What I bought - 9 May 2012

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden behind the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. (George Orwell, from 1984)

Chad linked to David Brothers' comments about reviewing, and I do agree with both Brothers and Chad that reviewers need to focus more on artwork. Of course, because I'm wildly insecure, I'm always bummed that I don't get name-checked by smart bloggers, mainly because I'm beneath their notice. However, I'd like to think that in the daily feature I'm currently running, I discuss art at least a little intelligently (feel free to disagree). I've also tried to write more about art when I'm reviewing comics, even though I know I could do better. I know Brothers was writing about the reviews on the actual CBR and not here, but again, it's probably because I'm not important enough. Now I'm sad.

But! I have done posts focusing almost exclusively on artwork before, and I guess it's time to do another one. So read on - it's mostly about artists this week!

Bad Medicine #1 (of 5?) by Christopher Mitten (artist), Bill Crabtree (colorist), Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (writers), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). FREE, 27 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

I won't write about all the Free Comic Book Day comics, because I only picked up three of them, and one featured a lot of previews for upcoming series (the Image one) and one featured a character you should all be reading about already (Atomic Robo, starring in the best Dr. Dinosaur story yet, and as I'm one person who is not enthralled by Dr. Dinosaur, that should tell you something), but like last year, Oni is beginning a new mini-series with an entire #1 issue, so if you happened to miss it, well, shame on you.

Christopher Mitten is a fine artist, although not to everyone's tastes, and a hardscrabble police procedural is a fine fit for him. His heavy inks give his characters a lived-in look, as if life has been hard for them but they keep struggling. Joely Huffman, his main character, is attractive but not gorgeous, because she's a homicide detective, after all, so her hair is messy and her face looks toughened. It's interesting that only one character looks pristine, and she doesn't actually exist. Mitten has always been good with subtle facial expressions, and quite a lot of this book relies on body language, as the characters are partly defined by how they move - Huffman is deliberate; Randal Horne, the doctor called in to consult on an odd case, moves with a grace that both belies his past and shows how far he's come since then; Ian Hogarth, a forensic specialist and joker, almost crashes through the comic. Bill Crabtree's muted colors help turn this into a "serious" comic, which, because we're dealing with an invisible man, is important. When the book uses standard horror/thriller tropes (Huffman "feels" someone in her apartment even though she can't see anyone - see the "invisible man" part), Mitten shows why comic artists have to be better than movie directors, because comic artists can't rely on music to build tension, nor even jumpy camera work. They have to rely on static "camera" shots, so Mitten stays in the hallway when Huffman walks into her bedroom and takes her clothing off, turning us into voyeurs, much like the invisible man himself. When the cat notices that someone else is in the room with them, Mitten gives us a close-up of the cat freaking out, making its eyes far larger than normal, heightening the tension. At that point, we don't know of the existence of the invisible man, so the confusion that Huffman feels is our confusion too. Only after finding out that someone is invisible can we go back and see what Mitten is doing in those pages.

DeFilippis and Weir write good mysteries, so the fact that someone has figured out how to turn himself invisible shouldn't be something that gets out of their control. They set up the mystery and the characters well, so while Weir and DeFilippis tend to hit all the beats of a "horror mystery," they also have a good handle on what makes these things work. The final revelation isn't too shocking, but they build to it well.

I hope everyone picked up this FREE comic book last week, because Oni does a nice job with making sure that you have a complete issue to use as a guide for the rest of the series. The one problem I have with it is that they've already solicited issue #2, so perhaps retailers didn't pre-order it as much as they might have if people had already read this first issue and told their retailers to order more. You would think Oni would have issue #2 in this month's Previews, not last month's. Oh well - what do I know? Not much, according to some people!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Fatale #5 by Sean Phillips (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Ed Brubaker (writer). $3.50, 27 pgs, FC, Image.

I've written a lot about Phillips' art and even Stewart's colors before, but it's not a bad thing to do so again. Consider the first page of this comic, where Stewart colors the flashback in deep blues while the present panels are founded on indigo, basically. Why are the flashbacks in blue? There doesn't seem to be any rational reason for it except to indicate that they are flashbacks - the light in the room comes solely from candles, so there's no blue light source ... except that Stewart realizes that the yellow flame of the candles fits very well with the deep blue of the rest of the panel, and the result is a beautiful, chilling scene. Stewart changes colors again when Booker hits Jo, shifting from neutral purple to violent red. Stewart does the same thing later in the book, when Booker gets violent with Mr. Bishop and his goons. It's an old trick, but it works very well.

Phillips is, of course, very good, and he does something very clever in this issue. Booker's face is almost always obscured by shadow, and only when he dies and (sort of) redeems himself does Phillips allow us to see his entire face. It's a neat trick - Booker is a crooked cop, so of course he has darkness in him, but in this comic, he's doing horrible things for an ultimately noble purpose, so Phillips makes sure that, visually, we see this. As Brubaker is also using standard horror tropes in this book, Phillips does a good job with static images showing, for instance, the transformation of Mr. Bishop, which in a movie could be done with CGI. A comic book artist has to rely on panel changes, and Phillips' use of shadows doesn't change the fact that it's a fairly normal cliché in horror books, but it does help. You'll notice in the Airwolf panel, Phillips makes sure that Hank and Jo are diminutive compared to the looming shadow. This is one of those "normal" things that takes on added significance because of the situation - of course the shadow will be long and looming because of where the light source is, but given that the characters are in a dank sewer and bad guys are trying to kill them, the shadow is creepier. Phillips also gives us a good scene at the end, where Brubaker once again indulges in some horror clichés with the crazy man knowing things the sane man doesn't, as Nick visits his dad in an asylum and Phillips shows the older man turn from fear to hysteria in the blink of an eye. Nick's shadowed face in the final panel of the book mirrors the darkness in Booker's soul, as Nick, like Booker, has no idea what kind of trouble he's in.

I've read some reviews of this book in which the reviewers just aren't "feeling it," and that's fine. Brubaker does seem to rely a bit more on clichés with regard to the horror in this comic than he does on the pulp tropes in Criminal, but that doesn't mean he doesn't give us interesting, morally compromised characters trying to get out of a fucked-up situation. I can take or leave the monsters and weirdness, because Brubaker does a good job putting the screws on his characters, no matter who the "bad guys" are.

Anyway, this is the end of the "book one," so a trade should be out soon. Pick it up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1 by Bernie Wrightson (artist), Steve Niles (writer), and Robbie Robbins (letterer). $3.99, 19 pgs (plus a 3-pg Niles/Wrightson interview and a 6-pg excerpt from the original novel), BW, IDW.

Bernie Wrightson mentions in an interview at Niles' site that he broke his wrist twenty years ago and he had to adapt how he draws. He says that "some of the control" he used to have "disappeared" and he couldn't use a pen anymore and he has to rely on a brush. If you page through this particular comic, you might be a bit amazed to think of Wrightson having any problems with "control." This is a stunning comic, gorgeously drawn, with amazing details and magnificent layouts. Wrightson gives us a monster, sure, but one both more horrific and more human than the one we think of from the movies. His monster is grotesque, but he also has a sly sense of humor about what kind of creature he is, especially in the early pages, which show him in the circus, accepted by the "freaks" around him (the book is set during the Depression, and I have to think Niles had Tod Browning's Freaks in the back of his mind when he wrote this). The monster is happy at the circus, but when the book goes back in time, Wrightson shows him more as the tortured creature we think of, as this comic briefly glosses the original novel and picks up after it has ended. Wrightson's drawings of the monster in the Arctic, surrounded by waves that appear almost as mountains, so carefully are they delineated, are astonishing. The flashback scenes to the monster's origin (yes, a flashback within a flashback) are darker, colored more like charcoal, than the scenes in which the monster wrestles with the ghost of Victor Frankenstein in the far North. Wrightson draws a primeval landscape in which the monster argues with the ghost - the characters are finely inked, while the rocks around them lack holding lines but are heavily shadowed, adding both weight and mass to the landscape. The beauty of the black-and-white also helps Wrightson's lines stand out even more. The book is an artistic masterpiece, and it's something you can look at and appreciate even if you ignore the story. The story is okay, but it's the art that makes it worthy or your hard-earned ducats.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Higher Earth #1 by Francesco Biagini (artist), Andrew Crossley (colorist), Sam Humphries (writer), and Ed Dukeshire (letterer). $1.00, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

I mentioned this when it was solicited - Boom! didn't list an artist in Previews, which I found odd. They've done it again for a different title, too, and I don't get it. I guess Biagini isn't a household name, so maybe that's it, but I can't imagine that when this was solicited, they didn't know who was drawing it. Could that be it? That would be weird. The solicits proclaimed that Sam Humphries wrote it, but I don't think Humphries is any more of a household name than Biagini. Boom! made a big deal about the eight (8!) covers for this first issue, which is fine (stupid, but fine), but I really don't know why they shorted Biagini like that. Did they really not know who the artist was on this book in March?

It's too bad, because Biagini is the main reason to get this comic. The story is fine, but we don't get much of it - some dude arrives on a planet that we later find is a version of Earth, rescues a girl named Heidi from some masked dude, and they head to a different Earth through a portal, and the dude knows a version of Heidi from a different Earth, presumably his. It's all set-up, but that's fine. It's a first issue.

Biagini, however, is quite good. He has a slightly cartoony style that works for the book, because while it's a serious book, there's still a robot bear, so, you know, not too serious. While Biagini's character designs are nothing to write home about - the main dude could easily have stepped out of a 1990s Image book, while Heidi lives in a harsh, unforgiving environment where she has to scavenge for stuff but she still rocks a belly shirt. Biagini's strengths come from really nice layouts and strong action scenes. He uses the action to break up panels - one border early on is the dude's sword, which cuts through someone's neck but also breaks up the panels. The fight between the dude and the masked dude (these guys really need names) is short but nicely kinetic, and Biagini knows how to use perspective to add perceived motion to his work (see below). He's not afraid to distort characters and panels to speed the action along. Crossley's colors work well, too - the sky where Heidi lives is pinkish, implying twilight or pollution (we're never sure which) but allowing Crossley to cast the characters in different hues as they move through the world. Heidi has red hair, which works well with her green clothes. Later, when the masked dude confronts her, the twilight of the sky puts Heidi into deeper shadows, contrasting with the shiny red armor of the masked dude. Both Biagini and Crossley do a good job making this book more exciting than it should be, given that Humphries gives us the bare basics of a story.

Boom! wisely charged one thin dollar for this comic, and I know my retailer, for instance, ordered quite a few of them. If you're looking something a little different than, I don't know, Avengers Assemble, check this out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Morning Glories #18 by Joe Eisma (artist), Alex Sollazzo (colorist), Nick Spencer (writer), and Johnny Lowe (letterer). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Image.

There are a couple of nice set pieces in this issue: early on, we get two fights at two different times (one in the present, the other in the past), and Eisma does a really good job keeping the flow of the fights even though he's switching back and forth with every panel. In the fight in the present, the "final blow" is not seen, because the panel that precedes one combatant dropping to the ground is the "final blow" of the fight set in the past. It's a nice trick, because it allows Eisma to draw just the most "exciting" parts of each fight but also give us a full picture of both of them. Later, we get a scene with two characters having sex (fret not - we don't see anything that might scar your delicate sensibilities). Again, Eisma (and Spencer) begin with a flashback to the past, when the bully - Guillaume - suddenly decides to kiss the victim - Hisao (see below). Then, we return to the present, where Eisma shows them getting together. With the unfortunate exception that they don't seem to get naked (sack up, creators!), it's a nice love scene, something we rarely get in comics. It's not violent (which is, unfortunately, what many people do in fiction/entertainment - it has to be so passionate that things get broken!), but tender, and it shows how far Guillaume has come - he no longer wants to hide his sexuality behind a bully's demeanor. He's still a bully, to be sure, but one who's comfortable with his sexuality. Eisma does a really nice job linking the fighting with the latent sexuality - boys who don't know how to express themselves emotionally do so through fighting. It's significant, perhaps, that Guillaume kicks Hisao in the groin when he wants to win his fight.

I don't know if Sollazzo was really thinking about it too much when he shifted colors in the panel below from the dusty brown of the desert (which is where this scene occurs) to a purple background - he uses the same color scheme in other, less-sexually-charged panels, so maybe that's all it is, but it seems somewhat ... unfortunate. Still, that panel is a good indication of how good Eisma can be. Hisao's expression is surprised, of course, while Guillaume keeps his eyes closed, but the kiss itself is awkward, as it would be. The kiss on the next page, when the boys are older and readier for it, is much better. I'm not sure if every artist would have done that, but I'm glad Eisma did.

And hey! it's another long issue of Morning Glories, drawn entirely by the same artist that every other issue has been drawn by! What a revelation!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Mystery in Space #1. "Verbinsky Doesn't Appreciate It" by Ramon Bachs (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Duane Swierczynski (writer), and Dezi Sienty (letterer); "Transmission" by Davide Gianfelice (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), Andy Diggle (writer), and Travis Lanham (letterer); "Asleep to See You" by Ming Doyle (artist/writer), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer); "Here Nor There" by Fred Harper (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Ann Nocenti (writer), and Clem Robins (letterer); "The Elgort" by Michael Wm. Kaluta (artist), Eva de la Cruz (colorist), Nnedi Okorafor (writer), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer); "Breeching" by Francesco Trifogli (artist), Cris Peter (colorist), Steve Orlando (writer), and Carlos M. Mangual (letterer); "Contact High" by Sebastián Fiumara (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), Robert Rodi (writer), and Sal Cipriano (letterer); "The Dream Pool" by Kyle Baker (artist), Kevin McCarthy (writer/layouter), and Pat Brosseau (letterer); "Alpha Meets Omega" by Mike Allred (artist/writer), Laura Allred (colorist), and Todd Klein (letterer). $7.99, 70 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Hot damn, I love these anthology books that DC keeps putting out! Eight bucks for a bunch of cool stories and creators that don't always get the chance to show off, and even though this is a slightly weaker effort, story-wise, I still love seeing the cool stuff comics people can do when they're given a page count and little else to restrain them!

None of the stories in this book are all that great, unfortunately. Swierczynski's is tragic, sort of, but also predictable. Diggle's is also obvious and slightly groan-worthy at the end. Doyle's is sweet but also obvious. Nocenti's is clever - in terms of the story, it's probably one of the two best in the book. Okorafor's story reads like a guide to exotic animals, which seems partly the point. I don't get Orlando's in the least ... well, that's not true, because I get what happens to the one main character, but I don't get the ending at all. Rodi's is the other good one, not because it's wonderfully clever, but because he gives us a strange love triangle. McCarthy's story is, like too many of the others, fairly obvious. Allred's is just weird.

However, the stories aren't just about their ideas, they're about the art! Bachs inks himself, and that makes his work a bit rougher, which works for the blue-collar aspect of "Verbinsky Doesn't Appreciate It." Gianfelice smooths his lines out enough to make Diggle's story more sterile, something it needs very much. While Doyle's story doesn't make too much sense, her art gives the forced tragedy of the writing more heft, and she packs a lot of emotion into the drawings. Harper's cartoony art fits Nocenti's goofy quantum physics story nicely, and he does a very nice job with the final, creepy image. Kaluta gets to design a bunch of alien animals, and he does a good job with them, plus he has a wonderful transition from the penultimate page to the final one, when the main character's face is framed by flowers like a halo as she looks out on a horrific scene. Trifogli does a wonderful job with Orlando's weird story, as the main character is forced to fight a horse-man hybrid in a terrifying dreamscape, and as silly as it sounds, the art makes it amazingly intense. I would love it if Fiumara does more comics that I want to read, because his art is superb, as his amazing details make the world of Rodi's story come to life while his slightly cartoony style doesn't let it become too ponderous. I miss Kyle Baker's cartoonish art, so "The Dream Pool" was a welcome reminder that his recent work (which, as he mentioned when he came by here a while back, was what Marvel wanted) isn't the only thing he's capable of now. Allred is ... well, Allred. Laura Allred can color a damned comic, can't she?

Unlike some of the other Vertigo anthologies, none of the writing in this book is really excellent - perhaps the writers are more used to writing horror, and these stories are somewhat more "Twilight Zone" than science fiction. But man, the art is nice. Is that enough to get it? It was for me!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Omega Comics Presents volume 2 #1. "Bluetick and Redbone: In Good Spirits" by mpMann (artist), Alex De-Gruchy (writer), and Adam Pruett (letterer); "Down Time" by Justin Castaneda (artist), Russell Lissau (writer), and Steve Wallace (letterer). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, Pop! Goes the Icon.

Frequent commenter and one-man conglomerate Pj Perez was nice enough to send me the first issue of the second volume of Omega Comics Presents, which is now in glorious full color. That was awfully swell of him. Despite being a small operation, Pop! Goes the Icon puts out some really nice comics. Now Perez has to make the long, long trek from Las Vegas to Phoenix for the convention at the end of this month so I can say hello to him in person!

This issue features two stories. In the second one, a hapless super-villain tries to figure out what to do with his life, decides to take a job, and of course screws it up. Lissau has a breezy, goofy manner of telling the story, with a clever twist (or two, I guess) at the end, while Castaneda's basic, cartoony style fits the script perfectly. It's a silly story, sure, but a fun one.

De-Gruchy writes a fairly standard genre piece in the first story - two thieves take a job to steal $100,000 from a guy who's selling a rare bottle of whiskey to a local gangster, but things go wrong fairly quickly. It's a classic example of the first rule of pop culture (I'd tell you what that is, but then I'll give the whole thing away), but it's entertaining enough. Mann, as usual, is very good. He gives us all kinds of interesting characters. Bluetick and Redbone are decent enough rednecks, ready for a job that involves a lot of violence while remaining basically children. Brad Hale is a suave douchebag, with a pencil-thin mustache and slicked-back hair - Redbone mentions that he "looks like a 1930s movie star," by which Mann seems to mean Errol Flynn. Heidi, the woman who sets up the job, is white-trash sexy, which is a tough look to pull off but which Mann manages well. Mann shows that Redbone and Bluetick are such good friends that they can simply exchange looks and know what the other is thinking. Plus, he colors the story wonderfully - it's basically tan, green, and black, which is an odd combination but makes the desert town (the story is set in Texas) more "desert-y" and also makes the few splashes of different colors (like Heidi's red shirt) stand out more prominently. Plus, you can never go wrong with Zip-A-Tone!

As with most (not all, but most) of the Pop! Goes the Icon books, this is a nice offering featuring interesting stories by creators who ought to have a higher profile. I'm sure Perez wouldn't mind a bit if you moseyed over to the web site and bought this sucker!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The Tick #100 ("Nigh-Invincible") by Les McClane (artist), [Bob Polio (colorist)], and Benito Cereno (writer). $6.99, 24 pgs (plus a 19-pg "history of the Tick"), FC, New England Comics Press.

I have bought one issue of the new Tick series by Cerano and McClane, and it was quite good. So why haven't I bought more? I don't know - I was kind of late jumping on, and I figured I'd wait for the trade. This issue seems to finish some of the dangling plot threads from the rest of the new series and introduces a new direction, so maybe now NEC will pump out a trade. That would be nice!

So why is Invincible in this comic? Well, Martin of Mars needs a vicious and strong creature to fight the Tick, so he reaches across the multiverse for a Viltrumite, but unfortunately comes up with Mark (he figures out that Mark isn't evil because he doesn't have a mustache, which is pretty funny). So there's a big fight. And yes, a character dies. Even though Mark is enjoying himself in the Tick's world because it's so goofy, when the character dies, he says, "That ... that wasn't funny at all." I don't think Cerano's tone shift is entirely successful, but otherwise, it's a pretty good comic.

McClane is wonderful as usual, but his line work is really enhanced by the coloring of this comic, which I assume McClane did himself (no colorist is credited, and McClane is listed as "artist," so I think I'm on firm ground here). [Edit: Of course, I'm not: McClane stops by in the comments to explain that Bob Polio, who's listed in the book as "art director," does the coloring. Dang it!] McClane knows that the Tick inhabits a world full of goofy characters, so he goes as bright as he possibly can, using primary colors very often and making sure the backgrounds are as colorful as the main characters. Arthur's costume doesn't lend itself to bright colors, so McClane makes sure everyone else wears bright clothing and even someone like Chairface has a bright red cape on. Martin's glorious costume/skin is amazing - he's green, which is a good place to start, and he has bright red boots (with yellow trim), a bright red "skirt" (the kind Roman soldiers wore) (also with yellow trim), bright red wrist bands (also with yellow trim), bright blue gloves, a bright blue helmet and cape, and a bright yellow crest on the helmet. It's wonderful. McClane gives him all sorts of cool minions, including Gossamer (except he's green this time), and the double-page spread that satirizes Invincible's extreme violence is superb. McClane even does an excellent job with two characters whose eyes are covered, as you can see below when he manages to show surprise in Mark. McClane is good enough to blend the "seriousness" of Invincible with the goofiness of The Tick, and while I mentioned that the tone shift in the writing isn't perfect, in the art it's fine.

As I noted, at the back of the book is a fairly extensive publication history of the character, so if you're interested in getting into the character, go buy this and start reading! Like the other issue of The Tick that I bought, I enjoyed this. Maybe I'll have to start buying this in single issues. It's probably worth it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Wasteland #37 ("Ashes You Leave") by Justin Greenwood (artist), Matthew Razzano (toner), Antony Johnston (writer), and Douglas E. Sherwood (letterer). $3.99, 23 pgs, BW, Oni Press.

After six issues, I'm still not completely sold on Greenwood's art. I originally picked up Wasteland because I liked the concept and I liked Mitten's art - I wasn't too familiar with Johnston's work - but after Mitten left, I stuck with it because I think Johnston is doing a marvelous job with the setting and the characters. Greenwood hasn't wowed me, but he does a solid job with the art. I wish that he would let himself go a bit, and this might have to do with Razzano's tones - it's strange to say this about a black-and-white book, but the "coloring" seems to smooth the pencils out a bit too much. The characters look a bit too clean, and in this kind of comic, that's actually a detriment. Greenwood's style and the tones also takes some of the personality out of the faces - Father Affon, for instance, is an old man with lots of wrinkles in his face, but he's not craggy enough - the wrinkles are just lines with no definition to them. Greenwood does a fair job with Michael, perhaps because he has a scruffy beard and Greenwood makes his brow more prominent, allowing him to shadow his eyes a bit more, but Abi is too "pretty," for lack of a better word - she too looks too clean, and while I like that Greenwood has made her face angular, because it seems to be starker than when Mitten drew her, the lack of definition in her face makes her look less like she's trekking through the desert and more like she's a slightly disheveled soccer mom. There are few panels that make me think that Greenwood is capable to "roughening" things up a bit - when Zakk is enraged at one point, Greenwood twists his face nicely, and the entire sequence, from anger to sadness to rage, shows well in his face - but he needs to do it more often. This book shouldn't look as smooth as it does. I have no problems with Greenwood's storytelling, and he translates Johnston's scripts well, but I do hope he starts to scratch a bit more and that Razzano doesn't overwhelm his pencil work. People often complain about "too many lines" in some artists' work. Ironically, I think Greenwood could use a few more in his.

Either way, Wasteland is still a good comic book. It was a bit better when Mitten was drawing it, but back then it was consistently one of the best comics out there. A slight drop in quality doesn't mean it's crap now!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf (artist/writer). $24.99, 196 pgs, BW, First Second Books.

This nice-looking book is about Astrid Kirchherr and her relationship with the Beatles in Hamburg in the early 1960s. It looks very keen, and I'm looking forward to reading it.


Lots of little stuff from around the Internet, plus the political bombshell of the week!

First: This magazine gets to the bottom of a persistent rumor: Did Craig James actually kill five hookers while a student at SMU? If you don't know what I'm talking about, Craig James was a famous running back at SMU in the 1980s, and later he worked at ESPN. Apparently someone edited his Wikipedia page to read that he killed five hookers while at SMU, and the meme took off (many people regard James as a bit of a douchebag, which may be the reason so many people ran with it). In that link, a person from the magazine calls James' campaign manager (he's running for Senate in Texas) and got to the bottom of it. The interview is hilarious, but the campaign manager handles herself wonderfully.

TBS is picking up Cougar Town now that ABC has cancelled it. That's pretty cool. Cougar Town is very funny, and it's a shame it never really took off. It's much funnier than Modern Family, for instance (and I like Modern Family). Good for TBS!

The Fight Club Facebook page doesn't get it. Damn, that's funny.

Hey, who wants to buy sexy Power Ranger dresses? All the chicks are getting them!

So there was President Obama, saying he thinks homosexuals should be able to marry each other like they're actual human beings or something. I'm not going to be one of those people who thinks he should have made this statement years ago (even though, apparently, he did) because it's so goddamned obvious, because my thinking is that if anyone finally admits something that is goddamned obvious, we shouldn't be scornful of them, we should be thankful that they realized it. I have mentioned in the past that politics angers me because no stance is 100% correct, but people act like it is. FotB Rob Schmidt mentioned that gay marriage is one of those things where there's clearly a right side and a wrong side, but I made the point that gay marriage is a social issue, not a political one, even though people have tried to politicize it. Either way, he's right - there's absolutely no reason why gay people shouldn't have the exact same rights as every one else, and anyone who argues against gay marriage is, sorry, wrong. I have never heard one argument against gay marriage that makes sense. My daughter's PT, who's very conservative, is against gay marriage, but here's the thing: he's only against calling it "marriage." He has no problem with gay people having the exact same right as married couples in every way, but he doesn't like using the word "marriage." I tried once - ONCE - to convince him that was stupid, but because he's a very good PT and a nice guy and what he thinks about gay marriage has nothing to do with the way he helps my daughter, I dropped it. I remain convinced that the only reason anyone is against gay marriage - the ONLY reason - is because, if you'll pardon the crudeness, people do not like to think about one man sticking his penis in another man's butt. There is no logical reason to hate gay people for any reason, and I suspect that the "ick" factor is the only reason people are against anything gay. No one will ever admit that, of course, and they use the Bible and other "holy" texts to back up their bigotry, but it really comes down to that. For a lot of people, heterosexual sex is icky enough, but homosexual sex? YUCK!

I've been seeing some stories about Obama's announcement and how political it is. Of course it is, but it also seems that people think this is calculated to get him votes in November, to which I say, what? Whose votes will it secure? Surveys show that no more than 5% of the population self-identify as gay. I would hazard a guess that even if Obama didn't come out with this, 99.9% of gay people would vote for him. It's not that homosexuals are that homogeneous (see what I did there?), but the Republicans' record on gay rights is so terrible that even if you're a conservative on other things, I imagine that would drive you toward Obama. Liberals, even if they're upset that it took him so long, weren't going to abandon him even if he didn't say this. Apparently his support among a base of religious black voters has suffered because they don't agree with him, but even so, are they really going to abandon him in droves to vote for Mitt Romney? Maybe some of them will stay home, but I doubt if it will be too significant. Finally, if he's courting independents, surveys show that support for gay marriage is about split evenly. So that's a wash. I don't know how politically calculating this move really is. I think Obama has simply decided that it's time he joined the twenty-first century. Too bad far too many people are still living in the seventeenth! As for "traditional" marriage, it's worth once again pointing out what the "Scriptures" say about it, since so many people claim he's going against Scripture. Sarah couldn't get pregnant, so she urged Abraham, her husband, to bang one of his slaves to get her pregnant. Nice. Abraham wanted a wife for his son Isaac, so he sent a servant hundreds of miles to buy one, and the servant picked out Rebekah because she offered his camels some water. TRADITION! The Bible is full of shit like this. Which definition of traditional marriage should we follow?

Jesus, I can't believe it's 2012 and some people are still up in arms about this. What a ridiculous country we live in sometimes.

Speaking of humanity making me chuckle, apparently people are craving shawarma these days, mainly because fucking Iron Man told them to eat it. Holy fuck. People are sheep.

Last week I didn't list any ABBA albums among my top ten favorite albums, which is only because ABBA albums, unlike the ones I listed, don't really hang together all that well - they're collections of songs, sure, but I like albums that flow nicely as a holistic whole. It's part of the whole "Comics' Greatest Runs" debate we had a few years ago - some people think of runs as just a single creative team doing stories in a row, whether they're connected or not, while I think of runs are coherent wholes. Nobody's wrong or right, it's just a difference of opinion. So I don't think of any ABBA album that's great, but I love many, many ABBA songs. And here are my ten favorites! (And even if you hate ABBA, you should check out these videos just for the fashion. Oh, the fashion!)

1. "When All Is Said and Done" (The Visitors, 1981). This is from ABBA's last album, and you can hear both the triumph and sadness in Frida's voice as she sings. Her rich voice makes the sentimental lyrics come alive, while Benny's and Björn's music provides a nostalgic backing. Lyrically, it's one of ABBA's best, as it evokes friendships that have come through the fire and been strengthened by the years. ABBA couldn't have done this song earlier in their career, but as their days as a group came to an end, this becomes a beautiful paean to what holds us together as human beings. It's really a superb song.

2. "S.O.S." (ABBA, 1975). Benny's piano in D minor begins this song, and it sets a wonderful, tragic mood for ABBA's best broken hearts song (of which there are many, after all). Agnetha's wistful singing is made slightly more edgy because of her accent. The chorus is more upbeat, of course, but still yearning, and Björn's hard-edged guitar makes the song a bit more desperate. It's a surprisingly angry song, which makes it better than some of the other sad ABBA songs.

3. "Waterloo" (Waterloo, 1974). For a song that's basically about a woman not being able to hold back a man's advances, "Waterloo" is remarkably upbeat. I know it's probably not the best song to like, but I can't help it - the rollicking beat is too fun! Plus, they feel like they win when they lose! You can't go wrong with that!

4. "The Day Before You Came" (1982). I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of the cheesy Casio music of this song, but when the lyrics are so powerful, it doesn't matter. You might consider this a sad song, but it's not really - Agnetha sings about the terrible ennui she was suffering before she fell in love, implying that it is no longer the case. It is sad, though, because she sings for those people who are locked in a dreadful routine - "I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two/And at the time I never even noticed I was blue" - and can't see a way out. As the song moves along, the music does get better, building to a nice, powerful crescendo that at least hints of happiness to come.

5. "The Name of the Game" (The Album, 1977). This is another hauntingly beautiful song, as the ladies sing about yearning for love but not knowing if they can trust the object of their love. It's a complex song, both lyrically/vocally and musically, and it continues the shift from the looser, more carefree love songs of ABBA's early career to the more mature stuff they began in 1976 with Arrival. Here, Agnetha and Frida trade off lead vocals and harmonize wonderfully with each other, while Björn's jangly guitar evokes more folksy roots than ABBA usually shows.

6. "Kisses of Fire" (Voulez-Vous, 1979). When most people think of ABBA, they think disco, even though very few of their songs qualify as such, and most of those are on Voulez-Vous. This song, which ends the album, is very disco, but of course is less about dancing and more about the yearning people have for each other. It starts off so quietly and tenderly, with Agnetha almost whispering, and when the two ladies leap into the chorus, the tempo picks up and it does, yes, become more disco, with the great space-age keyboard accompaniment, but it remains a glorious song about the power of love.

7. "When I Kissed the Teacher" (Arrival, 1976). Here's another nice guitar-driven song, one that is completely inappropriate today but back in the Seventies, the 20th century's most awesome decade, didn't mean a thing. I mean, it's a song about a girl with a crush on her teacher, and let me tell you, as someone who has taught high school girls, this is something that is extremely serious and shouldn't be taken lightly. Yet our singer of this song kisses the teacher, everyone laughs, and the teacher just smiles. Part of the appeal of this song is the utter clash between the innocent music and the charming way Agnetha sings the song and the disturbing lyrics. "Gonna tell him I dream of him every night," indeed!

8. "Mamma Mia" (ABBA, 1975). Apparently, the ladies of ABBA can't help falling for the wrong guy, because they keep doing it! This is another ABBA song everyone knows, so I don't have to write much about it, but if you can get past the simpering lyrics (even though the vocals are strong), you get to the slightly eerie music, which makes it a bit more weird than your average 3-minute pop single.

9. "The Winner Takes It All" (Super Trouper, 1980). This is a heart-wrenching song, coming on the heels of Agnetha's divorce from Björn, and she sings it wonderfully. The lyrics are straight-forward but powerful, detailing, with tragic fatalism, a break-up and its messy aftermath, and while the music picks up later in the song, at its foundation is a beautiful piano part. It's a great song, made better because of what was going on with the group at the time.

10. "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" (1979). Another solid disco tune, one in which Agnetha simply wants what the title asks for - a man to "chase the shadows away." The music growls and lurks until the chorus, when it ramps up into a funkified romp. Like a lot of ABBA songs, it hints at more darkness than people give it credit for, as the woman in the song is so desperate for a man that it's unclear what exactly she'll do to get one, but it's also a nice, thick, disco dance song, as well.

My next five, in case you're wondering: "Under Attack," "As Good As New," "Take a Chance on Me," "On and On and On," and "Angeleyes." No, I'm not a huge fan of "Dancing Queen."

And so we reach the end of another fine week of comic booking. I hope everyone has a nice day and a good weekend, and be sure to give your mother a big hug, if in fact you actually like your mother. Not everyone does!

Powers of X #6's Variant Cover Foreshadows An Intergalactic Empire

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