What I bought - 28 March 2007

A good chunk of books this week, including a mediocre offering from one of the best titles out there (surprisingly enough), plus the comic I bought based on what you guys told me.  And Dean Motter and Michael Lark have a comic this week!  Uh, except they're not working on the same one together.  That would have been cool.  But let's dig in!

Batman #664 by Grant "The Ladies Like It Smooth" Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang.  $2.99, DC.

I enjoyed Morrison's first arc on Batman, even though I was a bit disappointed in it.  Then that prose monstrosity came out, and I faltered in my devotion to the The God of All Comics.  This issue is much more promising, however, in his quest to make Batman the hairy-chested love god of the early 1970s.  The first 9 pages are devoted entirely to Bruce Wayne puttin' the moves on a chick!  Very cool.

I think the problem with the first arc was that Morrison was trying too hard.  O'Neil and Adams, after all, probably didn't sit down to turn Bruce Wayne into a playboy.  Morrison was forcing the issue, and unlike All Star Superman, which is all schtick (very well done schtick, before you rain profanities down on me) , his first arc on Batman was played totally straight.  It didn't work as well as TGoAC wanted it to, even though it was a very fun comic book to read.

With this issue, it feels like Morrison has a better grasp on the character, even though once again it's a weirdly disjointed story.  I presume his date with Jezebel Jet (still hate the name!) in the Alps somehow will connect with the "cop" who is slaughtering prostitutes, but with Morrison, who the hell knows.  But I'm not worried about the stories connecting up right now - Morrison's Bruce is ridiculously cool in this issue, but unlike the earlier story, it doesn't feel like Morrison is trying to convince us of the fact.  That's not to say the whole thing isn't a bit silly - Bruce parachutes onto a ski slope, after all - but it feels more like Bruce is playing a role, rather than Morrison forcing him to play a role.  The suaveness (suavity?) of Bruce is more relaxed this time, and the first part of the book is very nice to read.  Plus, there's the point that Jezebel's father was assassinated.  Just who the hell is she?

The "Batman" section of the book is handled nicely, too, once again because Morrison doesn't feel like he's forcing things.  His interaction with the prostitutes on the street reminded me instantly of Mike W. Barr and Alan Davis' classic Detective run, when Batman spoke to the hookers in a kindly manner and tried to help them.  Here he gives a Waynetech card to one of the younger hookers and tells her to get a job there.  With few exceptions, we rarely see a compassionate Batman and a human Bruce Wayne anymore, so it's nice to see here.

The issue isn't perfect, as Morrison introduces the villain, a Bane knock-off who wears a pseudo-Bat cowl and is supposedly a cop.  He might be an interesting villain, but so far, that's kind of lame.  Batman's internal monologue as he's tracking this villain is pretty inane, too, but interestingly enough, one thing Morrison has never done really well is internal monologues.  Check it out if you don't believe me!  But as a first issue of an arc, goes, it's intriguing, so we'll see where it goes.

As for Kubert, it's Kubert.  It would be nice if someone could explain to me why Kubert stinks, because I like both Kuberts (and their father).  It's actually a bit reminiscent of (blasphemy!) Neal Adams, which is, I assume, my Morrison is working with him.  But as I have no eye for art, I'm sure someone can tell me why Kubert stinks.  (And on cue, Dick explains why he doesn't like the art, but he doesn't do a very good job of it.  Anyone else?)

Now, if only Morrison would get his scripts in on time, this could be a good little Batman run.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Catwoman #65 by Will Pfeifer, David López, and Alvaro López.  $2.99, DC.

This is the third part of the Great Snowglobe Heist, but if you haven't read an issue of Catwoman before, you could easily pick this up and understand what's going on, and that's pretty cool.  At the end of last issue, Selina was confronted by Lex Luthor just as she procured the snowglobe, but in this issue, she quickly learns it's a Luthor robot.  So, basically, this entire issue is a cat-and-mouse game (forgive the pun) as Selina tries to escape a robot that is far more powerful than she is in a place that has no exit.  Oh dear.

It's a simple idea, but Pfeifer and López pull it off with ease.  The art, as usual, is nice and clean, with a good sense of both the space in which the battle takes place and the "toybox" feel to Luthor's underground lair.  As the robot Luthor gradually loses its skin, he becomes more and more frightening.  Pfeifer never lets us think that Selina is in any real danger, and the way she escapes is telegraphed early on, but it's still kind of clever, and the way it all works out makes this a pleasant comic book to read.  There's still a sense of danger - Luthor muses that he might pay her daughter a visit, and the idea of Luthor the god is frankly, unpleasant - but the issue works more because we're just wondering how Selina is going to survive long enough to figure out a way to escape.  Pfeifer does a nice job with it.

Superman makes an obligatory cameo, and it goes as you might expect, and then Pfeifer easily leads us into the next storyline.  Both he and Peter David on X-Factor (among others) have been doing a nice job with complete stories that don't fit easily into trade paperback format, and it's good to see that the craft of constructing a good solid short story in comics hasn't been lost.  This issue is fun to read, fun to look at, and requires very little prior knowledge (some is good, like who Holly is).  It's another example why Catwoman is such an entertaining book.

Daredevil #95 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

Well, at least that costume on the cover isn't the one on the inside.

I'm a bit torn over Daredevil.  On the one hand, Brubaker knows how to write, and I have confidence that the stories will be good.  On the other hand, he just spent a year undoing everything Bendis did on the title, so now we're back to Matt Murdock with a secret identity protecting Hell's Kitchen, which is fine as things go, but it lacks the dynamism of the best Bendis stuff (or even Brubaker's first arc).  I like this issue, but I'm wary about where the book is going.

There are several intriguing things in this issue.  A couple of hoods that Daredevil runs off the road commit suicide right in front of him, much to his consternation.  Melvin Potter acts the same way in prison, apparently killing two inmates but having no recollection of it.  These two incidents, with characters acting, well, out of character, have to be connected, right?  Plus, the law firm is a big part of the issue, which, like focusing a bit on Bruce Wayne, is always a good thing.  I like Matt Murdock the lawyer, and hope to see more of him.  Oh, and someone is following Milla.  That can't be good.

It's a nice set-up issue, even though it feels a bit stretched out.  The car chase at the beginning is a good excuse for Lark to show off, as this issue highlights his skills very well.  He does a fine job with the action sequences, something that Maleev always struggled with, and his style is gritty without being drenched in darkness and lines.

I'm curious to see what's going on in this particular story, as well as where Brubaker is going with the title.  Despite my disappointment at the return of the status quo, there's no reason why Daredevil can't be a good crime comic.  And that's what it is.

Fables #59 by Bill Willingham, M. K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Joëlle Jones, D'Israeli, Jill Thompson, David Lapham, John K. Snyder III, Eric Shanower, and Barry Kitson (phew!).  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

For all those people out there who inexplicably don't like Fables ... well, this issue isn't for you, because I can say, without equivocation, that this is the worst issue of the series yet.  So if you're a Fables-hater (shame on you!), at least you have some ammunition!

So what's the deal?  Well, this is a series of one- or two-page "jokes" about various Fables based on questions by readers dealing with ancillary stuff that only comic book geeks would obsess over.  The kind of person who would ask "Did Hakim ever manage to get a  regular job?" is the same kind of person who would write a sestina to Sandman.  You remember those, right?  I am not that kind of person, and therefore I recognize Hakim for what he is: a plot device, who, you know, doesn't exist.  So I don't really care if he found a regular job or not.

For those of you who think I have no sense of whimsy and no soul, well, that's probably true, but I do like a lot of whimsical comic books.  I just don't see the point of a bunch of one-note jokes, many of which aren't terribly clever.  And I certainly don't see the point of charging 3 dollars for it.  This might be a good thing to have on a Fables message board, where Willingham can upload drawings to answer the questions of fans, but it's annoying as an issue of the monthly comic.  The only saving grace is seeing the various artists try their hand at the characters, but that's what those "gallery" comics that Vertigo used to put out are for.

I wonder if Willingham is going to use any of these "answers" in the real story.  Probably, because he seems to be doing that with some other throwaway stuff.  So this might be redeemed by future stories, but as a single issue, it's kind of blah.  So yeah, I won't be using this to convince Fables-haters that they're missing one of the best comics on the market.  Maybe they won't notice the skip from issue #58 to 60!

Gamekeeper #1 by Andy Diggle and Mukesh Singh.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

While we're waiting for Guy Ritchie and Madonna to tire of each other so Ritchie can go back to making fun movies instead of Madonna movies, we can at least take some solace in the fact that he actually has some good ideas still, but he's taking them to Virgin Comics instead of making movies about them.  So there's that.

Of course, given that Virgin is simply a dumping ground for movie ideas anyway, of course he'd take his ideas to them!  Should I be more offended that Virgin seems to view comics simply as pitches for movies?  I'm not, for a couple of reasons: they produce very nice-looking comics with good talent on them; Marvel is doing the same thing these days, and at least Virgin is up front about it while Joey Q pretends to care about the printed stuff.  So I can live with the fact that whenever I read a Virgin comic, I feel like it was made for a Hollywood executive and not me.  Oh well.

Oh, the book?  Yeah, I guess I can rant about the actual comic.  Diggle has this whole "soldier with a past" thing down cold, and here he gives us a Chechen at a large estate in Scotland, who works as the gamekeeper.  The owner of the estate takes in all sorts of loners and runaways with no questions asked, which is probably not a smart thing to do.  One night a bunch of soldiers break into his house and force him to get something from the safe.  Our gamekeeper (who has the un-Chechen name of Brock) is of course some kind of super-ex-soldier, and he decides to take them down.  We already have some mayhem, but presumably the next issues will offer more, plus revelations from the past!

It's that sort of comic.  Robert Ludlum would be proud.  It's beautiful to look at, with Singh doing very well with the landscapes and nice work with the violence, and Diggle's script hums along, setting up the characters well and keeping it intriguing enough to push us along.  It's a quick but fun read.

Now, if only Guy Ritchie would remember that he has talent.  That would be nice.

Gødland #17 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.  $2.99, Image.

Well, it's another issue, and once again I can't really say much about one of my favorite comics, unless it has an awful misstep (see Fables above).  If you don't like Gødland, I'm not going to convince you otherwise, and if you haven't read it yet, pick up issue #16 (for 60 cents!) and get a nice recap.  It's such a fun comic to read, and I get sad when I finish one, even though I get to anticipate the next one!  I mean, in this issue we get the government making its move on Adam, using an unusual tool; the return of an old friend; Neela appearing to Angie at Battery Park in a cloud of energy, which leads Angie to realize that Adam isn't crazy; the Tormentor, Basil Discordia, and that weird insect lady making plans to do horrible things; and Ed, Supra, and Eeg-oh continuing their plans to destroy the planet.  It's packed, and very cool.

You know, like every other issue!

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #3 (of 3) by Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley.  $2.99, Image/Shadowline.

Two weeks ago, when the second issue of this mini-series came out, I wrote: "So this becomes a noir samurai detective book with pirates (and an angry rhino) with a voodoo priest (he's no mime!).  That sound you hear is the rest of your body exploding from so much joy."  Well, with voodoo, you get zombies!  I'm not the biggest fan of zombies, but when you add it to a book with a noir samurai detective and a pirate, an angry rhino, and a voodoo priest, it's awesome.  And this book has all that!

There's not much to say about this book.  There's mayhem, slaughter, a killer parrot with a fondness for eyeballs, and some depth for our hero.  Anderson and Trembley don't linger on too much, giving us a bloody two-fisted tale that never allows us to catch our breath.  It's very fun to read, and Trembley's moody art fits the pulpy roots of the book perfectly.  I like the idea of releasing these stories as three-issue mini-series (the next one is due in June).  It allows the creative team to make sure they have time to get them done, and it allows quick fun stories even though certain threads continue through the book (Sam's hunt for the guy who set him up in this series will apparently be the plot of the next one).  This is a kooky and fun comic, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Here's a sample: Sam narrates: "I wish I could say that was the first time I'd ever been buried alive."  First of all, whichever creator came up with that is a genius, and if you chuckled at that line, this book is probably for you.

Unique #1 (of 3) by Dean Motter and Dennis Calero.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

This is a not-quite-original idea from Motter (actually, it was created by some dude named Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who's the chairman of this new company, but I guess he can't write) that could make for a very neat mini-series.  Jon Geoffries suffers from insomnia and, when he does sleep, weird dreams.  These dreams start to intrude further into his life when he seemingly at random shifts to what appears to be a different reality.  In his "own" world, he's being framed by his boss for embezzlement, while in the "new" world, he's breaking curfew by being out on the street in the middle of the day.  He discovers that it's one of those quantum physics things, where a new reality splits off every time someone makes a choice, and this is just one other reality, which is similar to his reality except that people sleep during the day and go out at night.  He can shift to the other reality because he has no counterpart in it, which makes him a "unique."  Usually these people shift during sleep, which is why he has weird dreams, but for some reason, he's been able to do it consciously.  Before this can be explored, bad guys show up and chase him.  That's where the book ends.

Motter does a nice job with the whole "weird paranoia" thing that this kind of book relies on, with Jon not understanding the new reality and therefore having bizarre conversations with the people he meets, while back in his reality, the cops are after him for the embezzlement thing.  It's not really clear what the point of this book is going to be - will it be some external threat to both realities, or will it be something more personal to Jon? - but in this issue, Motter is obviously concerned with two things: setting the mood, and explaining the parallel reality thing.  He does both pretty well.

Calero's art looks more stylized than it was when he was doing X-Factor, presumably because he had more time for it.  He helps set the mood nicely, with strange dreamscapes and a nice sense of the strange in the other reality (which is called Penumbra, by the way).  The art is slightly Art Deco in the surroundings (not in the people), which lends a nice off-kilter feel to it.  Calero, however, has some problems with movement, as whenever his figures are drawn moving, they look very stilted and uncomfortable.  It's a very "posed" kind of book (which makes me think it was photo-referenced, although I can't "place" any of the characters, so maybe they're nobodies), and like all of those kinds of artists, the fluidity of moving characters is the worst part of the book.  A lot of the book looks very nice, so when it does occur, it's jarring.  Of course, there aren't any giant wolf heads in the book, either, so that's a plus!

This is a pretty neat book with some intriguing possibilities.  Motter seems to do well with this kind of thing, so it will be interesting to see where he goes with it.  It's 3 dollars for 48 pages, which is a selling point, so if it sounds like your thing, hunt it down and check it out.

Usagi Yojimbo #101 by Stan Sakai.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

The choice for what the commenters would pick for me came down to this and Blue Beetle, and I chose this, mainly because I didn't simply want to read another superhero comic.  Blue Beetle will have to wait!

I have always heard good things about Usagi Yojimbo, and so I thought it would be neat to read.  Now that I have, I'm kind of on the fence about it.  I enjoyed it, but I'm not unequivocal about my enjoyment.  It has a strange charm to it, probably because these are rabbits and other animals as samurai in medieval Japan, which is weird enough to work.  Sakai's art is very cartoonish but very detailed and intricate, and it's actually quite beautiful in some places, especially when Demon Usagi and Lady Tomoe fight to the death.  It's strange looking at the book, because you don't expect something that often looks silly (mainly in the characters' faces, and not even all the time) to be so well composed and interesting.  Sakai obviously is a master of the cartooning form, which is good to see.

The story is slight, as Usagi defends Chizu, the leader of a ninja clan, who is being attacked by her own men.  As he defends her, he's poisoned and has to be dragged away by Chizu.  She gets him to a hut and tends to his wounds, and he has a dream in which he is a demon killing his way through a castle, and only Lady Tomoe stands in his way.  This leads to a marvelous sword fight that is the highlight of the book (moreso than when Usagi fights the ninja earlier) and which helps break Usagi's fever.  Chizu leaves him to lead the bad ninja away, and when Usagi wakes up, he hears the voice of Mayumi, a girl he left behind because being around him was too dangerous.  He's glad to hear her, but he probably shouldn't be, as Mayumi isn't there by choice!

I'm sure I'd understand more about what was going on if I had read the earlier issues, but it's not that hard to figure out.  It's a charming book, but I'm not sure what the significance of the dream is, and it feels significant.  Like a lot of long-running series, however, beyond a certain point it feels impenetrable.  I'm just wondering how much I'd have to know to fully enjoy the book, or if we've never seen any of these people before and it doesn't matter.

I can't completely say it's a success.  I enjoyed it, and I might pick up the next issue to see what's going on more fully, but it also didn't make a ton of sense to a neophyte like me.  Perhaps in the context of the larger story, it does.  We'll see next time, because I'll probably check it out, which is all you can ask of a comic: does it make you want to come back?  This one does, although I can't guarantee I'll stay.

Virulents by Shamik Dasgupta and Dean Ruben Hyrapiet.  $4.99, Virgin Comics.

Here's another comic that reads like a movie pitch, but unfortunately, it doesn't work quite as well as Gamekeeper.  As a comic, it's perfectly fine as a low-rent action movie, one that might show up on the Sci-Fi Channel and star Kevin Dillon and Grant Heslov in the main Indian role.  Unfortunately, that doesn't make it terribly good.

The underlying story is fine, but the execution is lacking.  A joint American/Indian patrol is in Afghanistan, looking for a group of American soldiers who have disappeared.  The Indian contingent has an ulterior motive, too, but it's not important to divulge it.  They stumble across something horrific, and in true action movie fashion, their numbers are pared down quickly.  It's bloody and horrible, but Dasgupta doesn't really give us much beyond people getting slaughtered.  And that's a shame, because there are two interesting ideas in this book: the American commanding officer is horribly racist, and treats the Indian commanding officer with no respect (so of course they end up the last survivors).  The cultural and religious divide is touched on, but not in any meaningful way.  And the things that attack the soldiers are sort-of vampires.  I'm not a huge fan of vampire stories, but these creatures are linked to the Hindu myth of Raktaveej, a "blood demon" whose most impressive ability was that when his blood was spilled, each drop became a "clone" and took on his aspect.  It makes them somewhat hard to kill, and an extreme solution (which is presented early in the book, so there's little suspense) is called for.  The idea of the blood demons isn't really fully realized, either, and that's disappointing.  One of the coolest things about the first 12 issues of Matt Wagner's Grendel series was that the vampire was Japanese, and therefore exhibited some differences from what we think of vampires.  Dasgupta has a great chance to do the same thing here, but because this is a short action-movie pitch, it never goes beyond that.  There's an interesting and possibly relevant four-issue mini-series lurking within this one-shot, but it's not going to get a chance to come out.

So it's a shoot-'em-up with monsters.  If that's your thing, you might try it, but it never goes beyond that, and that weakens it and it never rises to the level of good.  Too bad.

Well, that's another week of comic goodness.  Thanks for your suggestions.  They're always appreciated!

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