11.29.06 Reviews

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #10 (Marvel): Grade A+. That's all you really need to know, so let's cut right to the muthafuckin' chase... Grade A+. A+. A+. In fact... Amen, Brother Ellis! Stuart Immonen's art is on fire, perfectly capturing the manic sense of fun and irreverent scripting that Ellis brings to the party. Not only does he do that, he does it half a dozen times, with as many different artistic styles that capture the moods of 1960's/70's superhero faire and Mignola-inspired monster/horror genre-blenders, just to name a couple personal faves. "It fires joy from a better universe - pure beams of transformative epiphany." Yes, it does indeed. It finally hit me that this version of Machine-Man is basically Inspector Gadget on crack. Tabitha wins the fight. Why? Because she's stupid and has no brain. Forbush's powers transport the mind; and she has none. Brilliant. "I am mighty with girls! They make all the right noises and ruin my bed linen and everything!" This book makes all the right moves and ruins all others. Just when I think Ellis & Immonen are going to be one-trick ponies on this book (albeit already strong one-trick ponies), they go and flip the meta-commentary switch into overdrive, ala Automatic Kafka or Flex Mentallo, and start riffing on the industry. "Behold Forbush-vision" is really Ellis' way of saying look how I pulled together all these disparate threads of characters that inhabited various mini-multiverses of genre and created the funniest damn "superhero" book. As if that wasn't enough, the tease for #11 had me rolling. The "not" a Civil War crossover issue. "Mark Millar Licks Goats." Off the charts in meeting the literary, artistic, and historical standards. The only negative thing to say about Nextwave is that this run ends with #12. Please let there be another hardcover edition collecting issues 7-12. Please let there be a string of mini-series that are then published regularly. Please! Grade A+.

Powers #21 (Marvel/Icon): Well, it's official. My enthusiasm for reading single issues of this, now sporadically published, title has been officially drained. The repetitive nature of the narrative arcs only fuels the growing ennui toward what used to be one of my favorite titles. I realized that I really only look forward to single issues because of the amusing lettercol, but I can pretty much get that for free online. Yes folks, it is time to "wait for the trade." That considered, this issue suffered heavily from the delay between issues. I found myself asking who the heck are these people? Who the hell is Queen Noir? Why should I care about Teague? Who is the old Iron Fist-looking dude? "Do you kill the Strike?" Umm, was that a typo? Should it have been "Did you kill Strike?" Or was its repetition simply poorly constructed English? These problems really killed any chance at literary context, which saw a slight "bounce of the dead cat" with a cool ending that may implicate the President in the recent murders. Oeming's art still rates quite high on the artistic front, and historically there's just a minor footnote that Bendis has been doing the Superhero Registration Tango here for years. Paging Civil War, Paging Civil War... you saw it here first. Grade B-.

X-Men #193 (Marvel): The book looks really beautiful. Some people criticize Chris Bachalo for cramming too much into a page or panel so that the characters and actions become pushed too closely together and you can't discern much of anything except a tight stack of linework. But, once you train your eye to his style, his figures have a clean nobility and fluid, emotional grace that I enjoy. Bachalo has a way of really capturing the sci-fi/superhero/drama that is X-Men in a post-Claremont (RIP Dave Cockrum) world. There are some bits I really respond to well here, Rogue as a team leader, Emma's telepathic link relaying messages to the team from Scott, Cannonball appearing... anywhere, etc. But, having not read another issue of this arc, umm... Serafina? The "Suncatcher?" Are those Sentinel ONE's? Did rogue and the X-Men team from this book just come from space to the mansion to see the Astonishing line up of X-Men? Whaaaaat? The last issue/summary page didn't help one bit. Come on Mike Carey, gimme just a sound byte of exposition so I know what's up. My fault for jumping in on the last issue of an arc, but still. Literary context is confusing, artistic merit is high, and historical context is nill. Grade C+.

Deathblow #2 (DC/Wildstorm): Mark my words, this title will be cancelled in under a year, or within 12 issues, whichever comes first. Even Brian Azzarello's writing chops and Carlos D'Anda's competent, though not particularly compelling, art will save it. Speaking of artistic context... *ahem* *segue* *cough!* D'Anda's art serves the story, it's sufficiently dark and ominous, and there's the occasional nice use of shadow, but it's in no way innovative. Again, competent, but not impressive by any means. On the literary front, there's a wide delta between compelling intellectual arguments and just poorly crafted language. Azzarello makes a very bold and interesting statement about American (and particularly New York) ethnocentrism. In a world where Israelis deal with terrorist attacks practically daily, "it takes a highly ingrained sense of self-aggrandizement to call a singular terrorist attack ground zero." Now that's not going to win Azz any friends, but it's an extremely cogent point nonetheless. But then, we get lines so awkwardly constructed, "like his legs were made of jello, his feet clay, the rug pulled out beneath him oilcloth, and the floor beneath ice." Yeah, try diagramming that sentence (so, the floor is actually beneath the ice...?).Throw in some talking dogs, Navy SEAL and Black Ops Agent Michael Cray... with *children,* a very confusing last 2 pages, and absolutely no historical context to speak of. Grade C-.

52: Week Thirty (DC): This ranges from almost competent art to laughably stiff poses and preposterous anatomy. Check out the lumpy females in particular with their odd protrusions and uneven, angular breasts. In one panel, Batwoman's thighs are actually wider than her waistline. On the one hand, Dick "Nightwing" Grayson and Tim "Robin" Drake are a sight for sore eyes in this book, but then we get expository dialogue (Bruce still missing, their time abroad in Europe, etc.), odd dialogue (something about the "ten eyed surgeons of the empty quarter" or some shit?), and nearly in character ramblings from Dick (flirty banter with Batwoman and his fondness for redheads). On the Scott Brown "standard-o-meter," this doesn't really pass the literary muster, definitely falls short in the artistic context, but I suppose should receive some credit for historical context based on its inclusion in the grand 52 spectacle. 13 Minutes says Grade D+.

On a side note, I've tried different formulas to try and translate those three categories into numerical weighting (ie: 40% Artistic Context, 40% Literary Context, and 20% Historical Context, or an evenly distributed 33 & 1/3% for each) in order to then calculate a 13 Minutes letter grade, but that mostly just made my brain hurt... Plus, I think assigning scores in that fashion sort of defeats the point of Brown's approach and takes some of the "art" of reviewing (and admittedly, the freewheeling subjectivity) out of the equation. Better to just use his wonderful categories as a reference point.

I also picked up;

Immortal Iron Fist #1 (Marvel): Really looking forward to this book. Fraction is on a roll lately, Aja's pencils look delicious, and this short story was one of the few highlights in the Civil War: Choosing Sides mess that came out a couple weeks ago.

Batman/The Spirit (DC): I realized that aside from Paul Pope's recent Batman: Year 100 project, I haven't picked up a Batman book regularly in years. I think the closest I came was the first 50 or so issues of Nightwing from Dixon and McDaniel a few years back. And although I have owned the first couple of archive editions of Eisner's The Spirit which I perused with surprisingly neutral interest, there's only one reason I bought this - Darwyn Cooke.

Crossing Midnight #1 (DC/Vertigo): I saw a sneak preview or an ad or something for this book a while back and made a mental note to pick it up. When I thumbed through it, I couldn't recall why I actually wanted to buy it, but was feeling financially cavalier, so it got heaped onto this week's pile.

Ex Machina: Volume 4: March to War (DC/Wildstorm): True, there have been a few lows in this book, but they're amid a sea of predominant highs, and overall it's still one of the best books on the stands.


Defining The Standard

Scott O. Brown, Guest Contributor over at CBR, recently posted a column about defining a standard and applying some basic rules to the medium. This criteria can then be used to determine the best comics based on their literary, artistic, and historical context. I thought his breakdown was fascinating, simple to use, and I might even deliberately try it out on an upcoming round of reviews to see how it fits. I'm admittedly paraphrasing, but it goes something like this;

Literary Context: the story itself, does the narrative pose a moral or intellectual argument? Without this, there's no inherent literary merit. Is there emotional ressonance or learning experiences that either the characters or audience can grow with? And simply, the story must work. It has to play by the rules of the story itself and form a coherent story structure.

Artistic Context: the merit of the art itself, does it serve the story? Does it exhibit the proper style or tone, supporting or enhancing the story? Does it boast clear panel to panel storytelling? It must tell a story sequentially. Is it innovative? Remember that average art can be elevated by a great story, but bad art can destroy genius storytelling. If the content isn't clear, the art has failed to rise to the standard.

Historical Context: is the work important for reasons other than its inherent content? Is it the first of its kind? Was it critically or commercially successful in some significant way culturally? Did it change or influence the medium for better or worse? Works can have any combination of the criteria, but there are some interesting examples. A work can be strong in the first two categories, but not the last (ie: it delivers on its promise, a fun adventure book, but nothing more, no greater significance). It can also have nothing to offer artistically or in a literary sense, but be significant historically.

Thanks to Scott for daring to ask the complex question, how do we define criteria to determine "what is 'good' comic book literature?"


11.22.06 Reviews

Casanova #6 (Image): "Indentured Sexitude." Hah! Again, there are things to love and a few bits that grate on me. There's some reliance on a little Charlie's Angels and a little Kill Bill, which don't make it feel terribly original. But, in that regard it reads sorta' like an awesome mix tape sounds. You know the person didn't write the songs, but the magical way they lace them all together can become something awesome on its own. I dig the way that Sabine Seychelle, in all his "breakitude of the 4th wallery," interrupts a few panels to talk to us as the "did you not?" realization about Cass hits him. Loved how old man Quinn has to scribble the immunity deal on a stray console. It's funny like Ellis-Nextwave funny. Overall, Fraction's scripts are losing the slightly pretentious vibe I wasn't into before and are upping the funny/meta/remix quotient. All for $1.99. Grade B+.

X-Factor #13 (Marvel): The long-awaited Doc Samson psychoanalysis issue finally hits. It's a solid issue, but not as strong as the fabled X-Factor #87 from a previous Peter David run, as I recall it through my nostalgia goggles, anyway. What I remember from #87 is that Doc Samson was completely wrong in his analysis of the previous lineup of the X-Factor members. And that in itself was the charm. It could be superficially played for laughs because he was *so* off, but then it took a very interesting turn. The characters themselves seemed to know themselves and their respective psychoses quite well and strongly informed Doc Samson about their pasts and motivational drivers. It was played from their points of view as we rotated through their individual sessions. Here, in #13, it's handled a little differently. To me, it seems that David's script is completely from the POV of the Doc. He's more in control and has to wade through layers of denial and false facades that the new incarnation of X-Factor wears. And while the personalities of the characters are often the opposite of what they overtly present to the world, it's not Doc Samson that's wrong or confused, he knows what they're laying down, it's the characters themselves that feel lost and truly in need of a guiding hand from an objective therapist. So, it's different. It's not better or worse in itself, but there is little room for twists when handled like this. True, there are some interesting bits of revelation, like Layla and Jaime's future, or nods to the past (Pietro's waiting in the ATM line was nice), but overall it's more straightforward and less surprising. Yes, the characters are opposite of what they seem, but it's presented more matter of factly and less insightful. And so for that, for my money, while a strong issue, it does not have the fun edge, the unexpected bite that #87 had. Raimondi's art is also a little "squishy" compared to the edge that Quesada had with his pencils back in the day. What am I really saying? If forced to pick, I'd take #87 (more pointed) over #13 (a little more obtuse), but in and of itself, a great issue. Grade B+.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #4 (Image/Desperado): I still like the concept for this book. But, there are moments when the panel to panel storytelling just isn't clear. And it's also just a pet peeve when intentions are not made clear by the creators. So this is going to be a series of mini-series(?) is all I can assume at this point. I remember when this book came out, I didn't know if it was an ongoing or a mini. Then when I discovered it was a mini, I didn't know how many issues it would be. Now that I know it's 4, and it's over, the plot is left completely dangling. I mean, the throughline is to find Princess Alyss. End of series and she's still missing. Umm, what? So there will be more mini-series now? Or not? Are we 'sposed to go buy the prose novel? I need a clearly articulated marketing plan, please. Also, the rainbow colored word balloons with a young off-beat female character who talks in pseudo-riddles? Umm, yeah, Neil Gaiman did that like 10 years ago with Delirium in Sandman. Grade B-.

52: Week Twenty-Nine (DC): Well, it should have been called 52: Week Exposition. With lines like (and this is only about 1/4 of the text in the speech baloon) "Sandman uncovered charges brought against a dozen 'heroes' over the last few months." Really? Sandman? Funny, I don't recall Sandman being in 52. Rule #1 in spotting expository dialogue... show me, don't tell me, what happened. On top of that, cruddy art that makes everyone's facial expressions look like they're trying to umm... "drop the kids off at the pool." And, it's just not funny. Egg Fu? Really, Egg Fu? That's all we can muster for chuckles? More like Egg Flat. Grade D-.

I also picked up;

New X-Men Omnibus Hardcover (Marvel): Hey man, it may be $99, but this is like 40 issues of Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Igor Kordey, about the X-Men, in hardcover. 'Nuff said.


11.15.06 Reviews

The Escapists #5 (Dark Horse): Well, if you start out with a Paul Pope cover, how can I not like the issue! Jason Shawn Alexander's interior art here is like a blend of Jae Lee and JH Williams, which is something to be admired. This book is just so... GOOD. Vaughan's script has a way of feeling weighty and important without being preachy, and is fun and cool, without being campy or feeling dumbed down. He's able to imbue his characters with such heart, grace, and dignity. Case as Luna Moth? How sweet and endearing is that? If that last page doesn't have some heart, provide commentary on the evolving hero archetype, and just wrip your damn heart out, then I don't know anything about anything. This is just too good. I'm almost speechless. Grade A+.

New Avengers #25 (Marvel): There's a lot to love about this issue. Let me just hit you with some rapid fire elements. Jim Cheung's art has never looked better. It's crisp and extremely effective from a panel to panel storytelling standpoint. Check out the opening sequence, a rather complex break in, which is conveyed convincingly with no dialogue whatsoever. The Jarvis sequence is chilling. Bendis totally captured a brilliant, but slightly sideways disgruntled employee. Dug the security features in the suit. Dialogue on the Helicarrier was classic Bendis, in a good way. Loved seeing things from the POV of Tony inside the armor. Thought the disgruntled employee made some rather erudite points about Tony hiding behind the suit, thus removing the human element from the nasty bits of his work. Fun to see Maria Hill get outfitted with some tech toys. Fun to see her developing and asserting her personality. Fun to see her think on her feet and all of the action sequences rendered so well. So, this book narrowly escapes an A+ because of a slightly flawed analogy on the last page. Now, I love A Few Good Men, it's one of my favorite movies and I know Bendis likes it too since Aaron Sorkin wrote it. But the analogy here is a) too overtly relied upon, and b) not quite executed succinctly. Maria Hill makes the point that in the movie, Lt. Dan Caffey (Tom Cruise's character) is assigned to an important case specifically because the perception is that he's not ready for it. Thus, he can be manipulated into plea bargaining it away so that it never sees the inside of a courtroom and the core issue never gets the attention it so deserves. Now, the question is why would Maria Hill, a nobody SHIELD agent from the Madripoor post, be appointed as Director of the Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate? Her point is that, umm... she doesn't want it? And... Tony should do it? Such a ball drop of an analogy. Wouldn't a slightly different twist and more effective approach consistent with the original idea from A Few Good Men have been that she was specifically appointed to SHIELD Director precisely at the moment that Civil War would break out, so that she could be manipulated into hunting down Captain America, because God knows that Colonel Nick Fury would *never* in a million years have done that? The analogy is about people's perceptions of your ability and their ability to influence you toward a desired outcome based on that. So close to perfection. Sigh. So, so close. Grade A.

Astonishing X-Men #18 (Marvel): I'll caveat this by saying that I still think in 20 years, Whedon's run of AXM will be one of those fondly remembered runs that everyone wants to own and is a defining moment for one or more characters. However, this particular issue is a bit complicated to follow through all of the mental machinations/projections of Cassandra Nova, Emma Frost, the "White Queen," and members of the Hellfire Club, etc. I get the general gist and like that there is not even a pause as we gear up for the next arc involving the run to the Breakworld. In some instances, I feel that if Whedon inserted just *one* more line of dialogue it would add a much needed level of clarity. Example: Scott says "Kitty, understand... Cassandra brought you here to open the box. What Emma brought you here to do... is what you're doing now." And then it just stops! I don't know what she's doing exactly. Pointing a gun at Emma? Challenging her authority? Freaking out over her and Piotr's "dead baby?" Fracturing her divisive inner voice? I'm just not certain. Grade A-.

Civil War #5 (Marvel): Having not been too terribly perturbed by the characterization thus far in the book, I enjoyed this issue. It's really in the realm of mindless entertainment now, like a summer popcorn movie. The brief scuffle bewteen Tony/Iron Man and Pete/Spider-Man was fun (though I find it hard to believe that Peter's new suit designed by Tony wouldn't have some sort of fail-safe over-ride code implanted in it surreptitiously). There are some fun moments, Daredevil being captured, and the clever introduction of Punisher with a nice homage shot. Grade B+.

The Leading Man #4 (Oni): So, I missed issue 3 somehow and really have no idea what's going on here. Looks purdy and I do trust B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun as creators, so I'll probably forego issue 5 and pick up the eventual trade. Grade B.

Checkmate #8 (DC): Too much Kali Yuga. Not enough political espionage hoo-ha. And that's really why we read a Greg Rucka book, isn't it? Had a big issue with the color rendering too. Despite being from different nations, being different ages, and being like the poster children for United Colors of Benetton, pretty much all of the characters are colored the same here, with the obvious exception of Michael Holt. I was intrigued by the reference to who Holt will pick as his new Bishop (since he's recently been appointed as King), but for the most part I tuned out. This should be the Queen & Country of the DCU, but is a bit too inconsistent to maintain that mantle. Grade B-.

Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident #2 (Dark Horse): After being really entertained by the first issue, this one falls flat. It's weird in a creepy way, not weird in a funny way. I didn't laugh once. Grade C.

52: Week Twenty-Eight (DC): Wow, that's some ugly, jerky, rushed art. Ironic that the nice JG Jones cover depicting a less advanced race being influenced by the Red Tornado head (ala the worship of the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey) is more interesting than anything in the book. This issue feels extremely cobbled together as some plot threads long absent rear their dysfunctional heads. Grade D+.

I also picked up;

Absolute New Frontier (DC): What a beautiful edition of a masterful and important work by Darwyn Cooke, well worth the $75 price tag.

Outlaw Nation (Image/Desperado): I don't know much about this, but picked it up on a recommendation from one of the columnists over at CBR. For 19 issues @ $15.99 though, it's totally a steal.


11.08.06 Reviews (Few!) & Comics (Lots!)

Ok, so disregard that last post about reviews being non-existent this week. On my way back home from a business trip, I managed to squeeze in a few books since my flight was delayed and I got to sit at the airport for what felt like an eternity.

Stormwatch: Post Human Division #1 (DC/Wildstorm): You know what? I kinda' liked this. I feel almost ashamed to admit it, because I'm so surprised. The Wildstorm (yes, I refuse to capitulate and refer to it as "Worldstorm," because really what's what about?) relaunches have been thoroughly lackluster (at best) to date. And I really expected to like this one the least. While it is *just* an assembling the team issue, it's done pretty well. We're introduced to a nice ensemble cast of leftovers from previous Stormwatch incarnations, as well as some new players, and it feels pretty organic instead of forced. There's some witty, intuitive, natural sounding dialogue, that may be expository in spots, but is nonetheless engaging. The art is kind of "90's Image-y," but pretty consistent at that (a strength in itself) and energetic. While the last page reveal of a mole feels soooooo tired and disappointing, I actually might give this a couple issues. Wanted to hate it, but pleasantly shocked I didn't. Grade B.

52: Week Twenty-Seven (DC): Wow, for a few pages there I was kinda' getting pleasantly surprised. Felt like things were finally moving! But then, as usual, it gets all shitted up. Ralph takes on the mantle of The Spectre for a minute and confronts Jean Loring! Woo! But then he's acting all out of character and I still don't get what happened despite reading that scene 3 times. Fun to see the possible "missing 52 seconds" where Skeets confronts Waverider, hints at what he's made of, and W'Rider retorts with Rip Hunter's (now seemingly) deliberate lack of true identity and inability to find him. Could Renee Montoya be the new Question? Cool! But, Charlie's illness seemed to come from nowhere, yes? Cool to see the possible reference to Batwoman Kane and Ralph being pulled to Nanda Parbat. It feels like some of the plot threads are finally converging, yet when you stop to think - it also feels totally random. Grade B-.

Bullet Points #1 (Marvel): Brilliant idea. Take Alan Davis' approach to JLA: The Nail and slap it against the Marvel U. Poor execution. Instead of a single altered event (the proverbial butterfly flap in Japan) having an unforeseen ripple effect (creating a Tsunami in Hawaii) and following a pretty linear progression, this feels more like putting some Marvel characters and their identities in a bag and shaking vigorously to emulsify, ala oil and vinegar. Steve Rogers is in the Iron Man armor? Peter Parker assumably is irradiated by gamma particles and... Hulks out? Not too sure if I like this approach to Marvel Elseworlds, it's different but in a sillly, repetitive, contradictory way. I did enjoy the JMS-penned history lessons about WWII. He takes us on a nice succinct tour through Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death Marth, Corregidor Island, and Guadalcanal. But, I have some nitpicks. Why would the Iron Man armor be posed that way in a case? And the first page breakdown of the bullet? Fun idea, but the facts are all wrong. That's actually not what all bullets do ballistically speaking. And it's very misleading to laymen to explain it that way without removing the bullet, meaning the actual projectile, from the shell casing, or talking about the fire pin strike against the actuator, the strip slide ejection system, barrel rifling, etc. Anywho... Great art from Tommy Lee Edwards. Grade C+.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes #1 (Marvel): Didn't Joe Casey already do this book? Something with Scott Kolins? Is it meant to be a series of mini-series? Anyway... This is sort of like when I'm reading a really good book, but I need background static so I pop on a CD softly in the distance. Let me clarify that in that analogy, this book is not the "really good book," but rather the harmless, inconsequential white noise in the background. I hear it, but I'm not listening. It neither adds to or detracts from what I'm doing. It's not my focus. It's not interesting. I'm not interacting with it. It's just... there. Grade C.

I also picked up;

Midnight Sun #2 (Slave Labor Graphics): I really, really, really liked the first issue of this quiet, thoughtful, moody little mini-series from SLG and was ecstatic to find the second issue. It had been so long since the first came out, I thought that it was either cancelled or that I'd somehow missed it along the way. Check it out!

Tales of the Unexpected #2 (DC): Don't care about The Spectre headliner, I'm here for Dr. 13! God, I hope they collect that story independent of the rest of this.

Eternals #5 (Marvel): I now realize that I'm only buying the rest of this series because I have the first 4 issues.

Phonogram #3 (Image): Yes! My favorite new series fom Image!

DMZ #13 (DC/Vertigo): Is this the best thing coming out of Vertigo right now? Oooooh! I just pissed off all the Y: The Last Man fans.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #2 (Marvel): Really enjoying Brian K. Vaughan's take on The Sorcerer Supreme. Will this finally be the definitive work about Stephen Strange?


Happy Birthday 13 Minutes

Woo-Hoo! 13 Minutes is now one year old! One complete year of blogging, my how the time flies. Also a note to let you know that due to some family events running from Thursday through the weekend, reviews for this week will be significantly delayed (or possibly flat out non-existent).


11.01.06 Reviews (Part 2)

Jonah Hex #13 (DC): I've sampled early issues of Jonah Hex and been really unimpressed. While Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's writing boasts interesting bits, I really couldn't get over the pencils that borrowed extremely heavily from Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns and other pop culture influences. So... when European Comics God Jordi Bernet signed on for an arc, an origin story arc no less, I decided to give it another shot. And I'm glad I did! This was phenomenal. Very pleased to see that instead of infusing his origin with the supernatural, Gray and Palmiotti made a wise decision to just tell an interesting tale of a former Confederate Soldier and how he came to be transformed into the entity known as Jonah Hex, a name feared in the Old West. And Jordi Bernet, my God. This man cannot receive enough praise. His pencils are a dichotomy of feel. They are light and airy, yet dense and detailed. They seem best suited for action, yet surprise you with their poignancy during quiet moments. They can be bright and hopeful or dark and dreary and shift modes accordingly. One minor quibble is that that last page splash has a "CS" on Hex's belt buckle. Typically, the standard issue Confederate buckle would have actually had a "CSA" on it for Confederate States of America. While the comparable Union buckles had "GAR" on them (no, not for Gar Logan from the Teen Titans!) for Grand Army of the Republic. Sorry. But, I've actually owned one. Part of the fallout from growing up with parents who are Antique Dealers and a Dad who is a self-proclaimed Civil War nut. Anyway, I'm totally on board for this three issue run and may even give the whole series another shot. Grade A.

Criminal #2 (Marvel/Icon): Man, I'm going to catch hell for this... Ok, I like Ed Brubaker's writing. Really, I do. I think he's good. I'm not, however, one of these people who is like rabidly blown away by everything he does. This issue kind of smacks of The Italian Job (which Brube does cop to), some elements of Pulp Fiction, and definitely more than a pinch of The Usual Suspects. Complete with the diversionary heist, which ends with the drugs-being-substituted-for-diamonds switcheroo. And the entire set of cops turning on them was absolutely telegraphed, so it wasn't all that suspenseful when the shootout in the tunnel finally occurs. There are moments of sheer brilliance in his writing, the line "I'm sinking here" basically sums up the character of Greta in just 3 words of dialogue. That's just brilliant. I dig the protagonist's deferential respect for his dad's pal, old-timer Ivan. It's really a dense read too, it moves very spryly for what amounts to a series of pages full of "talking heads." And I like Sean Phillips' art, it's actually lost some of the blocky hard edges it had in say, Wildcats, and looks here to be a bit more on par with Michael Gaydos' (Alias, Snakewoman, etc.) relatively softer lines. I guess what I'm saying is that this is done very well, it's just not as original as I think some people give Brubaker credit for. Sheesh, what a backhanded compliment. Grade B+.

Superman Confidential #1 (DC): This is a very pretty, well written book about Superman's early career in Metropolis. And that's basically what you'd expect from artist Tim Sale and writer Darwyn Cooke, both of whom have a fondness and strong ability to capture this era. I thought it was interesting that for me personally, I actually was enjoying their portrayal of the quiet character moments between Jimmy/Clark/Lois more than any of the superheroic bits. Having Kryptonite be the initial narrator for the series was, I know - the point, the origin of Kryptonite and all... but nevertheless felt a little awkward and didn't flow so well in the early pages. I guess my apprehension here is that it's just hard to say anything new about Superman. I'm *mildly* interested in the Jimmy/Clark/Lois being investigative reporters angle, with them sniffing around Tony Gallo's Casino, so that may hold my attention for another issue or two. If you like Superman, you'll probably really dig this. I've just never been a huge fan. Grade B+.

The Nightly News #1 (Image): Hey! Jonathan Hickman! Over here! Dude, it's called spell-check, look into it. It's plagiarize, not "plagerize." It's conscientious objector, not "contentious" objector. It's the International Monetary Fund, not the "Internation" Monetary Fund. It's savvy, not "savy." And finally, the author's name you're referring to is Arthur Desmond, not "Authur" Desmond. So... after wading through the spelling bee reject files, I actually like this book. It takes a little bit of Brian Wood's Channel Zero type work, tosses in a smidge of Joe Casey's The Intimates, adds a heaping dose of beautiful design sense, and pulls off a very condemning view of modern media conglomerates. Specifically, I like the idea that modern media juggernauts don't truly educate as they would like to believe, but are merely government controlled vessels that indoctrinate us into being good little consumers. And it's like The Matrix, the world is so fleshed out and fully realized, we don't even have the ability to recognize that the wool is being pulled over our eyes. For me, the concept of The VOICE and The HAND is a little too "cultish" for my taste, and I would have preferred more of a lone gunman type of approach to rebellion, but I do enjoy trying to decipher whether or not The VOICE is just another type of "Big Brother" entity or merely the delusional internal "voice," ie: the mental ravings of a bunch of lunatics. There are some nice implicit messages in here, like changing or making your own reality vs. simply accepting what you're given. Hickman has taken a lot of flak about the design of this book being "non-traditional" in its layouts, but I think that's its strongest quality. I'm in for the mini-series, but my eye for spelling accuracy will be relentless. You've been forewarned. Grade B.

Please Release (Top Shelf): I was pleasantly surprised to see the release of another work from indy upstart Nate Powell, and then pleasantly disappointed by the outcome. There's no denying the authenticity his work is rooted in and the heartfelt emotion that he conveys. However, there are moments where his use of language has a side-effect that makes his words come across as pretentious. Lines like "As advocate and staff, my role in checking and debasing power is crucial," or "my relationship to power dynamics as advocate and radical is a compatible polarity," just sort of suck my enthusiasm for the work away. They're trying to sound important. Powell needs to study Hemingway and develop an appreciation for the short declarative sentence. Sometimes you can convey an idea more effectively by using simple language rather than flowery prose that shows your mastery of vocabulary. "Nick drank the coffee. It was bitter. Nick smiled." vs. "Mr. Adams' forlorn reluctance to imbibe the bitter apertif was evidenced by the eventual capitulation of his subsequent smirk." I do dig his pencils though. His layouts are imaginative and his style is extremely versatile. Check out how his tiny characters climb the panel walls in the gutter on page 15. For extremely strong work by Powell, I'd suggest his earlier graphic novel Tiny Giants. Grade B-.

11.01.06 Reviews (Part 1)

Ex Machina #24 (DC/Wildstorm): A satisfying conclusion to another strong arc that's rife with social commentary. If only the big newspapers were daring enough to reprint comp issues of Ex Machina, instead of the dullard 1960's Spider-Man reprints. A move like that would really raise the level of social debate in this country. Anyway. Ex Machina is one of the strongest books on the stands, but I'm struck by how unfriendly single issues are. This is one of those works that *totally* reads better in trade form, I'm wondering if I should be "one of those people" that (gasp!) "waits for the trade" and doesn't support the creators by buying single issue installments? Grade A-.

Midnighter #1 (DC/Wildstorm): *Spoiler Alert* Well, between this and the last arc of Desolation Jones, is Hitler the villain de rigueur these days or what? I'll be pleasantly surprised if Ennis can actually deliver on that last page tease and tie this back to that random issue of the Captain Atom: Armageddon mini-series that showed Midnighter and Captain Atom popping through multiversal doorways capping (at the time) random people. Chris Sprouse's pencils are at his usual best as Midnighter generally fucks people up, is a miserable bastard of a scoundrel, eschews any type of personal relationship, and just likes kicking people's heads off when he's bored. I was a bit confused in the opening sequence at first (ie: why would Midnighter be taking on US M1 Abrams tanks?), but that was explained. Ennis does his usual thing, Midnighter's a badass, the title character is established, and Sprouse makes it all look real purdy, but nothing new is really being said here. If you're simply into the Ennis/Midnighter vibe, you'll be satisfied enough, but I tend to want a little bit more substance, or... art or something with my violence. Nevertheless, this has my attention for about two more issues to see if anything related to the relaunch of the Wildstorm titles is about teaching the proverbial old dogs any new tricks or we're just doomed to see Spot sit, roll over... sit, roll over... sit, roll over... ad infinitum. Grade B.

Justice League of America #3 (DC): It's interesting to me that you can really detect Meltzer was a novelist prior to his comic work, as evidenced by the reliance on caption boxes which seem to carry the crux of the story, as opposed to actual dialogue bubbles. And speaking of those character caption boxes, I'm still confused by the colors. I mean, really. Intuitively speaking, which color box should Roy Harper or Dinah Lance have to be instantly recognizable? That's just it, there isn't one. But that stuff is all construction of the story, I guess. When you get past that, this is fun. Not earth-shattering or award-winning, but just plain fun. There are still nice character moments between Roy/Dinah/Hal, Bruce/Diana/Clark, and Hawkgirl/Black Lightning, as well as the introduction of a fun old school villain. Not as solid and insightful as it thinks it is, but still... Grade B.

Star Wars: Tag & Bink Were Here (Dark Horse): The premise of this collection of shorter stories is brilliant. Two losers begin their Rebel career on the Tantive IV, and unwittingly don Stormtrooper outfits to escape. From there, they embark on a journey that takes them through nearly every Star Wars film. They become bit players, ala Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, who are mysteriously present just before or just after major scenes in the saga. In a few cases, they're right there in the background of major scenes, and in some cases influence the outcome. Hilarious art from Lucas Marangon and chucklesome gags from writer Kevin Rubio. I especially liked the writers comments directly to the audience and will really never get tired of jokes about Lando as a Shlitz-guzzling Space-Pimp who brags about his heroics at the Battle of Tanaab to score with the ladies. The whole package nearly makes it home, except for the last chapter. While the bulk of the work feels well-researched and thought out, the last installment dealing with the prequels feels rushed and just falls short because it's not that funny, relying heavily on a Cyrano de Bergerac inspired plot that goes nowhere. First 3/4 of this would get Grade A, last 1/4 is about a D+. Dont' ask me what that really averages out to, but I'll be generous and give it an overall Grade B.

Agents of Atlas #4 (Marvel): I'm starting to have mixed emotions about this book and wonder if writer Jeff Parker is losing steam toward the end of the mini-series. They're actually not Agents of Atlas per se, they're investigating the Atlas Foundation. Unless this is a purposeful opposite, such as "Nextwave: Agents of HATE," in which the team will discover their benefactor is evil. It's just confusing. Also was bothered by the fact that they decide to make a random and leisurely pit-stop in Fiji, and their arch-nemesis Yellow Claw just happens to be there(?), or was that how Jimmy Woo figured out there was a traitor in their midst? It's not clear. I did enjoy the self-referential swipes that Gorilla Man takes at Marvel on the last page, fun! Beautiful art from Leonard Kirk, has a really solid mastery of both action and quiet facial expressions. Overall though, I'm finding that I'm starting to lose interest in most of the characters, except for the sexuality of Venus and Derek Khanata of Wakanda. Can I have a spin-off series about him? "Derek Khanata: Agent of SHIELD." Has a ring to it... Grade B.

Local #7 (Oni Press): Another solid issue that captures an effective slice of someone's life and how that is juxtaposed against their surroundings. In particular, this issue gives the reader the ability to infer the protagonist's background and temperament solely using effective panel transitions and very minimal dialogue. Grade B.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #2 (Marvel): It's like a decision needs to be made about what this book is trying to be. Is Ant-Man really going to be despicable and irredeemable or is this book going to be funny? Right now, it's neither. Chris dies. The Helicarrier crashes (and how the hell did those no-name villains bring down a damn SHIELD Helicarrier, by the way!?). Those are pretty serious notes for a "funny" book to hit. And with the path that Eric is now on, it's like he will learn to become a hero... or a path of redemption. Which sorta' negates the title. Hester & Parks' art is great, save for those random red blocky lines... what the hell was that about? Note to creative team: you have two more issues to clarify your intentions before I'm out. Grade B-.

52: Week Twenty-Six (DC): Here, without any further ado, is a string of gripes with a couple of nice tips of the hat boasting absolutely no structure organizing them whatsoever... Actually a pretty clever 1950's monster movie homage cover when you stop to take a look at it. Since you don't really see her directly until the 5th panel, it was sort of difficult to discern than Renee Montoya was the narrator of those caption boxes. I thought it was stupidly inconsistent that Black Adam makes it a point to say "There's nothing for miles, no villages, no settlements," from which we can assume he deduced via a superpowered scan during his overhead flyby. Yet, a mere single page later, one panel after the Black Adam family takes off, one lousy story beat later, someone shouts "Charlie!!!" and there are clearly inhabitants of this remote area a mere 20 feet away. Enter Richard Dragon. Umm, yeah. Last time I saw Richard Dragon was in the last issue of his aborted series. Where he died. Then a bunch of other stuff happens. Steel looks like a bald Colossus. And there's a talking crocodile. A surprisingly decent encapsulation of some very convoluted Hawkman history courtesy of Mark Waid, complete with detailed, but clean pencils from Joe Bennett. Grade C-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Desolation Jones TPB (DC/Wildstorm): It would have just been too easy to give the Graphic Novel Of The Month nod to the Absolute Sandman Hardcover Edition, but I didn't have to look far to find another extremely worthy contender.

Warren Ellis and JH Williams are firing strongly on all cylinders here and it's impressive to see two creators at their peak performance succeed in delivering something different for them both. From a writing perspective, Ellis wields his usual cadre of wild ideas, but they're not so manic that they become nebulous or feel like scattershot. They're outlandish, yes, but also restrained and focused with a clear set of consistent themes and strong characterization.

With his unique penciling ability, Williams proves yet again that he's a versatile craftsman who can employ a variety of techniques, but here captures what can only be described as superhero/espionage "residue" now uncomfortably home in a bleak LA setting, complete with bouts of surrealism and paranoia. Oh, and he can nail an action sequence.

Desolation Jones is a great example of perfectly blending the talents of both artist and writer for a work of art that transcends to become greater than the sum of its parts. Through their use of seemingly random assortments of genre tropes, some noir, some post-modern, some spy/espionage, some straight superhero, some crime/detective, some surreal Morrison-esque bits (for lack of a better decriptor), which all culminate to create a hybrid new sub-genre of pop fiction.

It would be easy to take a superficial glance at this and dismiss it as a simple shock-value comic about "Hitler porn," but that would be missing the whole point of the work. As Roger Ebert used to say, "great movies are not about what they're about, they're about how they're about what they're about." In other words, this is not a story about Hitler's long lost porn collection. This is a story about how that McGuffin is merely a plot device that sets the framework to tell a more meaningful and introspective tale about a former British agent, with regrets from a life lived. We see him try to reconcile his past life with his current, endure the lingering fallout (physical and emotional) from that youthful, hedonistic, invulnerable time, and are reminded about the proverbial danger of looking into the abyss. You can take the boy out of psychologically damaging covert operations, but you can't take psychologically damaging covert operations out of the boy.

As a bonus, we're treated to an eccentric cast of off-beat characters. This helps create a small pocket universe in this overlooked corner of LA and allows Ellis and his collaborators the opportunity to promulgate many other tales moving forward, using those relatively loose themes as a backdrop that ties them all together. I honestly feel that this is Ellis' second-best creation (second only to Planetary), which is pretty high praise. He's had numerous other "near hits," Down certainly comes to mind. If that only had Tony Harris' art through issues 2-4 instead of Cully Hamner, then Desolation Jones might have some more fierce competition. But, I digress.

It's a perfect time to jump onto this series. This trade paperback collects the first 6 issues of the series, and a new arc with artist Danijel Zezelj just began with issue 7. If you like Ellis or just want something a little different, this series will not disappoint. Grade A.