What I bought - 26 March 2008

Ah, the joy of dropping comics from my pull list.  I dropped one outright and read another but didn't buy it, and I'm happy with my decision.  It's definitely quality over quantity this week!

Blue Beetle #25 by John Rogers (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist), Guy Major (colorist), and Swands (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC. 

I've only been buying this title for ten issues, but it feels like I've been reading it forever.  I really have to go back and buy the first 15 issues, because even if the early issues aren't great, it would be kind of cool to read the whole 25-issue epic.  And what an epic.  Rogers manages to wrap this whole thing up without a double-sized, padded issue, as he strips this down to the bones, gets all the heroes together (and for fans of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, how awesome is that cover?), and they kick Reach ass.  Yes, the good guys win, but it's so ridiculously entertaining that it doesn't matter that we know that.  It's always about how they win, and Rogers flies around from scene to scene, keeping us guessing about what will happen next, adding plenty of drama, some humor, some romance, and tons of action.  And it's clever - Jaime doesn't always use force to win, and the way he alerts Batman about what to do is inspired.  And if you bemoan the loss of heroism in today's comics, Jaime is truly heroic and even compassionate toward the bad guys.  As a superhero comic, you really can't do better than this book.  Of course, now Rogers is leaving for a hiatus (or is he writing the all-Spanish issue next time?), but I have high hopes for Will Pfeifer's story arc.  That won't make it sell any better, because Pfeifer hasn't been able to get people to buy Catwoman, but if DC doesn't stick him with any stupid crossovers, the quality should stay up.  I'm just glad DC allowed this book to reach issue #25 so Rogers could finish his story.  And damn, Albuquerque's art is tremendous.

I have a couple of issues/questions.  This is, presumably, an all-ages book, and it should be.  There's no gratuitous blood spurting everywhere and no women hanging out of their shirts.  But at one point, Paco curses.  Now, it's done the stupid way - #&%$ - but there's no reason for it to be in this book, and I know I'm just being an old fogey, but I didn't like it.  I could have even dealt with a "hell" - Jaime says "damn" earlier in the book - but the use of the stupid fake cursing annoys me (or maybe it is supposed to be "hell," and DC considers "damn" less damaging to our psyches than "hell").  It's less egregious in more "adult" superhero comics, but here, it's weird.  The other thing that is strange is (and I guess this is a SPOILER) what happens between Paco and Brenda.  I know they've been flirting for awhile, but why would they pretend their kiss didn't happen?  Did I miss something in the early issues between these two?  Come on, Paco and Brenda - go for it!

Anyway, this is excellent.  DC should put out an Omnibus Edition of the entire series.  That's right!

Daredevil #106 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Paul Azaceta (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I have been buying Daredevil since its new inception, and I enjoy Ed Brubaker's writing, but I decided after last issue that I was going to drop it.  It was too relentlessly depressing for what seems like no reason except sadism, and I can get that in my marriage!  Luckily, I can still read comics for free, so I picked the latest issue up to see if I made a mistake.

Well, I didn't.  This is a pause issue, as next issue Greg Rucka comes on board for another long story arc.  Therefore, this just re-affirms the status quo and sets everything up for more.  And ... it's relentlessly depressing for what seems like no reason except sadism.  Everyone in Matt Murdock's life comments on how he's going completely over the edge, and it basically tells us what we have seen over the past 20 or so issues.  It's horribly bleak, and just for fun, Brubaker piles another dog turd on Matt's life when the doctor tells him he can't see Milla anymore.  Unfortunately, there's nothing in here that makes me think I made a mistake in dropping this book.  Rucka and Brubaker's arc is called "Cruel and Unusual."  Yeah, that sounds fun.

Yes, I still like Criminal, which is also somewhat depressing.  That book, however, is more interesting, because of the way Brubaker writes the stories and because he has developed each character so well.  He hasn't really done a lot with Matt, despite the fact that he's good with characterization.  It's not that the book stinks, because it's well written and the artists do a good job (Azaceta matches the noir tone of the script well), but I have no interest of reading the absolute destruction of Matt Murdock over and over.

Drain #6 by C. B. Cebulski (writer), Sana Takeda (artist), and Cory Petit (letterer).  $2.99, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

This book is quite awesome.  And I mean "awesome" in its truest sense of the word, as in I'm in awe that something this horrible got published.  Did anyone read Erik Larsen's editorial at the end of the some of the recent Image books?  It's about submitting stuff to Image, and it's fairly interesting.  He writes that they're going to start responding only to pitches they're interested in, because they get so many.  That's fair.  He then writes that they want to "publish more great comics."  The "sad reality," he writes, is that a "good chunk" of the pitches they get are "awful."  He wonders why they receive some of the pitches, because they're so very horrible.  "The question you need to ask yourself, if you're thinking about submitting to Image, is this: 'Is my comic as good or BETTER than the absolute best comics being published today?'"  If the answer is "yes," submit away!

Well, I'm thinking of submitting a pitch with me as a stick figure ruminating about the small lump of green putty I found in my armpit one midsummer morning,* because that would be better than this.  Look, I know that Larsen is blowing smoke up our asses, and that's fine.  He doesn't care about quality, he cares about marketibility, and I guess a comic about a leather-clad Japanese chick hunting vampires sells well.  It's certainly not a good book.

This is the final issue of Drain, which means all we get is the culmination of Chinatsu's hunt for Reiji.  I have no idea if they're vampires, actually, but they have fangs and are ridiculously hard to kill, which means this entire issue is the two of them stabbing each other with swords.  Yes, that's the entire issue.  And because they're so ridiculously hard to kill, we get lovingly rendered full-page drawings of, say, Chinatsu with her sword sticking up through Reiji's chin and out the top of his head.  But that won't kill him!  No, sir!  And so we get many, many more pages with few words but plenty of swordplay, with buckets of blood oozing over every page.  The art is pretty in an airbrushed nude model kind of way, but it's certainly uncomfortable watching these two people chop limbs and skewer each other.  It reaches a horrific climax (and yes, I use the word as a double-entendre) when Chinatsu stabs Reiji's eye and then cuts his throat, all the while with a sword sticking through her midsection.  It's awful.

If you like Drain, please don't tell me.  I don't want to know.  It's a truly terrible comic book, and my life is sadder for having read it.

* Yeah, I went there.

A Dummy's Guide To Danger: Lost At Sea #1 (of 4) by Jason M. Burns (writer), Joe Eisma (artist), and Gary Scott Beatty (letterer).  $3.25, 24 pgs, FC, Viper Comics.

One of last year's oddest mini-series returns, and the results are still odd, but in a different way.  If you don't recall the hook of this book, it's that "detective to the stars" Alan Sirois carries around his dummy, Mr. Bloomberg, and honestly believes that he's a separate person.  This causes no small amount of consternation to people, especially his sort-of girlfriend, Teri, who thankfully didn't die at the end of the last series.  The mini-series was odd because this situation seems tailor-made for some kind of grim comedy, but Burns played it very straight, and the gore in the first series jarred with the weirdness of the Sirois/Bloomberg dynamic.  In this issue, there's far less gore (as in, none), but it's still odd, because Burns is really playing up the insanity of Sirois, as he and Bloomberg visit a couples counselor because they're having problems in their relationship, and when they get on a cruise ship for an all-expenses paid trip (I'll get to that), Sirois sends Bloomberg to the ship's doctor because "he's" feeling queasy.  In the first series, Sirois was a charming kook, but in this issue, his dementia is far more disturbing, and it's interesting to consider where Burns might go with this.

Sirois, Bloomberg, and Teri get to go on the cruise ship because Sirois, as a moderately famous private investigator, is hired by an eccentric millionaire (he actually describes himself as one) to supervise his "murder mystery cruise."  Of course, because there would be no story otherwise, someone actually gets killed, and we're off and running.  Someone has it in for Sirois and Bloomberg, of course, but that will have to wait until next issue!

Eisma's art is nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done.  He has a slightly more realistic style with faces than the original artist, Ron Chan, had, but he lacks Chan's flair.  It's not going to set the world on fire, but it tells the story, and in a comic like that, that's good enough.

The mystery in the previous mini-series was definitely not a "fair-play" mystery, and we'll see if this one is.  It is an intriguing comic, because of the main characters, and I'm curious to see how much Burns delves into Sirois' psyche as the mystery unfolds.  There's another ventriloquist on board, after all, and his dummy and Bloomberg have already gotten into it which each other.  Just another odd twist to an odd comic.  But there's nothing wrong with being odd!

Fallen Angel #25 by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist/colorist), Chris Mowry (letterer), and Robbie Robbins (letterer).  $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

Man, Fallen Angel is really firing on all cylinders these days.  I know it's a dollar more than most comics, but when it's this good, who cares?  The war for Bete Noire goes all pear-shaped, as we find out who's behind it all, and characters continue to drop like flies.  You have to love that about Peter David: he has no sentimentality over any of his creations; they exist simply to fit the story.  There's not a lot to say about this issue, because there's so much action, but David manages to get some crass humor into the book, and on the first couple of pages, Dolf shows more of his true colors.  It's really chilling, because although we've always known who Dolf really is, it's disturbing to see him act in a manner more consistent with the way we would expect.  Throughout the series, David has shown that he's capable of evil, but to see it come out is disturbing.

If the next issue cover is to be believed, Lee and her allies lose the war.  I don't know what's going to happen, but I'll be there.  This has gone from a good comic to a great comic.  It's nice to see.

New Avengers #39 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), David Mack (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist), and Albert Deschesne (letterer).  $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

One reason I don't read reviews before I post these is because I don't want to be swayed one way or the other on a book.  You come here, presumably, for my judgment (or to, you know, insult my taste in comics to make me cry - I know you enjoy my tears!), and I don't want to have other people's thoughts in my head.  Case in point: this issue.  Here I was thinking it wasn't very good, but then I read a review that made me think it was better than I thought.  Maybe Bendis is really adding layers and layers to this whole "Secret Invasion" thing that I hadn't considered.  For instance, is Echo a Skrull?  Was the fight a ruse to get Wolverine to trust "Echo," even though she's really a Skrull?  Does Wolverine know that Echo is a Skrull, and is just letting her think she got away with something?  Is Hawkeye a Skrull?  He seems a likely candidate, as he's been dead recently.  Bendis wouldn't be that obvious, would he?

I didn't think of these things, someone else did.  I read this because I want to check in on "Secret Invasion" every once in a while, even though I have no intention of shelling out money for it.  When I first read this, I thought it was a fairly dull issue, with Echo fighting a Skrull, thereby justifying everyone's faith in her.  Wolverine, of course, followed her because he didn't trust her, but now he does.  Bendis is too smart not to consider the ramifications of this issue, which I outlined (or, you know, stole) above, but I wasn't thinking about that, probably because I haven't been reading this regularly and so I'm not in full-on "Who's a Skrull?" mode.  It's somewhat fun twisting your head around every single line of dialogue in every Marvel book to see if someone is not up on their convoluted Marvel history (are the Skrulls the editors, who don't fact-check to make sure something still exists, or are they casual Marvel fans like me, who doesn't know where Glorian first appeared?), but not enough to make me care all that much.  This is a fight issue, basically, and it's fine, I guess, but isn't all that thrilling.

Mack, however, does a nice job with the art.  It has a Ryan Sook-like quality to it, unlike the cover and, I guess, a lot of his other stuff (I've never seen the interiors of Kabuki).  There's a lot of black space on each page, though, as the panels aren't very big, and it has an odd effect on the work, as if we're supposed to feel claustrophobic.  Maybe we are - the Skrulls are closing in!

As a chapter in the grand storyline, I guess this is fine.  But I'm still not as impressed as that other reviewer.

She-Hulk #27 by Peter David (writer), Val Semeiks (penciler), Dave Meikis (inker), Rob Ro (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

She-Hulk was another book I was considering dropping, but I saw that this issue was a single-issue story (sort of), so I decided to check it out, much like Daredevil, to see if I would keep it.  This issue fared much better than DD, actually.  It makes me consider a stay of execution and give David a few more issues to wow me.  I liked this mainly because of the appearance of Mallory Book and the hints she drops about why Jen was disbarred, which promises to be a juicy tale.  The courtroom stuff was fine, although I can't speak to its veracity (where's Loren when you need him?).  It seems like a lot of bullshit, which might be the point, as Mallory and Tony Stark imply that they could simply bury the court in paperwork unless the judge lets Larry go, which he does.  Of course, we know that Larry is innocent (he's the guy from the previous few issues, whose wife was killed by an alien), but it seems like the court proceedings go rather speedily.  I guess that's because this is a single issue.  I'm of two minds about the court case - on the one hand, it's nice to see a writer who acknowledges that once the superheroes have moved on, the normal folk still have to live life, but on the other hand, it reminds me of the unpleasant previous story arc, which featured the utterly gratuitous murder.

But it's a pretty good issue, promising revelations to come about Jen's past and her relationship with Jazinda, who drops a minor bombshell in this issue.  The fact that Jen is hanging out with a Skrull should make her life complicated in the coming months, right?  So I'm on board for a few more issues, but I'm still not sure if I'm with it for the long term.  David is doing enough good work on Fallen Angel and X-Factor that I don't absolutely need another of his comics in my life.

And Allentown is a perfectly nice town, despite what is implied in this issue.  I have to stick up for all things Pennsylvania!

All Star Superman #10 by Grant Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (penciller), Jamie Grant (inker/colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer).  $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I had a small fear about this comic for a while now, and it looks as if it might be coming true.  This is the first issue that backs up my fears, but for some time, especially when it comes to the way Morrison appears to be introducing several Superman-type figures, I was worried this was venturing into, for him, well-trodden territory.  And then this issue drops, and my fears grow.  I will say that it's not a bad issue at all - it's occasionally poignant, and Morrison's use of Kandor is very good - but I'm still uneasy.

About what am I uneasy, you might ask?  Well, I'm uneasy about the final page.  I'm worried about Superman and his infant universe of Qwewq, and the fact that this seems to be rehashing ideas he used in his Seven Soldiers epic, ideas that he used in Flex Mentallo, and even ideas that he used in Animal Man.  I know that Morrison can make these ideas interesting, because he's done it before, but that's the point - he's done it before.  That final page and the final image made me sad, because it feels like The God of All Comics going to the well once more, and instead of pushing himself in new directions, he's going over the same old ground.  Two paths diverged in the woods, indeed.  Morrison once took the road less traveled.  Now he takes the same one over and over.  Yes, few people follow him down that path, but that doesn't mean it's not well-worn.

Am I wrong?  I want to be, but I fear I'm not.  Two issues remain in his epic, and I'm sure he could still pull it off.  But I worry.  Does anyone else worry?

Transhuman #1 (of 4) by Jonathan Hickman (writer) and JM Ringuet (artist).  $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

After doing art on his first two projects, Hickman simply writes this time, while Ringuet provides art.  Ringuet isn't bad, but far more traditional in breaking down pages into panels with clear borders and eschewing the use of tables and graphs and vague backgrounds that has come to characterize Hickman's art.  In terms of pencil work, Ringuet, despite being far rougher than Hickman, brings more authenticity to his creations - you feel like he labored to create each individual, rather than using photographs, like Hickman does (at least I think he does - it certainly looks like he does).  I don't like Ringuet's art as much as Hickman's, but that's partly a function of the barrier-breaking that Hickman does - as a traditional penciller, Ringuet is pretty good, although Hickman doesn't really give him much to work with.  (I will point out that his sense of scale on the last page is atrocious, but that's the only place in the book that looks truly bad.)

Like his first two mini-series, Transhuman is a difficult book to really like, because Hickman tries so hard to make points in his writing that he often forgets the narrative.  In The Nightly News (which, after all, I said was the best mini-series of the year), it was mitigated by the dynamic layout of the book and the sheer ambition of the book.  Pax Romana is also more plot-driven, and I'm inclined to like it because of its historical leanings.  This issue is also ambitious, as Hickman gives us two sides of genetic testing, from cloning to artificial enhancements.  These two sides are represented by two competing companies that were once one, until people within them found they couldn't work together and the companies split.  So there's the moral issue of genetic modification, as well as office politics, making for an interesting stew.  Hickman, however, doesn't quite pull it off.  It's mostly because of the format he uses to tell his story, which is a documentary about the history of these two companies and their rivalry.  It's handy for the information that needs to get to us, and it's a measure of Hickman's talent that although there's a lot of dialogue, it's never boring, but like actual documentaries, it can be quite static.  In documentaries, this can be mitigated by "re-enactments" or even footage of the subject, but it can also be improved by the mannerisms of the interview subjects.  They become real to us in a way that drawings in a comic can't, and as a great deal of this is talking heads, it starts to drag.  At one point, Hickman had an opportunity to give us some action to break up the monotony, and he blows it.  On two pages, we get eight test monkeys (loosely modeled on the X-Men, which is very funny) that have been enhanced somehow.  The page is broken down with four pictures on each page, and the notes of three analysts lined up next to them.  The first two analysts are generally positive about the results, while the third is always having problems.  By the final monkey, things have degenerated to the point where bad things start to happen to the first two analysts.  It's a funny two-page spread, because the way the notes are worded are clever, but perhaps we could have had some "videotapes" of the testing, building up to a screen with static because the monkeys have gone nuts.  It would have been something to break up the interviews on almost every page.

It's certainly an interesting concept, and I'm enjoying the fact that Hickman is trying lots of wild stuff as his career in comics begins, but I don't think it's as successful as his first two comics.  I might pick up the next issue to see if he moves beyond the various principals talking to us.  I hope so!

Well, that's another week in the books.  Feel free to share your opinions in the comments ... unless you like Drain, of course.  That's between you and God!

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