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What I bought - 2 August 2006

Now this is what I call a good comics-reading week!  I bought a baker's dozen of books, read all but one of them, and enjoyed the hell out of most of them.  There's something for everyone this week, people, so if one doesn't strike your fancy, simply move on to the next!  And fret not - I will warn you away from those books that, sadly, just don't work.  That's what I do for you, the good readers!

Agents of Atlas #1 (of 6) by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, and Kris Justice.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

First up we have the highly-anticipated (at least by me) Agents of Atlas, which is the kind of book I really hope does well, because there's no reason Marvel can't publish these kinds of books within their own universe.  Marvel has been pretty lousy at creating "separate" universes from the main Marvel domain (Epic lasted a while, MAX and Icon have become places where very specific creators can play), which has limited them to superhero stories, and although this book has the whiff of superheroes, it's a madcap spy caper with, you know, a talking gorilla.

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Okay, if you haven't run out and bought the book already just because I used the magic words "talking gorilla," then you have a dark spot in your soul where you fantasize about felching puppies.  But that's okay - perhaps you need a bit more to see if this book is for you!  It is, of course, a set-up issue, but we are thrown right into the world of 1958 when Gorilla Man (okay, I'll call him Hale from now on, since that's his name) revisits how Jimmy Woo put together a crack force of heroes to rescue President Eisenhower from the clutches of the Yellow Claw.  The rescue is pulled off with aplomb (and we get a funny scene where Eisenhower is being "held captive" by three scantily-clad Asian women and doesn't appear all that enthusiastic about getting back to Mamie) and then we're in the present, as Hale is explaining to some SHIELD mucky-mucks about the team disbanding and going their separate ways.  Dugan and a Wakandan, Derek Khanata, are talking to Hale because Jimmy Woo went off on an unauthorized mission against something called the Atlas Foundation, and he was the only one of his team to come out alive, but badly burned over most of his body.  They don't know what Woo was doing, but SHIELD would like very much to know.  Hale obviously knows more than he's letting on, because that night he, along with M-11 the Human Robot and Marvel Boy, bust Jimmy out of the SHIELD facility and dunk him something that restores not only his health, but his youth as well.  Cue the foreboding music!

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This is a fun book through and through.  The early pages, showing Eisenhower's rescue, are full of manic energy without being too goofy, while the present day scenes are sufficiently cynical without being too dark.  The scenes of the attack on Jimmy's team, seen through a helmet camera a la Aliens, are just spooky and mysterious enough.  And, of course, there's the team and their connection to the Atlas Foundation.  Ooh, a mystery!

It's obvious Parker is having a lot of fun with this book.  Kirk, coming off his work on Batman, looks a little looser (perhaps the inks have something to do with that) and vaguely reminiscent of Stuart Immonen (before he changed his style).  It's a very cool book with a lot of potential.  I will be here for the next five issues, and I'm looking forward to them.  A lot.

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The Creeper #1 (of 6) by Steve Niles, Justiniano, and Walden Wong.  $2.99, DC.

 

Okay, so talking gorillas just aren't your thing?  How about a story of a genetically-altered insane thing that comes back from the dead?  How about that?

Steve Niles takes a back from innumerable vampire comics and zombie comics to bring us ... well, a zombie comic, but not really a "normal" zombie comic.  It's DC, after all, and it's the Creeper!  Jack Ryder, obnoxious television host, goes to visit Dr. Vincent Yatz, who has developed "nanocell" technology that will regrow dead cells to help such people as burn victims (more burn victims - perhaps that's what they used on Jimmy Woo!).  However, the doctor's financiers want the formula to make a wad of dough, and they're willing to kill for it.  Jack stumbles into this mess and tries to get out of it, but the doctor injects him with what he says is the last sample of the stuff.  The bad guys think they can just get the doctor to replicate his work, so they shoot Jack in the head and dump him off a cliff.  At the bottom, a strange transformation takes place, and a weird apparition that calls itself the Creeper rises from the place where Jack Ryder was and wreaks some vengeance, laughing horribly all the time.  He discovers that he can change at will, too, which is kind of handy.  Vengeance wreaked, the Creeper bounds off into the night.  Who knows where he will turn up next?!?

Boy, if I didn't know better, I'd swear this reads a lot like an origin issue.  But DC knows that we know the Creeper has been around for a long time and we all know it's Jack Ryder and that he's a jerk and the Creeper is pretty much insane, right?  They wouldn't just use some universe-altering event to reboot a character using the same person as he's always been, would they?  They couldn't be that crass, could they?

Oh, come now - if we've learned anything from DC and Marvel recently, it's that "crass" is stenciled on their front doors!  I didn't read that Brave New World thing, but I assume they laid the groundwork for this book there, right?  Right?  Because this doesn't say anything about a "new origin" of the Creeper, it just dives right in.  So what's up, DC folk out there who shelled out one thin dollar for BNW instead of buying something from the Wendy's value menu?  What's the deal?

So how's the book, you might ask.  Sheesh - what do you want from reviews, opinions?  Okay.  It's pretty darned good, actually.  Niles is a good writer for this, because he has a good head for horror, and this is slightly horrific, especially when the Creeper makes his appearance.  I didn't like Justiniano's art in The Human Race, but I did in Day of Vengeance, and here he continues that fine work, with his Creeper leaping off the page and his Gavin Sullivan, the burned boy who goes a bit berserk, freaking me out.  I'm still wondering if he's a Brazilian soccer player or a pop icon, because of the one-name thing, but his work has improved every time I've seen it, and he works well on this book.  It would be nice if he could get through all six issues without needing help, but we'll see.

Another neat book using a Z-list character.  Wait for the trade if you like, but check back here in six months to see if the rest of it lives up to the first issue!

Detective Comics # 822 by Paul Dini, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher.  $2.99, DC.

 

Well, we got one big issue out of J. H. Williams III (to be fair, he was working hard doing Zorro sketches at the SDCC, so let's all give him a break!), but I really hope this means stupid Seven Soldiers #1 will be out this year, so I'm willing to let it slide for a bit, especially if Dini keeps writing cool stories like this.  Having the Riddler as a consulting detective (the story is called "E. Nigma, Consulting Detective") is a freakin' brilliant idea.  I would buy a series with the Riddler as a detective.  Why the hell not?  He's a genius, and he wouldn't have to leave clues for Batman all the time.  Plus it would piss Batman off, and that's always a good thing.  Allow me to be the first to call for a Mike W. Barr-written Riddler series.  Together we can change the face of the comics landscape!

Oh, the issue.  Again?  You people!  Once again Dini gives us a meaty little mystery, as a woman who Bruce Wayne dated a few times turns up dead and the Riddler insists the police accompany him to Wayne Manor to scare our Bruce with accusations.  This leads to a couple of annoying things about the issue: the Riddler's convenient amnesia so that he has forgotten that Bruce is Batman, and the status of Gordon and Batman's relationship.  Gordon seems to know, or at least suspect enough that he can make reference to it, that Bruce is Batman.  I know he doesn't - or does he?  What's the current status quo in this here DCU?  Can't they just get it out in the freakin' open?  Gordon's not stupid.

Anyway, the Riddler and Batman clash egos over the case, as they must.  They work on it together, and Dini gives us some very nice character moments between both men and shows us that Batman still knows the city better than anyone.  I want to see the story where Batman hangs out in the S & M club - you know that's a good one!  We get a few clues, but again, this isn't much of a detective story, because there's only one suspect for the longest time, and the other, vague references to another suspect only pan out when Batman solves the case.  Like last issue, I'm not going to harp on that too much, because I don't really care that much, I just felt like pointing it out.  It's certainly very nice to see an entire issue where Batman doesn't really have to hit anyone.  I mean, he scares the crap out of the dead woman's boyfriend, but he doesn't get in a fight with anyone.  Good to see.

Dini is doing a very nice job with the "detective" aspect of Batman - even though we don't get all the clues, Bats isn't just going around beating on people until they give up a name.  Even though we get the Riddler in this issue and Poison Ivy next and it would be nice to see different villains, the fact that the Riddler is the good guy (or at least not a bad guy) in this issue gives me hope that Dini will attempt different things with Batman's Rogues' Gallery.  Another very cool issue.

Come on, DC - The Riddler #1 by Mike W. Barr and, let's see ... Tim Sale could knock this out of the park.  What's your creative team for the new E. Nigma monthly series????

A Dummy's Guide to Danger #1 by Jason M. Burns and Ron Chan.  $3.25, Viper Comics.

 

Oh dear.  I'm torn about A Dummy's Guide to Danger.  It's well written, and the art is solid if unspectacular.  And you can't go wrong with that cover: "Murder!  Intrigue!  Ventriloquist Puppets!"  Sold!

This is the tale of Alan Sirois, a private investigator in Los Angeles.  Alan is apparently quite a good private investigator, with one small quirk: he has a paraplegic ventriloquist's puppet as his partner.  Yes, you read that right.  Mr. Bloomberg has a bullet lodged in his spine, which renders him unable to walk.  If you were to point out that as a ventriloquist's puppet, he would be unable to walk anyway, I would tell you to shut your piehole - that's the genius of it!  Anyway, it's fun because Mr. Bloomberg appears to be the "brains" of the operation - he figures out a perplexing clue in the course of the story - while Alan is the brawn.  They bicker like an old married couple, which makes the story even more bizarre yet adds a touch of realism to the proceedings.  Then there's Alan's friend (girlfriend?) and reporter contact, Teri, who meets him for dinner to discuss his latest "case," which began when a body in a car crashed through his window.  They have a nice conversation and it's obvious they have some chemistry, and it's a good idea to have Teri defend Alan and his unorthodox methods when a rival criticizes him.  It's a nice moment in the book.

But.  But.  Oh, the case that Alan works on.  Oh dear.  First, we are introduced to Alan and Mr. Bloomberg when they are threatening a big fat dude who is apparently a child molester and killer.  Alan doesn't find the girl in time, and that is just a taste of what's to come.  The new case, involving a serial killer, begins when a body in a car crashes through Alan's wall into his office.  It's an award-winning actress ... without a head.  Alan gets a clue while at dinner, as the killer (presumably) calls him and tells him where to go for the next victim.  The last page of the book shows the corpse, strung up, almost naked, and mutilated.  Oh dear.

I don't want to go all "Women in Refrigerators" here, and I understand that if you're going to write a comic book about a serial killer, you're probably going to have to have female victims, because serial killers tend to kill women.  I don't have an issue with the fact that women are killed brutally in the story.  I also don't have a problem with the girl at the beginning - we never see her, and it shows that Alan doesn't always succeed, which is interesting.  But, I foresee an issue in the future in which Teri is menaced.  It has to happen, doesn't it?  And either Alan has to rescue her, which will be annoying, or Teri gets killed, which will ruin this book for me.  I hope that Burns resists the temptation, but I doubt he will.  Grrrr.

It's a good book, and the premise is very interesting, but I have reservations.  Please, Jason Burns, resist!!!!!

Emissary (Jim Valentino's, that is) #2 by Jason Rand, Juan Ferreyra, and Clayton Brown.  $3.50, Image.

 

Last issue, because I'm an idiot, I wondered why Jim Valentino's name was above the title.  Obviously, it's because he created the damned character.  I am often stupid.

Things calm down in issue #2 after the wildness of the first one, but Rand continues to impress with his dialogue, especially, as for most of the book we have talking heads while the FBI interviews the Emissary.  They get very frustrated because the Emissary can't really communicate with them all that well, but they learn that he can simply will books to appear and can read them pretty darned quickly, so presumably soon he will be able to talk to them and explain his whole deal.  Meanwhile, outside the FBI building, a group of protestors have gathered to proclaim the Emissary the Messiah.  That doesn't bother me too much, but Rand falls into the old trap of having the supposed Christians riot.  Oh, those wacky peace-loving Christians, always rioting and killing people!  It would have been actually better if Rand hadn't made them Christians, but just a bunch of people intent on worshipping the Emissary.  Oh well.

Ferreyra does his usual stellar job with the art, again, despite the lack of action for most of the issue.  Ferreyra is particularly good with making each person distinctive, and he continues with this, showing the frustration of Agents Bright and Lee as they interview the impassive Emissary.  It's fun reading their words, but it's also fun to watch their faces change as they get grumpier and grumpier.

I'm still wondering about the change of writers starting after the first four issues, but for now, I'm enjoying the book.  Maybe Rand pissed off Valentino because he said he hated Shadowhawk.  I will decide what to do with the book after the fourth issue.  We'll see.

Ex Machina #22 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

 

Ah, Ex Machina.  How do I love thee?  There's the fact that a woman set herself on fire on the steps of City Hall last issue, and that's a bit of a problem.  There's the fact that the press doesn't care about that but only wants to know if Mitch still smokes pot.  There's the fact that Todd Wylie, the fireman who Mitch married to his boyfriend a while back, lets Mitch know about a black man posing as a fireman and robbing apartments, as well as the fact that he was cheating on his "husband."  There's the fire in the building at the end and the firemen who try to get a man out of his apartment, even though that man believes they aren't really firemen and are there to rob him.  The shit hits the fan with that, you can believe it.  There's the fact that even though Todd is a cheater and Mitch took a stand and performed a wedding ceremony for him, Mitch says "your kind" when referring to homosexuals, and with those two small words, Todd is able to seize the moral high ground.  Tiny shifts like that are why Ex Machina is such a great book.  And don't think I missed the absolutely creepiest panel in comic book history!  Okay, maybe not, but it's pretty icky.  I don't want to ruin it for you.  It's too icky!  Icky icky icky!

Harris' art looks a bit less crisp than usual.  Don't tell me he's getting behind schedule!  Isn't that what that two-issue "Special" was for?  Sheesh.

What a good book.  Twenty-two issues in and going strong!

Fallen Angel #7 by Peter David and J. K. Woodward.  $3.99, IDW.

 

Ah, Fallen Angel.  How do I love thee?

Oh, wait.  I already did that.  Okay, moving on.

Peter David's two-part flashback story (which I did not realize was a flashback last issue and still am not sure how we can tell it's a flashback) concludes with a bloodbath.  There's no other way to put it.  Lee shows up at the city where the women and children of the tribe were taken last issue as punishment for their failures.  She is accompanied by Ayr, the girl who was left behind last time.  There are a couple of funny moments, as there are in Peter David comics, including a man who gets killed when Lee - wait for it - throws a dead horse at him.  Whoo-hoo!  She enters the city and confronts the entire army.  It's a nice moment when Lee sends Ayr away to find her mother and not witness the scene, because she tells Ayr that sometimes vengeance is not nice to see.  Then, she kills everyone.  Brutally.  With a sword.  Beautiful.

Then Lee finds the real ruler of the city, who happens to be another fallen angel.  This is a very neat scene by David, as Rahab (the angel) tells Lee that all the angels will fall eventually, and that she should kill herself before she is driven into despair like Rahab has been.  It's a very nice exchange that, of course, foreshadows the life that Lee now leads.  Another interesting piece of the puzzle.

As usual, this is an excellent issue.  They pretty much all have been.  Yes, they're spendy, but  it's one of the best books out there.

The story in the back (a preview of Steven Grant's CSI book starring comics professionals), is rather funny.  Grant takes shots at Quesada, Rich Johnston, and pretty much everyone at the convention - some guy tells Beau Smith to "say something manly," which is how Beau Smith must always talk!  It looks fun.

Oh,before I forget - Lee kills some guy by throwing a dead horse at him!!!!  What more do you need?

Manifest Eternity #3 by Scott Lobdell and Dustin Nguyen.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

 

Now, some people in the past have accused me of liking everything, to which I reply: "Get me books for free, and I'll hate some of them.  If I'm buying, I'm getting things I'm pretty sure I'll like."  But occasionally I have high hopes for a book but it just lets me down.  This week's exhibit: Manifest Eternity!

I have liked but not loved the first two issues of the series, and that blah feeling has come over me yet again, and I don't like that blah feeling.  Lobdell, it seems, is trying too hard, and this book is coming off as too ambitious.  We catapult forward 25 years, and the war between realities is still raging.  We witness a space battle between starships and big dragons, and the way the "good guys" (our reality, I suppose) defeat the dragons is inspired.  We see a daring rescue that turns out to be a trap, and we witness the way the trap is escaped.  It's all very interesting, but it leaves me feeling cold.

Part of it is Nguyen's art, which is still far too muddled to be really that good.  In some panels everything is so dark that we're not really sure what's going on.  Part of it is the scope of the story, which doesn't allow us to connect with any character.  In an epic, we need to have a character to relate to.  Ask George Lucas, who had Han Solo in the first trilogy and nobody in the second group.  Ask Tolkien, who threw some goofy hobbits into an epic and ignored several big battles to follow Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo around.  There's nobody so far in these three issues that we relate to.  And the book suffers.

I may - MAY - pick up the fourth issue as a last resort.  But I probably won't.  Shame.  I want to like it.  Really I do!

Moon Knight #4 by Charlie Huston, David Finch, and Danny Miki with Allen Martinez and Victor Olazaba.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

But just when you think I've completely changed the way I feel about the comics I buy and will become a hate-filled cynic, I read Moon Knight and fall in love with the medium all over again!

Yes, Moon Knight continues to be awesome.  Awe.  Some.  Huston's story is simmering, which might be too slow for some people, but those are the people who think Date My Mom is the pinnacle of Western Civilization.  So deal with it!  Marc confronts Khonshu and does some serious hallucinatin', but he does get back on his feet.  We think this is a triumphant moment, but Marlene shows up to smack him back down to reality - Frenchie is still in the hospital, and nobody cares about Marc.  She also points out that he could always stand, but didn't want to because it was too hard, and everything had always been easy for him.  It's a powerful moment in the book - Huston wants to not only break Marc Spector down to build him back up, but get to the roots of why he failed in the first place.  It wasn't Bushman crippling him, it was the fact that he failed in the first place.  If heroes fail, they get back up rather easily, but for Marc, the journey is much harder and he has lost anyone he has ever cared about.  It's an interesting psychological trip he's taking, and of course, outside events spur him into action.  We also get more insight into his character, as Huston points out that even though he's a simple "Batman knock-off," his relationship with Khonshu makes him more unpredictable.  Finally, Taskmaster shows up.  Yay, Taskmaster!  It's nice to see that Huston remembers Marlene can kick some ass, too, as she goes straight for him.  He's Taskmaster, however, and takes her down.  Next issue: the big throw-down!

Moon Knight is quickly becoming one of my favorite books.  It's dark, sure, and grim-n-gritty, but it's compelling and really a fascinating character study.  I'm very keen to see where Huston goes with Marc and the gang.  Oh, and Finch's art is Finch's art.  As usual.  I like it, but your opinion may vary.

Noble Causes #22 by Jay Faerber, Jon Bosco, and Ron Riley.  $3.50, Image.

 

Speaking of one of my favorite books, Noble Causes came out, and although it has slipped a notch because of the still-not-very-good art, Faerber remains a master at telling several cool stories and making them all compelling and tying them all together.  So, in this issue, Rusty and Zephyr confront Frost about his theft of the device that robbed Race of his powers, which surprises him because he didn't know what it was used for; Celeste helps Race try to get his powers back because she wants to put him in her debt; Frost lies about knowing thar Rae was a robot; Doc tries to figure out what to do with Rae's parts while Liz asks him about Race and how she can get through to him.  It's all linked, and it makes each individual story all the more interesting.  After the first twelve issues, Faerber introduced the Blackthornes, and he's done a nice job integrating them into the Nobles' world while still keeping sub-plots from long ago simmering.  The only problem I have with the issue is that Rusty and Zephyr fall into the obligatory beating on the bad guy instead of just asking him what's going on when they beat on Frost, but Frost is, after all, kind of a jerk.  I know that it adds a nice bit of action to the story, but it still bugs me when it happens.  A minor complaint, though.

Noble Causes, as usual, flies under the radar because of, say, Invincible, but it remains one of the most consistently good and cool books out there.  The trades are out there, people!

Of Bitter Souls #1 by Chuck Satterlee and Norm Breyfogle.  $3.50, Markosia.

 

I'm a bit grumpy about Of Bitter Souls.  The old series, published by Speakeasy, never finished and was simply released as a trade.  So I ordered it, and stupid Amazon.com tells me they can't find it.  So I don't have it yet, and the new series comes out.  So I'm a bit lost, even though Satterlee does a pretty good job of recapping the events from the mini-series.  Still, I'm grumpy.  Stupid Speakeasy and their stupid going out of business!

I'm a bit disappointed by Of Bitter Souls.  On the one hand, Breyfogle's art is always nice to see, and his sense of motion remains excellent.  I also like the fact that Satterlee has explicitly made this a Christian morality tale without beating us over the head with it.  Pastor Secord, who brought our four heroes together, is not necessarily preaching to them, but he is trying to set a Christian example for them as he prepares them battle the forces of evil at the End of Days.  It's a book steeped in Christian good-versus-evil philosophy, but it still manages to avoid preachiness.  The fact that the four heroes he gathered in the first series break up and try to handle the revelation about what Secord has planned is nice, too - they don't all handle it terribly well.  So the premise remains intriguing, although the fact that it turns into a zombie book at the end doesn't bode well.  I'm sick of zombies!

The problem with the book is that despite the premise, it's not terribly compelling.  Satterlee doesn't take much time to delve into each character's problems with what they've learned, and they jump back into the fray quickly enough.  Yes, it's a dramatic situation and they realize that only they can stop it, but it feels forced - we know that they're coming back, so in the early part of the book there's not a lot of drama over whether they will or not.  I know that this is a small book that needs to grab readers, but compare it to Moon Knight, where Huston is taking his time and really finding out what makes Marc Spector tick.  This book doesn't do that, because there are zombies to fight!  It's far too speedy, and that weakens it.

Oh, and heroin the drug is not spelled "heroine."  Where's the freakin' editor?????  That stuff bugs the hell out of me.

Uncanny X-Men #477 by Ed Brubaker, Clayton Henry, and Mark Morales.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

The nice thing about something like Uncanny X-Men is that it's review-proof, not unlike a big, ridiculously stupid summer movie.  I mean, everyone knows Mission: Impossible III is going to be stupid, but nobody cares!  Therefore, I can skip telling you whether it's any good or not to ponder the great unponderables of the comics universe!

Like: why exactly does this storyline exist????

The guy who works at my local comics shoppe (the same one who got the Zorro sketch by J. H. Williams - see how I tie everything together?) mentioned that this is coming out every two weeks so they can cram a 12-issue story into as little time as possible, because some readers are bailing on the book because they don't like "X-Men in space" stories.  This led me to wonder why Marvel published this in the first place, especially in a big 12-issue arc.  Brubaker doesn't have that much power, does he?  I mean, they're letting him write that noir thing with Sean Phillips, so he should be grateful and not simply take a character from a mini-series he wrote (with really ill-explained powers, by the way - I'm sick of these mutants whose powers consist of "doing everything with energy really well") and have him fly off to destroy an alien empire with very little connection to Earth.  I mean, couldn't they have said, "Um, Ed, we love you and all, but can't you write a, I don't know, mutant story instead of a science fiction epic?"  This is a decent enough issue, and I told Robert (the guy at my store) that I started buying it again because of Brubaker, but I can believe that a lot of people would be dissatisfied with the story.  So why did Marvel greenlight it?

I'm just asking hypothetically, of course.  I find these kinds of things fascinating, especially in a business where a corporate structure exists to put the kibosh on stories if that corporate structure deems it necessary.  I guess Brubaker has a lot of freedom, but why?  How has he earned it, exactly?

This is, as I said, a decent enough issue.  I don't really care all that much about Vulcan, so an entire issue devoted to him isn't all that interesting.  Clayton Henry does an okay job on the art (Billy Tan made it twice as long as J. H. Williams!  Whoo-hoo!), but it's kind of a lackluster issue after the first two grabbed my interest.  In two weeks (I guess) we get the Imperial Guard.  Sigh.  Has anyone ever told Gladiator he's hopelessly out of style?  Wouldn't that be cool if someone did next issue? 

MINI-SERIES I BOUGHT BUT DID NOT READ.

Mouse Guard #4 (of 6) by David Petersen.  $3.50, Archaia Studios Press.

 

Boy, I'm looking forward to reading this.  Buy Mouse Guard, people.  It can be your penance for buying New Avengers!

Man, what a week.  If you don't like talking gorillas, you can read about creepy insane laughing zombies.  If that's not your thing, you can read about detectives - both the costumed kind and the kind that talks to a wooden dummy.  Or you could read about mysterious messiahs.  Or political maneuverings.  Or disgraced angels taking terrible vengeance.  Or far-off space wars.  There's always weird crippled heroes talking to Egyptian gods!  Aren't comics awesome?

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