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What I bought - 7 September 2006

This was a strange week in the four color world we all know and love.  I bought a bunch o' books, but was blown away by none of them.  Many of them were good, solid comics, but nothing spectacular (including the best book I read this week, Fell, which I know is a few weeks old).  Strange.  Also this week we have two themes: Let's set the Way-Back Machine for 1991, because it's early Image all over again; and comics that made me feel icky.  And you know what?  I don't feel icky from reading comics very often.

The Creeper #2 (of 6) by Steve Niles, Justiniano, and Walden Wong.  $2.99, DC.

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I think I'm done with The Creeper.  The first issue, which was okay but nothing great, made me read this to make my decision about buying the rest of the series, and this issue does nothing to inspire me to pick up the remaining four issues.  It contains a pointless meeting with Batman (which is there just to boost sales, I suppose, and show that Jack Ryder lives in Gotham), an even more pointless fight with that axe guy on the cover, who is presumably a serial killer even though he only shows up for these few pages (he could be an out-of-work woodcutter, for all we know) and who appears for ... well, for no good reason except padding.  I suppose in this book he's comic relief, because he's so stupid and over-the-top that we can't take him seriously, but really, he's padding for the six-issue trade.  Finally, there's the weird splash page, which wasn't icky, just bizarre, as the boy from last issue, who has evolved into a bg fat monster, rips the skin off of a hapless camper while leaving the skeleton intact, in what has to be one of the worst drawings from an anatomical sense in comic book history.  I can barely describe it, and even though it's supposed to be "cool" and not "realistic," when I can't see the claw used to rip the bottom half of the camper from the top half and I can't see the skin from the top half, something is wrong.  Anyway, it's weird.

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This is simply a dull book.  Jack Ryder has very little personality, and the Creeper has, if possible, even less.  Yes, he's supposed to be insane, but we don't even get that, really.  It's not a horrible book, but it's just dull.  And why do I need to spend my money on dull?  See you later, Mr. Creeper.

Detective Comics #823 by Paul Dini, Joe Benitez, and Victor Llamas.  $2.99, DC.

 

I was more than a little disappointed by the latest Paul Dini issue, more because of the horrible art than anything, although the story was pretty slight, too.  First, there's the cover.  It's not bad, but what's up with Batman's face?

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That's just weird.

Then, we have Joe Benitez.  I know I've seen Benitez's art before, but I can't tell you where, because I will try to erase the memory of it from my brain as quickly as possible.  I suppose this Renaissance of early-1990s-Image style is because some people working today were 12-year-old fanboys back in 1990 and thought the first incarnation of WildC.A.T.s was the coolest thing ever.  Of course, I think Benitez was around back then, so he hasn't really learned anything, has he?  There are plenty of example of the horribleness of the art, but one shines above all:

 

Once again, the hypocrisy of comics makes me chuckle.  You can show someone's ass as long as it's not flesh-colored.  How stupid.

The horrible art pretty much overwhelms the story, but let's be honest - it's not much of a story anyway.  Poison Ivy is attacked by a tree and Batman tries to figure out why.  It turns out that Ivy was doing horrible things to people whose consciousness became fused with the plants and then came back to have their revenge.  It's dumb.  Why was Ivy killing people in the first place?  Just for fun?  We never find out.  Well, she's crazy, so it's okay!

I'm very tempted to read this as a parody of those same Image comics.  We have the art.  We have the posturing, both by Batman and Ivy.  We have the idiotic "villain" of the piece, a cheap Swamp Thing knockoff.  We have the idiotic villain christening itself in the third person.  It has to be a parody, right?  Please?

I want to like Dini's work on Detective.  Everyone kept praising his work in the cartoon realm, and even though I had never read anything by him (yes, scorn me), I still had some respect for him.  This is the first really bad misstep on Detective that he's made, so I'm willing to give him another chance, but more issues like this and it's over.  Am I wrong?  Is this issue any good?  At all?

Emissary #4 by Christopher E. Long and Juan E. Ferreyra.  $3.50, Image.

 

Here's what I don't get about Emissary.  It's Jim Valentino's creation, so he gets to choose the talent.  He picks Jason Rand to write it based on, presumably, Rand's excellent work on Small Gods.  At the back of this issue, we learn that he is no longer on the book because "things were not quite coming together the way we had all hoped."  That's fine, but it seems weird that you would discover this after three issues.  Wouldn't you have learned this before he began, or much later on in the run?  It's just kind of bizarre.

So Christopher Long comes on board, and while Long isn't a bad writer, the only thing I've read by him, Easy Way, was kind of a generic heist/revenge kind of book - not bad, certainly, but not terribly memorable - and it makes me fear for the future of Emissary, which is a book I want to like.  His first issue "concludes" the first arc, in that it doesn't really conclude it, just set things up for the next arc.  Emissary visits the pope and saves his life, which leads to the pope changing his position on Emissary from denouncing him as a tool of Satan to praising him as an angel of God (and reminds of the episode from The Simpsons where John Waters saves Homer and changes his mind about gay people, because if every tool of Satan could just save the pope's life, he would make real progress).  His FBI liaison, Tara, visits her husband (whom she's divorcing) and son and, on the final page, jumps Emissary's bones.  And the U.S. military is all grumpy because they can't control Emissary.  Boo-hoo!

It's an interesting issue because I wonder how much of it, in terms of plot, is Rand's, and how much is Long's.  I say this because there is a noticeable shift in the way the book's characters play out.  Some reviews of the first couple issues complained because the story was playing out too slowly.  That's a valid complaint, I suppose, but Rand did a nice job, I thought, with giving us some interesting characters who reacted in different ways to this strange, superpowered, Messiah-like black man in their midst.  In this issue, they act a little less like people and more like cliches, and that's unfortunate.  What do I mean?  Tara jumping into bed with Emissary is not something that feels right.  It's far too obvious.  Before that, we get a scene with her husband and child.  We haven't seen them before, and we've only heard them mentioned once, in issue #1.  They were trying to make it work for the sake of her son, but it's not happening.  Eric, it turns out, is a horribly racist cop.  He actually says "if it looks like an eggplant and talks like an eggplant ... then it's an eggplant!"  Putting aside the fact that I've never heard anyone say something like that, even some of the more racist people I've met (I'm not saying nobody says it, I'm just saying it's a bit over the top), I find it difficult to believe that Tara, who has so far been presented as a relatively level-headed person, would have married this guy in the first place.  He's just so stupidly racist.  What the hell?  It's an easy way out, and unfortunately, I have a feeling that Long will do this more often than not.  He does it somewhat with General Lang, who does the whole "we must control the media" thing, but that's not as annoying as Eric the racist cop.  Sigh.

Long's first real arc begins next issue, and I will read that one, at least, and decide what to do about the book.  I already miss Jason Rand, though, and that's not a good sign.

Fell #6 by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith.  $1.99, Image.

 

I know Fell came out a few weeks ago, but I just got it yesterday.  Deal with it!

I want to say Fell made me sick, but then Ellis points out it's based in fact, and I read stories similar to it in the newspaper quite often, so it's not that Fell made me sick, but the fact that people like the bad guy in Fell actually exist that makes me sick.  So that's that.

What makes Fell a brilliant book is because it's the closest we're going to get, it appears, to Ellis writing a protagonist who isn't his ideal of a "manly man."  I've mentioned this before - Ellis writes the same good guy in all his books, and it gets a bit annoying.  Richard is the anti-Ellis protagonist.  He doesn't hit people just for the sake of hitting people (he gives Chet a good roundhouse kick to the face, but Chet deserved it, after all), he remains calm and does things by the book (or as by-the-book as you can get in Snowtown), and he has a relatively normal relationship with a woman.  His budding romance with Mayko is the best thing in this book, because we all know Ellis is a big softie at heart, and it's wonderful to see this small, good thing bloom in the center of all this horror.

I'm sure we'll see what the creepy nun is up to soon enough, as well as learn more about why Richard is in Snowtown in the first place.  For now, Ellis is doing two things very well in this book: showing us how awful people are, and showing us how decent people can be.  It's a very nice contrast.

Hero Squared #3 by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

 

Hey, look - it's a quote from Comic Book Resources on the cover!  It's not my quote, because although I enjoy this book, it's not a masterpiece by any means.  It's good, fun superhero stuff.

I can't really say much about this book, because it consistently delivers a lot of the same stuff.  Milo and Valor are still grumpy with each other, and the plot moves slowly along as Milo gets blamed for the death of the old dude last issue (it was last issue, right?), a strategy that Caliginous approves of and plans to capitalize on by turning this world against Captain Valor himself.  Meanwhile Stephie continues to be sad about Milo cheating on her.  On the one hand, Milo is a tool because he cheated on her, won't beg her to take him back, and ignores everyone who tells him that he's a tool.  On the other hand, he's right about Captain Valor, who's in denial.  As with the best work that Giffen and DeMatteis churn out as a team, this book rests on the interpersonal relationships, and although its pace is pretty glacial (and it doesn't come out on time, no matter what Ross Ritchie says - it's cover dated August), I still enjoy it.  Each issue reveals just a little bit more about our four principals, and as long as the dialogue is witty without being sitcom-ish and the characters act like real people, I'll be there.  It will read better in one sitting, though.

Lots of talking heads (again) in this issue, and Abraham is up to the task.  He does facial expressions really well, and the page with Stephie breaking down is nicely done.  It's occasionally strange-looking (Milo's weird face when he calls Valor "Eustace" as they're flying along is unsettling), but it's generally good.

Par for the course for this book - well done, funny without being obnoxious, and interesting.  You could do a lot worse with your purchases!

Local #6 (of 12) by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly.  $2.99, Oni Press.

 

I wondered where Local was, and an issue appears!  Okay, it's not quite Hatcher-like powers, but still.

I suppose it's a measure of Wood's ability that I hate Megan so much.  I just hate her.  And I hate her friends - not because they tell her she's nuts, but because they don't smack her over the head because she's so nuts.  I hate Megan.  Good job, Mr. Wood!

That doesn't mean she's not compelling.  I hope for her redemption.  I hope she grows the fuck up.  I don't hate the comic, just the main character, and that's mostly because she does inexplicably horrible things and realizes it, but keeps fucking doing them!  Why?  It's part of her weird pathology, and it makes the comic something quite unique.  I am, however, looking forward to getting away from Megan for an issue, because the last two issues have made me hate her so much.

The thing about Megan and this comic that bothers me, and I hope it will be addressed, is her constant moving.  She is fleeing something, and we've only had bits and pieces of it throughout the series.  I like how it hasn't been completely defined, but as we head into the second half of the series, I hope that Wood begins to resolve it somewhat.  This isn't real life, after all, which has no resolution except death.  This is a story, and if Megan is going to redeem herself, she's going to have to confront these issues and deal with them "on-screen," so to speak.  Because, if you think about it, the last two issues haven't really been much, narrative-wise.  They have explored Megan's character, and revealed that she's a bitch.  Not terribly stunning, even though they were well-crafted stories.  We haven't had the one-and-done kind of slice-of-life stuff with Megan simply showing up on the sidelines or being only tangentially involved since issue #4, the one in Montana.  Megan's story needs resolution, and that means explaining why she can't stick in one place very long.  Or at least I think that's what it means.  It feels crucial to her character.  Maybe it's because she's a bitch and pisses everyone off eventually.  But that's kind of lame.

So we're slowly (that word again!) moving forward, and maybe Megan will learn something from this latest round of bitchery.  Next issue takes place in Tempe.  I'll let you know if it's accurately portrayed!

(I suppose I didn't really talk about the issue, did I?  Megan gets a roommate who wants privacy.  Since she's a bitch, Megan can't respect that.  She gets worse and worse about invading Gloria's privacy.  Who gives a flying fuck if Gloria is obsessive-compulsive, Megan?  That's a lot better than lying about who you are and talking shit about people behind their back.  See?  I hate Megan so much!)

The Lone Ranger #1 (of 6) by Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello.  $2.99, Dynamite Entertainment.

 

If anyone is due for a modern revamp, why not the Lone Ranger?  Westerns are kind of hip these days, and as long as this stays out of the supernatural, it should be a fine tale.  There's something about straight-forward cowboys-'n'-Indians stuff that, if done well, just makes for good entertainment.  This is a set-up issue, so we don't get a lot, but what we do get is just fine, thank you.

John Reid returns to Texas after getting one o' them fancy city edumacations to join the Rangers with his father and brother.  They head out to catch themselves a low-life varmint, but get ambushed by some yellow-bellied cowards and everyone but John is killed.  Before one of the villains, who wears a mask, can finish him off, a familiar-looking Injun puts an arrow through his neck.  That's it.  Interspersed between the ambush are flashback scenes, where John's pa teaches him about life and killin' and how it's wrong to kill but sometime a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, and we get a few scenes with his brother.  It's all very heart-warming and lets us know immediately that Pa and Bro are going to die real soon.  Well, we knew that from the first page, when they inexplicably ride into a narrow canyon.  I'm an idiot and I know it's a perfect place for an ambush!

I'm having some fun with this, but like I said, it's solidly entertaining, and I don't expect too much from first issues anyway, just that they have a decent hook to draw me in for the rest of the series.  We knew the Lone Ranger had to be "lone" for a reason, and the story zips along to that point, so I have no problem recommending this, if only for the potential the rest of the series has.  Cariello, who has been around forever but who I only know from The Iron Ghost mini-series of last year, does a good job with the art, especially the flashback scenes, where the pages are deliberately scratched up to give it an older feel.  It's a nice conceit.

Anyway, it's six issues that will probably read better in the trade, but it's a nice beginning.  If something is entertaining, that's usually good enough for me!

Manifest Eternity #4 by Scott Lobdell and Dustin Nguyen.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

 

"Greg," you say calmly, worried about my sanity, "you have claimed that this series isn't particularly good.  You have seen that it is ending with issue #6.  Yet you purchased this issue.  Why?  Is it the drugs, Greg?  Are they clouding your mind?"

Well, let me tell you whipper-snappers something.  In my day, we didn't bail on a doomed, not-very-good series just because it was "convenient" and "easy."  We stuck with it, even though it was going under and wasn't terribly compelling in the first place!  That's how we rolled back in the day, and if you think I'm going to change what made buying comics great in the first place, you're sadly mistaken!

Actually, I do this sort of thing every so often.  I did it with Trigger, which I liked more than this but still not enough to really keep reading it.  I suppose it's some masochistic urge to see things through.  I'm not terribly interested in what happens, but I am interested to see if Lobdell and Nguyen will try to wrap things up in a coherent manner or if they will just stop after issue #6 with unresolved plotlines aplenty.  It's weirdly fascinating.

I have several questions about this issue and the series.  First, this issue should have been issue #2, as it follows on the events of issue #1.  Why Lobdell went back in time and then forward in time before returning to this point is beyond me.  This should have been issue #2, issue #2 should have been issue #3, and issue #3 should have been issue #4.  Maybe then it would have survived.  I doubt it, but maybe.

Secondly, why did DC even allow this to be published?  I assume Lobdell pitched as a long-term book, and any time you have an interdimensional war to set up, you're going to have to lay a lot of groundwork.  This is the kind of book that would probably take a year to get off the ground, yet it's been canceled after six issues.  I'm not saying it shouldn't be canceled, but it seems strange that DC would allow this to even see the light of day if they weren't going to give it a fair chance.  It's like these various television shows that tell one story spread out over the whole season, which is the trend since Lost was such a huge hit.  The networks have no problem greenlighting these shows, which they know reward viewers who stick with it throughout the year, but then they cancel them halfway through the season, leaving the viewers the show does have hung out to dry.  Can I get some love for Reunion, people?!?

Anyway, this issue, as the previous three have been, contains some nice stuff and some horribly muddled stuff.  It's kind of pointless to discuss it, since it's not going to be around for much longer.  Maybe after the sixth issue I'll do a retrospective: Manifest Eternity: Taken Far Too Quickly!  Oh, the pathos!

So yes, you may mock me for buying this.  Like you don't buy things you know aren't good for you.  Put that Gen13 trade paperback down and then we'll talk!

Mystery in Space (with Captain Comet) #1 (of eight) by Jim Starlin, Shane Davis, Matt Banning, and Al Milgrom.  $3.99, DC.

 

Speaking of early 1990s Image art, holy Toledo, does Shane Davis fit the bill!  Unlike Benitez, I have never heard of him, but that's probably because DC actually built a time machine, went back to 1992, and snatched him unsuspecting from the Image stable just as he was about to fill in for Whilce Portacio on an issue of Wetworks!  Oh, the trauma to his system!

The art is okay, actually.  I don't have that big a problem with early 1990s Image art, except for the fact that it all looks the same and all looks overdrawn, what with the cross-hatching and motion lines and such.  The art serves the story here, and if you're going to write a big space opera, you might as well get Jim Starlin to do it, as that's kind of his thing.  The problem with this issue is that after the initial action scenes, it's way heavy on the exposition - who Captain Comet is and how he came to be!  It's not that it's bad, it's just kind of dull, and I have a feeling we could have used less of it and maybe gotten more of the plot.  Pacing is crucial in comics, and too much exposition is as bad as not enough.  It's interesting enough that I'll buy the second issue, but that's the make-or-break one for me, because that's when the plot should start to resolve itself.  The setting - Hardcore Station, where profit rules all! - is fine, and the three principals - the Captain, the chick, and the dog - are fine, although I really hope Eye (the girl) doesn't become a love interest for the Captain (I know, wishful thinking) because she's young enough to be his granddaughter, and I could have done without Tyrone (the dog) urinating on a vanquished opponent.  It's a decent start, and we'll see what happens once the plot starts to thicken.

Starlin illustrates the back-up story, about the Weird.  Yes, the Weird.  Raise your hand if you own that mini-series!  What a - forgive me - weird character to bring back.  Starlin must really like him.

Noble Causes #23 by Jay Faerber, Jon Bosco, and Ron Riley.  $3.50, Image.

 

Even more early 1990s Image art, as I continue to dislike Jon Bosco's work.  I've mentioned it before, but this is an example of me liking a book a LOT less because of the art, which usually doesn't happen.  Usually I can simply move beyond the art, because I'm not much of an art guy in the first place, but here it's really egregious, especially because I LOVE this book.  I don't want this guy on what is one of the best books around.  His faces are fat and ugly, his women's breasts are too big (yes, I know it's a strange complaint, considering it's a comic book, but they are - trust me), and everybody looks fake.  Again, I know it's a comic book, so I can't expect realism, but they all look fake in the same way, and it's disconcerting.  Last year I picked this as the best ongoing title out there.  Even though I still like it, I won't do it again this year because I just don't like Bosco.

More than that, however, this issue made me feel icky.  The first two pages show Race fucking Liz doggy style on the kitchen table.  Now, because it's a mainstream book, we don't actually see anything, but still.  Liz stops him and tells him that it was different this time, in a bad way, and he gets angry and stalks out.  Now, I don't mind some good ol'-fashioned sex in my comic books, and I even know why Faerber was doing this - Race has lost his powers, he's doing underhanded things to get them back, and he feels like he's lost part of what makes him a man in the process, so he tries to prove he's still a man by banging his wife in an uncomfortable place.  Nothing more manly than having sex when neither party is enjoying it, right?  But that doesn't mean it's not icky.  I don't know - maybe Liz could have described the incident to a friend instead of us seeing it so graphically (sort of) depicted.  It just made me feel icky, possibly because despite the fact that this book has always been about sex, secrets, and superheroes (it says so right on the cover), it's never been ugly.  I guess, just like Local, it's a measure of Faerber's craft that he made me react so negatively toward fictional characters just because I have always liked them.  I don't know.

Oh, and Rusty goes a bit wacky and attacks the police, which allows the Blackthornes to come in and save the day, continuing their campaign to become heroes in the eyes of the public while besmirching the Nobles' reputation.  It works well until an innocent bystander dies.  Oh dear.

I have a great deal of confidence that Faerber will continue to make this a compelling book, but this issue rubbed me the wrong way.  First with the art, which I will have to endure, I suppose, and next with the sex scene.  Ick.

Uncanny X-Men #478 by Ed Brubaker, Billy Tan, and Danny Miki with Allen Martinez.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

Why are bad guys so stupid?  WHY????  I suppose that's why they're bad guys - if they were smart they'd just cozy up to the government and make a mint "legally" through tax shelters and no-bid contracts!  But in comics, that's boring, so we get the Skrulls.

Whatever am I talking about?  On page 13 (or 12, if the front "recap" page doesn't count) of this month's installment of "X-Men in Space" the big mean war Skrull has the drop on whatever we're calling James this month.  He has a big ol' axe and he can easily split our intrepid mutant in twain.  Yet he says, "Die Earthman," giving our bohunk Native American mutant time to duck the killing stroke.  What the hell, Skrull guy?  Don't talk, KILL!!!!!

It's another review-proof issue of Uncanny X-Men, and we happily hum along toward the big Shi'ar/Vulcan/X-Men confrontation.  The X-Men come upon a lonely outpost of the Shi'ar in their attempts to find a working stargate, and it turns out the Skrulls have killed everyone on board and are waiting for a working ship to come by.  They left two Shi'ar alive because they claimed they wouldn't kill those who rescued them, even though, according to Reed Richards (when John Byrne was writing him), the Skrulls are so thoroughly evil that Galactus eating their home planet was a good thing.  We quickly find out that the Shi'ar are planning to betray the X-Men, so maybe they made some kind of deal with the Skrulls.  Who knows?

As I said, we're humming merrily along, and it's a fine ride.  We get a bit of the political machinations of the Shi'ar empire, we get some interesting thoughts about Xavier and Scott from Lorna and Alex, who are worried about the professor's mind control and who liked Scott more when Jean was alive (who didn't, really?).  The one problem I had with the issue is the character of Darwin.  Brubaker is using two of his own creations in this book, right?  Darwin and Vulcan.  Why are those two characters practically omnipotent?  Darwin's power is that he can adapt to anything.  Well, that's handy.  So he can speak Shi'ar and exist in the vacuum of space.  I wrote about Vulcan last issue - he can generate a shitload of energy, but apparently he too can survive in space.  Why should these two mutants be so freakin' powerful?  I wouldn't mind Brubaker creating his own mutants if they weren't so super-duper and all-powerful.  I miss Kylun from Excalibur.  Alan Davis had a sense of humor about him - his mutant power was the ability to recreate any sound he heard.  That's a quality power!

Still, this is entertaining.  And that's a good thing.

MINI-SERIES I BOUGHT BUT DID NOT READ.

Agents of Atlas #2 (of 6) by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, and Kris Justice.  $2.99, Marvel.

 

Gorilla.  Gun.  Whiskey.  All on the cover.  Why wouldn't you buy this?

The Next #2 (of 6) by Tad Williams, Dietrich Smith, and Walden Wong.  $2.99, DC.

 

I was sufficiently intrigued by the first two issues to get the rest of the series.  It's still ridiculously text-heavy, so I'm sure it will be a good chunky read.

Rush City #2 (of 6) by Chuck Dixon and Timothy Green II.  $2.99, DC.

 

I'll probably regret buying all six issues of this, because it's one long commercial, but I do like the fact that the cover says "Fast cars, fast women, and Black Canary."  Dinah ISN'T a fast woman?

That's all for another week in the comic book universe!  Let's see - The Creeper was icky because of a weird anatomically impossible scene, Detective was icky because of the yucky art, Emissary was icky because of the cliches, Fell was icky in a good way, Mystery in Space was icky because of the yucky art, and Noble Causes was icky because of the disturbing sex scene.  I need to go take a shower.  Have fun telling me what an idiot I am!

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