Hey everybody, @$$hole Comic Reviews Editor Greg Scott here.
Well, the Comicon is finally over.
I tried to do a little "networking" this year, and all I have to show for it is the picture of Stan Lee you see above. Needless to say, things didn't exactly go as planned. (Sheesh, you make one joke about a guy's hairline...) Luckily Mr. Lee has a whole year to forget what I look like.
But in between getting rebuffed by Stan The Man, and carefully avoiding eye-contact with the loud guy in the Klingon costume, we managed to put a column together this week. And what a column!
All-in-all, another fine piece of internet journalism. Who's laughing now, Stan??
- Yee-hah! It's Wild West Week at @$$hole Comic Reviews as Buckaroo Vroom Socko and Big Tex Cormorant take a look at WESTERN TALES OF TERROR and SPAGHETTI WESTERN respectively. (Okay, SPAGHETTI WESTERN isn't technically a western, but it's close enough.) Get along little doggie!
- Indie reviews by Lizzybeth! Ever heard of CLOSER, CLUB ZERO-G, or LENORE? Well, now you have. Impress your friends as you rattle off information about the comics the cool kids are reading!
- Oldest Comic Joke in Existence: Brace yourself as Buzz Maverik talks about his GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING! Oh, no wait, it's only MAN-THING #1. Eh, I'm sure you'll enjoy it anyway.
- Plus looks at LOKI, EX MACHINA, GOTHAM KNIGHTS, THE FLASH, Cheap Shots and more!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #55
EX MACHINA #2
WESTERN TALES OF TERROR #1
THE FLASH #212
By Roman Dirge
Published by Slave Labor Graphics
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
Raise your hand if you have a twisted sense of humor!
Okay, you with the hand raised. You must go and buy both LENORE trade paperbacks. Now. The rest of us will sit here and frown and have no fun.
But on the other hand, if you raised your neighbor's hand, and it is no longer attached to your neighbor, then you are probably already reading LENORE. Or else you are Roman Dirge. In which case - DUDE! You are a funny man! You need therapy! Where have you been all year?
Personally I missed out on LENORE when it was coming out on a more regular basis. I have trouble differentiating between the mass of goth-style black-and-whites that Slave Labor puts out, and it's just too tiring to sort between the GLOOM COOKIEs and the HOW LOATHSOMEs. Never developed the taste for I FEEL SICK (great title, though) or Vasquez's other comics, since I don't tend to find violence funny in and of itself. It never occurred to me that LENORE would be to my taste. Fortunately "the boyfriend" was appalled to hear that I had no LENORE in my collection, and he hooked me up with the first 10 issues. He knew LENORE has the type of abstract random wrong humor that is exactly what makes me laugh hardest, and it comes delivered in these short, manic jabs of silly that leave you breathless and gaping at Dirge's off-kilter designs. This is the comic you bring on the subway to ensure that no one sits next to you, and that you will be stifling laughter all the way home.
Issue #11, which is sadly the first issue in over a year, is a little change of pace from the 1-2 page short pieces of previous issues. It's still centered around the little dead girl who's a bit "special in the head," but this time Dirge is trying a more sustained storyline for her. As we know from past issues, Lenore (who was dead to begin with) got sick and died, but couldn't stay in Heck for very long (it smells like Fritos) and headed back to Earth. Now the Dark Overlord is sending various minions after her, but so far they have been unable to remove Lenore and her other dead friends from the land of the living. Surprisingly enough, especially considering that the first six or seven pages consist of an extended banana joke, the story doesn't drag. It's not quite as funny, but it moves right along and gives Dirge a chance to expand his artistic abilities with slightly more detailed layouts and slightly less-caffinated pacing. There are just a couple short pieces in the back to round out the issue, and of course one of them is a "Things Involving Me" strip, which is as usual the funniest thing in the book.
I've been reading a lot more humor comics lately; I don't know if they got better or if I just need a good laugh. Either way, I find LENORE to be pretty consistently funny, however long it takes for the next issue to show up.
BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHTS #55
Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Pencils: Al Barrionuevo
Inks: Francis Portela
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHTS #55 is the final chapter of the "Pushback" story arc. It was touted as the sequel to the over-hyped "Hush" event written by Loeb and penciled by Jim Lee. That story arc was a convoluted hodge-podge of red herring mysteries, pointless guest stars, and some of the worst writing I have seen from the talented writer of BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN and SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS. The sequel to "Hush" is the exact opposite. A.J. Lieberman has taken the turd that was "Hush" and polished it into a diamond.
The difference between "Hush" and its sequel can be summed up in two words: quality storytelling. Rather than shoving every panel with unnecessary guest stars just so Jim Lee can do his latest re-imagining of the character, Lieberman has constructed an intricate story embracing the world of Gotham and using its colorful characters to tell a story of revenge. This isn't a Joker story or a Riddler story or a Batman story or a Hush story. This is a story starring all of these characters. Each player has a function and a role built from their rich histories. The story is a pretty simple revenge tale, but the details are complex: Hush has returned for revenge on his former partner in crime the Riddler. In the end of "Hush," the Riddler sold Hush out. Hush is not happy about it and beats the shit out of the Riddler. The Riddler barely escapes with his life and goes to the Joker for protection. In return for protection, the Riddler offers the Joker information he has about the death of the Joker's wife. Meanwhile, Hush has recruited JLA baddie Prometheus to help him in his quest for revenge. Batman gets wind of all of this and winds up in the middle of a Quentin Tarantino/John Woo-esque super-villain triangular standoff.
There is a cinematic quality to the way Lieberman writes this story. Panels move logically in a montage of action and inaction. You can almost see the camera swoop and zoom in the set ups to the action scenes. In Lieberman's Gotham, the freaks interact. His Gotham embraces the fact that it is a city that oozes violence. His Gotham is a dangerous world, filled with creatures that the Batman can barely contain. I like Lieberman's Gotham.
This title has garnered some criticism concerning the depiction of the Joker. He's definitely not the wacky, pun-flinging kook that he is often characterized as. This Joker is serious. He's more deadly. He's driven to find out who killed his wife and to keep a firm hold of "his city." (It's interesting that both Batman and the Joker refer to Gotham as theirs.) I like the idea that the Joker is so damn batshit crazy that he's the clown prince of crime one minute and a manipulative Hannibal Lechter-type the next. His psychosis defies logic and I'm okay with that because…well…he's the Joker. His unpredictability is his real power.
This issue doesn't really end the story so much as it finishes the second chapter in what I hope will be a grand Gotham tapestry. At the end of this issue, each character is going down his own path. If you are looking for resolution, look elsewhere. Lieberman has set this one up for yet another sequel and as long as he's the one writing it and not Loeb, I'll be back for the ride.
Written by Douglas Rushkoff
Drawn by Steph Dumais
Published by Consortium
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
I could swear that there are places that I know in my dreams that have no basis in real life, places that I visit periodically and remember only when I'm asleep. I do know that I have dreams about people that I recognize as friends, but who don't match up with anyone I know in waking life. Now, it's true that my brain is shuffling through the imagery and subconscious impressions I get when I'm awake, and what it produces is probably meaningless. With enough biology, psychology, hell, pharmacology, you can demystify just about anything – still, I hang onto the thought that dreams can tap into things that are beyond our conscious reach.
CLUB ZERO-G believes this too. The main character, Zeke, has a recurring dream about a dance club full of kids his age, people who, in the dream space, know him well. The club, they say, is a place you can go only when you're asleep. Anyone can come, but no one will remember being there. Zeke and his dream friends dance the night away while he is asleep, and talk about the waking world, but when Zeke wakes, he recalls nothing of his dream. Until one morning, when he does. And when he sees the kids from the club in his school, they don't remember meeting him there, or remember dreaming about the club at all. The club is something they can access only in their sleep, and they wake up without any memory of it.
Why is Zeke different? Why are his friends able to communicate with him in his dream, but not able to remember their conversations the next day? What is Club Zero-G?
Unfortunately CLUB ZERO-G is one of those books that begins with great promise, but doesn't quite fulfill it. This book is Rushkoff's first graphic novel, and it shows. Previously involved with a few novels and the Disinformation guides, Rushkoff teamed up with Canadian cartoonist Dumais for this project and I don't think their styles quite match. Dumais has a simple, clean style that looks good with color but doesn't necessarily fill in the gaps in Rushkoff's slightly convoluted story. The writing and artwork have a rocky relationship; the visuals are charming when the writing is sharp, but the drawings dull quickly as the writing starts to wander. Towards the end, the book is focusing on three teenagers in the future who are connected to Club Zero-G and are trying to prevent their dystopia by contacting Zeke and his friends. Once you reach this point, it seems as though Rushkoff needed a frame for his anti-establishment theme, the future story, and the Zero-G club was sort of a neat throwaway concept to hang it on. I was much more interested in where the book started than in where it finished. Still, the beginning of the book was interesting, and it's a very readable book with nice design and coloring. Because of the imagination involved I came away with a good opinion of the creators, if not necessarily of the actual book.
Written by Hans Rodionoff
Art by Kyle Hotz
Published by Marvel Knights
Reviewed by Maverik Knights
The slug read "By the writer of the upcoming Marvel film."
That was scary. I know that the big thing in recent years has been to bring writers from other mediums into comics. A few years back, Marvel had this thing called The Stanhattan Project in which editors recruited film students, primarily, from NYU (one of the finest film schools that ever rejected my application) and the results were pretty good. Brian K. Vaughn and Joe Kelly were Stanhattan guys, so the idea had merit.
Generally, I'm kind of lukewarm on a lot of the film to comics guys, though. I still directly blame Kevin Smith for a lot of what I hate in comics from recent years. Jeph Loeb is as good as his artist. JMS and Geoff Johns are good, though. And I think that outside of Joe Quesada and Axel Alonso, I'm the only person to like Ron Zimmerman's comic book writing.
I just have a little trouble with the idea that because a person has written for film or TV, that they are somehow better writers than people who've either strictly written comics. I mean, Bendis was sort a cartoonist before comic writing and Mark Millar, I believe, was a journalist. Stan Lee was in comics since he was teenager.
Comic publishers and comic fans seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex toward other mediums. Sure, the big bucks are in film, the best jobs are in TV . But good writing is good writing.
Fortunately, MAN-THING # 1 contains some good writing, as well as good art. Man-Thing is an old character from the '70s who appeared simultaneously with DC's SWAMP THING. Both characters are rip-offs of an old '40s-50's comic book character THE HEAP. Swamp monster comics started with the Heap, who somewhat resembled the Man-Thing, having what the Hulk termed "carrot nose".
Man-Thing has sort of disappeared from the comic universe while Swamp Thing rose to greatness when written by Alan Moore in the '80s. Swamp Thing was given personality and soul. He was godlike. He had a relationship with a beautiful woman. His powers were limitless.
Man-Thing was always a supporting character in his own titles. He literally had no personality, no mind, no thoughts. He only felt what those around him felt. If you were angry, Man-Thing would get angry and attack you. But if you were afraid...and who wouldn't be afraid with a red eyed, phallic-nosed, bipedal compost heap attacking them ... you would burn at Man-Thing's touch.
Pretty cool. Man-Thing was sort of the result of a murdered guy who'd injected a super soldier serum and mystical forces in the swamp where he died. Science and magick gone terribly, terribly wrong! I love it when that happens! As depicted by sleep-deprived writer Steve Gerber in ADVENTURES INTO FEAR and MAN-THING, the character would generally circle around whatever was going on with the various characters who would be the supporting cast in any other Marvel comic at the time, but would step into center stage when needed to confront a menace. Gerber and his artists, such as Mike Ploog and Val Mayerik, were about 30 years ahead of their time. They created the Marvel book in which the title character is merely a plot device and they made it work. This makes Man-Thing the ideal character for the modern Marvel Age.
Issue one follows insurance investigator Nathan Mehr as he looks into a very strange bit of eco-terrorism at a development site in Man-Thing's swamp. A years worth of vines and rot have overtaken all the bulldozers and backhoes and earthmovers at the site. A security guard has become a drooling idiot. Nathan finds a small, strange idol at the site than resembles Man-Thing. The idol also resembles H.P. Lovecraft's creation, the dark elder god Cthulhu. The security guards turns into a cross between a plant and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's Rat Fink at the sight of the idol.
Pretty cool. With sinister, threatening artwork by Kyle Hotz that has a great, gross-out pay off at the end.
I dub this a good comic! I hope Hotz keeps up with the art and Rodionoff keeps on writing ... even if he has written other things besides comics. I have to admit, that while I skipped THE PUNISHER movie, if MAN-THING looks halfway decent, I'll see it.
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist: Ryan Sook
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
In the superhero biz, the industry's pretty much dominated by a handful of franchises: the X-franchise, the Bat-franchise, the Spider-franchise - maybe a few others. Given that, I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for those times when the lesser-known heroes rise to the occasion. I love it when an underdog takes down a bloated champion.
So the last time I noticed a second-stringer doing just this was with Will Pfeifer's new direction on AQUAMAN. Turns out it didn't quiiiite live up to the promise of the first few issues, but I don't regret recommending it. Definitely had its moments, and the sheer novelty of seeing AQUAMAN take a turn for the cool earned it all kinds of bonus points over the boring same ol', same ol' coming off the mega-franchises.
This week's underdog of the moment is HAWKMAN, recently ceded from Geof Johns to the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Johns has hit higher peaks than these guys, but I never thought he clicked on HAWKMAN. For one, I hated the reincarnation angle he and James Robinson cooked up for the character. Led to too many stories rooted in the past when all I wanted was to see Hawkman and Hawkgirl made likeable and interesting in the here and now.
Well Palmiotti and Gray haven't ditched the reincarnation bit – it's pretty much canon after all – but they've put it on the backburner, and I'm already liking their work over Johns'. At the heart of the story is a mystery involving an eco-terrorist bombing of a viral research center, a creepy humanoid monster roaming the streets of St. Roch, and a serial killer leaving victims pinned with artificial wings suspiciously reminiscent of the two Hawks. Meanwhile Hawkman and Hawkgirl are on the outs again, and Hawkman is wanted by the police for questioning in the murders.
Not bad! Plenty of story to work with there, and Lord knows the art of the subplot is one that could use some reviving as the trade paperback format continues to duke it out with old-fashioned serial thrills. I think what I like best, though – well, aside from the fact that the Hawks do some serious ass-stomping in the series – is that Hawkman is finally doing something proactive to put some distance between himself and his destined-to-die reincarnated lover, Hawkgirl. How does he do this? By sleeping with a smokin' hot New Orleans jazz singer, that's how! Oh he's still on the angsty side afterwards, but Palmiotti and Gray play up his animal magnetism and charming side as well. He's a cool customer, taking his lady on a tour of his museum, reciting a tale of legendary lovers that she has no clue was taken from one of his own past lives, and...you dog, you!...giving her the classic foot massage.
He totally scores with her.
Rock on. I was so damn tired of him pining over Hawkgirl like a schoolboy while she continually gave him the cold shoulder. I'm not saying their fated romance shouldn't eventually heat up, but this is a nice break for our lead with some much-needed guiltless sex. So if Palmiotti and Gray kill off the jazz babe, expect me to rescind a big chunk of my enthusiasm here. Don't do it guys!
What else is working for the book? I liked the brief appearance of Justice Leaguer, the Atom, now-established as a particular bud of Hawkman's and something of an advisor to him. He talks to Hawkman while Hawkman's in police custody, noting that if his location gets out, his enemies might kill him. Hawkman's fatalistic but wryly amusing response: "You're right...and I'd just come back as someone else."
I also liked Hawkman's defense against the cops removing his cowl based on his First Amendment rights: "Detectives, I symbolize Horus, the Egyptian hawk god of the living and lord of the Heavens. This is an emblematic mask to be worn in public." The cops know they can eventually work around it, but it works as a short-term solution. Clever. And there are any number of clever moments like that, but Palmiotti and Gray never let the small stuff overwhelm the mystery plot – another old school writing quality I admire.
Visually the series is in fine hands with Ryan Sook at the helm. Used to be I wouldn't give Sook the time of day because he was a Mike Mignola clone, but he's definitely come into his own. He does detailed work, giving the city of St. Roch a shadowy, lived-in look, but his characters are slightly stylized, dynamic and angular but grounded by chiseled shadows coming off the dramatic multi-source lighting he bathes 'em in. For some reason he occasionally makes Hawkman's helmet look goofy as hell - still warming up to it, maybe? Otherwise, he's aces. And that panel in issue #28 where he flips a car by bringing his mace down on its hood? Phenomenal. Almost redeems this B-list character with that one image alone. Check it.
By the way, I've given Hawkgirl short shrift because her name's not the title of the book, but she gets plenty of investigating, plenty butt-kicking of her own, and Sook makes her easy on the eyes ta boot. Definitely one of the cuter short-haired gals in comics. Her best line is when she's interrogating a hood who starts to go into a long story, at which point she warns him to "Fast forward and skip the 'noir.'"
All in all, a fun book starring a duo who deserve a good spotlight like this. It's not great, but we're only three issues in and there's distinct potential. I'd say it's not the kind of book to seek out if you're low on cash, but if you've been thinking of dropping some title that's been losing its cool, HAWKMAN's absolutely worth consideration as a replacement. It's also worth picking up in place of any of the pending X-titles like ROGUE, JUBILEE, and GAMBIT - I can say that without even reading 'em! – and if you're one of the ones who dropped the book when Johns left? Mistake.
Come back. It's actually better.
Publsihed by Oni Press
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
I never really wondered about the whole teleportation idea, even with all the Star Trek I watched as a kid. I just kind of accepted that in the future people would be zapped from one place to another, without having to use cars or legs or expend any real effort. Now that we're a little nearer to developing the actual technology, the idea is a little bit more frightening. If I understand this correctly, it's not that you're being magically pushed very fast to another place, but that you would actually be disintegrated in one place and rebuilt in another, in an exact copy. Think about that for a second. Even if you could convince me that being reassembled on the moon or wherever was a good idea, what if something went wrong? Really, really wrong? CLOSER is a good example of why we will probably never have that technology, because there always has to be the first volunteer, and who wants to take that kind of chance?
Now, this is not exactly a science-fiction story, but closer to horror. CLOSER is a very spooky account of the first and second attempts to develop human teleportation, and despite being 140 pages it is a very fast read. The science of teleportation is covered, but the book is much more interested in the results. The artwork by Mike Norton of QUEEN AND COUNTRY is a perfect compliment, tense and heavy, to the methodically paced story. I'd be surprised if this comic wasn't made into a movie, and a fairly good one at that.
As I said about CLUB ZERO-G above, CLOSER has a great central concept and a somewhat clichÃ©d plot. I'm sure we've all seen enough suspense films to know not to go to the darkened mansion on a hill when a creepy old man you don't know calls you and a bunch of seemingly unconnected people together to witness "something important" sometime after the last ferry or train has gone. So we are definitely smarter than the characters in this comic, and we can pretty much guess what's going to happen to them. However, what separates these two comics is the way that the art and the characterization get us interested in how these particular people are going to react to the somewhat familiar circumstances. At least a few of the characters have backgrounds and personalities beyond the situation, and the artwork is attractive and, when appropriate, ominous. Even more importantly, CLOSER develops on its main conceit (teleportation) in an interesting and memorable way, rather than simply dangling it in front of us and then dashing off somewhere else.
I'm always looking for a good Original Graphic Novel to add to my shelf, and Oni has added yet another to my collection.
EX MACHINA #2
Written by Brian K. Vaughn
Penciled by Tony Harris
Inked by Tom Feister
Published by Wildstorm (DC)
Reviewed by Greg Scott
Mayor Hundred: You said we've got a "thing." Is that code for subpoena or press leak?
Chief of Staff: It's what we call catastrophes that fall under the category of "other," sir. This one is over at the BMA. Deputy Mayor Wylie needs you to meet him there now.
Mayor Hundred: What the hell is BMA?
Chief of Staff: Brooklyn Museum of Art?
Mayor Hundred: Who the fuck calls it BMA?
Chief of Staff: The next Chief of Staff to quit, at this rate.
- Smart guy acting befuddled in EX MACHINA #2
One of the great postmodern ironies, if not the postmodern irony is the fact that the intelligence and knowledge that one gathers to navigate the world will supposedly leave one woefully unequipped to deal with a world that doesn't operate on the basis of intelligence and knowledge, or at least on the basis of the standard of intelligence and knowledge that you know.
I bring this up because both Y-THE LAST MAN, and now EX MACHINA seems to trade on this irony. Most of the characters in both books seem to be intelligent, knowledgeable people of varying degree who find themselves in absurd situations where their knowledge isn't necessarily as helpful as they (or we) would assume.
So in EX MACHINA, we deal with the newly elected Mayor Hundred, a former superhero who, for the purposes of this discussion so far, is a pretty smart guy. And yet he often finds himself befuddled.
Befuddled even before he was Mayor. As we discover in EX MACHINA #2, while still a flying superhero, he once swooped down to pick up the police commissioner and carry her off to a rooftop where they could talk about teaming up. He hadn't anticipated that as soon as they landed, the commissioner would reach for her nightstick and have at him. This defeat of reason, or at least the conflict of differing reasonings (Hundred is, after all, an unsanctioned vigilante), and the subsequent absurdity and befuddlement, is what marks Brian K. Vaughan's writing for me. Whether it's the unexpectedly violent police commissioner, the unexpected acronym for a city museum, or the unexpected taxpayer funded art exhibit at that museum, Hundred is a nice, smart guy who finds himself unequipped for the situation at hand, and he's befuddled.
And it's a tone and theme that all of us should be pretty familiar with. Not only is irony practically the cultural language for anyone born after 1970, but more specifically, the same kind of business Vaughn cooks up in EX MACHINA is found on his cited inspiration, THE WEST WING: Smart people facing stupid situations that often turn out not to not be so stupid after all, with a degree of wit to the presentation, no matter how serious the subject matter. EX MACHINA has other, more serious business on the horizon - something horrible, judging by the framing narration in the first issue. But whatever it is, I'm expecting Hundred and whoever happens to be around to have the dry, wry wit of President Bartlett in the War Room.
Tony Harris and Tom Feister's art is very lively and alive; lots of energy. It's realistic without being obvious; with a subtle hint of grostesqueness in certain panels (perhaps suggestive of the tone).
But did I like it? To tell you the truth, I'm a little ironied out these days. (Remember when irony was dead after 9/11? Ha, fat chance.) Hypocritical, yes, I know, but even though this column, my intro, even this very review operates on the bemusement of taking ridiculous things unexpectedly seriously and yet joking about it at the same time, I'm still a little fed up with it. Fed up with sarcasm. Fed up with knowingness instead of knowledge. Maybe a little fed up with EX MACHINA.
And yet I'm still entertained by it. After all, I was born after 1970.
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
David Finch: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Pre-Assembled
A few weeks back I reviewed the AVENGERS #500 preview currently available online, saying, in essence, that I was expecting Abbey Road but all I got was a greatest hits album. People freaked out, saying everything from "You don't get it," to "Sure it's all stuff that's happened before, but it's never happened all at once." Hell, even Bendis himself tossed one or two jabs my way over at his message board.
Now, Bendis I can handle, and I get what he's doing, but I just have to say something about the "all at once" argument. It's lame. Just because "it's never happened all at once," it doesn't make it good. Would you want to read a FF story where Doom traps the team inside the Baxter Building, then all of a sudden the Puppet Master takes control of the Thing, then all of a sudden Galactus shows up… Or how about a Spidey story where The Green Goblin kidnaps MJ and hauls her up to the top of the George Washington Bridge, when all of a sudden a Spider-Slayer attacks, burying him under a mountain of rubble, when all of a sudden his costume comes to life… Or how about a story where a legendary vampire hunter teams up with Frankenstein's monster to battle Dracula and the Wolf Man… Oh, wait. They made that movie already.
In any case, I've now read this issue of AVENGERS in whole, and in print. So how does the rest of the issue measure up? Well, there's another "greatest hits" moment, and unfortunately it's "The Search For She-Hulk." Like the rest of these @$$holes, I've been picking up the new SHE-HULK title, and I've been lovin' every second of it. However, this reference to Geoff Johns final arc made me ill. Those four issues were easily the worst AVENGERS story that didn't have Chuck Austen's name attached to it. I was vocal in my dislike back then, and I disliked seeing its return. And try as I might, I'm still disappointed that Bendis didn't deliver a wholly original story in his first issue guiding Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
So why in the hell am I recommending this book as a must read?
Two words: David Finch. Now, I'm a major fan of the artwork on this title from guys like Alan Davis, Kieron Dwyer, Steve Epting, Carlos Pacheco, and George PÃ©rez. They're all magnificent artists, and I'll read anything they do. But David Finch is easily the best artist this book has seen since John Buscema. Now, I'm sure at least half of you reading this think that's just hyperbole. That's why I didn't call him the best AVENGERS artist of all time; that'd have EVERYONE thinking this is just hyperbole. It isn't. I can't remember the last time the book looked this good. The fight with the Ultrons is just fucking magnificent, as is the rampaging She-Hulk. Sure, I'm against the concept, but it just looks so GOOD!
As for Bendis, sure the plot's not the equal of the art, but the dialogue… the dialogue is typical for Bendis. Which is to say, it's damn good. Also, I have to admit a certain morbid curiosity over who's going to die next. So far we've only got Ant-Man dead, who really should have died over in ALIAS anyway. And no, I don't think the Vision is dead. He's an android. They can rebuild him. They have the technology. Better then he was before. (Perhaps with a Pym particle generator built in, and with his memories based on brain patterns taken from Ant-Man's helmet… Or am I being too fanboyish?) In any case, this may be a bunch of stuff we've seen before, but it's well written stuff we've seen before. The She-Hulk turn excluded, of course.
Damnit Bendis, even the stuff you do that I don't like is good. How do you do it?
Writer/Artist: Scott Morse
Published by Oni Press
Reviewed by Cormorant
There are some trades in my library o' funnybooks that, for whatever reason, just stand out as objects I love. They tend to be the oddball entries, infused with some quirky charm and often packaged with remarkable artistry.
Dark Horse's brilliantly stylized manga adaptation of RETURN OF THE JEDI comes to mind, all four volumes of it.
So does Jay Stephens' LAND OF NOD: ROCKABYE BOOK – maybe the most charming comic you're liable to put your hands on, and how can you not love that soft, matte-finish cover stock?
Ooh, yeah, and Frank Miller's horizontal format hardcover of "300"! Ah, now there's a sweetheart of a book to sit down with!
Today we'll add Scott Morse's SPAGHETTI WESTERN to that select group of treasured graphic novels. Like many of Morse's comic book opuses (and yes, that's the word to describe 'em – guy marches to the beat of his own damn drummer!), SPAGHETTI WESTERN is very much a mood piece. It probably covers no more than half an hour or so of time for its characters, and there's only a single cut in the otherwise moment-to-moment narrative. In that, and even in its grittiness, it almost reminds me of the rollercoaster ride of Frank Miller's first SIN CITY, but it's also got a heart hidden beneath its cowboy hat, poncho, and chewed-up Clint Eastwood cee-gar.
The premise is simple: modern-day bank heist wrapped up (for reasons revealed later) in the trappings of the great Italian-produced Westerns of the '60s. Morse, who paints the whole thing in sepia tones, channels Sergio Leone by way of legendary Warner Brothers animation designer, Maurice Noble. As the story begins we know nothing of the two gunmen we see riding down the streets of "Small Town, U.S.A." on horses. One's an old-timer with a cough, the other a squinty-eyed dead-ringer for Clint Eastwood as "The Man With No Name."
And that prelude of several pages showing a raided costume shop with a few of its prop guns missing? Hmm...something more seems to be afoot here, and that something is so integral to the pleasure of reading SPAGHETTI WESTERN that I can't say much of it without risk of spoiling the story. Suffice to say Morse has crafted a confident and taut "bank robbery gone awry." It's sure to baffle readers a little in the beginning, but all becomes clear as events spiral inexorably towards tragedy and the story's lone flashback puts everything into a moving – though decidedly non-saccharine – context. It's a tale of last chances and amorality born of desperation, of quickly-sketched characters rounded out by spare, realistic dialogue.
But why the Spaghetti Western theme in a modern setting? At first, I admit I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't the "real thing," but I think Morse has come up with a memorable mÃ©lange here. As the following dialogue snippet suggests, this story isn't about recreating the sub-genre, but looking at its fantasy appeal in a modern context:
"I like 'em," explains the Clint Eastwood look-alike of Spaghetti Westerns, "'cause they always got the money in the end."
"Yep," answers his soon-to-be-cohort. "No good guys."
As befits a larger-than-life genre like Spaghetti Westerns, Morse breaks out an experimental panel style where each page of the horizontal graphic novel (it's designed like one of those lengthwise FAR SIDE collections) is its own panel. It runs 136 pages if Amazon.com's to be believed, and that means 136 panels. Seems limiting at first, but given the story's moment-to-moment timeframe, it's a perfect fit. In fact, once you get into the groove it's actually quite liberating to lose the multiple tiers of panels we're used to and all the fancy-schmancy panel designs. There's something pure about one panel per page. No distractions, no bells and whistles, no bullshit – just story.
About the only criticism I can levy against SPAGHETTI WESTERN is it feels a touch slight when one finishes it. At least at first. Maybe it's because the story covers such a short span of time and I'm just unaccustomed to short stories in the days of six-issue arcs, but for a second there when I finished, I thought to myself, "That's it?" The story stayed with me, though. There's not a whole lot of "meat" to it, but it's got the emotional power of a tragic legend or fable, the kind that really would get into your head as a kid.
And that's really cool. In fact, I can't think of another comic that's given me quite the same feeling as SPAGHETTI WESTERN – a short, sharp burst of sadness right alongside a wave of adrenaline. And just take a closer gander at that memorably iconic cover. Sweet.
It's all of the above – the idiosyncratic story, the experimental design, the virtuoso art – that means SPAGHETTI WESTERN, while maybe not the best graphic novel I've read all year, earns a special spot as one of my favorites. It's unique, it's stylish, it's emotional, it's badass. I think Sergio Leone might well have dubbed it "grande!"
WESTERN TALES OF TERROR #1
Written and Drawn by Various
Hoarse and Buggy: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Cowpoke
There's an unofficial rule that says anthologies, by their very nature, are always a mixed bag. If a comic has six stories in it, one will be terrific, two will be good, two will be just okay, and one will suck. That's just the way things are. But WESTERN TALES OF TERROR is an odd duck. Six stories, and they're all pretty good. Sure, there isn't a really terrific one, but for them all to be pretty good… that's just weird, man.
Each of these tales is introduced by Pete, a creepy lookin' cowboy who's "seen things that'd make a horse shit his pants." This introductory issue has Ol' Pete telling us about half a dozen rascals. There's "13," the story of a gunfighter who thinks he's untouchable. "Quicksand" is a tale of revenge and murder. "The Deserter" tells of a man out living it up while his wife thinks he's fighting in the Civil War. I don't think I could describe what happens in "Ghost Town" or "Reckon This." Then there's the story of a group of bank robbers who stumble into a cave where the living don't belong in "Phineas' Gold."
Of these, "Recon This" is easily the creepiest, written by 30 DAYS OF NIGHT creator Steve Niles. But it's the art from Nick Stakal that truly notches up the yikes factor. I also got a lot of fun out of Jay Busbee and Jared Bivens "The Deserter." The juxtaposition of the lonely wife with the carousing husband works great, and I just loved the twist at the end. But it's Joshua Hale Fialkov, Porter McDonald and Scott A. Keating who really shine with "Phineas' Gold." This story of a clerk who's in over his head among a bunch of bank robbers is damn good. I especially enjoyed the appearance at the end of the ideal character from a horror/western: zombie Indians. You can't beat that.
Is there anything wrong with this book? Well, there's two things I can think of. The first is that "Phineas' Gold" is only the first of two parts, which wouldn't be THAT bad except for the second problem. See, this is a bimonthly book, so I've got to wait another sixty days to read the second part. I want to read in now, damnit! But why complain, when I've got plenty of fun, creepy-ass stories to tide me over until the next issue.
Writer: Robert Rodi
Artist: Esad Ribic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
I reviewed the first issue of LOKI a few weeks back. Liked it quite a bit more than expected. Where it would've been so easy for writer Robert Rodi to veer into gratuitousness with this hypothetical "Loki wins" scenario, he instead opted for a more thoughtful approach. His portrait of Loki's post-victory kingdom was steeped in "be careful what you wish for." It gave us a surprisingly three-dimensional Loki who defied the pressure of death-goddess, Hela, to see Thor executed, seemingly unable to even comprehend a life without the hated step-brother against whom he fought for eons.
In short: a very solid start, and Esad Ribic's painted art was simply beyond reproach. Click here for a refresher.
So how's #2 holding up? Pretty damn solidly. We might just have something here...
The first scene opens with Loki taunting Thor's lady, the warrior-goddess Sif. She's bound in a dungeon like all the other heroes of Asgard, but Rodi again surprises by foregoing the clichÃ©d bullshit that we usually see when it comes to women in bondage. To be fair, Rodi did tease that concept with the image of a chained and helpless Sif in the finale of the first issue, but this scene's all about the dialogue. She recalls how one of Loki's earliest cruelties was the theft of her prized golden hair, even as he dwells on the jibes she cast at him when the pair of them teamed with Thor in their younger days. I'm a little uncomfortable with Loki's past getting a sympathetic makeover, only insofar as it's making our heroes look somewhat petty in the past. At the same time, even Lee and Kirby's Thor was "cursed" with the mortal Don Blake identity to learn humility, so it's not as if they ever made out that he was infallible. Certainly these flashbacks evoke the harshness of real Norse myths.
And speaking of harshness, lest this all sound entirely too talky-talky, I should mention that the confrontation with Sif escalates memorably until Loki's taunted closer and closer...at which point Sif grabs him and proceeds to kick the crap out of him. Viking diplomacy, baby. Rodi's writing is sharp and well-crafted – not easy when you're dealing with the lofty speech of gods – but I like that the threat of violence hangs over every conversation.
In fact the whole of the issue involves Loki interrogating his prisoners as he dodges out on meeting with the Norn Queen who helped secure his victory. You almost gotta feel sorry for the ol' bastard in these scenes, his gloating undermined time and again by chained gods who know just the right thing to say to push his buttons. The most interesting conversation involves Balder, the god whose death Loki once contrived, only to have him eventually free himself from the underworld. Balder talks about his time in Hel and Rodi cleverly uses that as a means to bring some classical, if conflicting, takes on Loki's myths into a Marvel comic. Balder describes being able to see other realities from the precipice of Eternity in Hel - worlds with different histories, different Thors...and different Lokis. Not the most stunning concept for readers who've seen a hundred different Elseworlds and What Ifs, but Rodi sets up Balder's anecdote to give Loki the dressing down of a lifetime. It's a legitimately great scene.
If the story has a failing it's that there's no compelling plot to speak of. And technically there doesn't have to be; I loved Neil Gaiman's BOOKS OF MAGIC, a story structured as nothing so much as a tour of DC's magical backdrops. Still, LOKI does feel a bit...languid. I'm glued to the character drama but I'm not sure if this would be the case for a casual THOR reader, Rodi's angle being more Gaiman than Simonson. We should start to see some of the subplots moving to the fore as of next issue, though, and I'm looking forward to Rodi upping the emotional ante. It's a fine line he's walking melding what are essentially Marvel superheroes with their classic mythological counterparts, but...so far so good. Still recommended.
THE FLASH #212
Written by Geoff Johns
Penciled by Steven Cummings
Inked by Wayne Faucher
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Greg Scott
And now we come to FLASH #212.
At different points throughout FLASH #212, we witness:
- The lead-up to child-on-child rape.
- The graphic aftermath of a bathtub wrist-slashing.
- Coke snorting by the Mirror Master on the bathroom floor.
Coming on the heels of Sue Dibny's rape scene in IDENTITY CRISIS #2 (and really, some of the material in recent issues of GOTHAM KNIGHTS), FLASH #212 seems to be the follow through on a whole new creative direction for DC.
This was clearly adult content in what can still be reasonably assumed is an all ages comic book. No parental warning. To my knowledge, no real precedent for this level of content within the title. This material felt inappropriate; and it felt inappropriate because it was inappropriate; inappropriate enough to make FLASH #212 unenjoyable, and a major misstep for writer Geoff Johns.
Which is disappointing, because I was looking forward to this issue. One of my favorite issues of Johns' run so far is the now-famous FLASH #182, aka "The Captain Cold Issue." Johns managed to capture both the fierceness and pathos of what could easily be one of the most ridiculous characters in comics. But by tackling a longtime villain like Cold with a more dynamic and serious approach, Johns gave Captain Cold a soul. (And if you've never read FLASH #182, I still recommend it highly. Great book.)
But to roll out that SPINAL TAP reference one more time, it seems like Johns has taken that Captain Cold issue and cranked it up to 11. Now, instead of just dynamic and serious, Johns seems to be going for shocking and lurid.
Whereas Cold had a painful upbringing, we learn that Mirror Master had a super-painful upbringing (see: child sexual abuse). Whereas Cold had a bitter career as an early villain, Mirror Master had super-bitter ironic event happen during his (see: graphic suicide). Whereas the Cold issue ends with an poignant surprise comment on his misery, #212 ends with a blunter, more graphic finale (see: coke snorting).
And yet, even with the intensity amped up, the book was strangely disaffecting. Even though I think I was meant to, I never really felt an emotional connection with Mirror Master, and I don't think this reaction is strictly based on any objection to the inappropriateness of the content. (I won't lie - it undoubtedly played into it.) Rather, the story values were so extreme, it came across as a bit cloying. Then again, perhaps we weren't supposed to connect with Mirror Master after all.
Meanwhile, I don't think Steve Cummings pencils really helped matters either. Cummings characters looked strangely cute, almost doll-like. Weird.
I think it's reasonable for a comic reader to approach a book with a certain amount of expectation (based on precedent, or what have you). And really, when you defy expectation, that can make for a wonderfully creative experience. On the other hand, violating expectation can lead to such an alienating experience for the audience, the impact of the creativity is thwarted. The work fails.
Whatever the case, for readers looking to get away from the ugliness (which is always there on the shelf when we need it) and settle in with something fun; something that could be tough and serious, but not relentless; something like THE FLASH used to be, FLASH #212 is not your book.
LEGION #35 - Whoa, now that's a bondage cover, isn't it?? A leftover from last week: Gail Simone oversees the latest iteration of the LEGION OF SUPERHEROES into the sunset before the pending Mark Waid "re-imagining" of the title later this year. And naturally, she's taking things out with a bang. This is one of my favorite kinds of comic stories - the one where a million things go horribly, horribly, perhaps hopelessly wrong all at once. (Kinda like AVENGERS #500, reviewed this column!) And since the series is coming to an end, the stakes are really up for grabs. If you're a LEGION fan who's been away for a while, or just looking for a blow-out story where a bunch of superheroes are seriously up against it, you'll want to check this one out. And Mark Waid, if you're reading this, I will pay you cash money to stop using the word "re-imagining." - G.S.
SEAGUY #3 - Although I wasn't a big fan of Morrison's runs on JLA and NEW X-MEN, I have to admit I love seeing that wacky bastard go nuts with characters of his own design. This final issue features some of the wildest moments I have read in comics so far. As each issue of this series hits the shelves it descends deeper and deeper into the pits of lunacy and I'm loving every panel of it. This issue features the SECRET ORIGIN OF THE MOON! And just when you think things can't get any crazier, Morrison throws in a final sequence that literally sent chills down my spine. This is a tale of a world truly without heroes. What starts out as a goofy little jaunt into nonsensity, ends with a palpable feeling of tragedy and horror. Stay away from the mainstream stuff, Grant, old bean. Your lunacy is better served unchecked as it was with this title. – Ambush Bug
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #630 - Considering all the Superman material being churned out this year, precious little of it's worthy of note, but I'll give Rucka's book this: It's currently the best Superman book DC's putting out. Not a difficult task, but I did genuinely enjoy this issue. It's a Mxyzptlk issue, the kind of thing I usually avoid, but it's a nice, wild break from Rucka's otherwise slavish adherence to realism and novelistic pacing. His quite neat idea is that the little imp from the 5th Dimension is actually trying to warn Superman of dire events in his future, but his presentation is so ridiculous that Superman just blows him off. Rucka also writes a pretty funny Mxy, and I was even down with the fourth-wall shattering dialogue ("...that Lee/Azzarello thing working out?"). Rucka just might salvage this run. – Cormorant
BIRDS OF PREY #70 - You all know, Gail Simone is the patron saint of us @-holes. We worship the ground she writes on, but when something starts to smell stale, I have to call her on it. How many times do we have to see one of the Birds handcuffed and taken hostage by a bunch of chauvinistic men? Last time, Black Canary was taken hostage and tortured by some thug with a penchant for disrespecting women. In this arc, The Huntress gets nabbed by some "cops" who don't think highly of women and imprison her in a sanctuary for religious nuts. I admire Simone for filling each and every issue with character, action, and intrigue, but the premise of making these Birds so easily handcuffable kind of goes against the whole "Women in Refrigerators" theme that Simone is trying so quick to promote. I understand that it is "girl power" that gets these heroines out of trouble every time, but I have to take the lovely Ms. Simone to task to adopt a more creative way to throw these damsels into distress. The story is interesting and the characterization is entertaining (I especially loved the inclusion of former Suicide Squad member Vixen and Katana's guest appearance last arc was the king shiz!), but this second arc is a big case of "been there done that" and I hope Simone has more cards to play than what she's shown so far. – Ambush Bug
STAR WARS: JEDI - YODA - I like Yoda's "Oh NO you didn't!" _expression on the cover of this one-shot, but that's about where my interest ends. Remember all the politics and parlay that kneecapped the prequels? Well this is 48 pages of the same tripe, and the little green gnome doesn't go all "Yuen Wo Ping" even once. Fuck that! - Cormorant
ROBIN #128 - I Like This Book More Than I Think I Do. If you were to ask me what some of my favorite comics are right now, I probably wouldn't say ROBIN. And yet, after buying a pretty hefty load of books last week, this one was my favorite. Batman and the new Girl Wonder take on the mysterious and seemingly unstoppable armored assassin who's targeting all possible Robins in the city (i.e., guys that look like Tim Drake), and the assassin kicks Batman's @$$! Inviso-text Spoilers: Stephanie, the new Robin, saves the day, but she does it against orders, so Batman gives her the boot. Now that's gratitude for you. Is this the end of her Robin career for good? Previews indicate she'll at least come back as Robin in the upcoming "War Games" crossover. But of course, since it's a crossover, I'm dreading that like I dread lockjaw. Damion Scott's fluid and loose art is not normally my cup of tea, but since the story is winning me over, I simply don't mind it. I'm having too good of a time. - G.S.
STAR WARS: EMPIRE #22 - Extremely conventional tale of a young Rebel babe with the hots for Han Solo, notable only for some pretty good art and the hottie-fied depiction of Princess Leia seen here. Looks like she's been taking some glam lessons from Queen Mom-idala. - Cormorant
DC COMICS PRESENTS: GREEN LANTERN - So this is what a cheapshot is like. Never did one before. It's sort of like being in a studio apartment. Normally, Ijust like short reviews anyway because reviews of comic books are about as necessary as reviews of centerfolds. This comic is the third in a series saluting the style of great Silver Age editor, the late Julius Schwartz. Hardboiled writer Brian Azzarello and artists Norm Breyfogle and Our Pal Sal Buscema contribute a tale that could have been in a 50's comic, with a humorous, satirical twist at the end as the Justice League contemplates, without stating the results, what things would be like if each of them had one of Green Lantern's power rings. Writer Martin Pasko and penciller Scott McDaniel give us a great Green Lantern/Green Arrow tribute. So Hal Jordan was abused as a child? I did not know that. I do not believe that. Still, I always like a Hal and Ollie team up. This is a fun series - Buzz Maverik.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #25 (#60) - Well, I thought David ended this title with a bang with the tragic ending of last issue which featured Captain Marvel saving the universe by smothering his own son in his crib. Genis had to answer the age old question of "If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a child, would you?" Well, apparently he would. Last issue was quite a downer, but a well written one. Let's face it. If you haven't been faithful to this title from its beginning, you probably don't give a shit about this final issue. That is, unless I tell you that it has a one panel appearance by Ambush Bug himself! Okay, he's obscured by a box, but those antennae are surely his. Keith Giffen teams up with Peter David in this final issue and boy-howdy, does this make we want to dust off those old AMBUSH BUG issues. David reveals that while Captain Marvel has cosmic awareness, Rick Jones has the power of comic awareness. That is, he has full knowledge that he is a character in a comic book. It's a power once shared with She-Hulk in John Byrne's famous run and exploited to the extreme in the aforementioned AMBUSH BUG series. David and Giffen tear it up in this self-aware issue as the title's characters one by one venture into the void of canceled comic book limbo. Giffen's art is especially nice in this issue. He's still got it. And despite my adoration for the IDENTITY CRISIS series, I have to say that I am saddened by the news that he is leaving mainstream books for good due to the mistreatment of Sue Dibney's character. I guess this means my hopes for a RETURN OF AMBUSH BUG series will never come to pass. Check this issue out. It very well may be Keith Giffen's last mainstream work. – Ambush Bug
MARY JANE #2 - Still very cute, with writer McKeever and artist Miyazawa capturing the pain of teen angst quite admirably as MJ realizes she can't afford the dress she wants for the prom. Hey, don't call it vacuous! She's an American teenage girl and that's the kind of thing that upsets American teenage girls. The best stuff in the issue, though, continues to be MJ's uncomfortable dates with Harry Osborne and her resulting depression.