What I bought - 20 May 2009

"What do you want? What do you want?" "I want comics reviews! Yes I do." Screw rock and roll - let's get to the reviews!

Agents of Atlas #5 ("Taking the Fall") by Jeff Parker (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (penciler), Jason Paz (inker), Jana Schirmer (colorist), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

In an odd scheduling move, Marvel releases this two weeks after issue #5. I'm certainly not complaining, I just thought it was interesting.

As we saw last issue, Jimmy Woo's activities have drawn the attention of the Old New Good Avengers, who wander around posturing a lot, it seems, and Parker does a nice job with the old cliché of two teams of heroes meeting up. First, there's the fact that nobody knows Atlas is a team of heroes, so the Avengers think Jimmy and his bunch are actually dealing with Osborn. Then, Spider-Man actually uses his brain (a useless organ for most superheroes, unfortunately) to suss out that perhaps the Atlasians aren't really the bad guys. Then, Parker nicely ties this story into the back-up story from a few issues ago (the one with Castro and Guevara) to give us what we really want - a big ol' slugfest! Finally, the resolution is perfect. I wasn't that worried that Parker wouldn't be able to make this a good book, but it's still nice to see. Of course, that means it will be cancelled by issue #12, but I've never been one to bitch too much about books getting cancelled - I read the issues we have, and enjoy those.*

Pagulayan's art, which seemed too airbrushed to me in the first few issues, is much better here - as has been pointed out to me, it's probably Schirmer's influence, and I suppose her color art is more to my liking in this issue. Pagulayan, interestingly enough, does a really good Spider-Man - is that book in his future?

I'm fairly sure that anyone reading Captain Britain and MI 13 is reading this, because they're similar books, but if you're one of those who isn't, perhaps you can salve your pain with this. That is, until Marvel cans this. Oh, the vagaries of the marketplace!

* That being said, I'm still bitter that Automatic Kafka got the axe. Like everyone else on the Internet, I blame Bendis fans. Screw you, Bendis fans. Oh, and Marvel. Screw you, Marvel!

Ex Machina #42 ("Ring Out the Old Chapter Two") by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (penciller), Jim Clark (inker), JD Mettler (colorist), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

I would honestly have thought that Mitch was smarter than he shows in this book. I know he panics, but the whole "destroy what the reporter is looking for before she finds it" thing is just ripe for what happens here - that said reporter wants Mitch to do that so she can track him (or, in this case, Bradbury). I would just think that Bradbury would be more careful. Although I am keen to find out what Mitch has been hiding.

Oh, and I love the slacker dude who says, "Yo, fucking help!" as rats crawl all over him. Despite the exclamation point, he doesn't seem to perturbed that he's about to be ripped to shreds.

Four Eyes #3 by Joe Kelly (writer), Max Fiumara (artist), Nestor Pereyra (colorist), and Drew Gill (letterer). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

It's kind of a shame that this book is on such a drawn out schedule, because I fear it will never gain the audience to continue. Which sucks, as Kelly and Fiumara really knock this one out of the park, and that's on the heels of two very good issues to start the series. Enrico goes dragon hunting, endures the insults of the others who think a kid shouldn't be hunting with them, and finds the titular dragon at the end, which has just hatched. It's a gripping read, with a real sense of danger as the characters move deeper into the dragon's cave. Of course the dragon wakes up, and of course she isn't happy, and Fiumara does a marvelous job with the consequences of that. There are a couple of almost identical panels that show the speed of the dragon, as one crucial component is missing from the second panel - a person. Kelly also shows how different Enrico really is during a key sequence of the hunt, when the dragon is rampaging through the caves. And the final shot of the newborn dragon is gorgeous and terrifying. It's a stellar issue, both in writing and art.

I do hope that Kelly and Fiumara can get this out a bit more quickly. I'm perfectly willing to wait, but I'm not sure how many people are. This is turning into a really good series, so I hope people check it out!

Gigantic #4 by Rick Remender (writer), Eric Nguyen (artist), John Cottrell (art assister), Matthew Wilson (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

As disappointed as I've been with Gigantic, I've stuck with it for two reasons: It's only five issues (well, this arc, anyway), and I'm always willing to give books, especially smaller books like this, a chance; and Remender, while not a great writer, is a surprising one, so I knew he had to have some kind of hook, and he pulls it out in this issue. While I'm still reserving judgment on the series as a whole, the twist at the end, although not world-changing, adds nice depth to Gigantic's character.

It's not perfect, of course - the military is ridiculously stereotypical, and the slightly differing art styles of Nguyen and Cottrell don't mesh terribly well. As usual with work like this, I don't know why, for a mini-series, the artist needs help. Oh well. As B-movie comics go, this is perfectly fine. It's not Remender's best work, but it's certainly not horrible. We'll see how Remender ends the first "arc."

The Great Unknown #2 (of 5) by Duncan Rouleau (writer/artist) and Francis Takenaga (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

Another comic that's taking its sweet old time coming out, but like Four Eyes, so far I don't mind. Rouleau has gotten a lot better as an artist, and he's always had some weird ideas as a writer, so this is a fun read. Zach discovers that all his great ideas over the years have been auctioned off, plus he meets a girl he used to date who wrote a book about how sucky he is. We also get a flashback to his college days, when what was done to him to allow the "bad guys" access to his throughts was done. Rouleau takes his time with the story, which is fine, as it allows us to slowly understand why Zach is actually such a tool. He didn't start out that way (do any of us?), and Rouleau is doing a decent job giving us his backstory.

The art is wonderful, as is perhaps not surprising. Rouleau, as I mentioned when the first issue came out, has a nice cartoony style that borders on caricature but doesn't quite reach it. His designs are very nice, and one page in particular is stunning - when Buchiner, who tells Zach what happened to him, is in a lab that explodes, Rouleau shows it as a puzzle flying apart. Given the fact that Zach is trying to puzzle out what was done to him, it's a really clever way to show the explosion.

If you're waiting for the trade on this, I really can't blame you. But you should check it out. Even the annoying grammar and spelling mistakes from the first issue have been cleaned up, and I know I was a dick about it, but it really does make this issue a much better reading experience. Grammar geeks unite!

Hellblazer #255 ("Regeneration Part Two of Two: Unquiet Spirit") by Peter Milligan (writer), Goran Sudžuka (penciller), Rodney Ramos (inker), Jamie Grant (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Five issues in, and although Milligan isn't blowing me away yet, he's doing a nice job upending what we expect from John Constantine, which is nice. In this issue, we learn the secret of the plague doctor, and when we do, John makes a decision that jibes nicely with his reputation as a bastard but is still a bit unexpected. Milligan is also messing with John's relationship with Phoebe, which is also nice, because it doesn't seem like it's going to end well. Sure, none of his relationships end well, but the intriguing thing about this is that it seems John wants it to go somewhere, and that's what's going to doom it. I could be reading too much into a brief scene, but that's where this seems to be going.

I do like what Milligan is doing, as he's not diving into a grand storyline right away, concentrating instead on what makes John tick. It's a nice way to build a comic without worrying about having a shocking twist right out of the gate. And it's something Milligan is good at, so I'm sticking around. I'm curious to see where he's going with this.

I did like the line of John's: "I know I ain't going to live to any ripe old age." Considering how good he looks for a 56-year old, that cracked me up. That's just how I roll.

Jack of Fables #34 ("The Great Fables Crossover Part 5 of 9: Ch-Ch-Changes") by Matthew Sturges (writer), Bill Willingham (writer), Russ Braun (penciller), José Marzán Jr. (inker), Daniel Vozzo (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I never thought I'd say this about a book tangentially connected to Fables and starring some of that book's best characters, but this chapter of the Great Fables Crossover was brutal. All that we really got out of it is that the dude in the straightjacket hanging out with Kevin Thorne is, in fact, Writer's Block, which astute readers had already picked up on (note: I am not astute). Otherwise, this is a pretty pointless exercise, as Kevin tries and fails to kill off Bigby because the wolf has grown beyond his control. So instead he keeps changing him into more and more ridiculous animals, until by the end he's ... well, the final page is kind of funny, but we didn't need an entire issue dedicated to getting us there. Plus, the Page sisters head out to kick some ass.

I've been unimpressed with this crossover so far, mainly because it's become very obvious early on that nine chapters is way too long - it might work better as a six-issue crossover, for instance. But this is an utterly pointless and dull issue, and it makes me wonder why on earth Willingham and Sturges plotted it out this way. Did they really sit around and say, "Let's have an issue where Bigby just keeps turning into different animals! That'll slay 'em"? I hope not, because it doesn't.

Uncanny X-Men #510 by Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Let's jump down to the back end of the alphabet, and a fairly good issue of Uncanny X-Men. And even then, I think I've figured out what the problem with the book is!

First, let's check out what happens. The Sisterhood kicks ass, gets what it came for, and leaves. It's a straightforward issue, and that might be why it works so well - it's always enjoyable to see bad guys who know what they're doing and have a clear objective and even achieve that objective! As far as I can tell, everything makes sense, and when the X-Men are able to fight back, they do it logically. There are more than a few nice panels from Land (I'll get to the strange ones below), especially when Logan fights Psylocke. The Stepford Cuckoos are, of course, perfect for him, as they all look alike so he's able to simply use the same exact photograph three times, but in this instance, the creepiness of having three blonde replicas works in his favor, as the Cuckoos are supposed to be creepy. So, for the most part, Land does a decent job here. (Of course, Our Dread Lord and Master thinks that this art is the equivalent of forcing people to eat kohlrabi while watching a Rob Schneider movie marathon and listening to the James Last Orchestra, so tastes may vary in this regard.)

Of course, some things bug me. The idea of Emma "I Was a Teenaged Whore" Frost telling Mastermind that her "top" (she's wearing a body suit, so that makes no sense) makes her look low class cracked me up. Then, when Emma rescues Scott, the coloring and panels are strange. In the first panel, everything is colored red. Is there a reason for this, or is it because every other panel in this section of the book is red? That's a dumb reason, by the way. Then, in the next panel, Emma, who was comforting Scott, is comforting some blonde girl. Who is that? She doesn't appear in any other panel in the book, as far as I can see. Finally, when Spiral teleports out, we get this panel:

What is that? Is that the back of Spiral's head? That seems most likely, with the armored arm rising from her shoulder on the left of the panel. That's just a freaky-looking drawing, and shows an inherent flaw in Land's tracery - having to draw a six-armed woman from an odd angle. It's just a weird-looking panel.

Finally, the biggest problem with the book, as I realized while I was reading this, is the sheer number of characters. I get that when the X-Folk moved to the World's Greatest City that they'd be offering sanctuary to all these mutants, and the fact that Marvel feels the need to publish 76,198 mutant books means that they're going to be bumping into each other, but the flagship book is too crowded. It worked here for a good reason (which I won't give away), but it leads to a lot of confusion, plus those annoying character tags that continue to be annoying. I mean, here we are, moseying along with a bunch of characters, when suddenly we get the Stepford Cuckoos practicing Zen Buddhism with Gold Dude. This piling-on of characters means we get very little of any of them, and that's why the book remains an occasionally entertaining trifle. I don't mean to go all Claremont on everyone, but back in the day, the core group remained fairly immutable, and when a member joined (Rogue) or left (Storm), it was a relatively big deal. That doesn't mean anything anymore. Remember Northstar? Yeah, he joined the team recently. Where is he? There's far too many mutants running around for us to care about any of them. Subsequently, none of this has much heft, because Fraction isn't doing much in terms of character development. Even characters we've known for years need development! It's one of the reasons Scott and Emma's relationship problems aren't resonating with me. I still don't buy them as being all that in love, so the fact that they're having issues doesn't bother me at all.

Still, this is a pretty good issue. Of course, next issue is the Phoenix one, so we'll see if I'm going to be angry about that. I hope not!

All right, it's time to fire up the totally random lyrics!

"You know I'm a dreamerBut my heart's of goldI had to run away highSo I wouldn't come home lowJust when things went rightDoesn't mean they were always wrongJust take this song and you'll never feelLeft all aloneTake me to your heartFeel me in your bonesJust one more nightAnd I'm comin' off thisLong and winding road"

Come on, everyone! Sing along!

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