3.31.10 Review

Detective Comics #863 (DC): This will probably sound like I’m unfairly picking on a random title, but this issue is kind of exemplary of why I’m feeling out on comics lately. It’s just bad decision making from the company out in the real world and a lackluster story inside the fictitious world. When “competent” is the best compliment you can pay something, that’s not really a strong enough reason to be actively supporting a title or an industry in this day and age. So, it’s the last issue with Greg Rucka as writer on the main feature. There will also be no more JH Williams III, inside or out. I found myself growing tired of the dual narrative steering the story. What began as a clever writer’s touch, now feels like an overwrought gimmick and it’s hard to accept the neat fitting parity at this point. The style of Jock’s penciling is serviceable, but not engaging for me personally. On the rare occasions I am in the mood for a blocky angular artistic style, I’d probably prefer Sean Phillips, and if I want something even more hyper-stylized, I’d look to Ashley Wood for that fix. When you look hard enough, there are a few good investigative bits from Jim Gordon to be found here, I like the “Kord” reference, and still am warm on the inclusion of Flamebird (building their own little BoP paradigm?), but that all seems to run short. How did Cutter nab Bette? That doesn’t seem to be explained or in sync with last issue. In short, every factor that led to me starting to buy this title has now been systematically eliminated. JH Williams is gone. Greg Rucka is gone. Batwoman is gone. Flamebird is gone. Future issue solicits feature Batman, a rotating band of creators I’m not interested in, and the dropping of the Flamebird plot thread. Will that ever get followed up on? It’s just a shame. It’s become a generic story, with a generic villain borrowed from Silence of the Lambs, a generic approach that devalues the art (two artists in the same issue! with totally different styles! one artist can't complete three issues?!), with a generic back up, a generic preview in this issue, and soon to be a relatively generic set of creative teams. Verdict? Here’s a hint… it starts with “g.” Hey DC, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m out. Grade B-.

I also picked up;

A Home For Mr. Easter (NBM): The pencils from Brooke Allen looked interesting, and hey, I needed more to read than just a sad last issue of ‘Tec.


Kodamalara @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Esquire Magazine on The Role of a Critic & American Idol Judge Simon Cowell

"The hard man is the only one whose opinion matters anyway - all around the world the singers listen politely to the compliments or criticisms of the softie and the pro, but their faces light up when the hard man tells them they have talent. Often he's just saying what everyone else is too polite to say, and for the viewers at home who just want to hear some good music, Cowell's message is entirely a force for good: Art is more important than society, truth more important than politics, songs more important than people's feelings."


Coming This Week: "An Uptight Copyright Is All That You Are"

Is it me, or is this a really boring week in comics? There really are no books coming out this week that I purchase regularly, and just a small group that even mildly caught my eye. Detective Comics #863 (DC) is out, which I might purchase just to finish out the arc from Greg Rucka and Jock, but DC has really managed to suck all of the life out of this title. Not only is JH Williams III not coming back as originally planned, now the rumored ongoing Batwoman title featuring him is highly in doubt (according to his Twitter feed anyway). To make matters worse, this will not only be the last issue of this arc, but the last with the main story by Rucka and the last Williams cover. After that it’s a rotating band of creators with no clear direction or appeal for the title. At this point, it just feels like the plan is “just publish something!” until the 900 and 1,000 issue milestones are hit. Will this book ever be special again? I’ll not be sticking around to find out. I felt a fleeting glimmer of hope when I saw that Cloak & Dagger #1 (Marvel) was hitting the shelves, but that quickly faded as I realized it was not the mini-series penned by Valerie D’Orazio, but just a one-shot by someone else I’m not a fan of. What ever happened to that book anyway? Justice League of America #43 (DC) is also out, but there’s no way in hell I’ll be buying that after the crap that was last issue, which is sad to admit considering my affinity for Dick Grayson. Lastly, I see X-Men: Second Coming #1 (Marvel) finally kicks off, with the (assumable) return of Cable and Hope to the present day in their time-jumping adventures. I’m sort of mildly curious enough to give this a flip after enjoying early issues of X-Force from Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, the same writers here, but doubt I’ll make a purchase since I don’t want to get sucked into another less than satisfying mutant crossover. Is that really it? Man, I hope something from the small press rack catches my eye, because this is a paltry haul for the week. I guess I’ll go back to reviewing mini-comics…

Odd Jobs #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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3.24.10 Reviews

Scalped #36 (DC/Vertigo): As if Jason Aaron didn’t make every single issue of Scalped great enough, here’s an entire issue dedicated to the character who has slowly become my favorite – Shunka. The right hand man is always more interesting to me than the guy out front in the spotlight. That’s why I loved Leo McGarry over Josiah Bartlett, and Dick Grayson over Bruce Wayne. The guy behind the guy is typically the glue that makes the place run. Davide Furno’s pencils are a delightful blend, something like Paul Pope and Danijel Zezelz all at once, that help Aaron achieve a complex “holy shit” performance. “A Fine Action Of An Honorable And Catholic Spaniard” is a phenomenal title for the issue and belies the complexity of what’s portrayed. There are intense societal and sub-cultural issues at play here. I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but we examine the capable, quiet, intense confidence of Shunka, a man who isn’t up for “a steady diet of strippers and barely legal cokeheads.” We look at minorities within minorities, examine historical gender roles (up to 7!) in Native American culture, as secrets are revealed. I personally think Shunka still has some secrets up his sleeve. I’ve felt for a while that he could be a cop, maybe a federal agent from a different agency sent in not only to take down Red Crow but also see what's up with all these crooked ass murdering FBI agents, but we’ll wait and see. At the end of the day, this issue reminds me of old school EC horror, or the early issues of DC’s House of Secrets or House of Mystery. It features a dead narrator speaking from beyond the grave about ghastly events that become an open-ended cautionary tale. The story starts at the end, rewinds hard, and then loops back to what we’ve already seen. This is an instant classic. Grade A.

Northlanders #24 (DC/Vertigo): Dave McCaig’s muted colors really help Brian Wood’s script capture the desperate collapse of a society. Part 6 of 8 in The Plague Widow explains Gunborg’s deal with the other settlement as his coup is revealed in more detail. The theme I really found compelling in this issue was Wood’s examination of the universal hope of all parents, for the future that will be inhabited by their children. That hope is something that really cannot be vanquished. I found the Boris scene quite rousing, but was pleasantly distracted by the caduceus symbol on his medical kit. That’s the winged staff with intertwined snakes on either side of it. [Brian, if you’re reading: I know that the symbol was Greek in origin and used by them and the Romans if I recall, but did they really use it up north too, or was that modern shorthand for your audience? I know you research the heck out of this book, so I’m curious about that.] In typical Wood fashion, there are some thought-provoking ideas introduced here. Is the plague of sickness the real threat, or is the greater threat the internal plague of man’s greed and betrayal? Karin’s perspective is interesting. She feels that a “loving lord” would not have spared them from the plague in the first place, but instead, killed them quickly. Jens’ demoralizing offer is a great lesson in psychological torture. Like the great storytellers, as he does in other books like DMZ, Wood understands that if you leave your characters where they’d least like to be, you can ratchet up the palpable tension to a Spinal Tap style 11 out of 10. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #522 (Marvel): Oh boy. At some point, I promise to let this go so it doesn’t border on unhealthy obsession, but for now this will serve as my official treatise on why I just can’t buy the (lack of) logic behind the return of Kitty Pryde as presented in this book. To start, here are a few facts I’ve gleaned from various sources that are generally accepted canon;

* Kitty can extend her powers to phase other people and objects. She’s able to phase at least half a dozen other people (or objects of similar mass) with her, so long as they establish and maintain physical contact with her. She can extend her phasing effect to her own clothing or any other object with mass up to that of a small truck, as long as she remains in contact with it. From this we can extrapolate that she couldn’t phase an object this large; the hull alone was repeatedly described as a mile(!) thick.

* The density of some materials (such as adamantium) can prove deleterious to her phasing, causing her to be severely disoriented or experience pain if she tries to pass through them. From this, we can certainly extrapolate that phasing through one mile of a foreign metallic substance from The Breakworld would be extremely difficult, if not flat out impossible. In fact, it was mentioned that she passed out and was unconscious inside the bullet. From this we can extrapolate that it’s a miracle she could phase the bullet even momentarily as it passed through Earth, so even if you buy that huge leap, she certainly couldn’t have sustained it.

* The use of her abilities also interferes with electrical systems (including the bioelectric systems of the human body), as she passes through by disrupting the flow of electrons from atom to atom. This typically causes machines to malfunction or be destroyed as she phases through. From this we can extrapolate that as she phased the bullet through the Earth, it would have acted like a planet-wide EMP burst, creating cataclysmic, catastrophic, end-of-days type disasters globally as it caused every single electrical device on the planet to shut down and interfere with the normal autonomic function of every single human being on the planet. Millions would have died, governments would collapse, there would be no electricity, no water delivery, the entire global financial system would implode. It would be the Stone Age.

* While phased, she is immune to most physical attacks, and has resistance to telepathy. From this we can extrapolate that Emma likely could not have communicated telepathically with her as she did over such a great distance, nor could Magneto as depicted.

* Since she is unable to breathe while phased inside an object, she can only continuously phase solid objects (as when she travels underground) as long as she can hold her breath. Most “normal” people can hold their breath for about 1 minute max. Free divers routinely hold their breath for up to 2.5 minutes with extensive training. The world record for a free diver is 9 minutes and change, after mastering a breathing technique where he built up the oxygen in his body and was able to purge carbon dioxide to stay under water longer. In any case, let’s assume Kitty is in peak physical form and can hold her breath for 2 minutes. This means she could only stay phased a maximum of 2 minutes, certainly not the months she’s been trapped in the projectile.

* As a reminder, space is a vacuum, even inside the hollow point bullet. This means that Kitty’s body would quickly be affected by hostile conditions. She is without water and food, but more importantly – oxygen to breathe and a heat source so she doesn’t freeze to death. Even if you argue that she is impervious to these needs while phased, she is not in a state of suspended animation, so her tissue would still atrophy. This has not been addressed.

* If you accept that she has been phased along with the bullet the entire time (which is a joke in my opinion), then how does Magneto use his magnetic powers on a metal bullet made of unfamiliar material from the Breakworld, while it’s phased in an intangible state and loses its metallic properties? How does Magneto use his magnetic powers on the small trace amounts of iron and other metals in her body while she’s phased in an intangible state and loses those metallic properties?

The issue itself offers the most paltry of explanations: “She kept it ghostly always and nobody ever got hurt.” That’s it?! On the plus side, I will say that Portacio’s art wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Though there were a few panels with skimpy backgrounds, it’s otherwise detailed and effective. I also enjoyed Scott playing the incident commander role and the quip of a line “Summers, be quiet. The grown-ups are talking.” Honestly, those were the only redeeming qualities in my opinion. The Science Team says they’ve been tracking the bullet “24/7.” Really? Since when? Last time we saw mention of this whole thing was the last issue of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run and at that time they’d all dismissively thrown their hands up in the air and given up hope. I’m still not exactly clear on what Magneto actually does. The bullet enters the Earth’s atmosphere, some shit flies out of his body, Kitty appears before them, and then the bullet just goes away. The End. Then we get some epilogue style scenes with Namor doing… something, and a bunch of bullshit about flowers and basketball which I really didn’t get. And what the fuck does the back up story have to do with anything? What a waste of space and an extra dollar on the price tag. If Kitty is permanently phased, then guess what? She can't eat or drink because food would literally fall through her and out of her body. She couldn’t breathe either. She couldn’t be contained in that contraption, she’d just slip through it, down through the Earth to China, and then out into space again. The science is extremely dubious, even for an X-Men book, where scientific principles are bent all the time. This was just an unmitigated disaster.

Joss Whedon, love him or hate him, created a writer’s trap that has yet to be successfully resolved. I’m all for the suspension of disbelief in my escapist fiction, so it might sound odd to be arguing these points amid a reality where there are mutants and giant Sentinels and a guy named Namor living off the coast of California aiding a man who shoots laser beams out of his eyes, but… what I require in exchange for my suspension of disbelief is some internal logic and consistency, otherwise it’s chaos, anything goes, and writers can cheat, just making things up as they go, snapping rules to suit their needs at any given moment. It sucks any dramatic tension out of a situation. Character gets shot? “Oh, btw, they put up a force field to block the bullet even though you’ve never ever seen them do that in 30 years, yeah they have that power too, because I just made it up.” If characters are portrayed one way 99% of the time, and then in that last 1% everything is thrown out the window, it’s just Matt Fraction yelling “VOODOO! MAGIC! BOOMSHAKALAKA! PHOENIX FORCE! OH YEAH, HER POWERS ARE DIFFERENT!” and that’s an extremely weak explanation that voids the unwritten agreement between him and his audience. We’re suddenly expected to accept that Kitty and Magneto have new powers I guess? Because they went into some transmeditative state? Or something? Not only does she mysteriously get these new powers without explanation at the most convenient time of her life, but she a) phases an object made of a material she can’t phase, b) phases a humongous object that is much too large for her to phase, c) stays phased exponentially longer than she ever has before, and d) somehow dodges the need for water, food, air to breathe, and a heat source in the cold vacuum of open space. On top of that, we are told these things (in an indirect, beating around the bush type manner, I might add), not shown them, which seems to violate the prime directive of graphic storytelling. On top of that, Magneto seems to be able to just “use the force” to control objects, regardless of whether or not they’re in metal form, regardless of Kitty’s imperceptibility to telepathy while phased, so yeah, I guess he got some new powers too? Bottom line, Kitty couldn’t have phased that substance, that size, for that duration – yet without phasing, she would have died from lack of food, water, air to breathe, and something to keep her warm (though I can argue the phasing wouldn’t have made her imperceptible to those needs). It’s a catch-22 that hasn’t been sufficiently addressed without huge cheats. Full stop. Grade D-.

I also picked up;

On The Odd Hours (NBM/ComicsLit): I know this will comes as a shock, but Sea Donkey did not get the new Yoshihiro Tatsumi book in, Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly). However, I did find this gem that is the third in a loose series of books co-published by the Louvre. I enjoyed the first, Glacial Period, a great deal, but somehow managed to miss the second. This one has a very intriguing premise, about a night tour at the museum when the art comes alive. The art from Eric Liberge looks breathtaking.


Moulger Bag Digest #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Coming This Week: "Nine Ball Is Rotation Pool"

I’m just eyeballing it, but it seems like kind of another light week, no? Maybe it’s just that I’m not feeling terribly excited by any comics lately. I’m not saying I’m out on the entire medium or anything, it just feels like I keep going to one of my favorite restaurants and ordering the same thing. The food is good. I mean, obviously there’s a reason I keep going to this restaurant. Yeah, the books are good, I enjoy them, but I’m ready for something new. I’m ready to be WOWed. I haven’t felt WOWed in quite a long time. Until then, until that new artistic dish just knocks me on my ass, the tried and true meals at Café Vertigo will have to suffice. It’s another in the longer arc, with Brian Wood delivering Northlanders #26 (DC/Vertigo) and Jason Aaron chugging forward with Scalped #36 (DC/Vertigo). Both still $2.99, I might add. At the $3.99 price point, we have Uncanny “I’m Just Reading To See What Happens to Kitty Why Isn’t There More Fanfare” X-Men #522 (Marvel) from Matt Fraction, Phil “I Didn’t Love Him On Astonishing” Jimenez, and Whilce “This Could Be Good Or This Could Be A Train Wreck But At Least It’s Not Greg Land” Portacio. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve nearly convinced myself I’ll have issues with how Kitty’s return is handled, so good luck overcoming all of my preconceived prejudices.

In the 99%-sure-I-won’t-be-purchasing-it-column is Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal #1 (DC). For $3.99 a pop and four issues, I don’t think I can handle much more of the hyperbolic over-the-top, out-of-character, manufactured tragedy porn melodrama, but I can surely muster the courage to scan it at the LCS just to mock it later. I’m sure it will be the talk of the town in some circles, but I’ll pass on Nemesis #1 (Marvel/Icon), the latest Mark Millar extravaganza. I’ve just never seen what the big deal was. Civil War had an interesting core premise kicking it off, but ultimately the mini-series proper did nothing with those ideas, Kick Ass pushed all the wrong buttons, let’s make a movie before the mini even wraps, and I’d just rather not feel like I’m getting played as a consumer, thanks. Did 1985 ever finish?

Another entry of note is Supergod #3 (Avatar Press) by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny. This title is in a precarious position. It’s not the tour de force writing performance I felt Black Summer and No Hero were, though it shares a thematic connection, and sorry, but Gastonny is a little uneven for me, especially compared with the inimitable Juan Jose Ryp. It’s the type of thing the Warren Ellis completist in me will surely seek out in trade just so *I’ll know* I read all of his sci-fi fetishism available, but I’m not in a frenzy to support the “monthly” floppies. Lastly, in the collected editions department, be sure to grab Northlanders: Volume 3: Blood in the Snow (DC/Vertigo), while not my personal favorite Brian Wood book, it just might be his best work to date.

UPDATE: Also out this week is Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly). Yoshihiro Tatsumi!

Candy or Medicine: Volume Eight @ Poopsheet Foundation

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A Story About Fish @ Poopsheet Foundation

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3.17.10 Reviews

Joe The Barbarian #3 (DC/Vertigo): The cover of Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s latest issue is a good indicator of what the audience is in store for. It’s an odd mélange of strange crystals powering an arcane submarine vessel with a steampunk aesthetic, with midget pirates steering and navigating, aided by maps and lanterns, while a young boy and his rat warrior companion are given refuge. Morrison offers up a fun brain teaser, as your mind seeks to make the correlation between the fantasy elements and the reality we’ve been shown. The story bounces back and forth between the two, cleverly playing with our perception of reality in the tradition of offbeat movies like Vanilla Sky, Jacob’s Ladder, What Dreams May Come, The Cell, or 12 Monkeys. I really enjoy Morrison’s ability to operate on multiple planes of meaning. One small basic example is the pirate captain character named “Hammerhand,” who literally has a hammer for a hand, but also conjured up images of “Helm Hammerhand,” one of the founding fathers of The Kingdom of Rohan, who the fortress of Helm’s Deep was named for (shit, I guess I have to surrender my cool card for being able to rattle of that much LOTR trivia). There are additional lines of dialogue that Morrison takes a literal interpretation with, such as “Devil’s Doubloons” or “The pipes! The pipes are calling!” These sayings manifest as real plot devices, and I love that sort of word trickery. Murphy’s penciling during the underwater sequence is particularly amazing. He conveys a beautifully eerie and moody setting; you can almost hear the projectiles plunking down beneath the surface. Colorist Dave Stewart again deserves a nod, just ripping it up on Vertigo books lately, with a crisp palette, appropriate tone, and identifiable style. The team has quickly created a book that is imaginative, consistent, and compelling. It’s a unique blender of fantasy tropes coupled with the mental machinations of drug infused deficiency. There are just enough real world elements laced in to make it all seem plausible, to make us believe in the viability of something so fantastical. Some analysts say that when you dream, every character in your dream is actually a different aspect of self, of your own persona. If you apply that to the kid’s experience, then he is all things present that we see, a warrior, and a dolt, and a rebellious pirate, every facet of personality that we see presented in each character. It’s a testament to the complexity, layered meaning, and multiple interpretations that a robust bit of storytelling is capable of delivering. Grade A.

Echo #20 (Abstract Studio): It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find ways to explain how amazing Echo continues to be. That first page is full of beautiful prose, it hums with heart and has the cinematic feel of a person describing the precise moment they started to fall in love. It’s a great example of how Terry Moore can instantly entice his audience and draw them in emotionally to his work. The following scene plays a little catch-up, but is pretty seamless with the exposition. It’s a great example of how Terry Moore can give his faithful readers a quick refresh, while offering a first time reader a fast primer on what’s occurring. I really enjoyed the dry humor of the line “That’s a good point, Julie. You should write that down.” It’s a great reminder that Moore doesn’t just offer up great pencils, rousing action, or quiet character moments, but can also deliver the funny, able to play all sides of the ball. The best part of the book, for me, is the display of the tactics and disposition of two very different, but very capable, women. They’re realistic women, not superheroes. They have realistic looks, attributes, concerns, actions, and reactions. It’s the perfect example to show one of the finest bits of storytelling and character arcing that I’ve seen in quite some time. This issue winds down with a “holy shit!” moment concerning Ethan, and also takes a strange ass turn at the very end. These moments prove that Moore is capable of still surprising his audience. Now, go back and reread all of the compliments I just paid the creator. Terry Moore can grab our attention, inform us, thrill us, connect emotionally with us, ground us in realism, make us laugh, surprise us, and render it all in a jaw-dropping resonant style. What more do you want? Grade A.

I also picked up;

The Killer: Volume 2 HC (Archaia)


If A Troll Posts In The Woods And No One Is…

Inspired by a recent dust-up with an anonymous poster I dubbed “Jersey Troll” (a fine addition to my repertoire of online characters, beginning with Sea Donkey), I couldn’t resist doing a little research and seeing what the interwebs had to offer on the subject. I found this very succinct entry at Wikipedia, which defines “Troll (Internet)” as: “In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” While it goes on at length to examine etymology of the term, in all of the material I saw, none captured the essence as quickly and effectively as this, so I’m ready to accept that as an “According to Hoyle” explanation and move on.

There were quite a few psychoanalytical essays I uncovered postulating why certain personality types might be drawn to trolling and examining what the behavior has to offer them. While I find the socialization dynamics vis-à-vis brain development fascinating, I doubt anyone else reading would be as enamored of the detailed case studies of a “disembodied virtual epistemic community” as I was, so I’ll just skip that portion of the program.

I also found an interesting set of entries at flayme.com, which is primarily concerned with a few, albeit dated, guidelines for how to win flame wars, but did digress into a section specifically concerning trolly behavior, best summarized with a PSA-style post on “How Can Troll Posts Be Recognised?” It included several common hallmarks of troll posts, such as "No Imagination, Pedantic, False Identity, Cross-Posting, Off-Topic Posting, Repetition, Fascination/Boasting of IQ," and "Missing The Point," all with detailed descriptions and examples from reported real world encounters. For example, “Missing the Point” goes on to explain how trolls are rarely capable of answering a direct question, since they’re not primarily interested in conversation or an exchange of ideas, merely positing their attack and/or instigating a response. If asked to justify their “twaddle” (the writer is English, dig the "s" in recognise up there), they cannot, so they develop a fine ability to ignore, change topic, or deflect arguments.

Lastly, I found quite a few entertaining images attached to many of the entries concerning trolls and blogstalking. Some of them were artist interpretations of specific aspects of trolly behavior, some were photoshopped images with clever sayings, some became inspirational office posters, and some were actual pictures which had been co-opted, as they seemed to typify the behavior and general aesthetic one imagines for a prototypical internet troll. They all paint quite an unflattering picture in the process. They sure cracked me up, and I hope they, along with my file names, offer you some amusement as well. I now present the “best of” that I encountered, ranging from sort of the least offensive (oh, if all blogstalkers looked like that) to the more intense caricatures being captured the further down you scroll.


Coming This Week: "I Shot A Man in Reno, Just To Watch Him Die"

In terms of volume, this is going to be a really light week for me in the world of comics. However, in terms of quality, I really love two of the three of these books. But, in an ironic twist of tempting fate, those two are the same two that the proprietor of my LCS, affectionately named Sea Donkey, will actually be the least reliable about getting in. I’m sure he’ll have Joe The Barbarian #3 (DC/Vertigo), since it’s from The Big Two and bears the name of at least one superstar creator in the credits, with Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy delivering the goods. It’s a quirky little series that deals with as much psychosis as fantasy and superhero elements, making it tickle all those same spots that Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple, and (an uncredited) Gary Panter did with their reimaging of Omega: The Unknown. It will be less likely that I see Echo #20 (Abstract Studio) from Terry Moore adorning the shelves. For 60% of the last five issues, Sea Donkey has mysteriously not had the book the day it shipped, but a week later instead. My inquiries about alternate distributors have not been able to positively identify the cause of the week-long delays. It’s been easy for the Oceanic Mule to blame it on shippers and freight forwarders, claiming that “we didn’t get one box,” which is somehow always the same knee jerk excuse, and always contains the same title, always the one title I happen to want, which strikes me as a bit too systemic a failure to be coincidental. Last up is The Killer: Volume 2 HC (Archaia). Luc Jacamon and Matz’s Franco-Belgian delight is seriously one of the best books to see translated print in the US within the last ten years, but Archaia hasn’t done themselves any favors with the manner they’ve released it. It’s a ten issue series, yet it began in late 2006, with several month delays between issues, particularly toward the end of the run, while it endured a company restructuring, a new name for the company, and then multiple issues shipping the same day (twice) in a vomitous fit of attempted catch-up. So, it’s not Planetary bad, but ten issues and two collected editions in four years, of material that was already published in Europe and seemingly just needed translation, isn’t the greatest track record. I love the book, but I’m certainly not holding my breath – it’s just the type of thing that Sea Donkey’s intrepid radar will miss, in favor of all of The Siege Variant Covers, not aided by the erratic publishing schedule. Archaia recently announced that a follow up series is in the works, which makes me a bit nervous on both the quality (will it dilute the first?) and timely (will it take another four years?) fronts. Alas, I suppose art takes time and it’s a nice financial reprieve in the interim. That’s it, three books, what about you?


3.10.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Daytripper #4 (DC/Vertigo): Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba continue their examination of the paths taken and not taken, some stopped short either figuratively or literally. This issue focuses in on a couple of compelling concepts, like the mirror themes of life and death occupying the same space in time. The Brazilians’ beautiful images are haunting; I think they could illustrate anything and I’d want to read it just for the pleasure of taking in the robust line work. Daytripper will be one of those series that some people might miss while the single issue installments garner critical acclaim, but is going to have a long life in the eventual collected edition. As events here twist back and touch on happenings in previous issues, the emotions of grief and sorrow are seen manifesting in different ways, on their time. Bras’ mother provides a nice window into the idea of the random memories that comprise our impressions of people. While some might think the art of Moon and Ba outweighs their sometimes saccharine scripting ability, it’s important to point out how smart and subtle they can be too. Notice the way Bras’ father says “son,” alerting his hidden half-sister that it’s her cue to leave. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is its failure to exert dogmatic adherence to continuity. It allows a very liberating exploration of the many facets of the identity of one man. We’re so conditioned by the formulaic plotting in bestseller books and in Hollywood films (think about the sometimes enjoyable, but repetitive body of work of M. Night Shyamalan) that part of our brain anticipates some type of third act twist revelation that will explain how these things could possibly keep happening to Bras and force them to be plausible, all neatly working together. But, I hope that never comes. It’s quickly becoming clear that the point of the series is not necessarily to tell a linear story, but to examine life’s experiences, and the many choices and paths available to everyone navigating existence. I hope it remains ethereal and meandering and a slightly-less-than-lucid world, it’s what makes the book unique. In early promotional interviews for the book, the brothers described it as “a book about life,” which at the time felt like empty meaningless hyperbole, but it’s really earning that description. With every choice that Bras makes, we ask ourselves what we’d do in that situation and begin to review our own decisions during our own pivotal moments of the past. If one of the hallmarks of any “good art” is to inspire emotional introspection and the posing of philosophical quandaries, then Daytripper succeeds and may well be earning entry into the elusive realm of fine art. Grade A.

DMZ #51 (DC/Vertigo): It won’t come as a big surprise, but it’s another really good issue of DMZ. As “M.I.A.” Matthew Roth wanders like a surviving cockroach through a near ghost town, it’s a nice chance for Brian Wood to take stock and let the readership catch their breath for a moment after moving at a breakneck pace since the earliest introduction of Parco Delgado. Courtesy of the gripping Liberty News feed, we learn that large portions of Connecticut have been evacuated from the literal and figurative fallout of events in issue 49. We learn of the engrossing potential reunification of the country, as the US has the supposed moral imperative to eradicate not only The Delgado Nation, but also the FSA movement. The validity of that (suggested) fabricated imperative is quickly called into question in the media war over the type of nuke used, by whom, and for what true purpose. I think one of my favorite things about this issue was the way regular series artist Riccardo Burchielli laces his art with a few spikes. There’s the lone black and white panel capturing the desperation and ugliness of things Matty is seeing in “upper upper Manhattan.” And then there’s the graffiti like “fiddling Nero” and “NYC Cannot Die” scrawled on the sides of the buildings. While the critic in me appreciates the way it captures the social outlook of a broken city, the creative mind in me wonders how much of that was directed by Brian Wood in the script, and how much was the natural flourish of an artist working in perfect unison with his collaborator. At the end of the day, Matty will need to re-invent himself and his role in the DMZ, further fueling Wood’s fascination with character identity, all while contending with the thought that he’s going to die inside as long as he exists inside a city that’s dying. Grade A.

Batman & Robin #10 (DC): The style of Andy Clarke is certainly not as jarring a transition away from Frank Quitely as the previous art stewards have been. At times, Clarke’s line might be a little too lean and anemic in spots, but it’s mostly enjoyable. If anything, it’s serviceable enough not to be a distraction and quietly lay in the background, giving Grant Morrison’s script the full attention on the page. Morrison returns to his Easter Egg style plotting, leaving all manner of cryptic clues in the dialogue and winding back on earlier figures like Oberon Sexton, The Black Glove, and El Penitente. I’m not sure if I like Bat-lore retroactively pre-empting Bruce Wayne’s dalliance with the nocturnal creatures, but admittedly it was fun to see Solomon Wayne, secret caves, and new genealogy as Bruce, lost in time courtesy of The Omega Effect, is sending messages up through the past to Dick, Damian, and Alfred. It was also interesting to see the conflicted personality of Damian, caught between his mother’s plotting and actually attempting to defend Dick. At times, it feels a bit too Da Vinci Code, with clues conveniently leading right to the next one, no time to think or process, just accept the leaps that advance the plot, but I don’t know how much high art I can hold out for with a Batman & Robin book. I can’t say I was blown away by anything here, artistically or creatively, but it’s good enough to earn a Grade B.


3.10.10 Reviews (Part 1)

S.W.O.R.D. #5 (Marvel): Trying to offer up a cogent review for the last issue of a cancelled book feels a bit like serving Perrier on the Hindenburg. I already offered up my post mortem on the series last issue, so let’s do this. As S.W.O.R.D. quietly exits stage left, the cover’s pop art and modern graphic design blend is a reminder that the series was a bit unique. Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders wrap up the Drenx assault satisfactorily enough, but that’s never really what the series was about. This book was a divergent corner of the Marvel U, with fun art and inventive panels underscoring its quirky tone. It was a wonderfully eclectic ensemble cast, with everyone from Lockheed to Beta Ray Bill and Death’s Head getting in on the action in the finale: “I’m the King Kong who shoots back.” Sure, the title had its stumbly moments, like Beast’s “pursuit” joke here, which is a little painful to endure for an entire page, but at the end of the day there were more highs than lows. As usual, Unit really steals the show, displaying flair as a master tactician multiple steps ahead of everyone else. When his white speech balloons move to black once the subliminal dampening field is turned off, the chilling move is captured with the line “Pawn to D6. Mate in 17.” Now that it’s all said and done, we can call it a nice self-contained “mini-series,” and I hope I see these characters in a similar context again. It’s no “victory orgy,” but it was something different, and I’ll miss it. Grade B.

Ghost Projekt #1 (Oni Press): Steve Rolston’s art is the real draw here, with its vibrant, polished, slick, almost animated style. Dean Trippe’s crisp coloring also deserves a nod, particularly when Oni Press doesn’t offer a great many titles in full color. Rolston’s action oriented fun is a nice distraction from Joe Harris’ scripting, which is not as believable as it ought to be, requiring a little too much suspension of disbelief or active belief in the characters’ naivete. I think if you polled 10 people at random on the street, at least half of them would know what “dosvidanya” meant, having gleaned a few Russian phrases from their pop culture diets. So, it’s hard to believe that a United States Department of Defense Weapons Inspector, assigned to a case in Russia involving potential NBCs (no, not the TV network, that’s Nuclear/Biological/Chemical weapons shorthand used in industry), wouldn’t know what the hell it meant. Are there really still places in the world with brains, eyeballs with optic nerves attached, and full on fetuses in liquid filled jars sitting on the shelf? Really? Isn’t that only on TV? It’s hard to buy into the plausibility of this facility, especially when the supernatural overtones are thrown into the mix with the mysterious MacGuffin propelling the plot forward. On top of all that, it seems like every Russian cliché known to man is trotted out, with everyone named Gregori, Mikhail, Boris, or Dmitri, shouting “bozhe moy!” in their best Chris Claremont rendition of Peter Rasputin. Anya Romanova might as well be dubbed the Exposition Queen, informing us all of the stereotypical plot and subsequent conspiracy to suddenly kill everyone involved, straight out of The X-Files or Fringe (for our younger readers). Will and Kip are not the most likable leads since they feel like high school kids instead of adult professionals… and, I don’t know… the saying is “fortune favors the bold,” not “the brave.” I’m just saying. It sounds like I’m really railing on this title, but despite a heavy dose of scripting pitfalls, I still think it’s worth checking out for that luscious Rolston art. Grade B-.


Coming This Week: "If I Disagree With You, It's Because You're Wrong"

I’m not sure why I’m still buying the title, but I suspect it’s strategic marketing that will cause me to try Batman & Robin #10 (DC), with new artist Andy Clarke. I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the series since the first three issues with Frank Quitely. I kept trying it and got caught in a cycle out of sheer inertia. If you don’t like the next artist, you think, hey it’s just two more issues and then a new artist will be on board. It’s not an excruciating wait, so you do it, get to the end, and then hope the next arc is better, maybe I’ll try the first issue… At this point, I think I’m sold and will be purchasing Daytripper #4 (DC/Vertigo). Though it’s a tiny bit frustrating, I admit I’m curious to see how these continued examinations of paths not taken will ultimately pan out. I want to see what happens next, and isn’t that the most basic litmus test? I’ll definitely be picking up DMZ #51 (DC/Vertigo) to see how Brian Wood is going to navigate the series after the jaw dropping ending of the last arc. About two arcs back, I opted to stop picking up this title regularly in favor of the oversized hardcover Deluxe Editions, but I’m desperately curious to see what happens in Ex Machina #48 (DC/Wildstorm) since there are only two issues left until the series ends. Justice League: Rise & Fall Special #1 (DC) is, I guess, about the whole Green Arrow/Arsenal aftermath of James Robinson’s Justice League: Cry for Justice maiming heroes and killing children extravaganza. It’s going to suck, from some c-list/unknown creators, but I’m morbidly curious enough to flip through it at the LCS. Alas, it’s the final issue of Kieron Gillen and Steven Sanders’ Fun Little Book That Couldn’t, with S.W.O.R.D. #5 (Marvel) hitting the streets this week. Sniff. Lastly, I might check out Ghost Projekt #1 (Oni Press) from Joe Harris and the always enjoyable Steve Rolston. It seems like all of my go-to Oni Press books have been experiencing delays (or just stop). After Queen & Country’s long run stopped abruptly, Wasteland has been slowing down, and who knows what’s going on with Stumptown.


3.03.10 Reviews (Part 3)

Punisher MAX: Butterfly (Marvel): Valerie D’Orazio and Laurence Campbell really need to be commended for this tour de force performance. It saddens me to think that this might fly quietly under everyone’s radar and go unnoticed as yet another meaningless spinoff tangent of a title, when it is clearly so much more. Right from the title page, the lettering of which made me feel like I was watching the opening credits to the movie SE7EN with that Gravity Kills song playing, I felt like I was in for something slightly different, something which has been more carefully orchestrated and mapped out. That feeling only intensified as I flipped the pages with captivated enthusiasm. Maybe the first thing that really settles into your brain is the perfect style and tone of the art. If you like artists full of thick inky gloom, like Michael Gaydos, Michael Lark, Matthew Southworth, or Alex Maleev, then Laurence Campbell is clearly your new go-to guy. Get this guy a contract already. I’m a big fan of D’Orazio’s blogging and her script flows affably along, humming with realism, found voice, and piercing, revealing, self-referential lines like “I hate writing,” or clever turns of phrase like “flipping memory switches” which just demand appreciation. The narration is desperately convincing, exploring the hidden corners of a shared universe. There’s some tough subject matter to be found here, everything from erotic asphyxiation to child abuse, not to mention all of the sex and grisly murder along the way. What differentiates this cornucopia of deadly sins from so much found in the market is that it’s handled in a subtle and smart fashion. It’s never in your face or gratuitous, and it sounds counter-intuitive to say considering the explicit content, but I’m impressed by the restraint shown here. D’Orazio’s script is full of paranoia, delusion, and psychological leanings, as well as thinly veiled references to her experiences with DC Comics that she wrote extensively about online, now seeping into her cathartic work here, and it’s just so evident that she poured a great deal of care into the writing. It happened quite quickly, but D’Orazio is ready to ditch the Punisher (I mean, shit, he only appears in something like three single panels here) and create an original crime book of her own. If there’s more where this came from, then she can easily hold her own with the likes of Greg Rucka, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Azzarrello, and Jason Aaron. This book was very weighty and absolutely worth the $4.99 price tag, feeling like a novel’s worth of content hiding in the confines of a pamphlet, transcending those disposable trappings. This is something unique and extraordinary. I can’t wait for her next project; I wonder if she has an ongoing in her or this was an isolated explosive bout of creativity. Either way, I’ll cherish this. Oh, and BTW, this is the type of book that Marvel needs to get behind to showcase the unexploited female talent lurking on the fringes of the industry, not that Girl Comics pap you’ll read about below. Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #24 (Marvel): It’s funny, I really liked this issue, but I feel like I don’t have much to say about it. Maybe I was just waiting to exhale, knowing that the denouement was inevitable and we’d finally navigated the path to get there. It’s taken Matt Fraction two years to break Tony Stark and literally put him back together again. It’s really a good lesson in long form storytelling, not everything needs to be in tidy 5-6 issue arcs, "written for the trade,” but can be the length necessary to suit the story you want to tell. Oh, and by the way, you can have one writer and one artist for the duration of the run - imagine that. Speaking of the art, Salvador Larroca’s pencils are a treat here, with stunning mental vistas, energetic action, and a cast of strong supporting characters that are always depicted well. Tony finally makes his way back through his unique brand of mental purgatory, mental and physical planes converging to some degree, all the while considering his identity, his legacy, his technology, his parents, his friends, his lovers, his guilt, and his aspiration. I’m not quite sure why Ghost couldn’t kill Tony as he was laying there (and decided to monologue instead), nor am I quite sure how Ghost was transported to Seoul and what became of him, and I’m not sure why Pepper’s threatening call to H.A.M.M.E.R. was effective (was Ghost operating in a rogue capacity? I forget...), but it’s not that important. The larger thrust is all about Tony. It’s his story, and the gap Fraction creates between the time he backed-up his mind and what’s happened in the Marvel U since creates a nice bit of tension to jump forward from. The story is now about a man slightly displaced from the timeline, like a smaller scale version of Cap returning to the “modern” world in the Silver Age, and now we see Tony deal with it too. It’s a nice set up for his re-entry into the shared world that he’s a main player in, and the impending Heroic Age. As Fraction and Larroca close the door on one era, I can only hope the next is equally as strong, and a worthy successor. Grade A.

Girl Comics #1 (Marvel): Conceptually, this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase women (girls? really?) creators and their capabilities. But out here in the real world, sadly, the pieces featured just aren’t that good. Colleen Coover’s rousing intro, done in her wonderfully cute style, is actually quite clever and would have set the tone quite nicely, provided there was anything of consequence to follow it up. Instead, we get "Moritat" from G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle. I will say that Doyle’s artistic style is quite interesting (a sort of Paul Pope meets Becky Cloonan thing happening), but when the text is riddled with annoying unclosed quotation marks, it becomes a throwaway piece. Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema’s story about Venus has an adequately sassy tone and a retro aesthetic that works, but the text is way too dense and goes on waaay too long. My eyes glazed over by the fourth page, and at that point I was only about halfway through the debacle. I enjoyed the Spotlights on Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin. "A Brief Rendezvous" by Valerie D’Orazio and Nikki Cook delivers a Punisher story with quite a poignant punch, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with the Punisher per se, capable of using nearly any street-level protagonist as a stand-in, and I’m sorry, but the art varies from merely ok to downright atrocious. Cook is capable of delivering much better, as seen in brief stints on Brian Wood’s DMZ series. I know it’s homage, but couldn’t we have really done without the pin-up of She-Hulk with pseudo-bondage overtones? In this book? And how about a damn TOC page so I know who did the one piece that actually worked a little, the cute Doc Ock short? The book is such a mess in that regard. Some pieces are credited, some are not, some credits are up front, some are at the end, some pieces are titled, some are not, just show up and do whatever you want with no oversight, I guess. There are some pieces that I still have no idea who penciled or wrote them, even after reading the creator bios in the back, which don’t make an effort to link to the pieces in any way. The Franklin and Val piece has a great visual style (this artist is ready for a career illustrating children’s books, to be sure), but I glossed over due to the text heavy approach. "Headache" by Devin Grayson and Emma Rios takes us out, and I’m going to go ahead and go for the obvious joke – it left me with a headache trying to figure out what was going on. The piece only begins to make any sort of sense once you get to the end, but by then I was so mad I didn’t care why Scott’s uniform was popping on randomly, Logan’s mask disappearing, or the goons changing from black to red uniforms, helicopters, motorcyles, and full blown Sentinels crashing into the little room. Oh, and of all the characters depicted on the cover, a whopping ONE of them appears in the book – Wolverine, because we totally need more of him in the world. Overall, not only do the majority of the pieces fail to work in any way, but this doesn’t function properly as a gateway book for the creators or properties involved. Aside from Valerie D’Orazio’s Punisher MAX: Butterfly one-shot that came out the very same week, what books can I buy featuring these creators or properties? Even if they were compelling in any way (and let’s be crystal clear – they’re not), there’s nowhere for me to go as a consumer, so it just looks like a one-time, gimmicky, terribly isolated pet project of an exercise with no revenue generating potential. Where can I buy Colleen Coover’s kids book in the Marvel U? Where can I get Ming Doyle as a regular series artist? If I liked G. Willow Wilson's piece, I guess I can go buy Air from DC/Vertigo(!). I loved her Batman: Gotham Knights work, but does Devin Grayson even write anything any more? Where can I read about Nightcrawler if I liked that particular piece? Where are the real superstars anyway? Where is Colleen Doran? Carla Speed McNeil? Does Marvel feature any book with the art of Nikki Cook? Agnes Garbowska??? I’m a guy and I’m not terribly proud of this book as a representation of the women working in the industry I love, I can’t imagine a woman who would be either. It also feels very chintzy on the financial end; between the house ads, text pieces, and Venus story running 8 pages long, there’s just not a lot of content there. It’s certainly not worth $4.99. It isn’t even that the book employs horrible strategy, there’s just NO strategy. By the time I threw it down, before I started banging away in frustration on the keyboard, I was muttering to myself an exasperated “this is awful.” Only because it’s a concept that “could have been,” Grade C-.

3.03.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Demo #2 (DC/Vertigo): Becky Cloonan’s haunting imagery of the gaunt cannibalistic figure is disturbing in the same way that Hannibal Lecter frying up Ray Liota’s brains with a little shallot and olive oil was. The big difference is that Brian Wood’s script manages to give their creation a little heart by focusing on this particular obsession informing the character’s identity. The notion of identity is perhaps the greatest unifying theme present in all of Brian Wood’s work and while it’s always interesting, here it is absolutely essential. Without it, the issue might play like the shock value parody of itself that the aforementioned scene in Hannibal was. Here, the focus on a struggling identity and the compulsion to change gives us an anchor with which to try and understand, even empathize with, this odd character. It’s a smart choice by smart creators that generally proves “creepers” can lurk anywhere. The social commentary suggests that you have no idea what people are capable of under the right set of psychological stressors, the same people you work with, go to school with, and see on the subway every day of your life. By the end, we see the protagonist rejecting the viability of changing himself to affect normalization. Instead, the psychological reaction is to try to forcibly normalize the world around him to his behavior style in order to justify his actions. This story is so deceptively simple on the surface, but if you study it a bit deeper it’s brimming with complex psychology and a very compelling character study. I’m not sure if Wood originally intended this level of complexity, but regardless it’s a magnificent by-product and proof of the Demo concept. Bravo to DC/Vertigo Editorial for re-uniting these creators and just getting out of their way in order to watch the magic that can serendipitously unfold. Grade A.

First Wave #1 (DC): Brian Azzarello and Rags Morales deliver a highly publicized “new universe” of mashed up pulp properties. The tongue-in-cheek art of the tombstone cover was clever and the death of Clark Savage Sr. which sets events into motion is well set up, but there really isn’t any type of strong hook that makes me want to continue here. I always think that the newspaper headlines/story/covers that are used to relay information are a cheat from a lazy writer. I know Azzarello isn’t lazy, but he seems to take the easy way out with that device in an effort to exposit a mass of information. I don’t really have much else to say about this book and that’s probably indicative of not feeling terribly engaged, either way. There’s nothing to hate here, but nothing to love either. It’s really middling and mediocre. It’s full of pulp tropes about cops and the city, the jungle, sci-fi, ethnic crime, etc. Right now they play like disparate parts that don’t coalesce, perhaps they will in a collected edition, but in a single issue installment they play boring and disjointed. Yeah, it’s kind of boring. That's my big conclusion. I guess the appearance of the Blackhawks is fun, but a book that promotes itself with a pulp gun-toting Batman on the cover and then doesn’t deliver him in the slightest just doesn’t work. I want to be buying Grade A books, and this one musters up a plain and unenthusiastic Grade B.

I also picked up;

Planetary HC: Volume 4 (DC/Wildstorm): I ended up reading this straight through while I was sitting in a deli waiting for a wireless connection that never stabilized. Man, I really enjoyed it. I was blown away by it all over again. It’s intelligent, highly imaginative, a treatise on the last 60 years of the medium, full of compelling and focused Warren Ellis sci-fi, while staying fun and engaging in the process. And of course, it has drop dead gorgeous art from John Cassaday that’s full of emotive expressions, a highly controlled line, artistic homage to Kirby, Steranko, Kaluta, and a whole stable of venerable creators. I actually derived more value from the depictions of Ellis’ homage pulp heroes like Lord Blackstock, William Leather, and Axel Brass, than I did in the lackluster First Wave book. Damn, this book is good. They just don’t make books like this anymore. This is highly recommended and I'm full of excitement about the forthcoming second Absolute Edition that will officially put this series to bed, one of the best, perhaps the best, in the last decade.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book 4 #2

Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

Astro City: The Dark Age Book 4 #2 (DC/Wildstorm): In “Storms of the Heart,” writer Kurt Busiek tells the story of Charles and Royal Williams, two men who have lived through an origin story that has lasted for 14 issues. While most origin stories focus on some cosmic interruption that deflects a character onto the path of their heroic life story, the young Williams brothers picked up the pieces of their lives after surviving a house fire that killed their parents. Since this is an Astro City story, the house fire was started in the aftermath of a battle between the Silver Agent and a Pyramid cult leader; the children watched, forgotten, as the villain escaped and the hero passed them by.

This tragic turn of events set the brothers on paths that intertwine their need for revenge and their desire for survival until they cannot separate the two. In pursuit of the escaped Pyramid leader, Charles and Royal run through a gauntlet of life choices in a super-powered world, from police officer to petty thief, from government agent to soldier in a techno-cult.

As the last book in the 16-part story builds to a climax, the brothers have become power-suited mercenary scavengers hot on the trail of the Pyramid cult leader, who has taken a desperate gamble to obtain enough power to defeat his pursuers. The Silver Agent, plucked from the time stream after his death, returns to 1984 from the distant future to stop a gathering cataclysm.

The two-person narration in the story’s captions suggests that Charles and Royal are looking back on their lives in 1984 and lamenting their descent into darkness. This darkness is also manifesting itself in the callous joy on the faces in the audience of a super-powered battle carnage video show and a tear in Astro City’s reality that bleeds corrupting black spirals.

Busiek has so many threads spinning through the story that I almost feel that it would have been more successful as a complete 16-chapter graphic novel than 16 individual issues. I do commend the book for taking a risk on such a long story, considering the infrequent nature of the book’s publication in the past.

With the scheduling issues resolved, this monthly book shows the benefits of two creators working together for an extended period; Busiek and artist Brent Anderson have been collaborating on Astro City for almost 15 years. Their ability to synthesize art and story into a seamless portrait of a consistent and detailed world is unique in today’s comic book environment.

I enjoyed this issue, but I’d suggest that the casual or new reader buy one of the standalone trade paperback collections to experience the full flavor and range of Astro City before reading the recent issues. This current storyline is more effective if you are familiar with the world that Charles and Royal live in. Grade B+.


3.03.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Detective Comics #862 (DC): Despite another impressive JH Williams III cover, I’m not finding enough “wow” factor in the work of Rucka and Jock to continue on. For $3.99 per issue, I’m merely getting a straightforward generic crime story, competent art that I don’t love or hate, and a back-up story I couldn’t care less about (though I will say that Jock draws a cute Babs Gordon). If I’m reading this book, I probably want to see Kate Kane as Batwoman. What I don’t want is the first third being occupied by Batman. If I want more Batman, well, there are plenty of other books on the stands featuring him. I really would have liked to see more Bette Kane as Flamebird in lieu of the Batman content. That sub-plot is interesting, but it’s given precious little screen time. I will say that I enjoyed the rainy broken radio traffic. The dual narrative fight scenes are constructed well visually on the page, but their meaning misses for me. From that sequence, we can either conclude that Dick is as inexperienced a crime fighter as Kate, which isn’t the case, or that Kate is as good as Dick, but the bad guys here are just so awesome that they can best the both of them, which also doesn’t ring true. It just doesn’t work for me. Not to mention, why does Batwoman keep letting Cutter go? This is at least the second time where she’s had him cold, but gets distracted and watches him flee for no apparent reason. Why wouldn’t she have Bette tend to the victim and then pursue the criminal herself? It’s just not adding up and it keeps pushing me right out. Grade B-.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #7 (DC): Let me ask you this: what kind of professional writer/editor/company let’s the typo “we’re loosing” slide by, when the intended dialogue was actually “we’re losing?” Oh, that’s right. It’s actually a rhetorical statement, because the answer is right there in the question. A professional writer/editor/company doesn’t fail to catch that type of mistake. They even manage to pour ironic salt in the wound since the speaker of this gaffe is Shade, who’s known to be somewhat of a proper, erudite gentleman that would never make that type of mistake. That, in a nutshell, is emblematic of this whole endeavor. I don’t even know where to start. Should I start with Prometheus’ incomprehensible motive? His byzantine plan to hire a doctor to create dysfunctional technology with which he’ll hire other low-level villains to plant in the cities of heroes in order to teleport the cities away (or something) to… mentally torture the heroes I guess… because they’ve somehow wronged him… or something? Should we discuss the bizarre plot formula being used ever since Identity Crisis? Maim and degrade some c-list characters, kill off some innocents in a meaningless attempt at inorganic shock value violence all in the desperate attempt to gain sales with fabricated gravitas? Should I cite the ridiculous art? The fact that there are three (three!) artists responsible for this (late) issue? Their awful panel compositions, jarring transitions, random borders and layouts with no sense of flow, totally devoid of any meaning behind their designs and layouts? It’s a muddled mess of incongruous styles, best exemplified by this incomprehensible two page spread with Electrocutioner and Speedy. Should we go on to use Starfire’s rather… “buoyant” depiction as an example of the art quality, or the stiffness of Black Canary? Should we talk about the lame lines like “you’re an idiot and a pin cushion” or Ollie’s singular “JUSTICE” that ends the book? Should I complain about the throwaway presence of the Sea Devils and Miss Martian? How they’re trotted in and out, feeling like a shoehorned attempt to show off, see what sticks, or be clever? Despite his ultimate demise, Prometheus’ wins here, doesn’t he? He destroys cities, killing at least 90,000 people in one, breaks the will of the Justice League, creates division within their ranks, maims Roy and others, kills Lian, tortures Freddy, thwarts Miss Martian and Shazam while restrained, renders the Justice League totally ineffectual, with big guns like Hal frantically running around shouting “Any ideas?! Anyone?!” He’s got the upper hand. He gets away. He proves the entire concept of superheroes is totally implausible, which seems like kind of an odd move for DC to pull in their flagship superhero book. I mean, this isn’t Warren Ellis fucking with the paradigm at Avatar Press. This is DC Comics and they’re saying heroes can’t right wrongs without getting their hands dirty or their futile attempts are a joke. This is a joke. I thought it was funny that Tasmanian Devil’s rotting pelt is still visible at Prometheus’ inter-dimensional HQ, but I was quickly distracted by the fact that Green Arrow’s arrival is totally illogical. If Prometheus can create successful counter-programming for nearly every hero in the universe, wouldn’t he be able to secure his hidden stronghold from a guy with a bow and arrows? I really can’t find any redeeming qualities for this issue. It’s like the entire affair was not about telling a story, but was an editorially mandated piece of filler, merely killing time during Blackest Night, something required to mechanically set up the new JLA arc, to artificially create the impetus for the Rise & Fall of Green Arrow (or whatever it’s called). Early issues of this series were crappy, but at least offered a harmless campy schlock entertainment value. With this, the series has veered into more disturbing territory. Despite the inevitable low grade, I actually recommend this book to people as “proof by counter-example;” yes, it offers a good lesson in how NOT to create a book on so many levels. This is one of the worst comics I’ve read and in an effort to summarize why, I offer the following closed circle of logic. It’s too earnest to be parody, too full of parody to be dark, and too dark to be an earnest JLA book, thus failing in totality. Grade F.


Coming This Week: “I Dare You To Do Better”

While there are lots of “maybes” this week, I’ll definitely be picking up Demo: Volume 2 #2 (DC/Vertigo) and it’ll be interesting to see where Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan take us next. The late, disjointed, and overwrought series finally comes to a close, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Justice League: Cry for Justice #7 (DC). Since I’ll definitely be dropping the main JLA title, this will be my last little fix for the foreseeable future. Matt Fraction never fails to disappoint on this title, with Invincible Iron Man #24 (Marvel) shipping this week. It’s a shame the same crisp precision that this title offers isn’t to be found anywhere near his Uncanny X-Men work.

Speaking of those “maybes,” I have a feeling I might not be buying Detective Comics #862 (DC), which stumbled quickly without JH Williams III. I’ll flip through Green Hornet #1 (Dynamite Entertainment), but doubt its Kevin Smith-iness will lure me in. I expect First Wave #1 (DC) will also not pass the casual flip test, but I’ll give it the requisite once over. In the “Pigs Really Do Fly!” Department, we have Planetary HC: Volume 4 (DC/Wildstorm). Yep, 11 years later, you too can have the final chunk of 27 issues collected. I’m not sure if I’ll cave and purchase this or try to hold out for the second Absolute Edition, which DC has supposedly promised some time in 2010.

Girl Comics #1 (Marvel) is the type of book that I read, enjoy mildly, and then quickly decide who I’m going to give it to since it’s not strong enough to hold my attention for repeated readings and stay in the collection. I’m supposed to be buying fewer books like this to trim the fat, but with names like Devin Grayson, Trina Robbins, Amanda Conner, Valerie D’Orazio, Colleen Coover, Carla Speed McNeil, and Laura Martin, I might just give in. Along those lines, Punisher MAX: Butterfly #1 (Marvel) is a one-shot that seems kinda’ futile, but I’m very curious to see how Valerie D’Orazio’s foray into the Marvel U pans out. Lastly, I’ll note the debut of the Strange Tales HC (Marvel), collecting the sometimes entertaining, always wildly uneven, recent three issue series.

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Afrodisiac (AdHouse): This hardcover collection of The Adventures of Alan Diesler opens with his wordless origin story, which relies on intensely iconic images of the stereotypical inner city to inform the narrative. Young Alan’s deal with the devil catalyzes events and ultimately leads to him becoming The King of the Urban Jungle. Lines like “watch my wheels, young blood” operate with a certain swagger and attitude that let you know exactly how Afrodisiac is going to roll. It’s no surprise that the women surrounding Afrodisiac stare at him, but look at where they specifically stare. If you follow the trajectory of their eyes, you find them consistently either looking at his crotch or at his head. Yes, they are either mesmerized by his sexual prowess or his powerful force of will. It’s so powerful that he can even attract his lesbian would-be assassins with double entendres like “you’ve got to be the sexiest pair of assassins I will ever come across.” Afrodisiac is a funny piece of work, but it’s interesting to look at how and why it’s funny. It’s actually not as “haha” funny as I recall the first runs of pieces being, which appeared in books like Project: Superior, Meathaus: SOS, Street Angel, and Popgun: Volume 2. The “funny” is more of a sly parody that pokes fun at the “isms” that seek to denigrate or marginalize segments of society. It does this by examining the perceptions of white society and their relation to a previous era’s black characters. Specifically, it tries to understand how that previous era’s audience interacted with those blaxploitation style characters, and what the audience wanted from the experience, how that audience valued the “mystique” of black men and their… mojo, for lack of a more sophisticated term. In short, women want Afrodisiac, and men want to be him. This programming is primarily sexual and not-so-subtle. It suggests that the white audience was secretly envious of the black man. Not only of his sexual prowess, especially with white women, but of his ability to flaunt societal rules by engaging in crime, as he is so frequently depicted. Many elements of pop culture have reflected that, but this being a comic, it’s particularly concerned with that medium and the examples are heavily weighted toward showing this dynamic through the kaleidoscopic lense of the 1970’s Marvel Comics stable. We’re treated to ghetto versions of Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man, but also touch on Kung Fu properties, EC’s horror line, a Mignola-esque two page spread with Dikembe the lion (itself probably a Jack Kirby Black Panther riff), Dell’s funny animals, manga, Kirby’s 1950’s romance work, a Jack Cole style Christmas card you typically would have found in Playboy, and even see Afrodisiac as a Saturday morning cartoon bearing the general aesthetic of Super Friends. I think there’s a specific reason that the paradigm attempts to succeed in so many venues. It’s about reclaiming power in as pervasive a manner as possible. By sublimating as many negative connotations as can be found in blaxploitative work, they can be reclaimed and “infused with their own insider meaning,” to borrow an apt phrase from Ryan Claytor. This process of reclamation allows for the rejection of the derogatory elements, while retaining and wearing the positive attributes like a badge of honor. Afrodisiac comes with so many alternate origins (even to the point his name changes, which may or may not be intentional, sometimes Alan Deasler, sometimes Alan Diesler) of untrustworthy narration. In one key strip, the structure is deliberately repetitive, repeating the exact same panels at one point until Afrodisiac can break free the bonds of continuity and stereotype. With that development, the goal of eradicating the racial “ism” that spawned it in the first place is accomplished. Afrodisiac is able to revel in the stereotypical depictions, thus destroying them from within. With its faux creased covers that are tattered and written on, there’s an impressive level of pure craft on display here regardless of any message, regardless of the humor being in your face or more subdued at times. Remember, “payback’s a .40 caliber bitch.” Grade A.