What I bought - 20 February 2008

I really am trying to cut some comics off of my pull lists.  Weeks like this make it darned near impossible, though.  So much good stuff ... and some crappy stuff, too!

Cable & Deadpool #50 by Fabian Nicieza (writer), Reilly Brown (plotter/penciler), Jeremy Freeman (inker), Bob Almond (inker), Gotham and Sotocolor (colorists), and Dave Sharpe (letterer).  $3.99, 27 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The end of Cable & Deadpool is pretty much like every other issue I've read (and, to be honest, I've only read about five, and they've all been recent) - that is, nicely done, somewhat humorous, perhaps a bit too impressed with the humor, and nothing spectacular.  This is a perfectly serviceable comic book, and I suppose it's a credit that it lasted 50 issues.  Like the demise of Ant-Man a few months ago, it's an event that will be bemoaned by some, but pretty much forgotten.  That's not to say it's not entertaining.  This particular issue is the best one that I've read, as Deadpool fights dinosaurs that have been infected with the Venom virus, and the Avengers and Fantastic Four show up to help.  Brown's art looks better than I've seen it on this book, as the fight (which lasts most of the issue) is breath-taking.  Meanwhile, Nicieza's scripting, which in the issues I've read straddles the line between clever and "look how clever I am!", doesn't go too overboard.  I'm a bit tired of Shatner references, but for the most part, the humor is well timed and very funny.  Similarly, Deadpool's breaking of the fourth wall is nicely done, too, because Nicieza doesn't go too far with it.  In fact, the only part of the book that feels forced is Wade's internal monologue where he gets all heroic-feeling just because he's fighting alongside the Avengers.  It was kind of schmaltzy, and felt out of sorts with the tone of the rest of the book.  And the ending was nice, because Nicieza didn't feel like he needed something apocalyptic.  The last page felt like the final episode of Cheers a little bit, which was kind of neat.

Despite the fact that this was never a book I had any affection for, I do feel bad that Nicieza and his collaborators (Brown most particularly) got hosed by Marvel in recent months and years, what with the co-star of the book dying in a different book and then coming back to life in a crossover that Deadpool wasn't involved in (as Wade points out in a humorous info dump).  It's one of those moves that irks me, because it shows that Marvel (and DC, of course) ultimately doesn't care at all for the people who work for them.  I know many of their employees are freelancers, so the attitude is "fuck 'em," but why have a book called Cable & Deadpool if you're going to take one of the characters away?  Just stupid.

Well, that's that.  50 issues isn't bad, considering the characters.  I guess there's that.

Catwoman #76 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David López (penciller), Álvaro López (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Yeah, I'm just going to SPOIL this, so there.

I want Salvation Run to end so badly that I don't know if I can stand it.  It's completely off my radar for the most part, but it's fucking up Catwoman, and it's pissing me off.  If Selina's involvement in the crossover means better sales, I can live with it, but it better be over pretty damned soon, is all I can say.

Like last issue, Pfeifer does the best he can, but I don't like this issue at all (well, the art's good, but that goes without saying, doesn't it?).  Why?  Well, last issue it appeared that Selina had gotten back to Gotham, and Batman was a bit pissed at her for killing Black Mask and all.  I knew it wasn't her Gotham, but I was willing to see where Pfeifer went with it.  So for the main part of the issue, Selina tries to figure out what's going on, and she concludes she's on a different Earth - a not unreasonable assumption, given the state of affairs.  J'onn J'onzz shows up and tries to explain her situation, but before he can, we see what he's trying to say - Selina is still on the Salvation Run Planet, in some kind of stasis field that's keeping her in suspended animation.  Yes, the entire issue is a frickin' dream.  I'm grinding my teeth just thinking about it.

Now, it's possible that something good can come out of this.  I'm going to keep buying the book, because I know once the stupid crossover ends Selina will be back in her element, and Pfeifer has been knocking those issues out of the park.  But a dream sequence?  What the hell?  Dream sequences are a dicey proposition to begin with, but unlike the latest issue of Batman, which had a lot of interesting touches to it, this doesn't.  Pfeifer is a good writer, but he's not as good as the God of All Comics.  This is a fairly straightforward dream sequence, and therefore, while we think it's actually "happening," it's fine, but when it's shown that it's all happening in Selina's mind, it becomes vexing.  J'onn's presence and the fact that he appears to be trying to get Selina to understand her situation is the only part that might save it, but next issue, Selina apparently takes over the world.  That's kind of boring.

Please, DC, let Pfeifer get Selina off that stupid planet.  PLEASE!  For the sake of one of your most interesting comics, it must be done!  Send the stupid Justice League there (oh, wait a minute - what's that comic down in the post a bit ...?)! 

Checkmate #23 by Greg Rucka (writer), Eric Trautmann (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Jack Jadson (inker), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arca (colorist).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I'm confused by something.  That cover is weird.  I like the Checkmate symbol on Superman's chest, but why is Mr. Terrific holding a baby that has turned into snakes?  It's not like he got Sasha pregnant and he's afraid Kobra is going to steal the kid.  In fact, Mr. Terrific isn't in the book all that much.  So that's confusing.

Otherwise, this issue, like pretty much every issue, is very good.  Superman is used well and logically, and Kobra's diabolical plan ties into the greater DCU without forcing us to know much about the ties to the greater DCU.  The story zips along, but Rucka and Trautmann still find time to drop in some nice character interactions, and it's always nice to see the terrorist groups of the DCU and Marvel U. actually appear menacing.  I mean, it's tough to take guys firing guns shouting "Faith to Kali Yuga!" seriously, but they manage it.  So that's cool.

I still don't get the snake child.  That's just weird.

Ex Machina #34 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (penciller), Jim Clark (inker), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/WildStorm.

You know, the big reveal at the end of this issue (and frankly, it's not that big a reveal) is kind of dumb, but the rest of the issue works well.  It's a one-and-done issue, as we get the life story of Mitch's police commissioner, Amy Angotti, through a series of flashbacks.  She's tough, she's uncompromising, she has poor taste in men, apparently, and she inexplicably had never heard of Batman when she was a kid (really? not even from the television show?).  It's a nice story, showing the way that she has come to respect the mayor even though she never approved of his superheroing.  Harris's art is the real star, as it has been throughout the series, but this issue seems better than it's been in a while.  I'm not sure why.  There are hints of the art deco sensibility he brought to his issues of Starman, which is always nice to see, and it also appears the photo-realism that occasionally makes the art a bit cold has muted a bit, thereby giving the book a bit more of an organic feel.  I'm terrible at explaining it, but it looks a bit different from recent issues.

Anyway, if you haven't been reading Ex Machina or dropped it a while ago, this is a nice place to check it out, because it doesn't continue or lead into anything.  You can judge it without worrying about feeling you're in the middle of something!

Ghosting #5 (of 5) by Fred van Lente (writer), Charles Carvalho (artist), Tom Smith (colorist), and Troy Peteri (letterer).  $3.99, FC, Platinum Studios Comics.

This mini-series has turned out to be a pretty entertaining one, although it's not great.  It does show that Van Lente is a fine, versatile writer, and it would be nice to see him do more stuff like this, even though he's all big-time now with Marvel.  As I've written before about this comic, the premise is intriguing.  Four college students rush a fraternity/sorority, and instead of hazing them, they "ghost" them - meaning they try to scare them with horror tricks.  Of course, there's a real ghost out there, and people start to die.  But is it a real ghost?  What the heck is going on?

Van Lente has done a nice job throughout the entire series of keeping the readers on our toes.  We're never quite sure if the ghost is real and killing people, or if people are hallucinating, or if it's some twisted killer.  We get the answers in this issue, but like most horror stories, the explanation robs the story of some of the fun.  It's actually a pretty good explanation and doesn't come out of nowhere, but unfortunately, the series ends extremely abruptly, and it feels like Van Lente just ran out of room.  It would have been nice to get some kind of wrap-up, but we don't get it.  Even so, it's a nice read, if you can ignore the abrupt ending and some odd jumps in the narrative.  Plus, the art has been weird the last two issues.  Carvalho isn't the greatest artist, but he brought a decent style to the book.  In the last two issues, he didn't do the entire issue (in this issue the other artist isn't credited), and the difference in styles wasn't too bad, but it was slightly jarring.  As usual with mini-series, I have no idea why things get solicited if the artist can't finish the entire thing.  It's annoying.

Still, it's an interesting comic with some black humor and some creepy moments.  You could do worse if you're looking for horror!

Gødland #21 by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer).  $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

I'm a bit sad that Gødland's schedule seems to have gone all out of whack, because whenever an issue comes out, I'm reminded of how mind-blowing it really is (not that I ever really forget, it's just that it fades in my consciousness a little).  After a weaker issue #19, the resolution of the Supra, Ed, and Eeg-oh storyline (especially this issue) has been quite awesome, as Adam battles the Zarathustra Monster, figures out a clever way to defeat it, and Maxim dives deep into the Earth to stop the world-destroying missile and discovers something rather odd.  And yes, that's a sentence that can probably only be written when referring to a comic book, which is, of course, why comics are awesome in general.

Casey and Scioli do a great job with the battles taking place, and this is one of those issues that truly is "Kirby-esque" - there's just so much going on visually that it's a pleasure to stare at each panel, while Casey blithely throws away stuff like the fact that Adam relives in entire life in the space of a few seconds.  It's also interesting how Scioli contracts the pages with an optical illusion when Maxim is trying to defuse the missile - on one page, he uses a nine-panel grid, and on the next, a twelve-panel grid.  This helps increase the sense of impending doom we get as the missile moves toward its goal.  It's a nice, subtle touch.  And, as usual, we're happy with the resolution of one plot, but Casey still has plenty on his plate, what with the Tormentor and Basil Discordia skulking about, the mystery of Neela Archer (who returns this issue, in an unexpected place), and Maxim's admission to Adam that he has a terrible secret to share with him.  It's strange - this is only 20 pages long (why two fewer than usual?), but it feels longer than a lot of comics, because it's so dense.

Casey and Scioli were creatively hitting a wall, it seemed, a few issues back.  They've been rejuvenated now, and I hope they get the schedule fixed.  I would much rather wait eight months for another issue if I knew they would get them out monthly for a while rather than wait four months each time.  We'll see when the next issue comes out! 

Grendel: Behold the Devil #4 (of eight) by Matt Wagner (writer/artist) and Tom Orzechowski (letterer).  $3.50, 20 pgs, BWR, Dark Horse.

As we reach the halfway point of this series, it's shaping up to be a classic.  Grendel learns a tiny bit more about the thing that is stalking him, while Lucas Ottoman learns more about Grendel and Hunter Rose, but there's not much to say about the way the story is progressing.  I mean, it's moving along, and I like it, but beyond that, it's tough to judge.  What we can do is look at Wagner's art and how he puts this book together.  It's impressive, because he has big blocks of text (excerpts from Christine Spar's book) to place, but the feeling of frenetic action never lets up, even when we're reading those blocks of text.  He also does a nice job with big double-paged spreads, but what's amazing about the art is even with those larger drawings, there's a tremendous amount of detail in every panel, and Wagner makes sure that there are plenty of smaller, storytelling panels to offset the dramatic effect of the larger panels.  It's just an impressive book to look at, and so, even though the story doesn't progress too far (it progresses, sure, but perhaps not as far as it could have), we feel like we're getting our money's worth.  That's important, of course, because it's 50 cents more than your generic mainstream comic book, but the way you can linger on each page makes it much more interesting than your generic mainstream comic book.

I still can't blame people for waiting for the trade, but I'm very keen on reading this as a serial, because Wagner knows how to build suspense and leave us wanting more.  If I read this as a trade, I could just keep reading, right?  Where's the fun in that?

Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #3 by B. Clay Moore (writer), Scott Chantler (artist), Steven Griffin (letterer).  Back-up story by Moore (writer/letterer), Shawn Crystal (artist), and Cris Brunner (colorist).  $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

I wish I had more to say about this.  I mean, it's the third issue of a (I believe) five-issue story, so there's not much to say.  Byrd and one of the pilots hack their way through the rain forest and discover something that freaks them out a bit, and Mo Kalama investigates the fact that Bishop Masaki might still be alive ... or conducting business from beyond the grave!  One thing that's nice about Mo's investigation is that Moore is trying to make the series more coherent instead of a series of mini-series.  Masaki was the bad guy in the first mini-series, and the events of the second mini-series are still casting their shadows over the principals, and if the book does manage to stay on a monthly schedule, it will be nice to see the previous mini-series worked in.  Griffin takes a break from the back-up story, but what's fascinating about it is that Moore drops a rather significant clue about Byrd's past into the story.  Or did we already know that about Byrd?  I don't think we did, but I could be wrong.  That's what happens when the seven issues of two mini-series take four years to come out!  Anyway, it's a nice little story that could certainly gain in importance as we learn more about Byrd (like, you know, his first name).

I still miss Griffin's art and think Chantler's cartoony look doesn't fit perfectly with the book, but he's decent and the art doesn't make me angry, so I don't mind.  It's a keen book.  We'll have to see what the heck's going on with that ending!

The Incredible Hercules #114 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Khoi Pham (penciler), Paul Neary (inker), Stephane Peru (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Brian already SPOILED this, if you want to know what happens, but I will ask one question:

This panel: Awesome, or the Most Awesomemest Thing EVER?

Plus, Hercules hallucinates Ares saying "Hot damn, I'm evil!"  That's good stuff.

And I like how the only way Marvel puts footnotes in their comics these days is if the comic they referencing was released over 30 years ago.  Good call, Marvel!

I'm also wondering why the registered heroes keep letting the unregistered heroes just leave.  Seriously, what's the point of having laws if the superheroes are going to ignore them?  The only way this is a good idea is if, behind closed doors, the Marvel Brain Trust (such as it is) has decided that the law will go away in a few years, and they've told their writers that if they want to show the "good guys" letting the "bad guys" go, they can use that later to show that the superheroes really don't like the law.  Otherwise, it's just stupid.  I mean, it's nice that Carol and Natasha are such pushovers, but it kind of makes the law a joke, doesn't it?

Anyway, this isn't a great comic, but it is a shitload of fun.  Even with the rather dark ramifications of what happens with Amadeus.  Plus, Khoi Pham is drawing the crap out of it.  Seriously, what did this dude take recently?

Man, Marvel should let Pak and Van Lente do a wacky-buddy comedy book: Herc and Ares.  They're forced to live together!  They fight!  They make up!  They compete for the ladies!  I'd buy it.

The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death by Matt Fraction (writer), Nick Dragotta (penciler, part 1), Mike Allred (inker, part 1), and Laura Allred (colorist, part 1); Russ Heath (artist, part 2); Lewis LaRosa (penciler, part 3), Stefano Gaudiano (inker, part 3), and Matt Hollingsworth (colorist, part 3); Mitch Breitweiser (artist, part 4) and Hollingsworth (colorist, part 4); and Artmonkeys Studios (letterer).  $3.99, 36 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I read a reviewer who was becoming increasingly worried about how long it was taking "The Capital Cities of Heaven" story arc to finish, given that this is the second "special" to interrupt it.  While I can see the point, I'm not terribly worried, because each issue, while building a greater story, is so enjoyable on its own.  At the end of the last issue of the "regular" series, we learned some interesting things about the Prince of Orphans (and I just learned that John Aman is an actual Golden Age hero, which makes him even cooler).  So in this book, we learn of the Prince's relationship with Orson Randall and why he's willing to help Danny Rand in the present.  Frubaker is telling several different stories at the same time, and I have no problem with stepping back from the tournament, which is the "primary" story, to get others in the process.  My biggest fear is that this will hurt sales, and although I guess it's in no danger of getting cancelled, I doubt if it has such a following that they can afford to screw around with it.  I wonder if regular readers are skipping these issues because they aren't "part of the regular title," in which case they're not only stupid, but they're hurting the regular title as well.  I hope that's not the case, but I've learned never to underestimate the stupidity of the public.

Man, I'm bitter, aren't I?  Well, not really, because if you're reading the regular book, I can't imagine you not buying the specials.  They are a dollar more, though, and I know price occasionally factors into the habits of the reading public.  We'll see if these specials help or hurt the book in the long run.

Because, really, the idea that Fraction has had with this book (and perhaps Brubaker, although according to him he's less involved with it every day) is great: kind of a re-creation of great pulp magazines.  So in this issue we get Orson Randall's group of adventurers, the Confederates of the Curious, running from John Aman, who is trying to kill Orson.  Each chapter is a different pulpy genre - a weird, magical part, a Western, a monster story, and an adventure to darkest Africa.  Along the way, Fraction moves both the story within the issue and the overall story forward nicely, which is why this book is such a joy to read, but he's also having a lot of fun within the genres.  I mean, Orson mentions that he's just hunted and slaughtered the Midnight Migou of the Precipice Perilous at one point - who wouldn't want to read that story!  It's a nice balance Fraction and Company has struck with this book - it's all done deadly seriously, but there's a sense of fun about it all, because of the kind of genre the book evokes.  And, of course, Orson's dad mentions his Empire of Hypothetical Science, which is awesome.

Anyway, I would like to see the resolution of the story arc about the tournament.  But I don't mind waiting if the journey is so interesting.

Iron Man #26 by Daniel Knauf (writer), Charles Knauf (writer), Roberto De La Torre (artist), Dean White (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I probably should start buying this comic, but I havent yet.  I just keep reading it for free.  I guess that makes me a bad person.

I should buy it because it's quite good, as I've mentioned before.  Tony, who went off the grid because no one believed him that the Mandarin was back, finally gets to fight his old enemy.  It's an impressive fight, and the Knaufs up the ante by showing us that S.H.I.E.L.D. is preparing to drop the absolute nicest nuclear bomb on Omaha in order to contain the Extremis threat that the Mandarin is trying to unleash on the world.  The bomb will take out exactly what they want with the force of a nuke but will collapse in on itself, so that there's no radioactive fallout.  Maria Hill agonizes over taking Tony's advice to drop the nuke when her boss is so clearly insane (or so she thinks), but Dugan convinces her, and we watch the fight as the government prepares to drop the bomb.

It's a good, solid superhero book with some nice observations about the man running the show in the Marvel U. these days.  Tony is certainly the hero, but we have also seen for the past few issues how the power he holds is wearing on him.  The Knaufs are doing a good job showing this dichotomy.  De La Torre is a nice artist, too.

Check out Iron Man if you haven't been.  You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Justice League of America #18 by Alan Burnett (writer), Ed Benes (penciller/inker), Sandra Hope (inker), Peter Pantazis (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer).  Back-up story by Dwayne McDuffie (writer), Jon Boy Meyers (penciller), Mark Irwin (inker), Leigh (letterer), and Pantazis (colorist).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Speaking of superhero comics, here's one that's still not very good ...

I'll admit: the past two issues (including this one), written by Alan Burnett, haven't been bad.  They haven't been as jaw-droppingly awful as the Meltzer issues or as annoyingly disappointing as the McDuffie ones, but this is still not a very good comic.  I'd rather have the Justice League getting involved with the whole Salvation Run thing than Selina, of course, and Burnett has a fine idea - the villains would rather turn themselves in to the League than go to the Prison Planet - but it's somewhat boring in the execution.  I'm not going to question the idea that the League's HQ still has "embassy" status, because the last time I questioned something in this book, I was taken to task for not doing research about a stupid superhero comic, but whenever things like this pop up in entertainment, I always wonder about the ramifications of the procedure - does it really work the way the villains think it does?  I suppose the fact the the heroes can simply beat away any challenge makes it work, but does it have any legal foundation?  I'm probably thinking too much about this, but it does bug me.

Anyway, the government wants to send bad guys away to a faraway place, and unlike a certain other universe, the big-time heroes actually think this might be a bad idea.  It's an idea that is being stretched into at least three issues, the first two of which have not filled an entire issue.  And Benes's art is as bad as ever.  Sigh.

Locke & Key #1 by Joe Hill (writer), Gabriel Rodriguez (artist), Jay Fotos (colorist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer).  $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, IDW.

The guy at the comic book store told me to read this, so I did.  I'm like a sheep!

Brian already went over this a bit, and I tend to agree with him.  It's a pretty good beginning to a creepy horror comic, with good but strangely out-of-sync art.  The art is good, but a bit cartoony - mostly in the faces, which look a bit off.  Otherwise, Rodriguez does an excellent job with the mise-en-scène, creating a creepy atmosphere throughout the book even though most of it takes place in decidely non-creepy places.  The story concerns the Locke family, specifically Tyler Locke.  Two boys Tyler knew in school show up at his house, and we see that they've killed their own uncle and aunt.  Tragedy ensues, and the Locke kids are sent to live with their uncle in Lovecraft, Massachusetts.  Yes, it's a dumb name, and should probably alert the characters that something bad might happen soon.  And hey - whattaya know?  Tyler's younger brother Bode discovers that something weird is going on in the house.  Plus, one of the killers, who's in juvenile detention, gets an odd visitor, who tells him that he'll soon be free.  It's all very strange.

Hill does a good job setting things up, as he moves back and forth between the present and the day the boys showed up at the house, building tension nicely.  It's quite the bloody comic, if you don't like that, but it strikes a pretty good balance between real-life horror and something a bit more esoteric.  Sure, it's 4 bucks, but it's extra-sized!  Give it try!  Hill has a good pedigree (he's Stephen King's son), so this might be quite interesting as it goes along.

The Order #8 by Matt Fraction (writer), Barry Kitson (breakdowns/finishes), Stefano Gaudiano (finishes), Paul Neary (finishes), Jon Sibal (finishes), J. Roberts (colorist), and Artmonkeys Studios (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

You know, I often try to convince people to buy comics that are awesome, but this has already been cancelled, so there's really no point.  I will say that this might be the best issue yet in terms of revelations and in terms of characterization, because the spotlight is on Mulholland Black, and she's pretty damned cool.  Just in this issue we find out about her history and how evil she can be, plus we learn the mystery behind the M.A.N. from S.H.A.D.O.W., we discover a new way to have sex (I bet you thought you knew all the ways, didn't you?), and we learn who's financing the bad guys.  Damn, this is a cool comic.  And it's getting better, of course, just in time to go away.  In a decade everyone will wonder why this wasn't a huge hit.  Such will be the hindsight!

The Programme #8 (of 12) by Peter Milligan (writer), C. P. Smith (artist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/WildStorm.

There's not much to say about this until it ends, but I'm still a bit puzzled how a race war flared up so quickly.  Still, it adds another strange element to this, and it's still intriguing enough to keep me interested, so I'll just have to see how it turns out.  I have to go back and look, though, because I didn't realize Senator Joe was black.  The coloring on this comic is hurting it, I think.  That's too bad.

Rex Mundi #10 by Arvid Nelson (writer/letterer) and Juan Ferreyra (artist/colorist).  $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Nelson throws a few more twists into his story, which is nice to see.  First, the introduction of Muslims living near the Grail Castle makes a rather interesting contrast.  The Muslims, descendants of Berbers who invaded southern France centuries earlier (presumably in the eighth century, which is when they did it in our world, but who knows), add a different religious component to the story and, I hope, will play larger role in the coming issues.  Lorraine's daughter, Isabelle, meets her old governess (who was introduced a few issues ago - #6, I believe) and shows that she has some interesting talents.  This section is absolutely gorgeously drawn by Ferreyra, even though the entire book looks great (unsurprisingly).  But the way he draws the confrontation between the two women is scary and beautifully drawn.

The book has gotten a bit more mystical as we move along, with strange creatures and old horror standbys like vampires, but Nelson always makes sure that the real-world politics are still there.  In this issue, Lorraine seizes all of the Church's property in France, which leads to his excommunication.  Real-world parallels like the struggle between rulers and popes (which occurred throughout the Middle Ages) help ground the book when it starts getting more esoteric, and Nelson has balanced the two well.

Another excellent issue.  Shocking, I know.

The Scream #4 (of 4) by Peter David (writer), Bart Sears (breakdowns), Randy Elliot (finishes), Michelle Madsen (colorist), and Michael David Thomas (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

This was a fairly disappointing mini-series, for a few reasons.  The biggest one is that it's incomplete, as if David is confident there will be a sequel, so he didn't feel the need to wrap things up.  I assume that with his name he can write another one and Dark Horse will publish it, but I'm not terribly happy with it.

A bigger problem is that David can't decide if this is serious or not.  I don't want it to be drenched in angst, but the tone is often too flippant for the material.  David detractors will say that this is a pretty common problem with his writing, but I don't see it that way.  Usually, he strikes a good balance between the humor and the darker material, and in something like Fallen Angel, where the subjects are generally grim, the humor is often quite black, which fits in well.  Here, the humor is far more juvenile - I will never find anything to do with bodily functions particularly humorous - and less in step with the overall feel of the book.  A young woman was garrotted somewhat graphically in issue #3, after all, and although Danny Duncan acknowledges her death, it still feels like nobody is taking it seriously.  Someone dies in this issue, too, and Sears draws him goofily - I almost expect stars and birds to be circling his head.  This weird disconnect between the serious parts of the book and the jokes within the story belittles both sides - we're cringing because of the idiotic humor, yet we can't take the serious parts all that seriously.  So when Sian talks about her brain cancer or we are confronted with Danny's father, who has Alzheimer's, the book feels too glib.  It's a shame, because the idea of the Scream is not bad, but the execution is flawed.

One final point: Early on, Danny apparently loans Sian sweatpants and a shirt.  She specifically thanks him for them, so I have to assume they belong to him.  Except the shirt is a belly shirt, so she can flash her navel.  Why on Earth would Danny have that kind of shirt?  I know half-shirts were big for guys back in the Eighties, but Danny doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who would be showing off his six-pack abs.  If you're going to have Sian running around in a man's shirt, you're going to have to sacrifice the sex appeal of her showing off her toned midriff.  It's a minor thing, but it annoyed me.

Shadow Hunter #1 by Jenna Jameson (story - and that link is somewhat safe for work, in case you're interested), Christina Z (writer), and Mukesh Singh (artist).  $2.99, 32 pgs, FC, Virgin Comics.

I'm getting a bit disappointed by comics I read just because I know they'll be bad.  Very few approach the insanely bad ideal set by such insanely bad comics as, say, Banzai Girls.  I mean, I expected this to be bad, and it is, but it's just boringly bad.  With a name like Jenna Jameson above the title, you expect ridiculous pseudo-porn that attempts to be serious but is just idiotic.  We get the attempts to be serious that's just idiotic, but it's remarkably tame.  I guess Ms. Jameson wants to be taken seriously as an artist, which is just no good.  Embrace the porn, Jenna!  It's your only hope of making something shockingly horrible!

Christina Z is the real perpetrator of badness here, as she writes the script.  This comic is heavy on the narration boxes, and any hope it had to be entertaining is drowned in bad and seemingly endless exposition.  I'll give you an example: after a battle with shadow demons she fights with a sword that mysteriously manifests itself from her arm, Jezzerie Jaden, our heroine (yes, that's her name), narrates as she walks down the street covered in blood, something no one thinks is odd:

Considering the state I was in, I figured the best thing to do was go home.  Even your average New Yorker will notice a woman covered in blood ... eventually.  Typically, I'd prefer a few sips of single malt Scotch, but I was feeling territorial.  Tequila shots it is.  I'd been messed with enough today and was in need of some serious ennui.  I got to thinking about myself as I was walking home.  Feeling split down the middle of good and bad.  I've always wanted the hero and the villain to win.  Something about the effort both sides make is alluring to me.  I didn't even know if I liked men more than women.  I still don't.  So, being forced to fight irritated me.  Having no choice or say in things doesn't thrill me.  When I'm pushed, I'll push back.  If you want me to push, I'll just stand back and watch.  I felt that 'first day of school' sensation.  You don't think you'll recall everything you learned.  Your surroundings seem larger than life.  Either way, the feelings would subside in a few days and everything would go back to being normal.  I prefer curling up with a grisly movie and knowing exactly how it will end.  I really don't like unknown variables.

That's all on one page, mind you, as she strolls down the street.  The whole book is like that - full of attempts at deep thoughts, but so unsubtle that we just want Jezzerie Jaden (I can't just use one name, because they go so well together) to please shut up!  But she doesn't.  She talks about her visions of angels that are apparently demons and how she fights them with this sword and how her hair changes color when she manifests the sword (it changes from blonde to black).  There's a cheating boyfriend, and strange man from a weird dimension who helps her fights, and ... you know what, I can't go on.  It's really, really bad.

It's a shame, too, because Singh's art is actually very nice.  His paintings of the demons look very hellish, and reminded me of that Mercy one-shot that Paul Johnson painted back in 1993 (yeah, I can reference obscure comics as well as Cronin can!).  He doesn't do as good as job with the more mundane aspects of the book, but they're still better than the story.  Too bad he's stuck on this piece of junk.

I miss insanely bad comics.  At least those are entertaining.  This is just crappy.  Oh well.

The Umbrella Academy #6 (of 6) by Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Nate Piekos (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Even though this is one of the best mini-series you're going to read in a long time, and I sure hope we see many more, I have one problem with this final issue.  I'll get to it after I praise the book a bit more.  Seriously, if you've been waiting for the trade, good for you, but if you haven't been planning on buying this, you really should.  Not only does it look spectacular - Bá really goes nuts in this issue, even more than he has been already - but it's a great, exciting read.  Vanya is destroying the world while her siblings try to stop her, and of course they do, but in a completely unexpected way.  This is the kind of comic that I love to read - something amazing happens on almost every page, from the way Vanya stops Kraken from killing her, to the horrific act she pulls a few pages later, to the way The Seance counters her destructive orchestra, to the way she is ultimately defeated, to the final surprise she has for her brothers and sisters.  It's an electrifying comic, and if each mini-series is going to be this good, we could have many years of brilliant comics to look forward to.

Without spoiling it (I hope), I will say that I was a tad disappointed in the way things resolved with regard to death.  I don't have a problem that at least two people who should be dead aren't, but it seems a bit inconceivable that they're alive.  I'm not necessarily bloodthirsty, but it does seem surprising.  Did anyone else feel that way about both or just one of them?  Again, I don't really want to spoil it, so I'd ask you not to either.  It was just odd.

Anyway, this is an excellent series.  I can't wait for more (as promised in the letters column). 

Zorro #1 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), Adriano Lucas (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer).  $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

In the grand tradition of The Lone Ranger, Dynamite went and dusted off Zorro, bringing in Wagner to write and the rising star Francavilla to draw.  This isn't quite Francavilla's best work, but it's pretty good.  The final page reveal is particularly nice.

I'm kind of in agreement with Chris Sims about this, in that it doesn't deliver the goods enough.  It's an origin story, so we barely see Zorro, but as Mr. Sims correctly points out, we pretty much already know Zorro's origins, so perhaps Wagner should have gotten to the swashbuckling a bit more quickly.  However, I only agree with Chris (I hope I can call him that, since I've never met him) because I wonder if it will deter readers who are expecting more Zorro-action and less Diego De La Vega learning how to be an upright Spanish gentleman.  Personally, I have no problem waiting for Zorro to appear, because I'm going by Wagner's track record as a writer (very good) and I'm not reading this as one discrete issue, but as part of the origin.  So while I understand the frustration of someone who wants to see Zorro flicking his sword and causing someone's pants to fall down (will that ever get old?), I don't share it.  I like seeing the factors that shaped Diego's life and his desire to avenge the little people, and if that means we get less adult Zorro for an issue or two (or even three), so be it.  For the time being, I like Zorro being some mysterious black-suited bandit who drops out of trees, scares the crap out of soldiers, then slices them to bits.  Of course, I want to see him eventually (even soon), but I can wait a bit.  Wagner does a nice job creating a backstory for him, and although I always wonder why there are so many liberated women in comics set in the past when women in the past were often not liberated at all, I'm willing to forgive that.  I guess there had to be some liberated women back then.

Zorro promises to be an adventure, but as we find out in the end, it's going to be a bit darker than, say, your average Antonio Banderas/Catherine Zeta-Jones movie.  And that's cool.  I just hope people give it a chance, because it's a pretty good comic book even if the title character isn't seen that often.

Well, that's another huge week.  I know the companies don't care about me, but I always have one gigantic week and one kind of puny week.  Couldn't the spread out the books I like over the month a bit better?  Sheesh.  I'm just thinking of you, the discerning reader, who has to wait until the weekend to read these gargantuan posts.  I mean, you're probably ready to bash my purchases by Thursday night, and I make you wait two more days!  How rude am I?

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