Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I’m trying to get a huge update ready, so no time for clever. Here’s the gang with their newest batch of yummy...
Cormorant here, and what we've got this week is this:
Me giving it up for Dark Horse's new CONAN book and the dino-comic PALEO! Village Idiot explaining that you, too, can learn to decipher THE LEGION – with this very issue! Ambush Bug giving one thumb up and another down for GREEN ARROW! Lizzybeth making the bold statement that the PALOMAR hardcover is one of the ten best comics "evah"! Sleazy G defending the merits of TEEN TITANS like a lovesick schoolgirl! Vroom Socko recommending JSA and taking extreme measures to be nice to Geoff Johns!
All this and Cheap Shot capsule reviews for the ADD generation! Screw that Ritalin anyway!
CONAN: THE LEGEND
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Cary Nord
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
By all rights, my fellow @$$hole, Buzz Maverik, should be writing this review. Buzz knows all things pulp fiction, having been raised on a steady diet of Doc Savage, Dr. Fu Manchu, the Lensman series of E.E. "Doc" Smith, and of course, the Conan novels of Robert E. "Doctor Doctor, Gimme The News" Howard.
Alas, Buzz is currently taking a nap in a Mexican jail cell, so I guess the job falls to me.
I've only dabbled in classic pulp fiction, m'self. I enjoy it in small doses, but don't actively seek it, content I suppose to enjoy the modern pulp fiction of Spider-Man, Hellboy, Iron Wok Jan, et al. So it's with minimal bias for the original Conan material that I tell you that Kurt Busiek kicked my ass with this little prelude to his upcoming Conan series for Dark Horse. It's one of those incentive priced issues – 25 cents a pop – and though it runs only sixteen pages (plus some sketches), it's still one of the strongest of the incentive-priced comics to come down the pike in the last few years. No snooty jokes about "getting what you pay for" here – this is how it's done right.
And it start very low key. We open with a bored young prince, a self-centered bastard sent by his father to survey a recently-conquered kingdom. His adviser tries to emphasize the importance of the mission, yet the prince remains disinterested: "For two copper coins I'd burn it all down to bare earth. Burn it all, piss on the ashes and be done with it."
But the discovery of a hidden chamber in an area of ruins is destined to change his disposition. What precisely is found I don't want to reveal – hey, it's just a sixteen-pager! – but let's just say that when Conan's presence is made known in the story, it's a moment of recognition that almost gave me chills. Even if you only know the barest of Conan lore, be it from the books, the movies, or Marvel's old comics, you'll almost certainly feel the impact of the scene. It's a slick bit of craftsmanship from Busiek, opening the story with the unlikely image of a cynical prince, and somehow managing in the next sixteen pages to hint at the full power of the Conan legend. Loved it. Perfect structuring, which should come as no surprise from the man who's written some of the best done-in-one comics of the last decade in the pages of ASTRO CITY.
The art is of the "digital painting" style that's starting to become familiar to readers, as seen in books like CAPTAIN MARVEL, 1602, ORIGIN, and X-TREME X-MEN. In short, pencils are scanned directly, with no inking stage, and the colorist takes on a greater role in interpreting the image. The result is a more painterly, less linear look to the art – which can be both good and bad - but I definitely raise my sword to artist Cary Nord and colorist Dave Stewart for their colorfully atmospheric work in this outing. It's got something of the lushness of European art, ala HEAVY METAL, with Nord's slight flourishes of exaggeration also reminding me of the work of Mike Ploog, one of the unsung artists of fantasy comics. And, yes, you bet yer ass there's a bit of Frazetta to some of the scenes as well.
To maintain a degree of reviewer objectivity, I guess I should mention that the digital painting doesn't give me images that are quite as defined as I prefer. The lack of linework makes for a few indistinct patches in the otherwise detailed art, but it's simply not the serious problem it was in early issues of X-TREME X-MEN and CAPTAIN MARVEL. With a few tweaks as the series progresses, I think CONAN could become the first book to reveal the full potential of digital painting.
Now let's wrap with a "good news/bad news" moment. Good news first: Conan's back, baby! Busiek plans to use Howard's original books as the sole canon for this new series, which is great for purists and sure to impress newcomers who only know Conan through Governor Ah-Nold's less cunning (though still cool!) interpretation from the movies. And it looks like the series already has strong retailer support, with well over 100,000 copies of this incentive issue having been ordered. The bad news? It pains me to tell you, but the actual monthly Conan comic won't premiere until early next year, so we'll have to wait a few months for it after taking in this perfect little prelude.
THE LEGION #26 (and, okay, LEGION #25 too)
Dan Abnet and Andy Lanning – Writers
Chris Batista – Pencils
Chip Wallace – Inks
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
Y'know, I was fully prepared to write a mixed/negative review of LEGION #26. I believe my comment in the @$$hole interoffice memo was "How long have I been reading this title now? A year? And how long have I been predicting that I would 'get it' eventually? Well, I'm still working on it. It's a cast of THOUSANDS, I tell you. I had an easier time learning the periodic table."
But in preparing for this review, I went back and reread issues #25 and #26 together, and now, to my surprise, here I am to say all kinds of nice things about them. On the second time around, LEGION #26 really worked; that is, it created a world that I found myself interested and invested in. I liked it so much that I'm even going to go so far as to say that after a period in the doldrums, LEGION is back to being good again.
Much of my conversion has to do with the fact that I reread it with #25. Everyone knows that LEGION is a complex comic book with lots of characters, history, and even a unique culture to it. But it turns out that whatever confusion I may have had with #26 was patched up by the previous issue. I know that ideally all comics should be able to stand on their own; and to a degree, LEGION #26 actually does stand on its own – as a mixed/negative comic. For me, to have #25 fresh in my mind bumps that up to a positive.
LEGION #25 was primarily a set-up issue, laying the foundation for the story to come and recounting pertinent and recent history. The main new story thread concerns the events leading to the inexplicable appearance of Kon-El, the post-Crisis Superboy, in the Legion's era. Also woven through the story is a updated recreation of the Silver Age meeting between teenage Clark Kent and the Legion of Superheroes. But by the end of LEGION #25, we find out that Legionnaires who approached young Clark are actually disguised agents of Apokolips and Darkseid, out to perpetrate all kinds of damage; damage that we begin to see the repercussions of in #26.
The story to LEGION #25 was pretty interesting, but there were some problems with the art. Not only did the art switch hands a few too many times for this extra-sized milestone issue, yielding the usual uneven results, but worst of all, there was a scene in the middle of the book where the Legion are commenting in amazement on a space storm of some kind; but when we look where they're looking, we see nothing but a fairly calm spaceship. Thazzit. This had to be an editing glitch of some kind. But still, the story and history were good enough for the sake of interest, and it worked nicely as a lead-in to the next issue.
As I said, with #26, we begin to see repercussions. The story picks up five months later, and Superboy has worked himself into the Legion, but without it being a perfect fit for everybody; Cosmic Boy, a big Superman fan, doesn't take to Superboy's brashness and cavalier attitude. But before there can be too much conflict, a group of Legionnaires including Superboy find themselves attacked in space by some Apokoliptian characters – characters who, on closer inspection, resemble Apokolips versions of the JLA. (This JLA connection is another thing I picked up on the second read.) Meanwhile, the consciousness of a Legionnaire who was thought to be dead has popped up in the body of the former Legionnaire who killed him (and who was also thought to be dead). Throw in some temporal anomalies and futuristic doomsday cults, and you've got a pretty fun, engaging comic.
I think the turn around for LEGION as a series came with the recent "Dream Crime" storyline, which also marked the debut of penciller Chris Batista, who's brought what I think is some pretty great art to table. Clean but rich in detail, the characters also all seem to be a bit more tall and slender than what you'd find in other books, giving the work a unique vertical feel. It's appealing stuff.
LEGION #25 is still on the stands, and the week of 11/19, they're also coming out with a SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS issue. SF&O issues are always pricey and rarely satisfying, but as much as it pains me to say this, I'm actually looking forward to this one. The lore of the Legion is part of what attracts me to the series, and I'm hoping that that's what the issue will offer.
So if you've been wondering, now you know: it's okay to read LEGION again. And if you've never read it, but you've been curious about it, now may be the time to check it out.
LEGION #26 with #25: ***
LEGION #26 without #25: **
GREEN ARROW #32
Writer: Judd Winick
Pencils: Manuel Garcia
Inks: Steve Bird
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
GREEN ARROW #32, titled “Boys’ Night Out,” follows two archers, Roy Harper and Connor Hawke, as they spend the evening together to get to know one another. Both of these heroes are unconventional “sons” of Ollie Queen, the Green Arrow. Roy Harper was adopted by Ollie and grew up at his side as Speedy, the kid who never missed. Ollie gave Roy a life of high-octane adventure and daredevil thrills. Roy grew up to be very much like his mentor, who was known to live fast, shoot an arrow first, and crack wise about it later. Ollie never knew about his actual son, Connor Hawke, who lived the simple and modest life of a Buddhist in a monastery. Connor became one of the most formidable martial artists in the DCU with an appreciation, patience, and respect for the world and everyone in it. Violence was never the only solution for Connor, but if it was inevitable, he was a formidable foe indeed. It wasn’t until Connor was a young man that he met his long lost father. These two characters couldn’t be more different and this issue spends a lot of time dealing with those differences.
This issue is one of those slow tales that takes place between major story arcs. It gives the characters a chance to breathe and prepare for their next adventure in the never-ending battle. It also allows for a lot of character development. I have to say that I found this boys’ night out to be a fun read. Connor in Roy’s favorite strip club, Roy in Connor’s favorite book store - the book provided a lot of contrasts to these characters. My problem with the book is that instead of putting these two interesting heroes into situations that highlighted their differing characteristics, Winick chooses to use dialog to explain ad nauseum how different this character is from the other. First Ollie explains to Roy how different he is from Connor. Then Roy and Connor explain to each other how different they are from one another. The trips to the book store and the strip club are great examples of how these to guys are different, but instead of just letting these scenes play out, we have to hear both characters explain how different they are from one another once again. Then we get an obligatory action sequence, followed by yet another discourse on the differences between Connor and Roy. We get it Judd, you don’t have to explain it to us as if we were avid Real World fans (Okay that was a cheap shot. My apologies).
People are always telling me to stop saying what I wanted from this book or that book. “Focus on what you got, Bug,” they say. Well, what I wanted was some action (much like the tiny scene in this issue), highlighting the differences between the two characters. And I got that, but it wasn’t enough. Seeing Connor talking someone out of a grocery store stick-up while Roy chucks soup cans at them was a great way to accentuate how these two characters differ from one another, and it did accentuate that, but it would have been much more powerful had we not just read about those differences for the first fifteen pages of the book. There’s no need to dumb this comic down so much. The differences are pretty obvious. Let the actions speak for themselves. This is a comic, not the real world. The budget is limitless. Why make a comic that someone could reproduce with a shoe-string budget when the same amount of ink could take these guys through situations that push them to their limits? It boils down to lack of imagination and as far as this issue is concerned, Judd’s lack is quite obvious.
The art was hit and miss. There were panels that captured the characters emotions and personalities to a tee. Yet there were others that seemed rushed and all too cartoony. Manuel Garcia seems to have potential with the pencil, but his consistency from panel to panel needs some work. Garcia did provide one very well crafted action panel depicting the faces of two thugs cowering in fear. Behind them is the reflection of Roy, leaping through the air, ready to tackle them through the front store window. This panel reminded me of how the most clichÃ© of sequences can be made interesting through imaginative camera angles. Brian Bolland’s cover is phenomenal as usual depicting one of the more memorable moments in the book.
Connor Hawke has fallen into the supporting character category since Ollie Queen’s resurrection. For quite a while, Chuck Dixon wrote some truly classic tales toward the end of the previous GREEN ARROW series. Connor was developing into an interesting character, one who was quite the opposite of his predecessor. Given more time, I’m sure Connor would have developed into a iconic hero as distinct as his dear old dad. But due to a certain pudgy director/part-time comic book writer, Connor has reverted to the "Robin" role in Green Arrow, so any chance to see Connor in action is a good one for me. I just wish we could have seen some more of that action instead of having it mapped out and explained to us as if we were in kindergarten.
PALOMAR: THE COLLECTED HEARTBREAK SOUP (TPB)
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
If I had a top ten essential trade collections, and one of these days I’ll probably have to make one to justify this statement, PALOMAR would be on it without a doubt. This new 512-page hardcover collection pulls together all of the Heartbreak Soup stories of Gilbert Hernandez – that’s every single one, from fifteen years and 14 trade paperbacks of comics, in one volume. How essential is this collection? Let me put it this way: there are people who invest a great deal of energy trying to convince a skeptical public that comics can be literature; I will just hand them this book, to show them that it already is.
First, some background. Gilbert Hernandez is one-half of the team (or a third, or 5/8, depending on how you want to count the sporadic contributions of brother Mario) behind my favorite comic book series LOVE AND ROCKETS. L&R started out way back in 1981 as a goofy little sci-fi comic self-published by a trio of brothers in LA, gradually evolving into the sprawling surrealistic dramas it came to be known for. Writing and drawing their own stories, the book oscillated between Jaime Hernandez’s punk-rock intrigues in Texas and LA, and Gilbert Hernandez’s familial epics in Central America. Remember, the alternative comics scene as we know it was practically non-existent at the time – the ties between the underground comics that had withered away with the head shops and the underground rock scene currently taking root in the last waves of punk music were largely forged by Los Bros Hernandez themselves, enough so that when alternative music broke through in the 90’s it featured a band named after their comic. (A band probably best forgotten about, but nevertheless...) There were many reasons that LOVE AND ROCKETS should never have succeeded: it was black and white, it was magazine sized, the stories were long and complex with too many characters in too many complicated relationships, most of the main characters were women, many of the characters were gay, and almost none of the characters were white. It celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. In 1995, and after 50 issues there was a brief hiatus where Jaime and Gilbert carried their characters off to their own projects. Most of these characters returned to the second LOVE AND ROCKETS series, begun just a few years ago. Luba and her family, major fixtures in Gilbert’s stories throughout the series, have moved on to America in the LUBA series. But Palomar and its many remaining inhabitants have not been revisited, and it looks as though Gilbert closed the book on Heartbreak Soup with his last LOVE AND ROCKETS collection, “Luba Conquers the World.” With his Palomar cycle of stories complete, it only makes sense to pull them together into a single graphic novel (one of the few cases where that irritating marketing term “graphic novel” truly applies).
Gilbert Hernandez set the majority of his L&R stories in his fictional village of Palomar, a place so vividly realized that a reader will occasionally find themselves idly searching it out on the map. It must be there somewhere in Central America between the mountains and the sea, miles away from the nearest train station or telephone line; it could be there still. Even more memorable than the place is the people who populate it, from Chelo, the sheriff and midwife, to Luba, alternately matron of a bathhouse, manager of the movie screen, and mayor of the town. Time does pass in Palomar, and though we mainly see the town evolve through the often contrary viewpoints of these two very strong women there are many other characters who come and go through the years. Children are born, grow up, marry, move, have children of their own, and meet other fates that no one could have imagined.
“Human Diastrophism” opens with the ferocious Luba in angry confrontation with her teenage daughter while a body rots in the river nearby. A killer is loose on the sleepy streets of Palomar, generating an atmosphere of fear and distrust that slowly unravels the social fabric of the town. Or was it the other way around, and the disintegrating society has generated death in its midst? Perhaps only Humberto the young artist knows for sure, who saw the face of the killer and can only paint his portrait over and over while families shutter their windows. For even the capture of the serial killer doesn’t end the violence: the madness seems to spill over into the monkeys who raid the town and snatch Luba’s own children. Families split apart; children reject their parents; love, rather than redeeming, leads to disaster, loss and self-destruction. “Diastrophism” (the word referring to forces that deform the earth’s surface) marks the turning point of the novel, the point where things fall apart and everything thereafter is trying desperately to put itself back together again. Gilbert’s art is never stronger than in this story, his storytelling both spare and richly detailed, devastating in its impact. I would argue that it’s a high point not only for the series but for independent comics in general – and PALOMAR has another and some would say even greater peak still to come in Luba’s life story, “Poison River”. Unforgettable characters, groundbreaking stories, and a level of visual invention unmatched in indie comics to date - right now I can’t think of a better single volume of comics than PALOMAR.
Now we just need a matching Locas in Love volume to get Jaime in on the action - how about it, Fantagraphics?
TEEN TITANS #5
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Mike McKone
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
This is gonna be one of those reviews that’s about the issue to a degree, but about the monthly book more. See, there’s been a lot of debate around the TL@ Clubhouse the last few months. Some like this series, some like it with reservations, and some don’t know what they’re talking about and can’t stop living in the past (eeeeaaasy, Vroom - drop the hunting knife).
You’ve already seen the reviews and TalkBacks here where some people have made it clear they’re unhappy with the direction Geoff Johns is taking the book and its characters. They feel the changes are too fast, too inexplicable, and are causing the characters to mutate into something they’re not meant to be. Fortunately, I understand that sometimes other people can be wrong, and this is one of those times. As a result, I can enjoy the book without them ruining it for me.
Four of the seven characters were regulars in YOUNG JUSTICE, and I fully expect a few more may show up yet. They’re the younger characters, and the ones everybody at this point seems to be so upset over, so let’s address each of them: Robin is Batman’s sidekick, but he’s making a point of defining himself as his own person with his own attitudes and methods far earlier than Dick Grayson ever did. Some see this as him being a snotty, ungrateful punk. I say good on him; the sooner he takes a stand the better. Otherwise he runs the risk of turning into a lonely, spiteful old coot with no life. Superboy is a…ummm…he’s got tactile teleki…whatever, dude. He’s Superboy, right? Only he’s finally becoming a little less bull-headed, a little less cocky, and a bit more disciplined. There’s Wonder Girl, who’s just a regular girl whose mom knew Wonder Woman - well, if by “just” you mean she’s already been trained by Diana and Artemis, among others. She’s also maturing quite nicely, and Ares sure seems interested in what she’s up to. And finally, good ol’ Kid Flash. Sure, some of you remember him as Impulse, but he’s not that kid any more. He’s smarter, more focused, more determined than he’s ever been.
Well, yeah, sure, I can see now why somebody wouldn’t want to read about these characters, right? They were just soooo much better off in their own half-assed titles or the overly punny and unfocused YOUNG JUSTICE. Hey, YJ fans, don’t get me wrong - I bought the entire run. Hell, I’m sure Johns himself is a fan of David’s work. Thing is, YJ was very scattershot, and there were a lot of groaners in most issues. The last couple of years on the book were also pretty much all over the map, and Li’l Lobo was a mistake of tragic proportions worsened by his love affair with his Jamaican teammate Empress. It was okay for a light, fun, inconsequential read. Don’t get me wrong, though - I think Peter David did some really good things with the run, too. Among them was laying the groundwork for some good character development. He managed to keep things interesting by allowing the characters to actually evolve.
Which is what TEEN TITANS is. It’s a natural maturation of these characters. It feels like a year or two has passed since they first formed YJ, and they’re starting to change as a result of their experiences. Is the book a little darker, a little more serious than YJ? Yeah, but it kinda needs to be. That’s what happens when you grow up. I know I was more serious at, say, 16 or 17 than I was at 13 or 14. TEEN TITANS is a natural bridge between the characters’ younger selves and what they’ll have to become if they want to hold their own in a world of JLA's and JSA's and Outsiders (shiver). While I too lament the fact there aren’t enough lighthearted books with young characters to keep the kids interested, there’s no question YJ had started to stagnate, and Johns is doing a hell of a job with the characterization and development.
None of the changes he’s made is a surprise; the groundwork for all of it was laid right there in YOUNG JUSTICE’s run, as well as in the characters’ individual books. The most controversial so far seems to be Bart suddenly deciding to dump the Impulse persona and become Kid Flash. It isn’t sudden, though. It’s been a long time coming. At least halfway back in the YOUNG JUSTICE run it was established that despite coming off as scattered and goofy and immature, Bart was really hurt by the lack of respect and consideration he got from his teammates. It’s been covered in his solo book, as well. Hell, even The Flash was overheard saying he didn’t think Bart had what it took. It’s been something on Bart’s mind for a long time. We even saw it in GRADUATION DAY (still shivering) and the first two issues of TEEN TITANS. So when Bart’s knee got blown off, he didn’t “suddenly” change. It was a catalyst - nothing more. The transition was a long time coming. Bart’s been thinking about this for quite some time, and he finally just had enough and decided it was time to step up to the plate and take control of the situation.
In the end, what it all boils down to is this: Johns is a helluva writer. The book is well written and the character development is believable and much needed. It’s exciting and it once again showcases his deftness at juggling multiple characters, giving them all just enough attention in between stuff gettin’ blowed up real good. I can’t wait to see where the Impulse and Wonder Girl subplots go once Johns moves ‘em up from the back burner. Truth is, most of you already know this is a book well worth watching. I’m just here to give the book a little equal time. Some of the kids have been slaggin' it off, but I think it’s a book you’re gonna want to keep up with - it’s just too good and too important to miss. This is the next generation of heroes coming into their own.
PALEO: TALES OF THE LATE CRETACEOUS #7
Writer/Artist: Jim Lawson
Publisher: Zeromayo Studios
Reviewed by Cormorant
One of my favorite trade paperbacks to hit this year was an under-the-radar number called PALEO, which featured the first six issues of the small press dinosaur comic of the same name (review to be found here). The stories in it tended to be pretty grim - survival tales with little guarantee that the lead would make it to the end. Reading the trade was like watching five or six lions-killing-gazelles nature specials in a row, but the stories were so gripping that they were impossible to resist. And the biggest mitigating for the grimness level?
The leads themselves. THE DINOSAURS.
Yes, watching well-drawn, non-Disneyfied dinosaurs doing just about anything is cool, even if it's dying. That's something to keep in mind when you take in this latest issue, a surprise release for me since I'd assumed the PALEO series would conclude with six issues. But it looks like writer/artist Jim Lawson still has some demons to exorcise through the curious genre of "dino-survival," and he kickstarts the next leg of the series with the biggest and baddest dinosaur of them all: the Tyrannosaurus Rex (cover painting here). Think it's all been done with ol' T-Rex? We'll see…
We open with a beautifully-rendered splash of a pack of smallish plant-eating dinosaurs chomping on…well, plants. If there were any online art samples from the book I'd post 'em in a New York minute, because even mundane scenes like this are jaw-droppers when filtered through Lawson's dense black-and-white art. His minimalist narrative captions add to the atmosphere, noting the total silence of the moment save for the droning of insects and the occasional snap or crunch of a leaf. It's a classic set-up scene, and yep, it's not long before a Tyrannosaurus Rex bursts from the tree line and throws everything into chaos. The plant-eaters scatter, momentarily confusing the female T-Rex, but she's determined enough to chase one of them across a nearby mud flat towards open water. She begins to gain and things look bleak for the plant-eater until it finds itself skimming dexterously across the shallows of the shoreline even as the Tyrannosaur hits the water wrong and takes a vicious tumble headlong into the lake.
And here's what's fascinating: having read previous PALEO stories, including a memorable one about a giant, prehistoric dragonfly becoming trapped in tree sap, I knew that Lawson pulled no punches when it came to unpleasant deaths. Which made watching that Tyrannosaur tumble an "oh SHIT" moment along the lines of the "bring out the gimp" scene in PULP FICTION. I knew something bad was about to go down, and indeed, subsequent panels reveal the T-Rex to have fallen forward flat on its stomach, the shallow water just level with its lower jaw. Its forepaws are too small to be of any use righting itself, and its massive hind legs are, tragically, mired in thick mud. Struggling only makes it worse, and we're only halfway through the story when it becomes clear – she's not going anywhere – a single awkward fall is going to end her life. Her legs go numb after a few hours, small predators gather at the shore, and seabirds begin to land on her back when she loses the energy to thrash about.
It's riveting. If there's a weakness to this story, it's that Lawson mixes up the past and present tense of his caption narrative a few times – amateur glitches that most may not even notice – but the purity of the scenario is absolutely heart-pounding. It might be relatively straightforward, but it confronts and challenges the reader on a primal level that's a refreshing counterpoint to the elaborate plotting or character interaction that we usually associate with a "good story." This issue asks, indirectly, What does it mean to die? Is the death of an animal as tragic as the death of a person? Can dignity be salvaged in a lingering death? And why the hell are you getting caught up in identifying with the fate of a monster of a carnivore who was about to chew up some helpless carnivores at the beginning of the comic?
Much credit must go to Lawson as writer, even if he lets a few typos slip by. He doesn't try to humanize the Tyrannosaurus, but the captions describing its utter inability to understand its situation – that is, its first encounter with fear – nevertheless create a primal empathy. In a very real way, PALEO #7 is the most hardboiled comic I've read all year. And this Lawson guy is born to draw dinosaurs. He lavishes detailed skin textures on them, fearlessly reveals their actions through energetic perspectives (remember the T-Rex all but getting its nose in the "fleeing" camera in JURASSIC PARK? That kind of stuff), and just plain draws so much detail that I'm there in the wilds of the Late Cretaceous.
That a book of such craftsmanship and, yes, emotion, is destined to be seen by so few…well, it just ain't right. I mean, you probably didn't even see this book on store shelves last week, right? It speaks to both retailer timidness in ordering and the typical conservatism of readers that it would go un-ordered and un-purchased. I understand this to some degree – no one wants to get burned on new stuff, and we've all been burned too often – but this one is worth looking for on the shelves, and worth asking your retailer to order if it's not there.
In a damn good week of comics, including CONAN: THE LEGEND, FABLES, GOTHAM CENTRAL, and more, this unsung little monster was still my favorite.
Geoff Johns: Writer
Don Kramer: Artist
DC Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Full of turkey
Hey guys, this is Buzz Maverik. Since Vroom has this habit of talking down about books not pertinent to the issue being reviewed, especially where Geoff Johns is concerned, I’ve taken the liberty of hooking him up to a little something I got on loan from a behavior specialist. Should Vroom talk about any comic other than JSA, he’ll receive a mild electric shock.
Waitaminute! I didn’t agree to this! You mean if I even mention what a mess Johns has made of Aveng-
Gah! Okay, okay.
Well, any die-hard Johns fans out there who hated my review of… that is, the review I wrote last week, are going to be pleasantly surprised this week. While this issue of JSA isn’t necessarily the best ever, it is a whole mess o’ fun. Basically, it’s one of those fun fillers, a self-contained story that’s written for laughs. The really cool thing is the laughs don’t come at the expense of the characters, but through them.
The story itself is pretty simple: the JLA and JSA get together for Thanksgiving dinner, some low-rent villains show up, and the two teams put them in their place. The thing is, the bad guys are only there for three pages, and the JLA/JSA handing them their ass happens all off-panel. Most of the issue is devoted to holiday hi-jinx and small character moments. I don’t really want to go in to too much detail, because when you over-explain little bits like these, you end up ruining them.
I will say that, while much of this issue has references to events of the past, this is a very first-time-friendly issue. For example, there’s reference to Jesse Quick and her mother having patched up their differences. What those differences are isn’t important, and since only about five people even remember why they were fighting in the first place, (FYI, it started in the previous run of the Tita-
Mrah! Now come ON! That should be in bounds!
Anyway, Johns has worked his way back into my good graces with this issue. I had a blast with this book. I loved all the little character dynamics he worked into the story, stuff like Superman/Power Girl, Power Girl/Wildcat, Dr. Mid-Nite/Black Canary, and, of course, Hawkman/Green Arrow. And speaking of that moment, I couldn’t help but think of former TalkBacker Qwerty Uiop when Ollie showed up wearing a coat and slacks, wondering aloud why everyone was wearing their costumes to dinner.
There are also a few other fun bits, like Captain Marvel and Stargirl debating the seating arrangements, and Jakeem and Impulse discussing the Keystone City school system. (Yes, he’s still Impulse in this issue. Even if he wasn’t, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I refer to Bart as “Kid Fla-
Goddamnit! That’s IT!
Hey! Leave those wires alone!
All right, look. Yes, this issue was a great deal of fun. Yes, I hope I enjoy whatever Johns does next. But that doesn’t change the fact that the issue of Avengers that also came out this week was a festering piece of-
That does it. *fwat*
Ow! Did you just shoot me with a blowgun? You crazy fuuuuuugggggggg.
Well, it looks like Vroom has fallen asleep. Look for more from him next week.
FALLEN ANGEL #5: We're five issues into Peter David's decidedly offbeat urban fantasy noir, and we still haven't settled on a status quo. Is that allowed? I sure as hell hope so, because the non-spoon-fed stories and mystery of the setting are half the reason I'm there. In this latest issue, the third installment of a story that began in issue #3, I was pleased to see our heroine, Lee, once again working closely with Peter Lorre-esque henchman, Slate. Great team. Plus the coldhearted Dr. Juris shows a glimpse of humanity, likeable scumbag "Asia Minor" steals another scene, and Black Mariah turns up for sex. Any initial reservations I had about the series have long since faded. - Cormorant
IRON MAN #419: John Jackson Miller continues to breathe new life into the Armored Avenger. This was a slow issue, but filled with memorable character moments from Stark, especially the Q&A grilling Stark undergoes with his advisors to prepare for his announcement as Secretary of Defense. I'm hoping to see some armored fisticuffs soon, but Miller is maintaining my interest so far. Nu Marvel-ness flourishes throughout, but this writer has the talent and respect for the character (and his history) to make it work. Jorge Lucas is getting better and better with each issue, bringing life to ol' Shellhead in his own unique artistic style. Can't wait to see how this one turns out. –Ambush Bug
GUN THEORY #2: Marvel has effectively pulled the plug on its stillborn Epic line, and the biggest loss isn't the pending SLEEPWALKER relaunch (yuk yuk), but the blind eye readers have turned to one of the few Epic books to actually get produced: GUN THEORY. It's a brutal, non-superhero look at a particular incident in the life of a hitman – and he's not one of those movie hitmen, but the kind of amoral hitman people really hire. His world is chilling in its authenticity, with the lead describing his work in an almost documentary-like fashion. Issue #2 is a fascinating and heartless "day in the life" sort of story, and though there's a girl – there's always a girl – I don't see this series wrapping with the star-crossed lovers driving happily into the sunset. Nice art too, like the work of a more-structured Paul Pope. Check it out. It's only two issues in and it's already ten times more substantive than Mark Millar's Epic shitfest, TROUBLE. - Cormorant
SEI: DEATH AND LEGEND: Usually if I had to choose I would recommend books based on their writing; this one I recommend based on its art. This is a beautifully painted book from Image Comics portraying spirits of the Japanese shinto tradition. Lovely to look at, with colorful and playful imagery, fine front and back covers and some nifty pin-ups to boot. But the dialogue is pretty dire. The visuals portray a stately and gorgeous cast of fantastic and ancient beings, unfortunately, what's coming out of their mouths is very often modernist slang like "what's up?" The effect is irritating, but if you ignore the word bubbles altogether the basic story is pretty good. I'd like to see more of this, and hopefully Sho Murase will find a more suitable voice for his characters in time. - Lizzybeth
QUEEN & COUNTRY #20: Wow, this was the week for uncompromisingly harsh comics, and QUEEN & COUNTRY concludes its latest arc with a toughness that would shrivel James Bond's gonads. Short version: Tara's holed up a safe house in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. Her cover's blown, she's had the crap beaten out of her, and her fellow agent was killed in the previous issue. With orders to abort the mission and return home, she decides on one last play. Subtlety and spycraft go out the window as she resorts to tactics we like to think only the "bad guys" use. I wasn't big on Carla Speed McNeil's art at first, but each issue has gotten better and she really seems to've found her groove by the end of her arc. Wouldn't mind a return visit at some point. - Cormorant
INCREDIBLE HULK #63: My God, where to begin. There is so much wrong with this issue and with Bruce Jones' entire run on this series. Every "truth" that is revealed is immediately countered with another "truth" which may or may not be true as well. Is Mr. Blue actually a face-lifted Betty? Who knows? The mystery has gone on for so long, I don't really care. Jones has successfully made it so that you can't believe what ANYONE says in this book, leaving this reader wondering why he continues to read it. It's just bad. The last season of X-FILES-bad. Plus, the book has been about every other character but the Hulk for so long that I no longer know if it's out of character or not when the big green guy busts out with an intelligent line like "I can't believe General Ross would allow them to take away your face." Is he the Dumb Hulk or Banner Hulk? And am I supposed to believe that a bunch of velociraptors and a helicopter is all that it takes to push Hulk to the savage point of no return? A shit I giveth not anymore. At least we've seen the Hulk in the last few issues, but what we've seen is just as pointless as the rest of Jones' run. For the love of God, fire this guy yesterday! –Ambush Bug
FABLES #19: Snow White dreams of dire portents spoken by the severed head of one of the Three Little Pigs, goblins waylay a semi, Prince Charming reveals a guile that goes beyond his lightweight surface image, and the last page features a new and shocking arrival in Fabletown. It's a jumping-on, point, yes, and an issue literally jam-packed with fascinating stuff, but really, if you're a newcomer you should just nab the FABLES: LEGENDS IN EXILE trade and start from the beginning. This book continues to maintain its slight edge on Y, THE LAST MAN for Vertigo's best series. -Cormorant
GOTHAM CENTRAL #13: Another phenomenal issue of intense cop drama by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and art by Michael Lark. A deadly sniper terrorizes Gotham and it might be...the Joker! But once again I leave this issue with one nagging question. Why, oh why, does this comic not have a floating head roster page? I spend more time trying to distinguish which character is which than I do reading the damn book. It is great that this book perfectly illustrates real life characters, situations, and settings, but since no one wears costumes in this book, it is absolutely impossible to tell one character from the other. This one detriment keeps this good book from being truly great. - Ambush Bug