What I bought - 2 July 2008

Hey, look! It's another Morrison comic this week! How cool is that? Plus: More Jay Faerber than you might think you need! But can you really get enough Faerber? Of course not! And, because it's the United States' "birthday" (personally, 1781 or 1783 would have made a better year, but we're stuck with 4 July 1776, I guess), I'll tell you why each of these comics will make you a better American! Because isn't that what we all really want?

Batman #678 by Grant "Ooh, I'm so spooky!" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Morrison's Dark Knight book isn't perfect, but now that he's firmly into this storyline, it has a kind of wacky energy that makes it compelling. Morrison, after all, is a really good writer, so although this "I love the Silver Age" kick he's been on for the past few years is annoying, he's quite good at making Batman's most hallucinogenic adventures far more sinister than they have any right to be. The secret of Honor Jackson isn't too hard to figure out, and it's a bit disappointing that Morrison would stoop to using a "Magical Negro," but what it shows us about Bruce is interesting. The fact that Bruce is so clearly insane makes this a difficult book to get through, because there's no center - Batman has always been the center. With him adrift, there's a lack of equilibrium that makes reading this a slightly giddy experience. The first panel is confusing until we get to the second-to-last page, but that's part of the fun of reading a Morrison comic. If we consider the grand plot, it's a simple "bad guys take over the city" thing - nothing terribly special. But like any good writer, Morrison has twisted it to suit his purposes by picking at that scab that has always bugged us - what would drive this man, and wouldn't it take a psychological toll? The fact that he messes with Nightwing, too, is just some nice icing on the cake.

There are, of course, things that puzzle me. Honor gives Bruce his "best friend." We get Bruce looking down at something and a Pulp Fiction glow from below the panel. Given the prosaic nature of what he's looking at, should I just let this go as a Bruce hallucination? Or is there another theory about why we see the glow? Any takers?

After last week's good-but-less-than-thrilling Final Crisis and some terribly uneven issues of this title, Morrison is doing a good job with "Batman R.I.P." I even have nothing bad to say about Tony Daniel's art! How about that!

(I know I've been linking to him a lot lately, but Tim Callahan has annotations for this issue up, in case you're interested. Stinkin' smart guy Callahan.)

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: One of the villains is a mime. There's nothing more all-American than mime-hating!

Blue Beetle #28 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David Baldeón (penciller), Steve Bird (inker), Swands (letterer), and Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Who else thought the "beast" of El Paso was Gar Logan? Man, that would have been cool.

The second (and final) of Pfeifer's fill-in issues is somewhat like his first - well done, not terribly earth-shaking, but one that helps develop Jaime's character for future writers without forcing them into any kind of predicament. It's a nice little story that helps link Jaime to the original Blue Beetle, which is always nice. The fact that Jaime once again tries to solve his problem without fighting is always appreciated - Rogers did this more than once, and it's a breath of fresh air when a hero doesn't immediately start punching things. Jaime recognizes that the monster isn't necessarily trying to hurt him, and although what's going on is obvious from an earlier panel, it's still a charming story.

I am a bit confused why Hector's sweatshirt suddenly changes color from green to red. Was it colored green until the monster showed up, when they realized the green monster and green shirt would be too much, so they just changed it? I wonder ...

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: It's all multicultural and shit. Americans are all about multiculturalism! Plus, the only "real" American in the comic, Peacemaker, wants to shoot everything and ask questions later! Fuck yeah!

Dynamo 5 #14 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

Faerber throws an interesting spanner into the works, as the Dynamo 5 bunch has broken up and left Tower City in the hands of the bad guys, with only that mysterious character on the cover, who calls herself "Vigil," to stem the tide of eeeeeeeevilllll. The scenes set in the city are appropriately butt-kicking, but Faerber checks in on the kids themselves and shows why this is such an interesting comic. Livvie and her father have a conversation about the fact that Livvie's mom cheated with Captain Dynamo, while Hector can't understand why his mother betrayed the team (which led to Maddie's coma). The kids remain idealistic, but Faerber has done a good job bringing in more "real-world" issues, and Livvie's conversation with her father and Hector's mom's justification for doing what she did are nice examples of that. These are kids who are being forced to grow up quickly, and it's neat to see how Faerber is weaving this into a fun slam-bang action comic. As usual, there's a lot going on in this comic, and Faerber keeps it flying along. It's always good to read an excellent superhero book!

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: If there's anything more all-American than mime-hating, it's adultery and out-of-wedlock childbirth! That's the whole premise of this comic, for crying out loud!

Fables #74 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

This story arc, which began last issue, continues this issue, and ends next issue, is a classic example of why, although I love this comic, it has a problem. Very often in comics, less is more, but so far, this arc has suffered from an overabundance of Boy Blue's narration, which leeches a bit of the excitement out of the war. Page 2-3 are a wonderful spread of the Glory of Baghdad fighting the dragon horde that the Empire unleashed against it, and although Blue does give us vital information about how the flying ship is able to resupply itself with ammunition, the narration is a bit excessive. It feels as if there could have been a brief scene explaining how the ship gets its ammo without the 233 words that, frankly, clutter up Buckingham's beautiful art. I admire Willingham using only three issues to tell this story, but perhaps it could have been four. I suppose issue #75 will be double-sized (I can't remember from solicitations, because I never look at them for books I buy regularly), but this still feels a bit rushed, and the narration is a big hindrance.

It's a shame, because it really is a thrilling story. Pinocchio has something interesting to say about Geppetto, the Fables unleash their "secret weapon" on the imperial capital, and there's the initial air battle. It's a marvelous book to look at, and the war, which is going so well for our heroes (although it changes next issue, apparently), is a nice culmination of so much buildup. It's not that it's a bad issue, exactly, but for someone who is well rooted in the artistic side of comics, Willingham often has a tendency to write too much. Boy Blue should have shut up a little in this issue, and it would have been much better. Oh well. It's still a great comic. Just not as great as it could be.

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: This comic features a flying ship blasting hundreds of dragons out of the sky at once! "Dragons" are, of course, code for "Commies," and there's nothing more American than firing every single gun you have at once at Commies! Well, unless it's hating mimes while you cheat on your wife while firing every single gun you have at those filthy Commies!

Joker's Asylum: The Joker #1 by Arvid Nelson (writer), Alex Sanchez (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I got this solely because Nelson wrote it, but Sanchez's art is pretty decent, too, although because the Joker in the new movie has some sort of facial deformity (right?), apparently the DC Joker needs to have one too. I haven't seen much about the new movie except for commercials where they barely show Mr. Ledger, but he does have a deformity, doesn't he? Anyway, it's somewhat annoying, because I don't know why he would have one in the DCU. I'm sure I missed something important where it happened, right? Why didn't it have a "Signpost" on it? WHYYYYYYYY?

Anyway, despite the fact that the Joker taking over a game show and making the contestants run through their paces with the threat of death hanging over them has been done before, this is not a bad read, but it's not great, either. The biggest problem is that Nelson attempts to make the Joker sympathetic. Well, maybe not sympathetic, but definitely not as evil as he usually is. There's nothing inherently wrong with that idea, but by making someone else the "real" villains of the book, Nelson robs the book of some tension. Especially because the point he's making - that we're all guilty, from the people who put crap on television, to the people who participate in reality/game shows, to (gasp!) us, the viewer, who doesn't turn it off - isn't terribly original or even interesting. Whenever the Joker is portrayed somewhat sympathetically, we're always reminded that he's kind of, you know, a monster. The Joker in this book relies on his reputation to scare the crap out of people, but he's not really, in the final analysis, scary. That's a big problem in this book, because by the end, we're kind of on the side of a mass murderer. And as I pointed out, the "real" villains aren't that interesting.

Sanchez does a pretty good job with the craziness of the game show setting, and even though some of it looks a bit too photo-referenced, his Joker is suitably wicked-looking. If you're going to do a Joker book, you need to make your Joker creepy, and Sanchez is up for the task.

I'm not sure if there's anything linking these "Joker's Asylum" special (next week's is about the Penguin, and I might get it because it's a Jason Aaron/Jason Pearson joint), but as a standalone story, this is a mildly entertaining but ultimately disappointing comic. If it's the first part of a four-part story, there might be redemption, but I don't think that's the way it is. Such a tragedy of epic proportions!

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: Mindless consumption, whether it's of game shows featuring psychopaths or comic book, is the backbone of this great nation! It's what the Founders would have wanted!

Manhunter #32 by Marc Andreyko (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

After the big re-introduction to the world of Kate Spencer last issue, this issue is a lot of balls in the air kind of thing, as Kate and Blue Beetle discover that their costumes don't like each other (yes, that's what I wrote, and it's not as silly as you might expect) but come to a mutual understanding, the Joker rears his ugly head (and Dylan is somehow involved), a playful-looking but sinister dog shows up, Kate gets in a fight with her boss, and we get a glimpse of the evil person behind the murders. Well, at least some of the murders. There's a lot going on in this issue, but Andreyko does a good job of keeping everything moving along without leaving out anything we need. As I mentioned last time, Andreyko has become good at keeping sub-plots going while still concentrating on the main plot, and I appreciate it, because that's how real life works, after all. Kate's argument with Director Bones is interesting, as is her confrontation with the protestor at the factory. It's interesting because Andreyko, while making sure that Bones scores a good point, also makes us wonder the same thing about him as Kate does. Then, suddenly, we're thrust into a position where we're unsympathetic to a person who has concerns about his own welfare and chooses to voice that concern through a racist prism. It's an interesting twist, because Kate is shown as reasonable, but she's really just trying to use race to make her case, which is what the protestor is doing, in his own way. It's well done.

There's also the fact that the DEO knows something about the murders and Amanda Waller is somehow connected. It's an intriguing mystery as well as being a somewhat incisive comment on race. We don't see that too often in comics!

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: The protestor threatens a lawsuit. What's more American than that?

Noble Causes #35 by Jay Faerber (writer), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Ryan Vera (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

Jay Faerber is kind of an asshole in this comic, because he totally backs off last issue's cliffhanger, which was kind of stunning. It's a measure of how good this book is that it doesn't feel like a cheat, because it's something Gaia would do, so even though I shredded my copy when I got to the page where it is revealed that the reveal was nothing, I instantly regretted my decision and carefully pieced it back together again. Yes, such is the devotion I have for this title!!!

As usual, Faerber takes all the clichés of the superhero genre, throws them into a blender, and manages to spin something fresh out of it (or is that too much mixing of metaphors?). We've all seen the "traitor within" story, and although I like that part of the book, what's fun is when they capture Crucible, and he instantly figures out that they HAVEN'T blown his plans wide open, so he clams up. This allows the traitor precious time to achieve the objective - and add another layer of intrigue to the story, as we're left wondering how said traitor can do what happens at the end. How, Faerber, HOW?!?!?!?

This is just another well-constructed comic with all kinds of action, good art, and surprises on every page. If you don't believe me, the dude quoted on the back sounds like a reasonable, intelligent, undoubtably handsome guy. Trust him!

Why buying this book will make you a better American: In an effort to improve America's image overseas and help Turkey get into the EU, you should support Turkish artists. Both artists on Noble Causes and Dynamo 5 are Turkish, so that should shine our tarnished image somewhat. It's all about globalization, people!

Northlanders #7 by Brian Wood (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

You know that movie There Will Be Blood? Yeah, I didn't see it, because I suck (I REALLY wanted to!), so I don't know if there's any actual blood in it, but the title could easily apply to this issue. We knew there would be blood, and Wood and Gianfelice don't disappoint. I believe it was Chekov who wrote, "If you show a Viking in the first act, by the third act he better be gutting people with his big sword." That Chekov. Navigating the Enterprise and writing plays - what a Renaissance man!

Anyway, Sven and his allies, which now include those people he was feuding with for control of the Orkneys, fight the invading Saxons. There is a great deal of carnage. It's horribly beautiful to behold, as the rest of this book has been so far. Gianfelice does a magnificent job with it. Wood upends our expectations when he has the showdown between Sven and Gorm occur in this issue. Where will the book go from here? Well, it's interesting, because Wood has never deviated from the premise that Sven is not there to unseat Gorm and take his place, but simply reclaim his money and leave. Why wouldn't he choose to do what he does in this issue? This is a nice meditation on war and why we fight, and Sven continues to be a fascinating character because he's completely of his time, but also an anomaly. We don't expect someone to behave like he does, yet it feels right. I'm have no idea how this is going to end, but I'm looking forward to it very much.

I mentioned that DC is offering the trade in the latest Previews. If you've been waiting for it, buy it. It's an excellent comic.

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: Well, it's Saxons fighting Norsemen, so the ancestors of people who eventually colonized part of this country are featured, but it's all about defending your homeland from unwashed Saxon invaders! Just like the War of 1812, the most patriotic war EVER!

Station #1 (of 4) by Johanna Stokes (writer), Leno Carvalho (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Holy cow, it's the first issue of Station. It's only a year late, but it's good to finally see it. Chip Mosher sends us the new releases from Boom! so we can look at them early, and I always feel a bit guilty about not reviewing more of them. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I often don't have time. Plus, a lot of what Boom! puts out I'm just not interested in. Sorry, Chip! However, Station is one of those books that sounds absolutely killer - a murder on the international space station - the ultimate locked-room mystery! So I've been looking forward to it since it was solicited lo those many months ago.

Of course, when there's such a long build-up, the book itself is bound to be a disappointment, right? Well, thankfully, this is quite good. Stokes doesn't deviate from the murder-mystery formula - there are several suspects, there's some tension between those suspects, the murder is planned so that no one even knows it's a murder (until someone finds out toward the end of the book), and she throws in the fact that there's trouble with the space station that just might cause the environment to degrade, killing everyone on board. Man, that's rough.

Stokes does a good job with this. We get an everyman point-of-view character, a "space tourist" who gets to go to the space station by a fluke and then wishes he hadn't gotten to go. The actual murder is handled well, too, as the death kinds of sneaks up on the cast. It's a neat way to proceed. Carvalho handles the claustrophic atmosphere well, too. It feels cramped, which might not be something you want in a comic book, but it does add to the tone the book is setting.

I'm hoping the book leaves enough clues that it becomes a "fair-play" mystery. So far we have a few interesting clues, and we'll see if it continues. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: We can root for all the "international" members of the space station to die horribly, therefore leaving space open for conquest by Numero Uno!!!!!

Storming Paradise #1 by Chuck Dixon (writer), Jackson Guice (artist), Carrie Strachan (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

It's a Chuck Dixon World War II comic, so you know it's going to be excellent! Dixon begins by blowing up the atom bomb in the wrong place, killing all the scientists involved (Truman deadpans, "The eggheads in New Mexico got a decimal point in the wrong place"), so it's time for the invasion of Japan to end the war! This is basically a place-setting issue, as Dixon begins to move all the pieces into place. We get MacArthur planning the invasion, a Western priest in Japan whose youthful charges are pressganged into the Imperial Army, a bunch of G. I.s heading from Italy to the Far East, something bad brewing on a U-boat in the North Atlantic, and John Wayne reporting for duty. Yes, John Wayne. I wonder what Dixon is going to do with him, because we don't see his face clearly in this issue. Is that going to continue? Weird.

Anyway, it looks great, as is perhaps not surprising with Guice drawing it, and it's a good start. I have plenty of faith in Dixon, because the last two war comics I've read by him (The Iron Ghost and Team Zero) have both been pretty darned good books. So why wouldn't I trust him to make this good?

Why buying this comic will make you a better American: Are you kidding? JOHN MOTHERFUCKING WAYNE is in this comic book!!!!!

I hope everyone who celebrates America's birthday (that's everyone in the world, right?) has/had a great day, eating hamburgers and complaining about the hated politician of your choice. Now that's America! Now here's your totally random lyric of the day:

"I still remember it was autumn and the moon was shiningOur '60 Cadillac was roaring through Nebraska whiningDoing 120 man the fields was bending overHeading up for the mountains knowing we was traveling furtherAll the fires were blazing and the spinning wheels were turning turningHad my girlfriend beside me, brother, she was burning burning"

It's a great American tune, man! That's the only clue you get!

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