What I bought - 28 December 2007

It's the last comics week of the year!  What wonderful four-color goodies lurk beneath the fold?  Plus: Remember when new comics day was always Friday?  Yes, this week and next is an old-school flashback to the good ol' days!  How did we ever wait until Friday to read the new books?  Waiting two extra days is like medieval torture!

First of all, let's look at the readers' suggestions and why I skipped them (if, indeed, I did).  I don't read Captain America in single issue format, because it reads so well in OMNIBUS format!  I have tried to ignore anything involved in 52 or Countdown, because I have absolutely no interest in them.  I'm sure the Hulk/Fin Fang Foom thing was fun, but it was also filled with reprints, so maybe I'll read it, but I didn't feel like it right now.  Anything Invincible-related I read in trade paperback format, so I skipped the Atom Eve mini-series.  I can't stress enough how uninterested I am in Amazing Spider-Man.  I'm not even interested in hating it.  The recent Sinestro Corps War didn't convince me to pick up Green Lantern, although I didn't hate it.  I was unimpressed with the first issues of both the Legion story in Action and the Crime Bible, so I haven't been reading those.  I wanted to get Berlin to check it out, but didn't see it anywhere.  I'm surprised I haven't read anything about it, because it seems like something I would like.  I picked up Proof and will review it for my other column, although that's been on the back burner for a while.  Kyle Hotz's art is pretty, but I'm just not that into zombies, so I skipped the Simon Garth book.  Ultimate Power might make my eyes bleed, and I get Ultimate Spider-Man and Conan in trades.  Dan Dare #1 didn't thrill me too much.  I don't have much interest in Thor, and the first issue didn't make me any more interested.  Badger Saves the World is something I might get later on, but I wanted to read other stuff before it, so I didn't get it.  Okay, now it's on to the books I did get!

Batman #672 by Grant "Is that a rolled-up copy of Batman #113 in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" Morrison, Tony Daniel, and a bunch of inkers.  $2.99, DC.

I return to Batman after the Ra's al Ghul crossover, and Morrison returns to his Three Batmen thing, and as usual, I enjoy it but get the sense I'm far too stupid to be reading it.  I always feel like I've missed an issue when I read this run, which seems to be filling in a lot of details behind the scenes.  The romance with Jezebel Jet appears to be taking place completely off-panel except when we check in with them and find out that they're practically sizing rings now, and then there's this weird Batman who might be from the past or might be from another reality or might be ... hell, I don't know.  And then Batman gets shot by "Batman" and "dies," apparently, because one shot to a vest-protected chest can kill him while nothing anyone else has ever done can, and then Bat-Mite shows up on the last page.  I don't have a problem with Bat-Mite showing up, but it's a bit strange.  Someone scratches "Zur En Arrh" on a black background, which, the way the panels are laid out, seems to indicate that has something to do with Bat-Mite.  A quick Google search reveals that Zur-En-Arrh is a planet to which Bruce Wayne was once teleported and on which he has Superman-like powers.  It does not, however, appear to have anything to do with Bat-Mite.  Am I wrong?

Morrison is writing something that I'm sure, because it's Morrison, will read better in one sitting.  Some of his individual issues have been strong, but it's a bit frustrating reading them as discrete units, because there's no reason anyone should know what Zur-En-Arrh is and no reason I should have to do a Google search when I'm reading a Batman book.  Anyway, I liked this issue, but reserve judgment, as usual.  If Bat-Mite visits the DC offices next issue, that would be very cool, but I'm not holding my breath.

Blue Beetle #22 by John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque.  $2.99, DC.

I'm not terribly confident about the future of this comic, and when I opened this issue and saw the title of the story - "End Game" - I was even less confident.  So I went to Previews and saw that issue #25 is the end of this story and it has been solicited without the dreaded "final issue!" tag, so that made me feel better.  Then, over at John Rogers' blog, he talks about the third year of the book, so that also made me feel better.  It's a comic that really does deserve a bigger audience.  Oh well.

In this issue, Rogers begins to tie together all the stuff we've been seeing over the past year.  The previous issues have been largely single-issue stories, but Rogers shows us how they tie into the bigger scheme of what the Reach is doing.  The Reach's plan is pretty ingenious, too, and goes against the standard "aliens taking over the world" plot.  Jaime finally figures out what they're doing, and this issue begins his plan to stop it.  Rogers gives us two very nice scenes among all the good, solid ones: La Dama comes to get her niece, but Jaime's father won't let her and explains to her how she has screwed up; and Tovar the Lava King (trust me, it makes sense) learns some things about his past and doesn't know how to handle it, but shows that he's a hero nonetheless.  One of the reasons this book is so good is because Rogers constantly subverts our expectations about superhero comics and makes us view these people as, you know, actual people who don't really know what to do in situations like this.  Plus, of course, it's a funny book in many ways, and the humor usually comes from the situations rather than being forced.

This promises to be a very cool storyline wrapping up the first two years of the book.  I'm just glad it appears that it will last a little longer.  Give it a try, people!

Daredevil #103 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Paul Azaceta, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

I'm not entirely sure where Lark's art ends and Azaceta's begins in this issue.  I think I can tell a few places, but I guess Gaudiano's inking helps blend the two styles.  It's kind of neat, actually, to see the influence an inker can have.

Anyway, it's the fourth issue of a six-issue arc, and Matt continues to try to find Mr. Fear so he can get the antidote to whatever has affected Milla.  There's not a lot to say, because these arcs are becoming more and more like Brubaker's work on Criminal, where each chapter does a good job moving the story along but doesn't work all that well as a single issue.  The scene with Matt and Milla in their home, when Milla acts strangely because she's still on all sorts of drugs, is very well done and particularly poignant, but so much of this issue is moving the people into position, like when Matt stalks Ox and finally gets him where he wants him.  It's a good comic, but there's just not a lot to say about it.

Elephantmen: War Toys #1 (of 3) by Richard Starkings and Moritat.  $2.99, Image.

This comic came out a couple of weeks ago, and when I explained why I didn't review it then, I wrote that Richard Starkings always sends these to me, so I didn't go out and get it.  I didn't mean to sound snotty, because I would gladly buy this, but he keeps sending them to me!  He left a comment in that post that he WAS sending it my way, and I got it a few days ago.  As always, I'd like to thank Richard for this, because this is a very good comic and I'm enjoying the heck out of it (he also sent me the first six issues of Strange Embrace, which I haven't read yet but which looks very cool).  This should still be on the shelves somewhere, so maybe I can convince someone to go get it!

The regular Elephantmen series has made mention of the great war that the hybrids fought in the past, but now Starkings and Moritat decide to step outside the ongoing for a bit and show us what happened in that war.  It's an interesting choice, because we already kind of know what happened, so the challenge becomes to tell stories that show us how the Elephantmen were used (as "war toys," hence the title) and how they rebelled.  That second theme may not come in this mini-series, but there is a scene in which one of the soldiers (I'm going to assume it's Hip Flask, the hippopotamus, and not some random hippo soldier, because Hip is in the main title) makes a choice that reveals his "humanity" and shows that Mappo's creations aren't as "perfect" as they're supposed to be.  The narration drives home how the hybrids have been created to be perfect soldiers, and Starkings isn't all that subtle about it, but that's okay.  The narration doesn't dominate the book, only a few pages after the main points have been raised.  Moritat's art, which in this series is in black-and-white, is stunning, as it looks far rougher than the main title and fits the grittiness of the war very well.  His depiciton of the Elephantmen is, if possible, even more impressive than in the regular book.  In this issue, they are true horrible gods of the Earth, looming over the humans carrying gigantic weapons of destruction and stomping out any resistance.  In the regular title, although they are still huge, the fact that they've been somewhat integrated into human society makes them seem less terrifying.  This helps immensely when they actually show their "animal" side, because it's so abrupt, but here, there's no need for that contrast, because they are simply creatures of nightmares, and Moritat makes them so.

Starkings and Moritat continue to make this one of the best books out there.  It's an adventure story, a parable about genetic engineering, and a morality tale about the power of corporations.  The best science fiction makes strange worlds eerily similar to ours, and that's what Starkings and Moritat are doing here.  And if you've missed the first 11 issues of the regular series, this is an excellent place to start. 

Fantastic Four: ¡Isla de la Muerte! by Tom Beland and Juan Doe.  $3.99, Marvel.

Why is Captain America looming behind Ben in that cover? 

I want to like this book more than I do.  For most of it, it's a pretty delightful tale, with great goofy art by Juan Doe and a lively story by Beland, who obviously knows Puerto Rico (where the story takes place) rather well.  Chupacabras have become the monstre du jour in comics, but I'm not sick of them yet, so a story in which chupacabras are terrorizing the inhabitants of the island should be fun (well, maybe not "fun" per se, but at least entertaining).

The early part of the comic, even before the chupacabras show up, is when the book is at its best.  Ben Grimm leaves on his vacation, three days during which he drops off the map and tells no one about it.  Johnny, of course, is overcome with curiosity about where he goes, and eventually Sue convinces Reed to find him.  Luckily for Reed, he's getting "odd energy readings" from Puerto Rico, but, as Ben points out when they find him, he's been coming to the island for years and nothing happens, but when the other three show up, suddenly he's hunting chupacabras.  So the Fantastic Three fly off to the Caribbean, where they discover the strangest thing: Ben is worshipped like unto a god in Puerto Rico!  It's a huge celebration when he arrives, and he believes that the rest of his "family" have now ruined it.  We get some very nice character moments between, especially, Sue and Ben, as she tells him how he's her role model because he's so down-to-earth and how he had every excuse to become a villain but he didn't.  These moments of the comic are handled very well, and although it's not the most original story in the world, Beland writes each character very well and makes us understand their bonds.

Then the comic hits a snag (and I may SPOIL it, so beware).  The villain behind the chupacabra attacks shows up ... and it's the Mole Man.  Sigh.  Beland does make sure that the Mole Man is sympathetic, as he often is, by giving him a speech about how the chupacabras are just reclaiming their land from the humans who have despoiled the environment.  As much as I agree with the Mole Man's environmental rant, it's still just a rant, and isn't terribly interesting.  Reed makes some half-hearted promise about monitoring the environment, but I doubt if we'll ever hear of it again, which is par for the course in superhero comics.  It's difficult to address complex issues like the destruction of the ecosystem in comics because of the, well, complexity involved (like what are we supposed to do with all the people?) and the fact that superheroes could easily solve many of the vexing problems the "real world" deals with, but they never do.  So we get a lecture and the inevitable defeat of the Mole Man, and nothing on the grand scale gets resolved.  Ben's issues with the others do, however (to a certain extent), and that's probably where the book should have gone.  Although it's a nice read, it's ultimately a Mole Man story.  It doubt if we need another one.

I was a bit disappointed that Beland and Lily didn't show up in one of the crowd scenes.  Maybe I missed them, because I was looking for them.  Also, I love how Ben has Fantastic Four sheets on his bed.  That's totally awesome.

Giant-Size Avengers #1 by various.  $4.99, Marvel.

This is a five-dollar comic that, unfortunately, is priced too high to be worth the money.  I mean, the stories are okay, I guess, but they don't do anything to justify Marvel slapping such a high price on it.  Marvel seems to think reprinting a couple of oldey-tyme stories (in this case, Avengers #58 - which does have a nifty title, "Even An Android Can Cry" - and Avengers #201) makes it okay to jack up the price on certain books.  Well, it's not.  There are basically four short stories in this book, and there's no reason for the reprints except for Marvel to raise the page count and therefore raise the price.  It's a shame, because for the price of a regular comic, the four stories might be worth it.

Some things are nice about the book.  Jim Cheung gets to draw the Wasp, Ms. Marvel, and the Black Widow in bikinis for most of the issue (their conversation makes up the framing device, as they tell the other stories to each other), and I'm not at all ashamed to admit he draws nice-looking women.  The story about Jarvis trying to keep the mansion neat in the middle of a fight with robot Vikings is clever but strains the credulity of the reader just a tad.  I know Jarvis is Super-Butler, but if he does this all the time, he's going to get killed one day.  It's a mildly amusing tale if you don't think about it too much.  Likewise with the story of the aliens who worship Henry Gyrich as a god.  The Avengers and Gyrich teleport to another world to fight Galfrax, a big metal dragon thing.  Gyrich, of course, acts like a coward, but the aliens, who don't understand English, misinterpret his actions to mean that he's the leader.  Again, it's mildly amusing.  The reason I wanted to read the book is because one of the commenters mentioned that Daniel Merlin Goodbrey wrote a story, and I wanted to see his twisted take on the Marvel U.  It also helps that Brian Denham drew the story.  It's the best of the bunch, but even so, it's simply a nice short story.  Goodbrey's villain, Emperor None, is a nifty character, and the way the Avengers (in this case, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Logan) defeat him is the ultimate in Occam's Razor.  It has a ton of potential to be a better story, and it's a shame Joey Q doesn't have the balls to turn someone like Goodbrey loose on a Marvel title full-time.  Finally, there's a somewhat annoying story about how the Avengers need to teach Spider-Man some respect because he jokes around too much.  Apparently, Spidey isn't taking his comics seriously enough!  It's not a bad story, just misguided, in that Spider-Man has seen plenty of tragedy yet can still joke about things.  Iron Man and Captain America might want to take lessons from him on how to realize that life doesn't suck all the time.  Finally, there's a brief strip about Leonard Samson trying to get Fin Fang Foom and some of his fellow monsters integrated into society.  Again, it's amusing, but nothing great.

There's nothing really wrong with any of the stories (and there's a lot right with Goodbrey's tale), but again, for 5 bucks, you expect a bit more.  It's just strange that Marvel chooses to put reprints in books to jack up the price.  Why would they do that?  Oh, wait a minute - it's because Joey Q thinks all comics from his childhood are super-terrific, and you must agree or be damned for eternity!

Legion of Super-Heroes #37 by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay.  $2.99, DC.

I really have very little interest in the Legion, but a few months back I really picked on Francis Manapul, and I felt really bad about it.  I didn't like his art in Iron and the Maiden, but I was kind of rude about it.  I went to his blog and checked out some of the sketches he did for this comic and liked them a lot, and I couldn't understand why he drew Iron and the Maiden the way he did.  It was odd.  So I thought I owed it to him to check this out, because I felt bad.

Well, Manapul's art is still a bit too Image-y for me, but it's a billion times better than it was on the Aspen book.  I imagine drawing Legion of Super-Heroes is a tough gig because of all the characters and the aliens on top of that, but the characters are clearly defined, the aliens are interesting, and the bad guys are huge, ugly, and scary-looking.  Shooter gives Manapul a lot to draw in this comic, and he's up to it, from talking heads to big fights.  It's a crowded comic, but not to the point where we can't follow what's going on.  Like a lot of Image-influenced art, the hair styles are a bit goofy and occasionally the men are a bit square, but it still looks darned good.

Shooter's story is setting up a big story, but he manages to introduce the characters and give them all something to do.  It's probably difficult to do a "day-in-the-life" kind of story as a part of a larger story arc, but he pulls it off.  Shooter knows the characters well, it seems (I don't know how many of these characters were in the Legion when he wrote it back in the day), and he gives us nice character moments in a brief space.  It's not the greatest issue in the world, but it does seem like he's throwing a bunch of stuff into the air, and there's nothing wrong with that.  I'm going to reserve judgment on the story as a whole, but this is good enough to make me come back for another issue, at least.

There's one thing that bugs me about the issue, and that's what Shooter does with the alien girl, which means I have to SPOIL this a little.  Shooter introduces a "gen-engineering accident" who likes to snowboard the slopes of Neptune's largest moon.  When some Legionnaires are sent to Triton because they expect an attack, Invisible Kid gets a gander of her and falls head over heels.  Of course, some bullies try to take some liberties with her and, when she objects, beat her up, and Invisible Kid helps her out.  Later, when the creatures attack, she ends up dead.  What?  What's the point?  Even Invisible Kid wonders why he's getting so worked up about it because he didn't even know her.  But it's just an ugly little plot point that mars a decent comic book.  There doesn't seem to be any reason to even introduce the girl, much less kill her off a few pages later.  It bugs me.

Oh well.  We'll see how the story goes.  It's a pretty good comic, despite the girl.

Pax Romana #1 (of 4) by Jonathan Hickman.  $3.50, Image.

Hickman's last mini-series, The Nightly News, was excellent, so I've been looking forward to this one since I first read about it.  He does apologize for its tardiness, but it's not like it was due two years ago or anything, so I can deal with it.  I also don't mind if a #1 issue is late - what bothers me is when the middle of a mini-series gets late.

The art in this comic is similar to the previous one, but it seems like Hickman's writing is a bit tighter.  Maybe because this comic seems a bit more plot-driven, as opposed to the rant that The Nightly News was, and so Hickman spends more time explaining things.  We begin in a weird reality where the Pope, who is unlike any Pope we've ever seen, visits the child Emperor of Constantinople, Constans IV.  The Pope is there to tell the Emperor a story, and that's where we learn what the deal is.  This framing story is the result of a bizarre time travel experiment: in the mid-21st century, scientists working for the Catholic Church discover how to make time travel work.  The Pope decides to send a cardinal and a squad of soldiers back to the 4th century to ensure that Rome's dominance will never end.  This issue ends with the soldiers having arrived in AD 312, where something happens that throws a bit of a spanner in the works, so to speak.

Hickman continues to use innovative storytelling techniques, and he uses the asides better in this than in The Nightly News, which tended to get a bit cluttered.  His drawings look a bit rougher, too, as if he used a bit of a darker line.  I'm not sure how he does the art in his books, but in this issue it looks a bit more integrated into the comic, even though the backgrounds are far less distinct than they were in The Nightly News.  It still looks great, and is not quite as confusing as the earlier mini-series (part of that clutter I just mentioned).

I'm extremely jazzed about this mini-series, now that I know what Hickman is capable of.  If you missed The Nightly News, check this out.  It's an excellent comic.

Punks the Comic: The Christacular Special #1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain.  $4.99, Digital Webbing.

There are those people in the world who think Grant Morrison is just a bit too normal.  For those people, I would recommend picking up the Christmas special of Punks: The Comic.  Be warned, though: this might be the weirdest comic you've ever read.  Would I lie?

I'm not sure why I didn't get the first issue of Punks: The Comic.  Perhaps it was the price, which at 5 dollars is a bit steep.  It is, however, a nice chunk of comics goodness, much more worth your 20 bits than Giant-Size Avengers.  There's very few places you can find Abraham Lincoln, Fist (a guy with a hand where his head should be), Skull (a guy with a skull for a head, which isn't all that weird in this book), and Dog (a guy with a dog's head), who all live together, save Christmas, interview Marvel Comics Superstar Brian Reed (it's true!), give us facts about Fatty Arbuckle (which may or may not be true), explain (in a separate story) how to get an ice cream sandwich when the line is long and you have no money, and (in another story) get introduced to Abe Lincoln's new son, which happens to be a spider.  It's a hilarious, bizarre, surreal, and probably offensive comic (the few pages with Jesus might be considered a bit too irreverant for your tastes), as Fialkov and Chamberlain keep throwing gag after gag at us until we have no choice but to submit to its awesomeness.  There's also, for good measure, an interview with James Sime of Isotope Comics, another interview with bon vivant Charles Phoenix, and a brief article about Bob Mould by Ian Brill.  What more could you ask for?

Fialkov is obviously having a blast writing almost stream-of-consciousness stuff, and Chamberlain uses random pictures smashed together to give it a dream-like feel (check out the cover for an example).  It's a wild book, and I encourage you to hunt it down.  Get to it!

Repo #5 (of 5) by Rick Spears and Rob G.  $3.50, Image.

It's been a while since the fourth issue of this came out, and I don't think it speaks well to its quality that I had completely forgotten about it.  It's not that it's bad, it's just inconsequential, and Spears and Rob G don't seem to aiming at much except for sheer ultra-violence.  I wondered when the fourth issue did come out how they would resolve the story of the repo men trying to get a cloned heart to an old geezer on the moon, and I speculated it would involve a lot of people getting slaughtered.  Well, I wasn't wrong.  Everyone converges on the moon, from our repo heroes to their rival, Lola, to the clone liberation army that's been following them.  And then a bunch of people get killed.  It's a fun read, I suppose, but I wouldn't go out of my way to get it, unless you really like Rob G's art.  Other than that, it's pretty forgettable.

X-Men #206 by Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, Tim Townsend, and Jon Sibal.  $2.99, Marvel.

Carey explains why Bishop has that "M" on his eye, which I don't think we've ever learned.  If we have, sorry.

Anyway, things keep happening.  Cable is going to see Forge, but someone has gotten there before him and shoots both Forge and Cable.  The X-Men get Cerebra up and running, so they can now track Cable to Dallas.  For some reason, Scott flashes back to a scene from X-Factor #68 (the first series), when he let that chick take Cable into the future to cure him.  And Jamie and Layla get tattoos.  Isn't that cute?  Well, considering they're in a mutant prison, not really.

Again, not much to say about this, because it's just a piece of a big story that has been relatively entertaining.  Bachalo's art looks fine, and everything zips along.  I will say that part of the problem I have with the mutant titles these days is that I have no idea what the status quo of the characters is, especially when they are from the fringes of the Mutant Universe and are just popping up in this crossover.  Of course, I'm talking about Forge and Bishop, who haven't been around for a while.  The last time I can think of, Bishop was some cop in Mutant Town.  So what happened?  He's back in costume, looking all early-1990s bad-ass.  Where's he been?  I'm trying to think of a time more recently that I saw him in one of the main books, but can't.  These kinds of things bug me, because I assume Carey knows his current status quo, but I'm not sure what that is.

So, we're moving on.  We got a bit of a breather in this issue after the bloodbath of the last chapter, but this is still moving along at a breakneck pace.  Where could we be going next?


My Inner Bimbo #3 (of 5) by Sam Kieth and Josh Hagler.  $2.99, Oni Press.

Although I have stopped saving the mini-series I buy until they're complete, I'm making an exception with this.  It took so long for the second issue to come out, and the first was sort of incomprehensible, so I'm waiting.  I do have faith in Sam Kieth to make it interesting, but I'm sure it will work better as a complete story.

That's another year in the books.  Thanks for reading, everyone.  It's always groovy to argue about comics here at the blog!  Have a nice New Year's Eve, if you do anything (besides going to bed at 10, which is probably what I'll do).

Russell Dauterman's X-Men #1 Variant Gathers Every Version of Jean Grey

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