What I bought - 7 March 2007

Today: Greg gets angry at comics!  I'm talking Apodaca-level angry!¹  And I didn't even read that comic that everyone's talking about but I don't wish to mention by name in the hopes that it's just a fever dream.  You know I don't like to tear things down like a lot of bloggers do.  My mantra is: If I don't like it, I don't buy it.  But when books that I like piss me off - then I have to Hulk out.  Which is appropriate for our first selection.

Bullet Points #1-5 by J. Michael Straczynski and Tommy Lee Edwards.  $2.99, Marvel.




Well, this was kind of a waste of time, wasn't it?  Edwards' art is really the only reason to buy this, and even it looks a bit rushed and sloppy in the final issue.  Other than that, this is a What If? series that does what every other What If? issue does: tweaks a little thing in the Marvel Universe and then comes to the exact same conclusion: heroes will be heroes, and you can't keep them down!  I mean, I had some hopes when Ben Parker died in issue #1, and then Peter was kind of a dissolute punk.  Maybe we'll actually see what happens when Peter doesn't have "With great power comes great responsibility!" rattling around in his head all the time.  And then, inexplicably, a teenager from Queens is out at Los Alamos, where he happens to stumble into a gamma bomb test site and become the Hulk.  In the end, of course, he does the right thing.  Sigh.  So he didn't need Uncle Ben at all, did he?

It's stuff like this that bothers me about What If? stories.  With some minor differences, we get the history of the Marvel Universe pretty much how it played out in the "real world."  And then we get a boring speech at the end about what it means to be a hero.  We don't learn ANYTHING new about the characters, which is what these What If? stories are supposed to do.  At least I thought they were.  I suppose we can contrast this to the actual Marvel Universe right now, where saying someone is "heroic" is tantamount to calling them a goat-fucker - at least Straczynski has heroes doing heroic things - but it's just dull the way everything shakes down.  Blech.  A waste of time.

Except, of course, the ONE panel in the book in which Dazzler appears, wearing her "classic" blue costume with the gold star on it.  Awesome.  But not enough to save the book.  

Criminal #5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  $2.99, Marvel/Icon.

Speaking of Brubaker, I couldn't possibly be pissed off at Criminal, could I?  I mean, it's the darling of the comics blogaxy!  Randy Lander calls it "heroin for the crime novel junkie, distilled into comic book form" (it's right there on the back of the book!).  It's "Brubaker doing what he does best: writing gritty crime stories."  I HAVE to love it, don't I?

Well, no I don't.  And that last quote is why.  I don't hate Criminal: it's a solid read.  But I feel like I've seen it all before from Brubaker.  Scene of the Crime is better than Criminal, and that came out years ago.  I would argue that his work on Catwoman is better.  In this book, he feels like he's going through the motions, and although it's a fun story to read (well, perhaps "fun" isn't the word), it still feels like a paint-by-numbers kind of thing.  Leo has a secret, and we learn it in this issue, and things get bloody, and we get a resolution, but I just don't care all that much.  The presence of the writer is felt too clearly, as if we can see Brubaker above the proceedings, manipulating his characters into position and letting them blast each other.  Manipulation is present in a lot of crime noir stuff, but in the best noir work, they feel organic and stem from the characters, not the dictates of the plot.  We never really get to know too much about any of these characters - even Leo - so the machinations of the writer feel more forced and artificial.  No character really has a lot of personality, so the personality of the author takes over, and we see the puppet master, which weakens the book.

Brubaker is trying new things - I'll get to Uncanny X-Men - but like a lot of writers, he has found something he does well and wants to mine it.  I don't have a big problem with that, but like Garth Ennis writing war stories and westerns, Brubaker's crime dramas really have to be genius now in order to distinguish them.  Criminal is a decent book, but it's not a masterpiece. 

Dynamo 5 #1 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar.  $3.50, Image.

Of course, one of the books I liked this week was one I didn't get too excited about because I'd already read it.  But I'll still talk about it!  Faerber, in one issue, gives us plenty to chew on for this ongoing: we have five diverse kids (two females, two black people, an Asian, and one poor big ol' white kid from Texas); a super-secret terrorist organization in the Hydra vein (the Veil); another super-secret government agency in the S.H.I.E.L.D. vein (F.L.A.G.); the suspicious death of a superhero; and a mentor who may have a secret agenda.  All in this issue!  Plus we get introductions to the kids and a big ol' fight.  Decompression my ass!

As I mentioned a few days ago, this book concerns Captain Dynamo, who died under suspicious circumstances.  His widow, Maddie Warner, finds his "little black book" (literally) and realizes the depth of his affairs.  When she realizes that Tower City is now a target for every two-bit supervillain, she tracks down five kids of Captain Dynamo who might possess his powers (didn't he have any with his actual wife?).  Well, they do - each one received one, and he had five superpowers.  Convenient, considering the title of the book and the number of children!  So Maddie convinces them to come to Tower City and form a superteam.  Complications ensue, and there's more going on than the kids know!

Faerber, as I've mentioned, has become very adept at good superhero comics.  Noble Causes continues to be a great book because he has so firmly established the characters that even with a large cast and a lot of plotlines, we're never really confused because we understand why everyone is doing what they're doing.  This has the same kind of potential, with several interesting characters that engage in normal-sounding dialogue even as they bash the bad guys.  The surprise doesn't really come out of left field too much, and it brings up a lot of story possibilities that could push this beyond "just" a superhero book.  And even with a bit of an edge to it, this is a fun book to read.

I mentioned that Asrar's art is stunning and reminiscent of the Dodsons.  It also has a bit of Brian Steelfreeze in it, too, and is still stunning!  The fight scene is laid out well, flowing easily from panel to panel without confusing us.  Maddie is drawn particularly well, as Asrar gives us her anguish and anger when she finds out her husband was cheating on her and her steely resolve to form these five kids into a team.  It's very well done, especially as Faerber is busy expositioning over it, so we have to get her emotions strictly from the art.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: Give this a chance!  Yes, it's $3.50, but didn't you just pay 3 dollars for a comic in which a character who stands for American ideals gives up because, well, I'm not sure why he gives up.  For fifty cents more, you could read a, you know, good comic.

Elephantmen #7 by Richard Starkings, Moritat, Joe Kelly, and Chris Bachalo.  $2.99, Image.

This came out last week (or maybe the week before), but I just got it in the mail a few days ago, so I'll discuss it here.  As usual, I'd like to thank Richard Starkings for sending it on.  It's still something I'd buy if I wasn't getting them in the mail!

However.  This issue is the weakest of the series so far, because the main story, a pirate tale by Kelly and Bachalo, isn't very good.  It's a story-within-a-story, as Savannah, the little girl who wanted to visit Ebony in the hospital, shows up at Hip Flask's place and begs him to take her to see Ebony.  Hip Flask, meanwhile, has taken a small doll out of the idol he's been dealing with since issue #1, and the doll is somehow important.  He ends up giving it to Savannah, even though it's obvious he doesn't want to.  And there's a sinister ending, as Obadiah Horn also wants the idol and discovers that Hip Flask has it.  Cue dramatic music!

But that only takes up a few pages of the issue, with the bulk of it given over to the pirate story.  Hip Flask tells the story to Savannah because she's stubborn and doesn't want to go home to her mother, so he spins a yarn about Captain Stoneheart, a rhino pirate who captures a fairy and forces her to take him to Mystery Island, where there are treasures galore!  The minute we learn that the fairy is a wonderful creature incapable of guile and totally pure of heart, we can guess the rest of the story.  Stoneheart finds the purity within him, becomes a changed man (or rhino, I suppose), but can't completely overcome his dark nature, with tragic results.  It's a pretty standard fairytale, and therein lies the problem.  Nothing in the pirate tale is anything we haven't heard dozens of times before, and there's no dramatic tension at all.  It's meant as a morality tale for Savannah, and for that reason it works, but it takes up so much space in the issue itself that it bores the reader.  It's not even that exciting, for a pirate tale.

Bachalo's art doesn't help.  It's strange that the less time Bachalo gets to draw something the clearer it is, but it's true!  Here he must have had a lot of time, because his storytelling is as muddled as it was on Steampunk, which is truly muddled.  It's also dark a lot of the time, so we can't really tell what's going on.  Bachalo inked the story himself, and occasionally it looks like he left the inks out completely.  So there's a soft focus in a lot of the drawings, making them even less distinct.  I understand that this is a fairytale and a fantastical story, so the art is trying to reflect that, but it's done to the detriment of good storytelling, so it doesn't work.

It's a misstep for this title, but I have hopes that it will get back on track.  We'll see!

Uncanny X-Men #484 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki with Allen Martinez.  $2.99, Marvel.

Because I'm a sucker, I will buy the last two issues of Brubaker's 12-issue mini-epic in Uncanny X-Men, but I don't have a lot of hope for it.  This issue is pretty tedious, as we move toward an inevitable throw-down with Vulcan himself.  I think this would have worked much better as a 6-issue arc - there's just not enough going on to justify its length.  Brubaker has done a decent job giving us enough action and adventure and choice plot points in each issue to make it feel shorter than it is, but that bit of magic is lost in this issue, as the X-Men simply do more fighting to gain another ally.  Yawn.  There are a few interesting things in the issue - the addiction of both Rachel and Korvus to banging each other even though Rachel doesn't think it's a good idea; and the fact that Rachel understands that in a war, people die - but not enough to sustain it.  The first section of this epic felt like individual stories that would create a bigger story in the end.  Now that we're near the end, it feels more and more like chapters in a book - interesting on their own, but incomplete and therefore somewhat vexing.

I hate to use the "I've come this far" excuse, but I have, so I'm going to buy parts 11 and 12.  My reaction to Brubaker's endings have been mixed recently (see above), and we'll see when this finishes if I'm still on board.

Welcome to Tranquility #4 by Gail Simone and Neil Googe.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

Ah, well played, Ms. Simone ... well played, indeed!

Cultured and knowledgeable readers of this blog (do we any other kind?) may recall my review of the third issue of this fine series, in which I expressed my disappointment that Leona attempted to commit suicide because she was depressed about her abortion.  Ms. Simone stopped by and wrote, and I quote, "There's more to the picture."  I figured there was, and that's why I was willing to stay with the book.  Even if I was a bit grumpy with Leona's portrayal, the fact that I was grumpy meant that at least Simone had gotten me to care.

And then comes issue #4.  Simone thinks my righteous anger will not find fault with this issue, but she's oh so very wrong!  Bwah-ha-ha-ha!

First, the murder mystery.  On the site of the latest murder, Sheriff Lindo finds a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead with blue rose petals in it.  Blue petals were Mr. Articulate's "thing," and she discovers that the book belonged to him.  Her idiotic deputy allowed the reporter, Collette, and her cameraman access to the site, and soon we see the cameraman getting beaten up by someone who appears to be looking for something.  Sheriff Lindo brings Emoticon back in and gets out of him that he was paid to be at the restaurant when Mr. Articulate was killed.  We don't know who it is, but Sheriff Lindo appears to know.  I suppose we'll find out soon enough!  So the mystery deepens.  There are two issues left in the opening arc, so I imagine next issue we'll get more clues.  I really hope this is a fair-play murder mystery, because that would be neat.  I mean, we've already gotten some clues, so I hope the solution is obvious once it's revealed.

But let's get back to Leona, because her story takes up a great deal of the issue.  She's in the hospital, obviously, and her mother wants to take her home, even though her mother is an evil harpy who thinks all she needs is the Power of the Lord! to save her.  Her boyfriend, Kevin, gathers his other Goth friends, and they go in to bust Leona out.  Exactly why such extreme measures are needed isn't entirely clear.  Maybe it's just that they're teenagers - that's what wacky teenagers do!  But the reason this issue makes me angry is because Leona didn't actually get an abortion, like I thought.  Of course, I must hand it to Simone - it's never explicitly stated in issue #3 that she did, just that Mr. Articulate gave her the money to get one.  This leads me to believe that she was scamming Mr. Articulate, or maybe her tool boyfriend put her up to it, or something else is going on related to the murder.  So there's that.  Either way, it makes the mystery a bit more convoluted and more interesting.

So why am I angry?  Well, I'm not really.  It's a good issue and continues the progression toward a solution to the murder.  Simone has done a good job bringing in a lot of characters and making this bucolic town slightly more sinister than we think.  It's just ... I often laugh when a character on television is presented with an option for an abortion.  It's a perfectly legal procedure, yet whenever a character on television (well, network television, not those liberal propaganda stations like HBO) gets pregnant, she will never get an abortion.  Television networks are corporate-owned entities, so they can't afford to piss off the vast majority of their audience that is adamantly against abortion.  I get that.  But it's weird.  The same thing applies to comic books.  DC is a corporate entity, and they don't want to piss off the part of their audience that is against abortion.  Comic book readers probably lean a bit more left than the people who watch television, but they're still a diverse group.  So DC can't have a teenaged girl having an abortion, can they?  I'm sure they didn't put any pressure on Simone at all, but I wonder if there were any subtle hints about it.  Remember - it wasn't Leona's abortion that pissed me off, it was her suicidal reaction to it.  I actually loved Simone's balls for having a teenager get an abortion (I hope Simone, if she's reading, will forgive my terminology), and the fact that she didn't disappoints me.

I imagine that Simone will actually deal with Leona being a teenaged (and superpowered) mother - at least I hope she will.  And if the baby is an important plot point in the murder of Mr. Articulate (I suppose it's too much to hope that it's his), all will be forgiven.  From what I've read by Simone (not much, I admit), she knows what she's doing.

Gail, are you there?  Are you not going to say much because you don't want to give things away?  That's cool.


Phonogram #5 (of 6) by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.  $3.50, Image.


I'm not angry about Phonogram!  But that's because I didn't read it.  I'm very anxious to, though.  Get that sixth issue out on time, gentlemen!

Planetary Brigade: Origins #2 (of 3) by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Julia Bax, and Mike Cavallaro. $3.99, Boom! Studios.

People wonder why I read mini-series after they're all done.  Example #1!  I started to read this but realized quickly (about the time when I got to the point where it switches from the "cartoon" to the "real" world) that I wouldn't have any idea what's going on.  So I put it down.  I'll read the whole thing in six months when issue #3 comes out.  I like the little superhero universe that Giffen and DeMatteis have created for Boom!, but on the other hand, I'll be glad when they're done with it.  All of the comics will read better when they're read together.

So.  How's my anger?  Am I a bitter, twisted old man with no joy in my heart?  I suppose I could be.

¹I don't wish to imply that Dan walks around angry at the world.  He just likes to remind us of the blog's title, and today, I take his words to heart!

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