What I bought - 29 October 2008

Fifth weeks are always weird, so there was a strange smorgasbord of comics this time around, but still - one of Marvel's best, one of DC's best (if you count Vertigo, which for the purposes of this post I will), and one of Oni's best (granted, they don't have many ongoing titles, but work with me!) came out this week, plus simply one of the best comics over the past few years comes to a glorious end (and another comic limps to the finish line). Let's take a look, shall we?

Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 (of 3) by Garth Ennis (writer), Russ Braun (artist), Tony Aviña (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

It's a Garth Ennis war comic, which means it will probably be pretty decent. Ennis loves war comics, and he usually does a good job making sure that there's plenty of violence balanced by a healthy cynicism about war itself. Ennis makes his soldiers heroes, as long as they're the "right" kinds of soldiers - brave and patriotic to a degree, angry that they have to fight but willing to do what they have to, and weirdly enthusiastic about killing even though they are angry. Ennis hates the "wrong" kind of soldiers - usually officers, blindly patriotic to the point of stupidity, cowardly when the chips are down, and unwilling to share in the comaraderie inherent in the armed forces. You know what kind of people you're going to get in an Ennis war comic, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting to read.

Take this new war comic from Dynamite. Ennis takes us to Stalingrad (presumably; it's never mentioned in the book) and introduces us to a German squad just trying to survive and a new group of Russian fighter pilots, who happen to be women. This twist lets Ennis get even more deeply into what a "good" soldier is, as the ladies' commanding officer is a typical buffoon with the added male chauvenism thrown in for good measure. The pilots' first mission goes horribly wrong, as might be expected, but it's the small touches that Ennis throws into this issue that makes it worthwhile, like the fact that the women get antiquated aircraft and the extra fear of female prisoners that make two of them take drastic steps when their plane is downed. As a first issue, it's not really riveting enough to grab you and make you come back for more unless you've read an Ennis war comic before (and really, who else is going to pick this up?) and know he'll probably do a good job with the entire story. Ennis gives us some of the old ultra-violence to remind us that he's Garth Ennis, but the best part of the book is the relationship between Anna and Zoya, a pilot-bomber team. When Ennis concentrates on those two, it's an interesting book. Kurt, the sympathetic German, is fine too, but the stuff with the Germans is a bit too "normal Ennis war stuff." And I don't know if it's an insult to Russ Braun to call him a low-rent Darick Robertson, but it's not meant as one. It's been a while since I've seen Braun's work, but it looks more Robertsonish than I remember. It's perfectly fine, though - every character has a distinctive look, and Braun handles the big battle scenes and the gore pretty well.

This is a new ongoing, but in the vein of Northlanders and other books of that ilk, meaning each story arc features entirely new war stories. So this is only three issues long, and I'm cool with getting at least that many. I doubt if I could deal with a steady diet of Ennis war comics, but I don't mind checking in on them, and at least this one has an interesting angle to it.

Checkmate #31 by Bruce Jones (writer), Manuel Garcia (artist), Travis Lanham (letterer), and Santiago Arcas (colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Checkmate comes to an end six issues after it should have, and there's really nothing to say about it. I do hope Garcia gets a higher-profile gig, because he's a pretty good artist, but otherwise, Jones's arc started decently and quickly went downhill. It finally turned into a superhero/monster mash-up, which can be fun (see: Nextwave) but a) wasn't; and b) didn't really belong in an espionage comic. There were lots of silly things in the book, too, as if Jones was asleep while writing and nobody bothered to check on him (once again, editorial falls flat on its face). The monster goes from China to Israel in the space of a page, for instance. Crimson Fox distracts the monster by (I'm embarrassed to type this, so imagine how embarrassed DC should be for printing it) exposing her breasts. First, that's asinine. Second, she's wearing a spandex (presumably) body suit. How does she open and/or rip her top in such a manner to expose said breasts? Jesus. As for the ending ... I'm not exactly sure what happened. It turns into some sort of Christian Apocalypse kind of thing, but it's not explained very well and then Chimera ... isn't Chimera anymore. Huh?

It's no use thinking about it. I will always believe that an espionage book set in the DCU or Marvel U. would work very well, as long as superheroes are used in it very judiciously. Unfortunately, it never seems to sell. That's fine, though - Rucka's 25 issues are pretty good reading, and I can probably forget that the final six issues ever existed. Too bad Beatriz doesn't have a home anymore, though.

The Incredible Hercules #122 by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Clayton Henry (artist), Salva Espin (artist), Raúl Treviño (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

On the second page of this comic, Hercules hits Namor so hard the sound effect is: "Crakkajamma!" I'm just sayin'.

As the book has continued with its magnificence, it's harder and harder to find ways to praise it. I mean, we know we'll get action, we know we'll get humor, we know we'll get interesting problems and interesting ways to solve them, and we know we'll get great characterization. It's become a question of whether Pak and Van Lente will throw in something so funny it makes you shoot soda out of your nose. The over/under on those moments is usually 1, and although they fail to reach that in this issue, it's still very funny, especially when Hercules fights Namor and Amadeus figures something out for Artume and thinks he's going to get lucky because of it. I know Amadeus is a horny teenager, but the fact that he ignores Delphyne, who tells him that Amazons kill their mates, is a bit odd. I mean, it's not like he only suspects something bad will happen - an Amazon tells him flat out that he's going to be killed! That's a minor point, though - for the most part, this remains an extremely fun comic, full of the craziness you expect from superhero comics with none of the ironic detachment. Van Lente and Pak are simply telling a ripping good yarn, and Clayton Henry's art looks remarkably Kevin Maguire-esque. With a slightly more comedic book like this (I don't mean to imply that it's all humor, as Hercules discovers something pretty awful about midway through the book, but it is more humorous than your standard superhero book), facial expressions need to be superb to pull off some comic timing, and Henry does that very well. Just look at Namorita's expression on the cover!

So yeah, Hercules continues to be good. No big surprise, that.

The Immortal Iron Fist #19 by Duane Swierczynski (writer), Travel Foreman (artist), Russ Heath (artist), Matt Milla (colorist), Dave & Natalie (letterers). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

This is part 3 of Swierczynski's initial four-part arc, and I'm still torn. It's not bad, but it's not great, either. Danny fights Zhou Cheng, who lured our hero to his martial arts studio by mind-controlling the kids there. Damn, that's just mean. Danny and his pals save the kids, naturally, but then Danny is done in by someone close to him. Oh dear. That can't be good.

Swierczynski takes good advantage of the fact that there are other immortal weapons out there, as Danny calls on his buddies from the Big Tournament to help him out of a jam. But there is just a lack of a spark in this book, so although it's decent enough, something insane is missing. When Frubaker was writing the book, it felt like anything was possible in this weird corner of the Marvel world. As I've commented before about the first few issues of Swierczynski's run, it's quickly turned into a regular superhero comic, offering little beyond a malevolent and seemingly unstoppable bad guy. Even the appearance of the other immortal weapons is treated less as something astounding and more of a call-up to the Avengers - "Hey, guys, do you want to come and help me defeat this bad guy? Swell!" It's a shame, because the structure of the comic is still there, and this plot isn't bad. From the solicitations for the next arc, it seems like Swierczynski is at least going to try to do some wacky stuff with the book, but I'm just not sure if I have enough confidence in him to follow along.

Oh, and remember those annoying descriptive tags from Uncanny X-Men? The ones that are possibly more annoying than "the focused totality of her psychic powers" being repeated every issue? Well, they show up here, and they're even more annoying! "Bride of Nine Spiders. Beautiful. Creepy." AAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! Luckily, they're confined to one panel. Please, please, please don't let this become a trend, comic book writers!

Northlanders #11 by Brian Wood (writer), Ryan Kelly (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Wood begins a new story, and Kelly joins him on art duties. It's kind of surprising to see Kelly's art in color, as his major works over the past few years have been in black and white, but colors simply make his art more vibrant and dynamic, which is a plus in this issue, as he's called upon to draw some vibrant and dynamic stuff. He hasn't lost his touch in the quieter moments, of course, as Brigid, the daughter of Magnus, who is running all over Ireland killing Vikings, seems to be the emotional center of this story, and Kelly does a remarkable job with her wistful blend of innocence and newly-discovered disappointment in life.

Wood's story is about the aforementioned Magnus, who is "the seed of an insurgency," to quote a Viking lord who is tracking him. In the first few pages, I thought this was going to be a medieval murder mystery, but then we're introduced to Magnus, and it becomes "The Fugitive." Magnus's motives remain unclear, but Wood drops a clue when he mentions Brian Boru, who ruled southern Ireland in 1014 (when the story is set) and died in that year (in a battle on Good Friday, according to Wikipedia). So we'll see if that has anything to do with this arc. I tend to think it will. For this one issue, though, we're just establishing Magnus as a bad motherfucker, so there's a lot of blood. It's just another entertaining issue of this fantastic series.

As usual, the history in the series fascinates me, because I loves the history, yes I do. And it's always fun to bait Wood as well, even though I think the comic is excellent. I don't mind the modern dialogue, because it somehow adds to the book's authenticity. The book begins with a mention that we're in "Occupied Ireland," however, while Magnus is called a "loyal son of Ireland" and it's implied that Sigtrygg, to whom the Viking lord writes a letter telling us all about the killings, is a powerful king. However, Sigtyrgg (yes, he existed) was a minor king in Dublin, and Brian Boru was High King of Ireland at this time. The way Wood sets up the story is of a unified Irish uprising against the evil Viking overlords. But Brian Boru was constantly embroiled in civil war against other Irish (the O'Neills, usually) and both sides used Vikings in their armies. By tweaking history ever so slightly, Wood makes it seem as if this is a tale of Irish nationalism, when Irish nationalism didn't exist in the 11th century.

Does anyone care? Probably not. As Wood as commented before here at the blog, it's all fiction, so I don't even care that much. I appreciate the issue for what it is, which is the story of a man fighting against oppression and (probably) how that affects his relationship with his daughter. I just like pointing these things out because it's fun.

It shouldn't stop you from picking up the book, though. Good stuff, as usual.

Or Else #5 by Kevin Huizenga (writer/artist). $4.95, 42 pgs, BW, Drawn and Quarterly.

At the risk of drawing the ire of people far smarter than I, this comic stumped me. I have heard many good things about Kevin Huizenga, so I figured I'd pick this up as a sampler of his work before I delved into something like Ganges. Well, I may not delve into something like Ganges after reading this, and this even has a story with Glenn Ganges in it!

It's hard to articulate why this isn't a good comic. It's obviously trying to be funny, but it's not. That's not its sole purpose, so I can forgive it, but it doesn't do anything else, either. It's not egregiously horrible, so I can't mention that. It's basically plotless, so I can't say the plot is bad or makes no sense. That's kind of the point. What Huizenga does is give us several vignettes that occasionally illuminate an aspect of life or point out the absurdity of something in life, but it's not all that insightful, so any commentary this makes falls flat. It's not even all that surreal, which might be something. It's just "stories" about inane things that aren't humorous, deep, revealing, or interesting. The closest Huizenga comes to making a point is when he satirizes organized religion, as he does in the Glenn Ganges story and on the inside back cover. Organized religion is certainly a tempting target, but it's not like Huizenga does anything interesting with the satire. It falls flat because it's so obvious.

As usual with comics (or creators, as I haven't seen this particular comic reviewed yet) that are lauded elsewhere, I feel bad about not liking this more. Our Dread Lord and Master loves Ganges, and most comics literati think Huizenga is a genius. Based on this tiny volume (literally; it's pocket-sized!), I don't see it. There are none of the artistic flourishes that Brian showed the last time Ganges came up on the blog, and the writing is flat and unimpressive. The best part of the book is the two-page "More of the 100 Most People in America," which verges on the truly surreal and is therefore somewhat tragic in its depiction of normal citizens. But for the most part, the book has nothing to recommend it.

What am I missing about this comic and Huizenga? I know I'm dim, but is there something here that makes this a good comic? Help me, Obi-Wan, you're my only hope!

Rex Libris #13 by James Turner (writer/artist). $3.50, 34 pgs, BW, SLG.

Rex Libris comes to an end with a slam-bang fight issue for the very soul of existence! It's yet another brilliantly comic issue of one of the best titles of the past few years, and although it's a shame that it's ending, at least we have 13 glorious issues to read and read again! As usual, the issue is packed with hilarious nuggets of dialogue, asides, footnotes, and creatures. Rex unveils his big plan, and although his allies mock it, it works! Plus, he meets his ancestors. Every single one of them, back to a single-celled organism. Yes, only in Rex Libris can a character meet a eukaryote! How can you resist buying it?!?!?!?

As always, I must simply point out some of the wonderfulness contained within this comic. In Rex Libris #13, you will find:

* Tamerlane clones!* Rex reciting epic poetry! (The Iliad, to be specific.)* Attempts to patent the hydrogen atom!* A Tenebrati battle ziggurat city destroyer attacked by a skyscraper high jelloid!* Love in the air!* Which definition of "F'ai Throo Oo" to use!* How to take over an evil corporation!* The white furred mountain squid!* "Advertisements" for two "new" "comics" which I would totally read if they existed! The second one, "The Cosmic Brokkolee" (You Will Never Look at a Vegetable the Same Way Again!), sounds awesome.

Man, what a great comic book. If you like ass-kicking librarians and more craziness than you can handle, you owe it to your brain to find this title, either in single issue form or when the rest of it gets collected. For now, get the first trade! DO IT!

(Incidentally, Turner writes a note at the end thanking people for buying the book. He wrote it in March. I find it interesting that he wrote it in March and the book came out at the end of October. It just gives you a tiny look into the time it takes for some comics to come out.)

Wasteland #21 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

Finally, another great comic came out this week, as Johnston begins the next big arc of Wasteland. He introduces us to the Dog Tribes, nomads who, well, have a lot of dogs. The dogs aren't pets, but parts of the family, and they are treated as such. The tribes also speak in a canine slang, and as usual, it's keen to see the thought Johnston has put into things like the way the groups in this post-Apocalyptic world talk. It sounds real, because each group would develop different slang based on their living conditions, and it helps make the groups distinctive and alien to each other. The Dog Tribes' symbiotic relationship with their dogs is interesting, as well, because it makes them even more unique. And, of course, they still act like humans, as the two bands in this issue are plotting against each other even as they make nice. Into this brew walk Abi and Michael, who are captured (after Michael kills a dog, which is an awful crime to the tribes) and imprisoned. The tribes think they're part of Newbegin's elite, which means they can ransom them, but that's not going to go as planned, as Abi and Michael are trying to escape the city.

As usual, it's hard to articulate how damned good this book is. Johnston always spends time with world-building, which is appreciated, and he and Mitten give us a nice action scene, too. Mitten is, as always, at the top of his game, and he shifts easily from the starkness and relative civilization of Newbegin to the lushness of a desert oasis. The setting is a big part of this issue, and Mitten has no problem with it.

I know a lot of people who didn't start with this aren't going to start now, but if you get one issue, you'll be drawn in by Johnston's amazing work with the characters and the way the world works and Mitten's beautiful rendering of this world. And then you can go get the trades!

That's all for this week! Last week no one correctly guessed the totally random lyrics, which came from LL Cool J's "Milky Cereal." Moving on, let's get some different ones!

"I heat up, I can't cool down You got me spinnin' 'round and 'round 'Round and 'round and 'round it goes Where it stops nobody knows

Every time you call my name I heat up like a burnin' flame Burnin' flame full of desire Kiss me baby, let the fire get higher"

Yeah, I know - way too easy. But that's why they're totally random!

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