What I bought - 31 May 2007

I should have figured the only way I could buy a small number of books is the fifth week of a month.  I started off buying four comics, but then a bunch arrived in the mail.  So it looks like a standard week, but didn't make quite the dent in my wallet.

So let's go under the fold for this week's haul, including not one, but two comics drawn by Francesco Francavilla!  Man, that dude is everywhere!

The Black Coat: "... Or Give Me Death" #1 (of 4) by Ben Lichius, Adam Cogan, and Francesco Francavilla.  $3.50, Ape Entertainment.

One of the reasons I loves me the Internet is because so many people are reading so many different comics and blabbing on about them that I can find some nice gems that I might have missed, and the first series starring the Black Coat was one of them.  I realize that some people ignore my ramblings, and that's cool, and others think I'm an idiot, and that's cool too, but one of the nice things about comic book blogs is this idea that not everyone reads the latest Big Event from DC and Marvel and might like to find something different that gets squeezed off the shelves because a comic book store needs to stock 10,000 copies of Countdown.

So now we get the sequel to the first mini-series, and although it's a bit slow-paced, it still shows the rough-and-tumble goodness of the first series.  In the first series, we meet the Black Coat, a masked adventurer fighting the British and their sinister allies in 1775 New York.  At the end of the series, the Black Coat was seemingly killed battling an evil Prussian scientist who claimed to have invented a serum that resurrected the dead.  Lucky for the Black Coat the invention wasn't a better car wax, or he couldn't have returned from the dead!  For of course he does return from the dead, after his ally (and foxy babe) Ursula drags his body up from the harbor (wearing an anachronistic diving suit attached to an even more anachronistic submersible) and gives him the last of the serum.  The British and their sinister allies, an organization called the League, want the serum and dispatch a vampire-looking creature to find the Prussian scientist's brother.  The Black Coat has the same idea, and before the creature shows up to spoil everything, the Prussian (Fredrick) tells him that he must take the serum every day or he'll become demented, and - too bad! - there's no serum left.  Of course, the Black Coat thinks Fredrick can make more serum, but before that particular story point goes anywhere, the vampire-looking creature shows up and flies off with Fredrick.  Oh dear.  Meanwhile, Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathan Hale arrive in New York from Boston with news about the Minutemen and what they're doing in Concord.  I wonder what that's all about?  I was too busy learning about Thomas Jefferson's slaves in American History!

This is a very good comic, with plenty of action (yes, it's slower-paced than the first series, but there's still action) and excellent art by Francavilla, who has improved since the first series came out.  He does a nice job with the period setting, and gives the book a nice rough feel that fits the tone.  The story gets us involved right away, and there's no need to have read the first series to enjoy this (although you should read it; it's out in trade if you're interested).  I'm always a bit skeptical about women in Olden Tymes wearing pants and using weapons expertly, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief - the story is about an immortality serum, after all, and a vampire-looking creature shows up.  Before you flood me with comments about how all eighteenth-century women wore pants and used weapons expertly, I'll just say: I certainly can believe that women would act that way, but it was probably pretty rare.  I know they have Ursula in the book as a love interest and so it's not dominated by testosterone, but still.  Either way, it doesn't really bother me all that much, and it certainly doesn't distract me from the goodness of the comic.

Why not give The Black Coat a try?  Are you really that desperate to find out how Lightray dies?

Blue Beetle #15 by J. Torres and Freddie Williams II.  $2.99, DC.

I bought the last issue of Blue Beetle and was suitably impressed to buy the next issue.  So what happens?  DC hits us with a guest artist AND a guest writer!  Sheesh.  But I bought it anyway.  What the hell, right?

This is not quite as much fun as Rogers' issue last time was (how could it, as that one had penguin missiles?), but it's still a solid issue that explores Jaime's powers and his relationship to the scarab.  Jaime is having some doubts about what's going on, so he asks two of his online buddies what he should do.  They advise against going to the police or even other superhumans, because of what happened to Ted Kord.  I'm of two minds about them knowing about what happened to Ted.  On the one hand, it's a clever use of the gossip-mongering Internet.  On the other hand, does the world know what happened to Ted?  I know Maxwell Lord's death was televised, but I can't recall if what happened to Blue Beetle was big news.  I assume Jaime knows, but it seems like his pals read about it online.  Just a minor point.  Nadia, one of his pals, suggests he go to S.T.A.R. labs, who will help him out.  This leads to a fight with Livewire, who is at the labs getting tested as to the extent of her powers, and a guest appearance by Superman, who suggested Livewire go to the lab herself.  It's an interesting look at both Livewire, who can detect the communication between Jaime and the scarab, and Jaime himself.  They fight each other, but neither is quite sure what's going on.  It's handled well.  Then Superman shows up and tells him that it's not where the power is from, it's how he handles it, blah blah blah.  Jaime tells Supes about the freaky aliens, so that moves the overall plot along.

Torres does a decent job keeping everything moving along, and he also keeps things light.  Williams is a solid artist, although his Superman looks ... kind of frumpy when he's standing around.  Strange.  Even after seeing only one issue of Albuquerque's art, I already miss him.  Oh well.

Next issue Eclipso shows up.  Yuck.  We'll see if it's any good.

Daredevil #97 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

So, my only question is: does Lily's weird power work on lesbians?  Or does it affect testosterone only?

Oh, and Melvin goes nuttier and massacres a bunch of people and fights Matt in a restaurant and finds out where he lives, which is never a good thing, and Milla is menaced at the end but I'm sure she'll be fine because Brubaker wouldn't be so callous to kill off another one of Matt's women and the mastermind talks to Matt after Matt has been arrested and taunts him and it's all very dramatic.

But still - can Lily mess with chicks who dig chicks?  And I love on page three how we cut the scene just before the bartender bashes the dude's face in with a baseball bat.  Neat-o.

Fall of Cthulhu #3 (of 5) by Michael Alan Nelson and Jean Dzialowski.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

I got this and Lost on Mission (see below) in the mail, and I'd like to thank Ross Richie (presumably) for sending them my way.  It's always weird to get comics in the mail.  But I'm not saying no to them!

This book just isn't my cup of tea, unfortunately.  I have never been all that interested in Lovecraft or his creations, and therefore it has one strike against it already in my book.  Dzialowski's art isn't bad, and he actually does an interesting shift in style during a dream sequence that sets it apart from the rest of the comic.  The story isn't all that difficult to follow: the main character, Cy Morgan, is in police custody when the issue opens.  We learn that someone broke into his house and stole some of his uncle's books and papers.  The police think it's drug-related, but they can't prove anything.  Cy's girlfriend, Jordan, comes and yells at the cops, who have to let him go.  She's pissed at him, though, so he leaves the house in the middle of the night and talks to a Mr. Arkham, who's a weird landlord and after whom the town seems to be named.  We find out that Cy's uncle is dead and he was into some weird stuff.  There's also a dead priest, but the cops don't know about him because Mr. Arkham didn't want them to.  Cy investigates the priest, who presided at his uncle's funeral, but the parish priest tells him the man doesn't exist.  In the middle of this he dreams about a hellish place where a bizarre demon offers him answers in return for a piece of him.  Cy gives up his wisdom teeth, which get him only a small glimpse of what's going on.  He is led to a forest at midnight, where he discovers a group of cultists who hunt down a hapless victim in order to return to "Nodens' good graces."  They hear him, and Cy also becomes the hunted.  Bad things will presumably happen next issue.

We read a lot about a ritual and how Cy can't stop one small part of it, he has to stop the entire thing, and it has something to do with summoning Cthulhu, but it's not terribly interesting.  The only character who feels real is Jordan, Cy's girlfriend, and she doesn't get enough page time.  Cy himself is obsessed, but as Jordan points out, he's stupid to be obsessed, and in this issue, at least, we don't get a good sense of why he's obsessed.  Maybe we've already seen it in the earlier issues.  The idea of summoning a hell-spawned creature just doesn't hold much appeal to me, and the creators don't go a long way toward making me care.  If that's your kind of story, there's nothing really wrong with this (as the middle issue of a mini-series, that is), but it's not my kind of story, so everything else has to be really compelling.  In this case, it's not.

Fallen Angel #16 by Peter David and Kristian Donaldson.  $3.99, IDW.

Peter David continues to tell his tale, and it continues to be a very satisfying read.  He gets his little kicks out of making reference to Linda Danvers (note the cover), but it doesn't interfere with the main story at all.  I have never read his Supergirl (apparently I should), but that's fine if you just want to enjoy this comic.  It continues to be consistently excellent.

There's not much to say about this issue in particular.  Last time, Dolf was telling Lin about her stint as Bete Noire's protector.  He continues this time, and we see the lengths she is willing to go to in order to carry out her mission.  We also see what happens when the magistrate neglects his duties, which feels portentous considering what's going on in the present of the book.  Dolf points out that Lin succumbs to the temptation to burn the city to the ground because she is still human, whereas Lee is divine, so she can resist better, even though she's had her moments of doubt.  And we learn where Lin was at the beginning of this mini-saga.

It's a nice story, helped by Donaldson's art, which is certainly different than Woodward's, but still impressive.  There's a roughness to the art that fits the story, and although I'm sure it would have been fine with the regular artist, Donaldson is a good choice to fill in.

As usual, it's always intriguing to read an issue of this book, because even though many of the stories stand on their own or cover only a few issues, you know that certain things are going to come back around in time.  The nice thing is reading this with that knowledge and storing those nuggets away for when David brings them back.  That's partly why it's one of the better books out there right now.

Hard-Bullied Comics #4 (of 4) by Steve Earnhardt and Rudolf Montemayor.  $2.95, Goodbum Studios.

Steve Earnhardt sent this to me, which made me happy, and I'd like to thank him for it.  I've said it before with regard to this book and I'll say it again: it's not a great comic, but it's a blast to read.  It's hyper-kinetic, crass, violent, wonderfully noir-ish, and it gets the job done in telling a crazy story with plenty of twists and turns.  There are no fewer than four plot twists in this comic, and although it might seem excessive, the whole freakin' comic is excessive, so that's just keeping with the fun of it all.  Earnhardt still isn't that great a writer, as he still falls into cliche too much (I suppose we could argue that he's indulging in noir cliches because they're cliches and he knows what he's doing, but maybe not), but his dialogue in this issue is stronger than in the first issue, so he has definitely improved.  Where the book has made its biggest leap is in the artwork.  The first issue, with a different artist, was decent but nothing spectacular.  Montemayor's first issue, #2, was pretty good.  But issues #3 and 4 have been very nice to look at, and Montemayor has really gotten stronger in terms of perspective and detail.  Some of his splash pages are gorgeous.  He doesn't carry the book, because Earnhardt's plot is better than his dialogue and it's fun to read, but the art certainly is a big part of why the book is good.

There are a couple of nice touches, too.  Troy Thompson, a fan who named the letter column, indeed gets killed in the issue, and it's pretty funny.  There's also a mammoth seen early on, and Earnhardt took Chekhov's words to heart: If you introduce a mammoth with tusks in the first act, you must use them by the third act!  Or something like that.  (That's Anton, by the way, not Pavel.)  It's all in good and gory fun.

If you like double-fisted action with plenty of eviscerations and killer clowns and hammerhead assassins and all sorts of double-crossing, you could do a lot worse than this.  No, these comics aren't great literature.  But the title does what it does with a whole lot of flair.  And it's wildly fun to read.  (I should point out that the trade paperback is solicited in this month's Previews, so if you're interested, there you go.)

Left on Mission #2 by Chip Mosher and Francesco Francavilla.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

This is the other book I got from Boom! this week (well, I also got Cover Girl #2, but I already reviewed that), and it's far more up my alley.  It's a bit talky, but that's okay, because Mosher does a pretty decent job explaining what's going on.  It's a spy thriller, which is far more interesting to me than a demonic ritual comic, so I'm more willing to let the characters explain stuff.  Your mileage may vary.

Basically, a spy named Eric and a spy named Emma have a conversation.  Sure, Eric pistol whips a priest (we're not sure if he's dead, but he was certainly dirty, so it's okay that he got beaten), but he's looking for Emma, and when he finds her, she turns the tables on him, handcuffs him in a car, and drives to a trash heap and leaves him there.  While she's driving him there, she tells him what she's up to.  It involves exposing the fact that the United States military is using torture techniques and other underhanded things that would essentially bring down the government if it got out.  She plans to sell the proof to the Russian mafia and turn it over to the United Nations.  Eric points out, rightly, that this will get her killed, but Emma is remarkably blase about that prospect.  In the end, she plans to go to Morocco and partake in a public ceremony, and after she ditches Eric, he ends up on a ship to Africa to do something about it (the story takes place in Ibiza, so it's not that far a journey).

Mosher makes some interesting points about the function of spies in a government bureaucracy and the toll it takes on one's psyche.  Eric has made his peace with the horrible things he's had to do, but Emma can't.  It's a nice contrast, and sets up the "pragmatism-vs.-idealism" theme well without being too, too obvious about it.  It will, presumably, all end badly, as these things tend to do, but that doesn't make it any less compelling.  Francavilla's art is good, too, even though the coloring seems to hurt it a bit.  It seems less detailed than in the black-and-white Black Coat, and I have to think that's because of the coloring.  His rough style works well with a seedy spy comic, though, and the one place the coloring helps greatly is when Eric tries to find Emma on a dance floor and strobe lights keep going off.  The few pages with the colors and the darkness are very nice.

For me, this was a better book than Fall of Cthulhu because of the subject matter and because Mosher does a better job making sure we're up to speed.  If you're not big into espionage, it doesn't transcend the genre, so it might not be your taste, but if you like a good spy comic, it works very well.

That's it for this week (well, except for one other comic, but that's a special case and I'll bring it up when I'm good and ready).  Again, I'd like to thank the people who sent me stuff, and encourage everyone, in this relatively slow comics week, to seek something out of the ordinary.  It can't hurt!

Oberon #5

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