What I bought - 4 June 2008

I didn't buy a ton of comics this week, but I did finally get Gødland, which made me happy, and the others I bought were very good, too. So let's see if I can review them without pissing anyone off! Wouldn't that be a treat?

Criminal vol. 2 #3 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 33 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

I don't know how to tell you people this, but ... this was another excellent issue of Criminal. I know, shocking, isn't it? And, as usual, there's not much to say about it. Each of these three "standalone" stories (the quotation marks are because they're not really standalone, are they?) has been gripping and intense, despite the fact that, especially with this issue, we know pretty much what's going to happen. As I've written before, some comics are great because we have no idea where the story is going and it's fascinating to find out, and some comics are great because of the craft that goes into them, and some manage to have both of those aspects. It's not that we know exactly what Brubaker is doing in each issue, but we still have a good idea, but the craft he and Phillips bring to each issue is amazing. Brubaker takes every single noir cliché and somehow breathes life into them, so that even though we know we're reading a master manipulator at work, we don't mind. Meanwhile, Phillips, who actually draws his art, still manages to make his characters look more real than most of the photo-referencers out there. On the first page of this issue, when Woody Allen makes a pass at Danica, the panel where he pulls his hand back is marvelous. Danica is in the foreground, smoking with her eyes closed, the epitome of cool. Woody has a half-smile on his face and raised eyebrows, and you can just tell he knows he's gone too far, but also wants more. It shows what a weasel he is and foreshadows the end of the book nicely, and it's all in Phillips' art. There are a lot of nice touches throughout the book, and it just makes the reading experience all the more fascinating. This is a marvelous comic book.

Oh, and I'm dying to see The Yakuza, about which Michael Stradford writes in the backmatter. It sounds freakin' awesome. TCM aired Three Days of the Condor the other night, and when I sat down to watch it I had just read this issue. I yelled at the screen, "Show The Yakuza, TCM! Sydney Pollack would have wanted you to show it!" (Of course, Three Days of the Condor is pretty damned good, too, so I wasn't too angry.) Sadly, the TCM web site lets us know they have no plans to show it. Damn you, Ted Turner!!!!!

Detective #845 by Paul Dini (writer), Dustin Nguyen (penciller), Derek Fridolfs (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), and Randy Gentile (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I don't want to be picky, but that's a dumb cover. I mean, in terms of a drawing, it's fine, I guess, but Catwoman is in this comic for three whole pages and has absolutely nothing to do with the story. She's there simply to comment on the fact that Bruce is a bit of a slut, what with the Zatanna pseudo-romance and the Jezebel Jet actual romance. So why is the cover meant to imply the issue will be about her return from the Negative Zone? It's weird.

Still, the issue, as every issue has been since Nguyen came on board, is very good. It's a murder mystery, but it's an interesting one, and the Riddler shows up, and as you know, I LOVE the idea of "Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective" SO FREAKIN' MUCH!!!!! I'll get to that in a bit. Dini doesn't really play fair with the mystery, but it's pretty clever, and he does a nice job with Bruce and his on-line pals. See, Bruce has decided to join a chat group that puzzles out clues to mysteries, and it's a great idea done pretty well. I don't know who the cop is (does anyone, or is he just a random cop?), but it does stretch credulity a tad that Barbara Gordon (that is Barbara, isn't it?), the Riddler, and Detective Chimp all happen to be in the same group and on-line at the same time. Still, it's a very nice idea.

Nguyen draws the heck out of this issue, too, altering his style slightly and using black-and-white in the flashback sections. He has a highly stylized look but one that doesn't get in the way of solid storytelling, and I hope this book makes him a superstar, because he deserves to be. He manages to make six pages of on-line chatter visually interesting, and that's no small feat, I'll tell you that much.

The only problem I have with the issue is Dini's characterization of everyone's favorite consulting detective. I don't mind if the Riddler is a bit of a heel, but I wish Dini would make him smarter. He implies that he's a lousy detective, and although we can't all be savants like Bruce, it would be interesting to see him actually solve a case that stumps the Batman. I know we had an issue where he solved a case, but Dini wrote it so that Batman "allowed" him to do so. I have a killer idea for a Riddler mini-series, and once I'm done writing that Looker series (come on, DiDio, who do I have to kill? just say the word!), I'll get to work on it. It would add some spice to Gotham if there were a detective almost as smart as Bruce around. Slam Bradley is smart, but he also bullies a lot of people. It would be keen to see Nigma get some deserved publicity and let Batman suck it for a while!

But that might just be me. I'm odd that way.

Gødland #23 by Joe Casey (writer), Tom Scioli (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

I really hate waiting for the comics I really love, and I had to wait TWO weeks for this, which is worse than the ONE week I had to wait for Casanova. Grrrrrrrr!!!!!

Waiting two weeks didn't diminish the awesomeness, however. It's a little less awesome than last issue, because the bad guys aren't in it, but Neela Archer has done something strange to the world and completely changed reality, so she's the cosmic protector and Adam is just some schlub working for NASA. As is typical with these "Reality Dies at Dawn" kind of stories, Adam has a vague sense that something just ain't right, and when he goes to find out what, Neela is a tad peeved. Yes, it's time for a family feud! Worlds will end! Universes will collide! It will bend your mind!

The story is fairly straightforward (still entertaining, but not as freaky as it has been), and Scioli's art is great as usual. He's gotten much better at facial expressions, and he uses that to his advantage here, especially when Adam is trying to figure out what happened to him. Of course, he's still great at the cosmic stuff, so the whole book looks fantastic.

Man, I love this comic. I get so jazzed whenever I read an issue, and then I have to wait for the next one. Damn it! DAMN IT!!!!!!

The Invincible Iron Man #2 by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I hate reading reviews that make me reconsider how I feel about a comic, because that makes me feel stupid. Okay, I am kind of stupid, but damn it, I don't like being reminded of it! So when I read a review of the first issue of this that made two very good points, it bugged me as I read issue #2, to the point where I'm not as happy with this issue as I was with issue #1, and I worry about where the story arc is going. What were the two points? One: that using Stark tech to make human bombs is amazingly stupid, because regular bombs are just as effective and far more cost-efficient, and Ezekiel Stane, as a businessman, wouldn't just use them for that; and two, Advanced Genocide Mechanics is idiotic because "genocide" denotes a very specific kind of killing, one that mercenaries generally don't espouse. Exactly which ethnic group does AGM hate so much? I guess you could argue that they provide the means to commit genocide or, as Iron Man himself muses in this issue, they hire themselves out to commit genocide for certain groups, but it's a stupid idea and having the word "genocide" in your actual name is hilariously stupid. It's like the "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants," except this isn't the 1960s anymore. In a book that is head-rushingly looking to the future, it's a horribly outdated name. Maybe that's the point.

Anyway, this issue didn't click with me as much as the first one for more than just those reasons. It seems to have all the annoying traits in Fraction's writing (and they do exist, as much as I like the guy) and none of the charm. Tony's internal narration is stupefyingly smug (again, maybe that's the point) and makes me like him less and less each time he thinks something. M.O.D.O.G. is a cartoon (again, I'm sure that's the point), but even though we're supposed to recognize the fact that he's ineffectual, he's still a waste. The Filipino Superhero Massacre is done well, but that nagging idea of using regular bombs instead of ridiculously expensive Stark tech comes back to me. Would regular bombs have been detected by the superheroes? I don't know. The stereotypical crazy Christian preacher dude was annoying, and Tony and Pepper's banter and subsequent spat work much better on screen than they do on the page. It's weird, because I didn't hate the issue, but it just seemed like Fraction is writing a Casanova comic in the Marvel Universe, and what works there doesn't work here. If that makes sense. There's just too much that is arch in this book, to the point where it feels like it's all edifice. I know it's meant to be deeper, but it feels very shallow. If it's meant to be shallow, I can forgive it. If it's meant to be deep but isn't, it bothers me more.

Larocca's art is off, as well. Stane's maniacal smile when he meets Tony, Thor's weird ghostly face the first time we see it, Pepper's contorted expressions, Fighter One's horrifically 'roided-up shoulders and neck - they all make this a bit of a freakshow of humanity, and it's not a good look. Overall, the slickness of the art complements the "futurism" of the tone, but in a few places, it's creepy.

Man, I'm not very enthusiastic about this issue, am I? Despite all that, I'll probably finish out the arc, at least. I'm still curious to see what's going on, and Fraction has built up enough credit with me that I'll give him that. But this isn't a good turn. We'll see where issue #3 goes.

Manhunter #31 by Marc Andreyko (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), Jose Villarrubia (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Why isn't this a #1 issue? The book has been on "hiatus" for, what, well over a year, right? It's been so long that DC actually brought out a trade for the final issues, and we all know how long DC takes with their freakin' trade paperbacks. I don't really care if they renumber it or not, but I wonder why they didn't.

Anyway, Manhunter is back, and this time I'll buy it in single issues, and thereby save it! Yes, you may call me Savior (of the comic, at least). Fret not, inflamed Manhunter fans who couldn't live without your monthly dose of Kate Spencer, because I alone will save it from cancellation! You may grovel if you wish!

Man, I'm in a weird mood, aren't I? I like the trades of these, and with Gaydos on art, I have no problem switching to single issues. What I like about Andreyko's story is that, like Peter David and some others, he seems to be moving away from "writing for the trade" and making use of the serial nature of comics to tell stories with sub-plots that simmer for a long time. It's occasionally vexing, but it's part of the fun of reading these in 22-page monthly installments. It's like delicious torture, and the safe word is "Claremont!"

I should probably review the book, shouldn't I? (Except, come on - you're going to use that as your safe word at your next sado-masochistic orgy/Yankee Candle party, aren't you?) Andreyko catches us up pretty well, as Kate dispatches some random bad guy named Atomic Skull, has a conversation with her grandfather, who is attempting to re-enter her life, and then heads to El Paso to investigate a rash of murders in Juarez that have been occurring over the past fifteen years. Of course, she runs into El Paso's own hero, Blue Beetle, for a crossover you never saw coming! (When asked about the crossover, Andreyko said, "I don't need Batman or Superman or Wolverine in my comic! When I want to pump up sales, I crossover with yet another low-selling superhero comic! It's such a diabolical plan, it has to work! Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!!"*) Gaydos' art is not unlike Gaydos' art, and I like it, so I like it. The story is topical and interesting, but problematic in a few ways. The idea of Kate hunting down a madman (or madmen) who are killing girls in the desert south of Juarez is a good one, but I'm a bit puzzled by some of the statements in the story. The girl we see killed in working in El Paso. Later, her cousin, who works for Kate and is the way she finds out about the story, seems bent out of shape that American law enforcement doesn't seem to care about murders of Mexican victims that are committed in Mexico. Then, when Kate is investigating, she reads about the sweatshops where most of the victims work, businesses that export most of their products to the United States. So I'm confused. The girl works in the United States, is killed somewhere in the desert, but we don't know in which country. If it's a Mexican problem, why should anyone "north of the border" investigate? Is it because the shops where the victims work are in Texas? If so, what's that about "exporting" products to the United States? It's a bit confusing, and I hope Andreyko clears it up in subsequent issues.

The final thing is probably something that I should avoid, but what the hell. I don't have a problem with Marta, the victim of the "Monsters of Juarez." The victims have all been females, leading to the word "femicide" getting dropped into this comic. But if we pair it with the first murder of the book, I get a bit uncomfortable. Atomic Skull kills an entertainment reporter when he goes on his rampage, and her death is subtly played for laughs. She's interviewing an actress when suddenly her body disappears, leaving her arm still holding the microphone floating in air for a second. It's horrifying, sure, but still, given Atomic Skull's obvious break from reality, supposed to be a bit less serious than Marta's fate. Should I be disturbed by two women getting butchered within the space of a few pages? Maybe this is something best left to Kalinara to discuss.

Man, I'm going on too long about this, aren't I? It's good to see the book back, because when Andreyko is on, this is a very interesting comic. The book weakened at the end of its initial run, but maybe Andreyko has been rejuvenated by the break. We'll see. It's a decent start.

* N.B. This quote is made up. But wouldn't it have been cool if Andreyko said that on CBR or Newsarama?

Noble Causes #34 by Jay Faerber (writer), Yildiray Cinar (artist), Ryan Vera (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 21 pgs, FC, Image.

Meanwhile, over in Jay Faerber's universe, Zephyr, Celeste, and Slate Blackthorne fight a giant pharoah in the streets of Cairo. Okay, it's only for a couple of pages before we get back to the main plot, which is what happened to Frost and how to fix him, but still - a giant pharoah is never a bad thing to see in a comic book.

There's a lot of arguing in this book, as the Nobles get in each other's faces about what happened to Frost and whether it was deliberate or not. Meanwhile, the traitor within their ranks reveals more of their secret mission, and it's sufficiently diabolical. Finally, Faerber reveals two very juicy nuggets about Gaia and what she's been up to. It's nice to see that we've jumped ahead five years but Faerber doesn't feel it necessary to update us on the missing characters right away. He'll get to it in time, and Gaia fits into the story nicely at this moment, so Faerber can drop a couple of nice bombshells on us. Faerber's pacing on this book is excellent, as he uses the format to its maximum effect. I'm sure this reads well in the trades, but it's one of those books that is very fun to read in monthly installments as well.

Cinar, despite a propensity to draw everyone with big foreheads (something I just noticed in this issue), is doing a marvelous job with the large cast. I won't give anything away, but the shift of a character's facial expression in successive panels is enough to show us how evil that character is. It's handled nicely. I hope he stays on the book for a long time, because his work is strong.

It's D-Day today, so thank a World War II vet if you know one. If you don't, thank Tom Hanks. And let's try to do a little better on today's totally random lyrics, shall we? Last week's came from that lyrical maestro, Ice-T, rapping "O. G. Original Gangster." This week's selection is:

"Last night I had the strangest dreamI sailed away to China, in a little rowboat to find yaAnd you said you had to get your laundry cleanDidn't want no one to hold you, what does that mean?"

As usual, let me know where I have gone wildly wrong with my reviews. I can take it!

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