What I bought - 28 June 2006

I know that you come here to see what weird, strange, unusual comic books I might have dug up, so that maybe you can move beyond the standard superhero fare.  Well, today I have failed you, my friends.  It's all DC and Marvel!  It's all superheroes!  What can I say?  We must all be corporate whores every so often.  But this week's take was good, so I don't mind being a whore occasionally! 

Batman #654 by James Robinson, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher.  $2.99, DC.

"Face the Face" was a good Batman story.  Certainly not a great Batman story, but an example of good, solid storytelling.  Yes, the return of Two-Face was unfortunate, because I just wish they would stop "curing" him because we always know it won' take.  His return is noteworthy only because the coin comes up unscarred for once - it happens once a decade or so, which is why it's nice to see.  The revelation of the villain behind it all is interesting, too, because it signals that DC is allowing other villains to show up and be a player in Gotham (no, I'm not giving it away, but I will say it's someone who isn't a "classic" Batman villain).  And although I get annoyed when heroes solve crimes when we don't see or hear all the clues, we did get the crucial clue in this case, even though it seems like a bit of a stretch for Batman to jump to the conclusion he does.  Maybe not.  Again, the frame of Harvey Dent isn't the important thing in this story.  What is important is the "new" Batman, and if this is how DC wants to portray him, that's fine with me.  He's still a tough guy, but he recognizes how important Tim is to him, and the scene where he tells Tim that he'd like to adopt him is very nicely done.  It's still funny that he calls him "boy," but the crucial thing that some writers have missed about Batman is that he cares too much, not that he doesn't care enough.  He feels every crime in Gotham like a shard in his heart, and that's what drives him.  This means that when he has a chance to be compassionate, he should take it, not spurn it.  Too often in recent years we have seen the brutal avenger - and that's certainly a large part of his personality - but we haven't seen the yang to that yin - the man who is willing to do anything for those he loves, because he knows how quickly they can be taken from him.  That's why it's nice to see him reach out to Tim like he does, and why I hope that, even if the DCU doesn't become a brighter place (I like the gloom and doom, for the most part), Batman should recognize that there is hope, even among the gloom.

All in all, it wasn't the greatest story in the world, but it did lay the foundation for how Batman is going to be portrayed for the immediate future.  The strongest aspects of it were the family drama - which is why, I presume, DC got Robinson to write it, because he's good at family drama.  And, of course, we get a new villain (sort of, as it's not his first appearance) out of it.  Let's see if he becomes a player.

Catwoman #56 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro Lopez.  $2.99, DC.

Pfeifer continues to piss me off with Catwoman.  If I had to name my top ten favorite books, it would not be on it.  I often forget that it even exists.  It has not catipulted Pfeifer to my list of best writers in comics.  And yet I keep buying it.  Why? you ask innocently.  Well, that's a good question.

Simply put, Pfeifer is telling a good story.  Each month, when Catwoman hits the stands, I read it and appreciate the craft that goes into it.  That's not to say it's brilliant comic bookery, because it's not.  Catwoman will not change your life, or make you stop and think, or alter your religious beliefs or sexual orientation.  It is, however, entertaining.  It's almost pure entertainment, and that is what I want, first and foremost, from my comics.  The other stuff is just gravy.  If you're not entertaining me, I don't really give a rat's ass what your position on the Buddha is.  Or why you think the Poles got screwed by the Great Powers in the late 18th century.  Or why we should all be watching Deadwood (and you should, you know - what's wrong with you people?).  It's just sheer entertainment.  Yahoo!

Take, for instance, this issue (and why not, since it just came out).  The Film Freak continues to be one of the most interesting villains in a long time, as he watches the footage of the two Catwomans, casually poisons the guy who brought him the footage, and then watches the footage of him casually poisoning the guy who brought him the footage.  He's evil, but entertaining (note the water brand that Edison was drinking when he was poisoned - "Rebecca," which in this story has to be a shout-out to the classic Hitchcock movie with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier - also a good novel, by the way).  And when Selina and Holly travel by cab, the driver is unimpressed, accepting their explanation that they were at a costume party and even remarking that they look nothing like the real Catwoman.  Selina's right - Gothamites are used to this kind of thing, so they think nothing of it.  There's a weird scene with Slam Bradley that I'm sure isn't what it seems - he says hello to his son (who does call him "Dad") but we never see Sam's face, so what's that all about?  And the Film Freak and Angle Man discover Selina's identity and grab her baby, leading to the cliffhanger of this issue, as Selina confronts them.  Although I like how the Film Freak found out where Selina was - she was using the name Irena Dubrovna, who was a character in Cat People - I question why Selina would use an alias that exists in the first place.  It's certainly clever, but couldn't she just make up a name?  Seems like a lot less trouble.  And despite my grumpiness when kids and pets are threatened in entertainment - no way little baby Helena gets hurt - I don't mind here, because Pfeifer isn't really implying that the kid will get hurt.  It's obviously just a set-up for the Film Freak to get some good footage.  So I don't mind.

See what I mean?  Entertaining.  Lots of stuff happens (even some stuff I didn't mention), there's a bunch of action, there's some nice character development, and Pfeifer is still managing to keep a lot of balls in the air.  Ever since he arrived on this title I've been warming up to it a little more each issue.  This is the first time I can confidently say that I will buy the next issue.  It's an intriguing story.

Oh, but "nonexistent" is spelled wrong.  What's up with that?

Daredevil #86 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

Now this is what I'm talking about!  Brubaker finally hits all the right notes with Daredevil, and we get a fine issue that makes me look forward to the next one.  You may say that we couldn't have had this fine issue if we hadn't had the ones leading up to it, and I say that you're right, but that doesn't mean the preceding issues were a bit unfocused.  They could have been tighter, and we possibly could have gotten to this point last issue instead of meandering to it a bit.  In this issue, the riot breaks loose (and I'm not sure if you noticed from the first page, but the "shit" was going to "jump off," which is prison lingo for "riot" - Brubaker didn't quite make that clear enough) and, predictably, many people die.  Matt makes sure that Milla and his lawyer are off the island before the riot begins, in a nice opening scene when he basically yells at Milla but can't really tell her why.  Then the bloodbath begins.  With each panel, Brubaker ratchets up the violence, but also the tension - will Matt continue to deal with the devil - in this case, Fisk - and if he doesn't, how will he get out of it?  Will there be a big throwdown with Bullseye (thankfully, no).  And what's stupid Frank Castle's role in all this?  Brubaker does a really nice job with all these elements, making Matt's decisions and thoughts feel real and desperate, and giving the Punisher a reason to exist (in this story, at least - I still hate the character).  I've been expecting an issue as good as this one out of Brubaker, and it's nice to see him deliver.  Someone somewhere (sorry, I can't remember where) mentioned that he hoped Brubaker wasn't about to become the new Bendis - writing every title and becoming diluted because of it.  I hope so too.  For now, though, he's doing fine.  We'll see if it keeps up.

Of course, there are a few minor things that annoy me, and they both involve Bullseye.  Once again, I have no idea what goes on in prison, so do they really put people in those Hannibal Lector-like restraints?  Just wondering.  And I am so sick of Bullseye using playing cards.  He might be able to turn anything into a weapon, but I still don't understand how on earth he can throw playing cards as if they were sticks or shuriken.  Does he use special cards that are laced with steel?  That I can understand.  But if he's just scooping up a regular pack of Bicycle cards, he's going to be a bit embarrassed when he tries to throw them and they all flip every which way.  I'm just saying.

JLA: Classified #23 by Steve Englehart, Tom Derenick, and Mark Farmer.  $2.99, DC.

Okay, so on the cover of this book, Amos Fortune is wearing a club.  Throughout the book he wears a spade.  What's going on?

I hope this story wraps up next issue, or at the very latest the issue after that.  This kind of superhero romp - and that's all it is, really - shouldn't stretch past four issues, if that.  At the end of this issue the Royal Flush Gang - the second one to attack our Detroit JLA heroes - is on the run, but our intrepid stars are surrounded by a raging forest fire, and J'onn is down for the count!  So I can see them getting out of the fire and laying a smackdown on the Royal Flush Gang.  That can't take more than two issues, can it?

Anyway, Vibe is the "star" in this issue, as we get his narration and a bit of his back story.  I suppose it's a credit to Englehart that he doesn't say mijo or pendejo or puto or even chinga tu madre (although that would have been fun to slip past the censors!), and he's not too obnoxiously Hispanic - his dialogue feels pretty right, so I'm not going to comment on it.  We do, however, get this excellent panel:

Vibe breakdancing is awesome.

Sue Dibny shows up, briefly, to exposit to Aquaman some crucial information about why he's going to have to go to Ontario alone - and although Aquaman says he's team leader and always on call, it's interesting that the Flash (Barry Allen, mind you) didn't invite him to his birthday party.  Little things like this make reading comics with characters we've known for years interesting.  Anyway, Aquaman is heading to Canada, but will he get there on time?

This whole issue is of course steeped in nostalgia, and tells us very little that is new about the characters.  Vibe is an arrogant punk, Steel is stoic (and we're spared his endless internal monologue about how much pain he's in, which someone objected to in the last issue but I thought was deliberately over the top), Gypsy is somewhat naive, and Vixen is somewhat over-confident.  They mix it up with the Royal Flush Gang, another group who simply seems out of place in today's modern world (is that why the Joker slaughtered them in Infinite Crisis?)  They could work, I suppose, in a regular comic, but they are much better utilized in a sepia-toned view of the comic book past.

This is a nice little superhero book.  Nothing special, but then it doesn't promise anything spectacular - just fisticuffs with a touch of character angst.  If you like that sort of thing, and want to see the Detroit JLA again.  Oh, and Mark Farmer has to be one of the best inkers around.  I don't remember Derenick's art being this good.  It must be the inker!

Moon Knight #3 by Charlie Huston, David Finch, and Danny Miki with Victor Olazaba and Allen Martinez.  $2.99, Marvel.

You know, I'm pre-disposed to like this book because I like the character so much, but I hope that doesn't mean I can't try to be objective.  I started buying this because of the character, but if the high quality keeps up, I won't have to defend it by saying I like the character.  I'll defend it by saying it's fucking brilliant.

Yes, I use vulgarity to make a point!  This book is only on its third issue, but it keeps getting better and better and is quickly becoming one of the best books out there.  Finch may or may not be able to keep up a monthly schedule because of his ultra-detailed style, but he's growing on me - and I liked him to begin with.  As flashy and intricate the art is, however, it's Huston's story that elevates this.  We started the series out of our comfort zone, and as Huston brings Marc back into society and brings Moon Knight back to the ranks of the superheroes, we are slowly finding our footing, but because we started from such a strange place, the story continues to surprise.  This issue is partly a recap of Marc's career, told as a lecture to the Committee, who hired Moon Knight in his first appearance back in Werewolf by Night #32.  It's not the same people on the Committee, but they're as unctuous as ever.  The man giving the lecture has a weird profiling ability, which is either creepy or stupid - you decide!  Meanwhile, Marc visits Frenchie, who has no legs.  This is a great little scene, as Marc limps up to him on his crutch, they embrace (and we still haven't seen Jean-Paul's legs yet), and then Jean-Paul says, "We should sit."  The next panel shows Jean-Paul from the back, with metal rods below his knees, and Marc, with his crutch.  It's a very powerful scene.  It's been a long time since I read the third Moon Knight series (ironically, the one that ran the longest), but did Frenchie lose his legs in it?  Or is this something new?  He mentions that Randall Specter, Marc's older brother, cut his legs off (he says "took," but I presume he didn't unscrew them and run off), but I don't remember that.  Oh well - it' still cool.  Then he drops the bombshell on Marc - he's gay.  Marc reacts predictably, which is unfortunate.  He tells Jean-Paul that he's a liar, but we know it's more than that.  Of course, if he hadn't reacted that way, then when Jean-Paul gets beaten to a bloody pulp later, in a calculated attack by the Committee, then Marc wouldn't feel all guilty and be inspired to become Moon Knight again.  So I get it, it's just a bit disappointing.  If your best friend comes out to you, you should support him.  That's just logical.  The cool thing is that one Committee member did this on his own, and the profiling guy tells him it's a mistake, because that's the one thing that could have inspired Marc.  Well, he's right about that.  Committee member gets a couple of pens in the eyes as punishment, and at the very end, we see the big bad guy who is going to (presumably) battle Moon Knight: Taskmaster.  The appearance of Taskmaster wasn't a surprise, as he is on a cover soon, but it was still very cool to see him.  Cronin isn't the only one here who digs Taskmaster!

A couple of things stand out.  First, Huston does a good job of jumping back and forth between Marc's history and the meeting between Marc and Jean-Paul.  That way neither really becomes stale, and it allows him to play off the man Marc was with what he's become.  I'm not entirely sure if the profiling guy is supposed to be Taskmaster, because it appears that's what we're supposed to think, but if it is, he changed into costume pretty damned quickly.  From the last page, it appears they are different people, but it's kind of weird to see Taskmaster there when he wasn't there before.  Where did he come from?

As for Frenchie - it's certainly interesting to "make him gay" - we need more gay characters in comics, after all, and the neat thing about Jean-Paul, as Marc points out, is that he had his share of women, so it's not like he ever "acted gay."  When I go back and read the old issues, especially the third series when Frenchie had a bigger role, I'm sure it's going to seem incongruous, but that's fine.  What I really want is for Huston to explore that side of his personality without allowing it to become dominant.  Apparently Heinberg is doing a good job of this over in Young Avengers, so maybe Huston will do it here too.  And it will be interesting to see how Marc continues to react.  Right now he's just pissed off that his friend is in the hospital.  How will he feel once Jean-Paul is back on his feet?  I don't want him to be too accepting, because it seems like Marc wouldn't be the kind of guy to do that.

Anyway, I'm rambling.  This is a very good book, and it's only getting better.  Oh, and is there a third Spector brother?  The cover seems to imply that there is.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #6 by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger.  $2.99, Marvel.

Let's talk about Jonah Hex.  Perfect place for it, right?  The reason I stopped buying Jonah Hex was because, despite the very good one-issue stories, they were all the same one-issue story.  There's a bad situation, Hex doesn't want to have anything to do with it, something happens that makes it personal, Hex kills people.  If I want, I can just re-read the ones I already own, right?

Well, so far in Next Wave we have three two-issue stories, and they're dangerously close to being the same one each time.  Something weird threatens existence, our heroes make wry and witty and caustically funny remarks, Dirk Anger does something disturbing, and our heroes blow shit up.  Yes, it's a zany ride, but can't I just re-read the issues I already have?

This issue gives me a tiny bit of hope, because it feels like Ellis is taking things a teeny-tiny bit more seriously and also moving the series forward just a tad.  I don't want it to turn into a long-running soap opera, but at the same time I don't want Dirk Anger or any other crazy things simply showing up every other issue to menace the gang.  That gets boring.  Yes, Machine Man in a bra is very funny, and who doesn't love homicide crabs?  But, as I've said before, this is empty calories.  There has to be a reason to buy this every month.  Could I take a year off and come back and see the same thing - our heroes beating up ridiculous things?  If so, that wouldn't be good.  I hope it won't be that way.

I'll get it next month, I know.  We'll see if it's more of the same. 

Solo #11 by Sergio Aragones with Mark Evanier.  $4.99, DC.

I have not been buying Solo regularly, despite my fellow bloggers' contention that it's the best ongoing of last year.  It's ending with next issue (right?) so I will continue to not buy it, but I wanted to check out Aragones' issue, because Sergio is fun.

And this is fun.  We get some historical stuff about the Irish in the Mexican-American War, the time Sergio killed Marty Feldman, a samurai story, a Batman story written by Mark Evanier, which is goofy but still rather sly, and a few of those short visual jokes that Aragones does well.  The biggest problem I always had with this series is the price tag - it just doesn't seem worth it for 5 dollars.  This is probably not worth it either, but at least with Aragones you know what you're getting, and it's probably going to make you laugh.  All of these stories made me laugh (except the samurai one, which is depressing), but they're still pretty slight.  This is not the way to do an anthology, DC.  But it was a nice try.

X-Factor #8 by Peter David and Dennis Calero.  $2.99, Marvel.

Speaking of excellent comic books, X-Factor continues to shine, mainly because David never insults our intelligence.  Because I'm stupid, I didn't realize that the dude in the beginning about to go into X-Factor headquarters was Pietro.  So when Layla made the other two dudes chase him off, I thought it was just her being evil.  Later, when David explains it to us, he doesn't do it through captions or even through a monologue, but through a dialogue that sounds natural even though it's exposition.  It's things like this that make it such a fun read.

As usual, there's a lot going on in this issue.  David is now trying to deal with the Decimation as well as Civil War, so we get Siryn lulling Spider-Man into telling her what the heroes know about the Decimation (that Wanda - or Pietro - caused it, which I guess isn't common knowledge) as well as debating him on the Superhero Registration Act.  It's a neat trick, but David pulls it off.  Speaking of which, doesn't Spidey have those weird arms on his costume now?  Where were they?  Jamie is still investigating Singularity and finds something strange out about Damian Tryp and his son.  And one of Jamie's duplicates, who happens to be an agent of SHIELD, comes by to sign everyone up for registration.  Just as Siryn finds out that Pietro knows about the Decimation, Pietro shows up at their door.  Oh no, shit may hit the fan next issue.

Layla remains the mystery at the heart of the book.  She has a head-scratching debate with Pietro at the end, and we still are in the dark about her true purpose.  Some people might be annoyed by this, but I'm not, because I know David has a long-term plot in mind with regard to Layla.  How do I know this?  Because I've read other Peter David books, and he always has a long-term plot in mind.  So I'm not worried.

Calero's art is fine.  There's nothing egregious like last month's weird werewolf head on Rahne, but it's not spectacular either.

X-Men #187 by Peter Milligan and Salvador Larroca.  $2.99, Marvel.

I mentioned last issue that it was Milligan's last, and someone corrected me.  This is his last issue, and it's typical of his entire run.  He wrote X-Men for about two years, and it just never seemed to cohere into a dynamite book.  There were flashes of Milligan brilliance, and it certainly wasn't as bad as Elektra, his last true mainstream book, but it always felt like he was reining it in, either from editorial mandate or because he himself was scared to cut loose, I don't know.  I stuck with it because I didn't think it was all that bad, but it never really came together into a good comic book.

This issue is, as most have been, a good example.  After the defeat last issue of Apocalypse, Sunfire and Gambit are struggling with what to do next.  Sunfire claims they must "kill" all semblance of their former lives, because they are no longer X-Men or Horsemen.  It's an interesting idea that doesn't really go anywhere - they show up at the mansion to take Lorna with them, because she's the same way, but get into an inevitable fight with the others.  Nobody bothered to ask Lorna what she wanted to do, and when she wakes up she tells them all to fuck off.  They leave, and Lorna says she's going as well, because she doesn't know where she belongs.  At the end, Mr. Sinister shows up to recruit Sunfire and Gambit for something evil, no doubt.  Sigh.  Mr. Sinister.  How idiotic is he?

It's a pretty weak issue for Milligan on this title, actually, because it feels like he just wants to get out of town.  This was a weird little era of the X-Men, as I mentioned, because throughout Milligan's run you can point to scenes, or even panels, that had a huge amount of potential, but when you sit down and read an issue or two, it doesn't leave much of an impression.  Carey and Bachalo come on board next issue, and I'll have to check it out.  Maybe I'll stay, maybe I won't.  It's all a mystery!

The back-up story was cute.  Any story that makes fun of Bendis is okay by me. 


American Way #5 (of 8) by John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, and Ray Snyder with Karl Story.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

I'm really looking forward to reading this.

As an added bonus, I thought I would review, briefly, Brave New World.  In honor of Scipio, who finds more haiku in comics than I ever thought possible, I will do my review in haiku form.  Behold!

Ads for more series?

For what?  Monitors.

Thank you, thank you.  I'll be at the coffeehouse all week!

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