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What I bought – 23 April 2008

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 23 April 2008

I read my comics in a certain order. I put the one I think will be the best on the bottom, and the one I think will be the “worst” at the top (“worst” because I like pretty much everything I buy, so I can’t really say they’re bad). It doesn’t always work out that way, as I occasionally find something near the top that’s fantastic, but it speaks to the amazing quality of this week’s comics that an issue written by Ed Brubaker was the first book I read this week … and it was pretty damned cool. So let’s look below for the rest of the goodness!

Batman #675 by Grant “I am a Golden God” Morrison (writer), Ryan Benjamin (penciller), Saleem Crawford (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I guess we’ll be needing some SPOILER alerts ’round these parts today. Beware!

Okay, it’s a month late, it has a different artist than originally planned, and it really isn’t as powerful as it’s obviously supposed to be. This continues to be a vexing title, as Morrison obviously has big things planned, and is often completely on his game. But then he throws clunkers at us, and it makes me wonder what the hell is going on. This issue isn’t helped by Benjamin’s art, which is lousy. He turns Jezebel Jet from a slinky sexpot into a petulant girl, he turns Bruce into an old man in a couple of panels (seriously, what’s with all the lines on Brucie’s face?), and in an issue that relies on emotional responses, the facial expressions of both principals are completely off. And for some reason, Guy Major, who’s usually fairly decent, decides to leave everyone’s lips (except for Jezebel’s and Talia’s, probably because they’re wearing lipstick) the same color as their skin. It’s slightly creepy.

But the art aside, Morrison is veering wildly on this book. He has attempted to make Bruce Wayne more of a character, and for the most part, he’s succeeded, but his characterization of Bruce is all over the map. I’ll get to that. Then, in this issue, Jezebel suddenly turns into a humanitarian, sitting there telling Bruce that people in her country are starving while she and Bruce have dinner. Huh? Getting back to the characterization of Bruce, for years he’s been portrayed as someone who will spend money on humanitarian causes. He’s just not the playboy that Morrison insists he is. That’s not to say he doesn’t play up the playboy aspect, but Wayne Industries (whatever that encompasses) does get involved. Anyway, he acts like a child here, and Jezebel thinks it’s over, when the fiend with nine eyes shows up. Apparently he’s from 52, but that’s not important here. Bruce foolishly gives up his Batman identity when he beats down the fiend wuthout changing into costume. Morrison turns him into some crazed monster who shrieks at Jezebel that she should walk away now. This is not Bruce Wayne, but more importantly, it’s not believable even in the context of Morrison’s Bruce Wayne. Yes, Morrison has pushed Bruce/Batman’s buttons quite a bit, but he’s flailing about more than he did back when Bane released every single bad guy from Arkham and Blackgate. Now that was a rough day! Despite some nice issues from Morrison about Bruce’s psyche, this explosion is wildly out-of-character. And Jezebel Jet has never been written by Morrison as someone who deserves this insight into Bruce’s character. The two best women in Bruce’s life in the past 30 years, Silver St. Cloud and Vesper Fairchild, were written far better than Jezebel, and it just doesn’t ring true that Bruce would care so much about Jezebel. Even in Silver’s brief “lifespan,” we got the feeling she was much closer to Bruce. Jezebel is a poor imitation of that, and that’s why Bruce freaking out because she might be in danger is a bit odd.

Morrison, as usual, ignores the recent history of a character in order to drudge up issues from 40+ years ago. That’s fine, if it works. During his run, I would say it’s worked more than it hasn’t, but when it doesn’t, it’s a train wreck. That’s what this issue is. Of course, a Morrisonian train wreck is often far more interesting than a good book by, say, J. Michael Straczynski, so there’s that!

Checkmate #25 by Greg Rucka (writer), Eric Trautmann (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Jack Jadson (inker), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Rucka brings his work on Checkmate to a close, and what a fine run it has been. He leaves with optimism (the last line of the book is “Checkmate isn’t going anywhere”), but we’ll see how Bruce Jones does with the comic. I will give Jones a chance, because his early work on The Incredible Hulk still gets him some credit, but I don’t know how he’s going to match Rucka, who can write espionage really, really well.

So the rooks are activated, head into Kobra HQ, and kick much ass. That’s pretty much it, but Rucka and Trautmann write with such flair that we’re totally mesmerized. It’s a breathless race through the Kobra HQ, with some wonderful violence, tension, and a clever use of Starro the Conqueror (trust me). The nice thing about the way Rucka (and, for the last few issues, Trautmann) have been writing this is that we’re not exactly sure if the rooks will do something really horrible. Even though it’s a mainstream DC book and we can’t believe they will, we’re not sure. Oh, how will this end? Well, you have to read the book, don’t you?

Damn, this is a good comic. Jones has some huge shoes to fill.

Dynamo 5 #12 by Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

Faerber and Asrar continue to hum along with old-school superheroics, as the Dynamo 5 kids are heading back to their headquarters, where the bad guys are waiting to ambush them. Oh, dear! But wait! They don’t fall for the trap! What the heck happened?

That’s the genius, really, of Faerber. He takes the hoary old clichés of superhero comics and twists them so slightly that they become fresh. As I’ve said before about this and Noble Causes, it’s not that Faerber is re-inventing the wheel, but this comic has such strong energy, gorgeous art, wonderful characterization, and nice twists. Each kid gets a some time in the spotlight, and the bad guys aren’t just evil, but interesting. They act like villains would act, too, even looking out for themselves in a realistic way. It’s such a fun read, and it’s one of those books that is great to read in installments, because it’s the kind of comic that you want to know what happens next right away! But Faerber laughs at your impatience! Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

Damn, this is a good comic. Yes, that’s a theme this week.

Fables #72 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller), Steve Leialoha (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Cinderella’s top secret mission to rescue Pinocchio comes to an end, and Willingham cleverly throws some fun stuff in this even though we’re fairly certain early on that she will succeed. We know she’ll escape from Hansel’s clutches, and it’s rather cute how she does, but what we don’t expect is that bad things will happen to her once she gets back to New York. But it does! She is forced to fight, and Buckingham does a great job with those scenes, but she doesn’t win. Oh no! What will Pinocchio do? Well, because Willingham has done such a nice job with these characters and this overall plot, Pinocchio’s rescuers fit logically into this story. We have seen them before, and their decision isn’t that surprising, given what we know about them. This is a somewhat slight two-issue story, but it’s a chance for Willingham to show why Cinderella is such a kick-ass spy (centuries of practice) and also what’s going on in the “real” world as the war begins. Plus, the wooden slippers are awesome. Trust me.

Damn, this is a good comic. That’s probably not surprising, though.

Fallen Angel #26 by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist), John Hunt (color assist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

The war for Bete Noire comes to an end, and not surprisingly, given that cover, it doesn’t go terribly well. Moloch prevails, but the fight is astonishing to watch, as Lee gives the bad guy as much as he can handle, to no avail. As with the best serial entertainment, David takes characters that have been around for a while but has never seemed particularly important and thrusts him into a position of (potential) power. This time it’s Dolf’s waiter, Ezil, who has been around for some time but has risen to prominence in this arc and finds himself in a lucky (perhaps) place when Moloch loses his seat of power temporarily. That’s what’s so nice about this issue: Lee is powerful and severely damages Moloch, but she knows he’s too strong. The third stage of the book now begins, as the “good” guys attempt to retake the city.

David, as usual, injects some wicked humor into the book (someone dies when you’re just not expecting it, and somewhat humorously), but the reason why this might be his best comic right now is because he tends to resist the pop culture references. Woodward has been very good on this comic, and although one drawing of Moloch makes him look like a Liefeld Captain America, for the most part, it’s very cool, especially the full-page splashes of things blowing up and Lee getting tough. I don’t love Woodward’s art all the time, but he usually does a good job.

The book begins a new phase next time. I’m very interesting in where it’s going, especially as we end with Lee back in the “real” world. It’s always neat to see that aspect of her life.

Damn, this is a good comic. Honest and for true!

Gødland #22 by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), NIck Filardi (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

Proof that Gøland is truly magnificent:

1. The very first line in this comic is “It’s nights like these that make me realize I should’ve never given up dentistry.”
2. We learn that Friedrich Nickelhead has a CD player installed where his pancreas should be, and we learn Journey’s “Raised on Radio” has been stuck in there for fifteen years, leading to another priceless line: “I may not be capable of changing the music in my pancreas … but there are other things I can change.” Metaphor for life? You be the judge!
3. Iboga, the dude with planets in his beard, fights the Tyranny Fates, who ride in on a black sun sled. And it’s awesomer than it sounds.
4. Another line in the comic: “Belay that erection, Supra!” Shouldn’t we all follow that advice occasionally in our lives?
5. Neela Archer returns, which means there’s yet another cosmically-powered being in this comic. It can’t really have too many!

This was the first comic in a while that felt Kirby-esque, more in regard to the New Gods than the Fantastic Four, though. It’s one of the better issues in a while, too, because Casey brings back Nickelhead (always a good move!) and writes some nice scenes between Adam and Maxim, who’s dying. But does he die? Ah, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

There appears to be an ending planned for this book (around issue #37 or so), and that’s fine. It will give the story some nice closure and explain all these weird things that have been going on. I’m looking forward to each subsequent issue, because after a lull last year, Casey and Scioli seemed to have fired this back up again so that it’s once again one of the best books on the market.

Damn, this is a good comic. You know the drill!

Northlanders #5 by Brian Wood (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Wood’s Viking epic takes a break so we can get to know Sven a little more. There’s been enough slaughter so far, right? We need to get to know the real Sven, the dude who digs Constantinople more than anything in the world! So Wood takes us back 20 years and shows us why Sven is acting the way he has, and why he doesn’t like Vikings even though he is one, and how he came to be so high up in Byzantine society. It’s a nice issue, because after what happened to his lover last issue, we needed to see why he cared so much about her, as we hadn’t seen her very much in issue #1. Sven is still a bastard, but we understand why he’s a bastard.

Wood deftly handles the tense atmosphere of Constantinople without explicitly referring to the political situation. The 960s were a turbulent time in Byzantine history, and the few pages where Zoe asserts her authority with Sven at her side encapsulate this nicely without tying the book too closely to actual historical events. When Zoe and Sven enjoy good times later, the empire is stable under Basil II, and this is also reflected. Wood has done his research for the book, and it’s nice to see nods to what was going on. Of course, we know it doesn’t last, but that adds a poignant touch to their romance as it blossoms. Wood makes the relationship very modern, but that’s part of the point: Even when Sven was young, he was breaking away from the past, and in the tenth century, the place to go if you were modern was Constantinople. Despite the fact that Sven doesn’t go to the city by choice, it’s as if he was destined to arrive there. The comic is turning more and more into this clash, not between a usurper and the rightful heir (even if the heir wants nothing to do with ruling), but between the modern and the archaic. Coming as it does toward the end of the Viking Age, this arc shows the pull between that ancient urge to go “a-viking” and the urge to become modern. Sven wants to be modern. One wonders if he be allowed it. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

Damn, this is a good comic. And Gianfelice’s art is stellar, as usual.

She-Hulk #28 by Peter David (writer), Val Semeiks (penciler), Dave Meikis (inker), Victor Olazaba (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This book, for me, is still on probation, but this is a pretty decent issue. Jen and Jazinda head to Cleveland to find that bomber dude, and when they do, it’s not what we expect and Jen ends up in jail (again). As is often the case with David, the details are neat, so when Bran – the bomber – fights back, we’re caught off-guard, and then we’re even more disoriented when it turns out he might not be the bomber. Plus, he has a dark secret. I know, shocking. We also get another clue as to what happened to Jen at the law firm, and some nice dialogue between her and her cell mate. It’s not a great book, but it’s a far cry from the murdering alien story, which was far too brutal. David often shifts things when we least expect them, and that’s fine, but sometimes he shifts things too far. Now we’re back on the mystery of Jen’s disbarring, the mystery of Jazinda, and the mystery of the bomber. Mysteries = quality comics!

Damn, this is … Okay, I probably can’t write that, especially because the previous comics were so much better. But this is solid and entertaining and makes me want to read more. That’s not bad.

Uncanny X-Men #497 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Choi (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I should start off by saying that Choi’s art has looked much better each issue. It’s only been a few, but his first issue was very stiff and cold, but in this issue, his work looks much more natural. Yes, everyone’s still weirdly pretty, but that’s comics. His fight scene with Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus and the big robots is very nice to behold, and when we shift to San Francisco, the quiet scenes with Scott and Emma and then the “goddess” and Eli work really well. I’m not completely in love with the art, but it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.

Brubaker continues to make the title more his own, as the Red Room (which we saw last issue) takes their shot at Colossus, and we find out more about what’s going on in San Francisco. Brubaker, far more than Morrison and the writers who came after him, is writing Scott and Emma as a good couple, and it helps mitigate what I thought was a big mistake (getting them together in the first place). The whole plot is odd (in a good way) and a bit creepy, and both the San Fran plot and the Russia plot feel more important than a lot of X-Men plots. We get the feeling that big things are happening, and that’s always a good thing. Brubaker is getting better at writing the more traditional superhero stuff while still bringing his unique sensibility to it, and that’s a good thing.

And I’m sure you picked up the “Skrull” variant cover, didn’t you????? It’s going to be worth a fortune some day!

What a good week for comics. When the “worst” books you read are a good solid Brubaker story, a good solid David story, and a disappointing Morrison book, you’re doing pretty well. Put down that copy of Countdown and pick one of these up!

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