What I bought - 28 December 2011

The Spartans were perfectly aware of the atrocious suffering they were inflicting and never imagined their victims could forget it. The solution was to establish terror as a normal condition of life -- and that was Sparta's great invention: to create a situation in which terror was seen as something normal. (Robert Calasso, from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony)

The Activity #1 ("Fiddler on the Roof") by Nathan Edmondson (writer), Mitch Gerads (artist/letterer), and Kyle Latino (color assistant). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

The Activity came out last week, but Diamond screwed up and my retailer didn't get it until this week. Oh well!

Nathan Edmondson has proven that he knows how to write a story, and he's pretty good at doing espionage stuff. Mitch Gerads, who's been known more as a colorist, does a nice job on the art in this comic - he has a nice, Rebekah Isaacs vibe going on. Some of the digital effects are unfortunate - the laser and subsequent flames look silly juxtaposed over the more standard pencil-and-ink work - but overall, Gerads does a good job establishing the settings of the book and the different characters. Sure, they're the 21st-century grab-bag of "distinct" characters - the bald black guy is the leader (his code name is even "Weatherman," because apparently that's the only code name bald black guys in comics are allowed to have - and yes, I KNOW Jackson King had a different code name before that; work with me, people!); there's a white guy; there's a Lebanese Catholic dude; there's a brunette with the porn-actress name of Zoe Dallas; there's a new chick recruit who's all redheaded, green-eyed, and freckled; there's a dead guy the new recruit is replacing. Despite all of that, Gerads makes the characters visually distinctive, and keeps things zipping along.

Edmondson's story is about the most elite governmental team around, the team that goes in when even the CIA screws up! Basically, they go around doing spy stuff, which is fine with me. Edmondson sets everything up, and then the team goes on a mission. And you know what? God, it's dull.

I'll get The Activity #2, because I like the premise, but I wonder why Edmondson started the series with such a dull issue. The first six pages show the end of a mission, as the team kidnaps some Mexican dude and delivers him to the federales (I guess), and it's the most exciting part of the book, so I guess it's good that it's in the beginning. Then Edmondson quickly gets the new recruit on the team, and they jet off to Rome to ... clean up someone else's mess. They need to erase the traces of a CIA asset, and so they do. There are no bad guys. There doesn't seem to be any reason to do it quickly, even though "Weatherman" says there is. The team simply goes in, cleans up the asset's car and burns his apartment so no one can find out what was inside. Then they leave. It's weirdly enervating - Edmonson goes through all the spy highlights, including the two agents pretending to make out on a bridge to elude detection, but there never seems to be anyone watching them, so why are they being so stealthy? Again, the boss man tells them that things are tight, but we never see it. They just go through the motions, and everything works really well. But that makes it somewhat boring.

I don't know why Edmondson chose to begin the series like this - as I mentioned, the first few pages are exciting, but then everything screeches to a halt and the book becomes far less interesting. There could have been a way to introduce the team and still have them do something interesting, right? Edmondson knows how to do it - both Who Is Jake Ellis? and Grifter this year started with much more exciting first issues. Maybe he didn't want to get stuck in a "rut" of "exciting first issues" - we can't have that! - so he tried something different. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

Still, I'm going to check out issue #2. I just wonder how many other people who picked up issue #1 will do that. I guess we'll see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Elseworlds 100-Page Spectacular. "The Reaching Hand" by D. Curtis Johnson (writer), Aaron Lopresti (artist), Kurt Hathaway (letterer), and Gloria Vasquez (colorist); "DMT Rockumentary: The Lex Records Story" by Bronwyn Carlton (writer), Greg Luzniak (penciller), Anibal Rodriguez (inker), Noelle Giddings (colorist), and Ken Lopez (letterer); "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" by Kyle Baker (writer/artist) and Elizabeth Glass (writer); "The Vigilantes in Apartment 3-B" by Chuck Dixon (writer), Enrique Villagran (artist), Gloria Vasquez (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer); "Superman Jr. Is No More!" by Bob Haney (writer), Kieron Dwyer (artist), Rick Taylor (colorist), Gaspar (letterer); "Scandalgate" by Tom Peyer (writer) and Ty Templeton (artist); "Worlds Apart" by Chuck Dixon (writer), Trevor von Eeden (penciller), Joe Rubinstein (inker), Digital Chameleon (colorist), and Ken Bruzenak (letterer); "Hall of Silver Age Elseworlds First Pages" by Mark Waid (writer) and Ty Templeton (artist); "Dark Night of the Golden Kingdom" by Tom Peyer (writer), Ariel Olivetti (artist), Pat Garrahy (colorist), and William Oakley (letterer); "Batman" by Paul Pope (writer/artist), Ted McKeever (colorist), and Ken Lopez (letterer). $7.99, 88 pgs*, FC, DC.

* Beats me. I guess DC thinks adverts count as "content."

So here it is, the notorious "Superbaby in a microwave" (see below) comic that never saw the light of day back when DC actually thought something like that might be too disturbing for them to publish in one of their books that impressionable 12-year-olds might read. Given the content in today's DC, the notion that "Letitia Lerner" would be inappropriate for children is quaint. So I guess DC, as they had a bunch of stories lying around that they paid for, figured no one would notice poor Letitia getting electrocuted when mass murdering "heroes" star in several of their new books (remember when all you had to do was punch parademons instead of, I don't know, getting your Great White sharks to eat them? good times!). So we get this comic, over a decade late!

"Letitia Lerner, Superman's Babysitter" has of course been reprinted already, as has Paul Pope's "Jewish Batman fights Nazis" story (if you have a Paul Pope Batman story, you don't fucking sit on it! - at least DC has learned that much), and the Bob Haney "Superman Jr. quits" story seems familiar, but it's possibly because it seems like something that was written in the 1960s and Haney is just recycling the idea (I honestly don't know what the deal is - has this story appeared before?). For the most part, though, these are neat stories that show how much fun DC comics could be if not for the fact that DC thinks "Violence = $$$$$" (given the sales numbers, unfortunately, they're not wrong). Johnson and Lopresti's 1950s horror story starring Detectives Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent is obvious (like a lot of 1950s horror comics) but fun. Carlton's "rockumentary" tale about Lex Luthor, super-music scout/manager/promoter is pretty funny, turning the DC heroes into parodies of musical groups across the years (Wonder Woman as Madonna is pretty awesome) ... plus, three women work on the story, which is no longer allowed at the Big Two because it's far too much estrogen clogging up the comics coolness. I have been cringing whenever I open DeadpoolMAX and see what a horror show Kyle Baker's art has become (yes, despite the praise it gets from Chad 'n' Tim), and seeing his "Letitia Lerner" art makes me yearn for those days. I would read an ongoing about "The Vigilantes in Apartment 3-B" in a heartbeat - Dixon and Villagran do it newspaper-strip style, and the adventures of Dinah and Babs, two single girls living in the big city, dealing with doofus men (Ollie and Dick) and crooks while trying to make rent sounds like a winner to me! I'm only disappointed that this installment ends on a cliffhanger!

There are some other good stories, and then Waid and Templeton give us fictional covers of Silver Age Elseworlds, all of which are, frankly, superb. My favorites are the Legion of Super-Heroes rejecting Young Darkseid's membership bid and Batman and Eve in the Garden of "Evil," mainly because Eve still hasn't figured out that Batman and Adam are the same person despite the circumstances. Ariel Olivetti's story is nice mainly because it was done when Olivetti still actually drew stuff, and while today he's one of the few artists that can make me hate a comic no matter what the story is like (not even Liefeld can do that!), back then he was pretty darned good. Paul Pope's excellent Batman story ends the collection.

I'm not sure if any of this is essential, especially because the two best stories are collected elsewhere, but it's a pretty good value, and the stories are entertaining. As always when DC (or Marvel) releases stuff that's been in the vault for a while, it's fascinating to see what was the thing back in the day and what the artists drew like, especially if they've changed their look drastically (like Baker and Olivetti have). This is certainly not the greatest comic in the world, but it's definitely worth a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Frenemy of the State #5 (of 5) by Rashida Jones (writer), Christina Weir (writer), Nunzio DeFilippis (writer), Chris Johnson (artist), Rob Ruffalo (colorist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

Frenemy of the State, which started pretty well, staggers a bit to the finish line - the fourth issue came out in February, so it definitely would have been a candidate for the coveted "Fell Award"™ a certain blogger gives out in his year-end post. Plus, it was originally supposed to be an ongoing, then got downgraded to a mini-series, and in the final issue, we get a new artist to finish up. I assume the delay was due to Jeff Wamester being slow or getting other gigs, but maybe he got other gigs because the scripts were taking so long. It's too bad - this had the potential to be an interesting book about celebrity and the nasty stuff celebutantes do to each other, but because Jones, Weir, and DeFilippis had to wrap up the initial plot and there's not going to be any more, it just hints at subplots that could have been expanded upon in subsequent arcs.

The actual story never seemed to get much traction, and while this was always planned as a five-issue arc, it still feels a bit rushed. Ariana does some interesting stuff to stop the bad guys and figures something out that no one else did, but it still feels disjointed. I don't know how much was re-written when the book stopped being an ongoing, but maybe some did? In the end, this is mostly notable for having a nice hook - Paris Hilton becomes a spy, basically - but not doing enough with that hook. Johnson, who steps in for Wamester, has a decent cartoony line that doesn't jar too much with the previous four issues but still stands on its own. I don't know if it would have worked for the entire series, but it's fine for one issue.

Weir and DeFilippis are usually good writers, especially of espionage and mystery stuff, and they have some new stuff coming out soon enough, which is nice. I had high hopes for Frenemy of the State, and I'm kind of disappointed it didn't really work. Oh well!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Green Wake #8 by Kurtis Wiebe (writer), Riley Rossmo (artist), and Kelly Tindall (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image/Shadowline.

I don't know if I got a weird copy of this, but you'll note the lack of the Image logo or even a price on the cover. Strange, that. I just assume this is $3.50 based on the fact that issue #7 was and, on the back, issue #9 is advertised as such. This could have been $5.62 or a special $.50-issue for all I know.

After eight issues, it's pretty clear that Wiebe and Rossmo are doing their thing, and if you like that, great, and if you don't, you'll never like the book. There's not much to say about this story arc, three issues in, that I haven't said before - Morley is investigating Micah, others are unhappy with Micah and are planning something sinister, Micah is still doing sinister things. There's a weird prologue with Indians and Mounties (maybe?) and Micah watching from the trees which I'm sure will either make sense or already make sense but I've forgotten something, but I don't worry about those things too much. There's the weird monster, a mystery, and Morley telling Esther he doesn't want to add to the violence in Green Wake. Some dude has terrible handwriting (seriously, what's up with that? my older daughter - the one with the awful fine motor skills - writes almost as well as that dude does), someone (Wiebe or Tindall) spells naïveté incorrectly, and some dude's hair catches fire. So, you know, the usual.

Rossmo, naturally, continues to deliver, and as he's listed as the artist on a different book in this month's Previews, I hope he's not leaving this one, because his atmospheric work suits it so well. He even comes up with clever "camera angles" to keep the quieter scenes from dragging too much - it's always nice when an artist does that. His coloring, tinged with green, continues to assist the mood, too - everything about Green Wake is otherworldly and off-kilter, and that's helped not only by Rossmo's idiosyncratic penciling but also by his unusual coloring.

Green Wake continues to be interesting. You can't ask for more from your comics!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Secret Avengers #20 ("Encircle") by Warren Ellis (writer), Alex Maleev (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $3.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

When it comes time to do a "year-end" list, I'm going to have a hard time picking just one of these single issues of Warren Ellis's run on Secret Avengers. Just when I think he can't do any better, the next one comes out and proves me wrong. I suppose next issue might tie them all together, but who really cares, right? It's the Secret Avengers fighting the Shadow Council each time, but each time is something so different and unusual that it doesn't matter. Again, I love these writers who claim to hate superheroes but write them so fucking well. Ellis protests too much, methinks.

Anyway, I ought to hate this, because it's a time-travel story, but because Ellis doesn't delve into how time travel could really, really, actually, honest-and-for-true work, I don't mind it. He just assumes that the Black Widow can jump through time, and so we do too. We don't care how! She's wearing a time-travel device on her wrist that apparently can bend time and space with a battery that usually powers your TV remote, and that's fine! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

So the Secret Avengers are killed at the beginning of the book, and Natasha (who has an "escape hatch") spends the issue trying to figure out to change time so they're not killed, without anyone noticing. It's superb - Ellis zips her back and forth in time, setting things up, he writes wonderful dialogue ("Damn you, Henry McCoy, for being so incredibly boring that I didn't listen to you talk about time travel"), he and Maleev turn part of the book into a newspaper strip (weird that it was the second book I read this week that featured something like that), everyone talks like a well written Warren Ellis character, i.e., in character but far more witty than usual. He brings back his old favorite, Anthony Ludgate, for an extended cameo, and he creates an odd but memorable romance. Plus, he shows why Natasha is so very kick-ass (not that that's too difficult, but it's nice that Ellis realizes it). Maleev does his thing, filling Ellis's packed script with nice details, his art not looking as stiff as it occasionally does. It's another nice artistic choice by Ellis/Marvel - Maleev likes the effects, so the battle with lasers is right up his alley, but at the same time, there's not a ton of frantic action for him, which is also a good thing.

So: yet another mini-masterpiece by Ellis and company. Dang, these issues are pretty awesome.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation by Brandon Seifert (writer/letterer), Lukas Ketner (artist), and Andy Troy (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image/Skybound.

After the first four issues came out (and I'm sure you all bought the trade, right?), Seifert and Ketner decided to do a one-shot before the next mini-series, and here it is! It's strange, because it's just another Witch Doctor story, so I'm not sure why it had to stand alone - it's not extra-long, it doesn't shake up the status quo all that much, and I imagine the female character introduced in it might make another appearance, so I would imagine there are plans to put it in a trade somewhere, so why not make this the first issue of a mini-series? Apparently, the second mini-series is going to be a more complete story (unlike volume 1, which had three stories in four issues), but that doesn't mean this couldn't show up as the first issue of volume 3! I don't care, obviously - I bought the issue because I like the series, but I wonder if some people might miss this because it's not a "chapter" in a bigger arc. I hope not, because like the first mini-series, this is another fascinating, slightly nasty story full of good humor.

Some dude wakes up in a bathtub with an incision in his side. He, naturally, thinks he's starring in a crappy movie starring Olivia Wilde based on a crappy comic book, but when he goes to the hospital, it turns out he has both his kidneys and he hasn't been drugged. Luckily for him, Dr. Morrow is on the scene, and he discovers that while he does have two functioning kidneys, one of them isn't his, so the question becomes - whose it is? Oh, it's a scheme, to be sure, and although it's not too hard for Morrow to figure everything out, there are some tense moments. Mostly, this is a fun issue because Morrow gets to flirt with a slightly crazy pathologist, and Seifert enjoys writing their dialogue (and both of them apparently like The Princess Bride, although Seifert misses a chance for someone to reference the most famous classic blunder), so that's nice.

If you liked the first four issues of Witch Doctor (and really, there's no reason why you shouldn't), you'll like this. Much like the recent issues of Secret Avengers, Seifert and Ketner just give us a nice story, drawn well, with good dialogue. Wait ... is that all it takes to make good comics? Then why do so many of them suck?????

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chase by a whole mess of people, mainly J. H. Williams III (plotter/penciller), Dan Curtis Johnson (writer), and Mick Gray (inker). $29.99, a crapload of pages, FC, DC.

I own Batman #550 (included in this volume) and Chase #1-9 (included in this volume), but not the one millionth issue, nor the various ancillary stories that show up in this sucker, so of course I had to get it! Damn, it looks good.

I should point out this collection as a reason why I'm not terribly worried about The Shade getting cancelled (although it still could, obviously). According to the guy at my comic book store, Chase didn't sell anywhere near the numbers that The Shade did, and it made it to ten issues. Plus, if James Robinson hangs around and becomes as big at DC as he was in the 1990s, then why wouldn't DC want to have some of his material lying around to sell in trade? I mean, the only reason this is getting collected is because Williams is doing Batwoman - it's certainly not because it sold so well back in 1999 that DC thinks people are clamoring for it. They simply hope that people will be interested in old Williams work because of what he's doing right now. I can't imagine it will sell all that well, but DC's outlay on it has to be low - they already paid everyone for it years ago, and I imagine that, unlike the late 1980s/early 1990s stuff that never gets reprinted, they have more favorable terms with the creators from this time period than that one (meaning, they don't have to pay Williams or anyone else more money to reprint these). So why they would cancel a book that is planned for twelve issues and will be around forever and might make them some money if Robinson continues to resurrect his reputation over the next few years is beyond me. But, as has been pointed out many times here, I'm an asshat when it comes to making business decisions. Why, DC is selling so many comics they don't need anyone's advice!!!!

Gantz volume 20 by Hiroya Oku (writer/artist). $12.99, 201 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.

Hey, it's Gantz!


The Mothership is counting down the top 100 comics of 2011, and as of right now (1.58 MST, Thursday, 29 December), 90 of them have been listed: 100-76, 75-51, 50-26, and 25-11. I don't put any stock in these as a true top 100 list, because the way Kiel assembles them is odd - we all send him e-mails with our top 10 (with short descriptions), and then he assigns points to them, so something that appears in the top 100 might have been voted on by only one person - but they're nice because they provide an interesting cross-section of good comics. Plus, the comments are neat. So far, Kelly has been quoted three times (for Paying For It, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Optic Nerve #12), Our Dread Lord and Master twice (for Batman, Incorporated and Infinite Kung-Fu), Other Greg thrice (for Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword, Graphic Classics, and Aquaman), Chad four times (for Prison Pit, Vengeance, PunisherMAX, and DeadpoolMAX - Chad likes his Marvel hardcore-style!), Sonia twice (for Hellblazer and Infinite Kung-Fu), and yours truly six times (for Atomic Robo - and the fact that I was quoted makes me think Bill Reed did not participate, Any Empire, Pepper Penwell and the Land Creature of Monster Lake - which, frankly, I'm stunned made it onto the list, Chew, Petrograd, and Casanova: Avaritia). That's a pretty good representation from our blog, and I think a pretty good mix of comics, too, from our bloggers: One DCU book (from the cancelled universe), one DCnU book, one Vertigo book, two Marvel MAX books and a Marvel Icon book. The rest is non-Big Two, because we're so awesome and indie around here! Quick - someone hand me my black beret and my Gauloises! I feel a blank verse poem coming on!

In other news, here's a visual list of every Batman costume ever. It's pretty neat. I'm sure some of you comic book geeks can find one that's not on there!

Here are the top 10 1990s crushes all grown up. Some of these are a bit out of my age range, in terms of when they were crush-worthy - I was more into the 1980s crushes - but I remember them all. Sorry, ladies - no men here, so if you were really into Mark-Paul Gosselaar, too bad - you won't find him here! (But you should watch him on Franklin & Bash, because it's possibly the most ridiculous and therefore awesome lawyer show ever filmed). Anyway, she has to be the most surprising one, doesn't she?

In a few days it will be 2012, so I hope everyone has a nice New Year's Eve (I, as usual, will be going to bed early, because the younger daughter waking up at 6 a.m. cares not for artificial celebrations like New Year's Eve!!!!) and good start to it all. Personally, 2011 was probably my worst year since 2003 (which was my all-time worst year, so nothing comes close), so I'm hoping 2012 is quite better. It could be worse, I suppose, but man, that would suck. But I have hope, and I also have something cooking in whatever passes for my hopper (to mix a metaphor), so there's that. Anyway, have a nice weekend! Don't drink too much Jägermeister and end up passed out in the back of a truck wearing lime-green lipstick and snuggling with a farm animal! Well, unless that's your thing. Who am I to judge?

Nightwing #68 Solicits Tease the Return of Dick Grayson

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