What I bought - 4 April 2007

Definitely quality over quantity this week, as I bought only six books, but I will say that the comic that the readers picked for me was way freakin' cool.  See more below the fold!

Ant-Man #7 by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker.  $2.99, Marvel.

This could be technically one that you guys suggested, but I did buy the first six issues of this comic and decided to drop it afterward.  However, I decided to give it one more chance, as the first six issues were (sigh) set-up, and now that we're caught up time-wise, I wanted to see what Kirkman would do with the book.

First of all, what a great cover.  I like how someone, with no regard for their personal safety, is holding a magnifying glass up in front of a bunch of hard-charging superheroes.  Good stuff.

The issue is typically charming, in that Kirkman goes out of his way to make Eric a jerk, but I just can't think he's too unlikeable.  This is kind of what I want from the title, actually - Eric is a regular guy who does some bad things and some good things, but isn't thoroughly unredeemable.  I mean, he checks out Carol Danvers in the shower (why not?), runs from a big fight (considering he's not a hero nor, you know, registered, that's probably a good idea), "stops" the Black Fox from stealing a bunch of jewels (not for any heroic reason, but because the Fox takes a shot at him because he (the Fox) thinks he (Ant-Man) is Spider-Man, which is really funny when you think about it, and whatever happened to that new costume that was going to last until the sun went cold?), takes the jewels himself (who'd miss them?), and ends up saving a girl because he can.  This last bit is why this could be a very good book, even if it's selling incredibly poorly.  Eric is a regular guy who happens to have an Ant-Man suit.  The first six issues were getting him out into the real world, so Kirkman had to establish his scumbag credentials.  Now, he's out in the world, and he can still be a jerk and do the right thing, even if he doesn't want to.  It's a nice juxtaposition from the guy who was thinking about hiring muggers to attack a hot girl so he could rescue her (like that ever works - doesn't he read comic books?) to actually rescuing a girl trapped in rubble.  And Kirkman makes a subtle case for registration by pointing out that the heroes battle that dinosaur thing (I didn't read Mighty Avengers, so I don't know what it is), destroy a lot of buildings, and leave a girl trapped underneath it while they move on.  Or maybe he's making a case against registration, because even these "well-trained" superheroes still leave innocent casualties in their wake.  It's an interesting issue because it's a lot less of Eric being a jerk for jerkiness' sake and just being a regular guy who just happens to be able to shrink at will.

Walker apes Hester in this issue, and does a decent job, even though his lines are cleaner.  There's nothing spectacular about the art, but it does the job.  Where's Walker been?  I thought he was supposed to be a superstar by now.

This issue continues next time, which I believe is the conclusion of this short story.  I'm glad I picked this up, because it returns to the premise of the first couple of issues, which had meandered a bit.  However, if sales are to be believed, it doesn't really matter anyway, because it won't be around longer.  Oh well.

Detective Comics #831 by Paul Dini, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher.  $2.99, DC.

I did not have high hopes for this issue when I saw the first page.  What ever could be wrong with the first page, you ask?  Well, Harley Quinn's head dominates the page, looking perplexed.  She is in prison orange, and her costumed alter ego dances around her head.  She's having a conversation with herself, and I don't know enough about the character to know if she actually has a split personality.  Anyway, the "Harley" part of the conversation at one point does not know how to spell "conciliatory."  She's a psychiatrist and she doesn't know how to spell "conciliatory"?????  I suppose this could be Dini's comment on public education in the U. S., but let me know, people - does she have a split personality, and is "Harley" demonstrably dumber than "Harleen"?  Because someone with (presumably) a doctorate should know how to spell a relatively simple word like that.

Yes, I think too much.  Sorry.

But other than that bothering my English-major brain¹, this was a pretty good issue, in that it continues to show Bruce Wayne in a better light.  Harley is busted out of Arkham by the new Ventriloquist, who needs her for a job.  It's nice that Dini shows Harley as someone who actually wants to change and resists being sprung, and as the story progresses, we see that she's serious about it.  This is a nice story about Harley and Arnold Wesker, the original Ventriloquist, who was nice to her the first time she was in Arkham and so she wants to honor his memory.  Batman points out that Wesker was a psychopath, but Harley counterpoints out that maybe he could have been rehabilitated.  It's a good issue because Batman doesn't do a lot of punching and instead tries to help someone, both as a costumed crusader and as Bruce Wayne. 

Dini continues to do a nice job on this book (with a few missteps, sure, but overall), and although I would like to see him come up with a new villain or two (he did so in his first issue, but since then he's been going back to the Gallery; and yes, I know he created Harley), it's good to see these single-issues stories that delve a bit into both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Fallen Angel #14 by Peter David and J. K. Woodward.  $3.99, IDW.

Without a Star Trek joke in sight (well, maybe, but I wouldn't recognize it, not knowing much about the franchise) but with a small Buffy reference, Peter David brings us another fantastic issue of Fallen Angel, one that promises some pretty major repercussions.  We'll see how it plays out.

The most interesting thing about this issue is the way Bete Noire interacts with the "real" world.  We've had hints of its "out-of-sync" nature with regard to everything else, and David does a good job building on that conceit here, as he tells the story of Lin, who is in a mental hospital and has very distinct memories of the city, even though her doctor and everyone else tells her it doesn't exist.  She sees the people around her as denizens of the city, and refuses to be convinced otherwise.  She uses a power of imagination, and escapes the confines of her room, crash-landing back in the city.  Eventually, she makes her way to Furor's, where Dolf holds a gun on her and Lee shows up to defuse the situation and learn something more about her role in the city, which will probably lead to trouble.

It's a nice issue (as usual), because it uses what we suspect about the city and places it in the forefront.  David, as he tends to be, has been a bit coy about exactly what the deal is with Bete Noire.  We have learned that it has certain barriers between it and the rest of the world, but Lee can leave pretty easily, and people who don't seem to live there show up with regularity.  What Lin's story seems to imply is that you have to be in a certain state of mind to get to the city, and the people who come to Lee for help are in that state of mind.  Lin wants to prove to herself that Bete Noire and the people in it are real, and that leads her to desperation, which leads her back to the town.  The questions become: is she crazy, and why did she leave in the first place?

Woodward's art is very nice, too, as it has been throughout the series.  Here he does a good job blending pencils with painted art, as Bete Noire, despite its seediness, appears more real than the bland asylum where Lin is a patient.  Lin's reality is nicely expressed with ragged pictures of Bete Noire's citizens with what looks like tape over the panels, to indicate that we're seeing these things through her eyes and not as they really are.  It's a nice trick.

Another very good issue in one of the best series out there.  It's always neat to see where David goes with this.

Iron Fist #4 by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Travel Foreman, Derek Fridolfs, Sal Buscema, and Tom Palmer.  $2.99, Marvel.

This is the first book I've bought based on the readers' comments that I liked enough to want to go back and buy the first three issues and continue buying the next issues.  I'll probably end up getting more of Usagi Yojimbo, but that's based more on the potential of the latest issue more than the actual content.  This comic, despite being the fourth part of a story, is just a hell of a lot of fun.  Thanks, guys, for recommending it.  Now I have more money to spend.  Is that what you want???? 

This issue begins with a marvelous-looking flashback to the crash landing of some guy (whose last name is Randall) in K'un-Lun, the Shangri-la substitute in China that has all those mystical things happening in it.  His wife is pregnant, and he wants medical attention for her.  In the present, his son, Orson, is telling Danny Rand the story as they get ready to head through the New York subway station in search of Daddy Randall's "pneumatic subway station."  To be honest, after the first few pages, with Randall dressed in some bizarre Victorian pilot's outfit and carrying a four-barreled pistol, Orson Randall talking about Wu Ao-Shi, the pirate queen of Pinghai Bay, and the pneumatic subway station, I was pretty much hooked.  The rest - with a fake Iron Fist slaughtering members of Hydra, another flashback of Orson fighting a dragon, the revelation that there have been 66 Iron Fists before Danny, the empire of hypothetical science, Danny's company planning to build a railroad through K'un-Lun without his knowledge, and much ass-kicking - is just gravy, and it's a hell of a ride.

This is a wildly fun book, and the fact that it's selling decently is nice, too.  It's pretty obvious, from reading Casanova, how much of Matt Fraction is in this (and it's very reminiscent of his Five Fists of Science, which, if you like this book, you will love), and I'm just impressed that this is taking place in the normal Marvel Universe.  Of course, because it's something on the margins, it's far more interesting than the mainstream books, so it would be nice to see it continue.  For a fourth chapter, it's remarkably accessible (it helps to have some knowledge of Iron Fist and whatnot, but it's not like you need to know everything), and it gives us some good information while still getting the action in.  It's nice to read a comic that is in the middle of a big story but doesn't drag.  David Aja's art is much like Michael Lark's on Daredevil these days, but that's fine - he does a nice job with the action, and his subway station is impressive.  Foreman's art on the flashbacks is wonderful, and Buscema is workmanlike as usual.

So I'm a convert.  Buy Iron Fist!  Believe the hype!  And I apologize for being late to the party.

Madman Atomics Comics #1 by Mike Allred.  $2.99, Image.

This is a bit of an odd issue, and although I appreciated it, I also didn't like it all that much.  Yes, it's confusing.

As some of you know, I've never been the biggest fan of Allred, but I have come to appreciate him more in recent years (finally! some would say) and I wanted to check this, his weird superhero creation, out.  So when it quickly became evident this was a "catching-up" issue (all the more relevant since that Gargantua thing hasn't come out yet, so I'm a Madman virgin), I liked the information Allred gives us about Frank Einstein.  It does a very good job getting us all up to speed.

But that's part of the problem, too.  It's boring.  It's only a recap issue, so it's a "then this happened, then this happened" kind of thing.  I understand what Allred is doing, but Madman has a bigger history than can really be encompassed in one issue, and it gets dull after a while.  As a primer on the comic, it's fine.  As a decent story, it's dull.  Luckily, it's awfully pretty to look at.

The last few pages finally give us a bit more, with Einstein learning the "truth" about who he is, which leads into the next issue, but I wonder if Allred did himself a disservice by having this be the first issue.  I imagine that only hard core Madman fans are going to buy this, but I, for one, am not one of those, and I bought it because of a new appreciation of Allred.  How many people who saw his recent work on Fables picked this up and were bored, which means they won't be back?  Having read a bit more of Allred's writing, I know he can put together a story, but this isn't a way to hook new readers.  The origin stuff can wait, especially when it's presented in this way.  Perhaps Image could have put out a 99-cent special sneak peek that recaps all this stuff?  That way Allred can jump right into the story?

I'm just spitballing.  It's a beautiful book to look at, and although I appreciate the encapsulation, it's not all that exciting.  I'm looking forward to the second issue, though, when Allred will presumably pull out the stops.

Welcome to Tranquility #5 by Gail Simone and Neil Googe.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Welcome to Tranquility is apparently selling really, really poorly (as is almost every DC book), and that's a shame, because it's an interesting comic book with a lot of potential.  Even though I've been tough on Simone for the whole "abortion/no abortion" thing, I'm interested in seeing where she goes with these characters and the murder mystery, and I hope the book gets a chance to build an audience through word of mouth.  It probably won't, but seeing as how DC has bigger problems on bigger books, maybe nobody will think to cancel this!

There's a lot going on in this issue that won't make sense to the casual reader, as it's the fifth part of a six-part story, and it's tough to really review it, since Simone reveals plenty of stuff here and I don't want to spoil anything.  There's the battle between the punk kids and the sheriff, which is settled in a ridiculously simple way, and Dr. Hate tells Maximum Man his secret word, which allows the old man to change back into a superhero, which is good, because the bad guy is pretty darned powerful.  Next issue will see a big throw-down, one hopes.

As usual with books I like, Simone is doing a very nice job creating a unique setting where things happen.  Tranquility has plenty of stories to be told, and I doubt if some of the stuff Simone is bringing up in these issues is related to the murder, but will be fodder for stories down the road.  It feels that way, and I like that kind of thinking in comic books.  Sure, we have the murder, but there's a lot of other stuff swirling around that makes this an intriguing town to read about - for as much longer as we have it to read about!

Somebody took umbrage with the fact that I didn't mention Googe's art last issue.  Well, what can I say?  It gets the job done, but I actually like his style in the flashback sections of the book than the ones in the present.  I can't get over the ovals he puts on everyone's noses.  Why, Neil, why?????  And his Maxi-Man is so weirdly muscular I have to think it's satire.  But his storytelling is clear, and he doesn't confuse us.  Except for one panel:

I'm not sure what Sheriff Lindo is doing in that panel.  She's tugging on her shirt, sure, but why?  It's a mystery.

So I will enjoy Welcome to Tranquility as long as I can.  And next time I will see if Simone has played fair with the murder and left us enough clues.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Well, that's another week.  Thanks for the suggestion of Iron Fist.  I will say that I considered Savage Tales but I'm not a big Red Sonja fan, I buy Runaways in those monster hard cover collections, so I wasn't going to start Whedon's run with singles (and may not pick it up at all, but we'll see), and although I liked the first trade of Legion of Super-Heroes, I haven't been inspired to get more of it.  If I do, I'll get it in trades.  But thanks for participating, everyone.  It's always cool to read different stuff.

¹ Astute readers will recall that I often talk about my History major and my English major when it suits me, and may wonder which is it, damn it!  I have a BA in English and an MA in History.  So yes, I am virtually unemployable!

EXCL.: Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Knightfall Promises a New DC Crisis

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