What I bought - 20 June 2007

Let's get to it!  These reviews aren't going to write themselves!  (Although I'm sure some people - you know who you are! - think I let my two-year-old write these, someone is definitely sitting at the keyboard typing away!)

Catwoman #68 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

I've been banging my head against the wall for a while with regards to Catwoman, but I'll say it again: this is one of the best mainstream books out there right now.  And, typically, it's not selling.  The reasons behind its lack of success are pretty clear: it took Pfeifer a while to find his footing on the book (even I know that); after Brubaker left, the book floundered for a while, driving readers away; it's Catwoman without Jim Balent drawing her.  But like a lot of comics that feature characters DC doesn't really care about, this allows the creators to write wonderful stories in which the characters actually change and grow.  Then they get popular, and the Powers-That-Be retcon the character back to a supposed "Golden Age" version of the character.  I have no idea if Pfeifer's comic is going to get canceled anytime soon or if DC is going to fire him and replace him with someone who will "return Selina to her roots," but for now, this is rapidly becoming a simply great comic book.  And it's really a shame that not a lot of people seem to notice.

As for this issue, well, it's more of the same.  Boris threatens Helena, Selina comes to her rescue, Boris and Natasha threaten some more, there's a big fight.  It's the conclusion of a storyline, so things are resolved, but Pfeifer is really treating this whole thing as one long story, so more things open up.  It's a brutal issue that shows a mother fighting to the death for her child, and Selina's raw emotion is dazzling to behold.  López, who has been getting better and better, is in excellent form, too.  When Selina calls Bruce Wayne on the phone, even though she's in the middle of a fight for her life, she smiles when Alfred answers.  It's little touches like that that humanize her and make us root even more for her.  And the fights are stunning.

I do have one question.  Selina shocks Boris with some sort of taser while he's holding Helena.  Why isn't the kid zapped as well?  I've looked at the panels and can't figure it out.  Can anyone help?

It's a shame you're not reading this.  Oh well.  Carry on with Meltzer's Justice League.  I'm sure that's much better.

Checkmate #15 by Greg Rucka, Judd Winick, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson.  $2.99, DC.

You may not like Greg Rucka, but he's better than Judd Winick at least in this regard: he tries to let us know who the characters are in this crossover.  On the first page, we learn that "Nightwing, Boomerang," and Sasha are prisoners.  If you've been following the story, you already know that, but Winick has not told us once what Nightwing's name is, and the only time he's referred to the other one is by calling him "Owen."  The first time in this comic that we see the big egg dude, we find out his name is Chang Tzu.  Now, Winick didn't have a chance to identify him last issue, because he was the big reveal, but why do I think that if this were an issue of Outsiders we'd never learn his name? 

I don't mean to keep harping on this kind of thing, but Rucka shows it's not that difficult to let us know who these people are.  It's just lazy writing when you don't have a modicum of respect for readers and let them know who your characters are.  As has been pointed out, I don't do any research when I read comics, but I shouldn't have to.  I have a vague idea who these characters are, but I don't read every DC comic, nor do I troll message boards, so I don't know who the big yellow fucking egg is who is menacing our heroes in this issue.  However, Rucka gives me just enough information so I can piece everything together.  Is that so fucking difficult to do?

Anyway, this is a pretty good issue, as Chang Tzu tortures Owen and Sasha while the Outsiders and Checkmate wait to head back to Oolong Island to rescue them.  Of course, the problem is that they're not actually on Oolong Island anymore, so Mr. Terrific calls in some dude dressed in a black costume with a bat on it to help him.  Anyone know who the hell that is?  As usual with Checkmate, the best parts of the book deal with the political machinations, and we get a few pages of the Chinese denying all responsibility for Big Yellow Egg Dude's actions and Mr. Terrific letting Amanda Waller know that he knows what she's been up to.  Brian gave a "jeer" to turning the Wall into a villain, but I don't know if she's really a bad guy.  Everyone in Checkmate has an agenda, and Waller is exercising hers.  Whether she comes out on top is part of the political intrigue in this book, where the bad guys often aren't so clear-cut.

And Owen really comes off poorly in this issue, doesn't he?  I mean, sure he's being tortured, but he cries like a two-year-old who just had his favorite toy taken away.  It's strange, because usually writers make their heroes bear torture with a stoicism that belies reality.  I like that Owen screams bloody murder, but it's weird that Rucka and Winick would do that to the poor guy.

Chronicles of Wormwood #4 (of 6) by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows.  $3.99, Avatar. 

Wormwood and Jay visit Hell, but it doesn't go as planned.  See, that's Satan behind them on the cover, and he shouldn't be able to see them in Hell, but somehow he does, thanks to a mysterious something-or-other in the Vatican's basement that the Pope helps him find.  What the heck is going on?

It's nice to see Ennis do what he does well in this issue, and that's write nice little character moments that really resonate.  Jay is upset about being in Hell, and Wormwood comforts him, and it's a pleasant scene even as it's kind of depressing.  Jimmy the rabbit finds Hell more numbing than shocking, and it's an interesting comment on the depravity of the world.  Of course, there's plenty of cursing and juvenile humor (I still hate the bartender with a penis for a nose, and even more this issue), but generally, Ennis is keeping it relatively low-key.  Well, as low-key as you can get when the issue takes place in Hell and the Pope likes to have sex with nuns.

Oh, and excellent art by Burrows blah blah blah.  You know the drill when it comes to Burrows!

Ex Machina #29 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Jim Clark.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm. 

You know, I have to say that MarkAndrew's hatred of this book is seeping into my thoughts.  Damn you, MarkAndrew!!!!!

Okay, so I still love the book and think it's one of the best comics out there.  However, this is the final issue of an arc, which means it's time for Vaughan to end it somewhat weakly, and here that means Mitch acts like an idiot.  I mean, here's some weird dude who obviously isn't from around here.  He kidnaps your mother and her boyfriend, which would make you a bit grumpy, I get it.  But when you finally get the upper hand and said weird dude who obviously isn't from around here offers to explain things to you, you clock him in the face with your gun and don't give him a chance.  I always love it when people who are living in a superhero world act like someone else is crazy.  Mitch thinks this guy has a mental illness.  The guy who can talk to machines thinks the weird dude who obviously isn't from around here has a mental illness.  Jeez, Mitch, accept the strangeness!  By the time he gets his gun in the dude's face and starts demanding answers, the power is back on and the guy disappears.  It's so obvious he's talking about how Mitch got his power, but Mitch doesn't want to hear it.  What a maroon!

Still, it adds a small piece of the puzzle to the overall story.  But it's a weird way for our hero to act.  It's vexing. 

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 by Marc Guggenheim, Tony Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Marlo Alquiza.  $2.99, DC.

You know, occasionally I like to engage in the crudeness.  So, with regard to the final issue of this series, I say: WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!?!?!

By the way, if you don't already know it, I'm going to SPOIL the ending.  Does it really matter, though?

Okay, I admit that I came late to this story.  I got this because more people chose this for me to read than any other comic, and I figured as a final issue, it might make sense.  Well, it sort of makes sense, but that doesn't mean it's any good.

I guess it's pointless to review this, as it's not coming back, but I will say this: God, this is a pretty awful and depressing comic.  What's the point?  Bart dies in a particularly brutal way, and it feels absolutely hollow.  I just have no idea what is going on any more with the iconic characters of Marvel and DC.  This is horrible.

At least it's not the worst comic book that DC published this week.  You know which one that is! 

Gamekeeper #3 (of 5) by Andy Diggle and Mukesh Singh.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

People will say, "Greg, how can you enjoy this comic, where several people get ripped to shreds by fighting dogs, yet not enjoy The Flash, in which Bart gets pummeled to death by three men?"  Well, as usual, it's in what you expect.  I know going into this series that it's going to be messy.  So I can deal with it.

As the middle of a mini-series, this is the "padded" issue, but Diggle keeps things moving decently enough.  Brock goes to Amsterdam and finds out who hired the men who attacked his employer's manor.  He does this in horrible fashion, as he basically feeds a guy to crazed dogs.  Of course, the guy had it coming, as he's not too kind to dogs.  But that's basically it.  We don't learn any more about the file that Morgan had, but that's what I mean about being padded.  There's nothing in this particular issue that couldn't be done more quickly, but that's okay.  It's still a nice-looking book, and Brock's attempts to live in the "civilized" world are pretty humorous.

It's just nothing I can really review properly, because it's in the middle of a story.  Of course, if you are picking this up for the first time, Diggle does a better job of getting us up to speed than a lot of other writers. 

The Incredible Hulk #107 by Greg Pak, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal.  $2.99, Marvel.

I'm not buying any World War Hulk titles except the actual mini-series and this book, and if everything is timed as poorly in this crossover as these two comics are, this has to be confusing.  It's not that this is a bad comic, it's just that it starts prior to the beginning of World War Hulk #1, which already came out, and finishes just after that issue ends.  It's easy to pick up on, but with all the other books tying into it, I wonder how that will work with the planning of it.  I know Marvel and DC don't give a flying fuck about keeping things clear these days, but it would be nice if they paid lip service to it.

This is a perfectly good issue (made better by Frank's art) that fills in some gaps in the crossover, allowing the main mini-series to be all about, well, smashing.  Amadeus Cho makes it look like S.H.I.E.L.D. is attacking him, Hercules, and Angel in order to gain their trust.  Namor acts like a dick, typically, although I don't follow his logic about trying to stop Amadeus.  I've always liked the idea of a religious cult forming around superheroes; it seems like such a natural idea I'm unclear why more writers haven't run with it, so it's nice to see all the people returning to New York to "help" the Hulk.  The presence of Tom Foster, Bill Foster's nephew, is cool, too.  And the fight between the Jolly Green Giant and Hercules is fantastic.

This is a nice, solid issue.  I doubt if I'm missing much by skipping the rest of the crossover to buy just these two books. 

Moon Knight #11 by Charlie Huston and Mico Suayan.  $2.99, Marvel.

I love that cover - Tony Stark appears in ONE panel in this comic, and not in costume.  Good stuff.

You know, I just can't defend this comic anymore.  Not because I don't like it, but because I'm tired of it.  The writing is very good - Huston does some nice jumping back and forth through time in this issue to show us that Marc gets advice on how to get Marlene back and then screws it up, while he prepares to go fight Midnight even though we already know he's been beaten.  So we pay attention to the details, and it's neat to piece together when everything is happening.  Moon Knight, whatever you want to say about it, demands your attention.  But it makes sense, unlike this week's worst book, which demands attention but makes no sense whatsoever.

However, Suayan's art, which was coherent in the first few issues, is getting worse.  I don't know who will replace Huston on the title when (and if, I guess) he leaves, but I hope Marvel gets a new artist, too.  The panels without Moon Knight are fine enough, but when our hero goes into the sewers to find Midnight, it's very hard to figure out what's going on.  Add to that a character that comes out of nowhere (said character has been in the book already, but it's still confusing when the character appears) and it becomes a mess.  It's a shame, because this is a really interesting comic about an aging and crazy superhero.  Huston deserves an artist who won't bail on the book and one who can draw coherently.

Of course, maybe the script is confusing.  In which case, it's Huston's fault.  That could be.  I don't know.  I do know that the actual story is very good.  And Moon Knight does what we all want to do to the pro-registration forces!

Repo #1 (of 5) by Rick Spears and Rob G.  $3.50, Image.

For me, Rick Spears and Rob G have a bit of a mixed track record.  On the one hand, Filler is quite good.  On the other hand, Teenagers From Mars is overrated.  I know they've done other stuff, but those are the only two things by them I've read, so this is the rubber comic!

Well, let's see.  I think I like Mr. G's art more when it's in black-and-white.  There's something off about it in color, and I can't quite put my finger on it.  He does a good job imagining a future that is technologically advanced yet as dirty as our present is, and he has a good sense of panel composition, but the art is still off, somehow.  Don't ask me to explain more!

The writing seems to shade toward the Spears of Teenagers From Mars, which is disappointing.  Spears seems to think his writing has to be bad-ass, but this feels like faux-bad-assery, and gets annoying after a while.  The story isn't bad - our heroes, KD (the black guy) and Emil (the white guy) work for a collection agency that goes after clones, which are common and apparently used for ... something, although it's not quite clear.  In fact, it's not quite clear what KD and Emil are repossessing - their only job ends when Emil accidentally blows up a car (to be fair, it was rigged to explode).  They get another job at the end, but we're still not sure what's going on.  That's a problem, as the issue could have hooked me more if Spears had been a bit clearer about it instead of having KD and Emil engage in pointless blather about their nicknames.  As their boss says, "Would you shut up the both of you?  Christ -- I can barely hear my wasted life slipping away."  Amen, brother!  Tell them to explain what they're doing!

I'm really torn about whether I should get issue #2.  I mean, I know these two can do good work, and the idea - such as it is - could work well, but I don't want bad-ass Spears.  That guy doesn't interest me.  We'll see.  Maybe issue #2 will be better.

Rex Mundi #6 by Arvid Nelson and Jim Di Bartolo.  $2.99, Dark Horse. 

This is a fill-in issue, as Nelson steps outside his narrative for a moment and brings us a tale from the Duke of Lorraine's daughter Isabelle's childhood.  It feels like it will tie into the main story soon enough, as there's talk of Isabelle's pure blood and this story is about the bloodline of Jesus, but I wonder if Nelson knew he'd be having a fill-in artist soon and so decided to write something specifically for that artist.  Either way, it's actually a decent enough stand-alone story.  Isabelle is sent to a country estate after the death of her mother, where the baron (that's him on the cover) is a vampire.  He's after her blood, but she's saved by another vampire, who also wants Isabelle and speaks of a "master in the east."  Isabelle manages to escape, but the second vampire swears they'll get her someday.  So it's a fine horror story that ties into the bigger arc without requiring any knowledge of it.  It's not a great story, but it's not bad.  Di Bartolo, who pencilled a few issues back when the comic was at Image, steps in and does a pretty good job.  His sense of perspective seems a bit off, but his facial expressions are very nice.  He does the colors, too, and as usual in this book, those are wonderful and add a great deal to the atmosphere of the comic.

If you haven't been buying Rex Mundi, well, that's your loss, but I understand because of the back story (despite Nelson's synopses at the beginning of each issue).  However, this issue works well as a single story, so it might be a nice place to check out the comic and see if you're interested. 

Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (of 4) by Jeff Parker, Mike Wieringo, and Wade von Grawbadger.  $2.99, Marvel.

I'm sure this series isn't selling all that well (but I can hope, can't I?), but it would be nice if it did well.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: If you're one of those whiners who claims to love old-time superheroics and can't stand the way Marvel allows, say, Aunt May to get shot and you don't buy this comic, then you need to shut up.  An interesting and threatening alien invasion, something weird going on with Spider-Man's health, a very funny appeal to Dr. Doom's vanity, lots of big action, and plenty of humor, served up by Misters Parker and Wieringo.  What more do you want?  So buy it, and hush! 

The Spirit #7 by Walter Simonson, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, and Kyle Baker.  $2.99, DC. 

Poor Denny Colt.  You know, I often encountered the problem of seven buxom bikinied beauties ripping my clothes off whenever I went to the beach.  It's part of the reason why I moved to Arizona.  Not only are there no beaches here, there's hardly any water!

This is the first issue sans Cooke, as he takes some time off and turns the reins over to various good creators to tell three stories of the Spirit in their own fashion.  Some work, some don't.  The first, by Simonson and Sprouse, is a decent jewel heist story, with excellent-as-usual art by Mr. Sprouse.  It's fine but kind of forgettable.  The second, the best in the issue, is by Palmiotti and Bernet, and is the kind of Spirit story I hope we see more of from Cooke.  The Spirit chases a bad guy into a tenement and simply through his actions of chasing the bad guy through the tenement, he causes all sorts of good things to happen to the beleaguered people in said tenement.  Plus, he gets a date with the girl sunbathing topless on the roof.  Now that's a good day!  The third story, by Baker, is not very good at all.  It's dark and ugly, it makes very little sense, the Spirit is pretty much an asshole in it, and Ellen is kind of a evil slut.  Blech.

But that's the point: creators with their own take on the character.  It's an interesting comic, even though I only like two-thirds of it.  There's nothing wrong with spending your money on checking out some very good creators.  You might even like the Baker story! 

Warhammer 40,000: Damnation Crusade #5 (of 6) by Dan Abnett, Ian Edginton, and Lui Antonio.  $2.99, Boom! Studios.

Warhammer: Forge of War #1 (of 5) by Dan Abnett, Ian Edginton, and Rahsan Ekedal.  $2.99, Boom! Studios.

The fine folk at Boom! Studios were nice enough to send these my way, for which I thank them.  However, unlike a lot of their books, these two are not my cup of tea at all (and I don't even drink tea, for good measure).  The first is the fifth in a six-issue mini-series, so I'm a bit lost, but the second is the first issue, and I'm still not impressed, so I doubt if having the first four issues of Damnation Crusade would make the book better.  I have a feeling that maybe these comics would work if I was into the video game, but I'm not.  Either way, they're not very inspiring.  They're both war comics, a genre I'm certainly not adverse to, but they don't give us much more than pseudo-religious blather (in the first comic) and hard-nosed "war is hell" propaganda (in the second).  In both cases, the art is suitable bloody, but it's somewhat murky in the first book and occasionally confusing in Forge of War, as in the battle scenes we lose track of who's who.  I guess that makes it successful from a battle standpoint, but it's vexing when you're trying to track characters.

It's a shame about these two, because Edginton is probably one of the most underrated writers working today, and the stuff I've read by Abnett (not a ton, I admit) shows that he knows how to put a story together.  These two comics, however, don't show how talented they can be.  Oh well.  I guess if you're really into the video games and you like to watch lots of people get killed in bloody fashion, you can check these out!

Wasteland #10 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  $3.50, Oni Press. 

In this issue of Wasteland, Johnston decides to reveal some things, but while what he reveals is very nice, it also opens up a bunch of new questions, which is also nice.  It's sequential fiction, after all, so we need to keep moving forward!

There's not much to say about this issue, because as usual, strange things are afoot that we only slightly understand.  We do see a flashback to Abi's past and discover some things about her and Jakob, but more importantly, we get Michael's showdown with Marcus, and we get some hints about their past together and the enigma of A-Ree-Yass-I.  I mean, we don't find out exactly what it is, but we find out that it might not be a place you really want to visit.

Mitten's art is really the star of the comic, as Marcus/Michael's flashback and realization of how they are connected is beautifully done.  It's trippy and weird, but relatively easy to follow.  It's also in a slightly different style, with softer lines and some blurring around the edges.  Mitten has done a fine job in bringing Johnston's future to life, and here he shines on his own, as he gives us several pages of wordless pictures and plenty of clues about what's going on.  It's a very nice book to look at.

After this, the book needs a month off.  That's okay, though, because I like how they've planned these months off to stay on top of things.  Check out the trade of the first issues, because this is a very good comic book. 

The Weapon #1 (of 4) by Fred van Lente and Scott Koblish.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

With all the (sort-of) hype over Paul Dini's new book from Platinum Studios, one wonders why this comic, which certainly looks better (I flipped through Madam Mirage in the store), didn't get the same kind of hype.  It's by Fred van Lente, for crying out loud!  What more do you need?

This is high-concept done really well.  We begin with a legend about the Shan-Tao monks, who learned how to channel their life force into solid objects such as weapons.  Earning the emperor's wrath, they were wiped out by a rival order of monks, the Lin Kuei.  It's all very mystical!

It's also a crock.  We quickly learn that this is just a sales pitch by Thomas Zhou, an inventor at a convention, who has come up with a "laser resonator system" that lets the user create "coherent holograms."  His sales pitch interests only one investor, and shockingly enough, it's a hot blonde who happens to be loaded.  It turns out Tommy made up the Shan-Tao and the Lin Kuei ... or did he?  Yes, suddenly he's attacked by two showgirls in bikinis yelling "Death to the Sons of Shan-Tao!"  After fighting them off, he visits an old friend of his grandfather, but the old man is killed before he can get much ... but he does get a few pieces of the puzzle!  Oh, the adventure!

This is a blast to read.  Van Lente keeps everything moving along, adding just the right mix of humor and adventure and intrigue.  Koblish has a good cartoony style that fits the action-movie feel of the comic.  There's plenty to like about this book.  So why not give it a try?  It's certainly more fun, more action-packed, and nicer-looking than the worst comic of the week!

X-Men: Endangered Species One-Shot by Mike Carey, Scot Eaton, and John Dell.  $3.99, Marvel.

You know, I mentioned to the fine young man at my comic book shoppe that this should have a different name: "Buy this, sucker!"  And, like the dutiful sucker I am, I did.  Man, what a waste.  It's not as bad as, say, a certain abomination featuring more heroes than you should be able to stuff into a poorly-written and incoherent plot, but it's not terribly necessary, and that's the annoying thing about it.  There's nothing in here that we haven't heard before in the angst-o-rama that is the mutant books, nor does it give us any information that is necessary for the upcoming crossover that couldn't be done in far fewer pages.  Oh, look, it's Sebastian Shaw.  Nice to see you.  Oh, gosh, Bishop didn't know this was coming even though he's from the future.  That's a shock.  Some people have defended this as being the first part of a big ol' crossover and it's just laying the foundation, but that's the point: it doesn't, really.  It's just the mutants going to the funeral of an anonymous mutant and whining about how that's one less mutant in the world.  It sucks and all, but it's not really enough to base an entire issue on.  If this crossover is going to be 8-page backups in four titles, then this could have easily been the first 8-page backup, because that's about all the information we really get.  Oh well.

And what happened to Scot Eaton?  Granted, it's been a while since I've read a book with him on art, but he used to have a nice idiosyncratic style.  Here, he's aping Billy Tan's latest style.  What's up with that?

Oh, and the final page means Jean Grey is coming back.  You heard it here first!  (The great thing about this is, like sports predictions, no one cares if you get it wrong, but if you get it right, you're a freakin' genius.  So, remember this when she shows up again.)

Well, that was a crapload of comics, wasn't it?  Man, I love comics.  I may have bitched about some of these purchases, but any week in which ongoing titles like Catwoman, Checkmate (even with the crossover), Ex Machina, Moon Knight, Rex Mundi, and Wasteland, plus several good mini-series like Chronicles of Wormwood, Gamekeeper, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, and The Weapon come out, it's a good freakin' week.  Don't buy crappy comics like that mindless excuse in nostalgia-mining!  Seek out the good stuff!

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