What I bought - 7 May 2008

Man, there were some good comics out this week. Don't believe the hype about that book! Find the good stuff!

Detective Comics #844 by Paul Dini (writer), Dustin Nguyen (penciller), Derek Fridolfs (inker), John Kalisz (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I don't know about you, but it's not hard to make me happy in regard to comics (Joe Rice knows this instinctively, as he thinks I like too much crap). What's surprising is that I don't like more comics, which means people simply aren't doing their jobs. Let's take this issue of Detective, which continues the series of very good issues that Dini has done with Nguyen after some lackluster ones before Nguyen came on board. Open the cover, and you see a splash page that isn't part of the story but sets the mood. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy. It's a nice-looking page, of course, but it just reminded me of why I love comics - you don't see this kind of thing in any other entertainment medium. On the following page, we get back into the story proper and move forward, but it's little things like the splash page that make me happy. See? It's not that hard!

This is the second of a two-part story, and we learn the Secret Origin of Peyton Riley, the new Ventriloquist, and in only a couple of issues, Dini has made her at least as interesting as Arnold Wesker, the old Ventriloquist. I'm pretty sure Brian loved the old Ventriloquist, but he was always a bit off to me, even though he was an interesting bad guy. Riley and Scarface have a much odder relationship, and although by the end of this story it appears things don't look good for more stories with them, I can always hope! This is really two love stories in one, as Peyton and her gangster husband, Johnny Sabatino, are linked more closely than Peyton wants to admit, while Bruce and Zatanna share some very nice moments. I'm still not completely convinced that Bruce and Zatanna have always been this close, but the way Dini writes their relationship is very nice, especially when Zatanna tells him why they can't be together. Their abortive romance is a nice mirror to Peyton and Johnny's, which is also doomed from the start. It's kind of neat to get this kind of examination of romance from a Batman comic.

I do have a beef: Zatanna says "Namtab raeppa!" at one point, and Bruce suddenly has his costume on. Now, saying "Batman appear" shouldn't work, because technically, Batman is already there - just not in costume. Shouldn't she have said "S'namtab emutsoc raeppa!"? I'm just wondering!

Anyway, this is an excellent two-parter. I fear the "Batman R.I.P." crossover will upset whatever nice momentum these two have. We'll see.

Dynamo 5 Annual #1 by Jay Faerber (writer), Fran Bueno (artist), Ron Riley (colorist), and Ray Dillon (letterer); Gabe Bridwell (artist), Riley (colorist), and Charles Pritchett (letterer); Jack Lawrence (artist/colorist) and Pritchett (letterer); Matthew Humphreys (artist/colorist) and Pritchett (letterer). $5.99, 48 pgs, FC, Image Comics.

The problem I have with an issue like this is that it costs 6 dollars. I certainly like the stories, and it's cool to see a reprint of the first appearance of Captain Dynamo (which, for some reason, I missed the first time - damn it!), but it feels like it's not necessarily worth it. It's tough to consider this, because I knew I would buy it, and I like the fact that we get to see some other parts of both Captain Dynamo's life and the Dynamo 5 kids' life, but it doesn't feel "important," if you know what I mean (and I'm doing a poor job of it, I know). My point (as I struggle to make it): the first story is nice, because of the first appearance of the good Captain (plus some foreshadowing about Cosmic Rae that would have been neat to see the first time around). The second one takes off from an old issue of Noble Causes, in which we saw the big fight scene but nothing else. So Faerber shows us the background of it, and although I love the fact that the monster is Tog-Mar, the Living Landscape (come on - that's Silver Agey Goodness!), it doesn't tell us too much more than what we already know - that Captain Dynamo is a philanderer. Similarly, the third story tells us that the Dynamo 5 kids weren't ready for combat before their first mission. Finally, there's a story about a reporter who bugs the Dynamo 5 kids, claims he has a secret about them, and what they do about it might have implications for the future. All of the stories are fine little nuggets of characterization, but that's my point: it's 6 dollars, and for that I'd like something more. I'm not sure if this is meant as an introduction to the comic itself, but if so, why would someone unfamiliar with the comic spend 6 bucks to get an introduction to it? The trade of the first few issues is only 10 dollars!

I feel bad about not loving this, because I've been such a fan of Faerber's Image superhero work, and I think you should all buy at least one of his two superhero books. You should! But this particular comic is less than essential. It's nicely written and the artists are quite good and stylistically different, but I think it's a bit overpriced. Too bad.

Elephantmen: War Toys #3 (of 3) by Richard Starkings (writer), Moritat (artist), and Comicraft (letterer). $2.99, 35 pgs, BW, Image.

As always, I must mention that Richard Starkings sent this to me for free, for which I thank him profusely (and it came out last week, but you should still be able to find it). I always worry that I will allow the fact that I get things for free color how I review them. Yes, I do actually worry about things like that! With Elephantmen, however, that's never a problem, because I'm dazzled every time out. It's that freakin' good!

This is the last issue of the "War Toys" mini-series-within-the-regular-series, a strange move considering Moritat drew the mini-series, so why it needed to be a mini-series puzzles me. But who cares?!?!? The saga of Yvette, the French resistance fighter who managed to inspire her comrades during the big war by killing one of the elephantmen, comes to a close, and although it ends in really the only way it can, it's stunning to read. Yvette stalks the mutations over the course of a year, killing them in as horrific a way as she can and painting her name in blood on her victims (it's the only part of the book in color, but it's less mawkish than the red coat in Schindler's List). Finally, the animals track her to Norway, where she has booby-trapped her stronghold, and carnage ensues. Finally, Hip Flask (presumably) confronts her, and it's gut-wrenching and sets the stage for the regular series. Not only is this an excellent conclusion to the mini-series, it's a brilliant single issue, too. Man, I love this comic. It's superb.

The Foundation #5 (of 5) by John Rozum (writer), Chee (artist), Pablo Quiligotti, and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Chip Mosher sent this to me as a .pdf link, hence the lack of a cover. I didn't actually have, you know, a hard copy. But I can still review it!

This seems to suffer from the same thing I've noticed about other Boom! books (not all of them, of course, but more than one). They have intriguing stories, solid art, and they don't fall into an easily categorical mode, except they're not superheroes. But they end poorly. I'm not sure why. X Isle, Potter's Field, Talent - all good comics that did not end all that well. I'm not sure why, either. They certainly could have good endings, but it seems like the writers just ran out of room and decided to stop writing, even though they could have seen it coming! The end is near, fellows! Make sure you understand that!

Case in point: The Foundation. I haven't read the first four issues, but the recap page at the beginning of the issue and some narration in the issue get us up to speed easily enough. The Foundation is an organization that tries to stop the prophecies of Nostradamus from coming true, because he predicted some nasty things. Steven Valentine, an agent of the Foundation, wants to quit, but he finds out that his boss, Director Waters, is a bad guy, trying to make sure a prediction comes true, which will cause untold havoc and kill the vice-president and Secretary of Defense. Valentine is now on the run, labeled a terrorist, and he has to make his way into Madison Square Garden and stop Waters.

It's a nice set-up, and for about 15 pages, this is a good read, as Valentine infiltrates the event, tries to discover what Waters is up to, and is then captured. Oh dear. But then the book goes south, mostly because it grinds to a halt. Waters and Valentine debate the ethics of working for the Foundation and how Waters plans to help predict the future without Nostradamus, and then there's a climax as Waters decides it's time to kill Valentine. But the climax is strangely unexciting, and although it's clever that Rozum mentions false building of tension in television shows, the fact that there's no tension in this finale doesn't make it better. Rozum leaves far too much unexplained, and it's frustrating. We never feel like the threat of Waters is real, because we know so little about what he's doing. I'm not saying the other issues aren't exciting (because I haven't read them), but this issue, which is the final one and therefore should have some tense moments, lacks those white-knuckle scenes that this book deserves. It's very weird.

I like ambiguous endings as much as the next guy, but not when it's this type of comic, which is basically a spy thriller. It's not a book about existential angst, and therefore there needs to be a better resolution. I do appreciate that Mosher allowed me to take a look at it, but I can't really recommend it. If it does sound like something you might enjoy, there's a trade coming out very soon. It's solicited in the latest Previews!

Gemini #1 (of 5) by Jay Faerber (writer), Jon Sommariva (artist), Fco Plascencia (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

Gemini is an odd comic. The conceit is quite good: a secret government agency is using a regular guy, Dan Johnson, whom they've turned into a superhero. At night they "activate" him, and he fights crime, but in the morning, he has no memory of his activities. The agency monitors him during the day by watching through fiber optics in his contact lenses. We have no idea why they're doing this, but it's an interesting set-up.

Faerber gives us a fairly typical first issue, in that we see Gemini in action to start the book, then we see him at work, where he's a boring dude, and then he has to change into Gemini in the middle of the day (which is unusual enough that they need to get authorization) to help out some fellow heroes. As he returns to work, he goes "off mission" and goes into an apartment where a man is beating his wife/girlfriend, but that doesn't go particularly well, leading to an interesting cliffhanger. It's an exciting issue, with a sympathetic character who will be our stand-in for the series, a new technician called "91" (they use numbers instead of their names, for sinister unexplained reasons), who asks some of the questions we have, and some intrigue with an old college friend of Dan's, who is probably more fiendish than he appears. Faerber gives us some new heroes and villains, too - much like Kurt Busiek, he seems to come up with five heroes and villains over breakfast every day.

So why is it odd? Well, Sommariva's art is weird. It's perfectly fine - excessively cartoony in the finest Humberto Ramos tradition, but his storytelling skills are better than Ramos's - but it seems to jar a bit with the tone of the book, especially when it takes a dark turn toward the end. It kinds of sets you up, because we really don't expect things to go bad, partly because the art is so goofy (in the nicest way possible, of course). And with this style, it seems, women always look a bit off. 91 looks like a teenager, even though she's obviously not (she's young, but not that young). And Luna's butt is huge. I know that everyone's disproportionate (that's part of the art's "thing"), but it's still odd.

Still, I enjoyed this. Of course, I am a Faerber fan. But he does a fine job giving us plenty of story and even a good amount of characterization, which is something a lot of mini-series don't do.

The Invincible Iron Man #1 by Matt Fraction (writer), Salvador Larroca (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), Stephane Peru (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Why wouldn't Tony know who Ezekiel Stane is? I know my memory is that of a 90-year-old person with Alzheimer's, but didn't someone in The Order file a report about Stane? I'm saying this more because of the scene in the last issue of The Order in which Tony doesn't know Stane, but although there's no reason for him to consider Stane as the bad guy in this particular instance, shouldn't he be aware of him, especially because of what Stane did to The Order? It's just something that bugs me.

Anyway, Larroca's art aside, this is an intriguing launch, as someone (Stane, but Tony doesn't know that), uses Iron Man technology to kill a bunch of people in Tanzania. Tony finds out about it, and along the way we find out what his biggest fears are. Like Gemini, it's a set-up issue, with some nice recapping of Tony's relationships with Jim Rhodes and Pepper Potts, his struggles with alcohol and the consequences of his technology getting out onto the open market, and his position as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Stane is shown as a formidable villain (I do like that the guy who slaughtered a bunch of women and children acts all morally superior to cigarette company executives), and it should make for a nice battle. It's always fun when a hero's basic premise is perverted by the bad guys. It leads to all sorts of moral dilemmas.

Larroca's art, however, is not terribly good. It's not awful, and he does a very good job with the special effects. The biggest problem with this kind of art (the Greg Land school) is that the characters always look a bit off. The heightened "realism" of the photo-references filtered through a computer give the characters a weird, surreal tone to them. Tony looks creepy, his supermodel conquest looks like a Stepford whore, and Ezekiel doesn't have a consistent look. Larroca, like Land, used to actually draw. Even as recently as his work on X-Men with Milligan, when he was transitioning to this kind of work, he still drew enough to look interesting. The biggest problem I have with this kind of art is how sterile it looks. Iron Man, I guess, should exist in a sleek, technological world where everyone looks plastic, but I don't think Larroca is subtly suggesting this. I just think this is how he does his art these days, and it's a shame. Compare this art to Brian Denham's in Iron Man: Hypervelocity. That had a lot of tech work in it, but it also had a nice rough edge that grounded it. This artwork doesn't have that. Fraction's story, for now, overcomes it, but it's definitely not a selling point.

Moon Knight #18 by Mike Benson (writer), Charlie Huston (plotter), Mark Texeira (artist), Javier Saltares (layouts), Dan Brown (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 23 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Man, I love this comic book. It's pure pulp, but I don't care - it's awesome. We begin with Marc and Tony Stark in a pissing contest, one Moon Knight subtly wins: he tells Tony in one panel "Knowing my history of 'extreme behavior,' I would suggest you don't want to come at me like this with your helmet off, Stark." Three panels later, when we next see Tony, he has his helmet on. Take that, Iron Man!

As always with this book, the best parts are when Marc is wrestling with his conscience, represented by Bushman. But this leads to a massive beatdown by Black Spectre, so Marc has to call Crawley, who lays down the law to him. The conversation/fight between "Jake" and Crawley is an intense piece of writing, and is just another reason why I love this book so much. Huston and now Benson have been peeling back the layers of Marc Spector in superb fashion, crafting a deconstruction of a superhero as inspired as any we've seen. There's no reason for Marc to be out in the world, because he's so clearly insane. When he freaks out at Crawley, he says, "I don't know what's real." The brilliant thing about this book is, we no longer do either. Is Crawley even real? Has Marc even had as many conversations with Marlene as he thinks? If Bushman is "real" to Marc, who else has Marc been talking to who isn't there? This ambiguity is what makes this such a compelling read. I'm never sure if I should recommend it to someone who hasn't read the previous issues, and that makes it a problem because I imagine sales aren't too good. That's a shame, because this has become one of Marvel's best books. Yes, I just wrote that. And I'll stand by it!

My Inner Bimbo #4 (of 5) by Sam Kieth (writer/artist), Leigh Dragoon (artist), Josh Hagler (artist), Jill Beaton (letterer). $2.99, 29 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

This and Local are my last hold-outs of mini-series I was saving until the end, because of the infrequency with which they appear. So I didn't read this, although I caught a glimpse of the last page, on which Leigh Dragoon writes a cartoon about what it's like working with Sam Kieth, and it's hilarious. And probably true, given the schedule of this book. Check it out at your comics shoppe even if you don't plan to buy this! Maybe it will change your mind!

The Nearly Infamous Zango #2 by Rob Osborne (writer/artist). $3.50, 24 pgs, BW, Absolute Tyrant.

I'm not entirely sure how I'm supposed to get you to buy this book if the cover, which promises an attack of killer fruit, won't, but let's check it out anyway!

Osborne's second issue of the adventures of Lord Zango is better than the first, which is always good, partially because Zango himself seems a bit more interesting. He's still a layabout, but at least he has a bit more inspiration, especially when Deacon Dread comes up with a plan to make giant sentient fruit to supply Zango with an army. Not surprisingly, it all goes wrong, leading to a big fight between the killer apple and R.I.P. van Freako, who battles while clutching a fish (don't ask). Lord Zango is foiled again, but that's okay, because it's so entertaining.

There are a couple of reasons this works better than the first issue. It's funnier (not by much, but enough), for one. Second, Osborne gives us a bit more characterization, so we feel like we know these people a bit more. We find out why Zango wears a Cyclops-like visor (it's because he has Cyclops-like powers), and he actually gets out of his bathrobe in this issue. Plus, his daughter and Deacon Dread appear to have some hanky-panky going on. There's just enough information about the characters to make the book more interesting, even though Osborne is obviously having more fun with giant sentient apples and the like. But if the humor fails, it's clear he's at least working on making these characters more than just stock comedic characters.

This isn't a great comic, but it's certainly a fun one. If that's what you're looking for, why not track this down?

Rex Libris #11 by James Turner (writer/artist). $3.50, 32 pgs, BW, SLG.

Or maybe The Nearly Infamous Zango is great, but compared to the greatness that is Rex Libris, it feels lessened somehow. Because this week, Rex Libris came out, and that's always cause for celebration! I can't even describe this book, because it's so wonderful. Rex and the United States government have to fight Cthulhu Two, a "memetically generated duplicate every bit as dangerous as the original," so of course there's a lot of gearing up for action (the story is continued next issue, so they don't actually fight Cthulhu Two), but, as usual with an issue of Rex Libris, there's so much more. There's the secret of the bad coffee next door to the library; why the patrons don't notice the monsters in the lobby; the thrilling drama of a phone ringing (seriously!); an interlude on Benzine V, the planet Rex visited a while back; tinfoil hats; the grumpy and hungry Sphinx in the basement; a reference to the classic work "My Dinner with Cthulhu, the Mind Devouring Horror from Beyond Space"; Russian pilots speaking Swedish; and pandimensional architecture. Plus, of course, the hilarious dialogue:

"Are you telling me that my battlegroup is being threatened by a gigantic, glow-in-the-dark people-eating purple squid?" "No, sir. Mauve."

"The island is a deadly environment built by aliens so different, lookin' at one of their traffic signs can drive a man totally insane."

"The only reason he hasn't wiped out humanity already is because he's a manic-depressive mollusc, and spends most of his time in 'bed'!"

"Have you used a pamphlet of evil before?"

"Control, we've got the pamphlet! We must fax it to Kronov immediately!" "Right! Where's the nearest Kinko's?"

Ah, joyful comics, thy name is Rex Libris. Pick up an issue today!

Wasteland #17 by Antony Johnston (writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.50, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

Chris Sims is quoted on the back of this issue of Wasteland, but surprisingly enough, his quote is NOT: "You've got no excuse to avoid trying this book, unless your excuse is that you're terrified of awesomeness." That's such a Chris Sims thing to write, I'm sure he's kicking himself for not having come up with it.

Anyway, I would agree: if you're terrified of awesomeness, you might want to skip this book. For the rest of you, well, I would give you a review, but like many of the books I love, it's so hard to write "This book kicks ass" in a different way every month. I will say that my biggest problem with the book, which is that I occasionally lose track of the characters, is less of a problem this issue. I'm not sure why, but I'm just going to attribute it to Johnston's skill in building up these characters over the past two years or so and it's starting to click with me. I've always enjoyed the stories, but have been a bit off on remembering if this character was the same one who did something five issues ago. This time, for whatever reason, I was remembering more. Sure, the recap page at the beginning of each issue helps, but there's more. Anyway, it made a good book even more interesting, which is always nice. Mitten's amazing art is great as usual, blending the bloody fights and the post-Apocalyptic landscape nicely with the clankiness of the railroad era. When the sultan bashes through the front gate, there's a visceral rush to the art. It's excellent.

You're not terrified of awesomeness, are you? Then pick this up!

X-Factor: The Quick and the Dead by Peter David (writer), Pablo Raimondi (artist), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Cory Petit (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I don't get this issue. Oh, I "get" what happens all right, and it's perfectly fine, but it's not longer than your usual issue of X-Factor. It doesn't really focus on X-Factor, but Pietro has been important to X-Factor, so it's not out of blue that David would write a story about him. So why isn't this a regular issue of X-Factor? It's a "special" issue focusing on Pietro and how he gets his groove back, so to speak. But there's no reason for it to be unnumbered. Marvel has done this recently, especially with Iron Fist, but those "specials" have a higher page count. So what's the deal?

This is a reasonably good issue of X-Factor, as Pietro gets redeemed and his powers back. He's in jail, hallucinating about all the women in his life, and Layla Miller gives him some sage advice about the philosopher dreaming about being a butterfly or the butterfly dreaming about being a man. It doesn't really matter, because Pietro gets his power back. That's relatively crucial, isn't it? I mean, since the idiotic depowering of all the mutants, David has been the only writer to care about it for more than an issue or two. The rest of the Mutant Universe finally got around to sort-of addressing it in "Endangered Species," but for David, it's been part of X-Factor since it began. So Pietro spontaneously getting his powers back seems far more important. Maybe that's why it's a "special" issue, but couldn't it be part of the regular series with a "You Must Not Miss The Issue!" on the cover?

We'll see where David and the rest of the Merrie Mutants go with this. Of all the big events that we've seen in the past few years, the depowering of the mutants is the one I want to see undone the most. If only to give Jubilee her powers back. Jubilee is, of course, awesome.

I don't think there was a big event comic out this week, but if there was, put it down and pick up Detective, or Elephantmen, or Moon Knight, or Rex Libris, or Wasteland. Hell, pick up The Nearly Infamous Zango instead! You know you want to!

And now, here's your totally random lyric of the day:

"Do you know who I am?""No, I don't know who you are, you're gonna have to leave right now.""I am Aladdin Sarsippius Sulaminachi Jackson the Tird!""I don't care what you did on who, you're gonna have leave.""Listen man, listen brother, I am the world renowned Reptilian Lover. What'chu laughing at, brother?""I'm not laughing, I'm sorry, I don't know who you are. There's no authorization. You have to have a special ...""Let me tell you something: I sang for Aquaduct Pocket, I sang for Relaxed Atmosphere.""I don't know who they are. I ...""I sang for Third World Lover! You heard of them?"

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