What I bought - 9 June 2010

That woman was the closest thing to himself Achilles had ever come across. But he didn't find out until a moment after he had killed her. She was hostile, and dead: everything Achilles loved in a woman. (Roberto Calasso, from The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony)

Two comics pissed me off this week. The nerve of some people at Marvel! Oh, you can be sure I'll be ranting!

Avengers Academy #1 ("Permanent Record Part 1") by Christos Gage (writer), Mike McKone (artist), Jeromy Cox (colorist), and Clayton Cowles (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I mentioned when this and the other first issue down below were solicited that even if I think Marvel's new "Heroic Age" is a cynical marketing ploy, I was at least going to try some of the new books, and here they are! I know this is just a reboot of the Initiative book, but I decided to give it a try anyway. What the hell, right? I still don't understand Marvel's idiotic policy of pricing first issues at $3.99 for the regular number of pages. I mean, this has "extra" pages introducing the characters and featuring a brief interview with Christos Gage, but I'm sorry, Marvel, that doesn't cut it. As I've mentioned before, I don't buy a lot of other entertainment stuff (video games, CDs, DVDs/Blu-Rays, tickets to movies), so I can afford a $3.99 book if I really want to check it out, but based on some commenters on the blog here, a lot of people won't buy this for the sole reason that it's four dollars. It has nothing to do with quality. Really, Marvel? Really?

Sigh. Anyway, this is a pretty good first issue. It's interesting contrasting it with Young Allies #1, because while that book is almost all action, this is almost no action. You might think that makes this a boring book, but it's not, because Gage makes sure there's some tension within the book, so it's carried by this sense of menace, which is neat. First of all, there are the kids - Finesse, Mettle, Hazmat, Reptil, Veil, and Striker. They have interesting but not overly complicated powers, and as they're new heroes, they have no idea what they're doing. They seem like mutants, but maybe because the Avengers books are selling better than the X-books, Marvel wisely put this under the Avengers banner. As they don't know what they're doing and their powers aren't all that great for them - Veil, for instance, is slowly discorporating into gas, even though no one knows how long it will take, while Hazmat leaks radiation, killing people who are in close contact with her for long periods - it leads to an angsty situation where they don't really trust or like each other because they don't know what's going on. Gage throws a good monkey wrench into the works at the end which should propel the plot for a few issues and bring the team together, so that's nice.

Gage does a good job establishing that these kids are young and unsure of themselves. Veil - a girl named Maddy - is the POV character for this issue, as she narrates the events. Gage does a good job making her an insecure teenager who wants to make friends at the academy but isn't sure how and, of course, she crushes on Justice, because who can resist that 1990s headgear? As this is not a huge action book (we get some action in the academy's "danger room," but it's just showing off their powers, with no real stakes), the interaction between the characters - both the new ones among themselves and with their teachers - has to carry it, and Gage manages that. It's interesting comparing the way Gage establishes the characters with the way Sean McKeever does it - Gage seems to go this route because these are new characters (well, except for Reptil), whereas McKeever's characters are better established. Maybe. Beats me. Still, Gage does a good job giving these characters a lot of personality, which is neat.

McKone does a good job on the art. I've always been a fan of McKone's, even though he's not the kind of artist I follow religiously. He's a solid superhero artist, and he does a good job both with the character designs for the kids when they're in uniform and when they're in street clothes. I always chuckle a bit when, in movies, a girl who is obviously attractive wears her hair up and has glasses on and all she needs to be HAWT is to let her hair down and get some contacts, and McKone does a bit of that with Maddy, as once her powers kick in, she doesn't need glasses anymore so now, of course, she's a hottie. Hank Pym mentions this - he says, "When a superhuman ability manifests, there's often a general augmentation of physiology that accompanies it." That's an interesting point, but I'd love if a writer went even further and explained that when powers manifest, it actually makes you more attractive. That would be awesome.

Three more things: 1. This is the first of two comics this week in which the writer appears to be going all meta on us with regard to fans' comments about characters. Pietro says to Hank at one point, "I know you don't want to spend your life being reminded of a few bad decisions, but ... certain people ... seem unable to let these things go." I don't read many Avengers comics, but it seems that the "certain people" who are unable to let it go are not the characters in the comics but the fans, who always have fun with Hank beating Janet (I'm guilty of this, certainly). So is Gage mocking fans who bring it up all the time? Beats me. It feels like that to me. 2. I still can't get over the fact that these Avengers keep talking about being fooled by Norman Osborn. That just cracks me the fuck up. HE'S THE GODDAMNED GREEN GOBLIN!!!!!!! You idiots! And finally,

3. What the hell is Marvel doing? There are six characters in this book. There's an Asian chick, two white chicks (well, I'm not sure if Finesse is a white chick, but what the hell), a Hispanic dude, an Asian dude, and whatever the hell Mettle is. WHERE THE HELL ARE THE WHITE DUDES?!?!?!?!? Doesn't Marvel realize that this kind of politically correct, mealy-mouthed, affirmative-action crap WILL NOT STAND!!!!!!! I mean, since white dudes are the only ones who READ comics, and white dudes have no imagination to see the Marvel Universe from any other point of view than their own, THEY BETTER FUCKING GET SOME WHITE DUDES ON THIS TEAM!!!!!!! I mean, what the fucking fuck, Marvel? I'm sure this book will go down in flames. Pretty soon. Boy, Marvel sure is stupid, aren't they?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Batman #700 ("Time and the Batman") by Grant "You can't gaze upon my face, fanboys, because my head shines with pure genius light!" Morrison (writer), Tony Daniel (artist), Frank Quitely (artist), Scott Kolins (artist), Andy Kubert (artist), David Finch (penciller), Richard Friend (inker), Ian Hannin (colorist), Alex Sinclair (colorist), Tony Aviña (colorist), Brad Anderson (colorist), Peter Steigerwald (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $4.99, 31 pgs, FC, DC.

As usual, it's almost pointless to review a Grant Morrison comic anymore. More than almost any other comic book writer, he's so polarizing that there's really nothing to say about him, because everyone has made up their minds. If you're certain people, you will love everything he sets down on paper and make any excuse to cover up anything bad in his writing, such as blaming the artist and/or the stupidity of the general reading public. If you're other certain people, you will not like anything he writes because it's vaguely "too weird," even though a great deal of his stuff is ridiculously straight-forward, and you will say anyone who likes the G-Mozzer is just an elitist jerk. To each his own, say I, but it makes it very hard to write about Morrison's comics anymore. People have been bashing me here at the blog and in the real world both because I like Morrison and because I don't love everything he writes. My answer to those people is always the same: Morrison is my favorite comic book writer ever, and he has a LOT of credit in my bank. Therefore, even when he writes something that I don't love (which is, to be honest, about half of his Batman run, including this issue), I still buy his stuff, both because I know that when I sit down and re-read them, I will find stuff I missed the first time around, and also because a mediocre Morrison comic (like this issue) is better than about three-quarters of what you're going to find out on the shelves. For instance, this was a pretty good week for me, so I bought quite a few very good comics. But Batman was, if not better (although it was than some of them), at least more interesting than Avengers Academy, Booster Gold, The Light, The Murder of King Tut, Prince of Power, Sparta U. S. A., Spider-Man: Fever, Super Friends, The Unwritten, and Young Allies. And I would say I enjoyed most of those comics either the same amount or more than Batman #700, mainly because I'm always aware that at any time, Morrison can write a transcendant piece of comics excellence and when he doesn't, it bugs me (for the record: Chew, Daytripper, Meta 4, Secret Six, and S.H.I.E.L.D. were all better and more interesting than this issue). It's very frustrating being the kind of Morrison fan I am, because I read Our Dread Lord and Master's reviews of his work (I haven't read his review of Batman #700 yet, because I don't want his thoughts to color mine) or see what Tim Callahan has to say about his stuff and I know those guys are smarter than I am, yet I can't figure out why they occasionally rave about something that I don't like (I'm not being falsely modest, either - I've met Tim and I know he's smarter than I am, and although I've never met Brian, have you read what he writes, both here and elsewhere? - the dude has a mind like a steel trap!). It's vexing.

This issue, for instance (yes, I suppose I will write about this issue, even though I'm not going to convince anyone). It's not bad. It's a modestly clever time travel story, with some of Morrison's pet ideas for the character thrown in, but it's not genius-level. It's just a serviceable story, and as an anniversary story, it feels a bit hollow. Anniversary stories are tricky, because you want to do something big and bombastic, which this certainly feels like, but you also want to illuminate why the character has managed to survive for so long, which this doesn't succeed in doing. As it comes in the middle of the whole "Bruce isn't Batman" saga, it's difficult to show why Batman is so iconic, even though Morrison gives it the old college try by bringing back Damian-as-Batman in the future and even going further to show several future Batmen. But that's just window dressing; it's imposing by writer fiat the fact that Batman is TEH AWESUM, and that's why it feels hollow. The best part of the book is, perhaps not surprisingly, the Frank Quitely section, but not because of the art (which looks a bit rushed) but because of the fact that it's the anniversary of the night Bruce's parents were killed, so Dick and Damian visit Park Row and lay a wreath there and one of the denizens of the area helps them keep it crime-free. This idea isn't new, but it's nice to see here. Most of the rest of the book is standard action-adventure, raised a bit by Morrison's attention to detail (the mutants and the weird dudes in the future, for instance), but not too much.

The art isn't bad, but it's not great, either. Tony Daniel looks better than he did when Morrison was writing the book a while ago, but it's still not that great (and I wonder why Dum Dum Dugan is pretending to be the Mad Hatter). Quitely could only do five pages, which is annoying. Scott Kolins gives us some pages that look digitally painted, and everyone looks shrunken for some reason (I can't explain it). Kubert does his Kuberty stuff (Morrison showing that Max did not, in fact, turn out okay is nice) and Finch does his Finchy stuff. I like both those gentlemen, so I liked their work. However, for an anniversary issue, it would have been nice to see some different styles. Daniel, Kubert, and Finch all have a pseudo-Image, muscular style, and just looking at some of the pin-ups, it would have been keen to see some of those artists handle parts of the story. Juan Doe, Dustin Nguyen, Tim Sale, and Bill Sienkiewicz could have had some interesting style contrasts in the book. That's what anniversaries are for, right?

I don't know if Brian mentioned the price, but if you're on the fence about buying this or waiting for the trade, I would wait on it. It's five bucks for 31 pages of story, which isn't a good deal. The pin-ups are okay, and we get a completely pointless map of the Batcave as well (really, DC?), but that's quite a price tag for DC to put on this. I suppose they know what they're doing - it's not like comics are losing readers or anything, right? As part of Morrison's ongoing epic, it will probably turn out to be a decent chapter. As a standalone comic, it doesn't work too well. And it's certainly not worth the fin you'll drop on it.

(Oh, and should I be a history dick and point out that the Children's Crusade didn't actually exist? Too late - I just did!)

One totally Airwolf panel:

Booster Gold #33 ("Past Imperfect!") by Keith Giffen (plotter), J. M. DeMatteis (scripter), Chris Batista (penciller), Rich Perrotta (inker), Prentis Rollins (inker), Hi-Fi (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

I like how the cover of this issue is the exact opposite of issue #32. Good stuff!

I wasn't sure if I was going to buy this issue, because although I enjoyed issue #32, I wasn't sure if I wanted to keep going with it, especially if it was tying into Justice League: Generation Lost. But I figured I'd give it a few issues, and this isn't a bad one. Giffen and DeMatteis doing something wildly crazy: They tie this book into JL: GL but they give us enough information so we understand what's going on in that book without needing to read it and tell a good one-off story that links into the bigger series. I know, shocking. These guys might be able to teach writers a thing or two about writing comics.

First of all, Brigadoom is a totally awesome character. I'm sure he'll get slaughtered in the next big crossover!

Booster needs to figure out how to prove that Maxwell Lord exists, so he decides to go back into the past and find traces of his existence from then. He decides to go back to the JLI days and find some evidence from that time period, which gives Giffen and DeMatteis a convenient excuse to revisit that series. Of course, his plan doesn't work, but it's still a fun issue, as J'onn knows immediately that Booster isn't the Booster from their time and Black Canary is pissed off at him for an interview he gave to a men's magazine. It's an interesting way for the creators to show how Booster has changed in the years since the Justice League. It even shows how he's changed since the "Super Buddies" days of Formerly Known as the Justice League and "I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League!" While overall, the issue isn't the greatest thing ever, it's a decent read and it taps into nostalgia in a better way than a lot of comics do.

This is the second comic this week in which it appears the creators are speaking to the fans, as Booster flips out at Cyborg because he calls the JLI "screw-ups." Unlike the idea of Hank Pym beating his wife, fans of the old JLI aren't saying they're "screw-ups" these days, so this probably isn't directed at them, but I wouldn't be surprised if Booster's rant was directed at DiDio and the other higher-ups at DC, who still wish that era of the Justice League hadn't existed. Giffen and DeMatteis keep working for DC, so they obviously don't have too much of an issue with the way those characters have been treated, but Booster's rant still seems like them getting something off their chest rather than just something Booster would say. I mean, I can believe Booster saying it, but it also feels like there's something more behind it. Either way, it was fun to read, because if anyone shouldn't be calling others goofy, it's Cyborg. I mean, look at that dude!

Finally, I have a question about the art. Not the actual drawing, but the way the art is presented on the page. There is a lot of white in the upper and lower borders of this book - it looks almost like a European comic that has been resized to fit an American periodical. It's consistent throughout the book, too, although it does get more noticeable when Booster goes back in time. It's oddly disconcerting, given that most regular comic books today don't even have borders - the art just bleeds to the edge of the paper. Any theories on why Batista does this? Is it some kind of homage to older books? U-Decide!

I'm still taking this series as an issue-by-issue case. We'll see what we get next issue and whether I'll pick that up as well. The nice thing about this issue is you can get a good sense of what Giffen and DeMatteis are doing with the series.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Chew #11 ("Just Desserts Part 1 of 5") by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Steven Struble (color flatterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

After a month off, Chew returns and immediately, Layman and Guillory show why this comic is simply one of the best out there. The first page shows Tony and Amelia Mintz, the food critic who writes so well you think you're tasting the food she's describing, on a first date. Tony is holding his gun sheepishly and Amelia's left side is covered with blood. You must know what happened to them!!!!! And so you're hooked. Of course, the great thing is that our creators deliver.

Of course, they don't get there in any conventional way, as we flashback 20,000 years and see sabretooth tigers attacking a mammoth, getting attacked by a man, and then killing the dude. What does this have to do with anything? Patience, grasshopper! Back in the present, Tony is adjusting to life under his suddenly amenable boss (we know why he's friendly, but if you haven't read the trade yet, I won't give it away) while his partner gets strange telephone calls for Mason, Tony's ex-partner. Yeah, I'm sure that won't be important later on! Then they get a murder case that leads to a weird group of rich people who eat extremely endangered plants and animals, which Chu, of course, has to bust. Luckily Amelia has a ticket! It's a date! And yes, it all goes pear-shaped. But that doesn't mean Amelia doesn't dig the Chu!

Now, even though Layman must have written this script after seeing The Freshman one too many times, it's still a good single issue that will, I'm sure, tie into the larger storyline. (True story: My wife and I love that movie. We often quote Frank Whaley after Tex Konig tells him that "Leo" and "Big Leo" are the same: "You're synonymous." Trust me, it's funny. And even if you don't think so, well, I'm not married to you, am I? This is why my wife and I are perfect for each other.)(That quote, by the way, isn't on IMDb's quote page for the movie. Fuck the heck?) We get the usual frenetic pace, good characterization, and of course, Guillory's madcap art, with all the fun stuff thrown in (for some reason, you're not allowed to wear berets at Amelia's newspaper). It's so much fun to read this comic but after you've read it, you can still open to any page and just marvel at the way Guillory puts it all together, from the facial expressions to the body language to the exploding heads. Fine, fine stuff, as usual.

I really can't recommend this book enough. It's funny, it's violent, it's interesting, it looks great, and it has great characters. What the hell else do you want from comics?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Daytripper #7 (of 10) ("38") by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá (writers/artists), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Sean Konot (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The fascinating thing about Daytripper is that Moon and Bá appear to be building on each issue even though they still are making sure each issue is a standalone story. It's very interesting. In this issue, for instance, Brás goes to look for Jorge, who disappeared years ago but who, we discover, continued to write postcards to his friend, just never mailing them. Even though the circumstances are different, this feels like the continuation of issue #6, which is a nifty way of tying these issues together. The twins have done this before with certain themes and ideas, and it's a keen way of building an entire portrait of Brás' life. This issue is a tiny bit disappointing just because the resolution comes out of nowhere, but it still ties in nicely with the way Brás lives his life and looks out for others. The last page sums it up a bit too succinctly, but it's a minor misstep along the way, as this series just continues to impress. I know some people are waiting for the trade, but this is one series I think reads better as single issues. That's just me, though, and I can't really say why, because I don't want to spoil anything.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Light #3 (of 5) ("Company") by Nathan Edmondson (writer) and Brett Weldele (artist/letterer). $2.99, 25 pgs, FC, Image.

Edmondson and Weldele continue their strange horror tale, as Coyle and Avery meet up with two brothers - Simon and Johnny - who give them a few answers about the weird infection, but not too many. We find out that some people who are infected don't die right away but live on to infect others, and we also learn that animals are infected as well. That can't be good. And bad things continue to happen.

There's not really a lot to write about this issue. Edmondson does a nice job continuing to build the tension, and Weldele gives everything an eerie, foggy kind of vibe, even after the sun comes up. I've often mentioned that Weldele is an acquired taste, so I can understand if people don't like his art, but I just love how impressionistic it is, sparse yet suggesting much more. And his infected people creep me the hell out, so that's nice.

I was a bit puzzled by the geography in this book. Avery keeps saying they're going to Portland, and Coyle mentions they got the hell out of Astoria when the "plague" hit. I can't remember if Edmondson mentioned that they headed south from Astoria, because they end up in Corvallis, meaning they're taking the really long way around from Astoria to Portland. I'm sure he did mention it, but as Avery keeps saying they're going to Portland, I couldn't figure out why they're so far south. Oh well. Just something that nagged me.

Anyway, this series continues to be intriguing. I certainly don't blame you for waiting for the trade, because Edmondson is doling out information slowly and it will probably read better as a whole, but I do like the sense of impending doom we get from the single issues. It's a nice trick.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Meta 4 #1 (of 5) ("Inverted Memories of Grey") by Ted McKeever (writer/artist/letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, BW, Image.

I was a bit wary about getting this, mainly because I've never been blown away by McKeever's writing. He has good ideas, but his execution is sometimes lacking. But I figured, what the hell, and picked this up. Those kids don't need to eat, right?

This is quite a good first issue, in that it's mysterious without being too oblique. A man in an astronaut suit wakes up on the beach at Coney Island with no memory of who he is. He finds a woman in a public restroom, and her boyfriend thinks he's about to take some liberties with her (he's not, though). Said boyfriend is about to beat our hero to death when a person wearing a Santa Claus suit wanders in and shivs the dude in the neck. Then Santa takes off the suit to reveal that she's a woman. Who speaks only in symbols, by the way. It's a Ted McKeever book - you were expecting logic?!?!?

So while the story is on a slow burn, and I have no problem with that, it's time to check out the art, which is where McKeever never has any problems. McKeever is another one of those artists who is probably an acquired taste, but as you may know, I like his art a lot, and this might be some of the best work I've seen from him. He still has all the "McKeever tics" we expect - asymmetrical bodies; weird, ugly faces - but what makes this book so stunning is that he's softened his rigid pencils a bit, highlighting the strangeness of the characters more and also making the landscape in which they move a bit more realistic. McKeever has always worked in fantastical and heavily industrial milieux because his clunky style suited that perfectly (I write "clunky" in the nicest way possible). In this book, Coney Island is softened to the point where it looks almost dreamlike, while even the characters have a more "human" softness to them - McKeever's characters often wear armor or other bulky clothing, again because of his style. It's impressive what he can do with shading, which is where it appears a lot of the changes come from. If you've never been a fan of McKeever's art ... well, this book probably won't make you one. But if you are a fan, this is even better than he usually is, and that's pretty keen.

I don't know what's up with the police dispatcher whose words show up throughout the book, but I'm sure it's just part of the mystery. I'm looking forward to seeing if McKeever can write solutions to the mysteries as well as he sets them up, but in the meantime, I'm happy to see another solo McKeever project, especially if it's going to look this good.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Murder of King Tut #1 (of 5) by Alexander Irvine (adapter/writer), Christopher Mitten (artist), Ron Randall (artist), Dom Regan (colorist), and Neil Uyetake (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.

James Patterson's name is all over the comic, but as he didn't have anything to do with the actual comic (he co-wrote the book on which it's based), I think I will stop referring to him now and just write about the actual comic. 'Salright?

Well, this is a comic about the murder of King Tut. I know, shocking. I think I saw in the latest Previews that it was five issues; it might be six. Either way, the fact that Irvine doesn't actually bring in Tutankhamun in this issue is odd. I don't care; Irvine obviously has to set the scene, so we get the end of Amenhotep III's life and the early years of his son, who took the name Akhenaten and decided to become monotheistic, pissing off the priests. I don't mind that at all - it's useful to know the context for Tut's reign, but I hope it doesn't feel rushed as we move along. We shall see.

Irvine gives us the early machinations of Akhenaten moving toward the worship of one god (which, of course, took years, but it's fine to telescope it) and how he tried to break free of the priests. Nobody comes out looking good in the conflict, which is refreshing, because it's politics - very few people come out looking good in that arena. Meanwhile, we also see Howard Carter arrive in Egypt 30 years before he finds King Tut's tomb, and it will be neat to see how Irvine develops that story thread. IDW wisely got two different artists to work on the book - Randall has a clean, old-fashioned style that works well in the "modern" day, while Mitten has been drawing deserts for years now on Wasteland and can do ancient Egypt in his sleep, presumably. His work has a wonderful sense of grandeur, and Regan's colors are astonishing, as well - yes, there are a lot of browns, but the Egyptians themselves are brightly colored, reflecting their achievements in the ancient world.

This is a pretty cool start to the mini-series. I haven't read the book (I've read one James Patterson book in my life - whoops, I wrote his name, didn't I?), but that's unimportant, I suppose. If it helps IDW sell a few more copies, coolio. Whatever makes my fix easier to get!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Prince of Power #2 (of 4) ("Valhalla Blues") by Greg Pak (writer), Fred van Lente (writer), Reilly Brown (penciler), Terry Pallot (inker), Val Staples (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Every so often, I have to point out the sound effects in an issue of the Hercules saga (which I must call these various titles, as the keep changing the names of the actual books). So in this issue we get "Buzzzzzkillll," "Krakabathroom" (for some reason; haven't figured that out), "Svedish," "Aamightywiind," "Bringdathundah," "Børk Børk Børk" (I admit, I laughed out loud when I saw those), and "Ikeaa," among others. I know some people don't think the sound effects in this book are funny, but that's why I'm juvenile, I guess. They crack me the fuck up.

Vali Hafling continues his campaign against the gods, and Pak and van Lente do a nice job showing how efficient he is and also why he's not going to succeed (with a final page that made me think - not say, think - "Hell yeah!"). The writers also do a nice job with Amadeus' fight with Thor - as our hero points out, smacking someone around every few years does not make you his friend - Thor claims to be Herc's friend, but how much did he really know about him? It's a nice point in the middle of the big fight, and van Lente and Pak don't let it get in the way of all the beating down that's going down. Not unlike Giffen and DeMatteis, Pak and van Lente could teach others a thing or two about balancing big-time action with nice character work. Plus, it remains light-hearted and downright fun to read. Not a bad way to put a comic together, I'd reckon. And a footnote tells us that every comic with Thor in it is bound by law to point out that Midgard is Earth. The attention to goofy details like this make this a joyful comic to read, every time out.

I mentioned last time that Brown's art made everyone look a bit pouty, and they still are. But overall, he does a fine job. I'm just wondering why Vali has a lightsaber - where's George Lucas and his lawyers when we really need them? Brown makes it look cool, though. Actually, I can't think of a time someone holding a lightsaber isn't cool. Brown does a really nice job with the fight between Thor and Amadeus, too. It feels like things are moving fast, which is nice to see (because they probably are).

Next time out: Freaky Cat Goddesses! Whoo-hoo!!!!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Secret Six #22 ("Cats in the Cradle Part Four of Four") by Gail Simone (writer), Jim Calafiore (artist), Jason Wright (colorist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

Boy, Simone continues to put her characters and her audience through the wringer, doesn't she? I love it, don't get me wrong, but this is an intense book, certainly. I mean, we knew that Catman had gone around the bend, but in this issue, he leaves the bend behind and goes even further, and I have no idea if Simone is going to try to get him back. That's what happens when you threaten his son! Especially as we've been seeing flashbacks to his childhood and how messed up it was. You may be put off by the violence in this book (and it's intense), but what's always been excellent about this book is how Simone sets up the violence and deals with it afterward. Blake knows he's gone too far, but when he has to make a choice about what to do, he makes the right one, even if it devastates him and Cheshire. And his teammates know it's too late for him, as well. It's neat how Simone brings the story back to family even when she's dealing with the other members of the team - Alice is freaking out because she thinks Scandal wants to steal her "boyfriend" - Rag Doll - but she's really upset about something else that she didn't want to face. It's a nice counterpoint to what Blake is going through, and it of course features Rag Doll, so there's that.

I'm not sure if this book is in any trouble or not - Simone has really torn up the team with this issue, and I imagine she has an idea of what's going to happen now, but they're still a mess. I'm still loving this book, and I'm very happy that DC is letting Simone go nuts with these characters, mainly because they aren't the big guns. I saw that Simone mentioned that she can deal with the lack of nipples that I ranted about a few issues ago (or was it only last issue?) because DC lets her get away with so much, so that's cool. Because, let's face it, she gets away with a lot on this book. I just hope she can keep getting away with it for a long time.

One totally Airwolf panel:

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 ("Newton's Theory of Eternal Life") by Jonathan Hickman (writer), Dustin Weaver (artist), Christina Strain (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I had a few problems with S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, but those problems stemmed from the stuff in the deeper past, not the stuff from 1953. As Hickman concentrates on that year this time out, I don't have any problems with this issue. Easy-peasy, no?

Well, I also don't have any problems with this issue because it's so goddamned awesome. This is the kind of issue I've been hoping Hickman gives us ever since he arrived at Marvel. This takes all the weird superhero shit that comes from writing a book in the Marvel U. and adding in his weird sensibilities that made The Nightly News so very, very good. We even get a full text page in this issue, which some might find annoying, but I find awesome. Hickman gives us all sorts of weird stuff, from Leonid's "origin" that Leonardo da Vinci pulls right out of his head to the battle between Leonid's father and the Patriarchs Stark and Richards. And then we get the conversation between Leonid and Leonardo that sets up the conflict in the book. Yes, it's a bit wacky and mysterious, but it all sounds so cool that I'm certainly willing to go along with Hickman, especially because I know he can pull this kind of stuff off, even if he hasn't quite done it at Marvel yet (and even though he dropped the ball with the ending of The Nightly News a little, but that was because of other things, not necessarily because he can't do a good ending). I'm still not totally buying into this fitting into the established Marvel Universe, but we'll see where Hickman goes with that. This one issue, at least, focuses on the strange meeting of a man from 400 years in the past and a man of the present, and it rocks.

Weaver has a lot to do with that, of course. I enjoyed his art in issue #1, and he gets even better in this one. There's a creepy prologue with Nostradamus that can't portend anything good. Leonid's "origin" is two stunning full-page spreads that are really amazing. Weaver also gives us a tremendous fight scene between the Night Machine and Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark, in which the panels spin around an axis and almost give us vertigo. The full page of Richards reaching for the thing inside Leonid's father and not quite reaching it is breathtaking. This is truly a gorgeous comic, and if both Hickman and Weaver are hitting on these cylinders every time out, I'm perfectly happy to wait two months for each installment.

Hot damn, this is a great issue. Is it August yet?

One totally Airwolf panel:

Sparta U. S. A. #4 (of 6) by David Lapham (writer), Johnny Timmons (artist), Darlene Royer (colorist), and Wes Abbott (letterer). $2.99, 21 pgs, FC, DC/Wildstorm.

This came out last week, but my shoppe got shorted on their order so they didn't get it until this week. So there. I still think this will read better in a trade, because unlike Young Liars, for instance, Lapham isn't telling this story so that each issue is a good whole - it's definitely a tale in six parts, so while Lapham keeps building on what has come before, each issue isn't really a strong single story. This book is certainly getting weirder, as Mr. Nevett pointed out with his "Guess the spoiler" game last week - the ending of this issue certainly takes the book in a bizarre direction, and there's always the crazed woman with the ax (see below). We continue to get weird clues about Sparta and its place in the world, but I'm not terribly sure if Lapham is going to reveal all about it - I don't think it's necessary, actually, but it would be interesting to see what the world beyond Sparta is like. We shall see.

Anyway, we're moving along nicely with this, and I'm looking forward to the final two issues. If there's one thing we know about Lapham, it's that we can't predict anything about his books. So this should be a treat.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Spider-Man: Fever #3 (of 3) by Brendan McCarthy (writer/artist/colorist/letterer) and Steve Cook (digital fxer/letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

I mentioned this last issue with regard to the tweaking of Spider-Man's origin - it wouldn't have much impact. I didn't think McCarthy would make sure of it even before the series ended, as he doesn't change it back, but he makes it so everyone else can ignore it. That's fine - it was a silly tweaking, and really fit only this story. As I've been writing about this entire series, the story really doesn't matter - this is a chance to see McCarthy go nuts with Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and that's what he does. Yes, I wish Marvel hadn't charged four dollars for each issue, but for me, at least, it was worth it, because it's so rare to see McCarthy doing American superhero comics (in fact, I don't know if he's ever done them). I figure the trade will feature this and another Spider-Man story that I may not want and cost fifteen bucks or so, so I guess I made out okay. Maybe I didn't. It's my money, after all.

So anyway, the story isn't really the point, is it? Spidey and Strange fight the Arachnix and all's well that ends well, and McCarthy has a lot of fun with it. This is pretty much unlike any superhero story you're likely to see, and it's fun to just sit there and look at all the weirdness that McCarthy packs into it. The dude who turned into a fly, the sentient dogs, the creepy spiders, the busty girl who just happens to be wandering around this dimension - it's all there, and it's all wacky. If you are waiting for the trade, I just need to warn you that the story is not terrible but it's just a place to hang all the cool-ass art on. There's nothing wrong with that, but I did want to warn you. I just wish McCarthy would do a little bit more weird work for the Big Two. It would be fun to see!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Super Friends #28 ("Riddle Me This!") by Sholly Fisch (writer), Dario Brizuela (artist), Steve Wands (letterer), and Heroic Age (colorist). $2.50, 19 pgs, FC, DC.

I'm rarely disappointed by the Johnny DC books, but I'm disappointed by this one. It's much like the ones I like, with a couple of differences: Brizuela's art, while in the same style of the other artists who usually work on these books, is a bit off - the characters are far too muscular, and it just doesn't work. The 'roided-up Riddler, for instance, just looks weird. But more than that, the story isn't quite as fun as the usual Johnny DC books. Fisch seems to be trying too hard to get a lot in the book, and he overdoes a little. It's not that it's bad, it's just that he's trying hard to make it fun instead of just letting it be fun, and it shows. It's as if he couldn't be happy with the Riddler calling together a bunch of riddling type villains - Cluemaster, Signalman, Angle Man, Calculator, Puzzler - and matching them up against the Super Friends. He had to pile on more stuff, and while the resolution is nice because it doesn't play out the way we would expect, it feels like it's just too much and it loses some of the awesomeness we expect from these comics. I don't know - it just lacked the spark we often get with these comics. It's too bad, because a sentient Colossus of Rhodes sounds awesome, but it doesn't work out that way. Too bad. I do like that cover, though.

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Unwritten #14 ("Dead Man's Knock: Atrocities") by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (writer and artist), Chris Chuckry (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

The funniest page in this book is the first one. As we're "reading" the new Tommy Taylor book and it's not actually by Wilson Taylor, Carey decides to rip off several other books, especially Philip Pullman's excellent Dark Materials trilogy. On the second page, his editor checks off all the books the author, whoever he is, has ripped off. It's quite funny.

Anyway, Carey continues with the build-up to the book's release, and everything is moving along nicely. Lizzie does something to try to contact Wilson but fails, but she does let some bad guys know where she is. That can't be good. The creepy vampire guy - I forget his name - is still hanging around, setting Tom up for the kill. And then there's Pullman, ready to do something terrible to Wilson. It's a decent enough issue until Tom and Savoy rescue Lizzie from the bad guys, which is when it goes a bit sideways and becomes much more interesting. Who is the girl Lizzie appears obsessed with? Why does she have to "go home"? How cool is the final page?

After some middle issues that made me wonder if I should keep buying it, the book keeps getting stronger. It seems like Carey has found some footing, and it's a nice blend of the literary stuff and the real-world stuff. Whenever we think the real world stuff is going to take over, Carey throws us some weird literary stuff and we're off again! Carey seems to have struck a good balance with it. And Gross is excellent, of course.

There's a lot to like about this comic, and I hope it's doing okay. It doesn't blow me away, even though I enjoy it, and I just like reading the little things that Carey is doing in each issue. The fact that he rips off other fantasy series. "The grid." The way the vampire spies on Tom. Pullman's casual cruelty. The way Tom and Savoy rescue Lizzie. It's a nice book to check out.

One totally Airwolf panel:

Young Allies #1 ("Now, Not Tomorrow Part 1: No Turning Back") by Sean McKeever (writer), David Baldeón (penciler), N. Bowling (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Joe Sabino (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Well, what do we have here? Another Marvel team book? With only one good American white dude? Good god, Marvel, what the hell are you doing? This kind of shit will not stand!!!!!!!

So we have Gravity, a good solid white guy, joined by a Hispanic dude, a Hispanic chick, and two other chicks. Wait, there are more chicks than dudes on this team? FUCKING HELL, MARVEL!!!!!!!! I just don't know what to do. Now I know how every single oppressed minority has ever felt like. EVER. Man, it sucks to be oppressed. POWER TO THE PEOPLE, MARVEL!!!!! This will not stand!!!!!!

But hey, let's check out this politically correct monstrosity. Unlike in Avengers Academy, the Young Allies aren't actually a team in this first issue - they just happen to come together when the excellently-named Bastards of Evil show up in New York tearing shit up. I assume part of these first few issues will be how McKeever makes them a team - I do hope there's not a scene of them all putting their hands in and shouting "JUSTICE!!!!!!" unless it's to mock that kind of scene. McKeever begins with the brand-new character, Toro (well, brand new in this "universe" - I guess he showed up in the "Heroes Reborn" universe back in the day, but it seems like he's new here), and his "secret origin" - I'll get back to Toro in a minute. He does a nice job showing us the friendship between Nomad and Araña, which has been previously established, and he brings Gravity and Firestar in rather naturally. The book is a bit wordy in the beginning (I don't mind, as it's good wordiness), and then the Bastards show up, and we get a good look at everyone's powers. I love that the Bastards are actually the children of Marvel villains - that works pretty well - and although McKeever gets a bit annoying with the introductions (this really does read like an old-school comic, with everyone announcing their names and even their powers as they fight), it's okay. We need to know who these people are, after all. I'm not the biggest fan of Baldeón's art - his faces, in particular, are a bit too full moon-shaped for me - but he nails the action very well (and someone should tell Sotomayor that Angelica's hair isn't brown). This turns into a very exciting comic in the second half, and it was working pretty well in the first half, too.

Well, except for Toro. I don't mind the fact that he's an illegal immigrant - I've read enough by McKeever that I think he'll probably handle that decently - but I think McKeever screws up by showing us his "origin" as the first thing in the book. If he was just hanging out by the Statue of Liberty and suddenly "bulled out" (which, unfortunately, doesn't have the same ring as "Hulked out," but that's what happens - he changes from a kid into a minotaur), it would have been better, I think. There would have been some more mystery to him. The way the book begins, it's a bit confusing. Benito is turned into a killer by some oppressive regime, and then he remembers that they dragged him away from his sister to create him and so he escapes. But we only know that because it's in the back matter of the book - we can infer that he escaped, but it's not really clear. I assume McKeever will fill in how he got to New York as a matter of course, but it's a weird way to begin the book. We expect him to be a bad guy, even though he might have "rebelled" against his programming - it's still something that was embedded in him from an early age. So when he's not really the bad guy in this issue, it feels a bit off, especially because he doesn't seem to be any worse for wear. He seems too confident for an illegal immigrant, if that makes sense. It's just a bit strange. Oh well.

I certainly enjoyed this comic, and McKeever does a fine job ending on a horrifying cliffhanger, not because it's gory or anything, but because of the symbolism. I like how McKeever and Gage give us two different kinds of first issues, and they both work fairly well. If we get this kind of stuff from the Heroic Age, I'm glad Marvel pulled their heads out of their asses and got on with it. They're both $3.99, so it's hard to really say you should get one over the other. If you like talking, get Avengers Academy. If you like characters beating on each other, get this one! It's easy!

One totally Airwolf panel:

Power Out by Nathan Schreiber (writer/artist). $9.95, 82 pgs, BW, Canal Press.

Gah! Book One! Doesn't anyone write self-contained stuff anymore?!?!?!? Still, this looks danged cool.

Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer), Noel Tuazon (artist), Richard Starkings (letterer), and Jimmy Betancourt (letterer). $14.95, 239 pgs, BW, Archaia.

Hot diggity, I've been looking forward to this book for a year. Finally it's here! Fialkov and Tuazon wouldn't let me down after so long a wait, would they? WOULD THEY?!?!?!?

Hey, I don't know if you've been paying attention to television, but Glee finished its season this week and it's become one of the best shows on network television. (I have to separate network television from cable TV, because network stuff still has too many restrictions on it. Justified and Treme, for instance, are both better than Glee, and those are just off the top of my head. But that's the way it is on the networks.) Yes, it gets a lot of hype, but that's because of the musical numbers, and while those are entertaining, it's the parts in between the music that has really gotten much, much better (after they ditched the wife and the idiotic phantom pregnancy story). It does a very good job addressing several issues intelligently and without condescension, and it's often damned funny. This week's season finale was nice because although I knew what was going to happen, it was keen the way it was handled. I guess FOX is showing the entire season this summer, so if you've missed it, give it a look. It's surprising how the creators don't allow it to become too stereotypical or corny - yes, the kids begin as stereotypes, but they've grown very well over the course of the season. Plus, Heather Morris is a hottie. Yeah, I can admit when I'm shallow. But she gets all the funny lines!

Moving on, how about we take a look at The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle But Which Often Gets Reset, A Vexing Dilemma):

1. "One Step Closer" - Asia (1982) "And though we never even met, no talking needs to be done"2. "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" - Magnetic Fields (2004) "Should I freak out, should I seek out someone I could keep?"3. "Rock Rock ('Til You Drop)" - Def Leppard (1983) "'Cause your mama don't mind what your mama don't see"4. "Fugitive" - Indigo Girls (1994) "I was aching with freedom and kissing the damned"5. "St. Teresa" - Joan Osborne (1995) "She bold as the street light, dark and sweet as hash"6. "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" - Smashing Pumpkins (1995) "Can you fake it, for just one more show"7. "A Question Mark" - Elliott Smith (1998) "Panic called you out and took you in"8. "See You" - Foo Fighters (1997) "I'm gettin further from myself"9. "The Colorful Ones" - Liquid Jesus (1991) "And you ask yourself how many more times must a man fight for painted freedom"10. "Square Go" - Fish (2007) "I don't exist, I never have"

What's that over there? It's totally random lyrics!

"There are two things missing from my lifeLove and moneyIf I could steal them maybe I'd be happyGimme bread I'll want no moreBut give me cake and I'll want creamAnd if I scream It's 'cause I want to"

Be sure to watch some of the World Cup! Those 1-0 games really get your blood pumping!

Spawn #301 Preview Showcases McFarlane, Crain & Alexander's Art

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