What I bought - 22 April 2009

The sea was angry that day, my friends ... but I wasn't, because a bunch of good comics came out!

Buck Rogers #0 by Scott Beatty (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $.25, 12 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Hey, it costs a quarter! Why wouldn't I pick this up? Sure, it's only 12 pages, but Beatty packs it with action, as the text at the end promises "This is the end," but we need to read issue #1 for the beginning! That's actually a clever idea, as in this brief story, Buck, wearing that funky costume on the cover, fights his way through a bunch of giant paramecia and blows shit up. How did he get there? Why is everyone fighting instead of crocheting together in harmony? Why is blowing shit up the only option? And where's Erin Gray, damn it!

Rafael does a decent job with the art, which is good to see, as Dynamite has been promoting the shit out of the Cassaday and/or Ross covers without bothering to show us, you know, the interior stuff (which is, I think you'd agree, far more important than the covers). It's not sensational, but he tells the story fine and does a good job with the giant paramecia from Ganymede.

I'm not totally sure if I'm sold on the series from this, but there's really no reason not to pick this up and see if you'd like it. It's a quarter! Even getting to see Ted Kord shot in the head cost you a dollar, people!

Detective Comics #853 ("Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader Part 2 of 2") by Neil Gaiman (writer), Andy Kubert (penciller), Scott Williams (inker), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $3.99, 28 pgs, FC, DC.

I heard an interesting piece of gossip this week which may or may not be true, but I thought I'd share because it sounds like it could be true. Just keep that in mind. I heard that Andy and Adam Kubert are extremely self-conscious and not terribly confident because of the fact that their father, at eighty-freakin'-two years old, can still draw better than they can. Hence, their tardiness with art, as they pore over their art incessantly to make it just perfect. Considering this book is about, what, six weeks late and Kubert had six months or so of lead time, there has to be an explanation! I have no idea if the gossip is true, but I know one thing: Joe Kubert can kick his sons' asses both on the drawing board AND in the gladiatorial ring! (I guess, according to Dan DiDio, "production" problems caused this to be late. I'm not sure I buy that, but let's assume that as ever since DC signed Kubert to an exclusive he hasn't been able to produce more than three issues in a row of a monthly title, it's at least partly his fault.)

But what about this issue, the second part of Gaiman's examination of the death and birth of Batman? It's not quite as interesting as the first part, mainly because Gaiman has to come to some kind of resolution, and although I may be stupid, I don't get it. I mean, I'm not going to spoil it, and I certainly understand what Bruce's mom tells him (oh, yeah, the woman Bruce is talking to is his mother, but that's not that big of a spoiler) and exactly what happens, but what I'm talking about is the impact of this story on the rest of the DCU as a whole. I've written it before and I'll write it again - I don't care too much about continuity, but if the Big Two are going to make it important, they need to be actually care about it. I assume this will lead into something to do with the final scene in Final Crisis, but how is DC going to jive these two events? And how are they going to get Bruce back to being Batman by the time the next movie comes out?

Gaiman does a decent job with building up to the reveal about Batman and who he is, but the resolution doesn't really work. Ultimately, this is an interesting experiment, but if DC isn't going to a hard reboot of Batman (like they did with Superman after Moore wrote his good-bye story), there doesn't seem to be a point to it. Still, it looks nice, even if it doesn't seem like it would take as long as it did to draw.

Dynamo 5 #21 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

It's the L-U-V issue of Dynamo 5, as two-two-two! members of our team go on dates (although neither dates are at the movies), plus two brief fights and the reveal of the next big villain, all in 20 short pages! Faerber manages to have a drug subplot and introduces a reporter out to blow the lid off of the team, a reporter who just happens to be all groovy and purty in a slacker kind of way and has a fine date with Bridget, which could lead to complications down the road. And the new villain is named Brain Trust. It's goofily awesome.

Faerber continues knocking this book out of the park, and even the fact that Cinar has to help out on art isn't too annoying, because Cinar is a fine artist in his own right. I've said it before and I'll say it again: This book isn't going to change the world, but it's extremely entertaining and is a fantastic superhero antidote to all the crap that the Big Two publish. And with Marvel and DC slowly pushing their prices up to 4 dollars for 22 pages of crap, this is a better bargain as well!

Elephantmen #18 ("Bad Girl") by Richard Starkings (writer) and Marian Churchland (artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

I received the latest issue of Elephantmen in the mail before it was released, so I can review it on time! As always, I'd like to thank Richard Starkings for sending it my way.

Back when this series started, Starkings spent a lot of time building the characters and the ambience of the Elephantmen's world and often held back on the action. Recently, the book has been on an action tear, as we know the characters better and can keep up with what's going on. In this issue, Starkings pulls back and gives us an issue much like the early ones, in that very little "happens," but we get forward movement of the plot while focusing on Miki, the girl who found Hip Flask in the sewers back in the day. Miki has a bit of a romantic interest in Hip Flask, and in this issue, we see that she's been painting nudes of a girl and a rhino hybrid together, much to the chagrin of her traditional mother, who views this as an abomination. She also finds out that she's pregnant, although it's not Hip's, as elephantmen are sterile. When she goes to have an abortion, she talks to Hip about Egyptian gods and goddesses, who often took the form of hippopotami. It's a quieter issue, as Miki tries to work through her relationship with Hip. Of course, there's something sinister happening in the background, but given this comic, that's not surprising. It's not as exciting an issue as we've been seeing on this book for about a year, but it's a nice look at an interesting relationship.

Churchland's art is airy and sketchy, unlike the art that has always graced this book. For the first time, the future doesn't look like an oppressive place, and it works well with the story, even if Miki's mission isn't that cheery. Churchland doesn't do as good a job as some of the artists in contrasting Miki's delicate humanity with Hip Flask's monstrous look, but she does a wonderful job with the two "Egyptian myth" pages in the issue. The art does a good job highlighting the fact that this is a different kind of story than the usual Elephantmen fare.

Starkings is one of those people who has become a very good writer. He's doing a nice job keeping the ongoing saga moving forward, but he also does a nice job with these one-and-dones. That's always a nice trick.

Ex Machina #41 ("Ring Out the Old Chapter One") by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Tony Harris (penciller), Jim Clark (inker), JD Mettler (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

This comic has probably reached the point where: A) It's so close to the end that it's pointless writing about it; B) Everyone has already made up their mind about it, and as the quality level never really changes, it's pointless writing about it. I think the quality level has remained high, but it's not like it's gone into a rut and then rebounded and reached new heights or something. Vaughan has been on task the entire run, and although I'm a bit worried about how he's going to end it (as Y: The Last Man ended badly, I thought), he's done a remarkable job managing to keep politics this interesting for this long. Yes, I know this is only marginally about politics, but just the fact that he can bring it into the discussion and continue to do so and make it fascinating is neat.

I don't know how Harris draws, but it's interesting to look at the one lousy panel in this book. When Bradbury saves the woman from the mugger, it appears that Harris had no concept of how the characters should be in the panel and how they relate to each other. It's as if he drew three different figures, then dropped them onto a pre-drawn background. If that's the way he does it, that's fine, but this one panel indicates he needs to work on it a bit. Check it out:

Bradbury is running straight toward the victim, seemingly in mid-stride at the end of a long sprint. Directly behind him is a park bench, so he had to turn at some point to arrive on the scene from stage left. But it does not appear that he turned as he came into the frame. The victim was standing against a tree, which could be the one in front of her (which forms the edge of the panel), but that would mean she turned completely around and doubled over. I'm not sure what that form directly below her head is, either. It looks like part of a fire hydrant or a lamppost, and it could certainly be a shadow. It's not the tree rising in the back of the panel, I'll tell you that much. If it's the shadow of the lamppost in the background, why is it straight and not lined up with said post? If it's a hydrant, it's in a strange place and doesn't seem to inhibit the movements of anyone in the least. Finally, the dude running away is fine as a figure, but you'll notice that Bradbury isn't looking at him when he yells, "Get back here." The composition of the panel is just very odd. If Harris is doing all sorts of computer tricks and photoshopping enhancements in his art, that's fine (I'm a total Luddite when it comes to that sort of stuff), but he's usually a lot better at putting together a panel than this.

Other than that, it's an issue of Ex Machina. You know exactly what you're going to get. If that's your thing, you'll like it, and if it's not, you won't. Simple, yes?

Hellblazer #254 ("Regeneration Part One of Two: Plague Doctor") by Peter Milligan (writer), Goran Sudžuka (penciller), Rodney Ramos (inker), Jamie Grant (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Yay! Milligan didn't ditch Phoebe! I'm so happy! And double yay! Another one of Constantine's long-time friends whom we've never seen before shows up, which means he'll be dead next issue. Oh, friends of Constantine - when will you learn?

This is a fairly typical Hellblazer comic, in that there's something horrible going on in London that involves the past. Milligan goes back to the 17th century, when plague doctors roamed the land, and he does this probably so he can get the visual of the dude with the creepy bird nose and mask. The plague is tied into the 2012 Olympics, which are apparently built on top of a plague pit. I know that's supposed to be portentous, but in a millennia-old city like London, there's probably not a lot of places you can build that aren't on top of something horrific. So it's less freaky than it should be. Still, Milligan does an effective job building the horror in the story. But that's not what struck me about the story.

I've noticed a trend in comics that might not come as news to you, but it's a bit strange. Writers hate the future. "But," you sputter, "what about Mr. Ellis and his ilk? What about all these writers writing science fiction (like Elephantmen a few spots above this) and tech porn? They LOVE the future?" Well, not really. Mr. Ellis is a bit of an odd duck, in that he likes the idea of the future but seems to think it's a bit scary. Other writers just fear it without being particularly enamored of it. Perhaps they think the future will be filled with technocracies that ignore individual human suffering, but why should they think that? The world could go either way, and although it would be nice if people spent a little more time thinking about, say, not destroying the world, on the whole the future looks pretty decent (as long as we still have a planet, that is). You may disagree based on your loathing of our current socialist president or our former fascist president or your hatred of radical Muslims or your hatred of radical Christians or your fear that, somehow, the French will fuck everything up, but it seems like the world is better off now than it's been at any point in the history of civilization. Maybe we would have been better off never coming down from the trees, but that's a moot point now, innit? My point is that comic book writers, without really romanticizing the past, seem to think it's better than anything that may take its place. Take this issue. I haven't been to London in 30 years, so I have no idea if what Emil says about the Olympics wrecking people's lives is true. I suspect there's some truth to it, but as usual when someone has an agenda, they ignore the facts that don't back up their argument. Let's just say that Emil is right, and the evil government is destroying the fabric of English life just to get some athletes to show up and compete. He mentions that the Games are costing millions, which I don't doubt. Yet if the government raises taxes, the people complain. If the government cuts services, the people complain. I assume the Games are being funded by the government, but how much money will it bring into the country? I don't know, but won't that help merchants? Maybe not enough, but these subtleties are lost on Emil, I suppose. Why is this a fear of the future? Well, things change. Sometimes they change for the better, sometimes for the worse. But that's the way it is. Where should we reset? To the Middle Ages, where a good half of kids didn't live past the age of five? To the Restoration, where plague doctors roamed the streets exchanging free passage to the country for sex with 15-year-olds? To the French Revolution, where the downtrodden finally got their chance to change society and - surprise! - ended up turning out as horrible as those who used to oppress them? To the early 20th century, when non-whites could be lynched for looking at a white person? Comic book writers, who tend toward a liberal side of the spectrum, like to bitch about progress, but is what's being replaced all that grand? I always read in fiction (not just comics) about how wonderful Times Square was before it was Disneyfied. How many of those writers, once they got a bit of money, went to Times Square? Sure, when you have no money, the crackheads leave you alone, but there's a reason people move to the suburbs. This is a huge generalization, of course, but it always seems that comic book writers idealize a situation that isn't quite as rosy as they believe. I'm sure I'm reading way too much into one issue of Hellblazer, but it just struck me that whenever societies move toward the future in comics, the writer assumes there's something evil about it. Perhaps it's just a horribly cynical worldview and, also, it breeds conflict and therefore good stories, but it's a bit strange.

Thoughts? How idiotic am I?

I Am Legion #3 (of 6) ("Vlad") by Fabien Nury (writer), John Cassaday (artist), Laura Martin (colorist), Justin Kelly (translator), and Crank! (letterer). $3.50, 29 pgs, FC, Devil's Due/Humanoids.

Things move along in this issue, and Cassaday makes it look wonderful. There's not a lot to say about this issue, as it's mostly plot progression, and if the plot is interesting (which this is), that's fine. There's plenty of intrigue, some nice clandestine action, and the good guys slowly track the bad guys. We don't get many answers, but we get a few. And I don't know why this story is called "Vlad." Did I miss something, or is this a reference to Dracula? Beats me.

Ignition City #2 (of 5) by Warren Ellis (writer), Gianluca Pagliarani (penciller), Chris Drier (inker), and Digikore Studios (colorist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Avatar.

Speaking of Mr. Ellis, here's an example of what I was writing about above. Yes, it's a "space epic" (in that it deals with astronauts, although no one has left Earth yet), but it's set fifty years ago, and has that antiquated feel that science fiction stories from the 1930s have. Plus, the "future" (in this case, the past, but the society has passed ours in terms of going into space) is kind of shitty. But let's move on!

This is a more interesting issue that #1, mainly because we're not distracted by poop talk, but more because after setting everything up, Ellis can introduce the mystery more clearly. We learn what happened to Mary's father, but not exactly why. The mystery is quite interesting, and Ellis is good at this sort of thing anyway, so I'm sure it will be a nice read. Plus, despite my reservations about showing this kind of society (one where things have gone to crap), Ellis also does that kind of thing well, so there's a tragic world-weariness hanging over these characters that deepens the story a bit. You get the sense that these people have lost something meaningful (yes, they say that, but you really feel it) and they would do anything - including murder - to get it back. It's a nice quiet tale of desperation, and the big hope for me is that Ellis doesn't get too obnoxious with it. He seems to reserve that for Marvel, though, so I have hope for this.

I still can't figure out Mary's shirt, though.

The Incredible Hercules #128 ("Gauntlet") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Dietrich Smith (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Raúl Treviño (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I'm not sure who drew that cover ("Williams," according to the credits, but which Williams?), but shouldn't it have an "after so-and-so" on it too? The signature is at the bottom, right beneath Dokken's foot, and it's cut off by the edge of the page, so maybe the original artist gets homaged below that and it's just cut off. Who's the original artist, by the way? I know Alex Ross did this pose in Marvels, but I just assumed he was ripping it off from the Golden Age. Anyone know?

Anyway, this is a big fight issue, with the Avengers squaring off against the Olympus Group with Hercules, Amadeus, and Athena caught in the middle. It's quite fun, and although Smith's body hair on Herc freaks me out, he does a fine job with the rest of it. As usual, Pak and van Lente give the characters some great lines (the best one is when Dokken stabs Pluto, which allows the God of the Underworld to say, "You really don't know who I am, do you?"), but it's also interesting how they stage the fight so that no one really wins, but nobody loses face, either. I mean, the Sentry versus Hercules is a tough fight to determine, so the writers figure it out so that nobody loses, but it still makes sense. Plus, Hercules gets to pound on the Sentry by using Venom, who has his (Herc's) fist in his mouth, as a club, which is always fun to see. And there's still room for a nice conversation between Amadeus and Delphyne! And I love the final page, mainly because there's a small drawing of Herc in full 1990s Avengers gear. Man, the Nineties were awesome. And I'm dying for a Herc bobblehead!

Yes, it's another good issue of The Incredible Hercules. And despite the absolute inanity of Marvel renumbering the Loeb/McGuinness Hulk series to #600 (yes, they really are), I hope that means that this is selling well enough for Pak and van Lente to continue with it. Of course, it might mean they're about to drop the axe, but let's not think about that, okay?

Jack of Fables #33 ("The Great Fables Crossover Part 3 of 9: Swap Meet") by Bill Willingham (writer), Matthew Sturges (writer), Russ Braun (penciller), José Marzán Jr. (inker), Daniel Vozzo (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

It's been a while since I bought an issue of Jack of Fables (over two years), but this issue reminds me both why I liked the series and why I didn't like it enough to keep buying it. I just can't stand Jack. Oh, he gets some funny lines, mainly when he breaks the fourth wall, but he's also really annoying. I can take him in small doses, but I can't imagine reading a book with him as the main character every month. Luckily, this is only a crossover, so I only have to buy it for three issues!

That's not to say it's a bad issue. It's kind of fun, especially when the Blue Ox (is that Babe? it seems awfully small to be Babe) ruminates on a fantasy world while the Fourth Little Pig rambles on in a language the world-weary Ox cannot understand. We learn about the plot of this crossover, as Kevin Thorn writes horrible things into the world as he tries to decide whether he's going to destroy the world. And Jack Frost is on the move, which can't be good. The story does what it's supposed to do, and it's an entertaining issue. Braun is a perfectly decent artist, too. I just don't like Jack. I'll be perfectly happy to stop buying this again once the crossover is over.

Mister X: Condemned #4 (of 4) ("Metrophobia") by Dean Motter (writer/artist) and Hamid Bahrami (color assistant). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I was a bit disappointed with the ending of this mini-series, because it seemed like Motter spent a lot of time setting up a lot of stuff, and it's as if he suddenly realized, "Shit! I only have four issues! Better wrap this up!" So the murderer is revealed in a rather easy manner, and although quite a bit happens, it still feels a bit rushed. The idea of the city driving people crazy is dealt with, but not sufficiently, and the idea of giant underground machines moving the buildings around is neat but not developed enough. There's probably enough material in here for six issues, but we only get four. It's not a bad series by any means, as Motter gives us his slightly eerie art deco style and several weird, perfectly comic-booky ideas, but I wish it had been a bit longer. Maybe it will sell well enough so that Motter gives us more!

Scalped #28 ("High Lonesome Part Four of Five: I'll Never Get Outta this World Alive") by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guéra (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

In a fairly significant issue of Scalped, we learn what happened on the rez back in 1975, plus who killed Gina. Of course they're connected, but what we don't learn is exactly why Gina was killed. We can infer why, but it's still unclear. Aaron does a nice job, too, in letting us know that this takes place after whatever the dude from the first issue of the arc did at the casino without clueing us in to what exactly happened (which we'll presumably learn next issue). This is another very good issue of Scalped, as Aaron continues to unspool the secrets of the rez and the people on it, tying the past more and more securely to the present and the government (both the American one and the Indian one) more closely as well. It's fascinating to see how we keep getting little nuggets of information about characters that illuminate the previous issues. I kind of miss reading this in trades, because you got the whole story at once, but reading them in single issues is kind of neat, too, because it feels more like something that is happening slowly, as secrets tend to come out. So that's neat.

In the wake of Young Liars' cancellation, I thought I'd look at March's sales list (from ICv2.com, which I know aren't accurate, but they're consistent, at least) for Vertigo ongoing series. Here are the numbers (with the ranking in parentheses):

Fables: 22,445 (83).Jack of Fables: 13,595 (122).House of Mystery: 12,785 (125).Hellblazer: 11,132 (141).Air: 10,290 (148).Madame Xanadu: 9,798 (153).Northlanders: 9,443 (155).Unknown Soldier: 8,177 (175).DMZ: 8,167 (176).Scalped: 6,866 (201).Young Liars: 5,735 (219).

While I certainly understand why Young Liars got cancelled, is the threshold 6,000 copies? Scalped certainly doesn't sell all that well (a thousand more than YL, but still not a lot), but I would imagine it does well in trade paperbacks. In fact, I wonder if DC factors in sales of the trades to determine whether to keep a title going, especially Vertigo books that seem to do better in that regard. If that's true, did they get numbers back for the first trade of Young Liars and they were really, really awful? I get that the singles of Young Liars are in the toilet, but what about the trade? I mean, it's not like many Vertigo titles are burning up the sales charts, except possibly Fables.

(By the way, the NUMBER ONE book in March was Dark Avengers. Yes, the same Dark Avengers that featured NINE PAGES of Norman Osborn and the Sentry saying "There is no Void" and "Yes there is" to each other. For $3.99. There's no fucking justice.)

The Warlord of Io and Other Stories by James Turner (writer/artist). $3.95, 49 pgs, BW, SLG.

Yay, James Turner returns! If you have any decency, you will repent for not buying Rex Libris and pick this up. 50 pages for 4 dollars, all packed to the gills with awesomeness! Not only is Turner's art stupendous, with his odd pop-art renderings and intricate detail, but his storytelling is brilliant as well. I'm not sure if this is just a one-shot, as two of the stories are unfinished, but even if it is, you should still pick it up. I mean, even if you're disappointed that we don't find out what happens to Zing, the new emperor of Io, or what happens to Demon Detective Muktooth and his quest to get tickets for the Hitler vs. Stalin Smackdown, just soaking in the glory of each page is good enough for now. Plus, there are three other short stories, including the adventures of an inanimate chair, which looks as boring as it sounds (32 panels of the same drawing of a chair), but is freakin' hilarious. There's a headless person who tries to report his own murder (difficult without a mouth), there's a dread buttocks beast, there are enormous-breasted space Amazons in zero gravity. What's not to LOVE?!?!?!? And there's a beautiful drawing of a Tiki Space Warrior on the back cover. How can you resist?!?!?!?????

So that's all for this week. There's a bunch of great stuff out there, people! And how about some totally random lyrics?

"Cuz I'm the master blaster, drinking up the ShastaMy voice sounds sweet cuz it hastaSo light a match to my ass cause I'm blowin' upI'd like thank you people for just showin' upBut now I want y'all to move itPut your point on the floor and just prove itSaid I'm smurfin' not rehearsin', getting live y'allA little puffy so you know what I'm doing rightCuz that's the kind of frame of mind I'm inI got this feelin' and it's back againSo don't touch me, cuz I'm electricAnd if you touch me you'll get shocked!"

Yeah, that's probably too easy. But such is the nature of being totally random! (Plus, that song kicks ass, so it's always good to be reminded of it.)

Project Superpowers Omnibus Vol. 2: Black Terror TP

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