What I bought - 21 May 2008

So this week, I got Casanova, which I should have gotten last week, but I didn't get Gødland, because the same thing that happened last week happened this week - the distributor sent four copies of a completely different comic instead of Gødland! Sheesh. This make Burgas angry. Grrrr.

The Boy Who Made Silence #3 (of 12) by Joshua Hagler (writer/artist/letterer) and Thomas Mauer (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Markosia.

Hagler's odd and gorgeous comic continues, as we learn more about the town and the principals and get even less about the eponymous boy. But that's okay, because it's clear that this book is about the people Nestor affects as much (if not more) than it is about him. So we get insight into two couples who were affected by Nestor's "scream," if we can call it that, and we begin to discover a little bit about what he has done. The second person narration that Hagler has been using throughout the book feels a bit less effected here, as Jim, one of the townspeople, flashes back to when he learned his father had been killed in Kuwait and starts to realize what freedom really means. Perhaps it's because we know the characters a bit better, but the second person is very effective in this issue, as it wasn't in the first one. Something profound is happening in the town, and the way Hagler narrates it helps draw us in while still keeping us aloof. It's a handy trick, and we'll see if he can keep it up.

A good deal of the book is in flashback, first to a horrifying sexual encounter (not graphically horrifying, but emotionally) and then to the knock on the door that leads to the news of Jim's father's death. In both scenes, Hagler purposely makes the characters grotesquely disproportionate, with their heads bulbously perched on tiny bodies. It's a disconcerting effect, made worse by the fact that Trish, who in the present is Jim's wife, is normal-looking, and she has to endure the advances of a monstrously misshapen boy. This makes what is happening, which is terrifying enough, even worse, because we're viewing it as Trish must have, and her feeling of helplessness is uncomfortable (which is the point, after all). In the present, the art is more normal, but I'm not even getting into the freaky cat that seems to talk to Nestor. That's just wacky

I've liked each issue of this comic, but it's getting better, and that's always good. It's a book that really makes you slow down and check out each panel, and it's amazing to look at. I'm going to keep telling you to find it until you do!

Casanova #14 by Matt Fraction (writer), Fábio Moon (artist), and Sean Konot (letterer). $1.99, 29 pgs, BWB, Image.

Yeah. Well, through every fault of my own, I knew what the big reveal in this issue was, and I'm a bit grumpy about it. But not too much, because it's done in such a dazzling way that it becomes less of a reveal and more of just a part of the story. Great stories are like that - they don't rely on a big shocker, and Casanova is a great story.

I just can't really process it right now. The only thing that bugs me is how what happened happened, but I'm sure if I go back and re-read the 14 issues I'll figure it out. This is a brilliant comic. It's kind of like (yes, I'm going here) early Morrison. You know, the God of All Comics we all fell in love with? These days, Mr. Deity seems far too content to play in the sandbox without really stepping out of it. Sure, he builds lovely castles, but he mastered that skill a long time ago, and how many times can we see him build another one? There was a time when Morrison seemed to push himself beyond what was even credible in comics - I don't really like The Filth, for instance, but it pushed the envelope quite a bit. Plus, he seems far too concerned with plot rather than characterization these days, and although his characterization has always seemed to be a weakness in his work, at least he tried. With this comic, however, Fraction takes not only the craziness of what is possible in the comics medium and really, no where else, and infuses it with a humanity that is lacking in much of Morrison's work these days (and, to be honest, even some of Fraction's Marvel work). Casanova is a love story as much as it is anything, and a brilliant one at that. I'm certainly not saying our Bald Beacon of Brilliance has jumped the shark (far from it), but I do wish he'd get out of the sandbox once in a while.

Of course, Fraction is now the bigwig in Joey Q's sandbox, so who the hell knows what he's going to do with this magnificent comic. We'll see. Damn. I miss this already.

Catwoman #79 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David López (penciller), Álvaro López (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I love crossed sevens. I use them myself, from my days in Germany. Nice to see one showing up on this cover.

I guess I don't have to say anything about this. It's dead in a few months, so if I haven't convinced you to buy it by now, it no longer matters. That's cool, though. Pfeifer will end up writing almost 40 issues of this, and that's a pretty good run. This is a fairly typical issue, as it features excellent art, a gripping story, some twists and turns, and yes, Pfeifer's over-reliance on stressed words (a complaint someone brought up here a while ago). It's interesting that Selina never realized how intimidating Batman is, but maybe she just never saw him in action before.

This is the kind of comic I'll re-read a lot. It's never been flashy, but it got better and better as it hemorrhaged readers (presumably, although I don't know how many it had to begin with), and it's too bad that it's getting the axe. But not too bad. Pfeifer, it seems, is getting to wrap things up somewhat neatly, it seems, which is more than you can say for some books.

Checkmate #26 by Bruce Jones (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Remember the first two story arcs of Bruce Jones' run on The Incredible Hulk? Before it started to go in the toilet? That's why I'm not dumping Checkmate just yet, despite his track record since then. I want to see if he can create an atmosphere like that without, you know, dragging the damned thing out for years. And with this first issue, he does a pretty good job.

This is a solid spy story with a touch of real-world gravitas, as it begins in Iraq before Checkmate steps in. They turn a critically wounded soldier into a super-soldier, one who can take on the aspect of any animal but with superior strength and with basic human intelligence. Well, that's handy. Meanwhile, strange things are happening in various parts of the world, wreaking sufficient havoc for our heroes to get involved. Jones does a very nice job with the set-up - we get to see the family the soldier left behind (he's "dead" in a cover story), and of course, his fiancée realizes he's alive, which will probably not be good for anyone. The threat is teased nicely, with things striking from off-panel and finally, something shadowy and big and carrying a sickle trashes Beijing. There's remarkably little of the Checkmate crew in the book, which might help new readers who wouldn't be familiar with the large cast. Who knows?

Garcia's art is quite nice, too. Joe Bennett, who had been as regular a penciller on this book recently as anyone, isn't bad, but his lines are a bit too slick for an espionage book, even one with superpowered beings. Garcia gives the book a grittier feel, and it works well. I don't have any issues with the art.

As for Jones ... he's done this before. I had such high hopes for his Hulk, but it just went nowhere. Maybe he's learned his lesson and will stick to short arcs that don't meander and lose our interest. I'd like that, but I'm still wary about this comic. Rucka (and Trautmann, later on in the run) set the bar pretty high.

The Damned: Prodigal Sons #2 (of 3) by Cullen Bunn (story/writer) and Brian Hurtt (story/artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

There are two narrative threads in this issue. In one, Eddie wanders the land of the dead looking for his mother and finds out that he probably should have sought out Dr. Strange or some other Sorceror Supreme to get a road map, because he's way out of his element. It's interesting and contains some portentous statements by his guide, but it's basically Eddie wandering around. The fun part of the book is in the "real" world, as Morgan and Darcy (the girl who was about to touch Eddie at the end of last issue) try to keep Eddie's body away from the demon gangsters. This is basically a chase scene, as Morgan drags Eddie's body around, trying not to touch it (which will kill him and bring Eddie back) and shoving it toward the demons, who naturally don't want to touch it either. Finally, the demons get the body, but Darcy has a car, so the chase continues ... next issue, natch. It's a wildly exciting and wickedly humorous chase, because Eddie, as a corpse, can be used to block knives and hatchets and all sorts of weapons, and Morgan has no compunction about using him that way. Hurtt, as is perhaps not surprising, draws the heck out of it, with a wonderful helter-skelter style that ramps up the tension with each panel. We don't think anyone is going to touch Eddie, but you never know, and the various attempts to avoid it are funny yet tense.

I do have one question. Darcy doesn't know about the demon gangsters. At one point she asks Morgan if they're wearing masks. I thought this was a pretty established status quo around town. She works in a club frequented by shady characters, after all. Do "regular" folk not know about the demons? I wonder about things like this.

Anyway, this is another fine issue of a very enjoyable comic book. If you don't believe me, believe Chris Sims, who gets quoted on the front. If you can't trust Chris Sims, who can you trust? (Well, unless he's a Skrull, which is entirely possible.)

Dynamo 5 #13 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

I felt a bit guilty about getting a quote on the back of the Dynamo 5 Annual from a couple of weeks ago, because I didn't really think the book was that great (it was decent but overpriced). However, the same quote is on the back of this regular issue of the title, and I'm happy it's on an issue that I can support. This issue is a breather issue after the high-octane action of the past two, and in wonderfully typical superhero fashion, we get some nice revelations about the characters and their situation. At the end of last issue, Myriad was unconscious and looking rather alien-like. So the kids want to know what's up with that, and Spencer tells them: he's an alien. But still a kid of Captain Dynamo, who wasn't above getting some alien tail when it presented itself! So we get Spencer's "secret origin," plus the Nobles guest-star, as Doc Noble takes Maddie to their headquarters so he can figure out how to wake her up from her coma. And, again in fine superhero fashion, the book ends with a threat ... but what if no one notices it?!?!?!?

This is a solid issue, as it focuses on the characters and how little they really know about each other. Whenever we start to think they're working well as a team, Faerber lets us know that they really are being manipulated by Maddie, who hasn't told them everything. It will be neat to see how long Maddie remains in a coma and what the kids learn about each other and their mission. Faerber, meanwhile, continues to remind us that they're kids, as they don't act like adults in this issue (they're mature kids, to be sure, but still kids). Plus, Mrs. Chang's crush on Doc Noble is humorous.

I keep hearing that sales on this and Noble Causes are pretty poor. That's too bad, because for pure superhero action, you can't find much better than these two books. I do hope they both continue, because they're the kind of books that make people fall in love with superheroes in the first place.

Ghost Rider #23 by Jason Aaron (writer), Roland Boschi (artist), Dan Brown (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Aaron's first arc comes to ... well, an inconclusive end, but a pretty good one. This issue, which needs to tie some things up, isn't quite as balls-to-the-wall as the previous three, but it still sets up Aaron's long-term story very well, and features a splash page that shows what happens when four motor-powered vehicles all arrive at a crossroads intersection at pretty much the same time. Yeah, it's not pretty. Boschi's art is very nice throughout the arc, but he really nails a few pages in this one, and that's one of them.

As for the way things resolve ... it's a bit of a weird feeling reading this book. It's really horribly depressing, if you think about what actually happens to the principals, but Aaron manages to distract us with cannibal jokes (really) and just desserts for some bad guys and a shocking reveal on the last page. Yes, it's shocking! So shocking I have a question about it, so I'm going to SPOIL it just below!

But before we get there, I'll say that these four issues of Ghost Rider have been extremely fun. Aaron has taken what could be a lame idea (GR is really working for a rogue angel!) and, while not redeeming it completely, shows us how it could be workable. It's enough to make me curious about where he's going with it. Yay! Another book to buy!

Okay, first, about Aaron: you'll recall that he wrote The Other Side, an acclaimed mini-series. Then he wrote (and still writes) Scalped, which is apparently selling like used underwear but is also critically acclaimed (and pretty damned good, to boot). Now he's working on Ghost Rider, which might not be that big a deal, but at least he was in a movie and is a long-time character in the Marvel U. My question is: why does DC let these guys go? I don't know if Aaron has a dreaded "exclusive" with Marvel, but why does it seem like, with few exceptions, a bunch of good writers cut their teeth with DC, write critical successes but commercial flops, and instead of DC allowing them to work into a position where their books sell, allow them to go to Marvel, where they kick all kinds of ass? It's weird.

Finally, let's look at the SPOILER at the end of the issue. In case you don't care, on the final page, Danny Ketch shows up. Well, actually, he shows up earlier, but this is the first time we see him. In the letters page, Aaron himself tells us Ketch's history. What I find interesting about this is this statement: "[Danny] first took the reins of the Spirit of Vengeance in 1990's GHOST RIDER #1 and headlined that series for 93 issues, taking the character to the greatest heights of popularity he's yet seen." My question is: why is Danny Ketch no longer Ghost Rider, if he was far more popular than Johnny Blaze? Marvel isn't going to revert back to a character who couldn't carry a title when they have one who could. Is it like the Kyle Rayner situation, where the book sold very well but a small, whiny minority kept bugging DC for the "real" Green Lantern? I don't know. It just seems weird that a successful character would be shelved just so the "original" can come back and not sell. What's the answer? Is there an answer????

Grendel: Behold the Devil #7 (of eight) by Matt Wagner (writer/artist) and Tom Orzechowski (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, BWR, Dark Horse.

I want to make this clear: I like this comic and don't mind paying $3.50 for it. But let's consider those people who object to paying that much for it. Are they crazy?

Well, no. Let's take this issue, for instance. Last issue, Hunter Rose had captured the little demon who has been following him. The demon taunts him and gets Hunter to break the circle in which he, the demon, is trapped, and that allows the demon to get inside Hunter's head and show him ... well, the future of Grendel, as shown by the ongoing series and the Grendel Tales mini-series (mini-serieses?). For 11 pages, we get a recap of stuff we already know, but Wagner's magnificent art entrances us, because we've never seen his renditions of much of it. It's a beautiful work, but it dominates the single issue. Then, we get one page of Lucas and Liz fucking, and Lucas has something on his mind, and the Hunter writes what he has seen in his journal and then destroys it because it's so crazy. That's it.

Now, in terms of a long-range psychological profile of Hunter Rose, it's a fascinating issue. This is the first time in the rather brief publishing history of Rose himself that we see his veneer crack. He's been "beaten" before, in some fights with Argent and, most notably, in his confrontation with Batman, but never before have we seen him so wounded. Just the knowledge that he is neither unique nor actually seminal is enough to shake him to the core. It's fascinating what Wagner has done with Rose, who has always, to a certain extent, been an enigma.

On the other hand, as we have found out, this was supposed to be a big graphic novel, so the fact that a great deal of this issue is taken up with double-paged spreads recapping the future history of Grendel would be more forgivable. As part of a single issue, I can see why consumers would be a bit peeved. It's frustrating, because as a whole, this is an excellent story that doesn't necessarily require knowledge of the entire Grendel lore. It's helpful, sure, but it's a very good story with or without that knowledge. I wonder how many people just aren't buying it because of its pace. That would be sad. But I'm still looking forward to the final issue. Much blood, presumably, will be spilt.

Hawaiian Dick: Screaming Black Thunder #4 by B. Clay Moore (writer), Scott Chantler (artist), and Steven Griffin (colorist/letterer). Back-up story by Griffin. $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

It's been three months since the last issue of this came out, and I fear for the schedule coming up. It's an entertaining book, but it comes out so haphazardly that I don't know how it can survive. I have no idea what the holdup is. Is it Moore, or Chantler? Beats me.

Anyway, this is the penultimate issue of the arc, so things are coming together nicely. Byrd and the daredevils have an idea to help the ghost of the Japanese pilot, but it doesn't go as smoothly as they hoped. Meanwhile, the FBI is still investigating Byrd, and we learn a little more about his brother and what happened on the mainland. It's nice to see Moore bringing in a little of the current events of the time, as a Communist connection is hinted at with regard to Byrd. Making World War II references is easy, to a certain extent, because it's such a big event. Many people forget the grip Communism had on the imagination of Americans in the late 1940s and '50s, and it's interesting that Moore is bringing it up. As the series progresses (if it does), it will be neat to see how Moore peels back the layers of Byrd's life.

I recently re-read the first two mini-series, and it would be nice if the title could be a bit more regular. It's a nifty little comic with a lot of potential. For some reason, it's really slow. I guess that's the way it is!

The Incredible Hercules #117 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Rafa Sandoval (penciler), Roger Bonet (inker), Martegod Gracia (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Meanwhile, over at one of Marvel's funnest comics, Athena assembles a team of deities to fight the Skrull pantheon with Hercules as leader (and just the fact that I can write a statement like that is another reason why comics are awesome). It's basically an issue in which we get introduced to all the players, and they bicker over particulars before Atum the God-Eater flies in and tells them all they're a bunch of babies. This settles it, and Hercules takes over the leadership of the "God Squad" (as Amadeus naturally christens them) and they head off. But have they been deceived the entire time??????

This book is just a shitload of fun. It's packed with exposition, but Pak and van Lente, along with Sandoval's fantastic pencils, keep everything zipping along. I'm fairly certain all of these characters are pre-established (I'm just going to assume they are, because I don't feel like checking), and it's impressive how the writers fit them all into the issue. Plus, the fact that the Japanese god of evil speaks in haiku is pretty damned awesome.

This comic is sheer entertainment. And that's not a bad thing at all.

The Programme #11 (of 12) by Peter Milligan (writer), C. P. Smith (artist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/WildStorm.

I'm extremely curious to see how this epic will end. It's been weirdly compelling, of uneven quality, but in recent issues Milligan has ratcheted up the tension and the book has gotten much better. It's still weird, but it's also fascinating. There's a horrific scene in this issue that lets us know that Milligan is really upping the ante, and it's the kind of scene that makes him such a great writer. I have been fearing Smith's art when it came time for action, because from the earlier issues, it seemed as if he wouldn't be too good at it. I was right to a degree, as the action scenes look pretty stiff, but Smith does a nice job with showing the emotion on the characters' faces that comes with the fighting. It's a brutal fight, and although it could be better, it was more powerful than I thought it would be.

So the scene is set for the big showdown. From what's been happening to Max over the past few issues, I wonder which way Milligan will go with it. You really can't predict with him, which is why he's so interesting.

X-Factor #31 by Peter David (writer), Pablo Raimondi (artist), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The Arcade story in X-Factor comes to a nice conclusion, as David, like he does, gives us a finale that makes sense but isn't terribly obvious. Arcade, after all, fled the scene last issue, leaving behind a Purifier whose death will trigger a bunch of bombs. Well, the Purifier dies, and the bombs go off, and what's interesting is that the gang spends the issue pretty much rescuing people. It's not too often that we get to see heroes actually, you know, rescuing people (oh, Superman does it occasionally, but still), and it's nice to see. Madrox makes a point about heroism which is something we don't often hear, and although nothing of huge import happens, it's a solid issue that keeps David's bigger storyline going. And Arcade's clever way to escape is ... well, clever.

Like many David titles, it's tough to judge this on the merits of one issue. David does this with every book he writes - he does a slow burn, with entertaining but maybe not great single issues, until everything comes together and he hits you with a staggering issue or two. X-Factor is a fun read, and it's always nice to see a good writer doing his thing for a long while on a comic.

And hey! that's all we have for this week! Yes, Burgas still grumpy about missing Gødland, but that's okay - I know the awesome will be there next week! I'm sure you'll have plenty to say even without it!

Today's totally random lyric:

"Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl;They both look the same,They're overjoyed in this world;Same hair - revolutionUnisex - evolutionTomorrow, who's gonna fuss?"

Last week's answer, by the way, was "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" by ABBA. Is ABBA the greatest pop group ever? Discuss.

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