What I bought - 27 June 2012

"The question is can you cure the disease before it kills you? Once you set out consciously to cure the disease, as I did even before I knew the word cancer, you run the risk of catching it. Comprende? Whatever you set your mind to, your personal total obsession, this is what kills you. Poetry kills you if you're a poet, and so on. People choose their death whether they know it or not." (Don DeLillo, from Libra)

Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific #1 (of 5) by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Jeff Powell (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Red 5 Comics.

It's always a cause for celebration when a new series of Atomic Robo comes out, and when it's accompanied by the new anthology title, it's even more cause for rejoicing! As with the rest of the series, the first issue sets up a lot while still retaining the charm and coolness of the series, as we check in on Robo testing a prototype jet in the South Pacific in 1951 as he's attacked by strange flying things. He's rescued by pilots wearing jetpacks, who turn out to be the "she-devils" of the title - we learn that they're women who worked for the armed forces in the war but decided not to return home when it ended and became Robin Hood-esque pirates, fighting the various forces of evil in the vast ocean. In this book it's the Japanese, who are plotting to regain their vast empire and defy the Western powers. The stage is set!

As usual, Clevinger packs a lot of nice banter into the book, although it's somewhat odd that Robo is so nonplussed that all the people who rescue him are women - by this time in his life, he's already seen what women are capable of, so his astonishment that the "she-devils" are, in fact, women seems odd. I could understand a momentary confusion when Hazel takes off her helmet, but he keeps coming back to it. But Clevinger does a very good job explaining what's going on, who the bad guys are, and what their plan is. He introduces the characters deftly, and as always, the big idea is lots of fun - who wouldn't love a group of female pirates with cool-ass technology on an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific?

Wegener is stellar as usual, and Filardi takes over on colors, which changes the art slightly. It's a bit softer, more suffused with warm tones, and definitely less "harsh" than when Pattison colored it. Not that either version is bad, it's just interesting to see how Wegener's stark line work gets softened a bit in this book. It's still wonderful, of course, but it's just another chance to see how colorist influence artwork.

Here's another chance to check out one of the more excellent comics out there. You know you want to!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Atomic Robo: Real Science Adventures #3 by Brian Clevinger (writer), Matt Speroni (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer), Ryan Cody (artist, "To Kill a Sparrow Part 3"), Gurihiru (artist, "Tesla's Electric Sky Schooner"), John Broglia (artist, "Leaping Metal Dragon Part 3"), Christian Ward (artist/colorist, "Atomic Robo and the Electronic Dream Machine"). $2.75, 21 pgs, FC, Red 5 Comics.

Meanwhile, Clevinger's other Atomic Robo book continues with its two long-running stories and two standalone stories. I still think Clevinger would be a bit better served by having only 3 stories in each issue, but I guess I'll have to live with it. I enjoyed this Sparrow chapter more than the first two chapters, because it seems to be picking up a bit of momentum, while the Bruce Lee story is fun in the banter between Robo and Lee but kind of dull - Lee is just training Robo, so not much happens in each chapter. Gurihiru draws a charming story of a bunch of scientists in 1898 forming a kind of ... league ... of justice, maybe? Or perhaps a group of better-than-ordinary men of good breeding which also includes women? Despite the familiarity, it's a nice little tale. Ward's story of a mental battle between Robo and a bad guy is beautifully drawn and kind of wacky, but it also works. The non-continuing stories in this title, so far, have been slightly better than the two serials - I hate to call the two six-part stories "decompressed," because they'll only end up being something like 25 pages long, but they do feel a bit padded compared to the standalone stories. It's still a fine anthology series, even if it's not as good as the main book.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batman, Incorporated #2 ("Eye of the Gorgon") by Grant "Did you buy my aliens versus dinosaurs work of genius, fanboys? DID YOU?!?!?!?" Morrison (writer), Chris Burnham (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist), and Patrick Brosseau (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC.

Part of the problem with serial comic books is the "retcon," not necessarily because it's a bad idea, but because writers use continuity selectively and use it to play on readers' emotions, forming those connections without doing the heavy lifting themselves. A "retcon" sets the reader adrift, so when a writer wants to use that continuity to create emotional attachments that no longer exist. Lots of writers do this, but because the God of All Comics is writing a famous character and specifically referencing a wildly famous story, it becomes more apparent to this reader, at least. Morrison takes us back to the famous O'Neil/Adams story and shows Shirtless Bruce blowing into Ra's al Ghul's tent and al Ghul screaming "Are you man -- or fiend from hell?!" So we're told that that story, at least, happened. Readers who have read Batman know of this story, so we can connect emotionally with this scene even though Morrison elides the entire thing and adds, I think, a retcon of Talia helping Bruce to survive (it's been a while since I've read this story, so I don't know if that's in the original). But that's what continuity does - writers can use stories that have already happened and connect to the readers who, they can be somewhat confident, can access the emotions they felt when they read the story the first time - writers cheat, in other words, but we go along with them because we share the gestalt of comics. But then there's Talia's mother, Melisande. Morrison devotes 3 pages to her and doesn't really give us any reason to care about her, but expects us to care about the entire issue, which is about Talia's lack of relationship with her mother and her contentious relationship with her father. It doesn't help that we've had at least 2 different versions of what happened to Talia's mother already established, so we, as readers, can't connect emotionally to the scenes of Melisande. Morrison uses continuity well in the Shirtless Bruce scene, but because Melisande is a minor and frequently retconned character in the Bat-mythos, his use of her here is less successful, because he doesn't do enough to make the readers care about her and so we don't care about Talia's lack of a mother, which is the crux of the issue. It's very frustrating - Morrison wants to review Talia's entire history, so he spends a lot of time with her and Batman getting it on, but that's the part of her past the reader would probably be expected to know quite a bit about. Her mother is too important to the issue to be relegated to the background, and yet that's what we get. It weakens the issue, unfortunately. Too bad.

But dang, Burnham can draw the hell out of this comic, can't he?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Fatale #6 ("The Devil's Business Part 1") by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist, and Dave Stewart (colorist). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

Brubillips begins a new story arc with this issue (on the same day that the first trade comes out, which is something Image is doing a lot these days, in contrast to stupid DC and Marvel, who release their trades months if not years after the storyline contained in that trade), and we move to 1978, with Josephine living in Los Angeles and trying to forget Hank. It's pretty interesting - we're still getting the story in the "present," which takes a violent turn, but Josephine, at least for now, has moved on from Nick's godfather. So Brubaker starts a new plot, which appears to involve a snuff film or something equally horrible and two people on the run who happen to stumble across Josephine, living in seclusion in her mansion. It's a pretty good start to the arc, because both stories are intriguing, and Phillips/Stewart are, as usual, superb.

Jess Nevins has another essay in the back, and as usual, I always wonder about Nevins. How does he know all this stuff? It seems like he knows several languages and is independently wealthy, because otherwise I can't imagine how he could do all this research on all this stuff. Is he, in fact, the Most Interesting Man in the World? I wouldn't put it past him!

As always, I'm enjoying Fatale. I think when it's all said and done, I might like it more than Criminal. As much as I like Criminal, Brubaker isn't really stepping too far outside a certain comfort zone with it. The horror aspects of this comic make it slightly more oddball and ambitious, even as Brubaker keeps within a noir tradition. It's pretty darned cool how he does it, if you ask me.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Manhattan Projects #4 ("The Rose Bridge") by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Nick Pitarra (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

It's weird that Hickman has two ongoing series with Image right now and that they're so different, not necessarily in tone but in pacing. Secret moves like molasses, while Manhattan Projects is just throwing shit at us all the time and seeing if we can handle it. We begin with a scene in which General Groves meets some aliens (see below) and we think it's going to be about that, but no! we quickly switch to Einstein, who's still contemplating his strange machine. He asks Feynman (who's working with the FDR AI) for help in opening it, and through flashbacks, we find out something disturbing about Herr Einstein. It's a bit too "Oppenheimer-esque" for me (from issue #1, if you recall), but I don't mind because it seems like Hickman is going to be exploring the ideas of many different worlds quite often in this series, so that's the way it is. I certainly don't want to give too much away, but I loved this particular issue of this (so far) enjoyable series. I wrote last time that I do hope that Hickman tries to start telling a story rather than showing goofy and "awesome" stuff, and while this issue is another in which "awesome" stuff happens, it's still pretty cool. What this reminds me of is your standard superhero opening arc, in which writers spend all their time introducing characters and it's wildly dull. Except Hickman's introductions aren't dull, they're fascinating and clever and disturbing. There may not be a ton of plot yet, but the way he's introducing the characters is wonderful.

Pitarra is fine, as usual, but like Michael Garland on Secret, Jordie Bellaire kills on the colors in this issue. For the flashbacks, she uses bright blue and bright red exclusively, so when Einstein opens his machine, we get a mixture of those two and see light purple and pink. The cool and friendly blue of "this" world is contrasted well with the harsh and cruel red of the other world, making Hickman's not-so-subtle point for him. Meanwhile, Pitarra draws some cool aliens, doesn't he?

If you're going to get a Hickman Image book, this one right now is better than Secret. It's wild, insane, exciting, and intriguing. Hickman is having a blast, and it shows on every page.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Scalped #59 ("Trail's End Part Four") by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guéra (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I'm not disappointed with this penultimate issue at all, I just wanted to make sure everyone understands that. It's ridiculously gripping, as Catcher and Dash, Dino and his gang, and Red Crow all end up in the same place, and horrible violence ensues (below is the first page of the issue, and it only gets worse). Guéra draws it amazingly, and Brusco uses blues to stunning effect, making the bright reds and oranges of the flames on the periphery of many panels look even more dangerous. Aaron pulls no punches, as the main characters kill minor characters with devastating effect, and Agent Nitz learns a crucial piece of information that presumably will have some impact in the final issue (depending on who's still alive, that is).

And yet, I can't help be a tiny bit disappointed that we ended up with a Mexican standoff. I mean, it seems so predictable, once Catcher kept being a big part of the story, that it was no longer going to be a faceoff between Dash and Red Crow but those two and Catcher. It just seems too easy, and while I do have some confidence that Aaron will be able to deliver a superb final issue, I just have a tiny bit of trepidation about the way this issue plays out. Is this a Tarantino movie?

Anyway, one more issue to go. Man, I can't wait.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1 by Neal Adams (artist) and a bunch of others. $24.99, 240 pgs, FC, DC.

I missed this in hardcover when it first came around, so I'm glad DC released in softcover. Obviously, these are beautiful stories, although I still don't love how DC and Marvel "update" the coloring on their old stuff. You'd think they'd be able to figure it out, but perhaps it's just the glossy paper they use doesn't lend itself to old-school artwork. Beats me. This still looks groovy.

Tales of the Beanworld volume 3.5 by Larry Marder (writer/artist). $14.99, 63 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

MarkAndrew's constant proselytizing about Beanworld got me to start reading it, and while I don't love it as much as he does, it's still pretty keen. These are reprints from various places, but I haven't read them yet, so I'm looking forward to it!

Conan volume 11: Road of Kings by Roy Thomas (writer), Mike Hawthorne (penciler), John Lucas (inker, Jason Gorder (inker), Dave Stewart (colorist), Dan Jackson (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $19.99, 134 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Conan has been making me think recently, for two reasons. First, there's Kelly's love of Brian Wood's new series, which I won't comment on because I haven't read it yet. Kelly mentions that she's never been interested in Conan before, and only Wood got her into it. That's fine, but I thought it was odd because this recent Conan series has had such good creators on it. Does Kelly not like Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord, and Tim Truman? I suppose that's it. I'm looking forward to reading Wood's take on the character, but it's not like Conan hasn't been in very good hands for a number of years now. Of course, this isn't by any of those gentlemen, but I'm still keen to read this.

Second, there's Colin's takedown of issue #5 of the Wood series, which is fascinating reading (as is Colin's blog in general). Colin writes that Belit is a good character because she provides something different than the unrelenting machismo of Conan by himself. He writes: "[A]s far as the comics go, I've always been baffled by how rarely Conan has been partnered with strong and contrasting characters." Colin admits that he's reading issue #5 cold, approaching it as a new reader and one who's not particularly well-versed with Conan, but what's interesting is that in "Road of Kings," Conan is paired with a strong and contrasting character - Olivia, who was his companion for a little bit before this trade. Olivia doesn't seem as kick-ass as Conan, but she is a pretty good character who lasted at his side for quite some time. I haven't read this trade yet, so I don't know if Thomas kills her off, but she's a good counter to Conan's machismo. I don't meant to pick on Colin, because I do this too - write about comics where I don't know or forget some of the backstory. It's just another thing writers about comics have to be careful of - there will ALWAYS be someone who knows a character's history better than you do!

The Defenders volume 1 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler), Rachel Dodson (inker), Sonia Oback (colorist), Michael Lark (penciler), Stefano Guadiano (inker), Brian Thies (inker), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), Mitch Breitweiser (artist/colorist), Bettie Breitweiser (colorist), Victor Ibáñez (artist), Tom Palmer (finisher), Terry Pallot (finisher), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Clayton Cowles (letterer). $19.99, 128 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Man, that's a lot of artists. Anyway, Marvel was nice enough to put 6+ issues in this trade instead of the 4 it looks like they're putting in some of the ones coming out soon, so I figured I'd give it a look.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. volume 1: War of the Monsters by Jeff Lemire (writer), Alberto Ponticelli (artist), Walden Wong (additional inker), José Villarrubia (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $14.99, 135 pgs, FC, DC.

Frequent commenter Third Man told me to buy this, and I always listen to the commenters! Okay, maybe I don't, but I did think about ordering this when it showed up in Previews and I'm not sure why I didn't. I'll give it a look, though, because I thought the first issue was pretty good. I do like how DC puts 7 issues in this trade and charges 15 dollars for it when, had you bought it in single issues, you would have paid 21 dollars for these issues. I don't understand comic-book pricing at all.

Gantz volume 23 by Hiroya Oku (writer/artist). $12.99, 209 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Honestly, I still don't know what the hell is going on in Gantz. It's just that crazy.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #3: 2009 by Someone Who Clearly Never Reads Contracts (writer) and Kevin O'Neill (artist). $9.95, 80 pgs, FC, Top Shelf/Knockabout Comics.

I recently re-read this entire series, and it's really not as good as it could be, because Moore has gone more and more up his own asshole with the literary references. But it's still entertaining, and O'Neill's art is wonderful, so I do like to keep reading. It's just disappointing that it couldn't be a masterpiece, which is what we expect from Moore every time out!

The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell (writer/artist). $14.95, 95 pgs, FC, Top Shelf/Knockabout Comics.

It's a comic about money. Yes, it sure is.

Mystery Men by David Liss (writer), Patrick Zircher (artist), Andy Troy (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $14.99, 110 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I don't know if this is any good, but as I've mentioned before, I do like things set in the Marvel Universe that don't have much to do with the "Marvel Universe," meaning the modern superhero stuff. Plus, Zircher's art is neat.

Outland: The Complete Series 1989-1995 by Berkeley Breathed (writer/artist). $39.99, 300 pgs, FC, IDW/The Library of American Comics.

I never read too much of Outland because the newspapers I read during its tenure never carried it, so I only occasionally saw it when I was at my parents' house on a Sunday, because their newspaper did carry it. I know it's not as great as Bloom County, but I still want to read it!


Man, it's been a busy week for the Supreme Court, hasn't it? First they gutted SB 1070, Arizona's controversial illegal immigration law (even though our governor, who signed it into law, kept referring to the "victory" that she and the state had won), and now they've upheld Obama's health care law. I could have sworn that the Supreme Court was just a right-wing body that would destroy the United States. I guess now it's a left-wing body that will destroy the United States! As always with politics, it's fascinating to me how the spin comes - Republicans and Romney are vowing to overturn the law, even though they have, in the past, claimed that the Supreme Court's decisions were sacrosanct. Of course, when the Court rules against Democrats, they complain in the same way. I do enjoy watching both sides twist themselves into knots to defend, say, holding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay when they criticize the other side for doing it. I honestly don't know what's different from Obama citing executive privilege over this "Fast and Furious" thing than Bush doing it on other occasions, yet partisans on both sides will explain to you why Obama is evil for doing it and Bush was right or why Bush was evil and Obama is right (my daughter's conservative PT tried to do this yesterday, and I just chuckled at him). (Here's what's fascinating: Is "Fast and Furious" bullshit? That article seems to think so. It's gripping reading, but of course, it's really long, so television news won't report it.) Our own Greg Hatcher had a nice rant on Facebook about people who say they don't care about politics because all those guys are the same (calm down, Greg!). I happen to agree that they really are all the same, because they're all sleazy politicians. If that makes me an ignorant douchebag in Greg's eyes, so be it. I don't think it does, because there's a difference between thinking all politicians are sleazy and not caring about what happens. I'm very happy that the Court gutted SB 1070 and upheld the health care act. I think they were both good rulings. But I'm not going to pretend that Obama's shit doesn't stink just because I think he's a better president than Bush. The problem with partisans is that if anything - anything - happens that doesn't fit into their world view, they ignore it. Even if they're informed, that doesn't mean they're going to accept that their world view might be flawed a bit (and I'm not counting Greg in this, because he's a reasonable gentlemen, but his rant did get me thinking about it!). Anyway, I very much doubt if the health care ruling means the end of the United States as a country. That's a bit extreme, isn't it?

Not only is it Kelly Thompson's birthday (Happy birthday, Kelly, even though you hate comics and everything comics-related!), it's also ... the day Marty McFly arrived in the future. That's pretty awesome, if you ask me.

I don't often read The Oatmeal, because I would waste way too much time there, but even though I watch Game of Thrones on HBO, I know enough about the situation with people who don't have HBO to find this very humorous.

Finally, here's something that's probably NSFW. Just so you know!

Okey-dokey, it's time once again for The Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):

1. "Discotheque" - U2 (1997) "You know you're chewing bubble gum"2. "W.H.Y.B." - Liquid Jesus (1991) "Lately you've been falling into some kind of new dream"3. "Thousands Are Sailing" - Pogues (1988) "Did the old songs taunt or cheer you, and did they still make you cry"4. "Tokyo Road" - Bon Jovi (1985) "They said we'd fight for their freedom but I felt like a hired hand"5. "Hoof" - Mary's Danish (1991) "A whole lot came my way between the water and the dirt"6. "Fearless" - Fish (1993) "I know the fool who wears the crown"7. "Mr. 1470" - Fish (1994) "Digging deep, I came across a murder among the roots of our spreading family tree"8. "Penny Lane" - Beatles (1967) "He likes to keep his fire engine clean; it's a clean machine"9. "Language or the Kiss" - Indigo Girls (1994) "Most of your life goes on without me"10. "Hollyann" - Boston (1986) "I still hear guitars in the air as we sat in the sand"

Another fine week of comics in the books! I don't know if I'm going to post a review column next week. My comic book store is open on the 4th (my retailer is hard core, man!), but I'm flying to Pennsylvania on the 5th and I won't be back until the 15th. So we'll have to see. Maybe I'll take my comics to PA with me and try to post a review column, but who knows. I'll still have access to a computer, so I'm not going to be incommunicado, but I don't know if I'll have the time to write up a long post like this. It's a tiny week for me (4 single issues), so maybe I'll have time to bang something out. I know you're on pins and needles wondering what I'm going to do! In the meantime, have a great weekend, everyone!

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