What I bought - 6 July 2006

I had to wait a whole day to get my comics this week, and you better believe it made me grumpy!  But I made, good folk, I made it through the rain (literally, as it actually rained for a few hours here in AZ on Wednesday morning) and now I bring you my thoughts.  I wonder if everyone appreciates what I go through for you people.  I pick up first issues of things so you don't have to, and let you know if they're worth it or not.  Yet do I get nominated for Nobel Prizes, Victoria Crosses, Congressional Medals, or get considered for canonization?  I do not.  Where's the justice, I ask you?????

Whoops.  Got carried away a bit there.  Let's look at the selections, shall we? 

Batman: Secrets #5 (of 5) by Sam Kieth.  $2.99, DC.

Check out that cover - Batman as Christ, complete with halo, sternly judging the sinners who reach up to him (represented by the Joker).  Christian iconography in a comic book cover - cool! 

The interesting thing about this mini-series is not that the story is that revolutionary, but that Kieth says what we all know about Batman and the Joker, but DC is unwilling to admit.  Well, it's out there in the public record now, DC, whether you will admit it or not!  Ha-ha-ha!  The secrets of the title aren't necessarily the most interesting thing, although they add a bit of spice to the story.  This is really about why Batman and the Joker exist, as Joker points out in issue #2: "We can't really die, you and me.  We'll be kept alive and at each others' throats in reporters' stories forever.  It makes us ... iconic, sort of.  Doesn't it?  You dark and brooding, me insane laughing.  Cliches the public wants."  He asks Batman why they fight, to which Batman replies because the Joker keeps killing people, but the Joker is more perceptive: "No.  We fight ... because the machine demands it. ... The corporations, the public, media profits.  They want blood, Roman gladiator stuff.  And thumbs-up doesn't pull the ratings or sell papers, does it?"  Kieth does a masterful job of putting all of this in the mouth of the Joker, who is of course insane, but never contradicting it.  Batman cannot come up with arguments to counter what the Joker says, especially when it comes to who Batman saves and who he doesn't.  Is it a choice?  Or is the Joker just that much more evil?  In this issue, Kieth references the controversial ending to The Killing Joke.  The Joker says, "We laughed because it was absurd - because we are.  But you're not laughing any more.  Neither am I."

Ultimately, this is not really a great Batman "story."  The Joker claims to have reformed, he gets out on parole, but begins killing again.  He tries to sway media perception against Batman, but that doesn't really work.  He blackmails an old friend of Bruce Wayne's, who has his own little secret.  Each character finds a bit of redemption because they give up their secrets.  But Batman can't find redemption, even though he too gives up his secret.  The Joker presses him for his real secret, and that's what it is: he can't forgive himself for anything that has happened, especially crimes the Joker has committed.  This lack of forgiveness makes the cover even more ironic and twists the entire story into a much more unusual take on what Batman means.  It's a fascinating profile of both Batman and the Joker, despite a weak narrative.  And you get five issues of Kieth's absolutely gorgeous art.  Look for the trade, my friends, look for the trade!

Battler Britton #1 by Garth Ennis and Colin Wilson.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Because I care about you, good readers, I buy stuff like this and tell you whether it's worth it.  A new Garth Ennis war series?  With art by the very good Colin Wilson?  How can it not be excellent?

Well, unfortunately, it's not.  It's not horrible, but it's a Garth Ennis war story.  That means, if you've ever read a Garth Ennis war story, you've read this one.  If you have never read a Garth Ennis war story, by all means go get this.  It has nice action sequences, good characterization, the obligatory death of the young kid who didn't know what he was getting into, and tension between the Brits and Yanks in North Africa, which adds a nice twist.  But we've seen it all before from Garth Ennis.  So I don't need to keep buying this, because I can just re-read War Stories, or Adventures of the Rifle Brigade (which is funnier, but still a war story), or 303, or even parts of Hitman.  This is why I don't read The Punisher, even though I like Ennis.  Yes, I don't like the character, but from what I read about it, it sounds like Ennis is writing war stories starring Frank Castle.  I have mentioned this before with some of my favorite writers, of which Ennis used to be one: how about trying something different?  Write a romance, for crying out loud!  Write a spy thriller set in Elizabethan times!  Do something!

Anyway, like I said, there's nothing particularly wrong with this.  There's just nothing particularly thrilling about it, either.

Detective Comics #821 by Paul Dini and J. H. Williams III.  $2.99, DC.

I like how somebody somewhere mentioned that these Dini/Williams Detectives would be one-and-done issues, as if that was revolutionary.  It's always fun when a new writer decides to do that, because people react as if it's never been done before, even though we know it has been.  It's just such a novel approach here in the writing for the trade days that we seem to have trouble processing it.

That doesn't mean the stories will be any good, of course.  Six-issue marathons can be brilliant, just as one-issue quickies can, but both can suck, too.  Dini does a decent job his first time out, aided by Williams' gorgeous pencils (not in his new Promethea/Desolation Jones style, but in his old style, which is still very good).  He uses Bruce Wayne effectively, as a crime wave is sweeping through Gotham's bluebloods and Bruce actually goes to social functions to get to the bottom of it, and it's always nice to see a new villain.  The problems I have with the issue are minor, and they're the same ones I always have with detective stories - it seems way too easy.  One of the gang approaches him (which makes sense, as they're robbing rich people and he's the richest one around), but this just makes it much easier for our Bruce.  Batman figures out who Façade (the very nicely designed ringleader) is easily, too, from a chance encounter at one of the clubs he visits while doing his Bruce Wayne thing.  I realize that if you're going to do a story in one issue, you're going to have to cut some corners, but it always bugs me.

Still, it's a solid start.  Batman is suitably tough, but he does make a small joke, and Robin shows up to help.  What I would really like is if DC and their Batman writers made a clear delineation between the two main books.  They've tried it before and it hasn't lasted long.  I want these kinds of stories in Detective - Batman needs to use his skills (although, to be honest, he doesn't use them that much) to track down your regular punks and thieves.  Let's keep the Rogues' Gallery to a minimum in Detective (yes, I know Poison Ivy is showing up) and the stories short - one or two issues.  Batman is the superhero book.  There he can fight the Joker and Two-Face and all the outlandish crazies and do superheroic things and have longer storylines.  Anyway, that's my plea.  I'm sure all the bigwigs at DC read this, so maybe they'll heed my advice!

Manifest Eternity #2 by Scott Lobdell and Dustin Nguyen.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

I am sticking with Manifest Eternity for a few more issues, but I don't have high hopes for it.  Before I read them, I have a few different kinds of books in my mind: there are books I know will be good just because of the talent involved; books that intrigue me but I'm not sure about them because of the talent involved (either I don't know them or their track record isn't great); and books I want to like because of the idea and the talent involved.  This book falls into the third category.  I think Scott Lobdell's run on Uncanny X-Men is wildly underrated, and I loved Nguyen's art on Wildcats 3.0.  The first two issues of this series, however, are underwhelming.

Nguyen's art isn't sloppy, but his new style makes it look so.  He's experimenting with softer lines and blurs, and it fits the fantastical sections of the book, but not the hard science fiction parts.  Meanwhile, we learn that Xavier Tarkington, who was an important part of the first issue, was taken to the alternate reality and given a choice to betray his species or watch his entire crew die.  He decides to be a traitor, a choice that will of course have consequences.  He sees it as now being on the inside of contingent that is coming to conquer this reality and therefore being able to work against it, but how many others will see it that way?

It's certainly an interesting series, but Lobdell takes far too long getting to the point of this issue, and therefore very little happens that couldn't have happened in a shorter amount of time.  There is, of course, a fine line between rushing everything and taking far too long, and I don't want this series to zip along and skip crucial moments, but this issue was decidedly weaker than the first one, and therefore I have to question where the series is going.  Like I said, I'm giving it a few months to make up my mind.  It's on notice, though!

Midnight Sun #1 by Ben Towle.  $2.95, SLG.

Here's another book that I bought for you, good readers.  Okay, not really, because I'm not going to buy something if I don't think I will like it, but the point is, you might have missed this, and it's my duty to tell you if you should run, not walk, to your local comics haven and buy it quick!

Well, don't bother.  If and when this gets a trade paperback, it might read better.  The reason I got it was because the story is neat: a reporter is sent to find out what happened to a blimp that was flying over the North Pole.  It takes place between 1922 and 1933 (it's during Prohibition, Pius XI is pope, and Mussolini rules Italy), and the blimp, after reaching the North Pole, turns back in inclement weather, but has not been heard from since.  Our ace reporter, H. R., who has a bit of a drinking problem, is on notice: get the story or don't bother coming back.  We get a brief interlude where we see the crew on the blimp and their triumphant pass over the pole, and then H. R. prepares for his journey, which will take him to Liverpool, Norway, and points north.  We know the blimp has crashed, because the book begins with a crew member finding the captain - a man called General Nobile - in the snow.  The question is: what happened, and can H. R. (or anyone else, for that matter) save them?

See?  It sounds neat.  The art is sketchy and lacking in verve, but sufficient.  But the actual issue is boring.  It's a lot of talking heads, as H. R.'s editor gives him his assignment, H. R. visits a friend to get background, and even the scene in the blimp don't convey much sense of motion or even of the weather turning nasty.  It's just dull.  I'm not sure what Towle could have done differently - perhaps skip the part where H. R. gets his assignment and have him already heading north - we could learn about it all from a brief flashback, maybe.  I'm just not sure.  I have a feeling that this will be something very interesting when it all comes together, which makes me think it should have been a graphic novel, because then I could have forgiven the slow start.  I have not seen another issue solicited yet, which makes me think it will be a long time before it's even finished, much less collected.  It's a shame.

One final thing: the editing is atrocious.  "Leningrad" is spelled "Lenningrad."  Pius XI uses "latter" incorrectly - at least I hope he does, unless he wants to tip the scales of the expedition to evil, which would add a nifty twist to the story, but I doubt it's supposed to be that way.  And General Nobile says, "the weather is worstening."  Maybe it's his poor command of English, but I doubt that, too.  Sloppiness like this really bothers me.  It might not bother you, but it does me.  Maybe I'm too anal.

Uncanny X-Men #475 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki.  $2.99, Marvel.

It has been a while since I was a regular reader of Uncanny X-Men, but when Brubaker comes on board, I have to at least give it a chance!  The first thing that daunts me, however, is in the upper left corner: Part 1 of 12.  Holy crap!  Will he be able to consistently keep up the momentum on a 12-issue story?  We shall see.

This is a pretty decent issue.  It's nothing great, but it's interesting enough to get me to come back.  There's a lot of action, and our favorite mutants get to trash stuff and hit people, and Charles Xavier has a good mission for them, which involves going into space to stop the third Summers brother before he destroys the Shi'ar Empire, which gets them all off the earth for a while and allows Brubaker to concentrate just on these characters.  That's fine.  The art is good, too, although Tan appears to be channeling his inner David Finch.  When did he start drawing like this?  I thought I had seen his art before, when it wasn't as good as this.  It's good - perfectly suited for a standard superhero book, which is what this is.  Fine and dandy.

My general complaint with the X-books these days is total lack of focus.  I like that Brubaker picks up on Milligan's use of Lorna and how she is being chased by acolytes of Apocalypse, because continuity between writers is always nice, even if the incoming writer overturns the status quo - he should at least acknowledge that it exists before wiping it out.  However, the mutant corner of the Marvel U. has become hopelessly convoluted, and I know I haven't been so deeply involved in it as I used to be, but this issue left me with a lot of questions that are completely tangential to the storyline.  I have never liked Warpath, but I guess I can deal with him.  Why he hates Xavier is beyond me.  Why Xavier can walk but doesn't have his telepathy is also beyond me.  I had heard rumors about Vulcan, but have no idea what's going on with him.  Scott also hates Xavier, for some reason.  And where has Xavier been?  I know he was in some minor book for a while, and then in the "Dangerous" story in Astonishing X-Men, but since then, where?  And when was his marriage annulled?  You understand, I'm not terribly worried about these things, but the problem I have is that when Claremont was writing all the books, you might not have liked what he was doing, but at least it was somewhat coherent.  Now, not so much, but Marvel wants to pretend we buy every single mutant book and that they all make sense.  Either kill off a bunch of your books and make sure every writer is on the same page, Marvel, or stop pretending that it matters.  Grrr.

As for the composition of the team, that's another thing that bugs me.  Each writer coming in appears to simply cherry-pick his favorites for the teams.  I know Whedon got to pick all his faves, because we must all bow down to the altar of Whedon, but I would love it if Marvel said, "These are the teams - deal with it."  Again, jumping around from book to book might work if we had fewer books and fewer mutants, but it doesn't work with this sprawling mess of mutants that we have now.

That's just my rant, however.  On its own, this is a fun first issue, with lots of action, a good mission, and a chance for good character interaction.  I'll be back to see where Brubaker is going with it!


Free Fall #2 (of 5) by Gianluca Piredda and Eric J.  $3.99, Narwain Publishing.

I mentioned when issue #3 came out that I hadn't gotten issue #2 yet.  My fine comic book shoppe, though, tracked down an issue for me.  Yay, Robert!  I only put this cover up to compare and contrast with the covers for issue #1, issue #3, and issue #4 (which hasn't come out yet).  Just for fun.  I'll let you know about the content when the series is complete.

Umbra #2 (of 3) by Murphy and Mike Hawthorne.  $5.99, Image.

Issue #1 should still be available, because it just came out.  It's a very intriguing book.  Of course, I just saw issue #3 solicited for September, so it may be a while until I read this, but I don't care, because it's cool.

So there you have it for the first week of July.  Remember - I sacrifice for you!  FOR YOU!!!!!!!

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