters, they're vehicles for Winick to make jokes about Oliver's blue balls.  And then they send out invitations to all their friends, and we get a full page of various recipients, most of whom joke about how the marriage will never work.  It seemed awfully familiar ... and why not? Winick used the same kind of thing 6 years ago to make kind of a similar joke, and it wasn't funny then.  It's not funny now, either.  In the last panel, Bruce Wayne tells Alfred he can't make it.  Later, he shows up during the fight, and says he didn't come for the wedding, but for the fight.  Is it possible for writers to make Batman anything other than a dick?  Wouldn't it have said so much more about the character if Bruce had said, without prompting from Alfred, "Sounds good.  I'll be there."  Just a tiny gesture like that would make the Dark Knight less of a dick.  Presumably Winick wasn't under pressure from DC Editorial to have Batman turn the invitation down.  He just goes along with the prevailing winds because he's not much of a writer.  Check out the portrayal of Batman in this week's Catwoman, as I've mentioned above, to get an interesting Batman.

Conner's art, as I pointed out, is the only nice thing about this comic.  Unfortunately, when we get to Dinah's dress, I had to stop and ask my wife what she thought of it, and we both agreed that it's a bit - how shall I put this? - whorish.  What the crap is up with that dress?  Why does she look like she purchased it at Wal-Mart's porn department?  Dinah is going to give Oliver the fucking of his life later anyway, so why does she have to look like a slut when she gets married?  It's a small bump in the road in an otherwise very nice-looking book, but it irked me.  (By the way, I'm only 36, not 75, and I'm pretty liberal.  I am, however, practicing to be a crotchety old man for when my daughter starts bringing boys - or even girls - home to meet me before she dates them.  I think I'll be pretty good at it!)

Finally, one question for the fanboys.  I absolutely LOVE the big two-page spread when the villains first attack, including the freakin' skunk attacking that green-and-black-clad chick.  Who the hell is the skunk?  It's awesome.

So.  Bad writing, pretty art, Dinah dressed like a whore for her wedding, a lead-in to a new series.  And a skunk.  All for 4 dollars.  You be the judge!

Gutsville #2 (of 6) by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving.  $2.99, Image.

It's been a while since issue #1 came out, and that's a shame, because this is the kind of book that demands close reading, and although Spurrier does a nice job bringing us up to date, both with the recap on the inside front cover and the actual dialogue in the book, it's still been a while, and it takes a few pages to get back into it.  It's still a fascinating comic, mostly due to Irving's excellent art, but also because Spurrier is so committed to this completely odd scenario.  We get more of the rivalry in the town itself, while Albert and the aborigine woman, Mary, head out to follow his map out of the beast.  Mary, we learn, has other plans.  What could they be?  And there's something lurking deep within the leviathan.  Something creepy ...

So it's a neat comic, but I wonder about Mary's explanation about why an Australian aborigine was on a boat back to Australia in 1850.  She tells Albert that in 1833, a bunch of raiders came to Oz and took the entire tribe back to England.  In 1850, the English sent them back to spread civilization to the other tribes.  It makes sense, except that England banned the slave trade in 1807.  Now, it's not clear whether the English were actually transporting the aborigines or even if they were actual slaves, but it's strongly implied.  It's a minor thing, but a bit annoying.

Other than that, this is just wacky enough to work, and the art makes the weirdness work even more.  I would, however, wait for the trade if you missed the first issue.  Who knows how long the actual issues will take to come out?

World War Hulk #4 (of 5) by Greg Pak, John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson.  $3.99, Marvel.

I'm very curious how this is going to end, because nobody is going to die, and I'm not sure how the Sentry is going to convince our hero to stop bashing people.  He actually takes a bit of a break from bashing people to force his prisoners to bash each other, which is still fun and excellent.

Two things: how does Tony control the machines?  He has no armor on.  Is he like Mitch Hundred?  Did I miss something?

Also: I like how one of the Hulk supporters outside MSG has a sign that reads "Gods HATES Socrcerers."  Is that deliberate, showing how dim-witted Hulk supporters are?  Or is it just a typo?  I hope it's the former.

Lots of bashing.  So much fun to read.

JLA/Hitman #1 (of 2) by Garth Ennis and John McCrea.  $3.99, DC.

In the credits, John McCrea dedicates this to his son.  I don't know what the story is, but I'd just like to send my condolences to him and his family.  My daughter almost died once, and we had a gut-wrenching time.  I can't imagine how it would feel if she had died, so I hope McCrea and his family are getting through it okay.

This comic is a return to Ennis's greatest creation - yes, even better than Jesse Custer!  Tommy Monaghan, of course, is dead, so this story is set in the past, as the Justice League needs a person who was infected by the Bloodlines virus (I guess it's a virus) because the creatures behind it are back and the JLA needs to figure out how to stop them.  Tommy was the only option they have, even though Batman finds him distasteful because he's an assassin.  He brings Tommy up to the Watchtower, berates Kyle because he teamed up with Tommy, and is then speechless when Superman greets Monaghan warmly.  Superman, of course, doesn't know that Tommy is a killer.  They decide they need his help anyway, but his blood yields no answers.  Before they can decide what to do next, the shuttle carrying the creatures crashes on the moon and negates everyone's powers.  Tommy points out that Superman flew out into the vacuum of space before his powers failed, and it might be nice to save him.  Cue cliffhanger ending!

The joy in reading this is getting one more Hitman story out of Ennis.  When Ennis is forced to pull back on the gore, he's an excellent writer of relationships and dialogue.  Tommy never tries to defend himself, but just by stating the truth about himself, he shows that the Justice League is made up of stuck-up prigs.  Ennis never denigrates the JLA, either, but he writes them in such a way that they're still heroes, yet they come off as dicks.  Superman and Green Lantern, who have met Tommy before, are portrayed pretty well - they have come to understand the moral relativism in the world, and that maybe Tommy is the lesser of two evils.  Batman is Batman, so it's not surprising he's all high-and-mighty, but Flash and Wonder Woman don't come off well at all.  Wally, especially, is a real asshole to Kyle - in fact, despite some funny lines he gets off, it's really the only part of the book that doesn't work too well.  I thought they were supposed to be friends?  It's interesting to contrast the assassin to the heroes, which is of course the point of the book.  The framing device - Clark Kent is telling this story to a reporter with his promise it will never see print - is also interesting.  Isn't Clark pretty much giving away the fact that he's Superman?  Maybe not, but any reporter worth anything could make the connection.

McCrea's art is slightly more refined than it was a decade ago, but it's still very nice.  He gives his characters some weight, and we believe we're actually seeing real people and not artists' ideals.  Yes, the heroes are buff, but not to the point where they're unrealistic.  He and Ennis have very good chemistry, and it's nice to see it hasn't gone away after some years.

I hope this comic sells well.  Maybe it will convince DC to bring the rest of Hitman out in trade.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Madman Atomic Comics #4 by Mike Allred.  $2.99, Image.

Allred actually gets moving on the story, and it's actually pretty interesting.  Frank is rescued in space (after Astroman leaves to attempt to return to Earth and fails) and discovers he's one of four beings who will save the universe.  He has to head off to Celestia, "the genesis of this universal cycle," where he will learn more.  It's all very cosmic and weird, but at least something happens, which is why I was thinking of dropping the book - in the first three issues, not a lot has happened, and Allred's writing isn't good enough to keep me interested when it's just metaphysical musings.  In this book, the metaphysical musings are mixed in with some plot development, and I can deal with it.  And the art is as spectacular as ever.  Plus, the first page shows downtown Portland, which was nice.

I guess I'll be back next issue to see where Allred goes with it.  I'm still not totally sold on the book, but at least it's going somewhere now!

Marvel Comics Presents #1 with stories by Marc Guggenheim and Dave Wilkins; Kathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger; Stuart Moore, Clayton Henry, and Mark Morales; Rich Koslowski and Andrea di Vito; and Nelson.  $3.99, Marvel.

I have wondered why the Big Two didn't try an anthology series for quite a while, and so I had to give this a chance, didn't I?  Marvel didn't completely follow my template for anthologies: get a huge name for the first story, get indie creators for the subsequent stories, keep the stories at single issues, and price it far cheaper than your other books because you don't need to overcharge for it.  Well, the biggest name in this book is probably Stuart Immonen (with Guggenheim second, I would imagine), and it's very interesting to read Rich Koslowski's take on Weapon Omega, but although I enjoyed every story in here, I can't imagine this lasting very long.  It doesn't have enough big-name talent to make it worth 4 dollars, and only two of the stories are one-and-done.  Guggenheim's story has a great deal of potential: it features nice painted art, it has a weird mystery, and it's the kind of thing I'd like to see more often, which is a police procedural set in the Marvel Universe, kind of like Gotham Central but even less concerned with the actual heroes.  We'll see if it turns out that way (it's going to feature heroes, there's no doubt about it), but even if it doesn't, it's an intriguing start.  The Immonen-drawn Hellcat story is fun and interesting, but the writing is a bit heavy-handed, and I'm going to put it down as a beginner's problem of over-writing, even though I don't know if Kathryn Immonen is a "beginner" or not.  The Moore/Henry Spider-Man story, in which he meets "Spider-Men" from other dimensions, is goofy and fun, and the Omega Flight story has some potential.  For me, the only story that was unnecessary was Nelson's Thing story, not because it was poorly done, but because all it did was show us that Alicia loves Ben and doesn't consider him a monster.  That's fine, but it's not anything terribly new or interesting.

Why can't Marvel, with money coming in from elsewhere, try to lower the price on this?  I'm sure the economies are beyond a simple person like me, but it just seems like something that would cry out for a lower price in order to get people reading.  Then, if people fall in love with a Kathryn and Stuart Immonen Hellcat, Marvel can start a regular series and charge regular price.  It makes sense to me, but I'm sure many people can tell me why I'm full of it.

New X-Men #42 by Christopher Yost, Craig Kyle, and Skottie Young.  $2.99, Marvel.

I've actually read the last two issues of New X-Men (mainly to keep up with the back-up stories) but was unimpressed.  I know they were the last parts of a longer storyline, but the writing was really convoluted, and Young's art was almost undecipherable.  But I wanted to give it a chance without coming in halfway through a story, so I thought I'd check this out.

First off, Young's art is much better than in the previous two issues.  He's much rougher (I can't recall if he was inking his own stuff in the last two issues, but if that's not it, it's just a change of style) and feels more substantial.  Plus, you can figure out what's going on, which is always helpful.  The nicest thing about the book is that the kids look like kids instead of small adults, and the adults look like adults.  It's a nice contrast and helps highlight the problems the children in the book are having with regard to their elders.

The story is simply a way to introduce the characters, and although Yost and Kyle do a decent job, the problems stem from the sheer number of characters.  Basically, the stretchy girl named Cessily is going around trying to figure out who the youngest mutant in the school is, because apparently the youngest mutant is a target of William Stryker and his Purifiers, who are still around.  This allows the writers to introduce us to everyone and show some of the tensions within the group, and they do a decent job.  It's just so much in such a short time, and this is one book where you have to keep flipping back to remember who that dude or girl is and what they can do.  A lot of the writing is quite sharp, and the book certainly keeps your attention, it's just a lot to process.  This was a problem in the Limbo story, because so many characters were fighting and interacting, and although Yost and Kyle do a nice job trying to rectify that, it's still an issue.  Or maybe it's just my problem.  Maybe nobody else has a problem with keeping these characters, their names, and their powers straight.  I am, after all, quite dumb.

It's a pretty nice book to check out as a sample, because it seems like the creators like the book a lot and are trying to do interesting things with it.  I'll have to check out the next issue (it's a two-part story) to see where they go with it. 

The Programme #3 (of 12) by Peter Milligan and CP Smith.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Three issues in should be enough time to decide if this is a comic you want to follow through to the end, and Milligan hasn't given me any reason to believe that he's going to drop the ball on this.  There's paranoia, mystery, some action, interesting interrogation techniques, and cool art.  It's not as dark as the first issue was, which is nice, and we're getting a better sense of the characters, which is also nice.  You're either buying this and liking this, you have no interest in it, or you're waiting for the trade.  And that's cool.

Repo #4 (of 5) by Rick Spears and Rob G.  $3.50, Image.

Whenever I start to feel comfortable with this mini-series, Spears does something that I just can't believe and messes it up for me.  This issue is fine, although I could do without the man throwing his shit on the second page (even if it is a dream).  KD and Emil follow Lola to the moon, where they attack her to steal the clone back.  This calls for a huge fight, and Rob G is up to the task, with nice action and plenty of blood.  They get the clone, but at the end of the issue, Lola regains the upper hand in a wonderfully perverse way.  It all sets up what's sure to be a horribly bloody finale, and Killian, whose clone it is, probably won't survive.  I mean, someone has to die horribly, don't they?

So what did I object to?  In the middle of the fight between KD and Lola (actually, you know, I'm not exactly sure it's KD - it could be Emil, because I've forgotten who's who), Lola gets all sad because KD slaps her.  She goes down and talks about how degrading it is and how he should be nice instead of staring at her tits all the time.  And he falls for it!  It's just so stupid to put that in the book at that moment - maybe if it had come earlier, before we (and, presumably, KD) knew what a sociopath she is.  I don't mind her trying it, but for KD to fall for it - no matter how much he thinks with his dick - is just idiotic.  As a writer (true, not a good one, but still), I wouldn't even consider having Lola say something like that, because it's just so silly.  It really disrupts the flow of the book, which is a shame.

We'll see how Spears ends this.  Ultra-violence, I imagine.

Terror, Inc. #2 (of 5) by David Lapham and Patrick Zircher.  $3.99, Marvel/MAX.

I enjoyed the first issue of this book, but figured that at 4 dollars a pop, waiting for the trade would make more sense.  Then Patrick Zircher showed up in the comments and wanted to know why I wasn't getting this, so I figured I'd check out one more issue just for fun.  My opinion hasn't really changed.  Lapham's story is (very) darkly humorous, with oodles and oodles of gore, and Zircher's art is stunning.  It's a bit of a rough ride, as Mr. Terror gets dissolved in acid and has to come up with a new body, but Lapham does a good job with it, especially when he takes the body of a drunken bully and begins manifesting some of his traits.  People get killed, things blow up, and it's all drenched in blood.  If you can deal with the insane violence, this is a pretty good comic.  I would still wait for the trade.

And I love Mrs. Primo.  She's awesome.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 (of 6) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

You know, this wasn't as weird as I expected.  When I read reviews, some people claimed Way was trying (and failing) to channel Morrison, but I didn't get that at all.  It's more like Fraction, what with the "scientician" stuff in it, such as mentioning that Sir Reginald invented the "Televator, The Levitator, the Mobile Umbrella Communicator, and Clever Crisp Cereal."  It's like an outtake from Five Fists of Science!  Having Bá on art strengthens the connection, of course.  Ultimately, this is a fairly straight-forward adventure story about seven extraordinary children who are adopted by Sir Reginald, who's really an alien, and forged into a fighting unit.  Way does a nice job with the main fight of the book, against an Eiffel Tower gone wild (I could have lived with Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffel, but oh well), and does a good job with the mysteries of the present, when the children have been scattered around the world.  It's a very cool comic, with Bá's art helping create that slightly off-kilter look that works great in a book like this.  I don't have any idea where the book is going, but it's a pretty neat beginning.

Wasteland #12 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $3.50, Oni Press.

This is kind of a fun book for me this week, because I still haven't read issue #11, which came out a few weeks ago (I don't know if my shoppe failed to order it or if Diamond screwed them over, but I'm still waiting for it).  So it's kind of neat to see if I can follow along despite missing an issue.  Can Johnston and Mitten help me out?!?!?

The recap does a nice job bringing us up to speed, and I noticed that the characters seem to be calling each other by name more often, which is nice.  The one problem I have had with this book is that everyone dresses the same and everyone has similar hair, so it's occasionally tough to tell people apart.  But the characters use names in this issue, and I found I was able to follow it more than I thought I would.  Johnston is still doing a fine job mixing in flashbacks with the present action, and he's been building the tension nicely throughout, and it explodes in this issue and will carry over to the next issue.  Mitten, as usual, does his excellent job with the art.  As I've mentioned, each issue gets a bit better, and it's very nice to see how this is coming to a head after the slow boil of the past few issues.  Johnston told me it sells pretty well, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't check it out!  I doubt if you'll be disappointed.

Zero Killer #2 (of 6) by Arvid Nelson and Matt Camp.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

The neat thing about this mini-series so far is that Zero isn't really mean, he just wants to be left alone.  Stark, the girl he rescued, wants to hang out with him (I mean, he's a good-looking guy, so why not?), but he wants nothing to do with her.  He's not rude to her (he does throw a knife at her, but it's just a warning), just completely uninterested.  Stark gets some information about him from Zero's friend Clarence, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Meanwhile, Nelson kicks the plot into high gear when a government helicopter is shot down and crashes into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  A courier on the helicopter was carrying some kind of "biological sample," and at the end, two men enlist Zero's help in finding it.  What could it be?  Why was the government flying it over the ruins of New York?  Does Clarence eat anything but cockroaches?  All these questions will be answered, and I'm sure the denizens of the ruins won't be happy about it.

Nelson has shown that he can handle building characters, and he's done a pretty good job so far with Zero and Stark.  The story may or may not take off and make this series worth it, but after two issues, he's created some interesting characters, placed them in an interesting (if somewhat cliched) setting, and given them a nice story to zip through.  So there's plenty of good reasons for me to come back.

Man, that's a ton of comics.  I didn't buy them all, but I still spent a ton of money.  But that's okay - it's all about the quality!  Why would you spend good cash on a Green Arrow/Black Canary yuck-fest when there's so much good stuff out there?

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