What I bought - 30 January 2008

Yes, things are back to normal around here, as my parents have flown off to Pennsylvania and I have more time to post. I'd like to thank everyone who indulged me last week and thought it was a cool thing to do, and for those of you who didn't like it, I'm back to my non-sensical ramblings this week! Joy! Let's check out some comics, shall we?

Batman #673 by Grant "I don't put Lost references in my comics!" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (penciller), Jonathan Glapion (inker), Sandu Florea (inker), Guy Major (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Quote of the book: "All of this is normal."

This issue is far closer to what I want Morrison's Batman to be, even though it still suffers from the main Morrison problem in these latter days: Mining the past far too much. Yes, Morrison has always mined the past, but he seems to be far more concerned with it these days than telling great stories, and he can't find the balance often enough. He does it better than most, but it does get tedious.

But I'm not here to bash Mr. God of All Comics, but to praise this latest issue. I'm not going to try to understand it (smarter people than I probably can explain it, and probably will), but I will say that I like what Morrison does in this issue, which is show Batman having a near-death experience. Isn't he? At the end of last issue, we saw him near death. So this must be his near-death experience! It all makes sense in a Morrisonian way, right? What is excellent about this particular issue is the scripting, something that Morrison has always done well even when it's incomprehensible (see: Invisibles). He creates an atmosphere in this issue that is genuinely creepy, something we haven't seen in a Batman book in a long time. Joe Chill's paranoia takes on disturbing aspects, and the panel where we see the henchman's mask draped on the chair is freaky. That's just one tiny aspect of this book, which goes back and forth through time and many incarnations of Batman, and gives Bat-Mite the mien of a sage philosopher. Morrison even takes time to explain why writers (including that kooky one writing All Star Batman) make Bruce use that hard-boiled prose when he narrates. As a comic that advances the grand plot Morrison is working on, this isn't much. But as a comic that makes us squirm a bit when we consider the essence of Batman, it's excellent. Many people have revisited Batman's origins, including Morrison. None, however, have done it with as much flair.

Man, this is a freaky issue, ain't it? "All of this is normal," indeed.

The Blackbeard Legacy #4 (of 4?) by Darren G. Davis (writer), Scott Davis (writer), Mike Maydak (penciler), Benjamin Carbonero (colorist), and Colleen R. Allen (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Bluewater Comics.

Quote of the book: "But I'm learning hard that the road to failure is paved on the skulls of good intentions."

When I saw that cover, I thought to myself, "You know, that book looks awful. I must read it!" It came in a taped mylar bag, however, so I couldn't flip through it in the store. But I took it home, because I can, and read it. You know I occasionally have to read something that is horrible, just for fun!

Well, it was pretty bad, but in a completely unexpected way. Look at that cover. It's actually the best part of the book, but never mind that. What do you expect when you see a cover like that? Well, I expected a less-skeevy pirate version of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, with far less nudity (as in, none at all), but definite sado-masochims undertones, because that's "real." I mean, you can practically see that young lady's nipples on the cover! What was I supposed to expect?

However, this is what you get: it's almost a children's comic. Almost, I said! The art is extremely cartoony, as if Humberto Ramos' far-less-talented brother was drawing it, featuring characters with oversized hands and feet, large breasts, hip bones protruding through skin in what has to be a painful manner, especially because a lot of characters stand as if they're leaning against something even though there's nothing around them, and eyes that are far too big for their faces. The women, of course, have bare bellies and large breasts, but there's an inherent goofiness in the art that makes it very kid-friendly.

But this kind of jars with the story, which, even without the sado-masochism, does feature a woman getting shot in the back, so there's that. This is issue #4, so I don't expect to understand much of what's going on, but I understand even less than that. The star of the book is Blackbeard's daughter, but we begin with some other woman, who is captured by pirates off the coast of North Carolina and thrown in the hold. We switch to Blackbeard's daughter (Hanna), who's fighting some weird people on an island and barely escapes when some green tentacled monster kills some of her compatriots. She and one guy (Eddie) escape in a "peddle"-powered (seriously, that's how it's spelled) submarine, and out in the ocean, they meet a strange zombie thing who calls himself Coleridge and is apparently curse-bound to recite "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (and, if you don't know it, holy crap is it a long poem!) to them. Hanna and Eddie reach Blackbeard's castle, where he drags out the woman from the beginning and forces Hanna to choose between her and Eddie. Hanna chooses Eddie, so Blackbeard throws the woman out the window. When Hanna turns her back on him, he shoots her. She and Eddie escape, but the zombie dude shows up, because apparently shooting your daughter is dirty pool, and Blackbeard's castle is cursed, and the green tentacled monster, plus a big ol' octopus, show up and destroy everything. Exeunt!

This synopsis really doesn't do the book justice. You might think, from that summary, that it makes some sense. But it doesn't. The scripting is atrocious, scenes shift weirdly, and the characters are cliches. The idea of basing the plot on Coleridge's poem isn't horrible, but Davis and Davis don't actually tell us the plot of the poem, they just reference it and leave us to figure out the whole albatross thing. While it's heartening that they think we have a lot of knowledge about Romantic poetry, it's an odd thing to leave out of the book, because it plays such an important part. Plus, the pacing of the book is all off. This feels like the final issue of a mini-series - Blackbeard dies at the end, after all - but the climax features Hanna getting shot in the back, staggering away, and then the albatross suddenly showing up, cursing the pirates, and the weird monsters destroying the castle - all in the space of four pages! It's very weird.

I always like when a small publisher gets out comics. But this is a lousy product. So there's no reason to buy it, unless you love pirates more than anything in the world and must own everything that features one. But that's not a good way to purchase things, is it?

Daredevil #104 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Michael Lark (penciler), Paul Azaceta (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Stefano Gaudiano (inker), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Quote of the book: "I should feel sick. I should, but I don't. I just feel more angry ... ready for a new target. And I don't even wonder what that says about me."

I should trust Ed Brubaker more, I guess. Every so often during his run on Daredevil (which is almost at two years - it seems shorter!), I'm less than impressed with an issue, and I wonder if I should drop the book. I can still get Brubaker goodness from Criminal, after all, if I'm in the mood for hard-boiled crime fiction. But then he writes an issue like this, and I remember why I like the comic so much. I'm still not a huge fan of these "written-for-the-trade" storylines, because everyone one of his arcs has felt a bit padded, but this is still a very good comic book.

One thing that's nice about working with a long-standing character rather than one's own creation is seen in this book. Brubaker is driving Matt Murdock a bit insane, and although we've seen that before, when Matt goes to Lily's apartment in this issue and attacks her, it's still a very disturbing image, because we think we know Matt, and we realize how far Mr. Fear has driven him. This scene might not work as well with a character we didn't know as well as Matt, because with Matt, the history of the character helps us understand how far he's gone. A good writer of mainstream superhero comics can play off of our expectations and make the story more effective. Very little that Brubaker has done in his run would put off someone who hasn't read Daredevil before - he builds on what others have done, but isn't a slave to it - but for a reader who has read the book before, some of the more subtle things he has put into the book make it more rewarding. That's what "continuity" - such as it is, and I don't want to get into it now - should do: allow the writer to draw on the character's history to make a reading more rewarding without making the book so opaque as to drive away new readers. In this issue, Brubaker does a nice job with that.

We'll finish this story arc next issue, and I'm looking forward to it, because I want to see if Brubaker keeps Milla around. I think it would be a big mistake to get rid of her (I'm sure he won't kill her, but based on this story, he can get rid of her in other ways), but I'm curious to see how Brubaker will wrap the whole thing up. Despite my occasional reservations about the pace of this comic, it remains a very good book.

The Mighty Avengers #8 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), Danny Miki (inker), Allen Martinez (inker), Victor Olazaba (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), Stephane Peru (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Quote of the book: "Wolverine?! What hasn't he done?"

Over in Bendis' corner of the Marvel Universe, things are not as rosy. I have feared for a long time that Marvel was spreading Bendis around too much (there's an old saying my grandpappy used to tell me - in between him muttering about how the Freemasons are going to take over some day and regretting that time he could have bagged Clara Bow but passed on the opportunity - that "A little Bendis goes a long way," advice I have taken to heart), and whenever I pick up one of his Avengers books, my fears become even more acute. Yes, I know he's made the Avengers "hip" again - whatever the hell that means - by simply putting all over Marvel's popular characters on the team (okay, so that's a bit unfair, but come on - Wolverine and Spider-Man?!?!?), but none of his Avengers work is in quite the same league as Ultimate Spider-Man (and, I'm sure, Powers, but I don't read that). So it reads like slightly-better-than-average superhero fare, which, in a world where there is much-better-than-average superhero fare, means it's not really all that essential. Plus, now Bendis is apparently coordinating the whole "Secret Invasion" thing (more on that below), which means he's going to get more dispersed, and soon, like steam rising off a freshly-gutted corpse, he will drift away into nothingness.

Take this issue, now that I've exhausted my tortured metaphor quota of the day. A bunch of Venoms attack New York, as we saw last issue, and it turns out it's an actual virus, so many of the Avengers turn into Venoms (hence Janet on the cover, grabbing maliciously at Tony Stark, which is noteworthy as it almost depicts what happens in the comic). Those that don't (Wonder Man, for instance, because he's all ionic and shit) fight on while Tony, recognizing that it's a virus, finds a cure. Boom! Cure work, everyone all better. Tra-la-la! Oh, and while he's coming up with a cure, he speculates for two pages about the Skrulliness of everyone he's ever met: "The mailman when I was a child - he was always coming over when Dad was out of town and Mom had been drinking heavily. Was he a Skrull? That dude who sold me the hot dog the other day had a shit-eating grin on his face - did he spit on my dog, or is it something more sinister? What about Tom Brady? No quarterback could be that efficient and handsome!" You get the idea.

So I guess the big things about this issue is that the New Avengers show up to help fight, and when the dust clears, Carol Danvers lets them go. Also, Dr. Doom is behind unleashing the Venom virus on New York. But ... but ... the dude cried when 9/11 happened! Doesn't that mean he has a soft spot in his heart for the Big Apple? The Doom thing will begin next issue. The Carol thing, I will discuss below.

I hate to piss Greg Hatcher off, because he's such a swell guy helping those kids and all, but this is a standard superhero comic, the kind people say doesn't exist anymore. Why would that piss Other Greg off? Because he has said that we have become so jaded that a solid superhero comic earns our scorn, because we're so much hipper-than-thou. Well, I'm not really bashing this book, but I am saying that I'm just not that interested in it. It does what it's trying to do and does it pretty well, but I, personally, don't care. Perhaps you will!

Narcopolis #1 (of 4) by Jamie Delano (writer), Jeremy Rock (artist), and Greg Waller (colorist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Avatar.

Quote of the book: "Suck proud. Suck happy."

Oh, Jamie Delano. We welcome you back to comics with open arms, believing that you've changed, and instead we find out that indeed you have changed, but not in a good way. Gone are the long-winded sentences that are impossible to parse. But what's this? Instead we get low-rent Orwellian speak? Listen, if it was annoying when a pretty damned good writer like Orwell does it, it's going to be even more annoying when Jamie Delano does it. Sigh. This comic, which takes place in the titular city and features Gray Neighbor, a man who refuses to conform to the commodity-driven culture of his city, is warmed-over 1984. The Narcopolitans all suck on "joos" (that's pronounced "juice" and not "Jews," by the way, which would have added a really weird and uncomfortable angle to the comic), which is some kind of narcotic and keeps the population docile. Mr. Neighbor, however, doesn't want to suck on joos all day, which draws the attention of Azure Love, some kind of cop for something called T.R.U.S.T. Agent Love visits Gray under a pretense, which tips off our hero that he's under surveillance. Bad things happen, of course, and we learn that Gray is plotting something. Oh dear.

Delano doesn't do much with this, and it's somewhat unfortunate. There's a bird that Gray found on the roof, nursed back to health, and now won't leave his cage. Wow, subtlety! There's porn on television, there are people going nuts on a cable car, there's a vision of a missile blowing up some nice natives because, presumably, they don't want iPods. We've seen it all before, and Delano doesn't do anything with it to make us want to read more. The "new-speak" he invents hides the fact that he doesn't really have anything to say.

Rock's art, which is in the Avatar house style, is actually pretty good. It's a shade more cartoony than the usual Avatar style, but it's also not as ridiculously detailed as the other artists working for the publisher. It's the best part of the issue, as Rock brings this futuristic world to life nicely. It doesn't really help the story, though. Too bad.

The New Avengers Annual #2 by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (penciler), Jeff Huet (inker), Justin Ponsor (colorist), and Albert Deschesne (letterer). $3.99, 36 pgs, FC, Marvel.


Okay, this book and The Mighty Avengers puzzle me. Yes, it's time to play Continuity Cop! Okay, so in both books, Mr. Parker is running around in his black costume, and everyone knows who he is. Joey Q obviously knew that this was not going to be the status quo anymore for a long time back - let's say a year ago, he knew that Mephisto was going to mess with Peter's life. So when did Bendis write this? I imagine it's a bit late, because it deals with Dr. Strange still having that demon thing in him that he called up to fight the Hulk. On the other hand, it's after we found out that Elektra was a Skrull (oh, sorry, did I ruin it?). I know people have mentioned this, but what will happen when the Avengers forget who Peter is? Is Bendis just going to ignore that? He can't, can he?

Carol Danvers shows up yet again, and again lets the New Avengers go, just like she did in The Mighty Avengers! Now, both of these books were written by a Mr. Bendis. I have a feeling this comic was written first, although I have no empirical evidence for it. It doesn't really matter, because wouldn't the Mr. Bendis who wrote The Mighty Avengers know what the Mr. Bendis who wrote this comic did (or vice versa, of course)? Therefore, if this comic came first (which, for the sake of argument, is our premise), wouldn't someone on the New Avengers mention that Carol is doing the same thing in The Mighty Avengers? As Bendis is using thought balloons in The Mighty Avengers and he likes writing snarky characters, couldn't someone think, "Come on, Carol, let us go, just like you did last time"?

This is a minor point, I guess, but it brings up the problem of continuity and coordination. Bendis is setting up "Secret Invasion," which is fine, but he's using Spider-Man. Spider-Man, in case you didn't know, recently underwent a pretty drastic change in his status quo (which, if we call it a "reboot," will make Joey Q show up at our door with a blunt spoon, with which he will remove our spleens), but with these two comics, Bendis ignores it. Again, I have to assume these were written a while ago and, in the case of Yon Avengers Mighty, came late because of Frank Cho's tardiness. That's fine and dandy, because the actual crossover hasn't started yet. But if Marvel is going to pin its 2008 schedule on "Secret Invasion," they better get everyone on the same page. Wouldn't that be nice?

So, does stuff happen in this issue? Well, sure. The Hood and his bunch attack Dr. Strange's house, none of the good guys trust each other, but they still fight off the bad guys. Dr. Strange kicks everyone out because he says he's been a shitty Sorcerer Supreme. Oh, and Bendis takes some time to humiliate Tigra again before "redeeming" her. So that's nice. And, of course, Bendis continues destroying his own creation, Jessica Jones, who whimpers her way to Avengers HQ and begs to register because Tony Stark can protect her baby, apparently. Again, how nice. Sheesh. Other than that, it's another decent superhero fight book that in no way is worth the extra dollar for the extra ten pages. Sigh.

* That's Dr. Strange shouting as he's possessed by a demon, by the way.

Suburban Glamour #3 (of 4) by Jamie McKelvie (writer, artist, letterer) and Matthew Wilson (colorist). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Quote of the book: "Marvelous. Now, let's cause some trouble."

The third issue of McKelvie's darned good mini-series isn't really padding, because the four-issue format means he has to keep this somewhat tight, but not a lot happens in terms of plot. Instead, Astrid learns more about what it means to be a fairy, we learn about some things that happened earlier in the series, Astrid talks to her animals again, and we find out they might not be as friendly as we might have thought, and the big finale is set up as Astrid turns seventeen. Despite being light on plot, it's a good issue because McKelvie does a nice job, both through the minimalist writing and the art (I'll get to that) of showing that Astrid is suddenly adrift in this new world, and she's defiant and anticipatory, but still a bit scared of the unknown. It's tough to capture this kind of subtle emotions, but McKelvie does it nicely. It's true that his writing isn't perfect yet, but he's getting better, especially when it comes to knowing when not to use words. That's a good skill to have in comics, and very often, people don't possess it.

McKelvie's art, which is probably the selling point of the book, appears to have gotten better even over the course of this series. It's stunning. Astrid is absolutely gorgeous, but it's more than that. For instance, when she makes up her mind about her future in three silent pages, it's amazing to read her mind simply through the way McKelvie draws her. In an earlier panel, she sits on a park bench. One leg is bent up on the bench, and she's resting her mouth on her knee. It's a wonderful drawing, showing her anxiety over her seventeenth birthday and reminding us that she's just a kid in a completely unfamiliar situation. Later, when she thinks she's going on an adventure, her face lights up, and again, we're subtly reminded of her youth and exuberance. Her animals are nicely done, too, as their cuteness makes their underhanded-ness even creepier.

I hope the final issue lives up to the promise of the previous three, but even if the writing falls short, I know it will look spectacular. It will be neat to see what McKelvie comes up with.

Well, that's all she wrote for this week. I only bought three comics, which is kind of odd, even though it's Fifth Week. But that doesn't mean there's not a lot to talk about! And, even though I don't like to pimp my other blogs, I just posted a few videos of my daughter sitting up on her own and walking with some assistance, and they're awesome. If you wonder why I'm so excited about a five-year-old doing these things, you can read more here, although it's a bit depressing (and it's a bit out of date, but still pertinent). But we're more excited about the awesomeness of her videos, so check them out!

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