What I bought - 2 May 2007

Not a lot of books today, but Welcome to Tranquility finished its first arc, which means I'm going to dissect the mystery.  This means plenty of SPOILERS below the fold.  I was very tempted to buy the last issue of 52 just to see what was what, but I didn't.  So let's check out what I got!

Checkmate #13 by Greg Rucka, Judd Winick, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson.  $2.99, DC.

As the first part of a crossover with The Outsiders (which means I'll be buying that book for a while, even though I have no desire to), this is a perfectly competent comic book, but as a story, it's a bit weak.  Essentially, Checkmate takes down the entire team except Nightwing, for whom Sasha has a plan (which works, incidentally).  Why?  Well, this is the weak part of the issue.  Sasha tells Mr. Terrific that the Outsiders did something in Mali.  They put "Allon into power in place of Bennin."  She then tells him not to forget "their little party at Telistocc," where it took "two Green Lanterns and Superman to contain the fallout."  Mr. T begins to say that it was Sivana, but Sasha interrupts him and yells, "It was a damn nuke!"  So apparently the Outsiders have been doing rotten things.  The events Sasha refers to are a bit vague, and, as usual, all I want is a footnote telling me where they happened.  I assume this has something to do with 52.  I don't necessarily want to read 52, but a reference would be nice.  Why do DC and Marvel assume you read every single one of their books?

Other than that, it's a fairly palatable issue of Checkmate scooping up Outsiders.  It's cleverly done, and we see the resources that our little spy organization has access to.  It's tough to say if it's a good issue to get if you only read one title or the other, because I think Rucka will make this storyline have lasting ramifications for Checkmate, but I can't be sure.  If it's just a crossover with the other comic and nothing much happens beyond that, it's just not worth the trouble.  We'll see.

Joe Bennett is Brazilian, by the way.  Why, in this day and age, do artists feel the need to Anglicize their names?  Didn't that go out in the 1950s and early 1960s, when Stan Lee decided he didn't want to sound "Jewish"?  His real name is Benedito Jose Nascimento.  Would people not give him work if his name didn't sound "American"?  It's weird.  Does anyone know the story behind this (Mike Deodato, too, is not named "Mike Deodato")?  I'm curious.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1 (of 6) by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

This comic was a pretty easy winner of the commenters' picks, with only Jonah Hex coming anywhere close.  I didn't buy Jonah Hex because I bought the first few issues and thought that, although they were decent comics, they all fell pretty quickly into a fairly standard pattern.  I appreciated the shortness of the stories, but the variety was weak.  So I dropped it.  Just so you know.

Anyway, I'll probably get in trouble for this, but I can't really recommend this comic book.  That isn't to say it's not a good book, but there's no point in buying this in single issues.  I know it's going to be collected in trade.  You know it's going to be collected in trade.  Mike Mignola and Dark Horse know it's going to be collected in trade.  And this issue, although setting the stage well, is too confusing to be a very good stand-alone issue.  Some beginnings of mini-series work as single issues.  This doesn't.  So what's the point of getting it in single issues?

Don't get me wrong: it's an interesting issue.  Fegredo's art is stunning, and he and Mignola give the entire book a weird and moody atmosphere that is certainly creepy (which is a good thing).  It's an intriguing set-up, as Hellboy rests in England but soon discovers that dark forces are gathering to vex him, and it all has to do with a witchfinder from the 17th century, who (shocking!) was exposed as a hypocrite when he was caught schtupping a "witch" who happened to be married to a rich and powerful man.  But it's all very vague, and I guess it's a credit to Mignola that I want to know what's going on right now.  Which is why I would rather wait for the trade.  I can wait a few months to read the entire thing, but having read the first chapter, I want the rest right now.

There are certain comic books that just don't work as single issues.  This is one.  It's a beautiful and intriguing book, but you should wait for the trade.  It will be cool.

The Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca.  $3.99, Marvel.

The point has been made, but it's worth making again: Joey Q doesn't like Peter's marriage because, apparently, he doesn't think there's any dramatic tension in it.  Joey Q presumably read this comic book, so perhaps he will come to understand that if you have a good writer, any situation can work, and if you have a sucky writer, it doesn't matter if Peter is single or not - the stories are still going to suck.  There are plenty of story opportunities with a married Peter Parker, and although none of them involve the hilarity of Peter running off from a date because he has to become Spider-Man, leaving his flummoxed girlfriend to pick up the check, hasn't that avenue of Spidey stories been driven on enough?  Can't we all grow up a bit?

That's a roundabout way of saying this comic, which is light on the action but heavy on the soul-searching, is a nice way to put the Parkers' marriage in perspective.  Peter needs Mary Jane, or he would go insane.  It's not enough anymore for him to be Spider-Man because "with great power comes great responsibility" - during the great Amazing Spider-Man run of the #230s-280s, there were a few stories about how the responsibility was crushing him.  Mary Jane gives him a tangible reason for doing these things, and Fraction understands that.  They are a team, and there's no reason why a writer can't write stories about a mature relationship in a superhero comic.  You know what single Peter Parker, with girls constantly wondering where he's running off to, is?  A comic book character for adolescents.  I guess that's what Joey Q wants.  Well, more power to him.

This isn't a perfect comic book.  Like I wrote, it's a bit more talky than perhaps it needs to be, as Fraction seems to be channeling a certain BMB person.  But it is a good comic, one that should serve as a reminder to Joey Q and everyone else that there's a reason Spider-Man is probably the best hero Marvel ever came up with.  It's not the specter of Uncle Ben, it's not the fact that Peter's love life sucks, it's the fact that he overcomes adversity and remains an Everyman.  Of course his marriage shouldn't be all a bed of roses - that's stupid.  But part of being a hero is overcoming the adversity that exists even in the most mundane of relationships.  Peter and Mary Jane do that.  I don't see Joey Q breaking up Reed and Sue's marriage, even when Reed becomes a fascist.  So why does he hate Peter's?  I'm not sure, but I hope the idea of killing Mary Jane off or breaking them up goes by the boards.  It will be a far duller Spider-Man as a result.

Welcome to Tranquility #6 by Gail Simone, Neil Googe, and Billy Dallas Patton.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Okay, so I'm going to have to SPOIL this comic book.  Read no more unless you don't care about the ending being SPOILED!!!!!





The killer was revealed last issue, and in this issue we get a long explanation about why it all happened.  It seems that Tranquility was founded where it was because Henry Hate had built his Hate Bomb there, in a cave that housed ... the Fountain of Youth.  Alex Fury, Colonel Cragg, and Astral Man battled him there and discovered the Fountain.  Fury and Cragg wanted to keep some of the water for themselves and add some to the town's wter supply, but Astral Man wanted to tell everyone.  So Cragg, who had become unhinged by the Nazi torture in the war, killed him.  Fury claims he didn't know for a long time, but nevertheless, they founded a town there and added the Fountain of Youth water to the reservoir, arresting everyone's aging (but not halting it).  Mr. Articulate found out and was going to expose them.  So Cragg killed him.  Bug, the reporter, found out that Leona allowed it, and was going to expose them.  So Cragg killed him.  Oh, where will the death cease?!?!?  In this climactic issue, Cragg attempts to drop the Hate Bomb on Tranquility, but Minxy Millions thwarts him.  On the ground, everyone fights Fury.  It's a knockdown drag-out issue!  In the end, it all works out.  Didn't you just know it would?

This is ostensibly a murder mystery, so I want to break down a bit how Simone gets us from Point A to Point B.  I will say that this is a very nice comic, as Simone has a good handle on a pretty big cast, and she has done a good job linking the past to the present, which is crucial in a comic like this, which is basically about a retirement town for superheroes.  Googe's idiosyncratic art adds just the right touch of whimsy to the book, but he can still do a good job with the darker stuff that Simone throws in here.  The sales on the book are awful, but I hope it survives for a while, because it's something different and Simone and Googe have done a nice job in six issues making it a good read.

But back to the murder.  Unfortunately, it doesn't really work as a "fair play" mystery.  I have no idea if Simone set out to write a fair play mystery, but she failed if that was her intention.  It's about halfway between the kinds of mysteries we should see: there's the mystery in which the hero detects everything and reveals the murderer, with plenty of clues left along the way so that we could figure it out if we were smart; and the mystery in which the murderer is revealed early on and we track both his and the cops' movements to figure out how they're going to catch him.  This falls somewhere in between, and that's part of the reason why it doesn't work.  Thomasina, Tranquility's sheriff, doesn't really figure out that Cragg is the killer - Cragg's sidekick, Bad Dog, tells her.  Collette, the reporter, figures some of the mystery out, but not all of it.  And there aren't enough clues for us to figure it out.  Mr. Articulate left behind a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead with the word "decapitate" written on the inside frontispiece.  Thomasina doesn't even figure out that Mr. Articulate was saying you take the "head" off of the title, giving you "fountain," as in Fountain of Youth.  It's a lame clue, but it's really the only one we get.  Collette figures out that there's something in the water, but that's just before Mayor Fury reveals that he's a bad guy anyway, so it's not really a clue we can use later on.  There's absolutely nothing to give us any hint that Cragg is the killer, and that's annoying.  As a story, this is a gem, but as a murder mystery, it doesn't work.  Again, I don't know if Simone wanted to write a fair play mystery, but she didn't.

One last thing: when Mayor Fury is about to fight Maximum Man, he says, "Rememer banter, Maximum Man?  It's all Brit-speak and violent one-liners now."  Two pages later Cragg speaks like a Brit and curses about his plane.  Very funny, Ms. Simone!

I have hopes for the future of the title, because it seems to have a strong foundation.  Now it's up to everyone to buy it!

X Isle #1-5 by Andrew Cosby, Michael A. Nelson, and Greg Scott.  $2.99, Boom! Studios.




This five-issue mini-series took a while to come out (the first issue came out in June), but although it's not the greatest comic in the world, it's an entertaining book, with an intriguing premise that doesn't quite pay off, and nice art that has only a few minor flaws, like two characters looking far too similar to each other.  The idea of a mysterious creature washing up in Hawaii and attracting biologists and botanists who have no idea what it is works well, as the mysterious island where they are shipwrecked becomes more and more sinister with each page.  The payoff, however, is fairly standard, even though Cosby and Nelson manage to throw a few twists at us about why this impossible island exists.  It falls into a fairly common horror trap (this is sort-of horror, after all): once the reasons are known, it becomes far less scary.  I always go back to the first Candyman movie, which was terrifying for a while ... right up until Tony Todd showed up.  Then it became a fairly pedestrian movie.  Same thing here.  It's not that it's bad, it just loses a bit of the tension from the buildup.  We begin to wonder which of the characters are going to die, and it's pretty unsurprising who does, except for one character I thought would make it but didn't.  The interesting existence of the island and what it means get pushed aside and it becomes a standard thriller.  That's not enough to ruin it, but it also means this is just an entertaining comic rather than a really great one.

Well, that's another week of comics.  I know everything got shoved aside by the cosmic splendor of 52, but there were other books out!  These are just a few!

Vulcan: Who Is Cyclops' Evil Brother, How Is He Alive & Why Is He An X-Man?

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