8.30.06 Reviews

Kabuki: The Alchemy #7 (Marvel/ICON): This issue, aptly titled "The War of Art," continues to build this arc toward an impressive crescendo. David Mack is firing on all cylinders here, the Jae Lee cover is beautiful in its deceptively simple, aesthetically symmetrical design. Notice how Kabuki's hair flows down on the right, then sweeps up dramatically on the left creating yin/yang duality and balance. The inside front cover graphically depicts her progression and evolution from one "character" to the next, as she navigates phases of her own life. This issue exhibits the typical introspective nature it usually does, focuses on her settling into her new life, being able to identify and confront her true self, and even teases the long-awaited arrival of Akemi. I like how he poses the challenging dilemma of being able to identify your own identity. As if that wasn't delightful enough, in the middle of the issue Mack offers up a writing seminar. He frames it by citing Pressfield's "The War of Art," (you heard right, *not* Sun Tzu's "The Art of War") that deals with the age old dilemma confronting artists in any medium - inspiration vs. creativity. Most fledgling artisans feel that they must wait for inspiration prior to the creative process commencing. Veterans in any artistic medium know that you must first attempt to be creative and through that process your muse will find you and spark inspiration. Pressfield & Mack deliver it this way: "If you do the work, the muse will show up. You don't wait for the muse to show up first... It's not the writing that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write." And that daily struggle, that itself, is "The War of Art." There are numerous iterations of this from Mack himself embedded in the narrative, as well as related thoughts from Ghandi and others. Long-time readers, especially those that followed me from Wacky Hijinx online reviews, know that I've been a fan of David Mack's from about halfway through his first Kabuki arc, Circle of Blood. I'll say it again though, David Mack is brilliant. Kabuki: Volume 5: Metamorphosis remains one of my favorite books of all time. They should be studying him in college campuses across the country, seeking to understand how his offerings will influence the future, having altered the traditional comic book paradigm for years to come. There isn't one artistic medium that he hasn't perfected and adapted to graphic storytelling. His blend of photography, collage, traditional pencils, infusions of culture, and imaginative layouts shatter the conventions, boundaries, and confines of the medium. His work has transcended comics and become something unique, he's created a totally original art form. Grade A+.

Note: David was also kind enough to run my review of Kabuki: The Alchemy #6 in the letter column of this issue, so be sure to check it out! You'll be supporting one of the best comics currently on the shelves and see the Marvel Comics debut of 13 Minutes! ;-)

52: Week Seventeen (DC): Problem #1: Tyops. Oops, I mean typos. There seems to be at least one every issue. Right on the second page, the word "from" should read "form." It's little things like this that fuel my suspicious mind and make me think Editors are not doing "true" editing, but merely running docs through spell check software. I suppose that items like this are realistic enough problems when you're trying to keep a weekly book on schedule, if anything a lot of "lessons learned" on this experiment. Problem #2: Ridiculously unrealistic dialogue. Animal Man blurts out "A week can be a lifetime in a confined space when you guys keep bickering like we're doing some post-modern sitcom in hell!" Now I now that Buddy Baker is a pretty casual and eccentric guy, but really, nobody fucking talks like that. Problem #3: Horrible mis-characterization. Starfire gives the grand soliloquy "that sounds incredibly fatalistic and presupposes a fundamentally benign underlying order, which I fail to see anywhere in the chaos of existence," and later touches on "existential isolation trauma " where the "immensity of scale can overwhelm your mind." Are you kidding me? Yeah, Kory is a Tamaranian Princess and all, but since when did she become Friedrich Nietschze and start contemplating man's existential dilemma vis-a-vis the vast void of open space? The Morrison helmed dialogue is really jumping out here - and not in a good way. Problem #4: Too much techno-babble. Adam Strange word vomits that "even with Devilance's blade as a power source, the warbird's running a short-space sub-light engine. In theory we might make it home after a few decades only to find a couple million years would have passed thanks to time dilation effects. We could do it with a hyperlux multidrive, but we don't have one!" Oh. Is *that* what's happening? This also smacks negatively of Morrison. Is he just stretched too thin? Has he started phoning this stuff in? I mean, he's just coming off of Seven Soldiers, has the Wildcats/Authority relaunch to gear up for, is pushing out Batman and All-Star Superman, and on top of that is one of the principal architects of 52! That's a lot to juggle. Problem #5: Contradictory tone. I'm referring to Lobo here. Doesn't the inclusion of this played-for-laughs character devalue and diminish the supposed gravitas that these space-faring scenes are purporting to have? This defeats its own purpose. Problem #6: Basic science. Last time I checked with Mr. Swartwood (my 6th grade science teacher), it was impossible to smoke a cigar in the vacuum of space. Fire sorta' needs oxygen. Grade F.

Solo #12 (DC): And the noble failure that was Solo comes to a close with an issue highlighting Brendan McCarthy. An extremely robust sampling of his manic work punctuated by a Batman piece about lost commissioned work from artist Lionel Percival. The quote that really sums up his 1960's counterculture ethic reads: "I was a safe hipster, lost in iPoddery, designer books, and green tea... one day I noticed the country waking up again. Something decent had slipped past the sniper's gun. Quickly, we took power and turned bad things around. Why didn't we do this sooner?" If that isn't a bold call for revolution in this country, then I don't know what is. Sadly, issues of Solo toward the end of the run were not as strong as earlier ones, and the project seemed to fizzle out with low sales, lack of any critical buzz - good or bad, and quietly exits stage left, a brilliant concept with flawed execution. The thing that makes it special and unique (rotating creators) is also the very thing that made it difficult for the retailers I spoke with to sell - variety that uncontrollably peaks and valleys with quality and consumer interest. There was also zero marketing push on the title from DC. The idea for the series itself will always remain Grade A+ in my heart. As the series whimpers to a close, this issue checks in with Grade B.

X-Factor #10 (Marvel): Nothing that new to say about this title, I'm even tired of hearing myself say these things. I love Peter David's writing. He gives the characters attitude, an edgy sort of grace, has fun, and knows when to hit a serious or surprise beat in the script. The art however, is killing this title. Here we go again, with not one, but *two* new artists this issue who I've never heard of and we'll probably never see again. It's a constant battle for me to stay engaged in the story, I'm being pushed out by these rough jumps in artistic traction. Any one of these artists would probably suffice. Ryan Sook was my favorite. I grew to like Dennis Calero's style, I could probably get used to Renato Arlem's style with enough sweet-talking, and I hated Roy Allen Martinez, who looked like a bad Image clone from the 90's. But when I'm constantly having to adjust every single issue, it makes me want to throw up my hands in disgust and just give up. We're approaching a point of diminishing return. It already prevented me from purchasing the hardcover collection of the first arc. As much as I liked it, I just keep thinking, well the art is all over the map, and *shrug* - it will probably get cancelled by issue 20 anyway. What a sad commentary on the industry. And I don't really even blame the creators, it's more the Marvel Editorial team. They probably consider this a "second tier" X-Book, despite it being probably the best written of all the X-Books. Yes, you heard right, I think it's certainly on par with Joss Whedon's Astonishing in terms of strength of writing alone. And that's a shame that they've chosen to adopt that attitude. The emotional rollercoaster of the inconsistent art is downright dismissive and disrespectful to fans that are trying really hard to stay loyal to what would otherwise be a thoroughly entertaining time. Grade B-.

All-Star Superman #5 (DC): Was this book delayed? I feel like it's been forever and I have no idea what Clark and Lex are referencing in their discussion. This is basically an extended intimidation session in which Lex methodically insinuates that Clark knows more than he's letting on about Superman. The issue really takes off when Parasite is used as a catalyst for a prison riot as he's searching for an intense power source, and absorbing the power, that just happens to be Clark. When I hear about the possibility of Moby Dick being recited at a high enough frequency to become a sonic drill capable of carving away rock, this is the *good* Grant Morrison zany techno-babble, unlike that tripe we were getting up in 52. He also offers up a brilliant denoument to the thread of Lex telling Clark he's killing Superman by overcharging his solar batteries. This comes in tandem with a spectacular sequence from Frank Quitely as Clark literally navigates the River Styx to the netherworld by a hot boatman chic named "Nasty." Yes, this is the good Grant Morrison. He's ushering in the age of what I'd like to term "thoughtful superhero comics." This issue also contains a wonderful multi-page spread for the new WildStorm relaunch. Grade A.

Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse #1 & 2 (IDW): Yeah, I didn't buy this book. Issue two came out this week and I thumbed through it. It looked good. I searched the back issues in my local comic shop and even found a pristine copy of the first issue. Wanted to get them both, as I've been hearing good things about this book and thought I might give it a try. Then I noticed the $3.99 price tag. With tax, that's like $8.66 for two issues. I think it's ridiculous that for half the price, $1.99, I can buy Image's Fell, get equally strong Ben Templesmith art, no ads, and a Warren Ellis script. I passed on Wormwood. If Image keeps up the $1.99 format (currently offered with their Fell and Casanova titles), they may have a consumer shifting phenomenon on their hands, the likes of which the industry hasn't seen. Go for it, guys!


Personal Marketshare

I spent a couple of hours recently cataloguing my entire collection - by publisher. I thought this would be an interesting experiment to see where exactly my comic book dollars were going. I think that understanding which companies you're supporting and what share of your personal "market" they possess is interesting in and of itself from a business perspective. Here are the results in terms of total percentage of my collection, along with some casual observations. Note: Keep in mind, we're talking about hundreds of books, so for my own personal sanity, lines of books were grouped together with their parent company. For example, DC Comics would contain entries for their imprints of Vertigo, Wildstorm, etc.

DC Comics: 23%
Dark Horse: 15%
Oni Press: 15%
Image: 14%
Marvel: 13%
Fantagraphics: 5%
Drawn & Quarterly: 3%
Top Shelf: 2%
IDW: 2%
Pantheon Books: 2%
Archangel Studios: 2%
Slave Labor Graphics: .08%
Virgin Comics: .08%
Burlyman Entertainment: .08%
NBM/ComicsLit: .08%
AiT/PlanetLar: .08%

* I wasn't too terribly surprised that DC Comics came out on top. I really did grow up as a "DC kid" and really didn't find my Marvel legs until late high school or early college. The Vertigo & Wildstorm imprints didn't hurt either.

* Conversely, I was very suprised that Dark Horse, Oni, and Image all edged Marvel out of the #2 slot. I was thinking going into it that Marvel would be running a close second. While Image was sort of all over the map content wise (and that's no criticism, just the opposite in fact, bravo diversity!), the Hellboy & BPRD trades from Dark Horse added up, as did 10 hardcovers of Queen & Country from Oni Press.

* Also interesting is that the high volume of DC Comics titles are predominantly ongoing series, meaning loose "floppy" issues. I have surprisingly few collected editions from DC. As I scan my bookshelf, there are numerous Marvel hardcovers, Alias and Iron Man: Extremis being some recent examples.

* The so called "Big 2" (DC Comics & Marvel) comprise a mere 36%, while the next 3 "second tier" publishers (Dark Horse, Image, and Oni Press) comprise 44%, nearly half of my buying power.

* I was... proud, I guess is the word, that Fantagraphics had a strong showing of 5% of my entire collection. Tony Millionaire, Jordan Crane, Sammy Harkham - take a bow guys!

Obviously there's an endless number of ways one could dissect this. I could further analyze my buying habits and break it down by genre, separating percentages of superhero, spy, western, romance, etc. I could do format, black & white vs. color, hardcover, softcover, single issues, oversized, etc. I could look at writers, artists, etc. Perhaps in a future installment.

But remember, they're just numbers. I think it was Samuel Clemens who said "there are lies, damn lies... and statistics."

The Comic Book Corps

One year ago, my cousin Jacob and his wife Anna decided to join the Peace Corps. After graduating from Fullerton State University here in California (Orange County) and becoming teachers, they taught for a year and quickly got a taste of disillusionment from the American public school system and a handful of ungrateful children. After whizzing through the application, selection, and background process, they were given an intense course in Mandarin and rushed to Yibin University in Sichuan Province to teach English to Chinese kids.

One year into their 2-year tour, it seems to be meeting their ideal vision of teaching. In addition to the children wanting to learn, eager to attend school, and absorbing all things Western, Jacob and Anna are encouraged to expose them to a wide spectrum of American Culture. Are you following, yet? American Culture? They're teaching the Engligh language? With books and other various tools?

Yes! I did it. Every few months I send Jacob and Anna a care package with microwave popcorn, their favorite snack foods that they're unable to obtain in rural China, back issues of Esquire Magazine, and of course, a healthy pile of comic books! I've sent issues of the new Green Lantern, Astonishing X-Men, Blacksad, SPX 2005, all sorts of random stuff I have laying around. In addition to entertaining my cousins and being passed around virally to the other Peace Corps Volunteers, they actually use the books in their classes. Here, let Jacob explain it...

"The comics have been great for my classes and they came just in time for this past week's classes. In my Oral English classes, I had a pop culture topic scheduled, so we read through the comics as a finale to the lecture... and in my phonetics classes, I taught them about INTERJECTIONS!!! KRR-UUU-NNCH... FWUUUUSHHH! Ah, it was so awesome! Plus, I've had a couple of kids come into the office who are all about reading them... I have you guys to thank for this week's help. I took pictures so I'll email them to you soon, good stuff."

How cool is that? In addition to being a valuable learning tool for English language skills and Western Pop Culture, kids are actually coming into the makeshift "library" Jacob has created during office hours just to read them because they're hooked! I'm continuing to send them care packages containing comics, because if even one of those kids gets hooked on the medium, or better yet, goes on to become a creator, then that's worthwhile. I've been giving away books I no longer want to own to my friends and coworkers for years. Why not extend that influence internationally when I have an in like this?

I'm putting together another box to send and have the following books set aside. Keep in mind, I'm not specifically buying books for this purpose, these are just "leftovers" that I have laying around the house;

Uptight #1 (Fantagraphics): This is Jordan Crane's new ongoing series. A nice sample of a black and white indy title.
The Goon #11 & 12 (Dark Horse): Picked these up for .24 cents each at the Lee's Comics 24th Anniversary Sale. Few better horror/monster comics out there.
DMZ #6, 7, 10 (DC/Vertigo): Been tossing out issues of the second arc to family as I wait for the trade. Some interesting politics and also wanted something from the slightly "darker" Vertigo line.
Manhunter #1-25 (DC): Yup, the whole run. Thought I'd include a superhero title, but didn't want something all that mainstream. Also like giving the kids an entire run of a book.
Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 2 (Oni Press): This is the softcover trade, since I recently upgraded to the hardcover collection of this series. Spy stuff!


8.23.06 Reviews

Supermarket #4 (IDW): So, Beta's car is clearly a stick shift as depicted in the art. And obviously no self-respecting boy racer would have anything but. Yet, in one panel the gauge display clearly shows the P, R, N, D, 1, 2, 3 that only automatic transmission rides have. That goof and quibble aside, this was a great wrap up to a solid mini-series from Brian Wood and artist Kristian. They do redeem their automotive dissonance with a brilliant line about "the best of late 90's American-built Japanese automotive technology" being nothing and unable to "beat those German beasts back there" in reference to some MBZ's in hot pursuit. Striking visuals (check the Porno Swedes in their Range Rovers!) paired with small little truths that are laced throughout the adventurous narrative. This futuristic and distinct vision that blends paranoia, thoughtful youth, car culture, organized crime, and a Run-Lola-Run freneticism definitely grew on me with repeated readings and I'll certainly be picking up the forthcoming collected edition. Grade A-.

52: Week Sixteen (DC): I really had to suspend disbelief here. There are thousands of people in the crowd watching the marriage ceremony of Black Adam and Isis, yet Renee Montoya jumps on the shoulders of The Question and just happens to spot the bomber? And that's after the fact that she miraculously realizes there even *is* a bomber due to a pretty loose clue. And then Adam isn't even aware that there was a fatality at the ceremony? Wouldn't an uber-micro-managerial ruler be briefed on such things if not directly present? Wouldn't security be pretty tight, the streets lined with secret police types? How did Renee and Charlie get away? Other than that, kind of fun to see Tawny make a cameo as a part of the "Marvel Family." The advert for Lobo in the next issue is a sure sign of the apocalypse... like 52 has officially jumped the shark. And, I umm... still have no idea what's really going on in the DCU. Grade D+.

New Avengers #23 (Marvel): Another strong Civil War tie-in from The House of Ideas. An absolute joy to see Olivier Coipel's pencils. I was digging him back in the Legion of the Damned and Legion Lost stories (that DC *still* hasn't collected!) and here his work is a bit smoother with fewer of the sketchy lines that became his trademark style. This issue is terribly fun as we see Jessica "Spider-Woman" Drew highlighted. She's tempted by HYDRA, captured by SHIELD, and there is a spectacular action sequence as a SHIELD Helicarrier almost goes down over Rhode Island. The last page really tugs at the heart as Jess is forced to finally pick a side based on what she believes. For years she's been told what to do as a deep cover, double, and even triple agent. While a SHIELD Agent, she's gone undercover with HYDRA and been embedded with the Avengers while answering only to Colonel Fury. No more. Now she is simply a member of Captain America's Resistance. I love it. Highly entertaining. Grade A-.

Batman #656 (DC): There's something I've always liked about the concept of equilibrium. The term itself implies a state of rightful balance. Here's a totally random example. When I first started at my company, 10 years ago, the common "dress code" was jeans and a t-shirt. There were even days with shorts and flip-flops during summer months. We were still in "start-up" mentality and that entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well. After a couple of years, there was a big push for professional perception and the pendulum swung wildy in the other direction. I went through a period of wearing suits every day, a shirt and tie at the bare minimum, because you never knew when you might be whisked away to an assignment or briefing with an executive, or even the CEO. Now, years later, that stance has softened and we've settled somewhere more centered. It's business casual. Dress shirts, slacks, and expensive shoes. No tie. And that's about right. You can dress it up or dress it down depending on the occasaion.

Now let's apply that same process to Bruce Wayne. In the Silver Age 1960's, helped in no small part by the TV show, Batman became campy, goofy fun. It took almost 20 years for this pendulum to swing wildly in the other direction. It took guys like Neal Adams in the 1970's and finally Frank Miller in the 1980's with his Year One and Dark Knight stories for Batman to become more realistic, culminating with the oft-cited "dark and grim." And now, I feel like Grant Morrison is asking me to don the flip-flops again since he's yanking it so far back in the other direction with his first two issues of this series. *Sigh.* All in all, the meta-commentary just feels too in your face. The fact that they're at a comic book art show. Characters quipping that comics have become "too highbrow," almost as if they're turning and winking at the audience letting you know that Grant is trying to deliberately pull them back down into plain ol' fun territory. I mean, Ninja Man-Bats? If that isn't a desperate cry for "we're fun, the kids will like us, damn it!" then I don't know what is. A story straight from a Silver Age cover (What if Batman Had a Son!? Ha!). It's just so... overt. Often times, great art is found in subtlety. On the plus side, Talia just dumping off the kid was sorta' funny, and Kubert's art is growing on me a bit, with some nice perspective shots amid the action, even enjoyed the Darwyn Cooke style Wonder Woman art. But overall, I feel like Grant is talking directly to me and it's distracting. He flat out says to me that he hates "art with no content" almost as if he's anticipating the backlash and posturing this as a mock defense. At the end of the day, I have to agree with Aunt Agatha (another lame cameo there...) when she says "it's a wee bit overdone." Writers need to keep in mind that Batman can be fun without being campy. And he can be edgy and cunning without being dark and grim. There is a middle-ground which is actually the most plausible of all possibilities. Morrison's own take on Batman in his JLA run was a nice example of a competent (albeit sometimes uber-competent to the point of deus ex machina...) guy who was neither campy, nor asshole, nor overly dark. See Meltzer's take in the new Justice League this week for yet another example that's off to a good start. It's time for a more centered, less polar extreme on this character, where writers can push him high or low brow depending on the stories they want to tell and their strength as storytellers. Oh, and one last thing... like I know I'm supposed to just accept this as a conceit of the industry, but it really jumped out at me here. How fucking stupid are people in the DCU that they can't figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman? Bruce is at this high profile social event, Man-Bat(s) show up, Bruce noticeably disappears, and Batman magically reappears (cuz I guess he just happened to be in London!!!), and then doofy characters comment that Batman is there but Bruce is missing! Come on! Anyway, most books that are kinda' ehh, I give 3 issues to do something I respond to. One more to go Grant, then I'm outta' here. Grade B-.

Justice League of America #1 (DC): There's been a lot of ballyhoo abounding around this title, with people trying to guess the lineup, people spoiling the lineup online, concerns over the art, etc. But let's get back to what matters here, folks. Is it any good? Is Brad Meltzer's new incarnation of the JLA entertaining and serviceable? Hell yeah, it is. Some interesting choices and things that jumped out at me here. Rather that string these all together paragraphically, let's just look at some bullet points, shall we?

* Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Holy Trinity, check. Add Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Arsenal, Red Tornado, Hawkgirl, Black Lightning, and Vixen. That's an interesting line-up. Not your father's JLA, but certainly not anything egregious.

* I like the diversity. We have 4 big guns (with GL Hal) and some nice second generation folks, namely Arsenal (Roy Harper, Speedy, Teen Titan, Outsider, Agent of Checkmate, etc.). We have long range powerhouses, short range fighters, strategic tacticians, and straight brawlers. There's flight, mind-controlled rings, metahumans, Kryptonians, Thanagarians, 2 African-Americans, and some regular blokes. The only corner of the DCU not really represented is the magic side of the house.

* Thought it was tricky of DC to put 8 of the 10 members in the first row of heroes, if you place the two alternate covers together. Everyone but Vixen and Hawkgirl are there.

* Really enjoyed the selection process and would have liked to see more of that in lieu of all the Red Tornado stuff. Interesting that there is no mention of Mister Miracle as a viable candidate. I know there isn't space to show the deliberations for every single possible JLA candidate, but the fact that the new villain seems to be sporting an Apokoliptian Mother Box could have made for a nice showdown. Bruce may regret lobbying so hard for Tornado and not considering Scott Free. How long before the roster changes, I wonder? And besides, everyone else is a Reserve Member, right?

* Damn, when Meltzer said at the San Diego Con that he really liked Red Tornado as a character, he wasn't playing. Nearly half of this issue and presumably the first arc will center on him.

* Great to see the asshole Batman officially behind us and see him confidently, and with trust, pose names of second generation heroes like Bart/Kid Flash, Vic Stone/Cyborg, and numerous Outsiders (well, his Outsiders anyway, not Dick's). Seems to me all three of them agreed on Power Girl, but she was a mysterious no show(?).

* Some nice coordination on the Editorial front by including Doc Magnus, who is featured prominently in 52. Also some nice nods to the missing 52 heroes, like Atom/Ray Palmer, Animal Man/Buddy Baker, and Captain Marvel/Billy Batson. On the other hand, I'm a bit confused by the appearance of Deadman/Boston Brand, when he didn't even appear in the first issue of the new Deadman series.

* Loved, loved, loved the reference to the Legion Flight Ring!

* Thank God! NO AQUAMAN! WOO-HOO! A more boring character never existed.

* Some absolutely precious moments between Hal Jordan and Roy Harper that clear the way for Roy as the "Arrow" character in the JLA without eschewing Ollie's history with the team. And Conner Hawke did get his turn at bat in Morrison's run of JLA, besides I hear he's getting his own book. Roy may be my favorite character here, should make for an interesting dynamic with his "mom" Dinah Lance and "uncle" Hal Jordan fighting beside him.

* I read somewhere that there has never been an incarnation of the JLA (counting JLI, JLE, etc.) that hasn't had Martian Manhunter as a member. This may be the first time he's not been included in a lineup in decades. I don't mind actually, just an interesting observation.

* Lots of seeds planted here with the Red Tornado evolution, new group of villains, and dynamics of the selection process. Certainly is enough material layered in here to get us through a good year or so with just what's been presented so far.

* I thought the cross-promotional effort of housing the first chapter of Brad Meltzer's new prose novel was a nice move, but wouldn't it have been so much nicer the other way around? When will a subsidiary publishing arm of AOL/Time-Warner (who owns Warner Brothers, who owns DC Comics...) have the balls to publish a few pages of a comic book in the back of a prose novel as a crossover attempt? *That's* the real question.

* Ed Benes' art isn't going to win any awards, and even looks a bit stiff in spots, but for the most part it's clean and competent, and will serve the story just fine. It's sort of like the soundtrack to a movie, if you don't notice it, then it's setting the mood and doing it's job. Ideally, we'd like to see the art stand out on its own, but better to fade quietly into the background than to distract with overt poor quality. What could have easily derailed is helped a lot by the Inker (Sandra Hope) and Colorist (Alex Sinclair).

All in all, no huge complaints, a nice "gathering the team" issue (though no big reveal yet), some nods to past continuity, no actions terribly out of character, the stage has been set, and I was very entertained. Grade B.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC): I'm struggling to "find" Diana right now. In this book she still seems to be adrift, atoning for killing Max Lord according to her convo with Bruce. Yet over in JLA, she seems perfectly adapted to be a founding member and leader of the new incarnation of the League. Back in this book, Bruce offers her a position in the Department of Metahuman Affairs. So, umm... what's up with Diana? Is she ok or not? Where does her heart tell her to focus? Is that the point of this book? Hell if I know. Speaking of the Department of Metahuman Affairs... do we really need Sarge Steel to start this agency up again? We already have the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), and now the new version of Checkmate, all of them seem to be involved with the monitoring of, and response to, metahuman activity. I don't get the distinctions or need for 3 agencies that at the minimum have tremendous overlap, and at worst do exactly the same thing. That aside, and it's a big set of shit to move aside, it was neat to see Diana Prince's cover being Army Intel, Masters Degree in International Relations, and Head of Security at WayneCorp, nice going Bruce. I'm sort of getting into the dialogue with Nemesis, the cameos of Bruce and Tim, and Diana attempting to maintain her cover, but then I get pushed right out by her lame-o villains, and the appearance of Hercules. The art is great and this is the first time I've ever even come close to being interested in Wonder Woman, but we're certainly not there yet. As aforementioned, this book will also be receiving the "3 issue test," so one more to win me over or get left in the lurch. Grade B-.

Astonishing X-Men #16 (Marvel): Writer Joss Whedon takes a lot of shit for being a "one trick pony" who delivers nothing but different spins on the adolescent female latent power fantasy design (an argument I can defeat with any episode of Firefly/Serenity that doesn't focus squarely on River Tam), but damn if he doesn't do it exceptionally well. It actually made him a brilliant choice to write X-Men, especially an arc where Katherine "Kitty/Sprite/Shadowcat" Pryde is featured prominently. This is yet another tight Whedon script with beautiful Cassaday art. It's really nice to see Kitty get her props as a brilliant and skillful full-fledged X-Man, err, X-Person(?). Loved the way she was able to dispose of Emma Frost by really thinking about how both of their powers work, it's obvious she's thought through this day for years and was prepared for it. Hell if I know what happened last issue, this bi-monthly publishing schedule really knocks some of the wind from the sails, but it will all pay off when we can read it in one sitting and that next hardcover collecting the second year of Joss and John's pure comic gold comes out. Grade A.

Jack of Fables #2 (DC/Vertigo): One of my co-workers and I have this saying, "you don't know what you don't know," and that's about how I feel about this title. That is to say, I'm enjoying Jack of Fables, but I'm not certain that I'm getting Jack of Fables, or getting all there is to get anyway. As someone who read(s) Fables extremely sporadically, I'd say I've read a total of about 20 issues, few of which seem to relate here, I don't exactly know what I'm missing. I'm sure there are numerous references to people and events that are whizzing by me and not being paid their due time. It's like picking up a random trade of The Sandman, sure there are these interesting characters named Death and Destiny, but if I'm not aware they're siblings of Lord Morpheus, it sorta' loses something, no? Does it make me want to rush out and buy all of the Fables trades? Eh, no, not quite. I'll just keep floating along, enjoying this purely for what it is on the surface. Perhaps that's proof enough that the title is strong enough to stand on its own. Grade B+.

DMZ #10 (DC/Vertigo): Matty Roth becomes a real power-broker with his acquired information this issue. An extremely entertaining and thoughtful book that offers up some rather erudite points about war. Namely that the real interesting stories are found on neither side of the conflict, but somewhere in the middle, amid the inhabitants of the DMZ, where a new culture is being forged in fire. Grade A.

Eternals #3 (Marvel): This book looks good and it reads smooth enough, but I just don't know where it's going. The disparate parts don't seem to be coalescing into something discernable, let alone important. Just feels like it's floating along. 10 years ago, I would have said "I have faith enough in Neil Gaiman to sort it out and will stick with it," but at this rate I don't know if I can hold on for the entire second half to see something happen. Iron Man's guest appearance felt a little forced with the references to Civil War and Sersi's apparent stint as an Avenger. Grade B-.

Fear Agent #7 (Image): A very enjoyable issue that perfectly captures Heath's personality, brilliantly depicts the ethnocentrism that would be likely from other races of aliens, and chronicles the repercussions of Heath's time-jumping exploits amid a civil war during the last couple of issues. Totally believable take on the prison experience and his use of the drug "cleroin." There was one big typo where "monkey sex" was meant, but it read "money sex," which is kinda' funny in itself, but clearly not intended. Jerome Opena's art is at an all time high, his clean lines and detailed designs are reminiscent of Frank Quitely in spots. A fun, fun ride. One of the books I really look forward to every month. Grade A.

Fell #6 (Image): Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith offer up another satisfying "done in one" story that focuses on a domestic disturbance call that quickly becomes more complicated. Against that backdrop, we also get to see the budding relationship of Mayko and Rich. This child abuse story is all the more schocking because it's based on real events in the UK. This book is always worth the wait and further proof that the Eisner Nominations and success of the $1.99 format are no anomaly. Grade A.


8.16.06 Reviews

It was another one of *those* crazy-sexy-cool weeks where it seemed like there wasn't a book on the stands that I wasn't interested in. I don't know if this was a big week in general in terms of what publishers released or big for me personally in terms of my buying habits and eclectic taste. In any case, quite a mixed bag, with some real treats, some real duds, and some things I just didn't have time to read yet.

Phonogram #1 (Image): Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's new book is a good example of the "new" Image helmed by Erik Larsen and based in Berkeley, CA. They just have an eye for things that interest me, and this would have never been published by Image under the old regime. It's been a long time since a book has blown me away like this. A playful story that asks if there is actually magic behind the music that affects us. But it's so much more than that. What books like Pounded and Scott Pilgrim and probably half a dozen other Oni books with their pseudo-mod aspirations and attempts to depict the hybrid of music and comic book culture failed to do, Phonogram does quite successfully. These are fully realized and opinionated characters that feel real. Their words seem to leap off the page and grab you with intelligent dialogue that is engaging without burning exposition. Superficially, it does pose the "magic in the music?" question in a literal sense, meaning some of the characters do actually wield a magical influence. But, the subtext ponders if music can just be magical, as in metaphorically, to the listener. Music means something to all of us, and different songs will strike a chord, dredge up a memory, capture a time and place, or evoke an emotion inexplicably. I know that I'm missing 70% of the musical references in this book, but am still connecting squarely with the points being made, and that's a real credit to the creative team. It's not about the music it references, it's about how that music, *any* music, can impact people. It's about how we all wear public personas that can differ from our real selves. While those other books feel like they're only scratching the surface and teasing you cheaply with that world, this one feels authentic and explored. Everything about this book is brilliant. The one page strip that asks who David Kohl is, to the layered approach that the book employs. It's not just a fun musical ride that uses magic literally, that would be pure fiction. It's not just a journalistic effort to capture a single band or event, that would be flat non-fiction. Phonogram seeks to capture the mystical third leg of that equation, by juxtaposing those two elements against the final, most important component - what does music mean to us? The eye pleasing art reminds me of Rick Mays and David Mack's straight pencil work, but is best summed up by one of the letters. It looks like "Adrian Tomine doing John Constantine." This book is eloquent and articulate and as another letter suggests, is "something special that will be remembered down the road." Grade A+.

Wasteland #2 (Oni Press): One of my favorite new series. After their Queen & Country Declassified arc, I seem to be on an Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten high. Was also nice to chat with them both at the San Diego Con. I recently picked up Mitten's book Past Lies as well. This follow up issue has me officially hooked and this post-apocalyptic series promises to be a strong ongoing from the Oni stable. I love trying to decode Johnston's clues. "Wosh-Tun" is, I believe, a thinly veiled reference to "Washington," because if you take it in context it deals with government currency in the form of coins. It's also used to denote an "official" story about "The Big Wet" that may differ significantly from the folkloric version as told by the Sun-Singers. The "New Killer War" is, I believe, a crafty way of referencing a "Nuclear War" that may be the (or one of the) contributing factors to the apocalypse. Lastly, I haven't been able to crack the mythical land of "A-REE-YASS-I" yet. I'm assuming it's a phonetic pronunciation of... something. I've run multiple letter scenarios, is it a bastardized version of U, S, A? Is it A, R, E, S, I? My only working theory is that it refers to Area 51. If you were to read that as letters... A, REE-YA - and the 51 is switched out for an "S" and an "I" - you might get there. Fascinating stuff, I'm totally on board with the universe that Johnston has quickly crafted and Mitten has beautifully depicted. Grade A.

Nightwing #123 (DC): Every so often I get this morbid curiosity to see what's happening with my childhood favorites and I pick up a random issue. This was crap. Incoherent story with murky, rushed, just... bad art. Awful panel to panel transitions and some dialogue and caption boxes that left me scratching my head. Grade F.

52: Week Fifteen (DC): It's just really boring. Usually there is one or two slivers that I can cling to and be interested by, but not a single one this week. I thought it would have been interesting if Supernova was actually Clark Kent parading around as *not* Superman, but it seems this was a red herring. And poopy looking (yes, my feeble vocab skills can't seem to find a better word that captures stiff with poses, yet kind of squishy and formless around the edges) art, I just hate the way this guy portrays facial features. Grade D-.

Deadman #1 (DC/Vertigo): Don't know a thing about this new series, but thought I'd give Bruce Jones the benefit of the doubt (he's about 70/30 on the miss/hit ratio with me). John Watkiss' art looked interesting and the fact that it's a Vertigo title seemed to bode well. Anyway, it was competent, but not terribly compelling. No reason to return. And why name it "Deadman" if it has nothing to do with any single previous incarnation of DC's character Deadman or his alter ego Boston Brand? Unless they're planning to pull off a Sandman style retro-continuity link, but that's damn ambitious. Grade C+.

The Boys #1 (DC/Wildstorm): Honestly, I've never liked Garth Ennis' writing one bit. And although I dug Darick Robertson on Transmetropolitan, this looked a little rushed to me during the casual flip test. Why'd I buy it? Well, I guess if you're in the mood for a little hedonistic sex and gratuitious violence, this might just do the trick. The one interesting premise that jumps out is that a group of folks is being assembled to track and bash superheroes, seems to be a recurring theme with Ennis' writing. I'll see where this goes, just biding my time before he starts working on "real" superheroes with the Wildstorm relaunch. Grade B-.

Checkmate #5 (DC): This Greg Rucka & Jesus Saiz book has quickly risen to the top of my "to read" pile. The espionage is what Rucka does best and seeing him use interesting and some seldomly used characters in the DCU as a backdrop is right up my alley. Interesting to see the grueling tests for new positions in the Checkmate organization. I like how Rucka runs multiple plot threads at once, such as the troubled Beatriz "Fire" DaCosta, and the possible ascension of Michael "Mr. Terrific" Holt to White King. Grade B.

Casanova #3 (Image): This book has me very conflicted. At it's worst, it feels like Fraction is being just downright self-indulgent, his scripts lack focus, and the uber-homage reads like outright swiping. At it's best, there are flashes of brilliance that hit all my meta-commentary spots and tickle me in the same manic way that Flex Mentallo and Automatic Kafka did. It's that borderline genius/insanity that has me intrigued. I will grow to either love or hate this book with a passion, with no room for any middle ground fence-sitting. And for the $1.99 price tag, it's an enjoyable experiment. Gabriel Ba's monochromatic pencils are also a delight to see on a monthly basis. Grade B.

Conan #31 (Dark Horse): Decided to check back in since this ish is written by Mike Mignola. I heard that Kurt Busiek will be leaving and that Tim Truman will be taking over writing chores. Not to happy about that development. Surprisingly, felt really, really, really flat. This issue, unfortunately, was serving as my quick litmus test as to whether or not I'll be "waiting for the trades" or continue buying this title altogether. Looks like I'll be keeping the trades I have and holding off on picking this title up regularly. All good things must come to an end, I suppose. Grade C.

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #7 (Marvel): This new arc starts to press the fun factor again and ratchet up the humor. Seemed like the first two issues were solid, as was the last, but there was certainly a lull in the entertainment for a couple of months in between. I don't want it to get cancelled. Hopefully this issue is an indication that things are on the mend, one-liners, pop culture references, and some shocking insight into The Avengers sexual preferences abound. Grade B+.

Manhunter #25 (DC): Come on, people! Didn't you see my write up? This book is great, buy it, buy it, buy it! A solid enough issue, but looks like it will be going on hiatus until December(?). Grade B-.

Rex Mundi #1 (Dark Horse): After some quick research at the shop this week, Comickaze Owner Robert Scott and I determined that this is not reprinted material from Image. It also doesn't appear to pick up where the Image title left off. It wasn't a cliffhanger, nor a planned ending per se, it just sort of stopped mid-swing. I guess this is an attempt to entice new readers with a new #1 from a new publisher and resolve some of those dangling plot threads from the Image run(?). Confused? Yeah, me too. The result? A very, you guessed it, confusing opening sequence and very unwieldy cast. And like it or not, there's just no escaping comparisons to Dan Brown's novels. Regardless of who was first, or if they individually arrived at the end with similar findings from the available research, character names like "Sauniere" become completely distracting when I just watched them in The DaVinci Code. I'm not being given a reason to care about these people or the byzantine plot points. Grade C-.

The Building Opposite: Volume 1 (Fanfare/Ponent Mon): This is a really interesting looking book from a publisher I'm not familiar with. The style seems to blend an indy self-published slice-of-life style with some Manga sensibilities. With 160+ pages for $21.99, you can't go too wrong.

The Psycho (Image): The plot summary, about an alternate future without a prolonged WWII and the implementation of the Freelance Costumed Operatives (FCOs), for this James Hudnall and Dan Brereton book looked really intriguing and definitely sold me. I was surprised to learn that this was a 3 issue series originally published by DC, I totally missed it. Dan Brereton can bore me to death at times and I will just tune him out, but conversely Giantkiller is one of my favorite "monster" books of all time, so it was worth a shot.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 2 Hardcover (Oni Press): Woo-hoo! Finally I can complete my bookshelf collection with these handsome crimson and gold editions and pass on the softcover trade paperbacks to some deserving folks. Grade B.

Queen & Country Declassified: Volume 3 Hardcover (Oni Press): Ditto my comments above about completing the collection and passing on the "lesser" softcover edition. Overall, I felt this 3rd Volume was the strongest to date of the Declassified offerings, boasting the aforementioned Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten work on Rucka's inventions. Grade A.


The Mercy Killing Retrospective

I've been wanting to do this for a long time. I'd like to review my first self-published mini-comic, The Mercy Killing. I've been wondering for a while if it was possible to do so objectively now that some time has passed. It's been 4 years since artist/inker/pal Tim Goodyear and I decided to make this happen for the Alternative Press Expo (APE) that year. The APE was still being held at Fort Mason in San Francisco, this was before their move to The Concourse in the SoMa District. I haven't read it or my original script since. Here we go...

The Mercy Killing (Royal 129): This low budget crime tale is a basic morality play that chronicles a down on his luck guy who is sometimes a legitimate businessman, and sometimes a hustler. First off, I think our overall design for the book was neat. In spite of some production quality issues, namely the setting (or offset, as it were) of some panel borders was less than stellar, but I still smile proudly at the inside front cover and the inside back cover. It feels like we had something to say and thought through what the core concept was. I think it's amazing that we did an initial print run of 500 (with the pseudo-dollar bill cover), a second run of 1,000 with the alternate cover (with Mario floating amid some dollar bills), and they're all gone. I don't even have a copy of the first one, but kept a single copy of the alternate cover. We gave away tons at the APE and Tim was able to distribute some to retailers as far away as Chicago and Atlanta.

In terms of scripting, I got wordy. I tend to do that because initially my instinct is to write in third person, omniscient voice, a habit I successfully forced myself to finally break when I scripted The Adventures of Galaxy Dog and avoided it completely for 11 issues of that book. But basically, I hadn't yet learned to trust an artist to tell my story visually (ie: if a guy is seen walking into a creepy bar, you don't need a caption saying "Mario entered the dimly lit bar," because it defeats the duality of the medium). My other big problem was that I was trying to cram too much into a single panel and driving Tim crazy. My script would do something like indicate that on Page 6, Panel 2: Mario gets into his car and speeds away. Well how do you show him entering his car and then speeding off in a single static shot? Tim helped me sort this out and suggested that I, as a writer, do thumbnail sketches, even if they were crude stick figures. Brilliant advice and something I still do to this day to make sure my layouts are feasible before presenting them to an artist. Other than that, the dialogue has a nice flow, is realistic, and not overly staged or expository. The story is engaging, it seems to build to something and the reader doesn't know what until the last page. You think it will go right, but it takes a last minute sharp left.

As for the art, I'm still so proud of Tim. It's a joy to look down on the page and see my words come to life in just the way I'd imagined. His bleak, sharp, gritty style perfectly captures the hopeless mood I wanted for this story. I have many favorite panels that Tim brought to life. There's the shot of Mario at the bar after a long evening, the shot of Mario's beautiful house, the shots of him walking the streets alone, the simple image of him buying a stolen 9mm, but my favorite has to be Page 4, Panel 2. In this shot, Mario stands on a hotel balcony at night, shirt off, with the night breeze blowing the curtain. Tim perfectly captures despair in this panel. The feeling that no matter what you do, it's not going to work, you're totally fucked, and not a thing in the world will change that. This one panel could really be emblematic of the whole book. God, I love his art in that panel, the way the night breeze tugs at that curtain, Mario's eyes looking out over the city.

What Critics Said:
Steven Grant at Comic Book Resources said that it was "a very well done mini-comic. I dug it." He was also kind enough to do a quick blurb on it at the CBR web-site after I sent him a comp copy. Jennifer Contino from Sequential Tart picked one up at the APE and told us we were "very capable creators" and that she wanted to see more from us. Over at the Fourth Rail, Randy Lander gave us a nice indy nod by saying "the rough look and feel is what makes me like comics like this." And here at 13 Minutes, I have to say there are a few minor issues with this, but overall it's a tremendous first foray. Grade B-.

To purchase a copy for a mere $2, visit: http://www.ecrater.com/product.php?pid=231160


8.09.06 Reviews

Man, I can't remember a week where I spent less than 10 bucks on comics. Yep, this week amounted to a whopping $9.14... I wandered around aimlessly looking for something else to grab my attention and it just didn't. Kinda' sad...

The Escapists #2 (Dark Horse): Damn, this turned out to be the belle of the ball, being the only book I enjoyed this week. This was definitely as strong as the first issue. Dude, put James Jean on cover art, and I'll buy just about anything. His style really does pop off the stand. I absolutely love the "story within a story" structure when it's done well, and this one is! I really didn't see it coming, I was just drawn right in. Jason S. Alexander's art has a nice Jae Lee darkness to it, and Steve Rolston is always a treat. I enjoyed the industry commentary embedded in the narrative, this could serve as a primer on how to launch a book, touches on viral marketing, and is also an engaging read in itself about an unlikely group of creators. And they're teasing me just right with that John Cassaday art for the next issue. Oh, and Case is hot! Grade A.

52: Week Fourteen (DC): All things Renee Montoya and The Question continue as they head to Khandaq to track down the Intergang incursion. And that's kinda' all that happens. I'm starting to lose patience with what we're being shown and the snail's pace that the "plot" advances. What I'm being shown sure feels like a rather myopic view into the DCU and it's hard to believe that any of this is going to "reshape" the universe. All in all, I just feel that 52 isn't working as a concept. Perhaps the only thing that goes toward the price of admission is the cool backup of Metamorpho's origin featuring art from The Goon creator, Eric Powell. Grade C-.

Martian Manhunter #1 (DC): See, the thing about Martian Manhunter is that the book is called Martian Manhunter, singular. It's not called "The Martians." He's the last one. That's the only thing that made him remotely interesting. Last member of a dead world. What Supes is to Krypton, MM should be to Mars. This whole mess is trying very hard to sound important and takes itself very seriously. And it's so not. I thought the opening page was very presumptuous, telling us that all humans are derivative from Cain and Abel. I mean, not that I have a problem in buying into creationism as a model, it just seems out of place for a non-Vertigo book. Basically everything about this is shoehorned in. There's no story man, they just got someone to shlock it out and went through a checklist of extremely minimal elements to include. It's like some guys at DC were sitting around bored one day and one said, "hey, we should do a Martian Manhunter book! It's been a while." The other one says, "yeah, ok. What should it be about?" The first one rhetorts "umm, well he was in the JLA, right? And uhh... he's a Martian... we'll just have him do some different stuff... and uhh... make him look more Martian-y." That was the pitch. In fact, I would rather read a book called "DC Editorial & The Martian Dilemma" that chronicles these two guys talking about the concept, going to lunch, batting bad ideas back and forth, conning a creative team into participating... that would have been infinitely more interesting to me. Grade F.


Best Title Nobody's Reading

Manhunter #1-24 (DC): Kate Spencer is a Federal Prosecutor. She lives in LA. She's a Mom. She's divorced. She believes in the criminal justice system. But, the system is fallible. Sometimes guilty individuals successfully walk. She has a Darkstar suit, a Manhunter's staff, and Azrael/Batman's gauntlets. But she's *not* a superhero, just ask her. Marc Andreyko, Jesus Saiz, and Jimmy Palmiotti (with Jae Lee on covers) kicked off this layered, humorous, and introspective work. The thing about Kate is that she's new at this. She makes mistakes. She's navigating her way through tenuous moral ground as she faces Copperhead, the Shadow Thief, Cheshire, Merlyn, the list goes on and on. She's attempting to invent a moral code for herself that allows her to cope with life. She gives the justice system a chance to work, if it doesn't she ensures justice, not for revenge, not because she enjoys it, because it's the right thing to do. She's fallible, and we watch her as she struggles to deal with her son, her ex-husband, her reformed techno-gadget supplier Rich/Dylan, and all the while... she's troubled. She's troubled in a way that reminds me of Jessica Jones in Alias. Maybe Andreyko picked up some of this angst from Bendis early on, but it manifests itself here in a very engaing ride. There are guest stars galore, JLA'ers, Firehawk, Director Bones, and one of my most favorite inventions of all time, DEO Agent Cameron Chase. Cam is in the majority of this book, a recurring character that is deeply involved in Kate's life. I don't want to give away all of the secrets, but this book really reminds me of Starman, suffice it to say, Kate is deeply connected to the superhero community through her family. Manhunter's ongoing ability to weave itself into established DCU continuity and make connections with previous generations of characters is really well done. The creative team is able to take little used scraps of information and create a rich fabric of story for us to enjoy. We look at old characters in new ways, perk up at familiar names and events, and are delighted by the new journeys that fresh characers are placed in. In a recent issue, Executive Editor Dan DiDio tells us the story of how Manhunter was saved from cancellation. Thank God. It is imperative that we all support this book. For my money, long runs of stories like this (and Starman by example) are where DCU continuity is really built. Where DCU history is really made. It's not the big events, tie-ins, and spin-off series. The shock and awe of those fade with time. Real continuity is built by displaying the arc of a character over months or even years, laying the groundwork for other authors to explore and expand upon. Books like this become self-perpetuating phenomenon. The more that history building runs of books like Starman and Manhunter and Sandman are allowed time to thrive and develop, the more creators are encouraged to riff on them and weave their own ideas into the mix. It's books like these that inspire additional content for future generations of comic book readers. Grade A-.


8.02.06 Reviews

Dusty Star #1 (Image/Desperado): Really fun Western adventure that stars a beloved and spunky female protagonist as she seeks to recover a family memento. Very solid art from Andrew Robinson that employs some unique layouts and a nice cinematic feel. I like the lean and angular lines he uses (akin to Jerome Opena's work) that really pop with the vibrant coloring and rendering. This story delves a little deeper into Dusty's past than we've seen before and sets the stage for many adventures to come. I've been really hard on Publisher Joe Pruett in the past for missed deadlines, poor editing, and just generally lackluster performance of Desperado's titles. If his end note and "re-Welcome" to Desperado can be taken at face value, I'm willing to forgive past transgressions and start anew. If the quality of this title is any indication (and assuming a follow up issue ships on time), then we should be in for a fun ride from this boutique publisher. Grade B+.

BPRD: The Universal Machine #5 (Dark Horse): A heartbreaking, but satisfying conclusion to this arc, which focuses not so much on Kate Corrigan's escape from the Marquis, but moreso on the ultimate resolution of the dangling Roger the Homunculus story thread, this vignette complete with pencils by Mike Mignola himself. We will weep for Roger because we miss our friend, but rejoice because he may finally be at peace. Grade A.

The Leading Man #2 (Oni Press): I really wish I was enjoying this title more. Of course I will hang in to the end out of appreciation and respect for B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun's first work Battle Hymn, but it's already tough. Nothing really happens this issue. Nick is still Nick, his costar still knows his secret, and there is much back and forth on this subject, but all in all nothing to advance the plot holistically. Feels like it's just spinning its wheels. Looks beautiful though, Haun's pencils are getting more detailed, particularly with human facial anatomy and it looks brilliant colored. Grade B.

Ex Machina #22 (DC/Wildstorm): Many online critics have criticized Ex Mach as of late for not having the bite and zing that earlier issues had. Though I wasn't one of those people, I think this issue can solidly put those concerns to rest. This issue just rocks. Mayor Hundred's got PR nightmares to contend with, close friends cashing in favors at inopportune times, and a very shocking series of events on his hands that will have members of the public service community up in arms if he doesn't respond. Vaughan's ear for dialogue continues to impress, check out that mundane banter between the firemen, it's just like you tape recorded some working stiffs somewhere in NYC, totally believable. Something is seriously up with Tony Harris' art too, in a good way. It looks even more detailed, boasts a really photorealistic quality, almost on par with Alex Ross, and the coloring has never been better. Grade A.

Agents of Atlas #1 (Marvel): First of all, this just doesn't feel like something Marvel would publish. It seems like a pretty straightforward backup story to one of DC's JSA titles. But, it works. This is a really good lesson from Jeff Parker (of The Interman fame) on how to take an idea that would otherwise be pretty boring and juice it up with a few trinkets to make it palatable, even engaging. Johnny Woo and his group of Invaders/Battle Hymn archetypes... pretty standard. Weave them into SHIELD history and (please, oh please!) Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy series and you have something. Toss in some awesome throw away dialogue about Wakandan tribal markings, that's cool. Give me Dugan referring to SHIELD as "the Directorate" and man... I just love little shit like that! Toss in a talking gorilla and end with a mysterious and ominous message from "Mr. Lao," presumably head of The Atlas Foundation, and I just might be back for more. Grade B.

52: Week Thirteen (DC): Really dug the odd team up of Elongated Man, Green Lantern Hal Jordan, Green Arrow Ollie Queen, Metamorpho, and Zauriel. The Black Adam/Isis dynamic is actually kinda' interesting too. Mark Waid and Kevin Nowlan doing an Elongated Man back up? Not too shabby. Dare I say it, 52 might actually be picking up some steam and be renewing my interest. It just dawned on me that as of Week 13, this year long event is already 1/4 over! That's right, 13x4=52. For some reason that realization blew my mind, so it's about f'ing time that the shit started to get interesting. Grade B-.

Detective Comics #822 (DC): Ok, just on principle, I think it's fucking apalling that DC pimped this new run of 'Tec as "Paul Dini & JH Williams! Paul Dini & JH Williams! Paul Dini & JH Williams!" And why not pimp that? That's a downright *hot* creative team, especially with Simone Bianchi on covers. But here we are, on the *second* issue of the run and we already have a fill in artist! That is just plain sad. Yeah, yeah, fill-ins allow the regular artist to get ahead deeper in the run... but hello! It's not like this was a #1 debut issue. It's #822 for god's sake, just delay their start on this run of the book a few issues and it's a wash. All that aside, the art wasn't horrible and I did enjoy the dynamic between Bats and the Riddler, was also fun to see the S&M side of Gotham. However, this "done in one" approach to storytelling could be problematic. I'm starting to sense a red flag. There weren't enough clues left in this along the way to deduce who the killer was. Bats just flies in on the last 2 pages and explains it all so that the issue could wrap up in its tidy way, felt a little deus ex machina to me. Here's to hoping that future issues won't fall into this trap. Grade B-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

But I Like It (Fantagraphics): Joe Sacco's latest work takes its name from The Rolling Stones' lyric "it's only Rock n' Roll, but I like it!" Interesting, self-deprecating title, which insinuates that something doesn't have to be high art, you can just enjoy it for the sake of itself. This book is a lot different from his other tremendous works Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine, Notes From A Defeatist, The Fixer, and War's End (to name just a few). I liked this project just as much, but for different reasons. Ostensibly, we see Sacco chronicalling buddy Gerry Mohr's band The Miracle Workers as they rise to semi-prominance in the Portland music scene and go on a ridiculous European tour. That in itself is an interesting commentary on the 90's music scene, the wannabes, the real deals, and the multitude of influences, both genuine and fabricated. And don't forget the 4-song CD that's included in an insert in the back inside cover! What makes this book really special though is that it's the first time I've seen where there is some analyzation of Sacco's work by himself and guest contributors who author text pieces about his work. This is the type of critical analysis that Sacco so needs to rise to the level of appreciation he deserves in the comic book medium. It also includes 15 pages of rare sketchbook material which is really striking. Sacco's sketch work is much more realistic (in a life drawing way) than the fluidity and exaggerated proportions of his finished work. As some of the guest contributors point out, Sacco is unique because of the fine balance his work carries, it's actually difficult to categorize. If it was pure travelogue, it would look something more like Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage. If it was pure journalistic documentary, it might be something akin to Ted Rall's work. But it's neither. It's right in the wonderful middle, Sacco seeks to chronicle these intriguing veins of life (he admits he's a journalist at heart), but so often becomes directly involved with his subjects that he ends up portraying himself in an equally interesting autobiographical way. For example, it's not just about the European music scene, it's also about how Sacco was a thriving poster artist during that period. It's not just about the fledgling career of The Miracle Workers, it's about him being a roadie and a struggling artist at the same time. It's not just about a Rolling Stones show, it's about what it meant to him personally. It's much more than "just" comic books, "But I Like It." Grade A.