What I bought - 7 February 2007

Yes, I bought books this week, and I'm going to talk about them.  Damn the critics, full speed ahead!  Some great books, some not so great, and one very puzzling.  Don't you want to know what they are????

Before we start, NO I did not buy Jeff Smith's take on Shazam/Captain Marvel/Whatever the hell it is we're calling him these days.  I am trying to slowly move at least my mini-series buying over to the trade side, and I'm not the biggest fan of Billy Batson and his funhouse universe (although the book looked good), so if I read enough good things about it, I'll buy the trade.  S'alright?  S'alright.

Today's themes: pregnancy and politics!  Oh, it'll be a hootenanny!

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #5 by Robert Kirkman, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks.  $2.99, Marvel.

Yay!  Eric is finally totally unlikable in this issue!  I was waiting for him to be a true jerk and not just be a coward who runs around in a cool outfit peeping on girls in showers (if you had an Ant-Man suit, you'd do it too - don't deny it!!!!), and in this issue, he shows why he's the "world's most unlikable super hero" - and I'm going to SPOIL it, so read no more if you don't want to know!  It's not THAT huge a deal, but it's a bit of a surprise, so there you have it.  Occasionally I won't spoil things, but I want to discuss the revelation.

Kirkman is still doing a good job jumping back and forth between the present and the past, even though most of this particular issue takes place in the past.  Mitch finally figures out that Eric is Ant-Man, and it's handled nicely, both in the writing (at a poker game, Eric talks a little too confidently about his ability to bluff) and in the artwork (Hester squeezes in a lot of panels for Kirkman's prose).  That's the big confrontation of the issue, but the mini-fight between Mitch and Eric prior to that is done well, too, as Eric, cowardly as ever, gets the ants to fight for him.  This point is one that I've been wondering about: how can Eric be a "super hero," even an unlikable one, if he's a big coward?  Luckily, he can talk to ants!  Henry Pym makes a cameo to remark that Eric figuring that out is "impressive," which might mean Eric IS a good person to wear the suit, even though he's a jerk.

And then there's his jerkiness.  Last issue he slept with Veronica.  Then he disappeared, and got caught up in fighting Mitch.  So Veronica is a bit peeved at him, but he doesn't care.  She storms off, but goes back to him after a few weeks, and he blows her off again.  I was reminded of George Costanza once he made it into the models' secret night club and he dumps the woman who got him in:  Jerry says, "So you're burning that bridge," and George responds, "Flame on!"  Is Eric getting that much action that he can just dump Veronica?  I get that he's a jerk, but he had sex with her once!  You would think he would get some more sex, then dump her.  But apparently female S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are crawling out of the woodwork (if the helicarrier had any woodwork) to sleep with him.  I guess he figures that with the Ant-Man suit he can spy on any woman he wants (like he's doing in the present), but is that as good as sex?  Anyway, that was a jerky thing to do, but then, later, we learn that Veronica is pregnant.  Presumably it's Eric's, because why else would we care?  Now, I'm not going to argue with the fact that women in entertainment venues are always seeming to get pregnant after having sex once - I know it happens, but I doubt if it that's common.  I also not going to argue with the fact that a smart woman like Veronica would probably be on birth control, since she was in a relationship with Chris - and yes, I know birth control fails, but still.  What I am going to take issue with is what this portends for the future - yes, I'm going to be critical of an issue of a comic book that hasn't actually appeared yet!  That's why you come to me, after all - for reviews of future books!  Here we have Veronica - a smart, career-oriented woman in a superb organization (sure, there's always the threat of Hydra showing up, but I bet the pension plan kicks ass).  How much do you want to bet she won't even consider an abortion, much less get one?  I like that she's upset about the pregnancy, but does she even know it's Eric's?  If it is, there's no reason for her NOT to consider terminating the pregnancy.  I would be shocked if she did get an abortion, because in this country, we can show all manner of violence and sex and other "adult" things in comics and sell them to children, but if a woman gets a legal medical procedure, someone will get in a snit because no one's thinking of the children! and lead a boycott of Marvel.  You think someone won't do that?  Then you haven't been living in this country very long.

Don't you love it when I get all bent out of shape over things that haven't happened yet?  Anyway, I didn't like Veronica getting pregnant.  It seemed out of character for her, and a cheap way to add drama.  We'll see where it goes.  And we're not done with pregnancy talk in this post, so stay tuned!

Detective #828 by Paul Dini, Don Kramer, and Wayne Faucher.  $2.99, DC.

I was all set to give up on Dini's Detective, because despite the love given to this by the assembled blog cabal out there, it just wasn't jazzing me the way it should.  I like the single-issue format, I like the sort-of focus on Bruce, and I like that the issues actually deal with some detecting.  But they just weren't great stories, even though they were perfectly decent.

Well, I still might drop the book (that's the great thing about single issue stories - you can always jump right back in), but I bought this because it features the Sensational Character Find of 2006 - Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective!  Seriously, DC - where's our Riddle mini-series, written by Mike Barr and drawn by Alan Davis?  I LOVE E. Nigma as a "good" guy, and I truly hope he stays this way - this is the best Riddler in ages.  He doesn't know Bruce's alter ego anymore, right?  He could easily figure it out, and in this issue he asks Batman a leading question, showing that he's trying to use his puzzler to discern who's behind the mask, which is a cool subplot.

The story isn't bad - an old friend of Bruce's falls overboard during a fundraiser and is about to be eaten by sharks when Bruce rescues him.  He smells foul play, and his investigation leads to dark dealings in museum antiquities.  Nigma claims that the death was an accident, but only so he can investigate and grab some glory for himself.  Both Batman and the Riddler figure the whole thing out in different ways, leading to a showdown in which all is revealed!

It's nicely done.  There are actually clues to point out how the man was killed and the involvement of at least one person.  The only problem I had was that Bruce checks out the surveillance tapes of the fundraiser and sees the murderer on them, but the killer is not shown on board in the early scenes.  It would have been neat to see even a partial view of the bad guy.  Also, sharks?  Off the Gotham coast?  Blue sharks can go that far north, but hammerheads are tropical fish.  Yet Bruce acts as if there are always sharks in the waters off Gotham.  I'm not buying it.

But it's a good issue.  The clues are there (for the most part), it's an intriguing twisty kind of story, and it has the greatest re-invented character in a long time.  And it's done in one!  Cool.

Fell #7 by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith.  $1.99, Image.

Oh, I sort-of SPOIL the issue.  Not really, but sort of.  Just so you know.

There is a reason why Warren Ellis is a freakin' great comic book writer.  It's the reason why our next selection falls short, while Fell rocks: unpredictability.  In this issue, we think we know what's going to happen, but it doesn't play out that way.  Richard does his thing, but his thoroughness actually works against him, and Ellis has done such a good job establishing both Richard's intelligence with regard to police work and his desire to see justice done that we feel Richard's anger when things don't go as planned.  It's a masterful job.  But that's why this is a great comic book.  I don't want to say more because I'd give it away, but if you haven't picked up this comic yet, here's a good place, because even though they've all been single issue stories, there are still things running through the series (like the Nixon nun) that aren't present here.  It's just Richard in an interrogation room telling a story.

I miss the text piece that Ellis usually writes at the end, because it's replaced by a short ad for Casanova.  I would rather an actual issue of Casanova, but that's just me.  But even without that, this is still a fantastic story.  Do yourself a favor and give the damned thing a try!

Of course, at one point a character says something about waiting for two years.  I couldn't help but think, "Oh, when the next issue comes out!"  Yes, I'm mean.  But why do all the best comics come out so gol-danged slowly????

(In response to Brian's less-than-positive review of the issue, which he didn't like, I would say that the reason it works is because of Richard's utter thoroughness and his desire to see justice done.  Yes, it's stupid of him, but he is so wrapped up in the case and trying to get the bad guy that he misses the fact that things aren't going well.  It's part of his personality, and therefore, although he should see what's coming, he doesn't.  That's my take, at least.)

The Other Side #1-5 by Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.




Hey, guess what?  War sucks.

That's really the only message we get out of The Other Side, which, despite some good writing and gorgeous art, doesn't really cohere into a powerful book.  It's a shame, because Aaron does a good job with the two main characters, Bill Everette (didn't he create Namor, the Sub-Mariner?) and Vo Binh Dai, who are just regular guys going off to war in Vietnam for very different reasons but who gradually come to realize that, hey, war sucks.  But, of course, by then it's too late.

Unfortunately, the book is filled with cliches as secondary characters and plot devices.  There's a napalm strike, of course - it's a Vietnam book, after all - and a character actually says, "Gooks in the wire!" at one point.  There's the R. Lee Ermey Marine drill sergeant (in the first issue, Aaron explains that his cousin wrote the book on which Full Metal Jacket was based, so I guess that's not a surprise), there's a good Christian southern Mom and Dad who tell Bill to love Jesus and kill Commies, there's a comic-book reading geek soldier who gets shot (the only question when he shows up is how long it will take him to get shot and whether he will die from his wounds), there's hard-assed commanding officers on both sides, there's drug-addled American soldiers checking out Asian whores ... you get the idea, especially if you've ever seen one movie about Vietnam.  Aaron never breaks out of this framework that has been provided for him (and us) in dozens of movies, and that weakens the overall book.

That's not to say it's a complete failure - as I mentioned, the two main characters are interesting, as they go through their transformations, but even Everette, who ends up pretty much insane, isn't insane in a Christopher Walken-in-Deer Hunter way but in a much more quiet way.  This book isn't necessarily about the flamboyant insanity of a man playing Russian roulette in the slums of Saigon, but Everette's insanity only takes on an absurd quality when he wants the Americans to stop a firefight with the Vietnamese because a butterfly has flitted into the line of fire.  It's that kind of moment that makes the book interesting, but there are far too few of them.

Ultimately, this book tells us stuff we probably already know: war sucks, the soldiers on either side pay the price of politicians' folly, even if you're fighting for a noble cause you're still going to die horribly, and war dehumanizes us all.  Not bad stuff to know, but this book doesn't tell us anything new about Vietnam or war in general.  And that's a shame.

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #1 (of 3) by Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley.  $2.99, Image.

The last Sam Noir mini-series was chock full of samurai and pulp detective cliches, but the manic intensity of the story and the beautiful art made it work.  This issue is not as successful, because Trembley's art, while still nice, looks more rushed than it did in the first series.  Everything is less distinct, and considering the first book wasn't all hard lines and borders in the first place, this makes the book look more sloppy, and it's a bit distracting.  Was the first book such a huge success that they had to rush out a follow-up?  Beats me.  Maybe it's the vibe Trembley is going for, since this book finds our hero in the islands, where everything is a little looser.

The story involves someone trying to kill Sam, and Sam trying to find out who it is.  He hooks up with Edmund C. Grog, the police detective on the island, who carries a big sword and has a parrot on his shoulder.  They track the killers to an abandoned mill, where a woman riding a rhinoceros is waiting for Sam in order to kill him.  Yes, added to the samurai/pulp detective mix this time are pirates and rhinos!

It's a perfectly silly book, and I like how we just get action fast and furious throughout, with very little character development (some, but not enough to detract from the action).  The first three issues are available in a collected edition (it's too short to be a trade paperback, I guess), and I would recommend those over this.  But we'll see how this shakes down, because the only problem I have with this is that it looks a bit sloppy.

Uncanny X-Men #483 by Ed Brubaker, Clayton Henry, and Mark Morales.  $2.99, Marvel.

The issues in this massive story that concern Vulcan have been the dullest parts of it, and this is no exception.  This issue just points out why the X-Men in Space doesn't really work - I have absolutely no interest in Shi'ar internal politics, so none of this is in any way compelling.  I mean, Deathbird and Vulcan slaughter and screw their way through the empire, trying to rescue D'Ken (Deathbird's brother) from his coma, and Vulcan decides that for the greater good, he should revive D'Ken instead of killing him.  So he does, and then D'Ken offers him Deathbird's hand in marriage so he can join the empire instead of trying to destroy him.  This is all so we can discover why Vulcan is now hanging out with D'Ken, as we saw last issue.  But it's just not that interesting.

And Deathbird calls Vulcan "my love."  Yes, they're doing the nasty, but why do the terms of endearment in comics, especially the Marvel superhero comics, always sound so stupid?  Brubaker isn't a bad writer, and I suppose no editor told him he had to put that in there, so why did he?  Is he trying to channel Claremont on this book, so he forgets that some things just look dumb on the page?  I don't know.

This was a disappointing issue.  All of the ones with Vulcan have been, really, so we'll see, now that we're in the home stretch, if the rest of the story makes up for this. 

Welcome to Tranquility #3 by Gail Simone and Neil Googe.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

MORE SPOILERS!  Seriously.  It might not have anything to do with who killed Mr. Articulate, but it might.  Anyway, you've been warned!

So the murder mystery continues, as we get another victim and the sheriff goes to talk to a retired super-villain.  I'm hoping the identity of the murderer gets cleared up soon, because I don't want this to turn into Twin Peaks.  So far, the pacing of the book is fine - Simone is dealing with the murder(s) but not allowing it to overwhelm the book.  But it would be nice if it got solved by issue #6.  We'll see.

The focus of the issue is the girl in the middle of the cover - Leona, a speedster, whose "superhero" name is Ajita but who prefers Leona.   Leona was the first person to reach Mr. Articulate's body when he died, but she points out that she does have superspeed, so that's not surprising.  Sheriff Tommy asks her why she's so scared and what she's hiding, but Leona doesn't tell her.  Tommy tells her that she will come by her house in the morning, but before the night is over, something bad happens.  And now I will SPOIL it.

Leona attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in the bathtub.  We don't see it, so I'm not objecting to that.  I'm objecting to the suicide attempt in the first place.  Leona's secret is that her boyfriend got her pregnant and Mr. Articulate, who was always nice to her, paid for the abortion.  Leona's grandfather is a war hero, so she's famous for that, and she also starred in a kids' cartoon when she was younger before going the rebellious Goth route.  So she has a "reputation," and the shame of the abortion was too much for her to handle.

I have to take issue with that.  We know almost nothing about Leona.  So the first thing Simone wants us to know about her is that she got pregnant, had an abortion, and then felt so bad about it that she tried to commit suicide?  I don't know how Simone feels about abortion.  From her blog and her comments on other blogs, it seems like she's a typical left-wing writer kind of person.  So presumably she thinks abortion, while a regrettable thing, should be legal.  So the first time we see someone in this book she's getting a perfectly legal procedure and then crying about it all the time and then trying to commit suicide?  Really?

Leona's sadness is understandable.  It's a perfectly reasonable response to a very emotional time.  And maybe you could argue that her Goth thing she has going on makes her gloomy and suicidal.  Maybe.  But she's not a very good Goth, is she?  She has a normal job at a diner and is respectful to her elders and even her mother.  She's obviously going through a Goth phase, and I don't read anything here that indicates that she would commit suicide.  Again, if this were an established character with all that backstory, maybe.  But it's not - it's the first time we see her.  And it seems that what Simone is saying with her is that Leona is stupid for not using birth control, emotionally fragile (again, not surprising and well done in the book), and suicidal, and the only reason she's suicidal is because she had an abortion.  That doesn't seem like a terribly positive message to send.

I could be way off on this.  I'm not sure how the suicide attempt ties into the bigger picture.  Maybe it will.  I'm going to buy the next issue, because I like the concept of this book and so far it's intriguing, but this kind of left a bad taste in my mouth.  Most women who have abortions don't attempt suicide, after all.  It's just a weird choice by Simone. 

X-Men Annual #1 by Mike Carey, Mark Brooks, and Jaime Mendoza with Victor Olazaba.  $3.99, Marvel.

See, now, that's just a weird cover.  Northstar and Aurora's costumes look really uncomfortable, and their thighs are huge, and I enjoy how Rogue's costume is ripped right above her breasts, so that even though she usually wears something that covers her entire body, and least we get some cleavage!

The entire issue is kind of puzzling.  This is a perfect comic book from, say 1994.  Seriously.  It's done completely without irony, too, so if I set my Way-Back Machine for 1994 and put this on the shelves, after a few minutes where readers might wonder what's going on with Fenris - I mean Northstar and Aurora - and why they are linked like that (something fans would just attribute to not reading enough X-Men comics, possibly), the readers would simply accept it as a book that just came out.  It's as if this book WAS written in 1994 and sat on a shelf somewhere until an X-editor stumbled across it and decided to publish it.

And why publish it as an "annual"?  This is obviously NOT the first X-Men Annual, even though it might be the first one since Morrison's in 2001.  An "annual" implies that it will show up every year, and next year Marvel might decide to skip it.  This could easily be a stand-alone issue of the regular title - Carey would have to get rid of some stuff to shorten it and allow it to be priced at 3 dollars instead of 4, but that wouldn't be too hard, because it comes out of events in the regular book and apparently leads into events that will take place in the regular book.  It's just a weird choice to call it an "annual," slap a slightly higher price tag on it, and send it out into the ether.

Oh, the story?  Well, Exodus shows up.  See?  1994 all over again.  Freakin' Exodus.  Rogue and her team are trying to deprogram Northstar and Aurora after they went all evil, and S.H.I.E.L.D. allows them to do it, but then Exodus shows up and there's a big fight that, as Cable points out, could have been avoided if these people just talked to each other instead of bashing each other.  And then Exodus goes to Antarctica and visits Mr. Sinister.  Sigh.  It's 1994.

Carey is certainly better than this.  Mark Brooks, who only does annuals for Marvel, isn't any better than this, but his art doesn't offend anything, so it's just inoffensive.  This is just a bizarre issue that doesn't seem to have any point.  Oh, and just to reinforce gender stereotypes, while Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie (they're French, you know, so they must have two names!) are being deprogrammed, Jean-Paul's silhouette is streaked with blue and Jeanne-Marie's is streaked with pink.  Given Northstar's famous announcement, I'm surprised his wasn't streaked with rainbows.  That's about what I would expect from Marvel.

What a weird book.  Seriously.  If you weren't buying comics in 1994 and don't feel like buying back issues to find out what they were like, pick this up.  It will tell you all you need to know.


Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two: The Dark Age Book Two #2 (of 4) by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Is anyone actually buying this in monthly format?  Well, beside me.  I mean, Astro City is a decent and occasionally great comic book, but like Planetary, I wonder if people just forget about it and don't care enough until the trade comes out.  So why don't they just write them as such?  I know, I know - economic considerations.  But I don't even remember what's going on in this series, and I have no idea when it's going to finish.  I know I'll enjoy it when it does actually conclude, but it's weird waiting this long and seeing it drop off everyone's radar.  Unless it hasn't. 

Bullet Points #4 (of 5) by J. Michael Straczynski and Tommy Lee Edwards.  $2.99, Marvel.

I have nothing to say about this.  I hope it's good. 

The Lone Ranger #4 (of 6) by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello.  $2.99, Dynamite Entertainment.

Woo-hoo!  Cool stuff!

Mystery in Space #6 (of eight) by Jim Starlin, Ron Lim, Rob Hunter, and Al Milgrom.  $3.99, DC.

Now, it's not that I'm in love with Shane Davis's art, and Ron Lim is a good replacement (I'm sure a lot of people would say he's a huge improvement over Davis), but again, why did this even come out if Davis wasn't done with it?  I have never heard of Davis before this series, but maybe he's such a huge star he can get away with going so slowly that they need a fill-in artist on a mini-series.  Sheesh.  The last issue came out two weeks ago, by the way.  So is DC just pushing it out because they're launching some big space epic that this leads into, as I've read is the rumor?  That would suck, wouldn't it?  Or am I stressing about this way too much?

There you have it.  Another week, more of my kids' college funds spent!  Good times!

Superior Spider-Man Sinister Osborn
Superior Spider-Man Clashes with Spider-Geddon's Sinister Osborn

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