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What I bought – 24 June 2009

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 24 June 2009

I was away from home yet again this weekend (ah, what a glamorous jet-setting life I lead), but I didn’t forget you, the fine readers! Join me as I review comics, comics, and more comics! Shall we start with a Batman book?

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #6 (“Charge of the Army Eternal!”) by J. Torres, Andy Suriano, Dan Davis, Heroic Age, and Steve Wands. $2.50, 20 pgs, FC, DC.

Why yes, we shall! Not the one you were expecting, though, was it?

You know, on the first page of this comic, Batman kicks Calculator in the face, saying, “My foot plus your face equals lights out!” That, alone, is worth the price of admission, and it’s on the first page! Needless to say, when I saw that, I immediately thought that it should be Chris Sims’s face-kicking moment of the week. I was stunned to find out that it wasn’t.

The rest of the issue is fun, too. Batman receives a distress call from General Immortus, who’s being menaced by three ancient Greek warriors whom he’s brought forward in time to help him, in Batman’s words, “some harebrained scheme to recruit soldiers from the past for your warped war games against good people, like the members of the Doom Patrol!” Immortus found out he couldn’t control the groups he was bringing back, which include a band of 12 Viking warriors, 6 evil knights, and 4 Wild West outlaws. Batman leaves him locked up and recruits the only person he can think of to help with a time-twisted caper such as this:

Okay, not exactly grim-n-gritty Kid Eternity (although how odd would that comic have been?), but bright and cheery Kid Eternity, who brings back Vigilante, the Shining Knight, and the Viking Prince to deal with the bad guys, until Immortus escapes and finds the Spear of Destiny, the bearer of which cannot be defeated by any man born of a woman. If you can look at the cover of this book, you know who Kid Eternity brings up to defeat him, and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

This is another example of a fine superhero adventure, with lots of action, nods to DC’s long history, Batman and Kid Eternity using their puzzlers to figure something out, Batman making pop culture references (yes, really), and Batman laughing maniacally in the best Haney-Kanighar style. It’s old-school, of course, but that’s a good deal of the fun. Suriano, employing a more “kid-friendly” style, does an excellent job with the action scenes, and he also makes Batman more menacing than you might think (even in a book in which he makes pop culture references and laughs maniacally). Plus, his Batmobile is freakin’ awesome. Kid Eternity almost looks as if he goes along to fight the bad guys just so he can ride in it for a few minutes. Seriously, the hunger on his face when he gazes upon Batman’s mighty automobile is a bit disturbing. He’s thinking, “What warrior can I summon from the past to kill Batman so I can take his sweet, sweet ride?”

Check this issue out. There are Super Friends Super Stumpers in it!

The Cleaners #4 (of 4) by Mark Wheaton, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Rahsan Ekedal, Jon Graef, and Michael David Thomas. $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

The Cleaners isn’t quite as good as it could be, which is a shame, but it’s still a nice horror book with an intriguing hook, and Wheaton and Fialkov do a nice job wrapping things up in this issue (for the most part; we’ll get to the odd parts in a bit). Robert Bellarmine finally figures everything out, and it’s interesting because it ends logically if not particularly happily. The story of Laura, who harvests people’s blood for sustenance, is interesting and icky, but Wheaton and Fialkov give the entire thing a good tragic shading to it, as Laura and her new convert don’t necessarily like living the way they do, but they can’t help it. And the way Robert stops her is horrifying but also logical – she’s very hard to kill, apparently, and things must get a bit bloody. Ekedal, who has been doing good work throughout, does a fine job making this issue uncomfortable to look at without going over the top into farce.

The only problem I had with the issue was that Wheaton and Fialkov introduce a new story, which doesn’t appear to have any connection with the other one and which will probably never see print, given the poor sales and the editorial in the back of the book. It’s an odd choice, but it only begins and ends the book, so it doesn’t interfere too much with the main story.

There’s a lot to like about The Cleaners, even though it doesn’t quite cohere. I’ll have to go back and re-read it, because it seems like the story veered a bit in the first two issues before the writers pointed it in the right direction, and the idea of Bellarmine cleaning up a crime scene, while providing the starting point, didn’t seem developed enough. Maybe I’m just misremembering (like Roger Clemens!) and when I re-read the entire book in one sitting it will fit together better. But, for a horror comic, the “villain” is a nice change from most of what we see, and the hook of the comic remains a good one. I’d like to see more of this title, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Detective Comics #854 (“Elegy Part One: Agitato” and “Pipeline Chapter One”) by Greg Rucka, J. H. Williams III, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein; Greg Rucka, Cully Hamner, Laura Martin, and Jared K. Fletcher. $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

Avert your eyes! It’s lesbians! But they’re hot, so that’s okay. Phew.

The long-awaited Williams arc on ‘Tec arrives, and it’s as absolutely stunning as you might expect. I know it’s standard to say this, but let’s just imagine if Morrison’s Batman had been entirely illustrated by Williams.

Oh, sorry. I drifted off in ecstasy there for a moment. Williams doesn’t do anything terribly revolutionary in this issue, as he has in the past, but he simply knows how to put a page together to maximize the script. He incorporates the Bat-symbol subtly into the layouts, which not only reminds us what book we’re reading but also forms panels that are unusually jagged and gives him small spots to put ancillary drawings that might not be totally necessary but increase the mood of the book. The contrast between the Batwoman scenes, which use this technique to highlight the strangeness of people dressed in latex running around rooftops, and the scenes with Kate in her civilian guise, which are much more traditional, is nice as well, as it reminds us of the duality of these peoples’ existence. Williams and Stewart do a fine job with the one drawing of Kate remembering when she was tied up, as her red hair blends into red drops of blood, with haunting effect. The double-page spread of her face-kicking two perps at the same time (which is what Sims ended up using) is a ballet of violence and sex, with the lightning bolts panels highlighting the swiftness of the attack and the point of view linking the movement of Batwoman’s body to her vagina and breasts. It’s a frightfully disturbing image, and one that I can’t imagine many artists even conceiving, much less pulling off.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the story yet, and that’s mainly because it’s somewhat pedestrian. Rucka puts Batwoman through her paces to find the creepy villain at the end (virginal white to contrast against Kate’s black costume), and he drops in a scene where she gets dumped and a scene with her father just for non-costumed flavor. It’s certainly not bad, but it hasn’t gotten very meaty yet, so I’m reserving judgment. The second story is the same way – all set-up, so I’ll wait and see, although Hamner, while not as flashy as Williams, does a good job with the art.

It’s certainly worth the price for Williams’ art, because he does stuff that you can just look at for long, long minutes and appreciate for its amazing designs. And we get more next month!

Dynamo 5 #22 by Jay Faerber, Mahmud A. Asrar, Yildiray Cinar, Ron Riley, and Charles Pritchett. $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

There’s the villain on the cover: He combined five brains into one body and calls himself Brain Trust. That’s almost as awesome as the Power Girl analog War Chest, if you ask me. And the group mocks him for wanting to rob a bank. Yeah, that is pretty lame.

Brain Trust actually isn’t the main story, even though the kids spend most of the issue fighting him. On the one hand, we have Synergy and Father Gideon (who isn’t very priestlike, to be honest) plotting their dastardly plots. We also have a two-page set-up for a future story in which Sergeant Flagstone, a superpowered World War II vet, shows up ready for action. Finally, there’s the issue of the new drug that Myriad has become hooked on, which leads to some very unusual side effects that do not bode well for our heroes. As usual, Faerber has all the beats of a superhero comic down perfectly, and Asrar and Cinar blend excellently on the book. As always, it’s very hard to write about this, because it’s such a fantastic superhero comic that is wildly entertaining, well-written, and beautiful to look at. And it features villains like Brain Trust. Man, he’s cool.

The Incredible Hercules #130 (“The Judgment”) by Greg Pak, Fred van Lente, Ryan Stegman, Rodney Buchemi, Terry Pallot, Raúl Treviño, Guru FX, and Simon Bowland. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This issue is all about family, as Hercules tries to defend Zeus, who’s fairly ungrateful for it, especially when Hercules tries an unusual tactic, plus he meets the shade of his mortal father, who offers him some advice about how to proceed. Amadeus, meanwhile, is sent to see his own family, and he meets the Über-Papa of the Marvel Universe, some dude named Ben Parker, who, fairly shockingly, gives him directions WITHOUT offering up some homespun homily (he comes close, though!). In the midst of the craziness of this title, Pak and Van Lente often do this – bring in some serious issues, dress it up with kookiness, and subtly suggest deeper themes than we might expect. At the center of this is Zeus, the proverbial worst father ever, who killed his own dad, blithely raped women and then abandoned the offspring, and constantly insults the son who actually wants to defend him. Plus, Pluto is Hercules’s family, too, so there’s that. And, of course, Zeus’s closing speech to the jury hints at what will happen when God-Father is no longer around and the Children don’t have anyone to blame. It’s an interestingly “heavy” issue, less laugh-out-loud funny than most but still potent for what Pak and van Lente bring to the table with regard to how we break away from our families because we must but still retain the ties that bind us to them. Can we ever really move past them? That’s the question that lingers in this issue.

The Literals #3 (of 3) (“The Great Fables Crossover Part 9 of 9: Kill Your Darlings”) by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Lee Loughridge, and Todd Klein. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Well, thank God that’s over. It actually ended cutely, even if it could have ended in far fewer issues, and even though Willingham and Sturges prepared us for Deus Ex Machina in previous issues, that still doesn’t mean I liked him showing up. At least he didn’t provide too much, because that would have been annoying.

Well, next month I can pick up Fables again and be happy. I’m sure they’ll reference this story, so I guess it’s not the worst thing in the world to have picked it up, but man! it’s been a tough three months slogging through it. It couldn’t have been worse than Battle for the Cowl, though. Could it?

Madame Xanadu #12 (“Exodus Noir Part Two: Ages and Ashes”) by Matt Wagner, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Dave Stewart, and Jared K. Fletcher. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The mystery continues, there’s more from the 15th century, there’s another gruesome murder that doesn’t look like a murder, and Kaluta’s art looks great. But I just wanted to point out that Dian Belmont guest-stars. Yay, Dian Belmont!

Northlanders #18 (“The Shield Maidens Part 1 of 2”) by Brian Wood, Danijel Zezelj, Dave McCaig, and Travis Lanham. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Wood gives a fairly basic siege story, as Danish women in 9th-century Mercia are chased by Saxons looking to reclaim their land, and when they hole up in an old Roman fort, they have to prepare for the inevitable attempt to kill them. There’s some violence in this issue, but it’s basically the three women preparing and arguing about whether they should give up or not. As we haven’t really gotten a woman’s perspective in this book yet, it’s an interesting read about what was expected of women in the 9th century and why these women would rather die than succumb.

I haven’t seen too much of Zezelj’s art, but I’ve never been too impressed with it. Here, however, he does a very nice job, aided very well by McCaig. Zezelj’s lines seem stronger than I’ve seen in the past, leading to him using fewer of them (again, it seems). His art also looks clearer here than when I’ve seen it in the past, and McCaig does a good job turning this world into a gloomy and dirty place, lacking light and therefore, in many ways, lacking hope. The combination of Zezelj’s more expressionistic pencils and McCaig’s muddy coloring lend the book a very Dark Ages kind of feel, which helps the story move along nicely.

As usual, it’s another good issue of Northlanders. Any book where the protagonists talk about sending someone to his “nailed god” is pretty darned keen!

Rapture #2 by Taki Soma, Michael Avon Oeming, Val Staples, and Thomas Mauer. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

The plot thickens, as Evelyn becomes a champion and does some pretty unpleasant things to a bunch of unpleasant people, but then doesn’t want to continue as champion even though the weird sky dude wants her to. There’s a portentous scene in a jail cell, and then Gil meets up with another champion, who’s also done something unpleasant. It’s a creepy ending to a decent issue that brings in more elements about the rapture and shows, perhaps, why the heroes left in the first place. Soma and Oeming do a good job keeping things tense and moving along, and there are a couple of very nice pages of action, building the tension as well without dropping to far into gore.

A fine job all around. Of course, it’s still early, but this set-up is intriguing, so I’m on board!

Secret Warriors #5 by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Stefano Caselli, Daniele Rudoni, and Dave Lanphear. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This is a fairly straightforward action issue, as Fury and his motley bunch attack a H.A.M.M.E.R. installation to steal the helicarriers and various shit hits various fans. It’s perfectly fine, but there’s not much to say about it. Well, except for the fact that I’m not sure what Starro is doing in a Marvel book.

Uncanny X-Men #512 by Matt Fraction, Yanick Paquette, Karl Story, Justin Ponsor, and Cory Petit.

I’ve been waiting for this issue, as it seems like the kind of thing Fraction does really well, and what do you know? It’s a damned fine comic. Henry and the X-Club go back in time to 1906 to get DNA samples from Dr. Nemesis’s parents, who turn out to be the wacky scientists who create weird stuff and kick ass. I know, shocking. Adventures ensue!

Fraction, as we’ve seen (in Five Fists of Science, some of Casanova, and occasionally in Immortal Iron Fist) likes this steampunk kind of story, and this is the most self-assured he’s been on this comic since he began. Nothing feels forced, like it often does (well, except for the annoying identifying tags, which I’ve learned to deal with), and the characters all interact with each other. The kooky machines and the wooden-handled laser pistols add to the fun, and the ur-sentinel is pretty danged cool. Fraction does a fine job with Dr. Nemesis’s relationship with his own parents, refusing to add sentimentality but still managing to add some pathos. And the payoff in the present is clever, although I thought that thing moved (if you’ve read the issue, you’ll know what I’m talking about). It’s a nicely put-together issue, strongly illustrated by Paquette (who doesn’t get enough work), and it just feels like a Matt Fraction book.

This is why I wonder if Marvel editorial is holding the reins just a bit with regard to this comic. Fraction can write, obviously, and he can write well on a big-time mainstream superhero book. So why hasn’t his work on this comic been as thrilling as some of his other stuff? I suspect that Marvel editorial told him he could do his X-Club story if he did other stuff as well that perhaps he wasn’t too enthused about, and therefore that part of the book has been less than stellar. I’ve mentioned this before, and I could be completely off-base (editorial would never step in a write comics for a writer, would it?), but I really do wonder, because it seems like the tone of the book is so different in this issue, for instance, than in the previous ones. I’ve read some reviews of the prequel to the big X-Men/Avengers crossover, and the sentiment seems to be a bit like that as well – Fraction just writing by rote, which makes me think he’s not all that interested in having the X-Men battle Norman Osborn’s crew.

I know I’m probably never going to get any confirmation of these suspicions (not everyone is Dwayne McDuffie, after all), and I hope I’m totally wrong. This issue, however, shows me, at least, that Fraction is still the guy who was so thrilling 2-3 years ago, and I just wish he would go nuts on Uncanny like he has on his smaller books. Even if you don’t like his weirder comics (Five Fists of Science had plenty of flaws, even though I liked it), you have to admit they have an energy that has been somewhat lacking from this. I just wish he could get that back on this title.

Unknown Soldier #9 (“Easy Kill Chapter Two”) by Joshua Dysart, Alberto Ponticelli, Oscar Celestini, and Clem Robins. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The plot to kill “Angelina Jolie” thickens, as we go back in time a bit to find out how and why Jack Howl, the CIA dude who’s been banging around the book, lured our bandaged hero to the dudes who want to kill Margaret Wells, and Dysart also ties the book, once again, into the tradition of the Unknown Soldier, which is nice. As I mentioned last time out, now that Dysart has gotten the origin of Moses Lwanga out of the way, he can get off his soap box a bit about the horrors of Uganda and tell stories that illuminate those horrors without sounding preachy. I was disappointed that Dysart chose to categorize this as a kick-ass action comic because it seemed to be trivializing what was going on in East Africa, but as he’s gotten into the series, his focus on kick-ass action means that he can do a better job bringing the horrors to light, because the sermonizing is pushed to the background and we can appreciate the details about what living in Uganda is like for many people. It’s a nice shift in the book, and it makes it much more intriguing. Plus, the art always looks nice.

As I mentioned, I was on the fence with this book, but it’s getting stronger, which is always nice to see. Who doesn’t love a book that gets better as it goes along?

Wolverine First Class #16 (“Bedazzled”) by Peter David, Gurihiru, and Rus Wooton. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Dazzler gets what appears to be a death threat and Professor Xavier gets Wolverine, Kitty, and Siryn to guard her (Siryn horns in on it because she loves Dazzler so much). Apart from Wolverine’s odd fixation on Aretha Franklin (not that Ms. Franklin isn’t great, but he’s a bit obsessed with her), it’s a perfectly charming story. But I can’t really write rationally about it, because IT FEATURES FREAKIN’ DAZZLER!!!!!! So, you know, there’s that. But it’s a nice life lesson issue for Kitty, who’s all jealous of Siryn because Siryn can sing and she gets to go on stage with Dazzler while Kitty has to work the crowd. Does it really matter? IT FEATURES FREAKIN’ DAZZLER!!!!!! So you should, you know, buy it.

X-Factor #45 by Peter David, Marco Santucci, Valentine de Landro, Pat Davidson, Craig Yeung, Patrick Piazzalunga, Jeromy Cox, Nathan Fairburn, Andy Troy, and Cory Petit. $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Shatterstar (yes, that’s him on the cover) fights Rictor and Guido, and we learn quite a bit about Cortex, the dude who has been manipulating events lately, and David ends the issue on a tantalizing note, but I don’t want to discuss any of that. I’m concerned about what’s happening in the future, so SPOILERS below, in case you care about that sort of thing. Be warned!

Okay, so Jamie, Layla, and Ruby visit Doctor Doom, who, given where he now lives, ought to be called Doctor Detroit. So we keep seeing him in various states, and it makes my puzzler hurt. When we originally see him, he’s seated on a throne, armor intact, everything is kosher. Then, of course, a few pages later, we see him as he really is, a rather pathetic old man. Ruby comments on his deterioration, but it’s not clear if, when we see him on his throne, if any of the characters do. If they do, why wouldn’t they wonder why, a few pages later, he looks somewhat pathetic? And if they don’t see him, why would we, the reader, see him as such? I’m just not sure who’s seeing him as a vital ruler when he’s clearly not. Am I missing something? Help me, Obi-Wans, you’re my only hope!

Zodiac #1 (of 3) (“For the Sake of Mischief”) by Joe Casey, Nathan Fox, José Villarrubia, and Albert Deschesne. $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Okay, so here’s my problem with something like this. I’m trying to stop buying DC and Marvel mini-series in single-issue format because they’re going to get collected anyway, and usually for as cheap or cheaper than buying the single issues. So here we have a three-issue series that will cost $12. First of all, that’s annoying. So when Marvel inevitably brings out the trade, do you think they’ll collect three issues for, say, $10? Or even $12? No, they will not. They will jack up the price to $15 or so, add a reprint of something that starred the first Zodiac, and make me think I’m getting a deal. Now, I don’t have anything against that policy, per se, but it would be nice if they added the reprint and kept it at $12. That would be too swell, wouldn’t it? So I decided to get this in monthly format. Aren’t you glad you know that now?

As for the quality of the book, well, it’s quite good. As is often the case when a good writer is unleashed on something where there’s no editorial interference and no constraints to what can happen (okay, we know Johnny Storm isn’t going to die, but it’s cool to see him getting taken down a peg), Casey tears into this, with our hooded friend on the cover ripping through 100 H.A.M.M.E.R. agents while joking that no one knows what it stands for, bringing together a team of obscure Marvel bad guys to bring back true villainy to Norman Osborn’s sanitized universe, and taking said Johnny Storm down a peg. It’s all gorgeously illustrated by Fox, who combines “gritty” and “cartoony” rather nicely. I’m not sure if I should recognized Zodiac at the end, but I don’t care that much. It’s still a very solid issue, and I look forward to the rest of the series. With the exception of Gødland, Casey has been a bit off his game recently, so it’s nice to see him put together a good comic.

Zorro #14 by Matt Wagner, Cezar Razek, Salvatore Aiala, and Simon Bowland. $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

As with most issues of Zorro, the more interesting stuff is in the details, because both of the story arcs have ended a bit weakly in terms of plot. In this issue, everything comes to a head, Zorro stymies the nefarious plot to frame him for a kidnapping, and Razek does a nice job with the action scenes. However, the crux of the issue is Diego’s romance with Lolita, which takes an unusual but not illogical turn. Throughout this arc, we’ve also gotten a new support network for Zorro and more machinations of the government which doesn’t necessarily have an impact on the resolution of the story. I certainly don’t mind, because Wagner is doing a nice job building the world up and also keeping the action going well. I just think it’s interesting that the climaxes of the arcs don’t deliver too well, but this is still a good comic. And as good a job as Razek has done on this arc, it will be nice to see Francavilla back next issue.

Well, that’s all for this week, as we hurtle toward next week and a brand new round of comics! Sorry for the delays, everyone. I was visiting my parents in Pennsylvania and running around with old friends, including some I haven’t seen in 20 years. So I was blogging when I could, but it was on the back burner for a few days. I surely hope Brian doesn’t revoke my Comics Should Be Good! Blogger In Good Standing Card! We all have them, you know. Our Dread Lord and Master keeps us on a short leash!

Now, let’s check out some totally random lyrics:

“So early I heard my first guitar
And I knew I wanted to be a big star
And I told my poor worried father
Said I ain’t gonna go to school no more
‘Cuz see I wanna look cool and I wanna look good
My hair slicked back and my black leather boots
Wanna stand up tall with my boobs upright
And feel real hot when my makeup’s nice
I get sexy underneath the lights
Like I wanna fuck every man in sight
Baby come home with me tonight
Make you feel good make you feel all right”

Good times!

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