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What I bought – 5 August 2009

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought – 5 August 2009

“You on point, Phife?” “All the time, Tip.”

(Note: The West Coast apparently did not get Agents of Atlas this week. Yes, Diamond sucks. So I didn’t get it. I’ve already wept and gnashed my teeth, but now I’m over it. Unless I don’t get it next week. Damn, that would suck.)

Let’s have a moment of silence for John Hughes, who died today. Can you imagine a streak like he had in the mid-1980s as either writer, producer, and/or director of, from 1983 to 1987, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Planes Trains, and Automobiles? Some great, some not-so-great, but chock full of iconic scenes and images. Of course, he also unleashed Macaulay Culkin on an unsuspecting world, so there’s that.

Okay, we’re off!

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #4 (of 4) (“Into the Abyss: All the Way Down”) by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent E. Anderson (artist), John Roshell (letterer), and Alex Sinclair (colorist). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

In yet another interesting twist on the superhero epic, a hero uses a weapon on the big bad guy, the Incarnate, which turns out to be … the wrong weapon. As one of the characters points out, what happens when you really need the weapon and it’s no longer available? What then? Presumably Busiek has an idea about what will happen when the heroes of Astro City really need the weapon.

So we wrap up the third of four four-issue mini-series, which means that the big threat is taken care of, but Royal and Charles are still on their quest for the murderer of their parents. Therefore, it’s tough to judge this mini-series, even though it’s “part four of four.” I mean, Busiek does a nice riff on the world-devouring villain (as noted above) and how it interferes with Royal and Charles, but it still feels like the middle of a story arc, because it kind of is. The good news comes from the letters column, where Busiek announces that the book is going to be ongoing again sometime in 2010. Yay!

Other than that, it’s Astro City. It’s been around since, what, 1995? You’ve already made up your mind, and this issue does nothing to change that, whatever it is!

Chew #3 (“Taster’s Choice Part 3 of 5) by John Layman (writer/letterer) and Rob Guillory (artist/colorist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

You know, this might just have the panel of the year in it. You know which one I’m talking about!

The Chew phenomenon, which has made issue #1 sell for $120 on eBay, remains inexplicable. It’s certainly a solid comic book, and Layman is certainly getting better on the writing side, but I just don’t get it. But we’re not here to speculate, we’re here to review! Issue #3 brings us the blonde woman Tony saw in the previous issue and what her story is. Her name is Amelia Mintz, who’s a food critic for the local paper. She writes about food so well, in fact, that people get the sensation of tasting the food about which she’s writing. Amelia, unfortunately for her readers, has gotten bored, so she’s writing about awful restaurants and making everyone physically ill. Tony is sent by his boss to rein her in. He, ironically, loves her writing (well, her old writing, before she got bored), because he can “taste” the food without worrying about “reading” it and getting ill from all the images in his head. This leads him into a conflict with his boss, because he’s madly in love with her but he’s supposed to arrest her because of her recent writing. Luckily, bad guys show up and take everyone at the newspaper hostage, and Amelia thwarts them in a nifty way. Which leads what might be the panel of the year.

Layman, as I mentioned, is getting better on the book, even if some of the writing is a bit stilted (some of it, on the other hand, is very nice). His strength continues to lie in plotting, as this book is a nice single issue that fits in with the larger story, plus we get the mysterious man with the “fruit” which interests Amelia so much she leaves town with him. Layman throws a nice curveball into the cliché of the main character narrating the story in a framing sequence, too, so that was nice. Guillory remains the star of the book. He has a wonderful eye for detail and for such a cartoony style, he does wonders with making the expressions of his characters real.

Chew is a nifty comic that’s getting better. Just don’t spend over one hundred dollars on it!

Dynamo 5 #23 by Jay Faerber (writer), Matteo Scalera (artist), Mahmud A. Asrar (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

This issue of Dynamo 5 feels a bit moribund, and I’m not sure why. Faerber seems to speed through the main story far too quickly (not that it could fill another issue, but it still feels a bit rushed) and wrap up several plot threads, from the fate of the Brain Trust to the dinosaur infestation to Myriad’s drug use to the revelation about Father Gideon. Faerber has been very good at pacing these issues, but this is rushed and is therefore strangely lacking in the title’s usual verve. Faerber still gives us an neat resolution to the problem with the Brain Trust, and as usual, he ties this into the problem of Whiptail and gives us an atypical solution to a standard superhero problem. It’s certainly not a horrible issue, even without Asrar for most of the issue, as Scalera does a good job with the art, which doesn’t look exactly like Asrar’s but fits in well with it. I guess that after 20+ issues of very good to excellent superhero stories, Faerber gets a free pass on one that’s only half-decent. Next issue we’re back with Father Gideon and Synergy, which is the main story anyway, so let’s hope we get the spark back. It worries me that Asrar is doing work for Marvel, because I fear he won’t be staying with this book too much longer. We’ll see.

Fallen Angel: Reborn #2 (of 5) by Peter David (writer), J. K. Woodward (artist/colorist), and Chris Mowry (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

Illyria is a region in the Balkans, by the way. I’m just sayin’.

There’s a bit too many references to Illyria’s past in this comic, but it doesn’t really ruin it. It’s just a bit annoying, especially after David went out of his way to make sure people unfamiliar with Illyria (like me) weren’t lost in the first issue. It’s fine, just a bit confusing on a couple of pages.

Illyria and Liandra fight, like they’re supposed to, but then come to a bit of an understanding that leads to Illyria getting one of her things back. David continues to know exactly how to craft a comic, as we expect one thing at the end, but with one sentence, Liandra shows us that things in Bete Noire aren’t always how they seem, and this leads to next issue. It’s not really a “twist” in the classic sense, because we know that Lee and Illyria are together for the duration, but it’s a nice reference to the fact that the city itself is a character in the book, which David never forgets.

Woodward’s slight change in style works, for the most part, although the fact that he seems to be pencilling and then painting highlights the weakness in his art – namely, the stiffness of figures when they’re in motion. In the regular series, the lack of hard lines often hid that, but in this issue, it’s a bit more pronounced. Still, for the most part, the art is fine.

As always, David and Woodward bring us a solid issue of Fallen Angel. It’s nice to know you can count on something in this world!

Greek Street #2 (“Book One: Blood Calls for Blood Part Two: Where Two Roads Meet”) by Peter Milligan (writer), Davide Gianfelice (artist), Patricia Mulvihill (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I have a feeling that this book is not served well by its colorist. Just last week I praised two different comics for their coloring, but I don’t think Mulvihill is doing the art any favors with hers. Granted, a lot of Vertigo books have a similar color scheme, and occasionally it works and occasionally it doesn’t. Mulvihill’s muted colors and over-reliance on browns worked fairly well for 100 Bullets, but this book seems to need something a bit brighter. This book is certainly brighter than 100 Bullets, but the overall look of the book is still too dark. It’s hard to explain, because I’m not that clever, but it just feels like there’s something off about the coloring, more than with the pencils. It’s as if, too often, the figures blend too much into the background. Maybe that makes no sense. I’m going to move on.

Anyway, this issue is a bit more focused than issue #1, but Milligan is still juggling a lot of threads, and it’s tough to figure out what we should really care about in this comic yet. I mean, Eddie seems the logical focus of the book, but there’s so much else going on that even his story gets swept away a bit. It’s less confusing than issue #1, perhaps because Milligan has less space (this is standard length as opposed to issue #1) and therefore makes some of the connections more obvious, plus he has a Greek chorus on the first page recap the first issue for us, which was nice.

There’s a lot of potential in this comic that hasn’t been fully realized yet. Milligan has a ton of characters walking around, and he’s trying to kickstart all of their stories, so it’s still fairly scattershot. As with most comics I’m interested in, I’m going to give it a few issues to decide about it. We’ll see.

Secret Six #12 (“Depths Part Three: Inferno”) by Gail Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (penciller), Doug Hazlewood (inker), Mark McKenna (inker), Jason Wright (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

So in this issue, Wonder Woman and Scandal have a conversation about Wonder Woman banging Batman and Superman at the same time, and Scandal tells her how she’s a legend among the female superpowered beings of the DCU, and Wonder Woman wistfully says she’d rather be known for furthering female empowerment than pulling a train with the other two members of the Trinity, but then …

Oh, wait a minute. Am I misremembering this comic? I might be. Let’s check!

Oh, okay, that doesn’t happen. Whoops! What does happen is that Wonder Woman finds out what Jeannette can do when she’s pissed, and like a great deal in this series, it’s fucking hardcore. I’ve read plenty of criticism about Simone’s Wonder Woman (I don’t know if it’s justified, as I don’t read it), but let me tell you, she’s firing on all cylinders on this series. I mean, there’s no way the Six can stand up to WW, who takes them down pretty quickly, but then Jeannette shows what she can do, and then Simone’s curious interest in Hell rears its head again, but who cares when we get that last page. Sure, I hope it’s a certain already-established character in the DCU, but I doubt if it is. That would be cool, though, wouldn’t it? Oh, and Artemis kicks ass, much like this comic!

Man, every page of this series rocks. And I didn’t even mention Rag Doll this time around!

The Veil #2 (“Live”) by El Torres (writer) and Gabriel Hernandez (artist). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

I mentioned when issue #1 came out how neat it was to read a horror comic that was actually creepy instead of out-and-out gory (I like my gore in DC books starring supervillains, thank you very much!) and one that took what we expect from horror movies except that in comics, static images have to be more intense in order to shock us because movies can simply throw things at the screen and give us a jolt. Man, that was a long sentence! Anyway, Torres and Hernandez continue with that in this issue, as they give us a first page that sets up a nice splash second page that effectively communicates Chris Luna’s ability and the horror she lives with every day. She knows something weird is going on in Crooksville, but she’s not sure what it is. Despite falling into one cliché – Chris falls into bed with a sympathetic cop, who has to be hiding something horrible, right? – Torres does a good job with Chris’s dilemma and even twists our expectations at the end of this issue, although what happens isn’t going to stick. It’s still a nice character development for Chris. Hernandez continues to do a fine job with the art, with plenty of wonderful details that give us a fine sense of the small town in which Chris is staying and also shows the horror with which she lives. This is a bleak comic, and Hernandez makes us feel that as much as the script does.

I’m still pleasantly surprised by this comic. Check it out!

Wednesday Comics #5 (of 12) by Dan DiDio and a bunch of less-talented people. $3.99, 15 pgs, FC, DC.

I’m starting to become disappointed by Wednesday Comics. I don’t want to be, but I can’t help it! There’s so much talent, and what are they doing? Too many of these stories are just dull, as if the creators just have no idea how to tell single-page chapters (which is probably true, as they’ve never done it before). Many of the pages traffic in boring clichés, and they’re moving far too slowly. We’re 42% of the way through these stories, and with many, we have no idea where they’re going. It worries me that we’re going to get severely rushed resolutions to these stories because the writers haven’t been pacing themselves. Let’s look at each of them individually:

Batman: I was hoping Bruce wouldn’t nail a widow, no matter how loveless her marriage was, so soon after her husband’s, you know, kidnap and murder. I did not like Azzarello and Risso’s six-issue stint on Batman back in the day, and this is shaping up the same way. What works for characters in 100 Bullets doesn’t necessarily work for Batman.

Kamandi: Gibbons is one who gets it. He gives us a tiny complete story in each chapter, with plenty to keep the action going forward but plenty of action in the actual chapter. Sook, of course, dazzles. I’m not sure why Gibbons is so much better at this than most of the others, but it’s true!

Superman: Goddamn, this story is pissing me off. Bermejo’s art continues to shine (except for that idiotic wisp of hair on Baby Kal’s head), but this is just crap. Stop being such a whiny asshole, Superman! You’re fucking Superman! Go use your X-ray vision to spy on a girls’ locker room or something!

Deadman: Here’s another guy who gets it. Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck’s story isn’t making a shitload of sense, but it’s chock full of action and weird stuff, and Bullock is drawing the hell out of it. Which would you rather read: A single-page story that ends with Batman walking away mopily or one that ends with Deadman getting a spear shoved through him by some weird flying demon? Yeah, I thought so!

Green Lantern: Man, Hal Jordan is a fucking tool. Why does everyone who writes for DC love him so much? I mean, even those people who write him and love him write him as a fucking tool. Is it because they enjoy writing characters as fucking tools? The funny thing is, he always figures out he’s being a fucking tool in that particular story, yet he never learns not to be a fucking tool. Sigh.

Metamorpho: This might be the most disappointing story, mainly because of the talent involved. It seems strangely inert, disjointed, and parodic. I mean, parody is fine and all, but it feels like a misguided parody, where Gaiman can’t seem to decide if it really is or not. It’s odd – it reads like many of the Allred tales I’ve read. I wonder how much of that is a coincidence.

Teen Titans: Garbage. Pure, mawkish garbage. It doesn’t piss me off quite as much as the Superman story, because it’s sucked from the beginning and the art is on a much lesser level than Bermejo’s, which ought to be in a better story.

Strange Adventures: Another excellent story, in which Pope is obviously not going for the pop quite like Gibbons is, but each chapter progresses the story sufficiently while adding to an interesting world-building exercise. And Pope’s art, which I’ve said before has never done it for me, is freakin’ perfect for this tale.

Supergirl: Another one that’s just spinning its wheels. For five pages Supergirl has been chasing the Super-Pets around, and who cares? Maybe it’s going somewhere next installment, as Supergirl is finally getting a handle on the situation, but we should have reached this point two pages ago.

Metal Men: Did you see where DiDio is planning on writing a DC comic in the near future? Based on this, that might not be the clusterfuck you might think it would be, but I suppose if he gets Garcia-Lopez and Nowlan to illustrate it, anything would look great. This is still the most surprising story, because DiDio is telling a simple old-fashioned superhero story without any of the crap that permeates far too many of the books that he supposedly has final say about. Odd.

Wonder Woman: Here’s another one that, despite the annoyance of the format, pisses me off because Caldwell, telling what appears to be a “Young Wonder Woman” story, is doing nothing interesting with the constant dreaming and weird characters Diana keeps encountering. This could be very Winsor McCay-ish, but it’s just another dumb superhero story. Add onto that the format, and it’s practically unreadable.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co.: Far be it from me to criticize Joe Kubert, who at 82 could probably kick my ass, but he should have kicked his son’s ass and told him to hurry the fuck up with this. I mean, I get that getting Rock out of the clutches of the Nazis is going to be the big finale of this story, but man, we’re taking a long time to get there, with very little happening in the interim. This is just dull.

Flash Comics: Here’s another one that works fairly well, although Kerschl is still having some troubles with the pacing. It doesn’t quite pop like “Kamandi” or “Strange Adventures” or even “Hawkman,” but it’s trying. I’d put it in the category of “Metal Men” in that it doesn’t work as well as it could as single-page installments, but it’s engaging enough. Even though I have no idea what the fuck Grodd does to our hero. Please explain, as I’m dim-witted!

The Demon and Catwoman: Simonson’s another writer who doesn’t seem to get the single-page format, as this story, so far, seems a bit padded. It feels like we could have gotten to this point sooner than five pages, but what do I know? There’s nothing really wrong with this, but there’s nothing terribly great about it either, although Steelfreeze’s art is nice.

Hawkman: As good as this has been, here’s another page that feels unnecessary. The entire thing is taken up with Hawkman helping the plane land? Really? I mean, it looks great, but it really does feel like it’s just a waste of a page. I’m still liking this quite a bit, but not this chapter in particular.

Before you criticize me for not seeing the forest for the trees, let me counter by saying that DC is releasing these stories this way, so I’m judging them that way. If you use a single-page weekly format to tell a 12-page story, you better make sure all those pages count. I’m getting the sense that “Kamandi,” “Deadman,” and “Strange Adventures,” and even “Wonder Woman” (mostly because of the tiny, tiny panels) will be epic stories, even at 12 pages, while the others will be inconsequential adventures that may or may not work. Of course, if we read all 12 pages at once, others might work better, but that’s not how these comics ought to work. They should be single-page slices of awesome, and only a few are holding up their end of the bargain. Oh well. Next week everything could change!

Nobody got the totally random lyrics last week. It’s because you all hate women, right? You can admit it! The first lyric was from “I’m a Mother” by the Pretenders off of their excellent 1994 album Last of the Independents. Sing it, Chrissie! The second lyric was “If I Was Your Man” by Joan Osborne, which appears on Righteous Love, her 2000 album. Let’s get some more, shall we?

“God takes care of old folks and fools
While the devil takes care of makin’ all the rules
Folks don’t even own themselves
Payin’ mental rent to corporate presidents
One outta million residents
Bein’ dissident, who ain’t kissin’ it
The politics of chains and whips
Got the sickness and chips and all the championships
What’s love got to do with what you got
Don’t let the weight get to your head or lost to your heart”

I apologize if these reviews this week are kind of shitty. I’ve been having a really crappy week, and although I usually use these reviews as a bit of an escape, this week I couldn’t do that. I hope you’ll be kind when you tell me I’m a lousy reviewer!

Okay, enough self-pity: Grab the microphone, and let the words rip!

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