What I bought - 24 January 2007

Remember those halcyon days of a couple of weeks ago when I planned to cut my comics list down?  Yeah, those were good times.  This week put that to rest.  Although, to be honest, a bunch of mini-series came out, so I'm still trying to cull the regular titles.  And it's an ongoing process!

So let's check out what absolutely horrible comics I bought this week!

Checkmate #10 by Greg Rucka, Jesus Saiz, and Fernando Blanco.  $2.99, DC.

It's nice that they advertise the Shadowpact on the cover, because they actually do appear and play a big role in the issue, but Ragman?  Nowhere to be found.  Yet there he is on the cover!

Checkmate continues to be a very interesting book that no one is buying, as Rucka is telling a spy story that has to take into account the fact that there are superheroes running around.  So he uses this to his advantage, and we get stories like this, the final issue of a story that doesn't have much of a resolution but sets up future issues.  Checkmate wants to re-insert their mole into Kobra, but Kobra has a ritual that involves taking blood from the initiates to test their devotion to the cause.  Sasha knows her man won't pass the test unless they devise some magical solution - and that's where Shadowpact comes in.  The story involves simply getting their man into Kobra's good graces and the machinations of doing so.  Rucka adds a twist at the end that is easily spotted but is still effective, because it opens up so many possibilities.  This is a spy comic in the DCU done right.  Rucka acknowledges that their are strange, occult forces in the world, but that doesn't stop Checkmate from using them and playing the game.  And it's nice to see Kobra treated with some respect.  Other writers use them and build them up only to show how ineffective they really are.  Rucka hasn't made them a huge threat yet, but he does a nice job showing how insidious they are - not unlike real terrorist cells.  He's doing a nice job trying to take a silly conceit - all these "world domination groups" in comics are pretty silly - and show how they would work.  And he's doing a good job.

Checkmate, isn't as good as Queen & Country, even though that's an unfair comparison.  But it's something Rucka does very well, and it's interesting because it's not Q & C - Rucka has to deal with superhero stuff and try to make a spy thriller, and he's doing a fine job so far.  Of course, it will probably be canceled soon, but you should still check it out!

Criminal #4 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  $2.99, Marvel/Icon.

All the pieces are in place for an explosive finale to this first story arc, and this issue is just that - moving the pieces into position.  Leo leaves Greta alone to talk to someone who might be able to get him out of his fix, and you just know that's not a good idea.  he also discovers a rather simple truth - if you leave a big case of heroin in a house with a heroin addict, bad things will probably happen.  And everything is set up for Leo to do what he does best - run.

Because that's what this whole thing has been leading to, after all.  Leo is put in a position where he can run, like he always does (I liked how it was an integral part of the crooked cops' plan), and save his own skin, or stand up for once and save Greta, thereby putting himself at risk.  Just because it's a simplistic story at the end doesn't mean this isn't a worthwhile book.  Brubaker understands that in noir stories, it usually comes down to a choice like this.  It's how we get there and the way the anti-hero resolves things that matter.  And this has gotten us there in an interesting way, and I have faith in Brubaker that he will resolve it in a similarly interesting way.

I've said it before about this book - it's a good crime comic that won't revolutionize crime comics.  It's solid storytelling throughout, with good characters and tough situations.  It's a very satisfying comic book.

A Dummy's Guide to Danger #1-4 by Jason Burns and Ron Chan.  $3.25, Viper Comics.




This is an odd comic.  The idea is fascinating - Alan Sirois is a private detective whose partner is a ventriloquist's dummy, Mister Bloomberg.  He believes that Mr. Bloomberg is real, and this ads a strange, surreal feel to the book.  He's also famous, which makes it even weirder.  Burns does a nice job with the two main characters, and puts them through their paces in a seedy Los Angeles that, thanks to Chan's nice art, is bright and sunny yet still dangerous and slightly creepy.

It's odd for more than that, however.  You might think that the situation with Alan would mean that Burns would play it a bit more ... kooky, I guess.  But this comic is filled with brutal crimes (check out the cover of issue #4, which features our bad guy) that are really unpleasant.  I mentioned after I read the first issue that Alan's sort-of girlfriend, Teri, better survive (that's her on the cover of issue #3), because it would be a really wretched comic if she didn't.  Well, the only thing I'll say is that she survives.  It's still unpleasant what happens to her, but the minute we see her, we know something bad will happen - she's the main character's love interest!  This brutality in the comic lessens it a bit for me, because it feels so incongruous with the main characters.  I don't want them solving drawing-room murders like they're in an Agatha Christie book, but the comic is pretty graphic, and I just thought it was a bit over-the-top.  It's a nice comic and it would be interesting to see more adventures with Alan and Mr. Bloomberg, but that's what I would like - adventures.  This is a bit more gritty than it needs to be, and it hurts the book, unfortunately.

The final problem I had with the book, and one that, if fixed, could have gone a long way toward redeeming it, is the mystery.  Alan is tracking a killer who is butchering famous people and stealing their body parts.  As a story, it's not bad, because we're in Los Angeles, after all, and Burns does a nice job making some subtle comments about how we value looks in our society more than we should.  However, the revelation of who's doing the killing is disappointing, because we have no clues to figure it out on our own.  Alan figures it out by using a clue that we don't see.  I have harped on poorly-done murder mysteries in comics before, and here it is again.  It wouldn't have been too difficult to throw some clues at us, so that we can try to puzzle things out.  If that's not going to happen, it's probably better to reveal the killer early on and show him more, so we get a sense of where he is psychologically.  It's unfortunate.

There's a lot to like about A Dummy's Guide to Danger.  Burns does a nice job establishing that Alan might be crazy, but he's still a perfectly functioning member of society.  I'm reminded of the Emperor Norton story in Sandman - "his madness keeps him sane" and all that.  Everyone kind of defers to the fact that he's a P. I. with a dummy sidekick, and there's a sequence in issue #3 that implies that Mr. Bloomberg might be more than meets the eye.  Teri is a pretty good character, too, despite her victim status for a lot of the book.  It would be interesting to see these two creators tackle this again and see what they can do with it.  This is a bit of a disappointment, but not enough to make me dislike the comic altogether.

One last thing: something strange happens at the end of issue #2.  Here's the final panel on the penultimate page and the last page:

What's up with that?

Fables #57 by Bill Willingham and Michael Allred.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

Fables just keeps trucking along.  I have no idea how long Willingham plans to write this, but if he keeps doing such a good job, I have no problem staying with him.  He's joined by Mike Allred for this issue (I don't know how long Allred is around), and the results are predictably fun.  I've said before that I'm not the biggest Allred fan around, and his depiction of Bigby in this issue is why - some of his characters always look like they're worried about something, and Bigby does throughout this whole issue.  Yes, it's a terribly minor thing, but it bugs me.  He also seems to have a problem with figures in motion.  Again, nitpicking, but when Gepetto smacks Pinocchio, it just looks weird.  But like Shawn McManus a few issues ago, Allred's style fits well with this series, because he's just whimsical enough to remind us that these are fairy tales come to life.

This is a set-up issue, as Bigby and Snow White visit the North Wind, Bigby's father, who still lives in the Homelands.  We've seen that Bigby has sworn to kill his father, and Willingham does a nice job with this, as Bigby has not backed off on his threat even though his kids love their grandfather.  He has another purpose, though - he wants the North Wind to help the Fables' fight against Gepetto, and he gets what he wants.  Meanwhile, the children head into the woods to play, but dark things lurk there, and bad things are going to happen next issue.  Willingham does a nice job with the family relationships in this issue - Bigby is able to put aside his hatred for his father, at least for a while, and we get to see that he himself is a pretty good father.  The one scene with Gepetto and Pinocchio is also nice, because we see that Gepetto, despite his appearance and his attempts to prove to others that he's a benevolent dictator, is really a petty man, with problems of his own being a father.  Bigby is, on the exterior, a scary wolf.  However, he is devoted to his children, even though he hasn't known them very long.  It's a nice contrast, and as the story arc is called "Father and Son," I imagine Willingham will continue to examine these relationships.

Ho-hum.  Another excellent issue of Fables.  How unusual!

Fallen Angel #12 by Peter David and J. K. Woodward.  $3.99, IDW.

Fallen Angel also continues on in excellence, and after we get past the creepy incest scene on the first few pages (you'd like to think I'm joking, wouldn't you?), we get a continuation of the story from last time.  Now that David has established these characters and, almost as importantly, the city in which they live, it's nice to see how he uses them and it.  This is why series like this get better as they go along - we see how things connect and what the creator has been doing all this time more clearly, so we can appreciate it more.  It's a shame a lot of books like this don't get the chance.

In this issue, Lee goes to find Asia Minor, the drug dealer, to see if he has a cure for whatever is ailing Dolph's employee, Ezil.  He was bitten by the addict last issue, said addict having taken a strange drug sold to him by Asia Minor.  Jude, meanwhile, has decided to take a "tough on crime" stance and goes to arrest Asia Minor.  So he finds himself on the other side of the law as Lee, which gets interesting.  He eventually takes Asia Minor, but the dealer knows a bit more about Jude than Jude would like.  It's a creepy scene between the two of them, and it shows how well David has built up the characters in this series.  Bete Noire toys with its denizens, and even though Jude is the magistrate, he's still in its grip.  It's a tense issue, with nice revelations all around that are important but don't feel like an "Oh my God!" moment because they flow naturally from the story.  David is particularly good at this kind of thing.

Ho-hum.  Another excellent issue of Fallen Angel.  How bizarre! 

Moon Knight #7 by Charlie Huston, David Finch, and Danny Miki.  $2.99, Marvel.

I hope Huston stays on this title longer than 13 issues, because he's doing some very nice things with our favorite Batman rip-off.  This is technically a Civil War tie-in, so maybe it will boost sales a bit, because as usual with Marvel and DC, the less-than-mainstream books they publish are far more interesting than the big guns.  There's not a lot of action in this book, but Huston does a nice job setting up Marc Spector's involvement with the idiotic events of Civil War without burdening us with too much crossover crap.  Take that guest star there on the cover.  He's barely in the issue, and is really there to alert the rest of the Avengers to Moon Knight's return.  This leads to a certain Captain showing up at the end of the issue to discuss matters.  Meanwhile, a psycho killer is stalking the city.  Isn't that always the way?

However, as with the first arc of the book, Huston is far more interested in Marc Spector as a person than Moon Knight fighting people.  His psychosis from last issue is still around, and it looks like Huston is going to try to deal with Spector's insanity more than other writers have, which would be nice.  He also reacquaints himself with Gena, which doesn't go very well.  You don't have to be a long-term Moon Knight fan to be affected by the death of a character (the character doesn't die in this issue, but has been dead for a while), because Huston does a nice job showing its effect on Marc and the others around him.  Despite the blood-soaked nature of this book so far, Huston is doing a nice job showing the effects of violence, and that makes this more interesting than just another superhero book.

Next issue is Finch's last, I think.  His replacement looks decent, but I wonder if the book will last without his name attached to it.  We'll see.  This is one of those under-the-radar books from the Big Two that should be getting more love.  The Big Two are perfectly willing to publish more cutting-edge material, but people have to buy it!

Mouse Guard #1-6 by David Petersen.  $3.50, Archaia Studios Press.

Holy crap, Mouse Guard is neat.  It's been a tough wait, because every time I got an issue, I wanted to read it, but I resisted.  So now I get to sit down and read the whole thing, and it's certainly one of the better mini-series you can find out there in the last couple of years.  It's beautifully drawn, for one thing.  Petersen does a marvelous job with the natural setting of this world, with wonderful scenes of leaves changing color (the advent of winter mirrors the darkness that is entering the kingdom) and houses and cities built into trees.  In this issue, we get some stunning fight scenes, as the rebel mice attack Lockhaven and attempt to overthrow the government.  It all ends like you would expect, but that doesn't diminish the joy of reading this comic.  It's a gorgeous fantasy book, and although the mice are awfully cute, it remains a high adventure, which means some bad things happen.  This is a story of honor, betrayal, trust, and even respecting those who have come before.  The rebel mice care only for themselves, while the Mouse Guard respects its traditions, and those traditions are what help them survive.  And despite the overall mood of the book, there are some harrowing events in this series, including the fate of the rebel leader.  It's a nice balance that Petersen achieves with regard to the maturity level of the book.

The one problem I had with the book is the identity of the rebel leader.  Like the killer in A Dummy's Guide to Danger, it kind of comes out of left field.  It's not that it's a bad choice, and it makes sense the more we read, but Petersen makes it seem like it will be a big shocker, and it's not, because we haven't really seen the character before.  It's frustrating, but not enough to ruin the book.

Someone in Joe Rice's Media Review (yes, the same one where he criticizes my taste, even though I bought four of the books he did and liked them) asked if his friends would make fun of him for buying this.  First of all, who cares?  Second of all, this is a masterful comic book, one with more depth than your average superhero crapfest, and it's absolutely stunning to look at.  Tell your friend to suck it if he makes fun of you for buying this!  Then punch him in the brain.

Noble Causes #26 by Jay Faerber and Tim Kane.  $3.50, Image.

Cronin compared Tim Kane's art to Mike Mignola.  Yes, it does resemble Mignola's.  Jon Bosco is gone, which is nice to see (I don't like to kick a guy, but I just didn't like his art), and Kane is a fill-in until the new guy takes over, and it's perfectly fine.  After the art I've had to endure for a while, it's wonderful.

But that's all I need to say about the art.  If you know what Mignola's art looks like, you can picture it.  After last issue's 25th issue extravaganza, Faerber does a nice job writing a single-issue story that leads into the next big storyline.  Last issue was not a good place to jump on with this title, but this issue works a little more.  Liz has amnesia, which is kind of a lame plot device, but what it does is give Faerber a place to introduce us to the Nobles again.  It's not a perfect place for new readers, because a new reader wouldn't understand the whole thing with Zephyr and Slate, but it's a nice contained issue.  Gaia conjures up some sort of monster for the Nobles to fight so that they can resurrect their damaged public image, and of course it goes not as well as she'd like, leading to some bystander deaths.  It will be interesting to see where this goes, because Faerber has been doing a good job slowly turning the worm on the Nobles.  This is just another incident that is building to something big.  Faerber, like Peter David, does this slow boil very well.  Gaia is worried because Liz saw he conjure up the monster, Hunter Blackthorne is upset because Slate happened to be in the area and ended up fighting the monster, and something happens to Zephyr.  After some issues in which Faerber seemed to have lost some steam, he's getting back to making this one of the most enjoyable superhero books around.  And it's good to see.

In the back of the book is a short preview of Dynamo 5, Faerber's new book that is out in early March.  I'll write more about this later, but it looks really cool.  Keep it in mind when it shows up!

Okko: The Cycle of Water #1 (of 4) by HUB (or is that Hub?).  $3.95, Archaia Studios Press.


I got this in the mail a few weeks ago, and I forgot to read it, so I feel bad.  I'm not sure when it came out, but it's certainly something to look for, if you're interested in pseudo-Japanese adventure with some weird mystical spirits and technology and, you know, naked chicks!

This is a cool book to look at, because HUB is a very good artist.  It's not quite manga, but it's certainly influenced by that style.  The book is amazingly detailed, and the colors are spectacular.  This is a fully-realized world, with strange monsters and water spirits, but rooted in Japanese mythology.  The figures are slightly exaggerated, but not to the point where they become grotesque, and the natural world around them is beautiful.

The story is pretty good, too.  Noburo is with his favorite geisha, Little Carp, who is pregnant with his child.  Little Carp's brother and a drunken monk hang out while he has a good time, but then pirates show up and take her away.  Okko, a famous ronin, returns to his friends and says they have to move on.  Little Carp's brother convinces him to track down his sister, and the four of them go off on the hunt.  Little Carp has been taken by a mysterious woman who decides to keep her for reasons unknown, even though I'm sure it's a doozy!

So we have a revenge quest, which is always nice.  The mysterious woman is quite evil, and there is potential for a lot of carnage here.  If you like this kind of thing, track it down!  It's keen.

X-Factor #15 by Peter David and Pablo Raimondi.  $2.99, Marvel.

While Rucka tries to make Kobra a bit more menacing, Peter David does something funny with Hydra.  For a while, he too makes Hydra a bit more disturbing than they usually are, as their scientists apparently successfully turn Jamie Madrox into a Hydra agent.  Then it goes wrong, and it's a funny moment.  Unfortunately, it feels like David being too cute.  It's one of his failings, but so far in this series, he's kept that to a minimum - when he does it, it hasn't interfered with the main story too much.  This is a major plot point, and although Jamie's "solution" to the problem is interesting, it makes Hydra seem rather buffoonish, and I don't think they should be.  Yes, they need to lose, because they're the bad guys, but they don't have to be clowns.

Meanwhile, the second story, in which Monet and Theresa go shopping in Paris and come across a mob of anti-mutant French people, is much better.  We've all seen the anti-mutant mob before, but David handles it well, to the point of Monet and Theresa NOT fighting to make their point that mutants don't go nuts and start throwing people around all the time.  Both characters are written well, and even though they both get some funny lines, it doesn't feel like David is being cute, like in the other story.  It's interesting to contrast the two.

Despite this being a less-than-stellar issue, it's still a good one.  The peek into Jamie's psyche is interesting, and it's always good to see bonding among teammates!  We'll have to see where the rest of the team is, though.  They're absent from this issue. 


The Damned #4 (of 5) by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt.  $3.50, Oni Press.

Man, this is cool-looking.  Trust me.  Buy it.  Demon gangsters!  Come on!

Doctor Strange: The Oath #4 (of 5) by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.  $2.99, Marvel.

More cool-looking comics from Vaughan and Martin.  I'm looking forward to reading this. 

Eternals #6 (of 7) by Neil Gaiman, John Romita, Jr., and Danny Miki and a committee on inks.  $3.99, Marvel.

The covers for this mini-series have just been lousy.  Really.  These should have been the variants, and Romita could have done the regular ones.

Mystery in Space #5 (of eight) by Jim Starlin, Shane Davis, Matt Banning, and Al Milgrom.  $3.99, DC.

Another kind of crappy cover.  It's Starlin drawing it, so it should be good, but our hero just looks awkward a he's getting ready to beat down on that dude. 

Samurai: Heaven and Earth Vol. II #2 (of 4) by Ron Marz and Luke Ross.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

Wow, this looks beautiful.  But I looked at the next issue box, and I have one question: why is Kelly Hu from The Scorpion King showing up in the book?

7 Brothers #4 (of 5) by Garth Ennis and Jeevan Kang.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

A better cover than last issue, certainly.

Phew!  Lots of stuff, but most of it highly entertaining.  It's always good when excellent books come out!  Plus, a new GrimJack trade paperback came out.  Great comics from the past! 

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