What I bought - 21 October 2009

Man, was I sick last week.

It was really weird, too, because I'm never sick. Sure, I get head colds every once in a while, but nothing worse than that. My lovely wife was trying to remember when, in 17 years of knowing me, she had ever seen me sick, and she couldn't. The whole family is like that, actually. Krys is a bit sicker than I am, but that's mainly because she works in an office where the cubicle walls are too short and the workers often feel like they need to come to work even if they don't feel great, but she still doesn't get ill all that often. And the kids are remarkably healthy, too. But last week was just a mess. I woke on Monday feeling a bit off, but only with a bit of a stuffy nose. It got worse quickly, and by the afternoon I was a wreck. I felt nauseous but hadn't eaten much all day, so there was nothing in my stomach. Monday night I spent trying to overcome the nausea and mostly failing. Again, not any puking, but a lot of sitting over the toilet coughing up bile. The nausea passed (thankfully) but on Tuesday I had one of the worst sinus headaches I've ever had, if not in intensity (I've had headaches in the past that have caused me to go straight to bed, they were so bad) then in length - all day Tuesday, which was no fun. On Wednesday the headache was bit better, but it kept coming back and no amount of medication seemed to stop it. I thought that if I got a good night of sleep I could get over it, but I couldn't get to sleep easily and then I kept waking up because I couldn't breathe well (Vicks and Breathe-Rite strips only help so much). My wife took Tuesday and Wednesday off, but she had to go back to work on Thursday, and although I felt a lot better, I was still really weak. Then I started hacking stuff up from my lungs, which was annoying. Finally, on Friday, I went to the doctor, and she determined I had a sinus infection and gave me antibiotics (plus codeine for sleeping). Saturday night I finally slept through the night, and I feel much better now, although I'm still pretty weak. I couldn't even read a comic until Sunday, because too much concentration made my head hurt. I did lose 13 (!) pounds, though, so there's that.

The upshot of this, of course, is that it's very late in the day, and although I thought about skipping a week, I did get a metric ton of comics, two of which I received for free and therefore ought to review, and many of which were very good. I can't say these will be the best reviews (keep your snide comments about how none of these posts are the "best" to yourself!), but I did want to point out some books that came out a week ago that you might have missed. Let's fire it up!

Beasts of Burden #2 (of 4) ("Lost") by Evan Dorkin (writer), Jill Thompson (artist), and Jason Arthur (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

This issue is even creepier than last issue, which is saying something. It's pretty terrifying, and Dorkin does a really nice job with two things: Making these animals truly animalistic (they do a pretty nasty thing) but also tapping into some universal emotions that make their nasty actions more understandable. It's a tense, action-filled issue, stunningly illustrated by Thompson. It's nice that Dorkin is doing these as one-and-done stories, because you don't need to have read the first issue to enjoy this. So if you see this lying around, pick it up. It's totally freaky!

Chew #5 ("Taster's Choice Part 5 of 5") by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Lisa Gonzalez (color flats). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Speaking of freaky, the first arc of Chew comes to a close with Tony solving the central mystery and getting in a lot of trouble because of it. Layman experiments a little bit with the format, giving us a first page with snapshots of Tony getting into deeper and deeper trouble, then going back in time and filling in the spaces that led him to those dramatic moments. It's as gross as ever, of course, but Layman still manages to bring his black sense of humor to the proceedings, which alleviates the sickening central premise. And the solution and the fallout from it nicely sets up the rest of the series. Guillory, naturally, is phenomenal, with a two-page spread of such shocking violence (even more than the rest of the book) that we feel the pain of the character intensely. It's a stunning comic artistically.

This arc will be out soon in trade. Check it out, because this is a very interesting series that's getting better as it goes along. I'm looking forward to the direction Layman and Guillory are going with it.

Ex Machina #46 ("Pro-Life Part Two") by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (artist), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

You know the drill. Flashback; some politics; some violence; a cliffhanger that ties back into the flashback. I know that some people don't like the formula, but I do. It's keen. Plus, it's getting to the end, so we are getting some answers about the series. Good to see. Only a few more issues to go!

FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency #1 (of 3) by David Hine (writer), Roy Allan Martinez (artist), Kinsun Loh (painter), Jerry Choo (painter), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $4.99, 44 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

As usual, the fine folk at Radical sent this to me, and I'd like to thank them. It's always cool to get free comics, even if I don't love them completely. And I don't love this completely, but that might be because of the subject matter. I'm just not the biggest fan of vampires and zombies, so a book about a federal agency that destroys vampires and zombies isn't really in my wheelhouse. Hine does only one nifty thing with vampires, when he points out that vampires might not actually enjoy being vampires, which is a pretty good observation. Other than that, the vampires and zombies aren't that distinguishable from any other vampires and zombies.

That's not to say the comic is bad, because if there's one thing Hine knows, it's horror. He does a very nice job setting up this mileau, in which the United States government set up the FVZA in the 1860s and almost eradicated them from the country, to the point where the agency was disbanded. Of course, now they're back, and two young siblings, Landra and Vidal, whose grandfather was a big wheel in the earlier incarnation of the FVZA, are tasked to instruct new agents. Hine does a nice job with the set-up, as Landra stands over her grandfather with a gun, presumably because he's been turned somehow, and then tells the story in flashback. Hine does a good job building the horror of both the vampires and zombies, and even though we know what's coming, he's still effective. Martinez's art is better when it's not painted because it's rougher, but he does have a few truly horrifying scenes that complement Hine's story pretty well.

As with a lot of the Radical comics, FVZA has a lot of positives in it. The production values are stunning, and to go back to last week, their books often have good "hand," because this feels like a good chunk of comics. I wish Hine would do more with making the vampires and zombies more unique, because the idea of the federal agency (which isn't his, of course) is a pretty decent one.

Hellblazer #260 ("The Long Crap Friday") by Peter Milligan (writer), Simon Bisley (artist), Jamie Grant (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

What's cool about Milligan writing this series is that he didn't even make any pretense about John being noble. Most of the other times I've read the book, the writer tries to set up John as some kind of damaged yet somewhat decent fellow who eventually gets tempted too much to meddle and it all ends horribly. Milligan has simply shown us, from the beginning, that John is a scumbag, which makes all the crap that is happening to him in this run kind of fun, because we indulge in a little schadenfreude and never worry if maybe, this time, John has changed. Milligan is making this a different kind of Hellblazer run, because nothing John is doing is noble, even tangentially. His proclamations regarding Phoebe in this book don't even ring true, because we saw how he treated her, so we know it's bullshit. Perhaps Milligan is going this way so that John can actually earn some redemption. Perhaps not. Either way, Milligan is writing a nasty little comic, and it's pretty cool.

Incarnate #2 (of 3) by Nick Simmons (writer/artist), Matt Dalton (inker), Dami Digital (colorist), and Rob Steen (letterer). $4.99, 53 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

I still feel the same way about issue #2 of this series that I felt about #1 - Simmons is an interesting artist, with a ton of energy in his pencils and glee in his horror that's somewhat refreshing. The fight scene at the end of the issue is fun to look at, with lots of blood and crazy monsters and wacky choreography. Simmons does give us a bit more about the characters and what the heck they are, and presumably we'll learn all in issue #3. But the problems are still there, and they come from Simmons's storytelling abilities, which are pretty raw. In issue #1, there was no reason to care about the characters, and as we knew very little about them, no other reason for us to be involved. In this issue, Mot is imprisoned by Sibyl, who forces him to be her bodyguard. It's obvious that Simmons is building a romance between these two, but it's mainly because that's what they'd do - Mot is a Goth dude who has a secret, while Sibyl is a blonde Catholic schoolgirl. Of course they're going to be attracted to each other! But just because their "types" would be attracted to each other doesn't mean Simmons can skip the actual relationship between them, and he does. The writing in the book is strangely enervating, with Simmons simply doling out information without spicing it up too much. It jars with the art, which crackles along.

It seems like this would work better if Simmons weren't trying to be "deep." As a strange mystery about demons who slaughter humans, it's not bad. Simmons seems to want to deepen the emotional resonance of the book, but he's not quite as good at that. But, like FVZA, this is a huge chunk of comics for not a ton of money, and it's nice that Radical is giving us our money's worth!

The Last Resort #3 (of 5) ("Part Three: Surf and Safari") by Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Justin Gray (writer), Giancarlo Caracuzzo (artist), and Chris Mowry (letterer). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, IDW.

Now that is a keen cover. Darwyn Cooke cracks me up (yes, Tom, I know a lot of things crack me up, but come on - check out that cover!).

Here's another reason why I would not be a good character in a horror movie: If I were on a plane that exploded on the runway and then, when I reached the terminal, there was no one around, I'd stay with the group. I know that most of the people in this comic don't know about the flesh-eating zombies running wild on the island yet, but two pairs of people break off from the group to wander around alone, and not surprisingly, one person pays a pretty horrible price. People in horror movies (and horror comics, I guess, as that's what this is) are unbelievably stupid. The victim I'm talking about here (there are others in the comic, but they're not stupid) deserves what she gets, because she's so obnoxious that we're cheering for her to get eaten. Now, I might still get killed in a horror movie, but it wouldn't be because I'm stupid.

There's a bit of a lull in this issue, as the characters regroup and try to figure out what the hell is going on, but it's still sheer bloody fun. And yes, that cover does depict something that happens in the book. Very stylistically, of course, but still.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto #3 ("Born and Made") by Brett Matthews (writer), Jonathan M. Abrams (writer), Vatche Mavlian (artist), Marcelo Pinto (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $4.99, 32 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

We find our heroes at the circus, where the human cannonball has died under mysterious circumstances and the Lone Ranger and Tonto take it upon themselves to solve the crime. It's not a terribly good mystery, but that's okay, because Matthews and Abrams are more interested in examining the idea of outcasts and what binds them together, from the circus freaks who form the community to the Lone Ranger and Tonto themselves, who set themselves outside of society. It's not a terribly deep examination of this theme, but it's an interesting one, especially as our heroes peel back the layers of secrecy surrounding the carnival. Mavlian is fantastic, despite a few problems with clarity (which might be the fault of the colorist; I don't know). He has a nice rough style and the scenes where Tonto fights the bear are magnificently powerful.

I wish the regular series came out more often, but the specials are always pretty good. And they give you a nice single story, so there's no commitment to more!

Poe #4 (of 4) by J. Barton Mitchell (writer), Dean Kotz (artist), Digikore Studios (colorist), and James Dashiell (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

This turned out to be a pretty good mini-series, even if the idea of Poe-as-detective was abandoned quickly, mainly because he figured out the whole thing too easily. It turned into a spooky supernatural tale, much like one Poe himself would have written, which is somewhat interesting but a bit unfulfilling, because if we wanted a supernatural tale much like one Poe himself would have written, we'd probably read a supernatural tale that Poe did write. I would have liked Poe being more of detective, but oh well. What's best about this is the way Mitchell brings in aspects of Poe's life and fiction and uses them in the story, and he shows why Poe is not only a good writer, but a good man as well. Mitchell takes the tragedy in Poe's life and shows why it can be triumphant, and that's the interesting part of the tale. The action bits are fine, but not the best part of the book. Kotz, meanwhile, continues to do a good job on the art - this issue is far brighter than issue #3 (although it's still fairly dark), and we get some cool flaming skeletons and ghosts and whatnot.

Check out the trade when it shows up! It's worth a look.

Power Girl #6 ("Space Girls Gone Wild: Conclusion") by Justin Gray (writer), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Amanda Conner (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and John J. Hill (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I usually give new series six issues to make a decision about whether to keep buying it or not, so we've reached the moment of truth with regard to Power Girl. I'm still torn, which means I'll probably drop it, because it's just not thrilling me. That pains me, because I simply adore the art, and it's almost - almost - worth the money. I do appreciate that Palmiotti and Gray aren't simply giving us dull hero-vs.-villain stories and that things get wrapped up in non-traditional ways, like the way PG takes care of the three alien hotties, and that the stories tend to blend into each other, but nothing is really wowing me. It's too bad.

Am I being too hard on the comic? I dunno. But damn, I love Amanda Conner's art. She needs to draw Grant Morrison's Adventures of Rogue and Psylocke. Now that would be a comic!

Robotika: For a Few Rubles More #3 and 4 by Alex Sheikman (writer/artist), David Moran (writer), Scott Keating (inker, issue #4), Joel Chua (colorist), and Norman Felchle (artist, "Dr. Agon"). $4.99, 60 pgs, FC, Archaia.

Boy, I really wish this series (and Archaia books in general) came out on a decent schedule. Sheikman's work deserves a much, much bigger audience, and it's not going to get it with the scheduling of the book. As always with Robotika, this is a visual feast, with beautiful individual panels and breathtaking choreography. In the second story, Sheikman divides the page into three long horizontal panels and tells two different stories that gradually converge, and it features stunning fight scenes. This is such a beautiful comic, and I would love to see Marvel throw a ton of money at Sheikman to draw a Dr. Strange mini-series. Or DC could let do some Jonah Hex. He'd kick ass at it.

The writing isn't great, although Sheikman and Moran do a good job wrapping up the story and setting up a new one. It gets the job done, and although it's still a bit messy, that's okay. Sheikman has such a strong visual sense that he's smart enough not to overwrite, allowing his art to tell the story. He needs to get better at writing, but he is getting there, so there's that.

Even without the best writing, this is totally worth the five dollars. Sheikman is that good. He's tremendous.

Spider-Woman #2 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Another cool-looking decompressed mess. Come on, BMB, get moving!

As far as Jessica's abilities with secreting chemicals, remember when Gambit could do that? Sort of? Claremont brought it up in, I think, his first appearance, and I don't know if anyone's ever mentioned it again. It was kind of cool. Oh well.

Sugarshock by Joss Whedon (writer), Fábio Moon (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

This is mostly impressive because of Moon's art, which is fantastic as usual. Whenever there's a chance to revel in Moon's art, I'm probably going to take it, unless he's drawing something by a writer I really hate, and I don't hate Whedon. Of course, I don't love Whedon either, and this is a good example why. It's a bunch of randon stuff strung together, some pretty good and some that doesn't work at all. I mean, the anti-Viking sentiment makes no sense and isn't funny. Dandelion ignoring Robot Phil's requests for his legs isn't all that funny. It's as if Whedon thinks he can make jokes by just saying the punchline, but yelling "Lemur!" in a crowded room isn't clever, and that's what a lot of this comic feels like. It's perfectly fine, and for the price you get a fairly packed story with a lot going on plus lots of sketches from Moon, but it's definitely not as clever as it thinks it is. That's an unfortunate by-product of a lot of Whedon's writing.

The saddest song in the world is kind of cool, though.

Underground #2 (of 5) by Jeff Parker (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), and Ron Chan (colorist). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

What's interesting about this series so far is that Parker isn't taking the clicé-ridden route with regard to the story. Not that I thought he would, because he's too good, but it's kind of of cool that the bad guys aren't just gun-firing crazy people, and while they're not terribly concerned about Seth and Wes, they are concerned about doing their "job" correctly without killing anyone. And Parker shows that things aren't black-and-white even in little ways, which is always fun. And Lieber is great as usual, doing a tremendous job with the cave interiors and the claustrophobic atmosphere therein. When the characters confront each other, Lieber squeezes them into smaller and smaller panels, which is a neat effect. This continues to be a nifty series. Why wouldn't you buy it?

Zero Killer #6 (of 6) by Arvid Nelson (writer/letterer), Matt Camp (artist), and Dave Stewart (colorist). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I'll just link to my review of the entire series, okay?

I apologize again for the tardiness and brevity of these reviews. I'm feeling much better now! To prove it, let's check out some totally random lyrics!

"That's right here's where the talkin' endsWell listen this night there'll be some action spentDrive hard I'm callin' all the shotsI got an ace card comin' down on the rocksIf you think I'll sit around while you chip away my brainListen I ain't foolin' and you'd better think again"

Damn straight!

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