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What I bought – 23 September 2015

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 23 September 2015

Fat Charlie tried to remember what people did in prison to pass the time, but all he could come up with was keeping secret diaries and hiding things in their bottoms. He had nothing to write on, and he felt that a definite measure of how well one was getting on in life was not having to hide things in one’s bottom. (Neil Gaiman, from Anansi Boys)

Batman ’66 #27 (“Bane Enters the Ring”) by Wes Abbott (letterer), Scott Kowalchuk (artist/colorist), Jeff Parker (writer), David Piña (assistant editor), and Jim Chadwick (group editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC. Batman created by Bill Finger and Robert Kahn. Robin created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, and Bobby Cane. Batgirl created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Commissioner Gordon created by Bill Finger. The Riddler created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang. Bane – and I assume his minions – created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, and Graham Nolan.

As Batman ’66 careens toward cancellation as an ongoing series (it will live on in mini-series and occasional one-shots, according to Parker), it’s good to consider that we got over two years of stories about the Adam West Batman and his world that has been the best Batman book on the market since its inception. That’s pretty impressive. This issue is just another example of why it’s so good. Parker turns Bane into a luchador, because of course he would be, teams him up with the Riddler, and turns him loose. In the Batman ’66 universe, Bane commits a heinous crime – harboring a fugitive – but other than that, he doesn’t seem to do too much wrong, especially given that he’s an entertainer, so the fact that he’s “juicing” shouldn’t be that big a deal. Batman tracks him to Central America, where Bane rules a country with an iron fist, and challenges the big guy to a fight for supremacy. I don’t think I’ll give anything away when I say that Batman wins, but that’s not really the point, is it? Parker hits all the notes with regard to Bane – Batman’s broken back, Bane’s weird mask – but “Batman ’66”-izes them, so that I wondered why Original Recipe Batman was so stupid to not take the precautions Batman ’66 takes when Bane snaps him in two, and Parker’s explanation for Bane’s weird mask is perfect. He also gives us Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara “undercover” in Bane’s city, which is ridiculous and hilarious, and some cool wrestling action. Kowalchuk does nice work with the art – his Batman is a bit thick, and Kowalchuk’s action scenes are a bit stiff, but he still packs a lot onto the page (the book feels denser than 20 pages), nails the goofy aesthetic of the comic without sacrificing the action (Bane breaking Batman’s back is a cool scene), and his colors are stellar. He even gets to draw dramatic Batman, with a lot of blacks, a few times, so our hero looks a bit spookier than the story actually calls for.

I’m going to miss this comic, but such is life. I’m just amazed it lasted as long as it did and that Parker and his collaborators kept it so freaking good. Because it totally is!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Muirwood: The Lost Abbey #2 (of 5) by Deron Bennett (letterer), Lizzy John (colorist), Dave Justus (writer), Alex Sheikman (artist), Matthew Sturges (writer), Jeff Wheeler (creator/story), and Paul Morrissey (editor). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Jet City Comics.

I normally wouldn’t buy something like this – an adaptation, or at least something based on a fantasy trilogy that I’ve never read – but I’m buying it solely because Alex Sheikman is drawing it. I’ve been a fan of Sheikman’s for years, and I’ve been hoping he gets higher profile work, because he’s awesome (here’s a write-up of Robotika, his amazing comic from some years ago). I don’t know how high profile this comic is, but I don’t really care, because it’s still a Sheikman comic! His art is still good, although either he or colorist John succumbed to that over-rendering that affects too many comics these days, and it’s not as crisp as Sheikman has been in the past, although the work is still beautiful and the storytelling is fine. I don’t know if Sheikman is using softer lines or if John is making them softer – it’s hard when you can’t see uncolored work. Softer lines can work, of course, and in this issue, the raging ocean looks very cool, as do the clothes that the characters wear. At the end, Sheikman draws a Demon Bear (seriously – it looks like it just stepped out of New Mutants), and his use of softer brushwork makes the creature look more ethereal and unreal, as I assume it’s at least a bit magical. But the bleak landscape on a few pages and the stones our heroine Maia uses to navigate look a bit too soft – they should be etched a bit harder, so that we can tell how brutal the world is. In one panel, we get close to that, but it’s frustrating that there’s not more contrast. The art is still very nice, though – Sheikman is too good for it not to be!

The story is a standard quest story, but Sturges and Justus do decent work with it. The most interesting part of the book is that Maia, the heroine, has to learn to humble herself as she goes on her quest. She wasn’t a bad person, exactly, but she is the daughter of a king, and therefore she’s used to servants coming and going in her life without worrying about them. Now she’s found herself bound to men who are risking their lives to help her, and when one of them dies early in the issue, she realizes with horror that she didn’t know his name. So she makes an effort to learn about them, even as she understands that if they knew she was using magic (which is forbidden to women, because the comic isn’t very subtle), they would kill her. It’s an interesting drama inside the bigger quest, especially with the appearance of Demon Bear. How will they defeat it without Maia using magic? Oh, the conundrum!

I wouldn’t have even though about getting this if it hadn’t been drawn by an artist I really like, but it’s not a bad comic. If you’ve never seen Sheikman’s work before, it’s not the best place to start, but it’s pretty good. And if this gets him more work, it’s certainly a good thing!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Elephantmen #66 (“Number of the Beasts” OR “All Coming Evil Part Two: The Still Point of the Turning World”) by Axel Medellin (artist) and Richard Starkings (writer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

I know that Starkings is kind-of sort-of wrapping up Elephantmen (I don’t know the end date, but I know we’re much closer to the end than the beginning), so I shouldn’t be surprised when shit hits the fan in this issue, but it’s still surprising how much shit hits the fan in this issue. Starkings connects some things we’ve seen earlier in the series, reveals some things we could only guess about, and winnows the cast a bit, as there’s a pretty violent gun fight between our heroes and the latest bad guys, who are pretty terrifying (a good deal of this is due to Medellin, but I’ll get to that). Starkings is so good at pacing this comic – I know some people have said they gave up on it because not enough was happening, but I’ve never felt that, as he often brings things up and leaves them there so that he can pick them up later. In this issue, the first half is just a conversation among several particularly evil people, but the way Starkings has them reveal information simply builds the tension until we get to the action, where everything goes to hell. It’s a standard way to write a comic, but Starkings has become so good at it that it still hits hard every time. He ends with an ominous “everything can and probably will get worse” vibe, but also with a new mystery that will presumably hold more answers about how our heroes will be able to survive … if, indeed, they do. Who knows?

Medellin kills it as usual on this issue – I don’t know how everyone can enjoy his weekly work here and not pick up Elephantmen, but whatever. On the double-page title splash, we get a vertiginous look down through the Eye of the Needle at Los Angeles, and Medellin does a marvelous job bending the world underneath the floating restaurant to make it even more prominent as the “still point in a turning world.” He does a nice job with the talking heads (illustrating some of the things they’re talking about so that’s it not only talking heads), and then he gets to another quasi-double-page spread that shows what our heroes are up against, and he nails it. It’s very realistic but also terrifying, and you realize how monstrous the men in charge of the transgenics programs of the series have become. Then the monsters get turned loose, and Medellin does a great job with the fight as the elephantmen are pinned down and almost slaughtered. Medellin uses good violent reds very effectively in the scene, heightening the tension, and the fact that he colors the blood black is a great choice, as it makes the wounds look even more horrific. Starkings lets him draw two sexy women in this issue, too (Miki and Vanity), so there’s that. I was struck by the final image in the comic, as very often, Medellin’s art is very precise and even slick – I don’t know how much of his work is digital, but the precise line work always looks great in the futuristic world of the comic – but in the final panel, we get a close-up on Trench, and Medellin uses rougher lines for his stripes, making them look more like fur. It’s a small detail, but it shows that Medellin might draw in one way, but he’s certainly not bound to it when he needs to shift. It’s neat.

There have been some lulls in Elephantmen over the years, but recently, Starkings seems to be rediscovering his mojo, and the book is ramping back up. Bad things happening = good drama, so we’ll see where the book goes from here!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batgirl #44 (“An Ambush of Tigers”) by Bengal (artist), Brendan Fletcher (writer), Serge LaPointe (colorist), Cameron Stewart (writer), Steve Wands (letterer), Dave Wielgosz (assistant editor), and Chris Conroy (editor). Batgirl created by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino. Velvet Tiger created by Barbara Kesel and Trevor von Eeden. Alysia Yeoh created by Gail Simone. Luke Fox created by … someone. Can’t figure out who, though.

Bengal steps in as artist for this issue, and he’s a good fit for the tone of the series, especially as LaPointe is still the colorist. He’s not quite as cartoony as Babs Tarr, but he’s in the same ballpark, and he draws a great grumpy Barbara and an absolutely fierce Velvet Tiger. There’s an absolutely terrific fight scene in this comic that makes a bit more sense than last issue’s, where it appeared Barbara was able to deadlift a tiger (here she uses a long stick for leverage), and Bengal lays it out wonderfully (it concludes with a panel that troubled me, because either the villain is dead or she suffered a severe head trauma, but we have no idea what happened to her). The only distracting thing is the sweat beads on several characters, which is a feature of a lot of manga-style artwork and really bugs me for some reason. But that’s a minor complaint.

Stewart and Fletcher finish up this two-parter with order restored, but the two most significant events take place on the final two pages. The cover shows us Babs macking on Luke Fox, which occurs on the penultimate page (which Bengal draws wonderfully, as both Luke and Babs are just too cute for words), and then we discover some bad things a-happening with a certain cast member. How could said cast member be that stupid, you ask? Well, it’s fiction – people often act really stupidly in fiction. Otherwise, there’d be no drama, right?

So it’s a solid issue of Batgirl, one that sets things up more than it advances the story. I mean, we do get a nice wrap-up to the case, but we knew that would happen, didn’t we? Plus, I don’t know the last time Velvet Tiger appeared in a comic, but she’s awesome. MOAR VELVET TIGER!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

King #2 (of 5) (“I Hate Mondays Part Two”) by Deron Bennett (letterer), Bernard Chang (artist), Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist), and Paul Morrissey (editor). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Jet City Comics.

Can I call this “King and I, a Love Story”? I can? Okay, then.

King and I: A Love Story. So a few months ago, I saw the solicitation for King in Previews, and I thought, “Well, this comic is by Joshua Hale Fialkov, a pretty solid writer, and Bernard Chang, a pretty solid artist, and the premise – a young man is the only human in a post-apocalyptic world where animals have achieved intelligent sentience – sounds pretty keen,” and so I pre-ordered it. Now, whenever I order something from Previews from a small publisher, especially a new small publisher, I’m taking a chance that it will never appear at my comics store, because Diamond is run by Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne while the staff consists of, I believe, two-toed sloths (they’re even worse than three-toed sloths, if you can believe it). But hope sprung eternal, and I pre-ordered it. And it never appeared. It came out, as far as I know, on 19 August, but I never got it. I told my retailer about it, and presumably he alerted the main two-toed sloth at Diamond, who promptly jumped up on a branch that leads to the official re-ordering room, but it was taking a really long time, and there were tasty leaves along the way, and then the sloth got really sleepy, and what was it doing again? So, yeah, I never got my issue of King #1. I still hope it might appear somewhere, though! While I was waiting, King #2 came out. And my store didn’t get it, either. At this point I was ready to wait for the trade, but hope sprung eternal, as I was headed to Portland and a comic book convention, and Fialkov had attended last year, and maybe he’d be there this year with a copy of issue #1! First, I went to Excalibur Comics, my favorite comics store, and they had King #2, so I figured I’d buy it just to see what was what. Unfortunately, they did not have a copy of issue #1, as they didn’t order too many copies and, I guess, sold out. Such is life. I could still find it at the convention, maybe?

Alas, it was not to be. Fialkov was not at the convention this year, sadly, and I did not get issue #1. Then, this past Wednesday, my store actually got issue #2. As I was the only one who ordered it, I bought it (I don’t want to be the dude who sheepishly tells them I already own it, thereby sticking them with it because no one else will pick it up), so now, if you’re keeping track and haven’t wandered off to see what that two-toed sloth is up to, this is what I own of Fialkov and Chang’s new series:

Issue #1: 0 copies.
Issue #2: 2 copies.

Ain’t nothing right with that picture.

So, I decided to read issue #2 anyway, because why the hell not? I knew the basic premise, and I wanted to see how easily I could jump in. As it turns out, it’s not that hard. Fialkov doesn’t explain the premise, but he gives us a flashback to King’s childhood with his sister, when they were turned into gladiators (in diapers, mind you) by their father, until King was forced to kill his sister. Or did he? (Dum-dum-DUMMMMMMMMM!!!!!) Yes, after the flashback we find out his sister is still alive, which I assume was the big cliffhanger at the end of issue #1, as he’s already her prisoner in this issue and the flashback feels like something that would be put in the book after we find out his sister is still alive (I’m keen to know if I’m right about this, because it would mean I know the pacing of serialized comics waaaaaay too well). Anyway, King escapes from his sister’s torture chamber (I guess giant rats were going to kill him and then rape his corpse?), meets another human-like being (for a post-apocalyptic future in which he’s the last human, King sure meets a lot of them!), and discovers something about said human-like being (besides that she’s foxy) that will propel the plot through the final three issues. I guess.

Fialkov can write weird, high-octane action comics with the best of them, and this feels pretty perfectly pitched, as the action is fairly unrelenting but he’s still able to get some interesting ideas into the comic. Roze, the foxy human-like being, is the catalyst for the plot to become a bit more meditative, but I have a feeling that Fialkov won’t linger too long on the philosophical implications of her power, because he only has five issues and it appears he’s moving fast. But he probably doesn’t have to ease up on the gas – good comics writers can do their philosophizing on the fly – and I doubt he will. There’s just not enough room. Still, the depth of the comic might be shallow, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well done. I mean, as clichéd as it might read, “She was my sister AND my best friend. Until I killed her” (over a page turn, no less) is still pretty damned effective.

Chang is a good artist for this kind of story – he’s a solid draughtsman, but he’s funky enough so that he doesn’t take it all too seriously. King’s sister (who, if she has a name, isn’t referred by it in this issue) has henchbears, and Chang gives them seriously 1970s blowdried teenybopper haircuts, which is kind of awesome (Fialkov is in on the fun, as well – a bear gets killed, and its last words are “I should’ve taken that job at ChilisAAHAHHHH!”). Chang’s creature designs are pretty cool, and his line is fluid enough that the fight scenes work quite well. He deliberately makes the flashback a bit simpler, with less hatching, but his minotaur-looking beast is still impressive. Occasional panels are colored very basically, with stark line work, and they help highlight the drama occurring in those panels, which is a neat touch. Maiolo is another colorist who uses diffused lighting a lot, so that the coloring on the book glows a bit too much for my tastes, but at least Maiolo doesn’t over-render, so that his work doesn’t overwhelm Chang’s pencil work. The flatter colors on those few panels are more what I like, but that’s not the way comics coloring goes these days, so that’s the way it is. At least Maiolo is smart enough to work with Chang’s art instead of against it.

I still hope that I will get issue #1, mainly because I imagine the introduction to King’s world will feature more weird creatures, and Chang seems to have a handle on that. Some day I will get issue #1. So swear I!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Tithe #5 by Jeremy Colwell (colorist), Rahsan Ekedal (layouter), Matt Hawkins (writer), Troy Peteri (letterer), Phillip Sevy (artist), and Betsy Gonia (editor). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image/Top Cow.

SPOILERS ahead, yo. Can’t be helped. (Well, of course it can be helped, but I don’t care, I’m going to SPOIL this anyway.)

So there I was, reading issue #5 of The Tithe, lamenting a bit that Ekedal is no longer the artist but still enjoying Sevy’s kind of fun-house mirror version of his art (I’m not a big fan of an original artist providing layouts, as when an artist leaves, it should be a clean break to allow the new artist to establish himself; Ekedal won’t be doing layouts for long – this might be the only one – so perhaps it was just a case of him thinking he was going to draw it but his schedule wouldn’t allow it), but still enjoying it. Hawkins took down megachurches in the first arc, but they’re kind of an easy target, so the fact that he was willing, in this issue, to put an Arab (ex-Muslim, now Catholic, and thoroughly American) suicide bomber in St. Patrick’s in New York and then blow the place to the ground was pretty ballsy, I thought. Hawkins shouldn’t reserve his opprobrium about organized religion to Christianity, after all – if he’s going to write a comic about the abuses of organized religion, then all organized religion should be on the hit list, shouldn’t it? And he lines everything up well – there’s the predictable response from the militant right-wing Christians, led by a senator with presidential aspirations who wants to kill everyone even remotely associated with Islam; the president herself, who preaches calm in the face of the disaster; and the imam who visits FBI agent Dwayne Campbell (the older, black, Christian agent in the book) to talk to him, and we find out that Dwayne’s daughter married a Muslim man, which I’m sure makes family dinners awfully fun. I was also liking the fact that FBI agent James Miller (the younger, white, atheist agent in the book) is either banging or hoping to bang Samantha, the young woman who was behind the attacks on the megachurches in the first arc, because that won’t end well at all. I was not liking the fact that Miller inexplicably dresses like 1950s Jimmy Olsen, with suspenders and a bowtie (and Capri pants?). What the fuck is up with that? But the point was, I was enjoying it.

I’m using the past tense for a good reason, because I reached the last page and got angry. Now, Hawkins might still have more on his mind, and I’m still going to buy the arc and find out what’s what, but on the last page, we find out … that the Muslim militant group behind the attacks consists of a bunch of white, American Christians. Really, Mr. Hawkins? Fucking really? False flag operations are the stuff of conspiracy freaks in the real world, but in comics they’re all too common, and I will bet one thin dime that we find out in the next issue that Senator McKitrick is behind the group (this isn’t hard to figure out; they’re making their videos in his church). This makes me really angry. Look, I hate loopy right-wing Christians as much as the next sane person, but there are loopy right-wing Muslims in the world, too, you know. I mean, as I noted above, if you’re going to go after organized religion, you have to go after all organized religion, because it’s all about power structures anyway, and I don’t see too many rich Muslims strapping bombs to themselves and dying for the cause. I know that Hawkins probably wanted a twist, but this is a terrible twist, because it plays right into what most liberals believe anyway – that the crazy right-wing Christians in this country think that no cost is too high to promote a war against swarthy desert-dwellers who speak in a weird language and don’t worship the White ‘Murican Jesus (like we all know he was). I assume Hawkins could still rescue it, but I’m not entirely sure how. Maybe the senator is in cahoots with rich Muslim arms merchants who think war is groovy? Maybe the senator isn’t behind the attacks and condemns them when he finds out? Maybe White ‘Murican Jesus will actually show up and kick some ass? I don’t know, but I fear for the rest of the arc.

I don’t want this series to just be a succession of stories taking aim at every organized religion on the planet, because that would get boring. There are enough crazy Christian sects to keep Hawkins busy for a few years, in fact. But if he’s going to take aim at Islam, he should actually take aim at, you know, Islam. This is the problem with serialized fiction – yes, it provides cliffhangers, but it also provides far too much time for speculation about what’s coming up. I really hope Hawkins doesn’t go the most predictable route, but I fear he will!

Anyway, here’s Steve Earle singing “Rich Man’s War.” Steve Earle knows what’s what:

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Nameless #5 (“Star of Fear”) by Simon Bowland (letterer), Chris Burnham (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist), and Grant “How’s that for a mind-fuck?” Morrison (writer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Holy shit, this comic. I have no clue what the hell the God of All Comics is doing with it, but I just don’t fucking care. I would bet, if this is your first Morrison comic, you think it’s terrible, because it’s all over the map, and when exactly are all these things taking place? I feel that way, too (did the space mission actually occur, or did it occur in the past, or is it going to occur?), but I’m confident in Morrison’s abilities to make the story coherent – he still tends to be a remarkably conventional writer when you peel away the weirdness, and this issue isn’t all that confusing, as it’s a riff on the failed séance that we’ve seen in comics and other places plenty of times (most notably, perhaps, in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing – hey, look, it’s another brick in the wall of the Morrison/Moore tiff!), with our hero surviving an encounter with a “demon vagina” (as the doctor notes a few pages after it appears, subverting our own thoughts on the matter, because boy howdy, does that thing look like a vagina) that kills everyone else. It’s the tricks of the trade that make this such a Morrisonian book – the twisting of time, the sort-of metacommentary on the events happening in the issue, and the psychological torture our hero is experiencing – and make it so fascinating, at least to me. Again, this comic probably won’t turn anyone into a Morrison fan, but if you’re already a fan, this feels like another nice piece of the Morrisonaissance of the past few years, after the limp ending to his Batman run and the forced hope of his Action Comics.

Meanwhile, while the end of the Batman story didn’t work as well, story-wise, as it could, it did bring Burnham into the GoAC’s orbit, and that has brought us this collaboration, which is, artistically, stunning. Burnham does some very clever things in this issue, from the introduction of the people involved in the séance which telegraphs their ultimate fate nicely to the quick shift in style when he shows us the “lost planet Marduk,” from the amazing mosaic of violence as our hero struggles to hold onto the hands of his fellows to the creepy re-introduction of the hot house (which Fairbairn colors luridly, adding to the creepiness). Burnham’s design of the book is wonderful, and Fairbairn is coloring the book beautifully. As weird as the story is, it wouldn’t work with a lesser art team, and Morrison was smart to get Burnham and Fairbairn on his team.

I’m sure the next issue will be terribly late, but I don’t care. I do hope that either Morrison wraps everything up or commits to a longer series, because as weird as this comic is, it’s pretty damned gripping. And you don’t get demon vaginas too, too often in comics, so there’s that.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Astro City #27 (“Game Over”) by Jimmy Betancourt (letterer), Kurt Busiek (writer), Joe Infurnari (artist), John Roshell (letterer), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Molly Mahan (editor). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Busiek mentioned last weekend in Portland that this issue (I think he meant this issue, unless he meant the previous one) is the 85th issue of AC. That’s pretty keen.

I don’t want anyone to think I don’t like this issue, because I do. Busiek gives us a fascinating origin for American Chibi, which serves as both a bit of a send-off and an introduction of a new hero. Infurnari’s art is good, as usual, and he gets to mess with his style when the Honor Guard goes into a different dimension to fight the bad guys – it’s a very manga style, and Infurnari gets to have fun with the video game aspect of the story and he gets to create all sorts of nifty (and adorable) monsters. So it’s another very good issue of Astro City, which shouldn’t really be a surprise. Busiek writes good superhero stories, after all (someone recently commented that they miss Busiek on mainstream DC/Marvel superhero books, and I hate to tell that person, but it ain’t gonna happen unless something dire comes up – Busiek has no interest in doing them anymore). But …

I know AC hasn’t always been about what Busiek said it would be about – stories about real people in a world populated by superheroes – but I do miss that aspect of the series. In this new iteration, he’s been focusing more on the superheroes, and while he’s looking at aspects of superheroes we don’t usually see – mainly, what they do when they age – it’s still about superheroes. For years, Busiek and Anderson didn’t even show many battles, because that wasn’t the point of the book. Busiek and the artists have been showing the fights more and more, it seems (I would have to go back and look, but it just feels that way), and while they’re enjoyable, they’re not my favorite part of the book. The best part of this issue was Marguerite, whose story dovetails with American Chibi’s in an unusual way and who aspires to be a hero but isn’t one, and Busiek gets to that longing within her very nicely. I mean, sure, the part in the other dimension is fun and Infurnari gets to do some cool stuff, but it’s just a superhero fight. I kind of miss the more mundane stories about the citizens of Astro City. Busiek has always alternated between them and the superheroes, but recently it seems like he’s leaning toward the superheroes a bit more.

I know I’m complaining about a comic that has consistently been one of the best on the market for 20 years, and I know how ridiculous that sounds. This is a good issue – well written and well drawn. I still get the sense that Busiek is moving toward an ending of the series, though, and I don’t know why. I forgot to ask him about it in Portland, though, because I suck. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Spire #3 (of eight) by André May (colorist), Simon Spurrier (writer), Jeff Stokely (artist), Steve Wands (letterer), Cameron Chittock (assistant editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Whenever I read a fantasy or science fiction story, my mind starts to wander. Usually it’s about how the world works, as writers often don’t address this at all. One reason I can’t get into The Hunger Games (which my wife and a friend enjoyed, so every year we go out to dinner and see the movies with her and her husband) is because the society of the movies seems so idiotic. I do this a lot with stories like this, and it always bugs me when writers don’t have something in place for their world, even if they never mention it in the actual story. Spurrier seems to have a bit of a hold on this in The Spire, as the story is set against the backdrop of tributaries arriving in the city to, you know, pay tribute, but it’s still a bit bizarre that the Spire is the only city around, even though other “people” (some human, some not) live in settlements that would seem to necessitate some town-creating. Obviously, at some point in the past, the inhabitants of the Spire came to some sort of arrangement/conquered the other people, but they don’t seem to hold much sway outside the city and don’t seem to have much of an army to enforce their rule. The responsibilities of the Spire toward its subjects seem fairly vague and even unimportant – with whom do they trade, and why can’t the tributaries do it themselves? Where are the borders, and how can the Spire protect them when they can’t even deal with disgruntled people within its borders? Spurrier at least makes attempts at world-building, and the idea of a ceremony re-affirming bonds is a pretty good one to get a bunch of people to the Spire who wouldn’t normally be there, but it still feels a bit incomplete.

It doesn’t bother me too much, because as long as the story is good, I don’t worry too much about the extraneous stuff. I don’t like The Hunger Games because it’s bad, not because the world makes no sense. Spurrier’s murder mystery that is central to The Spire is intriguing, because it’s about the class divisions and racism that exist in the city, plus it’s a neat mystery. Shå is a fascinating character by virtue of being a “skew” – the strange almost-human creatures that don’t appear to have equal rights in the Spire – and by virtue of her sexual orientation and the identity of her lover. I don’t know how the mystery will play out and if it will have anything to do with Shå’s personal life, but those two threads are pretty good. Stokely is a fine artist, and he does some cool stuff in this issue – there’s a murder scene viewed from above, which is pretty keen, and there’s a double-page spread in which Shå and her lover walk down a tower’s stairs, and the layout is superb, leading us beautifully across the page as they circle the interior. Stokely does good work with the designs of all the creatures, and he keeps things clear, as the book is fairly dense and needs an artist whose storytelling skills are up to snuff.

This is an interesting comic, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it. Spurrier probably doesn’t need too much backstory to make it work – so far he hasn’t – but I hope that if he gets into it, he’ll have the backstory ready!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Gotham by Midnight #9 (“The Truth”) by Ray Fawkes (writer), Juan Ferreyra (artist), Saida Temofonte (letterer), Rebecca Taylor (associate editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $2.99, 19 pgs, FC, DC. The Spectre created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily.

This book is cancelled, which I kind of thought it would be – it’s a horror book set in the Batman universe, and while John Ostrander could do that with the Spectre 20 years ago, the world has shifted, and these kind of books don’t seem to survive in the DCU and the Marvel U. too much anymore. There’s a market for horror, but it’s from other publishers, and the DC and Marvel U. feel much less diverse in genre even as they become more diverse in creators (as much as we can appreciate some of the creative teams working in for DC and Marvel these days, they’re still doing superhero stories). I’m not terribly sure why this book didn’t catch on – it’s a good comic – but such is life. The best thing that might come out of it is that DC and Marvel realize how fucking good Ferreyra is and offer him better-paying work, but as with all artists I like, it will probably be Marvel doing it and offering him a $3.99-book that ships too often and which I don’t want to read. Still, Ferreyra is awesome.

Fawkes does a marvelous job on this issue, as he wrenches our guts for the entire length, with two interrogations going on simultaneously, neither of which will end well, something we know but the poor, hapless cops don’t. Therefore, it’s kind of wordy (especially the first two pages), but Fawkes has to establish the rules of the game before he shits all over them. So Corrigan goes from incredibly confident to terrified because he realizes the interrogators know a little bit too much about him, while Drake doesn’t play the game but still freaks out. We know what’s coming, of course, but Fawkes and Ferreyra still do a phenomenal job leading up to it, with Fawkes turning the screws a bit more each panel, while Ferreyra gives us flashbacks to moments when Corrigan’s bad side came out and wreaked havoc, which grow increasingly creepy. He also does an amazing job with Drake’s breakdown – her seizures are terrifying. The climax of the issue is horrifying partly because it’s unexpected – we knew something bad was coming, but I, at least, didn’t think it would be this bad – and should set up the final two issue (I think there are only two issues left) nicely. Meanwhile, Fawkes does a good job explaining the black flowers, providing just a bit of a pressure release from the interrogation scenes.

As much as I bemoan the bleakness of recent superhero comics, I don’t hate bleak comics, just the fact that for a while (which has thankfully shifted again), that’s all we were getting from DC and Marvel. Gotham by Midnight is unbelievably bleak, but Fawkes and both Templesmith and Ferreyra have made it work, because they’re good at what they do and because they create a wonderful sense of horror, which is naturally bleak but isn’t just bleak for its own sake. Corrigan is a tortured soul, but unlike the faux-tortured soul of many superheroes from the Bleak Age, he really is tortured! Fawkes and now Ferreyra get that, and that’s why reading this book (not just for Corrigan, of course, but he’s kind of the main character) is such a gripping experience. It’s just too bad it couldn’t find a bigger audience. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mythic #4 (“Wormfood”/”Dr. Devorah Baranski, The Skeptical Spirit!”) by Brian Churilla (artist, “Skeptical Spirit”), Phil Hester (writer), John McCrea (artist, “Wormfood”), Willie Schubert (letterer), Michael Spicer (colorist), and Rob Levin (editor). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

This is an interesting issue, as Hester gives us two 10-page stories, and while I have a feeling some of it was because McCrea couldn’t keep up with the schedule (I don’t know when the two series were drawn, but remember that McCrea has two series being published right now), it also feels like Hester just had a 10-page resolution to the Norse Ragnarok thing and didn’t want to stretch it out. So we get a funny origin story for the ghost member of the Mythic team, who is so rational she refuses to believe she’s dead even in the face of plenty of evidence of an afterlife. The resolution of the main plot is handled well, as Nate – our point-of-view character – finally has something to do other than stand around and act impressed. McCrea, naturally, is great, and Hester does a good job blending technology and magic, which is the point of the comic.

I don’t know – I really like Mythic, and I hope it’s doing well enough so that the creative team can continue with it. This issue isn’t the best one, but it’s solid. So that’s neat.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ݫ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mercury Heat #3 (“The Long, Slow Dawn”) by Digikore Studios (colorist), Omar Francia (artist), Kieron Gillen (writer), and Kurt Hathaway (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Avatar Press.

Gillen’s story of a police officer on Mercury solving a crime is slowly coming together – it’s not great yet, but it’s pretty good. There’s some good action in this issue, as Luiza and her flunky continue to track clues, and Gillen seems to have thought quite a bit about how this society works, so the transitions to different parts of the colony are fairly seamless. We end on a cliffhanger, as Luiza and Lucas are stuck out on the surface with only one “survival suit” and dawn rapidly approaching. Ruh-row! The story isn’t important right now, though. Francia’s art, colored by Digikore Studios, is. I’ve often lamented Avatar’s reliance on Digikore and other studios for their coloring – I imagine it’s cheaper to farm it out like that, but it makes for some ugly colors, and they employ very few pencillers who can overcome the over-rendering that Digikore and a lot of other studios are known for. I’ve mentioned before that when Canaan White was in Phoenix a few years ago (with Gillen), I saw some of his straight pencils, and they were fantastic … but his art on Über was not as good, because the coloring overwhelmed it (it was okay on the book, but not as good as his straight pencils). I don’t know if Francia has a stronger line or if Digikore is learning how to color better, but the art on Mercury Heat, while still a bit over-rendered, is much crisper than you often see on Avatar books. Francia draws a lot of metal things, which is usually death for Avatar books because the gunmetal gray the colorists use tends to overwhelm everything else, but his lines remain stout and the gray doesn’t take over – it helps, I think, that Luiza is wearing red, so her brightness stands out in nice contrast to everything else. Instead of smearing the colors to indicate motion, we get actual drawn-in motion lines, which is refreshing, and Francia actually uses lines on faces to create expressions rather than letting the colorists do it on their end. He also draws in strands of hair, another thing that many Avatar colorists seem to do instead of the pencillers. Little things like that stand out, and make this comic look better than most of what Avatar publishes. I’ve noticed some other of their books starting too look a bit crisper, too, so maybe it’s just that Digikore has figured things out. That would be nice.

Anyway, Mercury Heat is a nifty little sci-fi comic. Those are always keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #3 by Michael Garland (colorist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Nick Pitarra (artist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

You know, I don’t even care what’s going on in The Manhattan Projects anymore. I like the creative team, and the first series was terrific, but the three issues since Hickman “rebooted” it have been fun but completely forgettable. I don’t really care about Laika’s adventures in deep space, even though each issue has had some fun stuff in it. If Hickman wanted to write a science fiction story, why did he take his perfectly good weird-o scientists running our world story and turn it into one? I want to know what’s going on with Crazy Einstein and the others back on Earth, damn it! And the way this book is going, schedule-wise, this part of the story will finish some time in 2017 and by then, Hickman won’t even care to return to the our world and finish up the craziness there and I’ll have totally lost interest anyway.

Sigh. I have noted in the past that I will wait a long, long time for creator-owned stuff to come out because I get that it’s not making a lot of money for the creators, and I’m willing to do that here … except the story Hickman is telling is dull. I have a sinking feeling he’ll never get back to the “main” story because the sales won’t warrant it, and then he’ll have rebooted the story into a dumb sci-fi epic for absolutely nothing. Dang it.

The revelation about the floating head was funny, though.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Dharma Punks by Ant Sang (writer/artist). $25.00, 415 pgs, BW, Conundrum Press.

I guess this came out a few weeks ago, according to everyone’s favorite commenter, Simon. But I just got it this week! So there’s that.

First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson by Simon Schwartz (writer/artist). $14.99, 160 pgs, BlW, Graphic Universe.

No, you dopes, this isn’t about the Muppet guy. That’s JIM Henson! This is about the black Arctic explorer at the beginning of the 20th century, who – SPOILER! – didn’t get the credit he deserved. I know, shocking.

Hexed volume 1: The Harlot and the Thief by Gabriel Cassata (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer), Dan Mora (artist), Michael Alan Nelson (writer), Chris Rosa (assistant editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

This isn’t volume 1, of course, because Hexed is an old comic that Nelson revived after some years, but I guess it’s “volume 1” of the new series. The old series is most famous, I suppose, for being Emma Ríos’s first American work, but Nelson is a solid writer, and Mora’s art here looks terrific. So I figured I’d give it a whirl!

Howard the Duck volume 0: What the Duck by Heather Breckel (artist), Katie Cook (artist), Rob Guillory (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), Jason Latour (artist), Joe Quinones (penciller/inker), Rico Renzi (colorist), Joe Rivera (inker), Paolo Rivera (inker), Rachelle Rosenberg (colorist), Chip Zdarsky (writer), and Wil Moss (editor). $16.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel. Howard the Duck created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik.

The guy at the comic store couldn’t stop hating on this. I honestly don’t know if he’d read it or if he was just yanking my chain. Still, I thought the first issue was decent enough to get the trade, so we’ll see what’s what.

The New Deal by Jonathan Case (writer/artist), Spencer Cushing (assistant editor), and Sierra Hahn (editor). $16.99, 107 pgs, BlW, Dark Horse.

As I noted when I wrote about the Rose City con, this is my second copy of this book. But I only paid for it once, so it’s all good.

Let’s take a look at the expected schedule for these comics!

Batman ’66: 23 September. Right on time!
Muirwood: 23 September. Also right on time!
Elephantmen: 29 July. Two months late!
Batgirl: 23 September. DC runs a tight ship!
King: 16 September. Right on time! (Remember, my store got it a week late.)
The Tithe: 16 September. A week late!
Nameless: 24 June. Three months late!
Astro City: 23 September. Right on time!
The Spire: 2 September. Three weeks late!
Gotham by Midnight: 23 September. Another DC book on time!
Mythic: 26 August. One month late!
Mercury Heat: 30 September. A week early?
Manhattan Projects: 27 May. Four months late!
Dharma Punks: 23 September. Hey, right on time!
First Human: 7 October. Two weeks early?
Hexed: 1 July. Almost three months late!
Howard the Duck: 23 September. Right on time!
New Deal: 23 September. Right on time!

That’s always fun, isn’t it?

Money spent this week: $117.11. YTD: $5144.41.

**********

Lots of links this week – that’s just the way it happens sometimes! First we have the story of the guy behind Joe Palooka, Ham Fisher. The only reason I’m linking to this is because Fisher was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, which is where my dad grew up. I gotta give props to Wyoming Valley residents made good! (Although, you know, Fisher’s fate is still tragic.)

Grantland guy does Venn diagrams about Se7en, calls them “se7enn diagrams.” Hilarity ensues. (Se7en is an awesome movie, you know. In case you didn’t.)

In case you didn’t know, Rose McGowan has a new, totally NSFW work music video out. In case you don’t want to listen to it (and I didn’t), here are the weirdest .gifs from it.

So the Court of Owls might show up on Gotham. Because why not take one of the shittiest concepts from a shitty Batman run and translate it to television. I know I’m in the minority about Batman, but man, it’s lousy.

Did you know there’s a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton? I mean, I’m sure Our Dread Lord and Master knew about it, because he lives in the center of the universe, but I certainly didn’t. Now, of course, I must see it!!!!

Speaking of retrospectives about 20-year-old movies (like Se7en), here’s a terrific (and vicious) one about Empire Records, which I have never seen. The best quote: “Lucas continues to speak in spooky mysticisms, not unlike Ethan Hawke’s Troy in Reality Bites. Was this kind of crap acceptable in the ’90s? Did they not have punching back then?” And here, for research purposes only, are stills from Liv Tyler’s iconic (?) scene.

Danger Guerrero, who is the funniest writer I know of on the Internet, wants us to consider Jason Statham as Steve Jobs (it totally works!) and brings us the nugget that Stallone and Travolta wanted to do Godfather Part III back in 1983. Holy shit, that would have been something.

This “live-action” Crisis on Infinite Earths poster is pretty sweet.

Did you know there’s a “Masturbating to Mary Tyler Moore Society”? Don’t you wish you didn’t know?

So Pope Francis visited my home area (Philadelphia), and this reputable news source lets us know just what he thought of it.

I don’t know if anyone watched The Muppets this past week, but it was … okay. It wasn’t wonderful, but there were some funny parts. My daughter didn’t love it, but she didn’t hate it, either, and I’m only going to keep watching it if she wants to watch it (it’s certainly no Gravity Falls, I’ll tell you that much). It’s a fairly innocuous sitcom, in other words. Or, to read some reactions to it, the WORST, HORRIFICEST, ABOMINATION known to man. Holy cow, that’s some vitriol. One wonders if these people ever actually watched the old Muppet Show in the 1970s. There was quite a bit of “adult” humor in that show. This iteration could use a bit more broad humor, but other than that, it’s not too unlike the old show. Those critics need to chillax.

I hope everyone is enjoying the autumn weather – it’s still in triple digits occasionally here, but at least it’s dipping below 100 more often! Yay, Arizona! Have a nice day!

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