What I bought - 23 May 2007

Why has May been such a huge month? I keep bankrupting the poor family! My kids are tired of walking everywhere because I can't afford gas! Oh, the humanity!

But we have more important things to discuss. Like comics!

Ant-Man #8 by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker. $2.99, Marvel.

As the middle part of a multi-issue story, this feels unfinished (as it should, after all, but I mean more than usual). Plenty of stuff happens to move the plot along - Eric takes the jewels he stole from the Black Fox and pawns them, getting far less than they're worth; he gets a fake identity so he can get a job at Damage Control; he hooks up with a cutie who also works for Damage Control; he gets into and then out of a fight between She-Hulk and Mr. Hyde, confirming his cowardly status; he and the Black Fox get the pawn store owner to give them the money he got for the jewels. It's funny, Cory Walker's art is solid, and it's nice to see that Eric continues to be a jerk, but there's nothing to recommend picking up this particular issue. If you haven't gotten any issues yet, it's not a bad representative of the series as a whole. Of course, it's circling the drain sales-wise, so it's not going to matter much longer.

Despite some of my reservations about this comic, I like what Kirkman is trying to do with it. And because it's a minor comic from Marvel, that means no one is buying it and it will be dead soon. Such, as they say, is life.

Cover Girl #2 (of 5) by Andrew Cosby, Kevin Church, Mateus Santolouco, and R. M. Yankowicz. $3.99, Boom! Studios.

Two weeks after issue #1, we get the second of this mini-series. That's what I like to see! Apparently a printing problem caused #1 to ship late, so I guess we shouldn't expect this, but that's okay.

This issue is better than the last one, because my biggest problem with the first issue - excessive wittiness - has either disappeared or been better integrated into the story. It helps that in this issue the action kicks up a bit - I did like the fact that the first issue was mostly set-up, but it's also nice to see shit blow up. Someone takes a shot at Alex at some party (and almost kills Steven Spielberg, which is quite funny), and there's a big car chase, and then someone puts a bomb underneath Alex's car. Meanwhile, he and Rachel sort-of flirt, even though Rachel claims to want nothing to do with him. I foresee them in bed in the future, but I really hope it doesn't happen. That would be dull. We also learn a bit more about the woman Alex pulled out of the car last issue and the men who are chasing him. Not much, but a bit more. This is paced very well for a five-issue mini-series so far, and although it might not be worth the price tag, it's still a good comic.

Santolouco takes over pencilling, and the art, which wasn't great in the first issue, suffers a bit more. Santolouco is fine on Two Guns, so perhaps it's Yankowicz's inks that hurt the art, but a lot of the faces look odd in this book, especially Rachel's. Given that she's one of the two main characters, that ain't good. Her face looks misshapen a few times, and the facial expressions in a lot of panels don't match the emotions of the characters. It's not horrible art by any means, but it does distract us a bit, because in a comic like this, the more you linger, the less effective it is. Some of the art looks good - at one point Rachel is supposed to look vacuous, and Santolouco's facial expression is wonderful - but overall, it's just okay. If only Albuquerque could have done the interiors, because his covers are very nice.

Church also throws in a couple of characters named after excellent bloggers Dave Campbell and Chris Sims, although in Campbell's case, the character is a woman. Will BeaucoupKevin feel the wrath of Dave's Long Box???? Only time will tell. There may be a cyberspace smackdown in the offing!

Criminal #6 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. $2.99, Marvel/Icon.

I was on the fence about buying this because as well done as the first arc was, it didn't really dazzle me. It felt like a low-rent version of Sleeper or Point Blank or Scene of the Crime or Gotham Central - you know, something that Brubaker does very well and can probably write on auto-pilot. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, and even though it was noir, I still disliked Leo more than I should have. But, given Brubaker's track record, I figured I could give it another shot. What the hell, it's only money, right?

Issue #6 begins a new story arc, and I'm happy to say that it has far more potential than the first arc did to be a great story. Yes, it unfolds in a way that is largely predictable, but when you're working with noir, that really can't be helped too much. In fiction, of course, the lack of original plots means that your characters often have to carry the day, and Tracy Lawless (I love the weird blending of the "girl's" name with the rebel surname) is a more interesting character so far than Leo was. Therefore, when Tracy goes about his business of finding the crew who were involved (somehow) in his brother's death, we know it's going to be bloody (hell, it already is bloody, and we're only in part one), but it's much more gripping than reading about Leo and his problems. It's simply a question of which character is more interesting, and although the idea of Leo was interesting, the execution was a bit lacking. Tracy is more focused and devious, and although he's very brutal, he has a magnetism that makes us want to find out how he's going to gain his revenge.

So Criminal gets a reprieve, and I hope Brubaker continues in this vein, because this is the kind of book I want to like and was sad that the first arc didn't live up to expectations. Maybe this one will!

Dynamo 5 #3 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar. $3.50, Image.

Let's say you're buying JLA. Now, I can't imagine why you would do that, but it's your money, so fine. Are you buying it because it's good, or are you buying it because you have fond memories of when JLA was good? Or are you buying it because it stars a favorite character from your wayward youth? I can't speak to its quality, but I can't imagine it's better than many other superhero books of far smaller profile, including this one, which in just three issues has proven it's a fantastic group superhero book. What's not to love about this comic? Okay, it's $3.50. That's it. Everything else is superb. Faerber shows us some of the kids' lives outside of their superheroing, he gives us a superpowered antagonist who's not really a villain, just a former ally of Captain Dynamo who's a bit out of control, he gives us a wonderful fight scene (more Asrar's doing, of course), and he gives us a nice twist at the end. In between he gives us the kids bonding over the fact that Hector (Visionary) is still a virgin. It's a very nice scene, as the kids are still learning about each other, and it's also quite funny. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Faerber has become one of the best superhero writers around. And Asrar's art continues to look great.

I'm not saying this book is the greatest comic out there, but I'm curious why you wouldn't buy it if you like superhero team comics. That's all.

Elephantmen #9 by Richard Starkings, Moritat, and Chris Burnham. $2.99, Image.

This is a very good issue, for two reasons: it tells a complete story, even though the story itself doesn't have a lot of meat on it, and we get a lot of narration boxes that fill us in on some of the history of the Elephantmen and the world in which they live. For a series that has been telling some very good stories but leaving us in the dark about the origins of the animal hybrids, it's a nice change of pace. Starkings does a nice job with explaining who the Elephantmen were and how Hip Flask has changed, and although we know that Hip Flask is a decent guy, it's interesting to be reminded of the purpose of the Elephantmen - they were bred to be warriors - and contrast it with how Hip Flask has grown into a decent man. The second story, about a silent and invisible assassin, is clever in the telling, and Chris Burnham, who draws it, is a real talent. He claims his style is influenced by David Lloyd, who drew the back cover, but to me, it is reminiscent of Igor Kordey (when he's good). Both stories in this issue are nicely done and give us a good look at the way the Elephantmen have been integrated into society. And Starkings manages to get in a bit of forward momentum on the plot when a meteor lands in Los Angeles, an event that will be investigated next issue.

As usual, this book continues to be very high quality. And, as usual, I'd like to thank Richard Starkings for sending it to me. I almost feel guilty about it, because it's something I really enjoy, and I haven't had to pay for it.

Fantastic Four #546 by Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier, Rick Magyar, and Scott Hanna. $2.99, Marvel.

This issue sums up why I don't often buy Fantastic Four. It's perfectly competent superhero stuff, with a little bit of goofiness thrown in (the golden frogs) and some cosmic fisticuffs. Reed implies that he wasn't such a dick during Civil War after all (and I doubt this is news to anyone who regularly reads this book, but it was an interesting conversation with Sue), and Galactus shows up. Pelletier's art is nice and smooth and perfectly suited for big-time superhero fighting. And Marvel rectifies a stupid mistake and brings Gravity back to life. Gravity, you'll recall, starred in one of the better Marvel mini-series of 2005, and then was killed off in another mini-series. McDuffie restores him pretty much to status quo, which is nice - Marvel shouldn't be killing off new characters so cavalierly. So it's all very nice, and we see the Black Panther and Storm in action with the Thing and the Human Torch, and it's perfectly fine.

However, it doesn't excite me. It doesn't make me say "Wow!" I realize that for some people, good old-fashioned superhero comics are fine and dandy, and maybe Marvel and DC would be in better shape if they brought us more books like this, but for me, personally, there's nothing to keep me coming back. I think of some of the other superhero comics I buy. She-Hulk is funnier than this, with a nice twist of having Jen actually work in a law firm. Daredevil is crime noir in a costume. Catwoman is more gripping because it deals with situations that feel more "real." Checkmate is espionage. Noble Causes, which is similar to the concept of the Fantastic Four, is better written. I guess the closest thing I buy regularly to this book are the X-books, and I guess that comes down to liking the characters more. If you like these characters more than the mutants, you'll like this more. But nothing in the writing and art sets it apart. It's a well done superhero book. But I read plenty of those. If you're not reading enough superhero books, you can't really go wrong starting off with Fantastic Four. But it's not something so unique that I need to get it.

And isn't Storm cute, calling that Herald of Galactus a murderer? Storm, who stabbed Callisto in the heart and then ripped the still-beating heart out of Marrow, calling someone else a murderer. That's good stuff.

Gødland #18 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli. $2.99, Image.

You know, I don't really praise Tom Scioli enough on this book. I mean, this issue features the usual excellence, as Adam fights Crashman inside the Infinity Tower, which has been encased in energy by the government. Meanwhile, Ed, Supra, and Eeg-oh complete their plans for planetary destruction, but they're having doubts. And, of course, the Tormentor and Basil make an appearance. The script is full of its usual insanity and cleverness, and the final panel, in which we are informed that our minds are now reeling, is a great place to end the comic. So reading it is fun.

However, Scioli's art is equally important in making this such a good comic book. Yes, it's influenced by Kirby, and I've never been a huge Kirby fan. But Scioli does such a wonderful job with the astonishingly wild creatures that pop up in this book, and when he needs to be cosmic (like in the very center of the book, which is a magnificent double-page spread), he's up to the task, but when he needs to be gritty (as when he shows the Savage Sting feeding), it's disturbing. Adam's fight with Crashman is beautifully choreographed. Even someone like the Tormentor, who doesn't actually have a face, is rendered in such a way that we can read his emotions perfectly. Scioli's art is brilliant, and fits perfectly with Casey's wild storytelling. It's one of those books that you can just stare at and never get tired of.

And it's always good that I'm never sure what's going to happen next issue, even though it all makes sense when I do read it. That's some good comic-booking!

Gutsville #1 (of 6) by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving. $2.99, Image.

Let's get this out of the way right now: Gutsville is NOT Klarion. I say this because a cursory flip through this book, with its absolutely gorgeous Frazer Irving art, might give that impression. On the inside front cover, there's a quick summary of the events that led us to the comic, and it ends with "Gutsville endures ..." which sounds a lot like "Croatoan abides." The people are living in a dark, secluded environment (underground versus inside a sea creature) and the community is run by religious fanatics. They are both stuck in their own time even though it's the present in the outside world. And both books feature that absolutely gorgeous Frazer Irving art. So Spurrier could have totally ripped The God of All Comics off for all I know.

However. This is still a very good comic, and Spurrier makes it his own with a wonderfully imagined Victorian English society (the people were swallowed by the sea creature in 1850) in which a murderer is running loose and visitors from the outside world are literally dropping in. The main character, Albert Oliphant, becomes the society's Ratcatcher (a very important job, as the rats are large, mutated, and aggressive) when his father is killed. He's in love with a woman, Emelia, who is marrying into high society, and whose future husband is, naturally, a tool. Albert has the soul of an artist, but the JonahKin - the religious nuts who rule Gutsville - frown on paintings (of course). There's also racial tension, as an aboriginal woman with strange powers is accused of being in league with thieves. Presumably the ship was on its way to Australia in 1850, but it's not really clear why aboriginals are on board. I suppose that's for a later issue! Albert, meanwhile, thinks he might have found an exit from the beast, but he starts drinking, just like his dad, and no one listens to him.

It's a very weird-looking comic, but ultimately, it's fairly straight-forward. We'll see how Spurrier does with the characters and the intrusion of the outside world, because the idea of a theocracy and those who rebel against it has been done ad infinitum (that doesn't mean it can't be done again, it's just that it's tougher). It's helped, of course, by Irving's art, which is breathtaking. He nails the look of a Victorian society very well, and the exteriors, which are after all the insides of some great beast, are creepy and oozing and claustrophobic. It's amazing to look at.

It's a very promising first issue, with a guide to the strange creatures inside the beast, a map of the area around Gutsville, and a prose murder mystery in the back. How cool is that? Why not try it?

Madman Atomic Comics #2 by Mike Allred. $2.99, Image.

Okay, so as it turns out, Frank Einstein isn't exactly the absolute center of all creation, as was implied last issue. But this issue is still freaky, as Frank thinks he's the center of all creation for most of it, and goes about trying to recreate creation. It turns out it's an insidious plot by some bad guy whom I don't know, having never read a Madman comic before, and the final page promises some meta-textual fun in The God of All Comics mode. The story is fairly slight, but that's not the real draw of the issue. As you can tell by the cover, the art dominates this comic, and Allred is really pulling out all the stops. We get full-page spread after full-page spread, with all sorts of cosmic neatness and even some war scenes. It's an absolutely gorgeous book to look at, and anyone who waxes nostalgic about old Dr. Strange comics should shut up and buy this. What are you waiting for????

It's interesting to read this, because of the slight story. Einstein does a lot of navel-gazing as he goes on his weird journey, but it's comic-book philosophy at its shallowest, which means it's not terribly interesting but moves the story along. Usually, I enjoy books with good stories even if the art isn't that great. It's completely the opposite here, as Allred's art is so stunning it mitigates the fact that not much happens in this book. And, of course, on the first page is the entire first issue reprinted in tiny panels (it looks like the entire first issue; maybe Allred skipped a page or two) sans dialogue. That's a cool way to get people caught up, even though it's not very helpful. Still, it looks neat.

What a cool comic. Worth it for the beautiful art alone. We'll see if the story catches up next issue!

She-Hulk #18 by Dan Slott, Rick Burchett, and Cliff Rathburn. $2.99, Marvel.

Why Marvel and DC have their collective heads up their asses, Reason 163,748,378,537:

Let's say you're a new reader of comic books. You're unsure about the whole thing, but you thought that Jessica Alba was c-a-t HOT* in that movie so you've been reading Fantastic Four, and that got you interested in a few other titles. You also had a man-crush on Lou Ferrigno when you were but a lad (I mean, who didn't?), so you figured you'd check out what the Hulk is up to these days. You pick up Incredible Hulk #106 and read all about Jennifer Walters, who for the first part of the book remains human because Iron Man injected her with something called "nanites." "Wow," say you. "That Iron Man is kind of a tool, isn't he? I wonder in which story he injected her with those things." You ask your friendly neighborhood comic-book clerk if Jennifer Walters has her own book, and between bites of his burrito (sorry, low blow) he tells you that she is indeed in something called She-Hulk, and if he has any taste, he tells you it's a pretty good comic. So you ask him if he has the issue in which she fights Iron Man, and after taking a sip of Mountain Dew (come on, I read comics - I can perpetuate the stereotype!), he tells you that the issue in which she fights Iron Man will come out ... in three weeks. "What," say you calmly, "the fuck?" He shrugs his shoulders. "What are you gonna do?" he says. If you are not like me and completely addicted to the sweet, sweet comic book goodness, you swear off the crap forever. If Marvel can't coordinate their stupid releases, what good are they?

Yes, this crap happened in Civil War. Yes, this crap has been happening for years. But Jesus, it doesn't get any easier to take. Whenever stuff like this happens, I'm reminded about how poorly most comics publishing companies are run. All of them are like the New York Yankees. The Yankees are a horribly-run franchise. If they didn't have more money than the frickin' Queen of England, they would suck. But because they do, they're always in contention. But don't tell me they're run well, not with the Evil Crazy Man running the show. Comic book companies, especially the Big Two, are the same way. They're running the business idiotically, but they're so big they don't care. And we get an issue that leads into a huge event coming out three weeks after the issue into which it leads. I have no idea why She-Hulk is running late (I assume it's that). But if it was, an editor (hey, remember them?) should have told Slott (if it was the writing) to cut his four-part "Planet Without a Hulk" story to three parts, and just deal with it. Then last issue would have been the one in which Jen fought Iron Man. It's not like every single panel in the four-parter was absolutely vital. The whole point of "Planet Without a Hulk" was to get Jen to learn about what happened to Bruce and for us to learn about Iron Man's Project Achilles, which is what he tests on Jen. That's all. The first two issues of this arc were kind of dull. They couldn't have been condensed into one issue?

Yes, I'm talking out of ignorance of the intricacies of comic book business. But this is just idiotic. It's sloppy and stupid. And this is the leader in the field, mind you. Jesus.

It's an okay issue. The best thing about it is that Jen misses the law firm and wants to go back. Yeah, we all want that, Mr. Slott. How about it? Wouldn't that be nice?

* That's an old high-school thing my friends and I used to say. I have no idea what its genesis is.

The Spirit by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone. $2.99, DC.

This is by far the best issue of The Spirit yet, because Cooke has finally figured out that his title character simply isn't that interesting. I know I'm late to the Spirit Party, but I just read the trade paperback collecting the "best" Spirit stories, and it's amazing how often the Spirit plays a minor role in the stories. This comic is a place for the creator to tell interesting stories about lost souls, with the Spirit being more of a deus ex machina in many of them. For some reason, Cooke has felt the need to introduce the characters of the Spirit mythos for the first few issues of the series, which have weakened them. In this issue, he tells the story of August Blue, nicknamed Almost, a musical prodigy who doesn't like to play for an audience. His mother pushed him into it, and he freaked out, told her he hated her, which caused her to have a heart attack and die. When Blue grew up, he came to the city and fell in love with the singer in a punk band. He helped the band with his songs, but never performed. One night he took refuge under a giant blue meteorite that had crashed in the park and then placed on a pedestal. Rain water seeped through the rock and dripped on him, turning his skin blue. He took the rest of the band to the rock, and they all turned blue. The pigment was some kind of drug, and it made Blue want to perform, and he was amazing. However, the owner of the club where they played discovered their secret, and he took the rock to manufacture a drug from it. Things, as they do, go sour from there. I know, shocking.

Cooke tells this entire story in flashback, as we begin with the Spirit and one of the band's members, Adelia, in the aftermath of an explosion, and the Spirit asks what happened. Adelia tells the story, and it becomes a very nice tale of a boy who is so scared by the world that he doesn't know what to do. In many ways, it's a fairly standard story, but Cooke does a very good job selling it. Adelia is a bit maudlin in the telling occasionally, but the page where she describes what happened when Blue took the stage for the first time is wonderful. Cooke's art helps, too, as it usually does. Blue's pain is evident on his face throughout, and the entire book has its usual retro feel, which, ironically, works well with the punk theme. Cooke's art always looks good, though, so it shouldn't really be a surprise.

This is a fine story of greed and loss and music. It's the kind of thing I have been waiting for on The Spirit, and if you've been skipping the book because it's been somewhat uninspired (and I can't say I blame you), check this issue out. It's the Darwyn Cooke writing I've been missing since Selina's Big Score. But it's back!

Star Wars: Legacy #12 by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, and Dan Parsons. $2.99, Dark Horse.

After reading the first trade of this series and the last two issues, it's pretty safe to say that this is a fairly typical Ostrander title, which means it's a good read and you know sort of what to expect (not in the long run, but in individual scenes). I haven't made up my mind about it yet, but it's shading a bit toward the Martian Manhunter end of the Ostrander spectrum rather than the Suicide Squad end, which means it's well done but a bit dull. With this book, I think it's more the idea that Ostrander must be devoted to the Star Wars ethos, which never really interested me all that much, rather than the fact that he's boring on his own. In this issue, Cade Skywalker and his Jedi master, Sazen, talk about the death of Cade's father (in issue #1) and how it affected Cade, plus how the young Jedi uses the Force and how dangerous that is. The quasi-mystical parts of the Star Wars saga were always the worst, so I'm going to give this issue a bit of a pass. Cade learns that one of the Jedi that he turned over to a bounty hunter is being tortured, so he heads off alone (well, except for R2D2, who shows up in this issue) to rescue him. Next issue promises more head-stomping and less navel-gazing. So I'll check that out, because I trust Ostrander to deliver the goods. This issue, despite revealing plenty of good information, wallows too much in philosophy.

Unique #3 (of 3) by Dean Motter and Dennis Calero. $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

This mini-series finishes kind of as expected, which makes it a bit of a disappointment. Motter is better than this, and although it's a good story, it's very paint-by-numbers, and therefore feels a bit hollow. Motter skims over the surface of the characters, so we don't ever care too much about them, and the climax doesn't resonate as well as it could. I like the idea and even the presentation, but I wonder if it might have been better served as a four-issue series so we could get to know Jon and his paramour/enemy, Liona/Amanda better. Jon and Liona's relationship becomes more crucial in this third issue, but as we haven't spent enough time establishing their relationship. The fact that she's a good guy in one reality and a bad guy in the other is pretty crucial, too, but not enough has been done with it to really leave an impact. Jon spends far too much time in this mini-series running away and trying to figure out what the hell's going on, so the characterization gets pushed aside. As a nugget of sci-fi noir, it's fine, but it doesn't rise above that.

Calero's art, however, which was a bit stiff in the first issue, is much better in this issue. He colored the issue, too, and it's a bit dark, but he does a nice job with the mood of the book and even some of the "action" scenes (they really aren't all that action-filled, but stuff does happen). The book looks great, which is another reason why the failures of the story are so disappointing.

I can't really recommend Unique, but it's certainly not the worst comic you could buy. It's nice to look at and features a neat idea. If you really want to read good Motter, go back and read Terminal City. But this isn't the worst way to spend your nine dollars.

X-Men #199 by Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, and Tim Townsend. $2.99, Marvel.

I've been impressed with Carey's run on X-Men so far (despite the Ramos art on three issues), and this issue might be his best yet. Cable tries to fight the Hecatomb, but he fails. So he wakes up Rogue (which is presumably the "unspeakable" thing he did to Rogue in Cable & Deadpool #40, which makes very little sense), who shows up and kicks ass. Then the rest of the team kicks ass. This is a very good blow-'em-up comic book, with each X-Man exhibiting their powers to full extent and very nice consequences for Cable's actions (well, not nice for Rogue, but nice for the readers going forward). Bachalo's art is unusually clear (as it's been for most of this run; what's going on?) and magnificent on a few pages. One thing bugged me, of course: Bobby's macking with Mystique. Not for the reason that it used to bug me (the disparity in their ages), but for whole new ones: first, it seems quite sudden, and second, exactly why does Bobby de-ice when he's about to create a huge ice field for the Conquistador (which is plummeting to Earth) to fall on? The full page of Bobby kissing Mystique as the ship explodes behind them is stunning, to be sure, but how does Bobby create all that ice when he's not iced up? Am I missing something?

Anyway, this X-book is so much better than Brubaker's Uncanny X-Men it's just not funny. Carey has a very good grasp of the characters, he's building on each story arc, he's introducing problems that don't simply go away, and he's come up with some very cool villains. Of course, having said that, next issue we get ... the Marauders? Sigh. Despite that, I have great confidence that it will kick much ass. Kind of like this issue!

All right, you people, that's enough for this week. Do your worst!

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