What I bought - 26 January 2011

For if the sun is at the center and not the earth, then there are no crystal spheres to hold us in; we have only and always fooled ourselves, we men, kept ourselves within the spheres which our own flawed and insufficient senses perceived, but which were never there at all. The way to ascend through the spheres that hem us in was to know that we had already so ascended, and were on our way, in motion unstoppably. (John Crowley, from Aegypt)

Chaos War #5 (of 5) ("The End is Here") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Khoi Pham (penciler), Thomas Palmer (inker), Bob McLeod (inker), Sunny Gho (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Pak and van Lente finish up this strange, non-impact crossover in perhaps not the most clever way but certainly in a logical way - it hasn't been too hard to see what they're going to do, but it still fits everything that's come before, and it allows them to clean up any lingering plot threads they've had over the past few years of writing these characters. It's been an entertaining mini-series, not really worth the 4 bucks a pop for each issue, but I was willing to put up with it because it was part of the bigger story they were telling, which is really worth your time (going back to World War Hulk, when the book became about Hercules and not the Hulk, that is). We get decent action, more witty remarks, Delphyne expressing her non-hatred of Amadeus, the usual wonderful sound effects (including the one below, which comes after Hercules tries to answer the Chaos King in haiku but gives up halfway through), and at the end, some people remain not-dead anymore, so there's that (it would have been awesome if a certain member of the Fantastic Four had been there, resurrected the very week that person died). I find it interesting that at the end, it's announced that the "eighth & final volume" of The Incredible Hercules has come to an end - both because van Lente and Pak have obviously treated the various mini-series since the ongoing was cancelled as part of the ongoing and because, on the next page, there's an advert for the new Hercules ongoing coming in April. I assume it won't be called "Incredible," hence the finalness of this "volume," but that does crack me up. But hey - the same writers writing these two characters, with the possibility of lots of Delphyne? Sign me up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Fables #101 ("The Ascent") by Bill Willingham (writer), Eric Shanower (penciller), Richard Friend (inker), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

One of my favorite non-fiction books is Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts, a passage of which I quoted last week in the above-the-cut quote of this column. Kaplan's critics tend to be liberals who think he's a bit of a hardliner, but whatever you think of his politics, he's an amazing travel writer who gets to the core of a region better than most political thinkers. In Balkan Ghosts, he quotes a person who gives us one of my favorite descriptions of politics I've ever read: "Here the men sit back like the old men of Crete, talking about nationalism and hate while the women do all the work." I thought of this quote while I was reading the latest issue of Fables. I think Willingham's treatment of the female characters in Fables has generally been positive, whatever you think of his politics, but he has misstepped every so often (Kelly will tell you that turning Frau Totenkinder young and having her run off with a man is his most egregious example). So I found it humorous that it felt like he was subverting the noble quests of the men in this series - many men have gone on noble quests - in this particular issue, as Bufkin, the Magic Mirror, and Frankenstein's Monster's Head sit around and talk about what Bufkin can do now that he's vanquished all the enemies in the Fabletown business office. The men, of course, speak of more noble quests and becoming kings and pie-in-the-sky kinds of things, while all around them, the tiny women who helped defeat Baba Yaga clean up. What? you might say. The womenfolk are doing all the housework? Well, yes. But Willingham slyly makes the men objects of a bit of ridicule - they're so goofy, despite Bufkin's heroics in the office, that it becomes clear that the women are the only ones who realize that the office is a mess and someone better clean the damned place up. Sure enough, Bufkin goes off on another quest, foolishly trusting the Magic Mirror's plan to become even more of a hero, and while Willingham has to follow him because watching people clean up is not the stuff of good fiction, we never quite shake the sense that he's making fun of Bufkin, even as Bufkin seizes another opportunity to play the hero. If that makes any sense, congratulations - you're thinking like I am!

Shanower is an inspired choice to draw this issue, mainly because of what Shanower has been connected to recently, and he does a marvelous job. For reasons I won't get into here, Lee Loughridge's coloring job is masterful, and really brings the issue to life. I know that the new arc is dealing with the Fables Superhero Team, so I don't know when we'll check back in with Bufkin, but I hope Willingham demands that Shanower draw those issues. Because that would be awesome.

Am I way off-base with my reading of this issue? Chime on in!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Freakshow #1 (of 3) by David Server (writer), Jackson Lanzing (writer), Joe Suitor (artist), and Zach Metheny (letterer). $3.95, 48 pgs, FC, Ape Entertainment.

I bought this at San Diego last July, but the creators told us it wouldn't be out until January, so I waited to review it. Well, it came out this week, so here's a review! See how I did that?

First of all, I know the economic factors are different for companies like Ape and for companies like Marvel and DC, but I love that plenty of tiny publishers are able to sell comics for 4 dollars and fit in anywhere between 25-50 pages, like this one, but if you put 25 pages in a typical Marvel comic they call it "double-sized" and charge 5 bucks for it and DC can't even "hold the line" on 22 pages of story for $2.99. It cracks me up, I tells ya. Again, I know there's a difference in how they do business and who they need to pay, but still.

Anyway, Freakshow is a comic. I'm not sure if I can say it's surprisingly good, because I didn't really have any expectations going in, but it is a good comic with a fairly keen hook and quite good art. The actual plot is something we've seen before - an experiment goes wrong, turning people into monsters who are then ostracized by society - but as with most plots, the power is in the details, and the writers get a lot right as they tell the story. We start with a group of soldiers entering a forbidden zone where the monsters live, which turns out not to be a good idea. Only one of their group survives (I'll get back to her), and when she is back in the secure zone, we learn a bit more about what has happened to the world. A wonderfully wacky mad scientist, Dr. Gaghen, created something called "smoke" - a chemical compound that unlocks human evolutionary potential. He used smoke to create a superhero, but after that, the smoke started affecting people in different ways - killing most of them (including the superhero, who it seems got a second dose that wasn't as effective as the first) and changing a small percentage into monsters. Dr. Gaghen now wants to kill the monsters, while, of course, they want to survive and take revenge. Server and Lanzing focus on Critter, a young man who's the most innocent of the group (that's him crouching on the cover - he's wearing a mask, and underneath he looks relatively normal), which is a pretty good way to get us into the story - he seems the most "normal" and so therefore we can relate to him a bit better. I was a bit confused by the survivor, a young woman who looks like a teenager but I guess is old enough to be a soldier. Critter lets her go (a crush, perhaps?) and it seems as if the rest of his group knows that she's alive, but they tell him they shouldn't leave survivors. So why don't they go and kill her? Beats me. Maybe they don't know she's alive. It was a bit confusing.

Server and Lanzing are obviously setting up the heroes and villains, with Critter wondering if the "freaks" really need to live out in the wasteland and kill anyone who ventures near them and Jacquelin Murphy (the survivor) perhaps being presented as the hardened soldier who realizes the freaks are just people, man! (I'm not writing that with 100% confidence - Murphy could remain a hard-ass soldier who does the bidding of the mad scientist, but she feels like that kind of character). Meanwhile, Suitor's art is quite good - his style is what I think of as "European" - a bit more delicate linework and muted colors - I know I'm generalizing, but that's just the way it is. He uses computer effects sparingly and well, and while the backgrounds in the panels are nondescript and don't give us a good sense of what kind of world this is, his figure work is quite well done. The "freaks" of the title are neat-looking, and there's some nice horror touches that make the book a bit scarier.

I didn't pre-order issues #2 and 3, so I probably won't read them any time soon as my store probably won't have any copies lying around. I assume that if I can't find them, the creators will be at San Diego again this year and I can pick them up there. This is a pretty solid first issue and it's a decent value, as well. If you see it lying around, you could do a lot worse than picking this up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Scalped #45 ("You Gotta Sin to Get Saved Part One of Five: Running to Stand Still") by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guéra (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Aaron begins his new storyline, and really, what is there to say? As we get further and further along with Scalped, it's just a pleasure to read along and marvel at everything contained within. We're back focusing on Dash and Red Crow and their machinations, as Red Crow faces a challenge from a more traditional Indian who wants to become tribal president and Dash continues to rise in his estimation, much to Shunka's chagrin. The biggest problem I have with the issue is that this kind of triangle always seems to come up in gangster fiction - the Old Boss has relied on someone for a long time and takes them for granted, and when a Young Turk comes along, he immediately starts trusting that guy more than the Old-School Dude. So Old-School Dude doesn't trust the Young Turk, Old Boss tells Old-School Dude to shut up, and resentment lingers until it comes to a head. The problem with this is that Old-School Dude is almost always right - Old Boss shouldn't necessarily trust the Young Turk. I honestly don't know how Aaron plans on playing this out, and I trust him to get it right (just as he handled Carol's pregnancy extremely well, I'm sure he'll handle this well), but I get a bit annoyed when these characters fall into gangster stereotypes. Oh well - Aaron makes up for it when Red Crow visits his rival and sees something that freaks him out. It shows once again that Aaron is really doing a wonderful job with these characters - Red Crow is still a villain, but this issue, more than many, shows his many sides: Yes, he's done horrible, horrible things (as a beautiful page by Guéra shows), but he's not a strictly evil man. It's always impressive to see how Aaron continues to reveal nuances to these characters.

It's a new year, but some things remain the same: Scalped is damned good. You know it's true!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Sixth Gun #8 ("Crossroads Part Two") by Cullen Bunn (writer), Brian Hurtt (artist/letterer), and Bill Crabtree (colorist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

Bunn and Hurtt continue on their merry way, bringing us fine, quality, four-color entertainment! Last issue the principals ended up in New Orleans, where Drake went deep into the swamp to figure out if he could get rid of his cursed guns while Becky met a dashing gunslinger who just has to be evil, doesn't he? Most of the issue concerns Drake's journey to the heart of the swamp, where he meets a man who wants nothing to do with him or his guns but whose servant (that's him on the cover!) is in the thrall of some voodoo ghost (that's her on the cover!) and is told to go get the guns. His first attempt fails, but presumably he's try again! Meanwhile, bad dudes are heading to town. Isn't that always the way?

As usual, Hurtt's stellar art is on display - he does a marvelous job with Fournier's decrepit mansion in the swamps, showing both its rot and the fact that it was once a delightful place. Drake and Fournier have coffee in a pleasant alcove, as through the windows, the swamp keeps encroaching. Drake's battle against the alligators is very well done, too, and Crabtree's coloring makes Becky's stroll through New Orleans with Kirby Hale look like it's occurring in a different world entirely from Drake's journey. While I like everything about this comic, the look of it makes it stand out - it's sharper and brighter than a lot of other comics, drawing you effortlessly into this strange world. Even if you don't like the story (and why wouldn't you?), the book is a pleasure to look at, which is nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Thunderbolts #152 by Jeff Parker (writer), Kev Walker (artist), Frank Martin (colorist), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I decided to give Thunderbolts a shot for a while, as I bought the last two issues on readers' recommendations and enjoyed them, so what the hell, right? I mean, it might mean I have to go back and buy the other Parker/Walker issues, but what's a few bucks, right? I don't need to buy new underwear!

Part of the reason I enjoy this comic is because of Walker's art. It's idiosyncratic but still works within a superhero framework, and that's pretty cool. Some of the artists I love would not work very well on pure superhero books because their style clashes so much with what superheroes are all about, but Walker's manages to be "superheroic" while still having its quirks. (Before you jump all over me, I'm not saying I wouldn't love to see some of the more "indy" artists work on superhero books, because as we've seen with the anthologies Marvel has been putting out recently, many of them would kick ass on superhero books. I think - although I don't know - that those quirky artists might not be able to do some of things superhero books need to do - large-scale action, epic grandeur - in order to remain successful. I mentioned I'd love to see Faith Erin Hicks do a Elsa Bloodstone/Boom-Boom comic, but I honestly don't know if she could draw a big-ass superhero fight and make it look awesome. When it comes to superhero comics, one should never discount the "awesome" factor, and some artists - including some I love a lot - can't pull that off. In the same way, some artists can't draw good facial expressions to save their fucking lives.) In this book, for instance, Parker goes to the well of wacky ideas and pulls out "Monsters Attacking Japan" for $100! Now, this can work very well, and while I think the "Monsters Attacking Japan" idea should be put on permanent hiatus because Seth Fisher's version is its apotheosis, Parker concentrates less on the wackiness of the monsters and more on the new cast member. But Walker still has to draw the damned monsters, and he does a very nice job with it. But he's still quirky enough that Ghost, for instance, looks downright creepy. The art on the book is a cool blend of mainstream appeal and weird touches.

Parker, meanwhile, brings in Hyperion to join the team, at least temporarily (Luke Cage says they need raw power). It's clever because they're aware that in several different realities, Hyperion is a bad-ass villain, and they're not exactly sure if this Hyperion is a good guy or a bad guy (of course, they're all "bad guys," but this particular bad guy could destroy the earth if he wanted to). Hyperion, of course, says he's a good guy, but what else would he say? So there's this natural tension throughout the book even though we're fairly sure it's going to go pear-shaped. Parker does a good job taking a fairly obvious story and making us actually wonder what's going to happen.

So, yeah. Thunderbolts. Maybe I'll have to start buying it all the time, or at least while this creative team is working on it. That's just what I need - more comics!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Back Issue #46 ("Greatest Stories Never Told! Issue") by various. $7.95, 80 pgs, BW, TwoMorrows Publishing.

I don't always get Back Issue, but this time around they're writing about stories that never saw print. SOLD!!!!!

King of the Flies volume 2: The Origin of the World by Mezzo (writer), Pirus (artist), Ruby (colorist), and Helge Dascher (translator). $18.99, 62 pgs, FC, Fantagraphics.

I didn't review part one of this series because I knew part two was coming out, and I find myself wondering how many volumes actually exist. I suppose I could find out if I really wanted to, but does anyone know? This is a creepy comic very much in the vein of Charles Burns' work, so if you're into that, you might like this!

Off Road by Sean Murphy (writer/artist). $17.99, 123 pgs, BW, IDW.

Our Dread Lord and Master featured this a few years ago when he was doing one of his "Month of Something-Or-Other" posts - that one was about artists. Ever since then, I've wondered about this comic, and of course Murphy's profile is much higher now, so IDW has fired up a collected edition of this! It looks keen, certainly.

The Summit of the Gods volume 2 by Yumemakura Baku (writer) and Jiro Taniguchi (artist). $25.00, 333 pgs, BW, Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

This is only six months late. That's not too bad, right?

In another world, I'd have cooler stuff on The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle)! But I'm seriously uncool, so you have to live with this!

1. "The Rain Song" - Led Zeppelin (1973) "I cursed the gloom that set upon us ... but I know that I love you so"12. "Hiding Out" - Pete Townshend (1985) "Lonely watchers remain unbefriended"3. "Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)" - Styx (1977) "Just take your best shot and don't blow it"4. "Fire on Babylon"3 - Sinéad O'Connor (1994) "And all along she gave me lies just to make me think I loved her"5. "Travelin' Prayer" - Billy Joel (1973) "Hey Lord, would you look out for her tonight and make sure all her dreams are sweet"46. "Lights" - Journey (1978) "So you think you're lonely, well my friend, I'm lonely too"7. "Gett Off" - Prince (1991) "It's hard for me to say what's right when all I wanna do is wrong"58. "Tobacco Island" - Flogging Molly (2004) "This rotten cage of Bridgetown is where I now belong"9. "Internal Exile" - Fish (1991) "Grierson's spirit haunts the dockyards where the only men working are on documentary crews"10. "You Said Something" - PJ Harvey (2000) "On a rooftop in Brooklyn, one in the morning, watching the lights flash in Manhattan"

1 I honestly wonder whether it should be punishable by death to dislike Led Zeppelin. I mean, I can understand not liking "Stairway to Heaven" simply because of hearing it so many, many times, but anything else? Sacrilege!22 Of course, now Dan will show up to say he doesn't like Led Zeppelin, just 'cause he likes bringing me down, man!3 Michel Gondry directed this video. Gondry, of course, helmed The Green Hornet, in theaters now!!!!!4 Banjos rule!!!!!! If you do check out the video, you must wait to see the banjo player and his awesome shirt.5 Prince has more explicit songs, but this has always felt like his filthiest to me. I think it's not only the lyrics, but the jazzy flute (jazzy flutes always sound dirty) and the excellent fuzzy guitar. Filthiest Prince song? You be the judge! (Plus, in the video, the drummer wears that great hat!)

Let's fire up the old Totally Random Movie Quotes!

"Damn you, Senator. You promised me those men would be decently treated.""They were decently treated. They were decently fed and then they were decently shot. Those men are common outlaws, nothing more."

Today's vexing question: Should a movie (say, Toy Story 3) be allowed to be nominated for both "Best Picture" AND "Best Animated Feature"? I say if a movie is good enough to be nominated for Best Picture then it should forfeit the chance to win Best Animated Feature. That's just my personal view, and the guy at the comics shoppe disagrees. (I'll ignore the fact that Toy Story 3 is perhaps the most overrated movie of the year - I like it, but it's the weakest of the three movies.) So, what say you? And while we're at it, how does Hailee Steinfeld, who's in almost every frame of True Grit, cop a "Best SUPPORTING Actress"? nomination. That's bullshit.

Oh, yeah, comics. I promise, DC fans, that something big is coming. I hope it will arrive on Monday, but we'll see!

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