What I bought - 20 January 2010

"They get a thrill here - that's why they come. They take stupendous joy in the indignation and compassion they feel on account of these mangled stiffs; it's their roller coaster. I know this," he said, making a tragic incision across the abdomen of an adolescent girl, "and I'll tell you why. Since I'm here all the time and take apart fifty of these things a day, I can't feel for each and every one of them. I'm not God. I don't have that much in me. The ladies' aides and the social critics sense immediately that I couldn't give a goddamn about all this inedible meat, and that's just what they want. They know they're better than the miserable bastards they try to help, but they really enjoy thinking that they're better than the rest of us, who aren't as 'compassionate' as they are." He turned to Peter Lake again, and said, "You notice how often that very word escapes their lips. They use it like a cudgel. Beware." (Mark Helprin, from Winter's Tale)

Avengers vs. Agents of Atlas #1 (of 4) ("Earth's Mightiest Super Heroes"/"Defender of the Deep") by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist, "Earth's Mightiest"), Takeshi Miyazawa (artist, "Defender"), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist, "Earth's Mightiest"), Chris Sotomayor (colorist, "Defender"), Tom Orzechowski (letterer, "Earth's Mightiest"), and Joe Sabino (letterer, "Defender"). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Hey, you know how I was ranting about S.W.O.R.D.? Yeah, good times. Well, Marvel seems to have done something relatively clever with Agents of Atlas, possibly because Jeff Parker has photographs of Joey Q and Dan Buckley engaged in some easily blackmailable activity, like voting Republican or rooting for the Clippers. I mean, come on! So Marvel, having axed Parker's ongoing, has put the team as a back-up in The Incredible Hercules (see below!), which is apparently popular enough to drag it along with it; a two-part crossover with the X-Men, and now a four-issue mini-series on which they can slap the Avengers logo, which is apparently a license to print money these days. I don't know if it will work, but we get some good comics out of it. Marvel, thy name is changeable!

Parker knows what the hell he's doing, so this is an fine comic. Something strange happens at Avengers mansion, where an odd many-headed creature appears and apparently turns a kid's toy into a real giant robot (I'll get back to the giant robot). Meanwhile, in Mexico, Atlas is battling quite possibly the coolest bad guys in the existence of comics. Check them out below and dare to disagree with me! Then they fight Lava Men, all the while tracking some "distortion" in New York. Then they head to Manhattan (center of the world, baby!), where they find the Avengers battling the giant robot. Then the many-headed creature shows up again, does something to the "faux" Avengers, and out of the mist comes ... the Original Avengers, bitches!!!!! Wait a minute, where the fuck is the Hulk? And what the fuck is Captain America doing there?

So it's a terrifically entertaining issue, with cool fights, a nifty way to defeat the giant robot, and great art by Hardman. The robot is called, apparently, Growing Man. Now, I know the 1960s were a tiny bit less sophisticated in the comics business, but ... Growing Man? Really? Come on, Kang, give the poor dude a better name! Like "Steve." Still, the crystalloids make up for it. Parker does a nice job with the characters, shockingly, and it's nice that he remembers that Wolverine knows that Atlas are good guys but failed to bring it up with the Avengers. That sounds like something a regular person would do. I will never like calling Wolverine "James Howlett" - he's LOGAN, damn it! - but whatever. It's a nice comic.

It's four dollars, though, and I'm not sure if it's worth it. The main story is your regular 22 pages, and there's a back-up story. I don't know what will get collected in the trade, because the back-up story is kind of lame. Namora gets pissed off that some Japanese are hunting whales, so she dumps them in the ocean. Then the whales tell her to save the men even though she'd just as happily leave them to die. Blah. It's nicely drawn by Miyazawa, but it's dull. Parker is riffing on a Morrison story from 20 years ago (and probably a bunch of others), and it's as simplistic as that one was. I like that Marvel is giving us a back-up story for our money and it's not just a reprint, but it's kind of difficult to write a good environmental story in 8 pages. Oh well.

Still, it's nice to see the Atlas people wandering around the Marvel Universe. This seems like a fun, old-fashioned romp. There's nothing wrong with that!

One panel of awesome (with no caption because I loaded it differently, but you can click to enlarge!):

Fables #92 ("Out to the Ball Game Part 1 of 2") by Bill Willingham (writer), David Lapham (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

David Lapham jumps into the artist's chair for a two-parter that takes place in Haven, the kingdom Ambrose established a while back. It seems like a trifle, as we get a goblin team battling Ambrose's team in baseball, with Willingham riffing on "Casey at the Bat" (all variations of which, it seems, must end the same way - with the slugger striking out). Two things occur as a result of the goblins' win: Ambrose and Red Riding Hood get to macking, which leads to something unexpected, and the drunk winning goblin pitcher wanders off the route to Goblin Town, which leads to something a bit darker. The book takes an unexpected serious twist at the end, leading into the next issue. It's actually handled well by Willingham - I've often criticized his lack of proper resolutions or cliffhangers to his issues, as they often seem to end when he happens to reach 22 pages and not because it's a good spot to end an issue. This one, however, isn't quite a cliffhanger per se, but Willingham does a nice job leading to it and giving us something to look forward to in the next issue. And if anyone is surprised that someone like Lapham handles the art chores, well, he does fine. The one really cool splash page in the middle of the issue is quite marvelous. If Lapham won't be drawing Young Liars or Stray Bullets anytime soon, at least he's drawing something!

Willingham always does a nice job with these short stories in the middle of longer arcs. A new reader could easily pick this up and understand what's going on, even if Willingham doesn't get into the whole idea of Haven itself. Meanwhile, long-time readers know this is somehow going to tie into the main story. So it's good times for all!

One panel of awesome:

Hellblazer #263 ("India Part Three: No Dancing, No Singing") by Peter Milligan (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (layouter), Stefano Landini (finisher), Trish Mulvihill (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Milligan continues John's sojourn in India, as Epiphany, that gangster's daughter who showed up a few issues ago, finds him there. It's all part of the holy man's cryptic message from last issue, that John would find the right woman. John, of course, thought he was talking about Phoebe. But, as the holy man points out in this issue, it's a wise man indeed who knows who the right woman is. Hint, John: It's probably not Epiphany. But hey! she's useful - she finds an ancestor of the creepy British guy who is this arc's bad guy. So that's something. Oh, and horrible things happen to people. What are you going to do, Jake? It's Hellblazer.

This has been a good arc, and Milligan continues to twist things so that John finds himself in trouble. As in, just when he thinks he has a bead on the demon, the cops who are looking for the serial killer find him, and he's in, well, not a good position. We know John will get out of every and any situation, because he's the star of the book, but what makes any decent Hellblazer story work is the clever way he gets out of it and/or how much of his soul it will cost him. He's already bruised his soul quite well during the time Milligan has been writing him, and this story seems more of a "look how clever John is" kind of thing, which is always nice to see.

There's never too much to say about Hellblazer. I enjoy it and think Milligan is doing a nice job with John, but there's also not much that simply bowls me over. I have a feeling it will be one of those comics that, when Milligan is done with it, I'll be much more impressed. Right now, I'm just enjoying the nastiness. Because there's plenty of that.

One panel of awesome:

The Incredible Hercules #140 ("Assault on New Olympus Act III: The Fourth Extinction"/"Godmarked Part 4: Oh Hades ... It Is ON!") by Greg Pak (writer, "Assault"), Fred van Lente (writer, "Assault"), Jeff Parker (writer, "Godmarked"), Rodney Buchemi (artist, "Assault"), Gabriel Hardman (artist, "Godmarked"), Guillem Mari (colorist, "Assault"), J. Roberts (colorist, "Godmarked"), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Tom Orzechowski (letterer, "Godmarked"). $3.99, 28 pgs, FC, Marvel.

See, now, in this $3.99 comic, we get the main story and a solid back-up, with the Agents of Atlas back-up finally dovetailing with the main story ... just in time for reality to fall apart. Oh dear. And, of course, in time for Aphrodite to show up. Yes, she's still pissed that Venus is stealing her schtick. But, you know, she's dressed in a bikini. So really, who cares what she's saying, amirite?

The main story made me a bit uncomfortable, actually, and not in a good way, like when you just can't stop smearing peanut butter on your ... wait a minute, where was I? Oh, right. Maybe I'm channeling my inner Kelly Thompson, but women in this issue have a rough time. I guess I need to put in a SPOILER warning, so there it is. In Hellblazer, of course, the whole point is that the demon wants women, so it's not surprising that women are treated poorly. Plus, the men are kind of scum, and they're slowly getting their comeuppance as well. But in this book, I got a weird vibe from the way the women are treated. First, we have Delphyne. She has a mortal enemy in Athena, sure, and she turned Athena to stone so that Hephaestus will restore her humanity. Okay. I kept waiting for her to turn good again, because I just couldn't believe Pak and van Lente were going to let her stay evil. And lo, she does turn good again. Or does she? Her characterization in the past two issues is very weird. When she was introduced, she had a soft spot for Amadeus. Then she became queen of the Amazons and couldn't hang out with him anymore. Now, she's allied with Hera because she hates Athena so much. When she does turn human again, she acts like Amadeus should be grateful that she even talks to him (to be fair, most teenaged boys ought to feel grateful when girls talk to them). Then she turns Athena over to Hephaestus, and then she has a change of heart. I'm trying to work out what bugs me about her behavior. It feels ... pragmatic. "What?" you say. "A character acting pragmatic? Release the hounds!" But hear me out. If she were a man, I think, the writers would have had her fight nobly against Athena, and once she defeated her, she wouldn't have turned him over to a creepy old man like Hephaestus, because she wouldn't have made a deal with a creepy old man like Hephaestus. When she "comes to her senses," it feels like she's doing it because she sees an advantage in it, not because it's the right thing to do. It's hard to quantify, and I fear I'm doing a poor job. In a superhero book, the hero might be dim, but he's always noble ... to a degree. I know Delphyne isn't the hero of the book, so she's not necessarily noble, but it just seems like if she were a man, she would have done something different. Her pragmatism - she defeats her enemy the way she knows how, then switches sides because she didn't realize a creepy old man would have creepy plans for his object of desire - seems, to me, to be something that van Lente and Pak are showing as sinister. I can't shake this feeling. And don't even get me started on what happens to Hera. Damn you, Kelly, for making me think this way!

Still, there's a furnace-driven dragon. And dang, I just love the sound effects. And the solution to "Prisoner's Dilemma," and Hephaestus' reaction to it. And the back-up story (I just hope Namora's reaction is because of Aphrodite's presence). And the art. Maybe I just really liked Delphyne when she first showed up and don't want to see her as a bad guy. Damn you, Pak and van Lente, for creating a cute snake-headed girl and then turning her evil! Don't you know that some of us can only relate to ficitonal characters?!?!?!?!?

One panel of awesome:

Joe the Barbarian #1 (of ocho) ("Hypo") by Grant "Yeah, it's another Batman book - you gotta problem with that?" Morrison (writer), Sean Murphy (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $1.00, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Yes, it's the third (3rd) review of this comic in less than 24 hours. It's not like we here at the blog are, you know, in l-u-v with Morrison or anything. It's not like Our Dread Lord and Master e-mailed me a bunch of picture of the God of All Comics rubbing sweet, delicious chocolate all over his bald head or anything ... oh, sorry, was that supposed to be a secret? Crap.

MarkAndrew's hilarious "review" (I put it in quotes mainly because people don't seem to think it is one) started all the folderol, and it's interesting because in one regard he's absolutely correct - this is a very un-Morrison-esque first issue. Morrison has never been one to "waste space," as our controversial blogger puts it, and this is a very, very decompressed issue. It's almost - almost, mind you - too decompressed, but it's not. The most important line in the book, of course, is "What do I look like?" - Joe is calling himself a stereotype, and while being aware of the fact that you're working with stereotypes doesn't excuse it, at least it reveals that you're willing to work on it. So Joe, the hypoglycemic nerd, and his tormentors can, presumably, become something else (note the name of the comic). Whether or not that happens is up to Morrison.

Murphy is, of course, the star in this book, because Mark's right - not much happens at all. Murphy is almost wholly responsible for the mood of the comic, which is odd, because even when Morrison is working with an artist with whom he has good synergy, the final product is extremely Morrisony. I mean, Quitely might be responsible for the tremendous fight scenes in We3, but it's still a very Morrisony comic. This doesn't feel like a Morrison comic, even when the Transformers start talking in Morrisonese. Murphy is left alone to set the scene (I can't shake the feeling that Joe lives in Astoria, Oregon, even though this looks like a bigger city than that), and he does it marvelously. I question his use of a 1970s aesthetic for Joe and the house, especially as the book takes place in the present, Joe's mom seems reasonably fashionable, and that's a damned nice house, but whatever. Both Mark and Brian posted nice examples of the art, so I shan't go into it further.

What bugs me about the defenders of the book and allows me to see Mark's point through all his insanity is the idea of the house. Commenters have pointed out that the house is very important. Why do they know this? Not because of anything in the issue itself, but because Morrison and Murphy have said so in interviews. I don't read many on-line interviews with creators, mainly because I don't feel like looking for them. If they show up on sites I read, I might check them out. Also, most creator interviews are fairly boring. But we have no indication that all this "padding" (if you're feeling uncharitable) or "nuance" (if you're feeling charitable) is necessary from the context of the issue itself - I can guess, having seen hundreds of movies and read hundreds of comic books, that you're not going to film or draw something that isn't important, so I assume that Joe's house and social situation will be relevant, but I don't necessarily know that, or how the house will be important. Is it the fact that it's three stories? Is it the structure? From one panel, we can guess that the basement will be important. If Morrison and Murphy have to reassure us outside of the issue itself that the house is important, perhaps they know the first issue might be looked at as "boring" ... and perhaps Morrison could have done something different. I'm just pointing out that if you have to annotate your story before it even comes out, something might be lacking. And this comes from someone who absolutely adores annotations. (Again, I realize that you're probably not going to draw all that stuff if it's not important, but we have seen artists draw stuff that's not important before. Just because it's Morrison doesn't mean he automatically has a plan. We can assume he does, but we don't know from the first issue.)

Well, it's a dollar. And it looks gorgeous. And it's the God of All Comics not doing superheroes, where he seems to have lost his touch a little bit. Maybe it would have been better as a graphic novel, but such, as they say, is life. And if MarkAndrew thinks this is one of the worst comics he's ever read, he needs to read more comics. If it's one of the worst Morrison comics he's ever read, he should probably read more Morrison comics. May I suggest his run on Batman?

One panel of awesome:

Power Girl #8 ("A Groovy Kind of Love") by Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Justin Gray (writer), Amanda Conner (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and John J. Hill (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

This is a really weird issue of Power Girl. Last issue, we were faced with the imminent extinction of every life form on Earth because Vartox brought something called the Ix Negaspike to the planet to impress Kara when he defeated it, but she accidentally caused it to replicate and pissed it off. Well, ha ha, they defeat it in four pages. Weird. Then, it turns out that when Vartox said "mate," he didn't mean what we think. Ha ha, it's fairly easy for Valeronians to get pregnant, and it doesn't actually involve Vartox and Kara making the beasts with two backs. So everything could have been solved much more easily if PG had listened to Vartox in the first place or if Vartox had been more precise. I know that misunderstanding is pretty much the root of a good half (if not more) of all superhero stories, but this one really stretched the limits of credulity. It's a shame, because this brief arc and this issue has some very funny moments. The "My Dinner with Vartox" section in the middle of this book is very funny - although I couldn't help but notice that even when she wears "real" clothing, Kara really digs the boob window. But the story, ultimately, wasn't a two-parter, and it felt really sloppily put together. And what's the deal with Kara getting drunk? Really? And then, when she helps Vartox and he tries to make a (bad) joke, she snaps at him. Like I said, it just feels sloppy. Palmiotti and Gray have come close to matching the tremendous artwork, but they're still working on it. I thought they had turned a corner, but this issue sets them back a bit.

I will point out that the subplot with Satanna gives us two very funny pages with a badger (I recently pointed out that badgers are awesome, and this does nothing to change my mind) and a very disturbing panel of awesome:

Power Girl, however, remains on my fence. I really want to keep buying it! We'll see.

Rapture #6 (of 6) by Taki Soma (writer/layouter), Michael Avon Oeming (writer/artist), Val Staples (colorist), and Thomas Mauer (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I'm a bit confused by Rapture, because I don't know what Soma and Oeming want to say with it. It looks great - the art is very good, and Staples' colors continue to be amazing - but with this final issue, it all falls apart a bit, and I'm left wondering what the writers were really going for. I wondered last issue if this would devolve into a fight between Evelyn and Gil, and while I appreciate that Soma and Oeming don't simply give us that easy out (the two characters fight, but it's more than that), it seems like they weren't quite sure if this should be a post-apocalyptic story, a superhero story, or a love story. It turns out that it doesn't work too well as any of them. First of all, while I complained about the portrayel of women above, here I'm going to complain about the portrayel of men. Gil turns evil, and it feels wrong. Soma and Oeming never really get into Gil and Evelyn's relationship too much before the superheroes leave, so when the "rapture" occurs and the world goes to shit, it's hard to believe that Evelyn would move heaven and earth to get back to Gil. So when the big battle occurs, it doesn't feel all that devastating that these two "lovers" are fighting and filled with regret and hatred and longing - we don't have enough to go on. Gil seems angry, and while, intellectually, we can understand why he might be, it doesn't feel enough to drive him to villainy. It robs the battle of a lot of the tension it would have had otherwise. And it leads to a strange happy ending that also doesn't feel earned. First, the "rapture" is explained very poorly, because nobody would be so stupid as those who are responsible for what happened (I'm trying not to give anything away). And then everyone forgets about what occurred during the "rapture"? Weird. Finally, Evelyn and Gil's reunion, again, doesn't feel as true as it should, because we haven't seen enough of the two of them as a couple. It just didn't work.

It's too bad, because the basic plot is solid, and Oeming did some nifty stuff with his art, and overall the book looks great. The story just doesn't come together, however. Too bad.

One panel of awesome:

Spider-Woman #5 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I'm not sure if I'm channeling Kelly with this one, but what the hell is up with that cover? I don't think it's overtly sexual, so maybe I'm just offended on an artistic level. I mean, Jessica's body is contorted really strangely, and given that she's supposed to be gliding, I'm not sure why it's contorted. Her butt is thrust out behind her, her torso is at a 90-degree angle to her legs but her back arches enough to get her to face us, and her left leg is bent. Like I wrote, it doesn't look like Maleev did it to sex her up, so what's the deal? Sheesh.

Anyway, this is Bendis doing his thing, with not a lot of exterior shots so Maleev's art looks fairly good. Jessica allows the cops to take her mainly to get her costume back, but she does think they're something odd going on at the station. Then the Thunderbolts show up. Okay.

If we want to talk decompressed comics, this is a good example. This is Bendis' thing, of course, but this issue bugs me because now he has Jessica repeating plot points from earlier issues, and it feels like Bendis is beating us over the head with it. Jessica repeats them more than once, too, which is kind of annoying. I expect this in television, where things are telegraphed over and over either through lingering camera shots or character comments, but it's frustrating reading someone who can construct a nice, long-running story arc and pull it off (I mean, he's done it before) but decides to have Jessica narrate over and over that the cops already know the answers to the questions they have. We get it, BMB! I don't know why it offended me so much. If we bash Morrison for something like Final Crisis, where he asks us to fill in every single blank, we can bash Bendis for not giving us anything to fill in. It's one extreme to the other.

You may ask why I'm still buying this. The first arc runs through issue #7. I do like to give a series an arc before I make a decision, especially when it's by two guys who I know can do good work. We shall see, Bendis and Maleev. We shall see.

One panel of awesome:

In advertising news, you probably saw the big ol' house ad that Marvel is running in their books this week, especially because it's been on-line for a while now:

I have one thing to say: Bwah-ha-ha-ha! I mean, I'm sure this doesn't mean what Marvel is sort-of implying, I just like that they can still get people worked up over this to use it in an ad and have everyone speculate on what it might mean. Hey, if it gets people to buy Amazing Spider-Man, that's fine. Well done, Marvel.

Let's continue with the newest sensation of 2010, The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Jimmy James" - Beastie Boys (1992)2. "Love Child" - The Supremes (1968)3. "Behind Blue Eyes" - The Who (1971)4. "Far Away Boys" - Flogging Molly (2000)5. "Freedom! '90" - George Michael (1990)6. "Gentle Groove" - Mother Love Bone (1990)7. "Last Call" - The Popes (2000)8."Right Wing Pigeons" - The Dead Milkmen (1985)9. "No Sign Of Yesterday" - Men at Work (1983)10. "If You Don't Like It" - Cinderella (1988)

You know, the lyrics of "Love Child" really crack me up. Talk about a different world. But those aren't the totally random lyrics! Here they are:

"He barely made the sweeping curve that led into the steepest grade,And he missed the thankful passing bus at ninety miles an hour. And he said, "God, make it a dream!" As he rode his last ride down. And he said, "God, make it a dream!" As he rode his last ride down. And he sideswiped nineteen neat parked cars, Clipped off thirteen telephone poles, Hit two houses, bruised eight trees, And Blue-Crossed seven people. It was then he lost his head, Not to mention an arm or two before he stopped. And he slid for four hundred yards Along the hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania."

Man, I love that song. And not just because my dad grew up near Scranton.

One final note (I know, I'm going on): Today I saw a regular dude, dressed in a normal Oxford shirt and khaki slacks. He had sandy hair, not too, too dark, cut fairly close to the scalp - it wasn't a buzz cut, but it was pretty short. And a bushy black beard. I mean, not just some scruff or a neatly-trimmed beard - this was mountain man stuff. It was really, really weird. I wanted to take a picture, but that would have been intrusive (not to mention creepy) and I wanted to ask him what the hell was up, but he probably would have slugged me. It was just a very strange look - not really messy (he and his beard looked clean), but incongruous. And I just thought I'd share it with you. Aren't you happy you stopped by Comics Should Be Good! today?

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