THE BOYS #5
Writer: Garth Ennis Artist: Darick Robertson Publisher: DC Wildstorm Reviewer: BaytorFive issues in and something happened… well, almost.
When Garth and Darick announced they were going to out-Preacher PREACHER, I’m not sure I was expecting to have to wait so long for a proper spot of violence. But here we are, five issues into a book all about a group of operatives that go around kicking the ass of holier-than-thou super-types and only now do we get a cliffhanger that promises the resident super-hero joke, Teenage Kix, will be getting a right proper ass kicking by The Boys. This is more than a little infuriating.
But I love the character stuff. I especially love the nice little moment in the park between Wee Hughie and his corresponding newbie from The Seven, Annie January, who share their doubts about their new jobs with one another, neither knowing that they’re on opposite sides of a brewing war. It’s a sweet scene, one that makes Annie more than a cardboard cut-out for Ennis to make blowjobs jokes about, which is exactly what this book needs to keep from becoming yet another one-note joke in Ennis’ super-hero repertoire.
In a weird way, the lack of ultra-violence may indicate something a bit deeper in this work then anyone would think possible from yet another Ennis super-hero piss-take, something that harkens back to Ennis’ first story, TROUBLED SOULS. There a Northern Irish slacker and an IRA member form a peculiar friendship that was doomed by a larger conflict and those who seek to perpetuate it. Here, I’m starting to get the feeling that Butcher isn’t the nice, friendly sort of monster that Ennis has often penned with characters like Judge Dredd and The Punisher; but the other sort of monster he likes to write, the real monsters.
With each passing issue, I think Butcher, despite some admirable qualities, is little more than a mad dog that needs to be put down, and that the Homelander from The Seven is his opposite number. Two men whose twisted world views distort the better instincts of those around them, instead of providing a proper example for other emulate; and the ultimate plot of this book will be the two teams turning against the elements that divide them.
But, damn it, we were promised flying heads.
MOON KNIGHT #6
Writer: Charlie Huston Penciler: David Finch Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeThis opening arc of this new MOON KNIGHT series has done nothing but conflict me. The first couple issues drew me in with the interesting idea of Marc Spector being down and out with a crippling injury, and the feeling of disownment by the god that gives him his power, Khonshu. There was a lot of potential in the story idea, lots of violent and brutal action, and some intriguing psychology at work. But the middle felt staggered for me. There seemed to be action for action's sake, and sometimes visual decompression to the point where I was wondering if I even really wanted to bother spending three bucks a month on what seemed to just be a David Finch artbook. But now we've hit the conclusion of "The Bottom" and thanks to a really interesting twist and some actual verbal developments, I think I'm back in.
The thing of it is, I don't think Charlie Huston is a bad writer at all. In fact, I think he's got some really great skills when it comes to mood and just plain writes gritty well. But up until now I didn't think he really understood the "functionality" of comic book storytelling. Too many times it seems he was letting Finch do the dirty work with his pencils, though to be honest, who could blame him seeing the end results. But there was too much of it and sometimes for the most inane of things. Too many big fight scenes that took two-thirds of the book or more, or the worst example of it--the sequence in the previous issue where it took half the book for Moonie to get taken to his "Moon-cave" and put on his suit. Almost twelve pages of driving, maybe a handful of word balloons, and then Marc Spector putting on some clothes. See, that's bad. I'm all about visual story-telling, but that's pushing it.
This issue, though, shows that Huston is hitting his stride and balancing these factors out a lot better. In fact, I would actually daresay this issue he reined in the visuals a little too much and resolves the slugfest between MK and Taskmaster a little too quickly. But from there some very intriguing developments play out that really pull you in. We get to see Marc Spector finally back on the road becoming himself again. He's mending fences, he's physically recuperating, and he's ready to take on the job that his god Khonshu wants. But therein lies the rub, as we get a sudden turn of events that makes Khonshu more than just a symbol to Mark. Don't want to give anything away, but it seems Khonshu's been a lot more instrumental in Spector's life than just being an entity that grants him power. Intriguing indeed.
As far as the art on this book goes there's not really much more I can say that I haven't said before. It's dark, it's uberly detailed, it's highly kinetic and I pretty much love it to death. I get kinda annoyed by how everybody's physical build is pretty much the same, but that's superhero art for ya. But that was never the rough patch of this book, the writing was, and now I think that's finally turned for the up and up. This title has had its ups and downs, but I think we're in for some good times ahead.... oh wait, what's that? The next couple issues are some random "sort-of-tie-in-but-not" with CIVIL WAR? Hrm...maybe I spoke too soon. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but at least now I'm definitely up for the ride.
Writer: Bill Willingham Artist: Tom Derenick Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: SquashuaThis issue begins with the team fixing the damage sustained last issue. Later on, half of the team is attacked by a group of mystic-based characters: a generic conglomerate of like-minded and similarly dressed antagonists known as The Congregation. The other half of the team invests time determining Shadowpact's future focus. All in all, this was a very paint-by-numbers, straightforward story. And that's where the problem lies.
It may surprise you that I took a couple of writing classes in college. One common thread every teacher emphasized was to show, not tell. Every character in this issue, hero or villain, outright explains every single action, emotion, and intent that takes place.
I am writing this paragraph in an attempt to simulate the writing from SHADOWPACT, issue #7. As I write this paragraph, I am forming a plan regarding how to end the paragraph in a manner that will not offend you, yet might not surprise you either. At this point in time, I may have come up with an ending to the paragraph, and it would please me to share it with you. As a fair warning, the next sentence will end this paragraph. This is the final sentence of this paragraph during which I believe I properly simulated the writing in SHADOWPACT, issue #7.
Unlike regular books, comic books incorporate a visual medium. Actions never need to be stated; they're expressed in the artwork. And the artwork here does appropriately justify any action performed. I don't know if the writer can't trust the artist, or if there was a lack of communication, or if it was intentional, but it makes for a pretty shitty read.
And that's not the only problem.
Most comic books begin with a brief summary of the active players, a veritable who's who regarding the protagonists. And thank goodness SHADOWPACT starts with one because otherwise there would be no way a reader could tell these characters apart, albeit visually. This has to be the most agreeable, sensibly-mannered, well-adjusted team I have ever witnessed, with enough consensus-driven camaraderie that I just want to jam a finger down my throat and vomit saccharine.
I'm not saying SHADOWPACT needs a "Wolverine" character to stir the pot; heck, the Enchantress is usually always on the rag (though not lately). It's just that every team member speaks with identical emotion, is polite and agreeable, and telegraphs their every move with speech. Even Blue Devil rhyming this issue would have been glossed over if Ragman hadn't pointed it out (see earlier note regarding "show, don't tell"). There is barely a shred of individual personality injected into these characters, and even when there is, the emotion is quickly glossed over. And as if the writing wasn't doing it, the new uniform designs really help to emphasize, well, uniformity.
Their old costumes weren't necessarily cool, but at least they had character. The new blue and gold designs have eradicated any personality these heroes might have had left. Enchantress used to look like a crazy witch and Detective Chimp was a monkey Sherlock Holmes. Now she sports golden high school wrestling team headgear and he wears a full-body suit that can't possibly be functional or comfortable for a chimp. Even Nightshade only has her mask and pale skin going for her these days. There is zero individuality beyond body shape and powered ability, making for a very generic, and very boring team. But maybe, just maybe, that's where Willingham is going with this.
SHADOWPACT is a book about unique mystical superheroes organizing as a group to confront magical situations. And as I've pointed out, they're being written with increasing similarity. Is it possible that Willingham is purposefully injecting monotony into this book in an attempt to express that organizing against a force of chaos causes a sacrifice of individuality, an influence of order? This issue's antagonists, The Congregation, seem to have left any sense of distinction at the door; does that make them a warning of what's to come for Shadowpact? If that is true, it's genius and he's pulling it off, but it really does make for one dull story. Can I give him the benefit of the doubt, or am I just reading too much into it? Either way, this issue fails to stand out from the crowd.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN # 102
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis Pencilled by: Mark Bagley Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: superheroIn the talkbacks a while ago I'd stated that Brian Michael Bendis' version of the much maligned Clone Saga had pretty much jumped the shark for me. A storyline that started with such great promise had lost all steam with what I considered to be an extremely silly and overwrought turn of events. Not to mention Bendis' penchant for inserting Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as his deus ex machina whenever he writes himself into a corner in the pages of this series. I mean is anyone else as sick of Samuel L. Fury showing up in this title every couple of issues as I am?
But it's not that Bendis can't seem to end an ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN story arc without relying on S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to come and save the day that's bugged me about this issue. It's mostly that the big revelation that occurs here is about as wrongheaded and idiotic as anything that happened in the original Clone Saga. That and it's just plain skeevy.
For those of you who haven't read the issue I'm writing about or just plan to read the trade…prepare yourself because I'm about to drop the spoiler bomb…
In this issue the big reveal is that the young lady who's been running around in a tailor made Spidey suit of her own is actually a female clone of Spider-Man complete with his memories and all. Basically it's Peter Parker with Peter Parker's thoughts, Peter Parker's emotions, Peter Parker's experiences except that he's actually in a girl's body.
I mean, think about it. If Ultimate Peter Parker wanted to he would actually be able to go fuck himself…literally. If that's not gross then I just don't know what is.
But it's not just the fact that the idea of a teenage boy trapped in a girl's body conjures up all kinds of weird imaginings. It's just that this is Bendis' lame assed way of introducing a character who he has admittedly said is one of his favorites into the Ultimate universe. Yep, that's right; this Petunia Parker is apparently to be the Ultimate version of Spider-Woman…a character that, well, does anyone really give a crap about this character besides Bendis? I mean, Spider-Woman's lame. She's always been lame. And just because she's Bendis' heroine du jour doesn't make her cool all of a sudden. And it doesn't make the way that Bendis is jamming her into this title seem like anything but forced. It turns what was an interesting story about Spider-Man more of an origin sequence for his version of Spider-Woman and it ended up cheapening the whole arc for me. It makes this whole Clone Saga arc seem like one of those episodes of your favorite TV shows where they introduce a whole new concept or characters so that it's really just setting up these new concepts or characters for a series of their own instead of being an actual episode of the show you want to watch. Let's face it…this issue of Ultimate Spidey has just made this whole particular Clone Saga come across as a backdoor pilot for Ultimate Spider-Woman which, to me, has just lessened the whole storyline in my perception.
I have to say, I've really liked much of what I've read of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN but to me this arc demonstrates what I've considered to be one of Bendis' biggest weaknesses, which is his inability to deliver satisfactory conclusions to the big ideas he comes up with. While I think that Bendis is a very talented writer (I just finished reading the POWERS:FOREVER trade. It's awesome.) there have been many times where I just feel that his follow-up doesn’t live up to his build-up and this stretch of ULTIMATE SPIDEY has proven that to me once again. I'll be picking up the next issue just because I want to finish this arc up but it'll be more for a sense of completion than any real need to see how all this silliness turns out.
SAMURAI: HEAVEN AND EARTH II #1
Writer: Ron Marz Artist: Luke Ross Publisher: Dark Horse Reviewer: Dan GrendellI made a vow to her. I promised that nothing in Heaven or on Earth would come between us.
In the first SAMURAI: HEAVEN AND EARTH mini-series, we were introduced to Asukai Shiro, a dedicated samurai, and his love, the Lady Yoshiko. Kidnapped and sold to a slave trader after a war, Yoshiko was sent West, and Shiro followed her all the way to France only to lose her again. In this issue, Shiro tracks down the slave trader, determined to find Yoshiko again. Meanwhile, her new captor runs even farther away, aware that the samurai is on his trail and always looking behind him.
The story of SAMURAI isn't too complicated, and the idea of an iconic hero traveling through other cultures isn't particularly new, but Marz and Ross execute it very well and the result is an enjoyable tale. The characters are more like templates, though- the invincible warrior, devoted woman, nefarious Spaniard, and so on. This is the story's major fault.
What really takes SAMURAI above many other comics is the skill of Luke Ross in rendering accurate and interesting visions of early 18th century Europe and Asia. The art is gorgeous, and it really makes me wonder why Ross isn't getting more work. Of course, Rob Schwager's colors take Ross's lines and make them burst off the page. As good as Ross is, it's Schwager's coloring work that takes it to the next level here.
I wouldn't look for comics literature here, but if you want an interesting story with some great art, check SAMURAI: HEAVEN AND EARTH out.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE #1
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning Artist: Wesley Craig Publisher: DC Wildstorm Reviewer: Ambush BugReaders of this column already know that I am a fan of horror, but have found myself continuously discouraged by what people try to pass off as horror today, not only on the big screen but in comics. Especially in comics. The people putting out horror comics just don’t seem to understand how to do it and make it scary for the reader. I went into this in much greater detail in Wildstrom’s first foray into the slasher genre with last month’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. For those of you too lazy to click on the link, I basically focused on how the art in that issue, while pretty damn decent, just didn’t fit the genre. It was clean and crisp with little or no shading. And what’s a frikkin’ horror book without shadows fer chrissakes?!?!!?!
Wildstorm’s second attempt to bring the slashers of film to life is a much better example of how to make a horror comic. More specifically, the art chores on THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE #1 are handled by someone with a sketchier and darker penstroke. I’ve never heard of Wesley Craig before, but his work is reminiscent of Mark Texiera and Adam Polina by way of R. Crumb’s detailings. Faces are exaggerated, panels are skewed, and there are darks that provide the mood. Just looking at this book, you can tell that it is of a darker nature. I especially like the tiny detail that the pictures escape the panel borders sometimes and wind up as sketches in the alleyways between the panels. This is an effect that gives the picture depth as the images creep out of the panel and off the page.
Craig does a great job with the panel to panel transitions too, another important factor in horror comics. Horror is all about pacing and anticipation. If an artist can sequence a panel well enough, he can grip the reader and make him invested in the story. Craig does this numerous times in the book and the fact that he accomplishes this should be recognized because some of the best artists in the biz can’t do that. My only complaint is that in some panels, Craig’s characters are a bit stiff and forced to fit within the panel border. But that criticism aside, this is a stellar debut as a horror artist.
The story? Well, the story is pretty good too. It basically takes up directly after the first TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movie ended. The remake, that is. And follows an FBI team as it investigates the mass murder case that has gone cold. We only get a panel of Leatherface doing what he does best, but Abnett and Lanning pace this scene so well that it really pays off despite Leatherface’s little screen time. All in all, this is a nice police procedural story that has a few nice moments of anticipation and quite a bit of grue and carnage.
But this is not a perfect book and my problem with it has to do with the decision to make this a story that follows the film remake’s storyline instead of the original that everyone with half a brain and a tiny bit of taste would prefer to see elaborated and expanded upon in comic book form. I know I’m dating myself by using this example, but imagine a continuation or a special examination featuring the song “I Saw Her Standing There” but instead of focusing on the Beatles and how they came up with the lyrics, beats, riffs, and stylings, they focused on mall teen idol Tiffany’s synth version of the song. The fact that this series is based on the remake and not the original irks the hell out of me. The remake is a decent movie in itself, much better than say the WHEN A STRANGER CALLS remake or THE OMEN remake, but the original TCM is…well…what horror and terror is all about. Using the remake as tome is just wrong. This isn’t my Leatherface. My Leatherface has two arms and maybe a limp due to the chainsaw mishap after Rerun chucked a wrench at him in the original. So don’t expect to see the Cook or the Hitchhiker or even Chop-Top from TCM2. This book focuses on that freaky fat lady, and the grumpy guy with no legs, and R. Lee Ermey, and of course, a one armed Leatherface. Then again, maybe it doesn’t. The only member of the Chainsaw family present in this one is Leatherface himself and that appearance is only in one panel.
So in the end, this is a much better horror comic than A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET due to a much more appropriate artistic style used. The writing is solid, but we don’t get a lot of Leatherfacing and it’s based on a remake instead of the much better original. All negatives aside, it was a fun read. Lanning and Abnett really know how to make the horror ooze under your skin. If you liked the remake, this is along those lines. But if you’re like me and thought the remake was nothing compared to the original in the thrills and chills department, you may be a little disappointed with this one. This is a step in the right direction, though, compared to Wildstorm’s first effort with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #1
Writer: Matt Fraction Artist: Ariel Olivetti Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeSo Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, is "back" in the Marvel Universe, but this time he's brought with him... a sense of humor? Hrms...
But yeah, this little ditty here is the first time our resident homicidal maniac has had a series taking place in the Marvel Universe proper (or 616 if that's your bag) since he decided to go MAX a good three years or so ago. So what was big enough to bring the big guy back to his roots? Why CIVIL WAR of course silly! The little event that could (or probably shouldn't) has brought Frank back and with a taste for C-level villain blood. Is this a good thing? Do we really need another Punisher title? Is anyone really gonna miss Stiltman? All these are valid questions.
Right off the bat, I have to say, I really miss the swearing. Well, okay, that's not really a big deal, but like I said, three years of seeing a Punisher comic with F-bombs aplenty and you tend to get used to it. But that's not what we're here for and I'll be getting my dose of R-rated Punisherness soon. Though while we're on the subject of wordage, it actually is kinda of odd to see good ole Frank being, uh, humorous. And it's not so much being humorous, but pop-culture humorous. But you know what? It works for me. It especially works for me because in my head he says it with the same gravelly voice through gritted teeth that I give every one of the male leads in Frank Miller's SIN CITY whenever I read that. So yeah, Frank calling someone an "asshat" is kinda odd, but actually does grow on you by the time the issue ends.
And speaking of endings (well, more like the lead up to it) there's really not much going on here. Basically, after his little run in with Stiltman, Frank gets the idea that someone's been giving guys like him tech upgrades and hunts down the man who is typically behind these kinds of things, that being the Tinkerer. But one Tinkerer leads to someone who is kind of a new version of the old, and one with a mad on for Tony Stark and some interesting theories of his own about his current motivations in this whole CIVIL WAR fiasco, with a little tie-in to the Raft event that kicked off Bendis' NEW AVENGERS series too. After that we basically get to the CIVIL WAR #5 money shot that we all know by now was the basis for this book even starting and voila! A new chapter in the Punisher saga is starting and it's off to a pretty entertaining, if somewhat off-kilter, start.
Now, as for art chores, those are pretty straight-forward throughout. I've always dug Olivetti's art, and this is no exception, but occasionally something about it takes me out of it. Just little things that might not bother me in one panel but on the next I get a kind of "huh? wha?" type moment because maybe I'll see some characters’ facial expressions looking too wooden, or for once Frank's overly muscled form will look kinda "apeish" to me. But forgive and forget I always say, because there's a lot to love about this stuff too. Olivetti definitely does destruction well because whenever Frank blows up something, it done blowed up good. There's a lot of detail in this work and the lines are just so solid and defining that it makes everything look sleek and polished. It really is good artwork, it just occasionally has a tick that takes me out of it is all.
So that's that. This is a fun book, no doubt, but is it necessary? Well, I guess that's up for you to decide. Sure, it's necessary for you if you're doing something stupid like, say, buying anything that has a CIVIL WAR banner on it, because who could resist having them all? But in a business that already has a habit of horribly over-exposing their properties a second title may be overkill, especially when the one that had be already running was putting out arc after arc of top-notch comic book writing. But this book definitely serves a different purpose, and does have a tone all of its own which really helps it stand out from its MAX counterpart. If you can get acclimated to "quippy Punisher" it's definitely a very entertaining read, and, come on, how can you resist Stiltman taking a rocket to the crotch? I personally will be sticking around to see if this stays different enough from the other title and remains fun enough to warrant droppin' three bills on it a month. "Cautious Optimism", that's my final verdict.
BLUE BEETLE #9
Writers: Keith Giuffen and John Rogers Artist: Duncan Rouleau Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: SquashuaYou're getting a reprieve, BLUE BEETLE. Even though you completely dropped the ball last issue, you snatched it up before it hit the grass and kept running for the goalposts. We're finally given some tantalizing backstory to the new (old) Peacemaker, Blue Beetle gets his own Bugcave, there are tie-ins with CHECKMATE and 52 and the New Gods, and BB is finding himself aided in his endeavors by those who care, whether or not he wants the help.
This book shines when it doesn't focus on the hero, but on the people surrounding him, his continually expanding cast of supporting characters. And that is exactly what they are, support. If it's going in the right direction, BLUE BEETLE is generating one of the first fully staffed, non-powered, amateur support teams for a soon-to-be mainstream superhero, at least so far as I've witnessed. The members all have different reasons for their actions; they're relatives or friends or fans, motivated because they care or for the thrill, not because they're being paid or held to the task (well, except for Peacemaker). It's an interesting new concept, and I'll stick with it a couple issues to see where it leads.
Guest artist Duncan Rouleau drew this issue. Here's hoping he gets a few more shots at this series. The panels are very detailed and though occasionally cartoon-y, they don't feel like rejected artwork from the "Johnny DC" line. It's a huge improvement on the artwork from prior issues.
Though it feels a little more tailored for a younger crowd, the series doesn't forget its roots are embedded in the DC Universe surrounding it. I don't know what changed between last issue and this one, but it was for the better. Issue 9 is a good jumping on point for this series.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN # 536
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski Pencilled by: Ron Garney Published by: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: superheroY'know…when Straczyski gets it the man really gets it.
As most of you out there know I hate CIVIL WAR. Hate it with a passion. So I hadn't been reading much of the CW stuff at all except for the couple of issues that friends had let me look at. From the very beginning of Illuminati I've thought that the whole thing was just wrong headed and centered on horrible characterizations of Marvel's top tier heroes. But Ambush Bug said this issue was good and, for the most part, I trust the little bugger's instincts so I decided to check it out.
Damn if he wasn't right.
For most of the CIVIL WAR stuff I've seen Peter Parker has been characterized as a complete suck up with no moral compass of his own. Anything I've seen on CIVIL WAR has had Peter Parker just sitting back while Iron Man and his stormtroopers march through the Marvel Universe without so much as a concern that what they were doing might be wrong. Honestly, I truly feel that Spidey would never, ever in a million years align himself with government forces that were trying to track down and imprison someone like Captain America. But, then again, I'm also one of the fans that never bought Spidey joining up with the Avengers. Spider-Man is an outsider. Always has been and always will be. So when the bad characterization wagon came rolling down through Marvel Lane it was Peter Parker's mishandling that bugged me the most, with Reed Richards' Josef Mengele impression coming in a close second.
But with this issue Straczynski finally gets it right. This is the story we all knew was coming, the eventual moment where the light bulb goes off in the web-slinger's noggin and he figures out that Mr. Stark and Co. are actually super-hero fascists. Yes, yes, I'm of the opinion that he should have realized it right away but if Spidey's gotta be portrayed as slightly slow on the uptake to notice S.H.I.E.L.D.'s march to fascism at least his realization of things gone wrong is being done correctly.
Straczyski fills this issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN with some fantastic moments of dialog that almost made me forget how much I hate him for the whole Gwen Stacy sleeping with the Green Goblin fiasco. There's a moment in this book between Peter and Aunt May that actually got me to choke up a bit. Just when you think the core of the Spidey books has been forgotten along comes Straczynski with an issue like this that makes you remember why you love Peter Parker and his cast of supporting characters all over again. It's just too bad that so much that has lead up to this moment has been such terrible storytelling. It's almost as if the powers that be wanted to make the characterization of Spidey so far from what he actually is supposed to be so that when he finally came around to the good guys again the moment would be all the more powerful. If that was the tactic they were trying to take it's a pretty cheap trick from a storytelling perspective but that doesn't negate the great writing that Straczynski pulls off in this issue. Sure, it's a bit schmaltzy but if you can't have schmaltz in an issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN then where the hell else can you have it in the Marvel Universe?
All in all this was a great single issue of Spider-Man even if it is tied up in the whole CIVIL WAR mess. It's not like this issue is going to make me forgive and forget all that's gone on before but I will say that Straczynski, along with the extremely talented Ron Garney, has turned in a terrific single issue that gets to what Spider-Man is all about: doing the right thing. It's been far too long since someone's pointed that out in the mainstream Spidey titles and I'm thankful that we at least got this issue to remind the fans out there what Spidey's really supposed to stand for.
2000AD EXTREME EDITION #19
Writer: Garth Ennis Artists: Philip Bond, John Beeston, Roger Langridge Publisher: Rebellion 2000AD Reviewer: BaytorFor the vast majority of American comic readers, 2000AD is one of those books we never bothered to check out. Long after we’ve read and re-read most of the classic tales of Batman, Spider-Man, and the like, few of us bother to venture within the pages of that perennial favorite from across the pond, opting to sit about bitching and moaning about the sad state of our favorite costumed adventurers instead of, you know, going out and finding cool new things (or cool new old things) to enjoy.
Bit of a shame, because there’s some great stuff that has graced the pages of this fine publication. Garth Ennis’ “Time Flies” and its sequel, “Tempus Fugitive”, however, are not among them. Mind you, it’s good for a bit of a laugh, as Ennis tosses out bad puns, dodgey exposition, dodgier resolutions, and pokes fun at just how badly it’s all written, but it ends up being a bit of a chore to wade through.
The first 12-part serial starts off with the soon-to-be Ennis cliché of a British bomber pilot getting shot down over enemy lines (I say soon-to-be clichéd, because I believe this is the first time Ennis used WWII as a backdrop). He’s captured, taken to meet a barking mad Adolph Hitler, and is enlisted as a pilot by another Ennis cliché, a wayward tough-as-nails gun-toting female time traveler. Seems Goring has been kidnapped by a mad pirate with two peg legs on roller skates who travels time in an English phone booth (which sounds exactly like Doctor Who’s time traveling police box), and to prevent the entire time-space continuum from unraveling they have to save the worthless tubby. Ennis soon hijacks this premise for several installments, as the narrative so aptly puts it, “to make incredibly biased points about religion” as they find themselves attempting to get out of Heaven and Hell. There are some funny bits here and there, but the whole thing just tries too hard to be clever and gets bogged down in lots of tedious bits of exposition.
The superior 9-part follow-up finds the surviving members of the first story being killed off by the non-surviving villain of the first serial, who was resurrected by his earlier self in a plot device that the book never pretends makes sense. The single biggest improvement is the elevation of the resident idiot bomber pilot to mildly useful. The first time out, his inclusion seemed to be little more than an excuse to have all the other characters endlessly mock him for being a useless prat, but this time out he ends up doing a lot more than standing around looking stupid.
The second serial also manages to be a good bit more mad than the first, and we start seeing the patented Ennis humor emerging (while this tale saw print after his success in the States, it had been written years before its publication date). There’s a rather funny (and tasteless) bit where our heroes find themselves causing the JFK assassination, and end up battling a sex-crazed JFK zombie on his coffin in the middle of the ocean. Elsewhere they make a point of skewering standard comic conventions by having a character beaten to death with Bono’s speech balloon at Live Aid in 1985 and characters go off-panel with regularity.
Neither one of these stories is what I would call good, but the second one at least comes within spitting difference. If you’re a fan of Ennis’ more farcical works (such as DICKS and ADVENTURES IN THE RIFLE BRIGADE), you might find yourself getting a few good laughs at Ennis’ immature antics and Bond’s artwork is always a delight (shame the last few installments of the second serial aren’t illustrated by him). Otherwise, give it a pass.
ENIGMA CIPHER #1 (of 2)
Writer: Andrew Cosby & Michael Alan Nelson Artist: Greg Scott Publisher: BOOM! Studios Reviewer: Ambush BugENIGMA CIPHER #1 is another unique offering from BOOM! Studios. This time we have a mystery involving the infamous Nazi code machine used to code, and decode top secret messages during WWII. A college professor uncovers a coded message inside an antique book. After turning it in to the authorities, he gives a copy of the message to his students to break the code. Not long after the assignment is given to the group of attractive and brainy pupils, the professor is killed and the students find themselves in danger, either running or getting themselves perished by government agents. The shrew-ish Casey finds herself the lone survivor of the class assigned to solve the code. On the run and out of options, she must desperately try to survive long enough to use her code-breaking talents to solve the code and find out what all this hubbub is all about.
This book is one of those stories that seemed as if it were meant to be a screenplay. Everything is here, from the “casting” (I’ll get to that later) of hot young “actors” in the roles to the by-the-book “on the run” movie feel of the whole thing, this book reminds me of a movie that a director like Tony Scott would make. Fast paced, slick, and by the numbers. It’s the by-the-numbers feel of the book that prompts me to give this book only a mild recommendation. Story-wise, it’s a bit predictable. We’ve seen this type of story before. It’s a chick on the run from “Da Man” flick where no one can be trusted. What one makes of this type of genre is the selling point or detractor. For me, had the motions been strayed from a bit, I think it would have been a more powerful read.
Also, among the contrivances, there’s a huge leap in logic towards the end of Book One where the baddies have Casey, our girl in peril, trapped in an underground garage. They’re ready to off her like they did the rest of her classmates and her professor and anyone else who has come in contact with the code. She gets away, but when the assassin/government agents call their superiors they reluctantly tell the boss that she got away but they did manage to plant a bug on her. Leading me to ask, why plant a bug on a person if you were going to kill her? Did you know the hand of the writer would toss in the leading man to swoop in and save her at the last minute or are these government agents so on top of things they follow every contingency to bug all of their corpses “just in case?” The thing is, the girl needed to be bugged otherwise the government agents wouldn’t be able to follow her when she got away. The writer needed this to happen to get from point A to point B and didn’t really take into consideration the logic behind it. This mention of the bug is a sloppy contrivance, a lapse in logic, a plot hole, if you will. It’s one of those things that pokes a hole in the logic balloon of the story. A hole that immediately took this reader out of the story and into “aww, c’mon” territory.
Artist Greg Scott is a very talented artist. He’s got a nice style reminiscent of Adam Polina by way of Charlie Adlard. It’s photorealistic, but chromatic, using colored shading to give form instead of harsh lines. The results are realistic panels depicting people doing banal things but maintaining vibrancy of the subject and interest of the reader. The realism in the poses is accurate. They are most likely photo-referenced, but don’t have that static, posed feel. The characters in the frame are relaxed and simply doing what they are doing, rather than waiting for the cameraman to snap the snot like many photo-referencers in the industry tend to do. But Greg Scott has an annoying tendency to cast his characters as Hollywood actors. It’s an aspect of his artistry that showed up in his other BOOM! work, X ISLE. I mean, I was really into this story until Ashley Judd, Brad Pitt, Robin Williams, and Peter Stormare showed up. It’s something that again made me jump out of the story and say, “Hey, that’s Robin Williams!” and distracted me from an otherwise engaging story.
We’re always hardest on those we love. You wouldn’t know it from this review, but I liked this book. Sure the plot is kind of paint-by-numbers and straight from your typical Hollywood blockbuster and the art uses too many recognizable templates, but in the end, I love a good mystery and I really want to know what’s behind this code everyone is killing everyone for. So, I’ll grab the next issue to find out what happens. BOOM! has a lot to offer comicbookdom. Despite my criticisms, this is another worthy addition to BOOM!’s library of quality books that exist outside of the spandex-laden norm.
EIGHT WAY BANDITS #1
Writers: Vincent Van Hustle and Stevie "Street" Hustle Artists: Federico Zumel and Jeffrey LaJaunie Publisher: The Hustle Brothers Reviewer: Dan GrendellThis is the near future, and it's only a few world-shattering tomorrows away.
I'm not real sure what to think about this comic, because I'm not real sure what actually happened in it. As far as I can tell, there's a mob boss who is setting up an assassin's school, and who has a strange relationship with his daughter; and a bounty hunter named "Sheik" even though he appears Asian is being screwed with by his bosses. What they have to do with each other? I have no idea.
The art is in a very sketchy style, with heavy inks. In some panels this works, but in most it leaves things too undefined. Motion doesn't flow properly, perspective is sometimes off, and the storytelling is bad. Panels don't flow well and it can be difficult to follow what's happening.
I can't say I'm impressed by this first issue by the Hustle Brothers. There's less of a story than there is a few incidents and characters, and the artwork needs work. I hope these things are improved in any future issues.
MAINTENANCE #1 Oni PressThis is a funny funnybook. It’s got a great hook. It focuses on a pair of bumbling maintenance men who work for a corporation that provides evil scientific technology to the highest bidder, but we don’t see the sci fi tech and biological weapons in play against the good guys. This book focuses on the development of these things through the eyes of the guys who have to clean up all of the messes. This story had me laughing throughout. Writer Jim Massey provides some fast and witty word balloons and artist Robbi Rodriguez gives us some capable cartoony panels that completely fit the tone of the story. There’s a lot to like in this first issue: alien hitchhikers, man-sharks, and toxic monsters galore. In need of a chuckle? Try MAINTENANCE #1. - Ambush Bug
PLANETARY BRIGADE #1 BOOM! StudiosGiffen and DeMatteis bring forth some nicely twisted analogues of your typical super-team. No one likes each other. All are dysfunctional. The menaces take the backseat to the witty and snide interactions. Yep, it’s your typical Giffen and DeMatteis team book. If you are smart enough to like the JLI, you’ll love this one, but if your idea of a super team has Wolverine and Spidey in it…not so much. This is old school foolin’ on comic book tradition. I found it to be fun, especially the interactions between the martini swilling Mauve Visitor and just about everyone. This is a character that desperately needs his own miniseries. - Ambush Bug
ZOMBIES!: ECLIPSE OF THE UNDEAD IDW PublishingYou know me…if it’s got decaying innards and a hunger for human flesh, I’m loving it. IDW’s last ZOMBIES! miniseries proved to be a breezy, fun romp following a bunch of inmates who find themselves in the middle of a zombie plague. This mini starts out in another location with another group of survivors (good thing because there weren’t any survivors in the last series). The book starts out impressively at a refugee camp set up in a sports arena. The “camera” pans in and out to show the intimate moments and the scope of the zombie plague effectively. What I admire about this and the last ZOMBIES! mini is the fact that it honors the Romero tradition of not assigning a reason why the dead walk. They just do. And that’s enough to hang a great story on. This is a well crafted book that does a great job of the slow decline of civilization as the zombies begin to overrun everything. Can’t wait for the next issue. - Ambush Bug
SLAINE: THE BOOKS OF INVASIONS VOL.2 2000ADSimply the best art I have seen all year in graphic storytelling. Clint Langley’s mix of digital manipulation and photo-referencing make for the most exciting, fear-inducing, and visually appetizing comics I have ever read. And the story is pretty great too. Following battlefield hellion Slaine as he tears through hordes of demons and warriors with his gigantic axe, this is a truly barbaric barbarian story. The demons are ugly. The action is over the top and thoroughly intense. The women are beautiful. I shit you not, folks, this is the most beautiful artwork I have ever seen in a comic. Mark my words: inevitably, Langley will go mainstream. His gorgeous panels will be the talk of the town. Seek SLAINE out now and be ahead of the pack. You can be one of those annoying guys that say, “Yeah, Langley is good on WOLVERINE or HULK, but I knew about him when he was doing SLAINE where he would swoop his axe across the battlefield and decapitate a dozen demons.” Trust me on this one. Seek this book out if you really love comic book art. Check out the artist’s website here and see what I mean. - Ambush Bug
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CONNOR HAWKE: DRAGON’S BLOOD #1 DC ComicsWoo hoo! This was the best damn read of the week. Writer Chuck Dixon returns to the Connor Hawke character and shuffles him out of the ashram and into a competition pitting the world’s greatest archers against one another. I like the diverse cast of archers Dixon has set up to do battle. This book also has a cool little flashback history lesson that will most likely be seen again later in the series. Honestly, though, it’s just fucking great to see Connor back as the star of a book and not playing “damsel in distress” in the GREEN ARROW title. This series seems to be examining Connor’s character and distinguishing him from his Emerald Archer father. I can’t wait to see how this will play out. Will Connor retain his Green Arrow Number 2 personae, or will be become something entirely different? The Kung Fu Kid, perhaps? I’ll definitely be there to find out. - Bug
ASTONISHING X-MEN #18 Marvel ComicsHuh. Y'know, I shoulda saw that coming, but really just didn't. But I personally am not too upset with the way this whole "Hellfire Club" thing panned out. I don't think it's a terribly inspired conclusion, but it's not exactly in the "done to death" category. If anything this issue just fortifies my belief that I really enjoy this book mainly because of the ways Whedon portrays each member of the team, and has great interaction with the cast, which is pretty much his schtick. The way Beast snaps out of his little "de-evolution" moment is perfect for the character, and the way it parallels the way Wolverine came out of his similar predicament made for a funny little moment. I can't say I'm exactly happy that there wasn't a total set conclusion to this arc, as we're now off to Breakworld it seems, but then again I'm not exactly opposed to long-term storytelling, as long as you keep me entertained all the while. Right now though, I'm kinda antsy for some Whedon helmed RUNAWAYS. Go Joss Go. - Humphrey
JACK OF FABLES #5 DC VertigoI think I like this book more than the series that spawned it. It’s written in the same FABLES manner, but every now and then a FABLES story comes along that focuses on a character that I’m not particularly interested in. Not true with this series. Originally, I thought this was going to be a redundant series, but Willingham and his writing partner Matthew Sturges have filled this series with enough new ideas while adhering to the mythology established in FABLES to keep me interested. FABLES kicks @$$ on a regular basis, but this series is turning out to be more focused and more interesting in my book. Tony Akins art helps a lot with his Alan Davis-esque characters and detailed backgrounds and panel angle placements. This is a spin-off that’s just as good as the original. This issue details the final moments of Jack’s attempted escape from the Fable prison. This issue is full of surprises and twists. A truly great read. - Bug
THE WALKING DEAD #32 Image ComicsThis is one of those reads that is both amazing and frustrating at the same time. Kirkman builds up the anticipation for this entire issue so well it hurts as our heroes gather together to escape the hellish city they’ve been trapped in for the last few issues. My pulse quickened as they got closer and closer to the final gate to escape. This has never happened to me before with a comic, but I actually stood up and yelled “C’mon, get over the gate!” at one point. I’m that invested in the survival of these characters and it’s proof positive that this is the best written zombie book on the shelves. - Bug
AQUAMAN: SWORD OF ATLANTIS #45 DC ComicsSword of Atlantis? More like Bored of Atlantis…
Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
God, when will it end? Ever ate bad fish and had to pay for it by hovering over the toilet for hours upon hours, asking the lord when it will stop? Yeah, this book is kind of like that. Drab & drearily drawn, convolutedly written with characters I don’t care about, and a complete waste of my money and time. The “Sub-Diego” storyline that preceded this arc was a breath of fresh air to Aquaman, showing that he was a character with potential given an interesting *ahem* hook. This arc proves that you can have an all star creator line-up and still do a bad story. DC recently pulled the plug on the team behind the FLASH redux. Someone needs to do the same with this one. Let it end, please. Just let it end. - Bug