What I bought - 25 April 2007

Hey!  Let's check out some comics!  Won't that be fun?

Blue Beetle #14 by John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque.  $2.99, DC.

You know, I'm very disappointed in you people.  I mean, here I am, living my life, and nobody ever bothered to tell me how good this comic book is.  I'm holding you people accountable!!!!!

Despite (or more likely because of) its goofiness, Blue Beetle really works.  It's action-adventure with some nice humor and decent characterization.  We even get a half-decent reason for why two superheroes fight!  And that's not bad.

Rogers even makes the book relatively accessible for a new reader, as Jaime writes in his journal (only chicks keep diaries, people - boys write manly journals!) about his problems with aliens called the Reach and gives us a nice overview of what's going on.  When Guy Gardner shows up, we get more exposition, as Rogers even manages to get in a short definition of what the Green Lantern Corps is.  Guy also explains more about the Reach and their relationship with the Guardians.  The two heroes go to Antarctica to deal with a Reach installation, but the only reason it seems to be in Antarctica is so that they can get attacked by lightning-bolt-creating, laser-targeted ... penguin missiles.

I should just shut up right now so you can run out and buy the book.  Yes, PENGUIN MISSILES!  How neat.

If that's not neat enough, the Ultra-Humanite shows up.  Hey, didn't Bill Reed just do something in Ape-ril about the Ultra-Humanite?  How serendipitous!  The fight with the Ultra-Humanite is neat, although a bit problematic, and then, after they defeat him, an alien simply wipes out all evidence of the fight and the installation.  So no one will believe Jaime, again.  Oh, the despair!  At the end, Guy gives Jaime some of Ted Kord's books so he can learn how to be a master strategist.  It's a nice moment.

Despite my enjoyment of the book, some things bugged me.  The fight with the Ultra-Humanite doesn't scan all that well.  On one page he's a hologram (he says it!) and on the very next page (and the very next panel!) he's punching Guy.  How can a hologram punch?  He also claims that either Guy or Jaime called something "gunk," but they never did.  Just a couple of odd things.

And then there's Ted Kord.  Brian is trying to come up with a term for a Mary Sue that the writer didn't actually create, but I think there needs to be a term for writers retroactively making a character better after that character's demise.  We could call it a "Ted Kord"!  I mean, I liked Ted Kord.  He wasn't a great character, but he was okay.  However, and my knowledge of pre-JLI Ted Kord is practically non-existent, every single time he was portrayed, it was as a doofus.  Sure, a doofus with intelligence and a lot of potential, but basically as a doofus who pretty much squandered that potential.  The first time I ever read Ted being treated as a super-genius was in the comic in which he was, you know, killed.  Since his death, however, it seems like writers are going out of the way to make him the greatest hero that ever was.  Guy tells Jaime that he was "smarter than Bats, although nobody ever noticed."  Yeah, nobody ever noticed, Guy, because Ted was too busy hanging out on KooeyKooeyKooey.

That's a minor gripe, however.  This is a fun superhero comic that allows its new readers to enter the story easily, and it's full of keen moments.  Albuquerque's art has kind of a Shawn McManus/Sam Kieth look (which is a good thing), and it's full of energy and verve.  So of course he's not drawing next issue.

This is a good comic.  I'm just very grumpy with you guys for not letting me know sooner.  I may never forgive you.

Catwoman #66 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

Whenever I think of books like Catwoman (and now, I suppose, Blue Beetle), I get a bit peeved, because the sales on them are so poor.  I wonder why people aren't buying them.  I mean, I knew about Blue Beetle, and didn't have a lot of interest in it from the start, and I guess it has gotten better, but will that be enough to save it?  The same thing applies with Catwoman.  Were people buying it because Brubaker was writing it and Cooke was drawing it (at least for a while) and once they left, everyone jumped ship?  I'm not sure.  I do know that Pfeifer has been writing this sucker for almost two years, and although you really can't point to any one issue and say "That's a classic," his entire run (23 issues) has kept building and building, and he's really done a wonderful job with a varied cast and some excellent villains.  His early issues were nicer to look at than to read, thanks to Pete Woods' great art, but he has gotten stronger and stronger, and although López isn't as good as Woods, he still has a nice style and he can tell a good story.  So although I'm not the kind of person who's going to start a letter-writing campaign to DC (or Marvel, for that matter), I do get a bit bummed when I consider that some books I like are perpetually on the chopping block.  There are a lot of good comics out there, and people waste their money on JLA (yes, I said it).

That's a roundabout way of saying that despite this issue's rather shocking event (not too shocking, because the solicitations have implied something like this would happen), Pfeifer has done such a good job with these characters that it doesn't feel shocking just for the shock value.  It's the beginning of an intense storyline, and Pfeifer kicks it off in grand fashion.  And Blitzkrieg, one of the bad guys in the book, is perfect.  Psychotic yet businesslike.  Good stuff. 

Daredevil #96 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

I keep wondering if I should just switch to the trade with Daredevil, because although I generally like the stories, occasionally the single issues aren't all that great.  It's weird, because I haven't quite figured out why I don't like one issue but like another.  Take this issue, which is very similar to last issue, but works better for me.  One would think that last issue, in which Melvin Potter ended up surrounded by murdered people more than once but claims innocence, would be more interesting than this one, in which a court psychiatrist interviews Melvin and determines that he's perfectly sane and lying about not killing the people.  But we're all pretty sure that Melvin did it, so for me, the reasoning behind the murders, which starts to come out a bit in this issue, is more interesting than the actual event.  We do get some nice action at the end, when someone tries to break Melvin out and it goes horribly wrong, so it's not like the entire issue is chatting.  I'm just not sure why I like this issue more than last.  It's strange.  Maybe the presence of Lily Lucca to throw some sort of monkey wrench into the mix makes it better.

We also get a nice couple of pages going over Matt and Milla's marital difficulties, and I'd like to be the first to say that the mysterious man that Milla meets in the therapist's office is Matt himself.  Brubaker wouldn't be that obvious, would he?  Anyway, it's a nice couple of scenes that lets us know the problems they're having without being too obvious.

I'm going to keep buying the issues, because I love buying single issues, but occasionally this is a frustrating book.  I wish I liked it more.

Okko: The Cycle of Water #2 (of 4) by HUB.  $3.95, Archaia Studios Press.

I received this in the mail recently, so I'd like to thank the fine people at Archaia for sending it along.  The nice thing about Archaia's books is that despite the price (4 dollars for this), they're usually packed and gorgeous to look at.  A lot happens in this book, and it's nice to just gaze at the beautiful art.

Last time we left the demon-hunter Okko searching for a girl (Little Carp) who was kidnapped.  And so he does, with the help of his two companions, Noburo the warrior and Noshin the drunk monk.  In this issue they reach the Red Lotus, an infamous casino, where they discover exactly what is going on with Little Carp's kidnapping and the reasons behind it.  It's not good, but it gives Okko a good demon to hunt.  After a big fight and the explanation of what's going on, there's still enough room in the issue for our heroes to follow the trail to another land, where they are shipwrecked, witness a hunting party take down an ogre, and trek to their destination, a floating city.  Like I said, a lot happens in this issue.

Okko is a fine adventure story.  Archaia has brought over some good European comics, and this is more than likely one of them (I'm not sure where it was originally published).  Despite the Japanese flavor to the proceedings, the art is more European than Asian, and HUB has done a nice job blending some manga style with a European sensibility.  It's a cool book - lots of good fighting, a mysterious quest, and some nice humor.  Based on how much the trade is, it might be worth waiting for a collection, but it's still a neat comic.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #3 (of 3) by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Julia Bax.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

There's not much to say about the last issue of this mini-series.  There's lots of humor, there's some good action, it's a fairly typical Giffen-DeMatteis superhero collaboration.  Because of the time between each issue, I have a feeling that the various iterations of the Captain Valor saga - a mini-series, an ongoing, and two Planetary Brigade minis - will be much more interesting when read all together.  As individual issues, I tend to get distracted from the story by the humor.  The issues are fun to read, and we get some nice twists in this one, but the overall story suffers a bit.  So I can't reallt recommend each issue, even though the bigger epic has a nice important feeling to it.

The biggest problem with this book is that Giffen and DeMatteis satirize Galactus, which they already did with Manga Khan (to a certain degree).  So this time they're writing a parody of a character they created which itself was a parody of Galactus.  It doesn't work as well as Manga Khan did.  Oh well.

PS238 #22 by Aaron Williams.  $2.99, Do Gooder Press.

I have heard a lot of good things about this comic, so I figured that, even though I bought Blue Beetle based on the readers' comments, I would pick this up if I saw it.  Well, I did, so I did.  And I was disappointed.

I certainly see the appeal of this comic.  It's a charming book with nice art (which is its strength).  Williams does a nice job with all the characters, and the creatures that the little superheroes fight are sinister without really being all that scary.  Each character is pretty distinctive, so even though there are a lot of characters, we recognize them well.  Williams gives the book a slightly goofy yet realistic feel to it.

I wasn't swayed by the story as much for a few reasons.  The idea of an elementary school for superpowered kids is a fine one, but in this issue at least, it doesn't feel as interesting as it could be.  Williams packs the book with subplots, and that's not too big of an issue (it's a bit confusing for a new reader, but there's enough implied that you're not totally lost), but the fact that the whole thing struggles for coherence is.  The first section, in which Ron Peterson (Captain Clarinet) escapes from an alien probe, which leads into his problems at home because he blames himself for his parents' divorce, works pretty well, but then we shift to a story about Cecil Holmes (the kid on the cover), who is dealing with some high-level government stuff, and it's not as interesting.  Once you get past the novelty of a kid acting like James Bond, it becomes far too standard a story, with no real indications that these are children.  Williams, presumably, has to walk a fine line between writing a story in which the kids act like kids and one in which they act like superheroes, and in the first part of the book, Ron acts like both.  Later on, the book becomes more confusing and messy, and the charm is lost a bit.

As a few people noted in the comments, this book is hard for a new reader to get into, because of the various characters and plots.  Maybe that's what the problem is, but I didn't really sweat the subplots too much.  I just felt the book lost a spark in the second half, and with a comic like this, that's a big deal. 

Rex Mundi #5 by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

The first arc of Rex Mundi with Dark Horse comes to a close, and despite my difficulty with saying anything about this comic on an issue-by-issue basis, since I enjoy it all the time.  However, quite a bit happens in this issue, as Nelson does a good job of sort-of wrapping up the two stories he has going.  In the south of France, Julien tells Genevieve to hit the road because she's been spying on him, which may or may not be the best idea.  Meanwhile, the Duke of Lorraine orders Paris burnt to the ground so the advancing Prussians won't be able to reap the fruits of their war effort.  This is a nice portion of the book, as Lorraine becomes more and more unhinged from reality, casually ordering the deaths of the royal family and brutally dispensing his form of justice.  It's been interesting reading this alternate history, because we can look at various moments throughout history that Lorraine seems to be replaying.  It adds a nice layer of subtext to the proceedings.  The parallels with the current administration's moves in the Middle East are there, too, if you choose to see them.  What Nelson has done with the political side of this story is shown how similar events often are, even if leaders don't want to admit it.  Meanwhile, the Grail Quest goes on.

Ferreyra's art is as beautiful as ever, and his colors make the art even more spectacular.  The scenes with Julien and Genevieve in the Languedoc, despite some of them taking place in a dark hut, still retain a sunlit aura around them, with a bucolic feel.  Meanwhile, the darkness of Paris as the Prussians advance is later contrasted with the fire burning the city down.  Ferreyra's colors are wonderful, and do an excellent job accentuating his pencils.

As we move toward the conclusion of Nelson's epic, it's nice to see the book keeping up its quality.  The plot occasionally moves slowly, but as each issue comes out, we see another brick in the wall, and it remains endlessly fascinating.

Unique #2 (of 3) by Dean Motter and Dennis Calero.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

Despite my enjoyment of the first issue, it did suffer a bit from having a lot of exposition.  When your main character can jump dimensions at will, I suppose a lot of exposition is necessary, but in this issue, Motter puts Jon through his paces, the story picks up speed, and the nature of the bad guys chasing him is slowly revealed.  Motter does a good job blending the science fiction aspects of the story with the noir aspects, and although he slides into cliche a bit too easily (Jon sleeps with Liona, who just rescued him; the bad guys use Jon's psychiatrist to lure him into the open), the story keeps crackling along and never lets us take a breath, which is good for a short mini-series like this.  No time to pause!

Calero's art is still rather stiff, but he does a better job with the "action" scenes (such as they are) this time.  The entire book is very dark, which doesn't help it.  I know that it's supposed to be a noir-looking book, but I don't like dark noir movies either, and occasionally there is far too much shadow in a panel.  Ironically, in a few places (like when Jon and Liona are about to hook up) it looks far less photo-referenced, and it's not a big surprise that those panels are better than the rest of the art.  I assume photo-referencing saves time, because most of the people who use it certainly can draw very well, and it's nice to see them do it, as Calero does for a few pages here (or at least it appears so).  I don't have a big problem with using pictures as reference, but it is nice to see someone just drawing.

Anyway, this is a nice little sci-fi thriller.  Nothing spectacular, but a good story.  If that's your thing.

Usagi Yojimbo #102 by Stan Sakai.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

SPOILERS AHEAD, in case you're wondering.

I wanted to buy another issue of Usagi Yojimbo before I decided whether I would go back and buy the trades, as most people seem to think that's the best way to read this sprawling epic.  So I picked up this issue, as we left Usagi poisoned and facing a bad guy holding his girl hostage.  That dastard!  In this issue, we go back in time a bit to track and see how Shizukiri - the assassin - ended up outside the hut with Mayumi.  We see Usagi going back to the bridge where he told Mayumi to wait for him, and we see Shizukiri track his battle from last issue.  It's kind of neat.  And then Usagi and Shizukiri fight, as they must.  And that's where the issue kind of goes off the rails.

As the fight begins, Mayumi thinks Usagi is unarmed, so she tries to hold Shizukiri back.  So he kills her.  Now, I have no idea how long she's been in the book, or if she's Usagi's love of his life, or if he just met her, but it's just another example of, yes, a Woman in a Refrigerator.  Mayumi dies, it seems, simply to get a reaction out of Usagi.  She actually blames herself because she didn't wait at the bridge, so now Usagi can feel even worse about her dying.  It's a cheap trick, and because I've only known Mayumi for two issues, the death itself has little resonance with me.  Perhaps it means more in the context of the rest of the saga, but it still feels cheap.  I'm very disappointed in the ending, because Shizukiri has already been plenty mean to Mayumi (he's smacked her around a bit), so her death just feels excessive.

I'm probably not going to buy any more single issues of the comic, but I'm still thinking about buying the trades.  I hope this isn't a typical kind of resolution to the stories, because that would, well, stink.

Walk In #5 by Jeff Parker and Ashish Padlekar.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

I bought this because Jeff Parker wrote it and I was curious about the entire concept - someone's consciousness entering a host mind and taking over.  But this just isn't that good.  Parker does a good job explaining the rather convoluted storyline about an alternate reality that uses Earth as its playground for "jumping minds," but it's lacking something.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  I just read Unique, which is in the same vein as this, and perhaps it's because that book feels a bit more sinister and moody, whereas Padlekar's art is a bit too cheery for this topic.  Maybe.  Parker's exposition, which is necessary, I agree, goes on a bit too long, robbing the story of any kind of momentum.  Unique, also, is relatively simple compared to this - maybe it's just too convoluted for one issue of a comic.  For whatever reason, this issue lacks the pop of much of Parker's work, as if he's just not having as much fun.  I mean, just recently he gave us Ego putting the moves on the Earth, for crying out loud!  This comic, by comparison, is rather joyless, which wouldn't be a problem if the other parts of it soared.  But they don't.  Oh well.

I can't really recommend this.  It's kind of an intriguing idea, but it doesn't go beyond that and demands too much telling instead of showing to really get going.  If you want to read Parker's stuff, go buy the Agents of Atlas hardcover.  Totally worth it for 25 bucks!


Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #3 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Maybe the last issue of this mini-series will come out in this calendar year, and then I can read the whole thing!  Wouldn't that be nice?

There you have it.  Another groovy week in the pamphlet universe!  It's always fun to discover new things!

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