What I bought - 20 December 2006

So every week, I go into the comic book shoppe, and I think there's no way I can spend a lot of money.  And then, I walk out with a pile of books heavier than my one-year-old.  I blame the proprietor.  It's like the crack, man!  And he's the pusher!  Who's with me?

But you know - I loves me the comics, man.  I loves them so.

Catwoman #62 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

When did Will Pfeifer get so good at writing comic books?  I know he's been doing it for a while, and when I ran across him, he's always seemed perfectly competent, but he's been writing Catwoman for a while now (almost two years) and each issue is better than the last.  And they started out pretty dang good!  Every issue I read, I think, "Wow - how can he top this?"  And then he does.  Each.  Freakin'.  Issue.  Now, you may think this makes Catwoman the greatest comic book ever.  Well, it's not.  But it is a very damned good one, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you're not reading it.  A disservice, say I!

Take this issue.  After the crazed events of the Film Freak arc, we needed a breather.  Yes, it's a talking heads issue!  Do Selina and Holly and Slam play baseball, like the Claremont X-Men of old, and bond over sports?  Well, no they do not, but Selina, obviously, has some 'splainin' to do, and we get the full story of her tryst with Sam and the conception of Helena and the resolution to the whole One Year Later stuff and what happened after she shot Black Mask in the face.  There are many surprises, including one I should have seen coming, right?  Did I miss something?  I'm not going to spoil the ending, but for some reason, I missed it, and now I have to go back and re-read the previous issues.  It's very possible I'm just the dumbest person in the world.

Anyway, it's a marvelous issue - full of tenderness and brutality and sacrifice and hope.  Pfeifer, for whatever reason, has been allowed by the powers-that-be at DC to build this story slowly, spanning issues far beyond the standard "six-issue written-for-the-trade" crapola that infects so many titles, and therefore we get powerful issues like this one, that link back to so many other stories and events that have come before.  Sure, it doesn't "fit" into a good trade paperback, but it's a much richer reading experience.  Or it could be just me.  Some of my favorite titles right now - this one, X-Factor, She-Hulk, Rex Mundi, Fables (the last three of which also came out this week) - do this very well.  They reward long-time readers with great character development and long-running stories, and they are very nice to read and appreciate.

So this issue wraps up a bunch of long-running plots in this book.  Next issue we begin something new.  I imagine the consequences of Selina's actions will continue to haunt her, and that's just fine with me.  It should be fine for everyone!

Catwoman: the best book you're probably not reading.  Put down that copy of Justice Society and buy this instead!

Checkmate #9 by Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz.  $2.99, DC.

Speaking of good DC books you're probably not reading, Checkmate isn't the greatest book, but it's a very interesting book that will probably read better in the trades.  I've been buying Queen & Country in the trades, and that works well, so this probably does too.  That's not to say I'm going to stop buying the individual issues, but if you're waiting for the trades, I can't fault you.

Anyway, the nice thing about this book, as I've mentioned before, is that it takes place squarely in the DC Universe but is a pure espionage book, and since Rucka does that kind of thing well, it's interesting to read.  I like when writers try to make the loser bad guys of the DCU more threatening, and although Kobra has had its moments in the past, Rucka is presenting them as more of a threat than they've been for a while, so even though we still get the goofy "Faith to the Kali Yuga!" crap, they still have a sense of menace about them.  Rucka also brings us a pseudo-crossover with Shadowpact, which is nice.  Not that I love Shadowpact, but it's neat to see these things as just a natural part of the DCU.  And of course Checkmate would know how to get in touch with them!  And there's a mention of the D.E.O. - where's Cameron Chase, Rucka?!?!?

There's quite a bit to like about this comic.  It's not perfect, because the cast of characters is still too big and each issue re-introduces them awkwardly.  Or, as I have pointed out recently (see above), I just might be the dumbest person in the world.  But I'm still digging it.  It can get better, but it's doing fine right now.

Criminal #3 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  $2.99, Marvel.

Hey, look!  It's the next issue of the greatest comic book this world has ever seen or ever will see!  You know it's true!

Okay, so I'm being a bit sarcastic.  I'm just surprised by the outpouring of critical acclaim this seems to be getting, because although I like it, it's not like Brubaker and Phillips are re-inventing the wheel here.  I mean, it's a good book, but it's far from the greatest thing ever.  Daredevil is better.  Sleeper was better.  Uncanny X-Men is not.  But still.

I mean, last issue the heist went to shit.  Shocking!  In this issue, Leo takes Greta to his grandfather's farm to recuperate, and the bad guys beat the bushes to find them.  Let's see ... might Leo and Greta find some companionship in each other's arms?  Might bringing Ivan to a place where there's a briefcase full of smack lead to something really, really bad?  If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, well, you're not really making any great leaps, are you?

However, Phillips continues to do a fine job with the art, and Brubaker's writing is compelling, even though it's a bit predictable.  The key in stories like this is not to surprise us, but to make the little things matter, and when Leo speaks to Greta about her scars, it's a beautiful moment.  It's those kinds of things that make this a nice comic.  The plot is still moving along nicely, and even though it's predictable, I still don't quite know how, or if, Leo is going to get out of it.  So there's that.

Don't get me wrong - I enjoy this book a lot.  I'm just a little surprised by the critical humping it's been getting.  Is it indicative of how lousy the Big Two are?  Possibly.

Elephantmen #5 by Richard Starkings and Moritat.  $2.99, Image.

Uh-oh.  Richard Starkings has been sending me every issue of Elephantmen in the hopes that, like the crack, I will become addicted.  I have been enjoying the series, enough to recommend it but not enough to make the commitment to buy it.  But damn, if this issue isn't the best one yet.  Damn you, Richard Starkings!

This is a very good issue.  It follows thematically on the heels of the zero issue (which I reviewed here) in that it shows the Elephantmen leaving the Mappo compound by train and what happened next.  Yes, there's a fight like there is on the cover.  The hippo (Hip Flask) and the rhino (Obadiah Horn) have a disagreement about how Obadiah is treating some of the other animals on the train - Hip Flask thinks they need to stop picking on the weaker animals, while Obadiah is all about the "survival of the strongest" thing.  Meanwhile, Ebony Hide, who is actually an elephantman, almost kills one of the humans in the compound, who keeps calling him a monkey.  The human is rescued by a camelman (whose name is, of course, Joe), who helps get him to safety.  In the present, we see the consequences of both the fight and the camel's compassion, and it sets up future storylines very well.

The pace of the comic has been a bit slow, but with the last couple of issues, it's picked up a bit, and although Starkings still isn't in a hurry to get anywhere, it's good to see that he's fitting each piece into a grander tapestry.  Instead of relying on not-really-earned sentiment to help us identify with the Elephantmen, we're actually getting to know who they are through their actions and their personalities, and this is making them much more sympathetic or, in the case of Obadiah, frightening.  It's nicely done, and it's part of the reason why this book is more enjoyable now.  Moritat's art is not as sketchy as it has been occasionally in past issues, and the bloody scenes are truly horrific.  A very good issue all around.

If you haven't been buying this comic, track down the zero issue and this one.  They are both worth your time and money.

Fables #56 by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Andrew Pepoy.  $3.50, DC/Vertigo.

Listen.  You know this is a great book.  I know it's a great book.  Do I really need to say anything else?  Really?

Well, it's a Christmas issue.  Willingham manages to write a pretty much stand-alone story that still ties into the greater storyline.  If you just pick this up because you love Christmas comics, I don't think you'll be disappointed, although you might wonder what's up with Santa and Ambrose and the girl who kisses the frog.  But that scene is does so well you don't need to know how it ties into the greater storyline - you can just enjoy it for what it is, and perhaps be intrigued enough to pick up subsequent issues.  Otherwise, it's a Christmas story.  And although it's not exactly heart-warming, it does show the tight connections between the Fables and how Bigby is trying to be a good husband and father even though it's against his nature.  There's a lot going on, even though it appears to be a simple Christmas tale!

I don't know.  There's a lot of little touches, like Boy Blue and Rose Red learning how to fly a magic carpet, but what's important is that Fables continues to be excellent.  And I feel sad for you if you don't read it.  Why do you deprive yourself of excellent comics?

Hard-Boiled Comics Featuring Billy Blackburn, P.I. #2 (of 4) by Steve Earnhart and Rudolf Montemayor OR Ulises Carpintero.  $2.99, Goodbum Studios.


Steve Earnhart sent me both of these in the mail, and that was very nice of him.  I'm pretty sure I'm getting a copy next week when it comes out, unless my comic shoppe missed it when I ordered it, so we'll see.  Why did I get both issues?  I'll bring that up below.

I read a review online really ripping the first issue of this, which I enjoyed (yes, the pictures are all gone at that link - that was back when I didn't know what I was doing, and I haven't had time to correct them).  Now, it wasn't a perfect comic, and when I read the bad review, I kept thinking that the reviewer was absolutely correct about his objections to the book.  But I still liked the book.  Why?  Was it because Earnhart sent me a copy for free?  Possibly, although I like to think I have a bit more integrity than that.  The reason I liked the first issue (which was, even I admit, riddled with cliches) is because it works despite the cliches.  Earnhart has a lot to work on in regards to dialogue, but it's not like he's a comic book veteran.  We let people who have been in the industry for years off the hook when it comes to clunky dialogue, and we're going to bash a newcomer for it?  And, despite the dialogue, Earnhart is passionate about this book, and it shows on the page.  He is having oodles of fun writing these outlandish and stereotypical characters, and that goes a long way to overcoming the book's shortcomings.  Again, for 3 dollars, I'd rather read a flawed book that is done with love and joy than a flawed book that has no soul.  Some people would rather spend their 3 dollars on Justice League of America.  Brad Meltzer's dialogue is just as goofy as this dialogue, and he doesn't appear to be having as much fun.

I know I'm damning with faint praise, but this really is an enjoyable book.  Issue #1 came out a while ago, so it takes us a few pages to get back into the story, and the opening few pages, with Cynthia Torchsong ranting about how her plan to destroy her husband has gone awry, are a bit confusing (I honestly can't remember who she's talking to, even though we get a reminder later in the issue), but once we get back to Billy Blackburn and his "business partner" Knux finding the disc that they are searching for, the story once again picks up steam.  We finally meet the elusive (and whorish) Torchsong daughter, Crystal (another stereotype!), and Billy figures out that Cynthia is somehow involved in the blackmail plot, and Hammerhead the Shark-Man does awful things to many people (but they're fun awful things, because he's so gleeful in his mayhem), and the Killer Clown shows up again and also does awful things.  It's so over-the-top you have to chuckle.

So why two copies?  Well, the one on the right up there is the variant, with art by Ulises Carpintero, who was supposed to be the regular artist on the mini-series.  Montemayor is presumably the artist now, which is kind of strange - two issue of a mini-series, three artists!  Anyway, the variant does not just have a different cover - it's a completely different comic book, with the same script but totally different art.  It's fascinating, because everything is similar, but there are different "camera" angles and a different vibe to the whole thing.  Carpintero's art is reminiscent of Eduardo Risso's, which unfortunately isn't a good thing, because it looks a little too reminiscent.  Montemayor's is much rougher, which suits the subject matter better, and his Hammerhead looks better, too.  But it's still very neat to look at both issues and compare the artistic choices.  I hope Montemayor is on for the duration!

Anyway, you could do a LOT worse than this comic, despite some of its problems.  There's nothing very original about it, but it has a lot of verve and style that make it very fun to read.  It's bloody, offensive, silly, and occasionally icky.  But its insanity works for it, and makes it more compelling than a lot of other books you can find on the shelves.  It will be out on the shelves next week, so if you see it lying around, you might want to pick it up.  You may not like it, but you definitely will not be bored.

She-Hulk #14 by Dan Slott, Rick Burchett, and Cliff Rathburn.  $2.99, Marvel.

This week's Marvel issues felt a bit hefty.  Did anyone else notice it?  I checked, and they were still 3 dollars - nothing super-sized or anything.  But the advertisements - oh my dear sweet Baby Jeebus.  Let's have fun with this, like Paul O'Brien sometimes does!

Four pages of story.  Yay!  Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  Ad.  One story page.  Double-page ad (that annoying Nissan guy who lived in the car for a week).  One story page.  Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  Two story pages!  Double-page ad.  One story page.  Ad.  Ad.  One story page.  Double-page ad.  One story page.  Ad.  Double-page ad (for the Superman DVD - in a Marvel book?).  One story page.  Ad.   Double-page spread (when Andy jumps off the Empire State Building).  Double-page ad.  One story page.  Ad.   Ad.  One story page.  Ad.  One story page.  Letters page.

Check that out.  After the first four pages, there are only two consecutive pages once without ads.  There's a double-page spread thrown in there as well, but that sort of counts as one page.  There are FIVE double-page advertisements, and thrice two advertisements follow each other, or one more time than the actual story (I'm ignoring the first four pages, because they're the "hook").  Here is what is possibly the worst thing: Seven advertisement are for Marvel-related products, including three for comics - Wolverine #50, Thunderbolts #110, and that Kaare Andrews Spider-Man abomination.  So Marvel is paying ... who? themselves? to advertise their products?  If there's one thing I really cannot stand in my comics, it's advertisements for other comics.  I mean, if I went through the effort to get this, I should know about other ones, right?  Dear Lord.

It really did ruin my enjoyment of the issue, which is actually a sweet story about Awesome Andy trying to figure out what to do with his life now that Mallory isn't his honey anymore.  He needs to figure out who he really is, and so flies away and out of the book (let's hope for only a little while, because Slott has done some nice things with the character).  Oh, and Jen gets drafted.  This Superhuman Registration Act is really, really stupid.  I mean, it's nice that Slott is trying to work with it, but it's really, really stupid.

I guess Marvel is doing this so they won't have to raise the price of their books.  But DC doesn't have as many ads.  What's up, Marvel?  It's really annoying.

Rex Mundi #3 by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Lots of things get revealed in this issue, as Julien and Genevieve poke around Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France in their continuing search for the Holy Grail.  Genevieve is still secretly reporting to the Duke of Lorraine, and in a church in the village she tells what they're doing to a mysterious person with a weird voice (or at least weird caption boxes).  The man tells her they're looking for the tomb of Clovis II, the "greatest of the Merovingian kings," and that when they find it, she needs to destroy it.  She says she'll do it as long as they don't hurt Julien.  Meanwhile, Julien finds an old woman who was a friend of Father Marin, Julien's mentor who was murdered in the first issue of the series.  She helps him by telling him that the Grail castle was actually the seat of the Merovingian kings, who became the dukes of Lorraine, and that's what they're looking for.  As they begin their hunt for the castle, we see that they are being followed by an old foe thought long dead (it's a comic book, after all, and people are always coming back from the grave).  It appears he was the man who heard Genevieve's "confession."  He's a nasty piece of work, too, which makes me think that he has no intention of letting Julien live, despite his assurances to Genevieve.  Meanwhile, the war continues, with things not going well for France.  But the Duke of Lorraine continues onward, not unlike a certain American president and a certain war against Muslims ...

As usual, this is yet another book I can't really review too well, because I like it so much.  Plus, it's so involved that I can't really recommend picking up any single issue.  Nelson helpfully provides footnotes to issues when certain things happen, and Dark Horse has released the Image issues in trade (I think they're all out, but the last one might not be on shelves yet).  The story continues to evolve nicely, and Ferreyra's art is more beautiful in this issue than it has been in the first two issues, and I wonder how much the abrupt cancellation of Emissary has allowed him to focus more on this.  Possibly not at all, depending on when he drew this!  But the art is really an integral part of what makes this book so wonderful, and it's getting better and better (which, considering it started off well, is impressive).

I probably mentioned this the last time Nelson brought him up, but Clovis II was NOT the "greatest of the Merovingian kings."  Read more about him here.  He ruled from A.D. 639-657, but was only six when he came to the throne, meaning he was barely in his twenties when he died.  His wife, Balthild, was far more powerful and influential.  Nelson COULD mean the founder of the dynasty, Clovis I, who united France and converted the country to Christianity, but why then does he persist on calling him Clovis II?  Beats me.  Yes, I'm nitpicking.  I wrote my freakin' Masters thesis on the Merovingians - let me flash my arcane knowledge occasionally!

Okay, moving on.  It's a good book.  Buy the trades and hop on board!

Union Jack #1-4 by Christos Gage, Mike Perkins, and Andrew Hennessy.  $2.99, Marvel.



I read the first two issues of this mini-series, which was enough to convince me to get the other two, and although it's not the greatest mini-series in the world, it is entertaining.  Union Jack is conscripted when R.A.I.D. - Radically Advanced Ideas in Destruction, and yes, nobody comes up with dumber acronyms than Marvel writers! - plans an attack on London using a Weapon of Mass Destruction and several C-list villains.  UJ is teamed with Contessa Allegra Valentina de la Fontaine of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame, Sabra, and a new Arabian Knight to fight the bad guys.  His superior tells him that no one else is available.  Not even Excalibur!  The four of them fight the bad guys, beat them up, and come up against a big ol' robot that looks like a toy, to be honest.  But it's powerful!  I wonder if they defeat it?

The action aspects of this book aren't really where it gets interesting.  I have mentioned before about the interaction between Sabra and Arabian Knight, who obviously don't like each other.  Unfortunately, it never goes too far beyond just a minor plot point, which is a shame.  I did like how even at the end, neither person can really overcome their hatred and prejudice to accept the other, even though they respect the warrior aspect of their foe.  More interesting is the puppet master behind it all, because although it's a perfectly comic-booky kind of thing, it does tie in a bit with how the real world works.  Gage gives us a heroic ending, but it would have been far more interesting if the villain "got away with it," and that's what I thought was going to happen.  The deus ex machina at the very end is a bit silly, but it doesn't change that this is a neat little political thriller that doesn't get into the subtleties of ruling with as much, uh, subtlety as Ex Machina, but still more than a lot of books you could name.  In the end, it's an good comic about being a hero to the working class, because no one is a hero to them.  The incident where the English worker gives Union Jack the "stiff upper lip" speech is a bit goofy, but Gage's heart is in the right place, and it's a fine sentiment.  It would have been nice to see a bit more of it and less of, say, the giant robot, but that's okay.

The trade is probably worth it.  The story zips along, and Perkins' art is very nice.  It's not a great comic, but it is a pretty good one.

Wasteland #5 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $2.99, Oni Press.

I've been sticking with this title not because it's so very brilliant, but because it's intriguing and there are plenty of possibilities beyond Johnston just ripping off post-Apocalyptic movies.  And, as I've mentioned before, I'm far more willing to give books like this more time than books from the Big Boys.  And I've enjoyed the first four issues, so that makes it easier.  This issue, despite that rather ugly cover, is probably the best one yet, so I have a feeling my patience is going to be rewarded as Johnston gets his feet set and starts to get us more involved in this world.  This issue is basically an action-packed fest, but our heroes still learn some things, like what's going on in the wagon they're not allowed into (and which already got one of their number killed) and what Michael knew about it.  We also get some more information about the Lord Founder and his cult, which makes the city of Newbegin more interesting.  So far the scenes in the city have been kind of clunky, but they too, are getting better as we learn more about them.

Mitten's art continues to be a star of the book, even though my basic concern with his art - that all the people look the same - continues to vex me.  The fight scenes, however, are fantastic, and the Dwellers are nicely grotesque.  Mitten really shines with everything BUT the people - his landscapes are wonderful, and the machinery of the caravan is clunky and brutal.  It's nice to see someone doing such nice detail in every part of the panel.

Oh, and no ads.  At least in the story part.  At the end, yeah.  Including an ad for Phonogram (published by Image) and Wormwood (published by IDW).  So that's weird.  But still - 3 dollars for a good story NOT disturbed by pages and pages of advertisements.  You have to love that!


The Lone Ranger #3 (of 6) by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello.  $2.99, Dynamite Entertainment.

Hey, if you don't believe me when I tell you this is a cool series, believe Greg Hatcher.  He thinks it's pretty darned cool, too.  Two Gregs agree: it's a cool series.  How can you go wrong?

Omega Men #3 (of 6) by Andersen Gabrych and Henry Flint.  $2.99, DC.

I read somewhere that this and Mystery in Space are subtly leading into a bigger mini-series, which would piss me off something fierce.  Please don't piss me off, DC!  PLEASE!!!!!

7 Brothers #3 (of 5) by Garth Ennis and Jeevan King.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

Boy, I just don't like that cover at all.  Blech.  It's still a good series, though.  The guy who works at my local comics shoppe says that Virgin comics have greater print runs than even the big titles from DC, like 52 and JLA.  What does this mean?  Is anyone buying the other titles?  I'm just curious, because they just started with the comics, and I wonder if they will last with all this saturation.

So that's it for this week.  Good Christmas reading!  Chime in with your opinions - if you dare!!!!

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