Hey everybody, Greg here.
Great column this week - stuff for both you superhero Philistines and you indie whiney-crybabies alike!
And with the traditional lip service paid to the Cheap Shots, let the column begin!
- G-8 & HIS BATTLE ACES! (Not to be confused with the G-7 trade alliance.)
- JIMBO IN PURGATORY! (Not to be confused with Jimmy Buffet's "Cheeseburger In Paradise.")
- ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE! (Not to be confused with my 3 years of Junior High School.)
- And Cheap Shots! And more!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
JIMBO IN PURGATORY
ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE #2
PERSEPOLIS 2: THE STORY OF A RETURN
Buzz Maverik's Book Club: G-8 & HIS BATTLE ACES
DOOM PATROL VOL. 1 (TPB)
IDENTITY CRISIS #4
JIMBO IN PURGATORY
by Gary Panter
Published by Fantagraphics Books
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
It’s hard to know how to approach a project like JIMBO IN PURGATORY. Sometimes the only appropriate responses seem to be: 1) Holy shit, this is the greatest ever comic since the last greatest ever comic, it is so great that you shouldn’t tarnish it by placing it on a comic book shelf with other lesser books, so great it is. 2) This is the most pretentious piece of shit I’ve ever seen. I will attempt to avoid both responses, though both are tempting.
This hardcover is roughly 12x17 inches, bigger than a breadbox, colored bright red with gold overleaf. It’s a beautiful object. It looks like it belongs in a display case, to be handled with gloves and a tweezer, like the ancient manuscripts I love so much in museums. The pages within are durable and huge, and laden with tiny, tiny detail and itty bitty lettering. Opened, it fills my entire desk. Each page is a work in itself, with a carefully designed border, and each its own title and footnotes. It’s hard to know on any given page where to look first. The story, such as it is, is a Dante-esque journey through Purgatory with Panter’s character Jim. What he sees along the way is a string of pop-culture faces and mythological beings, trippy imagery and fantastic design. The really bewildering part is this: somehow Panter has assembled all of the dialogue from sources ranging from Chaucer to The Bible to Ovid to Ben Jonson, particularly using Dante’s Purgatory itself, forming a declarational prose stew of references sure to leave an English major orgasmic. Song lyrics, Shakespeare, Elvis, and the ancients intersect in this strange hallucination of a book. What keeps JIMBO from the unbearable pretension of Response #2 above is the sense of humor and play at work – on nearly every page there is some detail that makes me smile, such as a beatific Boy George on page 4 complete with halo and Virgin Mary pose, the appearance of Tiny Tim on page 2 (Jimbo requests a song, and Tiny obliges), an entire page of dirty limericks, the Westworld references, and much more.
Overwhelming is a good way to describe the experience of reading this book – it’s not so much a reading experience as an immersion. The plot is only faintly discernable, the dialogue not exactly conversational. You can hunt-and-peck out the unnumbered footnotes at the bottom of the page that will explain the sources for the panel text, but that will make for a more frustrating reading experience in the long run. Ignore the footnotes and read the text aloud, it’s delicious. Just look at the layers of design on each page, the amazing concentric stitching of each page with the action of each panel suspended somehow within. From the dates on each page, you can see just how long it must have taken to do this. Brilliant, insane, visually astonishing and virtually unreadable, JIMBO IN PURGATORY must be seen to be believed. Baffle your friends, warp your brain; pick up this book.
ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE #2
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Trevor Hairsine
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE, by all accounts, is a pretty big book. It's a hot read. At the new LA comic shop (the one owned by that happenin' indie film director) called Pumpkin & Honey Bunny's Hidden Horde, ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE #1 sold out the day of its release. Several of us @$$holes talked about the book amongst ourselves, but no one wrote anything about it.
We dropped the ball on the debut issue of a big series.
Shaken to my very core, I will try to make amends with a review of issue #2. For those of you who haven't read a preview or who haven't picked up issue #1, ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE is written by Warren "PLANETARY" Ellis, with superlative art by Trevor Hairsine. The book is set, of course, in Marvel's Ultimate Universe and concerns a strike force of the Ultimates (is it just me or is "The Ultimates" actually a cornier name for a super-team than "The Avengers"?) and a trio of Ultimate X-Men separately investigating an unnatural catastrophe of unimaginable proportions in the Tunguska area of Russia.
It is a fact that on June 30, 1908, near the Tunguska River in the Russian wilderness, something fell from the sky and caused an explosion that could only be rivaled by an H-bomb. It has been theorized that a reactor explosion in an extraterrestrial spacecraft may have caused this disaster. My favorite theory is that scientist Nikola Tesla was testing a beam weapon and aimed it at one of the most desolate areas on Earth.
Back to modern times: In ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE, all Earthly broadcasts suddenly show scenes of alien races being destroyed. Certain @$$holes are lead to believe this is the coming of Ultimate Galactus. Psychics such as Charles Xavier and Jean Grey of the X-Men receive nightmarish mental images. All originate in Tunguska. Which brings me to:
How To Not Get A Screenwriting Job #704: "....I think the basic premise here is good, with the STAR WARS satellite going crazy and blasting away at the Earth, but why didn't the original writer have scenes at mission control? NASA, CAL TECH, ya know? Every time we get information, it's that damned family watching television. Who the hell is glued to the TV for stories about satellites? *Before* it starts blowing up things? Here's how I'd handle that: Early on, we have that family watching TV. Instead of having them enraptured by the story of a satellite going online, they're not really paying attention, they're doing other things, the TV is just white noise. Then, the story of the satellite going crazy. Suddenly, an energy beam hits the house and disintegrates it, including the family inside..."
Now, back to our regularly scheduled review. Anyway, Nick Fury and the Ultimates head to Tunguska in the SHIELD carrier and Ultimate Wolverine, Colossus and Phoenix are on their way to rescue the mutant source of the psi-images. A vast complex is discovered beneath the original blast sight.
MAJOR FRICKIN' SPOILERS
Both teams enter the complex!
That's it. Two issues to see superheroes go through doors.
Okay, Ultimate Falcon is introduced and he's the best thing in the book aside from the art.
I'm sorry. Pacing and build up are one thing. $4.50 American to watch two teams of superheroes go through doors is something else.
One issue, ending with superheroes going through doors, I could take. But Ellis, Hairsine and Marvel couldn't get them through the doors in a single issue. They had a five page explosion last issue, which I guess is pretty standard in manga but the Japanese economy is a lot stronger than the Dubya dollar.
Have our brains slowed down? Do things really have to drag this much? The paced for trade debate has become tiresome (at least to those who are ready to accept anything Marvel flicks at them) but what am I supposed to do? Lie? Okay, to help the Zombies feel better as they roam the Earth: I did not feel cheated.
But if I'm telling the truth, I have to say: Aside from Hairsine's gorgeous art, I feel as though I was completely ripped off.
PERSEPOLIS 2: THE STORY OF A RETURN
by Marjane Satrapi
Published by Pantheon Books
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
When last we saw Marjane Satrapi, in 2003’s PERSEPOLIS, she was boarding a plane for Europe, 14 years old, leaving parents and country behind. In PERSEPOLIS 2, we see her arrive in Austria and wind up in a Catholic boarding school, unable to communicate with her German-speaking classmates. Still rebellious, it isn’t long before she finds herself expelled for insulting the nuns (to be fair, they insulted Iranians first). After a series of misadventures in Vienna and elsewhere, Marjane returns to Iran a grown woman, mildly Westernized, relieved, and depressed. Here the real story begins.
Which is not to say that the first 90 pages of this 190-page graphic novel aren’t interesting. But like most adolescent experiences, these stories are deeply ambivalent, more so because of the young Satrapi’s bewilderment at her first taste of Western society. Marjane may have been radical for an Iranian, but as a European she’s fearfully conservative, unprepared for the relaxed attitudes towards sexuality, authority, drugs, and family relationships. Perhaps, as well, she feels lost without the rigid structures of a moralist society, as much as she fought against it in Iran. It’s difficult to tell - while the young Marjane in the comic falls into bad decision-making (too much weed and crummy boyfriends), the adult Marjane writing the comic doesn’t seem to have formed complete opinions on Austria and her experiences there. She is much more comfortable in her attitudes towards her native country, and once the book is on familiar ground again with her return to Iran at age 18, it regains some of the power of the first volume.
PERSEPOLIS 2 collects the second half of the four-volume memoir, originally published in France where Marjane Satrapi now makes her home. Not quite as must-read as the first volume was, readers of the first volume will want to find out what happens to little Marjane and will not be disappointed with this completion of her story. It has the same iconic, pictograph-style artwork of the first volume, with more of the full-page mosaics of figures prostrating, self-flagellating, falling before the firing squad. She is even more passionate in her politics, freer now to express adult opinions than she could from the child’s pov of the first book. It is even more satisfying to see her assert herself as a woman in her homeland, trying to come to terms with her culture and her place in it. We know from the book’s jacket that Satrapi will emigrate once again to Paris (which is indeed the end-point of the comic). But her journey to get to that point is a fascinating one – Marjane is still stubborn as an adult and tries to stick it out in Iran as long as she can, fighting against priests, police, and male chauvinism at every step of the way. Unlike her first journey, the second time Marjane leaves Iran it is her own decision, made with some acceptance for her strange position as not-quite-European, not-quite-Iranian, a woman betrayed by her country. Like any memoir, her insight into her country and its complicated history and politics is nothing more than her own experience and point of view allow her to relate. But this, for a reader hungry for news of this stranger side of the world, is insight enough.
G-8 & HIS BATTLE ACES #1: THE BAT STAFFEL
by Robert J. Hogan
Reprinted by Berkley Medallion
A Buzz Maverik's Book Club Geek Selection
You kids get offa my lawn . . . unless you're sellin' dope.
I was George Lucas' target audience when he made STAR WARS, which was what his first space movie was called before it was given a subtitle. I was a Junior High kid. With that movie, though, you didn't have to be a kid. It really was a movie for all ages. It was only called a kid's movie by snobs in that era. George and the fans only started calling them kid's movies when the third one and the prequels weren't quite as good as the first two.
STAR WARS had a purity about it. It created an excitement. Sure, it was based on old stuff we kids had never heard of, but it also had a newness. I wasn't really a science fiction fan at the time. I liked LOGAN'S RUN because it was cool and had sex and drug references, but that was about it. Hated STAR TREK at the time. Still not crazy about TREK.
For some reason, though, after I saw STAR WARS, I wanted everyone to see STAR WARS. Maybe I wanted everyone to enjoy it. Maybe I thought it was so great that everyone HAD to enjoy it. That didn't last long. Even as a kid, I soon realized that it would be of no benefit to me if everyone saw and liked STAR WARS. George was going to keep making them, I'd get to keep seeing them. I wasn't going to get any money out of the deal. Hell, the more people going to see STAR WARS, the longer I had to stand in line.
I'm still sorta this way about comics. So many people who write about comics talk about promoting the medium. I always say that the biggest growth in the medium took place when mostly kids were reading comics and a pair of guys named Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created innovative, high quality books and were nice to their fans. Comics didn't need guys on messageboards promoting them. They still don't. There will still be comics whether any of us talk up or talk down a particular book.
Then came SKY CAPTAIN & THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. At the time I'm writing this, I haven't seen the movie. I read the first few bits about it here on Harry's site maybe in late '03 or early this year, saw a clip in January and February and was hooked. What I saw seemed to have the energy and purity of STAR WARS. It made me feel like I did when I was a kid, seeing that damned Star Destroyer chase the Blockade Runner over Tatooine. That felt pretty damned good.
It also made me purposely cut myself off from any info about the movie. I don't read the bits here on AICN or on other sites. I haven't seen any more clips or previews. When I go into that theater, I will be seeing as many of those images for the first time as possible.
Why the long-ass intro to a review of G8 & HIS BATTLE ACES? Because, for some reason, I feel compelled to talk up SKY CAPTAIN like I did STAR WARS back in the seventh grade. I still won't be getting any money or even a pair of pilot's wings, but what the hell?
Short of a novelization, the pulp series G8 & HIS BATTLE ACES may be as close as you can get to SKY CAPTAIN in print. It may even be the inspiration. I picked up #1, THE BAT STAFFEL because I mistook it for a DOC SAVAGE in a used book store. G-8 evidently had his own pulp series, beginning in 1933 by a guy named Robert J. Hogan (was Col. Robert Hogan of HOGAN'S HEROES named after him?). G-8 is a W.W.I flying ace (one who is not a beagle in real life) as well as a spy.
In THE BAT STAFFEL, G-8 gains a pair of wingmen, Nippy Weston (the little guy) and Bull Martin, (the big guy). He also runs up against a mad scientist Herr Doktor. Herr Doktor has concocted a gas that reduces anyone who breathes it to a pile of dust. He also has indestructible flying machines that have been constructed to look like giant bats, which will attack from a hidden tunnel passing through Switzerland into France. Turning the French to dust may not seem like such a bad idea, but trust me, it is! Fortunately for the French, G-8 and his Battle Aces have figured out how to take down the Bat Staffel.
Anybody read PLANETARY? How's this for the Secret History of the 20th Century? Apparently, during World War I, one hundred thousand German soldiers were turned to dust in a tunnel running from Germany into France .
DOOM PATROL VOL. 1: CRAWLING FRON THE WRECKAGE (TPB)
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Richard Case & Doug Braithwaite
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
“...many of my readers seem to now be unaware of storytelling structures beyond the Hollywood three-act, and the literalism is so rife that nobody seems to be able to deal with symbolic content anymore.”
-Grant Morrison responding to reader reactions of “What the -- ?!” regarding his SEAGUY miniseries
“This is way beyond me.”
-The Doom Patrol’s Robotman responding to Morrisonian weirdness from over a decade ago
So, okay, Grant’s a little upset that readers don’t always “get” him, but I’d just like to remind Grant that, hey, we’ve been not getting him for years and years now! And he knows it! As I was reading this volume of reprints from Morrison’s radical revamp of the Doom Patrol in the late ‘80s, I was struck by the fact that Cliff Steele, aka Robotman, is distinctly cast in the role of the reader’s eyes. Of all the characters, he’s the most distinctly “old school” in his attitudes, and he’s constantly inviting exposition with his general cluelessness.
Just look at ‘im on the cover. Cliff appears to be patting his head and rubbing his tummy (or doing something down there...) as if it were a “Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean!” coping mechanism for all the weirdness going on around him. And who can blame him? Let’s all remember that when Morrison took over DOOM PATROL in 1989, he was inheriting a mainstream superhero book. This was all before the Vertigo imprint, and if you can believe it, the artist just prior to Morrison’s cohort, Richard Case, was none other than Erik Larsen of SAVAGE DRAGON fame. Imagine, if you will, going from Larsen’s watered-down Kirby pastiche to Grant Morrison’s attempt to wholly-frickin’-reinvent the superhero genre, and you’ll have an idea how important average-hero Cliff Steele was to the transition.
I also like to think Cliff’s smart-ass responses represented a certain cognizance on Morrison’s part as to how “out there” the book really was at times. When Cliff’s been told a relevant plot point about the threat the team is facing – “They propose to fill the book with parasite ideas which will enter human consciousness and transform it.” – his sardonic response is, “Oh, well, that explains everything!”
And speaking of explanations, let’s get down to brass tacks – just what da fug is this series about?!
At its core, Morrison’s DOOM PATROL is a superhero team book with heavy doses of the two -isms that inform much of Morrison’s work: surrealism and humanism. The Doom Patrollers are misfit heroes ala the X-Men...only more so. MUCH more so. The leads include most of the original Doom Patrol from the ‘60s:
- Wheelchair-bound frontman, The Chief, the cold-hearted scientific genius at the heart of the team. Morrison leaves him relatively intact in this first volume, but adds a chocolate craving and the same ability to pack heat he’d later give the wheelchair-bound Professor X in NEW X-MEN.
- Cliff Steele – Robotman – former racecar driver, mangled in a horrific accident, brain now inside a super-strong robot body. Provides opportunities for exposition, humanity, good visuals.
- Negative Man – Ah, big changes to this guy! In the ‘60s he was an irradiated test pilot who could send out a spectral “negative” form from his own body to fight the baddies. Morrison merges his spectral form with that of a nurse who’s treating him to create “Rebis,” a new hermaphroditic incarnation that surely scared the living crap out of some readers in 1989.
In addition, we get lesser-known 70’s Doom Patroller, Josh Clay, a blaster-type who just wants to be the team’s doctor, and multiple personality sufferer, Crazy Jane, who has different powers for each of her sixty-four personalities. If you can believe it, Morrison actually showcases an in-continuity explanation for her, referencing the Gene Bomb that went off during the DC crossover mini, INVASION! He also has a guest-spot from the Metal Men’s Doc Magnus and references to Maxwell Lord of JUSTICE LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL. And yes, the juxtaposition of DC continuity with prelude-to-Vertigo weirdness just makes it all that much stranger.
And here’s the thing: while I don’t really feel I’ve got enough Psilocybin running through my veins to tap fully into Morrison’s mojo...I really love these stories. You really can’t have been an art major and not open your mind up to surrealism, and I have to tell you, Morrison does temper the ideas with classic story structure and very grounded character development.
It ain’t ALL madcap voodoo.
In the first story, Morrison essentially reforms the team and pits them against The Scissormen, pre-Tim Burton scissorhanders at the vanguard of another reality’s intersection with our own. The merging’s caused by a book about a group of philosophers who themselves create a book about a viral reality that consumes other realities. It’s funny – “memes” are such a buzzword concept for futurists everywhere these days, yet here was Grant Morrison in ’89 already writing a story that took the idea to fictional fruition!
Alas, I think artist Richard Case falls a little short in depicting the book’s alt reality of “Orqwith,” described by Morrison with a poet’s vibrancy but revealed through decidedly un-poetic artwork. Case is perfectly adequate in his realism-with-a-touch-o’-Kirby, but adequate doesn’t quite cut it. What this book really needed was Morrison’s modern-day collaborator, Frank Quitely, or one of those insanely great French draftsmen like Moebius or Bilal, but what’re ya gonna do? The art’s okay.
As for Morrison’s other “ism” – humanism – look for it in tough guy Robotman’s bonding with Crazy Jane, in Rebis’s emotional encounter with the man formerly engaged to its female half, and in Josh’s interaction with a young girl whose childhood trauma relating to her period begins creating dangerous hallucinations when she’s in proximity to an old JLA villain’s reality-warping device (a “Materioptikon”! Duh!).
Along the way...lots of action (honest Abe), Morrison’s trademark sly wit (“I can’t see country music bringing anyone out of a coma.”), an otherworldly Jack the Ripper fueled by millions of pinned butterflies, nods to cutting edge mathematical theory, and a winning afterward reprinted from Morrison’s welcome to new readers in ‘89. Ever prescient, Morrison talks in this piece of already being good and bored with the prevailing grittiness of the late ‘80s, eager to try and forge a new kind of comic for the ‘90s.
It might all sound tremendously artsy-fartsy to some, and I do recommend DOOM PATROL to any art-geeks and literati in the crowd, but I’ve got to emphasize that there is no pretension to the work. Morrison might grouse in interviews that fans don’t get him, but you won’t catch that mildly off-putting attitude in the works themselves. Honestly, DOOM PATROL is, in its own way, just a modernist updating of the freewheeling love of strange adventure that informed the original DOOM PATROL of the ‘60s.
And a damn fun read, ta boot, much more coherent and engaging than SEAGUY (sorry, Grant).
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Pablo Riamondi
Inks: Drew Hennessy
Publisher: Marvel Knights (Marvel Comics)
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
A mere two weeks after I gave Marvel an @$$-reaming for their release of five number one issues in a single day, the company that knows no shame released both MADROX and STRANGE this week. Whereas the number ones from the previous week seem to be guaranteed duds from the get-go, these new releases may have a shot. MADROX, for those of you not “in the know,” focuses on a mutant named Jamie Madrox AKA The Multiple Man. Madrox can replicate himself when he either hits something hard or is hit hard. Sounds like a hokey power, but we all know that there is no such thing as a hokey power, just hokey writers writing about them.
Peter David is not a hokey writer. I’ve followed his exploits since the days when the Hulk was actually worthy of the name Incredible. Recently, David has returned to form with the truly cool FALLEN ANGEL series at DC. That series combines noir-ish elements with the super powered world of heroes and villains. It bathes the world of spandex in shadows and fog, where the heroes aren’t so heroic all of the time and everyone has an opportunity to be villainous. David has packed up those elements and brought them over to Marvel with him on MADROX and the results are just as powerful and entertaining.
The first thing that stuck me about this book was the truly unique cover and the ingenuity that went into its execution. It’s the type of cover you may see on pulp novels and the like, bathed in darks, depicting a man on the run. A trio of cars is in pursuit. Your typical mystery novel cover, but cover artists David Lloyd and Brian Weber set this scene apart by fully embracing and incorporating the world of super heroes by showing the shadows of not one pursued man, but many cast alongside the alleyway. In one cover, we know that this is going to be a dark book and those in the know about the character can recognize the nod to Madrox’s mutant powers.
Once inside the book, David’s knack for characterization is evident. He’s worked with these characters before in his days at X-FACTOR. Former New Mutant, Wolvesbane and the ever-cool Strong Guy AKA Guido Carosella, round out the cast. In a few scenes, we realize that these guys have been friends for a long time and support Madrox in this new direction of being a Marvel’s first genetically superior gumshoe. David characterizes Guido as the buddy everyone wants to have; always there to stick up for you and make you laugh when you’re feeling low. Wolvesbane is equally well fleshed out. She’s cast as the mousy (or on this case wolfy) dame who would be just right for our detective hero if not for the fact that he always gets involved with femme fatales. Wolvesbane is the Moneypenny to Madrox’s Bond in this book.
Outside of that, David has found an interesting take on Madrox’s powers. A while back, Madrox sent out a bunch of dupes to gather skills and talents that may be helpful in his endeavor to become a detective. One by one, these dupes return to Madrox with these gifts and he reabsorbs them, absorbing said talents with them. This is a new take on Madrox’s power. It’s never been explored before, but it is a logical extension of his abilities and opens the door for loads of story potential.
The art by Riamondi and Hennessey is not flashy, but easily tells David’s tale. The deep darks and glimpses of light set the perfect stage for Madrox to do his investigating. Riamondi has a good consistency from panel to panel. In a book where one character appears over and over (most of the time in the same panel), this is an important skill to have.
There are tons of Marvel number ones out there right now. If you’re like me, you may be tempted to skip the whole batch. And you’re right. Most of the number one issues Marvel has put out recently have been for shit (SHE-HULK being the only exception). But every now and then a new comic comes along with a fresh take on super-hero-dom. David has done it with MADROX. Don’t let this book get buried under the recent load of crap #1’s and be cancelled by its sixth issue. Fans of SLEEPER and CAL MCDONALD will be pleased with this book. Those of you smart enough to be enjoying FALLEN ANGEL should give it a shot too. MADROX is an X-Book worth checking out. It’s better than any of the X-MEN RELOADED books and offers something fresh and new to Marvel’s bland stable of yawns.
IDENTITY CRISIS #4
Written by Brad Meltzer
Pencils by Rags Morales
Inks by Mike Bair
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Gregory Scott
So the umbrage seems to have died down a bit from the death and immolation of Sue Dibny. And then the rape of Sue Dibny. And then the hanging of Jean Loring. (To be fair, the umbrage over Jean never rose very high. Perhaps by that point we're just numb. Then again, as a simple relative proposition, what's a hanging compared to the wringer Sue went through?)
And now that the outrage has faded into the background, the story can hog centerstage, which makes the latest issue of IDENTITY CRISIS, IDENTITY CRISIS #4, slightly easier to review. Because for those of us who found the murder/immolation/rape of Sue objectionable, or at least the presentation of the murder/immolation/rape of Sue objectionable, IDENTITY CRISIS still managed to offer a rousing mystery with interesting art. (Oh how easy it would have been to write the whole thing off as cheap exploitation. Unfortunately, it just wasn't cheap enough.) Now we can talk about the rousing mystery and interesting art, while the qualifications and reservations about the objectionable content aren't so immediate. (Don't get too comfortable though: those reservations are still lurking.)
So let's go through the story in IDENTITY CRISIS #4 and see what we've got.
- Jean Loring, hanged at the end of IC #3 by the same attacker who got Sue (ostensibly), is saved in the nick of time by her ex-husband, The Atom.
A nicely paced scene with a clever use of The Atom's abilities: He slips between the fibers of the rope and bursts through them in a sudden growth spurt. I thought the sequence managed to generate a fair amount of suspense, even though we internet comic fans had an inkling that a save might have been coming here.
- The superheroes do a bit of detective work, and chase down red herrings.
I gotta say, I like Rags Morales' version of Superman. That's a pretty powerful looking guy right there.
And the characterization wasn't too bad either, if a little obvious. Superman uncannily identifies the knot in the attempted murder weapon for Jean - a boy scout knot, no less - and Green Arrow "loves him and hates him" for it at the same time. Again, a little obvious, but I suppose another term for "obvious" in this case would be "in character," so we're happy.
When Green Arrow tracks down the lead, he brings along Wonder Woman and her lasso. (Ironically, the most we actually get to see of Wonder Woman, who is featured on the cover, is the left side of her pelvis.) The scene really drives home how useful something like Wonder Woman's lasso is when it comes to a mystery, and puts me in the mind of thinking that if I were Wonder Woman, I'd be working that lasso overtime at this point.
- The supervillain community is getting a little edgy over the heat that's been coming down on them since Sue's murder and Jean's attempted murder.
Much like Geoff Johns and his depiction of the Rogues in THE FLASH, IDENTITY CRISIS shows us that the supervillians of the DCU have created a community for themselves. They hang out. Frankly, even if I was a psycho, I'd be a little afraid to hang out with other psychos (a point that's actually addressed in an earlier issue), but then again, it's always nice to associate with people of similar interests.
- Captain Boomerang manages to have a reunion with his long-lost son.
You see they're supervillians, sure, but they're people too.
Boomerang Jr. seems to show some interest in the family business. Overtones for the future: ominous.
- Batman's also hard at work on the case, and he and Meltzer break down the list of suspects for us in terms of "Who Benefits?"
In one of the more curious parts of the book, Batman poses the basic question of motive, followed by panels of Boomerang and son, Calculator, Elongated Man, Merlyn, and Tim and Jack Drake - all with the question "Who benefits?" echoing in a caption in the corner. Since I can't honestly believe that Batman would suspect Tim or his dad of the crimes (I mean, come on), we must have left Batman's perspective somewhere in there, and jumped onto Meltzer's. Is this the pov of the omnicient narrator? Is one of these characters the guilty party? Is Meltzer simply yanking our chain?
- Meanwhile, Green Arrow decides to check in with a higher source: his buddy, The Hal Jordan Spectre.
Unfortunately, The Spectre is spectacularly unhelpful to us and to Green Arrow. On the other hand, he is somewhat helpful to Geoff Johns, giving a slight plug to his upcoming REBIRTH mini-series.
Much like Wonder Woman's Golden Lasso, catching up with the all-knowing spiritual types like The Spectre is a base that needs to be covered. Of course, for Hal to say "It's Zatanna! It's Zatanna!" would shortcircuit the story, so naturally he's not giving anything up (for the sake of the Natural Order of Things or some cosmic mumbo-jumbo cop-out like that). Still though, Meltzer was able to inject enough of a feeling of real friendship between the Hal and Ollie for the scene to have a bit of poignancy. Just a bit.
- The issue ends with Lois Lane showing up at work to find an unfriendly memo on her desk.
I'm telling you, those people at work can be so catty sometimes.
So as you can see, a lot of stuff happened. And nobody got killed this time.
And really, for everything that happened, the story didn't advance that far, at least not overtly; most of the content seemed focused on the characters and relationships, and whatever plot to be had was driven by them. And it was interesting. The issue may have lacked the power of the best parts of the previous issues, but Meltzer's touch was deft enough to keep me in the story. And Morales' art was top-notch as usual (see: Superman above). I liked it - despite my lingering objections to the worst parts of the previous issues; objections that I'm afraid will keep me from ever embracing the series wholeheartedly.
See, I told you those reservations were still lurking.
But IDENTITY CRISIS #4 was a respite from those objectionable elements; a bite from the apple that wasn't rotten, so to speak; and to that degree, I couldn't help enjoying it.
Written by J. Michael Straczynski & Samm Barns
Art by Brandon Peterson
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Think about your three favorite Marvel characters. Are they currently in their own books, or in team books? Or are they floating around the acre of the Imaginaverse claimed by Marvel Comics?
My three favorites have been exiled in recent years. There's the Black Widow, who is at least guest starring in DAREDEVIL and will soon have some sort of series of her own. Next is The Incredible Hulk, and sadly Marvel has not published his magazine in several years. But my absolute favorite, Dr. Strange, is finally back!
STRANGE appears to be DR. STRANGE: YEAR ONE, which is a good thing. It is also a good thing that the series is not called DR. STRANGE: YEAR ONE. In the hands of writers J. Michael Straczynski (whom Harlan Ellison gets to call "Joe") and Samm Barnes, and artist Brandon Peterson, the good doctor will be treated with expert care. Straczynski has written the character in a few AMAZING SPIDER-MAN stories and clearly knows how to handle him.
DR. STRANGE was a creation of Stan Lee's and Steve Ditko's back in the early 1960s, and ran in a series of shorts in the pages of STRANGE TALES (which carried a second short either featuring SHIELD or THE HUMAN TORCH). As a character and a series, Dr. Strange was a big departure for Marvel. Not really a superhero at all, Doc was the Master of the Mystic Arts, Sorceror Supreme. He protected the Earth from magickal menaces, demons, other dimensional beings. If GHOSTBUSTERS would have happened in the Marvel Universe, Doc would have been on the scene.
Aside from CONAN THE BARBARIAN and a few horror titles for a while, Marvel has never fared very well when it has ventured outside the superhero genre. This is unfortunate because some of its best characters and books have been a little outside the cape and tights clichÃ©s. Dr. Strange never really fit in. They even tried to put a mystic blue mask on him to make him look more like a superhero. It didn't work. Marvel even had him leading a superhero team called THE DEFENDERS. It was a cool '70s book, but never a major hit, and finally died a crappy death in the '80s.
Personally, I was a big DEFENDERS fan. I think that Doc's appearances in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN by JMS were really DEFENDERS stories. Whenever Dr. Strange needs a superhero, or a superhero needs Doc, it's a DEFENDERS story. And my three favorites: Doc, Widow, and Hulk would make a kick-ass permanent DEFENDERS line up.
In STRANGE, as in the original Lee/Ditko stories, Stephen Strange is a snothole doctor who doesn't care about his fellow man. Eventually, he meets a master sorceror called The Ancient One in Tibet and learns the secret of magick. But first, he needs to be taken to rock bottom. That doesn't start until the last page of STRANGE, which would annoy me if I didn't already know the story.
The book is rich with characterization. Stephen isn't really a bad guy here. He's more like a real person, who makes mistakes, loses his temper, acts like a jerk but has good intentions and regrets his bad behavior. I don't think JMS and Barns are doing this to make him more likable, but rather to make him more dimensional and more like an actual human being. We all get greedy, lazy, self-absorbed. And we don't always treat others as well as we should.
We are tantalized throughout the book with glimpses of the Ancient One; a vanishing mystery woman; Wong, who will later become Doc's loyal assistant. Forces are working in Stephen Strange's life.
Midway through the book, a character suffers an untimely death. Unfortunately, it's not the character I wanted to die. If only the creative team could have killed off Stephan's friend Devon, a character who exists only to provide exposition. "...of all the bright young medical students who've come this year to learn Tibetan alternative medicine, myself included, you're the best, Stephen..." Only in a comic book. Or a bad movie. If they brought captions back, Devon would have no reason to exist.
Before we go, don't let me forget to praise Peterson's art. Doesn't it seem like comic book art has been improving lately? We're getting guys like Peterson, who like the old guys, can handle far flung yet realistic locations and a variety of situations and characters. He can do it all beautifully, in service of the story.
Maybe we can get JMS, Barnes and Peterson on THE INCREDIBLE HULK. And THE BLACK WIDOW. And THE DEFENDERS.
And maybe they can send Devon to Foggy Nelson for some counseling on how to be a comic book hero's best buddy/foil.
Cheap Shots!OWLY: THE WAY HOME & THE BITTERSWEET SUMMER (TPB) - Without an ounce of derision, I’m going to say that this is the cutest comic I’ve ever read. Produced by Top Shelf Comics, OWLY features the wordless adventures of a puffy, good-hearted owl who looks like he could’ve leapt off the screen of a SUPER MARIO game. It’s not the standard material you Ain’t-It-Coolers are looking for, but these gentle and (as per the title) somewhat bittersweet tales of Owly helping other animals would be great to share with first-time comic readers before they get sucked into a world of video games and corporate characters. I’d liken the tone to those gentle FROG & TOAD books a lot of us imprinted on as kids, or Raymond Briggs’ THE SNOWMAN, and the art suggests a pared-down Jeff Smith. In fact, half the pleasure of this little trade is its grin-inducing, friendly artwork, not dissimilar to the merits of James Kochalka’s all-ages PEANUT BUTTER & JEREMY. Handsomely crafted and endearing enough to cure the clinically depressed, OWLY is the comic book equivalent of a hug. So hug OWLY, you mean ol’ bastards. Hug him! Preview available by clicking here. – Dave
STRANGERS IN PARADISE #68 - Okay, the shark was jumped a few dozen issues back, but this issue proves it. What happened? Was the book sent out without being completed first? Not only does the art style change up completely halfway through, it’s not even inked for the last several pages, and the plot isn’t even half-baked – more like barely thawed. Say what you want about the drawn-out saga, Terry Moore has always been impeccably professional. What’s going on? Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me to stop complaining and finally give up on this book. - Lizzybeth
RUNAWAYS Vol. 2 - Just a reminder to all the cool cats and kittens who've discovered RUNAWAYS: the second trade is out! Nuthin' but cool in those pages, with the highlight being an inspired guest-appearance by Cloak & Dagger (as reviewed here). Highest recommendation for funseekers. - Dave
X-MEN #161 - In light of recent events regarding Chuck Austen and his writing, I am starting to see that maybe it isn’t entirely his fault that he has become so much of an industry joke. Recently, I have read a few of Austen’s JLA issues and I have to say that they aren’t excruciating. Sure they aren’t great, but they deliver action and emotional goods from time to time and have a fair amount of cool moments. Of course, Austen’s Marvel work up to this point and beyond reeks of all kinds of @$$. Take the most recent X-MEN…please (ba-dum-bum). Once again we have unneeded melodrama in the form of two (count them, TWO!) single mothers. One is thinking about leaving the X-Mansion and the other is thinking of dating the Juggernaut. Both characters are as interesting as watching John Byrne’s ego expand. We also have a lame action sequence that doesn’t make a lick of sense and the worst line-up of the Brotherhood of Mutants ever put to paper. On the other hand, we are introduced to the wonder that is MAMMOMAX, a mutant mastodon-man with acid saliva (believe me, this idiocy must be seen to be believed)! I am fully convinced that it is Marvel’s editorial department at fault here. They should recognize Austen’s use and re-use of familiar and overly-melodramatic plots. They should tell Austen to make his action scenes more coherent. And they should damn well let him know that a giant guy with an elephant head that spits acid is fucking stupid! JLA editorial doesn’t let Austen do this shit because they seem to actually do their job as editors over there at DC, and I hear his run on ACTION isn’t half bad either. It is evident from comparing Austen’s DC work to his Marvel work that an Austen unchecked by editorial is a bad, bad thing. If Marvel editorial did some actual editing instead of simply being talent scouts and ego-fluffers, maybe this guy wouldn’t be given such a hard time. On a more positive note, Salvador Larroca seems to be back in full force again. His art has been pretty bad over the last few months, but this issue looks like he may be returning to form. – Ambush Bug
MAN-THING #3 (of 3) - Swamp-shit! I knew it was too good to be true! What happened is this: I heard that this MAN-THING miniseries was gonna be written by the guy who wrote the upcoming film. Presuming the film would be schlock-crap, I only reluctantly gave it a flip-through...and it started out good! Strong atmosphere, tight horror mystery about an insurance investigator looking into sabotaged oil drilling in the bayou, and great art from Kyle Hotz, who weds Steve Bissette’s SWAMP THING sensibilities with Kelley Jones’s shadowy stylizations. For two issues...pretty good book. Surprisingly good book. It was mostly build-up, the Man-Thing monster only hinted at, but I just assumed we’d get some real payoff in the final issue. But, no. Three issues results in the shortest of encounters, a hurried ending, and a “to be continued in the upcoming film” that left me feeling like I’d just spent nine bucks for the movie’s trailer. *Sigh* I’ll say one thing, though, and this comes reluctantly: based on the moment-to-moment writing quality, the movie just might be worth checking out. - Dave
GET YOUR WAR ON II - From the man who brought us MY FIGHTING TECHNIQUE IS UNSTOPPABLE and MY FILING TECHNIQUE IS UNSTOPPABLE comes another volume of GET YOUR WAR ON, straight from the pages of Rolling Stone and David Rees’ hilarious website. Packed with more F-Bombs than Dick Cheney on the Senate floor, Rees’ clip-art office-deco people continue their bitter running commentary on the political news of the day, running from September 2002 through July of this year. Timely, scathing, and really fucking pissed-off, GET YOUR WAR ON disproves the clichÃ© of the passive hippie peacenik with its rage, its research, and its no-sacred-cow-unslaughtered attitude. Sure, the majority of these strips now inspire grim nods rather than helpless laughter, but that’s more of a reflection on the depressing state of the nation than on David Rees’ comedic talents. GET YOUR WAR ON II is ultimately more frustrating than satisfying, as the book’s outlook is anything but optimistic. But hey, what other comic is donating all proceeds to land-mine relief in Afghanistan? - Lizzybeth
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #632 - So last week I gave a mixed review to a Superman comic (Austen's ACTION #819), struggling hard to see the glass as half full. Well, this week, I'm happy to report that the glass is a lot fuller. Series writer Greg Rucka finally gets things into gear, not only managing to bring some grip to yet another "Lois is Dead/Dying/Missing!" story, but more importantly, taking a villain that seemed all bark, and giving him some real bite. Aw Rucka, if only you could have pulled this off six issues ago. Here's hoping this is the start of a new trend, and not just a fluke. - Greg
MARY JANE #4 - It was a good series. It’s now a dead series. What a damn shame, ‘cause it was a rare mainstream romance comic that could’ve challenged manga romance if given the right promotion. I believe a digest trade is still due, though, so I’m hoping it might find its teen girl audience through that and get a second lease on life, as was the fortune of RUNAWAYS. Anyway, a tip of the hat to writer Sean McKeever for daring to try something new, and also to artist Takeshi Miyazawa who really pulled out all the stops to capture teen nuances. - Dave
SALMON DOUBTS - Do you like odd animal anthropomorphism? Try this. Salmon Doubts follows a school of fish from their birth in the riverbed downstream to the ocean, and then later back upstream to the spawning grounds. In particular, we focus on a fish named Geoff who gets tired of swimming in a group and strikes out on his own in the big, big ocean. After some exploring and thinking, and a traumatic experience with a fisherman, he returns to his brethren questioning the cycle of life that leads them back to certain death. Some of the interactions between the fish are kind of lame (Fish hit on each other! They can’t tell each other apart either! Hardy har har!) but the artwork is unimpeachable, with many very cool pages of the mass of fish traveling through the silent ocean. Cool stuff. - Lizzybeth
DEEP SLEEPER #4 (of 4) - Geez, somehow I missed covering this when it came out last week, so let me just state for the record: at this moment, I think DEEP SLEEPER is the front-runner for best miniseries of the year 2004. It’s got mystery, paranoia, horror, relatable characters, heroism, great black & white art...damn, what more ya want?! Issue one reviewed here, issue three reviewed here. Don’t let the year’s best slip past. - Dave
FLIGHT - This anthology project from Image comics was originally conceived as a collection of stories about flying, loosely inspired by the animation of Hideo Miyazaki (SPIRITED AWAY, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, CASTLE IN THE SKY). As the project grew, the theme became so loose as to become perhaps meaningless, but the animation influence remains. Many of the contributors to this first volume seem to be coming from an animation or video-game background, and this is a nice first look at what may be the next wave of comic-industry talent. The book has a fluid, dreamy style, with beautiful coloring and many strong contributions (particularly those by Jen Wang, Vera Brosgol, and Derek Kirk Kim). This is certainly one of the best anthologies I’ve seen this year. - Lizzybeth
THE HUMAN TARGET #14 - Been really getting into this book of late, though the last storyline ended on such a dark note that suicide may claim a big chunk of the readership! This issue’s tale is practically family-friendly by comparison, but compared to most comics it’s got plenty of edge. It seems our lead, disguise-master Christopher Chance, is being asked to impersonate a religious cult leader, of all things. Chance is happy to do it because his friend’s fallen under the cult’s sway, but the bad news is the leader’s also been targeted by mobsters for luring one of their daughters. Quite entertaining chaos ensues. This baby’s a jumping-on point, so if you’ve never read the series, consider trying this issue. I’ve got a full review of another issue here for them what wants some more details on the series. - Dave