Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
As always, it’s nice to get a stack of comics reviews in to sort through, and you’re in luck since both of our sets of regular reviewers weighed in today. First up, we’ve got the TalkBack League of A$$Holes, all decked out for the holidays. I particularly like how Buzz Maverick looks wrapped in tinsel...
Cormorant here, and it’s another slightly small week for @$$hole reviews, but what we lack in quantity, we make up for in quality, or more accurately, in quality swearin’! To fill things out a bit, resident “Idea Man”, Vroom Socko (played to perfection by Michael Keaton in the comedy classic, NIGHT SHIFT), had the bright idea of throwing together an @$$hole Holiday Gift List at the end! To hell with clothes and PS2 games and sex toys as gifts for your loved ones this season – if you actually give a damn about comics, give the gift of funnybooks! I’m not saying that the industry will actually dry up and die if you don’t, but…okay, yeah it will. Buy comics!!!
THE LEGION #14
Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – Writers
Olivier Coipel – Pencils
Andy Lanning – Inks
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
In the end of the movie STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, the dad from SEVENTH HEAVEN gets it on with the bald chick in a cosmic gesture that lifts “Veger” the sentient satellite to the next evolutionary level. We never find out what happens to them, although I always thought it would be a perfect irony if this marriage of man and machine ended up as the source of the Borg. Of course, that idea would never really fly: I don’t think that anyone is in much of a hurry to kill the “up” message of the movie, regardless of how much Stephen Collin’s enthusiasm in the situation may have creeped me out as a kid. (“I want this, Jim. As much as you wanted the Enterprise, I want this.” Really? Ew.)
Of course, not everybody is so up about the prospect of machine ascendancy. Sci-Fi writer/mathematician Vernor Vinge writes about a potential phenomenon he calls “The Singularity,” a sort of Malthusian technology theory that he and others feel is not just possible but imminent. The READER’S DIGEST version of the idea is that soon, quite soon, science will create a computer that is actually smarter than we are. This smarter computer will be able to create another computer that is smarter than it is. In turn, this computer will be able to create an even smarter computer. And these developments will continue, with machines of increasing intelligence being developed with no end in sight. What is more, this will occur at such a blinding and ever-increasing speed, the human race will be left behind, and a new post-human era will be ushered in. The consciousness of these machines will be inconceivable given the limits of human thought. As Vinge put it, the relationship of our consciousness to theirs will be analogous to the one between ours and the goldfish (with us as the goldfish).
Of course, there’s more to Vinge’s theory than that. But the point is we’re screwed. I bring all this up because the evolution of machines is also the central idea to THE LEGION #14. The collective machine menace known as Robotica is looking to evolve, and they’ve taken over Earth in order to do it. Thankfully, the Legion will stop them. Or will they? The super-smart Legionnaire named Brainiac 5, after being held prisoner by the leader of Robotica, a robot he created named Computo, decides that letting Computo evolve would be the best course of action. His reasoning is that once the machines evolve, they will achieve moral enlightenment and stop being bad guys. Well, we can hope that that would be the case; but judging by the way the humanity sometimes treats other less advanced species here on this planet, I don’t know. And I’m not just talking about malevolence; there’s the goldfish relationship I mentioned before: danger to the human race would not be born of the same lack of regard one might feel towards the goldfish you just flushed down the toilet.
So there were some interesting ideas in THE LEGION #14; ideas that they tried to tell a story around. Unfortunately, this surrounding story had some problems. A few months back I reviewed THE LEGION #8, wistfully claiming that I would enjoy the book more as I got to know the characters. Well, it’s six issues later and I still don’t know the characters -- and subsequently I’m not enjoying the book more. To me, it’s still a story about a bunch of anonymous strangers.
(Well, okay, for some of the characters, I do have more of an inkling as to who they are. Timber Wolf is the Wolverine guy. Kid Quantum is the standard New Leader Trying to Cope with the Responsibility of Her Position. Saturn Girl is the blonde one. And, well, that’s about all I know at this point, or at least all I can remember.)
The point is that you can have the best story ideas in the world, but if you can’t build coherent story around it with characters you recognize, the comic won’t work. How long does one have to feel like a newbie with this book? Whatever nice moments the book may have had did not compensate for this frustration.
And the art didn’t do much to ease this frustration. It wasn’t horrible, but I thought there were still some problems that took me out of the story. The climax, where one character exclaimed that he felt as though he was “touching the face of God” didn’t look nearly as spectacular as it should have. An even bigger annoyance was the fact that some of the action was indistinct. I hate that. Was that wall flying out of the way? Falling? What?? The rest of the book was drawn in a scratchy but colorful style that I thought had a bit of a manga feel to it; not a bad style when it works, but not my favorite.
So in other words, this is a negative review. THE LEGION #14 just wasn’t a very reader friendly comic book. Whatever good ideas it had couldn’t overcome the fact that the story didn’t connect. Although all the LEGION issues I’ve read have had some nice moments along the way, this inability to connect has been my overriding problem with the title. And yet despite this, I’m giving the sucker one more chance with the next issue. Think I’m crazy? Crazy like a fox: THE LEGION #14 was the end of a story arc, and I’m hoping that in the breather in between, Abnett and Lanning will give me an opportunity to know some of these people. One more chance for THE LEGION, one more chance for Abnett and Lanning to let my enjoyment evolve to the next level. And yes, I just said that.
ULTIMATE WAR #1
Written by Mark Millar
Drawn by Chris Bachalo
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by The Comedian
“The Ultimate Fill In Issue” is more like it. This issue felt more like Ultimates #8 with Bachalo as fill in artist while Hitch ices his tired wrist. Not much to say about it. Millar does his patented shock value, post-9/11 grave robbing, this time having Magneto blow up the Brooklyn Bridge, killing everybody on it. And it’s supposed to be soooo sad because he introduces us to some of the people sitting in traffic beforehand. Cap goes after Rogue and the hapless Brotherhood, who are sitting around a TV on the couch in a cramped apartment like it’s a fucking Friends episode. Rogue seemingly escapes until Hawkeye takes her down with one of his trick arrows. Cap briefs the team and Wanda & Pietro show up with their own reservations about joining up. Cut to Tony Stark in an empty X-Mansion. NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS.
What really bugged me about this issue was Millar falling back again on the cheap trick of using “realistic” devastation for shock value. It’s condescending and not just the least bit exploitive of current real-world situations. The same goes for the bit about the government profiling Mutants the way our real government profiles Arabs. Like the Hulk storyline in Ultimates it doesn’t seem that there’s any relevant commentary on real world events going on here. Millar’s just riffing on them to get a cheap rise out of readers. He really needs to learn a new trick.
A more minor disjointing flaw was that this issue apparently takes place after the next Ultimates, which probably won’t be out for another month. So this is our first real intro to the “black ops” team. And since they take a back seat to all this crossover brouhaha (though technically it’s not a crossover since Soul Patch & The Gang never even fucking show up) it’s a weak intro at that.
Truth of the matter is that good over bad I actually like the Ultimates most of the time because it’s such a blatant bastardization of the original and that makes it all the more easy for me to distance the two and just enjoy it. Most of the characterizations, for all their ugliness, are still pretty solid. What sucks is when Millar goes on shock value, hipster autopilot.
I hope this story picks up. I have a creeping suspicion next issue will be mostly X-Men with The Aven-Jerks springing up to throw down with them in the last few panels.
Wake me up for Cap Vs. Soul Patch.
R.A. SALVATORE’S DEMONWARS: TRIAL BY FIRE #1 (of 5)
Writer: Scott Ciencin
Artist: Ron Wagner
Publisher: CG Entertainment (a division of CrossGen)
Reviewed by Cormorant
That title’s quite a mouthful, eh? That’s what happens when creators’ names are tagged onto series they’re not actually involved in (see also, TOM CLANCY’S NET FORCE and STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ‘TAKEN’). Don’t let it scare you too badly, though. This five-part fantasy miniseries produced through CrossGen’s non-continuity subdivision, CGE, actually struck me as being noticeably more enjoyable than any of their in-continuity schlock fantasy. The setting is taken from the DEMONWARS novel series by R.A. Salvatore, the populist fantasy author who’s sold bajillions of Dungeons & Dragons books about the adventures of a dark elf who defies his evil heritage and whups up on bad guys like there’s no tomorrow. I read the first trilogy staring the character when I was in junior high (these fantasy novels always come in trilogies), and it was a pretty entertaining, if shallow, bit of pulp adventure. Since then Salvatore’s apparently written several more trilogies staring the character, maintained a very loyal following, and finally gone off and done his own non-D&D-licensed story with the recent DEMONWARS novels.
Now Salvatore is no Tolkein – in fact, he’s closer to fantasy’s answer to Dean Koontz or Jackie Collins – but he’s an adroit storyteller who knows how to push readers’ buttons, so I’m not really surprised that a comic featuring his characters is instantly more appealing than all the other swords-and-sorcery books from CrossGen. It’s not that the setting is especially innovative, with its gemstone magic, evil dwarven raiders, and warrior heroes, but the battles are staged with some verve, the dialogue’s got some snap, and the story gets going with a pace that highlights the utterly glacial pacing of everything else at CrossGen simply by contrast. Salvatore, of course, isn’t actually writing the book, but writer Scott Ciencin has a similar background in licensed fantasy novels, and does a solid job of recreating what I remember as Salvatore’s fast-paced style, charismatic style.
As the story opens, we’re hip deep in combat as axe-wielding dwarves threaten to overrun a Viking longboat-style ship of barbarians, only to be dispatched by a beefy Thor look-alike who swims aboard from a nearby shore. Thor-boy is named Andacanavar and he fights with a deadly sword style apparently learned from hangin’ with the elves of his world. He saves the crew, but his association with magic they don’t understand makes them extremely distrustful of him. Like Mel Gibson’s William “Braveheart” Wallace, however, he’s a sly talker and ladies’ man in addition to being a world-class asskicker, and it’s not long before the barbarian chieftain’s daughter is taking a liking to him and his worldly ways. Surprise, surprise, the chieftain is pissed, though the deadly giants and dwarves of the DEMONWARS world end up presenting a more tangible threat before long. Against this central story we have subplots involving clerical magic users who only heal those who convert to their faith, internal bickering and dissent among the dwarves, and one or two mysteries which I presume stem from the novels.
All told, it’s a fun opener of an issue. There’s a fairly mainstream, even Hollywood feel to the proceedings, but considering how long the comics world has gone without a solid, populist fantasy comic, it actually feels welcome. I like the warrior-poet lead, even if he’s somewhat typical of Salvatore’s heroes; I like the moral ambiguity of the clerics who only heal their followers; I like the banter of the dwarves, and their viciousness in contrast to Tolkein’s heroic tradition; I like that no one is talking about epic quests or saving the world just yet; and I like the art. Ron Wagner is the man behind the pencils, and if his art is a little more jagged and unrefined than the typical CrossGen title, it’s also more energetic and bold. I think about 90% of the appeal of CrossGen’s books comes from their art, and as a result, I expect Wagner’s workmanlike approach to be a non-draw, or perhaps even a turn-off for CrossGen readers. Their loss, I say, because the art is actually quite elaborate, and the story’s more instantly appealing than anything I’ve read in SOJOURN, MERIDIAN, or SCION.
Final judgment: When I recommend fantasy comics to folks, I usually go with the small-press titles that are, in fact, the best of the bunch: BONE, CASTLE WAITING, and THIEVES & KINGS. All are hard sells because of the black and white art, so I’m happy to finally see a color fantasy comic on the stands that I can recommend to the mainstream crowd. DEMONWARS is slick and commercial and everything they’re not, and how can you not like a story that has a pack of dwarves smashed into paste by a giant’s club? Plus, it’s a limited series, so I can look forward to an actual conclusion to the story, conclusions being one of those oh-so-traditional literary device I’ve found to be sorely lacking in CrossGen’s other fare. I like endings.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #3
Written by Peter David
Art by ChrisCross & Chris Sotomayor
Published by Marvel Comics
A Jon Quixote review
I get the impression that Peter David is the type of guy who brings nuclear weapons to a gunfight.
At the half-way point of this whole U-DECIDE event, David is laying a licking on his competitors so severe the LAPD would cringe at the sight. From a quality perspective, the only way Jemas or Zimmerman could claim victory would be if they imported a French judge. From a sales perspective, if you’re buying either of the other “comics” in this faux-competition and not CAPTAIN MARVEL, you’re probably the same sort of idiot who changes the channel to SURVIVOR when SCRUBS is on (and stop that, by the way).
I hate to buy into the whole fabricated contest orchestrated by Jemas’s business degree and give it even more publicity, but the fact of the matter is that U-DECIDE has officially become a good thing. Even though there should be a 4-Color Geneva convention in the wake of the crime against humanity that has been MARVILLE, anything that causes David to raise his writing to this level has to be praised and commended.
CAPTAIN MARVEL is an amazing superhero comic in that I’ve never read it before. It doesn’t play by the rules. It’s new. Not “let’s make Kraven a T.V. star new,” but an actual original concept and story, the likes of which I thought was extinct from modern comics. Combined with a page-turning follow-through, the result is dynamite. It’s fresh, it’s intriguing, it’s fun, and the art and character design might just do for comics what TERMINATOR 2 did for special effects and film. It’s awesome and an official must-read.
Or would be, if it didn’t get so damned cute sometimes.
For the most part, CAPTAIN MARVEL is very adult. There is a moral ambiguity that you don’t usually see in the didactic parade that usually marches through hero comics, and David’s goal appears to be to ask more questions than he answers. Violence and consequence are closely tied, and the hard images are dealt with unflinchingly. But then, occasionally, David will lapse into something so cutesy that it makes the average episode of FULL HOUSE look like the masturbation episode of SEINFELD.
There is a reason scenes where somebody gets conked on the head and goes cross-eyed before passing out have been relegated to direct-to-video comedies. They’re not funny, and reek of desperation. And when bookended by two scenes of grisly death? It’s a weird and borderline inappropriate pastiche, and does nothing to “lighten” an admittedly heavy book.
The heaviness is a good thing. It makes this comic distinct, and it’s a very engrossing read. But every so often, a bad joke or cutesy name (admittedly, I’m not familiar enough with Captain Marvel to know whether or not Captain En-Vad is a creation of David’s or not, but the effect is still there) will pop up and break the spell the book is casting. An unfortunate result, because it’s a good spell.
Still, compared to the highs the book hits, the cuteness is a minor low. It may keep the book from achieving true greatness, but there’s more than enough goodness in the pages to keep me happy. More than happy. Impressed. Very, very impressed.
Written by Geoff Johns
Drawn by Pascual Ferry
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by The Comedian
Who is Superman? Really? How can his picket fence jingoism and apple pie values be made relevant in these troubled gray times? Is he “more than a bird, more than a plane, more than some pretty face beside a train”? Is he “only a man in a silly red sheet”? If I hear that goddamn Five For Fighting song one more time I’m going to put on a “silly red sheet” and jump out of a fucking window!
Most readers KNOW who Superman is, those who read his monthly books especially. Unfortunately, a year and a half after one of the greatest Superman stories EVER (Action Comic #775) most of the writers handling him still feel the need to reiterate his relevance over and over again with each storyline. They’re probably doing it more for themselves since they apparently have no clue how to write him.
It-boy Geoff Johns takes a crack at the Big Blue enigma with Superman #189, which kicks off the “Lost Hearts” storyline running in the Superman titles. He falls into the aforementioned trap and even squeezes in the now apparently obligatory ethical confrontation with Batman, another crutch that many Superman writers have lately fallen back on.
“Lost Hearts” begins with some streak-haired hipster and her Gila monster fighting off three creepy hobos who look like they’re about to flash her. From that disjointed opener we go to Lana Lang and her husband, Vice President … Pete Ross. (I’m sorry, but thanks to this retarded President Luthor storyline they’ve been dragging along for the past two years, I now find the comic book Lana & Pete even more skittishly out of place than their P.C., global village, WB counter parts.) They’re discussing the rash of disappearances in “Hells Heart”, apparently the worst neighborhood in Washington D.C. (I though Washington D.C. was the worst neighborhood in Washington D.C.). Lana treats him like a stooge and even makes a slight comment about how she settled for him over you-know-who.
Then we go to the tired “gee look how bland Clark Kent is” scene with him in a diner eating corn flakes. That’s till some generic elemental guy named Mr. 104 shows up reeking havoc. He almost has Supes nailed when he turns into Kryptonite. Then Power Girl makes a gratuitous booby-shot-free cameo saving the day. Later, Pete calls Clark up for help because now Lana’s gone missing into “Hell’s Heart” as well. Clark’s about to go the Matches Malone route till that tactless creep Batman show up. Then finally we get the heavy handed “You’re not like me, Clark” scene that we’ve read only about a billion times in the last 5 or so years OUTSIDE of JLA. Meanwhile poor Lana has apparently been turned into a pale zombie hobo or hobo-ette or whatever.
The problem with most recent takes on Superman is that they’ve wasted so much time trying to rationalize him. They should really just chill out with the deconstruction and just tell some original kick-ass stories instead. Maybe wrap up this shitty President Luthor storyline already. I’m not saying that this whole “Lana kidnapped by zombie crack heads” story isn’t somewhat interesting. I just hope they don’t waste the whole storyline showing Clark goofing up as a detective and learning more about his limitations. It’s been done before, TO DEATH. And the only thing worse than writers constantly redefining and rationalizing Superman is them constantly comparing and contrasting him with Batman. Batman has had more adventures with Superman in the past 5 years than he’s had with Robin for Christ’s sake. Hopefully when Loeb & McGuiness do the ongoing series next year that will be the only place for all of that. After all the shit DC gave Wildstorm about Apollo and The Midnighter you’d think they’d put a little distance between the World’s Finest. But the way they’re going they’re actually starting to seem to have more “issues” than their lowest common denominator counterparts.
Who is Superman? John Byrne got it. Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve got it. George Reeves got it. Shit, even fucking Keanu Reeves could get it. It’s so simple. Superman is a cool, confident guy who swaggers around like he could punch a hole straight through Mt. Everest. That’s because he can punch a hole straight through Mt. Everest. He also happens to be an idealist with high ethics. That’s it. That’s all. Throw in a great story, with action, plot, characterization, rinse and repeat. It’s not quantum physics.
IRON WOK JAN! Vol.1
Writer/Artist: Shinji Saijyo
Reviewed by Cormorant
A cooking comic?! Oh, I gotta be shittin’ you guys, right?!! No, my friends, I am most certainly not shitting you. IRON WOK JAN! is one of those nutty, cuckoo Japanese comics, and if you know anything about Japanese comics at all, you should know that they cover a much broader spectrum of topics in comparison to most American comics - from sports to politics to pachinko gaming to the zillions of samurai and giant robot epics that we mostly remember them for. The track record for quality is as hit-and-miss as you’d find in any country, but I’m definitely drawn to the sheer novelty of the concepts, and after having luck with basketball manga (HARLEM BEAT), cat-humor manga (WHAT’S MICHAEL?), and political manga (EAGLE), how could I resist the sheer oddity of a cooking manga?
And the experiment paid off. IRON WOK JAN! isn’t brilliant, but the novelty value is insanely high, and I challenge anyone to read this tale of a cocky young chef taking a position at a prestigious Chinese restaurant in Tokyo and not come away smiling. Take the opening chapter, which introduces us to Mutsuju Gobancho, the wizened founder of the restaurant, who’s treated with all the reverence and awe of a martial arts sensei. Just as his restaurant is closing in the evening, our teen hero, Jan Akiyama, steps in, looking for all the world like some no-account hoodlum with his leather jacket and piercing gaze. He demands food, but when the staff hurries a meal to him, he actually insults their cooking and dumps the food into the trash! Suddenly honor is at stake! Who is this young punk to walk in late and insult one of the finest restaurants in all of Tokyo?! Suddenly, in a burst of melodrama that I’d liken to Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” walking into a bar, Jan flips his leather jacket off, revealing a white chef’s shirt underneath! Holy shit, this runt is a chef, himself, and he actually wants to show them how it’s done! When he picks up a wok and starts cooking in his wildly frenetic style, the room is cowed by his arrogance and talent! Gasp! Choke! Just then, the head chef suddenly realizes that this is the grandson of the restaurant’s chief rival, a legendary chef who died just recently! Could he possibly be the new hire he’d heard about?! AND WHAT WILL THIS MEAN FOR THE RESTAURANT?!!!
Did I go overboard with the exclamation points there? Trust me, they’re warranted. The melodrama in IRON WOK JAN! is actually cranked up to that degree for most of the book, and it’s a huge part of the charm. Cooking is treated with all the seriousness of the samurai code of Bushido, rival chefs are practically rival warriors, and that sleazy food critic who shows up in a later chapter is a villain of the highest order! Jan himself is an arrogant prodigy, driven, we see, by memories of his abusive but brilliant grandfather. The aforementioned scene where Jan humiliates the chefs of the Gobancho restaurant is actually my favorite display of his talents, as he sets out to make the deceptively simple house specialty of fried rice, but with the bold addition of…tofu! The other chefs are shocked. How can he fry the tofu without it crumbling? And won’t it lose its water if it crumbles? Everyone thinks he’s crazy, but in an inspired and hilarious moment, there’s a deep pause from the manager, who then acknowledges with the deepest import, “No, it’s possible.” And so it is, as Jan suddenly breaks out a second wok for his crazed-but-brilliant cooking technique! The resulting dish is delicious, and narrative captions even give the reader specifics as to why it worked – too cool!
At this point, you should either be rolling your eyes at how ridiculous this all sounds, or grinning at how deranged and amusing it is. If it’s the latter, you should definitely give this book a go. Beyond the wild cooking showdowns, it appears the backdrop will be Jan’s slow maturation from being a brilliant loose cannon to a team player. He’s good, but inexperienced too, and a crushing failure halfway through the first volume reveals that he’s got a long way to go before achieving his dreams of becoming the greatest chef in Japan. Of course, he’s also got a rivalry going on with a pretty girl chef who just happens to be Gobancho’s granddaughter. A blossoming romance seems so obvious that I’m a little afraid it’ll be ridiculous, but the basketball manga, HARLEM BEAT, had a similar friendship between a guy and a girl basketball player that impressively never went beyond a strong professional friendship. I’m hoping for a similar avoidance of the dreaded MOONLIGHTING love/hate syndrome in IRON WOK JAN.
Visually, IRON WOK JAN!, is a solid example of the manga tradition of cartoony characters and realistic backdrops. Images of food are drawn and shaded with near photorealism, but when Jan is cooking, out come the frenzied motion lines and cartooniness as his already-dark eyes become pupil-less and outright demonic to indicate his nearly transcendental state. It’s an odd mix to those familiar only with American or Euro comics, which usually find a single style and stick with it, but I think it’s very effective for a comic as over-the-top as IRON WOK JAN!. I did have trouble interpreting a few panels, especially during the more kinetic cooking sequences, but hopefully the storytelling will become more streamlined as the series progresses. Incidentally, the book is read right-to-left in the Japanese tradition, a growing trend among American translations of manga.
Final judgment: My knowledge of cooking ends somewhere between Pop Tarts and scrambled eggs, but the innovative and outrageous IRON WOK JAN! has definitely hooked me. The dishes prepared within are pretty twisted, and I can’t say they did much to whet my appetite, but my god man, the drama behind their preparation – the sheer, ridiculous DRAMA!!! I am greatly amused.
FIRE: A SPY GRAPHIC NOVEL
by Brian Michael Bendis
published by Image
reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Going through the ol' @$$hole mailbag, I often come across letters like this one from Wyle Peyote of Yamuddah, NY: "Dear Buzz, What do you do for a living? Anything?"
Or this one by X-Ray Ted of Zucchini, FL: "Dear Buzz, Are you on welfare or something?"
The truth is, guys, I am the middle manager of the remote viewing unit of a "nonexistent" CIA blackbag operation called "The Tank". The money is good, the coffee is free, we get discounts at Disneyland, etc. Yer probably saying, "Buzz, if you were really a psychic spy for the Company, you wouldn't be writing about it on AICN." I say, "Au contraire. Like, who'd believe me anyway?" Then, you'd say, "Well, aren't you afraid somebody is going to kill you?" I say, "Hey, I'm a remote viewer. I'd see it coming and be ready." Which reminds me, I gotta go clean the skeletons out of the pit in the backyard.
The other day, I was making my rounds at work, checking out what my posse (as they call themselves despite the fact that I've ordered them to knock it off!) was doing.
"Uh, Buzz, I've got Bin Laden dead to rights. I can give the exact coordinates."
"Don't even bother, Ronster! We keep telling the Pentagon and they keep sending us cash. What do you have, Lucy?...More aliens? I don't want to hear alien stuff, Lucy. You know that. What about you, Waco Fred?"
I could tell Fred was upset about whatever he viewed. I took him into my office and poured him a tumbler of tequila.
"Should we be drinking on government time, Buzz? Won't that cloud our viewing?"
"That's cute. Now why the long face?"
"I saw something. I watched it take place over a number of years. It involved a young spy named Ben, being tortured by Agency people. All the images were stark, black and white, but powerful and realistic at the same time. This Ben was a college student in the early '80s. He spots this really sharp looking babe in a museum. She's recruiting him into the Company because he's an orphan and a poly-sci major."
"Well, seduction is a common recruitment tool. I often regret that I wasn't recruited for this job but just took a stupid civil service test."
"He goes to work this other woman, I'll swear she looked just like Candace Bergen."
"CARNAL KNOWLEDGE Candace Bergen, or late MURPHY BROWN Candace Bergen?"
"Anyway, this Ben gets involved in the usual dirty dealings but it turns out that there's a larger, yet more intimate conspiracy going on."
"Okay, Fred. You have nothing to worry about. All of this takes place in Brian Michael Bendis' incredible graphic novel FIRE. I was just reading it the other day. You probably viewed my copy."
"Bendis? The guy who writes DAREDEVIL and ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN?"
"I try not to judge others, Fred. Besides, he also writes ALIAS and POWERS. Those other two books are probably just for money."
"This is a relief, Buzz. All the while I was seeing this spy stuff, I was thinking that it would make a great graphic novel. And I couldn't figure out why everyone was two dimensional and in black 'n' white."
"Okay. Get back to work. Try to see if you can dig up anything on the new SUPERMAN movie so I can let Moriarty at AICN know."
THE @$$HOLE CHRISTM@$$ LIST
Christmas time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all that children
call their favorite time of year.
--A Charlie Brown Christmas
Hey gang, Vroom Socko here. With Sunday’s airing of Sparky Schultz’s classic, the holiday season is officially underway. The showing sure was a blast here at @$$hole HQ. Unfortunately, we ended up drinking our collective weight in Egg Nog, and the night went straight to hell. It was during this madness that we wrote up the following list of potential Christmas gifts. Or Hanukkah gifts - we’re not holiday biased. Except by the time you read this Hanukkah will be over…
So, our Christmas lists. If you’re shopping for a comic book geek, or you yourself want to ask for some four-color goodness, you’re sure to find something on this list. Since we were all drunk on Nog, (and can never agree on a format when we’re sober anyway,) the following lists are transcribed as written, or in my case, gouged into the table with a Ka Bar. What can I say; I’m a mean drunk, and I take my Egg Nog without sugar. Or eggs. Or milk…
For the really smart kid with the really overprotective parents: The Adventures of Barry Ween: Boy Genius. He'll laugh his head off; his parents will think a comic based on that Nickelodeon TV show would have to be masturbation-joke-free.
For the literary snob who turns up his nose at comics: Sandman, Volume 6 Fables & Reflections. Shakespeare, Ancient Rome, Mark Twain. This trade is a masturbation joke away from actually having it all.
For the family that hates Stupid, Stupid rat creatures together: Jeff Smith's BONE trade paperbacks. It's like Disney for grown-ups: An amazing mix of whimsical comedy, high-adventure and real drama, but without any pandering and treacle.
For the guy tired of solid bowel-movements: A big box of Christmas oranges. Ugh, why did I eat the whole damn thing?
THIEVES & KINGS VOL.1 - Introduce yourself to the smartest, wittiest, most imaginative fantasy comic being published with this volume. Dialogue to match Bendis, concepts to match Morrison, and world-building on the order of Tolkein (except…it’s completely different).
SCENE OF THE CRIME: A LITTLE PIECE OF GOODNIGHT - Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark tell a straight-up crime story in this little-known gem from Vertigo, filled with heartfelt characters and great twists and turns. For fans of Chandler novels and/or CHINATOWN.
THE SNOWMAN - Raymond Briggs' classic children's picture book is definitely sequential art, and one of the best silent stories the medium has ever seen. Plus it's all holiday-like! If the Grinch were to read this book, his heart would grow five sizes instead of the normal three and he would die of a massive coronary.
NAUSICAA VOL. 1-4 - *The* best sci-fi/fantasy epic in comicdom, and manga or not, it's got universal appeal. Profoundly moving and bursting with imagination, it’s the closest comics have ever come to literary fantasy epics like DUNE and LORD OF THE RINGS.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Hardcover: Sure, the comic fan on your list may already have it, but this new edition us just too purty.
Comics & Sequential Art: Because Will Eisner is God damnit!
Little Nemo 1905-1914: Magic and wonder personified. The comic fan who's never read Winsor McCay's amazing creation is someone I'd have trouble trusting.
The Ring of the Nibelung Hardcover: This is the best comic of this year, last year, and possibly the year before. Calling it a beautiful, epic masterpiece doesn’t do the work justice. This one belongs on everyone’s bookshelf.
300 - Frank Miller and Lynn Varley team up once again, to astonishing effect, in this historical bloodbath chronicling the last stand of the Spartans at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae. It's a great story, concisely and confidently told, and beautifully illustrated. I love my single issues, but that expanded hardcover edition is a whole other animal, one that I'm dying to get my hands on. History buffs, and comics fans wanting to remember why they should like Frank Miller in the first place, will treasure this book.
Frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean's extremely ambitious 500 page graphic novel has been in and out of print, but is currently available online and is taunting me at my local comics store. McKean's surrealistic mixed-media artwork can be intimidating, particularly in large doses, but the introspective storyline, pondering the origins and limits of creativity, is right up my alley. I'm gonna sit down with this book after I see ADAPTATION, and see if my head explodes.
NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF WIND, PERFECT COLLECTION: all the volumes of Miyazaki's Manga masterpiece, in one uberspiffy box set. Know someone who's watched and enjoyed Princess Mononoke, or any of Miyazaki's other wonderful films? Love them yourself? You must read this. Epic fantasy goodness, regarded by some as Miyazaki's most powerful work in any medium.
1)THE SQUADRON SUPREME -- It's the KINGDOM COME that came first and without any pretense, written by the late Mark Gruenwald, a talent who should be revered. With a new SQUADRON series coming up in 2003, this might help new readers.
2)FORTUNE & GLORY by Brian Michael Bendis -- I just read this so it's fresh in my mind. Since AICN is primarily a movie site, this blends the worlds of comic and film creation and it genuinely made me laugh.
LEAVE IT TO CHANCE, VOL. 1: SHAMAN’S RAIN, by James Robinson and Paul Smith. This is the perfect book to stick under the nose of kids who still like books with pictures and who watch cartoons and Disney movies. It's just scary enough to keep them hooked, and it's got action and adventure. It's got a little girl protagonist, which is unusual in comics, and is a classic all-ages story with a clean art style that reminds the older reader of Tintin, Annie and Dondi.
JIMMY CORRIGAN, WORLD'S SMARTEST BOY by Chris Ware, published by Pantheon Books. This one has received massive critical acclaim and won all kinds of awards because it damned well deserves it. It's a haunting, melancholy story of a sad, lonely man who never gets the chance to be anything else, but his life is echoed through glimpses of his father and grandfather's childhoods as well. The art incorporates a draftsman's precision and a unique palate. Even more proof that comics really is a legitimate art form, as if any more were needed. Amazing.
SWAMP THING: SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING by Alan Moore with art by John Totleben, Steve Bissette and Shawn McManus. Published by DC Comics. Brother Buzz loves him some swamp monster comics, but who doesn't? Moore redefined both the character and the concept of what a horror comic could be here in a defining storyline that laid the groundwork not only for the balance of his run but for the Vertigo Universe. Any horror comic fans or Vertigo fans will appreciate the historical importance of this one right along with the fantastic story.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN VOL.1: POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY written by Brian Michael Bendis and art by Mark Bagley. The Ultimate line has sparked much heated debate, and there are those who'll tell you Bendis takes too long to get the stories moving. That said, there's no question this book has been hot for three years now, and it does a great job of telling familiar stories with a new twist in a contemporary setting. Besides, you won't know where you stand on the controversy if you don't read it, will you?
Top Ten Volume 1, by Alan Moore, Zander Cannon and Gene Ha. Published by Americas Best Comics. Hill Street Blues, superhero style. The Top Ten Precinct polices the city of Neopolis, created by the science heroes of WII, and inhabited by a superpowered populace. A great read with extremely detailed art (lots of Easter Eggs, kids!) to go along with Moore's hilarious and often satirical look at superheroes. And it has a talking dog! More on the mature readers side, but great for a life-long comic book fan.
The Infinity Gauntlet, by Jim Starlin, Ron Lim, George Perez. Published by Marvel Comics. The battle to save the universe has begun! Ahem. Yeah, it's sort of cheezy. But it's a great piece of nostalgia for any Marvel fan, featuring a huge cast of heroes and villains fighting over a reality-altering glove (and the rise to power of one of the coolest Marvel villains ever - Thanos).
JLA/JSA: VIRTUE AND VICE Hardcover - Do you want to see just about every super hero in the DCU done right? Do you want to see how a writer can capture the heart and soul of over forty characters in a single story? Do you want to see epic battles, unusual pairings of heroes, and major bad guys? Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer have put together a ginormous story that pits both the JLA and the JSA against the Seven Deadly Sins and two (count 'em...TWO!) major villains from both team's past. The pair of writers not only keep the action running, but fill the book with one cool moment after another. Best line from the book: After Hawkman whacks the mystery villain in the face with his mace, the baddie blasts the winged warrior and screams, "On to your next life, warrior!" Cool stuff for those who have followed Johns writing throughout the last few years. And if you haven't, it's a good chance to see what all the hype is all about.
KINGDOM COME Deluxe Hardcover Set - Man, Cormorant isn't going to like this, but I can't help but recommend Mark Waid's epic tale set in the near future of the DC Universe. It's Alex Ross art at its best. It's heroes battling heroes battling villains battling heroes. All for the fate of the universe. The battle between Superman and Captain Marvel at the end is one of the most memorable fights in comic book history. Corm be damned. This book is worth it. The HC comes with a nifty leatherbound sketchbook and a new epilogue. Good stuff.
THE CROW First Series Trade Paperback - My copy of this book is frayed and marred because I have loaned it out to so many friends to read. This tale of love, murder, and vengeance can't be beat. The pages drip with emotion. James O'Barr really taps the vein in this story, brings tears to one's eyes with his beautiful black and white art, and deals with his own personal demons while entertaining us all with a touching and beautiful story of loss. Forget the horrible movies that followed. This story is comic gold.
OINK: HEAVEN'S BUTCHER Trade Paperback - That's right. Oink! The genetically enhanced swine who takes devilish glee in slicing and blasting anything that comes into his path. John Meuller created a bizarre mix of Mad Max and Animal Farm a while back and this was the series that started it all. Oink fights back against the genetic engineers that created him in an attempt to free his piggly wiggly brothers. It's Conan with a little curly tail, folks. Don't miss it!
SPIDER-MAN: THE DEATH OF GWEN STACY - ** Spoiler alert! **: Gwen Stacy dies in this, one of the classic comic storylines of all time. A little dated in terms of narrative style, but fun nonetheless. This is a must-read for anyone on your gift list with a novice, but serious, interest in comic lore. (Yes, I just said "comic lore." If you want to make something of it, I'll meet you out in the parking lot later.)
SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS - After giving one of my more backhandedly complimentary reviews to writer Jeph Loeb's BATMAN recently, let me turn around and give him a rave: SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS is a beautiful book; a simple, sweet, but well-felt and even a bit melancholy retelling of Superman's early years. This time out, Tim Sale's eccentric art isn't just big, it's panoramic. Know a comic fan with a sentimental streak? This one is sure to get 'em.
SUPERMAN IN THE SIXTIES - Speaking of Superman, let's take a trip back to those days of yesteryear when every line of comic dialog ended with an exclamation point (!). When the circumference of Superman's torso was, oh, about a mile or so. When Jimmy Olsen could put on a Beatles wig and travel back in time to meet Samson. Really. Silver Age comics are not for everyone, but for the comic fan in the right nostalgic/funky mindset, the kitsch in SUPERMAN IN THE SIXTIES, probably the best of all the pre-CRISIS Superman anthologies, is more fun than it has any right to be.
And of course, if you know a comic fan who hasn't already read it, get them Alan Moore's WATCHMEN. A real no-brainer. It's the CITIZEN KANE of comic books, and I feel like a hack for even suggesting it.
Green Lantern/Green Arrow: The Collection by Neal Adams & Denny O'Neal: It all begins here. Real stories, real problems, real heroes. A whole 16 years before Watchmen & Dark Knight. Sure it's a little preachy at times and it feels like "Easy Rider" and "Five Easy Pieces" done with superheroes. Your collection of "classics" will never be complete without. Plus Black Canary gets kidnapped and Brainwashed by the Manson Family. How kinky is that?
David Boring by Daniel Clowes: Millennial Angst, Alienation, Murder and Ass Fetishism never seemed more prolific.
Batman:Son of The Demon (if you can still find it anywhere): Batman knocks Talia up. Wish DC had the balls to keep this in regular continuity like it was before.
Wolverine & Nick Fury:The Scorpio Connection (Good luck tracking down this one too, suckas): So-so art. Great Shield yarn with a groovy pay-off at the end. Like Bats in my previous pick, Nick Fury becomes a poppa too and Marvel had the balls to KEEP this in regular continuity.