What I bought - 29 November 2006

This was a weird week, as I bought my usual bunch of comics, and a lot of them were pretty damned obscure.  I bought a few that were as mainstream as you can get (Batman and X-Men), but then it was into the dark corners of the comics universe.  A weird week indeed.  And some damned fine comic books, too, especially from the Big Boys!

Batman #659 by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake.  $2.99, DC.

So what exactly happened to The God of All Comics that caused him to be slower than molasses?  I know he was never the fastest scribe, and that presumably was why his JLA run was peppered with guest writers, but it's getting a bit silly.  I mean, Seven Soldiers #1 reads like it took up a lot of time, but his Batman scripts, so far, have been just decent superhero storytelling.  Is he stretching himself too thin on 52?  Beats me.  It's just strange.

This is a roundabout way of saying that we get the fabulous fill-in team of Ostrander and Mandrake an issue early.  Ostrander and Mandrake have a long history together, stretching back to GrimJack, through Firestorm, The Spectre, The Kents, and Martian Manhunter, and it's good to see them back together.  Especially because Ostrander continues to be one the most underrated writers in comics, and Mandrake was practically born to draw Batman.

A good Batman artist has to contend with the cape, which adds so much atmosphere to the story.  Mandrake does marvelous things with Batman's cape, making it flow around him in the fight scenes and wrap him like a shroud in other scenes, until it becomes almost a living thing.  His Batman is grim, yes, but also more like an avenging angel.  The bad guy, Grotesk, is a perfect villain for Mandrake to draw, too - he is good at drawing monsters, which is essentially what Grotesk is.  And he always does a wonderful job with things that flow, like Grotesk's flames (and, in essense, Batman's cape).  After the cartoony style of Kubert for the past few issues, it's a jolt to see Mandrake's moody style here, but it fits the story well.

Ostrander writes a pretty meat-and-potatoes Batman story, but that's okay.  Writers who can write solid stories without making it "an event" are rarer and rarer in comics, it seems, so we can just read along and be entertained.  Ostrander also appreciates the sense of mystery in a Batman book, so we get clues about the identity of Grotesk that seem to point one way, but might not.  He also incorporates Leslie Tompkins' clinic into the story without bringing up the awful story that got rid of Tompkins from the Batman universe, and shows Bruce Wayne having a social life!  Some of the best Batman stories spring from situations that occur when Bruce Wayne is out and about, so the fact that this story ties into a date Bruce went on two years before, as well as Leslie's clinic, is a nice touch.  I don't want Batman to turn into a soap opera like many Marvel books, but it's good to remember he has some established points of reference in his life.

I'm pretty sure this is a two-part story (it was solicited that way, at least), and it's a good book to pick up if you're in the mood for a solid Batman story.  And who doesn't love a solid Batman story every now and then?

Emissary #6 by Christopher E. Long and Juan Ferreyra.  $3.50, Image.

This issue of Emissary continues Long's first story arc on the title, so, as I have said, I'm reserving judgment on the entire thing until he's done.  However, after last issue's "summing-up" of what has happened so far, it's nice to see that in this issue, things happen.  Tara, the FBI agent who has taken upon herself to show Emissary the world (and her naked body), sums up the feelings of the readers by asking him just what the hell he thinks he's doing on Earth.  Emissary realizes that he has to be of a teacher if he wants to lead humanity to enlightenment, because we're, you know, so fucked up.  So perhaps now we'll get more into the story, which has been floundering slightly.

Long continues with the religious questions of the book, as people continue to debate if Emissary is some sort of messiah or not.  The first pages of the book deal with that tsunami there on the cover, as a giant wave caused by the biggest earthquake in history (that's what the experts in the book say!) is about the flood Singapore.  Emissary holds the wave back, but can't stop it because he's not strong enough.  The image of the family smiling up at him until he fails and disappears and their smiles turn to screams is a horrifying but effective image.  Tara and Emissary escape, but thousands of people die, and Tara lashes out, causing Emissary to rethink his mission.  In later scenes he regains some of the trust of the people, as he walks among them healing where he can.  On the news, the debate continues about whether Emissary is a god or a devil.  Long does a nice job with the two pages of debate, as the newscaster deliberately twists the news to make it sound like the devastation was Emissary's fault.

The final pages bring us back to Tara's family, as the government gets nasty and plan to blackmail Tara into handing Emissary over to them.  Yeah, that'll piss Emissary off.

Ferreyra's art is very nice, as usual, and looks a bit rougher than his work on the book has been, which is good to see.  The lines are a bit heavier and the sheen on the art is lessened, so the effect is nicer.  The water coming into Singapore, frankly, is goofy-looking, but it's a minor point in an otherwise beautifully drawn book. 

Final judgment on the book comes after issue #8.  We'll see, but for now, Long is doing a good job with it.

[Update: Well, shit.  Commenter extraordinaire and all-around raconteur Guy LeCharles Gonzalez points out this thread, in which Jim Valentino reveals that this is the final issue because the book is selling so poorly.  That sucks.  Just forget all I told you.  It doesn't matter anyway.]

Hero Street #1 by Eric Miller, Federico Zumel, and Chuck Bordell.  $2.50, Herostreet Press.

This is the first of two books I bought from Herostreet Press this week, and while they have a rough charm, neither is particularly memorable.  This title is better, but only marginally so.  It is a story about a neighborhood where only super-people live, and Nick Sharp, a civil servant assigned to keep them in line.  It's an interesting conceit, and has some potential, but doesn't really do much to live up to it.  The art is pretty bad, with poorly drawn figures, bad perspectives, and impossibly contorted body positions.  And the humor in the book, while inducing a few smiles, never rises above badly-written situation comedy level, which, if you like that sort of thing.  There's a funny scene when the scantily-clad telepath appears in a puff of smoke, and the three male members of the resident super-team take one look at her, and she calls them perverts and disappears again, never to return.  But that's the kind of humor we get in the book, and not much is as funny as that.  By the time Nick Sharp pulls out his spudgun and starts shooting potatoes at the heroes, I had lost interest.

It's kind of a shame.  It's always interesting to check out seriously under-the-radar books, but Hero Street doesn't really offer anything of interest, and mockery of superheroes has been done before, and far better.

Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #10 by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen, and Wade von Grawbadger.  $2.99, Marvel.

Speaking of mocking superheroes, Nextwave came out, and after last issue's assault comes this issue, which might be even better.  The early issues were good, but just as the news comes that it's getting cancelled, Ellis has really hit a peak.  Maybe he just doesn't care anymore, but that's cool, because we're getting really great comic books.

Ellis shows once again why he's one of the best writers in comics, as our heroes confront Forbush-Man and are subjected to the "naked omnistellar mind of the ultimate human."  Forbush-Man takes off his "hat" (which is a saucepan) and our heroes are transported to alternate realities where all their hope is lost.  Ellis really pulls out all the stops, throwing Aaron Stack into an office job where the inanity of it causes him to bash his head against his computer (but still keep doing his job!), while Monica is sent to a weird San Francisco where the hippies are malevolent, the Captain is sent to an earth that is on the opposite side of the universe from ours, and Elsa is the last human defender on a world overrun by monsters.  Each vignette is poignant in its way, and a lot deeper than what we've come to expect from Nextwave.  Ellis has always had an undercurrent in his work about the loss of joy in the world, and occasionally he makes this more obvious, as he does in this issue.  The deus ex machina of the issue is a bit silly, more in keeping with what we've seen in earlier issues, but I can't begrudge Ellis that, because it at least mirrors the tone of the series.

Immonen really flexes his muscles, too, showing different styles based on which alternate reality the heroes are in.  The Elsa Bloodstone sequence, drawn in Mignola-style (because of the monsters, presumably), is fantastic, and the Monica sequence, drawn like Paul Pope, is better than Pope himself.  The Captain section is probably aping Leon, presumably because he drew Earth X/Universe X, and I'm not sure who he's copying in the Aaron Stack section.  A little help, anyone?  Immonen has changed styles recently (compare this book with, say, Superman: Secret Identity), so he's good at modeling others.  It makes the visual part of the book as wonderful as the written part.

Only two issues left of this marvelous series, and despite a bit of bumpiness in the middle issues, this has consistently been one of the most entertaining superhero book out there.  So, of course it doesn't sell.  Too bad.

Perfect Storm #1 by Rob Jones.  $2.99, Herostreet Press.

The second Herostreet book this week has a better idea behind it than Hero Street, but the execution is still lacking.  Erin Storm is an assassin for the FBI who finds that another assassin (also female; chick assassins are h-o-t!) is stealing her assignments.  The FBI, for some reason, doesn't like this, and they try to smoke out the traitor in their ranks, because that's the only way this other assassin could know about the targets.  So begins a cat-and-mouse game that ends, not necessarily as you might expect, but within the parameters of a spy novel.  There's nothing particularly bad about the book (which is, I guess, a one-off, as the story pretty much ends), but there's nothing particularly good about it, either.  The art is better than in Hero Street, but it's still somewhat stiff.  The writing is uninspired, simply telling the story and hitting all the notes you'd expect from this kind of book.  There's nothing here to inspire us to follow Erin Storm (if indeed she reappears in a later book, even though, as I mentioned, it seems to end conclusively).  Perfect Storm is like one of those airport spy novels - readable, a minor enjoyment, a distraction, but something you forget as soon as you put it down.

Wetworks #3 by Mike Carey, Whilce Portacio, and Richard Friend.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

I wanted to give Wetworks three issues, because that's the supposedly the length of the first story, but Carey cheats us by not really wrapping things up.  However, it's enough for me to decide that I don't want to read this book anymore.  I still enjoy Portacio's art, and Carey can write a good comic book (see X-Men below), but this is just an unpleasant comic book.  Yes, I know The Boys is unpleasant and I've given it more rope, but I like Ennis more than I like Carey, and even with the first couple of issues of The Boys, I liked the direction more than I like this.  So there!

This comic is a good example of why a lot of comics don't work - blood doesn't necessarily mean your comic book is important, or even "adult."  In this book, there's a massacre at a nightclub, and the cops can't find all the body parts.  Charming.  Then, Simon Vascar, who's trying to open up some sort of portal and needs body parts to do so, converses with the spirits he's trying to free while surrounded by those same body parts.  Nice.  Much mayhem and bloodshed ensues, and our heroes stop Vascar but don't actually capture him, leading Sebastian Ashe, the werewolf from last issue, to open up a portal to Thea Mater, his home, which is a future version of Earth.  I stopped caring long before.

There's just not a lot here that's terribly interesting.  When the best part of the book is the ridiculous comic-booky names and a one-line joke that Vascar gets off when the Wetworks team burst in, you know it's time to move on.  This book is an example of why I don't really like shows like CSI.  My mom loves it, so when she was visiting recently, I watched some of those shows.  They're relentlessly dark and bloody, and worse, they revel in it.  I don't mind serious comic books that deal in dark subject matter, but this book seems to love showing people getting ripped apart.  It's unpleasant.  And I don't really need that. 

Whisper #1 by Steven Grant and Jean Dzialowski.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

I just mentioned the lateness of this book, and now, it appears!  Yay!  Steven Grant, who writes a very interesting column here at CBR, occasionally appears out of the Nevada desert and actually writes a comic book, and this is his creation from back in the 1980s, so it should be interesting, right?

Well, sort of.  Grant is a good writer who has never really gotten a lot of recognition, and he seems like the kind of guy who could write a decent comic book in his sleep.  I'm not going to say he wrote this in his sleep, because it's better than decent, but it seems like he has a lot more on his mind with the character than comes out on the page.  It's a pretty straight-forward story of a drug deal gone bad in post-Katrina New Orleans, and his main character, Danae Young, gets caught up in it.  There's the typical double-crossing, knife fights, and explosions, but it's the internal monologue that runs throughout the book that gives us a sense that Grant has more on his mind than just a story of a tough chick who fights to survive.  I'd like to see more of that in future issues, because the drug deal, which is fine, doesn't really hook you.  Obviously, there's much more going on here, and as Grant begins to explore that, the book should be much better.

The art is very nice, too.  The fight is nicely choreographed, and although we don't get much of a sense of New Orleans, we do get a nice sense of the elements.  The story is called "Hydrophobia," and Grant and Dzialowski do a good job bringing water into the story and making it a palpable presence in the book.  The art gives the book a nice, moody feel, which it needs, and adds to the mystery of Danae.

I have never read the original series (which is referenced on the cover), so I have no idea how it's connected to that.  It doesn't really matter, though, because this is a good story that you can read without any knowledge of the old series, or even knowledge that it exists.  I can't recall if it's a mini-series or an ongoing, but it's worth a look.  Now, if the next issue could come out in a more timely fashion, we'd really have something!

X-Men #193 by Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, and the entire New York Philharmonic Orchestra on inks.  $2.99, Marvel.

This is the final issue of Carey's first arc, and it is, quite frankly, excellent.  It has problems, sure.  But it's still excellent.

Let's get the problems out of the way first.  A few are with the creative team, and a few are, probably, my problem.  Bachalo's art, despite the host of inkers (which usually means it's more coherent), is tough to follow in places.  Some of the scenes are great - Serafina standing over a prostrate Sabretooth is very nice - but occasionally, Bachalo's manic attention to detail gets in the way and makes it a bit difficult to figure out what's going on.  It's not a terribly huge problem, because for the most part, we can follow the story, but occasionally it gets in the way.  Carey has some crucial plot elements in this story that I don't remember, and I know that's my problem, but he could have subtly reminded us better exactly what happened.  I know this is written for the trade, so when it's read the way it's supposed to be read, it won't matter, but once again, suckers like me are buying the monthlies, so throw us a bone now and again.  And I'm still not sure who everyone is and what their powers are, but that, again, is my problem.

Overall, however, the issue is very good.  The Children of the Vault are fine adversaries for our merry mutants, even though they're not terribly original.  Carey obviously shares my love for Rogue, because she's getting more kick-ass by the issue, and although I still have my doubts about the composition of it, it's nice to see them being a bit more ruthless when they have to be.  I don't want the X-Men to turn into Wetworks, but I do like to see them dealing with the threat appropriately, especially when the threat outclasses them so much.  Carey gets some very nice lines into the book, showing us a lot about the characters without bludgeoning us over the head with it.  And it ends with a cliffhanger!  Whoo-hoo!

I'm liking this book more than Uncanny X-Men, and more importantly, I'm liking this book more each month.  Rogue is taking her team out of the mansion, and it will be interesting to see where Carey goes with them.  Going off the reservation is a dicey proposition for the X-Men, with mixed results in storytelling.  But I'm looking forward to checking it out.


A Dummy's Guide to Danger #3 (of 4) by Jason M. Burns and Ron Chan.  $3.25, Viper Comics.

Jason Burns e-mailed me and wouldn't divulge if Teri gets hurt or not.  Damn him!!!!!  That's Teri on the cover.  Oh dear.  She looks suitably menaced.  We'll see next issue if I'm really grumpy about this book or not.

Rush City #3 (of 6) by Chuck Dixon, Timothy Green II, and Rick Magyar.  $2.99, DC.

I didn't read this, obviously, but there's one shot of Black Canary that makes no sense.  She is trying to go with "Rush" on whatever mission he's off on, but he needs to take another guy for some reason.  Only two people can fit in the Pontiac that this series is pimping, so she gets left behind.  She acquiesces after thinking about it, and when she does, Green draws her standing with her ass to the reader, looking over her shoulder.  It seems like the only reason he draws her that way is because she's wearing a leotard that is giving her a serious wedgie (seriously, Dinah - you should go to the hospital to get that checked out) and those fishnet stockings.  I know, decrying cheesecake in mainstream comics is a lost cause, but it's such a weird image.  Do artists have to be so obvious?

Anyway, this is my contribution to helping comics this week.  I hope it turned you onto a book you might have skipped.  If not, oh well.  And in the shameless pluggery department, if you're interested, I'm currently reviewing my trip to Egypt in painstaking detail (you know how I can go on and on, after all) over at my own blog.  Lots of pictures, though, so you can skip the written parts! 

LOOK: Previews for Every Marvel Comic Arriving Wednesday, Dec. 18

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