What I bought - 6 May 2009

Excellent stuff this week, people! I got a bunch of good single issues, but also nine OGNs or TPBs. My wallet is in pain, but I have a ton of cool stuff to read! And, just to piss off frequent commenter FunkyGreenJerusalem, a special treat at the end of each review!

Agents of Atlas #4 ("The Dragon's Corridor, Part 3"/"Inside America") by Jeff Parker (writer), Gabriel Hardman (artist, "The Dragon's Corridor"), Clayton Henry (artist, "Inside America"), Elizabeth Dismang (colorist, "The Dragon's Corridor"), Jana Schirmer (colorist, "Inside America"), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

First of all, I'm not a big fan of that cover. I think it's Immonen, which should mean it's awesome, but the central image, of Captain America looking all grumpy because a dragon is clutching him, seems off. I guess Cap is supposed to be angry, but he looks more petulant than anything. And M-11 looks like he's tutoring Jimmy in how to fire a rifle, even though I know that's not what's really going on.

Anyway, Parker begins to bring the two stories (the one set in 1958, and the one set in the present) together, and he handles it well. The 1958 story is still more interesting, but I do like the fact that Bucky's memory includes kicking a gorilla dressed as a Nazi in the face (a scene which is sure to show up on Chris Sims' blog this week; unless his brain exploded because the scene was too awesome for him to handle). It's a really nice, twisty little story that makes perfect sense but still leaves us with a sense of mystery, especially about the events in 1958 (which I won't spoil for anyone who hasn't read it yet). People have been going ga-ga for Parker's humor writing for Marvel for a while (yes, that's three "for"s), but I've always liked his weird espionage writing more, and it's nice to see him doing that here. Sure, there are some humorous moments, but this is a cool comic for much more than that.

I don't necessarily like nitpicking, even though I do it quite often, but one small thing bugged me. On the penultimate page, the 1958 team is summarily dismissed by J. Edgar Hoover. As they're leaving, Venus says "You'd think at least my charms would have had some effect on him." I really, really hope this isn't a slick joke about Hoover being gay, as there's absolutely no evidence that Hoover was homosexual. In fact, the evidence suggests he was completely asexual, which I hope Parker is going for here, but I suspect most people will take it to mean Venus has no effect on him because he's gay. That's an urban legend, and it's unfortunate that it always gets repeated. (For the record, I think Hoover was, quite possibly, one of the most evil men in American history, so I'm not "defending" him by any means. I just want people to get their facts straight.)

Anyway, that's a tiny point in an otherwise highly entertaining issue. I don't even have any problems with Schirmer's coloring job, as the World War II scenes look dynamite, and I suspect some of it's the coloring. Kudos all around!

IF YOU DON'T LIKE AGENTS OF ATLAS ... You obviously hate America. Why do you hate America?

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three: Into the Abyss #1 (of 4) ("A Cold, Gray Morning in America") by Kurt Busiek (writer), Brent E. Anderson (artist), John Roshell (letterer), and Alex Sinclair (colorist). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

Yes, that's really the title. The indicia, luckily, omits some of it, but that's really the title. After well over a year since the last issue (and that a "special" at that, not part of the Dark Age), Busiek wanted to make sure we got our money's worth of titles!

At this point, if you're not reading Astro City, can anything I write really get you to pick up an issue? I guess you might never have heard of this, so let's see: It's written by Kurt Busiek, definitely in the Top Five of nerdiest superhero writers ever (I mean that in the nicest way possible, as Busiek not only has intimate knowledge of the details of every DC and Marvel characters ever created, but he also creates 10-15 awesome characters while gnawing on beef jerky and watching Say Yes to the Dress on Friday nights*) and drawn by Brent Anderson, whose attention to detail means that we can imagine that freakin' butterfly dude on page 3 in action even though he only appears on that page, in the background, clenched in a stone fist. So yes, despite its glacial pace, this is a great comic book.

The Williams saga continues in 1982, with the brothers continuing to track down their parents' killer. This means Royal goes undercover in a bad guy training camp to dig up what he can. Charles eventually has to warn him that Pyramid (the bad guys) know they've been infiltrated, but not by whom. So Royal has to stick it out, unsure if one day he'll wake up dead. The tension in the book is handled nicely by Busiek, and he does, as usual, a nice job with the ancillary details - the training camp section is perfect, really, from the exercises the recruits go through to the indoctrination by drugs they experience. The way Busiek has built the world has always been the best thing about AC, and that shows in this issue.

Busiek swears the rest of the arc will be monthly. I hope so, but I don't care that much. Each individual issue is so well done that they're worth waiting for. Of course, I still want more as fast as they can crank them out, but it's just nice to see it back!

IF YOU DON'T LIKE ASTRO CITY ... You probably have one those roo-catchers on your SUV, but it has spikes on it so the little bastards really get it.

* Isn't that what we all do on Friday nights?

Fin Fang Four Return! by Scott Gray (writer), Roger Langridge (artist), J. Brown (colorist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer). $3.99, 45 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Yes, that's Googam in a diaper and EleKtro in an EleCtro outfit. You can tell that the issue will be awesome just from the cover!

In this highly enjoyable one-shot, Gray and Langridge tell hilarious stories about the Fin Fang Four as Leonard Samson tries to determine their suitability for re-entering society. It's really just joke after joke, and whether you enjoy it will largely depend on your sense of humor. Fin Fang Foom, working in a Chinese restaurant, stumbles across a cure for baldness, and while it's humorous, the best bit comes at the end, when various Marvel characters react to what he does with it. Gorgilla goes back in time and stops the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, with predictably wacky results (it's the weakest of the stories, despite being illustrated as a parody of Curious George, mainly because it's all narrated). Googam gets himself adopted by an Angelina Jolie/Madonna parody (hence the diaper on the cover), but pushes his luck too far. Elektro goes to the bank, where an elderly teller consults her Super Villain Handbook and decides that he's actually the Spider-Man villain, which gets him sent to prison, where he unexpectedly sparks a riot. The best thing about this story and this issue: There's an appearance by the HYPNO-HUSTLER!!!!! Man, Fred van Lente needs to bring the Hypno-Hustler back in Amazing Spider-Man. Finally, Dr. Strange's servant Wong sees Fin Fang Foom on the streets of New York and reacts like a fanboy. Fin Fang Foom brushes him off, but when Wong tries to single-handedly stop a Hydra attack, the dragon comes to his aid. This is probably the funniest story in the issue, as it features a giant mechanical Hydra-worshipping Santa Claus and several good lines ("Peoples of New York! Your pathetic struggles for freedom, unity and sustained economic growth for the coming fiscal year are doomed!").

This is a fantastic comic. It looks great, it's very funny, and it's a big honkin' issue chock full of details that will make anyone who knows anything about Marvel comics chuckle. Good stuff all around.

IF YOU DON'T LIKE FIN FANG FOUR RETURN! ... You think Three's Company is the height of comedic genius.

The Life and Times of Savior 28 #2 ("To Be or Not To Be") by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Cavallaro (artist), Andrew Covalt (colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

J. M. DeMatteis was nice enough to send me an electronic downloadable copy of this, but I didn't open it in time and it expired. So I didn't review this before it came out. I suck. I knew I was going to get it because I pre-ordered it, but it's always nice to let people know a bit early that it's arriving in stores.

DeMatteis, who showed us the murder of Savior 28 last issue, takes us through some highlights of his life. There's a running gag about suicide, as Jim Smith (Savior 28's civilian name) tries to shoot himself after failing to stop the September 11th attacks, but as he's invulnerable, it's somewhat difficult. It's not quite funny, but it does set up the final image, in which another character contemplates suicide. DeMatteis has always been good about juxtaposing images, and it's effective here as well.

The story continues looking at how Savior 28 became a pacifist who needed to be killed. The story itself is nothing great, but DeMatteis is skilled at telling a story in a non-linear fashion, which makes it far more interesting. We already saw this with the first issue, in which the main character is killed, and here, Savior 28 tries to fix the world before we find out why he wants to fix it. It's effective because the reason behind his shift in attitude stems from his liberation of Buchenwald (he went as a "regular" soldier, because FDR wouldn't let him fight as a superhero), and it's helpful that we see the aftermath to understand the impact seeing the horrors of the Nazis has on Savior 28. DeMatteis makes us wonder about Smith's sanity, and then reveals he has a perfectly good reason for it. He bookends the concentration camp scene with two scenes: One in which he teams up with a villainess who has a Ra's Al Ghul thing going on, cleansing the world of scum before she can save it, and which ends tragically when Savior 28 refuses to execute a criminal, and the second (two weeks after 11 September) in which he interrupts a rather humorous Secret Wars parody and pleads his case for peace, which makes both heroes and villains think he's crazy. Even though the three scenes take place many years apart, DeMatteis does a nice job linking them all.

Cavallaro, as usual, does a solid job with the art. In much the same way that Anderson does in Astro City, he's called upon to draw a bunch of different superhero characters, and he doesn't cheat - even the ones who get no lines of dialogue are fully realized. And the repetitive panels of Savior 28 trying to kill himself are made less tedious (as they might be otherwise) by Cavallaro's good job with Smith's horrified facial expressions.

This isn't a perfect superhero book by any means, but DeMatteis is an interesting enough writer that even though he's delving into his usual themes of peaceful coexistence among everyone (a not ignoble goal, of course, just that he delves into that often), he's good enough to make it compelling. And nothing against Cavallaro, but I do wish I had gotten the Kevin Maguire cover. Who doesn't love Kevin Maguire covers?

IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAVIOR 28 ... You probably think Judas got a bad rap. He was just makin' a buck, man!

Overlook #2 (of 3) by Joshua Williamson (writer) and Alejandro Aragon (artist). $3.50, 22 pgs, BW, Image/Shadowline.

As I was a bit late picking up the first issue of this series, I read the second one only a week after reading the first. My opinion hasn't really changed - this is a noir series, so it deals in noir kinds of things. Mickey shows up in Overlook to kill his employer's wife and drag his employer's brother back with him. Overlook, as we learned last issue, is ruled by a trio of gangsters, against whom the law is helpless. So Mickey contrives to meet Isabella and Tony (the wife and brother), and they get him into a fight the next day. This is important because Isabella figures out that Mickey is in the employ of her husband, and she tells him that the bad guys in Overlook are into human trafficking and she wants him to help her get out of town. Oh, Mickey. Don't you know you're in a noir story, where women are not to be trusted? All he has to do is win the fight, which will get him invited back to their warehouse where Isabella can get him the money. Of course, we saw in the first issue that Mickey isn't exactly all that good at winning fights. So that's going to be trouble.

Of course the shit is going to hit the fan, but Williamson and Aragon do a good enough job putting Mickey through his paces that I'm curious how this is going to turn out. As I mentioned last week, this isn't going to set the world on fire, but it's a nice little noir story, and there's nothing wrong with that. I predict bad things in the conclusion. Yeah, I go out on a limb like that!

IF YOU DON'T LIKE OVERLOOK ... Your favorite Bogart film is Sabrina.

Power Girl #1 ("A New Beginning") by Justin Gray (writer), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Amanda Conner (artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), and John J. Hill (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Oh, Adam Hughes, you magnificent ex-Penthouse Comix-drawing bastard, don't ever change. That's on the short list of best covers of the year simply for the sheer gleeful cheesecakery of it.

I mentioned that I've been vacillating about getting the new Power Girl, because I have zero interest in the character and the writing team of Gray/Palmiotti isn't bad, but they're not good enough to make me care about the character. On the other hand, Amanda Conner is frickin' awesome, and she's always drawing things I have no interest in. But because I don't hate Gray/Palmiotti (some of their stuff has been rather good), I decided to check this out.

Well, it's gorgeous. Sure, PG has that ridiculous rack, but unlike, say, Michael Turner's version, Conner's PG is built like the proverbial brick shithouse, so the boobs don't look idiotic. And Conner does a wonderful job with the rest of the book, too. PG's facial expressions (she bites her lip with effort at one point, and looks genuinely annoyed - not even a little worried - when confronted by the Ultra-Humanite). Her conversation with crazy scientist guy (who has to return at some point wearing a gaudy costume ranting about cleansing the world, doesn't he?) is a masterpiece of body language, so even if we didn't know what they were talking about, we could get the emotions of both of them perfectly. And the action scenes, despite featuring some images that don't really fit (I'll get to that, as it's tied to the writing), are stunning. If you're going to buy one book this week just for the art, buy this one (of course, you could buy Cameron Stewart's effort, but you'd buy that for the writing, too).

The writing itself is less successful. For one thing, there's too much of it. There's a TON of internal narration, and while the narration and dialogue (which is a bit more restrained, but still a bit excessive) aren't bad, it gets a bit tedious. When she catches Dexter (one of the scientists she's hiring as she re-starts her company) looking at her chest, we get this:

Dexter Nichols is a good kid, shy, awkward and tall as a beanstalk but brilliant. I can overlook his staring at my chest. It's something I had to get used to a long time ago. ... Originally from the Mid-West, Dexter has those down-home values which grate against the hustle and bustle of big city life. But I like having that kind of person around. He's honest, grounded, and ... very human.

Sheesh. We get it. City folk suck. Country folk honestly stare at your chest, while surreptitious city folk pretend not to! There's a lot of this in the book, and it tends to drag. I get that many people don't know much about Power Girl, so Gray and Palmiotti feel they need to give us a lot of information, but they really get the essential information out of the way quickly, and the rest of the issue is PG setting up her company, where they do a lot of telling and not showing. It drags what should have been a relatively zippy issue down a bit. Then, there's the Ultra-Humanite, who makes people in Manhattan start killing each other. This is another problem with the issue. PG fights weird robots and an albino gorilla (that would be the Ultra-Humanite), and it ought to be more fun and less people "in elevators strangling each other, nurses in hospitals killing patients." As you know, I'm certainly not adverse to reading comics in which people do horrible things to each other, but Conner's art, combined with the presence of clockwork robots and gorillas, combined with the fact that PG is a "bright" character herself, highlights the unpleasant aspects of the book. Conner has to draw a woman digging the eyes out of a man, and it seems out of place.

Boy, I'm writing a lot about this, aren't I? Well, it's a first issue. I found the idea of PG moving to New York for a "fresh start" (there's no better place for it, according to her) laughable. Of all the cities in the United States where a person can get a fresh start, New York is way down on the list. Gray and Palmiotti moved her there because of the storytelling possibilities, but don't say it's for a "fresh start." You know where people move to get a fresh start? West. Denver, Phoenix, L. A., San Francisco, Portland, Seattle - those cities are where people move to get a fresh start.

Anyway, this is a perfectly decent superhero comic. It's certainly elevated by the art, but I'm not sure if that's enough to stick with it. I'll probably get the next issue to see if Gray and Palmiotti do anything interesting with the story, but I'm not sure how long I'll hang around. I hope it's a huge success, though, if only so Conner gets a higher profile. Yes, I'm gushing. I don't care. She's that good.

IF YOU DON'T LIKE POWER GIRL ... You just made a little girl desperate for a positive female role model cry. Good job!

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #2 (of 3) ("Viva El Macho!") by Grant "Yeah, that's a bull in lingerie, and you f'in love it!" Morrison (writer), Cameron Stewart (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $3.99, 32 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

As usual, the genius of Grant Morrison stems not from anything revolutionary that he does with form or even style, it's that he finds the humanity in utter absurdity. That cover indicates what's inside - Seaguy is spirited away by three heroes inspired by his example, who hide him in Los Huevos, where he becomes a champion ... bulldresser. This utterly ridiculous idea hides a deeper meaning - Seaguy's dressing of the bull is thrilling, but for a writer who is always toying with gender roles, it's significant that the bull ends up with a bra and stockings on. Later, Seaguy shows the ultimate respect for the bull, and it gets back to Morrison always stripping things down to their essence (in this case, literally). The relationship between Seaguy and the bull is the most real thing in this book of artifice, because he and El Monstro understand each other on a primal level. The heroes in the beginning don't understand Seaguy, even though they idolize him. The stunningly gorgeous Carmen/Maria (Stewart is brilliant in this book, of course) doesn't understand him, which isn't surprising as she's an agent of Mickey Eye. Even Cortez, a fellow bulldresser, doesn't understand him, as he fits the stereotype of the macho bullfighter (ironically, Seaguy's bulldressing name is El Macho) and never sees the complex relationship Seaguy has with El Monstro. Yes, all the Morrisonian bells and whistles are here, but when the God of All Comics is on, he reveals simple truths that illuminate what it means to be human. Ultimately, Seaguy is a bit of an anachronism, but all heroes tend to be, and that's why we gravitate toward them. We want someone like Seaguy to exist, and because he doesn't, Morrison has to invent him.

Stewart is tremendous, and among the many beautiful panels in this book, I want to point out two, both on the same page. When Carmen first appears, singing her way through the streets, she stops at the apple cart and takes a fruit. Stewart's drawing of her is sexy, of course, but he makes sure that her off-the-shoulder dress and sleeve stretches from her ample bosom to her arm, as a dress would. It's a tiny detail, but it's a true detail. Below that panel, in the wide shot that ends the page, notice the man on the right wearing the fish on his hand like a puppet. I don't know what it means, but it's a disturbing image and speaks to the total unreality of Seaguy's world. Sure, the whole talking butterfly shows the unreality of the world, but the fact that this world is creepy even on the margins makes it far worse. I don't know if Morrison told Stewart to put that dude in there, but it's a brilliant touch.

I've often taken the God of All Comics to task because some of his big-time stuff seems bloated and unnecessarily rococco, but I've been very pleased with Seaguy so far. Let's hope it doesn't take so long to finish the trilogy.

IF YOU DON'T LIKE SEAGUY ... Trying to figure out who the bad guys are on 24 makes your puzzler hurt.

Universal War One: Revelations #2 (of 3) ("Babel") by Denis Bajram (writer/artist/colorist). $5.99, 46 pgs, FC, Marvel/Soleil.

Here's the interesting thing about this second installment of Universal War One: I keep expecting a reset button. First, some of the group went back in time. Then, they get slingshotted (is that the correct past tense?) out of the galaxy. Then, they get back, but they've gone forward in time by 30 years. Each time, something dire happens AND cast members die. What the crap? Now, I have a feeling Bajram is going to reset this in the final (next) issue, but for now, it's impressive that he's keeping me guessing (and yes, I know some people have already read this, as it's a reprint, but they wouldn't spoil it for me, would they?) and on the edge of my seat, really, because he's fearless with his cast members. They are caught up in a grand war (even, dare I say, a universal one?), and shit like this would happen. When DC and Marvel do time travel stories, they gleefully kill people off because they know they're going to reset things. It robs the stories of any drama, really (that was a big problem with Dan Jurgens' Thor, which was quite good otherwise), because we know nothing is going to "matter." With this, we don't know. It doesn't seem that Bajram has any interest in hitting the reset button, which is kind of cool. We know it's an option, but it might not be.

This is a really cool series with very nice art. If you have any interest at all in science fiction, you should check it out. Or at least get the trade. It's a perfect story for comics, too - it could work in prose, but it would lose something without the stunning visuals, and the cost of a movie would be pretty high. But it looks great in comics. And that's what matters, innit?

IF YOU DON'T LIKE UNIVERSAL WAR ONE ... Your favorite science fiction movie in The Black Hole with Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, and Maximilian Schell.

Last week no one got the totally random lyrics, which didn't surprise me too much. The words were from the song "Ice Cream" by the New Young Pony Club, a band I had never heard of until last week and which I still haven't heard. The reason I used it was because a character in the latest issue of Phonogram quotes it. So they weren't totally random, I guess. But let's get some more now!

"Slow down, you're doing fine You can't be everything you want to be before your time Although it's so romantic on the borderline tonight, tonight ... Too bad but it's the life you lead You're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need Though you can see when you're wrong, you know You can't always see when you're right, you're right ..."

I'm just a sentimental sap, aren't I?

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