What I bought - 26 November 2008

One book overshadows them all this week! I am speaking, of course, of ... True Believers #5! What, you thought I was going to say something else? What else could there be?

Batman #681 by Grant "You fell for it, fanboys!" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

Well, I guess there's this one. Minor SPOILERS, I suppose. Our Dread Lord and Master has weighed in on this issue, and while he makes some trenchant points, I cannot agree with his conclusion. This is not a good issue. It's mediocre, which is, unfortunately, all too indicative of the God of All Comics' run on Batman. It's a perfectly okay superhero comic, but part of the "disappointment," as Brian puts it, is that Morrison is not a perfectly okay superhero writer. Yes, we expect more out of Morrison, not only from this run on the title, but from everything else he writes. So although it's not a bad comic, it's worse for being written by G-Mozz.

The problem is not that DC has hyped this to the skies, but that it's clearly the culmination of a section of Morrison's run. I don't know whether he's returning to the book or not, but it's still clear that this is the "end" of a part of it. Therefore, the fact that he leads into other story arcs isn't that big a deal, but he himself was the one who set this up as "the big ending," so the fact that he still can't commit to anything makes it much more frustrating. Is Hurt the devil? Is Bruce insane? Did Bruce cause all of this? Morrison wants to bring ambiguous storytelling to a mainstream superhero comic, but that's not what mainstream superhero comics are all about. If this were his own creation or a completely minor character, he could leave it with ambiguity (as he's done in the past to very good effect). But it's not. And that's where this falls apart a bit. Morrison wants to write a top-selling book, but he also wants to experiment. Unfortunately, he doesn't go far enough with this and turn it into something truly experimental like Seaguy or even Seven Soldiers, and therefore we get this mess, where there are several interesting moments but the overall vision doesn't cohere.

Consider the insanity of Batman, as there's so much to consider about the run that it's too big to deal with here. The single most interesting part of Morrison's run has been delving into whether Bruce is insane or not. And until a few issues ago, he was doing a good job with it. Last issue he changed the focus back to the Black Glove organization, and in this issue, he reveals that Batman was in complete control all the time and anticipated pretty much everything, including the fact that Hurt wouldn't blow his brains out when he had him helpless. The return of Morrison's SUPER-BATMAN! is kind of annoying, because when he was in the JLA, it was neat to see him outthink and often outfight all the superpowered individuals around him, but here, it's less impressive because he has no foil. The hints that he really was (and is) insane are there, to a degree, but it's not as good as actually seeing him fall apart from the pressure of maintaining this dual life. Ironically, this makes "Knightfall" - the last time Batman gave up being Batman for a while - more interesting that "R.I.P." As goofy as that story was (and it was extremely goofy), at least Batman was shown as human, with human frailties, and when Bane snapped him like a twig, it felt more important than Morrison's ambiguous helicopter explosion. With that story, you could actually see Batman losing focus and becoming more and more desperate until he was just burned out. With this, Morrison fakes us out - Batman is in complete control all the time, and the Black Glove becomes far less imposing. As a certain pale-skinned dude once said to a dude with teeth in his eye sockets, it's just "something else for people to be scared of." Not terribly impressive, in the final analysis.

Morrison also forces us to connect the dots far too much, but doesn't fill the space that he does have with anything interesting. Robin saves the city? When? There's a lack of completion in this comic, and while it tends to work in Final Crisis, which leaves things off-panel to show the all-encompassing evil of Darkseid, here it isn't excised for anything more than blather between the Joker and Hurt and Batman. While in FC it's somewhat ominous that so much is happening off-panel, it's less effective here because it means the Morrison has to fall into the worst trap a storyteller can fall into - he starts telling us stuff instead of showing it, and throughout this run, the lack of showing the extraneous stuff, along with Daniel's poor storytelling skills, means he has to explain too much. Yes, much of this is deliberately ambiguous, and the final page returns to this idea of Bruce being insane (which, if Morrison does continue writing after the O'Neil/Gaiman hiatus, would be something I'd like to see further explored), but too much ambiguity is not good for a Batman book. This isn't real life, after all (as much as the Joker insists otherwise).

I'm not certain I'll come back to the book, because this is a disappointment, no matter how Brian wants to spin it. I didn't expect it to "cure cancer," but I did expect Morrison to deliver a better story. Stringing words together that explain absolutely nothing isn't a good story. Creating weird characters, updating others, and bringing old Batman continuity into sync with the modern incarnation is interesting, but not to the point where it makes this a good story. Always remember - when Morrison is great, the weirdness works in service of the story. When he's not good, he's still interesting, but ultimately disappointing. I haven't re-read this run (Morrison's stories always read better in one chunk), but so far, Batman has been an ambitious and interesting failure.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#679 and 680, August and October): 103,588 (rank: 4) and 103,941 (rank: 4). Hey, this sells well. What do you know?

Battlefields: The Night Witches #2 (of 3) by Garth Ennis (writer), Russ Braun (artist), Tony Aviña (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

While the first issue of this series was a fairly typical Ennis war story, which isn't a bad thing, this issue is measurably better, as Ennis focuses on the Germans on the ground and the horror of war. Yes, he always focuses on the horror of war, but the way the Germans deal with a prisoner is horrifying on a lot of levels, not the least of which is the way the German commander wants to make sure everyone in his unit shares in his crimes and becomes something less than human. It's this aspect of war that often gets overlooked in war comics - not that individuals become monsters, but that the mob mentality can even infect a well trained, disciplined unit of men. It's not even about looking the other way when an individual does something terrible, it's that everyone actively participates in the terrible events. Ennis does a very good job in a short period of time showing how the Germans have become brutalized by the invasion of Russia and therefore become brutalizers to hide their fear about dying in a strange country for reasons they don't understand. They have no control, so they seize it in the most horrifying way.

This is an unpleasant issue, but it's quite good. Next issue, things will go poorly for all involved, I'm sure, but I'll be there to read it!

Sales figures for the previous issue (#1, October): 13,097 (rank: 166). Again, I don't know if this is any good for a Dynamite book. It seems pretty good, but I don't know. It's better than Blue Beetle (see below)!

Blue Beetle #33 by Matthew Sturges (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist), Guy Major (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Well, it's canceled, so who cares, right? It's too bad, because Albuquerque is fantastic, as usual (get him a bigger book, DC!), and Sturges has done a nice job with the characters. Occasionally in this issue, the backgrounds fall away and it's tough to figure out exactly where everyone is in El Paso, but that's a minor point. There's just a lot to like about this comic, and it's too bad it never really found an audience. But that's okay - three years with a third-generation character and no big names on the book is pretty impressive. As others have pointed out, the timing is awfully strange. DC could have pulled the plug with issue #25 and Rogers' last issue, because it was the end of his huge storyline. Then they had guest writers, which killed any momentum the book might have had from the end of Rogers' run. Now, Jaime is featured prominently in a new Justice League cartoon (it's the Justice League, right? I don't watch cartoons), which means a higher profile ... just in time to get canceled. It just seems weird. I would imagine this comic would do well with teenagers, probably in library collections, but of course that doesn't make much money for DC. I'm not saying that Blue Beetle is the greatest comic ever written, but it seems to speak, once again, to a lack of long-term strategy by the Big Two. As a teen-friendly, non-traditional superhero book (Jaime's Hispanic and lives in El Paso, after all), this seems like a good gateway comic. I know it doesn't make any money, but it's too bad DC couldn't figure out a way to keep it going. Oh well. Life goes on.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#31 and 32, September and October): 12,302 (rank: 161) and 11,828 (rank: 175). The last time I checked its numbers, I wondered why it hadn't been canceled yet. I guess that answers my question!

Golly! #3 by Phil Hester (writer), Brook Turner (artist), Rick Hiltbrunner (colorist), and Sean Konot (letterer). $3.50, 26 pgs, FC, Image.

As much as I enjoy circus freaks attempting to douse a were-hog in holy water, I'm not sure if I want to keep buying this series. I may have to give it another few issues, because the first three issues are kind of fun. I mean, who doesn't love a were-hog? Especially when it gets set on fire and runs rampant through the countryside? It's a fun comic with plenty of action, but the issue I have with this issue, and this entire story arc, is that it feels like Hester wrote the entire thing to set up a puerile joke. Maybe he didn't do it the first two issues, but this issue seems like it's moving inexorably toward an unfunny joke, and we can see it coming a mile away. It's frustrating, because it's a neat idea, but if it's just a vehicle for dumb jokes, what's the point?

I will check out another issue or two, mainly because I pre-ordered them. But I also want to see if Hester is going to rise above the urge to do silly things. Funny, I can deal with. Silly, I don't really care for.

The were-hog on fire is pretty cool, though.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#1 and 2, August and September): 5,232 (rank: 225) and 2,896 (rank: 299). That's a big drop, so maybe soon I won't have to worry about whether I should buy it or not.

The Incredible Hercules #123 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Clayton Henry (penciler), Salva Espin (inker), Raúl Treviño (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

All is explained, from what went on in Atlantis back in the day to what the Amazons are looking for to who is behind it all. Plus, Amadeus gets stupid! Okay, that's not a very good part of the book. I don't have a problem with his intelligence being enhanced by junk food and whatnot, but man! he's dumb. But that shouldn't distract us from yet another marvelous issue of The Incredible Hercules, as Pak and Van Lente bring us more delightful dialogue, and interesting story, and nasty tentacled creatures. Yay, nasty tentacled creatures! There's even a tragis death which kind of bothered me, mainly because I liked the character who ends up dead. But it's kind of testament to the writers that they've made the character so interesting in so short a time. And Henry's art is very nice - the book can't keep a regular artist, it seems (perhaps by design), but each artist that comes on has done a fine job.

Van Lente and Pak have kept up the quality of this book without sacrificing the fantastic action. It really is an amazingly fun book, month after month. And, of course, it has the best recap pages in the Marvel world!

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#121 and 122, September and October): 47,363 (rank: 41) and 42,876 (rank: 60). That's a big drop. I hope it doesn't portend something. That would suck, although I would imagine 42,000 is a good number for a book like this.

Northlanders #12 by Brian Wood (writer), Ryan Kelly (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 18 pgs (or 24!), FC, DC/Vertigo.

I wonder if you write Brian Wood's name five times, he'll appear on the blog ... like the Candyman! (Let's try - Brian Wood Brian Wood Brian Wood Brian Wood Brian Wood!) I do have a question about this issue, but perhaps it's not for him to answer. Here's what's going with my copy, and I wonder if it's going on with yours - you did buy this, didn't you? It's quite excellent, you know!

Okay, page 6 shows us Magnus about to attack a farm. The Vikings try to stop him, but he's indomitable! He jumps them and starts the beating. This takes place over pages 7, 8, and 9. Then those three pages are repeated! On page 10 (or page 13, if we're being specific) we go back to Ragnar's camp, where one of the Vikings who escaped tells him about the attack and Ragnar takes it, well, not well. This scene takes place over pages 10, 11, and 12 (or 13, 14, and 15) ... and then is repeated! Finally page 13 (or, by now, page 19) moves us on. What, indeed, the fuck? The story is seamless, so I don't think we've missed any pages (although the main story is only 18 pages long), but is that true? Did we miss some actual pages while DC was repeating pages? Did I miss any ass-kicking? Burgas get angry when he miss ass-kicking!!!!!

Anyway, Magnus does his thing, Ragnar tries to figure out why he attacked this particular group of Vikings, all the while trying to get back to the fighting against Brian Boru. Who doesn't want to fight those filthy Irish? So there's Magnus killing Vikings against the backdrop of a bigger fight. It's a quick issue (partly because of the weird page thing), but Wood packs a lot into it. Kelly's art is absolutely stunning, especially the panel where Magnus looks out at the farm from the bushes and the page where the Viking armies organize at Clontarf. The entire book looks great, but Kelly's attention to detail in several panels is staggering.

I'm still not sure what Wood is doing with Magnus and Brigid (his daughter), especially as the name of the arc is "The Cross and the Hammer." I don't really care to speculate, because I enjoy reading each chapter individually. But what's going on with the pages, Brian Wood? Or associate editor Mark Doyle? Or editor Will Dennis? Please help me make sense of my crazy world!

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#10 and 11, September and October): 10,738 (rank: 173) and 10,353 (rank: 192). Holding steady, which is nice, and selling far more than Scalped, which is up to issue #23, so I guess that's a good sign.

She-Hulk #35 by Peter David (writer), Pasquale Qualano (penciler), Vincenzo Acunzo (inker), Barbara Ciardo (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Another book that is canceled, so there's no point in discussing it. You can't save it now! I do like that the Russian heroes decide to act like it when they're confronted with the reality of the situation in earthquake-ravaged Marinmer, and I do not like that She-Hulk implies that she's going to kill the ruler of that selfsame country. Jen won't do that, I think we can all agree, especially not with malice aforethought. Anyway, in the comments announcing its cancellation, many people spoke about their disdain for the change in direction David took the book in after Slott left. That's kind of what bugs me about comics fans. I understand if people read David's first few issues and didn't find them to their liking, because I was about to drop the book a few issues into his run, but stuck with it and watched it get better. So if you just didn't like what David was doing, fine. But it bugs me when people say they want whatever is working to continue indefinitely, especially if a new writer comes on. The law firm's schtick was losing its charm even before Slott left, as he even lost some interest in it. Yes, it was clever, but it obviously wasn't winning a lot of readers (as it had already been canceled once). David tried something different, and it didn't work either. If Slott had stayed or David had continued at the law firm, I bet the book would be getting canceled about now if it hadn't been already. So Marvel tried something else to save the book and it didn't work. That's fine. Fifty issues of the latest incarnation of the Jade Giantess is okay.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#33 and 34, September and October): 32,862 (rank: 70) and 22,763 (rank: 122). That's a huge drop between issues, and it came before the cancellation notice, so I wonder why it happened. Anyway, it's interesting that this is still over 20,000 and is getting the axe while our friend Blue Beetle has been down in the 12,000s for a while yet survived a little bit.

The Straw Men #3 (of 12) by Joe Brusha (adapter) and Brett Weldele (artist). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Zenoscope.

If you're not buying this, you're really missing out on a creepy story, or stories as the case may be, as two seemingly disparate stories continue along, presumably to meet down the road (and perhaps there's a clue in this issue as to how they're connected?). This issue, we mainly focus on Ward and the fact that he now believes his parents aren't dead. He finds a videotape that moves back and forth over his and his parents' lives and ends with a truly haunting image that gives Ward more questions about his parents than he had already. Brusha also checks in on the killer and his captive, Sarah, for a few pages. Sarah puts on a brave face and taunts her captor, but in one nice full-page panel, we see not only how scared she really is, but how scared she really should be. It's a disturbing comic all the more because Brusha creates a mood with dialogue and some caption boxes, allowing Weldele to do a lot of work. Of course, Weldele is completely up to it, from the way he obscures the bad guy's face to the eerie use of the videotape. This is really a wonderfully terrifying comic, and you really ought to check it out.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#1 and 2, June and September): N/A. Not surprisingly, this is not among the top 300.

True Believers #5 (of 5) by Cary Bates (writer), Paul Gulacy (artist), Rain Beredo (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This nifty little mini-series comes to an end, and while it's a bit anticlimactic, it's still a good story that uses the reality of the Marvel Universe as a good framework. What do I mean? Well, a crucial part of the plot has to do with Civil War, and it's nice to see books actually using this reality to generate stories, unlike a few of the issues of Avengers I've read, in which the reality is addressed by Carol Danvers letting everyone go and telling them that next time, she'll really arrest them, honest and for true! The biggest problem I have with this series is that the killer of Mavis' father is fairly obvious, but Bates isn't really writing a true murder mystery, so I can forgive it. This series has been more about keeping and exposing secrets, and it's been interesting to read. It's not the greatest mini-series, but it is entertaining and gives us some interesting new characters that Marvel can now ignore or kill off at their leisure. So there's that. Look for the trade, people!

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#3 and 4, September and October): 10,806 (rank: 172) and 8,929 (rank: 211). Yikes. Well, I guess it's good Marvel even allowed it to reach five issues.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 by Gerard Way (writer), Gabriel Bá (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $2.99, 32 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

I loved the first Umbrella Academy series, although upon reflection I've decided it's not quite as great as I initially thought. But even that isn't that big a deal, because it was still a very cool superhero comic by a guy who hadn't written a comic in years and was off writing goth music (is My Chemical Romance goth? it sounds like it should be, based on the name). Writers who have been working for years can't write a decent superhero story, but Way did it his first time out. Plus, Bá's art was truly wonderful. And now there's a new series, and it seems like Way, having gotten some of the necessities of an introductory series out of the way, is ready to up the ante even more.

For much of the issue, we get a re-introduction to what the gang is up to now, as Spaceboy sits around watching television, the Séance gets a new hair style, Kraken brutally fights crime, and the Rumor treats the White Violin, who has no memory of almost destroying the world, poorly. The plot really ratchets up in the final pages, when Number Five is attacked by dozens, if not hundreds, of bad guys in a parking lot, and when he's done dispatching them (bloodily), he hears something that fills him with dread. Way doesn't do anything too revolutionary with this issue, but because we already know who's who (unless we've forgotten!), the issue feels a bit tighter and more urgent. And, of course, the book begins with bang, as we'll let the young Kraken vent: "Are we really fighting another monument?!" The sheer joy you get from reading that sentence and what it implies is why this is such a fun comic.

Oh, and Bá is brilliant. Do you really need me to tell you that? And, not to be too snooty (although I certainly enjoy being snooty), but someone involved with this comic ought to learn the difference between "discreet" and "discrete." Yes, this makes me grumpy.

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#5 and 6, January and February): 29,736 (rank: 74) and 28,879 (rank: 66). That has to be pretty decent. I wonder how many Gerard Way fans are accounted for in these numbers, and whether they'll come back to comics now that a new series is under way.

Unknown Soldier #2 by Joshua Dysart (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Oscar Celestini (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

After a solid first issue that was hampered a bit by the need to set things up, Dysart does a good job following it up, as we get a bit more about what's going on with Moses (not much, but a little) and some information about what must be the bigger picture and why Moses can do what he can. As usual, it involves high-level U.S. government stuff, because we don't get enough of that in comics, but the few pages in which this is discussed have a nice, street-level feel to it, and thankfully Dysart grounds it in more real-world stuff (the horrific war in Congo, to be specific). And of course, there are sympathetic characters who aren't long for the world, another cliché that Dysart can't escape. But the issue crackles along, and Dysart does a nice job with the details, like what happens when kids find a rifle. So far, it's been a interesting war comic with fine art, so I'm sticking around for a while to see where Dysart goes with it.

Sales figures for the previous issue (#1, October): 16,038 (rank: 147). I'm sure that will drop for issue #2, but it's a decent debut.

Wasteland #22 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

If you figure I won't have much to say about this because every issue is so damned good, well, you'd be right for the most part. Wasteland keeps moving along, and every issue is a joy to read, because Johnston has such sure command over the narrative and Mitten is so good with the landscapes. We're in the middle of a story arc, so characters are circling each other warily, not sure what to make of the situation, and Michael and Abi are chained to a post in the middle of it all, and Johnston does a wonderful job showing how powerful they are even though they're chained to a post. The curiosity factor brings the Dog Tribe members to them, and they sow the seeds of dissent simply by talking to their visitors. And, of course, they don't know that the friendly man who introduces himself on the last page is the assassin sent to kill them. That's going to be awkward, right?

I hope people are buying this in trades, because it probably reads better in that format and sales are yucky (see below). It's the kind of comic that you can read over and over and keep finding new and fascinating things that make the overall story more interesting. That's partly why it's such a good comic, beside being a grand adventure. A lot of comics are disposable entertainment (even ones I like). Wasteland is something you want to read more than once. That makes it great value as well as being a good read!

Sales figures for the previous two issues (#20 and 21, September and October): N/A. That means it's selling less than 2,500 an issue, give or take.

Another week in the books! Next week: a day late thanks to the holiday! How will I survive the wait?!?!?!? And, because I have so much fun with this, here are some totally random lyrics:

"I got the Siamese Faith Healer's NetworkThe news and weather from PeruI got celebrity hockeyThe Racketball Channel too

Bugs Bunny direct from AtlantaMr. Wizard is on at fiveI got a satellite dish on the trunk of my carSo I can watch MTV while I drive

I'm talkin' 'bout real quality programsThe kind you just can't get for freeNow I never wanna leave my apartment'Cause there's just so much for me to see"

Remember: You still have the weekend to enter my contest! Put down that turkey sandwich and give it a try!

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