What I bought - 6 August 2008

Another week, and I'm still in a bit of a funk. Fret not - school starts next week, and I will be one child lighter and, let's hope, more inclined to care about comics. But I'll give it the old college try this week! Under the fold: more Radical books, a couple of old issues I got at San Diego, the God of All Comics, and is that ... a comic from Archaia? Why yes, it is! It's a Festivus Miracle!

Caliber: First Canon of Justice #4 (of 5) by Sam Sarkar (writer), Garrie Gastonny (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorists), and Annie Parkhouse (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

I'm still frustrated by this comic, because it looks nice, and the idea of setting the story of King Arthur in Ye Olde West is a pretty good one - as an archetype, Arthur works in a lot of settings, and this is one of them - but it's not working as well as the other Radical book I've been reading. There's something off about it, as if Sarkar has so many ideas about where the story should go that he's cramming it all into this mini-series, so we get several panels that are completely disjointed from the surrounding ones. I know what Sarkar is doing - building tension by showing several scenes simultaneously - but it doesn't work very well. Meanwhile, characters appear and re-appear almost at random, and although I'm sure this will read better as a whole, it's jarring reading it in installments. But I am looking forward to the final issue (of this "chapter," because it's implied that there are more planned), because I'm curious to see how Sarkar pulls it all together. I certainly hope he does.

Criminal vol. 2 #4 by Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist), and Val Staples (colorist). $3.50, 33 pgs, FC, Marvel/Icon.

The creator of Frank Kafka, P. I. gets the spotlight, and I bet you can't guess that he has a shadowy past, he meets a devastatingly beautiful femme fatale who hops into bed with him but wants something from him, and he's compelled to do it. What? You mean you did guess that? Damn.

I'm making light of this, but that's only because I'm always impressed by Brubaker's ability to take the absolutely familiar tropes of noir and make them exhilirating. The story unfolds almost exactly as you would expect it to, but the little touches - like Frank Kafka himself advising our hero, Jake - are what make this such a fun book. And, of course, we don't expect things to end well (this is part one of four, so we'll have to wait a while for that), but with this kind of set-up, anything can happen, and it's always fun finding out what does and how it goes down. Plus, Phillips does a nice job, as usual, altering his style to draw Kafka, which makes his unreality all the more, well, unreal.

And, of course, the backmatter is interesting and includes an interview with Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, which publishes pulp novels. The interview is interesting enough, but the covers of some of the books were phenomenal. I'm dying to read The Vengeful Virgin ("They Burned Bright - Till the Flames Consumed Them!") and the book with the greatest straight-forward title in history - Somebody Owes Me Money. Damn, there are some cool-looking book at that site.

Anyway, it's another great issue. But you already knew that.

Final Crisis #3 (of 7) by Grant "I Blinded You With Science!" Morrison (writer), J. G. Jones (artist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.

As with the first two issues of this, it's kind of pointless to review it. As I wrote when the first issue came out, you're either reading this because a) You bought Identity Crisis, you bought Infinite Crisis, you bought two goddamned years of weekly comics, you're buying another goddamned weekly comic, and by God you're going to finish this mess no matter what anyone says!; or b) You're a Whorrison, and he never writes something bad or even slightly uneven and he shits gold bricks and cancer-healing beams shoot out of his eye sockets! Either way, it's not like anyone is going to convince you NOT to buy it. Similarly, if you're one of those crazy, deluded, sad people who don't like Morrison and are so intellectually stunted you just don't get his genius, I can't help you. You're like Peter, denying Christ, or, to put it into nerd-speak, the Dwarfs sitting in the dark stable while the Pevenseys went on to glory. What's wrong with you people????

I do have some questions/comments, though. As he ignores other parts of established DC continuity, why couldn't the God of All Comics have ignored the stupid evil headquarters from the SuperFriends? Maybe he really likes it. That would be disappointing. Why does it say "Louis" on Lois' armband? How is Oliver "tracking down J'onn's murderers" when it looks like he was just getting it on with Dinah? Was he just taking a quick sex break before he got back to his investigation? Oh, and shut up, Ollie. And given the way Mary Marvel looks, how badly do Morrison and Jones miss Oubliette from Marvel Boy? And if he doesn't explain it better (and it doesn't look like he will), that Internet virus thing is pretty stupid. We'll see.

Anyway, it's pretty (although it does look rushed on a couple of pages), fanboyish, and interesting. I like it, but can see why people wouldn't. And I probably won't get into more detail until it's finished. That is all.

Freedom Formula #1 (of 5) by Edmund Shern (writer), Chester Ocampo (artist), Kai (artist), and Stanley Ong (letterer). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

This is the second Radical book I read this week, and it's quite good. It's a somewhat typical science fiction story, but it's done well, with some nice action, some intrigue, a decent cliffhanger, and fine art. As we've seen so far from Radical, the art is slick, with a combination of painted art, computer graphics, and some slightly rougher pencil art, and the combination really helps the book. There's a double-paged spread of two vehicles crashing into each other that's breathtaking, with shattered panels, vivid coloring, and a nice placement of the characters within the pages, making them look even more insignificant next to the machines. It's a very nice-looking comic.

The story, as I mentioned, is fairly typical, but engaging. In the future, corporations run the world and run a "deathrace" kind of thing instead of fighting wars, as a war almost destroyed the planet. A young man in the "wasteland" heads to the city to deliver a package. Along the way, he almost gets killed by one of the racers, which introduces him to a girl (always important) and gets him into the city. But once he's there, bad things happen to him. Of course. It's a fun set-up, and the world that the creators (four are credited) have come up with is intriguing. I recommend it, mostly for the art, but even the story is a decent start to the series.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #4 (of 5) by Steve Moore (writer), Admira Wijaya (artist), Imaginary Friends Studios (colorist), Sixth Creation (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Radical Comics.

It's the third Radical comic I read this week (and I'd like to point out that they sent them to me for free, and I'd like to thank them very much for them, because that's very cool of them), and I'm still liking it the most. The Greeks, who last issue discovered that the Thracian king was planning to invade Greece and even Mount Olympus, are themselves discovered and locked up. Hercules tries to come up with a scheme to escape, but learns a rule we all learned when we, like, five years old: Never trust a Thracian woman! I mean, come on! It's one of the classic blunders: You never get involved in a land war in Asia, you never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, and you never trust a Thracian woman! This, however, just gives Hercules an opportunity to go all son-of-a-god ape-shit on the Thracians, and boy howdy, it's fun to watch. Of course, Herc and his band decide to take the fight straight to King Cotys. That stupid Thracian doesn't know what he's in for!

As usual, this is horribly bloody, terribly cynical, and wildly entertaining. It's not a great comic, but it's quite a good read.

Hybrid Bastards! #1 and 2 (of 3) by Tom Pinchuk (writer) and Kate Glasheen (artist). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Archaia Studios Press.

I bought this at the Archaia booth in San Diego, but they came out quite a while ago. Thanks to the problems with Archaia recently, the third issue hasn't arrived yet, but maybe it will be out soon. With that in mind, should you pick up the first two issues?

It's pretty good, with an interesting concept. Years ago, Hera (of the Greek gods) got so pissed at Zeus for screwing anything that moved that she put a curse on him. For one night he couldn't stop screwing inanimate objects, and as his seed is so potent, children were born of those liaisons. Eighteen years later, those offspring have come of age and have no purpose in life. They are, after all, freaks - sentient beings that look like their "mothers" - a wall, an apple, cotton, and a part of a car. One of their brothers brings them together (he's the normal-looking one) and they swear revenge on Zeus for spawning them. Hilarity ensues!

It's a nice, breezy read. There's betrayal (of course) and sex, but it's all in good fun. Pinchuk does a good job with the Greek gods, who are naturally far removed from their glory days. He does a poorer job with the offspring (excepting their names, which are rather brilliant), because they all come off as whiny teenagers - which of course they are, but it gets a bit annoying. Pinchuk needs to work on his dialogue a bit, but the story hurtles along with such verve that it's easy to ignore the minor missteps when it comes to how the characters talk. It's all hyper-real, after all, so perhaps a more naturalistic version of dialogue would drag the book down a bit. Pinchuk does manage to address the fact that these ... things aren't human, and therefore might have some problems fitting in. The fate of one of the characters is honestly a bit tragic, even in a somewhat wacky story like this.

Glasheen's art is gloriously sloppy, as she goes a bit nuts with panel and character design. The characters are freaks, after all, so they can look a bit wild, and she doesn't disappoint. This leads to trouble occasionally, especially when it comes to Cotton, the character who appears to consist completely of socks. As he has no standard shape, it's difficult in a few panels to figure out what he's doing. Glasheen's desire to throw everything into the blender and see what pops out, part of the book's strength, is also a detriment to her storytelling abilities in a few instances, as it's difficult to decipher what's going on. Like Pinchuk's story, however, it's easy to overlook the problems with the art when there's so much goofy insanity going on. And, when the book takes that odd (but not inappropriate) tragic turn, the two pages she uses to show what happens are excellent.

You can tell this is a rough work by relative newcomers to the field, but it's a fun comic with a great idea behind it, and it's certainly unlike most of the comics out there. The first two issues are probably around, and there's some evidence that Archaia is beginning to get books out again (see below), so maybe we'll see the conclusion soon!

The Invincible Iron Man #4 by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Because I am a HUGE tool, I'll point out that on page 1, Tony Stark narrates: "Reed Richards. Sometimes I think he's the only person alive smarter than me." Apparently, even the second-smartest (or smartest, depending on how he's feeling that day) person alive doesn't know correct grammar! Good stuff.

It's odd, in this day and age, with a backlash against the six-issue arc building, to read a comic so very 2004. Especially when it's written by Fraction, who has done wonders with comics stripped to the bone. This comic has had some nice touches, but it feels interminable, and although I know I'm going to finish the arc (two more issues to go!), I can't imagine it picking up so much that I'll continue with it. This could be a tight, gripping, four-issue arc, but instead we get pages like the one on which a man in a wheelchair gets something from a locker. An entire page of that! People complain about Morrison not showing us every single thing that happens in Final Crisis, instead showing the aftermath and relying on us to fill in the blanks, but do they want this? Once Tony says they can put Stark tech on the black market and trace it, there's absolutely no need to see this happening. Cut to where the tracer comes on-line at the end of this issue. There's a lot of that in this issue - filler. Plus, lines like "1982 called, Magnum. It wants to know where you parked the Ferrari" are the kind of things that make it into first drafts because they're momentarily humorous but should be axed by the time a second reading is done. It's a childishly funny line, and it's beneath Fraction.

I like Fraction's writing a lot, and I don't think this is a terribly good example of it. As it's a six-issue arc and all, and Fraction has rewarded us in the past, I'm sticking with it, but except for the first issue, I'm unimpressed with this comic.

Oh, and why does it look like Venom is growing out of Tony's armpit on page 7? That's some seriously fucked-up underarm hair, Mr. Stark!

On a completely unrelated note, there's an ad for Spider-Man Crocs in this issue. I read this issue just after reading this, which a friend of mine sent to me. So the Crocs ad was even funnier than it was probably intended to be.

The Killer #7 (of 10) by Matz (writer/translator), Luc Jacamon (artist), Edward Gauvin (translator), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.95, 30 pgs, FC, Archaia Studios Press.

Holy crap, it's a new comic from Archaia! Does this mean their publication schedule will pick up, or is this just a random event? (This is the first Archaia book since March, I believe, and the last issue of this book came out in October.) This book was not on the shipping list that Diamond puts out every week, so I didn't know it was arriving, but it certainly portends good things for the troubled publisher. If they can publish this, they can publish anything, right? I have been very disappointed that Archaia, which over the past two-and-a-half years has put out some of the best books on the market, shut down for a while to "restructure." But this might be a ray of hope!

As for the issue, well, it's good. Of course. It's part 7 of 10, so I doubt you're going to jump on now, but it's certainly intriguing, as our killer hides in plain sight (in the middle of Paris) after his house in South American was destroyed. He bides his time, learning what he can about the status quo, and finally, at the end, gets information about the people who destroyed his house and beat up his woman. Blood, presumably, will flow. Soon.

I'm just so jazzed to see this that it could have been 30 pages of our hero taking a dump and reading Ayn Rand. Now that would be a comic book!

Manhunter #33 by Marc Andreyko (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), José Villarrubia (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

There's just not a lot to say about the latest issue of Manhunter. We're smack dab in the middle of a story arc, so we find out some horrific things about the murders that Kate is investigating, and she uncovers some horrible things that Vesetech is doing. Meanwhile, the subplots continue, as something bad happens to Dylan and something very strange happens to Ramsey and his Skrull - I mean robot - dog. It's all very fascinating and gripping, and the ending, which features the Suicide Squad (who was present in the solicitations, so I'm not giving anything major away), is a well done cliffhanger. As usual, it's a good DC comic book because it ignores a lot of the DCU to do its own thing. Which also means its sales are still in the toilet, I would imagine.

One thing bugged me about this issue, and it's something I've harped on before, so you'll have to bear with me. Kate is talking to Oracle on the phone, and Babs is giving her some info about Vesetech. She mentions that they're one of the five largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Kate says, and I wish I were making this up, "So, they're stinkin' rich. That usually equals evil with a side of world domination in my experience." It's a stupid line, but it's nice in one way - rarely is the attitude of most comic book writers toward successful conglomerates stated so baldly. Usually it's just the fact that anyone who's stinkin' rich in the DC/Marvel Universes (with the exceptions of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark) is portrayed as completely evil. It's not that I love multinational conglomerates - I'm a bit suspicious of them as well - but the childish and simplistic attitude most comic book writers have toward them (even though DC writers, you know, work for one) constantly bugs me. It's one of those pet peeves about comics I have. You may hate Claremont's overuse of "focused totality of her psychic powers." For me, it's this attitude toward business. Whatever.

Yes, it's still a good comic. Yes, I'm still going to buy it. But still.

Storming Paradise #2 (of 6?) by Chuck Dixon (writer), "Butch" Guice (penciller), Eduardo Barreto (inker), Carrie Stracham (colorist), Darlene Royer (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Years ago I was watching The Punisher. No, not that johnny-come-lately version with the guy with the girl's last name, but the one, true movie version, with Dolph "I will break you" Lundgren and Lou Gossett Jr. (It was written by Boaz Yakin, who directed the absolutely stunning movie Fresh in 1994 and has never done anything remotely as good before or since. Weird.) Anyway, toward the end of the movie, the evil Asian lady (never trust an Asian woman!) holds a bunch of kids hostage. I thought to myself, "This movie gets five stars if she kills some kids." Now, was I a bloodthirsty young man (I was 18 when the movie came out)? Perhaps. But it was more the fact that I hated when creators (filmmakers, authors, comic book writers) put things in jeopardy that we know are not going to be harmed. That stupid dog in Independence Day is another example of this. I've mentioned this before, and it's always bothered me. Well, the evil Asian lady did not, in fact, kill any kids, and Lundgren's magnum opus would only get, at best, 2 stars on the Burgas scale. As for putting kids, dogs, old people, and other sacred cows in jeopardy, well, it's gotten "better" in recent years, with kids, particularly, getting blown away with stunning regularity. That bothers me, too, but for different reasons. My entire point is not that I want to see kids get slaughtered in movies, but if you're going to put certain people in jeopardy, make sure we believe they're actually in jeopardy. One of the brilliant things about that Batman movie you may have heard of (and I'm working on a monster post about that which is sure to piss everyone off) is that when the Joker puts some people in jeopardy (and no, I'm not going to spoil anything - you people who have already seen it know what I'm talking about!), we actually believe bad things will happen.

What in the hell does this have to do with Storming Paradise? Well, it's a war comic, and the United States has begun the invasion, and bad things happen to people that we don't usually expect bad things to happen to (man, that's some twisted syntax). It's a somewhat horrible moment, but I appreciated it, because it's something that would definitely occur if the Americans invaded Japan. So that was nice, in a horrific way.

Plus, Dixon is doing a good job with the racism inherent in the United States Army. It will be interesting seeing what happens with Jimmy and the fact that both sides would love to kill him, one side because he's a Japanese fighting on the American side and the other side because they think he's going to betray them.

Unfortunately, no John Wayne in this issue. Oh well. It's still a cool book.

That's all for this week. I should point out that, although I didn't review them (because I'm behind on my reading), it's Dwight MacPherson week! The Dead Men Tell No Tales trade is out, as is the Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits OGN. Are they any good? I don't know, but one's about pirates, and the other is about young Harry Houdini! What more do you want!

Let's check out some totally random lyrics:

"We sailed through constellations and were rutted by the stormI crumpled under cudgel blows and finally came ashoreI spent the next two years or more just staring at the wallWe went to sea to see the world and what d'you think we saw?

If we turned the table upside down and sailed around the bedClamped knives between our teeth and tied bandannas round our headsWith the wainscot our horizon and the ceiling as the skyYou'd not expect that anyone would go and fucking die"

What say all of you? Don't be shy!

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