What I bought - 3 October 2007

All right, all right, calm down!  Let's get to the reviews, people!  I know it's the thing to do!

Black Diamond #4 (of 6) by Larry Young and Jon Proctor.  $2.95, AiT/Planet Lar.

As we zip along the Great Highway in the Sky (and, for this book, I mean that literally), Young gives us an issue that is really Proctor's chance to show off.  There's a tiny bit of plot development, as we learn more about the mastermind of the whole scheme and his connection to Dr. Don McLaughlin, but interestingly enough, this book could have absolutely no words after the first page and we would still be able to follow along.  It's a big-ass chase scene that ends with McLaughlin's Cougar on top of a train, which is really no place for a car, if you think about it.  This leads to a bad scene (for Dr. McLaughlin, that is, not for us!) that is the cliffhanger of the issue.

It's a magnificent-looking book, even though I'm nagged by some of the problems Proctor has been having throughout the series, mainly the way some of the drawings look very static.  I guess he's using models, and occasionally they're oddly placed in the panel and don't look like they have much relation to the other objects in the frame or the background.  This only occurs on a couple of places, and the sequence where the car ends up on the train and then the bad scene occurs is very cool.  The final page is truly wonderful and leads into the next issue nicely.  What the heck is going to happen now????

This issue is a blazingly fast read, but it's nice to gaze at the pictures and read the script Larry helpfully provides in the back to compare his instructions to Proctor's art.  It's a neat bonus.  And the back-up story, like the others, is a nice slice-of-life on the Black Diamond.  Very cool.

Detective Comics #837 by Paul Dini, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher.  $2.99, DC.

I'm totally serious.  How is an Alan Grant- or Mike Barr- or possibly Will Pfeifer-written and Alan Davis- or Justiniano- or Dietrich Smith- or Kevin Maguire-drawn mini-series starring Edward Nigma, P. I. NOT in the pipeline?  Is Dan DiDio so concerned about ruining the very concept of the multiverse that he doesn't recognize a cash cow when it's right in front of him?  It's unconscionable!

That's not to say this is all that good an issue.  The Riddler takes a case from Bruce Wayne, of all people, who wants him to track an employee who has probably absconded with "an experimental drug currently being tested for muscle stamina and cellular regeneration."  Nigma easily figures out where the woman has gone, which leads him to one of those Athenian Women's Help Shelters that are popular in the DCU these days (or maybe not - I really don't know).  This gives him a chance to meet up with Harley Quinn, who has decided to go straight because she heard something bad was going to happen to the super-villains of the world (I think they're going to be sent to the Negative Zone or something), and with Holly, the young lady who took over for Selina as Catwoman for a while.  They're both at the shelter, and as the Riddler is not allowed inside (what with having the penis and all), he enlists Harley, who enlists Holly, to help find the woman.  It's not that difficult, which makes this issue less than it could have been, and I'm glad Dini put in a little bit about Batman at the end (the Caped Crusader appears in five panels, six if you count the Bruce Wayne one at the beginning) in which our hero explains to Robin why he allowed the Riddler to solve a relatively easy case.  So it's not a great issue, but any issue that stars E. Nigma, Private Eye is okay with me.

It's not even that annoying that this book ties into Countdown.  It's a little annoying, but not too much.  So that's a nice feat.

Come on, Dan DiDio!  Make a Riddler mini-series happen!

Faker #4 (of 6) by Mike Carey and Jock.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

Basically, this is the issue in which we get answers.  The answers are certainly interesting, but there's not much else to say about the book, because it's a lot of explanations and not much else.  We learn that there are sinister government forces at work, which isn't terribly shocking, and we get to know a little about the dynamics in the group of kids.  I still hate Jessie and want horrible things to happen to her (yes, I'm a jerk, but she is more of a bitch in every issue), and who knows what is going on at the end, when it appears I get my wish?  I know she's not dead, but maybe where she ends up will turn issue #5 into a very weird comic.  We'll see.  It's a nasty little book, and it's gotten more interesting as it goes along.

Fallen Angel #20 by Peter David and Dennis Calero.  $3.99, IDW. 

This comic came out, what, three weeks ago?  I only got it this week, however, so I'll review it, even though it's late.  As usual, it's a neat book, with very nice guest art from Calero, whose style is rougher and more variable than we've seen - in some places he goes with simpler pencil art, in some places he goes a bit slicker.  The story is about Jude, the magistrate of Bete Noire, who is a bit grumpy because he can't get out of the city.  It's a tale of his attempts to leave and how he's trying to overcome it, but with a nice twist that shows us how evil the denizens of the city can be.  Lee shows up for only two pages, but her presence is felt in how Jude handles his issue.  It's interesting how David is showing us a man of faith in a faithless place, and how he manages to hold onto that faith even as he becomes more like his mother.  It's a fine story that fits in well with the rest of the series.

This comic has hit 40 issues, interestingly enough.  We'll see how long David is going with it, because it's a very good comic book.

Gamekeeper #5 (of 5) by Andy Diggle and Mukesh Singh.  $2.99, Virgin Comics.

The end of this mini-series is somewhat unexpected, even though the bad guy gets what's coming to him.  We know that's going to happen, but we don't really expect it to play out the way it does, and it's rather interesting.  Plus, our hero's son, whose doom we've been expecting since the first issue, meets his fate in a rather unusual way.  Diggle does a nice job with both the present story and the flashback in confounding our expectations, and throughout he keeps the action moving nicely along.  If you've enjoyed Diggle's work on The Losers, this is in the same vein, with nice art and enough characterization to invest us in the series even as the violence ratchets up.  So when we reach the end, it's a satisfying finale even though it's not all that pleasant.  If you've missed this, check out the trade.  It's a solid read.

Howard the Duck #1 by Ty Templeton, Juan Bobillo, and Marcelo Sosa.  $2.99, Marvel.

I didn't really like this comic all that much, and it's not really because it's lousy.  It's just very disjointed, and it doesn't come together like it should.  Bobillo's art, which looked off in the Marvel Previews, is fine, despite that somewhat ugly cover, but the story is blah.  Templeton throws in a lot of stuff, and none of it is particularly funny even though it's supposed to be.  The bulk of the book is taken up by a lame plot about scientists who hunt Howard because they're not very good hunters and they feel inadequate.  It's meant to be hilarious - they're geeks who hunt and whine about other scientists who are good hunters! - and it's mildy clever, but it takes up far too much of the book.  The rest of the comic is like that, too - it kind of meanders around, not going anywhere.

And then there's M.O.D.O.T.: Mental Organism Designed Only for Talking.  He shows up at the end, and I guess he's going to be a bee in Howard's bonnet during the series.  Despite my enjoyment of another comic this week starring M.O.D.O.K., that doesn't mean I think he should be everywhere.  What's up with his sudden appearances all around the Marvel Universe?  He's kind of an idiotic character.  It's like writers have decided that simply putting a big-headed dude with stumpy limbs in their comic book is comedy gold.  Well, no, it's not.

Anyway, this is a weird issue.  I guess Templeton has a plan for the entire series, but this comic just feels like he's trying some things out and hoping we laugh.  Well, I didn't.  I guess if you did, then it works for you. 

Infinity Inc. #2 by Peter Milligan and Max Fiumara.  $2.99, DC.

I really liked the first issue of this series, and issue #2 keeps up the goodness.  John Henry Irons is looking for his niece, who disappeared mysteriously at the end of the first issue, and Superman briefly shows up to help him out.  We find out that there's another person whose metagene was activated by Luthor, but she didn't get to be in Infinity Inc.  The creepy dude from last issue, who we're calling Kid Empty, discovers her, which isn't really good news.  Irons finds out that Gerome has a strange secret, and is Irons being haunted by his niece?  It's all very strange!

The reason I like this book so much (granted, we're only two issues in, but still) is because when Milligan is on, nobody writes unsettling comics as well as he does.  When he's off, he tries to write straight superheroes, and he's not all that good at it.  But this book quickly gets under your skin, from the creepiness of Kid Empty to the weird presence in Irons' warehouse to Sally's power.  It makes you uncomfortable as you read it and wonder what it's really like to be these people.  Milligan is very good at giving us a sense of the weirdness without beating us over the head with it.  It's not a fun comic, but it is a fascinating one.  Give it a try - it's a very neat comic.

Jonah Hex #24 by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and David Michael Beck.  $2.99, DC. 

It's been a while since I read an issue of Jonah Hex (I bought the first few issues, so it's been almost two years), but a lot of people continue to suggest I read it, because the stories are self-contained and Jonah is a bad-ass.  So I picked it up.

It's not bad.  It's not great, but it's entertaining for what it is.  Shockingly enough, a whore ends up dead, which I hope isn't a pattern in the series (some of the reviews I've read seem to suggest that the treatment of whores in the book isn't that good), and as it's the Halloween issue, we get some supernatural fun (it's hovering around 100 degrees here in Hell this week, so it's tough for me to get into the Halloween spirit, but shit! it's October!).  Jonah and Bat Lash travel to a town, where a man sits in a locked room in a brothel.  El Diablo, as he is called, enlists Jonah to help him, because, as it turns out, he's an "avenging hellion" who needs his host, but a "witch of the prairie" separated them and is keeping the host alive so El Diablo can't find a new host.  He gets Jonah to host him momentarily so that Jonah (with Bat Lash in tow) can rescue his host.  I wonder if they do?

There's plenty of gun play, as well as whip play with a fiery Whip O' Hellfire™, but there's not much else to like about the issue.  I do have some questions.  Why is it so important for El Diablo to get his host back within three hours?  Why does he have to kill everyone in town on his way back to Hell?  And what is the witch up to, anyway?  El Diablo says she's practicing witchcraft and "raising demonic possession," but what the hell does that mean?  The story doesn't make a lot of sense.  It seems to exist only to allow Jonah to use his awesome Whip O' Hellfire™ and kick some ass.  But that doesn't really make a good comic, does it?   

JLA/Hitman #2 (of 2) by Garth Ennis and John McCrea.  $3.99, DC.

There's so much to like about this great little two-parter that even if you've never read Hitman (shame on you!), you should read this.  The first issue was a great set-up, and in this issue, Ennis gives us a wonderful resolution.  I'm still not terribly happy with what a jerk Wally is, but the superheroes do their thing, Tommy does his thing, and even though they're at odds, it doesn't feel forced in any way.  Wonder Woman is very cool, and Superman, of course, comes off the best, because Ennis digs him.  Tommy gets a very nice exchange with Superman, and then, after Clark Kent is done telling his story to the reporter, he flies up to the moon and Ennis shows again why he's such a great writer and why Superman is an icon.  In only a few sentences, Ennis does more with the Man of Steel than many people who write him for years.  It's an action-filled comic that makes wonderful points about not only Superman, but how we define people in general.  And that's in a superhero comic.  And Ennis, of course, hates superheroes.  So why does he write them so well?

Omega: The Unknown #1 (of 10) by Jonathan Lethem (with Karl Rusnak) and Farel Dalrymple.  $2.99, Marvel. 

I don't get this book at all.  It's cool to look at, because it looks like a seriously indie comic, with rough, somewhat oddball art that nevertheless is very effective from a storytelling aspect.  Omega should be kind of oddball, because it was when it debuted and it is today.  The art is the most interesting thing about the book.

The story, however, is strange.  It's not a bad comic by any means.  In fact, it's quite good.  But ... it's pretty much exactly the same as the original.  It's like a remake of a movie.  Now, we get revamped origins all the time in comics - I think we're required to see Batman agonizing over his parents every six months or so.  But this is different, because it's not like Lethem is retelling a simple origin as part of a bigger story - at least not in this issue.  Omega's origin is ridiculously complicated (whether Gerber and Skrenes meant it to be or not), and his only real comics story is his origin story.  So what is Lethem doing?  Is he simply going to retell the 10 issues of Omega: The Unknown that were published 30 years ago?  That would be weird, especially because you can get them in a trade paperback.  What's the point of this comic, in other words?  Nothing gets resolved in this issue, so I assume Alexander is going to try to discover who he is throughout the book.  It's just weird.  Not bad, just weird.

One last thing about this comic and one above it.  I like how in the 1970s, Marvel published strange new things that generally failed but at least tried to pave a new path, like Howard the Duck and Omega: The Unknown.  Thirty years on, the way to be trailblazing is to ... revamp those franchises instead of having writers create new stuff.  Good job, Marvel!

Parade (with Fireworks) #2 (of 2) by Mike Cavallaro.  $3.50, Image/Shadowline.

I mentioned this when the first issue came out, but this is an odd comic.  The art, which is quite good, doesn't really fit with the subject matter - check out the bad guy on the cover, with his ridiculous moustache (plus, he's bald, so he looks even goofier inside).  And he's pretty malevolent.  In this issue we get the aftermath of the shootout that ended the first issue - a rigged trial, the dissolution of Paolo's family's farm, the destruction of his family - and although it's tragic to see how a relatively simple and somewhat stupid dispute can escalate so horribly, the book never really rises to the occasion.  Cavallaro is telling a true story that was told to him, and that's part of the problem.  He wants to make some interesting points about what people stand for (the issue is called "What Tune Are We Going To March To?" which isn't too subtle but gets the job done) but the way he tells the story sounds like a folktale, with the narrator simply ticking off events no matter how dramatic they are.  When Cavallaro cuts out the narration - early in the issue, Paolo responds to his cousin getting shot down, which leads to his trial - the book is a bit more energetic.  But then he slips back into a pattern of simply telling us what happens, and the book loses its momentum.  It's a shame.

Cavallaro also never really gets into the political situation in 1920s Italy.  We get a vague reference to "the new regime" and we see the Blackshirts, the goon squad of the Fascists, but Mussolini is never mentioned by name in the book, and although we all know "Fascists" are bad, Cavallaro never gives us a reason to root for the Socialists, either.  If we're supposed to read this as a anti-political story, no matter what your persuasion, that's not clear.  In one panel, it seems like Cavallaro is espousing the Socialist position, but the Socialists don't seem to be any better than the Fascists, except for the fact that they're not in power.  A brief written epilogue tells us that Paolo was exonerated when Mussolini fell, but Gato's punishment for the crime seems excessive, as if the Socialists were simply taking revenge for whatever Fascists did in the 1920s and 1930s (as, in fact, they did throughout Italy when Mussolini was driven from office).  So we don't really admire the Socialists as "martyrs," which robs the book of some its dramatic tension.  Paolo simply gets on with his life, which is a decent way to end a folktale you tell to your family, but isn't a good way to end a $7 comic book.

Still, it's always interesting to see unusual subject matter in comics.  I just wish the execution had been better.

Super-Villain Team-Up #4 (of 5) by Fred van Lente, Francis Portela, and Terry Pallot.  $2.99, Marvel.

We continue to zip toward a conclusion in this, and it remains a fun read, especially when you try to figure out who's going to betray the team this time.  We do get a giant metal flying dragon, so that's nice.  As I've mentioned before with regard to this series, it's kind of neat to read the characterization van Lente gives to these Z-listers.  Therefore, we get a nice moment when the Living Laser goes up against Son of Mandarin and wants the fight to keep going because he can actually feel the Feet and Fists of Fury that S of M is putting on him.  There are other moments, too, and that's what keeps this comic interesting.  Sure, the heist is kind of cool, but if we don't care about the characters, it won't matter.

We find out what's behind the whole thing next issue.  Who will double-cross whom?  What is the role of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the deal?  Will Rocket Racer get the girl?  Oh, so many questions!!!!

Uncanny X-Men #491 by Ed Brubaker and Salvador Larroca.  $2.99, Marvel.

With these past few issues, Brubaker has done a very good job taking this book and making it his.  It's not a perfect ending to the storyline, but Brubaker is a bit hamstrung by the fact that he's leading into the Big Mutant Crossover, so he has to craft the story to flow into that.  However, he does a nice job with the balance that every good writer faces when taking over a franchise - how to keep the characters consistent with what has come before but still write them in your own voice.  The characters act according to the way they've been established, but Brubaker does a good job making them more like "Brubaker" characters.  Uncanny X-Men, of course, can't be as noir as Criminal or Daredevil or even Captain America, but it's a bit darker than we've seen recently.  And that's pretty neat.

The back-up story doesn't do much, and I can't imagine it doing anything much before the Big Mutant Crossover.  The idea that reality itself has been changed is okay but makes about as much sense as Wanda saying "no more mutants" but conveniently leaving a bunch of the most popular ones fully powered.  The back-up stories haven't been great, but at least Marvel isn't charging us for them.

The Vinyl Underground #1 by Si Spencer, Simon Gane, and Cameron Stewart.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

I wasn't terribly interested in this, but I figured I would give it a look (it didn't cost me anything, after all).  It might be excellent, right?

Yeah, well, it's not.  Cameron Stewart provides the inks, which may make Gane's pencils look more Stewart-esque, but either way, the art looks pretty good.  But then there's the story.

Spencer names his main character "Morrison," which pretty much telegraphs what this book is trying to do.  The idea of an "occult detective agency" isn't terribly original, but it's not awful, either.  However, the issue is full of cliches.  We begin with a voodoo ceremony that implies a murder by the priest, but we all know that crazy voodoo priests who happen to be black wouldn't kill anyone, right?  Then we meet our hero, who is introduced to us thusly: "Morrison Shepherd, heart-broke orphaned son, D-list celebrity and tabloid darling - serial shagger of Page Three girls, cocaine addict and pretty boy ex-con."  Then, later, "Morrison Shepherd, broken-down and broken-hearted, drug- and drink-free for twenty-eight months and counting.  Honors graduate in criminology while still inside, all Stax-style and Motown-mojo.  Poker ace, soul DJ and amateur sleuth ... ther frontman to a fucked-up trio of occult detectives."  That's just the beginning.  His partner overdoses on something and gives him a drearily cryptic clue about something, and then Morrison finds the head of the boy who was in the ritual at the beginning.  He calls in the third member of the team, and if you guessed she's a hot chick, well, that's kind of obvious, isn't it?  And hey! she's a "spoiled bitch"!  And hey! she runs a porn web site on which she does anything but engage in actual intercourse - she's a porno virgin!  Oh, what wacky irony!  And of course, she's super-tough, destroying three punks who try to get some sugar from her.  And the voodoo priest is really an African king in exile, and his daughter is Morrison's ex-girlfriend who happens to "know tribal London."  How convenient!  And she, naturally, is peeved at Morrison because her father has been arrested for a murder she says he didn't commit and she blames him.  So they're on the case!

Sigh.  There's nothing really remotely clever about this comic.  The characters are extremely dull, not only in the way they speak to each other but in the ridiculously "super-cool" backgrounds Spencer gives them.  I would say it's all artifice and Spencer is treating them with a great deal of bemused detachment, but it doesn't feel that way.  It feels like he really wants us to think they're cool, but they're all tools.  I can deal with that if it's well done, but here, it's not.

I suppose this book could get better, but I have no interest in being there to find out.  This issue just isn't very good.

The Weapon #4 (of 4) by Fred van Lente and Scott Koblish.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

This rather charming mini-series ends oddly, enough so that I'm not sure you should go get the trade when and if it comes out.  That's a shame, because it features plenty of fun martial arts action, some good double-crossing, and very nice art.  But van Lente makes some weird choices, even though a scene between Tommy and Megan late in the book shows us once again how good he is at writing nice characters.  But the ending is kind of weird, as it's kind of a non-ending.  Is it leading into another mini-series?  It's a bit weird.

The ending notwithstanding, it's a fun series.  Koblish brings a very good sensibility to the art, because the tone of the series demands a "realistic" look but still keeps things a tiny bit goofy.  Tommy is an interesting character, and his relationship with Megan is nice.  The phoniness of Tommy in the beginning of the series makes for a nice contrast as he grows up throughout the book.  Check it out, but be warned - the ending is not great.

Welcome to Tranquility #11 by Gail Simone and Neil Googe.  $2.99 DC/Wildstorm.

I always get the feeling that this comic is just going to disappear because of poor sales, and not with a send-off, but just with no more issues coming out.  I don't know why; it just feels that way.  I continue to hope that sales improve, because Simone is doing such a good job with it, as her portrayal of Zombie Mr. Articulate shows.  Why would someone act like a stereotypical zombie just because they're, you know, a zombie?  Mr. Articulate meets yet another lousy end, but it's kind of cool that Simone doesn't just make the people coming back from the dead evil.  Meanwhile, Satan is evil, Emoticon isn't as evil as we might think, and Tommy continues to learn things about her grandfather.  And the very first scene of the series is replayed, sort of, as Minxy comes to the rescue as only Minxy can.  Simone's attention to detail in this book is very nice, as is Googe's - look at Emoticon when he makes his choice.  Very cool.  I'm not as impressed with the back-up story as I have been, but it's charming enough.  The main story, however, continues to shine.

There you have it - another week in the comics universe.  Lots of pretty cool stuff, and let's face it - a week with Tommy Monaghan is a good week! 

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