Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with another column of all the best and worst there was on the racks last week. Before that, though, a correction. Well, I’m bound to make a mistake in each and every column and in our last column, I made one too. Seems I misspelled the title to SONAMBULO LIVES #1 in my review of the book in last week’s Indie Jones section. It is a damn fun book and worth checking out however you spell it.
BLACKEST NIGHT #3
Writer: Geoff Johns Penciller: Ivan Reis Inkers: Oclair Albert & Joe Prado Colorist: Alex Sinclair Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Matt AdlerDC’s cosmic zombie saga marches on. This installment focuses in large part on Firestorm--both the new one, Jason Rusch, and the old one, Ronnie Raymond, who’s been raised from the dead by a Black Lantern power ring. As with the previous issues, most of the story has the undead heroes spouting off taunting comments to their former comrades in an effort to get an emotional reaction out of them. If you haven’t figured out by now that this is done in order to charge their power rings, you haven’t been paying attention, but it’s spelled out in this issue anyway.
Also in this issue, the latest Lantern Corps, known as the Indigo Tribe, makes their first full appearance (they’ve been foreshadowed and teased in previous books). They are basically a group of Yodas, seemingly all-wise and all-knowing, who show up to perform an info-dump and explain everything to the heroes. The emotion that powers their rings is “Compassion”, which leads me to one of my pet peeves about the set-up that Geoff Johns has created here; several of the “emotions” that constitute the various Corps aren’t really emotions, per se.
Compassion, for instance, is really more of an attitude; if you were going for an emotion that is associated with it, you might say love, though of course it really boils down to empathy, which also is not an emotion in and of itself; it’s simply the ability to feel what someone else is feeling (this may be what Johns is going for in a scene in which a member of the Tribe is able to channel the willpower of Hal Jordan’s ring). And for that matter “will” isn’t exactly an emotion either; it’s a personality aspect.
Even if we assume a broad definition of emotion, something along the lines of “personal characteristic”, the spectrum of these emotions isn’t quite balanced. It seems to me the Love, Compassion, and Hope Corps will be stepping on each other’s toes a lot since there’s a lot of overlap there. The “negative” Corps are a little more balanced, with Anger, Fear, and Avarice (also not really an emotion), so maybe Johns just had a hard time coming up with positive ones to balance them out. It is pretty difficult to come up with a balanced system made up of distinct emotions that can make for compelling characters. I mean, are we going to have a Boredom Corps? The whole thing just doesn’t quite fit together.
Anyway, it’s revealed in this issue that these emotional colors were all part of a single white light that chased away the darkness at the beginning of creation, but were eventually fractured into their individual colors (perhaps an allusion to the story of the creation of the multiverse). The darkness is represented by Death, which is considered here to be the absence of emotion; apparently the darkness wants to kill everything so it can get back to a peaceful, empty, emotionless universe. The Indigo tell Hal he has to get all the Corps to team up so they can reform the white light and beat back the darkness.
There’s an irony in this story using emotions as a key element; it’s actually so focused on the details of how this power affects that power, and how exactly the dead came back (again, if you haven’t figured out that it’s not the actual characters in control, you haven’t been paying attention), that it gets pretty dry and technical, and misses the emotional resonance. We should be getting a real sense of how our heroes feel at seeing their loved ones in this state, but that’s largely glossed over, and the comics rule of “show, don’t tell” is completely thrown out the window here, as the rings literally ANNOUNCE the emotion the character is supposed to be feeling.
The impact isn’t helped by the fact that the undead heroes all have the same general appearance (gray skin, rictus grin, empty eye sockets) and the fact that they’re such assholes (I’m surprised they’re not members of the Guilt Corps). It’s hard to imagine the heroes taking these guys seriously as their returned loved ones, and indeed, several times the heroes, make statements pouring water on the idea. Geoff Johns has written a lot of good stories, but I think in these uber-events, he gets so caught up in the planning and the details, he forgets to focus on the characters themselves.
In most places, Matt Adler goes by the name his mother gave him, but occasionally uses the handle "CylverSaber", based on a character he created for the old DARK FORCES II: JEDI KNIGHT game (one hint of his overweening nerddom). He currently does IT and networking support for the government of Nassau County, NY, but his dream is to write for a living, and is in the process of figuring out how to get publishers to give his stuff a look. In the meantime, he passes the time by writing for AICN, CBR, and a few other places. He has also written for MARVEL SPOTLIGHT magazine.
GALACTICA 1980 #1
Writer: Marc Guggenheim Artist: Cezar Razek Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewer: Optimous DoucheIf you’re a fan of scantily clad cyclones perpetually spouting the expletive frak, this isn’t your Battlestar. No, this is a reimagining of the simpler and nowhere near as revered Battlestar from the 1970s. It’s the Battlestar where men had feathered hair, Lorne Greene dressed in bathrobes and looked very concerned (or constipated), there was a kid named Boxy (many children on Caprica were named after euphemisms for female genitalia) and robot dogs called Daggits annoyed the living shit out of America one cute dance at a time. Now, before you get too excited, this isn’t the real original series. Sorry, but this is a reboot of the ill-fated follow-up series that tried to extend the life of the original show by allowing the lost brothers of humanity the opportunity to finally find Earth. As aged sci-fi fans will remember the original GALCTICA 1980 was a contrived mess of leftover 70s clichés (Turkey? I’m not a turkey — groan). The lackluster plot set up the Galactica crew for a subversive mission on Earth due to the constrained technology and budgets of the time period. Don’t believe me; merely go to youtube and type in “Galactica Flying Motorcycles.” Guggenheim walks a fine line with this reboot. In typical Gen X fashion he appropriately darkens the tone of the series, but at the same time misses some great opportunities for nostalgic fun.
I found myself perpetually falling in and out of love with each page. For every moment of “good job, guys”, there were equal moments of “what the fuck, guys?” Using the famed intro of “There are many who believe life out here, began out there” as a Harvard lecture thesis was original exposition. The heckler in the audience however, calling the theory lamebrain, was akin to the turkey line I just mentioned from the original series. Yes, I’m sure the term lamebrain was used more than it is today, but not by twenty-somethings at Harvard.
There is an overall feeling of utter despondence aboard Galactica, now in their thirtieth year in space looking for Earth. Women are taking homegrown sterilization, Adama is on the verge of suicide and the Viper pilots drive drunk more often than Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan combined. This is a far more realistic approach than the original series' attitude of people content to traverse the cosmos indefinitely. When one of the drunken Viper pilots stumbles upon a satellite that is presumably the famed Voyager (V’ger, anyone?), the path to Earth is clear from a directional standpoint if not a cultural one.
The adoration I had with these moments was directly contradicted when the satellite is presented to Dr. Zee, the child genius that served as Adama’s counsel in the original series. For some reason Zee keeps referring to himself as an old man. Basically on a ship where people are starving and suckling their infants in rafters, Zee is able to build a device that transplants his mind into the body of a child. Jeez Zee, you can invent the fountain of youth, but you can’t create some drywall so people can have some privacy? Despite my sarcasm I would have been fine with this ret-con if it had been spelled out in the story, but instead I had to traverse interviews and wiki entries to explain this new turn for Zee. Perhaps if any non-Galactica fans pick up the book they might just roll with this little bastard calling himself an old man. This book was clearly created for Galactica zealots, though; making us work for information outside of the story is not a good sign.
Unlike the original “series,” Adama ignores Zee’s forewarnings about our barbarous nature. Instead of watching Earth from afar and slowly acclimating our small minds to the concept of alien life, Adama makes one of the worst tactical decisions in history by flying the flagship of his fleet right at the White House. I was actually OK with this concept; it’s the traditional pessimist versus optimist. Adama sees the golden record aboard Voyager at face value as the earliest form of eVite. Zee however actually researches radio transmissions to uncover the powder keg political climate of the 1980s on Earth. Zee of course is right, but Adama’s choice makes for a much better story.
However, what I can’t abide or even tolerate was how sloppy the interactions in the White House were handled. First off, whoever is President holds absolutely no resemblance to Jimmy Carter; he really looked more like the love child of George Dubya and Uncle Arthur from “Bewitched”. This was a true opportunity to invoke nostalgia without getting trapped in the mire of clichéd sayings of the time period. Also, one of the Generals calls the President sire. I know I was just a wee one in the early 80s, but I sincerely doubt this is the vernacular of the time. Finally the President asks for the missile codes to blow Galactica out of the sky, except we never see any missiles. I’ve watched enough 80s movies to know that whenever the President calls for the codes, we’re talking nukes folks. Would he really fire nukes at a vessel one mile above the White House? Neh, I’m not buying it.
Razek does a phenomenal job rendering the characters and scenes (with the exception of the aforementioned Jimmy Carter — but I’m seriously wondering if this was an editorial or plot choice). I recognized Lorne Greene’s Alpo hocking mug immediately along with Brady Cousin Oliver Zee. I probably would have recognized the other characters as well if any had worked before or after GALACTICA 1980.
This is a great concept with a few missteps in execution that could be easily rectified in later issues. There’s a fine line between kitsch and nostalgia, but if you are going to write a period piece you need to find that line and respect it. It really feels like Guggenheim is still just trying to find the line in this initial outing and was too focused on bringing an edge to the powder puff Sci-Fi “classic.”
In the final analysis, if you are merely a fan of the Sci-Fi genre step away from this book. There’s way too much backstory within the Galactica mythology to enjoy this book in a vacuum. If you are a fan of the new Galactica, stay away from this book; basically you will only recognize the Vipers. For those of you though with a fond remembrance of this niche within a niche period of Galactica history, strap in for the ride. Hopefully we will see at least one flying motorcycle and perhaps a valley girl before all is said and done.
When Optimous Douche isn’t reading comics and misspelling the names of 80’s icons, he “transforms” into a corporate communications guru. "What if the whole world had superpowers? Find out in the pages of Optimous’ original book AVERAGE JOE. Read the first full issue on Optimous’ New Blog and see original sketches by fellow @$$hole Bottleimp. If you are a publisher or can help these guys get AVERAGE JOE up, up, and on the shelves in any way, drop Optimous a line."
VAMPIRELLA: THE SECOND COMING #1
Writer: Phil Hester Artist: Daniel Sampere Publisher: Harris Comics Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerOk. I picked up the first issue to check it out. Looked like my shop basically ordered 4 copies of the first issue--one each of the four different covers available. They had one by someone I've never heard of named Ryan Stegman, one by the late Jose Gonzalez, one by Joe Jusko, and one by Arthur Suydam. I chose the Suydam cover ‘cause it was the best.
Writing is ok, but the art was sub par unfortunately. Not awful, but...inconsistent in quality, I guess. Who would'a ever thunk that about a VAMPIRELLA comic? But the bottom line is that Vampi has been killed apparently and now sort of exists as a myth or legend among the people and the video of her getting killed is considered a viral marketing type of thing. But the truth turns out that Vampi's "spirit" or "soul" or whatever is inhabiting those who she has "kissed" (bitten but not killed) and this black chick is the first to "become" Vampi at the end of the issue. The coolest part of the change into Vampi was her slicing her own neck and the costume forming on her naked body from the blood flowing out of her neck.
Not bad and only $1.99.
VENGEANCE OF THE MOON KNIGHT #1
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz Artist: Jerome Opena Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey LeeMarvel’s “negative exposure Batman” has returned, apparently, and he’s got a bone to pick with Norman Osborn. I am not really sure what happened in Moonie’s last ongoing towards the end of that series; I have to admit that I lost my interest in the book almost a year into the Charlie Huston run. Apparently a lot has gone down in the life of Marc Spector, not the least of which includes going on the run from Osborn who made him a scapegoat and framed him for murder, faking his death, and doing his best to hold back his more homicidal vigilante tendencies (thank you recap page!). And with all that behind him and a fresh new motivation in his life, the Moon Knight has returned, and so have I because, well, I’m a complete sucker for Jerome Opena’s art. Funny how that works.
If there’s any knock I will make against this opening issue, it is that it felt a little familiar. A vigilante with a murderous past, a mad on for Norman Osborn, a Sentry appearance, and glorious Jerome Opena art? Feels like a year ago when the new PUNISHER book came out. Obviously though, the approach is different here. Instead of an assassination attempt on the head honcho, this return to the Marvel U of the Avatar of the Moon and Vengeance makes a different kind of statement: that he’s back to break the rules but change something about his personal ones. No more of the excessive bloodshed that was rampant in the last volume; Moonie is back to fight crime and make Osborn look foolish with as little crimson as he can muster, for the sake of himself and his humanity.
Combine those elements of Marc Spector fighting with his psyche and some badassed action sequences and, once again, gorgeous art, and you have yourself a pretty solid first issue. Hurwitz is already teasing some great internal conflict inside the skull of Spector to go along with the war he’s about to wage on Osborn. As interesting as the latter should be though, I am of course hoping the book is more about the former, mainly because I am kind of tired of Osborn being the standard foil in the Marvel Universe right now, and honestly because I hope he isn’t in the limelight much further. I would hate to see this book setting up eight issues or whatever of Moon Knight going after the corn-rowed one just to have him be pulled out of power in the blink of an “eye” (i.e. event) by editorial.
And lastly, I am curious to see where this conflict with Sentry goes. I assume there will be a lot of running and misdirection on the part of Moon Knight to survive, ala the Frank Castle confrontation with the Golden Haired One, but given Moon Knight’s past this could be a different sort of battle. The most powerful Earth-bound hero he may be, but the Sentry we all know is a bit, uhm, “fuxored” in the head, and if there’s any bigger head case of a hero to match him than Moon Knight, I am at a loss to think of one. This battle may end up being way more psychologically based than fisticuffs based, and I’m curious to see how Hurwitz handles it. Really, I am just curious to see where he and Opena take this book in general, which is more thought than I’ve put into the character in years now. At the least that’s an accomplishment in and of itself and I really hope it pans out.
Humphrey Lee has been an avid comic book reader going on fifteen years now and a contributor to Ain't It Cool comics for quite a few as well. In fact, reading comics is about all he does in his free time and where all the money from his day job wages goes to - funding his comic book habit so he can talk about them to you, our loyal readers (lucky you). He's a bit of a social networking whore, so you can find him all over the Interwebs on sites like Twitter, The MySpaces, Facebookand a Blogger Account where he also mostly talks about comics with his free time because he hasn't the slightest semblance of a life. Sad but true, and he gladly encourages you to add, read, and comment as you will.
Writer: Tony Bedard Art: Andy Clarke Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Ambush BugI was lucky enough to jump onto the R.E.B.E.L.S. bandwagon from the get-go and I believe I told readers to do the same or they would be sorry later. Well, eight issues in and I can safely say that this comic series has been delivering in each and every subsequent issue.
Though this may not be the perfect issue to read as a jumping on spot, it is the perfect example of why this book is the other cosmic comic from DC you should be looking into. While the Lanterns are busy chasing rainbows in their own series, the R.E.B.E.L.S. are keeping busy themselves. Sure Johns and Tomasi are doing a bang up job at telling the outer space adventures of what’s going on in and around Oa. But what a lot of people don’t know is that Bedard is handling the rest of the expansive universe just as masterfully. One of the coolest things about this series is writer Tony Bedard’s handling of the rest of the DC Universe’s aliens via caption box excerpts from a universal travel log. Each issue gives the reader an extensive look at the various alien races that populate the DCU. From the warrior race of the Khunds to the scientific lizard men known as the Psions, Bedard not only understands and distinguishes each race, he also incorporates them in a massive galaxy-wide story.
For the last few issues, those of you who have been fortunate enough to read this series already know that the Starro we thought we knew isn’t the real Starro after all. Actually the real Starro is a helmeted barbarian warlord who commands a horde of starfish with eyes in the middle of them. I know there’s a hokey coolness to the old Starro, but Bedard has made this new incarnation much more deadly and much more of a threat to the entire universe.
More about the scope of this story. This book has a massive cast. From Omega Men who are sometimes allies to Vril Dox’s crusade and sometimes bitter enemies to the scores of alien races who want Dox’s head for themselves, even without counting the ever growing team roster of the R.E.B.E.L.S. themselves, this is a massively populated book. And speaking of Dox and his crew, Bedard has done a fantastic job of introducing new and old characters as teammates as well as tossing out a few red herrings. The final roster is ever changing because you never know who’s going to get fed up with Dox’s shit and take off.
Bedard’s Vril Dox is an amazing character, one of my favorites in that he’s heroic, but arrogant, intelligent, and not necessarily sympathetic. He’s a shade of gray anti-hero if there ever was one. He’s the son of one of Superman’s worst arch-nemeses and the great grandfather of one of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ most powerful members. Dox’s intentions are good, but his actions sometimes don’t seem so much. Dox is one huge @$$hole and you can’t help but love him for it and more times than not, you find yourself rooting for the guy to succeed.
Subplots galore decorate the storyline of R.E.B.E.L.S. Strata is in search of her missing husband and son. Vril’s son has just been found, but where’s R.E.B.E.L.S. founding member Stealth? What happens if Vril loses control of the bestial Tribulus? And what’s up with that creepy little Durlan girl? Yeah, while the Lanterns are busy playing name that color, there’s some real outer space action going on in R.E.B.E.L.S. Plus you’ve got Andy Clarke’s fantastically detailed art decorating each and every page.
In an issue or two, the secret will be out. R.E.B.E.L.S. will be crossing over with BLACKEST NIGHT and folks will see what I’ve been hollering about since the first issue. Put R.E.B.E.L.S. on your pull list now, or you’re going to miss out. I guarantee it.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, reviewer and co-editor of AICN Comics for over eight years. Check out his short comic book fiction from Cream City Comics’ MUSCLES & FIGHTS VOL.3 and MUSCLES & FRIGHTS VOL.1 on his ComicSpace page. Bug was interviewed here and here at Cream City Comics. Look for more comics from Bug in 2009 from Bluewater Comics, including the sequel to THE TINGLER for their VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS ongoing series in stores September 2009 and VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS WITCHFINDER GENERAL and ROGER CORMAN PRESENTS DEATHSPORT to be released in late 2009/early 2010.
BEASTS OF BURDEN #1
Script: Evan Dorkin Art: Jill Thompson Published by: Dark Horse Reviewed by: BottleImpI’ve always loved superhero comics, and I probably always will, but just as man does not live on bread alone, it’s nice to change the reading material up every once in a while. Luckily today’s comic book marketplace showcases a fairly diverse assortment of genres, so if I feel like picking up something in the vein of, say, Lovecraftian horror, or maybe gritty war stories, there’s usually a title out there to scratch that particular itch. Last week as I was perusing the newest issues on the stands, I was suddenly afflicted by an itch that I hadn’t felt in decades: I was jonesing for cute ‘n’ cuddly animals. And lo and behold, I walked out of the shop clutching the prescription for that itch, BEASTS OF BURDEN.
The comic features a loose-knit band of cats and dogs living in the town of Burden Hill who, aside from the usual scratching, crotch-licking and eating their own poop, also protect their town from supernatural evil—sort of like BUFFY, except for the poop thing (unless there was another side to that show that I’m not aware of). “Too cutesy,” you might think, just as I did when I saw the cover of the comic. But upon reading I realized that Dorkin and Thompson are much too smart to fall into the Pit of Cuteness that threatens to envelop any and every treatment of talking dogs.
See, there’s the Disney-style cuteness of Bambi and Thumper and the like, which I never cared for. Too cloying, too saccharine, substituting the forced “awwwww!” for actual emotional connection. BURDEN wisely eschews this trap and goes for the kind of appeal that is more akin to Pixar’s modern animal fables, where the appeal of the characters and their journey draws the audience into the story. This isn’t BAMBI—two of the pets we meet at the beginning of this issue end up being devoured by a giant frog demon; the comic reads more like Disney as filtered though Guillermo Del Toro. There’s real loss, real action, and no artificial sweetener. In fact, one of the most charming elements of Dorkin’s script is that the dogs’ vocabulary includes “ass,” “bastards,” “balls (as in testicles, naturally),” and “mother-humpin’.” Again, not Disney. BURDEN also brings to mind the books I read as a kid that featured vaguely anthropomorphized beasts, most notably George Selden’s A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE. Reading another tale of animals joining together to reach their goal gets me right in that warm nostalgia zone.
The story itself wouldn’t be half as entertaining were it not for Thompson’s beautiful watercolors. Her vibrant palette and expert page compositions make the comic a real treat for the eyes, and her renderings of the assorted dogs and cats really showcase each animal’s personality. It’s difficult to draw a dog expressing a human’s emotion without the final effect coming across as too cartoony, but Thompson expertly walks that fine line between realism and caricature. And she paints a pretty mean giant mother-humpin’ frog, too.
BEASTS OF BURDEN definitely will not appeal to everyone, but if you want a break from your regular comic book diet and you’ve got a soft spot for talking dogs, you may want to give this title a try.
When released from his Bottle, the Imp takes the form of Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from the Northeast. You can see some of his artwork athere. He’s given up comics more times than he can remember. But every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in.
GRIMM FAIRY TALES: THE LITTLE MERMAID #1
Writers: Linda Ly and Raven Gregory Artist: Claudio Sepulveda Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment Reviewer: Matt AdlerThis is a collection of the 2-issue LITTLE MERMAID arc from Zenescope’s GRIMM FAIRY TALES series. For those unfamiliar, the series generally presents dark or disturbing twists on classic fairy tales. That’s the case here, as the familiar story of a young mermaid who falls in love with a human prince takes a darker tone (although it should be noted that the original story was not all sweetness and light either).
The story is actually told as two parallel stories, with one taking place in our world, and featuring the recurring character Belinda, a devil-like temptress who uses the fairy tales to lure people in our world down paths of ruin. Here she approaches a woman named Lucy, living in a trailer park with her daughter Sara, who is attending college. Belinda convinces Lucy to pull Sara out of college, dress her up in hooker-ish attire, and turn her out in an effort to lure a sports star into a long-term relationship and get a piece of his fortune. Alongside this, we are given the story of THE LITTLE MERMAID, in the form of a book that Belinda suggests is the key to accomplishing Lucy’s dreams.
The stories don’t turn out well for Sara or the Mermaid, and parallels are drawn between the two; both get involved in ill-advised relationships, and both wind up being betrayed. However, the Mermaid is a little more sympathetic than Sara, because, well, she wasn’t trying to seduce the prince for his money. In the end, we’re given the basic moral lesson “be careful what you wish for”, but it’s Sara who suffers the consequences; we don’t see her mother, who sent her out, getting any punishment. It’s an interesting concept, but I wish it had been tied together a bit tighter in terms of giving the mother more of a reason to listen to Belinda’s plan, and the story’s resolution. The Little Mermaid’s story is very much about sacrifice; Sara’s is about being dumb enough to listen to her mother.
On the art side, Claudio Sepulveda does a great job with the fantasy scenes, drawing some eerily beautiful mermaids, a monstrous sea witch, and an exciting shipwreck. He needs a little work on the human faces, but other than that this is very solid work. Overall, Zenescope is stepping up their game, and it’s evident from this book that all involved are working hard at honing their craft and turning out stories worth reading.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: REBORN #3
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Bryan Hitch Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: steverodgersREBORN has gotten off to a slow start. A lot might have been due to the anticipation: you’d expect a Hitch and Brubaker five-issue Captain America event to be a home run. Hitch has kept up his end of the bargain, though; the man can draw, and what he does almost better than anyone else are the giant, hero-packed action scenes. In this issue he treats us to a massive full-scale Kree-Skrull War blow out, with Clint Barton as Goliath; Thor smashing space ships; and Iron Man buzzing about in his classic red and gold armor while dead Skrulls float around in space like junked satellites. It has never looked better.
The story itself has been the speed bump. The big miss-step has been the whole “unstuck in time” bit, which just feels flat and comes off as derivative and plodding. We are treated to Cap flailing about in time—experiencing his greatest hits, if you will—but the problem is we have seen them all before, and Cap being cognizant of being there before does nothing to add to the excitement. Brubaker does a neat trick though, suggesting that when Cap was frozen in ice for however-many years, that his eyes were open and he was conscious the entire time, which is, admittedly, frightening to think about. Brubaker excels at little details like these that make Cap more interesting, and I was reminded of the time Cap said that he was able to avoid bullets because he “sees faster,” which is all it takes to light up the Cap geek in me.
Of the three issues, #3 has been the best, and it seems like we are getting a little momentum going. Cap is laying the groundwork to fix his situation, as we see him having a side chat with Vision to save him in the future. The supporting cast has been the highlight so far, and the plot is starting to hum as they race around trying to find Cap. Bucky, after getting whipped by the Thunderbolts, finds himself in a pickle as he’s tied up and thumped upon by Scourge in the Thunderbolts’ jet until the Falcon swoops in to save the day. We are then treated to one my favorite Marvel clichés, as one of Captain America’s acolytes proudly explains to a bad guy, as he’s beating on him, that he was trained by Captain America. Hawkeye is the worst offender of this, saying countless times as he flips someone upside down, “Captain America himself taught me that!” It’s Falcon’s turn this time. Meanwhile, Sharon Carter becomes the focus of an Osborn-led, worldwide woman hunt for the murderer of Cap, and she tries to figure out if she should turn herself in.
Another highlight is The Red Skull, trapped inside the Kirby-tastic Arnim Zola body, as he watches his plan come to fruition in his evil villain lair; everyone’s favorite “Bonnie and Clyde” Sin and Crossbones arrive and, in a bit of inspired comic book awesomeness, plunk a Red Skull head on the Zola body. It’s madness. There are also some good Namor moments—Brubaker has a great handle on his character, a regal, noble brat who tells Richards, “I wouldn’t take time from my day for you, Richards. I’m here for Captain America.” I am enjoying all the side characters in this story, and Brubaker seems up to the challenge of penning a tale where characters act like themselves within a plot, instead of doing out-of-character things to keep the plot moving. A nitpick, however, is the narration: when each new character or scene is introduced there is a caption that swings back and forth from comedic to dramatic, which seems a little off, considering the story.
All told, I am still on board and starting to think that this comic is due for some highlights over the next two issues. I am a little sad because I could have survived for a few years with Bucky fulfilling his destiny and taking up the Cap mantle, but I am looking forward to Cap going toe-to-toe with the Red Skull one more time, and hopefully to a moment where Bucky and Cap can be reunited as men, a friendship reborn. They’re exactly the two guys the world needs to take down Osborn and all of his tedious Dark friends.
Writer: Doug Murray Art: Fabiano Neves & Paul Renaud Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Reviewer: Mr. PastyYou know, they almost had it. Dynamite Entertainment almost had a smash hit on their hands with ATHENA #1. That is until they took what started as an intriguing tale of the rebirth of the famed Greek Goddess and quickly turned it into a Hollywood rewrite that is so bad it could almost pass for parody. Almost, because parody is usually funny, but not even a prime Belushi in his Bluto toga could save this putrid pile of disgraced mythology.
I don’t get upset when a book blows its engine on the starting line. That tells me they had an idea and it just didn’t work. But when they rocket out of the gate and then shit themselves on the corner of turn number one, you know there is treachery afoot. ATHENA begins with the Goddess in question discovered naked in modern day Greece, unconscious and abandoned. The local authorities have no positive ID and she is confined to a hospital bed as an amnesiac. She wakes up one night and wanders off, mysteriously drawn to the Parthenon, with a watchful little owl following her every move. And yes, ATHENA flashes her ass under a moonlit sky in a tiny little hospital gown. So far, so good.
Now imagine my surprise when one page later ATHENA is an undercover cop in Manhattan shaking down white-collar criminals and dancing in some of the hottest nightclubs the city has to offer. And how did she get there? A handy little sidebar that reads “Several years later,” or as I like to call it “The Poof! Principle.” The Poof! Principle was created to label those inexplicable moments in comics when things suddenly change, appear or disappear – or are not otherwise explained to the point of satisfaction. After all, why bother with exposition when Poof! things can just change because you have the power to write “Hey, we’re doing this now.” Sorry, but I’m asking for a little more out of my books. Until they start shipping them to me for free, I’m going to want to at least get my money’s worth and since the book only costs $3.50, my expectations aren’t that high.
ATHENA #1 clocks in at about four “Poofs!” when all is said and done. Poof! She appears naked on page one. Poof! She gets shipped to Manhattan after an unidentified narrator gives her secret powers, like the ability to learn English and pass the NYC police exam despite no college degree or verifiable background. Then Poof! she ends up BACK in the hospital (this time in New York) before the final Poof!, when she turns into her previous mythological incarnation.
And if that’s not spasmodic enough for you, there’s a convenient little mini-story at the end of the book that has her Poof! show up at the White House to join President Obama for a local theatre’s production of ANTIGONE (subtle). How do they explain her appearance? Why, a handy little sidebar that reads “Events take place after ATHENA #4!” You know, in case you weren’t confused enough in the poofy premiere issue, here’s a nifty little tale that completely bypasses our next three issues – but hey! You get Obama! However the President doesn’t show up until after the Secret Service has a run-in with an angry Neptune. Not to worry though, because cooler heads eventually prevail and the Sea God has the “Waters of Forgetfulness!” wash over them so that Poof! everyone forgets everything that ever happened.
No, I’m not making this shit up.
I will say that the illustrations in ATHENA are quite pleasing. Like Dynamite’s RED SONJA, there is affection for strong women here, as evidenced by their disposition and attention to detail. It’s unfortunate that ATHENA, with such a good premise, ends up like your typical dumb blonde: Great to look at, but no grain in the silo.
Final word: If you’re into smoking hot amnesiacs that roam the countryside and show their booty, pick up ATHENA #1. Or just buy RED SONJA and get a little story with your ass.
Web heads who can’t get enough of Mr. Pasty’s word vomit are encouraged to watch him operate as Nostradumbass over at here. MMAmania.com. Love, hate and Mafia Wars requests should be directed here.
IKIGAMI: THE ULTIMATE LIMIT Vol. 2
By Motoro Mase Released by Viz Media Reviewer: Scott GreenNote the cover of IKIGAMI. A tormented guy holds up a card bearing a time stamped photograph to his forehead. In the background, a ghostly face screams in anguish. This is IKIGAMI distilled to a single image, its proclivity to hit tragedy on the nose written on the tin. Manga is a medium that trades in expressiveness. Survey the covers of a selection of manga. The majority will feature characters broadcasting some immediately discernable emotion. Consequently, it might not be fair to hold IKIGAMI's obvious pathos against it. The problem is, I don't trust this manga's sincerity.
I don't expect a standard genre manga to truly reflect the sentiments of its creator. As long as period action manga Ruruoni Kenshin offers involving sword-resolved conflicts, I don't care about Nobuhiro Watsuki's analysis of the Meiji Restitution or his thoughts on the moral implications of violence. IKIGAMI presents tragic tales in speculative sociology. It is a social engineering high concept blown out into a manga comprised of one off stories...THE LOTTERY: THE MANGA...A MODEST PROPOSAL: THE MANGA...to join two very obvious comparisons, BATTLE ROYALE meets 1984.
This is territory that I'd hope was populated by works that genuinely had something to say. Yet, two volumes in, I'm not convinced that IKIGAMI, is putting much thought behind the handwringing.
IKIGAMI is set in an alternative version of present Japan in which, during their school admission immunizations shots, one in 1,000 children is injected with a nanocapsule that will kill the recipient at a predetermined time between the ages of 18 and 24. The "Ikigami" of the title is the label for the people whose macabre role is to deliver a message to alert the doomed that they will die within 24 hours. This involved process, known as The National Welfare Act, aims to have every citizen growing up wondering if, and when, they will die. In theory, the existential uncertainty reinforces the citizens’ value for life and, following from that, increases social productivity.
Those unconvinced of the merits of the Social Welfare Act are labeled "social miscreants," send to re-education camps, and, if still opposed, injected with lethal nanocapsules.
The character contemplatively frowning on the cover is Fujimoto, a young man employed as an ikigami. The volume opens with Fujimoto's girlfriend confronting him about his work as they sit in a cafe. "It's not like in itself is wrong...I mean your work is essential to our country...but...I never know when you are going to be called in...and after a delivery, you want to talk...I can't live with that."
"You can't understand?! I crush someone's life...and then I don't feel talkative?!!"
"That's what I'm saying! You end up crushing me too!!"
Whereupon Fujimoto, perhaps not too sensibly, admonishes his girlfriend, mentioning that she could be called out as a social miscreant, reminding her that it is the duty of all citizens to inform on thought criminals. Having this conversation in public may not have been advisable, as the people nearby mutter "pss, a social miscreant? her? Is she crazy?"
As in the previous volume, Fujimoto proves to be the bridge for two distinct stories of death notice recipients: "The Pure Love Drug" - concerning the put upon (and physically and emotionally abused) girlfriend of a driven, drug addicted would-be director, and "The Night He Left for War" about a nursing home attendant and his relationship with an elderly woman who'd given up on life.
While the focus of the volume is this pair of stories, IKIGAMI also continues to carve out a path for Fujimoto's metastory. Reputedly, the drug taken by the would-be director can extend the life of someone whose heart stopped for an hour. "By the way, I've heard these pills can prolong your life...is that true?" Whereupon the (foreign looking) dealer proceeds to explains exactly how the supposed life extension works. It'd be shocking if that never factored into a further development in the manga.
IKIGAMI ran in the anthology BIG COMIC SPIRITS, home to CRYING FREEMAN, MAISON IKKOKU, and UZUMAKI. It isn't for an audience that is particularly young. Hence the "Explicit Content" warning label, which is in no way needed for this volume. Given the age of its audience, the manga's directness is aggravating. Painting a direly objectionable picture of the Social Welfare action, then demonstrating its beneficial results, the manga is achieving emotional confusion. However, chasing that effect is not the same as fostering intellectual ambiguity. With large panels framing faces that are weeping, dismayed or driven, the emotional signposts erected along the stories are unmistakable. To the same result, nothing of consequence is left unaddressed by the dialog and captions. IKIGAMI will raise provocative issues, such as drug use, physical abuse or even sacrifice paralleling service in World War II. Then, it will jump to directly mapping those complicated issues onto concrete elements of the story in which they're raised, with little time or space left for consideration.
That explicitness discourages reading more from the stories than the emotional impact. Nor does the manga seem concerned with more than that sorrow or bittersweet sting. Beyond the meta-unease, the Social Welfare Act conceit seems to serve little more than as reason for the lives of 18-24 year olds to be conclusively resolved. Other than Fujimoto who dwells with it day to day, the lives of the subjects seem not to be impacted before the arrival of the death notice. For example, "The Pure Love Drug" gives a reason why the character is manically set on becoming a director which has nothing to do with the premise of IKIGAMI, with little evidence the he considered the defining differences in his speculative alt-society before they directly intruded into his life via his girlfriend's death sentence.
Scott Green has been writing for AICN ANIME for over eight years. If you like what you see here and love anime & manga, be sure to check out his latest AICN ANIME column every week on AICN.