2.28.07 Reviews - Part 1

Doctor Strange: The Oath #5 (Marvel): I like the compelling argument that's presented for scientific discoveries in medicine, as well as the continued theme about accepting responsibility for one's actions. Marcos Martin's art is at an all time high, love the shot of Stephen Strange during the rooftop teleportation sequence, where he looks ominous, powerful, and in control. This ends in a surprisingly physical confrontation (not a magical one) that also requires Stephen to make a moral choice. And it's a refreshing change of pace, not to mention a nice nod to Iron Fist. Strange's ultimate choice tells us a lot about his character and is also a nice tidy wrap up to this enjoyable mini-series. Vaughan flirts with homoerotic innuendo between Stephen and Wong, but does indeed answer the speculative questions about his sexuality with a beautiful last page pin up of an embracing Dr. Strange and the Night Nurse. Bravo! Grade A.

Godland #16 (Image): This book was not released this week. Yes, the framing device for this special "catch up with everything to date and and hop-on-board" issue is painfully transparent, but hey it's .60 cents and there's a lot of bang for that bit of buck. It catches new readers up pretty painlessly, kicks off a new plot thread, boasts its trademark humor ("It's just how I roll"), and is a nice price break for regular readers - a chance to catch their breath before the next arc gears up. As a huge Joe Casey fan, the text piece in the back was also a nice touch and interesting to wander through. Grade A.

The Eternals #7 (Marvel): Of course, Romita's art looks great. It's the right balance of kinetic enrgy and static detail, I particularly like his rendition of Tony Stark. Gaiman is just off here from a plotting standpoint. There are some interesting ideas, but they're scattered around aimlessly, not connected with any readily apparent throughline that I can discern. I feel like no matter what happens, if it's consistent with what's come before, is logical in terms of what's supposed to happen, or deviates significantly from expectations, I just wouldn't know. I don't get the sense that a set of planned, specific elements were put into motion with the intent to be resolved, evidenced by this being the 7th issue of a *SIX* issue series. The tired Civil War registration references don't help either, cuz' that's like, done and stuff. The last page leaves it very open-ended for more, but curiously, I don't want any more. Grade C.

52: Week Forty-Three (DC): Thank heavens this ended the way it did because Osiris is really starting to piss me off. Sobek is sorta' fun as a new character, especially with that unexpected (albeit head-scratching end), but sorry, I just don't like Osiris' manic-depressive ways. In one panel he's all heated up with expository drivel like "All of the meat in Khandaq has spoiled! The water has made the people sick! Our land is dying!" And then we get the suicidal "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell. This is all my fault. I've cursed Khandaq because of what I've done." It's also funny (no, not in a good haha way) when a balloon says "you're bleeding," but the character clearly isn't. Perhaps this is the result of 3 guys doing the art (yes, that's Giffen on breakdowns, Jurgens on layouts, and Rapmund on finishes). Wow, and to think most books only have one guy on art and those look better and make more sense! "I could really go for some hummus and lamb right now" is about the only good thing here. Grade D+.


2.21.07 Reviews - Part 2

Hunter & Painter (Buenaventura Press): Another wonderful little mini-comic from the prolific Tom Gauld: http://www.cabanonpress.com/. This was a charming little tale about, you guessed it, the village Hunter and Painter, and how they challenge the prevalent archetypes in their little society, capturing moods and hitting sweet little notes of friendship, isolation, fate, and transcendence. Grade A.

Silent War #2 (Marvel): David Hine's script is bristling with energy about a society that truly believes in peace, yet is well prepared for war. And it's a war that's shaping up to be much more interesting than the Civil War that preceded it. The allegorical references to Churchill having anthrax bombs to retaliate against the German fire bombings proves that all it takes to win sometimes is the will to do what the other guy won't. The real treat here though, worth the price of admission alone, is Frazer Irving's dark quirky art style which is a perfect mate for the Inhumans. It creeps along with a troubling energy that nails the ethereal, otherworldy look required to depict those from Attilan. I was also taken with the little cookies he leaves everywhere, like a faceless Maria Hill (perhaps representing the homogenized government machine that she represents?) and the shadows of Quicksilver along the wall (which boast some devil horns as seen from the perspective of Luna, Crystal, and the Royal Family). Good script with great art? I say Grade A.

DMZ #16 (DC/Vertigo): This issue really hits on the beat of identity - just who is Matty Roth? What is he truly loyal to? There's a strong message here about the balance of reporting the news vs. becoming the news, as all factions now have reason to distrust him and his actions directly progress the plot of what he's supposedly reporting on. It's also full of hypocritical irony - that the US encourages the sending of UN troops as "peacekeepers" in numerous foreign states, but would of course be outraged if that every happened on US soil. The "Free States" as "insurgents" also makes for a nice verbal juxtaposition. Trustwell essentially has one arm creating demand for services by covertly backing insurgent cells, while the other arm publicly offers clean up in the form of Security Services. Nothing like creating your own market in a vacuum. It's kind of like funding Middle Eastern, government-aligned oil barons with money and military hardware, then going to root them out 10 or 20 years later in a purported war on terror, pocketing political favors and kickbacks with your cast of nepotistic cronies along the way. Oh wait, that's not a comic book plot. Grade A.

Local #8 (Oni Press): Megan fends off a bevy of suitors as she confronts her right to something better in life. Her quest for proper entitlement meets the weird reality that relationships sometimes just go all odd and irrational. As a former restaurateur, I particularly enjoyed the creative team capturing the universal truth that all restaurants, no matter if it's Pizza Hut or the trendiest 5-star joint in town, all restaurants are seedy dens of iniquity, rife with flirtation, incestuous relationships, and petty political posturing. All in that "special way" that's appealing to outsiders ("hey, I bet working there was fun!"), but never repeatable to those in the know ("umm, it's fun for a second until you get inevitably burned out on that lifestyle"). What started as stand-alone issues with disparate connectivity is now becoming more focused on Megan and her journey to adulthood, as she learns lessons, both difficult and subtle, along the way. That type of gritty genuine storytelling coupled with art that is the perfect marriage of Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple gets you... Grade A.

Immortal Iron Fist #3 (Marvel): The cover image of Iron Fist still fronts with a torso that's weirdly elongated and hurts my brain to look at. But, other than that, Aja's art is totally strong. The script confidently chugs along here; I like the nice time jumping scenes, which make the whole thing feel kind of epic in proportion. It's no longer just about some martial artist street brawler type, but about a man's familial quest to understand and accept his place in the world. The flashback scenes have some Guy Davis influence and the curvature of the gymnastics on that 9 panel grid page are downright graceful in their balance. Throw in some Steranko style pop art to the fight scene with Orson and Danny and this thing is reading like an artistic primer on various modern styles. Grade A-.

2.21.07 Reviews - Part 1

The Brave & The Bold #1 (DC): There's a lot to like here! A genuine detective story with intergalactic ramifications making for a seamless and respectful Batman/Green Lantern team up, old school banter that hits all the right continuity notes, beautifully detailed and choreograhped pencils from George Perez, and even a little nod to Vertigo/Sandman continuity with the Book of Destiny. Books like this are a special joy to read, not only because they get so much right, but because that very fact also makes them rare. This book has a clear vision of what it's supposed to do - and then does it extremely well. This is one to watch! Grade A.

Wasteland #7 (Oni Press): The thing that struck me this issue was that Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten (aided this time by fan fave Carla Speed McNeil) understand one thing very well. They understand the concept of what I'll call "classic science-fiction." They know that true sci-fi doesn't necessarily involve spaceships and laser beams, those are just tired genre tropes. They know that genuine classic sci-fi is centered around an interesting core premise, asking a series of "what if?" type questions that force the creators and the readers to play those ideas out to their logical conclusion. This is what made the old Twilight Zone show work so well. In that framework, there is a method, a science to the act of creating fiction. They're quickly proving themselves modern masters of this craft. Grade A.

Checkmate #11 (DC): Greg Rucka continues to weave one of the most intricate and sophisticated series of plots that the DCU has seen in a long time. It's an eclectic, but engaging cast of unique personalities (Judomaster's son? Check. Blackhawks? Check.) being woven together to make a wonderful tapestry of rich stories. Yes, it's strong, it's strong, it's very strong. And I know this really isn't a fair criticism, but with every issue of Checkmate that comes out with regularity and increasing strength, I miss issues of Queen & Country which now come out with ever decreasing regularity. I'm glad he's gained some new fans and found this mainstream critically acclaimed hit, but compelled to get completely snobby and irrational about it and say "I like his older stuff." It's like when a band you've been listening to for years finally gets radio airplay and your friends suddenly jump on the bandwagon and like it. Hey man, I've been reading Rucka's taut political spy stuff since I bought Queen & Country #1 off the stands years ago. This is good, but ain't nothing new for him; just new for the DCU. Grade A-.

The Nightly News #4 (Image): At times, it's difficult to find and stay focused on a throughline that runs from the beginning of an issue to the end. Instead, it can read like a random collage of ideas. But, that's not entirely a bad thing. On one hand, it's a bit frustrating because it shakes the traditional comic book paradigm. On the other hand, it shakes the traditional comic book paradigm and I feel like maybe that's the point of the book at a very macro level. It's a new way to experience a comic, a new way to digest the information presented to you from the media, to look at how it's framed, and what it's truly trying to convey (read: manipulate you) with a different (perhaps skeptical) eye. In that sense, this is a very bold experiment. Grade B+.

Powers #23 (Marvel/Icon): Just when I think I'm getting kinda' bored with this title, that there's a little too much exposition, and that I can probably wait for the trade, sardonic gems like "a little taste of darkness in return for cum and nuggets... I wonder if it's because McDonalds announced they're serving breakfast all day? Or that Lindsay Lohan. Who knows?" pop up and crack me up. I like the obtuse tangle with the devil(?) here and all the hints that Bendis is dropping, which are fuel for another few miles of story. Grade B+.

52: Week Forty-Two (DC): In summary, there's only two things worth noting here, one great and one horrible. The great thing about this issue is Darick Robertson's art, which only further supports my old hypothesis that DC pulled a Vanessa Williams and "went and saved the best for last," reserving the "good" artists for later in the run of the book. He's the first artist that not only doesn't suck, but actually is quite good. He's got a gritty mean style that's lean and detailed in the right spots, while being lush and inky in others. I even see bits of Frank Quitely and Paul Pope coming out. The horrible thing is the script, which relies on a *huge* amount of magical exposition to get the points about Felix Faust and what *really* was going on with Neron, Dr. Fate, and Ralph across to the reader. In short, there was no way anyone could possibly have seen this coming in a fair manner. It just feels haphazard and crammed in to start resolving this plot thread. It's like watching a cop movie for two hours where they're hunting down a serial killer. And this move is purporting itself to be a real genuine cop thriller, a realistic whodunit, and in the third act the killer is revealed to be an alien from the Planet Zartron 12. It's so out of left field, a total huhwhat?! moment. So... A for art, F for story = Grade C.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC): All in all, kind of a pointless arc. We all know it's only a matter of time before Diana inevitably resumes the WW mantle, so we sit through 4 *mostly late* issues of this title filled with mystical Circe/Hercules/Donna/Magic Lasso hoohaa which really just returns us to the status quo for Jodi Picoult's run to begin. This is what's known in the industry as "the illusion of change." Superficially there appears to be all these life altering, wacky departures from the norm, and all kinds of consequence, but at the end of the day, we're right back where we started with a copasetic environment that doesn't stretch our familiar characters. The cheesecakey art is pretty distracting too, not visually, but thematically. Dodson's art is great in and of itself. But for a book purporting to be about a strong female lead who is sent to bring peace to mankind and alter the way we think, well gee, there's nothing like reinforcing the objectification of women to alter the way man thinks. Curious to see the new guy's art on Picoult's run. Grade D+.

Ex Machina: Inside the Machine (DC/Wildstorm): The content itself was interesting enough, but the idea of putting it into a single issue was ill-conceived. There have been plenty of opportunities to include some of this in any of the last 4 trade paperback collections - which have been notoriously skimpy on extra material. Better yet, why not save this all up for a big Absolute Edition of Ex Machina? Feeling kind of ripped off, Grade D.

Civil War #7 (Marvel): What a disappointing denoument. Wow, where to start? At a high level, this was really seven issues of nothing. Nothing has changed. Nothing is different. We've gone from point A all the way back around a huge circle jerk to point A again, without learning a thing. Nothing got resolved. There is still a Superhuman Registration Act. There is still a prison in the Negative Zone. There is still a (Reed's words, not mine) "radicalized underground" comprised of Cap's soldiers. Cap's big "realization" that the conflict was futile was recognized by nearly everyone reading this book months ago. There was nothing to "win" in this "war," rendering the fighting meaningless. If Cap's side "won" the conflict, nothing would have changed. That wouldn't have repealed the Registration Act. Similarly, if Tony's side "won," that wouldn't have resolved the issue of oppressing people's civil rights, nor would it have prevented unlicensed superheroes from operating, as evidenced by the underground Avengers still running around in this very book. The only place Cap actually got anything right was when he said they were winning "everything except the argument," which is a cogent point, yet sort of defeats the point of doing this mini-series if it was going to focus on brawling and not ideas the way it did. Not to mention the fact that the attempted resolution (using that word quite liberally here) of those issues all happened off panel. Yes, the most interesting, politically charged, potentially ground-breaking ideas, all happened in between panels in a devastatingly squandered opportunity for storytelling. It's like watching a movie for two hours where idea after complex idea is introduced, only to have the narrator say in a voiceover during the last act "Umm, and then everything was all better and stuff and they like, lived happily ever after. The End." Maybe these ideas could have been explored sufficiently if this was a 12 issue series (but God knows how long *that* would have taken to ship) and we didn't try to shoehorn things in like Namor arriving to save the day and getting a whole 2 panels to turn the tide of the battle. Better to have a 12 issue maxi-series than baiting me to buy 50 other tie-in books to try and get some focus around an idea that's introduced, exploring it, and seeing it through to it's logical conclusion all in one book. And, ooooh! The "big reveal" about what "42" was turned out to be very silly. Tony gives us a monologue essentially telling us that (gasp! no! ohmygod! what innovative storytelling!) 42 is a number! It was idea #42! WOW! That's fucking amazing! By the way, where was the much hyped promise of a "big death" of a "key character" at? Are you talking about Hercules killing Clor? Yeah, nothing like introducing a lame character, only to kill him off two issues later to "shake the foundations of the Marvel Universe forever!" Haha. What a joke. Might as well just kill off "Armadillo Willy" or "The Holiday Armadillo" (for all you Friends fans out there, come on, I've got like 6 more armadillo jokes in my holster here...) from that hokey looking team from Texas. How about Reed actually sacrificing himself to save Susan as penance for backing the oppressors? Now *that* would have been a shocking death and had lasting consequences that rippled throughout the Marvel U. Anyway, escapes an F only because Cloak & Dagger are still pretty cool - glad to see them get some air time, and McNiven's art (regardless of the story depicted) is worth the wait for the most part. Grade D-.


2.14.07 Reviews - Part 2

Astonishing X-Men #20 (Marvel): Feels exactly like a Whedon book ought to, with some momentary twists and intentional misdirection to keep us on our toes. There's a great balance here of nice character moments (Beast & Agent Brand, Kitty & Peter's fall, Hisako & Wolverine, etc.) and wild !@^&* action. This book belongs right up there with the classic X-Men runs that are as much about relationships as they are about the space-faring plot. This is how a creative team is supposed to end their run, with a huge swan-songy BANG. Grade A+.

Casanova #7 (Image): It honestly took me a couple of issues to warm up to Fraction's mind-bending, genre-laden, opus of an "album." But once I did, I was hooked. I deeply appreciate the way he systematically pushes the envelope of storytelling and extends the medium to its maximum capability. And with endearingly cool lines like "Evil will prevail, motherfucker. Know that," it's hard not to enjoy with a devious giggle. And as readers, can't we all identify with "What about me, Casanova? Can I join you on your globetrotting espionage sex adventures of violent intrigue?" Yes, we want more! I've also grown to enjoy Fraction's text pieces that serve as interesting insights into the creative process and, at their best, are some of the strongest primers on writing I've come across. This one is all about how your characters become imbued with traces of your own life and how their paths become influenced by that. Fraction then unexpectedly bares his soul and bloody deeds to the world. I was kind of speechless after reading that heartfelt, honest piece. In short, it takes fucking balls and a rare strength of spirit to do that. As the father of a 6 month old child... well shit, Matt, I'm speechless again... do what you gotta' do. Cheers, mate. Grade A.

Immortal Iron Fist #1: Director's Cut (Marvel): Kudos to Marvel for printing this. It includes the regular first issue contents, the short story from Civil War: Choosing Sides (which was the best/only good thing about that book), and a couple pages of sketches and script. It was just a cool move and nice thing to do for fans, I loved the story in Civil War: Choosing Sides and it convinced me I needed to support this book. Love that Aja. Love that Fraction. Grade A.

Stormwatch: PHD #4 (DC/Wildstorm): This title is a little sleeper. Nobody knows about it. Nobody's reading it. It doesn't get any buzz whatsoever. I can see how it would be easy to dismiss without taking a close look. And I'm sure it will get cancelled by issue 12. But damn, it's one of the strongest new titles out of Wildstorm in quite some time. It's just honest and straightforward. Christos Gage and Doug Mahnke (are we witnessing a Greek invasion?) know what the book is supposed to do, and they just go do it, and they do it well. I'd keep my eye on these two. Mahnke's art is losing some of that sketchy unfinished look and growing into a crisp refined style that I really like. Gage's dialogue hums along with a natural ease, capturing the odd ebb and flow with which real people speak. It's not so much what it's about, a rag tag bunch of former villains, metahumans, and Stormwatch B-stringers hunting down baddies in a very tactical fashion, but *how* it's about what it's about. It takes a very personal perspective, focuses on interpersonal character dynamics, and finds a nice balance between quirky character moments, which are occasionally punctuated by superheroics. Looking forward to more. Grade A-.

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #12 (Marvel): There are some cool, fun moments to be found here, but it all feels rather fleeting. I got the feeling that this title was going out with a whimper, rather than a bang. Sure, there were MODOK minis and a Devil Dinosaur, but the cutting, crafty, cunning dialogue was pretty paltry. It does leave the door open nicely for future one-shots or mini-series, but I was hoping Ellis & Immonen would exit as they entered, engaging and blusterous until the bitter end. As a whole, the series works just fine and the hardcover trades will sit handsomely on my bookshelf, but individually this issue doesn't do anything memorable, and that's just poor positioning for a final issue that we want to see more of. I'm disappointed. Grade B-.


2.14.07 Reviews - Part 1

Midnight Sun #3 (Slave Labor Graphics): Ben Towle's remarkable story about a lost Italian dirigible confidently carries on. Towle uses a masterful approach for panel to panel storytelling, relying on sparse energetic dialogue for a truly unique experience. You can see the subtle influences of industry greats like Eisner, Schulz, and even Windsor Mckay, to modern masters like Mignola and Miller - yet his style is uniquely his own. It's quiet, but powerful. Graceful, yet gritty. Having checked his site: http://www.benzilla.com I was sad to learn that this will be the final floppy issue due to low sales, but SLG will be putting out the complete series in graphic novel format later this year. Good luck, Ben! Grade A+.

Manhunter #28 (DC): Well after a momentary (3 issues?) reprieve, Manhunter is back on death row, pretty sure it was announced that issue 30 would complete the run of the title we dubbed "best book that nobody is reading." As if that wasn't certain enough, we have a sure sign of the apocalypse with this issue, the thing that every DC book uses as a hook to either try to boost sales early on or get a spike out of later in the run... a Batman cameo! But, not even that, a cool Kevin Nowlan cover, a recurring Wonder Woman, a Blue Beetle/Infinite Crisis tie in, Azrael/Jean Paul Valley and The Order of St. Dumas, or a great cameo from Sasha Bordeaux and Checkmate is going to grant that last minute pardon this book deserves. I'll read it until the end and just hope that Kate and company get canonized in the same way that Cameron Chase and the DEO became part of ongoing continuity after her book was cancelled. Will there be another great book that uses *both* of those characters in a few years that suffers a similar fate? Probably. Sure. Why not go for the trifecta? Still a classy, fun time that fills in a lot of the spaces between major events and characters in the DCU. It's fun to see the creators have a ball with the property in its throes of death and toss a bunch of ideas out, the art hitting on all cylinders, etc. But, it's fun in a bittersweet way. Sadly, the industry needs more books like this, that are different in just this way, which is why it gets cancelled. Fuckin' DC. Fuckin' people. Why didn't you buy this book instead of the safe, pappy, geriatric, coffee table, dog shit you normally buy? Grade A.

Justice Society of America #3 (DC): That's a pretty slick cover, interesting that the Red Tornado/Ma Hunkel/Cyclone chic doesn't appear to be wearing panties! How'd that one get by the editors? I mean, if it wasn't for some dark inking in the shadows, we'd be looking at full on girly bits. And by the way, Alex Ross' skills are strong enough to pull off the cover, but the design for her costume on the interior is horrible. Dude, so tired of Nazis as villains; can't we just retire them now that the 20th century is over? I like the premise for the arc, that someone would hunt down the bloodlines of heroes that are symbolic of America, additionally placing Jesse and Courtney's families in peril. The double reveal of who's behind it all and what's up with Wildcat's son is nice too. Starman remains pretty funny. I liked the old Sand design better. The art bounces around from being pretty crisp and consistent in spots, to being very awkward with stiff looking poses, like the two page splash where the team splits up. Overall, the execution is a little wonky in spots, due mainly to artistic inconsistency, but as for story threads, there are enough interesting balls in the air to keep me coming back for a couple issues. Grade B.

Tales of the Unexpected #5 (DC): Tales of Dichotomy continues here, with the wildly divergent, contradictory, and opposed stories about The Spectre and Dr. 13 marching on to the beat of two vastly dissimilar drummers. The Spectre is like a bad action movie, loud, in your face, takes itself a little too seriously, offers no real substance or significance, is not engaging in the slightest, you just kind of gloss through it not paying attention, it's totally forgettable the second you turn the page, and completely inconsequential in the long run. As I said before, the story has no real identity, it can't decide what it wants to be. Lapham is largely known for his creator owned title Stray Bullets, a suburban low budget crime saga full of seedy base motivations, and it's quite good. But that style of story doesn't mix well with the big DC supernatural mystical bullshit, so it ceases to be anything except an ill-conceived forum for Lapham to cut his DC teeth on. Why not let Lapham in on something like Gotham Central instead of cancelling it after critically acclaimed runs? I'd rather have that, because this is like mixing Dr. Pepper (which I love) with Green Tea (which is fine), you get Grade F. And on the far opposite end of the spectrum, we have Dr. 13, which clicks in every way. The hilarious intro involving the selling of superhero cars. My crush on super-cute Traci, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang succesfully blending an amalgam of genres, and the quick intelligent wit of moments like the Pirate calling the Ghost of Jeb Stuart a Yankee and watching trouble ensue. Loved Genius Jones, loved the reject from the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and the Haunted Tank, all totally inspired storytelling. As if that wasn't satisfying enough, this issue takes a metatextual turn with discussion about the architects of the universe "reinventing itself every summer" so "things will never be the same again." They're actually pondering what it means to be a story, to be fictional, and the characters come close to breaking the fourth wall. It's absolutely delightful. Grade A+. Oh, and don't forget. Listen up, DC. I WANT DR. 13 COLLECTED INDEPENDENTLY OF THE SPECTRE. THAT'S RIGHT. NOT *WITH* THE SPECTRE. IT'S OWN STAND-ALONE BOOK. I KEEP SPENDING $3.99 FOR A DAMN BACK UP STORY. SO JUST DO IT. YOU OWE ME. PRETTY PLEASE, WITH A FUCKING CHERRY ON TOP.

52: Week Forty-One (DC): Giuseppe Camuncoli is a nice addition to the art stable, which cuts down the crap factor substantially, and also supports my theory that the relatively "good" artists were retained for the back third of the book's run. But then, right on cue, we get the "silver wheel of nyorlath." Oh. Is that what it is. Forgive my skeptical, predatory eye, but DC is starting to emulate Stark Trek's technobabble ("Captain, the flux modulator required a quantuum phase adapter for the emitter array to work!") only with magic here, as the random deus ex machina of the week, used only to momentarily progress the plot points - never to be seen again, rears its ugly head, and... it's... losing... me... On top of that, the Adam Strange/Starfire scenes don't play in a linear or logical fashion and were very frustrating. The opening sequence makes it look as if their ship is incinerated and they have to evac, then Kory gets shot (by some random thug/bounty hunter with no introduction that exits stage left just as quickly), yet in the end sequence they are mysteriously back inside their craft comfortably "tumbling into a k-type sun" with no explanation as to how they got from point A to B. The Mogo reveal *would have been* a nice moment if it wasn't telegraphed and ruined by the scroll on the front cover. Fun Kory back up story. Grade C-.


Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month(s)

Wow! Things have been so hectic on the business and personal fronts that I just now realized I never posted my Graphic Novels Of The Month for either January or February. So without any further delay, here are a few recommendations from 13 Minutes...

DMZ Volume 2 TPB: Body of a Journalist (DC/Vertigo): In short, this is the best new series from Vertigo since probably Sandman was converted to the line or the blusterous debut of 100 Bullets. Between this title and the recent Scalped, Vertigo is back... in a big way. Grade A.

X-Factor Volume 2 HC: Life & Death Matters (Marvel): Peter David and (after Ryan Sook) a rotating cast of somewhat forgettable artists deliver a one-two punch of deep characterization and fun dialogue. Yes, the inability to find an artist that lasts more than 2 consecutive issues mars this otherwise fine title, but the real hook is David's scripting which, on his second go around with some of these characters, again displays the perfect command of their motivations, personalities, and interpersonal antics. It's still the bext X-Title that nobody's reading. Grade B+.

Batman: Year 100 (DC): Yes, the mini-series came out last year. But the trade collection was out in 2007 and it deserves mentioning again. It seemed to quietly slip under the radar screen amid the spectactle (debacle?) of mis-fires in the DCU that garnered all of the attention (52? OYL? I'm talkin' to you...). For my money, this is one of the best Batman stories ever told, honors the past, but is not confined by it, and is from one of the modern masters of the industry - Paul Pope, who could probably illustrate the phone book and we'd find artistic merit and deep meaning to his approach. Grade A.


2.07.07 Reviews

Scalped #2 (DC/Vertigo): As I was taking in the early action scenes and plethora of wild, gritty perspective shots, one word kept springing to mind: explosive. Everything about this book is explosive. The action scenes, the art, the great hook it had with the reveal on the final page of the first issue, the authenticity of the speech patterns, the character motivations, the diverse cast, and the education it deftly spills about life on the reservation. For my money, this is the best new Vertigo book in quite some time and it's perfectly poised to inherit the mantle from 100 Bullets as the entertaining thrill ride about seedy characters from the underbelly of society, where there may be an engaging protagonist, but not a prototypical "good guy" to be found. Grade A+.

Fell #7 (Image): For an issue that is essentially a long series of talking heads pages, this is a rockin' good time with a fascinating but unsettling look into the reality of our criminal justice system. As Kevin Pollack pointed out in the film A Few Good Men, "it's the difference between paper law and trial law." In the interrogation room, based on the evidence available, it's obvious that Detective Fell has this guy cold. But inside a courtoom, where a savvy defense attorney can invoke the M'Naughten rule of temporary insanity (which I often feel it's important to remind people is a legal definition, not a clinical/psychological definition) to introduce doubt, this twisted guy walks. And all for an ad free $1.99! Grade A+.

The Lone Ranger #4 (Dynamite Entertainment): Lean and enjoyable, but reads really fast, which is a testament to the page layouts and sparse but effective dialogue. I like how this take on our hero incorporates bits from the well known canon, but weaves that together with new elements as well. Really looking forward to that hardcover collection advertised, but if it's collecting the first six issues and it's taken us this long to get 4, it does seem a bit premature to market it, no? Grade A.

Action Comics Annual #10 (DC): Well, well, well... an anthology type book with multiple vignettes that actually works! We get an intro story narrated by Luthor that provides interesting insight to his motivation and catalogues various ways to kill Superman. We get a very cool retro story about Clark in Smallville and how the Daxamite known as Valor got his Kryptonian name (Mon-El), which for some reason reminded me of Superman and Dick Grayson's chat, which inspired Dick to adopt the name Nightwing as an homage to Clark and Bruce's adventures as Flamebird and Nightwing in The Bottle City of Kandor - which itself alluded to a Kryptonian children's tale. But I digress... we get a Joe Kubert tale that looks great, but doesn't really do anything, in fact, it stops in mid-swing with no resolution or explanation (the surpisingly weakest offering here). We get some beautiful Rags Morales pencils that tell the fascinating tale of the trio sent to the Phantom Zone by Jor-El and how their relationships intertwined prior to the planet exploding, which ends on a pleasant hopeful note. The last tale about an "Uber-Metallo" sets up a nice segue to what I'm assuming will be an ongoing arc in another Supes title. And even the "filler" pages about The Fortress of Solitude and Superman's Top 10 Most Wanted (rogues gallery) are done well. Overall, this is a nice intro to the Man of Steel and although we don't get a story that deals with Clark as Superman directly, it's a nice way for someone new to the books to get up to speed. This is an extremely well put together package, totally enjoyable, with only one (arguable) loser in the bunch. Grade A-.

New Avengers #27 (Marvel): Leinil Yu's art is quite detailed here, yet fresh, orderly, and crisp. I'm really growing to enjoy his contributions. There aren't many New Avengers to speak of in this book, but I enjoyed the spotlight on the arc of Maya/Ronin's character nonetheless. However, the "New" New Avengers seem to post-date current happenings in Civil War, so their inclusion here serves as a kind of "huh?" moment, with no clear explanation as to who these "New" New Avengers are or why they're the ones specifically sent to rescue Maya from The Hand. Sure, we all know who will comprise the team after Civil War, but that's a shame isn't it? Since Civil War isn't done yet and the only reason we know is because of the shipping delay gaffes with the main title. In any case, I did enjoy the narration style, trying to figure out who the Ronin is that's come to rescue Maya/Ronin, and although the team banter is a little over the top, it was still self-referential and fun. New Avengers continues to be a bit uneven, some issues being "just fun" if you don't think about them too hard, and some even bubbling up to having moments of brilliance. Grade B+.

The Secret #1 (Dark Horse): I had some trouble getting past the core premise. I mean, in this day and age, surely the average teenagers are tech savvy enough to know that games like this would be fraught with danger in a world of caller ID, star-69, and a whole host of anonymous lookup tools on the web. There were also some jump cuts, like from the bedroom scene to the park at midnight, that were very abrupt, pushed me out, and were not what I'd call "smooth scripting." Really, when I'm reading a book I should be enjoying a story, not noticing small mistakes with the craft of storytelling itself, it needs to be seamless to the end user. Publisher Mike Richardson's plot is about as sophisticated as a cheesy, high school slasher movie, but the real treat here is Jason Shawn Alexander's art. His beautiful pencils are rendered with a very lush (I'm not sure which) watercolor or paint treatment that's absolutely fantastic. Grade B.

52: Week Forty (DC): John Henry Irons proves that a man will do anything to protect his family with just a single word: "point." 95% of this issue is dedicated to the Steel/Luthor story (which isn't necessarily my favorite thread), but DC inadvertantly proved that this is perhaps the format they should have followed with 52. Focus on just one story thread per week, rotate threads each week. It's much easier to follow, much easier to connect with as a reader, and much more entertaining overall. Surprised that the art is not horrible this issue either. Grade B-.

Random Note: Some intriguing house ads from DC here. I like the thought of novelist Jodi Picoult on Wonder Woman (the made for TV movie adaptation of her book The Pact that I was forced against my will to sit through ended up being gutwrenchingly good, emotionally honest, and her core premise was surprisingly enjoyable), but I have to question the marketing department's strategy here. It really does no good to place this ad in a comic, what they should do is run ads in other medium where Picoult fans are likely to lurk in an attempt to pull those rabid Picoult readers over to comics - speaking from experience, I know women who are rabid Picoult fans and they had zero clue about the impending WW run until I told them, which proves the marketing is flawed, a squandered opportunity at the very least, as far as I'm concerned. The art on the new Aquaman run looks downright interesting too, having never bought an Aquaman book in my life, this is saying a lot since I'm now tempted to give #50 a try based on the promise of the art alone.

Jonah Hex #16 (DC): Ah think that feller' Noto's art is nice and clean. Ah reckon Palmiotti and Gray are right competent enough writers. Ah did enjoy the last arc by that European feller' Jordi Bernet. Ah greatly appreciate the attempt to tell the origin of one miss Tallulah Black. But ah can't help the distractin' feelin' that every character has used Clint Eastwood for photo referencin'. All in all, it seems a' might like any ol' run o' the mill Western tale, nothin' much too darn special. It's now mah third attempt to partake in this har' book, so I guess I's done with it and callin' 'er quits. Grade C+.

The Leading Man #5 (Oni Press): The combination of the delays between issues and me having missed issue 3 or 4 (can't recall which) puts me in a position where I don't remember a damn thing about the plot and have no idea what's going on here. I have a vague recollection about one of the chics being a co-star and one of them being an assistant or something, but one is also really a spy type like leading man Nick Walker(?). Not too sure. I'm hoping that this will read better in trade format and it's not simply that the story and characters just aren't that memorable. Since I do like the creators previous works, I'll give the trade a shot and give them the benefit of the doubt. Grade C.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #1 (DC): Well. This isn't quite what I expected. So, we're going to re-tell Billy Batson's origin? Okay, I guess. Now, this is going to sound blasphemous since the thing is getting incredibly strong reviews online, but... we all like Jeff Smith, yet his art struck me as kinda'... wonky (gasp!) in spots here, it was a bit uneven with some bulging odd inconsistencies. I also thought it was kinda' cruel the way Billy was getting beaten, which is wildly divergent in tone from the fun look the book has - for a purported kid friendly book, not sure I'd show that scene to my daughter just yet. The humor seemed to fall a little flat for me as well. I'm not a huge continuity hound or anything, but damn this felt like an Elseworlds type of story, and I kept wondering is this in continuity? Does this really take place in the DCU? There was nothing to overtly contradict that being the case and I suppose it doesn't matter that much, but it just felt like it didn't fit. And umm, where exactly was the titular Monster Society of Evil? Didn't catch that part. I really only connected with one panel, as Billy humbly kneels and asks "Are you God?" That was a very powerful, natural moment, which says a lot about Billy's nature. All in all, I was quite excited about this project, but was ultimately left wondering what's the point? And $5.99? Ouch. Grade C.


1.31.07 Reviews

Wasteland #6 (Oni Press): Mitten's pencils seem to be growing leaps and bounds here. I was a huge fan of his Queen & Country arc, but here there's a little something extra. In addition to his bold angular lines and subtle effective facial expressions, we get these detailed lush backgrounds. Really. Stop and check out what's beyond the characters in the foreground. There's some amazing landscapes (which is a tricky thing to do when you think about it, keep the backgrounds interesting when the story is essentially set in a desert/wasteland) and then we get some amazing cityscapes too. Check out the majestic worn beauty of that first beautiful shot our travelers get of Newbegin. Johnston's script feels like a runaway locomotive here, just before it gets to the washed out bridge. Our travelers are falling apart, making it to Newbegin on their last legs, the council in Newbegin is going through a little coup d'etat, and some baddies are gearing up for a showdown. All of these plot points are building tension and set on an intercept couse - oh my, it's going to be a fun convergence. Metatextually, Wasteland is becoming mythic. All of these individual plot threads are entertaining on their own, but when you weave them all together we see man in his bleak future struggling to make sense out of his incomprehensible surroundings. Wasteland is simply one of the most politically charged books out there, imbued with the spirit to do something grand. Yes, it's inspired. Grade A+.

Note: Special thanks to Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and the gang at Oni Press who used a snippet of my review for #5 as a pull quote for #6. That's right! Check out that back cover of #6 and you'll see some comments from 13 Minutes!

Ex Machina #26 (DC/Wildstorm): It's getting difficult for me to review Ex Machina and say anything meaningful. It remains my favorite BKV helmed title by a country mile. It's always socially relevant, has crisp witty dialogue that hums along, keeps me on the edge of my seat thematically, and is rendered with lush, beautiful, and deep effects. It's like writing the same review every single issue. If you're not buying this book... well, there's just no excuse for that. Buy this book! Grade A.

Kabuki: The Alchemy #8 (Marvel/Icon): There is no past. There is no future. There is simply a series of moments known as "now." Fully embody the moment; live without regret. Kabuki remains the most innovative book around, utilizing a pastiche of artistic styles, David Mack's self-aware creations transcend the medium and make us consider our place in the world and how we interact with it, this is art in the truest sense. Grade A.

Usagi Yojimbo #100 (Dark Horse): This special tribute issue uses a brilliant framing device - a roast for creator Stan Sakai in which a rotating cast of creators, publishers, and editors provide comments and anecdotes, all in different art styles, that draw much needed attention to this quiet craftsman (and his Rabbit Ronin) who don't get nearly the attention they deserve. Grade B+.

Wonderlost #1 (Image): CB Cebulski's series of shorts may be braver than most since it reveals intimate personal details, but it falls into some of the pitfalls that most autobiographical books do. Sure, there are moments that we can connect with, moments that may shock or titillate, moments that reveal small truths about life, but it never escapes the the traps of a) isn't this just a little self-indulgent? and b) what's the point? On the former, few autobiographical books can transcend the knee-jerk reaction of self-indulgence. As for the latter, it's sort of like eating some crackers when you're hungry. It's not as savory as candy or as satisfying as a sandwich, and is ultimately utterly forgettable. Not to mention, this was a $5.99 cracker. It's good, but not that good. Grade B-.

52: Week Thirty-Nine (DC): I liked one little tiny inconsequential thing about this issue, Ethan Van Sciver's portrayal of Count Werner Vertigo on the edge of one panel of the back up story. That sliver of delight aside, it doesn't get much more expository than "We haven't time left to deliberate, Ralph. The aethers are fast converging, and you must take action soon or risk losing your wife forever." Oh... is *that* what's happening? This model of storytelling is still having problems with plot threads from long ago being long absent, it's been so long that I'd forgotten about the Red Tornado head turning up in Australia. I finally realized I don't really care anymore - about any of it. I don't have the energy to read 13 more issues of this, the endless collage of plot threads (wait, we're on Oolong Island, no we're in Kahndaq, Nanda Parbat, The Bottle City of Kandor, Space Sector whatchamacallit with Starfire and Animal Man, Atlantis, Metropolis, wait, no, we're here, we're there...) that come and go as they please, begging many more questions than they answer. I'll let the ironic dialogue of Natasha speak for itself: "It's like the whole project has come off the rails. None of this is making sense anymore!" I just want the key points in the missing year summarized for me in crisp bullet points on two PowerPoint slides. Thanks. Grade D-.

Random Rant: Overall, DC is having some major issues trying to resolve what they did to the timeline. So, now (the idea this week as the Editors make it up as they go along) apparently 52 will culminate with WWIII (never mind the fact that Grant Morrison already did WWIII in his JLA run). But 52 is technically in the past; the "missing year." So how come all of the One Year Later books made no reference to the events in the self-proclaimed "mega-hit" 52 or WWIII? Where the fuck are we in the timeline? Infinite Crisis, One Year Later, 52: The "Missing Year," and now WWIII, which is still technically in the past, yet current events are linking us to the Kingdom Come universe, which was technically an Elseworlds story and not in continuity? Umm, What? WTF? I thought that the effects of Infinite Crisis were going to clean up continuity by integrating the multiverses? That may be the case, but the timeline of the "regular" DCU (regardless of the complications that possible multiverses would invoke) is now terribly out of whack. The one thing I kinda' cared about was Dick proposing to Barbara at the end of Infinite Crisis, which was before OYL and assumably before 52 and WWIII. So, uhh, when was that? And how come it's never been resolved even though we're technically in the second year of stories after it actually occurred in sequence? What year is it? When will this ever get reconciled? Hello, anyone? Infinite Crisis? More like Infinite Crap.