What I bought - 24 May 2006

This was a strange week. Pretty good stuff, yet enough to make me angry. So you know our tour will be fun! This week's mini-theme is: Greg goes all patriotic and makes George Bush proud while condemning comics for their ham-fisted social commentary!

Batman #653 by James Robinson, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher$2.99, DC

This is the first issue of "Face the Face" that disappointed me. It's not that it was bad, necessarily, it's that for the first time in this mini-series-within-a-series, the plot ground to a halt so that Robinson could indulge in some "writing for the trade," or to put it less charitably, "padding." The entire issue is Harvey talking to his reflection, which is Two-Face. We learn how he came to be Gotham City's protector and why Batman chose him and how bad Harvey feels now that Batman is back and how angry Harvey is that he's being accused of murder and how Two-Face wants back in. Oh, the revelations! But you know what? It's dull. That's why I don't like it. Oh, and it's nothing we haven't seen before.

I have no problem with an issue of someone struggling with their inner demons and containing no action (there are one or two action scenes, but they're flashbacks and are pretty static). But it's freakin' Harvey Dent. We've seen him struggle with these inner demons all too often, and we know he's always - always - going to lose. Two-Face will always win. And although the struggle could be interesting, it's the same thing all the time. Blah blah blah Harvey can't control himself blah blah blah he still has the freakin' coin blah blah blah. If this were a few scenes in the context of an issue where other stuff happens, that's fine. The fact that it takes up the entire issue is bad.

And this points out a problem with some comics (and other forms of entertainment, too - I don't want to single out comics): we can figure out everything we learn about what happened to Harvey by what has already happened in the first five issues of this story. We don't need a literal story telling us all this stuff. We are smart enough to deduce all this crap.

And (yes, I know) I'm sick of Batman and his attitude. "His city." Who the hell needs his approval to take care of Gotham while he goes on his little vacation with Clark and Diana? It's probably because I have always liked the Huntress and I'm sick of Batman (and, by proxy, DC) treating her so horribly. Just let her retire quietly if you don't like her so much - stop writing stories with her in them!

All right, I'm done. I'm still on board with Robinson, because this is an interesting story, but this was a disappointing chapter in it.

Catwoman #55 by Will Pfeifer, David Lopez, and Alvaro Lopez$2.99, DC

The Film Freak is about to get film footage of two Catwomans. Yes, I said Catwomans. Anyway, that's pretty much all that happens. And who cares? Is there a law that says there must be one Catwoman?

That's kind of a mean assessment of the issue, since as usual, it's not a horrible issue, but it is definitely a treading-water issue. Holly watches Ted Grant beat the crap out of some thieves, Selina has a conversation with Slam Bradley, Selina decides to go out in her Catwoman outfit (which leads to the very funny panel where she can't zip up her suit - kudos to Pfeifer and Lopez for remembering that women who have just had babies don't always get their washboard stomachs back right away), and a guy with a camera gets footage of Selina and Holly chatting. Again, so what? I'm curious where Pfeifer is going with the story of the Film Freak, because he could make some interesting points about our society and how everything is filmed, but the fact that there are two Catwomans isn't really a bombshell. Is it? I suppose if you want to kill Selina and you're trying to kill Holly it is, but other than that, who cares?

Every month this book teeters on the edge. I'm still with it for now. Pfeifer, I think, is better than this.

Checkmate #2 by Greg Rucka and Jesus Saiz$2.99, DC

I fear for Checkmate. It's certainly not the best book around, and its large cast is tough to follow occasionally, but it's a very interesting book that will suffer from Rucka's penchant for finding geopolitical maneuverings fascinating. This is another issue this week with no action, but unlike Batman and Daredevil, things happen that advance the plot and give us a good sense of the characters. We need that, because of the big cast and the fact that a lot of these people have never been A-listers, so their personalities aren't as clearly defined as the big guns of DC. There is, of course, the requisite stuff that could have been cut to make the book a bit tighter, but it's still pretty gripping, and the fact that it's a U.N. chartered group makes it much more interesting than if Checkmate was operating under the auspices of the United States. I'll get to Squadron Supreme and my objections to it, believe me! In this book, not everyone is American, and we do get a bit of a different perspective on things. The dynamic within each group and between the two sides of Checkmate - the white and black side - is where this book will thrive or die - anyone can write a big, bad action book, and let's face it - Kobra is a joke. But the tension within the group and how the public face of Checkmate, represented by goody-goody Alan Scott, will interact with the covert operation side, represented by Sasha Bordeaux, who has become a lot more bloodthirsty since Bruce Wayne let her rot in prison, is what will make the book better than your usual cloak-and-dagger stuff. This is a very interesting book, and I'm on board for now.

Bermejo's drawing of Fire on the cover freaks me out. Look at her midsection!!!!

Daredevil #85 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano$2.99, Marvel

I want to make this perfectly clear: I enjoy this book. I think it is an interesting story, and I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

But that doesn't mean I love it. That doesn't mean I think it's the best work on DD since (let's all shout it) Saint Francis. It has a lot of room for improvement. Okay?

I think why certain comics bug me is because of what others on our fantabulous blog have called "event" comics. These writers know how to write, and they know the characters well. Therefore Brubaker can put nice little touches in his stories (I'm using Brubaker as an example because we're talking about Daredevil here, but he's not the only one) that make us all appreciate the story and make us think "That's cool," without really telling us anything. I ranted about this with Robinson in Batman, and it's evident here, too. There is a ton that is cool in this book, and Brubaker obviously has a good grasp on Matt and Fisk's characters, as well as ancillary people like Urich and Jameson (their exchange is the best in the book), but that doesn't change the fact that this story (written, of course, for the trade) drags like molasses. I mean, it's basically Matt finding out that Fisk had nothing to do with killing Foggy. And Frank Castle wants to be in prison with them because he knows a riot is coming. And Dakota North hasn't found anything out but has drawn the attention of some unsavory types. That's it. That's three, four pages tops of story. Sigh.

I've said this for all of Brubaker's issues so far - I'm on board for the first arc, and we'll see how it all shakes down. I wonder if people who thought Bendis could draw things out interminably are surprised that Brubaker can draw things out even more! Yes, the book has gotten slower. I didn't think that was possible.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.#5 by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger$2.99, Marvel

See, here's another example of a writer knowing how to make us think something is cool when it might not be. This is still a fun comic, but I'm thinking more and more that it's just empty calories, and frankly, I need to cut those out of my diet and my comic book buying. Lots of this made me laugh, like the Celestial telling Machine Man he's a loser (and doing the sign on his forehead), and the koalas of death (including the agent who says, "Throwing little koala bears out of an airplane just doesn't seem right," and Monica's flashback to her days with the Avengers (although when did Captain America become such a sexist pig?), and Tabitha's flashback to her days with X-Force, but in the end, it was a largely unsatisfying meal. It just bugged me. Ellis' wacky mind is working overtime here, and it's all well and good, but this remains a Twinkie. Or a Devil Dog. And we don't need a steady diet of those, do we?

Oh, and Warren? A War Garden? It was clever in StormWatch, vaguely annoying when you used the same idea in Strange Killings: The Body Orchard, and by now it's just weird seeing you plagiarize yourself. Get a new schtick, please!

She-Hulk#8 by Dan Slott and Paul Smith$2.99, Marvel

Boy, these Civil War covers are awful. Just awful.

Okay, Jen Walters and She-Hulk. I know Jen enjoys being She-Hulk more, but I don't think it's been established since she stopped being "savage" that they are two completely different personalities. So why does Jennifer feel differently about registering superheroes than She-Hulk does? That's just dumb, and even though John points out the staggering stupidity of it, we don't get an explanation. Grrr. Another stupid thing that crossovers do - shoehorn crap into regular books and characters that make no sense.

So anyway, Jen tries to defend Rage and Justice from a web site that is publishing the names of the New Warriors online. She yells at Iron Man, she finds out it's a fellow New Warrior doing the outing, and John asks her to marry him. It's okay, I guess, but since I'm not reading the crossover, it's pretty dull. And, as usual with a lot of books during a crossover, nothing much happens. Marvel and DC save that for the big books. Smith's art is always nice to see, but it's bizarre that once Bobillo left the book, Slott's stories got a lot less fun. I know this is tying into a deadly serious crossover, but the Starfox-as-rapist story was no fun either. The quirkiness of Bobillo's art was part of this book's charm, but the fact that there's a different artist doesn't mean Slott should get all serious on us! Let us hope that the whole "I married a werewolf" story puts a bit of the zip back in the title. We don't need hand-wringing about heroes' secret identities in this book, we need defendants who travel back in time and shoot themselves. Now that's good stuff.

Squadron Supreme#3 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal$2.99, Marvel

Oh, JMS, what have you done? First, five pages into this issue, we get this:

Rape as character development. Well, we've certainly never seen that before. Good job!

But that's a relatively minor complaint, even though it's still lazy storytelling. No, what bothers me most about this issue is the political aspect. Oh boy, strap yourself in!

I have never made it a secret that I am not only liberal, but I have a ton of issues with the United States. However, as I've mentioned before, it bugs me when comic book writers so blatantly criticize the U.S., simply because comic books aren't really the place for geopolitical discussions. Yes, Rucka does it in Checkmate, but he keeps it relatively simple, and it works. However, JMS wants to criticize the U.S. for its African policies, but it's not as simple as he makes it out to be. The African woman says, "This ... is your fault to begin with." See, "fault" is a funny word. Is the United States at fault for carving up Africa to begin with back in the 19th century, when the Europeans created territories based not on tribal boundaries but on where the rivers were? Is the U.S. at fault for apartheid, which was set up by the descendants of British and Dutch settlers? Is the U.S. at fault for the racist policies against white farmers that the Zimbabwean government is practicing? To simply label the United States the villain for the tragedy that Africa has become ignores centuries of warfare that the U.S. had absolutely nothing to do with, and it's silly for JMS to criticize something that is so ridiculously complex. Anyone remember the Arab slave traders of the Zanzibar coast? No? They weren't very nice to the natives. In this issue, Uganda is specifically mentioned. M'Butu is probably analogous to Idi Amin, but after he fled the country, the U.S. didn't take him in - Saudi Arabia did (he died there in 2003). It's very nice to blame the U.S. for all of Africa's problems, and successive governments here certainly deserve some of the blame, but to say it's all our fault bugs the hell out of me, because it denies the responsibility of several other parties - including the Africans themselves - for the craphole the continent has become. It's nice that these superpowered Africans go and rip M'Butu apart on their own, but the idiocy is already out in the open. The U.S., of course, does not understand anything beyond our borders and thinks they can throw money at a problem and fix it (well, we don't think that within our borders, but we think it helps outside our borders). We have given millions of dollars of aid to Africa, and although it certainly doesn't fix the problems, to say we're simply going around propping up dictators bugs me. Shut up, JMS. This book is far too simplistic for your political agenda. If you want to write a dense book criticizing American meddling in Africa, be my guest - I may be the first to buy it, because African history is fascinating. But in this book? Shut up. Please.

Emil Burbank is pretty stinkin' cool, though. I'm just saying.

X-Factor #7 by Peter David and Ariel Olivetti$2.99, Marvel

The first of two books this week that point out the idiocy of comic book characters dying is X-Factor, and it's the better one, simply because the plot does not hang on that. This is rapidly moving into the category that all the books I really like eventually move into, and that's the place where I simply can't discuss them, because it gets boring praising them all the time. There are two stories at work here - Jamie goes to Singularity Investigations and learns disturbing things about Damian Tryp, the big boss. Those two things - the fact that the company is named "Singularity" and the boss is named "Damian" - make me very wary about this company and its future dealing with X-Factor. But that could just be me. Damian Tryp is evil and Madrox knows it, and we're set up for a throwdown! Meanwhile, Scott Summers shows up to tell Theresa that Banshee is dead. When did that happen? I don't really care all that much, because my reaction to it is much like Theresa's - she's convinced that her father is either not dead or will return from the dead soon enough. It's a bizarre bit of metatextual commentary by David, and although we've seen it before from Marvel characters - especially the mutants - it's still refreshing to see it exposed so clearly. It bothers me because we, as readers, know that Banshee may be dead now, but he'll be back. So therefore we read this issue somewhat bemused, because we're not quite sure how we're supposed to react to the news. Just like Theresa. So it's a weird little issue. But still a good one in a very good series. Next up: Civil War! Sigh. Stupid, stupid Civil War. Gaaaaahhhh!!!!!

Olivetti's art is pretty, by the way. He's a good artist. Perhaps he'll be the new regular guy.

X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #5 (of 5) by Peter Milligan, Nick Dragotta, and Mike Allred$2.99, Marvel

Milligan is really having problems with endings, these days, isn't he? I sat down and read the whole thing, and it's kind of a mess of neat little ideas, plots that kind of go nowhere, and wildly ineffectual villains. This is basically a five-issue mini-series that tells us that characters come back from the dead when they're popular. Really, Peter? Thanks for the heads up. We could never have figured that out.

It's a shame, because the art is very nice, and the characters are very nicely done and Milligan gives us a good sense of heaven and hell in a very non-traditional way. So we get weird areas of hell, and the Hotel of Self-Loathing, and we get nice conversations between Guy and Edie, and between Dr. Strange and Deadgirl. But it's a strange-feeling mini-series - it feels hollow and empty. Sound and fury, you know, signifying nothing. I want it to be better, but it's not. It's certainly not worthless, and the art and the characters almost make it worth it, but in the end, I'm stuck with just a bunch of weird images in my mind and not a lot else. It's a shame.

MINI-SERIES I BOUGHT BUT DID NOT READ.¹The American Way #4 (of 8) by John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, Karl Story with Ray Snyder$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

You know, I read the first page of this book, and I have something to say. In 1962 it had been fifteen years since Jackie Robinson famously broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Pro football had integrated even earlier, but it didn't have the iconic stature of baseball. In 1954 Willie Mays made the most famous catch in World Series history. I know there was plenty of racism in the country in the 1960s (as there is today), but would all these people on the first page who are angry about the existence of a black superhero really care? There had been black cultural icons for a long time, and although Robinson certainly wasn't embraced by everyone (and, of course, a decade after 1962 Henry Aaron received death threats because he was black), I can't believe the opinion of the country would be so lop-sided against a black superhero. It just seems like Ridley is going for the easy idea here, and that's disappointing. Of course, I didn't read the issue, so I could be way off base here. I liked the first two issues of this book and look forward to sitting down and reading the whole thing, but I hope it's a little more subtle than the first page of this issue. That's all.

The Black Coat: A Call To Arms #2 (of 4) by Adam Cogan and Francesco Francavilla$2.99, Ape Entertainment

The always-interesting Mark Fossen pointed out The Black Coat #1, although my boss claims credit as well, so I apologize, Guy. I still haven't gotten the first issue, but this is a cool-looking book. It's set in 1775 and features a freakin' Revolutionary War pirate. Come on, people! The first issue should be easy to find, especially if you go to the web site. Support Revolutionary War pirates!

¹ Since this is my first post at the new digs, I'll 'splain. I read the first issue of a mini-series and if it piques my interest, I'll buy it but not read it until it's done. My feeble brain can't keep up with what's going on month after month, so I read it all at once! This has been a public service announcement.

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