What I bought - 29 May 2008

Man, another big week. Will I slobber over all the Grant Morrison comics, as Our Dread Lord and Master already has (kidding, DL&M! kidding!), or will I be the voice of reason who thinks that, you know, that Tyrant Sun showdown was kind of dull? Will I dare to post a somewhat Not Safe For Work cover in this post (okay, the first question might contain some drama, but this one is a secure "yes," so be warned - and no, it's not the one with Wolverine in bondage)? And will I ever receive the latest issue of Gødland? Well, the answer to that last one is "not yet." Why do comics distributors want to make me angry????

Batman #677 by Grant "Did DC publish Batman comics between the Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams issues and when I started writing it?" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

In all the hoopla over one Morrison comic, let's not forget that the God Of All Comics has two other comics coming out this week, and they're both better than Final Crisis. Yes, even his weird take on the Caped Crusader!

Well, it's still weird, but his weakness in this run is overshadowed by his strengths, so it's a good issue. The big weakness: it's still Jezebel Jet. Morrison uses her to speak to the various Internet theories about who the Black Glove is, as she comes up with the big one - is Bruce himself the Black Glove? So that's not bad, but she still doesn't come off as a real person, nor is their relationship believable. He calls her "Jet" more than once, and it's not in a cute, "I-call-the-love-of-my-life-by-her-surname" kind of way, it's in a tough, businesslike way, and it undermines the idea that we're supposed to believe in their love. She makes yet another comment about her poor country, but again, it's a shallow statement and isn't followed up. It's obvious, from this issue, that Jezebel is simply the "outsider" who can see things the "insiders" - Alfred and Robin and even Commissioner Gordon - can't, but does she have to be that important to the scheme of things? She's just not interesting, and Morrison doesn't even seem to be concerned with developing her.

Another weakness is the ancillary developments in the greater arc. I've mentioned this before, but Morrison seems to be far more concerned with the Black Glove than he is with anything else, and therefore certain plot points come out of nowhere. The idea of the exposé on the Waynes is interesting, but I still don't like the idea of Gotham crime going away. It's not that I don't like the idea, it's that Morrison hasn't done much with the idea of Batman getting rid of it. It's been bandied about since his run began, but we've never really seen Batman clearing the decks. Suddenly, organized crime in Gotham disappears, and it's somewhat annoying.

There's a lot to like about the issue - I mentioned the theory of the Waynes, and Jezebel's confrontation with Bruce is handled well, even though DC should never allow anyone to point out that Bruce could be doing much more with his money than playing dress-up (I'm allowed to bring it up, as I did a few years ago when the movie came out, but a writer shouldn't do it in the comic book, because it destroys any suspension of disbelief we have). The grand story of the run is still interesting, even if Morrison screws up some of the details.

Oh, and Tony Daniel provides the art. It's visible.

Blue Beetle #27 by Will Pfeifer (writer), David Baldeon (penciller), Steve Bird (inker), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Guy Major (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Pfeifer gets a crack at writing Blue Beetle for a few issues before Matthew Sturges takes over, and his first issue is a charming story about demons. Really, it's charming! Jaime and Traci try to go on a date, but they get attacked by small demons, which gradually become bigger and fewer in number as the attacks increase. They both take separate paths to figuring out what's going on, and it all gets resolved in a charming way. Pfeifer manages to ease a few dark spots into the proceedings, like the fact that bad things never seem to happen until there's a superhero in the vicinity (El Paso was such a quiet town once), and that Jaime feels inadequate when magic is involved because the scarab doesn't react well to it, but on the whole, it's a pleasant tale. I'm not sure how consequential it is, but as a single issue story, it's well done. Baldeon's art doesn't have the nice rough edges that Albuquerque's does, but it gets the job done. Jaime needs a shave, though, because he looks silly with a goatee. Maybe that's the point.

It's always refreshing to read a well told tale of heroism with nothing else to worry about. This isn't a great issue, but it's a good story. Sometimes that's enough.

Caliber: First Canon of Justice #2 (of 5) by Sam Sarkar (writer), Garrie Gastonny (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorist), and Annie Parkhouse (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

I received this and Hercules (see below) in the mail, and as always, I'd like to thank Radical for sending them on to me (and marvel at the fact that I often get free comics). It's always fun to see more comics companies, and it's always good to get more and different kinds of stories.

Caliber, as you may recall, is a retelling of the Arthurian legend set in the Old West. It's a handsome, fully painted comic, and the "special effects" at the end are dynamic. Gastonny and the colorists set a good mood, with the Oregon town of Telacoma looking like a town struggling to become a city. It has fancy hotels but also squalor, and even though the art is a bit slick, it still has a frontier feel to it.

The story is more in focus this issue, as it's clear now that this is the Arthur legend (which wasn't as clear in the first issue). We follow Arthur back to town and through its treacherous currents, leading to the point where he uses the gun that only a just man can fire, proving he's the "king." Sarkar does a good job building the tension to that moment, as the characters circle around each other like sharks (the art shows this well) until the violence of the final few pages. Even though we know what's coming, Sarkar still has to keep us interested, and he does a good job there. Where he falters is with the introduction of the characters. Some are holdovers from the first issue, but seven years have passed, so they're not the same people, and there are also several new characters. Unfortunately, Sarkar relies a bit too heavily on our knowledge of the Arthurian legend to provide us with background. That's not the worst thing he could do, but it's use of a shorthand that weakens the book, because we simply look at a character and know, by their name, that they're bad. Instead of taking the time to introduce and then develop a character, Sarkar simply introduces them and lets us to the heavy lifting with regard to who they are. Obviously, this might change as we move through the series (I'm reminded of another retelling of the Arthurian legend, Camelot 3000, where Mike Barr didn't stray too far from the script but still added a twist or two), and Sarkar might switch things around to keep us on our toes. From this issue, however, it looks like everyone will fall into the roles they have always inhabited, and while archetypes are fine for broad morality myths, when you're telling a specific story, character development is crucial. Let's hope Sarkar understands that as the series moves forward.

This is an interesting comic, even though I liked Hercules better. It's a little off-beat, and it's not just another superhero knock-off, so it might be for you. Check it out if you see it hanging out on the stands.

Fables #73 by Bill Willingham (writer), Mark Buckingham (penciller/inker), Steve Leialoha (inker), Andrew Pepoy (inker), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I like how the title of this issue, "Voyage of the Sky Treader," is an homage to the third book of the Chronicles of Narnia. I assume Willingham can't use those characters in this book (although didn't we see Aslan or hear about him at one point?), so he references them in subtler ways.

As part of a whole, this issue is fine. As a single issue, it's unfortunately somewhat dull. The biggest problem is that Willingham has spent a lot of time talking about the war against the Homelands, and he's given us little snippets about the Fables' preparation, but now the war is here, so Boy Blue goes around to the various theaters of operation and basically infodumps everything we need to know. I'm perfectly happy to read about what the flying ship has planned, or what Bigby is up to, or what their ace in the hole is, or who's really in charge, or even what the bad guys are doing, but that's all the issue is, and if we step back and look at it, it's kind of dull. In the long run, it's just a chapter in the bigger book, so I appreciate the infodump, and Buckingham's art makes it far more palatable than it might seem. It's nice to know all the plans, but it's done in a less than interesting way. That's all.

Still, it's Fables. That means it's good. Doesn' it?

Final Crisis #1 (of 7) by Grant "Man, why the New Gods aren't HUGE is just beyond me!" Morrison (writer), J. G. Jones (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC.

Ah, yes. I knew there was something coming out this week that everyone might buy. We know that Brian put his copy on the pillow next to him so he could soak up the Morrison goodness. We know that Bill Reed bought a copy for each room of his house so he wouldn't be too far away from it at any point. We know that the sound you heard on Thursday was a long, sustained orgasm from comics geeks everywhere when they beheld an extremely casual Metron (seriously, what's up with him slumping so much? is he baked?) chatting with that cave dude (Anthro, according to ODL&M, and who am I to gainsay him?) or when they learned a new word to toss around, courtesy of the God of All Comics ("orrery," which is the first new word they've learned since "oubliette," also courtesy of Morrison). But did I like it? Isn't that all we care about?*

Well, it's virtually review-proof. As with all these big DC/Marvel event comics, it's not so much about the quality of writing as it is about advancing the plot (interestingly, art seems to trump writing in these things, which is why we had to wait until we had flying cars for Steve McNiven to finish Civil War). Morrison, of course, is far more interesting to read than your average comic book writer, but even he is advancing the plot, and yes, he does it in his customary weird way, but he can't go off on flights of fancy too much, because that's not what this book is about. Similarly, as it's the first of seven issues, he's not too concerned with really giving us too much of that plot, so this is simply a bunch of unconnected scenes strung together. Each scene may or may not work for you, but we can't speak of this as a "good" or "bad" issue, because it's incomplete, and we recognize that. The best we can do is ask ourselves if it's intriguing enough to come back for more, but even that's not really enough. DC and Marvel have conditioned us to the point where DC can get away with putting a label on the comics it publishes that "mean" something and nobody bats an eye or, more importantly, instantly boycotts those comics because of DiDio's presumptuousness. So there probably aren't going to be a lot of people who, if they aren't terribly intrigued by what Morrison is doing here, aren't going to keep buying it, because either they've learned to trust Morrison, or they're DC slaves who must buy everything that "counts" from the company. So even the idea of "does this intrigue" means little.

I mean, we all have questions about the issue. Is the dude at the end really Uatu (I mean, Nix Uotan, wink wink)? Is it Orion? Is it J'onn? Is it absolutely no one we've seen so far? (It's probably the Watcher - whoops, Monitor - but who the hell knows with Morrison?) How did Metron lose his chair? What's the deal with Anthro (?) and Kamandi? Why does the Justice League pretend they don't know all that much about the New Gods when Batman watched Forager give his life to save the Earth itself???? (I know that not all the Leaguers are familiar with the New Gods, and that's why Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are speaking like the others are children, but I just wanted to point out that Cosmic Odyssey is pretty frickin' awesome.) And why is an Alpha Lantern named after a famous tribal queen who wouldn't be known anywhere outside of Earth and said AL still wears high heels even though it's completely impractical? Okay, that's probably Geoff Johns' fault, but still. What the hell is she doing wearing high heels?????

Speaking of art (we were, weren't we?), some of the pages look spectacular, but some look rushed. I fear that Jones (who hasn't done interior art in what, over two years?) might already be behind on the book. Oh dear. Let's hope this stays on schedule. The art is mostly beautiful, of course. Jones is a great artist, especially for superhero stuff, and I want this to stick to a monthly schedule. Wouldn't that be nice?

This is a continuity-thick issue (I mean, the Crime Bible is tucked away next to Libra, and how many of you missed it?), and I'm sure I don't get most of it, but that's okay. If you wonder why I'm buying this big event comic instead of Marvel's big event comic, well, it's Morrison and Jones. Didn't you read Marvel Boy? Holy crap, these two can make some good comics together.

* Oh, come on, people, I'm joking! We all love you scamps you couldn't make it out of the comics store without something weird going on in your pants! You guys are so adorable!

Helen Killer #2 (of 4) Andrew Kreisberg (writer/story), Matthew JLD Rice (artist), and Philip Clark (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, BW, Arcana.

Now that we've calmed down a bit, we can consider the second issue of what has to be the weirdest mini-series you've ever seen. However, what's interesting about this is how un-weird it is. Helen is basically a superhero trying to save the life of a victim - in this case, William McKinley. Kreisberg brings in some supernatural stuff, which is fine, because there's something much odder going on here than a simple anarchist trying to kill a president. That's not bad, because the more Kreisberg separates this from "reality," the better, in my view. He's still walking a fine line, using a blind and deaf woman who has superpowers. Then he brings in a traumatic event like the death of a president, which could also be in poor taste. Czolgosz appears to carry out his mission, but because Kreisberg is making this about something bigger, we don't think of it as a man being gunned down. It's just part of the story. Maybe that doesn't work for you, but in the context of the plot, it's less egregious than it sounds. Kreisberg does do some very nice stuff with Helen's "dark side," which is where the book's main focus should be, at least on the character side. We'll see what happens in the final two issues.

Rice's art continues to dazzle. He nails the look of the Buffalo Exposition, and Helen's "second sight" that shows all the evil around her very well. His details are marvelous, and he does a great job with the action scenes. Kreisberg's story is fine, but Rice's art really makes the book.

This is better than it has any right to be. It's a pretty good book, even so, and it's definitely worth a look.

Hercules: The Thracian War #2 (of 5) by Steve Moore (writer), Admira Wijaya (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios and Sixth Creation (colorists), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

The second Radical book I got for free is better than the first, for the simple fact that Moore doesn't rely on our foreknowledge of the characters (such as it is) to interfere with character development. We may know all about Atalanta and Meleager, but Moore makes sure to tell us what their deal is, and therefore they become more real to us than the characters in Caliber, where Sarkar is using what we're supposed to know to fill in the blanks. Both of the books are using myths, but Moore seems to be able to make them more human, and therefore the story works better. It's a brutal story, as Hercules learns that the massacre from last issue was simply a test of the Greeks' abilities and psychology and eventually accepts the Thracians' job offer to train the troops and lead them against the other Thracian tribes. As is perhaps not surprising, Hercules and his band, although bloodthirsty warriors, aren't as crazed as their erstwhile allies, and the bloodletting wearies them. Before that particular plot point can come to a head, they are ambushed by a rebel leader, with whom, I'm sure, they will eventually ally. It seems obvious that that's what's going to happen, but Moore might surprise us. Who knows?

Despite a lot of characters (and the subsequent difficulty keeping their names straight, which might just be my problem), the interactions between them are both appropriate for the time period (nobody cares much for the slaves or even the women, including the "heroes") and interesting. Wijaya's art is similar to Gastonny's in Caliber, which means it's very nice-looking if a bit slick. It's not perfect, but Wijaya manages to translate a pretty hefty script nicely onto the page without cluttering the page too much.

It's another three-dollar book, and like Radical's other comic, it's not perfect, but it certainly is entertaining. I would recommend it slightly more than Caliber for the reasons I wrote about above, but that's just me. If you're an Arthur freak, obviously the other book is for you!

The Immortal Iron Fist #15 by Matt Fraction (writer), Khari Evans (penciler), Victor Olazaba (inker), Jelena Kevic Djurdjevic (colorist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

As Fraction winds up his work on the book (next issue is his last one, right?), we get a standalone story much like issue #7, revealing the story about an earlier Iron Fist. This time it's Bei Bang-Wen, who was supposedly killed in 1860 but, it's shown in this story, lived on and redeemed himself with another dude who also has funky powers. Why does he need redemption? Well, he thought he was throwing himself into glorious sacrifice against the British and French, but he was the only one who survived. He discovers that he's cut off from the chi of Shou-Lao, so he can't use the iron fist, and he feels that he needs to make it up to his comrades who died when he lived. He spends the rest of the book seeking death, and the story basically tells us if he finds it honorably or not. It's an adventure story with the typical wild stuff we've come to expect with this book - a giant purple six-armed Brahman, a poet-emperor (aren't they all?), a demon, and a third eye. It's a fun, speedy tale after the somewhat interminable previous story arc. Evans, who runs hot and cold with me, does a good job bringing the whole thing to life. His lithe figures work well in an off-beat tale like this, and his fine lines keep it from being too heavy a story (despite Bei Bang-Wen's death wish, it's a somewhat lighter tale than the longer arc that preceded it).

On the recap page, it claims that Bei Bang-Wen goes to "the Dark Continent," which in 1860 was Africa. He does no such thing, going from China to India to Burma, so I'm not sure what that means. Nicely enough, the date of Bei Bang-Wen's defeat is the day (21 August 1860) on which the British and French captured the Taku forts, so I guess Fraction has access to Wikipedia. As I read the story, however, I was a bit bothered. In case you didn't know, I'm a white Scotch-Irish-German-Lithuanian-Polish American middle-class male - I'm about as top of the food chain as you can get. I also have a Master's Degree in History, which means I'm fascinated by it. Hence my gravitation toward titles that use history in them, like Helen Killer above and Northlanders below. I liked this issue because it incorporated the history of the British Empire into it, but, as a white man, I kept thinking of the Monty Python routine from The Life of Brian. Say it with me:

REG: They've bled us white, the bastards. They've taken everything we had, and not just from us: from our fathers, and from our fathers' fathers. LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers. REG: Yeah. LORETTA: And from our fathers' fathers' fathers' fathers. REG: Yeah. All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?! XERXES: The aqueduct? REG: What? XERXES: The aqueduct. REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah. COMMANDO #3: And the sanitation. LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like? REG: Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done. MATTHIAS: And the roads. REG: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads -- COMMANDO: Irrigation. XERXES: Medicine. COMMANDOS: Huh? Heh? Huh ... COMMANDO #2: Education. COMMANDOS: Ohh ... REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough. COMMANDO #1: And the wine. COMMANDOS: Oh, yes. Yeah ... FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh. COMMANDO: Public baths. LORETTA: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg. FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this. COMMANDOS: Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh. REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us? XERXES: Brought peace. REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

Now, I have no problem with showing people rebelling against evil overlords, but when you actually use historical precedent, often the "evil overlords" weren't necessarily completely evil, and the oppressed peasants weren't all oppressed or not even oppressed that much. I know that in a 22-page comic book, the subtleties of the British presence in India are going to be lost, but still. Then, when Bei Bang-Wen and Vivatma Visvajit decide to rebel, the narration reads: "No matter what the power differential is between rulers and the ruled ... no matter what kind of guns are used against peasants ... there is no greater differential than raw numbers. And there will always be more of the ruled than their rulers." Yeah, tell that to the Mahdists at the Battle of Omdurman. If the narration is true, why didn't any of the colonized gain independence until they got some modern weapons and the colonizing countries had been bled white by two world wars?

Sigh. Anyway, to get back on point (Greg's reviews - the only place for Monty Python quotes and references to Sudanese battles!), this is an entertaining comic. I will miss Frubaker.

Marvel Comics Presents #9. "Vanguard" by Marc Guggenheim (writer), Francis Tsai (artist), Tony Washington (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Machine Man" by Ivan Brandon (writer), Niko Henrichon (artist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Gammaragnarok" by Mark Parsons (writer), Tom Cohen (writer), Ed McGuinness (artist), Kelsey Shannon (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer); "Weapon Omega" by Rich Koslowski (writer), Marco Checchetto (artist), Laura Villari (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, Marvel.

When last an issue of Marvel Comics Presents appeared, I wrote: "Plus, the Machine Man story is, unfortunately, not all that good, as Brandon does not write Aaron Stack like Ellis wrote him, which makes me wonder: does Brandon not think he can write Aaron Stack like that, so he didn't even try (which is fair), or did he write this years ago before Aaron Stack's renaissance in Nextwave, so the Ellis speech pattern wasn't established yet?" Ivan Brandon himself stopped by to comment: "the answer is: none of the above- i write all my dialogue like me, turns out. no one promised you what you came looking for." He later pointed out that it is how Machine Man talks these days. I'm not sure if he was being snarky because I dared to challenge the way he writes Aaron Stack and suggested that Ellis wrote him in a more entertaining fashion (which I'm not necessarily doing; I do like the way Ellis wrote him, but if this is a good story, I don't care if he writes the character the same way), but I wasn't trying to be snotty. The last time we saw Aaron Stack, Ellis had changed the way he spoke. Brian Reed in Ms. Marvel ran with that for a time. My point was that this was an interesting take on the character, and I didn't know if Brandon decided simply to write him differently and Marvel said that was fine. My point was that if Rogue speaks with a southern accent because she's from, you know, the south, would Marvel allow me to come in and not have her speak with a Claremontian twang (and you know I'm going to write the X-Men some day, Joey Q - it's fate!)? I don't know. Brandon simply said he wrote it the way he wanted, and that's cool. But I wonder if when he sat down to write this story, he thought at all about Ellis's take on the character. Is that such an unreasonable question to ask? I wouldn't mind at all if Brandon comes back here and engages in some banter about the creative process, because I don't think I'm being snotty. Maybe I am.

The story is actually better in the second chapter than in the first. It's an interesting juxtaposition between the Hulk and Aaron Stack, and which is the true monster. Plus, there's a tiny Celestial! Who doesn't love tiny Celestials? We'll see how it plays out.

I'm also thinking that MCP isn't long for this world. Issue #12 has been solicited, and in that one, the two big stories plus Brandon's come to an end. It feels like the series will die then too. It's just too much money, I think, despite the extra pages.

Northlanders #6 by Brian Wood (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Sven gets an army. That's about it, and why not, as it's the sixth of an eight-part story. It's gorgeously drawn by Gianfelice, especially the second and third pages, where Sven butchers a bunch of men sent to kill him. And then there's a lot of organizing in anticipation of the big finale. But wait! there's a spanner in the works, as the Saxons arrive. Oh dear. Damnable Saxons!

The Saxons made me wonder, as you knew they would! It's 980 in the book. Are these Saxons from England, as seems likely? If so, the king at that time was the famous (or infamous) Æthelred "the Unready", but he was only a teenager at the time. Around this time (if you believe Wikipedia, and why wouldn't you?), the Danes were raiding the southern coast of England. So why do the English care about the Orkneys? Of course, they may not be "English" at all, but actual Saxons from Saxony in Germany. I'm terribly curious to see where Wood goes with this, because it's all very fascinating.

Man, I hope this book lasts. I have grown to like DMZ more than I did early on, but I really, really like this comic, and I hope it lasts. Go buy it!

She-Hulk #29 by Peter David (writer), Val Semieks (penciler), Victor Olazaba (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Dave Sharpe (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Hey, we finally find out how Jen got disbarred! Yay!

This is a typical David story, which means I think it's pretty damned good. David twists the story so many different ways in just the course of the issue it's breathtaking. On every page we think we know the whole story, but we don't. And it's not gimmicky, either - it's a logical progression from one event to another, which is nice to see. David manages to take a shot at Civil War, too, which I always enjoy.

It's a perfectly good story, but I don't really want to give too much away. If you've been curious about David's take on the character, this is a good issue to pick up, because although it's part of a bigger storyline (like everything David writes), it's a good standalone issue too.

All Star Superman #11 by Grant "Hey, look over here! I'm clever!" Morrison (writer), Frank Quitely (penciller), Jamie Grant (inker/colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

And so, another Morrison book arrives, and it's the penultimate issue of what everyone thinks is the greatest Superman story EVAH! Well, it's okay, but not perfect. The battle with the Tyrant Sun is actually pretty damned cool, and beautifully drawn, but Luthor is just not that interesting. When Superman visited him in prison, it was a fascinating conversation, but I'm one of those people who doesn't find the purple-and-green armor Luthor all that compelling, so the fact that next issue promises a battle royale between that guy and our hero doesn't excite me that much. He looks, quite frankly (see what I did there?), ridiculous on the last page, wearing those stupid jodhpurs. Stacy and Clinton would have a fit, I can tell you that much. And his niece is a typical bad Morrison creation, in that she's too cool for words and extremely annoying. And while I'm picking nits, why in the hell did they allow Luthor have anything before they executed him? Isn't he, like, a super-genius?

Still, as the fight with Solaris and Superman's preparations for his own death take up most of the issue, it's a fine one, and I'm hesitantly looking forward to the final issue. On the one hand, it could be the most breathtaking single issue of the year. On the other hand, it's Super-Luthor. The potential for disaster is great. That's why we have faith in the God of All Comics, though, right?

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #50 by Jim Balent (writer/artist) and Holly Golightly (colorist/letterer). $2.95, 22 pgs, FC, Broadsword Comics.

Yes, it's the fiftieth issue of Tarot! And yes, I read it. Perhaps only frequent commenter Andrew Collins can appreciate what I went through in reading this. I believe Joseph Conrad had just read an issue of Tarot when he stumbled across Colonel Kurtz's last words.

You might recall that I read an issue of this last year, and reviewed it here. Well, that review got shredded a bit on the Tarot forum, so I thought maybe - just maybe - I was missing something. Maybe the big 5-0 would be a good place to check the book out again, just for the fun of it. This is what happens when I start thinking - somebody should take me aside and slap me.

The more I think about this issue, the angrier I get at it. When I first read it, I just thought, "Well, that was lousy," but gave it credit for actually having 9 pages on which no nudity appears and for actually presenting an ethical dilemma. A dumb ethical dilemma, sure, but at least an ethical dilemma. But then I thought about the issue some more, and then I discussed it with my wife, on whom I forced this so she could speak to it (I'm not sure if making your wife read Tarot is grounds for divorce, but I'll take my chances). Let's consider the art, which is Balent's strength. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the nudity or the sex. This is far less of a porn comic than the very few other issues of Tarot I've had the misfortune of seeing, but even with those, I didn't have a problem with the nudity and the sex. If Balent wants to draw them and readers want to pretend that somehow ridiculously idealized versions of women are good role models for other women, so be it. Nobody claims that the body types of regular superhero women are good ideals for females, but turn them into "witches" and suddenly Tarot's top-heavy and absolutely hairless look (instead of waxing, she must "magick" the body hair away!) are positive ideals. Whatever. If Tarot wants to stroll around naked and have sex at the drop of a hat, more power to her.

What makes me angry about the book is that it's so very bad. It's somewhat nice to look at, but the writing is atrocious. In this issue, Tarot confronts a (male) fairy who is trying to drag away a family because their son committed a crime. It seems he captured a (topless, naturally) fairy and kept her in a jar, where she died. Tarot claims this was a mistake, and he shouldn't be punished. So the fairy finds three other corpses of tiny fairies, ones which the boy killed and then pinned up in some macabre butterfly collection (their corpses are in various states of decay, but their breasts are still perfect, of course). For absolutely no reason, Tarot still sides with the family. Now, I can see not wanting the entire family to pay for the boy's crimes, but why is the boy innocent? He's obviously a creepy psychopath, and he's killing magical beings at that, yet Tarot defends him. It's just dumb. The plot is lousy, and the scripting is even worse. Here's a sample: "I feel myself open to her as she removes the last layer of cotton that separates us. My body accepts her gift." Balent has been reading too many letters to Penthouse, I think. As my wife said, the prose is wildly self-important, and it feels like John Houseman should be reading it in front of a roaring fire (even the porn bits). It's the mark of someone trying to convince us that this should be taken seriously when the material isn't all that good.

I know that the readers of this book will defend it until they die, and nothing a punk like me writes will convince them otherwise, but neither me nor my wife think this issue (I can't speak to the book in general, as I've read very little of it) is portraying women particularly positively. I know that I'm a phallo-centric jerk and my wife is probably brainwashed by the patriarchy, but although Tarot and her friends are written to be positive role models (which is nice), does the fact that they're all idealized versions of porn stars help? I don't know. This smacks a little bit of "female empowerment" that takes the form of pole dancing "because you like it," not because a man is forcing you to. Let me tell you something, ladies - we don't care why you pole dance, we're just happy you feel the desire to objectify yourself that way. Is it enough that you get to pole dance on your own terms? Is that what "female empowerment" means? Is this book empowering females because, despite the fact that Tarot looks like a fake woman who appears in a skin mag, she's a powerful witch who screws whoever she pleases? I honestly don't know. I suspect that if Balent drew Tarot with some flab, saggy breasts, underarm hair, and less-than-perfect makeup but didn't change anything else, a section of his readership who claims to like the "female empowerment" aspect of the book would suddenly discover that female empowerment isn't as interesting when the lead character doesn't look like a centerfold. But that's just what I believe. If you want to read a lousy comic just because it has a "powerful" lead character, go ahead. It's your money!

Uncanny X-Men #498 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Choi (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Brubaker reveals the secret origin of the Goddess, and it's nice in that it ties into M-Day, something that, years later, is finally getting some attention by writers other than Peter David (both storylines in Uncanny are tied to it). Most of the issue, however, is devoted to Peter, Logan, and Kurt getting tortured by the Russians, and it's a fairly tense read, although I'm not positive how Kurt escapes. According to evil Russian dude, Kurt has all sorts of restraints on him that, if he attempts to teleport, will send 10,000 volts "through every cell of his being." Yet he does teleport, successfully, and isn't dead. He's down for the count, sure, but are we just supposed to accept that he's one tough cookie? I suppose so, and I don't have a problem with that, but it seems odd that on page the Russian is bragging about how he'll die if he teleports, and one page later, he does so successfully. Whatever. It's still a good scene, because Peter knows Logan can take the pain, and Kurt knows how to get Logan out of his restraints, and Logan goes apeshit old-school style once he does get out. The biggest problem with this story is the return of Omega Red (come on, they're in Russia - like it's going to be a surprise!), who has never been a terribly interesting character. Brubaker could make him interesting, I suppose, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens with him next issue.

Oh, and the fact that some of the X-Men now have "hippie names" was ... well, it was something. I'm a bit disappointed that after the setup of the Goddess, it appears we're going to see another X-Men vs. X-Men throwdown, where one group is mind-controlled. In a weird way, that's appropriate, because that idea is so '60s, man! As I've noted with regard to Brubaker's work on the title, it's getting better, so I have some faith that he will resolve these two plots well. I assume he has to do it next issue, right? After that we have the big 500th issue, and that's a whole new ballgame, right?

Another huge week in the books! You know you love the comics! And you know you love telling me how wrong I am about the comics! Let it all out, people!

Today's totally random lyric is:

"Thirty-seven killed last week in a crack warHostages tied up and shot in a liquor storeNobody gives a fuck'The children have to go to school'Well, moms, good luck'Cause the shit's fucked up badI use my pad and pen and my lyrics break out madI try to write about fun and the good timesBut the pen yanks away and explodesAnd destroys the rhyme"

Have a nice day!

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