What I bought - 23 July 2008

Quick reviews this week, as I'm on a plane Friday morning!

Ambush Bug: Year None #1 by Keith Giffen (plotter/penciller), Robert Loren Fleming (dialoguer), Al Milgrom (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer) and Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Come on, it's Ambush Bug by Giffen and Fleming! That means it will be:

1. Hilarious.2. Cool-looking.3. Completely out-of-whack from regular DC continuity, and that's a great thing.4. Groan-inducingly punnish.5. Hilarious. Did I mention that?

There's no reason you shouldn't buy this. It even explains Identity Crisis in a way that makes sense!

The Boy Who Made Silence #5 (of 12) by Joshua Hagler (writer/artist/letterer) and Thomas Mauer (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Markosia.

For a good deal of this issue, Hagler focuses on a conversation between Nestor's mother and a local preacher. The plot is taking shape, slowly, as the preacher believes that Nestor has some kind of "gift," and he'd like to investigate it. Hagler, however, doesn't take the expected route with this. The preacher, Buddy Clearwater, is not a stereotypical Bible-thumper. As we shift to the second half of the book, a series of letters reveals that Buddy is dying and he no longer has much faith in God. He hopes that Nestor will somehow help, in one way or the other. It's an interesting twist.

Meanwhile, in the second half of the book, the comic again takes a surreal turn, as Nestor goes to church and sees Esme, the girl he saved from drowning. Esme doesn't want to have anything to do with Nestor, and Hagler shows the confrontation between them nicely, including giving us a flashback with an absolutely horrifying image that shows, once again, how well Hagler has gotten under the skin of this world he's created. It's a scary yet tragic drawing, and is part of what makes this book so amazing. At the end, we get another moment that is very true and heartbreaking yet hopeful. It's this kind of thing that makes The Boy Who Made Silence such a brilliant comic. You owe it to yourself to seek it out.

Fallen Angel #28 by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist/colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

As part of a much longer storyline, this issue simply moves the plot forward. David does it very well, of course, but there's not much to say about it. We get some nice interaction between Lee, Jude, and Mariah, bad things happen in Bete Noire, and we happily move along. The one problem I have with recent issues is the coloring, which seems a lot darker than it used to be. I have to go back to the earlier issues of the IDW series, when it seems the book was a bit lighter. It's always been a dark comic, sure, but recently it's really dark. It's annoying.

But it's still a great comic book.

The Immortal Iron Fist #17 by Duane Swierczynski (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Russ Heath (artist), Matt Milla (colorist), Dave Lanphear and "Natalie" (letterers). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

The new creative team takes over, and the results are a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's always nice to see Heath's Wild West art, and the fact that Swierczynski is continuing the idea of visiting the Iron Fists of the past to inform Danny Rand's present is appreciated - it's part of what made the Frubaker version cool. I've never liked having something like "10 years from now" in your comic, because there's no way Swierczynski is going to be writing the book 10 years from now and there's no way this particular future will ever come to pass. I mean, it's not a bad way to set up your story arc, but it's kind of a cheat. Plus, this issue, at least, lacks the unique insanity that Frubaker brought to the book. That doesn't mean it's bad, of course, but like Checkmate, it feels like it's about to become just another superhero book, and that's not terribly interesting. Like Checkmate, I'm going to give it a try for a while, but I fear for it.

The less said about Foreman's art, the better. It's over-rendered, not terribly dynamic, and the big fight between Iron Fist and the bad guy is poorly laid out, with the dramatic moment crammed into the lower right corner. It's weird. Foreman has his charms, and his art on Ares was quite nice, but it appears that he shouldn't ink his own work, as he does here. Maybe that's it. But it doesn't explain the layouts!

Marvel Comics Presents #11. "Vanguard" by Marc Guggenheim (writer), Francis Tsai (artist), Tony Washington (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Machine Man" by Ivan Brandon (writer), Niko Henrichon (artist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Stingray" by B. Clay Moore (writer), Lee Weeks (penciler/inker), Stefano Gaudiano (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Weapon Omega" by Rich Koslowski (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist), Laura Villari (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Marvel.

It's a shame this book is over (I guess; nothing past issue #12 has been solicited), because it's really been hitting on all cylinders recently. I still contend Marvel could publish this thing for far less than even $2.99, much less $3.99, but what the hell do I know? Anyway, the two 12-part stories ("Vanguard" and "Weapon Omega") are hurtling toward their conclusions, and "Vanguard," especially, has a nice twist that is neat to see. The Stingray story looks great (it's by Weeks, after all) and it's a nice fun story in which our hero fights a sea monster and defeats in an absolutely brilliant way. Meanwhile, I can't stop being impressed by the Machine Man story, even though I keep having to admit I didn't like the first part. Since that, however, Brandon and Henrichon have been knocking them out of the park, with a fantastic reveal in this issue that maybe I should have seen coming, but I didn't. I don't know, maybe I'm dumb. But I love being surprised, and this was excellent. Plus, I agree with Number Twelve: I want a T-shirt from the Committee to Destroy Machine Man. Then the chicks would like me!

I assume next issue is the final one. It's certainly the final chapters of the three longer stories. I hope Marvel puts some of these stories out in some kind of trade format, because more than a few have been worth the read.

Pistolfist #1 by J. S. Earls (writer), David A. Flanery, Jr. (writer), Andres Guinaldo (penciler), Jason Embury (colorist), and Kel Nuttall (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Bluewater Comics.

This issue came out almost two years ago, in October 2006 (and I reviewed it here, in a post which quickly became about something else), when it was published by Alias. It's the same issue reprinted, now from Bluewater, so I'll just reprint what I wrote then:

"It's a solid beginning to the series. Benjamin Franklin returns from Europe on the eve of the Revolution, bothered by his failure to prevent it. Meanwhile, at Lexington, a mysterious hooded figure (thats him on the cover) rides into battle, but is overwhelmed by numbers. He is taken to Fort Ticonderoga, where we find out who he is (I ain't tellin'!), who his captor is (again, I ain't tellin'!), how they captured him (ditto!) and what the connection is to Franklin (you're kidding, right? - I ain't tellin!). I will say it's an intriguing set up that has the potential to say quite a bit about how the country was formed and what it meant for all of its people. It's an Alias book, so who the hell knows when the next one is coming out, but it's a good comic nevertheless."

Well, as it turns out, the next issue never came out. But presumably Bluewater is on more solid financial ground than Alias, so let's hope the next issue comes out soon! Then I can see if the intriguing beginning leads into a good middle!

She-Hulk #31 by Peter David (writer), Vincenzo Cucca (penciler), Vincenzo Acunza (inker), Barbara Ciardo (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

It's always interesting to read, these days, the justification for heroes beating on each other, as it's such a hoary cliché in comics. David does a good job with Monet trying to talk to She-Hulk, but Jen, for some odd reason, wants to fight. As Jen does so, she starts to realize that something is very wrong with her (Jen, that is, not Monet), and knowing David, it will be something bizarre and fantastic. Meanwhile, Jazinda explains why the Longshot-Skrull is so important, and the problem with crossovers like this is that the writer has to make it "important" without interfering with the main book. So the idea that David comes up with (just like the one in The Incredible Hercules) is neat, but won't matter, ultimately. But it's an exciting comic, and that's fine.

The new art team of Cucca and Acunza is a welcome addition. It's a bit cartoonish, which works well, and it's always good to see She-Hulk drawn like a brick shithouse. I mean, she's a big girl, and some of the recent artists have made her bigger than everyone, but not necessarily thicker than everyone else. She should be solid, which doesn't mean just muscular. I hope the Vincenzos can stay on the book for a while, because it's a nice-looking comic.

Sparks #2 (of eight) by Chris Folino (writer) and JM Ringuet (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Catastrophic Comics.

Yep, already reviewed it. Let's move on!

The Straw Men #1 (of 12) by Joe Brusha (adapter) and Brett Weldele (artist). $2.99, 29 pgs, FC, Zenoscope.

This comic is adapted from this novel, which I haven't read, so I'm curious to see where it's going. For one issue, it's pretty packed with stuff, as we begin with a massacre at a fast-food restaurant, move onto a man mourning the death of his parents until he discovers a note from them that changes his perspective, and finally ends up in California, where a bad bad man is stalking a teenager. What do these things have to do with each other? Well, apparently they are connected, but not in this issue, at least. There's a lot to process, but at least it's intriguing. The middle section, in which Ward Hopkins attends his parents' funeral, then reminisces about what a jerk his father could be, is fairly verbose, but it's offset by the opening sequence, which quickly establishes the scene and then allows Weldele to draw eight pages of mayhem. And Weldele, who is a fantastic artist, nails it. He can do more with about five lines than most of these higher-profile artists (see below) can do with all their model photographs. It's a great-looking book, and the massacre in the McDonald's is, perhaps unfortunately (given the subject matter), thrilling.

What's going on? I'm not sure. But give it a look. The Skrulls will still be there when you get back!

Uncanny X-Men #500 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Matt Fraction (writer), Greg Land (penciler), Terry Dodson (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Rachel Dodson (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $3.99, 37 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Oh, I guess there's a SPOILER in here, but it's not like anyone didn't see it coming.

Well, that was unimpressive. There's a problem with this "anniversary" issue. I'm not sure if Marvel demands that writers come up with something big-time for a "-00" issue, or if the writers are so conditioned to do so that they just make the story longer. It's not the 500th original issue, anyway, as there are, what, 25 issues of reprints included in there? The point is, as a 500th issue, this isn't very good. It doesn't feel epic enough. Yes, Magneto returns, but it's kind of boring, and the fact that the X-Men are established in San Francisco can be interesting, but we'll have to see where Frubaker goes with it. There's far too much in this book that could be left out, and it might have been a decent part of a bigger storyline, but it's kind of bloated.

And what's this obsession with environmentalism in this book? Okay, I can deal with it when they're giving the mayor a tour of the place, but later, when Colossus chucks a car at Magneto, Emma complains that it was a hybrid? Really? Sheesh.

Oh, and did anyone else feel cheated that we never saw the damned view from the X-Men's new complex? Warren says he "bought the best view I've ever seen," but then we never see it. Damn it, I wanted a big two-page spread!!!!!

Anyway, I kind of want to nitpick this to death, but I won't. It feels like the middle of a story arc, and some of the things that are established work well. But overall, it has a blah feel to it. That's too bad, because Brubaker had started to make the book his own, and with Fraction joining him, this could be a brilliant run, but it's struggling to get there. Now, with Land and Dodson taking over the art chores (how's that going to work, by the way, as it does not seem there's much rhyme or reason to who gets what pages), there might be less chance of it. We'll have to see.

One final thought: did anyone else wonder how so many people know so much about the X-Men? I mean, they've never been the most public of superheroes, yet those people at the "party" knew everything about them. The idea of the X-Men as stars is a good one, and I hope it gets more development, but should I just accept that suddenly, everyone knows everything about them and deal with it? I know Morrison toyed with the idea, but I wish the transition had been a bit smoother. Oh well.

Wasteland #19 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

Wasteland reaches the end of another arc, and what makes this book so damned good reveals itself again, as Johnston ends the Sand-Eater invasion with a whimper (he really ended it last issue, if we're being technical), but by this point, the story has moved beyond that event, so we don't care. Johnston has continually done this in the title - set up a situation, and then subverted our expectations to illuminate something else, and that's part of why this is such a refreshing comic. As always with the issues, especially the final ones in an arc, we get some stunning answers to questions that have plagued us, but those simply lead to more questions. We learn quite a bit about Michael and his relationship to Marcus, but that only makes us want to learn more. Johnston, like any good writer, is taunting us. Damn him!

Mitten, of course, is brilliant. It's always a pleasure to look at this comic as well as read it. Next issue is another fill-in, which have been interesting so far, and then it looks like the next arc will return to Abi and Michael. We'll see what they're up to!

Damn, this is a good comic. Would it really kill you to pick up an issue or a trade? Would it????

Nobody guessed the totally random lyrics last week. They were from the song "I Don't Want To Know (If You Don't Want Me)" by The Donnas. Let's fire up another one!

"In a trap, feel a strapHolding still, Pinned for kill.Chances narrow that I'll make it,In the cushioned straight-jacket.Just like 22nd Street,When they got me by my neck and feet.Pressures building, can't take any more.My headaches charge. My earaches roar.In the painGet me out of this pain."

Sorry for the brevity (some may thank me, of course). I'll be in San Diego for two days this year - who will I meet this year? Will anyone want to take a swing at me? I hope not - I'm really a swell guy! We'll see what happens!

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