3.28.07 Reviews

DMZ #17 (DC/Vertigo): I think this is the strongest arc of the series to date. Even amid a fantastical setting, Wood is able to imbue the title with some gritty realism. We are reminded that sometimes in life, there is no clear right or wrong. There is what you do. There is what you don't do. There are simply different actions, with different repercussions. Matty's idealism is put to the test as his intended outcome does not come to pass. More importantly, his identity finally develops, taking a huge leap forward. With one selfless act, he displays loyalty to his friends. He also displays loyalty to reporting the truth, loyalty to finally being a true journalist. A label that he wears proudly. Even in the face of death, he wears it like a badge of honor. Grade A-.

Superman Confidential #4 (DC): I'm really enjoying Tim Sale's art deco vibe here, which feels like it has better proportions than some of his earlier, more thin and angular work. Visually, this title is really starting to push the envelope with the imagery of the silent panels, unique framing of the shots, and the monochromatic panel rendering. On the scripting side, the biggest draw for me is that Darwyn Cooke is giving us a truly inexperienced and vulnerable Superman, which provides a much needed hook and an "in" to the Man of Steel. This is quickly becoming a close runner up, serving as the second best Superman title out there, after Morrison and Quitely's All Star. Grade A-.

Silent War #3 (Marvel): What could be a convoluted bunch of continuity and complex plot points is relayed simply, smoothly, and effectively. The juxtaposition of the fairly serious Inhumans plays nicely against the more light-hearted X-Factor characters. There are also some heartbreaking moments between Crystal, Luna, and Quicksilver. Yeah, the story chugs confidently along, exploring one of the few interesting bits of Marvel happenings amid the grand spectacle that was Civil War. But, the real treat is still Frazer Irving's art, which is off-beat and otherworldy - perfectly intriguing. Grade B+.

Fantastic Four #544 (Marvel): I was utterly confused in the opening sequence with Stardust; then I remembered what book I was reading. Herald of Galactus, perhaps? There are some oddly quick about-faces here, like Reed now agreeing with opposing the "militarization of superbeings," but overall this was fun. Nice to see T'challa take on Stark. I like the notion that he and Ororo would temporarily inhabit the Baxter Building, and it's fun to see all the personalities interact (Ben and T'challa's exchange was nifty). Uatu mentioning the "astonishing children" of Ororo and T'challa was just downright cool. Those kids are going to be some badass X-Men. A few off moments overall, but the new team is in place and off on an adventure already, using the old FF tropes of space travel, grand adventure, and very powerful cosmic beings. I don't know that I need to come back for more, but if you're looking for harmless superhero fun, you could do a lot worse than this. Grade B.

Unique #1 (Platinum Studios): Admittedly, I've given Denis Calero a lot of shit about his art in X-Factor. But here, it's very consistent, very strong, inked really differently, and comes across as a perfect match for this title. Plot wise, this reads like a screenplay. It's a mix of John Grisham's The Firm, where a well meaning employee unwittingly stumbles upon a nefarious corporate plot, his superiors attempt to eliminate him, his friend/mole assists him, etc. Suddenly, that gets infused with a little bit of Michael Douglas in The Game, where the same people are mysteriously seen in different roles, and we feel like "it's not really paranoia if people are really out to get you." To that, we add a layer of surrealism into the lush cityscapes and take a trip through the multiverse. This team's explanation of the multiverse is way too expository, but does present an interesting take - that someone can jump from 'verse to 'verse and inhabit multiple realities so long as they are unique and don't have a counterpoint or mirror in another reality. Interesting, yes. Strong enough to return, not quite. Grade B.

The Secret Voice #1 (AdHouse Books): An unorthodox, but effective style for the main story which pits a visually fresh and appealing hero against some rock trolls. After that, we get a handful of not quite as strong, or as "finished" looking, back up stories. Grade B-.

52: Week Forty-Seven (DC): Holy hell, how long has it been since we've seen Bruce and Tim in this title? I'd forgotten they even made a brief appearance weeks and weeks ago. Now they're in Nanda Parbat? This just serves as further proof that there are too many plot threads being shuffled around here to do justice to any one of them. I like the notion that we're getting back to what was supposedly the point of 52 (explain what happened to everyone important in the missing year), but what could have been the interesting Bruce bits all seem to happen off-panel and are relegated to a few throw away lines and panels with not enough explanation. As we near the end of 52, I'm getting that sinking Episode III feeling, where the creators have the realization that they've strayed far off course and now have to shoehorn in a panicked checklist of items so that the points will all connect. Twins born? Check. Obi-Wan and Anakin fight? Check. Hide the twins? Check. Anakin becomes Vader? Check. Palpatine becomes Emperor? Check. Show Diana doing something? Check. Show Bruce doing something? Check. At the end of the day, there might be some interesting kernels of thought here, but there just isn't time to explore anything sufficiently. Some random bad guys that I don't think we've seen before haphazardly discover who Batwoman is - not because it makes sense organically, but because the plot demands it at this point. But no time to explain, next scene! I think Animal Man just found The Bleed. That could be neat, but no time for it, next scene! Tim tries to make some obtuse point about a goose in a bottle. What? Oh well, next scene! In that regard, this issue is really emblematic of the entire endeavor. Interesting high level ideas, but ridiculously poor execution. The back up feature had great Karl Kerschl art that suited the light-hearted Teen Titans (loved the rendition of Kory and Donna), but the script seemed to oddly use Cyborg as POV, and my, it's been a while for me... who the heck is Miss Martian? Grade C-.

Wonder Woman #6 (DC): Uhhhhh... Maxi-Man? No. Overall, I feel like Jodi Picoult sorta' gets the "voice" of Diana. Her uncertainty about her place in the world and trivial little things like pumping gas becoming foreign concepts was nice. The humor and repetition of that wears thin quickly though. Aren't jokes about the ludicrous nature of ordering a double-soy-mocha-cap-venti-non-fat-decaf-half-caf-whip-turbinado, when all you really want is a "small coffee, please" a little passe? Some of the meta-commentary is conspicuously overt too, sort of like Jodi is trying to establish her comic book street cred, with lines like "she's never sold as well as Superman or Batman." Oh my, Jodi really does get the industry! I also thought the narrative was a little redundant, repetitive, and unnecessary. Yes, I get it already. Stop banging me on the head with the uber-plot hammer. Yes, Diana is really Wonder Woman. Yes, her job as a Department of Metahuman Affairs agent is to find Wonder Woman. Yes, that means she has to bring herself in. Yes, how will she do that? Okay already! Picoult is doing her darndest to juggle all kinds of stuff that she's inherited here... fallout over the Maxwell Lord killing, a new direction for WW, her life as a DOMA agent, Donna filling in as Wonder Woman (I thought?), and all kinds of continuity. Yet, it already feels off track, maybe it's too much for any writer. The lateness of this book doesn't help either. Here they're talking about the government wanting to question WW about Max Lord. Yet, over in Manhunter she's already standing trial! The art is a bit uneven as well. It's competent in most parts, if a bit "pin-up-y" at times, but sometimes lacks clarity. I really thought that was Donna acting as Wonder Woman, come to find out it's Circe. Wasn't the last arc about impersonation? I forgot already. I really thought that those were coffee cups or something falling to the ground, come to find out they were bracelets. Great art would not leave me stranded like this. I picture women trying to read this title (some of those rabidly loyal Jodi Picoult fans I talked about months ago), but I'm just not confident that it's clear enough to do so. Yet another squandered marketing opportunity. I'll give this another issue or two out of some warped sense of really wanting Jodi to pull this off, but the delta between where it's at and where it needs to be for me to be a loyal fan is huge. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

Batman: Snow (DC): Of course I missed this since it was originally published as an arc of Legends of the Dark Knight, a now defunct Batman title notorious for inconsistent quality. Glad to see a work from Dan Curtis Johnson and JH Williams III (yes, the reunion of the Chase creative team!) and fan fave quirky artist Seth Fisher. Really looking forward to reading this for the first time based on the strength of the creators alone.


"How's Work?"

It's a pretty typical conversation item. When I'm chatting with my friends or family, they often ask me "how's work?" What I've been saying lately;

1) Work? You want to know how work is? When I'm at work, I feel like a Fireman. Yeah, picture a Fireman standing all alone in front of 10 houses that are in flames. They're burning to the ground, children are running and screaming, people are stuck on second floors, there's soot and ash in the air, timber is popping and crackling, structures are collapsing, it's hot and uncomfortable, and everyone is begging for your attention. Please, dear God, help me, they cry. And then you realize that you have enough water to put just *one* of the fires out. Hurry. Pick. Go. That's how work is, thanks for asking.

2) On top of that, you're so busy responding to these fires, literally there is no rest, you don't eat, you don't sleep, all you do is put the dirty gear back on and head back out again, week after week, saving what little you can... you're so busy doing that, that you don't even have the time to stop for just a moment and go build a station house, go recruit more Firemen to help you, buy a fire truck, get more water, hold community fire prevention sessions, or do anything that would help you be able to respond more effectively to the fires or prevent them in the first place. Sometimes you manage to call the cops on your cell phone to ask for help, but they give you the dismissive retort "we don't respond to fires," you're on your own. It's just a neverending series of fires that only you are held accountable to address. That's how work is, thanks for asking.

Haha! Anyway, the above pic was taken during the 2003 San Diego Area Wildfires. Have a good weekend!


3.21.07 Reviews - Part 2

The Brave & The Bold #2 (DC): Hands down, this has to be the funnest DC superhero book in... well, forever. Waid's script is dense, but nimble. It has all kinds of nods to DCU continuity, but is perfectly accessible to a new reader. It's fun, but not campy. It's smart, but not condescending. It's confident, but not arrogant. Waid understands perfectly the voices of the main players in the DCU and can effectively show them using realistic dialogue. He understands that the original charm of the stories he's emulating wasn't necessarily the sets per se, but the quiet moments that inhabited those diverse locales. It's the key to a successful team up book; he's captured the charm and all the reasons we grew up loving the books that this was inspired by. And don't even get me started on Perez's art. It's just perfect. Beautiful and perfect. Notice how he captures the manic claustrophobia of a gambling planet. The youth of Supergirl. The emotion in the facial expressions. The simple majesty of Green Lantern and Supergirl flying through space. Hell, he even manages to make the new Blue Beetle armor look cool. I love this book! Grade A+.

Wisdom #4 (Marvel/Max): Well, well, well. Another surprise little hit in the vein of Stormwatch: PHD. It seemed to come from nowhere, uses a mix of familiar and new characters, and under the hands of the capable Paul Cornell, it immediately captures your attention with some devious charm. As it chronicles the adventures of an eclectic team of MI-13 agents (who deal with mutant and otherworldly threats), it is witty, sexy, and has all kinds of irreverent attitude. The first "mini-arc" within the mini-series dealt with the team fending off a war with the Faerie Kingdom, while the next "mini-arc" is now dealing with a horde of Jack the Rippers from all corners of the multiverse. Though the switch to artist Manual Garcia from Trevor Hairsine was a bit jarring, and issue four isn't quite as strong as the first three overall, this title continues to be inventive, fun, full of racial tension, love triangles, and engaging dialogue. It's got the big high-concept, sprawling ideas of an Ellis plot and the wacky scripting of a Morrison book. It's infused with an energy that has me totally captivated. It's brimming with ideas and wholly original; there's nothing quite like it on the market. It's already a strong contender for best mini-series of 2007. Grade A.

Okko: The Cycle of Water #1 (Archaia Studios Press): Yes, Archaia Studios Press (ASP) is on a roll. They've got another hit on their hands here with a new take on a ronin mythos. There's a fun little team of adventurers here: Okko; the leader, Noburo; the mysterious red-masked warrior, and Noshin; the sake-swilling monk. They're joined by a young boy in search of his sister. The script is fast paced, engaging, and has a way of conveying dense amounts of information without feeling expository or as if the narrative is moving slowly. The first issue is chock full of brothels, pirates, and battles, yet also has time for the quiet little character moments. Writer and artist Hub is a very compatible addition to the ASP stable of creators. His pencils are extremely refined and detailed, and have a very European sensibility to their look and feel as they depict an allegorical Eastern story. Grade A.


3.21.07 Reviews - Part 1

Checkmate #12 (DC): The fill-in pencils are a little outlandish here - just check out Bane's distorted features and proportions throughout the book, yes, distorted even for him. They're just a little soft and uneven overall, they don't hold up to the gravitas and taut political posturing that a Rucka script requires. It was a really nice change of pace here to see Fire and Taleb Beni Khalid spotlighted. Still one of the best written books coming out from DC right now, wish there was a stronger artist attached to this title to help ensure its longevity in the market. Grade B+.

X-Factor #17 (Marvel): Man, before I even cracked open the cover, I sighed to myself in disbelief. Another artist?! I've lost count. Aren't you tired of hearing me bitch about the revolving door policy regarding artists on this book? I sure am. Khoi Pham's pencils are ok overall, they range from serviceable and good in spots (Rictor and Rahne's exchange, the facial expressions and detail are nice) to inconsistent and odd (Jamie's look when he's crying? Ummm, really stiff and bad). At this point, I really don't give a flaming fuck who the artist is, just so long as they stick around a while. On the writing front, there are some playful jabs at DC here, a plethora of pop culture references, and an interesting moral/legal dilemma is flirted with. Are Jamie's dupes considered sentient individuals responsible for their actions? If that dupe had killed the cop and remained alive, could he be tried and jailed, even executed with no impact to Jamie prime? What is the legal precedent around that? Really enjoyed Rictor's retort to "99% of the time, blah blah happens" with "well, 85% of all statistics are made up, so there." All in all, an intricate plot with the return of Val Cooper, and Peter David juggling multiple plot threads and interpersonal relationships in a completely entertaining way. Grade B+.

Army@Love #1 (DC/Vertigo): The macro bits of this I think are worth exploring. What is the impact to the media, the military, technology, and society back home in general when war becomes commonplace? But in the micro execution, I'm just not buying it. The humor associated with the MOMO, Morale & Motivation unit, is so forced and feels tired. "I wouldn't have missed that for an interview with an Olsen twin's navel!" Ba-dum-bump. The bits that are designed to titillate come off as just silly and have no credibility. Overall, the book needs to rely on an air of authenticity or believability to get the points across and rather than doing that, or even relying on pure satire, it comes off as disingenuous. Grade C-.

52: Week Forty-Six (DC): "The final crisis is coming." Yeeeeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhhh. Yawn. Waid and Kubert's back up Batman origin story was good. I hope they collect all the origins separately. Those are all quite fun, sort of like a modern version of the old Who's Who? with a few more comic panels and less text. Grade D.

Aquaman #50 (DC): I think it was a brilliant idea to give Aquaman this type of treatment. In the past, it's been very problematic having a superhero book called Aquaman. So, stop treating it like a superhero book, start treating it like a fantasy epic. That thought is quite clever, but good God is the execution convoluted and downright flawed. It starts right, that cover by Mario Alberti is right on. It's sets the perfect tone and is basically what attracted me to the book in the first place. But, then we get Shawn McManus' interior art, which is great matched with the right book. But here, it's just too cartoony, it loses the edgy tone that the book really needs to deliver. And some of the character designs just look like rejects from Pirates of the Caribbean 2. From a scripting standpoint, it was the usual Tad Williams for me. The usual wordy exposition that I just get tired of reading. There's no zip or hook to the dialogue, it just lay's there looking up at you for approval. I don't quite get the voice of the new Aquaman, and the humor doesn't mix well with the serious tone the book is trying to hit, it's just flat and out of place. For something purporting to be a jumping on point, I'm totally confused. Who is the new Arthur Curry? There's Arthur Curry, Orin, the Sea-King, somebody named Dweller of the Depths, and Aquaman. Who the hell is who? Are they the same, different? Even some of the characters don't know who's who. If the characters aren't even sure who they're supposed to be, how the hell am I gonna' figure it out? Then Garth/Aqualad shows up. He's been gone a year. Would be nice to know where he's been and what happened to him. Wasn't that supposed to be the point of 52? Explain what happened to major players in the missing year? Seems like too-little-too-late to address it here. Love that cover, though. Grade D-.

I also picked up;

The Leading Man TPB (Oni Press): We'll see if B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun's Spy/Hollywood hybrid reads any better collected.

Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser (Dark Horse): The long out of print Chaykin/Mignola interpretation of a classic Fritz Leiber fantasy epic.


3.14.07 Reviews - Part 2

BPRD: Garden of Souls #1 (Dark Horse): Thank God that BPRD and related Hellboy projects are gearing up again. I feel like I'm in need of some good quality comics! Editor Scott Allie tells us that we'll be getting one book a month for the next 18 months with all of the projects on deck, and that's just *dandy* with me. Garden of Souls was really good; it's got the intriguing settings and character moments that a first issue needs. Of particular interest here is the emotional fallout from Roger's death as the team still attempts to cope with it. What we see is a bunch of people who are now afraid to be close to eachother and distance themselves emotionally for fear that one of them will wind up dead (again) on the next mission - and it comes across beautifully with Guy Davis' emotive lines. All that plus more tidbits about Daimio, Abe's past, and what it all means in the BPRD/Hellboy Universe. Bravo! More, please! Grade A+.

Wonderland #3 (Slave Labor Graphics): I don't know how I missed the first two issues of this, being a big Sonny Liew fan and all (everyone remembers My Fraith in Frankie, right?), but I snatched it up nonetheless. The pencils are wild and loose here, not as restrained as I remember from other works. Overall, it's okay, but I don't quite see what the hook or angle is from just one random issue. It doesn't appear to be aimed at kids, with all the violence and swearing and all. Yet, it also doesn't seem to be aimed at adults either, ommitting the double meanings, depravity, and hallucinogen-induced sexual symbolism that the original was so fond of. So, I'm kinda' not sure why anyone but diehard Alice fans are supposed to be reading this. Awesome production values from SLG though. Grade B-.

3.14.07 Reviews - Part 1

Stormwatch: PHD #5 (DC/Wildstorm): Continues to be the best title coming out that's connected to the main Wildstorm Universe. The fill-in artist initially disrupts the flow of this book, but Matthew Smith's pencils are actually quite nice, boasting a strong (early) Sean Phillips influence with some blocky angular lines and a very consistent line. I wouldn't mind at all if he stuck around to pencil this book indefinitely. Really a lot of fun to see a behind the scenes look at how this incarnation of the team was formed by Jackson King and Christine Trelane, with some nice nods to a decade old story about the final crossover showdown between Stormwatch and the Aliens (yes, those Aliens!) and the recent Captain Atom: Armegeddon series that rebooted the Wildstorm U. Under the leadership of Christos Gage, this is a surprise hit that's one to watch! Grade A.

Lone Ranger #5 (Dynamite Entertainment): This book is still firing on all cylinders with beautiful covers that are all poster/pin up quality from Cassaday, lush interiors from Cariello, and vibrant writing from Brett Matthews. This issue we focus on the strong influence Tonto had in shaping the Ranger's development and in the way he controls how justice will be doled out to those deserving. It's nice to see such focus on early career moments, even if it does feel a bit decompressed, will surely read better in the hardcover collecting the first six issues. Can't wait for that! Grade A-.

Tales of the Unexpected #6 (DC): As usual, The Spectre story is fairly middling and not terribly impressive. It's aided a little this time out by an appearance from The Phantom Stranger and really pushing the creep factor. Also as usual, the Dr. 13 back up story remains the only reason to be buying and enjoying this book. Who knew Azzarello had an ear for such humor or such great meta-commentary? My favorite panel is when Dr. 13 boards the subway (looking suspiciously like Clark Kent), and is surrounded by Wolverine, Daredevil, and Peter Parker types. This thing is filled with classic lines like "A vampire gorilla with fascist leanings. That is pure gold!" or "A medic? What we need is a spatula!" My favorite line had to be from what can only be described as the Puerto Rican Pirate: "I sabing som tyme for joo slug'irl. I wan' to teeckle joor feelerz wit' my tonk... make joo screm!" And finally, my crush on the cutest comic book girl ever, Traci, who saves the day (but don't tell her dad, shh!). The Spectre: C+. Dr. 13: A+. Overall, Grade B+.

New Avengers #28 (Marvel): This was an extremely fun issue. Bendis nails the witty banter, provides plenty of action, a great blend of cast, and Leinil Yu's art has never looked so brilliant. He's employing some unique page layouts and detailed art which simultaneously looks smooth and finished, while being gritty and sketchy. It's refreshing to get back to a fun team up book, even amid events related to Civil War and Captain America's recent "death." My only quibble is that I've read the issue three times now and still can't figure out the sequence of the Tokyo and Harlem segments. Grade B+.

Punisher War Journal #5 (Marvel): Picked me up some back issues of this title out of a dollar bin recently and really enjoyed them, so I decided to give this a go. Olivetti's art is a little hard to get used to, but once you settle in it has a nice balance. There is the dirty, worn, street level quality that a Punisher book needs, coupled with a... dare I say it, Alex Ross level of photorealism that lends some credibility and believability to the proceedings. Fraction's script is like most of his other books right now (and I mean that in a good way, I'm a fan, I swear!) in that it has a likeable wit and sarcastic edge, but that's balanced with some insightful points and meta-commentary on the industry, on the media, on what it means to be Amercian in a post-9/11 world, etc. He also incorporates recent Civil War events as seamlessly as possible. In short, this is a little more than you'd expect from a typical Punisher book. What a pleasant surprise. Grade B.

PS - This next point isn't really directed at Fraction and the Punisher War Journal crew, but hit me after reading it and a slough of Marvel books this week. What's up with the look of the SHIELD Helicarrier? Depending on which book you're reading, sometimes there are 4 engines, sometimes there are 6. Sometimes they point up, sometimes they point down. Sometimes they're on the side of the craft, sometimes they're underneath. Sometimes there is a landing strip on top of the carrier, sometimes not. Sometimes it looks like a traditional floating aircraft carrier, sometimes it looks all futuristic like it has Sh'iar technology. I'm all for artistic license and everything, but how about some consistency guidelines from Marvel Editorial on one of the most prominent vessels in the Marvel Universe?

Wonder Woman #5 (DC): What we got here is your standard filler issue before Jodi Picoult's run begins. It is ultimately inconsequential and harmlessly forgettable. It also lacks the usual clever charm of a Will Pfeifer script and has some promising, but uneven art from newcomers (to me, at least) Geraldo Borjes and Wellington Diaz. Grade C+.

The Confession #1 (Marvel): I'm sorta' sick of all the Marvel one-shots surrounding Civil War. If you can't easily answer the question, how would they logically be collected, then the material needs to be in a regular issue of the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, etc. Bendis reveals his roots here and his influences are paper thin, smacking of a conglomeration of good movie lines. Tony essentially makes a point about "I will burn this village in order to save it," which is from the movie Primary Colors. Cap then goes onto explain that in the modern age, "the true enemy is war itself," which is from Crimson Tide. We then slide a little Garden State in with the often emulated line, "so there's that." While it is nice to be finally offered some additional insight into whatever the heck Tony was thinking, it really raises more questions than it answers. If Tony foresaw the war, why didn't he try to stop it? It's kind of like Reed having an Infinity Gauntlet and doing nothing to stop the war. Are we making a point that you can't escape fate? Did Tony's vision become a self-fulfilling prophesy? Is that what Cap meant by "you birthed it into existence?" There are a few beats here that I enjoyed and Alex Maleev's art is as strong as ever, but ultimately we're left with a trite conclusion that degenerates to "well, you're a sore loser," which is horribly out of character. It also sounds like a swipe from Aaron Sorkin's (another Bendis fave) A Few Good Men, wherein Lt. Caffey retorts completely off topic to Jack Ross when he's argued into a corner, "well... you're a lousy fucking softball player, Jack!" Grade C.

Grifter/Midnighter #1 (DC/Wildstorm): I'll caveat this by saying that you all know I'm a huge Wildcats fan, so my interest here was squarely with Grifter. But one ugly thought kept swirling around my brain as I read this: What's the point? This book doesn't need to exist. We get what feels like 20 pages of Midnighter introduction. Yes, he's a badass. Yes, he's a member of The Authority. Yes, he's gay. Yes, he's an archetype for Batman/Wolverine. Yes, his lover Apollo, is an archetype for Superman. Yes, "Batman" and "Superman" are getting it on. Surely anyone reading this book knows all of this. Then we get a paltry 5 pages of Grifter. Where he has some sort of mind control powers. Umm, what? When did that happen? He's been shown post Wildstorm U reboot in Wildcats and that wasn't the case; why is a major shift in the character happening in an ancillary title? Then in a surprising move, Chuck Dixon's (who I typically enjoy, nothing Earth shattering, but like a good ham and cheese sandwich, just enough...) opening caption for the Grifter sequence is "Manila. That's in the Philippines, stupid." Umm, nothing like insulting your reader's intelligence to make them want to buy the book. This mini-series needs to get itself to a quarter bin ASAP. Grade D+.

52: Week Forty-Five (DC): Oh, it's all just wearing on me. "El Presidento?" Was that meant to be funny or just a bad gringo writer's version of Spanglish? Should be "El Presidente." Since when do the Bialyan Armed Forces use US M1 Abrams tanks? Wouldn't they be using second hand Soviet T-72's still? And sorry, but the panel to panel storytelling, sans dialogue, just isn't clear. What the hell are Black Adam and the Marvels carrying on about in the first couple of pages? No idea. It also bothers me that we're suddenly showing Amanda Waller, Alan Scott, and half the Royals from Checkmate with no explanation. Isn't it a little late to be introducing new characters to this mess? And last time we saw the Chinese heroes was a good five issues ago. Which brings me to my main point here. As I've said numerous times, there are far too many plot threads in motion to be satisfactorily resolved. Some guy on the interwebs even compiled a list of like 100 thus far unanswered questions that the 52 series has posed, at the time of the list's creation, and based on the number of issues left, that meant that a major item would need to be resolved on every other page of every issue for the remainder of the series. Somehow I don't see that happening. The thing about Special Event books like this is that they're not "special," they're just events for events sake. They're merely springboards for the next in an endless succession of events which lack substance. What was Infinite Crisis about? I don't know, but it led us to One Year Later. What was One Year Later about? I don't know, but it led us to 52. What is 52 really about? I don't know, but it will lead us to World War III. What will that be about? I don't know, but it's already leading us to Countdown. And so on. And so forth. At the end of the day, I just feel like I'm watching The X-Files or Lost, where the hope of answers leads invariably to more questions that ultimately go unresolved. Fans are just being led on, right now DC is a chic I'm dating who's promised to one day give up the kitty. It's elusive and I want it, but she has no intention of delivering the goods. DC is content to just make out for now. DC needs to learn a few new vocabulary words. Terminology like "conclusion, closure, denoument," or just a good old fashioned tidy "end." A logical conclusion to the ideas that have been introduced; have a complete cohesive thought for God's sake. In other words, tell a story which has a finite and identifiable end - in *one* book. Oh, and Dan DiDio, hey man, caught your note to the "DC Nation." Why the fuck would I want to walk around the San Diego Con wearing an orange button from the Island of Retardo Montalban, collecting all four so I can redeem them for a "special" Darkseid button so I can redeem that for a comic or poster? You mean those posters and comics you hand out at the Con for free anyway? The ones that litter the Con floor and are stuffed into waste bins all over the Convention Center? Yeah, ok. If you want to really get people involved in the DC Nation and incentivize people wearing them, how about you offer to publish somebody's story idea in an anthology book or as a back-up story somewhere. Next thing I know, you'll be offering POGS of Deathblow again like it was 1994. Grade D.


Movie Of The Month

300 (Based On The Dark Horse Comics Graphic Novel by Frank Miller): In short, this movie kicks much ass. From start to finish, it had my attention as my wide-eyes absorbed all that was happening. It is one of the best comic adaptations, ever. It is extremely faithful to the original book, while not sacrificing flow or sheer entertainment for the sake of mirroring the source material. It captures perfectly the intended energy of the book and is a joy to take in. David Wenham's (Faramir from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) regretful, yet hopeful narration is spot on and the depiction of Xerxes is perfect. He is portrayed as a creepy, but intriguing ruler. Both Xerxes and The Oracle are imbued with a perfect balance of otherworldly energy; enough to capture the imagination, but not so over the top that we dismiss it as outlandish caricature. 300 has some downright breathtaking "cinematography," a term which may seem out of place since the majority of this film was shot against blue screen for ultimate CG rendering. But visually it's beautiful and depicts a believable world, with realistic characters and landscapes, a true testament to the fact that the power of CG is in making us believe in a long-lost time and place, not in depicting as many battle droids and divergent planetary sets (sorry, George...) as possible. Overall response to the film has been extremely positive, with box office records (both IMAX and traditional) being shattered in the wake as both comic book fans and "civilians" flock to the multiplexes in their pre-summer quest for a decent movie. Some critics have attempted to deride the entire project by claiming it's not historically accurate. Well, of course it isn't. It never purported to be. Yes, there was a battle at Thermopylae. Yes, Spartans and Persians clashed. Yes, about 300 of them (aided by a couple hundred fellow Greek Arcadians) thwarted the attack of (best estimates indicate) 80,000 Persians by using their knowledge of the local landscape (proof that home field advantage can be a huge asset!). Yes, the Persians were led by Xerxes. Yes, Xerxes fashioned himself a God-King. And that's about the end of the direct match up between historical fact and what's depicted on screen. No, we don't know exactly what they said. No, we don't know to what extent the individual players affected the outcome. No, that's not *really* what the Spartans wore (even Frank Miller admits to this). And no, after much discussion of the Greek Phalanx battle tactic, it's seldom shown (assumably to showcase some spectacularly choreographed fight sequences instead). But, none of that is the point. Neither is the standard critical assault that this is an exercise in "style over substance." The best summation is that this is historically inspired, not historically accurate. And that's just fine. The intent of the movie is to capture the spirit of a warrior culture and what it means to live, fight, and die with honor and national pride. It's about your life and your actions transcending to something immeasurably meaningful for the sake of your fellow citizens, your children, and the ideals upon which civilization is structured. Those beats, the tone and meaning come across visually and through actions, not through the dialogue per se. This movie truly succeeds in capturing the spirit of a warrior culture defending a loose affiliation of city-states and delivers on its intent. Oh, and by the way. I am a Spartan. That's right. Alumnus of San Jose State University. School Mascot: Spartan. What's up, now? Grade A.


3.07.07 Reviews - Part 2

Scalped #3 (DC/Vertigo): The sheer energy of the plot pulls itself through some rather murky art during the opening shootout. Once that's settled, we get back to an extremely strong new book from Vertigo that bounces back and forth between present day and a flashback look at our protagonist. Scalped continually adds layers of complexity to this dark look at the modern plight of Indian Reservations and the twisted law enforcement efforts designed to address it. Grade A-.

Hulk & Power Pack #1 (Marvel): One huge quibble with this book that just punches you in the face. The Hulk was recently shipped off into space, by his own friends and colleagues mind you, because he was an unpredictable threat that could not be trusted anymore inhabiting the Earth. So, yeah, let's team him up with pre-teen kids in regular Marvel continuity and make him seem all cute and cuddly. Umm, what?! Nice one. Once you get past that irregularity, this is a really fun book. David Williams' pencils boasts some very dynamic perspective shots, brilliantly emotive facial expressions, and is the perfect artistic choice for the tone of this material. Marc Sumerak's script wastes no time, gets right into the action, and really nails the ear for kidspeak. He pays homage to modern kid culture (with things like Jack knowing the "Hulk Smash!" cheat code), but is also really respectul to the kids aptitude (they do figure out Banner is the Hulk after all!). All in all, a really well done book that is perfectly accessible for kids. Grade A-.

Mighty Avengers #1 (Marvel): I liked this debut issue, but have a few reservations. First off, the introduction of the thought balloons feels like a cheat. In this day and age, it just feels like a lazy storytelling tool. Bendis is an effective enough writer to convey meaning and motivation through his regular lengthy dialogue without having to attempt an additional layer of meaning with such a distracting mechanism. Second, it's very hypocritical. Recall that the Stamford disaster was the catalyst for the Registration Act and the subsequent Civil War. It all started with public backlash to innocent civilians getting killed. Well, in this issue we see a fight with "Mole-Monsters" right in New York City, there are at least two shots of high-rise buildings severely damaged and in flames. There's one panel where the Sentry knocks a monster right into a high-rise, cracking it in half. There's another panel where Wonder Man gets knocked into the air and in the background is half of a high-rise building sitting in flames. It seems safe to assume that NYC wasn't evacuated, since there are civilians visible running around amid cars being thrown, so we can also presume that hundreds of people have beek killed in this little melee starring the government sponsored team. Yet there's no mention of it. No reaction to it. Are we supposed to believe the public is ok with that? Why is that now ok? Because they're not children? I don't get it. I know that this is a basic conceit you have to accept with superhero books, but it's the height of hypocrisy given recent events in the Marvel U. Third, Tony is still being portrayed as really distasteful. He has a smarmy manipulative tone when dealing with Carol and refers to his long-time friend Captain America, Cap, Steve Rogers, Steve, now as... "Rogers" in a demeaning way. Fourth, some of the humor falls really flat. And finally, *this* is the best group of Avengers they could think of? The "best of the best?" I guess all the true best are behind bars or unregistered fugitives. All that aside... Frank Cho's art looks amazing, a perfect match for a book that depicts the mightier-than-mere-mortal Avengers. I'm a sucker for assembling the team issues. And you can't deny that there is a likeable energy here. Bendis is swinging for the fences in the very first issue by planting Ultron as the baddie. What I like the most is that it feels genuine. There is an authenticity to these events, characters, and the overall tone that is much more appealing than New Avengers ever came across. I would rather see the interactions of Carol Danvers, Wonder Man, and Ares ring true, than the much hyped dynamics of market juggernauts Wolverine and Spider-Man on the other Avengers title. Grade B.

Zauriel: Helmet of Fate #1 (DC): The best thing I can say about this is that it has a Kaluta cover. For a moment, there are some playful religious quandries posed, but then it absolutely drowns itself in exposition. The only raison d'etre for this book seems to be page after page full of expository dialogue that attempts to explain what the fuck is going on with the Helmet of Fate. One of the most boring and horribly scripted books I've read in quite some time. Grade D.


3.07.07 Reviews - Part 1

Manhunter #29 (DC): Based on the last report I read, Manhunter will come to a close with issue #30. And it's a damn shame. This remains one of the most sophisticated "superhero" books out there. It's a careful, witty, and dare I say, realistic look at superhero activity. This issue hosts a *beautiful* Sean Phillips cover, where he's lost his usual hard angular line, instead capturing the soft majesty of Diana, a Woman of Wonder who is momentarily vulnerable and trapped in the legal position she's currently in. This world is not about right or wrong, it's about the reality of what people will do, the ramifications of those actions, and a behind the scenes look at a world inhabited by superheroes. I miss this book already. Grade A.

Phonogram #5 (Image): This is a tough review. I was really enamored with the first issue. I want this book to be as good as it fondly lives in my memory. But as with last issue, I'm actually enjoying the surplus essays more than the comic itself. I tend to speed through all the magical Phonomancer hoohaa and oblique Britpop musical references, just so I can read a text piece about The Rule of Three as applied to personal fave, Oasis. I mean seriously, any text piece that references the "give me gin and tonic" line from the song Supersonic, I will love forever. But the comic itself, gosh, I feel bad. I tuned out; it's not connecting with me. I can't get a foothold. Makes me want to read a book or collection of essays on Britpop penned by Kieron Gillen, but not necessarily a comic. "Done it with a doctor, on a helicopter... and I'll ride with you, in my BMW..." Grade B-.

Justice League of America #6 (DC): Ok, I actually did enjoy reading this book and thought the battle with Amazo was fun, but it's more of a guilty pleasure type of enjoyment. And there are some nice historical nods with references to Batman & The (original) Outsiders, previous teamwork, and past incarnations of the JLA. And Ed Benes' art is also just fine, it serves the big bang spectacle of this book well. But... I'm going to get nitpicky with the script and characterization here. While Hal and Bruce are "going to work on the homes with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch," it made me wonder why Clark didn't just saw his legs off with heat vision? And would that really stop the Flash? Can't he still tap into the speed force or some shit and vibrate his molecules so fast that he would be untouchable and invisible? Since when does Solomon Grundy use words like "maudlin?" The continuing caption boxes gimmick ("situ... situa... situation") was supposed to emphasize the speed of the encounter, but instead was just distracting and actually kinda' dumb. This story is titled Iron Man? Really? Iron Man? I'm very tired of the concurrent storylines that converge with two different people in two different places saying the same line, previous issues used this trick and it's wearing thin. Instead of making Meltzer's script seem innovative and original, it comes off as formulaic. And lastly, what an odd place to end. Off from a storytelling perspective - darn convenient only if you're writing for the inevitable six issue trade collection. We may have come full circle with Red Tornado going from robot body to human host, back to robot body, but there's no organic resolution of the story with the cast of villains involved. Tornado is stable for the moment, but the real underlying threat hasn't been resolved. No explanation of Vixen's sudden appearance into the fray. No explanation of Geo-Force's involvement. And Bruce suddenly trusts Zatanna tampering with someone's aura/psyche/soul now? There are a lot of illogical huhwhats? lingering beyond the superficial fun this title puts out. Grade B-.

Worldstorm #2 (DC/Wildstorm): I think it's pretty safe to say that the Wildstorm relaunch dubbed "Worldstorm" certainly didn't take the world by storm and is almost a complete failure. I say "almost," because I'm really enjoying Stormwatch: PHD. As for everything else in the line... either the books never ship and are chronically, well, "late" doesn't quite cut it, so we'll go with "non-existent," Wildcats, I'm talking to you - you managed to belt out a whopping ONE issue in like a year, pretty funny for the "flagship" book or... the books that do come out somewhat regularly, like say Deathblow and Midnighter, are just tired retreads of the same weary concepts. And Worldstorm #2 serves to cap off this crapfest by being utterly inconsequential. Funny that I know I bought #1, yet I can't recall a single thing that occurs in it. Didn't even know there was to be a #2. And here we are with a bunch of unfocused drivel. A short story about Voodoo, who was never a strong enough character to warrant her own book and could barely pull off a mini-series or one-shot or two, even when Alan Moore was writing her! She's a cool enough character (yes, I'm a bit nostalgiac for all things Wildcats), but where she belongs is in the Wildcats book, however, if it's not going to publish more than one issue, well, you see the irony and dilemma of this line... the back-up feature showcases Savant (and I'm not sure that people who aren't steeped in Wildstorm U history will even recognize who she is, last seen in the really bad Wildcats: Nemesis mini-series) and Jet (original Team 7 member Marc Slayton's daughter, who in a completely unsurprising way assumes her dad's Backlash monicker). Were fans really clamoring for more Savant and Jet? These are like C-string Wildstorm U characters at best. We also trot out Fuji and Winter for no apparent reason, it's not as if they're going to get books either. All in all, I can sum it up in one sentence: This book has no point. There's just no direction or vision here. It narrowly escapes a worse grade because although the stories and editorial choices are abysmal, there is actually some very nice pencil work here (and nice lettering on the Voodoo piece - take a bow Travis Lanham) from Phil Jimenez and Ryan Sook. Too bad it was wasted on such an awful book. Grade C-.

52: Week Forty-Four (DC): Many scenes of the melodramatic melee in Khandaq that push Black Adam toward vengeance. Then the telegraphed transformation touted for weeks, Renee Montoya as The Question. Your basic snoozefest as we return to the competent, yet curiously complacent pencils of another artistic benchwarmer named Eddy Barrows. I seem to be buying this only out of a warped sense of completion so that someday I can say "yes, I read every single issue of 54; wasn't very good." Best part of this book was the ad for the All-Star Superman Hardcover from Morrison and Quitely. The image of Nightwing's reflection against the case housing Jason Todd's Robin costume is striking as well. But alas, they have nothing to do with 52 44's Grade C-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Aya (Drawn & Quarterly): Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie deliver a rare depiction of life in the Western African nation of Cote d' Ivoire. Abouet's vibrant writing and Oubrerie's lush, detailed layouts (reminiscent of Joann Sfar) capture the universal struggles of adolescence, small town politics, and basic human urges. I was particularly taken with the full page shots that Oubrerie fills with mood; they become incredible snapshots of isolated moments in time. Abouet's script is a very honest look at a progressive Ivory Coast culture that comes across unforced and totally organic, while varying widely from what the rest of the world usually sees in the media and commonly perceives to be "African." It's such a humble open look at the culture that she even includes authentic recipes for ginger juice cocktails and peanut sauce in the back of the book. What a rare treat this was! Grade A+.

2.28.07 Reviews - Part 2

The Killer #3 (Archaia Studios Press): Jacamon and Matz have crafted the perfect pulp noir thriller. It captures a man conflicted by his own existence, struggling to justify his life and reconcile his own place in the world. In addition to being a brilliantly entertaining crime book with violence that shatters reality in the way it's depicted, it taps directly into one of man's primordial existential dilemmas. This is a modern work of art which has already immediately earned itself a place in the pantheon of respected industry works. Grade A+.

The Living & The Dead (Fantagraphics): Norwegian cartoonist Jason delivers yet another of his anthropomorphic (superficially a "funny animal book") tales that transcends its ostensible look to capture some very adult and sophisticated themes. This time around, the two core premises rise out from a tale about a dishwasher amid a meteor crashing down that causes undead zombies to emerge. Lesson one is simply "carpe diem," do what you want to do - now. Because tomorrow, the girl you're interested in might become one of those zombies and dash your hopes of a relationship. Lesson two is that love can transcend all. Regardless of Jason's subject matter or the themes he plays with, he is a master of panel to panel storyteling, able to express complex ideas and character motivations using his fine line alone, with little to no dialogue. Grade A.

The Secret History #1 (Archaia Studios Press): I really like the premise of this book, and the outline for the entire series as a matter of fact, but it read a little dense and slow in spots. I know that this is really a "setting up the world" issue that plants the seeds for the rest of the run, but still, a little yawn-inducing at times. Kordey's art ranges from being the completely inky and lush masterpiece we'd expect to feeling a little crowded and perhaps rushed in spots, like some of his panels didn't have room to breathe. Overall though, I'm excited about this promising new title from the upstart publisher that seems to be offering hit after selective hit. Grade B.

X-Factor #16 (Marvel): I suppose this issue does highlight an interesting moral choice for Jamie Madrox, someone who is admittedly notorious for shirking responsibility and decision-making, but... I can't escape the feeling that this plays like a total stand-alone "filler" issue that could have been inserted just about anywhere. It's also hampered by the ridiculously rotating round-table of artists. I guess Pablo Raimondi is meant to be the "regular" (using that term quite loosely here since no artist since Ryan Sook seems to last more than 3 issues) artist now? The ideal situation is to have a good artist last for say, 12 issues, or at least one arc for pity's sake. Barring that, we can have good artists (plural) last for a few issues, or we can have a single crappy artist last for an arc (at least there's points for consistency), but instead what X-Factor has done is manage to position intself with the worst of both worlds. There is neither quality, nor quantity. A bunch of less than stellar artists, none of whom stick around for very long. Really poor job in the editorial department here. A pity that Marvel doesn't take one of the best *written* X-Books more seriously. Grade B-.

Fear Agent #11 (Image): Ahem... speaking of books with cruddy inconsistent art that feel like filler issues... On the positive side, there are a couple isolated moments where the art does hint at an Igor Kordey type of vibe, but for the most part it's inconsistent and didn't serve the story very well. And this is, what? The 5th artist on this book? In 11 issues? That's not very good. There were some ok lines (I recall something funny about having a permit?), but for the most part the Western humor falls totally flat juxtaposed against the bug-like creatures. Just when I was considering dropping this book, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel in the text piece at the back. I had forgotten this is the last Image issue, as the series will now move to Dark Horse and adopt what Remender calls the "BPRD/Hellboy" format. Meaning: Fear Agent will occur as an ongoing series of mini-series penned by Remender with the alternating artistic chops of Tony Moore and Jerome Opena (which for my money are the two best artists that've worked on the series). Tales of the Fear Agent will be an ancillary title showcasing a rotating cast of creators (which if you actually think about it, makes the combination much more akin to a "BPRD/Hellboy: Weird Tales" format than a straight "BPRD/Hellboy," the main Fear Agent title more closely resembling the BPRD structure and the Tales of the Fear Agent title being like Hellboy: Weird Tales). So, Remender's analogy isn't quite accurate, but I actually do like the intent here. If, yes that's a highly caveated *if* folks, they can actually deliver on this, I think the title will be back on track in a strong, strong way. A cautiously optimistic, Grade B-.