What I bought - 5 September 2012

"It's sex, isn't it? We can't deal with it. That's why our religions hate it so much. It wants to save us from ourselves. If we don't have any certainties, we can't trust ourselves." (Graham Joyce, from Requiem)

Avengers Academy #36 ("Final Exam Part 3 of 4") by Gage, Di Vito, and Sotomayor (there are no credits inside the book, so I'm using the cover credits). $2.99, 19(!) pgs, FC, Marvel.

Avengers Academy #39 is the final issue of this series, and this is #36, so fuck it, right? It certainly doesn't matter - Marvel doesn't even care anymore, as they don't bother to put credits inside the book and presumably fuck Joe Caramagna right out of any credit for his work. Fuck that guy, amirite, Marvel?

Either way, I'm not exactly going to miss AA, but I do think it sucks that it's getting cancelled. That's the way it is, though, so we'll just have to move on. This is a fairly typical issue of AA, in that Gage does some very nice character work (culminating with that nice panel below) and then gives not only Mettle his powers back but also gives White Tiger and Reptil their powers back, too. We knew it was going to happen, and Gage does a pretty good job with it. As it's part 3 of 4, of course we have to end with the bad guy seemingly winning, but we know he won't win, so fuck that guy, amirite?

Oh, and 19 pages? Fuck you, Marvel. No wonder I hardly buy any of your comics in single issues anymore. Jeebus.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Foster #2 by Brian Buccellato (writer/colorist), Noel Tuazon (artist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Dog Year Entertainment.

Scheduling note: Foster #1 came out last week. I'm just sayin'.

Issue #2 gives us some more answers about what happened in issue #1, especially with regard to Ben. The end of issue #1 kind of gave it away, but in this issue we get confirmation about what's going on with him (and no, I'm not going to spoil it, so I'm sorry if I'm vague). Tuazon is quite good on this issue - there's a wonderfully brutal fight early in the issue that shows how fragile Vintage City - as we must call it now - really is, and he does a very good job with the interactions between Foster and Ben. Tuazon and Buccellato (the colorist) have really given this book a nice, gritty, dirty look - perfect for the tone of the book and the way Buccellato (the writer) envisions Vintage City.

Buccellato is still finding his feet a bit with regard to the story. I mean, Foster does several absolutely stupid things in this issue, but I suppose the alternatives, as it happens, would have been even worse. He obviously can't go to the police, but he also doesn't need to leave Ben alone so often - he does it once, something bad happens, and then he does it again. And then there's a cab driver who appears out of nowhere and tells Foster all this really crucial information - man, it's good he was around, wasn't it? It just seems like Buccellato wants to get somewhere and is taking some shortcuts to get there. That's no way to tell a story!

That's not to say I don't like Foster. It's pretty good, and it's certainly intriguing. I know Buccellato has been writing Flash for the past year, but I wonder if he's written a lot before that and he's working out how to tell a story in serial installments. So far, his idea is pretty good, and I'll give him a bit to work on the pacing and other storytelling devices. I'm just groovy like that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hawkeye #2 ("Vagabond Code") by Matt Fraction (writer), David Aja (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

One thing I try to do, I hope successfully, is not get carried away by the latest new shiny thing that comes out in the comics universe. Too often we think new = awesome, and that's not always the case. I mentioned that I thought Hawkeye #1 was okay but nothing special, but it was obviously enough to get me to pick up issue #2 (mainly due to Aja's and Hollingsworth's artwork, to be fair). When I flipped through this, it looked a bit better than issue #2, so I figured I could drop 3 bucks on it. I certainly don't think that people who gushed over issue #1 are wrong, of course - it's an opinion, man! - but like Daredevil (which is also good, of course), just because a writer and artist can put together a competent comic doesn't make it the second coming of Watchmen. It leads to people like the letter writer in the back, who claims that Hawkeye #1 is the best Marvel #1 he's read in years, and in the next sentence he says it's reminiscent of Waid's Daredevil. Does that mean that Daredevil #1 wasn't as good as Hawkeye #1, but it's still reminiscent of it? Daredevil #1 was better than Hawkeye #1, anyway, so the question is moot!

Where was I? Oh, yeah, Hawkeye #2. It's better than issue #1, so there's that. It still has giant gaps of logic, but whatever. So Clint is hanging out with Kate Bishop for some reason (yes, I know she's "Lady Hawkeye," but I mean that she just shows up in this issue for no reason), and he figures out that Ringmaster - yes, the Ringmaster - is plotting to rob a bunch of Marvel villains at the opening of a new hotel. So, okay, Clint figures they better check it out. Fine. But then he realizes that everyone in the room is a Marvel villain - there's the Owl, Hammerhead, Wilson Fisk, among others - and he still intervenes. I mean, fuck 'em, right? But I get it, he's an honorable dude. Whatevs. But then, at the end, with several bad guys lying around unconscious, including the motherfucking Ringmaster, Wilson Fisk inexplicably blames the crime on Hawkeye. Is Fisk just being a douchebag? Why? I mean, if he wants to go after Clint, does he really need a reason?

And then there's the violence. Kate shoots at least two (probably three) villains in the eyes. Kate claims that "they're not dead they're just blinded now" [sic]. Really? An arrow traveling at 200 feet per second (a fair estimate) isn't going to go clear through the brain of the target? Really, Kate? Then Clint fires an arrow past a target, and it hits the wall, bounces off, somehow reverses so that the arrow head is leading back toward the target, and embeds in the dude's neck. He, of course, doesn't die. Really, Mr. Fraction? I mean, I get that we're living in the Marvel Universe, where the laws of physics mean nothing (not to mention the laws of medical recovery - I'm still trying to figure out how Clint got out of the hospital so quickly in issue #1), but come on.

Aja and Hollingsworth are tremendous, though. Hollingsworth puts a lot of purple in the book even though Clint never appears in costume, and he offsets that with a lot of yellow, which goes well with the purple. As the heist begins, the purples get darker and Hollingsworth introduces more blues, shifting from a more benign color scheme to one that's a bit darker. The switch from a yellow background when Kate and Clint are using their bows to the dark blues when the panels show the villains is a bit obvious, but no less stunning for it. It's a marvelously colored comic. Aja, meanwhile, is amazing. I haven't listened to Kieron Gillen's podcast about issue #1 (which you can find at Gillen's blog here - BC), but I should, because Fraction and Aja discuss their method, and I imagine Aja has a lot of cool ideas about the art. I can't even get into all of it - the "negative image" of Kate when Clint talks about who she is; the way Aja stretches time as Clint nocks and arrow and fires it; the cool image of the Ringmaster as he goes to work; the page on which Clint and Kate speak on the phone and Aja places 22 (!) smaller panels over two larger images of the two principals and doesn't re-use any of the faces he's already drawn - but it's amazing. Despite the fact that he's channeling Mazzuchelli circa "Born Again," I think we can forgive him, because it's not like a lot of people are channeling Mazzuchelli. Plus, it's still excellent, so there's that. I may not be in love with the book yet, but it's certainly not because of the artwork.

Finally, I don't get the newspaper on Page 2. Is it supposed to be a joke about how the newspapers report nothing but bad news? If so, it doesn't work. At least when Fraction writes "(French stuff)" in the dialogue balloons, it's because it's filtered through Clint's perception. But Clint can actually read (I would hope), so the fact that the headline doesn't show the actual words but what Clint thinks makes no sense. Oh well.

Finally (whoops, I already wrote that, didn't I?), Clint is still rich. Nobody could tell me the source of his wealth last time out, so I'll ask again. Why is Clint so rich?

The nice thing (so far) about this comic is that Fraction is writing single-issue stories. That means we get a nice little story each time, but it also means that I can decide the day the issue arrives in stores whether I want to get the next one. I'll think about it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mind the Gap #4 ("Big. Bad.") by Jim McCann (writer), Rodin Esquejo (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), Arif Prianto (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Image.

I know I get on Marvel and DC for cheerfully switching artists like crazy, but independent books do it too, and after 4 issues, Esquejo apparently needs a break, so Adrian Alphona is taking care of issue #5. This is always a tough thing, I imagine, for creators to deal with - do you wait for the artist to catch up and risk losing your audience, or do you get a fill-in artist and risk the "artistic integrity" of the comic? Beats me - obviously, Saga is going with one route, while Mind the Gap is going with the other. I really don't know if there's any evidence one is better than the other.

I've decided that when I have a little bit of time (meaning: January, as I still have to keep up with my daily posts), I'm going to sit down with every issue of Mind the Gap so far and try to puzzle some things out. I hate doing that, but since McCann insists that each page is packed with clues, I'm going to believe him and try to suss some things out. I imagine that there will be 7 issues out by then, so I hope we don't learn anything too bombshelly before that. I'm not a smart person, so I'm sure I will miss a lot, but I think that's my plan. Don't you love coming here to read reviews and instead get a future itinerary? I know that you do!

Anyway, this is another pretty good issue, although I have reached the conclusion that I'm not terribly fond of Elle. This is a problem, as she's the center of the mystery. At one point she actually wonders why so many people care about her, and I hate to say it, but I found myself agreeing with her. I don't know why I don't like Elle, though. You know how some people in real life just rub you the wrong way? It's not really anything they do, it's just that your personalities don't click? I feel like that with Elle. Something about her bugs me, and I wish that McCann would spend less time in her weird halfway house and more time in the real world. The issue gets a lot better in its second half, when we re-enter the real world. It's not that Elle is making me hate the comic, but I honestly don't care whether she wakes up or not. Perhaps this would make the book weaker for some people - if you don't care about the victim, why would you want to read about her? - but for me, I'm more interested in the mystery and the various people Elle left behind. The victim in any mystery is often the least interesting character, but they usually die before that can become a barrier to enjoying the story. The fact that Elle is still "alive" means that McCann, I think, needs to do a slightly better job making Elle someone that we are interested in. I don't care if I like her, but I do think I should know why others do, and I don't really get that after 4 issues. But that's fine. It's still a neat mystery, after all.

I don't know how many issues Esquejo is going to miss. I hope not too many, even though I like Alphona's work. We shall see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Near Death #11 by Jay Faerber (writer), Simone Guglielmini (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer); "Stuck" by Ed Brisson (writer/letterer), Jason Copland (artist), and Paul Little (colorist). $2.99, 26 pgs, FC, Image.

This is the final issue of Near Death, which is a shame. I guess I'm to blame for it, at least a little, because while I bought every issue and enjoyed, I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I could have been, and my proselytizing was a bit weak. Let's hope Faerber doesn't punch me in the face if I ever see him again.

Faerber does wrap stuff up, even though he admits in the back that it wasn't the ending he had planned. I think it's a pretty satisfying ending, actually - it's not perfect, but it's not ridiculous, either. I guess I don't have much else to say about this issue. Overall, the series is a pretty good read. It's a clever concept, Faerber knows how to write good dialogue without being clichéd, Guglielmini and Riley did a nice job on the art, and it was a pretty exciting book. I know it didn't sell beans, but I'm sure the trades will be available, if you're at all interested in it. Oh well.

Faerber did note in the back that Harry O, which he wrote about long ago in an issue of Noble Causes (I think; it might have been Dynamo 5), has been released on DVD (well, a bit of it). I had never heard of Harry O until I read about it in Faerber's comic, and I'm keen to pick up these DVDs. So, thanks, Mr. Faerber, for making me spend more money! Sheesh.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Think Tank #2 by Matt Hawkins (writer), Rahsan Ekedal (artist), and Troy Peteri (letterer). $3.99, 25 pgs, BW, Image/Top Cow.

One of the clever things Hawkins is doing with this series, which I don't think he did in issue #1, is give us a relatively unreliable narrator. Now, it's not as if our hero David Loren is flat-out lying, but twice in this issue he misdirects us and then admits it, putting the reader on notice that perhaps we should trust him less than we normally trust a narrator. It's a neat trick - in the first case, David mentions that he didn't actually go on a mission even though Ekedal draws him into it ... but he did watch it on television, so he's not actually lying. In the second instance, he does lie, but it's about something that we can easily believe would happen, so his words carry some weight. Unreliable narrators are tricky, because most writers want the reader to actually believe someone in the story, but the way Hawkins does it - revealing in the second issue that David stretches the truth - is interesting, because he's in a position where we would naturally gravitate toward him: He's develops weapons, sure, but he doesn't want to do it anymore and can't figure out to get away from the military. He's an underdog, in other words, even though he's a genius. So the fact that he's also socially awkward - in that he doesn't care too much about the truth - is interesting. Is David lying about the situation he's in right now? Perhaps. We shall see. I also like that he has a long-term plan for escaping. I don't love it when villains are always one step ahead of the hero even though the hero disrupts their first three plans - how many contingencies can you have, really? - but the fact that David tells us that he's been planning an escape for years and has some of the technology to do it makes it more interesting. For me, it's more fascinating to see the nuts and bolts of a master plan rather than the fait accompli, which sometimes stretches credulity. I hope Hawkins continues with the former.

Ekedal continues his fine work on the art. He colors the blood white instead of black, which is a very weird choice - it makes it seem like the bodies are floating in milk. I wonder if he did that to make it more "unreal," since David didn't witness either traumatic event in person (and the second one, as noted, is imaginary). It's very bizarre. But it's still good artwork, so I'm not going to worry about it too much.

I'm not sure if this is an ongoing or a mini-series. It seems to have a finite concept, but who knows these days. Anyway, 2 issues in, and it's pretty good. Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

"Thunderbolts" #180 ("Change Is Good") by Jeff Parker (writer), Neil Edwards (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Chris Sotomayor (artist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Parker has been writing this back-and-forth with the Thunderbolts in the future and the Dusky Avengers in the present, and last issue he began to pull it all together, and he does it more here. It's pretty intricate (well, for a superhero book), and it's fun to follow along. There's a bit of a useless page in which Jessica Jones and Luke Cage's kid has her own kid, who turns out to be the person from whom all the Boss Cage clones are, um, cloned from, which is pointless because Boss Cage tells us who he is and what his deal is on the next page (he's kind of having a flashback), plus, when you're limited to 20 pages, you can't waste them, man! Perhaps that scene will pay off in future issues, but it seemed pointless. But it's still a fun comic, because Parker, despite looking like he's just chucking all sorts of crap at the wall, obviously has a plan, and it's coming together nicely.

I've never been a huge fan of Neil Edwards' art, and it's kind of stiff and clunky here. It lacks the sheen and ballsiness of Kev Walker's work or the grit of Declan Shalvey, and Edwards still hasn't quite developed his own style, so he's still trying to be Bryan Hitch, and considering that Hitch is still trying to be Alan Davis a little, the style is even more watered-down. Some of the panels aren't bad - the one below is fun, and the one where Man-Thing tries to breach the dome's containment wall is nice - but Edwards seems to be happy being a middle-of-the-road superhero artist. If it gets him gigs, I guess that's fine, but for me, he'll never be someone whose art piques my interest. He just shows up and draws things that I happen to be reading. C'est la vie.

I'm still not sure if I'm jumping ship from this book after issue #183, which seems to be the end of the Thunderbolts era and (unless the book is cancelled, which I haven't seen) a jump to the Avengers Noir exclusively. I have no interest in reading a book solely about Clor and his cronies, even if Parker is writing it. We'll see.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

X-Factor #243 ("Breaking Points Day Three") by Peter David (writer), Leonard Kirk (penciler), Jay Leisten (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.

So a while back, Our Dread Lord and Master wrote that thing about Polaris and her parentage, and people went nuts. I mean, I guess it really matters if a fictional character fathered another fictional character, right? Anyway, David stopped by to mention this issue, and so here it is. I don't know or care if it answers any nagging questions about Lorna and her father, but it is a pretty decent story, even if it's a tiny bit obvious. I guess in the context of PAD ripping apart the team, this gives Alex a reason to join the Uncanny Avengers? What? On the letters page, PAD actually says that Polaris "isn't going anywhere," so I guess the trauma she suffers in this issue makes Alex ... join a different team? Um, okay? Anyway, I guess we can put to bed the theories about Lorna's parentage? Right, Internet?

I'm not a fan of Jay Leisten inking Leonard Kirk. He seems to make Kirk's pencils a bit too fine, blunting some of the impact of the artwork. However, I do appreciate that Kirk (and not just Kirk - the sadly-departed-from-this-title Emanuela Lupacchino did this too) draws the women like brick shithouses - they have big breasts, but they're solid through the torso and their hips are nice and curvy. They look more like powerful women than a lot of the ladies you see in superhero books. It's nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


No graphic novels or trade paperbacks this week, which is strange. I have no problem with it, as I'm still behind with the ones I do have, but it's just strange. Moving on, I'm typing this in a small amount of pain, because I actually worked out last night. I'm participating in this event in October, and I'm "in training." I can't remember the last time I actually worked out, more than just bike riding, which I enjoy - probably a good 17 years ago. The worst thing was doing push-ups, which means my upper arms really hurt today, and I can't raise my arms too far above my head. It should be fun, though - I'm woefully out of shape, so maybe this will help kick my butt and get to it more.

In comics news, Dave Sim appears to have retired. Well, at least he's planning to retire soon. I don't really care, not because I think Sim is a jerk and he should stop making comics (as I've mentioned before, I don't believe in ignoring someone's work due to their personal beliefs), but because I don't have a stake in this. Sim seems to think he has no options whatsoever, and some of the commenters point out that yes, he does have options. I get that he wants to stay completely and fiercely independent, and that's cool, but that just means he might have to quit. Gail Simone mentioned this on her Facebook page (which is where I saw it first), and she thinks it's a shame that "the industry can't support one of its grand masters." I think the industry could easily support Dave Sim if Sim wanted to give up some of his independence. He doesn't, and that's fine, but it's his choice. One of the comments mentioned The Dude, who has been in the same boat as Sim. I've never met Rude, but several people I know have, and they point out that Rude turned his back on comics to do "fine art" - you can see some of his work on his web site. That's his choice, but he could have easily kept doing comics and made enough money to keep his house. Rude has some health issues, I know, but that doesn't change the fact that, apparently, publishers were asking him to do comics and he spurned them. I know this is all hearsay, but I've heard it from several different people at different times, so I tend to believe it. It's too bad Sim can't make a living doing oddball art pastiches of Alex Raymond - I know, stunning, isn't it? I don't think he's out of options, though.

Sorry for the rant. You know I like a good rant every once in a while! Moving on, Arnold Schwarzeneggar bought a truck:

Holy crap, look at that thing!

And here's a nice clip of the worst answers ever given on Family Fued. Some of these I can forgive, because people are nervous. Some of them are bizarre, because they've had a few seconds to, you know, think about it!

My iPod is still out of commission, so let's do a Top Ten List. Here's my favorite ten medieval European rulers. By "favorite" I mean favorite to study, not necessarily the best, by "medieval" I'm saying AD 500-1500, and by "European" I mean "Europe" (with one minor exception). That's fairly broad (although my list is a bit Britian-centric, so maybe not so broad), but it's my list, consarnit!

1. Dagobert II, king of Austrasia, 676-679. As a good Merovingian scholar, I suppose I ought to have a Merovingian at the top of the list. There are many keen kings of the dynasty to choose from, but I've always been partial to Dagobert, mainly because his biography could easily be a action/adventure thriller. When Dagobert was a child (in the 650s), his father, King Sigibert III, died, but the top official, the mayor of the palace, engineered a coup and placed his own son on the throne. Dagobert was spirited out of the country before he was killed and headed to Ireland, where he spent the next 20 years or so in a monastery. During his exile, Merovingians politics took its fairly typical bloody turn, and a group of magnates assassinated the king and his pregnant wife (they played for keeps back in those days). The latest mayor knew about Dagobert, so he recalled him from Ireland. Dagobert ruled only a few years before he too was assassinated, but he's an interesting fellow. In the later Merovingian years, many of the kings were seen as puppets of the mayors, especially the family of Pippin, which would eventually be the family of Charlemagne. Dagobert seems to contradict that, even if there's very little evidence from his reign. Why would his enemies want him dead if he was just a puppet? Merovingian history is full of speculation like this, and it would be nice if we knew more about the sixth and seventh centuries in France. Dagobert is also Catholic saint, oddly enough. His feast day is 23 December, the day of his assassination.

2. Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, 1264-1265. Stretching the definition of "ruler" a bit, we come to Simon de Montfort. De Montfort rebelled against one of the worst English kings EVER, Henry III, and forced the king to sign the Provisions of Oxford, which doesn't have the same cachet in English (and subsequently American) history as Magna Carta but ought to, as it's far more radical and democratic than the Great Charter. Henry III, like the petulant asshole he was, dithered about the Provisions before deciding he didn't like them (no king would, of course, but Henry was just being a dick), and so De Montfort went to war against the king, imprisoning him for a time and ruling England as the de facto king. It couldn't last, of course, and Henry's far more capable son, Edward (soon the First), helped Henry defeat De Montfort at Evesham, where the earl was killed. De Montfort seems like something of an egotistic asshole, but he really did try to help make England more democratic. In fact, his insistence on more democracy might have been why the nobles gradually turned against him and destroyed his efforts.

3. Eleanor of Aquitaine, duchess of Aquitaine, queen of France, 1137-1152, queen of England, 1154-1189. Eleanor is one of the most interesting people in the history of the world. Yes, I went there. She was born in 1122 (probably) and married when she was 15 to the king of France, Louis VII. Eleanor went with her husband on crusade in 1146; got the marriage annulled because Louis was a douchebag; fell in love with Henry Plantagenet, who was 11 years younger than she; became queen of England when Henry became king in 1154; bore him many children whom she then helped rebel against her husband (if you're Katharine Hepburn, you're probably a bit fiery); was imprisoned for 16 years for one son's rebellion (1173-1189); ruled England as regent while her son, King Richard I (Anthony Hopkins, years before he became a cannibal), went off on Crusade; rescued Richard when he was imprisoned coming back from Crusade; and lived to see her other son, John, start to become one of the five worst kings in English history. Oh, and she and her daughter, Marie, began an entire literary movement of chivalry and troubadours and courtly love. Now don't you feel foolish sitting there watching The League and eating Cheetos? Yeah, I thought so.

4. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, prince of Wales, 1267-1282. I don't know as much about Welsh history as I'd like, because Wales is cool and I ought to read more about it. I do dig Llywelyn, though, who managed to get his principality recognized by the English king (once again, it was the douchebag Henry III) and the Papacy. Llywelyn managed to take over a good deal of Wales before Henry died and Edward I came to the throne. Edward, when he wasn't chucking his son's male lovers out of castle windows, was a huge asshole but a very good warrior, and he made pacifying the entire island - meaning the Welsh and the Scots, and probably the Cornish - his top priority. Llywelyn held onto his lands for a while, but when his brother rebelled against Edward in 1282, he felt he had to support him. He was killed under mysterious circumstances away from a battle, where he might have been lured. Who knows. After that, Edward was able to incorporate Wales into his empire and the title "prince of Wales" became reserved for the heir to the throne. That must stick in Welsh people's craw. Where's Catherine Zeta-Jones to rally the people? (Fun fact: "Jones" is by far the most common surname in Wales ... yet there is no "J" in the Welsh alphabet. Chew on that for a while!)

5. Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland, 1306-1329. In case you haven't figured it out by now, I like people who fight against Edward I, because Edward was a total dick. Perhaps if Robert had been king a little earlier, he wouldn't have won his country's freedom at Bannockburn, because by that time Edward I was dead and Edward II was king, and Edward II was far more interested in Piers Gaveston than prosecuting the war against the Scottish. But such is the way of history, and Robert was able to secure Scotland's independence for another 300 years, until James VI decided he'd rather rule from London than Edinburgh and took over the English throne, essentially merging the two countries (yes, I know it didn't happen for a while after that, but let's be honest here). Anyway, Robert always seemed like an interesting fellow. I doubt he was as pretty as Angus MacFadyen, amirite, ladies?

6. Basil II Boulgaroktonos, Byzantine emperor, 976-1025. I like several Byzantine emperors (Alexius I Comnenus, Manuel I Comnenus, Justinian I, Heraclius, Irene, Leo III), but Basil is by far my favorite. Early in his career he had to fight against his own nobles because he was so young and they wanted to control him, but once he sorted them out, he turned his ire to the Bulgarians, who had been messing with the Greeks for years. Basil mopped the floor with the Bulgarians, gaining the awesome nickname "Boulgaroktonos," or "Bulgar-Slayer." He regained a good deal of the empire's lands and added some new ones (including a foothold in the southern Crimea), and secured peace within the borders. Byzantine history is full of bloody rebellion, but for a while under Basil (among other strong emperors), the empire was probably a pretty nice place to live.

7. Charlemagne/Harun al-Rashid, Frankish emperor, 768-814/Abbasid caliph, 786-809. I dig Charlemagne, but I also find his correspondence with Harun al-Rashid fascinating. Charlemagne, of course, conquered a great deal of Europe and was the first emperor in the West since the fifth century (and possibly got himself crowned in 800 because he was peeved that Irene, a woman, was ruling in Constantinople at the time), and he was fascinated by learning (what we know about classical Latin - as opposed to Church Latin - pronunciation actually comes from Alcuin, the leading scholar at Charlemagne's court). Harun ruled Baghdad at the height of the Abbasid Caliphate, and while he has been fictionalized quite often (even in Sandman!), his actual reign is fascinating enough. He was a huge patron of the arts, and Muslim culture flourished under his rule (well, Muslim culture flourished for almost a thousand years after the religion's establishment, but particularly in this time period), plus he expanded his empire quite nicely. Both these dudes are pretty interesting.

8. Philip IV, king of France, 1285-1314. Philip "the Fair" was another of history's giant dickheads, but he's still fascinating to study. He consolidated the power of the French throne, expelled Jews from France, and destroyed the Templars. You know, just another day in the park. Oh, yeah, and he had the pope arrested and then beaten pretty much to death. Yes, he really did. One of his puppets was elected and moved the Papacy to Avignon so Philip could keep an eye on them. If you thought the popes always resided in Rome, well, you thought incorrectly. Philip was a complete asshole, but he's very interesting as a historical figure.

9. Innocent III, pope, 1198-1216. The most powerful pope in history also seems like a giant dick, but when you're condemning people to hell, you need to be a dick sometimes! He did organize the Fourth Lateran Council, which tried to reform the church, so there's that. He also preached the Fourth Crusade, which got sidetracked and ended up in Constantinople, where the crusaders slaughtered thousands of actual Christians rather than Muslims (whoops!); he preached the Albigensian Crusade, which was the first time a pope used the idea of crusade to fight actual - if heretical - Christians and which destroyed the rather fascinating culture of southern France; and he placed all of England under interdict, mainly because their king, John, was inept. That meant everyone in England couldn't celebrate any public sacred rites. Dang, that had to suck. Medieval popes were very much like secular rulers, and Innocent was probably the most like one. But yeah, kind of a dick.

10. Penda, king of Mercia, c. 626-655. Whoo, Penda of Mercia, bitches! Penda was the last great pagan king in England, ruling the Midlands and dominating the "Heptarchy" of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. He beat up on the Northumbrians under Edwin, and then, for good measure, he beat up on the Northumbrians under Edwin's son, Oswald. He kicked the crap out of the West Saxons just for fun. His death really marked the end of paganism in England; his children were all Christians, as were the other kingdoms in the Anglo-Saxon realm. But Penda is still pretty keen, isn't he?

Yes, I'm still hitting you with some Totally Random Lyrics. I'm not sure if I'll be impressed or depressed it you know these. But get to it!

"From where I standYou are home freeThe planets align so rareThere's promise in the airAnd I'm guiding you

Through every turn I'll be near youI'll come anytime you callI'll catch you when you fallI'll be guiding you"

Have a nice day, everyone!

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