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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in All This And Earth-2's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, July 8th, 2007
11:55 am
Hello (On Bizarro World, That Means Goodbye)...
...to my LJ account, that is. I've totally let this thing fall off, but I wanna get it going again ASAP. However, I like the look of Blogger much better, and it's got way better spam filters and stuff, so I'm moving over there. Check out http://allthisearth2.blogspot.com/, there should hopefully be something up there shortly. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you over there.

Sunday, April 15th, 2007
11:43 am
Fun Comics Are Fun: April 11th Reviews
Just a heads-up—April 25th or so will see the release of SHENANIGANS, a new Oni Press graphic novel. I can’t give it a properly objective review, since my pal and roomie Mike Holmes drew it, but I will say that if you are in the mood for a Billy Wilderesque farce with lots of kissin’, cussin’ and slapstick humour, with awesome black and white artwork that combines the graceful brushwork of Craig Thompson with the animated zaniness of Chuck Jones, then you could certainly do a lot worse. Just sayin’, is all. Now, this past week’s stuff:

OPTIC NERVE #11: Even a weak OPTIC NERVE is still put together with more care and skill than, like, 95 % of DC or Marvel’s entire output in a year, but really, this probably could have been a short story or a one-shot issue rather than a three-part storyline that took a few years to complete. This story’s protagonist acts like a giant douchebag, losing everything he cares about in the process and learning nothing, which makes it pretty similar to a lot of shorter, better OPTIC NERVE stories. Still, it has Tomine’s crisp, tightly expressive art and his authentic-sounding dialogue, so it’s an easy recommendation, but I just think this whole story feels more bloated than it needed to be. Maybe I’ll feel different when I read the inevitable collected edition.

ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #7 and ALL-STAR SUPERMAN HC VOL. 1: I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but this is really what superhero comics should be all about. Morrison and Quitely’s take on the Man of Steel, like Jeff Smith’s interpretation of the Big Red Cheese in SHAZAM! THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL, is the perfect reminder that comics about grown men in tights with superpowers should be full of magic, mystery, and craziness, not full of gritty realism or depressing morbidity masquerading as “post-modernism”. In this new issue, Superman does battle with a creepy new version of Bizarro World, and the final page gives us Morrison’s latest madcap brainwave—the Bizarro World’s own flawed outsider, the sideways (I guess?) Superman known as Zibarro. To all those naysayers who insist that Superman is a boring character because he can do anything, I say—just what the hell is so boring about being able to do anything? Or everything? It sure beats doing nothing.

THE LONERS #1: Spinning off from RUNAWAYS, this new mini follows the adventures of the team of former child heroes previously known as Excelsior (I’m guessing Stan Lee’s lawyers had something to do with the name change). Written by former RUNAWAYS editor C.B. Cebulski, this first issue is pretty slow and talky to start, but it picks up a lot near the end. The sharp visuals by Karl Moline (FRAY) and distinctive colour palette used by Christina Strain (SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE) don’t hurt, and neither do the John Hughes tribute covers by Jason Pearson. Cebulski’s story nicely pays homage to many different eras of Marvel, using diverse characters like Darkhawk, Ricochet, the Matty Franklin version of Spider-Woman, and the Mutant Growth Hormone drug from Bendis and Maleev’s DAREDEVIL run to ensure that there’s something here for Marvel fans of most ages.

NOVA #1: Here’s a weird anomaly for ya—this book is written by a scripting team that usually leaves me cold (Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning), and artist I don’t normally care for (Sean Chen), and stars a character I never really took to. And yet, this was kinda good. After the events of the recent (yet somehow still ongoing) ANNIHILATION miniseries, Richard Ryder is the last survivor of the space cops known as the Nova Corps. The spacefaring hero is stretched absurdly thin in the wake of the recent cosmic craziness of the aforementioned mini, and his patrols inevitably lead him to an Earth that, in his absence, now harbours a much-changed superhero community (thank you very much, CIVIL WAR). I don’t know that we really need an ongoing NOVA book, but it could be a lot worse.

SPIDER-MAN/FANTASTIC FOUR #1: With nary a hint of CIVIL WAR or BACK IN BLACK in sight, Spidey and the world’s premiere super-family team up for a super-fun four-issue mini from Jeff Parker and Mike Wieringo. This is the kind of light-hearted exercise in super-silliness (what else would you expect when the Impossible Man shows up?) that used to make reading Marvel comics…you know, fun. Parker’s dialogue is hilarious (when Spidey and Impy show up in Central Park to investigate an alien menace, a bystander says “Oh, good! Some weirdos are here!”), and Wieringo’s cartoony artwork is perfect for both the cosmic stuff and the humour. The whole thing is, unfortunately, over-coloured like you wouldn’t believe—everything is shiny! Whatever happened to good old-fashioned flat colours? That’s really my only complaint, though.
Monday, April 9th, 2007
11:23 am
That's Good Whedon! April 4th Books.
I was kinda late getting around to reading most of this week’s books, largely due to the Wednesday night sneak preview of GRINDHOUSE. This movie, despite its flaws (Rodriguez’s installment, PLANET TERROR, is a bit front-loaded with wall to wall insanity, while Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF gets off to an unforgivably slow start), is a cinematic experience unlike any other. Like many a night at the pictures, the best part is the trailers—particularly our own home-grown entry, Jason Eisener’s HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (attached to all the Canadian prints!), Edgar Wright’s DON’T, and the unbelievable genius of Eli Roth’s holiday slasher flick THANKSGIVING.

But enough about that. We’re here to talk about comics, aren’t we?

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #2: Season Eight continues, as the mystery of that weird symbol from issue one deepens and Amy makes her move. Joss Whedon writes these characters like he never left them, and Georges Jeanty does a great job juggling the action and intrigue with character likenesses (he does a particularly spot-on Willow). Also, there’s at least one character moment that, as a fan of the show, made me almost yell out “WHAT?!?!” in surprise and shock, not in a bad way. If you’re a fan, you’ll know what part I’m talking about. Something Buffy said to somebody else, know what I mean? I wouldn’t really recommend this book to folks who didn’t follow the TV show, but faithful BUFFY fans should not miss this.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #7: The team gets its official lineup and new HQ, and it only took seven issues. That might seem interminably slow, and it kind of is, but if you’re a JLA nerd like me you won’t mind. The reveal of Roy as Red Arrow is a very nice scene, one that was unfortunately spoiled by the solicitation of his action figure (not that it was a huge surprise, but still). The team’s new headquarters combines a few nostalgic touches, and should hopefully please everybody. However, I have a few technical qualms with this issue. First off, the much-ballyhooed jam cover is really only available to fans who buy both covers, in a shameless bit of cash-grabbing (I didn’t even mention the third cover by Michael Turner, with its barely peripheral story connection). This sucks, because the overall image is really nice, featuring art by JLA creators past and present, but I for one absolutely refuse to support all this multiple cover bullshit. Also, there is a cool gatefold section with a portrait of the new team, but as a result, the page order of the book is all screwed up. Finally, this is the second double-sized, higher-priced issue in a row. Mind you, as I said, the nostalgia factor (Meltzer is obviously an ever bigger JLA nerd than me, or most people) is carrying me through on this one, but some quality control issues need to be worked out…as well as the money-grubbing on DC’s part.

SUPERGIRL #16: I normally wouldn’t be caught dead reading this book, as it has been a perfect storm of misfires right from the get-go (first, nonsensical T and A from Loeb and Churchill, then confusing One Year Later nonsense from Rucka, which was cut off in midstream by that writer’s departure, then picked up and confused further by an incoming Joe Kelly), but Rachelle’s recommendation made me curious to check out this issue, featuring new co-writer Mark Sable. This is a step in the right direction—Kara’s revamped origin has a cool, creepy new angle on the Phantom Zone, and ties in with the revised Krypton stuff we’ve seen recently in ACTION COMICS. However, some of the storytelling is a bit confusing, possibly because it’s really hard to differentiate between artist Ale Garza’s depictions of teenaged Kara and her grown-up mother. Complaints aside, this is probably the best issue this troubled series has seen so far, and I couldn’t be happier to see a rich concept like the Phantom Zone getting so much play after lying fallow for what feels like decades.

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #1: This one didn’t actually arrive at our store this week, due to some sort of warehouse screwup that saw the entire East Coast shorted. Still, we got a copy in our Image First Look envelope, so I got an early eyeful. Frank Einstein’s entire history is recounted, which is helpful for new readers, but it’s done in a kind of annoying “everything he knew is wrong” scenario that left me a bit cold. Still, Frank is an endearing creation who has been absent from comic shops for far too long, and Mike Allred’s art is always a joy to behold (although what’s going on with Laura’s colouring lately? It looks really…muddy or something. She’s still one of the best in the biz, but I think she’s trying some sort of weird filter or something and it just doesn’t look right).

AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1: Like we needed a THIRD ongoing AVENGERS title. However, Dan Slott is a pro, and he makes the best of a bad situation (the whole post CIVIL WAR status of registered heroes, etc.). This new series follows several new registered super-teens as they go through super boot camp, so they can then be placed in one of the new teams being developed for all fifty states. Slott, normally known for humour books like GREAT LAKES AVENGERS and SHE-HULK, gets serious here, with tragedy striking the recruits very early on. Stefano Caseli didn’t impress me too much with his work on YOUNG AVENGERS/RUNAWAYS, but I’m starting to think that his art on that book might have been coloured in an overpowering fashion—it’s been toned down a lot here. This could be a fun, if dark, look at the new status quo in the Marvel Universe—sort of like a super-powered STARSHIP TROOPERS, based on the first issue’s tone. Like this week’s JLA, though, it has what should be a wraparound cover (a cool group shot by Jimmy Cheung) but instead is a 50/50 split variant cover. Unlike JLA, though, the first thing you see when you open it is a smaller version of the full cover image. So that’s something, I guess.

FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA: WOLVERINE #1: How’s that for a clunky title? Wolverine doesn’t believe Cap is truly dead, so he goes on an unnecessarily guest-star-filled quest to find the truth, courtesy of Jeph Loeb and Leinil Francis Yu. The art is fine, and for once, Loeb dispenses with his usual barrage of narrative captions, but this is still an unnecessary spin-off and obvious cash grab. As usual for Loeb, it’s full of ridiculous dialogue (at one point, the Winter Soldier says, “It was…THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA.”) and unintentionally hilarious one-liners (Crossbones: “You here to do me?” Snicker!) But hey, it’s from the screenwriter of TEEN WOLF and COMMANDO, so why wouldn’t hilarity abound?

RUNAWAYS #25: Joss Whedon takes the reins of Brian K. Vaughan’s book, in a fairly smooth transition—although I’m not sure how this picks up from where #24’s cliffhanger ending left off. They escaped, I guess? I’m sure we’ll find out sometime, I suppose. I had no worries about Whedon—his and Vaughan’s styles are similar enough, and Whedon clearly knows these characters and has their personalities down—but incoming artist Michael Ryan had me a bit nervous. However, my fears were groundless, as his stuff here is a nice mix of detailed and cartoony that has its own identity without straying too far from the visual style established by co-creator Adrian Alphona.

SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #2: This was kind of a nice surprise—it’s one of those double-sized books that’s half new material and half reprint, but the lead story is by Sean McKeever (SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE) with art by Kano (GOTHAM CENTRAL). The plot revolves around a bunch of shifty doctors getting whacked by a vengeful Venom (with a couple of references to the film version of THE FUGITIVE), and Peter Parker/Spidey tries to solve the mystery of why. A fun whodunit, with gorgeous artwork to boot. The next story, featuring the Lizard, has art by Vasilos Lolos (PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND), and one of the reprints is a cool Green Goblin story by Len Wein and Ross Andru. A bit on the pricey side (six bucks CDN), but lots of good stuff inside.
Thursday, March 29th, 2007
7:46 pm
March 29th.
BATMAN #664: Morrison and Kubert are back, in the first part of what could be a very confusing storyline. First off, it’s titled “Three Ghosts of Batman”, and I don’t remember even seeing ONE ghost of Batman in here. Secondly, it promises to finally shed some light on that crazy cop who dressed up like Bats and shot the Joker in the face a while back, which I had totally forgotten about, but there’s also a crazy Bane/Batman cop running around killing prostitutes and it’s somehow all connected. Finally, Bruce Wayne takes out a possible sniper in a mini-copter with a nicely thrown ski pole, and then still manages to have two poles for the rest of the scene. Well, anyway, the art is nice, and the Bruce Wayne intrigue stuff is quite good, and I trust Morrison more or less implicitly, so we’ll see.

FANTASTIC FOUR #544: Reed and Sue split to work on their marriage, and the Black Panther and Storm step in to take their place. Also, Gravity’s body is stolen, and the quest to find out whodunit leads the FF to the Watcher’s home and beyond. New writer Dwayne McDuffie (scripter of many an outstanding JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED episode) makes this work pretty well—T’Challa’s got the scientific chops covered, and Storm covers Sue in the den mother department—and Paul Pelletier, whose stuff I usually find kind of bland, adds a nice Alan Davis flair to his work here—a huge improvement. It seems like McDuffie can’t leave his old storylines alone—this story looks like a direct sequel to his recent, underrated BEYOND! mini, and like that story, this one also features the writer’s version of Deathlok (well, his alter ego, anyway). Still, this book is suddenly loads better than it was under Straczynski, and Ben Grimm’s line about the Watcher’s skirt length got an out-loud laugh out of me. And really, how often does that happen because of a Marvel book these days?

GAME KEEPER #1: This is probably the first title from Virgin Comics that left me wanting to read the second issue. The concept, co-created by SNATCH director Guy Ritchie, is sort of like that old Canadian show NEON RIDER where a bunch of troubled kids are taken in to work on a farm—only replace Winston Rekert with a vengeful Chechen killing machine and up the body count. Or maybe NEON RIDER was actually about that. I dunno, I only remember the commercials. Anyway, the art by Mukesh Singh is quite easy on the eyes, and LOSERS scripter Andy Diggle continues to write solid Hollywood-style action comics. This might be one to keep an eye on.

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #36: Angel Medina gets the month off, and Ramon Bachs fills in—the art is kind of boring, but at least it doesn’t bring me dangerously close to nausea. And hey, the story here by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is pretty cool, as Mr. Hyde creates a bunch of bogus Spider-Men in a weird science experiment right out of THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL. Unlike most Spidey titles, this one is a well-packed read with humour, action, and—get this—plenty of appearances by the title character! In costume ,no less! Go figure.

GRENDEL: DEVIL BY THE DEED HC: The story that maps out the life and times of Matt Wagner’s signature creation, the arch-criminal/novelist/assassin known as Grendel (AKA Hunter Rose) gets reissued in a fancy (yet surprisingly affordable) new hardcover with a cool new painted cover. This is a great story, and those who’ve never experienced it have no excuse to miss it. My only complaint is—where the hell is the colour? This story has been available in at least two previous formats, with two different but equally sharp colour palletes. Now, all of a sudden, every GRENDEL tale has to be in black, white, and red? That’s some straight-up bullshit right there. Otherwise, great read.

GREEN LANTERN #18: GL’s old nemesis, the alien princess known as Star Sapphire, shows up to once again possess Carol Ferris and make her wear an even skimpier outfit than before. Daniel Acuna (UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS) pops in for a cool, painted fill-in issue, but boy, is this thing…er, provocative-looking. SS is fairly busting out of her uniform on the cover, and her dominatrix pose made me feel like some sort of pervert for picking this book up. However, if you can get past the public humiliation, the back-up “Tales of the Sinestro Corps” story, drawn by Dave Gibbons, is awesome.
Thursday, March 22nd, 2007
10:24 pm
March 21st.
Okay, for real this time—I have to get back to doing this on a regular basis, so here we go. But first, what in the name of High School football is going on with this cover?!?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

My guess is explosive diarrhea. Anyway:

HERO BY NIGHT #1: Another post-post-modern superhero creation, but with a fun twist: in the fifties, a superhero and his archnemesis met in battle one final time and were both seemingly destroyed, and in the present, a young apartment superintendent finds the good guy’s hidden lair (replete with gadgets and costumes). However, instead of taking up the mantle of the awkwardly-named Hero By Night, the guy decides to sell all his gear on eBay…unfortunately attracting the attention of the hero’s still-living arch-rival. The cartoony art might drive some people away, but this has the makings of a pretty fun four-issue mini.
AFTER THE CAPE #1: On the other hand, there’s this depressing thing. A retired, married-with-kids alcoholic ex-superhero falls in with some bank robbers when he can’t get his life together. The black-and-white artwork is striving for SIN CITY, but just ends up inappropriate and often confusing. It kind of seems like something that might have come out in the early nineties and seemed innovative, but now it seems sorta bleak and dated.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #539: More and more, I think the modern-day, in-continuity Spidey titles might be irretrievably broken for me. SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN is actually pretty enjoyable, notably for its use of beloved C-list favourite villains from my youth like Molten Man and Will O’ The Wisp—unfortunately, I just can’t get past the awful art in most cases (although the always dependable Lee Weeks is scheduled for a two-parter starting in June, so that should be awesome). FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD SPIDER-MAN seemed like it might be a fun, old-school read when it launched, but any potential it had was quickly buried under a pile of crossover nonsense right out of the gate. And AMAZING…hoo boy. I love that Garney artwork, possibly even moreso than his original, stellar CAPTAIN AMERICA run, but Straczynski is, let’s face it, a pretentious, wordy windbag. Whole issues go by where Spidey doesn’t appear sometimes, which should never happen, and less happens in a six-part storyline than would usually happen in a single issue during Gerry Conway’s run in the seventies (yet everybody seems to find lots more time to soliliquize endlessly—like four pages of Captain America quoting Mark Twain three issues back, fr’instance). Anyway, Aunt May gets shot, Spidey goes on a rampage and retrieves his black costume from under a gargoyle where he supposedly hid it “a long time ago” (although he left it in a pile of webs, which usually dissolve in an hour—go figure), and he vows to kill whoever gave the kill order. Whatever. On the other, non-continuity hand, however, we have…
SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE #16: …which Rachelle (if you haven’t read her excellent and hilarious blog, go now to http://livingbetweenwednesdays.blogspot.com/) graciously lent me the entire run of a few weeks back. This is a fun, accessible, all-ages friendly title in which writer Sean McKeever seems to understand the delicate balancing act of superhero action and soap opera that a good Spidey title needs. Granted, this title is skewed way more towards the soap opera, but it’s GOOD soap opera—fun and light and entertaining, scoring points for being way more heartfelt and genuine than its “grown up” counterparts. In Mary Jane, we’re given a nicely three-dimensional heroine, who sometimes goes through unpleasant character phases but is dependably good at heart. Sadly, Takeshi Miyazawa is off art duties for now (although I’m looking forward to his next gig), although incoming artist David Hahn does a decent job taking over.
ARMY @ LOVE #1: These days, it seems like new Vertigo books live or die by one of two things—the creative team, or the high-concept premise. Sadly, this book’s writer-artist, Rick Veitch, is more of a cult fave (except when working with Alan Moore, it seems), and the concept isn’t easily boiled down to a one-sentence pitch. I’ll try, though—five years or so in the future, the U.S. military has sexed itself up to be more alluring to new recruits in its endless war on terror. That doesn’t really do justice to the kind of satire Veitch attempts here, but there it is. Veitch is, if nothing else, a thoughtful, forward-looking creator who always has something to say with his work, and I always enjoy him for it (the Gary Erskine inks on his stuff here clean him up a lot, which should hopefully make him more appealing to new fans), but I just see this book having a tough road ahead of it.
BRAVE & THE BOLD #2: This series is showing potential to be one of the best straight-up mainstream superhero titles from DC these days, based on the first two issues anyway. Each issue feels nicely packed with both action and character beats, Perez’s art hasn’t looked this sharp in many a day, and Mark Waid is already setting up next month’s Batman/Blue Beetle team-up while GL and Supergirl are having adventures on Ventura or Gamblor or whatever it’s called. Also, Waid is a writer who knows how to use the much-maligned thought balloon, unlike Bendis in MIGHTY AVENGERS, who has seemingly started to just throw them around like so much confetti.
THE FLASH: THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #10: After a one-off palate cleanser issue following the Bilson-DeMeo debacle, new writer Marc Guggenheim takes the controls and steers this ship away from the iceberg…hopefully before too many readers have taken to the life rafts. Not bad, we’ve got some classic villain action here with Zoom and Captain Cold, and Bart’s career in police science is already making for some fun alter ego stuff, and there’s a surprise last page villain that should prove shocking to many old-timey FLASH fans but won’t mean much to new readers—I can’t wait to hear the explanation for this one. The art is a little stiff here, which is the last thing a book like FLASH needs, but Tony Daniel, who has steadily improved during his tenure on TEEN TITANS, takes over next month.

Also this week—the HATE saga concludes with a big fat BUDDY DOES JERSEY trade from Peter Bagge and Fantagraphics, some early Mignola fantasy work, originally published by Epic about fifteen years back, got collected by Dark Horse in FAFHRD AND THE GRAY MOUSER, and a cool little crime mini from Beau Smith and Eduardo Barretto is compiled into a black and white magazine format in COBB. If I get a chance this weekend, I’ll write some reviews for that stuff. If not, it’s the weekend, get off my back already!
Thursday, February 1st, 2007
10:46 pm
January 31st.
Wow, that was a long break. I suppose I was hibernating from the wicked cold snap of the last few weeks. Anyway, I’ll try to be more regular with these from now on, although I’m still gonna forego the images to go with the reviews—it just takes too danged long to find ‘em and post ‘em. This was a crazy week, though,; not a lot of single issues, but tons of trades. Good stuff, too! The final SEVEN SOLDIERS trade dropped, as did the latest Morrison DOOM PATROL collection, and the third ASTONISHING X-MEN book finally hit the stands. Here’s a look at some of the new stuff:

THE GEAR TP: This new book collects a 1998 miniseries by Doug TenNapel, creator of the EARTHWORM JIM video game and some of the most enjoyable graphic novels of the last few years (CREATURE TECH, IRON WEST, TOMMYSAURUS REX). THE GEAR is definitely a lot less…well, refined than his later work—I’m not 100 % sure here, but I think it’s about a war between talking cats, dogs, and bugs, featuring symbiotic giant robots. There is a lot of slapsticky humour crossed with occasional bursts of somewhat shocking violence, though, and even though it’s still developing, TenNapel’s signature sloppy, expressive style is unmistakable and appealing. It’s also nice to see his work in colour and on slick paper, and this trade features cool pinups by Mike Mignola and SCUD creator (and original GEAR publisher) Rob Schrab. Not a great introduction to the artist’s work, but for completists, it’s a necessary and entertaining look at the early development of a highly original and vital comics creator.

BLUE BEETLE #11: I kind of keep taking this fun little book for granted, but I usually enjoy it quite a bit. In the conclusion to a two-part story, Blue Beetle teams up with New Gods Metron and Lonar to solve the mystery of Devilance the Pursuer’s crazy worldtrap from the pages of 52. Extremely talented newcomer Rafael Albuquerque (fresh from Boom! Studios’ SAVAGE BROTHERS mini) steps up as the new regular artist, giving this title a fresh jolt of creative energy. I mean, really, did anyone really think Cully Hamner could keep up a monthly schedule anyway?

HELLBOY ANIMATED: THE BLACK WEDDING: Done in the style of the new animated HELLBOY films, THE BLACK WEDDING tells a new story of the B.P.R.D. as they deal with a new supernatural threat in Paris. I’m not entirely sure why the HELLBOY universe needed a more streamlined makeover—heck, the recent AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD animated special showed that Mike Mignola’s work translates quite nicely to animation with very little tinkering—but this adventure, despite its fairly dull plot, still felt a lot more lively than most of the recent HELLBOY/B.P.R.D. offerings. Even though it’s seemingly aimed at a younger audience, this tale is still fairly intense—one B.P.R.D. operative meets a surprisingly gory demise. The backup story, featuring a Lobster Johnson-inspired Young Hellboy, is way more fun anyway. It could always be worse, though—case in point…

THE ADVENTURES OF SPAWN: DIRECTOR’S CUT: I guess this thing had its genesis in a webcomic, where Todd MacFarlane’s famous creation and his whole mythology are re-imagined in the style of an animated series. Hey, wasn’t there already a SPAWN cartoon? And didn’t it suck out loud? Well, this does, too. If you’re in the mood for 48 pages of characters posturing and delivering exposition, with an occasional frenetic fight scene and nothing even remotely resembling a plot, then this is the confusing promotional tie-in for you.

ULTIMATE CIVIL WAR: SPIDER-HAM (FEATURING WOLVERHAM) #1: I probably would have given this one a miss, but Cal loved it so I thought I’d give it a look (of course, I’d be lying if I denied some nostalgia for the amazing costumed alter ego of Peter Porker). My final verdict is…well, a little more mixed than Cal’s; There is definitely some fun stuff here—the opening and ending gags involving Spider-Ham’s manipulation of his own captions and thought balloons is a nice bit of Grant Morrisonesque self-awareness, and there are some undeniably great artists involved (like the legendary John Severin lending his still-considerable talents to a spoof of THE ‘NAM), but the wheels come off this contraption pretty darned fast as it turns into a series of lame pinups (THE FANTASTIC HAM? I coulda done better than that! How about THE FANTASTIC PORK, even? See? That’s lame, but it’s a lot less lazy. Well, not that much less). J. Michael Straczynski wrote this thing, and I can think of few people who are less funny, so maybe that’s the problem right off the bat. Funnily enough, the last piece of dialogue on the first page is “I am out of ideas”. Make of that what you will.

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #214: This title finally kicks the bucket with a last issue that will actually make me miss it a bit. Christos N. Gage writes a story that acts as a pseudo-sequel to his not-bad DEADSHOT mini from a couple of years back, as Batman finds that a key witness in a mob trial may not take the stand—turns out the guy is more scared of the legendary assassin than he is of the Dark Knight. As a result, Bats has to find a unique solution to the problem in a scenario that features some cool psychological face-off moments between the two antagonists. I mean, it’s no THE KILLING JOKE, but it’s a lot better than this book usually manages. Phil Winslade channels some TEEN TITANS-era Perez, especially in the detail-laden first few pages. Most months, I would have said that this title should have been taken out behind the barn and shot years ago, but this final issue actually lived up to this title’s initial conceptual promise.

RED EYE, BLACK EYE: Hands down, this graphic novel was my favourite read of the week, and possibly my favourite book of the still-young year so far. Cartoonist K. Thor Jensen leaves the Big Apple when he finds himself without a job or a girlfriend, with the intent of traveling across the country on an Ameripass bus ticket and crashing on as many couches as possible (mostly belonging to people he met on the internet). Thor’s own stories of life as a pseudo-hobo blend with crazy stores told to him by his new friends across the country. This little book is packed with unforgettably weird interludes and freaky characters, all related with spot-on comic timing and a crude but likeable cartoon style that looks like a mix of Andi Watson, Brian Ralph, and Tom Hart (the drawings even get kind of more rushed and sketchy as Thor’s mental state deteriorates from travel fatigue, almost as though he had drawn the whole book while on the road). The best cartoon quote of the 2007 calendar year thus far might come from a woman in one interlude, an angry movie theatre patron who proclaims that the movie house “used to be a happy summer funtime place but now we’ve got major stranger danger here!”. Awesome.
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007
12:01 am
Back From The Dead And Ready To Party! Comics For Jan. 3rd.
Okay, so I know I said I was gonna take a break from the weekly reviews, but our shipment miraculously showed up a day early, so I thought I’d get the drop on it while I had an extra twenty-four hours. I think the solution here might be to just focus on first issues or, time permitting, original graphic novels, or the occasional key issue of an ongoing series (like the debut of a new creative team, for instance) or a post-mortem of a major miniseries. I have also decided, for the time being anyway, to not include the cover artwork like I used to—finding all those images and putting them up sometimes felt like it took longer than writing the actual reviews. But hey, enough of my yakkin’…let’s boogie!

SCALPED #1: There’s something insanely ballsy about this new ongoing Vertigo series, which promises to explore the underbelly of organized crime on a South Dakota Indian Reservation—even the title of the book seems determined to bring the forces of political correctness out with guns a-blazin’. You kind of have to admire that sort of suicidal bravado, but once you get past the obvious sensationalism of SCALPED’s premise, there are plenty of other reasons to check it out. For one, the concept is truly original; a hard-fighting badass named Dashiell Bad Horse returns to his former home, the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, and immediately gets into all kinds of trouble. He soon catches the eye of the Reservation’s corrupt tribal council President, and is quickly deputized to help keep the tenuous peace (and enforce President Red Crow’s dirty dealings). Writer Jason Aaron (also currently scripting another excellent Vertigo series, THE OTHER SIDE) follows in the hard-boiled tradition of Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello with his salty dialogue, seedy characters, and brutal violence. Artist R.M. Guera’s gritty artwork shows the influence of greats like France’s Moebius and South Africa’s Jorge Zaffino, perfectly capturing the hopelessness of the book’s setting, described by one character as a “third world nation in the heart of America”. Throw in a terrific last-page twist, and SCALPED #1 pretty much ranks as the best Vertigo first issue since Y: THE LAST MAN #1, for me at least. As far as the book’s reinforcement of negative Native American stereotypes goes—the rampant alcoholism, the increasingly violent protests against the building of a casino—well, if you’re bothered by the image of Italian-Americans offered by THE SOPRANOS or GOODFELLAS, then you’ll probably want to give this a miss. However, if you’re a fan of the above crime dramas, or previous hard-hitting Vertigo titles like 100 BULLETS, then you should probably check out this out.

DINO WARS: THE JURASSIC WAR OF THE WORLDS #1: It’s obvious writer/artist Rod Espinosa is in love with the high concept of this book—intelligent dinosaurs who abandoned Earth millions of years ago come back to claim their birthworld with high-tech weapons of war—but I think this one might have needed to bake a little longer before it came out of the oven, so to speak. The book’s central cover image of an astronaut discovering a dino footprint on the moon’s surface is a grabber, and the debut issue is filled with ID4/WAR OF THE WORLDS-style imagery (the invaders come to earth in giant egg-shaped crafts that loom over major cities across the globe), but Espinosa seems to be in too big a rush to get to the fireworks factory—not enough time is spent establishing suspense, or, I don’t know, any kind of remotely fleshed-out characters, before the crap hits the fan. Also, the boring, manga-inspired artwork sets the wrong tone. The book’s full title, as seen above, is an unsavoury mouthful, and this issue features not one, but TWO ads for an upcoming Antarctic Press comic called—get this—PIRATES VS. NINJAS. The hell you say! What’s next, COWBOYS VS. PENGUINS?

’68: How sick are you readers of listening to me bitch and moan about the proliferation of zombie-themed comics? About as sick as I am of seeing them when I unpack every week’s books or go through a new issue of PREVIEWS, I reckon. Mark Kidwell and Nat Jones capitalize on the undead craze with this super-gory one-shot about U.S. grunts encountering the walking dead during a 1968 tour of duty in ‘Nam. Maybe the creators thought they were saying something profound about America’s role in the conflict, but more likely they were just jazzed about the book’s super-obvious punchline (which, as a once somewhat obsessive devotee of George A. Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, I saw coming from the first page).
Sunday, December 31st, 2006
2:39 pm
Top Ten 2006:
Okay, so here’s my personal Top Ten list of comics and graphic novels for the year 2006. It’s fairly indy-heavy, which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy a lot of mainstream stuff this year (like Ed Brubaker’s DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and IRON FIST, say, or Brad Meltzer’s new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA or Geoff Johns’ GREEN LANTERN), but that stuff generally gets a lot of attention anyway, so I thought I’d go off the beaten path a bit. Also, there were a lot of super-nice, high-end reissues of existing material this year, mostly from DC’s “Absolute” line (the Absolute Edition of Darwyn Cooke’s NEW FRONTIER is quite possibly the masterpiece of the already-prestigious series of oversized, extras-filled hardcovers), but I’ve left all of ‘em off the list to make way for new material. So, without further stalling for time, here they are in no particular order:

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LOST GIRLS, By Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie: Fifteen years in the making, Moore and Gebbie’s attempt to restore respectability to pornography is nothing short of an erotic epic. Moore’s eye for historical details and his gift for humour both subtle and over-the-top combine with Gebbie’s lush artwork to tell a paralleling tale of innocence lost (Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy’s adventures are set against the backdrop of a Europe about to be plunged into the first World War), and the book itself is a thing of beauty, arriving in a slipcase containing three oversized hardcovers.

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FATE OF THE ARTIST, By Eddie Campbell: Moore’s FROM HELL collaborator writes and draws the story of his own murder investigation, combining traditional comics, old-timey cartoon strips, and fumetti. This is the first of two books on this list from new publisher First Second (the other is AMERICAN BORN CHINESE), a fledgling outfit with an eye for quality.

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GET A LIFE, By Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian: Dupuy and Berberian, the most inseparable/indistinguishable cartooning duo since Eastman and Laird, collaborated on this latest collection of Mr. Jean stories about love and life in Paris. This humourous and affecting volume is accompanied by the simultaneously-published MAYBE LATER, which traces the origins of the duo’s newest effort.

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110 PERCENT, By Tony Consiglio: Fans of Alex Robinson’s BOX OFFICE POISON should not miss this graphic novel, whose writer/artist made a name for himself doing backup strips in that series. This tale of three middle-aged women and their obsession with the titular boy band examines the relationships of the three protagonists with both squirmy discomfort and surprising tenderness.

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ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, By Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely: Perhaps not surprisingly, the only superhero book on this list belongs to the granddaddy of them all. Mixing the big-screen splendour of the hero’s film incarnations with the crazy inventiveness of the Silver Age, this is the most exciting and imaginative SUPERMAN storyline since a guy by the name of Alan Moore had his turn with the character.

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AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, By Gene Luen Yang: Three paralleling stories of racial assimilation and desperate self-loathing come together seamlessly at the end of Gene Luen Yang’s deceptively simple parable. A rare example of an all-ages read that truly is complex enough for older readers, without alienating a younger audience.

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FUN HOME, By Alison Bechdel: This much-lauded graphic novel is all about artifice, whether it’s the meticulously embalmed cadavers at the Bechdel family-run funeral home (the “Fun Home” of the book’s title), the loving restoration of father Bruce’s ancestral home, or the carefully maintained façade of his own heterosexuality—a façade that begins to unravel as his daughter begins to understand her own orientation.

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STAGGER LEE, By Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix: This sepia-toned GN explores the origins of the infamous murder ballad, examining its various incarnations while stripping away the veneer of folk legend to reveal the actual people involved in the true story behind the legend.

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BUT I LIKE IT, By Joe Sacco: This travelogue/autobiographical interlude by Joe Sacco, detailing the European tour of 90s Grunge rockers the Miracle Workers, reads like ALMOST FAMOUS as told by Peter Bagge. Sacco recreates the excesses of the Grunge era in fabulously grimy detail, and the book itself is loaded with bonuses, like various Sacco-drawn concert posters for bands like Soundgarden and Mudhoney, strips about the Rolling Stones and the artist’s later fascination with the Blues, and even a Miracle Workers CD.

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PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, By Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon: This original Vertigo hardcover is a fable of ANIMAL FARM/WATERSHIP DOWN proportions, telling the tragic true story of four lions set loose from the Baghdad Zoo during 2003’s Operation: Iraqi Freedom. Vaughan also gets props this year for his Dark Horse miniseries THE ESCAPISTS (with artists Steve Rolston, Philip Bond, and Jason Alexander), another excellent piece of work that counts among the year’s best comic stories (for my money, anyway).

So that’s that. I’m going to slow down on my reviews for the next while—my New Year’s resolution is to be more creative, so something’s gotta give while I provide material for some other internet know-it-all to poke holes through in both comics and, hopefully, films of my own making. I’m still going to review as often as I can, although I doubt I’ll be able to keep up the weekly grind for the next little while. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 27th, 2006
12:42 am
Gimme a Break, It's The Holidays.
Okay, so I fell off there for a couple of weeks what with all the Xmas celebrations and whatnot, but I promise to be back soon--with my Top Ten list of 2006, no less. Look for that in the next day or two, with regular reviews to resume shortly after. In the meant
Sunday, December 10th, 2006
3:06 pm
December Already? Jeez!
In the next week or two, I'm planning to tackle my Top Ten of 2006 list, but for now, here's my take on the Dec. 6 releases:

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FRIDAY THE 13th #1: Hmm, where to begin with this one? WildStorm’s latest take on a 1980s horror icon is sorta the best of the bunch, but that’s not saying much. The story opens with a flashback where a blonde, buxom teen narrowly escapes the clutches of hockey-masked psycho Jason Voorhees (unforgivably, the book spells his last name with one “o” for the duration of the issue), then flashes back to two weeks earlier when Camp Crystal Lake, AKA “Camp Blood” is being re-opened. Seems the new owners want to capitalize on the Camp’s high body count and local legend status, so a new group of horny teens (including the girl from the opening gambit) are enlisted to get the place into shape. One problem with this book, right off the bat, is that the serialized comic format means that the first issue is wasted on what is traditionally the most lame part of a FRIDAY film, or any slasher pic for that matter—the dull first third of the movie that sets up the killer’s uber-disposable victims takes up the entire first issue of a comic series, meaning that there’s not a lot of entertainment value to be had here. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray try to get around this with the opening escape scene and a cliff-hanger ending involving the ghosts of hundreds of drowned kids attacking the blonde girl when she goes for a swim, but this simply raises another problem—we know she survives to escape Jason two weeks later, so her jeopardy at the end of the issue is not really all that convincing. The writers have a better grasp of this material than the other scribes tackling the WildStorm/New Line horror books, but the only way much suspense could be maintained here is in a collected format. Adam Archer’s interior art is decent enough as well, but it pales in comparison to Ryan Sook’s powerful cover.

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ULTIMATE VISION #1: This sequel to Warren Ellis’s ULTIMATE GALACTUS trilogy stars his former herald, the gleaming golden sexbot known as the Vision. The alien artificial intelligence is enlisted by a weird scientist to help make sure the planet-devouring entity Gah Lak Tus never pesters Earth again, but of course, he has a more sinister motive in mind. Brandon Peterson’s artwork, while still a bit stiff, is looking more and more Micheal Golden-esque these days (which is always a good thing), but I can’t stop thinking about how much the “Ultimate” version of the Vision looks like Astar the Robot from those old public service commercials—you know, the one who could put her arm back on, even though you can’t, so play safe?

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MELTDOWN #1: In the first issue of this two-part Image series, we meet the heat-based superhero Flare, a latino do-gooder whose powers are killing him. As his life winds down, he tries to find a way to make his death meaningful, while locked in mortal combat with his arch-nemesis. The story, written by David B. Schwartz, is alternately touching and kind of depressing—the Flare struggles his whole life, both personally and professionally, even romantically, to be the best guy he can be, but ultimately the thing that sets him apart from everyone is going to wind up doing him in. The real revelation here is the art by Sean Wang; the story begins in mid-battle, rendered in a sort of gritty Gary Frank style, but when the flashbacks to Flare’s idyllic childhood kick in, Wang switches it up and pulls off an alarmingly dead-on Seth Fisher imitation. Later, when Flare’s super-career begins in earnest, the style again changes to a wistfully exaggerated 1980s mainstream look, then switches back to the modern stuff once again when things start to go bad for our hero. Even though I feel like this could have all been done in a self-contained graphic novel (although I really don’t know what surprises the second issue holds, do I?), this was worth checking out for Sean Wang’s chameleonic art stylings.

NEWUNIVERSAL #1:I haven’t yet seen this season’s big TV hit, HEROES, but from what I know of it, it seems like Warren Ellis’s ensemble-cast reboot of Marvel’s famously disastrous “New Universe” line from twenty years back covers much of the same ground. A freak cosmic occurrence known as the White Event fills the skies above the Earth with mysterious white light, and in its wake, a small group of people find themselves gifted with strange powers, forever altering the world as we know it. Several of the original NU books are referenced here, albeit updated—the first issue features nods to books like JUSTICE, NIGHTMASK, and STAR BRAND, while featuring confusing references to a Gilgamesh-type figure in a subplot that has no apparent connection to the original run of books (except for a well-placed Star Brand logo). Salvador Larrocca’s art takes a nicely realistic turn here, although he gets carried away with the photo reference—keep your eyes peeled for Gene Hackman, Johnny Depp, and several cast members of THE SOPRANOS. Not a bad debut installment, but what I really can’t wait to see is how Ellis is going to try and make the super-hero football team from KICKERS INC. look cool.

WELCOME TO TRANQUILITY #1: The WorldStorm rollout continues with this tale of a retirement community for superheroes. Writer Gail Simone’s trademark humour is evident, the concept has a lot of potential, and Neil Googe’s art is reminiscent of Jason Pearson, but the confusing manner in which the story is told hurts this debut issue a lot.

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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: THE BEGINNING #1: “They Won’t Stay Dead!” screams the famous one-sheet for George A. Romero’s low-budget zombie flick that started it all in 1968. Of course, that tagline was referring to the film’s army of walking corpses, but it could very well refer to the nonstop flood of attempts to cash in on NOTLD’s public domain status with any number of cheap knockoffs—like this prequel mini from Avatar, for example. Like many of the NOTLD spinoffs of the past few decades, this one comes from original screenwriter John Russo, who just can’t keep his mitts off the franchise he helped create. Mike Wolfer adapts Russo’s plot into comic form, showing us the sequence of events that led several characters to the original film’s doomed farmhouse. Sebastian Fiumara lends the whole affair a bit of respectability with some nicely John Cassaday-ish artwork, but the effect is cheapened by Avatar’s trademark penchant for gratuitous gore and nudity. Hilariously, the final pages of this issue are filled with ads for dozens of variant Lady Death covers, each with varying degrees of nudity—a class act all around.

SUPERGIRL #12: This is the first issue of this book that I’ve read since, oh, the crappy first issue, I guess. The only reason I checked it out was for Amanda Conner’s appealingly expressive art—she’s a perfect fit for this title—but unfortunately, the lame story really just serves as an ad for the artist’s upcoming mini featuring the new Terra, who makes her debut in this issue.

BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1: I’ve never liked Whilce Portacio’s artwork, and by God, I’m not going to start now. Andy Diggle’s opening arc promises to tell us how Batman acquired “those wonderful toys”—in other words, his arsenal of crazy gadgetry—but really, who cares? He’s rich! He bought ‘em! What more do you need to know? Portacio’s Batman looks awkward and strange, and the puffy, huge-shouldered suits worn by the sallow-eyed Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor make them look like sleep-deprived dwarves who just left a Prince concert in 1984.

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SPIDER-MAN: REIGN #1: The debut issue of this four-parter written and drawn by Canuck Kaare Andrews declares its intentions of making this into a sort of DARK KNIGHT RETURNS for Spidey early on, when it showcases a newscaster named Miller Janson. Really, though, the look of this series is pure ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN Miller, with its spare linework and lush colouring. It’s your typical dark future scenario, where a retired, elderly, borderline nutso Peter Parker is pressed into service once again to take on a fascist regime known as the Reign. This first installment gets things off to a pretty slow start, and no SPIDER-MAN title should ever feature a sneaky peek at Parker’s shriveled-up old man wiener. Still, I liked the art, and there’s three issues left for Andrews to turn it around and go somewhere with this—just as long as Peter keeps his, er, Peter hidden away.

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JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #1: In this new series relaunch by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham, the newest generation of DC superheroes (several of which made their debut in KINGDOM COME ten years back) are taken under the wing of the survivors of the original super-team. This sort of story, which mixes existing continuity with newer, modernized revamps, is old hat to scripter Johns by now, and he continues to do it well (especially interesting is his newest incarnation of Starman, who may or may not have ties to the Legion of Super-Heroes…and who may or not be out of his mind). Eaglesham’s slick visuals have echoes of Rags Morales and Brian Bolland, and the final page of this extra-sized first issue contains a number of tantalizing glimpses into the title’s upcoming first year.
Monday, December 4th, 2006
11:08 am
Chris Ware Vs. Rob Liefeld!
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ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY #17: The usually Christmas-shipping doses of Chris Ware’s ACME NOVELY LIBRARY are sort of a mixed blessing; on the one hand, you can always count on a bitterly funny, emotionally resonant read that will surely be one of the most beautifully designed publications of the year. On the other hand, though, it sure does make for some depressing holiday reading. That being said, a new issue of ACME is always welcome, especially when it’s a hardcover volume wrapping up a two-part story that began last Christmas—this time out, Ware concludes his “Rusty Brown” story, featuring a couple of withdrawn elementary school kids, a depressed teenage girl, a highly-coveted Supergirl doll, and a dope-smoking art teacher based on none other than Ware himself. Do yourself a favour and dig out the first half of this story before diving into Part Two—remember, it’s been a year. As an aside, I have to take a second and call bullshit on ACME distributor Pantheon Books—why is it that I saw this new volume on sale in a mainstream bookstore a full two weeks before we got our copies? Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to see stuff like this racked a few feet away from the bestseller list-makers, but it makes us look a bit behind the game.

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BATMAN/THE SPIRIT: Just in time to familiarize new readers with Will Eisner’s famous masked man before he debuts in a new ongoing series written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, this one-shot teams Denny Colt with Gotham’s Dark Knight in an adventure co-written by Cooke and Jeph Loeb with art by Cooke and frequent collaborator J. Bone. A police convention collides with a villain convention in Hawaii, and both Batman and the Spirit have to rescue their respective police contacts, Commissioners Gordon and Dolan, from the clutches of the assembled rogue’s galleries of Gotham and Central City. Cooke’s art is superb as usual, particularly his rendition of a Jerry Robinson/Dick Sprang-era Dynamic Duo. Cooke also works in some Eisnerian art gags—a sign reading “Pier Sixteen” explodes behind the Spirit, spelling out his name in the character’s trademark three-dimensional logo, while Batman’s name appears in the folds of his cloak in a later splash page. Loeb’s dialogue, unfortunately, rings sour a few times—why does the Spirit need to remark to a cab driver that he has a friend back in Central City who would appreciate his cab, other than to make an awkward reference to Spirit sidekick Ebony? It’s the literary equivalent of Loeb is jabbing you in the ribs, going “Huh? Get it? Huh?” Minor quibbles aside, this is book is great fun, and all-ages friendly to boot—mark your calendars for the Dec. 20th release of Cooke’s SPIRIT #1.

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CROSSING MIDNIGHT #1: This new Vertigo ongoing series suffered a bit from not being launched as part of a wave of new titles from DC’s mature readers imprint, and the fact that its premise isn’t easily summed up in a quick sentence hurts it even more. However, the first issue of this new title from LUCIFER writer Mike Carey was a pretty cool read. Japanese twins, born on either side of the witching hour, grow up to discover that one of them is strangely invulnerable to harm—unfortunately, she’s also been promised to a sinister demigod, who comes to collect by issue one’s conclusion. Jim Fern’s elegant artwork contains traces of Kevin Nowlan influence, which is always a good thing, and the story didn’t feel like it was trying to be the next PREACHER or SANDMAN, but was aiming for its own unique blend of family drama and supernatural intrigue. The gorgeous cover painted by J.H. Williams III didn’t hurt, either.

GUY GARDNER: COLLATERAL DAMAGE #1: Wow, a Howard Chaykin prestige format miniseries. That takes me back. Sadly, even though his trademark angular artwork is still sharp as ever, this book is every bit as over-written as I remember Chaykin’s BLACKHAWK mini being back in the day. The Green Lantern Corps’ resident dickwad gets tapped to mediate peace negotiations for the female delegates of a couple of warring alien races, with potentially sexy results (this is a Howard Chaykin book, after all). Really, though, is there any reason this couldn’t have appeared in a GREEN LANTERN CORPS story arc?

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THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST #1: Oh, thank God—a new Marvel ongoing that ISN’T a CIVIL WAR crossover! Two of the best writers currently working for the House of Ideas, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, team up to dust off one of Marvel’s most famous leftovers from the Kung Fu craze of the 1970s. Danny Rand fights off a Hydra-backed corporate takeover in the boardroom, then takes the battle to the rooftops of New York. David Aja, artist of the recent GIANT-SIZE WOLVERINE special, provides creepy, Sam Kieth/Bill Sienkiewicz-inspired art in this moody, action-packed debut issue.

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ONSLAUGHT REBORN #1: Okay, seriously—enough is enough, already. Rob Liefeld’s horribly amateurish, anatomically challenged artwork was amusing for a while, but now it’s just irritating to think that this guy is getting paid (probably getting paid some disgustingly large sum, really) to draw this badly. This ten-year “anniversary event”, commemorating one of Marvel’s most embarrassing marketing misfires, will probably never finish anyway, given the track records of both Liefeld and scripter Jeph Loeb, and that’s a good thing. Still, the fact that it happened at all is a retch-inducing reminder of Marvel’s marketing technique of throwing a bunch of shit (literally, in this case) at the wall to see what will stick.
Sunday, November 26th, 2006
4:41 pm
Draculas, Bizarros, and Offensive Stereotypes: Nov. 22 Releases
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DRAIN #1: Hey, who loves vampires? Not me. These guys were played out before zombies, fer Chrissakes. Former Marvel editor C.B. Cebulski and artist Sana Takeda collaborate on this story of a hundreds-of-years-old sexy bloodsucker lady who only punishes the guilty and blah blah blah, you know the deal. Hey, if Cebulski was a former editor, shouldn’t he know when to trim some dialogue? The first four pages have barely any, and the fifth one is crammed full of balloons. This back-and-forth continues for the whole issue, kind of like those 1980s Chris Claremont X-MEN books where tons of exposition would be broken up by the occasional silent Wolverine fight scene. However, those comics were usually drawn by Paul Smith, not in full on T&A manga style like this nonsense.

TURISTAS #1: A spinoff/prequel/whatever of the first film from 20th Century Fox’s new youth-oriented division, Fox Atomic. I can’t say this bodes well for the new label, though—this piece of crap mixes xenophobia with urban legends and tosses in a good dose of ripping off the sadism of Eli Roth’s HOSTEL. In the first story, an Asian porn enthusiast winds up with his organs stolen, and the second one sees a young couple run afoul of a pissed-off tribe. This book tries to have its cake and eat it too by reinforcing foreign stereotypes while punishing ignorant American tourists. On top of all that, the art is about as interesting as the dopey premise. I don’t know what’s worse—the state of horror comics or the state of horror movies, but this waste of paper is a depressing reminder of both.

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PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #1: Seeing as how I don’t like the Punisher and I’m not digging CIVIL WAR too much, I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Mostly, it’s due to the work of writer Matt Fraction (CASANOVA) and artist Ariel Olivetti (SPACE GHOST). Placing the character squarely in the Marvel Universe again (while still free for mature readers mayhem in his ongoing Marvel MAX title), this new ongoing finds Frank Castle smack in the middle of the latest superhero crossover. Wisely, Fraction plays this one mostly tongue-in-cheek, not unlike Garth Ennis’s early take on the character (although he thankfully dispenses with that writer’s obvious and all-too-tired resentment for all things superheroic). Witty, violent fun that takes a loving jab at the silliness of certain Marvel villains (poor, poor Stilt-Man), the new WAR JOURNAL is one of the better things to come out of CIVIL WAR.

RED MENACE #1: Current FLASH writers Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo team with THE O.C. actor Adam Brody and artist Jerry Ordway for this WildStorm six-parter set during the anti-Communist craze of the 1950s. A patriotic superhero named the Eagle obediently unmasks for the HUAC hearings, only to be later accused of having communist sympathies. While I’m a big fan of stories set during this era (see my last post about NEW FRONTIER for proof), this was kind of boring and talky, with little to no dramatic thrust. Ordway’s nostalgic art style is a perfect fit, but I find it hard to muster much interest in the cliffhanger ending that asks me to care about the fate of a secondary character I’ve just been introduced to. Not terrible, but not terribly engaging either.

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ACTION COMICS #845: The second issue from writers Geoff Johns and SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE director Richard Donner was, for me at least, a vast improvement on their debut last month—mostly due to the inclusion of said action, sorely lacking in the first chapter of the “Last Son” storyline. While Clark and Lois deal with the possibility of adopting the mysterious boy from Krypton, Luthor sends Bizarro after the kid. A scary, brutal battle ensues, showcasing the real strengths of artist Adam Kubert (I still love his HULK run with Peter David from about ten years back). While this story seems overly familiar at first, thanks not only to the Superkid plot from SUPERMAN RETURNS, not to mention the recently-wrapped “Batman and Son” arc in Grant Morrison’s BATMAN, the final pages deliver a great twist to this idea—one that should make fans of Donner’s SUPERMAN II squeal with glee.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #536: I’m not going to waste a lot of time on this one, but I will say two things; this is some of the nicest Ron Garney art I’ve ever seen—he draws the hell out of classically-costumed Spidey—and this issue features not one, but TWO asterixes directing the reader to go read the still M.I.A. CIVIL WAR #6 before finishing this issue. Way to coordinate a crossover, Marvel.

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CONNOR HAWKE: DRAGON’S BLOOD #1: Poor Connor Hawke. The bastard son of Oliver Queen didn’t get to keep the mantle of Green Arrow for more than a few years, but he was a pretty cool character regardless. At least he gets the consolation prize of a Chuck Dixon-penned miniseries, which sees him (and several other prominent archer characters, some new, some familiar) invited to a mysterious archery tournament—not unlike ENTER THE DRAGON or MORTAL KOMBAT, but with bows and arrows instead. This is a decent setup for what could be a fun story, but the real reason to check it out is the art by newcomer Derec Donovan, whose style is a cool mix of Dave Johnson and Jason Pearson.
Monday, November 20th, 2006
1:56 pm
Absolutely Fabulous!
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NEW FRONTIER: THE ABSOLUTE EDITION: Writer/artist Darwyn Cooke’s epic tale of DC’s Silver Age is finally collected in one volume, in a deservingly-prestigious Absolute Edition, no less. In case you haven’t already read this outstanding series, NEW FRONTIER follows the formation of the Justice League of America as seen through the eyes of test pilot Hal Jordan, the ace airman soon to be known as the Green Lantern. Largely an examination of America in the late fifties/early sixties as the paranoia of the Red Scare gave way to the optimism of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot, NEW FRONTIER’s supporting cast features not only heavy hitters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, but also nostalgic favourites like the Losers, the Suicide Squad, King Faraday, and the Challengers of the Unknown. While the art, which is beautifully coloured by Dave Stewart, recalls the look of Warner Brothers’ stellar BATMAN/SUPERMAN/JUSTICE LEAGUE animated series (which Cooke worked on prior to his comics career), the story is pure Sixties adventure cinema, a la THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE DIRTY DOZEN, or, most appropriately, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. One can only wish that this story could be sent back in time so Robert Aldrich or John Sturges could film it in glorious Technicolor, with Burt Lancaster as Green Lantern, Steve McQueen as the Flash, and Yul Brynner as the Martian Manhunter, but I guess that might be asking too much. Cooke lovingly oversaw the creation of this massive hardcover tome, which features newly-incorporated deleted material, full annotations that reveal the inspirations for the story and visuals, as well as a ton of conceptual artwork and other bonus goodies (including not one but two shout-outs to Strange Adventures, as well as photos of Darwyn during a 2004 signing at our Halifax location!). A must-have, if only so you can read it before the WB-animated NEW FRONTIER direct-to-DVD is released in 2008 or so.

THE SANCTUARY #1: From OM comics and Xeric-grant winner Nate Neal, this black-and-white indie tells the story of a tribe of primitive men and women and the cave they call home, seen mostly from the perspective of an artist who paints the exploits of his buffalo-hunting brethren on the cavern walls. When one of the burlier tribesmen wants to exaggerate his own hunting exploits, he enlists the artist’s help--at least, I think that’s what happened. The whole story (of which this is only the first installment) is told in pictures and the characters’ primitive, grunted dialogue—in other words, if you enjoy the challenges of a film like QUEST FOR FIRE or the first chapter of Alan Moore’s novel VOICE OF THE FIRE, which is written in a primitive, meager vocabulary of about fifty words, you’ll like deciphering the dialect and actions in THE SANCTUARY. Neal’s art is reminiscent of Bob Fingerman crossed with early Sam Kieth, and is expressive enough to carry the challenge of the mostly-pantomimed story. An interesting and challenging debut that examines the role of the artist in society while pushing a creator’s storytelling skills to their limits.

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ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE BOOK TWO #1: In the middle section of the twelve-part story that showcases the gritty 1970s of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s bustling super-metropolis, two estranged brothers—one a cop, the other a criminal—are forced to make difficult choices and unsavoury alliances as the kidnapping of a super-villain’s wife plunges Astro City into a gang war. All the usual AC touches are here—nods are given to cosmic seventies epics like THE ETERNALS as well as that decade’s martial arts craze (in the form of Kung-Fu duo the Jade Dragons), while we see old favorites like modern-day crimelord the Deacon working as humble consigliere to the unfortunate-looking gangster known as the Platypus. This isn’t a bad series—not only do we get a glimpse of a pretty interesting time in AC’s history, but we are also given a reworked taste of Busiek’s plans for his ultimately cancelled MARVELS II (which also would have covered the dark days of the Disco Decade while following two brothers on either side of the law)—but the hiatus between this trilogy of four-issue minis is harshing my buzz big-time. Also, Brent Anderson’s pencils are straddling the line between Neal Adams-style realism and Tom Grindberg-style sloppy imitation Adams these days. Maybe the AC team should have hung onto inker Will Blyberg? Just sayin'.

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CIVIL WAR #5: I’ve done a lot of bitching about this book, so I’ll try to keep it short and save some venom for the last two installments. However, this was probably the issue that made me the least angry, so I guess that’s something. Both sides of the super-hero conflict are forced to enlist some morally dubious allies, as Iron Man and SHIELD send the new Thunderbolts—whose lineup is composed of some of Marvel’s deadliest villains (and some of its most disposable cannon fodder, apparently)—after a wayward Spider-Man, and Cap’s Anti-Registration team gets some unwanted assistance from a certain skull-chested, gun-toting lunatic. The Iron Man/Spider-Man battle that kicks off this issue is going to be confusing as hell for anyone who didn’t read its setup in the last issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to read in the inevitable collected edition. Still, McNiven draws a pretty awesome Jester.
Sunday, November 12th, 2006
9:19 pm
Remember, Remember, The....8th of November?!?!
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PLEASE RELEASE GN: Nate Powell writes and illustrates this collection of autobiographical short stories that deal with his nomadic existence, his self-image as an aging punk rocker, and his day job as a caregiver to developmentally disabled adults. The introspective and highly personal narrative follows a sort of stream-of-consciousness logic, with a loose, ink-spattered style not unlike Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple (with a touch of emo-kid melancholy that should appeal to fans of Craig Thompson, not to mention a similar penchant for lettering that drifts all over the page like a runaway banner). The subject matter might be a bit too unfocused and self-absorbed to make PLEASE RELEASE a must-read, but his lively artwork and innovative storytelling style make Nate Powell a creator who might have some great work in him down the road.

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AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES II #1: When Joe Casey (with artistic collaborator Scott Kolins) debuted the first EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES miniseries—a sort of Year One-style examination of the day-to-day relationships of the Avengers during their tumultuous early days—the book was a breath of nostalgic fresh air and a welcome alternative to the grim deconstruction that was going on in the crowd-pleasing but shakily-constructed AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED crossover. Back for a second round, Casey and new artist Will Rosado look at the Roy Thomas-John Buscema era of the team, as public suspicion about new members like the Vision and the Black Panther puts pressure on the superhero group, as well as its government sponsors. As an old-school Avengers nerd, I want to enjoy this book, but…man, it’s boring. For $4.75 CDN, you get page after page of the heroes standing around recapping old plot lines and debating about their membership lineup. Will Rosado’s workmanlike pencils don’t exactly liven up the proceedings, either. Even the most die-hard Avengers fans would be hard-pressed to find this interesting; now, if only the interiors had lived up to the excitement of that killer Dave Johnson cover…

BATMAN #658: Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s four-part “Batman and Son” arc comes to a hasty conclusion, as Bats and his brat confront Talia and her Man-Bat Commandoes on the island of Gibraltar. For the most part, this storyline was tongue-in-cheek fun, with a more lighthearted Dark Knight and an interesting dynamic between Batman and his newly-extended family, but this last issue really needed some sort of epilogue or something. Morrison is still supposedly on this book for a good long haul, so he might still have something up his sleeve—and even though this final chapter seemed rushed and anticlimactic, this run is proving to be way more entertaining than the monthly BATMAN title usually is.

WISDOM #1: I’ve got to admit my ignorance of both the character Pete Wisdom (who, I guess, was a member of Excalibur’s lineup during Warren Ellis’s run on that title) and author Paul Cornell (a British TV writer and veteran of both DOCTOR WHO and CORONATION STREET, weirdly enough), so I felt a bit lost going into the first issue of Marvel Max’s WISDOM series. I don’t know how much more informed I was by the end—apparently, Wisdom is an agent of MI-13, a British spy organization created to deal with supernatural threats, and in this first issue, he teams with a group of crack specialists to fend off an invasion of the U.K. from the Faerie realm—but I did kind of enjoy this debut issue. Trevor Hairsine’s art is sort of like Carlos Pacheco crossed with Brian Hitch, and Cornell’s dialogue reads like a wordier version of Warren Ellis—lots of dry-yet-vulgar British wit that jumps around somewhat confusingly. This book’s ties to 1990s X-MEN titles are probably best ignored (although a few subtle references to plot points like Wisdom’s tryst with Kitty Pryde are dropped for the fanboy in the know)—just think of it as HELLBLAZER crossed with THE ULTIMATES and you’ll be fine.

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PEEPSHOW #14: Toronto cartoonist Joe Matt’s cartoon diary returns with an issue devoted to the artist’s porno obsession and his lack of creative momentum. Even though his subject matter is usually quite gross, Matt’s cartooning style is visually appealing—the rubbery-looking figures, the limited colour palette, the unflattering self-caricature—but the creator doesn’t make for the most sympathetic protagonist; when he isn’t whining about his loneliness or his dwindling output as a cartoonist, he’s helplessly imagining his obese landlady in the nude or admitting to blacking the eye of an ex-girlfriend. This sort of nakedly unsympathetic self-portrayal is, I suppose, refreshingly honest, but I can’t imagine this issue really grabbing Matt any new readers (although longtime PEEPSHOW readers will likely feel right at home).

BULLET POINTS #1: Will somebody please stop J. Michael Straczynski from writing any more comics already? This WHAT IF? type story claims to show readers a Marvel Universe where the course of history is changed by a single bullet—that is, the hail of gunfire unleashed upon Captain America’s creator dring World War II also takes out a young Ben Parker (AKA Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben), setting off a chain of events that irrevocably alters the future—but it plays pretty fast and loose with the rules of such stories. For instance, Steve Rogers is unable to become America’s first Super-Soldier, but instead becomes an early form of Iron Man when some guy who isn’t Tony Stark creates the prototype armor decades early. How is that the result of a single bullet? Also, the lack of an Uncle Ben in his life makes young Peter Parker a less responsible teenager—sure, I’ll buy that as a result of the shooting—but why is Peter in Nevada just in time for the Gamma Bomb test that creates the Hulk? This whole thing is just a trumped-up “Elseworlds” story built on the flimsiest of premises, with Straczynski’s typically overwritten, pretentious storytelling style cluttering up the pages with endless narration. If it wasn’t for Tommy Lee Edwards’s eye-grabbing art, I don’t think I would have made it through the whole issue.

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STORMWATCH: POST HUMAN DIVISION #1: Another week, another WildStorm/WorldStorm relaunch. After a bunch of cops and innocent civilians are killed in a battle between some super-powered do-gooders and a cabal of high-powered villains, a new superhuman response unit is formed with experts in magic, technology, and other essentials of the trade. The script, by Cristos N. Gage, jumps back in forth in time to show the super-massacre alongside the recruitment of the various experts, and quickly falls into a familiar pattern; protagonist Jackson King interviews a witness, they give their perspective on what occurred, he offers them a place on the team. Gage is capable of decent superhero intrigue (see his currently-running UNION JACK miniseries for proof of this), but it seemed like the writer was trying to cram too much into this debut issue. Doug Mahnke is a reliable, solid artist, but he doesn’t seem like a good fit for this subject matter (his strange art style seems more appropriate for action/horror hybrids, like his recent FRANKENSTEIN mini). Not a total loss—the core concept is still workable, and the creators are undeniably talented—but this wasn’t the compelling first issue a new series launch needs.
Sunday, November 5th, 2006
12:30 pm
Books From Up To, And Including, Nov. 1st:
Okay, so I missed a few weeks—you have to admit, I was doing pretty well there for a while (nineteen uninterrupted weeks—not bad, if I do say so myself), but what with Halloween preparations and the wedding of my friends Alex and Lisa (congratulations again, guys!), my comics reading-and-ruminating time got seriously truncated. Anyway, back at it, first with a few bits of old business followed by a look at some of this week’s new releases:

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FROM HELL TP: I know, this one is a few years old (I think it was first collected in 2000, actually), but it’s been out of print for two years now and it’s finally available again from Top Shelf. If you haven’t yet experienced Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s grisly, mind-bending dissection of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree, or if you only know the story from the better-than-it-should-be-but-still-vastly-inferior Johnny Depp film adaptation, then you better re-check your comics budget and make sure you bring this sucker home with you. This is my favourite graphic novel ever, and I can’t stress enough how essential it is (the insanely detailed appendices at the back, where Moore traces the origins of virtually every scene, character, and location in the book, is almost as riveting as the story itself).

SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #1: The long-delayed conclusion to Grant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS event is here at last, and it’s well worth the wait to see the protagonists of the seven miniseries that made up the story step up and do their part in the final battle against the invading armies of the Sheeda. Before this final, double-sized issue hit, I re-read the preceding 29 comics in the storyline, and that certainly helped me understand about…oh, let’s say half of this book, and even though much of it was confusing and kind of unresolved, the art by J.H. Williams III is a crazy artistic tour-de-force the likes of which I’ve never seen (Williams convincingly mimics all of the art styles of the seven minis, no mean feat considering their extreme visual diversity). This is, quite simply, the best-looking, most artistically ambitious mainstream comic to be released this year, and a fitting conclusion to one of the most daring, unprecedented, and experimental superhero sagas ever produced.

ARMY OF DARKNESS MOVIE ADAPTATION TP: Like FROM HELL, this one’s kind of old news as well—Dark Horse released this adaptation in single issues some time around the cult favourite’s theatrical release—but it’s finally available in a trade paperback from Dynamite Entertainment (who, even when releasing trades, are somehow unable to resist the variant cover urge). As a rule, I’m not normally a fan of movie adaptations (with the exception of Jack Kirby’s tabloid-sized 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, of course), but this one’s worth checking out for two reasons; first off, the painted art by John Bolton is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, lending a classic elegance to Sam Raimi’s slapsticky medieval zombie farce. Second, this adaptation scores cool obscurity points for ending not as the theatrical release does, with Ash’s glorious return to the S-Mart, but with the original post-apocalyptic alternate ending (which can be found on most of the film’s better DVD releases). The trade even includes Kurt Busiek’s original introduction, and an interview with Ash himself, Bruce Campbell (also by Busiek). A fine addition to any ARMY OF DARKNESS fan’s collection…even if it does sport a whole mess of advertisements in the back pages.

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THE KILLER #1: This European import, published in the U.S. by Archaia Studios Press (who also released the penultimate chapter of David Petersen’s excellent MOUSE GUARD this week) follows an unrepentant assassin-for-hire as he waits for his latest target to enter his crosshairs. There isn’t a lot of forward story momentum in this, the first of ten issues—merely a lot of first-person narration by the killer and flashbacks to different points in his murderous career. In fact, by the end of the issue, the target still hasn’t shown his face (leading our narrator to start thinking about other victims), so it’s difficult to gauge when this story might actually go somewhere. Still, the art by Luc Jacamon is subtly expressive and not what most readers might expect for this type of story—his portrayal of the killer’s undersea dispatching of a scuba-diving victim is particularly gripping. On an unrelated note, Archaia’s ratings method (MR, AC, GV, N, SSC?) make’s Marvel’s constantly-morphing ratings system seem positively self-explanatory by comparison.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1: I have to admit, I’m getting a bit worn out by DC’s constant explorations of “The First Time Such-And-Such Happened”/”Year One” type stories (BATMAN: JOURNEY INTO KNIGHT, TRINITY, the current Matt Wagner BATMAN minis), but this was pretty fun. Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale take a look at Superman’s first exposure to Kryptonite, and consequently, his first indication that he’s not completely indestructible. Cooke’s story takes a nice look at how Supes overcompensates in his romance with Lois due to his always having to zip off and save the world, and it’s nice to see Sale draw a story that isn’t tailor-made to having him churn out page after page of needless double spreads (I’m looking at you, Jeph Loeb). I also especially enjoyed Sale’s rendition of a tough-looking, Newsboy Legion-style Jimmy Olsen, and the Royal Flush Gang is always fun.

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MIDNIGHTER #1: The WorldStorm mess of relaunches (is it a crossover or a pointless label or what?) continues with a surprisingly decent solo book for the Authority’s resident Batman wannabe. Garth Ennis, who has really been coasting on past glories lately, teams with TOM STRONG artist Chris Sprouse for a story that sees the post-human vigilante abducted by a mysterious consortium and coerced into the assassination of a very surprising target (no, not George W. Bush). Despite early rumours to the contrary, the character’s controversial (and supposedly despised by DC) sexual orientation is mentioned, although usually in the form of an insult from one of his foes—not exactly progress, but there it is. I don’t know that we really need an ongoing MIDNIGHTER solo series (this issue actually reads like the first issue of a pretty cool four-issue mini), but thanks to Ennis’s last-page twist and Sprouse’s solid art, this could have been a lot worse.

WHAT IF? FEATURING AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED: Hey, remember when WHAT IF? was an ongoing title instead of a series of annoyingly-timed one-shots? No? Well, how about when it didn’t spend half the issue recapping the storyline whose alternate outcome is about to be explored? Still nothing? Okay then, remember when it used to actually pose the reader a question, like “What if Elektra Had Lived?”or “What if Phoenix Survived?” or “What If The Hulk Went Berserk?”? All right, so those are all horrible examples, and the latest WHAT IF? one-shot does actually ask a question inside (“What If The Scarlet Witch Hadn’t Acted Alone?”), but it’s more of a complete re-imagining of the origins of the recent AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED crossover rather than a look at how the story might have played out differently if one or two details were changed. In some ways, Jeff (AGENTS OF ATLAS) Parker’s story is kind of better than the actual nonsense that was AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, and it even occasionally pokes holes in the existing story (observe how Dr. Strange calls out his own flimsy dismissal of Wanda’s “Chaos Magic”, for instance). Aaron Lopresti juggles a pretty big cast admirably as well, and as a whole, this issue gives me some hope for this latest series of one-shots, but I really can’t see myself getting excited about re-visiting SPIDER-MAN: THE OTHER and X-MEN: AGE OF APOCALYPSE in the upcoming installments, unless we’re going to explore an alternate universe where those stories are actually good.

DAYBREAK VOL. 1: Brian Ralph (CAVE-IN) writes and illustrates this first volume of a post-apocalyptic survival story, told entirely from the perspective of its protagonist’s line of sight. This silent observer wanders through a blasted landscape, meeting up with other survivors and barely escaping attacks from an unseen group of attackers (Zombies? Mutants? All we see is an occasional tangle of grasping, ash-black arms). I didn’t realize that this was merely a first chapter, so I wasn’t too prepared for this volume’s abrupt ending—still, I’m curious to see where this is going. Ralph’s art is reminiscent of a grittier, creepier James Kochalka, and the storytelling style has a quietly eerie effect.

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THE MOURNING STAR VOL. 1: Also from Bodega (publishers of DAYBREAK) comes…another black-and-white book detailing life after an apocalypse. Actually, Ralph’s book kind of whetted my appetite for this, I think—DAYBREAK was an all-too-brief opening chapter, where writer-artist Kazimir Strzepek’s book takes the time to stretch out into a fairly dense, multi-character epic (of undetermined length, so far). The book opens as a rogue comet all but decimates a thriving civilization, then jumps ahead several months to follow a few groups of survivors—including Klavir, who searches for his kidnapped lost love, and an amnesiac “Snipper Sniper” (a kind of scissor-wielding ninja) at war with an evil army. This may be the first time I’ve read a story about an already-alien civilization struggling to survive after the end of their world; the setting of THE MOURNING STAR is not our planet, so there’s an added layer of strangeness as we learn about the world that was alongside the new, post-comet world of carnivorous beasts, roving bandits, and dream-eating ghosts. The artwork is an interesting mix of manga and American indie styles, and the narrative successfully mingles post-disaster trauma, suspense, action, and occasional toilet humour—no easy feat, but Strzepek pulls it off nicely. This book looks pretty tiny at first, at roughly the size of a CD case (which makes the $16 CDN price tag seem a bit steep at first), but it’s a good long read for the price at about 200 pages. I’ll be definitely keeping an eye out for Volume Two.

THE NIGHTLY NEWS #1: Okay, I’m all for something different, but this “dissection of corporate news” from writer/artist Jonathan Hickman is just plain hard on the eyes. Hickman’s mini tells of a crazed cult led by a mysterious messiah called “The Voice”, whose emissaries begin a sniper spree where the targets quickly become the on-scene news anchors. At least, I think that’s what it was about—about five pages in, my brain started reeling from the annoying factoids that were popping up all over the damn thing. This book is designed to death, combining Brian Wood-style urban imagery with a slew of pop-up style captions and some occasionally cool artwork, but the overall effect is more mind-numbing than thought-provoking. Alternately boring, preachy, and pretentious, THE NIGHTLY NEWS also carries a fairly disturbing message in its letters page, where Hickman sanctimoniously tells us that “some people just need killing”. Yeah, good luck with that.
Sunday, October 15th, 2006
12:36 pm
Oct. 11
Even though I just got back from ever-lovin’ Montreal yesterday morning, I still made the trip to Strange Adventures so I could be all caught up on the new stuff and get in a few reviews. Staunch diligence or kooky obsession? You be the judge.

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TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1: Following in the footsteps of the similarly-overpriced ($5.50 CDN? Good lord!) MYSTERY IN SPACE comes this eight-part miniseries starring the new Spectre—AKA Crispus Allen, late of GOTHAM CENTRAL. Here, the pasty-faced, green-cloaked ghoul seeks to expose the sins of a creepy apartment building while his alter ego investigates the gruesome murder of the tenement’s sleazy superintendent. David (STRAY BULLETS) Lapham continues his uneven streak of mainstream work here; the story wrestles with the increasingly more dull moral dilemma of the Spectre’s mission, as he lets some evils go unpunished while inflicting Old Testament-style vengeance on others. Additionally, I was never quite sure if the deceased Allen now has a corporeal form or not. The messy artwork by Eric Battle certainly doesn’t help—I kept thinking I’d picked up an issue of SPAWN by accident. However, the backup story starring ghost-breaker Dr. 13 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang cleansed the palate quite nicely, as the doc and his daughter Traci investigate a plane crash in the Swiss Alps, a Yeti, and the return of another DC Comics supernatural mainstay. Not to be a continuity cop or anything, but wasn’t Dr. 13 incinerated in a séance-gone-wrong in SEVEN SOLDIERS: ZATANNA last year? Or did Superboy-Prime punch the walls of the timestream hard enough to undo it? Maybe it’s best not to think about it.

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DR. ID: PSYCHOLOGIST OF THE SUPERNATURAL #1: This black-and-white one-shot by writer Adam McGovern and artist Paolo Leandri taps into the seemingly endless well of Jack Kirby’s creative energies, and thrives quite nicely on what it finds there. The titular hero (who also incorporates heaping doses of Lee/Ditko DR. STRANGE) is a sort of mystical therapist who does comic book battle with metaphysical manifestations of his patients’ various psychoses. The psychology-as-superheroics humour is cleverly done, and the short-strip format allows each tale to finish before the gags have a chance to become groan-worthy. Leandri’s art follows in the trail of Kirby-pastiche blazed by the likes of Steve Rude and Rick Veitch, with a look both elegant and dynamic. This is one of the better Kirby tributes out there—one that is powered by the same type of imagination found in the King’s work, but not merely limited to slavish imitation. I think this sort of thing is what I’d hoped for from Image’s GODLAND, but never quite got.

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THE PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND #1: TEENAGERS FROM MARS scribe Rick Spears returns with another violent tale of youthful rebellion, in a new eight-part series from Image. A young runaway comes to Coney Island and immediately runs afoul of a nasty all-girl street gang, while a gangster falls victim to a shotgun-wielding hitman (as in TEENAGERS, Spears isn’t afraid to make his audience wait while he unspools his plot threads at his own pace). While not a lot happens in this debut installment, the stylized artwork by Vasilis Lolos makes it go down a lot more smoothly—think Paul Pope mixed with Marc Hempel, and you’re on the right track (Lolos also provides the vibrant colours for PIRATES as well). A promising, if not entirely fulfilling, first issue.

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DARKMAN VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS #1: When beloved franchises clash, it can be surprisingly entertaining (FREDDY VS. JASON), or predictably disappointing (ALIENS VS. PREDATOR, anyone?). This new mash-up of Sam Raimi brain-children falls somewhere in between, erring more on the side of insanely nerd-specific and kind of obscure (like, I dunno, DOLLMAN VS. DEMONIC TOYS?). It somehow took two quite talented writers, Kurt Busiek and Roger Stern, to drum up this fairly uninspired crossover, which sees disfigured scientist Peyton Westlake, AKA Darkman, rushing once more to the aid of his old flame, attorney Julia Hastings (who, a quick check of the IMDB confirms, was named Julie in the film—yeah, I’m a dork, what of it?). Seems the lady lawyer has come into possession of the fabled Necronomicon Ex Mortus—roughly translated, the Book of the Dead, and the result is a swarm of crazed Deadites on the rampage. Darkman and Julia/Julie’s assistant use the Book to summon a champion to fight the ghouls, and if you’ve made it this far in the review without figuring out who THAT’S gonna be, then I’m not sure why you’re still reading. All of this sounds a lot more fun than it is; the whole process is fairly laboured, reading like, well, a bad superhero crossover from the seventies or eighties, and James Fry’s art is pretty pedestrian. Do yourself a favour and watch the original movies instead, possibly while acting out your own DARKMAN VS. ARMY OF DARKNESS crossover with your action figures. What? I’m not saying I did that! I swear!

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DORK #11: Well, it’s been a few years, so that means it’s time once again for a new issue of Evan Dorkin’s humour anthology DORK—this time, composed mostly of the cartoonist’s tiny, four-panel “Fun!” strips. For those unfamiliar with the format, these miniscule strips contain mostly immature, pop-culture steeped and toilet-humour based gags and recurring characters like “Myron the Living Voodoo Doll” and “Phil the Disco Skinhead”. Some favourites of mine from this new issue include “David Byrne Gets Alzheimer’s” (If you’re unfamiliar with Talking Heads, this gag won’t mean much) and “Least Popular Dick Tracy Villains” (Dorkin probably could have filled a whole issue with these).While often very funny and insanely detail-crammed, reading an entire issue of this stuff can truly damage your brain after awhile—it’s best read in short, controlled bursts (much like Dorkin’s more famous creation, MILK & CHEESE), possibly while on the can. Not for the squeamish or easily offended, but very funny nonetheless.
Monday, October 9th, 2006
2:38 pm
I'm not sure if I'll be able to get any reviews done for next week, as I'm off for Montreal tomorrow to see the New Pornographers and TV on the Radio, but here's a look at last week's books anyway. Not a lot of images to go with 'em, because Photobucket was giving me a hard time, but that's how it goes sometimes. Anyway...

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THE OTHER SIDE #1: This new five-issue Vertigo series looks at the Vietnam war by paralleling the perspectives of two soldiers on either side of the conflict—a young Vietnamese soldier who is more than willing to lay down his life for his cause, and a terrified American teen victimized by the bloody, mangled ghosts of the grunts who preceded him into battle (as well as a rifle that speaks to him seductively). Newcomer Jason Aaron has a familial connection to this material; it turns out his uncle wrote the novel that Stanley Kubrick adapted as FULL METAL JACKET. Aaron’s script, perhaps tellingly, captures the U.S. side better, mixing imagery like an abusive drill sergeant who bears an alarmingly similarity to R. Lee Ermey’s character in the aforementioned film, with the horrific and ever-muliplying specters that surround his stateside protagonist. The Vietnamese protagonist, unfortunately, suffers from fairly thin characterization so far, but there’s still four issues left for Aaron to flesh him out. Canadian artist Cameron Stewart (SEAGUY, SEVEN SOLDIERS: GUARDIAN) turns in what might be the highlight of an already-impressive career with his work on THE OTHER SIDE. The terrified expressions of the raw recruits, the bug-infested jungles of Vietnam, the blank stares of the blood-soaked apparitions—everything comes to hyper-detailed, terrifying life in Stewart’s hands. Other than the possibility of a supernatural twist (although the ghosts might all appear in the young G.I.’s head), the story doesn’t offer a lot of new insight into the Vietnam war, but this is a promising first issue nonetheless—one that’s worth picking up solely for Stewart’s art.

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CRIMINAL #1: Fans who are still lamenting the demise of Wildstorm’s super-espionage thriller SLEEPER, rejoice—creators Ed Brubaker (DAREDEVIL, CAPTAIN AMERICA) and artist Sean Phillips (MARVEL ZOMBIES, HELLBLAZER) have reunited for this ongoing crime saga from Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint. CRIMINAL’s first issue finds hard-luck small time hood Leo pressed into service by an old cohort and a dirty cop who want him to plan a complicated diamond heist. Leo proceeds to gather up his old gang, unaware that there are more dangerous dimensions to the rip-off than he’s been told about. Brubaker is on familiar ground here, navigating through a sea of quirky lowlifes and quick-cash scam jobs—quite simply, it’s hard to think of anyone who writes better crime comics today (outside of maybe Brian Azzarello, but that one may be too close to call). I’ve never been a fan of Phillips’ work on titles that involved lots of costumed individuals or super-powers (although SLEEPER straddled gritty realism and superheroics quite skillfully), but the artist feels perfectly at home with the seedy, all-too-human cast of a book like CRIMINAL. I’m not sure how this will work as an ongoing series—unless Brubaker plans to switch protagonists every story arc, Leo’s safety is pretty much guaranteed throughout this dangerous assignment—but for now, CRIMINAL is off to a killer start.

DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH #1: A few years back, DC released BATGIRL: YEAR ONE, an excellent nine-issue series that flew under most fans’ radar (lucky for them, the trade is still in print). The story by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty was good, but the simple, stylized art by newcomer Marcos Martin was a revelation. Since then, Martin has kept busy with covers for books like RUNAWAYS and one-shot issues like the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA 65th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL. Finally, though, the criminally under-used artist is back on an extended story arc with this week’s new six-issue mini, DOCTOR STRANGE: THE OATH. Written by Brian K. Vaughan, THE OATH finds Marvel’s Sorceror Supreme putting himself in extradimensional peril to save the life of his servant, Wong, while a mysterious enemy plots against him. The always-reliable Vaughan adds a much-needed sense of humour to the good doctor, while re-invigorating old school Marvel concepts like the Night Nurse (recast here as a covert emergency medical professional for the super-hero set). The much-missed Martin digs his teeth into the premise, embracing the friendship between Stephen Strange and Wong with the same vigour he applies to the Ditko-inspired weirdness of the book’s second half.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET #1: Wildstorm/DC seems to have acquired the license to New Line’s horror heavy hitters—FRIDAY THE 13th, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET—awfully quickly (although, to be fair, both are owned by AOL/Time Warner, so it was only a matter of time), and they seem to have rushed out solicitations for the three tie-in titles equally fast and with little fanfare. I guess, then, that it’s no surprise that the first offering, featuring cult-fave killer Freddy Krueger, feels so bland and rushed. A new family moves to the Freddy-infested hamlet of Springwood and, after her brother falls victim to the razor-fingered fiend, a new female protagonist vows to bring Krueger down. Writer Chuck Dixon—ahem--sleepwalks through this effort, not even bothering to take advantage of the film series’ freaky premise with a single memorable dream sequence. Kevin West’s artwork is dull, sure, but it’s not like Dixon gave him any memorable scenes to inspire him (also, he probably had to work fast—the original solicitation for this comic didn’t mention an interior penciller, which likely means he got the gig pretty late). The trips into the realms of nightmare were the high point of the better ELM STREET film installments, and should make for inspired comic visuals—after all, comic artists aren’t constrained by a budget, only their imaginations—so there’s really no reason this debut issue should be so depressingly pedestrian.

NORTHWEST PASSAGE VOL. 3: Scott Chantler wraps up the first story arc in his “Two-Fisted Historical Adventure” series with this third volume of NORTHWEST PASSAGE. The promise of gritty frontier action set during Canada’s earliest days of settlement might sound dull as dishwater to many readers, but Chantler brings history to exciting and violent life in this series of graphic novel digests from Oni Press. Governor and former explorer Charles Lord fights to retake Fort Newcastle (and, in doing so, rescue his foppish nephew and half-Cree son) from marauding Frenchman Montglave and his army of mercenaries. Chantler’s loose, cartoony artwork is sometimes at odds with the harsh subject matter, whether dealing with Templeton’s filthy escape attempt or Montglave’s cold-blooded execution of his prisoners, but the incongruity isn’t as jarring as one might expect. Rather than using the comic format to rattle off dry facts about frontier life in Canada’s formative years, Chantler merely utilizes the unique setting to spin a richly-detailed adventure yarn that has a surprising basis in established historical fact. All of the story points that were set up in the first two volumes pay off nicely here, and the story is left open for continuance in a further volume (a new revelation about Lord and his son leaves their relationship at an unresolved crossroads).
Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006
11:22 pm
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SOCK MONKEY: THE INCHES INCIDENT #1: Cartoonist Tony Millionaire tends to bounce back and forth between two styles—the elegantly-rendered, finely-detailed look of most of his SOCK MONKEY tales, and the more humourous MAAKIES style of grotesquely squat characters and thicker linework. This latest SM adventure, which finds Uncle Gabby lost at sea thanks to the machinations of the sinister doll Inches, is presented in the latter style, which lends the story a much creepier dimension—to wit, the final panel is bloodcurdlingly weird (in a good way). Otherwise, Millionaire is treading familiar water here…good news for existing fans who are already hooked on the artist’s unique vision, but I can’t imagine all the Pirate-speak and talking toys found within these pages are going to draw a lot of new readers.

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DON’T CRY GN: This new Xeric Foundation-powered graphic novel from Lance Christian Hansen follows two siblings, Francis and little brother Nicky, as they encounter preadolescent turmoil like bullies, first crushes, potential learning disabilities, and impending nuclear Armageddon together. Hansen’s spare narration and simple cartooning style captures the mysteries and frustrations of children on the cusp of near-adulthood in a series of two-to-four page strips. As DON’T CRY reaches its halfway point, we see the two brothers begin to grow up and grow apart, in a series of developments both tragic and inevitable. Fans of BLANKETS and Chester Brown’s earlier work might want to check out Hansen’s promising debut.

BATMAN #657: How is it that, as Paul Dini’s DETECTIVE COMICS run continues to lose steam with increasingly less impressive fill-in artists, Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s BATMAN only gets better and crazier with each installment? This month, Bats brings his ninja-indoctrinated offspring back to the Batcave, where the l’il bastard quickly butts heads with both Alfred and Robin before sneaking out to dispense his own brand of lethal justice in the hopes of impressing his Pops. I don’t know how Morrison is going to wrap this up in just one more chapter, but in the meantime, each issue is jam-packed with action and big, big laughs (like the back-and-forth between two goons working for old school villain The Spook, and the general insane brattiness of little Damian). This issue was so excellent, I nearly forgot that we’re getting a fill-in arc in December while the regular team takes a break.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #2: Brad Meltzer continues to do what he does best in the second issue of his JLA relaunch—he just keeps on coming up with new and cool slants on the inner workings of the super-villain community; this ish sees a familiar do-badder renting out his superpowers to other villains in an inspired way. Being a novelist, Meltzer plots in chapters, looking at the whole storyline as a complet earc with a beginning, a middle, and an end rather than a monthly serial; unfortunately, this can result in some frustrating pacing from month to month. I mean, how many issues are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman going to spend sitting in the Batcave looking at Polaroids and voting on new members? Anyway, I’m sure it’ll all read nicely when it’s finished, and there is enough intrigue to make each issues worthwhile, but this book is a bit more of a chore than it should be.

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THE TRIALS OF SHAZAM #2: I really feel like I should hate this series, with its weirdo reinvention of the Marvel Family and its sometimes cool/sometimes clunky Howard Porter artwork, but for some reason I’m drawn to it. The Big Red Cheese is now a hooded wizard in a white costume who seems to have finally given up and started calling himself Shazam like pretty much everyone else in the world, and in this issue, he summons Freddy Freeman, AKA Captain Marvel Jr., to give him some new marching orders. The whole affair seems so audacious and unworkable, and maybe that’s why I’m so strangely compelled by it. My acceptance of it all probably won’t survive the book’s entire twelve-issue run, though.

DAREDEVIL #89: In the previous arc, Brubaker and Lark did “Oz”, and now they’re bringing DD into James Bond territory. A disguised Matt Murdock hits Monaco in pursuit of a lawyer with ties to the recent turmoil in his life, running afoul of a murderous matador and a new love interest with a possible connection to an old flame along the way. This book lost a tiny bit of steam with last month’s fill-in, but hits the ground running in this debut installment of the five-part “The Devil Takes A Ride” storyline. Can’t Ed Brubaker just write every Marvel book? Even when they get dark and gritty, they’re still loads of fun. Unlike, say…

ULTIMATES 2 #12: Kids, I give you The Mark Millar Formula: start with a dash of supervillain or supervillains running rampant for several issues, slaughtering innocents and dispensing sinister one-liners, then mix in one teaspoon of them begging for mercy like sissies when the heroes inevitably turn the tables on them. Add one pinch of the “hero” executing the now-helpless villain without a whisper of due process, and serve 4-6 months behind schedule. Seriously, this happens, like, seven or eight times in this double-sized issue! Every single member of the Ultimates murders a bad guy here, and Captain America kills a villain who’s already had his hands lopped off. Wasn’t this a sign that Anakin Skywalker had turned irredeemably evil in the last “Star Wars” movie? A lot of readers had theorized that Millar was satirizing the current political climate with the “Grand Theft America” storyline, where the United States (represented here by the Ultimates, of course), gets their comeuppance for throwing their weight around the rest of the world. However, as my Strange Adventures cohort Mike Drake (who was equally, if not moreso, disgusted with this issue) pointed out, this issue’s reversal pretty much shows that none of the characters have learned anything and their triumphant defeat of the Liberators renders any kind of satire or moral pointless. Why do people like this book again? Seriously, I know I sound like a broken record, but I really don’t get it.

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ZOMBIE #1: Oh, great—another friggin’ zombie comic, one with the inspired title ZOMBIE, no less. Actually, as far as the recent spate of undead comics go, this one is actually kind of good, if unnecessary. A bank employee named Simon Garth (a tip of the hat to the titular slackjaw of Marvel’s TALES OF THE ZOMBIE series in the Seventies) is taken hostage during a robbery—and the gang’s getaway route happens to run through a biohazard area where—say it with me—the dead are returning to life and attacking the living. Now, the poor hard-luck case has to evade his murderous captors and the armies of the dead waiting to sink their teeth into all of them. Writer Mike Raicht does a decent job of re-heating George Romero’s leftovers here, and Kyle Hotz delivers the gruesome goods with his Kelley Jones-inspired visuals.
Wednesday, September 27th, 2006
1:16 am
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SE7EN: GLUTTONY: Y’know, one of my favourite things about David Fincher’s 1996 serial killer horrorshow SE7EN is how little actual onscreen violence there is—with the exception of the film’s shocker ending, all of sin-obsessed loony John Doe’s murders are discovered after the fact, allowing the viewer to play detective along with the protagonists. Zenescope clearly missed the point of this element of the movie’s cool factor by releasing a prequel mini of sorts—seven one-shots dealing with Doe and his victims, named after their various sins (if you know the film, then you know that this should get weird and confusing by the time they reach the final two murders). The first, GLUTTONY, deals with the obese shut-in that Doe feeds until he bursts, both before and during his ordeal. Writer Raven Gregory doesn’t really add anything new to the story or the character, other than a feeble attempt to, ahem, flesh out the victim (using clichéd motivational narration like “No matter how much I eat…I still feel empty”). Tommy Castillo’s art is serviceable but dull, and the gruesome excerpts from John Doe’s photo gallery and diaries are distractingly placed. It’s always nice to see film-themed comic tie-ins that aren’t merely rushed adaptations, but I fail to see the need for this.

CIVIL WAR #4: The Mighty Thor shows up on Iron Man’s team to kick everyone’s ass, setting off a deadly chain of events that leads to several defections and more difficult choices. The extra month artist Steve McNiven was allowed to finish this series resulted in this issue sporting some of the nicest-looking art in the series—kudos to Marvel for not going to a fill-in artist. However, I still can’t help but feel like everyone on the Pro-Registration side is acting terribly out of character (well, except for the one member who defects in this issue, and the one who seems about to in the next few weeks). For a particularly jarring example of Mark Millar’s muddy character work, tak a look at this week’s issue of IRON MAN, which takes place before CW begins; in its climax, Tony Stark quite literally gives himself a heart attack to save Captain America’s life, and now they’re on the verge of killing each other. The last-page reveal of SHIELD’s next salvo in the war is a cool tease, but one that is pretty shaky in a “How could this NOT go horribly wrong for everyone involved?” kind of way. That’s one of the problems with writers like Millar and Jeph Loeb—they’re great at crafting fanboy geekout moments and last-page cliffhangers, but not so hot at making them logical in any way. There’s a lot of noise being made already about Marvel’s post-CW landscape, but as this series progresses, it seems less and less like somewhere I’ll want to read about.

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #34: Okay, so clearly I’m a big dope—somehow, I totally missed the fact that the mysterious new characters who appeared in Mike Carey and Pasqual Ferry’s debut UFF issue were based on the Forever People, from the DCU’s Fourth World pantheon. Having finally gotten on board with that, it was a lot easier for me to spot this issue’s Steppenwolf analogue, the tongue-twistingly named Gallowglass, and from there one can assume that when Thanos shows up later, he’ll be standing in for Darkseid. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, as a Kirby fan, I’m loving how this book features a cross-company meeting of some of the King’s greatest creations. Ferry’s artwork continues to look more and more stellar with every issue, and I can’t help but think how much I wish this creative team would be allowed to cut loose on the regular FF series. Still, this is the only ULTIMATE book I have any interest in reading these days…which, of course, means it’s the one most people can’t be bothered with. Go figure.

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THE GOON NOIR #1: In the tradition of HELLBOY: WEIRD TALES, this anthology miniseries allows a bunch of creators to cut loose on Eric Powell’s zombie-bashing tough guy, in appropriately stark black-and-white. Talent as diverse as comedian Patton Oswalt, Bongo Comics mainstay Bill Morrison, and even Powell himself get in on the fun. Most of the stories here are garden-variety GOON fare—heaping doses of zombie carnage, deformed freaks, and foul-mouthed kids abound—but the show-stopper here is rising star Ryan (ZATANNA, X-FACTOR) Sook’s closing number about backyard zombie wrestling. Man, this guy is good! He’s like the bastard child of Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan.

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UNION JACK #1: This four-issue mini keeps up the momentum of the “21st Century Blitz” arc that wrapped up in Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s CAPTAIN AMERICA run last week, as the flag-draped Brit hero teams with other patriotic heroes to stop a major terrorist attack in London. Christos N. Gage, writer of the passable DEADSHOT mini from last year, brings his A-game to this tale of international intrigue, and Mike Perkins keeps the look visually consistent with the action/espionage tone of the monthly CAP book. Along with AGENTS OF ATLAS, this book is probably going to fly under most fans’ radar due to the relative obscurity of its star…which is a shame, because like AOA, it’s one of the more entertaining Marvel titles out there. Additionally, both of these books are also nice places to wait out the ceaseless flood of CIVIL WAR tie-ins.

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AMERICAN BORN CHINESE GN: This new graphic novel from Gene Luen Yang (GORDON YAMAMOTO AND THE KING OF THE GEEKS) shipped a few weeks back (along with the rest of the second wave of titles from new publisher First Second), but I didn’t get to it until this week. Yang’s story combines a Chinese folk tale about a mythical Monkey King, a wacky sitcom featuring an offensive Asian stereotype, and the coming-of-age story of a Chinese teen; these three stories are used to explore themes of cultural alienation, self-loathing, and would-be race assimilation, running in separate chapters throughout the book before combining in a surprising and satisfying twist. Yang’s narrative is as clean and unpretentious as his simple cartooning style, and the book’s message, driven home in a combination of fantasy, humour, and teen melodrama, is omnipresent without being forceful or annoying. This was a nice antidote to all the doom-and-gloom of this week’s “escapist” entertainment, oddly enough.
Monday, September 18th, 2006
12:16 pm
Boy, is this late. Between the launch of the Atlantic Film Festival, various other social engagements, and general laziness, I took my sweet time getting going on this week’s reviews. It was another fairly light week, which means that the last week of this month is probably going to be nuts (although I’m pretty sure we’re looking at a crazy Wednesday this week, too).

Before I get into it, I want to throw out a plug—my cohort at Strange Adventures, Ben Jeddrie (otherwise known as that guy with the red-and-green glasses) has thrown his hat into the comics-blogging ring—check out his reviews at http://www.goodbookreadin.blogspot.com/. I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one who hates DC’s new MARTIAN MANHUNTER series, but go see for yourselves.

Enough excuses, let’s do some reviews!

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PRIDE OF BAGHDAD HC: Vertigo keeps the super-cheap original hardcovers coming (twenty-five bucks Canadian!) with this new political fable from Brian K. Vaughan (Y: THE LAST MAN, RUNAWAYS) and Quebec-based artist Niko Henrichon (BARNUM). Based on the true story of four lions that were set free to wander bombed-out Baghdad in the wake of 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, PRIDE is a talking-animal adventure story in the mold of WATERSHIP DOWN and ANIMAL FARM, one that explores some tough topics raised by the current war—namely, freedom earned vs. freedom given. The four lions—patriarch Zill, elder lioness Safa, her younger counterpart Nurr, and cub Ali—represent the different viewpoints of the Iraqi civilians caught between the U.S. and Saddam; for instance, Safa remembers that life before imprisonment was often more dangerous than captivity, while Nurr dreams of escape from the zoo but is nearly paralyzed by the prospect when the bombs start falling. Vaughan sets himself up for a tough challenge here, giving himself a set of characters who can’t exchange pithy pop-culture references like they do in his other works. Thankfully, he’s up to the task, avoiding preachy moral soapboxing and easy answers (his spot-on plotting and pacing skills don’t hurt either, although a third-act encounter with a rogue bear felt a bit wedged-in for my tastes). The real star here, however, is artist Henrichon, who wrings astonishingly good performances out of the various animal characters while giving eye-popping life to the details of a decimated Baghdad. This is an artist to keep an eye on, because once the mainstream media clues in to the accessibility and relevance of a project like PRIDE OF BAGHDAD, Henrichon is going to be in serious demand. This is an excellent book, one that will hopefully find its way into the hands of the non-comic-reading public soon.

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SAM NOIR: SAMURAI DETECTIVE #1: This is one of those books where two genres get mashed uncomfortably together with somewhat mixed results—I guess you can probably figure out what two genres from the title—but it’s better than it should be, thanks largely to the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously (nor does it play itself for big laughs, either). Artist Manny Tremblay’s black-and-white art looked like what Brian Michael Bendis’ stuff might have turned into, had he dropped all the photo reference and kept at the art chores on a regular basis. I think this might only be two issues long, which is good since the premise doesn’t have a lot of legs in the long term. Not bad for a quick little mini, though.

ANNIHILATION #2: All right, so as this miniseries progresses, I find I’m getting more and more into Andrea DeVito’s artwork and less and less into Keith Giffen’s writing. DeVito’s sorta-bland art seems to be shaping up into something more solid and classically…I dunno, Marvelesque, to coin a phrase. Meanwhile, Giffen’s everything-including-the-damn-kitchen-sink style of crazy space opera is starting to collapse under its own weight; I don’t think he’s left out any space characters from Marvel history, and he’s only on issue two (this installment even brings back the Infant Terrible from an old Lee/Kirby FF, revamped here as “The Delinquent”). Also, doesn’t Giffen (or his editor) have some sort of spell-check program to distinguish “ariel” from “aerial”? Sheesh.

DMZ #11: It’s stand-alone origin issue time, with the focus on Zee as drawn by Wood’s SUPERMARKET collaborator Kristian Donaldson. The five-issue “Body of a Journalist” arc that preceded this issue wore me out by the end, which leads me to believe that this series works better in shorter chunks like the three-issue series opener and this one-shot. Donaldson’s gorgeous art doesn’t hurt, either.

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DOOM PATROL VOL. 4: MUSCLEBOUND: There was a time around the Image Explosion of the early nineties where, disgusted with the direction the industry was headed in, I gave up buying comics…with the exception of Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s gloriously weird DOOM PATROL. This forty-odd issue run was my introduction to the limitless imagination of writer Morrison, whose work here was years ahead of its time—I first read about concepts like virtual reality, nanotechnology, and Chaos Theory in the pages of DP years before they would work their way into the pop mainstream. It’s starting to look like Vertigo is finally going to get around to collecting this amazing run of comics, that inhabit a madcap Twilight Zone between superheroics, sci-fi, humor, and horror, into trade paperback format, hopefully introducing the series to a whole new audience. In this fourth collection (which sports a wonderfully deranged new cover by Brian Bolland), the World’s Strangest Super-Heroes learn the secret origin of Flex Mentallo, Man of Muscle Mystery (in a hilarious redo of those old Charles Atlas muscleman ads), take on the various horrors who rule America from the Secret Pentagon, and prepare for a rematch with Mr. Nobody and his all-new Brotherhood of Dada. Morrison nearly slides into self-parody with a two-parter featuring The Shadowy Mr. Evans and the Sex Men, but even that seemingly half-hearted effort is full of bizarre laughs, and it leads into the “Mr. Nobody For President” storyline that was a highlight of the series. Reading this collection, I was mostly struck with how funny Morrison’s work on this book was; eulogizing her dead son, a woman places a flock of wind-up birds on the grave—“…or ‘boids’, as my dear husband used to call them”, she says. A stand-alone issue titled “The Beard Hunter” takes the piss out of the ultra-violent PUNISHER books that dominated the sales charts at the time, focusing on a hormone-deficient vigilante who…well, hunts and collects beards from his victims (when he’s not ogling muscle mags, that is). Even Morrison’s narrative voice gets in on the laughs. One subplot is introduced with the following captions:

“There is, in the sordid slum quarters of Berlin, a brothel that caters to highly-specialized tasted. It is visited by men and women who are only capable of sexual fulfillment at the hands of ghosts.”

“No, there is! Honestly!”

“I’m not making it up.”

How can you not love that?
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