Hey @$$holes, Greg Scott, aka AICN's Village Idiot here.
See our masthead? Although at first glance that may appear to be a picture of Tetsuo from AKIRA, that's actually a picture of AICN's Cormorant shortly after reading IDENTITY CRISIS #2. It's true.
Or no, wait -- maybe it's AICN's Ambush Bug after hearing Cormorant's views on IDENTITY CRISIS #2.
I don't know, these guys tend to look alike after a while.
The important thing is that there was a lot of controversy in the inter-office memos this week, and now we're having it spill into this week's column with our special IDENTITY CRISIS feature, IDENTITY CRIS@$$ 2: An @$$ Divided.
We also have AICN's Jon Quixote taking a look at the recent CAPTAIN AMERICA #29. Apparently, it's safe to read CAPTAIN AMERICA again. Someone alert Michael Medved.
Tired of having the punk rock cashier at the comic shop secretly sneer at you during check-out? AICN's Lizzybeth is back, talking about the cool independent comics which are the surefire antidote for that little weasel's passive-agressive attitude problem.
SHE-HULK, ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN, Cheap Shots and more - The column's a doozy this week, so let's get started.
(Click title to go directly to the review)
Special Feature: IDENTITY CRIS@$$ 2
CAPTAIN AMERICA #29
MCSWEENEY'S ISSUE 13
SILVERADO #1 & SPARTANS #2
ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN VOL. 6
TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD: 100 STORIES
I Hated It! Really!
Cormorant on IDENTITY CRISIS #2
IDENTITY CRISIS is that rarest of rare superhero stories: a truly must-read event comic.
--Dramatic closing from my own review of IDENTITY CRISIS #1, circa a month ago
Man am I gonna be pissed if that ends up on the inevitable IDENTITY CRISIS trade paperback.
Is it to late for take-backs?
Oh well, at least I had a caveat in that review, and that was my marked distaste for the trigger event of the series: the murder of the Elongated Man's wife, Sue Dibny. She's never been much more than a supporting player, but alongside Ralph Dibny she represented one of the very rare happy couples in superhero comics (Who's left? Lois and Clark, Reed and Sue...maybe Jack Knight and Sadie?). And then there's the incongruity of her demise as juxtaposed with her role in the DC Universe. Here's a character whose last regular "gig" was playing den mother to the wacky JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE...whose husband is the Elongated Man fer Chrissakes...and suddenly she's being burned alive? While pregnant?!
Dramatic? Well, yeah, but so is clubbing a baby seal. Still, IDENTITY CRISIS #1 was a damn well-written opener, brimming with emotional scenes, scattered with clever new angles on DC villains, unashamedly reveling in the wild tapestry of DC's costumed heroes. It won me over at the time.
But it turns out writer Brad Meltzer wasn't done with Sue Dibny yet, and so my least favorite aspect of the first issue became the focus of IDENTITY CRISIS #2. The Justice League has split up to track down weak leads on her unknown assailant, but a small contingent of Leaguers are secretly convinced the culprit is the villain known as Dr. Light. When I was reading comics in the '80s, Dr. Light was something of a buffoonish bad guy, a white-haired oldster who was afraid of the Teen Titans and played the role of comic relief in THE SUICIDE SQUAD. I can only gather he was more of an A-list threat in his early days, though, as writer Brad Meltzer gives us a flashback to his last great act of villainy:
HERE COMES THE BIG SPOILER, KIDS. JUMP TO THE NEXT REVIEW NOW IF YOU DON'T WANNA READ IT!
Raping Sue Dibny.
A retroactive rape scenario, mind you. Nothing in Sue's past has ever indicated she's a victim of rape, but who knows...maybe that'll be a story element. In any case, this is the part of the review where I put aside any pretense of objectivity, shift into editorial mode, and say straight-up that I think this is a horrible fucking mistake for DC. I say this as someone who enjoys the R-rated crime stories in SLEEPER, who appreciates the mature depiction of sexuality, both gay and straight, in Eric Shannower's AGE OF BRONZE, and who tore through Frank Miller's hyper-violent SIN CITY with manic glee.
But then again, those books don't take place in a fictional setting founded as juvenile adventure. IDENTITY CRISIS does.
But what about the virtue of realism, you ask? Isn't that what grounds so many of the best superhero stories and makes 'em great? What about DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN and THE KILLING JOKE? What about the death of Reed and Sue's baby in FANTASTIC FOUR #267?
The answer, alas, isn't simple. Yes, varying degrees of realism have been a major part of the appeal for superhero comics since Lee, Kirby, and Ditko wove their magic in the '60s, but can we at least agree that there's such a thing as stepping over the line sometimes? It's a different line for everyone, but I think we'd all of us agree that full-penetration shots of Sue's rape would've been a no-no, right?
Well Meltzer refrained from that, but he did give us Light chasing and blinding her, the sound of him tearing her pants, some close-ups on her screaming mouth, a close-up of her hands apparently burning where Dr. Light has her pinned, and two panels of her head shaking as Light presumably thrusts away behind her. Later Dr. Light recreates the assault holographically (off-screen, at least) to taunt the Justice Leaguers who caught him.
It soooooooooo fucking crosses the line.
I almost can't imagine how anyone could view it otherwise. Woman raped by once-wonky supervillain (in the Justice League headquarters, no less!) in the midst of DC's most mainstream and ballyhooed event of the summer? Gimme a break. But I forget that the vast majority of superhero readers are 20-and-up (skewing ever closer to 30-and-up), and given their historic devotion to superheroes to the exclusion of all other comic book genres...I guess I can at least see the novelty of this particular crime making its way to the capes 'n' cowls books. Myself, I'd equate it with the novelty of seeing Bugs Bunny cracking sex jokes or the Hardy Boys working "The Case of the Mysterious Snuff Film." The superhero genre might be pretty malleable, but when it comes to Marvel and DC's worlds specifically, I'm gonna dare to say there are some taboos worth keeping. You keep them not to shield readers from grim truths, not to hide from reality, but because there are far better genres for exploring grim truths and reality than fucking superheroes!
This is especially true for the Marvel and DC Universes, where the franchises are built on an essentially upbeat vision of heroism. I'm already sick of those stories where the Joker touts his body count (Jason Todd, Sarah Essen, Barbara Gordon), but at least Batman's world is sort of its own dark subsection of the DC Universe. IDENTITY CRISIS casts a pall over the entire Justice League, the greatest heroes in the company's line-up! Can't you just hear the morose angst this'll inspire? "Flash, you've got to stop Professor Ivo from escaping! After all, we don't want another...(dramatic pause)...SUE DIBNY!" Just the thought of that makes me want to drop every single DC book I buy.
The big question, then, is whether Meltzer's writing is somehow so good that it makes this ugly situation work. I'd say Frank Miller managed to pull off such a feat in the amazing "Born Again" storyline in DAREDEVIL, as did John Byrne when he wrote Sue's miscarriage in THE FANTASTIC FOUR. Exceptions do most certainly exist, the how's and why's being a discussion for another time. But for me, newcomer Brad Meltzer doesn't have the chops. I found his blend of Silver Age trappings with realism to be novel in the first issue, but now it's starting to look like the worst kind of fannish conceit. How can I take a rape seriously when the issue ends on a corny cliffhanger straight from a Republic serial? Or when the heroes maintain their Silver Age morality even when Dr. Light is taunting them with a holographic recreation of the rape? (Even in the DCU, I think Green Arrow or Hawkman would've offed him.) When Meltzer's main technique for giving credibility to goofy old villains is to sleaze 'em up? (Shadow Thief addicted to his own powers, Captain Boomerang peddling superpowered drugs, etc.)
Folks, that ain't maturity. SLEEPER is mature. AGE OF BRONZE is mature. SANDMAN is a mature. LOVE & ROCKETS is mature.
Even some of the qualities I liked about Meltzer's first issue melt away in the second one. The scores of DC insider references are beginning to appear obsessively fannish on repetition. Also fannish is Meltzer's use of the rape and the surprise incident that follows to justify something no one but a geek could ever care about: Dr. Light's transition from A-list bad guy in the '60s to jackass in the '80s. Even the central drama is looking more and more contrived, with questions arising as to why junior JLA'ers Flash and Green Lantern figured out something was going on with an inner circle of the team...but hotshot detective Batman and award-winning journalist Superman didn't. And in retrospect, what the hell kind of stakeout was that in the first issue, with two heroes simply sitting on a building ledge, one of them literally on fire because of her powers?!
I don't think I've ever turned on a promising book as quickly and fiercely as I have with IDENTITY CRISIS. I see it as an increasingly bad mystery, a waste of the amazing talents of artist Rags Morales, and as a massive stumble down a slippery slope to "gritty up" DC's characters.
You'd think DC President Paul Levitz would've had a better understanding of the fictional world he presides over.
Oh yeah? Well I Loved It!
Ambush Bug on IDENTITY CRISIS #2
IDENTITY CRISIS is one of those series that you read and it makes one want to read more comics. It offers a glimpse at the entirety of the DC Universe and shows how fascinating a place it really is. I've had similar experiences while reading comics like CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS, the first SECRET WARS series, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, KINGDOM COME, THE OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE and its DC counterpart WHO'S WHO. More than posters, movies, and toys, these comics were the perfect advertisements as to what to expect when you read a Marvel or DC book and encouraged me in my youth to become the comic book ink-bleeding fanboy that I am today. These comics offered snippets of what makes these universes the best in the biz, tempting the reader to seek out the individual titles these characters star in and read more and more and more. As far as marketing goes, a good story with just enough info to tease the reader to look deeper at the books on the shelves is what will guarantee a more interested readership more so than variant covers and "event" books.
But forget Comic Book Marketing 101, IDENTITY CRISIS is one of the most powerful reads I have read in super hero fiction in quite a long time. Issue one hit the comic book industry like an emotional warhead. The series promised something ugly and it delivered. But it wasn't the gross out gratuity that we've seen decorating the shelves from the likes of Mark Millar and Garth Ennis. Sue Dibney, a secondary character, was killed and the comic world was hit hard. Not because of the horror of her death (although the death scene was pretty horrible), but because of the power of the set-up and expert writing that went into its execution and the gut-wrenching events that followed. No one gave a shit about Sue Dibney before reading IDENTITY CRISIS #1, but after putting the book down, you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for Sue in her final desperate moments and not to grieve with Ralph Dibney as we sat right next to him during that painful funeral scene. There are those who are pissed because it was only a secondary character that died. They think that they were jipped because they wanted some spectacle like the death of one of the icons. But instead of a spectacle of those proportions, we were given one of the strongest stories I have ever read starring these characters and I'll take that over a spectacle "event" any old day. The focus was not on the body count, but on the power one death can have on the rest of the heroes. Death resonates in this story. Meltzer made us care. He made us cry. He made us feel true loss right next to Ralph. In that, he did his job better than most writers have done in this entire medium when it comes to dealing with death in comics.
Another thing that impressed me about the first issue (don't worry I'll get on to issue two soon) is that it was chock filled with little details that were just so damn cool. Casting the Calculator as the evil equivalent of the Oracle was a work of sheer genius. The aforementioned funeral scene was one of the most beautifully executed and jaw-droppingly breathtaking splash pages I've ever experienced in comics. And who wasn't impressed with Ollie's clever version of Super Hero CSI investigating the crime scene? All of these things embrace the world of the DCU and deal with them in a smart and fresh way. Like I said before, this book highlights what makes the DCU special.
So on to issue #2 and we get more of the same. I don't want to give away too much, but this issue is filled with more moments of coolness like a super villain meeting spot and a monologue centering on the hierarchy of evil in the DCU. We get to see heroes and villains interacting in ways we have never seen before. And we get one of the most shocking scenes I have seen in comics in quite a while.
Things have been in quite an uproar here at @-hole HQ since the release of IC #2 regarding the scene in question involving a rape. It seems as if the clubhouse is split over this one. One side is pretty disgusted with the severity of the scene that makes up the central part of this issue and has distaste for the book because of it. The other recognizes the disgusting nature of the crime, but feels that it makes for some damn good reading. No one is debating that the act in question is utterly heinous, but some seem to think that actions such as these have no place in the super hero world. That, I believe is a discussion best left for the Talkbacks and I hope they become as spirited as the inter-office comments that have been going on around here. But I'm of the mindset that people wouldn't be in so much of an uproar about the events that occurred in issue two if it wasn't written so well and prefaced so effectively in issue number one. We were told that something horrible was going to happen; that some dark secret was going to be revealed. And that is exactly what happened in issue two. Did we want it to happen? No. By this time we have learned to care for the characters in this book. But it did happen and Meltzer handled it without going over the top with it. Had an Austen or an Ennis written the scene in question, the act would have been played out with devilish glee. Meltzer recognized the severity of the crime, made it memorable and horrific, and then moved on to focus on how the scene effected the rest of the heroes and how they reacted to it.
This is a story about horrible crimes; crimes that do not have easy solutions or punishments. It is a story about a crime that cannot be wrapped up in a bow and dealt with by simply dropping the bad guy off at the downtown sheriff's office. The heroes are faced with tough choices; choices they normally do not have to deal with in the black and white world of spandex and capes. Meltzer is challenging these heroes in ways that test their core systems of belief. He's not doing it in a tasteless, wanton manner (the villain may be depicted as crude and disgusting, but that's what a good villain does). Meltzer is telling an effective tale of moral questions and real world horror while respecting current four letter words like "continuity" and "character." He's not cut and pasting Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden in the DCU like Marvel did when they decided to "keep it real" with Captain America. He's not laughing behind his keyboard and saying "Look at what fucked up shit I'm doing to everyone's favorite icons! I can do it simply because I can!" like Millar does with ULTIMATES or Ennis did with PUNISHER. No, he's not doing that at all. Meltzer's taking a terrible real world crime and having these icons deal with it within the confines of the fantastic DCU in a serious manner that respects these long-standing characters.
Simply put, Rags Morales is doing the best artwork in his career on this series. Since his work on BLACK CONDOR all those years ago, I've watched this artist evolve into one of the most talented artists in the biz. Everyone looks at comics and says, "Man, this art is pretty good, but what if "so-and-so" drew this title?" You can't do that with this book. Rags has the talent to make these heroes in garish costumes look dynamic and powerful. There are a lot of scenes where the heroes are standing around and debating. The challenge here is to make these scenes look interesting enough so that these guys don't look ridiculous. Rags choice of angles and attention to detail makes every scene elegant and fitting in context. This is the work of a true talent in the comic book field of art.
Dynamic storytelling, respect for continuity and character, beautiful artwork; this book is the total package. Love it or hate it, this is the book everyone is talking about. It forces its characters and the reader to deal with tough issues in a fresh and smart way and throws in some uber-cool details to boot. Whether the actions depicted in the book offend you or not, you have to admit that Meltzer did his job by posing the tough questions and making us all debate our little fingers off about it. If you haven't read IDENTITY CRISIS, check it out and join the debate.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #29
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Scot Eaton & Drew Gerasi
Published by Marvel Comics
A JonQuixote Review
I want to go on the record as saying that I liked this book. A lot, actually. After two-plus years of Marvel Knights Cap, "real world" Cap, preachy boring topical Cap, speaks-in-cliches & thinks-in-rhetoric Cap, I've been dying for a story where the Living Legend throws his shield at guys dressed up like snakes.
I don't know about you, but the reason I read superhero comics – the most important reason – is 'cause I want to have fun. I want to laugh or bite my nails or whisper "cool" under my breath. I like other stuff too, of course: stuff that resonates, stuff that packs a punch, stuff that makes me think, stuff that makes me cry, but if I'm not having fun, why the hell am I reading CAPTAIN AMERICA or SPIDER-MAN?
So with the MK mandate out the window, Cap is fun again. Real fun. The art is bright and boisterous, and Cap throws a punch or his shield on what seems like every page. His girlfriend wears pink spandex. Nick Fury hovers outside his window. There's a big bad villain working behind the scenes. And the Hydra dentist is going to be working double shifts for the next few weeks.
I love it.
But about the time I hit the page where Cap swoops in on his jet back, dodging the fire from an anti-aircraft gun manned by a Hydra goon chanting "Die! Die! Die!", I got to realizing that the only reason I was loving it was because I've been starving for it.
OVER THE TOP ain't just the world's greatest Arm Wrestling movie anymore. This book is crazy goofy. It's pixie sticks. Too much exposure will give your brain diabetes. It's not that it's without a brain in its head – there's a neat idea at the center of the plot, and a cool "gotta read the next one" hook at the end – but we're talking some seriously Willy Wonka stuff here.
I'm going to speculate and say this is a result of overcompensation. Like when you're fifteen and your mom catches you watching THE SOUND OF MUSIC while wrapped in her curtains and pirouetting on the linoleum, so you hurredly wallpaper every inch of your room with pictures of Shannon Doherty so she doesn't send you back to that special camp where they make you wear blue. I'm going to guess that the mandate was, "we want to bring back the 'super' to Captain America" and the good Mr. Kirkman nodded so hard his head fell off.
I'm hoping that the goal isn't to make we who have been bitching about MK Captain America look really, really stupid. Because if a proponent of John Ney Reiber's run - and by 'proponent' I mean 'his Grandma' - wanted to throw this at us and go "see, look at what you have wrought" my defense would consist of little more than a lot of shrugging and some serious blushing.
Captain America works best when the primary goal is to have fun, but the people spinning his adventures know to keep his feet on the ground. This is actually true of most fantasy, but essential to one predicated on the idea of a single man in a world of gods and monsters.
Hopefully this take on Cap is merely transitional. Kirkman and Marvel screaming from the top of their lungs that ding-dong, the grim & gritty experiment is dead. And that once they put away their trumpets, we'll get back to Cap as we all know and love – still fun and exciting, but hold the self-parody. Then all will be right in the world. Or at least these pages.
But it is fun. And it is a welcome change of direction. So if you like your superheroes, and you're able to grin like an idiot at something loud, flashy, and a teeny bit silly without feeling too self-conscious, then this is your stop.
It is mine. It might not be ideal, but I'm just really happy to be buying Captain America again.
MCSWEENEY'S ISSUE 13
Edited by Chris Ware
Published by McSweeney's Inc.
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT!!
Okay, maybe it was just two or three Talkbackers who demanded it, but
it was because of your requests for review that I picked up this thing.
Thanks, guys. This book is about eight pounds of awesome, which I will
detail after this little diversion –
and Related Publication THE BELIEVER:
Writing pretentiously isn't that hard. You just go on in a stream-of-conscious manner and try not to come out and say anything meaningful even though you're thinking about it really hard. Meanwhile, in the back of your mind, behind an armada of commas, is the sneaking suspicion that all of this is ultimately meaningless, which of course, by realizing it, the act of realizing it, this elusive truth behind all of our artistic graspings etc etc etc, has given it all meaning. In a way.
Yes, this is what reading MCSWEENEY'S is often like when left to its own devices. Don't get me wrong, I like Dave Eggers, who despite himself actually has something to say once in awhile. But the literary publication/"Quarterly Concern"/doorstop can be pretty tedious sometimes because of its hollow anti-style postures. In it's own double-negative kind of way, it's much too proud of itself just for being different without often managing to be interesting. At the same time, I have to commend MCSWEENEY'S for the following attributes:
- Terrific production design. Inventive, attractive, and interactive,
these are books you want to own, if not for their contents then
certainly for how they'll look on your coffee table.
- The above quality, and self-published. That's no small feat, since
usually production values are the first thing sacrificed by a small
- It may sometimes be annoying, but MCSWEENEY'S certainly has character,
and in that way it holds together anthology material in a very readable
way for those of us who haven't read short stories since high school.
- In a time when 99% of literary magazines have an average readership of about 20 people, god bless 'em, they're TRYING. The magazine has stuck a number of good ideas to the wall in the past 13 issues, and that's better than the rest of the newsstand could say.
Which brings me to ISSUE 13, the comics-centered issue put together by guest-editor Chris Ware. Here we have, if not the best literary magazine in the country certainly one of the only games in town, dedicating a quarter of 2004 to presenting comics, strips, and comic-related articles, helmed by one of the most acclaimed "Literary Comics" creators of the current decade. Is it good? Well, for those who are turned off by the above, here's what you need to know:
Basically this is a compendium of the alternative comics industry as produced and commemorated circa 2004. There is a little bit of everything in here, to a mind-boggling degree - it's like one of those candy stores where you only have a little bag and every kind of candy in the world standing in front of you. You only wish you could have more. For the comic-historians, there are articles and sample strips from some of the very first comics by Rodolphe Topffer, along with amazing original drawings and roughs for comic strips MUTT AND JEFF, KRAZY KAT, and PEANUTS. There are essays on comics by writers like John Updike, Glen David Gold, and Chip Kidd, and new work by creators like Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Art Spiegelman, Kim Deitch, Julie Doucet, Debbie Dreschler, and a cover by Chris Ware that's driving me crazy. I want to unwrap it and read the enormous Acme Novelty Library spread but I just know I'll never be able to fold it up and get it back on the book again. There are samples from comics I've never seen before but just love here, such as UNDERWORLD COMEDY, THE LITTLE NUN, HOTEL & FARM, and a fantastic and apparently unnamed story by Richard McGuire. I must find all of these immediately. Then there are stories from current titles FRANK, SOF BOY, BLACK HOLE, THE FIXER, LOUIS RIEL, SULK, CLYDE FANS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, and OPTIC NERVE (some interesting selections, maybe not the segments I would have picked, but they stand alone quite well). Not to mention some surprising inclusions like the eye-opening paintings of Philip Gustave, an article on the early alternative publisher Nova Comics, and two mini-comics tucked into the outside pocket of the book jacket.
In other words, YES. It is good. It is genuinely a collector's item, and an enlightening read for comics fans and non-fans alike. If there are any copies left at your story, better pick them up fast.
Written by Andrew Warren
THE SPARTANS #2
Penciled by Fred Reyes
Inked by Michael Collins
Published by Black Bolt Entertainment
Written by Adam Messano
Penciled by Fred Reyes
Inked by Aaron Leach
Published by Black Bolt Entertainment
A JonQuixote Review
A while back (Holy crap, a year ago! Where did my life go?), I lucked into getting a copy of an independent comic called THE SPARTANS. I reviewed it HERE.
Now if you're like me and you hear the word "Independent comic," you immediately start thinking of stories featuring people with goatees, talking about coffee and making BATTLESTAR GALACTICA references, rendered so beautifully so as to make SOUTH PARK look like the Sistine Chapel.
You're probably not thinking of old school superhero stuff with some of the peppiest, purtiest pictures you've ever read. But you'd be wrong. You stupid, stupid dumb person.
Animator/pencilist extraoirdinaire Fred Reyes & Co. has not one, not two, but…okay it is two new comics out just in time for the San Diego Comic Con. And they both feel like they fell out of Stan Lee's mustache. There is another exciting chapter of THE SPARTANS, a team of crimefighters with the classic infighting of The Avengers, and the borderline ineptitude of Chuck Austen's Avengers. And the very first issue of SILVERADO, a Batman meets the Lone Ranger hero patrolling the streets of Meridian City!
And they're fun. And in this post-modern age where deconstructionists rein and hipsters polish their scepters, these comics are refreshingly pure and devoid of self-consciousness. Just superheroes doing their superhero thing.
I'm not going to lie to you, the scripts here aren't going to win any Eisners. SPARTANS writer Adam Messano actually sharpens up from his last kick at the cat, but he's still saddled with a fairly rote story about an attempted assassination. SILVERADO writer Andrew Warren actually spins a cool story about a monster movie and a bank robbery that would feel right at home in a Paul Dini Batman cartoon, but provides a very clunky script that is almost sunk by the weight of some labored banter, but there's nothing a good editor couldn't smooth out. And to their credit, both offer up a share of some seriously cool moments – like Silverado pulling out a gun engraved with the word "Bolo" and shoots…*spoilers*…bolos. That one had me grinning.
And both writers provide an excellent showcase for Fred Reyes's pencils, which are the real standout here. Seriously, if this guy was handed the duties on my favorite comic, whatever it is this month, I'd be thrilled. If he took over the art on a comic I had in my personal top ten, it would automatically contend for my favorite. The work here is crisp and fluid and energetic. It's simply a joy to look at and that's what makes this stuff a joy to read.
It's very clear that these books are labors of love. Love for spinner racks and mustache-twirling bad guys and right hooks. There's enough raw enthusiasm and talent here to make you forget all about the latest marketing driven crossover or hipster writer trying to sleaze up your favorite icon, and just remember what these guys & girls in tights used to do to your heart when you were eight years old.
If you're lucky enough to go to the San Diego Comic Con, be sure to swing by Reyes's table and check out his stuff. And if you're not so lucky, but still interested, check out Boltstrike.com for a peek.
By J. Marc Schmidt
Published by SLG Publishing
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
Now, here's something that's just so off the wall that I don't know where to begin. Let me just throw a few things at you.
- The main characters are, as the title promises, a bunch of eggs.
- A carton of eggs, to be exact.
- But the story follows an egg named Feather who leaves the nest (or
actually is removed by a farmer) and escapes a refrigerator to pursue
his dream of becoming.. a ninja.
- Yes, a ninja.
- He has a little ninja costume, too.
- And while Feather pursues his quest, the comic manages to sneak in some romance, some grim and gritty (another despondent egg considers ending it all via eggbeater), some brotherly love, an adventurous takeover of the kitchen, and the wisdom of weeks-old broccoli.
Well, there's just not a whole lot that I can add to that. This is the kind of comic with a weird but relentless logic that sweeps you along without complaint. Sure, you could be an anal Comic-Book Guy and say, "Wait, why do they have arms all of a sudden?" But then you would remember that this is a comic about talking food products, and get on with your life.
Basically, you can't spend a better 4 bucks at the shop this month than EGG STORY: it's unique, very nicely drawn, and awfully funny. And I guarantee you don't have anything else like it.
ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN VOL. 6
Written by Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Stan Lee
Art by Ross Andru, John Romita Jr., Gil Kane
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Essential Buzz
I owe several people apologies. And these aren't just those kind of apologies that I have to offer the @$$holes every Monday, like, "Hey, if I tried to kill at any point during my blackout this weekend, uh, my mistake, 'kay?"
I sincerely apologize to Sam Raimi. To Stan Lee. And Toby Maguire. And Kirsten Dunst. And Rosemary Harris. And J.K. Simmons. And Dr. Octopus. Not so much to James Franco for some reason... I'm sorry to Alvin Sargent, Miles Millar and Alfred Gough. Sincerest apologies to Michael Chabon. Regret to Avi Arad. To Joe Quesada and the whole Marvel family.
You see, I hoped to review this volume of ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN prior to the movie's premiere and maybe give the franchise a much needed boost. I know that with a @$$holes Comics Reviews endorsement, particularly from me for some reason, I could have helped this film become a hit. I was lazy, I admit it. I took my time. I guess we'll never know how successful SPIDER-MAN 2 could have been.
Also, in my own defense, I'd seen a screening of a rough cut months ago and I'd been sworn not to report to AICN. I must say, I was shocked to find that this scene had not made it into the finished film:
INT. LECTURE HALL -- DAY
Every single member of Spider-Man's rogues gallery fills the seats.
SANDMAN: I don't get it. Why'd he invite us all here?
LIZARD: Who givesssss a sssshit?
ELECTRO: I just hope we get out in time for the Vulture and I to make rehearsals for our brothel scene in the adult MK SPIDER-MAN. Eh, Vulchy.
VULTURE: I didn't guzzle all that viagra for nothing.
SHOCKER: Shut up, here comes somebody.
PETER walks across the stage wearing his Spider suit, without the mask.
PETER: Hi, guys. I just wanted to reveal my secret identity to all of you.
RHINO: Issat the kid from DONNIE DARKO?
Ah, the ESSENTIALS. Just when you want to smack everyone at Marvel from the guy who got Jemas' job down to Sanchez in the mailroom (is Sanchez still in the mailroom? He used to get mentioned in the lettercols as someone who terrorized new staffers. They should have made him editor-in-chief), they go and put out a bunch of ESSENTIALS and you remember why there was a time when the only comics you'd read were put out by Marvel.
This one has some key Spidey stuff. The death o' Gwen Stacey. The death o' Norman Osbourne. Aunt May's wedding to Doc Ock. The first appearance of the Punisher. The first appearance of the Jackal, the guy who cloned Spider-Man. Harry Osbourne becoming the Green Goblin. J. Jonah Jameson's son, John Jameson, who never even met Mary Jane Watson, turning into the Man-Wolf (supposedly, a moonstone did the trick, but I think it was Marvel's early '70s horror wave). The Spider Mobile.
Gerry Conway wrote most of these stories. He's sort of forgotten in the history of Spiderdom, but damn! He was good. Ross Andru came aboard when the stories in this volume ran. I started reading Spider-Man exactly 11 issues after the last story in this volume first ran, so for me, Ross Andru IS the Spider-Man artist. But we all know that John Romita Sr., maybe even more than Spidey co-creator Steve Ditko, IS the Spider-Man artist and he proved in some of the earliest stories printed here, especially the first round of Doc Ock vs. Spidey vs. Hammerhead. Gil Kane, always an awesome Spidey penciller, also shows up.
I enjoyed the inclusion of a trio of stories from Marvel's GIANT SIZED series, where you'd get the equivalent of an annual every month or two. GIANT SIZED SPIDER-MAN was really GIANT SIZED MARVEL TEAM-UP. Horror was huge in those Bronze Aged days and we see Spidey tackling a team up of Morbius the Living Vampire and Man Wolf. Later he meets Dracula, star of Marvel's TOMB O' DRACULA. Coolest of all, he teams up with SHANG CHI, MASTER OF KUNG FU. Which reminds me, this being the '70s, Spidey fought and befriended Luke Cage, Power Man early on.
Marvel has put out a lot of ESSENTIALS lately. Look for upcoming reviews of ESSENTIAL TOMB O' DRACULA VOL. 2, ESSENTIAL DAREDEVIL VOL. 2, and ESSENTIAL AVENGERS VOL. 4.
I just hope that everyone involved with the production of SPIDER-MAN 2 can forgive me for what my lollygagging may have cost their livelihood.
TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD: 100 STORIES
By Tom Beland
Published by AiT/PlanetLar
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
The reviews have come in on Tom Beland's comic book, TRUE STORY, SWEAR TO GOD, and Tom's wife Lily excitedly reads them aloud. "Brilliantly helps fill in the gap in the current market of romance comics", she recites, "inspiring!... real emotion!.. The magic of love and romance.. – Great!" she exclaims, looking at her hubby. Tom's cartoon persona looks thunderstruck. "Oh my god.." he deadpans, "my book is a chick flick".
Which is the other reaction to Beland's relationship-centered autobiographical comic, and not without cause.The comic is essentially a long mash note to Beland's wife and the unusual way the two met and married, and is chock full of introspection and feelings and swooning and whatnot. While I find the comic to be sweet and charming, I have to tell you that the real gold is in Tom Beland's mini-comics. These minis, full of strip-format slice-of-life humor, started years before TRUE STORY broke into full-comic format and focus on some other aspects of Beland's life dating back to early childhood up through his cartooning career to his move to Puerto Rico to be with Lily. The minis are more entertaining not because of their greater variety of topics or a lack of chick appeal (there's still romance aplenty) but because they're really, really funny.
100 STORIES collects a number of these strips into one volume, with subject headings like "Family," "work," and "play." Beland draws from a rich store of experiences, some from his youth, some from his many working experiences before making a go at cartooning, and some from his current career. While many of these experiences are expertly mined for comedy, some are in a more tragic vein. As you know if you read TRUE STORY, Beland lost both parents to cancer as a teenager, and even his happy memories of that early family life are colored with a sweet sadness. His tributes to their memory, and his continuing love notes for Lily, may occassionally make this book uncomfortably sentimental for, say, your average teenage boy, but most everyone else will find that they add richness and character to the strips. And like I said, he has The Funny. If the "crabs breathe air?" strip doesn't make you laugh, I don't know what will, seriously. This is a nifty collection for anyone still trying to hunt down those minis or just looking for a better laugh than your local Funny Pages can manage.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Paul Pelletier
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
I try really hard to be first on the scene when a bitchin' new comic debuts. Nothing better than bragging rights to the tune of, "Yeah, I was there before it was cool to be there. All the rest of y'all are X-Men-readin' posers who wouldn't know 'new and cool' if it bit you on the ass. And you're impotent too."
But sometimes instead of being first, you're, like, the forty-thousandth person on the scene. That's me on SHE-HULK. Apparently I'm an X-Men-readin' poser who wouldn't know "new and cool" if it bit me on the ass. I am impotent.
BUT I'M HAVING A FABULOUS TIME WITH THIS BOOK!
Okay, so the first issue was a little shaky. A few of the gags fell flat and I made a knee-jerk assumption that the glimpse of She-Hulk's healthy sex life was indicative of a slutty future for the character. My bad. Not only did the humor get much stronger, it got stronger within the space of single issue – this book found its legs fast! For you newbies, the premise is simple enough: former lawyer Jennifer Walters (aka She-Hulk) is back in the courtroom again. She was hired under the stipulation that the firm get Jen Walters, not She-Hulk, but in reality she's gotta flex the ol' green muscles every once in a while because she's working the firm's newest division: the superhuman law offices. Good times and adventure ensue, like this latest issue fer instance...
Remember the New Warriors? Somewhat forgotten but somewhat fondly-remembered teen superhero team of the '90s? The book opens with them taking down a 15-year-old supervillainess sporting a powered arm-gauntlet that Witchblade's lawyers might want to look into. Now I've never read a single NEW WARRIORS book in my life, and I still got a kick out of their appearance here! Writer Dan Slott clearly has a love for the Marvel Universe, obscure characters and all, and it's easy to plug into that enthusiasm because we haven't seen it coming off other Marvel writers in years! There's more continuity in an average issue of She-Hulk than in the entirety of Bill Jemas's tenure as company president. So what if it's of the tongue-in-cheek variety?
Slott's also the Anti-Bendis when it comes to pacing, so this teaser confrontation is actually resolved to amusing satisfaction in a mere two pages. Two pages! That's economy, my friends, and then the issue gets really fun...
The aforementioned 15-year-old villainess goes by the name of Southpaw, and as luck would have it, she's the granddaughter of the senior partner of She-Hulk's firm. Before the firm can get involved, though, we see her incarcerated at a new supervillain prison center whose concept is simultaneously genius and hilarious. I hate to spoil the idea, but not enough folks are reading this book, so... The place is Pym Experimental Penitentiary Number One, aka "The Big House." As the ironic name will suggest to longtime Marvel readers, the prisoners are actually shrunk down using the same Pym Particle gas that Ant-Man uses, thus minimizing costs, staffing, and the danger level if the little guys break out! As She-Hulk later notes when peeking through a miniature window to see the Wrecking Crew mopping a hallway:
"Who's the cutest little Wrecking Crew? You are! Yes, you are!"
It's funny as hell but it also make perfect sense in the Marvel Universe. Where Slott keeps things from getting too lightweight is in putting Southpaw in the cell next to the Mad Thinker. He's an old FF villain with bad hair, an outdated green jumpsuit I hope he never loses, and a computer-like brain able to calculate probabilities to superhuman degrees. Slott makes him a total badass:
"Southpaw, allow me to introduce myself. I am The Thinker. I have anticipated the likelihood of your arrival. And now that you are here... I have plan that can liberate you, myself, and one-tenth of the prison's population. Interested?"
Damnation, I love when writers find ways to make old villains cool without just upping their body count, and Slott is delivering the goods! The breakout itself is fantastic, again finding the book's smooth balance of humor and inspired Marvel Universe high concepts.
And that's just the main plot. There's also all kinds of fun stuff percolating with the firm for the first time requesting Jen in She-Hulk form – just so as to abuse her Avengers status for a little legal rule-bending, the weasels! Better yet, there's the romantic sub-plot with J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son, John Jameson, much to the consternation of Slott's original character, nice-guy lawyer Augustus Pugliese. Somehow - and I'm not sure just how - but Slott actually made touching a scene where Pugliese restrains a half-man/half-chimp created by the High Evolutionary(!) while Jen heads out for a date with John Jameson. That's some crazy-ass writing mojo.
Such a refreshing book, this new SHE-HULK, and on so many levels. It's got characters I find truly likeable and a charismatic, sexy lead who's nothing like the caricature I was afraid of getting. It's a fun-loving legal drama firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe and not afraid to make the setting a major hook for the series. It's got the laughs, it's got the heart, and it's got more neat ideas about supervillains and superpowers than anyone this side of Grant Morrison. Even up-and-comer artist Juan Bobillo is impressing me, though he takes a break this issue with artist Paul Pelletier providing a strong fill-in.
I know I should probably have at least one criticism to maintain my credibility, so let me just say that a few of Slott's jokes still fall a little flat for me or are too broadly played. And that's it for my blistering criticism. Everything else about the series is fun, fun, fun, and I'm ready to go out on a limb and call this Marvel's best new book since RUNAWAYS. Dig it!
Try out the entire issue for free right here.
AQUAMAN #20 - Well, Will Pfeifer's first story arc is over and done with. Although at times this book has reeked of the snail-paced attributes of your average Marvel book, I have to give credit where credit is due and say that the last few issues have been some of the best Aquaman stories I have read in quite some time. This issue establishes Aquaman with a new role; that of protector and king of the newly sunken section of San Diego, dubbed Sub Diego. I like the way Pfeifer wrapped this one up. There are some truly gruesome moments involving some sharks. And the art is top notch. But it is the final montage depicting how the humans are adapting to their new environment and how they work with their fishy friends that sold me on this issue. Aquaman has always been torn between the undersea and surface world. Now he has a kingdom that is just as torn. I like this new dynamic that Pfeifer introduced. The last few issues have not been flawless, but I get a feeling that now that Pfeifer has established his new city under the sea, he now has a chance to teel some truly interesting stories and I'm willing to stick around for a while to see if I'm right. – Ambush Bug
FALLEN ANGEL #13 - I've recommended this series on many occasions, and while this particular issue's not a personal favorite, it's still a strong one-shot for those wanting to give the book the shot it deserves. It revolves around a woman's first visit to the book's creepy fictional city of Bete Noire. As minor subplots brew in the background, she asks the Fallen Angel for help in tracking down Asia Minor, drug kingpin of Bete Noire and one of my favorite sleazy supporting players. Has some neat twists, some gore, the series' typically unsettling moral compromises (so much more at home here than in IDENTITY CRISIS), and...well, maybe one or two too many instances of Peter David quippiness. Very readable though. Why don't you try an issue? If you like it, get the recently released trade. If you don't, don't! – Cormorant
NIGHTWING #95 - So what do you do lose your job, break up with your girlfriend, lose most of your friends when your apartment building explodes, and you play a part in the death of the biggest crime boss since the Kingpin? Why, you get hitched to the closest vigilante hottie you can find, of course! Nightwing is scraping rock bottom these days. Writer Devin Grayson has finally found a comic that she can show her stuff on and I'm liking the stuff she's showing. The last few issues have been said to be the Nightwing version of BORN AGAIN. And it's true; Devin Grayson is dragging Dick Grayson through the mud, but the point of BORN AGAIN was the redemption and we've seen no indication of that happening yet. So far it's been an interesting downward spiral, but it's easy to tear a person's life apart. The challenge is going to be making it just as interesting when we see Dick pull through this funk and put his life back together. Grayson has her work cut out for her if Dick's rise is going to be as interesting as his fall (god that sounds perverted). – Ambush Bug
SCURVY DOGS #5 - This colossally wacked-out series wraps with issue #5, and if it didn't turn out to be quite as consistently hilarious as the first issue had me hoping for, it was still a welcome read each month. For the grand finale, the modern-day pirates of the series go Hollywood, lured by the wiles of a besotted Rod Stewart controlled by frisbee-like computer Dr. Theopolis from the old BUCK ROGERS TV show. Random pop cultural references are losing their zip for me these days (thank you, VH-1), but this is still some funny shit. From the revelation that Dr. Theopolis was secretly Flavor Flav's big-ass neck clock to a TV show featuring pirate cooking with shrunken badger heads...there are some excellent gags here. Loved the fictional video games too ("Marion Barry's Civilization," "Man From O.K.L.A.H.O.M.A.", and "Corolla Rampage"). SCURVY DOGS is cheap laughs, but it's good cheap laughs. - Cormorant
FIERCE #1 (of 4) - THE DEAD ZONE meets THE LOSERS, this story of a Jamaican born psychic is pretty bad ass. While it's not the most original idea you're ever going to find, it is fun, exiting, and has some pretty damn good art. This first issue hits all the right notes, and I'm damn sure going to be there for the next three. - Vroom Socko
GOTHAM CENTRAL #21 - I can't believe how good this book is of late, and with a Mad Hatter storyline no less. I mean, I hate the Mad Hatter! Turns out, though, that as an incarcerated Hannibal Lecter-type manipulator, he's creepy as hell. But Hatter's culpability in an unsolved crime is just the most unnerving part of the mystery, which features some great scenes of classic detective work from story leads Marcus Driver and Josie Mac. Ed Brubaker made one of the best decisions the series has yet seen in focusing on the pair of 'em over the sometimes hard-to-track ensemble cast, a decision outdone only by the return of Harvey Bullock. The slovenly but effective Bullock is a much needed larger-than-life personality for GOTHAM CENTRAL, though its his low-key and emotional conversation with Renee Montoya that's one of the high points of the issue. I honestly wish Brubaker were the sole writer of this series because his storylines are so much stronger than Greg Rucka's. I'm on the edge of my seat here, folks. Buy the trade and catch up! – Cormorant
THE MIRROR OF LOVE - Well, boys and girls, what we have here is a book that used to be a comic, once upon a time. THE MIRROR OF LOVE was originally illustrated by Steve Bissette and Rich Veitch in 1988, using a poem by comic book genius Alan Moore. In this edition, the text of the poem is set to images by photographer Jose Villarrubia, in a lovely hardcover volume. The two sets of illustrations illuminate the text in different ways – in the original comic version (somewhat hard to find these days, but also worth digging up) a parallel plot is generated in the images to go with the story in the text, while in the new edition, the photographs focus on particular details of Moore's verse (a string of pearls, a tongue of fire). This edition also includes a really nice appendix which gives a short bio of all of the artists, poets, writers, dancers, and others mentioned in the text. Unfortunately, this list is limited only to individuals mentioned in the poem, and do not bring in other prominent homosexual men and women throughout history. Entire books, of course, have been written for just that purpose, and Appendix III helpfully lists some of them. The final appendix takes a time out for us non-Brits to explain Clause 28, a discriminatory English law which makes a prominent appearance in the poem. This is a very attractive edition of a powerful piece of writing by Mr. Moore, and a heartfelt visual poem by Mr.Villarrubia.. It makes a wonderful gift for our gay friends and their families, or anyone who believes that neither art nor love can be limited.
FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND #4 - I've tried to stick with Steve Niles' latest horror miniseries from Dark Horse, but it's just not worth it. The story surrounding a hulking, mutant child kept in secret on a farm sounds great on paper, but in practice it moves all-too-slowly and without any bite or real horror. The art from Greg Ruth remains stunning, but it's wasted on a forgettable story. – Cormorant
THE PULSE #4 - Sometimes I wonder about the stakes in comics. The Green Goblin's killed the first love Peter Parker ever had. He's manipulated Parker's life, even taken his daughter from him. But killing his own employees? That's what finally has Spidey saying "no more?" Please. Then why did I enjoy this issue so much? Because the moment between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones is magic. Because Ben Urich and Spidey have the best damn conversation that's ever seen print between the two. Because Bendis, unlike Millar, knows just how to use Robbie Robertson, AND can prove it with only one line. And because Bagley's last three pages just plain fucking rock. - Vroom Socko
FABLES #27 – It's the denouement to the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" storyline, and oddly enough, it's my favorite issue of the whole arc. There's a great battle between two witches (note guest-appearance by the bed from old LITTLE NEMO comic strips!), a number of surprisingly touching scenes between Snow and Bigby, and about a half-dozen other post-battle vignettes – each of 'em, great. It almost makes me nervous when writer Bill Willingham shows his more humanistic side as in this issue, fearful he's soon to counterbalance it with some darker stuff. But for now...easily one of my favorite issues of the entire series. The whole ensemble cast has become very well-defined and just about anything they do is a joy to watch. - Cormorant
JSA #63 - Jerry Ordway's on the art, Dr. Fate is clearing house, The team's going on a journey to the center of the Earth, and there's a guest appearance from The Sandman. More than one Sandman. What more do you need to know? - Vroom Socko