What I bought - 24 February 2010

One need only admit that public tranquility is in danger and any action finds a justification. (Leo Tolstoy, from War and Peace)

Batman and Robin #9 ("Blackest Knight Part Three: Broken") by Grant "You'd read a Knight and Squire series if I wrote it, wouldn't you, fanboys?" Morrison (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist), Tony Aviña (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC.

Okay, so this has been bugging me since this arc began, but I kept forgetting to bring it up. What are Knight and Squire doing there? We first saw Cyril and Beryl in JLA: Classified #3, when they, along with the rest of the Ultramarines, were exiled to the infant universe of Qwewq to be the heroes there. Then they were back in Morrison's "Club of Heroes" arc, right? How'd they get back? Did I miss something? I don't really feel like going to Wikipedia for the answers ... but I will if I have to!

Either way, this is a decent if not-great issue, much like the rest of the arc. Stewart's art is a bit more crisp than it was last time around (and I wondered if Aviña's coloring gave it the rushed look, and from the black-and-white original art Stewart posted at his blog, I think I was right), with some really excellent scenes (like the thoughts going through faux-Batman's head) and some good action. It's just kind of inert. It's a perfectly fine action/adventure book, but I suppose I just expect more from the God of All Comics. This doesn't feel like anything more than Batman and Batwoman hitting people, which is fine, but somewhat lacking. There are a few interesting tidbits - faux-Batman's memories are nice and creepy, and "the sacrifice of the sun" feels like it means more than just a (deliberate) misspelling, but like last issue, the coolest part is when King Coal shows up. Dang, he's keen.

Anyway, I guess the point of this arc is to let Dick know what we already know - Bruce isn't dead. Yes, that's important for Dick, but we already knew it, so it lacks the emotional resonance that G-Mozz is going for. Oh, and I guess we get to see that Alfred owns a cricket bat. I scored a cricket match once. It was kind of fun.

One panel of awesome:

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1 (of 4) by Warren Ellis (writer), Raulo Caceres (artist), and Digikore Studios (colorist). $3.99, 28 pgs, FC, Avatar Press.

This is an early contender for best titled comic of the year, and it's a pretty good read, too. It's Ellis doing his Ellis thing, so if you haven't been impressed with him in the past, this probably won't change your mind. But while Marvel Ellis often tones himself down just a bit and makes the stories a bit more silly simply because he doesn't sell out, his Avatar stuff suffers no such restraint, so he revels in all the stuff that he loves without worrying that it contradicts decades of established character work. You're not, for instance, going to get six text pages embedded within an X-Men comic in which Ellis goes on about the history of the London Metropolitan Police or electrostatic levitation, but here you will, and it just makes the comic all the more fun. There's not a ton of meat to this issue, as we get an unusual criminal named Captain Swing who uses electricity to elude the police and fly in a row boat, but Ellis does set up some things for later issues, namely the rivalry between the police and the Bow Street Runners (a pseudo-police force that predated the Peelers) and the fact that Captain Swing is one of Ellis' favorite character types - he's fighting against a corrupt regime for control of the future and its technology. It's nothing we haven't seen before from Ellis, but it's done well and Caceres does a nice job. He's definitely an "Avatar" kind of artist, with obsessive attention to detail and intricate line work, but he does a nice job contrasting the muck of 1830 London with the flashiness of Captain Swing. And as it's a 4-issue mini-series, I hope there won't be any trouble with delays. We'll see.

Ellis has a few different kinds of stories he likes to tell. I'm not a huge fan of his recent superhuman work for Avatar (even though it's not bad), but I don't mind his "the future is ours!" kind of tales that he dips into every once in a while. I don't know why that is. But if you like those kinds of stories from Ellis, this is a good one to check out.

One panel of awesome:

Choker #1 (of 6) by Ben McCool (writer), Ben Templesmith (artist), and Tom B. Long (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, FC, Image Comics.

While you're waiting for the next issue of Fell to come out, you can check this series out. Ben Templesmith art? Yes. A man with a secret past who is on the wrong side of his superiors in law enforcement and is given an assignment that could make or break him? You bet (Johnny Jackson used to work for the cops while Richard Fell still does, but in this issue, Jackson is offered a way to get back on the force, so there's that). A strange, depressing city? Indeed. A horrific crime? Of course! It's not quite the same as Fell, of course (as this is not written by Ellis, it lacks some of the regular Ellisisms we might expect), but it's a pretty interesting comic.

This is yet another set-up issue. The first two pages gives us a glimpse of some bad dude doing bad things to his female captive, and then we get introduced to Jackson and his world of Shotgun City. It's in the near future, cops run rampant beating up undesirables, and Jackson gets a call from his old boss, Milton Ellis (ha!). Ellis wants him to track down Hunt Cassidy, "drug baron and all-round scumfuck," who escaped from custody. As Jackson brought him in the first time, Ellis wants him to do it again. Jackson is desperate to get back on the force, takes the job even though he doesn't trust Ellis. Then, on the final two pages, there are vampires. Sigh.

Jackson is a fairly typical anti-hero, not quite interesting yet, but working on it. Ellis implies that he was kicked off the force because he didn't get "enhancements" that make the cops better but less human, and I'm sure that will be a major plot point, especially as the new cops can't find Cassidy. So the first issue has a lot of potential even though McCool hasn't done too much with the characters or the setting yet. The reason I'm willing to stick around is Templesmith's art, which I love. I know it's not to everyone's taste, and if you're not a fan, you probably won't be patient with the story, but I just love looking at it. His characters looked lived in, whether that life is vile or not (and Ellis' certainly looks that way). We think Jackson is a tough guy, but Templesmith gives him remarkable range, as he's actually quite terrified of Ellis and shows it. I buy almost everything Templesmith draws, and it's always a hoot.

This will probably read better in trade, when this becomes just an opening chapter, but it's not a bad read on its own. And you get to learn about Templesmith's process in the back of the book!

One panel of awesome:

Fantastic Four #576 ("Prime Elements 2: The Old Kings of Atlantis") by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dale Eaglesham (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Man, I dig that cover. Davis' covers for this series have been decent, but that's a nice one. And it's actually somewhat pertinent to what's going on inside!

No controversy this time around, I promise, just writing about the issue. I've decided that this little arc (which is four issues, I believe), will be the make-or-break one for my time with Hickman's FF. So far, it's been okay, but oddly off. So we'll see. This issue is a bit better than last one, but it's still a weird mix of good ideas and sloppy execution. It looks like Hickman is going to add a brief text piece at the end of each issue with bullet points wrapping up what happened in the issue, and I don't like that at all. He takes us under the Antarctic ice, where three aquatic races live, and Sue is given the job to speak for all humanity, because each of the races they meet have a representative who speaks for all of them. With this development and the rising of the city from last issue, Hickman obviously has something on his mind, and I'm willing to see what it is, but the pacing of the issues is so weird that it all feels disjointed. A great deal of this issue is wordless, as the FF head underwater and fight AIM agents and soldiers of the three races, and while it's impressive-looking, it feels like it goes on too long and cuts off the important developments at the end of the book. Plus, AIM is never a group that the readers can take too seriously, so why even introduce them to the book? It spurs the group into action, but couldn't there have been another, better reason for them to go exploring? Reed even says that's the best thing they do, so why do they need a better reason?

Eaglesham's art is good as usual, although I'm amused by two things. One, Reed's stubble. Reed ought to be clean-shaven unless he's fully bearded because he spends so much time in the lab. I think Eaglesham is giving him the trendy stubble so many people sport these days, but Reed ought to be the anti-trendy. He's not George Fucking Clooney. If anyone should be sporting stubble, it's Johnny. Which brings me to my second thing: I always suspected Johnny was overcompensating with his obsessive desire to date hot women, and now, it seems, Hickman and Eaglesham are finally having him come out of the closet:

I applaud Marvel, in this world of political correctness where they apologize to crazy people who enjoy calling the president a monkey and telling him to go back to Africa but don't like being called racist, for having Johnny proclaim his orientation proudly. Way to go! Of course, I'm not sure where he's going to find a gay disco in Antarctica, but maybe he has contacts.

One panel of awesome:

Northlanders #25 ("The Plague Widow 5 of 8: Lives of Crime") by Brian Wood (writer), Leandro Fernandez (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

We've reached the point in this story arc where I can't really say much about it. If you decided to buy it, you're probably on board, and if you're waiting for the trade, that's your thing. We've met the characters, established the setting, and drawn the battle lines. Wood does a nice job continuing the mystery of what happened to Gunborg when he trekked to the other village, and we reach a crucial point in the story as Gunborg decides he's had enough of the weakness of the leader, and Fernandez draws the shit out of it, of course. It really is a wonderfully brutal issue, showing once again how abruptly life can change on the frontier. I'm just loving this book and this story arc. I'm sure it will read well in a trade, but it's a lot of fun to get each gut-wrenching episode and wonder where on earth Wood is going with it next.

One panel of awesome:

Scalped #35 ("Listening to the Earth Turn") by Jason Aaron (writer), Danijel Zezelj (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Aaron steps away from the principal characters to give us a one-off tale of Mance and Hazel, two old natives living in the wilds of the Prairie Rose reservation. He does a nice job with both characters' internal narration, as we see how living with each for decades can make two people think the same thoughts. It veers dangerously close to cutesy, but Aaron manages to pull it off. It's a quiet issue with a twist at the end, one we don't really see coming, based both on the series in general and the way this issue is set up. What makes it worthwhile is not really the emotional impact Aaron is going for - we don't know enough about these characters and Aaron doesn't do enough in the brief time we know them to make their situation as resonant as he would like - but the way he portrays life on the rez for those who aren't caught up in Red Crow and the FBI's situation. Mance has to go into town during the issue, and we see the rez through his eyes. Aaron does a nice job showing how prevalent Red Crow's influence is, and he also shows how proud Mance is that he's been able to live in the sticks for so long and how hard it is to admit defeat, even a tiny defeat. While the relationship between Hazel and Mance is supposed to be the emotional core of the book, for me it's the way both Mance and Hazel refuse to break.

Zezelj is well suited for the book, because his heavy line work adds age to Mance and Hazel and sturdiness to the bleak landscape in which they live. We can believe almost that these people sprang from the earth itself, they seem so much a part of it. Mance looks so out of place in town, and we see the yearning on his face to get back to where he belongs. I always miss Guéra when a guest artist comes on board, but usually they do a good job. Zezelj is no exception.

And hey! this came out less than a month after the previous issue! Happy days!

One panel of awesome:

Secret Warriors #13 by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Stefano Caselli (artist), Sunny Gho (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Secret Warriors continues to confound, because this is a pretty good issue that fills in some backstory, moves the plot along, and features a bit of a shake-up. It's still a ridiculously slow burn, but maybe I'm just partial to Fenris, and seeing them in this book was pretty cool. I still don't love the central premise - that Hydra is in any way competent - but that's okay. I also find myself wondering about what the bad guys are wearing. Does Madame Hydra's headpiece weigh a ton? I mean, it looks ridiculous, but is it really heavy? And what's up with that thing the Leviathan dude is wearing? Doesn't that give him a headache? Sheesh.

And this is an odd way to end the issue. It's probably my problem, as I'm just not as interested in the "Warriors" part of the Secret Warriors as I am in Nick Fury, so when the issue ends like it does, I think, "Well, as cliffhangers go, that kind of sucks." I get that it's not really a cliffhanger in the traditional sense, but it seemed like it was supposed to be more dramatic than it was. Oh well.

One panel of awesome:

Unknown Soldier #17 ("Dry Season Chapter Three") by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Oscar Celestini (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

We learn the identity of the doctor's murderer, but more importantly, we learn why he was killed, and once again, Dysart does a nice job tying it into the larger conflict. It's always interesting when murders have more importance than we might think. In a few ways, this arc is like The Third Man, where a crime is connected to much greater geopolitical forces. Too often, murder mysteries are very narrowly focused on what the victim's close relations get out of it or tie into something bigger but fictional. But not always: The Third Man, for instance, was very concerned with post-war Vienna and what people were doing there, while this arc of Unknown Soldier, while ostensibly a murder mystery, is tied into the Ugandan conflict at large. It's neat.

We also get a subplot in which Moses' wife begins to search for him. That's good to see!

I'm curious to see how Dysart wraps this up, because Moses obviously still has some issues to work through. Now that we know what the case is all about, it will be interesting to see how the revelations from this issue will play out. And what the rhino's role in all this is!

One panel of awesome:

The Weird World of Jack Staff #1 by Paul Grist (writer/artist) and Bill Crabtree (colorist). $3.50, 28 pgs, FC, Image.

Okay, so here's my confession: I have never read a Jack Staff comic before. Yes, I'm a bad person. Back in the day when I first saw Paul Grist's art (in Grendel Tales) I really didn't like it, so I never had any inclination to seek it out. I've grown to appreciate it, but by now, the world of Jack Staff is somewhat convoluted, and I figure getting trade paperbacks is the way to go, but I just haven't gotten around to it. So when Image offered a "jumping-on" issue with this latest series, I figured I'd give it a shot. It can't hurt, right?

Well, it didn't. This is a fine comic book, and I'm also not going to continue buying it in serial format. First of all, as Grist explains on the first page, this is indeed the "weird world" of Jack Staff, meaning all those characters behind the titular one on the cover are featured somewhat prominently inside. Grist explains that he's always meant for the book to be about all the different characters in Castletown, not just Jack Staff, so they often get as much or more screen time than he does. That's fine and dandy - I always enjoy a large cast in books. However, it gets back to why I'm not going to buy this in this format: Grist has proven that there's no way the book can come out monthly. The last time he tried to make Jack Staff monthly, it sputtered out somewhat quickly. I don't know nor do I care whose fault it was, but the fact is that monthly books from Image are a dicey proposition for the fastest creators, and Grist does not appear to be one of those. If he's going to create an issue like this, which has one overarcing plot (the "secret origin of Jack Staff," apparently) but many disparate threads, I'm going to get lost pretty soon. Hey, it's my problem, I get that. I'm always forgetting plot points of comics (remember last week, when I forgot that Power Girl had sent the blackmail photos to the JSA because it happened in October? that's what I'm talking about), and trying to keep track of a bunch of them just isn't something I want to do. Does that make me a jerk? So be it.

However, if you're asking for my opinion about this particular issue, it's quite good. It's very entertaining, and Grist does a nice job tying scenes together and bringing a strong sense of mystery to the proceedings. On the one hand, it's goofy old-school fun superheroing, but Grist is able to add some nice menace to it all. Despite all the characters, it's not hard to follow at all. And as I mentioned, I've grown to appreciate his art more. It's still not my favorite, but he has a nice sense of laying out a page and his character design is quite good. I certainly recommend checking this out. I'm just probably not going to keep getting it, because I'd rather read it in trade format. But if you've been wondering whether you should check Jack Staff out, I can certainly say this is a good issue to look at!

One panel of awesome:

X-Factor #202 by Peter David (writer), Bing Cansino (penciler), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

David's first arc of the "new" X-Factor ends weirdly, but in true Davidian fashion, as it leads into plenty of other story threads. The central mystery isn't bad, although this story is more about Layla and exactly what she's doing in Latveria than anything else. As it turns out, the mystery of what happened to Sue Richards is interesting because of why Doom took her, but the resolution is a bit abrupt, serving only to illuminate what's going on with Layla more than anything else. Still, it's a neat little story, with some nifty tidbits of information. Part of the problem with the resolution comes from the way David and Cansino present it. Okay, Shatterstar opens a portal so they can all get home from Latveria. At the same time, Guido punches Reed in the head, which causes it to stretch out of the panel. A few things happen that aren't clear until David explains them through narration, which shouldn't be the case as the art should be explanatory enough. The fate of Mr. Fantastic is explained by the characters because we don't see it. It's a fairly gruesome fate, so I can understand why it's not shown, but this is a company that recently published a comic in which one character ripped another in half, with all the attendant gore, so being squeamish in this instance seems like unnecessary prudishness. Maybe it was David's decision, but then he could have done a better job with the script and Cansino a better job with the art to show what was happening. It can be done without a lot of gore, but it's not even attempted. Then there's Shatterstar's portal, which closes unexpectedly, trapping him and Layla in Latveria. Well, not exactly trapping, as it appears Layla wanted it to happen. Someone kisses Shatterstar at the crucial moment, breaking his concentration and closing the portal. Here's a question: Who kisses him? We're supposed to believe it's Layla, because she apparently wants Shatterstar to close the portal early (and I'm sure it is Layla, but I'd like to make this point). But it doesn't look like Layla. In fact, in the final few pages, it appears Layla and Monet are blended together to form one character. When Shatterstar is about to open the portal, everyone is gathered together waiting for him. Layla is standing to Doom's right in a long shot. Monet is nowhere to be seen. In the next panel, Layla speaks about her big plan. It's clearly her because she has an "M" tattooed on her face and Doom refers to her as "Ms. Miller." But the coloring of her hair is dark, not blonde, and she's wearing a jacket that looks like Monet's. Earlier we saw that Layla was wearing a brown jacket with no red trim on the collar, while Monet was wearing a black (probably leather) jacket with red trim on the collar, which is what Layla is now wearing. This same person kisses Shatterstar, distracting him. We see the jacket and the red trim and the dark hair, but not the tattoo (Shatterstar's face obscures the right side of hers). Monet is back in New York with the rest of the team, so I assume the person who kisses Shatterstar is Layla. But the art is very confusing in this sequence. It's sloppy.

But it's still a keen story, mainly because of Doom's relationship with Layla, which promises a lot for the future. And I love that Doom tells Ben that he's "outgrown" the Fantastic Four. If only that were true. But it's a cool thing for David to write!

One panel of awesome:

In Burgas-family news (don't you just love news about my family?), my daughter had minor surgery on Monday. Read about it here. She's in a cast for 3-4 weeks, which means she looks like this:

Meanwhile, my other daughter got a new shirt, and of course it's awesome:

She asked my wife who they were and then, after my wife told her, she asked, "Who's the bad guy?" She's obsessed with bad guys! She seemed a bit disappointed that none of them, in fact, were the bad guys. We laugh now, but when she's a supervillain bent on the destruction of our American Way of Life, we'll wonder where we all went wrong!

Let's move on to The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "The Last Mile" - Cinderella (1988) "Monkies on my back I gotta find a better way"2. "Factory Girls" - Flogging Molly w/Lucinda Williams (2004) "Cigarettes just kill the time"3. "Waiting For The Bus" - Chumbawamba (2008) "Took us down the station they were beating us for fun"4. "Tooth And Nail" - Foreigner (1984) "Well let's see who backs down when the trouble starts"5. "Adore" - Knots and Crosses (1993) "I'm so alone and I don't know why"6. "Lost Cause" - Beck (2002) "Your sorry eyes cut through the bone"7. "Prince of Darkness" - Indigo Girls (1989) "Someone's on the bathroom floor, doing her cocaine"8. "Dream Thrum" - James (1993) "We made you feel the way you are is wrong"9. "Concrete Smile" - Knots and Crosses (1990) "Never take as fact the lies of lovers caught in the act"10. "Truth Hits Everybody" - The Police (1978) "I clutch at images like dying breath"

Finally, it's totally random lyrics time!

"We take the pressure and we throw awayConventionality belongs to yesterdayThere is a chance that we can make it so farWe start believing now that we can be who we are"

Sing it loud, sing it proud!

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