Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Man, these guys are going to fly to LA, find the Labs, and kick my ass one of these days. They had this column ready days ago, and I’ve just been delinquent in putting it up. Happy New Year, boys, and I’m sorry I’m so f’ing slow. Also, before you comics fans dig into this, I’d like to invite any of you out there who are interested in illustration, lettering, inking, or layout to get in touch with me at the e-mail address above. I’d love to talk to you about something big that’s brewing this year. Now... bring on the @$$holes in the New Year!!
Happy New Year, ya bums! Cormorant here, and while you might think we’d be too hung over from New Year’s Eve imbibery to work, we actually have a full-bodied column with more reviews than you can shake a stick at! John Quixote and Village Idiot take third looks at CAPTAIN AMERICA and SUPERGIRL, respectively; Vroom Socko rightfully salutes the greatness of the latest G.I.JOE reprint from Marvel; Buzz transcribes another “Li’l @$$holes” clubhouse meeting as they look at SWAMP THING: DARK GENESIS; Ambush Bug ponders the pending conclusion of RISING STARS; Village Idiot wonders if the weaknesses of JLA might also be its strengths; Quixote dramatizes the loss of Gail Simone from AGENT X; I make with the goods on GOTHAM CENTRAL and the latest AVENGERS; and Liz keeps us all honest with the latest installment of “Indie Jones,” zeroing in on the macabre coolness of a self-published comic called SHUCK.
And need I remind you that it’s all a free service to you, our beloved supporters (and even our hated detractors)? A big thanks goes out to all you glorious bastards for making our first half year of uninterrupted weekly columns a blast and a half, and we look forward to your insightful, challenging, and poop-related comments in the TalkBacks.
Now let ‘em have it, Jonny Q…
CAPTAIN AMERICA #7
Written by John Ney Rieber
Pencils by Trevor Hairsine; Inks by Danny Miki
Published by Marvel Comics
A Jon Quixote Oration
“So fight, soldier. Fight harder. Death’s no excuse for surrender – When it’s freedom you’re fighting for.”
- CAPTAIN AMERICA #7, “The Extremists, Part 1 of 4”
The muffled cackling you’re hearing is the sound of Patrick Henry’s hysterical laughter being filtered through six feet of dirt and rotting pine. I can’t wait for the issue where we learn that Cap does more by 7 AM than most people do all day, or reminds us that there is nothing to fear but…
In light of the recent Quesada vs. Rieber disagreement worming its way through the internet gossip channels, I was inspired to revisit the pages of Captain America. The press pieces following the announcement of Rieber’s departure were shielded by the generic Kevlar called ‘creative differences.” Specific issues the two butted heads on, and their respective positions, were left purposely ambiguous. But it occurred to me that my problems with the book may have been editorially mandated, rather than the result of a blatantly incompetent writer. That Rieber may have been forced by the powers that be, post-9/11, to give Cap a propagandist facial, splattering those temple-wings with clichÃ©s and using the burning wreckage of the Twin Towers as a money shot. Perhaps this new arc – the one earmarked to open Rieber’s run before September 11th changed the plans – would unveil a different Rieber, eliminate my criticisms, and force me to dine on Heckyl and Jeckyl cacciatore.
Of course, the moment I invoked one of America’s greatest orators in order to mock this month’s issue, was the moment you figured out that I wasn’t going to be picking feathers out of my teeth this week.
Captain America #7 just delivers more of the same – A standard Cap versus Terrorists story that doesn’t get rolling until the final panel, and is cloaked in a patriotic monologue so banal that it makes “The Battle of New Orleans” look like “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” But there is noticeable improvement over the last arc; buried under the propaganda and the ham-fisted gravity and idiotic thought-box monologue, there might actually be a good comic book here.
Rieber apparently fancies himself a character-oriented writer, and here, he has a little bit of success. Steve Rogers’s new inner city home, and his interaction with his neighbors, is an interesting development, and his efforts to rid the streets of gunfire and gang violence provide at least two memorable moments. Of course, in praising these moments, I’m choosing to ignore some of the most horribly hackneyed dialogue I’ve ever read. Take the following exchange between Steve Rogers and a neighborhood child.
ROGERS: Learn anything good in school today?
BOY: Nah. Just about the sun. How you can’t go there, ‘cause it’s so hot.
ROGERS: Well…Too hot to ride (your) bike, that’s for sure.
I can’t even come up with a witty put-down for that conversation; it would be like pantsing a special needs kid. And, yeah, I got the Cap riding his motorcycle through the forest fire foreshadowing, but that makes the discourse even worse – Rieber was trying to write important and ominous dialogue, as opposed to a simple everyday exchange, but that was the best he could come up with.
But awful dialogue aside, Rieber does give Cap some humanity and, more to the point, some much needed personality. His attempt to rid his neighborhood of guns, and the respect afforded him by the gang members, is a high-point, and actually makes use of this “real world” approach he’s going for. It’s unfortunate that these well-intentioned character-oriented moments are weighed down by Rieber’s pretensions and the absolutely appalling speech-writing. The Chuck Norris-quality monologue would be forgivable if it wasn’t so incessant and if it didn’t seem like the only purpose for the book would be to serve it up to the readers on a platter of self-importance.
About half-way through the book, the “Extremists” plot begins, and there is no surprise that it looks like a standard 80’s superhero story all dirtied up and spandexed down to become a 21st Century “real world” story. And by the time it starts to get going, the comic ends because they devoted so many pages to a nothing dream sequence that delivered one decent visual and a monologue with about as much depth as a WWII V.D. educational film. Credit has to be given to penciler Hairsine; following Cassaday is not an enviable task for any artist, and, a few What The…?? moments aside, he acquits himself nicely under those difficult circumstances. But, overall, Captain America #7 produced little more than yawns, a handful of those being of the Technicolor variety.
When does Chuck Austen start again? I don’t know if his approach will result in a better comic, but it’s obvious that change, any change, is needed because it will be hard for this book to get worse. I only hope that the Powers-that-be don’t judge Austen by the sales of his conclusion-work on Rieber’s last two arcs – because based on this issue, I wouldn’t buy the rest of “The Extremists” if Alan Moore came aboard.
G.I. JOE Vol. 5
Larry Hama: Writer
Rod Whighan: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Real American Reviewer
There are certain comics that stay with you no matter what. I remember the first comic I ever read, my neighbor’s copy of X-Men #29, featuring the Super Adaptoid vs. Mimic. I remember the first comic I owned - the Tintin book The Red Sea Sharks - a gift for my sixth birthday. Then there’s the first comic I bought with my own money; after pushing an honest to God MANUAL push-mower for a buck a lawn, I bought me a copy of G.I. Joe number 45. I remember it mainly for its showdown between Zartan and Rip-Cord, an intense exchange for me as a ten year old @$$hole. Now, thanks to the 80’s boom and Marvel’s TPB’s, I can reread this childhood fave. And you know what? It still kicks ass.
The rest of volume 5, issues 42 through 50, contains several of my favorite Joe moments, but that issue, Rip-Cord and Zartan one on one, is just phenomenal. What makes it so great is that the two combatants don’t just try to outfight each other; they try to outthink each other. To see this happen, on the part of both the hero and the villain, is rare even today. To see it in 1986, not only that, but to see the bad guy win, was unthinkable. Writer Larry Hama may have been telling stories about a bunch of toys, but damn if he wasn’t giving it the best effort possible.
For evidence of this, look no further than Serpentor. In the cartoon, this snake-faced simulacrum was a manic freak, an egotistical sociopath. Here, he’s shown as an intelligent, strong leader who’s not afraid to risk his own life for his troops. Serpentor is inspirational, determined, and just plain brilliant. If it weren’t for the whole terrorism bit, he’d make as strong a hero as Captain America.
Then you have the town of Springfield. In every cartoon, and I mean EVERY cartoon, Cobra had a different HQ, complete with gigantic snake statuary, and every episode had it destroyed while Cobra troops ran around in a panic. In this volume, when the Joes invade the Cobra controlled town, every Cobra soldier, along with their dependents, is evacuated swiftly and efficiently. No trace of their presence remains, everything from documents to official Cobra diapers are destroyed. That’s one of the things that really blew me away when I first read these stories fifteen years ago; not only did the Cobra officers have children, but they were just as devoted to the organization as their parents.
One of the best scenes in the book deals with this; in fact it’s my favorite moment in G.I. Joe comic history. One of the Joes in Springfield is forced to hijack a car, only to find an eight-year-old girl in the passenger seat. He pulls over to let the girl out, only to have her take out a .357 Magnum and hold it on him until his pursuers arrive. I’ve been reading comics for over twenty years, and that is still one of the coolest moments I’ve seen in print. If I could own any original comic art, it’d be those pages.
Marvel has my eternal thanks for reprinting these stories. Not only do they hold up after fifteen years, they’re better than over a third of the books the Big Two put out today. I’m hoping that Marvel keeps putting these out, at least for two more volumes. Vol. 6 should have the return to Sierra Gordo, and vol. 7 will have an amazing Stalker POW story. This is G.I. Joe at its best. Everyone should be picking up these books.
Oh, if anybody out there knows where I can find a good price on X-Men #29, let me know.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Look, I’m ultimately gonna give this latest AVENGERS a good review, so indulge me a moment as I go off on a pet peeve that will eventually relate to it. A few years back, I started noticing an annoying trend in comics that stemmed from the total takeover of computers in the field of typography. It was bad enough seeing Thor’s speech rendered in an unreadable, vaguely-Nordic font by over-indulgent letterers (what, all the thee’s and thou’s didn’t make him sound foreign enough already?), but we actually began seeing little bits of clip art incorporated into caption boxes. Spider-Man’s speech might be bordered by cheesy webbing designs, and at its worst, in a book like SOJOURN, the trend led to captions surrounded by elaborate Celtic patterns, as if the captions were actual three dimensional signs just hovering beside the characters! Arrgghhh! Letterers of the world, there is some room for artistic interpretation in your craft, but first and foremost, words, captions, and speech balloons are about communicating the bare bones of what someone has said or thought – please try not to fuck it up with needless flourishes!
Which brings me to AVENGERS #62, in which a good issue is nearly fucked up with needless flourishes. On page one.
The problem is the interior monologue captions of Jack of Hearts, the team’s resident hothead and the subject of a much-needed spotlight this issue. Presumably to insure that readers wouldn’t confuse his captions with anyone else’s (although he’s the only one who thinks in captions during the entire issue), someone felt the need to actually overlay them with…I can barely say it…little heart icons. You know, ‘cause he’s called Jack of Hearts. So here’s this tragic, hotheaded character, consumed by bitterness over grueling treatments to control his dangerous powers…and his internal monologue is dotted with hearts like some teeny-bopper girl’s diary. I was genuinely impressed with how writer Geoff Johns made Jack’s treatments a sort of grim superhero analog to chemotherapy, but half expected the character to wonder giddily over who was cuter, Justin Timberlake or Leonardo DiCaprio? Since I’m pretty sure that’s not what was intended, I’d like to make a call here to never see those ridiculous goddamn heart icons again!
And the only reason I had to rant in the first place was because such a silly little thing nearly hamstrung an otherwise very dramatic character issue. In the wake of Geoff Johns’ first arc on the book, the Avengers have been recognized by the U.N. as their own world power. Avengers Mansion has become Avengers Embassy, and beyond the political turmoil that’s creating, the team members have been bickering more than the Breakfast Club. The in-fighting is a grand Avengers tradition, but had been feeling a wee bit by-the-numbers until this latest issue got personal with Jack of Hearts and the second Ant-Man (Scott Lang). Continuing the Breakfast Club analogy, Jack would be Judd Nelson, Ant-Man would be Emilio Estevez, and this issue would be the part of the movie where the characters all break down and reveal the dark secrets that made them what they are. Except…even with all the amped-up superhero melodrama, I still think Geoff Johns is less overwrought than John Hughes.
Ant-Man’s problem is that, after struggling for years to overcome a criminal record by being both a superhero and a good single parent to his daughter, he loses her to his ex-wife in a surprise custody hearing. I’ve always liked Lang, a sort of everyman superhero, much the same way I like wannabe-actor-turned-superhero, Wonder Man. And while superhero dialogue can sound corny when taken out of context, I challenge readers not to be moved when a broken Scott Lang returns to the Avengers Embassy from the custody hearing and asks, almost embarrassedly, if the Avengers, “still have room for another insect?” It’s almost ridiculous, but in context and wed with Gary Frank’s visuals, it’s a surprisingly touching scene.
Jack’s story runs parallel with Lang’s, with an eye towards revealing how these two heroes, who’ve taken an instant dislike to one another, are suffering from surprisingly similar problems with isolation. In Jack’s case, of course, the isolation is physical. The explosive nature of his powers requires him to spend ten hours a day in a completely empty chamber surrounded by seven-foot-thick concrete walls. Even so, he still experiences pain as a result of the radiation that fuels him, and when Hank “Original Ant-Man” Pym reveals that Jack’s condition is worsening, readers may be reminded of their own frustrations with the limits of medicine. Jack’s scenes with Pym also recap his history in a very concise manner, which is handy for folks like me who always thought Jack looked insanely cool, but didn’t know squat about his story. Word on the street is that an Avenger might die in the coming year, and it’s a testament to Johns’ handling of the irascible Jack that I really hope he’s not the character who “gets it.” Actually, I hope none of ‘em get it, because offing longstanding characters is even more of a pet peeve for me than silly heart icons, but that’s another rant for another day…
The art on the book comes courtesy of Gary Frank, now on the second issue of his three issue guest stint. Frank’s style combines traditional superhero cinematics with detail reminiscent of George Perez, and it’s quite good, though his heroes look just a little skinny and awkward every once in a while. My guess is that Frank’s time spent on the horror comic, MIDNIGHT NATION, means he needs a little time to transition back to the hyperbolic world of superheroes. His detailed, emotive faces are just what the doctor ordered for an issue like this, however, so I’m happy to have him aboard.
Final judgment: Except for the Lucky Charms hearts and a bit of puzzlement over how Hank Pym got hold of the diary of Jack’s father when Jack himself apparently hadn’t seen it (was that set up previously?), I have nothing but compliments for this issue. It’s got strong dialogue, emotional punch, and it even works as a stand-alone story for those looking for an entry point. In an impressive bit of irony, Johns’ has actually become his own fiercest competition as AVENGERS vies for “best team book” with JSA.
Peter David – Writer
Ed Benes – Pencils
Alex Lei – Inks
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
(Note: This review was originally intended for last week’s column, but I just didn’t have enough time to finish it before the deadline. Rather than let such brilliance as the word “ass-erific” go unseen, however, I have completed the review and provided it here for your reading enjoyment. Abondanza!)
SUPERGIRL is a neat comic. It’s a fun comic. At times, it’s a beautiful comic. And now, unfortunately, it’s a canceled comic.
As I’m sure many of you who keep up with comic news already know, DC canceled SUPERGIRL a couple of weeks ago. Peter David describes on his website that due to low sales, SUPERGIRL had been heading for the chopping block for a few months. In response, David tried to throw a “Hail Kara” pass, bringing the original Supergirl Kara Zor-El into the story. The buzz was high, but preorders were low, and the book was canceled. Meanwhile, copies of SUPERGIRL #76 are being sold on eBay for $9.95, and there’s the usual lost-cause internet petition trying to save the title.
So is it worth all the fuss? I’ve reviewed both SUPERGIRL #75 and #76, and each time, I’ve said the same thing: despite their definite flaws, the issues were surprisingly likable comic books. And now, for an unprecedented THIRD review in as many months, I’m here to say that despite its flaws, SUPERGIRL #77 was a surprisingly likable comic book.
Let’s talk about some of the trouble spots. David has the newly arrived Kara attending the high school where art teacher/post-CRISIS Supergirl Linda Danvers can keep an eye on her. Wacky super-powered hijinks ensue. Peter David has been accused of lifting plays from the Joss Whedon playbook before, and the Dawn/Buffy parallel here is unmistakable; although admittedly, Kara is MUCH different than Dawn: Kara is much more naively earnest, an earnestness that is beginning to border on flat-out stupidity. And some of the dialog, like a moment during a nighttime chat about being “heroes,” just lays an egg.
And then there’s the art. Quite simply, the art in SUPERGIRL #77 was ass-errific. It was ass-tastic. It was ass-tacular. (In case you don’t catch my drift, THERE WERE A LOT OF CONSCIOUSLY DRAWN ASSES IN THE ISSUE.) Ed Benes draws beautiful women, sexy women, and there are a lot of them and their asses in the issue. But the problem isn’t simply a matter of overkill. The problem is that the women Ed Benes is drawing are high school girls. There’s a fairly titillating shower room scene with the most strategic towels placement since SPIDER-MAN AND BLACK CAT: THE EVIL THAT MEN DO #1. A high school shower room scene. What has me worried is that this time around the icky-ness of the situation didn’t hit me until a bit later, after I had read the issue. Benes and his nubile Lolitas must be desensitizing me. Plus, in addition to the ass-stravaganza, there was a villain introduced in the book that resembled some kind of DRAGONBALL Z-looking character. I hate that.
And yet, even with these problems, I still enjoyed SUPERGIRL #77. It still worked.
Why? I hate to hearken back to analysis tools from past reviews, but there’s no way around it: it’s The Neat Factor. I’ve already expanded at length on the difference between “cool” and “neat” the past, with neat being the nerdy little brother of cool, entertaining but with less self-conscious dignity. SUPERGIRL #77 and its two predecessors are pretty neat. Sure, much of this neatness comes from the novelty value of having the original Supergirl back in the DCU (and depending on your appreciation for nostalgia, this novelty value may vary). But most of the neatness comes from how David is able to blend the old Supergirl into the current continuity. She seems to fit.
There’s a montage in the story where Kara Zor-El and Linda Danvers, both Supergirls, are shooting the breeze in the midst of doing various bits of super-heroics. This was an easy relationship: the older, more seasoned Linda schooling the younger, inexperienced Kara; each taking the wing of a troubled jetliner, lifting a sinking ship out of the ocean, or scooping away a native villager from a stampede of wild animals. The relationship felt as real as sisters talking while doing household chores. Although we’ve all seen the postmodern casualness-amidst-the-fantastic routine before, it’s nice to see it done well. David managed to simply and successfully create a sense of sibling relationship between two Supergirls that was, well, neat.
And that’s what you walk away from the issue with. Supergirl is a neat, entertaining, likeable read that you should check out before the opportunity is gone. It’s too bad that Peter David won’t be getting a chance to iron out the rougher spots before the title’s last issue with #80. If allowed to grow, I have the feeling that this title could have not only tapped into the gee-whiz superhero market enjoyed by JSA, but also the girl adventure audience of BUFFY. But no, it’s a goner.
Again, try it out while you still have a chance.
SWAMP THING: DARK GENESIS (TPB)
Written by Len Wein
Art by Berni Wrightson
Published by Vertigo/DC
Reviewed by Buzzy M. & The Li'l @$$holes
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! "This meeting of the Li'l @$$holes Comic Book Club and Support Group For Unpopular Kids will come to order. For you new members, I'm Buzzy M. and this is my treehouse, so if you narc to your parents about any of the Playboys or cigarettes I have hidden up here, I'll kick your butts. First order of business, I'd like to thank Ambush B's Mom for the yummy butterscotch Rice Krispy bears she supplied for this meeting and also Jonny Q's dad for forgetting to lock his liquor cabinet.
"This week's comics were the first eleven SWAMP THING stories. Does anybody have anything to say about 'em?"
"Yeah. This butterscotch Rice Krispy bear looks more like the Swamp Thing than a bear."
"The art is awesome! Man, this Bernie guy has a real style of his own! He is like the horror artist. I'll bet whenever other guys try to draw horror stuff in the future, they'll be trying to draw like Berni Wrightson."
"And the Len Wein guy is a good writer. He does have people calling each other friend a lot when they don't really mean it, but he's really good at putting Swampy in horror situations and he knows how much to use the supporting cast."
"Do you guys think he pronounces his name Wynn like ‘winner’ or Ween like ‘wiener’?"
"Hey, shut up. He writes comic books. He's cooler than you, okay?"
"Yeah. I like the characters. That Matt Cable guy, the secret agent obsessed with destroying the Swamp Thing because he thinks that the Swamp Thing killed his pal Alec Holland. What he doesn't know is that Swamp Thing used to be Alec Holland."
"That confused me. I thought Swamp Thing used to be Ted Sallis."
"No, dipshit. Man Thing used to be Ted Sallis."
"I wonder if Swamp Thing could beat up Man Thing."
"Of course he could. Swamp Thing is smart. Man Thing is just a walking pile of crap."
"Swamp Thing's brains could work against him in that fight, though. He might get scared. And whatever knows fear burns at Man Thing's touch."
"Why is that?"
"So they can write it in that cool, fiery lettering every issue."
"Here's what I didn't like about it. It's 1971, '72, '73, right? Fonzarelli is in the White House and David Cassidy is singing lead with Led Zepp, right? So how come when Swamp Thing's plane crashes at that werewolf's manor in Scotland, they don't have a truck, a car, electric lights, a phone, an 8-track tape player or any of that shit? They just have a horse and wagon like it's the 1800s but this isn't a time travel story.
"And in the very next story, Swamp Thing washes up on the coast of Maine at that village where they want to burn the witch and everybody looks and acts like it's the 1600’s instead of the 1970’s, which will one day be known as the coolest of all decades."
"Interesting that story happened in Maine. I predict that a few years from now a young horror writer in Maine will take the horror story and bring it into the 20th century. Horror won't be something taking place in the past. It'll take place in the schools, the cars, the factories."
"Way to step out of character as semiliterate preteens and create anachronisms of our own, guys. Before we get back into character, Swamp Thing's encounter with the Lovecraftian M'Nagalah was some good work."
"Wonder who'd win in a fight...Swamp Thing's enemy M'Nagalah or Dr. Strange's enemy Shuma Gorath?"
"Okay, that sounds like us. Anyway, the whole damned book was cool!"
"Comic book talk over. So, what'd you swipe from your old man's liquor cabinet, Jonny? Twenty year old scotch? What's the matter, yer Dad too cheap to spring for some fresh booze?"
Title: RISING STARS #21
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Brent Anderson
Publisher: Top Cow/ Joe's Comics/ Image
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
A few more issues to go. I keep reminding myself of this fact. Just a few more issues to go. It's not like I’m anticipating the day when there will no longer be a RISING STARS comic for me to enjoy. This book has proven to be one of the most consistently strong comics that I currently read, and deserves to be lumped into the same category as THE WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, MARVELS, and Gruenwald's SQUADRON SUPREME miniseries. No, that's not why I keep reminding myself that there are only a handful of issues to go before the Specials ride off into the sunset. I do this because not much has happened in the last few issues of this series, but if all of the ominous buildup pays off, I know that these final upcoming issues are going to be a damn good conclusion to a damn good series.
Since this comic comes out about three times a year, I think one of my ever-popular re-caps is in order. A while back, a fireball landed in the little town of Pederson, Illinois. Every child in utero at the time was born with special powers. Dubbed ‘Specials,’ these 113 children had the power of the gods, but as they grew older, thanks to personal conflicts among themselves and those pesky government types, their number has shrunk to fewer than 58. For the last few issues, the Specials have come to the realization that they may have been born for a purpose; that there may be some kind of grand design behind the acquisition of these powers. While some Specials chose to go into hiding; a select few chose to use their powers to change the world. From making the deserts fertile again to stockpiling and deactivating every nuclear weapon on the planet to crippling every drug cartel in North and South America, these Specials have taken it upon themselves to make the planet a better place. Unfortunately, the governments of the planet don't seem to want this and have developed a weapon that can destroy the Specials. Everything has been building up to these last few issues of this series, which ends with issue #24.
The last few issues have been small, self-contained stories featuring a single Special on his or her quest to make the world a better place. These have been incredibly strong tales that build upon the grand mythos that JMS has been developing over the last three years with this series. The major plot has been chugging along at a snail’s pace. Normally, this would frustrate me. I'd call for the writer's head and tell him to quit dilly-dallying around with the small stuff and to kick it in gear already. But JMS makes these tiny stories so interesting that you almost forget about the big picture if not for the fact that by the end of the tale you are reminded that it is all related. It all has something to do with everything that has been developing from issue #1.
And maybe that is the point JMS is trying to make with this series and his other phenomenal 12-part series, MIDNIGHT NATION. Maybe it IS about the small stuff; these little personal stories that go on during the major events. Each JMS story has a particular path it is going down and along this path lies equally interesting adventures that reveal another puzzle piece that, when put together, make up a wonderfully interesting mosaic of creative fiction that takes place in a fully realized world not far from the one outside our own window.
Issue #21 is another small RISING STARS story. It introduces us to Lionel, a Special with the power to talk with dead people. This issue also stars the urban vigilante, Ravenshadow, who has come up with a plan to help the Specials, and Poet, the most powerful Special on the planet, who knows of Lionel's location and has a pretty big plan of his own that he is keeping under tight wraps. The rest of the issue deals with Ravenshadow's plan to run for president and how Lionel can help him accomplish this task. Now, I know the concept of a super-hero running for office sounds a little stupid. Everyone Ravenshadow chooses to tell about his plan thinks the same way, until he starts to explain it and his motivations behind it. And somehow it all makes sense and fits into the grand scheme of it all like every other side step on the road to the end of this series.
This issue is filled with stuff that is just plain cool. Sure, Lionel's power is lifted from THE SIXTH SENSE, but it is what JMS does with this power that makes the story interesting. Lionel can't take constantly hearing the voices of the dead, so he has Poet find a high mountain peak where no one has ever died before, and goes there to live. In a flashback sequence, a teacher asks the class of Special children to draw the first thing they ever remember and the results are unsettling and fascinating.
To top it all off, the dialog in this issue is some of the best I’ve read in a long time. "Why is it that lies take more energy, but they're always easier than the truth?" Lines like these that are bigger than the story itself, prove that JMS is not just a comic book writer. He's a powerful writer with enough insight to handle a story of this scope.
At least that's what I think. I think JMS is trying to actually convey some type of message with this vast epic that is coming to an end soon. He has Poet ask questions about the Specials’ existence and creation. Everyone comes to a point in his or her life where this question is asked. Poet is trying to find a meaning behind it all. It has to have a connection. It has to make sense and come to a conclusion that is both dramatic and poignant. Right?
Maybe not. Maybe when this series comes to an end, it won't go out with a bang. Maybe the hope for a big finale will not come to pass. Maybe this won't be the series that makes everyone say "THE WATCHMEN who?" Maybe after the series is all over, we'll find out that along the path to find the answers to the big questions, sometimes we simply find other stories that are no less important or interesting and answer those questions in their own way. JMS seems to know what he is doing. So far, this series has deconstructed what it means to be a super hero and somehow made it stand out among so many other comics that are trying to do the same thing. There are only a few more issues to go. JMS has taken a long time to get to the end. His foreshadowing and buildup has been torturous. I can't wait to see if these big questions are answered in the end or if this anticipation has been a metaphor for the questions we all ask as we go through our own lives. Big finish or not, this series is a winner and RISING STARS #21 is another issue to attest to this.
Joe Kelly – Writer
Lewis La Rosa – Penciler
Al Milgrom – Inker
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
How about a no-frills review of JLA?
Coming on the heels of the massive “Obsidian Age” storyline, JLA #76 is one of those interlude issues where attention is given almost exclusively to characters and relationships. Along these lines, the most notable moment in this book is a brief, subtle scene between Wonder Woman and Batman. I won’t spend too much time on this aspect of the story since it’s already been discussed in this forum ad nauseam. Suffice to say, their “situation” has not been resolved; it is still there, definitely there, perhaps more there than it’s ever been.
Besides, there are plenty of other situations to be explored too. How is Flash adjusting to having his legs back? Will Green Lantern still be in the JLA after his much publicized departure from Earth? What is Martian Manhunter doing with all those matches? Now that both the original JLA team and the substitutes are all together in the same time period, who stays on the roster and who goes? What’s going on with Aquaman? And what happened to Plastic Man?
In one way or another, Joe Kelly answers all these questions and more in JLA #76, a surprisingly satisfying issue about the World’s Greatest Superheroes picking up the pieces after a major ordeal.
I’ve been reading a steady stream of Joe Kelly comic books over the past year or so, and I feel I have a good sense of where his strengths and weaknesses lie. Essentially, his weaknesses are his strengths, separated by degree. Kelly can write stories of epic grandeur -- that can sometimes be overblown. He can write moments of emotional reality – that can sometimes be overwrought. He can witty dialog – that sometimes feels hammy and takes you out of the moment. And he can write structurally complex narratives – that are nearly incoherent, at least on the first pass.
After reading so much of his excesses lately in this month’s SUPERMAN comics, it was a pleasant surprise to find that Kelly was able to reign himself with JLA. Kelly still writes big. Whereas with Geoff John’s AVENGERS, you feel you have the comfortable intimacy and quick pace of a television show; Kelly writes a movie, with a little more distance, and more ambiguous beats and a bit more sophisticated emotional terrain. The pacing and drama felt true, not overblown, with only one or two false moments. (Kelly had to play the hand he was dealt with Kyle Rayner’s departure. He tried to spin it the best he could, but it was still a tough hand to play). The dialog was repeatedly cute, but it never crossed the line (well, okay, Green Arrow’s moon/ass reference was a little much). And although there were the occasional flights of fancy, the wheels stayed on the track. I liked it.
I’ve read some online comments that quibble with Kelly’s overall characterization (e.g., “That’s NOT Batman!!”), and his choices for the new members of the JLA. By and large, I’ve found his characterization to be consistent with what I’ve come to expect from these characters. As far as his choices for the JLA roster are concerned, he appears to have given in to the time-honored conceit of creators creating their own, new characters and sticking them on the team. This time around, it’s a character named Faith. I can’t help but wonder if there could have been another established character in the DCU that would have fit the bill just as well, but I’m willing to forgive in light of the fact that Kelly has managed to resurrect Apache Chief (from the SUPERFRIENDS) as a viable character in the DCU.
The cover to the issue is pretty amazing, with Doug Manhke’s striking image of Batman pouring out a beaker full of Plastic Man. But rather than Mahnke doing his usual duties on the inside, this month featured fill-in Lewis Larosa. Here is another aspect of the issue that has taken a fair amount of internet flack, I found the art to be at least as competent as Leonard Kirk’s work on JSA, albeit perhaps a bit looser. Still though, on page 14, Superman’s response to Aquaman’s news looks downright constipated. Super-constipated.
All in all, JLA #76 was an interesting book comic book that wove a transition in the team’s history nicely, with some unexpected and emotionally well-rendered vignettes. I enjoyed it. If you’re an indie snob looking to finally investigate big brand-name superheroes in the midst of big brand name superhero melodramatics, you may want to check this one out. And if you’re just a flat out sucker for superhero melodramatics, you should definitely check it out.
Meanwhile, rather than exploring the psychological sadomasochistic overtones of a Batman/Wonder Woman pairing in the talkbacks (again), what are the mythic overtones to this relationship, and what might it mean in terms of the mythic resonance of the entire DC Universe? Could this be THE tragic romance of the DCU?
AGENT X #6
Written by Gail Simone
Art by UDON
Published by Marvel Comics
A Jon Quixote production.
I don’t have time to do two reviews this week. It’s Molson’s fault. They now have mini-kegs that come dressed in Oilers jerseys. Oilers jerseys!! Do you have any idea how many of those I got for Christmas? Oh man. Well, until my sponsor comes back from vacation, I can’t be expected to write my regular reviews. Instead, I’m just gonna have to run an excerpt from a major screenplay I’m working on, about an unorthodox and irreverent comic book writer who shakes things up when assigned to a Marvel Comics base in Saigon. It’s got everything – drama, comedy, Bruno Kirby, and, once again, AICN has the scoop:
GOOOOOOD MORNING GAIL SIMONE
A Screenplay by Jon Quixote
INT. EDITOR’S OFFICE – DAY
An average military office. Decorations and personal effects are kept to a minimum, with the exception of a few framed pictures of Jerry Lewis on a shelf. SGT. MAJOR EDITOR sits at his desk, struggling valiantly with a Mad fold-in. He’s a Caucasian man in his late 30’s, and resembles the corpse of J.T. Walsh, only less animated.
GAIL SIMONE enters the office. She’s blonde, bespectacled, and played by Robin Williams, waxed to the point where it violates the Geneva Convention.
GAIL: You wanted to see me, sir?
EDITOR: Sit down, Simone. We need to talk about just what’s going on in your book. Now, this issue opens up with the hero mooning a bunch of mercenaries trying to kill him. What exactly are you trying to do here?
GAIL: I was just having some fun. You know, add a little humor to the story.
EDITOR: Humor. Yes. I am aware of this. Humor is good. Funny is good. But this, this is not humor. What are our readers going to do when they buy the comic expecting the serious action, multiple universes, and unresolved storylines the “X” on the cover suggests, only to find some character’s…(whispers) behind, staring out at them?
GAIL: They’ll laugh, sir?
Sgt. Maj. Editor leaps up from his chair, his face distorted with fury.
EDITOR: Laugh? Laugh? What is so funny about a grown man pressing ham against the windshield of a Recreational Vehicle while a team of soldiers-for-hire peppers him with ammunition? Or the constant reference to “gentlemen parts?” There’s no such thing. I even looked it up in my dictionary.
Sgt. Maj. Editor throws a book down in front of Gail.
GAIL: Uh, that’s a copy of “Maxim” sir.
EDITOR: Stars and Stripes! Just what are you trying to say?
GAIL: That you’ve been jerking off to your Websters?
EDITOR: That’s just sick. Although he was pretty cute when he’d say, “Whatchoo talkin’ about Willy.” Heh Heh. See, now why doesn’t your comic have stuff like that? Catch phrases. Comic gold, people eat that stuff up. We could put it on T-Shirts. Agent X holding a pose, saying his catch phrase.
GAIL (sarcastically): Leggo my Gentleman parts.
EDITOR: Dammit, we just can’t get through to you. I knew this would happen, Simone. That’s why I called in the big guns. One of the premier joke writers in the business today is going to give you some humor lessons. The man responsible for some of our biggest and most original hits: Freaky Deaky Kraven; Kraven Out of Sight; Pagan Kravens; and, his upcoming smash, “NewUntitled Elmore Leonard Novel” Kraven…plot to be determined.
Sgt. Maj. Editor picks up his phone. Gail shudders.
EDITOR: Send in Lieutenant Zim.
LIEUTENANT ZIM walks into the office. He’s played by an unwashed Bruno Kirby.
ZIM: Hey everybody. Boy, Hasselhoff sure does suck. Hee Hee…get it?
EDITOR (laughing): Gold, Zim, Gold. Okay, you read the latest issue. Why don’t you tell Simone where she went wrong.
ZIM: Glad to. Okay, the part where Taskmaster says he’s surprised that Batroc was heterosexual. That’s not funny. Heterosexuals aren’t funny. Most people are heterosexual. My parents were heterosexual.
GAIL (rubbing her eyes): Unfortunately.
ZIM (ignoring her): Gay people, now they’re funny. What you should do is take a character like that and turn him gay. Then he can be walking around and stuff saying, “oh, I like your SHOES.” Hee Hee…get it?
EDITOR: Plus, we could probably get on CNN, because gay people haven’t been mocked this progressively since that Billy Crystal TV show. You can’t buy that sort of publicity, Simone. And, frankly, we need the coverage. We’ve done everything we can to promote this book – we gave the character a generic name, changed the title, and put out a new issue #1 in the same month we put out 34 other similarly titled issue #1s, and yet it still hasn’t caught on. It’s obviously because you just aren’t that funny.
ZIM: You know what else I noticed? No celebrities. There isn’t a single name dropped in the entire issue. How can you expect to be funny and not even mention a celebrity. No Cruises. No Schwarzeneggers. Not even a Weinstein. C’mon, are you telling me you couldn’t find a way to work Joan Cusack’s name into the candy apple scene? Hey, Eddy, did I ever tell you about the time I called her Joan C**tsack in my online column? Hee hee…get it?
Sgt. Major Editor breaks out laughing. Zim joins him.
EDITOR: Oh ho ho, Lieutenant Zim.
ZIM: Oh ho ho, Eddy.
EDITOR: Oh ho ho, Lieutenant Zim.
ZIM: Oh ho ho, Eddy.
GAIL: Oh ho ho, I’m out of here.
Gail gets up and leaves Sgt. Major Editor and Lt. Zim convulsing with laughter. The Sgt. Major makes a motion to stop her, but Zim calls out “Carrot Top!...get it?” and the two fall to the floor hysterically. As she leaves, she passes Quixote Garlick – a heavyset African-American with a lazy eye - in the hallway.
GARLICK: Don’t listen to them, Gail. I think Agent X is hilarious, and one of the best books on the stands.
GAIL: Thanks, but next time I better be played by Meg Ryan.
FADE TO BLACK
GOTHAM CENTRAL #2
Writer: Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Didn’t care so much for the first issue of GOTHAM CENTRAL, DC’s new cop drama set in Batman’s home territory. Michael Lark’s art was terrific, but the grim tone of the thing – exemplified by Mr. Freeze snapping off the ear of a frozen cop, then shattering him completely – left me (no pun intended) cold. Of course, the realistic approach to super-crime is the entire hook of the series, and I like my Batman/Gotham in the more escapist mold of Steve Englehart’s 70’s run or the 90’s animated series, so maybe it’s just not for me.
Except…I ended up liking the second issue, so where does that leave me?
Well, curious about the third issue mostly. After two issues I’m more acclimated to the series’ tone, and while it’s not one I’d like to see in the regular Batman comics, I’m willing to be more open-minded when it comes to the periphery of his world. I’m reminded of ALIAS, Marvel’s excellent R-rated private eye comic; it’s set within continuity, but tends not to overtly affect it. As long as the grimmer aspects of GOTHAM CENTRAL likewise keep their distance from DC’s mainstream books, I think I can enjoy the series on its own merits.
And its merits are considerable. The first issue had a strong opening scene in which two unlucky cops, following a lead on a kidnapping case, chanced across a hotel where serious bad-ass, Mr. Freeze, was hiding out. One of ‘em got flash-frozen and shattered, and one of them was curiously left alive. Was it some kind of message? Part of Freeze’s modus operandi of trying to share his own tragedy by emotionally scarring others? Whatever the case, the death happened early in the morning, and a collectively enraged precinct decided that they damn well wanted to resolve the case before sunset, when it would unofficially become the province of the Dark Knight Detective. That’s the story, and the backdrop of anger and resentment over Batman’s potential involvement is a powerful one. These cops have already taken an emotional beating over the loss of one of their own, and the notion that Batman might step in, cutting off their need for a more personal justice, is simply unbearable. As the story progresses, the police are forced to weigh their egos against the lives of the innocents who might die if Batman isn’t involved. And if he must be brought in, how do they live with their failure?
In addition to revealing the psychological realism of being a Gotham cop, writers Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker also showcase the grim routine of police procedurals in the freak-infested city. A second death – this time one of Freeze’s associates – opens the second issue. The victim has been frozen in his car, the chunk of ice sticking out of his mouth suggesting that Freeze actually put the gun in his mouth and froze him from the inside out. Adding to the grisly atmosphere, one of the officers has to use a crowbar to pry the victim’s frozen hands from the steering wheel, leading to a loud offscreen “KRAK!” moments later. Later, the widow of the dead cop comes to the morgue to see his body and gain some closure. The attendant warns her that it’s a grisly sight, all the more so because the freezing process has actually converted his body to ice on a cellular level. “We tried to thaw him out,” he explains, “but he started…melting.” Of course, formerly silly villain, Mr. Freeze, already regained his credibility thanks to Paul Dini’s amazing revitalization of him on the 90’s cartoon, but moments like these make him outright terrifying.
The cast of GOTHAM CENTRAL is of the ensemble variety, as seen in its inspiration, cop shows like HILL STREET BLUES and NYBD BLUE. The cop who survived Freeze’s attack gets a good chunk of spotlight, but GCPD regulars like Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen – featured heavily in Rucka’s DETECTIVE run – also figure prominently. I’m especially interested to see the development of Captain Maggie Sawyer, a recent transfer who’ll be familiar to Superman fans as the former head of the Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. Since the search for Freeze becomes the top priority for the entire precinct, all these faces as well as a few others are featured throughout the second issue investigation. In the tradition of military movies, we don’t get to know anyone intimately right off the bat, but everyone gets a few minutes spotlight to make you care about ‘em. It works.
The art, by Michael Lark, is pretty much beyond reproach, mixing an appropriate element of photorealism with the noir expressionism of comics master Alex Toth. It’s a more pared-down style than I saw in the brilliant graphic novel, SCENE OF THE CRIME (also written by Ed Brubaker), but Lark can reveal so much with just a single line that I have zero complaints about the evolution. See for yourself here.
Final judgment: Except for the fact that Batman himself seemed more moody and terse than he should’ve following recent events in his own titles (the “Murderer” and “Fugitive” storylines), I’m pretty damn satisfied with this first story. The look at “supervillainy” from a cop’s standpoint fascinates, the rotating cast has good potential, and the grim subtext to the story has stayed with me since reading it. The ending is a bit abrupt and might could’ve used a stronger denouement, but then again, a denouement might’ve weakened the weight of the final pages, so perhaps it’s just as well. GOTHAM CENTRAL is worth a look for crime buffs, Batman fans, and anyone who’s enjoyed Brian Bendis’ POWERS.
INDIE JONES by Lizzybeth
I’ve looked at some different types of comics since we put out the call for self-published projects, from humor comics (some of which I reviewed here), to science fiction adventures, to kung fu epics. But I haven’t seen anything quite like SHUCK COMICS. This unique, whimsical title follows a goat-headed retired pagan god as he pursues a quieter life among humans. Carrying an appropriately seasonal theme, each issue of SHUCK features a tale of fall, of spring, of All Hallow’s Eve, and of Midwinter’s night. It’s an interesting, memorable, and often enchanting find for anyone open to its unusual charms.
SHUCK COMICS is on the slightly more well-known end of the indie comics spectrum than the comics I reviewed for the last Indie Jones installment. SHUCK #1 was “Certified Cool” in the March 2002 Previews, and creators Rick Smith and Tania Menesse received an Ignatz award nomination this year for “Most Promising New Talent.” The first four issues of SHUCK are a particularly impressive effort for novice creators like Smith and Menesse, and the title is quickly attracting attention from major comics magazines, websites, and industry veterans such as Eddie Campbell. Still, for many AICN readers the comic is no more accessible for it, fighting the same battles for recognition and distribution as any self-published comic faces today. Looking at the talent and imagination brought to each issue of SHUCK, I’m hoping that this title will be one to break out and find a sustainable audience for itself.
Like BONE, SHUCK is a good-natured fantasy comic that makes me smile, with a clean simplicity in its design to make its odd characters more endearing. SHUCK lacks BONE’s sense of slapstick adventure, but tells a nicely self-contained and gently humorous tale in each issue. Shuck, once a collector of souls and a bearer of Spring, now wears a human mask to live in a not-quite-ordinary neighborhood, educating inquisitive neighbor girl, Thursday Friday, in his traditions. Strange encounters interrupt most of these lessons: a dinner party for the dead; a recipe for home-brew interrupted by a horde of escaped souls from purgatory; an elderly cupid reuniting Shuck with the soul of his former wife, now enclosed in a fir tree. These stories could be played for zany humor, but the comic has a gravity at its core that keeps it from flying off into complete inconsequence.
Even more unusual than the pagan backdrop is the wordplay. The characters speak in a strange dialect somewhere between William Faulkner, Aleister Crowley, and Hooked on Phonics, and it requires some effort initially to translate their speech into understandable conversation. (An easier example: “My heart ropes arnt beint partikurly pulled in that direkshun yit this yer, Jamara. I have awfool heaviness on my mind…”) I was at first a little bothered by the unusual style of the writing, which seemed silly and effortful, but it won me over in time as the book found its voice, or maybe just as I got used to it. Either way, it is a refreshing change of pace to find a comic willing to set itself apart in this way.
SHUCK COMICS is well worth seeking out for fans of fantasy comics, or anyone looking for an unusual read. Ask your comics shop to order you a copy of SHUCK COMICS, or visit the Shuck Comics Homepage to purchase copies online. SHUCK can also be found in online form at Modern Tales, along with a host of indie comics projects worth looking into.
If you’d like to see your self-published comic featured in Indie Jones, email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.