What I bought - 8 August 2007

This week we got some excellent comics, and also some not-so-good comics.  That's the way it is, ain't it?  My mini-theme looks at death in comics and why I hate it.  Yes, I'm flogging a dead horse!  But you know you love it!

Annihilation: Conquest - The Wraith #2 (of 4) by Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Kyle Hotz.  $2.99, Marvel.

You know, there are a few pages of this comic in which we learn the origin of our title character.  Those are fine.  For a great deal of the rest of it, however, it's basically Ronan torturing the Wraith, and it's really unpleasant.  Plus, the origin comes at the end of the book, so we've already endured pages and pages of torture.  Yuck.  There's no point in showing us Ronan beating the Wraith and throwing him onto a spike (which doesn't kill him, because he's immortal).  This issue could have easily been half the length, with Ronan simply telling his overlords about the torture.  As it is, it's just an unpleasant comic.  I was happy with the dark tone of the first issue, but this is just pointless.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #11 by Robert Kirkman, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks.  $2.99. Marvel.

I guess there's not much to say, as next issue is the last one.  I'm really not happy with Mitch-Carson-as-psychopath, but who cares at this point?  I was happy to see Eric act as smarmy as ever.  What a jerk!

Ant-Man wraps up with issue #12.  Maybe I'll rant then about why the book failed.

Bad Planet #2 by Thomas Jane, Steve Niles, James Daly III, Tim Bradstreet, and Lewis LaRosa.  $2.99, Image/Raw Studios.

The first issue of this book came out in December ... of 2005, so you might be forgiven for not knowing about it.  The first issue has been re-released, so you can pick both up at the same time!

This is a fairly gruesome, campy sci-fi epic, which means we can enjoy it but not take it very seriously.  I mean, the evil creatures are, as the cover promises, alien death spiders, and they spill out of a spaceship that crashed on Earth and immediately begin killing everything they see.  So Earth is in some pretty serious trouble.  Meanwhile, a convict escapes a prison asteroid in deep space.  What could it mean?????

There's not much else to say.  The art is quite nice, actually, doing a good job with both the slaughter and the space stuff.  I have no idea how the three artists (Daly, Bradstreet, and LaRosa) did the work - who pencilled what, who inked what, that sort of thing.  The art looks pretty seamless. 

Next issue is in 3-D, adding to the 1950s goofy sci-fi movie feel of the whole thing.  It's a fun comic, even though it's not great literature.  There's a small attempt at seriousness, but basically it's alien death spiders killing humans.  Keen.

Batman #667 by Grant "My power comes from my left foot, which has seven toes" Morrison and JH Williams III.  $2.99, DC.

Wow - the last issue came out just two weeks ago.  What's going on?

See, when I get disappointed about issues like #666 - which I still think is a dumb comic - I yearn for this kind of Morrison, where he sits down and just writes a story, because he's still one of the best in the business when it comes to writing a damned entertaining story.  I don't mind the "important" Morrison, but when it misses, it comes off as pretentious and condescending.  When Morrison decides to write a simple Batman story, it's immediately better than almost any Batman story of the last decade or so.  What the hell, God of All Comics?  Can't you just do something like this all the time?

Missing from this issue are most of the affectations that annoy non-Morrison people.  Sure, the people talking are a bit self-aware, but basically, it's Batman stuck in an Agatha Christie novel - specifically, And Then There Were None (or, if you want to be politically incorrect, Ten Little Indians).  And there's nothing wrong with that.  In fact, there's a great deal right with it.  It's the set-up, so we get a murder, a challenge, and another murder.  Plus, we meet the principals.  All with that Morrison flair that can make a simple story fantastic but occasionally makes them obnoxious.  Here, it's squarely in the "fantastic" sector.

Williams' incredible art helps, of course.  The two-page spread where the airplanes that the various heroes used to get to the island explode is stunning, as Williams puts the action inside a huge outline of a glove (the bad guy is the Black Glove).  Similarly, the final page is very harrowing, as we believe that the Black Glove has Batman at a distinct disadvantage.  Silly Black Glove!  Still, it's a great page.  I guess Williams is aping other artists in some panels, but I'm not getting into that because I don't care.  It's beautiful to look at on its own.

Well, I hope this comes out on time.  I hope DC gave Williams enough time to finish this story.  That would be nice.  We'll see if Morrison continues to tell a good story and doesn't go, you know, insane.

Casanova #8 by Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon.  $1.99, Image.

Speaking of insanity, I should probably just accept that I'm not going to know what's going on in Casanova, even though I love reading it.  I'm still pretty sure I missed a ton in the first seven issues, but oh well.  However, this issue of the new story arc was remarkably straightforward.  It can't be that I've gotten smarter, so maybe Fraction is just writing in a more linear fashion.  Either way, it's a groovy way to kick off the second arc.  From the end of the book, where one character asks another, "When is Casanova Quinn?", I foresee time travel in the future of the arc, which will make my head hurt, but for right now, this is just a mission gone wrong with a lot of the fun pseudo-scientific gobboldygook that made the first arc such fun.  Plus, Moon's art, which is rougher than his brother's, is still wonderful for the book.

For those who missed the first seven issues, now is the time to pick this up.  It's fairly accessible to the new reader, and it's only two dollars.  You know you want it!

Cover Girl #4 (of 5) by Andrew Cosby, Kevin Church, Mateus Santolouco, and Andre Coelho.  $3.99, Boom! Studios.

This book still veers a bit too much to the area of dialogue that no one would actually speak and is just in the book because it's clever, but it's not a big problem.  It's not like it's that big a distraction, it's just a bit annoying.  For the most part, Cosby and Church have done a nice job balancing exposition and action, as in this issue, where we finally find out what the girl in issue #1 was talking about while Alex and Rachel are holding a gun to a thug's head.  A nice mix, that is.  The explanation of what an EMP is was a bit much, however - shouldn't Alex or Rachel have said, "Yeah, we've all seen Ocean's 11 or, gosh, any of the other tons of pop culture media over the past 15 years that explain EMPs"?  I mean, I like the idea of the EMP tech going to the highest bidder, but it's annoying reading what it is.

It's still a fun comic book.  We get some nice banter between Alex and Rachel, and we get a nice set-up for the big showdown in issue #5.  As I've said all along, it's not breaking new ground, but it's certainly entertaining. 

Criminal #8 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  $2.99, Marvel/Icon.

There's really nothing to say about this.  I mean, Tracy's story continues to hum along, with his involvement with Mallory not really a surprise, the fact that the others in the gang still don't trust him not really a surprise, and the fact that bad guys are after him not really a surprise either.  Brubaker understands that it's just the storytelling that makes a story good, so it's tough to really review each of these individual issues, because it's a five-part story.  Each issue moves us forward, gives us clues, gives us more insight into Tracy's character, and brings us ever so closer to the final showdown.  It's just a satisfying comic book to read, because it's two very good creators doing something they really love.  What's not to like about this comic, unless you just don't like crime noir?  Even then, it's worth a look.

Daredevil #99 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

We get the two-fisted dose of Brubaker noir this week, as Daredevil also hits the stores.  I mentioned last issue that it was the middle of a five-part story, so I didn't expect much to happen, and now that we've moved on to the fourth part, things start to pick up.  Milla gets involved, and she's not happy that Lily, the woman with the out-of-control pheromones, is on the scene.  This leads to a gripping and unexpected scene in the subway which doesn't bode well for Milla, I'll tell you what.  Matt decides to kick some ass, something even he admits he should have already done (and that was the only weak part of the book; it's as if Brubaker is joking with us that he's been padding the story with Matt's involvement with Melvin Potter even though it was kind of a red herring), and he quickly finds out where the head bad guy is.  Said head bad guy, who I guess I should know, takes Matt down rather easily.  I guess the guy at the doctor's office looking at his watch wasn't Matt, it was this guy.  Oh well.

It all moves along very nicely, setting up a 100th issue grand finale.  Another example of Brubaker knowing what he's doing, pulling us along, but not allowing us too much knowledge.  It makes reading these stories as monthly installments that much more interesting.

Dynamo 5 #6 by Jay Faerber and Mahmud A. Asrar.  $3.50, Image.

As I've mentioned many times before, when Jay Faerber writes superhero stuff that he created, there aren't many writers better than he is.  It's amazing how he has made these characters real in such a short time, and in this issue, which doesn't actually feature the team fighting anyone, gives us some nice interviews with the team members that shed some light on their personalities.  It also has a confrontation between Maddie and Chrysalis, plus a meeting between Slingshot and Augie Ford, the F.L.A.G. agent who used to be Maddie's partner, and a shocking! ending.  Okay, it's not that shocking, but it's kind of surprising.  All wrapped up with Asrar's dynamic art.  The script doesn't give him a ton to do, but he pours his efforts into some very nice talking heads, and the last page is gorgeous and jumps right out at you.  When you compare this to something like, I don't know, the whine-fest that is New Avengers (see below!), I can't imagine passing this up to read that.

Fables #64 by Bill Willingham and Aaron Alexovich.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

I can sum up what happens that's somewhat important in this issue in one sentence: the wolf kids learn about their brother, who later causes some problems for a certain Fable.  Yes, that's it.  So I should hate it, right?  Don't I want things to happen in my comics?

Well, sure.  But as you know, this is one of the best comics out there, and this issue is just so damned charming that it's a pleasure to read, even though it doesn't advance the plot much.  Good writers can do things like this and get away with it, and Willingham does fill the issue with other, less important plot points: the training of the Fables for their war, for instance, and Rose Red and Boy Blue doing some flirting.  It's a nice, quiet issue filled with nice, quiet moments.  And it's great to read.  Plus, Ghost (the airy wolf kid) somehow manages to put a sword through a Jack of Fables action figure, which has strange consequences for the real Jack.  I don't exactly know how the end of this issue jives with what we find out at the beginning of the latest issue of Jack of Fables (which I flipped through but didn't get), but Willingham is writing both issues, so I guess it makes sense somehow.

Alexovich's art is marvelous, with the small exception that every adult except for Bigby looks like a kid.  That's okay - it's a charming and whimsical book to look at.  I've never seen Alexovich's art before (I guess he's a big Goth comic guy), but it's wonderful.  He even does a nice job with the war games section of the issue.

It's a fill-in issue in the middle of the Good Prince storyline, but it's a great issue as usual.

Ghosting #1 (of 5) by Fred van Lente and Charles Carvalho.  $2.99, Platinum Studios Comics.

Here's another interesting mini-series by van Lente from Platinum Studios, the other being The Weapon.  There's not much I can say about it except explain the premise: at an unnamed university, alcohol during Rush Week is banned because of a horrific event forty years ago - a pledge found his girlfriend cheating on him, killed them, and burned the house down with him inside it.  The fraternity and sorority involved don't haze their pledges, they do something called "ghosting," which essentially means scaring the shit out of them.  Two female pledges say it won't be that bad because they know what's coming, but then they're dragged to a graveyard, locked in a mausoleum, and discover something pretty awful.  But is it real?  IS IT REAL?!?!?!?  Oh, the horror!

It's a fun comic with an intriguing premise.  Van Lente does a fine job setting everything up, and Carvalho's art works without being too flashy.  I seem to recognize his name, but I can't remember where.  What else has he done?  Anyway, it's not a beautiful book, but the art gets the job done.

Ghosting is an interesting comic.  Give it a try!

Green Lantern #22 by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Oclair Albert.  $2.99, DC.

Whenever I get something that's firmly entrenched in the mainstream superhero culture of DC or Marvel, I'm invariably disappointed.  Take this issue.  It's dull.  I mean, it features some very nice art by Reis, with some truly spectacular spreads of bunches of Green Lanterns and - what do we call them, Yellow Lanterns? fighting.  (Yes, I know they're the Sinestro Corps.  YLs is much cooler, because it sounds so wussy.)  But it just feels like it's not for me.  It's full of characters who talk in portentous announcements without sounding like real people, and Johns just keeps throwing stuff at us until we're just exhausted.  All this stuff about "fear" has been done before and better, and it's just kind of boring.  Let's consider the death in this issue: Jack T. Chance bites the big one.  Who the hell is Jack T. Chance?  Well, he's a Green Lantern.  I actually own the Green Lantern Quarterly in which Jack T. Chance was introduced, with art by Flint Henry, I believe.  But his death means absolutely nothing to me, and it shouldn't mean anything to you, even though Johns wants it to.  First of all, it doesn't matter - if another writer wants to use Jack T. Chance, he'll be back soon enough.  Why do writers even kill off characters anymore?  Second, it's Jack T. Chance.  Since when does anyone care about him?  It's just a cheap ploy to engender emotion within the readers and show how bad-ass Kyle or Parallax or whatever the hell he's called is.  It's a total waste.  It's pretty much a microcosm of the issue as a whole.  Plus, despite the goodness of the art in general, why does Jack T. Chance look like an effete teenager when he dies?  He's a freakin' tough guy, for crying out loud!

I'm sure as part of a grander storyline, this is awesome.  But if each issue of the Sinestro Corps War story is like this, it's a ton of sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing.  Yawn.

The Incredible Hulk #109 by Greg Pak, Carlo Pagulayan, and Jeffrey Huet.  $2.99, Marvel.

After a somewhat boring issue #108, this book picks it up a bit.  Amadeus Cho and the Champions (or Renegades, if we're going by what they call themselves) try to find common ground with the Hulk's Warbound, and they come oh so close, but something always messes it up, doesn't it?  After deciding they both like the Hulk, Cho and his pals let the Warbound go, and then S.H.I.E.L.D. sends him into an arena the Hulk has built where bad things are happening.  Very bad things indeed.

It's a nice little book, but it's all in the middle of a big crossover, so there's not much to say about it.  It has nice art, a decent story, and a nice cliffhanger.  Not bad.

I will say a couple of things about Hulk-related things in general.  Ant-Man is the second title to take place after the events of World War Hulk that I've read, and it doesn't appear much has changed.  This makes me nervous about the payoff of what is a very fun mini-series.  I mean, I know the Hulk isn't going to take over the planet, but it appears nothing has changed.  Hmmm.  Secondly, I just read the hardcover Planet Hulk.  Man, it's cool.  Seriously.  Worth the 40 bucks (I got it cheap at Barnes & Noble, and so can you!).  I was surprised by how much I liked it.  Check it out.

JLA: Classified #41 by Peter Milligan and Carlos D'Anda.  $2.99, DC.

That's an ugly cover.  It's just weird.

This isn't the greatest story, but Milligan makes it pretty interesting.  The idea of Kid Amazo having not only the powers of the Justice League but also the personalities of each member is very neat, and this issue makes the most of that.  It means that this becomes less of a slugfest and more of a psychological drama.  The League doesn't really defeat Kid Amazo as allow their neuroses to overwhelm him.  It's a nifty ending to a story that never really took off, but at least was a different take on our heroes.

One problem I have with these stories is that we don't know in what Justice League era they take place.  For some, it's not a problem - it's just a story starring certain characters.  However, this story drives some wedges in between the team members, and we imagine it will affect how they work together.  But we never saw that in the "real" book, because this story didn't exist.  It's the same problem I had with Classic X-Men - the back-up stories were supposed to exist in between the stories of Uncanny X-Men, but because Claremont wrote them years later, they didn't have any effect on them.  So what's the point, leaving things ambiguous like this story does?

Anyway, an odd story, not completely successful, but at least somewhat intriguing.  It's not exactly "good" Milligan, but it's miles away from "bad" Milligan, which makes it worth taking a look at.  Perhaps the library will have a copy of the trade!

The New Avengers #33 by Brian Michael Bendis and Leinil Yu.  $2.99, Marvel.

What the hell?  I mean, I know the whole Skrull thing is the greatest thing ever in the Marvel U., but Jesus, this is just a whine-fest.  "Who's a Skrull?"  "Are you a Skrull?"  "Why don't you tell us if you're a Skrull?"  "How would we know if you're a Skrull?"  Hey, Avengers: SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP!!!!!  Didn't we do this last issue?  Are we going to do it next issue?  Sheesh.  Oh, and then the Owl gets killed.  Let's look at this like the death in Green Lantern above: who cares?  Why is it given a huge two-page spread?  What the crap?  Again, Owlsley is one of these guys who will come back if someone wants to use him, and he's never been terribly important, so who cares if he dies?  It's possibly even dumber than Jack T. Chance's death, because at least Chance was fighting for something, whereas the Owl just gets killed by double-crossing bad guys.  Blech.  Finally, the cliffhanger is the bad guy getting the drop on Wolverine and holding two guns to his head.  Um, does no one know anything about Wolverine?  It's not like we're sitting there thinking "OMG!  That dude is going to kill my favorite mutant EVERS!"  What a dumb comic book.

I want Alias back.  Remember when Bendis was really good?

Star Wars: Legacy #15 by John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, and Dan Parsons.  $2.99, Dark Horse.

I think this is my last issue of Star Wars: Legacy.  It's not that it's bad - Ostrander is doing a decent job keeping everything clear and concise, even with a big cast, and Duursema's art is very nice - but it's just not grabbing me.  I haven't really gotten into the characters, and I find myself not caring.  I don't know why.  It's not like you need to be a HUGE Star Wars fan to like this, because it has connections to the movies, but the characters are new.  The action is fine, the political machinations are interesting, and Cade Skywalker is intriguing as a character.  I ought to like it more, but I don't.  Oh well.

The Un-Men #1 by John Whalen and Mike Hawthorne.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

I'm not sure how I feel about this comic.  Hawthorne's art is very good, as he gives a very nice creepy tone to the whole book, which is about freaks, after all.  Whalen's story, however, is fairly by-the-numbers, as we have a murder of an armless and legless man, which leads an albino federal agent to a town created specifically to house freaks, where the big enchilada is hiding something and there's a mad scientist and some freaks are fighting against the government.  Yes, it all sounds weird, but it's still fairly standard.  Whalen even throws in a hot chick to escort the federal agent around town while he's looking for clues.  The weirdness of the art helps gloss over the fact that this is a fairly standard story, but it's still there.  Previously in this post, I've talked about books where the plot is fairly standard (Cover Girl, Criminal), but both of those books had some flair in the writing that raised them above the average.  There's really nothing like that here.  Circus freaks may seem inherently interesting on their own, but they're really not.  Characters still need to inhabit an interesting story, and this issue isn't it.  It might get better and read better in the trade, but for a first issue, it's just kind of dull.

And, you know, I think that an editor who sees yet another writer name yet another character with some variation on a two-headed thing "Janus" needs to tell them to come up with another name.  I'm sick of characters named Janus.  I'm sure there are other two-headed/faced things in mythology.  Do a Google search, writers!

X-Factor #22 by Peter David and Pablo Raimondi.  $2.99, Marvel.

You may hate Peter David and everything he stands for, but you can't deny that he knows how to construct a gripping story, whether it's a single issue or a big storyline.  Again, you might not like the execution of said story, but he still knows how to build suspense, how to use foreshadowing, humor, and voiceovers to create an atmosphere in which a story can grow.  In this issue, he does it well, as we begin in Central Park with the French girl Nicole smashing something with a rock and then dropping the rock into a stream.  We then go back in time to Madrox meeting with the weird dude from last issue, and David reminds us that one of Jamie's duplicates may have warned Jamie about the guy.  The guy, Josef Huber, has an ingenious idea - have mutants declared an endangered species, which will mean the government will be forced to protect them.  Another great idea from David, who has a lot of them.  Siryn and Monet, meanwhile, are attending a concert of those mutant-hating kids, who are in no way supposed to be a parody of Prussian Blue (warning: that link takes you to the official site, where you can learn all about 14-year-olds who sing about how white people should hate everyone who doesn't look like they do).  They are captured by two mercenaries who tell them to stay away.  Gee, I wonder if that's going to be important soon.  And then we go back to Central Park, where we learn the entire story about what was happening on page 1.  It's rather surprising and unsettling.  But David has done such a good job laying the groundwork that it doesn't come completely out of the blue, plus the way the story is structured, it fits well with the rest of the issue.

This is just a very strong issue of one of the consistently best mainstream books on the market.  It's always a treat to read.

That's it for this week.  Remember, you can still enter my contest.  I've gotten quite a few good entries, which makes me think you guys have too many comics or the Internet is a much better resource than I thought it was.  Still, drop me a line and win! 

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