What I bought - 29 August 2007

This was an odd week.  Some solid stories, but nothing that was unbelievably good.  I guess it's because it's fifth week - I kind of wish DC still did "fifth week" events (did Marvel ever do them?) to make them kind of odder than normal.  I like how DC released the Tangent trade paperback on a fifth week, since it was originally a fifth week thing.  Anyway, it's a slow week, with nothing here that is too controversial!  Or maybe there is.  You guys surprise me sometimes.

Batman Annual #26 by Peter Milligan, David López, and Álvaro López.  $3.99, DC.

I imagine this is setting up the new Ra's al Ghul that Morrison will be writing about in the main title, so we get an origin story with an ambiguous ending.  It's not a bad story, but it lacks Milligan's flair, so it's simply a story that needed to be told to lead to other things.  Batman heads to Australia to investigate the disappearance of two ecologists who worked for the Wayne Ecological Foundation, while Talia and Damian learn the history of Talia's father.  Batman figures out that there's an underground Lazarus pit in the area, and he arrives at the scene a bit too late.  Ra's al Ghul's right-hand man, the White Ghost, has plans for Damian, but they go awry and he ends up in the pit, his fate ... unknown!  So there's that.

López, as usual, does a fine job with the art.  He draws the action scenes very nicely, and he also has a good eye for features that make each character unique.  The story contains some of Milligan's oddities, like his portrayal of the Duke of Wellington as a whiny coward at the Battle of Waterloo and the weird old guy who was transported to Australia as a prisoner some years before.  Of course, I spent six months in Australia and never heard anyone say "fair dinkum," but I suppose our Aussie readers can say whether people actually use that term!  And I like how the Aussies living out on the outback are at the Hewlett place - a reference to Jamie Hewlett, perhaps?

Damian remains a problem, because he's really a whiner.  I mean, he was bad enough when Morrison wrote him, but shouldn't Talia slap him once or twice?  She just puts up with his poor behavior, and I don't like this Talia.  She always seemed stronger than this.  Come on, Talia!

It's not really that necessary of a book.  It's an okay story, but nothing spectacular.

Enigma Cipher #2 (of 2) by Andrew Cosby, Michael Alan Nelson, and Greg Scott.  $6.99, Boom! Studios.

This book should have been out ages ago, but it's been slow in coming.  I wish it had been better, but it disappoints at the end after a strong first issue and a strong first half of this issue.

In case you don't remember, in the first issue a professor at a university found a coded message in a book he bought at an estate sale.  The message was encrypted by an Enigma machine, the code the Nazis used in World War II.  He tells his students to try to break the code, and then evil men come and start killing them all.  Casey Williams (whose real name is Cassandra, a nice touch) escapes and manages to convince a cop that she's not crazy.  In this issue, they evade the bad guys and manage to decode the message, which reveals why people are willing to kill for a code from World War II.  It's all very political, as you might expect.

Cosby and Nelson do a nice job setting the story up and maintaining a frenetic pace, which this kind of story demands, but they let us down at the end.  The story comes to a screeching halt at what I guess is the alloted page count, because it feels like they were told to wrap it up and they realized they had only two pages left.  It's a shame, because what the message says and its implications - and even whether it's authentic - could easily sustain another issue, or at least several more pages.  This was originally solicited as a five-issue mini-series before being released as two extra-long issue, so maybe it should have been packaged a bit differently in order to allow a better resolution.

Scott's art is odd, too.  For three-quarters of the book it's dark and moody, as Casey is moving at night for the most part.  Then, suddenly, the action shifts to the daytime, and Scott's art is less murky and the lines are much cleaner.  You might think this is a good thing, but it's not necessarily, because it feels too bright for a spy saga like this.  I actually thought it was a different artist, but none are credited.  It's not bad art, but it's a strange shift that might signal a speeded-up process because of the book's lateness.  Maybe, maybe not.

Two issues at seven bucks a pop is a bit much to spend for this (I know it's cheaper than a four-issue mini-series at 4 bucks an issue would be, but at least that's spread out!), but it has an intriguing premise that works for almost the entire way.  Unfortunately, Cosby and Nelson can't close the deal.  Oh well!

Ex Machina Masquerade Special by Brian K. Vaughan and John Paul Leon.  $3.50, DC/Wildstorm.

Here's another book that is told well and looks nice (remember when Leon was drawing The Winter Men? good times), but feels pretty inconsequential.  I don't mind seeing some of Mitch's superhero exploits, and Vaughan does a good job letting us know just how ineffectual Mitch really felt when he was superheroing (despite his success with the World Trade Center), which ties into the framing story and his decision to let the Klan hold a rally in Central Park.  But when you think about it, why would he deny the Klan a permit to hold a rally in Central Park?  All the arguments he makes at the end of the book, about how people who hide behind masks are cowards, are ones plenty of people have made in the past, and that's why the Klan still gets permits to march, because then people who aren't, you know, insane racists can come out and ridicule them.  Mitch wouldn't deny a permit because then it would become an issue of the First Amendment.  Vaughan gets to tell a pretty good story, but the basis of the story is silly and shouldn't spark such soul-searching by Mitch.  Some of Vaughan's political stories deal with more nuanced issues that cause Mitch some pause, but this isn't one of them.  Even a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like me understands that denying the Klan a permit to rally is asinine.  We need these people out in front of us so we can mock them, after all. 

Fallen Angel #19 by Peter David and J. K. Woodward.  $3.99, IDW.

I'm glad we got the Shi crossover out of the way, because although it wasn't bad, it wasn't as good as the rest of the series, even though David does a nice job bringing in elements from the rest of the series (like how Yurei knows a bit more about Bete Noire than Lee does).  I'm still a bit mystified that Tucci allowed David to use Shi, because she really doesn't do very much (yes, she saves Lee, but it's not all that dramatic and it's kind of lucky) and she's treated rather poorly again.  Her portrayal is better than it was in the first two issues, but it still feels like David doesn't have much respect for her.  Am I misreading it?  Maybe I am.

As usual, this is a quality book even when it's not at the top of the game.  These last three issues haven't been great, but they add another layer of meaning onto the story of Bete Noire, one that will certainly have ramifications in the future.  David, at least, makes each story count in the grand scheme of things.

The Last Fantastic Four Story by Stan Lee and John Romita, Jr.  Marvel, $4.99.

There's not much to say about this story, because it's pretty silly, but it's nice to see some unnecessary exposition from Lee ("Bolts of flame!"  "Melting our weapons!"), unironic commentary about heroism, and an overabundance of exclamation points.  It's not worth 5 bucks (even for Romita's art), but it's a goofy reminder of why we love Lee - because he has the stones to place Doctor Doom at the United Nations cheering for the Fantastic Four after they save the world.  Go, Stan!

Mice Templar #1 by Bryan J. L. Glass and Michael Avon Oeming.  Image, $3.99.

In the back of this issue, there's an odd unsigned essay detailing Oeming's long, gradual creation of the Mice Templar.  I'm sure it's not in any way in there to deflect criticism that this is a rip-off of Mouse Guard!  Of course it's not!  Anyway, the comparisons are inevitable, but I'm not sure why.  When someone writes yet another superhero comic, does anyone say "They must have ripped off _____!"?  No, they don't.  Well, unless it's blatant.  But I don't care if Oeming was drawing mice with swords in his crib - all I care about is whether the book is any good or not.

Well, it's nice to look at.  I've never been the biggest fan of Oeming's art, but in this book, he really cuts loose, and it's nice to see.  The battle scenes are wonderful, and the mystical scenes are mystical.  Even though the mice generally look alike, we get enough little quirks to their appearances to distinguish them, even though I didn't like the fact that the female mice actually had breasts (part of a point I'll get to in a bit).  It's a big book, too, packed with pages for your dollar, which is nice.  You may not like it, but they don't skimp on the page count!

The story is rather simple: once there was a group of mice called the Templar who fought evil.  Then they turned on each other and disappeared.  Now no one believes they even existed, except for a few young mice who haven't been jaded by the world yet.  One night a group of rats comes to the village looking for a Templar, who turns out to be a blacksmith who earlier in the book was yelling at the young mice to stop telling stories of the Templar (I know, shocking).  A massive battle ensues in which many mice are slaughtered and the rest captured.  One young mouse survives and is given a task by the Fish Gods (I'm so not joking) to "liberate the dark lands."  He finds an older mouse who was also a Templar and the two head out on a quest to save the world.  This all sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

I can deal with the familiar plot but for one thing: there's nothing in here, really, to tell us why these creatures are mice rather than human.  "What?" you might say, but bear with me.  In Mouse Guard (yes, I must compare), we are acutely aware of the fact that these creatures are mice, facing all the dangers you expect mice to face, even though they're, you know, intelligent.  In this first issue, there's nothing that says these mice face the dangers real mice would face.  They're just human beings doing their stuff, but drawn as mice.  Like, for instance, female mice with breasts.  Uh, no.  The rats are just ugly humans.  The gods are gods.  There's a spider attack in the book, which is one of the few places that the mice face something that real mice would face.  There are very few references to cats and such, but not enough.  I'm just wondering why these characters are mice.  Get it?  Is it just to disguise the fact that the story isn't terribly original?  If these were humans, would we simply ignore it because we've seen it so many times before?

I'm torn on issue #2.  I want to like the book, because it looks nice and is very entertaining, for the most part.  It's far more brutal than that book we're not comparing it to, which is kind of neat, and quest books are usually pretty good.  But I'm just wondering if it's going to separate itself from the crowd of fantasy that have used this plot since the dawn of time.  If not, there's not much reason to buy it.


Local #10 (of 12) by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.  $2.99, Oni Press.

I know that each issue is largely self-contained, so I ought to be reading each one, but as I've mentioned before with regard to this excellent mini-series, in the middle issues Wood made me hate Megan so much that I didn't want to read another issue about her being a reprehensible human being without immediately following up with an issue where she redeems herself.  Considering how late this series is, that could be a while.  So I'm just waiting for the thing to finish so that, when I re-read issue #5 (or 6?) and I gnash my teeth at how horrible Megan is, I can immediately move on and read an issue where she at least tries to act like a regular person.  My hope is that by the end I won't hate her anymore because she'll have grown up.  Anyway, this is excellent even though I haven't read an issue in a while.  Just trust me!

Fifth week is over!  Bring on September!

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