|#40||2/16/05 & 2/23/05||#3|
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here, still trying to get the champagne out of the formal dress that I wore to last week’s @$$ie Awards Column. The rest of the gang have returned their tuxes and are ready for another year of reviews. This week we have a ton of entries for all of you to enjoy, so let’s get right to them and see what’s in this week’s pull.
(Click title to go directly to the review)
ESSENTIAL LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN VOL. 1
BATMAN #637/THE OUTSIDERS #21
SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY #0
BATTLE HYMN #1
RUNAWAYS Vol. 2 #1
ESSENTIAL LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN VOL. 1
Written by Archie Goodwin, Steve Engelhart, Tony Isabella, Len Wein, Billy Graham, Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska, Billy Graham, Ron Wilson
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
In this volume, you will read Marvel's best Bronze Age origin story. Luke Cage's origin ranks with Marvel's greatest origin tales, period.
If you read up on the history of comics, you'll come across the word blaxploitation in reference to LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN. Blaxploitation can be considered a beloved genre when the term is used by some of its' greatest fans, such as Quentin Tarantino or Harry Knowles, or by its stars and creators. Usually, the term is used by the Politically Correct as a misguided slam against a crime or action story, usually from the 1970s, featuring a Black protagonist. If this protagonist is not boring, tame or a "role model", if the protagonist lives outside the law, as most noir characters do, then the stories featuring the character are condemned as blaxploitation.
LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN was blaxploitation like THE FUGITIVE was whitesploitation. If the superhero angle was set aside, POWER MAN could be a noir from the '40s starring Alan Ladd or Robert Mitchum. We have a hero with a gangster past who has left the life behind and is about to marry a good woman. We have his ex-partner -- Willis Stryker , the original Diamondback -- rising in the rackets and a damned sight meaner than our guy, who desires the good woman. We have a frame up and a good man going to a brutal prison -- Seagate, known as Little Alcatraz -- for a crime he did not commit. Inside, he's threatened by other cons -- Shades and Comanche, who'll menace Luke throughout his hero career -- but he's too tough for them. He's beaten and tormented by sadist guards -- the racist Rackham and Quirt. Meanwhile, the girl he loves -- Reva -- is killed when Stryker uses her as a human shield. The dream of revenge is the only thing keeping our hero alive.
A reform minded warden and a good scientist still willing to experiment on human beings offer Luke his chance. If he'll expose himself to a chemical bath, he'll have another shot at parole, provided he survives. The evil guard, Rackham, has other ideas. Rackham sneaks in and monkeys with controls in an attempt to broil Luke alive. Instead, Luke gains super strength and invulnerability enough to smash his way out of the tank. Rackham starts to shoot him, Luke tries to slap him away, but strikes like a sledgehammer. Fearing he's killed the guard, Luke smashes his hand against the wall in frustration, only to have the wall crumble. He punches through the prison walls, takes a volley of rifle fire that results only in a few bruises and disappears into the bay. Six months later, Power Man debuts on the streets of New York, crushing the rackets to drum up business for Hero for Hire. And this is all in the first issue.
Yes, Luke charges for his services ... most of the time. Most of us charge for our services. The only people who do things for free are sluts, superheroes and comic book reviewers.
This series is a semi-forgotten gem. You will be surprised how genuinely well done these stories are. Writer Archie Goodwin, himself one of the greats that no one talks about any more, tells his hard boiled superhero tales with grit and surprisingly little pose. He isn't preaching or moralizing, he isn't trying to talk authentic jive, he's just writing a good comic. The Hero for Hire angle made for good plots at a time when most Marvel characters didn't have much mission or purpose.
Aside from the perfect origin story, standouts include a Christmas issue with Cage against a mad bomber, an obligatory battle with Dr. Doom, an arc that featured a second run in with Shades, Comanche and Rackham, the Stiletto and Discus stories (Warden Stuart's law and order crazed sons donning superhero gear and weapons to bring Cage to "justice"), and a fight with Black Goliath over the affections of Dr. Claire Temple. Best of all, issue 21 in which the original Power Man, Erik Josten, a broken down super-villain, attacks Cage to reclaim his super-name ...yeah, Cage has the same reaction you or I would, before he kicks Josten's ass.
The art ... well, I have a few of these issues in old Marvel Treasury Editions and GIANT SIZE POWER MAN # 1. Let's just say, this art looked better in color. A standout is any work penciled or inked by Billy Graham, who heightened the realism while enhancing the drama. Graham is best known for his BLACK PANTHER work. With his talent for motion and drawing freakish villains, I can't help thinking that we missed out on a great BATMAN artist.
The dialogue contains fewer instances of "Sweet Christmas!" and "Motherloving..." than you'd think. C'mon, we all know what Luke would be saying, and unless we're 12 year old white wussies, we've all heard the real words more times than we'd ever want. You won't find as many attempts at street talk as we've all heard about over the years.
LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN was ahead of its' time in many ways. It had a cinematic quality to its' storytelling that comic-makers are still striving to attain today.
Casting? Let's forget a modern movie. I want a 1970s LUKE CAGE movie. Jim Brown, as good as Lee Marvin as the proto-Parker in THE SPLIT, would have been the perfect Luke Cage. Yaphet Kotto as Willis Stryker. Teresa Graves as Claire Temple. M. Emmett Walsh as Rackham.
Writer: Judd Winnick
Artist: Doug Mahnke
THE OUTSIDERS #21
Writer: Judd Winnick
Artist: Carlos D’Anda
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Judd Winnick has received quite a bit of criticism here at AICN Comics. I should know. I’ve been one of the guys doing a lot of the criticizing. But I’m not the only one. People really seem to loathe this guy. There have been moments during Winnick’s stints as writer on GREEN LANTERN and GREEN ARROW, where I feel as if I’m in church. As if all of Winnick’s characters speak in the same “Beuller? Beuller?” Ben Stein voice droning on as if they were reading straight from a free pamphlet and had a soapbox permanently grafted to their feet. That’s not knocking the causes Winnink has chosen to write about. Child abduction in THE OUTSIDERS, AIDS in GREEN ARROW, gay-bashing in GREEN LANTERN. These aren’t taboo subjects that shouldn’t be addressed in comic books. But it’s just the execution of these themes, the way Winnick shoehorns size twelves into a size eight shoes, that grates on my last nerve and makes me want to scream that this guy is the worst thing to come to comics since Chuck Austen and Ron Zimmerman.
But that’s not the case. When toned down. When he pulls back the “keepin’ it real and talking the feel” tactics that are much better suited for badly produced after school specials. We he tells straight up, action oriented super hero stories, the guy ain’t half bad.
Case in point. Or cases, to be more specific. DC unleashed two Winnick-helmed comics last week and both of them proved to be pretty alright. BATMAN #637 has some really fun action sequences and some memorable moments of fanboy-ism. Batman and Nightwing face an outdated Amazo android. We get some nice panels with Batman and Nightwing meticulously taking apart the rampaging synthesoid with some nice inner monologue from Nightwing about the difference in their fighting styles. Peppered throughout are some great interactions between villains Black Mask, Mr. Freeze, and the new Red Hood. Drawn by the fantastic Doug Mahnke, this issue was an enjoyable read from cover to cover and proves that when not being distracted by the cause of the week, Winnick can do super-heroes.
Case number two is THE OUTSIDERS #21. Although this series has been known to be preachy with its child abduction storyline that ran through the last few issues and the cramming of a morally ambiguous John Walsh down our throats, this issue showed Winnick’s skill to build up tension in a scene. I won’t give away the big reveal in this issue, but the way Winnick selectively doles out the information in this issue until it builds to a nice cliffhanger is really well done. Winnick misleads the reader and his characters throughout the issue, using past and present relationships and staying faithful to character and continuity. The big reveal is a doozy, but it is so much more because of the slow build that comes before it. I put this issue down and I was honestly surprised at how well executed this issue was.
But the old Winnick is still around. GREEN ARROW is painful to read because in every issue since Speedy donned her tights, we’ve had to plod through a discourse of how strong Green Arrow’s HIV infected sidekick is, justifying her right to be a hero. It is just too much and screeches the flow of the story to an abrupt stop. The pages of a comic book, especially those in the super hero genre, are the perfect stomping grounds for allegory and metaphor. Powers and adventures can have such deeper meaning, speaking to masses and communicating messages that can be understood without the help of a guy at a keyboard holding a spoon in front of our faces and pinching our noses. We don’t like to be preached at or force fed. It’s insulting to the reader and it fails to take advantage of this marvelous genre that is only hindered by the writer’s lack of imagination. Knock it off, Judd. You’ve proven that you have the ability to write some good stuff. Take three seconds when you have another cause you want to support and try to write it with a little less literality. The stories will be much more bearable to read.
LIVEWIRES #1 (of 6)
Writer: Adam Warren
Artists: Rick Mays & Adam Warren (layouts)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I know it’s bound to happen, but it’ll be a shame nevertheless when some Marvel fans pass on the first issue of LIVEWIRES because they’re put off by the manga-style art. A shame because LIVEWIRES is that rarest of creatures we often pine for but rarely seek out: a genuinely new idea from the company sometimes billed as the “House of Ideas.”
Truth is, I don’t begrudge fans being tentative about new ideas at Marvel or DC. They’re already pretty big, expansive world settings – bloated, even – so why would anyone be anxious to see new characters crowding into the party? But I still gotta figure that every decade’s got at least a few new characters and ideas worth bringing in. The New X-Men, Punisher and Thanos in the ‘70s; Beta Ray Bill, Rogue, and Cloak & Dagger in the ‘80s; and in the ‘90s…
Well I’m sure there was something, it’s just escaped my mind.
More recently, in any case, I think the Runaways have stepped to the plate as a worthies, and the robots of Project Livewire just might have the potential to join ‘em.
Yep, robots. And if that doesn’t sound new, read on…
In a giddily surreal opening, a young girl wakes up in the back of a Humvee speeding into a high-tech complex that’s blasted up enough to pass for downtown Fallujah. The Midwestern guy driving the Hummer tells her she’s in a dream and to brace herself for upcoming dream logic. Good thing, too. When she leans forward, she sees that the crunchy stuff he’s been gobbling is apparently some kind of synthetic flesh he’s peeling off the face of the deactivated Terminator-esque robot sitting next to him. Munch, munch.
Quite possibly the grossest scene in a mainstream comic this year, robot skin or no.
And, yes, it seems our driver’s a robot, too, codename of “Cornfed” (“Something t’do with my Midwestern probable-Lutheran cornhusker-offensive-lineman extreme Caucasianness.”). Between bites, Cornfed goes on to explain that his fellow robot’s “facial exoshell” is the highest value mass of nanotech smartware on his body. Cornfed’s belly just happens to house a nanofactory that can recycle his brother robot’s virtues with a bit of literal cannibalizing and…
Good lord, we are well and good beyond “Doombots”, aren’t we!
And that’s a big part of what I really enjoyed about LIVEWIRES #1 – seeing the stranglehold finally, finally broken on the ‘50s/’60s sci-fi traditions that have pretty much defined sci-fi in superhero books in every decade since. Writer Adam Warren is one of the few comic book writers who’s not Warren Ellis to really embrace cutting-edge sci-fi, one of the few to mine more than just nanotechnology from the ‘80s/90s cyperpunk boom. I mean, sure, he breaks out the nanotechnology too, but in LIVEWIRES he takes that ball and runs farther with it than any other superhero title I’ve seen.
Inside the complex, Cornfed drops off our unnamed female lead, now resigned to the dream logic of robot cannibalization and more. Cornfed hooks her up with the other members of Project Livewire, all humanoid robots putting their specialties to the test against some mighty cool fire monsters. Locking in the Marvel Universe setting, we learn these monsters are the results of research on the original Human Torch robot from the ‘40s – research gone amuck! (Okay, Warren’s not above some sci-fi conventions.) Techno-babble flows freely, but it’s pretty cool techno-babble:
“The original Human Torch, circa WWII, was a pyrokinetic android. This program acquired an old sample of his body’s thermogenic cells…and attempted to weaponize them into a pyronanotech semisentient virus.”
More specifically they’re molecular hive machines designed to “run hot,” generating their massive waste heat into deadly blasts and more. If you’re thinking it all sounds like a need to over-explain the existence of a decades-old fire-robot, remember that our expository protagonists themselves are robots. And their job, we learn, is to seek out and destroy the very ultra-secret R&D programs that led to their own existence! I think that’s pretty damn cool. In the Marvel Universe, with all the hi-tech agencies, A.I.M. splinter groups, and scammed alien technology, it just seems to fit that an organization like Project Livewire would exist to keep the really scary shit in check.
Not that the motivations for Livewire are wholly revealed in the first issue. Hell, the robots could actually be working for someone like Dr. Doom or Ultron…but they seem nice enough.
What might throw some readers in this first issue is that there IS a ton of exposition interwoven throughout the assault. As our lead is bounced between the members of Project Livewire – robot babes and hunks with names like Social Butterfly, Gothic Lolita, Stem Cell, and Hollowpoint Ninja – they all seem weirdly able to fill her in on their own abilities and the increasingly dire situation…even as they fight flame monsters and blast the crap out of everything in sight. But there’s an explanation to be had, so fret not. Ties into the whole “dream logic” thing from the opening. Somewhat less forgivable is the Joss Whedoneseque quipping. You can’t spit without hitting that kind of dialogue these days, making it the only thing that actually feels outdated in a book as progressive as LIVEWIRES.
The art on the title is by Rick Mays, who does a quite credible anime pastiche. His work actually seems a little “airy” for my tastes, a little weightless in its animation cel linearity and minimal spotted blocks, but it’s buoyed by its kineticism. That and the strong design work on the Livewire ‘bots themselves, though that’s actually the work of Warren himself, one of the most talented of the growing pool of Ameri-manga artists. You can check out more character designs and an interview with Warren here.
That article also has the most promising quote from Warren about this very promising series: “…we steer well clear of the equally tiresome trope of the whiny, pathetic 'Pinocchio-bot who wishes to be a real human.’”
In the words of Sam Jackson in PULP FICTION: “Shit, Negro, that’s all you had to say!” Superhero sci-fi, welcome to the 21st century.
7 SOLDIERS OF VICTORY # 0
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by J.H. Williams
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Marvel Zombie Who Hates Research Alert: This wonderful comic no doubt contains some old time DC characters whom the reviewer won't recognize because he wouldn't touch a DC Comic until he became far to old to be reading comics in the first place. He also won't recognize the characters because he's too lazy and stoned to research them. The geekier among you may start heaping your insults now, as the reviewer has flipped you off in advance.
Gimme a cigarette, because I just finished 7 SOLDIERS O' VICTORY # 0 and my mind is still scrambled from the awesome read.
Grant Morrison seems energized by his return to DC. He's always been great, starting with his ARKHAM ASYLUM hard cover (so good that DC chose it over Alan Moore's ARKHAM pitch). He's deserved accolades for his INVISIBLES, DOOM PATROL, ANIMAL MAN, etc. People love his NEW X-MEN (didn't read it myself, don't intend to read it, either) and THE FILTH. To me, his FANTASTIC FOUR 1-2-3-4 was the real ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR and an interesting step away from the usual Lee / Kirby pastiches we get with those characters.
But it seems like, since leaving Marvel behind, Mr. Morrison is doing better work than ever with WE3, SEA GUY, VIMANARAMA, and now 7 SOLDIERS O' VICTORY.
It's funny in a way that maverick, envelope pushing types like Mr. Morrison are always the ones who have the deepest, broadest knowledge of comic book history and continuity. When I read a work like this comic, I get the feeling that the writer cares about his art, his characters and his medium. Mr. Morrison has clearly thought a lot about the concept of "the superhero" and his perspectives are presented with a subtle touch. He's going to do something different with the concept but he's not going to trash it. This is how one loves superheroes without being retro or serving up nostalgia.
Teamed with PROMETHEA co-creator J.H. Williams, Mr. Morrison launches us on our journey with a trip that might just as well be down the River Styx but is actually through Slaughter Swamp. Is the shadowy oarsman Death? Are those vicious little mosquito riding fairy folk real or is the whole thing some sort of simulation? Is this whole thing virtual or mystical? Whom or what is this Priory of Zion type secret society screwing with the mind or life of Thomas Ludlow Dalt, alias the Spider.
Fortunately, we move on to the story of a superheroine who could have been called Bondage Queen but who goes by the name The Whip. She's the granddaughter of an old west type hero and she's not sure if she's the real thing. We follow her through Mr. Williams sweeping, often wide screen visuals. Our Whip longs to move beyond being a vigilante hero. She hopes to move into real superherodom by joining a super team.
Luckily, an aging, time displaced former western hero with ties to the Justice League, is putting together such a team to battle a monster spider in Arizona. The spider could be mutant or demon, presuming there is a difference. The team is well drawn, distinct and subtle -- aging heroine Gimmix, more interested in the convention circuit. Boy Blue, a kid in a super suit with a power horn. Dyno-Mite Dan, who bought his powers online (an idea also used in a recent POWERS arc) and I, Spyder (our Mr. Dalt from the intro) an archer with experience killing giant spiders.
I have a feeling that Native American legend and DC history are merging here with the battle taking place near Miracle Mesa. A process called The Harrowing begins and our six heroes disappear into what could be a portal to hell. It would appear that our creepy, DARK CITY secret society that began everything simply walks away.
Where is this going? Hell if I know, but it looks like Mr. Morrison has big plans, with seven four-issue series and a Special epilogue in the works. I'll be checking out SHINING KNIGHT # 1 and GUARDIAN # 1 (characters I know, yay!) in a few weeks.
I hate to sound like I'm advertising, but this book simply great. It's intriguing and intelligent and best of all, it makes you want to read on!
Writers: Steve Niles & Rob Zombie
Artist: Richard Corben
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
I don’t know why, but I find Bigfoot humor to be some of the funniest damn humor around. There’s a horrible joke (well, to be more honest it’s more like a corny pun that really makes no sense) that I tell at bars that usually instills a chorus of groans not unlike a pack of Bigfeet during mating season and it goes a little sumthin’ like this. Mind you, this is usually thrown out after many illicit substances both legal and not-so-much.
“Hey, you know about Just for Feet, right? The shoe store? Well, right next to that place is a store called Just for Lil’ Feet. Which is a store for kids. But do you know what’s next to that one?”
“JUST FOR BIGFOOT!!!”
Then I say, “Thank you, try the salmon.” as silence blankets the room and a lonely coyote is heard howling in the distance.
All hilarity aside, Bigfoot has always been a fascination to me. I don’t know how many times I have gone on family road trips, driving by dense forests, looking out in search of the hairy beast. When I was ten, I remember thinking I caught a glimpse of Bigfoot’s face through the trees while parked at a rest stop somewhere in Georgia. Turns out it was just my Uncle Harry who we used to Uncle Hairy Harry taking a dump in the woods.
More Bigfoot humor. Sorry.
Anyway, writers Steve Niles and Rob Zombie and legendary artist Richard Corben have cobbled together quite a story about our hairy friend. It’s funny, after reading quite a bit of Niles’ work and after seeing Rob Zombie’s videos and films; it’s fairly obvious to distinguish which idea is coming from which collaborator. Niles has a more subtle, classical way of telling intriguing tales of the macabre, while Zombie is much more “in your face” with the thrills and chills. This story starts out as a typical monster tale. A couple and their son are staying in a cabin in a forest. In the middle of the night, after the boy is asleep and the couple is about to make love, Bigfoot bursts through the wall, kills the father, and abducts the mother right in front of the child’s eyes. It is a thrilling scene, filled with intensity and fear, since the violence is seen through the eyes of a child. The setup and pacing of this scene is nicely done. It remind you of a good old time horror movie with a modern and more sophisticated feel, much like Niles other horror work. But later, the boy has a dream where he is searching for his mother and finds her in a cave. This scene is a shockeroo and not for the squeamish. It is especially distasteful since this is happening to the boy’s mother. This is pure Zombie.
But this mix isn’t a bad one. Most horror movies are either too tame or too over-the-top. The collaboration between these two writers seems to have the best of both worlds. The build-up to the scene is very well done. Niles knows how to make one feel a sense of unease, and when the scene reaches a crescendo, Zombie is there to blast you about the neck and shoulders with something that disturbs you to the core.
The true highlight of this book, though, is Richard Corben’s amazing artwork. Like R. Crumb, Corben draws caricatures that are firmly anchored in a gritty, ugly reality. Today’s artists rush out to develop a style before they know the basics or fundamentals of fine art. To me, that’s cheating. You should be able to draw first. Be able to draw feet and hands and backgrounds and landscapes and still lifes. Be able to make images look exactly the way they do in real life. Only then should you have the permission to distort it any which way you see fit. Corben’s art is this way. He clearly knows how to draw just about anything. The finely-textured detail of each and every panel is a testament to this. So when he distorts and caricaturizes his images, there is still a level of reality that weighs it all down. Corben’s depictions of the horror that happens in this comic are especially gruesome. This ain’t no Harry and the Hendersons. Corben’s Bigfoot is a rampaging, powerful beast. Truly awe-inspiring artwork.
I liked this introductory issue because it made me squirm like a good horror comic/movie should. It’s horror. You’re not supposed to feel safe or comfortable. And that’s what this comic did to me.
Dan Slott: Writer
Paul Pelletier: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Smashed
I remember a year ago when this series first debut. Man, you couldn’t pay me to read a SHE-HULK series. The recent “Search For She-Hulk” arc of AVENGERS had left a bitter, bitter taste in my mouth, and I was just not in the mood to see what sort of nonsense Marvel had planned for green gal next. But then I was won over by one of our own reviews, (the last one, I think, before Jon Quixote and Superninja took that cruise through the Bermuda Triangle…) So I gave it a look. Just one issue, I told myself.
And here we are, twelve issues later. And I find myself (temporarily) saying goodbye to one of my favorite Marvel books to see print in the Quesada era.
Dan Slott gets the Marvel Universe like no other writer at the company today. I’m sure it could simply be said that he gets superheroes, but that isn’t the half of it. Oh sure, he has a flair for bringing out the best in larger than life characters without having to make them look like chumps, loons, or out and out bastards. He knows just how to balance the wacky with the weighty. Sure, he can write superhero circles around just about anyone. But there’s a moment in this issue that’s so perfectly Marvel, so… well, let me spoil it for you.
A group of Eltingville-style geeks are berating one of Jen’s associates over the screwed up continuity in the comics detailing her recent trip to space, (remember, Marvel publishes non-fiction in the Marvel Universe… Did that make sense?) claiming that the story got the Soul Gems all wrong. (Infinity Gems, you dork!) The associate, Stu, just lets loose on these guys for being such @$$holes, saying that when he was young, fans had respect, goddamnit! They didn’t try to tear apart the stories they read, and if there was some sort of conflict in continuity, they made an effort to make sense of it. And that’s when Stu reaches into his coat…
And pulls out an honest to God No-Prize.
What a glorious, insanely beautiful moment. And that’s only one of many in this issue, including some great Awesome Andy action, a sweet setup for Southpaw, and an ending that promises a whole lot of fun when this book returns. Yes, this book is getting cancelled, only to re-launch again in a few months. From as far back as X-STATIX to the recent return of RUNAWAYS, Marvel re-launches have done well numbers-wise, yet seem to lose an intangible something on the creative end. I’m relatively confident that won’t be the case eight months from now, yet I’m still a tad concerned.
But that’s something that won’t be settled until the book returns. Until then, there are twelve amazing issues out there that are well worth reading again and again. If you haven’t read any of them, snatch up the two trades then get in line for the re-launch. The line starts right behind me
BATTLE HYMN # 1
Written by B. Clay Moore
Art by Jeremy Haun
Published by Image
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Is anything left to be deconstructed?
BATTLE HYMN marks approximately the 87th time Golden Age heroes have either been deconstructed or made "real." DC even had a series called THE GOLDEN AGE. In the 90s, Marvel had that CAPTAIN AMERICA mini written by Fabian Nicieza. We've had ULTIMATE CAPTAIN AMERICA. Even THE WATCHMEN had the Comedian getting in on World War II.
BATTLE HYMN has superb artwork by Jeremy Haun, but other than that, it has doppelgangers of World War II era superheroes wearing the thinnest veils I've seen yet. The Artificial Man, an android created by Professor Cloud? He looks a little like Golden Age Sandman in the gas mask, but other than that, he's the original Human Torch. Quinn Rey? He's the Submariner and Aqua-Man re-imagined as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, which Ellis and Cassaday already did in PLANETARY. The only difference is that instead of plucky, surface dwelling girlfriend Betty who was a reporter, I believe, the Rey has alcoholic, surface swelling girlfriend Betty who is a hooker, I believe.
As for whatever they're calling Captain America, the Flash/Whizzer, Hour Man, the problem is that all three characters are the same kind of smarmy fakes.
Gee, superheroes and their supporting casts swear, smoke cigarettes, drink liquor, have sex and fight dirty. That's shocking ... oh, wait, thought it was 1986 for a minute.
The next time somebody wants to deconstruct superheroes from a certain comic book era, I dare them to try the mid-80s. Show us screwed up versions of THE KILLING JOKE, THE DARK KNIGHT, BORN AGAIN and THE WATCHMEN. Now, that'd be really sick.
Writer/Artist: Paul Pope
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I haven’t made much in the fan communities of this title, but if you think about it, it’s actually a startlingly innovative feather in DC’s cap. For all that comics are a visual medium, SOLO nevertheless represents the only artist-centric monthly comic I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s an artist’s playground, a 48-page title whose every issue highlights a series of vignettes from the best artists in the biz, sometimes featuring DC characters, sometimes not. Most notable from my point of view is that the series has thus far highlighted what I’d call “artist’s artists,” those cartoonists admired by their peers, as opposed to ultra-popular fan favorites like the Jim Lees and Bryan Hitches of the world.
So before we get into any specifics, I’d just like to salute DC for trying out something so risky. Artists like Richard Corben, Paul Pope, and Howard Chaykin aren’t the names you see on “Top 20” books, so it’s clear that this project is more an artistic venture than a purely commercial one. Coming from a mainstream publisher, that damn well deserves respect.
So how’ve the stories been?
Geez, I didn’t know you guys were gonna put me on the spot.
So I gotta be straight with you: uniformly great visuals ever since Tim Sale kicked off that first issue, but the vignettes themselves? Mostly quite forgettable – just sort of airless genre exercises and instances of artist whimsy.
And maybe that’s okay.
Because I just read and loved SOLO #3 featuring art and stories by Paul Pope, finding its entries the best the series has seen, but viewed objectively…well, he’s kinda just doing the same thing everyone else has been. Unlike Corben and Sale, though, some of whose stories were written by others, Pope takes the book’s title to heart and goes it solo all the way. It’s what he’s been doing most of his career – artist and writer – and maybe that just makes him a more comfortable fit.
The cover: Click here to check it out. Typical artsy-cool from Pope: a guy with a black eye, wearing a suit somewhere between “animal mascot” and NASA astronaut. I think it’s Pope himself, as per the suit’s patch. A little egotistical, but the book is called SOLO. Anyway, lovely drawing, typical of Pope’s Picasso-meets-Kirby aesthetic. Note, too, the snazzy SOLO logo, with its tribute to the base colors – magenta, yellow, cyan, and black – used in printing processes.
First story: “The Problem in Knossos” – Pope gets off on a good foot with this unusual retelling of the myth of the Minotaur. Comics have traditionally embraced the superheroic aspects of Greek myth, but Pope cuts to the darker side of things and the cruelly quixotic nature of the Greek gods. I enjoyed Pope’s oblique telling of the story, his inky images zeroing in on Greek vases, the macabre sight of the Minotaur as a newborn, blueprints for the monster’s famous labyrinth, and even the ball of string given Theseus to find his way out of the maze. You can glimpse Pope’s style in this four page preview of the story. It doesn’t do justice to the art (including Jose Villarubia’s moody colors), but it’ll give you an idea of how Pope’s writing and art make an old story feel new.
Second story: “Are You Ready For the World That’s Coming?” – Straight-up Kirby tribute here, actually recreating the origin of Kirby’s wonky ‘70s creation “OMAC – The One Man Army Corps.” I’ve never read OMAC, but I’ve read his KAMANDI stuff from the same era, and it’s got that same trippy social criticism couched in futuristic action. In fact, Pope’s sixteen-pager might even be adapted straight from Kirby’s original script with lines like this: “I’m being fed strength from some unknown power source! My job is to stop your evil activity!”
Third story: “Life-Sized Monster Ghost” – Autobiographical snippet here, and a hilarious one at that. Remember those cheesy old comic ads for Hercules wrist bands, X-ray specs, and yes, “life-sized monster ghosts”? Pope does, having apparently mailed away for the latter as a kid, and the juxtaposition of his expectations and the painful reality is both nostalgic and amusing. Check out his writing, too, as he imagines himself commanding the ghost:
“A menacing phantasm of necromancy and fear…I will control it from up to one hundred feet away!”
And in a follow-up shot of the young Paul Pope walking through a firefly-dotted field…
“July turned to August and I waited and waited. The fireflies and cicadas came before my monster ghost did.”
Fourth story: “En Esta Esquina (On This Corner)” – This one’s the highlight of the collection, a showcase of Pope’s love of human interaction. It’s a sort of “day in the life” of the people living around and passing through a bar on a New York street corner on a particular day and evening. Rich with sensual detail, it’s almost free verse poetry, reminding me of nothing so much as the urban answer to Alan Moore’s beautiful evocation of the natural world in SWAMP THING – specifically the issue where Swamp Thing and Abby make love and readers join them in experiencing the connectivity of living things.
Final story: “Teenage Sidekick” – Fans of Golden and Silver Age Batman stories will enjoy this look at Robin. This is the boisterous, iconic version of the character, a young Dick Grayson whose youthful verve is very at odds with his situation: captured and being dragged by gangsters to be executed before their boss – the Joker. After the OMAC story, it’s the most kinetic piece in the issue, emphasizing both Robin’s physical vulnerability and his ability to reverse that vulnerability into a one-two punch to some thug’s face. In this story, as in the rest, I love how Pope integrates vibrant, organic sound effects directly into the art, manga-style, and the coloring by James Jean (guy what paints those great FABLES covers) is just stunning in its virtuosity. Only minor downside is that the narration fell a bit flat for me with its mixture of Stan Lee intimacy with the reader (“Then there’s this guy. What a face!” the narrator tells us of the Joker) with some overly familiar psychological observations about why Batman took Robin under his wing. Pretty minor complaint, though, especially when Pope draws such a hideously Caesar Romero-esque Joker, such a scrapper of a Robin, and such a memorably thick-lipped Batman.
You know, all Pope’s character’s seem to be thick-lipped. I kind of like it.
Net result: the first truly great outing of SOLO, an instant nominee for “favorite single issue” in next year’s @$$ie Awards, and a recommended title to any and all who’ve ever liked the work of “artists’ artists.”
RUNAWAYS Volume 2 #1
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciler: Adrian Alphona
Reviewer: Sleazy G
As you may have noticed from our little awards ceremony last week, RUNAWAYS is a pretty popular book around here. I tried to throw my support behind in its initial run because it seemed like it was getting the attention or readership it deserved. I was pretty disappointed when it was cancelled, but it went out with a bang and Marvel promised it would be back. I was a little trepidations, worried that the book might suffer from the break.
It turns out there was nothing to worry about. The first issue of RUNAWAYS comes out swinging, giving readers plenty of material to chew over. It’s also completely accessible to new readers, telling you everything you need to know to get in on the new series. We start out with an action sequence that reintroduces the kids and their abilities. Seeing the kids take the Wrecking Crew by surprise and licking them handily is a pretty entertaining opening, and it’s good to have some action before we get to the meat of the story.
There was a lot of discussion online before the series started regarding the identity of the new group Excelsior, a collection of second-string heroes and villains from across the Marvel Universe brought together for reasons that aren’t yet clear. Well, now that the issue’s been out a while it’s no longer a secret. Vaughan hit on a completely unique reason to bring these characters together, and it’s one that provides a lot of options. Excelsior is actual an AA-type assembly of former heroes and villains which exists as a support group for people trying to turn their backs on the caped lifestyle and integrate into normal society. It’s a handy way to introduce characters with a quick little blurb and then get off and running with the story. It also allows for a little humor and social commentary along with everything else. The rest of the issue sets up several A and B stories to run through at least a few years’ worth of stories, including a conspiracy attempting to manipulate Excelsior and a visit from a future version of one of the Runaways with dire warnings about a villainous threat they must thwart.
Just as with the previous series, RUNAWAYS is a fast-paced book with characters that are all very distinct from one another, with differing personalities and attitudes. Too often in team books the same general types are fallen back on, with little diversity to hold your interest. That’s never a problem with this book. It’s also interesting to note that it’s the most girl-heavy superhero book on the market. The gang is now comprised of four girls and only one guy, but it’s far from a detriment. It’s actually sort of refreshing to see a book that is this strongly written and this action-packed that also happens to be full of girls. They’re not just written as guy characters with longer hair and skirts, either—they feel and sound like real girls without getting obnoxiously “Sex and the City.” Vaughan has a great blend of characters and motivations in this book that makes each issue a joy to read.
If you’re one of those people who wasn’t on board for the first series and you haven’t tried the digests yet, try and track down this issue. It’s not gonna be easy, since the thing sold out all over the place, but I’m pretty sure Marvel will be making another of the exceptions to their reprint policy on this. Vaughan created the best new group of characters to come out of Marvel in a decade, maybe longer, and you should really jump in as soon as possible. This is a title that’s so much fun to read and so great to look at, that if you’re missing out, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.
SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH #2 (of 5) - The finest compliment I can pay this action and wit-packed series is that it reads as something that could actually have been written by Stan Lee in his heyday, with Ty Templeton turning in a pretty credible John Romita Sr. pastiche! Some might find it corny, but for those who grew up on or enjoyed reprints of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it’s like a return to the glory days. In this ish, Spidey and the Human Torch swap “jobs” on a dare, sending Spidey into the Negative Zone with the FF while Torch takes on Spidey mainstay, Kraven the Hunter. And would ya believe Slott even breaks out a “Maggia” reference?! Someone’s been reading his back issues! - Dave
JLA: CLASSIFIED #4 - Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, and Kevin McGuire re-team for another misadventure starring the Not Ready for Justice League Players. Not much by way of action happens in this issue, but I really don’t give a fig. It’s fun to see these characters I grew up with still bickering and bantering their way from one panel to the next. Sure some of the jokes fell flat and the writing style (reminiscent of an old MOONLIGHTING episode) may be outdated in this day and age when Bendis-speak is the catch of the day. But it’s refreshing in a sense that these guys are the ones who started it all and they can still do it after all of these years. There’s a HIS GIRL FRIDAY kind of vibe to the dialog. Quick, tense, and to the point. Kevin McGuire continues to draw the best facial expressions in a comic book ever. His style has evolved though. Expression-wise, what once took many lines, now only take a few. The result is a cleaner representation of the complex emotions McGuire is trying to communicate. The story? Pretty straight-forward. Former villain moves in next door to the Super Buddies (ugh, still hate that name, why oh why Hanna Barberra, couldn’t you have let them use SUPER FRIENDS?!?), conflict ensues between the villain and Sue Dibney (yes, that Sue Dibney, this book occurs out of continuity, so those who bitched about her death in IDENTITY CRISIS can still get your Sue fix here), between Booster and Beetle, between Sue and Ralph Dibney the Elongated Man, and just about everyone else in this book. Biggest treat of the book? You knew it had to happen sooner or later. Guy Gardner returns. This book is about to get really good again. - Bug
STRANGE #4(of 6) - Marvel must want Keanu Reeves to play the Sorcerer Supreme in the eventual movie. Why else would they have written his latest series as an amalgam of CONSTANTINE and THE MATRIX? Besides, this series is so unimaginative, uninspired, and pointless that it seems like it could only come from Hollywood. -- Vroom
THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 - Gah! Mother of mercy, it turns out I hate Mark Waid’s schticky sense of humor just as much as I hate Peter David’s when he lays it on thick! Beyond that, a middling issue focusing on Triplicate Girl adjusting to the Legion with some unusual dating techniques. I like that Waid tweaked her origin such that she’s not precisely from a planet where everyone can do what she can. That hook to so many Legionnaire origins always seemed like a misstep (“So everyone from your planet has superpowers? And you’re special…how?”). Aside from requesting a moratorium on gags, my biggest request for the series is that it drop that “We’re so sick of it, we could scream” capsule origin from the credits page. I love capsule origins on books like FLASH and BATMAN, but that stinker was dead on arrival. - Dave
WOLVERINE #25 - Well, Mark Millar’s first arc is over and done with. A decent run even though the thought captions littering JR Jr’s superb artwork proved to be more than annoying. I’m not a huge fan of the way Millar wantonly killed a pretty major character in the Marvel U in this issue. Hopefully, this hero won’t be forgotten in favor of the next big event and given a proper send-off since the guy has been around for about thirty years and made some pretty big news a while back for his particular taste in sexual partners. I do have to give Millar credit for writing a high octane thriller that embraced the entirety of the Marvel U, but I have trouble believing that a feisty little brawler with claws could be such a threat to each and every major super hero in the Marvel U. Sure he’s the best there is at what he does, but he made every other hero in the Marvel U seem ineffective and chump-like the way he sliced through the likes of Elektra, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and SHEILD with ease, only to be taken down with a firm slam from Captain America’s shield in the end. If he can withstand a clobberin’ from the Thing, getting skewered by Elektra’s sais, and the full scale teamwork of the X-Men, why does Wolvie go down so fast and easily when he’s slapped with Cap’s shield? Seems a bit contrived to me. I dunno. Comic book logic, I guess. Great arc. Can’t wait to see where Millar will take Wolvie next. - Bug
LOSERS #21 - In the 1950s, when people around the world were routinely suggesting that young Prince Charles was the model for Alfred E. Neuman, MAD MAGAZINE recieved a letter from England stating: "No, it's not me. It's not. Charles P." It may have been authentic. I'd have to say the same thing about the nutcase who has declared himself king of an offshore rig in LOSERS # 21. "No, it's not me. It's not. Buzz M." Yes, the character is big on booze, smokes and Purdey shotguns, but therein lies the proof. I've never actually owned a Purdey shotgun. I've never even cradled one in my arms. One of my greatest fears is that I never will. Purdey shotguns are not just weapons. They are works of art, custom made to fit the body of the shooter. Each costs thousands and thousands of dollars. Some come inlaid, etched, engraved and baroquely adorned. They say that a Purdey will make you a better shooter. The best way to get a Purdey is to have a movie studio buy one for you, in addition to your monster screenwriting / directing salary. It must be hand delivered in a limosine and you need a full day to look at it and hold it before you'll reluctantly set it down and get to work on their stupid movie. Purdey shotguns and declaring oneself king? No, it's not me. It's CONAN THE BARBARIAN writer/director John Milius. - Buzz
CONAN #13 - Watching sales on CONAN at my comic shop, it appears numbers remain far, far above average for a non-superhero title, but I definitely noticed a drop off in readership after the first six months. Maybe a little Conan goes a long way? Maybe the stories had a little too much story and not enough Conan disemboweling people? Whatever the case, I seriously recommend that casual readers return to the book for the current storyline which began in the previous issue. It sees Conan teaming up with a new player who has one of the roughest backstories I’ve ever seen in a comic, and a threat that exudes palpable menace. In this issue Conan continues to serve as escort to a priest’s caravan toting a man infected with vile magicks that infest his skin with beetles and cause him to vomit insect swarms. It’s freaky, dark stuff, more akin to the adult-themed CONAN magazines Marvel used to put out than Marvel’s more “general audiences” monthly. - Dave
BIRDS OF PREY #79 - I really enjoyed the ROSE AND THORN miniseries Gail Simone did last year. It featured an interesting approach to the character that was reflected through using a different penciling style for Rose than for Thorn, doing a great job showing you the kind of emotional world each of the two characters inhabited. I’m glad to see Rose back in this issue, as I think she’s a character with a lot of great potential. Dropping her into a book full of the toughest, most resilient female characters in the DCU was a perfect match. Having those characters empathize with her but still want to take her down is exactly the right way to play it, and once again Simone is able to use the plot mechanics to reveal a great deal about the characters while keeping the action coming. It’s also great to see Black Canary face down Batman for messing with one of her friends. Another really strong issue from one of the best series DC is publishing. - Sleazy
ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE #1-5 - Well that was pointless. -- Vroom
100 BULLETS #58 - After a seven-issue story arc that took its time lazing about the Big Easy giving us a lot of backstory on Wylie, Graves, Shepard, Dizzy and others, this issue is a standalone issue that comes out guns blazing. It’s neck-snappingly paced, with a lot of big changes kicking in very, very quickly. The issue has some real surprises, including the unexpected end of a major player. This is a fast, brutal, important issue that lays the groundwork for some big, big changes. It’s like all at once we’re being served notice that the plans that were being laid for the last five years are now in motion, and things are gonna get crazy. If you’ve been a casual follower of the book and felt the pacing was a little slow, try this issue on for size. - Sleazy