What I bought - 25 June 2008

One more week of late reviews, and I should be back on track. I often wonder if I should even do this when I'm a bit late, because the ephemeral nature of comics seems to indicate that if reviews don't get out within a day or two of the books coming out, no one cares any more! Linger over last week's books, people! Join me! Maybe I'll have something new to say about Final Crisis (okay, probably not, but a guy can dream, can't he?)!

Pilot Season: Alibi #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Jeremy Haun (artist), Brian Buccelato (colorist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image/Top Cow.

I haven't seen much from the first round of "Pilot Season" books from Top Cow (despite the fact that I like the idea and that this comic says that 4.1 million people voted last year), but the second round has started, and nothing has intrigued me yet until this book, because, come on, it's Fialkov and Haun! Doing an espionage book! That's gold, right?

The biggest problem with this book is that Fialkov writes it as if it's an ongoing title, which means we get a cliffhanger at the end. Given that we may never see another issue, that's kind of annoying, but otherwise, this is a nice spy book. Fialkov tells the story of John, a super assassin who always seems to have an alibi when a hit goes down. Now, the CIA has him in custody and they claim they've figured out his secret. It's a pretty prosaic secret, actually, but I'm still not giving it away! What we get is a twisty tale of betrayal and murder, and Fialkov does a very good job of throwing us into the action but not leaving us behind. It's very easy to get confused in espionage books, because you're never sure who's screwing whom, but that's not the case in this book. On one page, it's a bit confusing, but a quick re-read cleared it up (I'll just attribute it to my own stupidity and leave it at that). The final twist, as I mentioned above, is frustrating, because in just a short time, we've really gotten to like the main character and it would be nice to see him again. Fialkov balances the tense action sequences with John's breezy manner, and it works well (except for a tiny point about which I'll rant below).

Haun's art is stylish and detailed and brings the characters to life nicely. He easily transitions between the Middle East and New York, and his people have a good world-weariness to them. There's a panel that puzzled me, though. At one point John walks outside a restaurant. Behind him is a table, and the person at the table is slumped over as if dead. There's a wall behind the table and above the wall a helicopter hovers. The helicopter is there to keep track of John - I get that part. But what's up with the person slumped over the table? And is he inside a building or not? It's all very vexing.

Okay, the final point I want to make about the script is this: at one point a woman is killed. Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks women shouldn't be killed in comics, because these days, a good writer doesn't allow it to become an exploitative scene. The woman in question probably deserved it, anyway, as she's not very nice. Her killer then says, "I just punched a bitch in the throat," which is where I have a problem. We're supposed to relate to the killer, but that line bugs me. If he had killed a man, would he have said, "I just punched an asshole in the throat"? It's not really supposed to be a funny line in the book, but it seems off, somehow. It just doesn't seem that there would be a similar line if a man had been killed. But I'm probably being way too sensitive.

Anyway, I'd like to see this series continue, especially if Fialkov and Haun are doing it. I want to know how the cliffhanger gets resolved!

Caliber: First Canon of Justice #3 (of 5) by Sam Sarkar (writer), Garrie Gastonny (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorists), and Annie Parkhouse (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

As always, I must thank Radical Comics for sending me this issue and the issue of Hercules below. It's very cool of them. I have no idea if I help sell an extra issue or not, but whatever I can do, you know?

As I have mentioned about the first two issues of this series, Sarkar is relying a bit too much on our knowledge of the Arthurian legend, and that's a bit of a problem. I read this issue, and although it's enjoyable and looks quite nice, for the first half of it or so, I had some trouble following what was going on. Arthur and Jean Michel, the American Indian who's the Merlin analogue in this book, flee the events of last issue and the bad guys come after them. But everyone looks kind of the same and nobody uses names, so it's a bit difficult to figure out who's who. Eventually it gets a bit clearer, but it's somewhat of a pain. Sarkar is keeping things vague, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes being vague is too vague, and that's the case here. By the end of the book, there's been some resolution, but there needs to be more. Our knowledge of the Arthurian legend is enough, for now, to keep the book intriguing, but I hope there will be more character development in the final two issues. We'll see.

Conan the Cimmerian #0 by Timothy Truman (writer), Tomás Giorello (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letterers). $.99, 16 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I've been buying Dark Horse's Conan series in trade paperback format, but I figured I'd give this a look now that they're relaunching it. I may have to start buying the singles, because Truman is a good writer and we all like to support the monthly format, don't we?

Even if I keep buying the trades (and I haven't made up my mind yet), this teaser is a nice introduction to the new series and a brief summary of what haunts Conan (and yes, Conan is haunted - he's a sensitive dude!). Plus, he gets to gut a bunch of "fat Vanir pigs," so that's always cool. Giorello has a good "Conan"-style that was established by Cory Nord when the series launched and has continued throughout the entire run, and the three pages that show Conan's life until now are wonderful to behold. One thing that's intriguing is the presence of Robert E. Howard himself in this comic - I don't know if that's going to be part of the title as it moves forward, but it's kind of cool as a framing device. We'll see.

I'll have to check out the first issue when it appears and decide then if I want to buy the book in single issues. Conan is a very good comic, and it's just a question of how I want to read it.

Final Crisis #2 (of 7) by Grant "My ringtone is the sound of weeping fanboys" Morrison (writer), J. G. Jones (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.

I wonder who returns in this issue. I mean, the cover certainly doesn't give it away or anything. Who could it be?????

There are many reasons to like this comic, and almost as many reasons to fret about it. Morrison's love of obscure goofy characters means we start this comic in Japan with an absolutely horrible line: "Stop! You must be supercool to proceed! Your life depends on it!" It's crap like this that makes me grumpy with the God of All Comics. This, and the overwrought scene that follows it, is Morrisonian excess at its worst. It's characters acting too cool and Morrison thinking he's cooler than he is. The first good line of this book, because of its creepiness and portentousness, is "The sound. I know that sound. And my skin ..." and that comes on page 8. I know Sonny Sumo is going to be important in the series, but his introduction is poorly handled. The funeral scene, like all funeral scenes in superhero comics, is annoying because, as Superman implies, J'onn will return. Any funeral in mainstream superhero comics, which are meant to evoke sympathy, instead remind us how idiotically death is treated by Marvel and DC. The rest of the issue, which deals with the murder of Orion and the way the bad guys are taking down the Justice League, is nicely done, as Morrison is certainly good at building suspense without giving too much away. This is scarier than a superhero book has any right to be, and when Morrison cuts out the cute crap, he can really write a damned fine comic book. He falls into cliché occasionally (John Stewart says "My God. It's you!" when confronted with the mysterious villain, which is a line right out of a crappy horror flick), and he doesn't connect the dots as well as everyone likes to think (it's implied that Clark just saw Jimmy Olsen, but wouldn't it make more sense if we saw him too?), and I'm sure there's a ton of stuff that I just don't get (what the heck are those things Turpin sees in the streets of Blüdhaven?), but generally, it's a fascinating read. I just like to pick on Morrison because, let's be honest, who will if I don't?

Like the magic word that the banished Monitor needs to say. Now that's something we've seen before from Mr. GoAC, which robs it of its coolness. And that bullet fired from the future. Doesn't that sound familiar? Has Morrison run out of original ideas? When John Stewart first mentioned the fact that there was an energy signature fifty years old in the concrete, I immediately thought of a bullet going backward in time. When I'm starting to anticipate what's coming in a Morrison comic, that's when we all need to consider that he's losing it. I mean, I'm not very bright, you know?

Jones does an amazing job, of course, except for one panel (yes, one panel ... again). When John is attacked, doesn't it look like a disembodied arm is attacking him? Seriously - the arm goes up to what might be a neck, and then just stops. It's really freaky. Otherwise - damn. It's looking fantastic. Boy, I hope this book stays on schedule.

It's still not as great a series as it could be, but it's pretty cool. If only Morrison weren't so sure that he was awesome and reined in the obnoxiousness, then we'd really have something!

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #3 (of 5) by Steve Moore (writer), Admira Wijaya (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorists), Sixth Creation (colorists), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

This book continues to entertain mightily. Hercules and his band manage to defeat the rebel leader, but at a horrible cost. So far in this comic, Moore and Wijaya have done a fine job showing how much Hercules and his gang like to fight but also how they recognize that it can quickly turn dishonorable. Last issue, Hercules began to realize that war on the scale practiced by Cotys the Thracian king is not necessarily a glorious thing, and in this issue, the complexities of war and command become more clear. Nothing that Moore reveals here is all that revolutionary, but he does an excellent job with many themes. Hercules refuses to shatter the integrity of his army just to help a rogue warrior, and this causes enmity between him and his friend. There's an interesting comment about giving technology to people who don't know how to handle it, which could easily be applied to several groups throughout history. Hercules is under a curse, and it rears its ugly head in this issue. The whims of the powerful, from the Greek gods to the Thracian king, are held up for scorn. It's a remarkably deep book for what looks like on the surface to be a good old-fashioned adventure.

Wijaya's art, which might be too slick for some, remains impressive, especially the double-page spread showing the aftermath of battle. It's a horrific image that brings home what Hercules and his band have wrought. In another panel, Hercules becomes extremely angry, and we see what happens, in terrifying graphic detail, what happens when Hercules gets angry. Yes, the art is slick, but it's also very good.

I'm looking forward to the rest of this series, as we learn Cotys's true objective at the end of this issue. I hope Moore doesn't forget that just because this is an adventure book, it doesn't need to forego a more complex look at war. That makes it even better.

The Immortal Iron Fist #16 by Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), and Dave Lamphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

A statement made recently on Jeff Parker's web site made me think. If a writer works for Marvel or DC, apparently the bigwigs can simply assign them to a book. I guess I knew that on some level, but it still strikes me as odd, especially if the PTB can take someone off a book and put them on another. I mean, I have no idea if Fraction actually wanted off Iron Fist, but given this issue, which seems to indicate that he has plenty of ideas for Danny Rand and his merry mob of misfits, why would he? Why would he want to get off a book that is popular almost solely because of him and the artist to join a book that has always been popular and always will be popular (besides money, of course)? Plus, he probably has a bit more flexibility with Iron Fist than he would with the X-Men. So what's the deal here? Can't he write both books? I mean, three books a month should be a breeze for him, right? He needs the dough, man!

By the way, this is a fantastic issue. It's nice to see an entire issue with Aja on art, and it will be interesting to see what he does next. Fraction leaves Danny with plenty of things to do, and I'll give Duane What's-His-Name (I can't spell his last name and I don't feel like looking it up) a chance. But, as with a lot of writers, it's not necessarily Fraction's main plots that separate him from the pack, it's all the details. Can Duane S. make the Bride of Nine Spiders as creepy as Fraction has? The one scene she has in this comic, where she tells Danny what day it is, is excellent and pitch-perfect. Would another writer (and artist, of course, because Aja nails it) be able to pull that off so effectively? Beats me. We'll see, I guess.

Danny Rand as Jesus is an intriguing idea. It's not something you can do with an X-Man, I'll tell you that much.

Marvel Comics Presents #10. "Vanguard" by Marc Guggenheim (writer), Francis Tsai (artist), Tony Washington (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Machine Man" by Ivan Brandon (writer), Niko Henrichon (artist), and Sharpe; "Deadpool" by Jesse Blaze Snider (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist/colorist), and Sharpe; "Weapon Omega" by Rich Koslowski (writer), Checchetto, Laura Villari (colorist), and Sharpe. $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Although this is a four-dollar comic book and therefore I fear for its future, this is probably the best single issue so far. Each chapter (plus the Deadpool story, which is complete) works very well. "Vanguard" and "Weapon Omega" are hurtling toward their conclusions, of course, so we learn more about what's going on, and both stories are pretty gripping. I've been liking "Vanguard" since the beginning, and although I was lukewarm about Koslowski's story early on, recently it's been getting a lot better. Meanwhile, Ivan Brandon wasn't kidding when he commented last time about Henrichon's art in this chapter, as it's utterly bizarre and beautiful. The story is pretty cool, too, because Madam Menace shows up and does nasty things. And the tiny Celestial is the Sensational Character Find of 2008, man! The Deadpool story is quite hilarious, as Wade gets a phone call as he's about to kill his target, which alerts the many ninjas who protect the mark. So there's a lot of mayhem with a very funny joke at the end. Of course, I never understand why people in comics (and on television and movies, where it happens a lot) don't put their cell phones on vibrate! What's wrong with these people?????

Anyway, I still think Marvel needs to drop the price of this comic, because I doubt it's going to last very long, but an issue like this is why it's nice to have an anthology book on the stands. We'll see how long it lasts!

The Nearly Infamous Zango #3 by Rob Osborne (writer/artist). $3.50, 24 pgs, BW, Absolute Tyrant.

Osborne is taking his book to a new publisher next issue, and I hope it helps the book, because independent books deserve our love, people! This isn't the greatest comic in the world, but Osborne's art is fantastic and the story is quite fun. It's goofy but not obnoxiously so, and with this issue, Osborne appears to take the story in an interesting direction, with some dark tones to Lord Zango's life and those around him. I mean, someone gets an arm ripped off in this issue, for crying out loud! Plus, Van Freako, the other Sensational Character Find of 2008, tries to relate to regular people and is cruelly rebuffed. Osborne is quite good at switching back and forth between this pathos and the goofiness of Lord Zango, who continues to wear his bedroom slippers everywhere. He never goes too far in either direction, which is nice.

It's three months until the next issue comes out, and who knows where it will be. I'll check it out, and I hope it helps the book. Why not give it a try?

The Programme #12 (of 12) by Peter Milligan (writer), C. P. Smith (artist), and Pat Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

For the most part, The Programme has been an example of "Good Milligan," which means it's been a relatively fascinating look at superpowers, realpolitik, and even race relations. It hasn't been perfect, but it's been interesting and quirky in the way Milligan has. So this final issue would tilt the balance - would it be "Good Milligan" all the way through?

Well, no. Milligan really screws up the ending. It's not "Bad Milligan," which is virtually unreadable, but it's still not great. Max and Joe, obviously, defeat the Russians, but it's a pretty standard superhero fight. Then, once the battle is through, it becomes is another bland "America sucks" kind of book. The government is evil, power corrupts, white people secretly hate black people, Republicans are trying to control every aspect of our lives ... blah blah blah (and although I'm an evil liberal, I do find it interesting that liberals are often as bad if not worse about controlling the lives of people as conservatives, but writers don't seem to care about that). It's, frankly, boring, and it's upsetting that a Milligan book is boring. There are a few lines that scream "Good Milligan," but for the most part, this is a letdown. It's not as if Milligan can't write intelligently about the United States government and culture - he did so in the early issues of Shade and in more than a few stories of Human Target - but this series, which could have been so much more, fails to live up to its promise. It's not a complete failure, but a lot of this story was extremely good, and the fact that Milligan botches the ending is more disappointing than if it had sucked throughout.

I'm sad. I miss "Great Milligan." Remember him? It's been a while since we've seen him. Although that recent issue of Detective showed he's still around. Come back, "Great Milligan"! We miss you!

She-Hulk #30 by Peter David (writer), Val Semeiks (penciler), Victor Olazaba (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

You know why Peter David is a great writer? With most writers (including me, and I'm the greatest undiscovered writer on the planet, man!), Monique would be a throwaway character, someone to help Jen through her brief stint in jail and then forgotten. But not with David! Monique is apparently going to be someone we can't forget about. David might not return to her right away, but she's more important than we expect. It's quite nifty.

The story is good, too. We learn what's going on with Bran, and it's not too surprising, given his name. He battles Hercules and She-Hulk, and Jazinda goes looking for a solution in her own way. It's a nice entertaining issue, with plenty of banter and nice art. Jen ends up in bed with Hercules, and it's interesting how David addresses this "regression" to her old "slutty" ways. Jen has learned a lot recently, and the way David describes how she ended up sleeping with Herc is the thought process of a more mature woman than when Slott wrote the title. It's kind of cool to see a character arc that began with one writer and continues with another, because David has made sure to follow what Slott laid down. Well, I think it's cool. I may be odd.

I was worried about the book for a few issues, but David has rebounded well. Next month: X-Factor! Whoo-hoo - crossover city!

Uncanny X-Men #499 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Choi (artist), Ben Oliver (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), Jason Keith (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

What the heck is up with Emma's hair on that cover? Too much static electricity in the air, I guess.

As much as I didn't like Mike Choi's art a few months ago, I'm not exactly going to miss him, but I have grown to like what he's doing on this book a lot more than I expected. Especially when you compare it to Oliver, who does the part of the issue in San Francisco this time around. Oliver is obviously a skilled draftsman, but for some reason, whether it's the inking or the coloring, his art loses a lot of its dynamism from the sketching to the final product. His figures are stiff and pose strangely, whereas Choi's characters flow better through the panels. Oliver needs a better inker (he inks himself in this issue) or a better colorist. Sonia Oback, interestingly enough, does a poor job coloring Choi's art - even though the action is taking place in a bunker, that doesn't mean it has to be so dark and murky, does it?

As for the two stories - well, once the San Francisco "mystery" was solved, it wouldn't be too difficult to defeat Martinique Wyngarde, as she's not too tough. Brubaker makes it interesting, but these two stories show the difficulties of writing a really dramatic superhero tale. Emma and Scott are more than a match for Mastermind, and Brubaker had to injure Nightcrawler in order to make Omega Red any kind of a threat. It's not that it's a bad story (or two), but it's obvious that the X-Men are so super-powerful that it's difficult to give them a challenge. That's been the case for a while with all kinds of superteams, but I just thought I'd mention it because it was so blatant in this case. I actually asked myself while I was reading this, "Where's Kurt?" Then he showed up, and the fight was over.

Issue #500 shows up next month, and I'm quite keen to see where the comic goes. I'm curious to see the Land/Dodson combo on art.

Wasteland #18 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

You know what makes this a great comic? The little things. Sure, the plot is good, as Jakob and Heddor drive their train toward its destiny, the Sand-Eaters break into the city and we learn something quite crucial about their queen, and Skot and his mother continue to intrigue in the council. It's a typically exciting issue with another shocking ending that opens up yet another avenue of mystery. Good stuff!

But it's the little things that make this such a neat comic. When the Sand-Eaters burst into the room where Cheffri and Mrs. Dee are speaking, Cheffri shoves Mrs. Dee toward them. Mitten's art is subtle but clear, and that small piece of information about Cheffri and what kind of person he is. This detail is part of what makes this a great comic. Cheffri has been blustering about the machinations of Skot and his mother, but when things go badly, he's revealed as a coward, and it's a telling moment.

What a good comic. You know you want to read it!

What If This Was the Fantastic Four? by Jeff Parker (writer), Chris Giarrusso (writer/artist/colorist/letterer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), Art Adams (penciler/inker), Paul Renaud (penciler/inker), Stuart Immonen (penciler), Cully Hamner (penciler/inker), Alan Davis (penciler), Casey Jones (penciler), David Williams (penciler), Sanford Greene (penciler), Humberto Ramos (penciler), Skottie Young (penciler/inker), Mike Allred (penciler), Barry Kitson (penciler/inker), Karl Kesel (inker), Nathan Massengill (inker), Val Staples (colorist), Leanne Hannah (colorist), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $4.99, 36 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Do I really need to review this comic? A good chunk of the money goes to the Hero Initiative, it's the last work of Mike Wieringo, it features pages by a bunch of good artists (Young's pages are probably the best, mostly because it's the climax of the story), and although Parker's story isn't the most revolutionary tale in the world (it's a fairly typical What If? story), it's still fun. Parker, after all, knows what he's doing.

But it doesn't matter. Yes, it's 5 bucks, but do a good thing and buy this. Put down that latte for the day and buy this instead! Atone for going to see The Love Guru by buying this comic! It will heal your soul!

Last week, no one guessed the totally random lyric, which was from "Too Late For Love" by Def Leppard. The lack of love for early 1980s hair metal distresses me. Come on, people! In honor of the concert I attended last weekend in Philadelphia, here's this week's totally random lyric (which, of course, isn't that random, but what the hell):

"Princes in exile raising the standard Drambuie Parading their anecdotes tired from old campaigns Holding their own last orders commanding attention We sit here and listen to all of the story so far This is the story so far"

Remember: Restoring the black hole in your soul is good for you!!!!!!!

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