(Click title to go directly to the review)
DESOLATION JONES #6
YOUNG AVENGERS: SIDEKICKS TPB VOL. 1
B.P.R.D.: THE UNIVERSAL MACHINE #1
Indie Jones presents WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEARN – ONE SHOT
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
If you’ve never read the misadventures of Jessica Jones, private investigator and ex-D grade superhero, then this is the must buy book of the season. If, on the other hand, you have every 28 issues of the series, or the four previously published paperbacks, then you’re still going to want this book. Not only does it collect the best Marvel work of Bendis’ career, not only is it an artistic phenomenon, but in a pinch it can be used to kill small animals.
Michael Gaydos: Artist
Mark Bagley: Artist – Flashbacks & Dreams
David Mack: Artist – Covers & Diary
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: AKA The Guy Who Likes Bendis
Yes, at just under five pounds this sucker is the second heaviest Bendis book on the market. (The heaviest being the Barnes & Noble Ultimate Spider-Man collection, at just over five pounds.) And yes, there are some instances where the artwork gets lost a bit in the binding, the most egregious example being the two-page spread of a billboard in the runaway girl story. “Rebecca, please come home. We love you.” instead reads “Becca, ease come me. Love you.” Which, if taken out of context, sounds particularly nasty.
But still, what you have here is a magnificent collection that, at $70, is only a couple bucks more than the cost of the four TPB’s. And those volumes don’t have the splendid extras that this thing has. Stuff like the original pitch for the book, alternate artwork, cut scenes, sketches, and – mother of mercy – all of David Mack’s work created for the diary of the aforementioned runaway. That more than makes this worth the cover price.
And then there’s the way Bendis plays with storytelling in this series. The way he uses Mark Bagley to tell some balls out superheroics, while Michael Gaydos gives depth and gravitas to the deeply human drama that is Jessica Jones. There’s the issue where Jessica is hired by J. Jonah Jameson, which unapologetically goes against the standard rules of comics and manages to make it work. And my favorite, the conversation between Jessica and Luke Cage that takes place on the other side of a door from an issue of DAREDEVIL.
That, I think, is the real reason Bendis has twice now stopped writing this character. Her story is all about defeating her demons and becoming a better person. Now that this has happened, there’s nothing really to write about. What’s Jessica going to do next, join the Fantastic Four? Please. Her story is told, and thankfully Bendis knows it. That’s what helps to make this such a masterpiece.
Is there anything here that doesn’t work? Well, there is the inclusion of that dreadful vanity project called What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? Not only is the repeated backstory even more annoying when presented at the end of the story in totality, there’s also the truly wretched referencing of Bendis’ ode to despair and hopelessness known to us as Disassembled. I’d much rather have waited an extra month or two and had an un#%&@-ed version of the four Gaydos issues of THE PULSE included instead. Of course, then there’d be people wondering why, if at the end of ALIAS *SPOILERS* Jessica is three months pregnant, and at the end of THE PULSE she’s delivering at six months, when in between there’s been a year of DAREDEVIL, the six months in between Disassembled and NEW AVENGERS, and the whole of the SECRET WAR. Or am I the only one annoyed by writers who act like continuity isn’t supposed to make sense just because it’s comics?
Bottom line, the whole of ALIAS is Bendis at his very best. It’s a masterpiece, unequaled by any of his other work from the House of Ideas. People often talk about realistic, adult superheroes, as if Spider-Man or the FF could ever be that sort of thing and continue to work. This, this is realistic. This is adult. And if you haven’t read it yet, then shame on you.
DESOLATION JONES #6
Writer: Warren Ellis
Well, this is it. It's been a little over a year and now the very first arc of DESOLATION JONES is in the bag. The mystery is over and everything has been wrapped up in a neat little package. If your "neat little packages" contain murder on an absolutely brutal and somewhat disturbing scale. There's no joking around this time. There's no cute little bits of British humour about, there's no touching little conversations with worn out ex-porn stars, and there's no "oh
look at burned out old skinny guy." This is about closing the case and being as visceral with it as possible.
Penciler: J.H. Williams III
Publisher: Wildstorm/DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
And I loved every page of it...
Like I said, this is the end of the line for the little bit of mystery that had us following along Mr. Jones for six issues. Good old DJ finds out exactly who all the players were, what their roles were, and how they played the game out...
And then he quietly and calmly executes every last one of them. The pacing has been absolutely pitch perfect, as it has moved at such a deliberate and well-played clip. It just serves as a great build of anticipation as we watch Jones do his thing and let us all in on just who did what and why. And he's so calm and disconnected about everything he does that it almost makes you feel dirty as the book moves on and the scenes play out. DJ has proven himself to be one of the most truly unique characters in a comic book today. And of course, the story itself is interesting enough. I mean, you can't really go wrong with pretty much putting “The Big Sleep” into comic book form, but again it's the cast of characters that makes this all very special to observe. And, of course, there's the art...
If this issue is anything, it's another example of why I praise J.H. Williams III's art to the point where I named him my artist of the year for our little @$$ies dealie. That much vaunted pacing that I mentioned earlier pays a lot of respect to how Williams works his magic with his panels and transitions between them. Close ups and widescreen shots in just the right places, plus delicate insertion of actual painted art, put emphasis in all the right places. I've been scanning all the news boards recently looking over the announcement that JH here will be doing some work on Paul Dini's Batman stint, and I'm really quite taken aback at how many people are totally unfamiliar with his art. It's almost as heartbreaking as the ending of this story. How anyone with so much talent can go so unrecognized in this field while so many with lesser skill are getting pushes on the big hype books is beyond me. I'm just glad to see the man is finally getting his day in the sun.
So to all you uninitiated in the ways of JHW3, go and pick all the issues of this up, and see what the hype is about. And while you're at it enjoy one of the most moody, suspenseful, humorous, and just downright entertaining comics on the stands. If you love great comics, then you really can't lose.
YOUNG AVENGERS VOL. 1: SIDEKICKS
Writer: Allan Heinberg
I really hate rip-off comics. You know the type where one publisher has success doing something so its rival starts copycatting and then they get into this endless back and forth ripoff pattern? Where have we seen this before? Well, DC had themselves a big sales success when they relaunched the TEEN TITANS a good 2 1/2 years ago, so of course Marvel would sit back and ponder how they might be able to leech some of that audience away from DC. Only problem is that other than Bucky and Toro back in the 40s, Marvel just hasn’t been a friendly home to the concept of superhero sidekicks. In fact, Marvel hasn’t been very friendly to either of those original sidekicks either, most recently with the revelation that Bucky didn’t really die heroically near the end of WW2 but instead became a bitter brainwashed Commie assassin. Even as a kid I noticed the absence of the kid sidekicks at Marvel but I never sat around and pondered why. But apparently YOUNG AVENGERS writer Allan Heinberg did.
Artist: Jim Cheung (pencils) & Various (inks)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
I remember groaning when the first press releases came out about this comic book. “Teen Hulk?” Thor’s son? A new “Bucky?” Frickin’ “Iron Lad?” C’mon! This is Silver Age DC not 21st century Marvel…and I’m not much of a fan of Marvel overall these days but c’mon! Then that first issue came out and I thumbed through it with pompous disdain and noticed that it kind of looked good, but I knew I was strong enough not to get suckered by pretty pictures. Then here at AICN a hilariously negative review of that first issue hit online and I just smugly sat back self-satisfied that I was right once again.
But then a funny thing happened. Each month that went by I would catch wind about what a “surprise” YOUNG AVENGERS is. I even started noticing that the reviews here at AICN started shifting quickly to positive. I mean even Sleazy G started raving about this book. A good 4-5 months into this comic and I was suddenly starting to think….maybe I should just try it out? But no. I stood firm as I reminded myself of the putrid distaste I still have in my brain from buckling in to fan and critic pressure to actually purchase and read an issue of JIMMY CORRIGAN, THE WORST COMIC BOOK EVER. Yick. Still, I would see Kang the Conqueror staring out at me from the comic shelf beckoning me….buy….buy…buy. . .
Well, Kang finally broke my will…sort of. I’m not usually one of those “wait for the trade” kind of guys, but I thought “Grief! Marvel always churns these trades out practically the week after the final issue in the arc. I’ll just pick up the first trade and see whether it’s really worth jumping in on the series.” But nooooooo….YOUNG AVENGERS turns out to be the one series that Marvel decides to wait a whole freakin’ year to put out the first collection and even then they first put it out in hardback which meant I had to wait even longer for the tradePAPERback. So, finally, last week, I got to pick up that YOUNG AVENGERS tradepaperback. Finally.
You know how a Hollywood actor will “go against type” in an attempt to show his range and hopefully gain an extra measure of success (usually those narcissistic awards they all give each other)? Marvel went “against type” by publishing a Marvel Universe title featuring characters who for all appearances are sidekicks to the most powerful and prominent four Avengers, Iron Man, Capt. America, Thor, and Hulk. And they succeeded. Way beyond any level of expectation on my part, they succeeded.
Heinberg uses this initial story arc to tell a grand time-twisting adventure involving Kang the Conqueror. His use of Marvel history is very skilled for someone who, if I remember right, is a bit of a novice to the world of comic book writing (although he has had some success in Hollywood before comics). There seem to be two large camps of writers out there when it comes to continuity and they are: (1) Everything must be obsessively interconnected and explained ad nauseum or (2) if continuity and characterization interferes with the story I want to tell, then screw it. Then there are the more “thoughtful” writers out there who use continuity simply as a story-telling tool to tell their story. But working within continuity, these types of writers can take even the stupidest idea from the past and mine it for story gold.
An example would be how Heinberg used that troublesome, and cynical in pure concept, “Black Capt. America” mini-series TRUTH and rather than ignore it uses this mostly forgotten story as inspiration for a new and much more interesting character, Patriot, the grandson of the “original” Capt. America. And thankfully without the anachronistic doo-rag. Heinberg also brings in a character I also loathe, Jessica Jones, and portrays her consistent with her overly-dependent-self-image-dependent-upon-her-boyfriend characterization in ALIAS. But here I don’t loathe her. Within this context, where she finds herself the inexplicable inspiration for a number of teenagers, she becomes an interesting person to me for the first time.
I liked the way he started the story out with this new team of heroes appearing on the scene and J. Jonah Jameson demanding to know who they are. Heinberg and Cheung show Jonah in all his angry glory with the brushcut hair and the black vest. Loved the little wink and nod about how old Jonah must be to have wished he were Bucky. I don’t think anyone out there expects that Jonah is in his 70s, but I thought it was a clever nod to the early days when characters like Jonah, Reed Richards, and Ben Grimm were around during WW2. But rather than just a clever wink to the reader, Heinberg added something special to our understanding of Jonah as a character. For many years, the letters pages of Spider-Man would regularly question why Jonah hates Spider-Man so much. After awhile, one Spider-Man writer attempted to round out Jonah’s character a bit by establishing that his hatred was rooted in jealousy. I never really bought that. But Heinberg brought something new to the table. Jonah’s experience as a wide-eyed child idolizing Bucky and fantasizing about being a hero’s sidekick? Then having reality come crashing down on him when Bucky was killed? Those types of experiences are hard to shake and make for a much more believable reason why he hates Spider-Man, and really pretty much all super-heroes: He doesn’t want them to expose other kids to the danger that killed Bucky and the disillusionment that follows in that wake.
Heinberg’s use of Iron Lad as the impetus for the story and the formation of the Young Avengers reminded me in barebones concept of the founding of the original Avengers. The originals brought into being through manipulation by Loki and the Young Avengers brought into being because of manipulation by Kang…or at least the man who might be Kang. With a good dash of the old fading photograph bit from BACK TO THE FUTURE, Heinberg deals with the certainty/uncertainty of the future and carries it through to its logical, and bittersweet, conclusion. This was the one time I wondered about whether Heinberg is a “screw continuity” kind of guy because I thought it was well-established after MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #50 that in the Marvel Universe, changes to the past do not affect the present or the future of the time-traveler but instead create an alternate universe where the changed past progresses on its merry way. Then again, maybe that’s a plot point he’s going to pick up on in a future story arc.
Throw in a great new character in this Kate Bishop, who goes and mixes Mockingbird and Hawkeye’s costumes together and shoehorns herself onto the team, mix well with Cassie Lang, the daughter of the recently maybe dead, but probably not, Ant-Man/Scott Lang, then stir in a little Hulkling and sprinkle on some Asgardian and this comic has the most interesting group of teen heroes since THE NEW TEEN TITANS.
Asgardian, of course, is the kid who dresses like Thor and Hulkling looks, well, like a teen Hulk. Cleverly, though, neither character has any true relation to Thor or Hulk, but they are told that they do have some sort of relationship with the Avengers. Considering that Heinberg brings in the Vision early on as the source Iron Lad uses to track down the individuals who will form his team to fight Kang, my fanboy speculation sense starts tingling. I haven’t read any other YOUNG AVENGERS comics other than this trade, so any blithering speculation I make may already be proven wrong, but so what, I’m gonna toss out there that the implication to me is that both Asgardian and Hulkling may be the children of the Scarlet Witch and Vision. The two kids that were shown to have “never existed.” I’m gonna say they did exist and here they are. But I could be very wrong also.
Gripe time: I don’t really understand why “Asgardian” changed his lame name to the even lamer “Wiccan” and “Giant-Girl/Ant-Girl” changed to…ugh….”Stature.” In a team with a member willing to be called “Hulkling” what is the point? I know I know that Wicca is the ancient practice of nature worship and wielding of magic blah blah blah but…guh…everyone has GOT to recognize that whether the bloody warlocks like it or not, Wicca is essentially viewed by the public-at-large as a primarily female group of religious nuts. So, saddling this teenaged boy with a name like that is really just…wrong. Asgardian wasn’t much better, but at least it was better than “Magni,” which was Thor’s son’s name in the old Norse mythology. Why not call him something like “Mystic” or simply “Warlock”? Warlock has a proud Marvel history as a name and it’s not like anybody’s really doing anything with Adam Warlock or the Warlock from New Mutants. But Wiccan? Bad choice. And Giant-Girl/Ant-Girl had a quaint charm to it that also tied into Marvel history very well, but “Stature” is extraordinarily forgettable. Reminds me of “Nudge” and “Grunt” from the recently cancelled DOOM PATROL or “Shift” from THE OUTSIDERS . . .names I also experience a visceral hatred for simply because they don’t come off as names that anyone would actually choose. Instead they sound like a comic book writer with a yellow pad scribbling down different names and coming up with the best of the lot that hasn’t been used yet. If we’re gonna follow the pattern of changing Giant-Girl to Stature, maybe we should just go and change Wiccan to “Wisdom,” Patriot to “Patriotism,” Hulkling to “Strength,” and Iron Lad to “Armor.”
Run away villains! It’s Stature, Wisdom, Patriotism, Strength, and Armor!!!!!!!
Minor complaint though. Silly names and super-heroes go together better than chili and rice. Don’t believe me? Try it. All I know is that most of what Marvel publishes makes me want to just flush it all away, but books like THUNDERBOLTS, THING, heck even this ANNIHLATION CROSSOVER, but especially YOUNG AVENGERS remind me that there really is still a spark of creativity and old-fashioned fun that can be perfectly meshed with 21st century sensibilities when the right writer and artist team works together. And I mean it about the art, Jim Cheung is an outstanding storyteller and artist. I suspect that he’s also a pretty tight penciller since his work here was inked by 3 different inkers and I never once noticed a change in or drop in the quality of the art. Consistently excellent from the first page to the last. Outstanding job. YOUNG AVENGERS may be the best ongoing series published by Marvel right now.
B.P.R.D.: THE UNIVERSAL MACHINE #1
Writers: Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Those of you familiar with HELLBOY should already be familiar with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the branch of the U.S. government whose job is to research the bizarre and terrifying. We were introduced to the organization in the pages of HELLBOY back when he still worked from them, and those affiliated with the BPRD make up the bulk of Hellboy’s supporting cast. A few years ago (our time—only a few months in series continuity) Hellboy parted ways with the BPRD and this series of one-shots was spawned to keep up with the other characters the fans had come to love: people like fish-dude Abe Sapien, firestarter Liz Sherman, ectoplasmic medium Johann Kraus, and so on.
Artist: Guy Davis
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Sleazy G
The first few miniseries took a little while to get things moving, allowing us to gradually meet more new characters—including resurrected (but disturbingly scarred) military captain Ben Daimio—as well as getting to know the old favorites a little better. We’ve spent some time learning more about the background of Liz, for example, as well as a good-sized chunk of Abe’s past being revealed. Over the last few miniseries, though, things have really started to move along at a rapid clip now that we know who all the players are. In recent storylines a massive plague of demonic frogs has turned up as the sort of advance force preparing the field of battle for big, nasty Lovecraftian horrors—you know the type. While fighting the bad guys off, BPRD agent Roger the Homunculus was killed—blown to bits, the biggest piece being his limbless torso and his head (well, most of it anyway…). This is actually a pretty big loss for the series, because Roger provided some crucial storytelling elements. His sweet, innocent nature provided both some pathos as well as some welcome levity, so it’s no surprise so many fans were hit pretty hard by his loss.
Roger’s loss was deeply felt by the members of his squad at the BPRD as well, so Roger’s death is the driving force behind THE UNIVERSAL MACHINE—or, more accurately, the hope that he can be restored to life yet again is. Johann is poring over old books that had been found along with Roger in the hopes of finding an answer. Meanwhile, Kate Corrigan (the team’s consultant for all things occulty and academic) departs for a small village in France trying to track down one of a few copies of an ancient text called the Flamma Reconditus, or Secret Fire. It apparently is subtitled “A True Record of the Workings of the Universal Machine”, so Kate thinks it might reveal a way to bring Roger back. Her trip takes her to an odd little occult bookstore up in the hills of France, where the shopowner is revealed to be much more powerful and devious than previously believed. The trip Kate takes with the newly introduced Andrew Devon is another great character showcase for these miniseries: it gives her a chance to display her deep knowledge of all sorts of occult oddities, but we quickly see her greatest strength is also a terrible weakness in the hands of somebody who knows how to use it to their advantage.
HELLBOY and BPRD are Mike Mignola’s babies, and there’s no question he deserves all the credit for an iconic character design, quirky but fascinating characters, and a distinct and unique voice. The only criticism I have of his work would be that, well, he’s not the fastest gun in the business. What he turns out is always impressive, but we often see extended absences before the series come back. Bringing John Arcudi onboard to cowrite the BPRD titles and Guy Davis to handle the art was a fantastic idea, because it’s allowing the fans to get the stories we want much more quickly without sacrificing quality. The storylines we’ve seen in the last few miniseries have their roots in stories Mignola first told well over a decade ago, and it would have been a shame if it took another decade or two to see where Mignola was taking all of this. By working with a cowriter and another artist on BPRD we get to have pleasure of Mignola written and drawn HELLBOY stories without sacrificing the forward movement of the overall arc he’s trying to tell in the original series and here in BPRD. Arcudi seems to have a strong handle on Mignola’s goals and writing styles, and Guy Davis’ moody, evocative art feels perfect for the characters and stories Mignola created. If you’re somebody who drifted away from these characters a while ago, it’s worth coming back as things have really started to heat up. If you’ve never read any of Mignola’s HELLBOY-related series, this is actually a good spot to give it a try: the new storyline is pretty self-explanatory, and Kate’s trip is crammed so full of fun little occult stories and artifacts that it’ll hold new readers’ attention. I was a little unsure for a while there about whether I should stay with the series or not, but with the upswing over the last few miniseries I’m definitely glad I decided to stick around.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEARN – ONE SHOT
Writers: Keith Giffen, Mike Leib, Andrew Cosby, John Rogers, and Chris Ward
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 in comic book form. A funny version of KUNG PAO: ENTER THE FIST as a comic. That’s the best way I can describe this book. Last year, Keith Giffen came across an old war comic and thought it’d be kind of cool to erase the words balloons and add his own, keeping the old artwork, but flipping the story on its ear. The result was an often hilarious and conceptually genius book called WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Now Keith is back and he’s brought BOOM! Studios writers John Rogers of BLUE BEETLE and RUSH HOUR III fame, Andrew Cosby, writer of Sci Fi Network’s EUREKA, and a few others to throw words into the mouths of four color characters from eons ago.
Artists: Basil Wolverton and friends
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
First and foremost, you have to admire the production that went into this. I won’t try to say I am an expert on paper stock, but this book looks amazing. Although it’s made to look like something you’ve unearthed in the back of your great grand uncle’s attic with it’s yellowed and worn hues, the paper quality is excellent here and in most of BOOM! Studios books. BOOM! Really goes out of their way to make this book look authentic, shading and fading the new word balloons to fit into the old panels.
One of the minor complaints about the first WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Was that word balloons were often cramped and crowded or too sparse because too many or too few words were being fit into a balloon that wasn’t made to fit that many or that few words. The results proved to be detrimental to the authentic look of the book. In this new one shot, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Giffen and Co. have learned from their mistakes and adapted their writing style to fit their story within the space the original word balloons provided. It’s a much cooler look when everything fits.
But enough with aesthetics. Does this book bring the funny?
Well, let’s start out with the first line of the entire book…
”It came to be known as the Great Dump of ’06. Those unfortunate enough to be outdoors at the time would never forget the day it rained ALIEN TRASH!”If that made you laugh, this yes, this book brings the funny.
Giffen and Co. heap on the funny throughout this entire issue. Giffen and his writing partner Mike Leib start out the book with a story about a perfectionist superhero facing Alien Trash dumpers. Next up is a Freudian trip into the mind of a bored billionaire. Then we are introduced to the Last Fast Food Empire, White Castle, which survived because all of their restaurants were made out of stone castles. An alien visits a young George Lucas. And a hypnotist gets revenge on a street talking playboy. All of the stories are light and quick reads and every one of them produced at least one chuckle or three.
Another thing I noticed as I read through this book was how much fun these writers and the fellas at BOOM! seem to be having making these books. I’ve covered quite a few BOOM! books since this Indie Jones column was re-started. All of these books seem to be labors of love, firmly enveloping themselves in the comics genre and taking advantage of the fact that in comics the imagination has no boundaries. This is a comic book company that, in very little time, has produced some very entertaining products and by the looks of the ads in the back of this book, seem to be intent on continuing this trend into the near future.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? SOME PEOPLE NEVER LEARN is one such cool reads from BOOM! It’s innovative. It’s funny. And it showcases some very old work that hasn’t seen the light of day in years. It’s a great tribute to those old comics and a fresh take on funny books. Giffen was really onto something when he came up with this concept. With a library of ancient and obscure comic book stories littered throughout flea markets and attic boxes, the possibilities for this series of One Shots is limitless. Highly recommended for those with a sense of humor and those who would like to grow one.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.