Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/24/09 releases, Part 2

Detective Comics 854: Finally, the debut of Batwoman in her own series and it was worth the wait. It has the “Batman Reborn” banner, but it’s not connected to the other books at all except for a brief (intentionally vague) Batman cameo. The J.H. Williams III art is stunning. It jumps off the page like nothing else on the stands, and even changes style depending on which characters are in the scene. (Credit colorist Dave Stewart for this too, though my understanding is that Williams is involved in the coloring too.) We won’t get her origin until the first story arc is done, but Greg Rucka gives us our first real glimpse into her world, including her surprising support system. The Question backup is also an excellent start. Fortunately I don’t have to, but I’d pay $3.99 for this book without a discount.

Skaar: Son of Hulk 12: More Skaar on Earth hijinks, as he tries to confront his father but realizes that the Hulk’s personality is unstable and not what he expected. “Meanwhile, on the other side of the Universe”, we discover that a powerful and dangerous (and familiar) being is attracted to the “old power” that Skaar and the Warbound wield. This title splits into Son of Hulk and Incredible Hulk next month – Hulk will still be Red Hulk stories, I guess.

X-Force 16: OK, I’m officially annoyed. As far as I can tell, the crossover with Cable ended exactly where it started – Cable’s still protecting the girl, and Bishop’s still looking for them in the timestream. What was the point of all of this exactly? The X-Force specific parts of this issue – them trying to get home to finish the mission they were on when they went after Cable – are actually fine, so I’ll probably wind up dropping Cable instead of this book.

Amazing Spider-Man 598: Spidey’s survives last issue’s cliffhanger in a not-unexpected way, and Harry faces multiple betrayals (by him and to him) that may change him for good. I was against the return of Harry Osborn, much the same as I was against Norman’s return way back when, but I have to say that I’m pleased with the way they’re both working out. (Not that we didn’t have to endure a lot of crappy Norman stories until they figured out what to do with him.)

Dark Reign: Zodiac 1: There are a lot of these “Dark Reign” villain miniseries, so when they’re not about characters I already care about (The Hood, Elektra, etc.) then I have to be strict about evaluating them because there are too many to buy. So, Joe Casey’s new Zodiac doesn’t make the cut for me. It’s not terrible – it’s got kind of a Foolkiller vibe that could be interesting – but it didn’t hook me, and it’s not helped by the ugly Nathan Fox art. (I appreciate the skill that went into the artwork, but I just don’t find it aesthetically pleasing.) That said, this is quirky enough that some people might really like it – if you have access to a copy it wouldn’t hurt to read it and see what you think, but I can’t recommend that you pay for it.

Dark Reign: Lethal Legion 1: Like the above, without the redeeming qualities. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but certainly not anywhere near good enough to spend $3.99 on. However, I am intrigued enough by the surprise last page appearance that I might seek this out in trade depending on how it’s collected. (It’s only a 3-issue series, so I assume it will have to share a book with something else.)

Astonishing X-Men 30: Another one I agree with Mike about. As I said in my comment to his review below, “I agree that Ellis and Bianchi pulled it out at the end. The story wasn't about what I thought it was about, and I ended up liking it.”

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink 2: I liked the first issue of this a lot better than the other “Aftermath” books and I continue to be impressed here. At first I found the art a little confusing, but I’m warming up to it as I flip through it now. (It’s also colored in watercolor-like style that at least is different.)

Dark Reign: Hood 2: I don’t think they should be charging $3.99 for this, but as I said above this gets a pass because (a) I’m already interested in the character and (b) it’s good. Bendis only has room to show The Hood’s “business” persona in New Avengers, so I’m glad to have Jeff Parker’s look at the man inside and his family. There was a big status change for The Hood in the most recent New Avengers, which this series must take place before, so it’ll be interesting to see how that gets set up.

Dark Reign: Elektra 4: Fans of the original Frank Millar Bullseye vs. Elektra battle will find a lot to like here, and the mystery of her Skrull abduction continues to unfold. There are some good Norman Osborn lines too. (“If only there was someone I could torture a straight answer out of…”) The only misstep is that Wolverine’s appearance, which should be a surprise on the last page, is given away on the cover.

Guardians of the Galaxy 15: It has been pointed out to me that I rejected Buck Rogers #1 because of a talking bear, but I don’t seem to have any problem with a talking raccoon (this book) or a talking gorilla (Agents of Atlas). All I can say is that (a) I never claimed to be consistent and (b) it’s a freaking cyborg bear in Buck Rogers, give me a break. Anyway, the Guardians get attacked by both sides in the Kree/Shi’ar war this issue but they at least manage to convince one side that they’re doing damage to the structure of spacetime. There’s a talking tree in this book too, so take that, haters.

Superman 689: I was listening to Greg Rucka’s latest wordballoon.com interview in the car today, and he called James Robinson’s ongoing story in this book “elegant”. I think that’s a great description – it reminds me a lot of his Starman, especially in this issue where Mon-El takes a world tour and meets a lot of obscure existing and new international characters. (Will Von Hammer, private detective, is my favorite.) I could rant about the Black Lightning reference (he’s supposed to be in hiding in Outsiders), but I like this book too much to be annoyed at it.

I’ll finish up last week’s books tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/24/09 releases, Part 1

Nova 26: A solid transition issue, where Rich and the Nova Corps get used to their new status quo, and Nova investigates what happened to his comrades and his brother while he was out of commission.

Gotham City Sirens 1: It’s a little too early to tell how this will shake out, but so far I like it – any time Paul Dini is writing Harley Quinn is a treat, in my opinion. (Selina: “So' I’m right in assuming you’re spending the money I gave you as fast and as foolishly as you can.” Harley: “What’s wrong with splurgin’ on a few nice things? Besides, I put some away, made some investments…” “Please tell me they didn’t involve sending money to a Nigerian prince.” “You got his e-mail too?!”) Harley and Ivy are featured, but so far it feels like Catwoman will be the main character.

Thor 602: Pays off one of the plot threads from the earliest JMS issues, and the conversation between Balder and the mortal living in Asgard is enlightening. (As previously hinted, he’s not being manipulated as blindly as certain characters think he is.) It’s a shame the JMS era will be coming to an end soon, but it’s good that he’s trying not to make the same mistake twice about getting involved in a big crossover. (His recent CBR interview is quite humble about this point, actually.)

Wolverine Weapon X 3: Mike covered this thoroughly below, so I’ll just say that this is the issue that hooked me too and that I’m glad this book is looking to Wolverine’s future not his past.

Dark Wolverine 75: Again, not much to add to Mike’s review. I liked this more than I expected to; I just hope that there are some consequences to Daken screwing with Norman because otherwise it undermines Osborn as a character. Writers Daniel Way & Marjorie Liu have a feature on CBR with their commentary on the first few pages of this issue that’s worth checking out.

Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia 1: I now have hope for this crossover, because this was much more on the level I know Matt Fraction is capable of than recent issues of Uncanny have been. Simon Trask’s anti-mutant group marches on San Francisco, and like all the best X-Men villains they kind of have a point. Trask is bad guy, and he doesn’t want the demonstration to go peacefully, but he’s right that his group has the right to protest without interference. Of course that doesn’t happen and there are mutants and humans rioting in the streets, leading to a prominent X-Man’s arrest and to Norman Osborn invoking his agreement with Emma Frost to create an X-Men group capable of keeping the mutant population under control. Also, Professor X is back from his journey in X-Men: Legacy. Or is he? (Cue the scary music.)

Wonder Woman 33: A truly shocking ending to “Rise of the Olympian”, with grave consequences for Diana and the gods that I was not expecting. Say it with me: “Gail Simone is an evil genius.”

Green Lantern 42: Hal Jordan briefly wields the Orange power here, fueling my speculation that it’s going to be important that he be exposed to the entire emotional spectrum. In the meantime, the Guardians continue to be complete bastards and the Black Power Battery is discovered, leading (finally) to “The Blackest Night”.

Justice Society of America 28: As I said last month, this one’s for the All-Star Squadron and WWII fans by Jerry Ordway with references to the Spear of Destiny (that Hitler used to keep the JSA out of Axis territory) and to Hiroshima. Good by my standards, but hopefully the new creative team will be doing stories with broader appeal. (I’m not sure if they’re starting next issue or if there are more fill-ins planned.)

Justice League of America 34: I’m going to miss Dwayne McDuffie on this book. I really like this mix of characters, and I thought the resolution of the story was good. This issue is also notable because Icon and Superman find out how the Milestone characters got merged with the DCU. (Hint: Final Crisis) There’s also an escape hatch, in case the business relationship ends and the universes need to be separated again. Anyway, I can’t complain about the writers to come – Len Wein and James Robinson – but I also can’t help but feel that McDuffie never really got a fair shot at this book.

Daredevil 119: Issue 500 is coming up faster than I expected – next issue, in fact – so this is way closer to the end of Brubaker’s run than I was mentally prepared for. Things are coming to a head, with someone important to Matt in grave danger at the end of this issue. My guess is that Brubaker will leave Matt isolated from everyone that cares about him, but we’ll see.

Teen Titans 72: Except that it starts with yet another funeral (in flash-forward), I actually liked this better than usual even though it’s written by whatever committee Dan Didio has put together until the new writer takes over. (The name on it is “Brian Q. Miller, who Google tells me is a “Smallville” TV writer.) Anyway, I really liked that the kids behaved like real kids, and on that basis I’m willing to excuse the excruciatingly poor judgment by Wonder Girl. (“Sure, I’ll come in for prison inspection a day early. Alone. What’s the worst that could happen?” – not an actual quote) Without giving it away, I do have to make a short-term continuity rant about the villain revealed on the last page. There was a miniseries that just finished, where this character was utterly broken and defeated at the end and it’s implied that his criminal career is over for the foreseeable future. The ink on that isn’t even dry, and now here that same character is back masterminding a plot against the Titans. I don’t know if they’re ignoring the miniseries on purpose, or if the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, but it’s downright sloppy especially considering that this book is personally edited by Dan Didio.

Secret Warriors 5: We’re at part 5 of 6, so I can’t really give any details without ruining the story. I’ll just say that I’m impressed that the plotting is so intricate, yet not hard to understand. That takes a lot of skill, which is basically down to Jonathan Hickman. (My understanding is that Bendis is getting a story credit because he came up with some of the ideas in this first storyline, but that the day-to-day writing is all Hickman.)

More tomorrow and Wednesday. (24 books to go!)

Jeff’s June Book Reviews, Part 2

It was great to see everyone at Gary’s on Saturday (and we missed those of you who couldn’t make it), so thanks again to him and his family.

I was planning to get a few more books read before doing another write-up, but a number of people said the trade reviews were helpful so let’s talk about what I’ve read in the past couple of weeks and I’ll try to do this more often. (Which may be hard if Marvel keeps releasing three dozen books a week…)

mar092427dI Kill Giants TPB: I read the first issue of this when it came out and didn’t care for it, but Shane is passionate about it which was enough for me to give it another try. I’m pleased to say that I have no idea why I didn’t like it the first time around – I was utterly captivated by it this time. To describe it too much would rob you of the joy of discovery, but I’ll say it’s the story of a young girl, her school, her family and, yes, giants that is at once funny, terrifying and heartbreaking. One thing that particularly worked well for this jaded comic reader is that Joe Kelly played with my expectations about the fantasy element, which made the story all the more surprising. The art is a semi-manga style that isn’t usually my thing, but it’s perfect for this story also because it allows the blurring of the real and the fantastic. I honestly think this one belongs on everyone’s shelf, folks. (Except that the family stuff might be too intense for some kids.) Extras: behind the scenes commentary and sketches.


mar090183d Flash: The Human Race TPB: This book collects the second half of Grant Morrison & Mark Millar’s run on The Flash during Mark Waid’s late-90’s sabbatical, and I had forgotten how good these stories really were. Or maybe I just didn’t appreciate them at the time because I saw them as marking time waiting for Waid to come back. At any rate, the two story arcs here, “The Human Race” and “The Black Flash” are basically Silver-age classics done in a modern style, with a lot of great Grant Morrison ideas (but not overwhelmed by them, maybe because of Millar’s involvement.) I was also struck by how well these stories reflected the themes of Waid’s work, and I had forgotten that they actually set up Linda and Wally’s wedding. Also included is Morrison’s charming post-Crisis version of “Flash of Two Worlds” from Secret Origins #50, drawn by one of my all-time favorite artists, the late Mike Parobeck. Extras: none, unless you count the Secret Origins reprint.


feb090225d Tiny Titans: Adventures in Awesomeness TPB: Admittedly not for everyone, but I find it irresistibly adorable and fun. For sure kids will love it – I hear that the creators get mobbed by them at conventions. It does a little bit make the same mistake the DC & Marvel kids’ books often do by making jokes that require knowledge of the regular continuity (like the “Crisis on Infinite Earth” parody in Marvel’s old “Mighty Mouse” series), but so far it’s done here in such a way that I don’t think kids will notice that they’re missing part of the joke. (Example: Principal Slade and Mr. Trigon leave Mr. Darkseid in charge of the school for the day and he declares a “Finals Crisis.”) Extras: a couple of puzzle pages from the original issues, and it’s printed at regular comic size instead of the usual kids’ comics digest size. (OK, not really an extra but a good thing nonetheless.)



feb090215d Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool TPB: Reprints the first 4 issues of the ongoing series from 1993, and the four-issue revival from 2001. I would have rather seen the first 8 issues of the original series because the miniseries, while good, was intended as a revival of the Milestone line and it is packed to the gills with extra characters. The original stories hold up almost perfectly – the only thing that dates them a little is that they are pre-cell phone. Other than that, the teens act like teens and Static, even though he comes from the Spider-Man archetype, was original at the time because of his inner city background. (Not just his color.) I would never suggest that you buy something that you don’t like, but if you have the slightest interest in this book I urge you to get it because the Milestone material was all top-notch – Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon are still doing great work today, for instance -- and deserves to be in print which may not happen if these early volumes are not supported. If this isn’t your cup of tea also coming soon are collections of Hardware and Icon, which are terrific subversive takes on the Iron Man and Superman archetypes. (Actually Icon is not really about the title character at all, but we’ll talk about that when the book comes out.) Extras: variant covers.

mar092657d Fantastic Four: True Story TPB: I’m a fan of the whimsical, as you may have figured out, and I just love this book by Paul Cornell (currently one of my favorite writers) and Horacio Domingues (whose style fits this story perfectly.) It’s about the FF saving the realm of fiction (Reed: “To look into this I’ll have to create a new field of human endeavor. Give me a couple of days.”), and I know how that sounds but Cornell has the characters down perfectly, he’s got something to say about the role of fiction (without characters having to wear armor made of stories and beat the crap out of each other – that one’s for you, Bill) and the plot and dialogue are just clever as hell. Again, maybe not for everyone, but worth a shot at only $10.99 retail. Where else can you see Johnny Storm hit on the sisters from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” (and one of them fall in love with Ben Grimm)? Extras: none.



feb090206d History of the DC Universe TPB: The original post-Crisis Marv Wolfman/George Perez history from 1986 under a new Alex Ross cover. I either never bought the original 2001 collection or can’t find it, so I’m glad to have this on the shelf. You probably already know if you’re interested in this or not, so I’ll just say that a lot of the history is still valid and the art is still terrific. Extras: none.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shane Talks Previews: September 2009 - DC Comics

Oh hey, right, I should post in the blog.  September previews are here, and apparently the previews magazine is out too, although I haven't gotten mine in the mail yet.  But you'll all have likely seen this, so I'll start commenting on it.

Magog #1

DC launches another ongoing book, Magog, spinning out of Kingdom Come and Justice Society of America.  I recently re-read Kingdom Come (in beautiful Absolute format), and I've read the first two hardcovers of the JSA arc "Thy Kingdom Come", enjoying both, so I'm pleasantly surprised to see this--especially the creative team.  I sing the praises of Keith Giffen all the time, but Howard Porter, too?  This is going to be a good book.  I'm sure it'll be canceled before long, unless it picks up some miraculously strong audience, but for the few issues it lasts, I'll almost certainly be there.  The only thing keeping me away will be waiting to buy the collection--I'm debating.

The Web #1 and The Shield #1

Immediately after the Red Circle "miniseries" ends, we see the launch of two new ongoing books, The Web and The Shield.  It's the latter that has the most impressive writer (Eric Trautmann has proven himself with me, especially for a book like this), but from what I hear, the rest of the crew is at least halfway decent (Marco Rudy's certainly good, and I've already gushed about the team of Tom Derenick and Bill Sienkiewicz).  The Web also features one of DC's new African American female writers, which shouldn't be a big deal but is.  Lots of press there, which may help these titles find a footing--but, regardless of quality, I'm not too optimistic for the long-term success of these books.  Still, having a co-feature, and launching right after the Red Circle event (while the characters are still hot) should help.

The Brave and the Bold #27

It's a shame that J. Michael Straczynski wasn't able to continue on with the Red Circle characters after the miniseries, but he makes his long-teased debut on this book soon, paired with exceptional artist Jesus Saiz.  So this book?  It's going to be very good again.  On par with the Waid/Perez launch?  We'll see, but I'm very optimistic.  Some of the announced pairings for the book are really intriguing, too, and it's nice to see Dial H For Hero show up again.

Teen Titans #75

Finally, some (theoretical) stability to the title.  I mentioned one African American female writer earlier, and here's another.  I don't know too much about her, but some people seem excited about it, and a fresh perspective certainly can't hurt, right?  At the very least, Joe Bennett is a talented artist, so it'll look good.  And I've heard only good things about the Ravager co-feature, believe it or not.  It looks like Sean McKeever's finally back in good form.

In other news, Red Tornado gets a six-issue miniseries.  It might have rated a picture-spot up there, but the thoroughly unimpressive creative team and the lack of a spotlight on the book bumped it down.

Speaking of seemingly-random books, the Solomon Grundy miniseries draws to a close, perhaps tying in with Blackest Night?  I've actually heard some really good things about this book, and with Scott Kolins as illustrator, it'll at least look great.  With luck, he's a good writer, as well.  Those reading it--thoughts?

The Superman titles continue their build to the mega event of 2010, which intrigues me.  New Krypton was mostly ignored in favor of the Battle for the CowlBlackest Night and Final Crisis, so it'll be interesting to see Superman really go into the spotlight once again.  Unfortunately, despite the strong quality of these books, sales aren't looking so good.  Believe it or not, people apparently don't want to read a Superman title without Superman in it.

Wednesday Comics draws to a close, looking great as ever.  I can't wait for my first issues to arrive in the mail.

The big and unusual news for this round of solicits, though, is Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian.  They're releasing both a hardcover and softcover.  On the same day.  That's unheard of, right?  I'm glad to see that it's getting the hardcover treatment still--Amazon was only showing softcover for awhile, which disappointed me, because I liked collecting the book in hardcover.  But plenty of people are going to like getting an earlier softcover edition.  I suspect that it's a test run to see which format to continue the book in, but it means that I'll get at least one more hardcover for my shelf before being forced to switch to softcover.

That's all for DC.  I didn't take a look at Vertigo or Wildstorm this time, because nothing's sticking out in my mind, but if there's anything from DC, Vertigo or Wildstorm that you think is noteworthy, comment on it, let's get some discussion going!

I'll see you all at Gary's tonight!

Wolves In Street Clothing

WOLVERINE WEAPON X #3 (Marvel) by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney

          In my earlier reviews of Issues #1-2 I commented that this book, while entertaining and worth a look, wasn’t quite living up to its expectations.  I had high hopes that Jason Aaron would kick some new life into a tired motorbike and make this book interesting once again.   Well, it took him three issues to jumpstart the thing but it seems to be running fine now.  Aaron adds some new wrinkles this issue and that has changed the whole complexion.  I’m back on board, at least until the conclusion of this story arc in Issue #5.

          When Issue 32 ended with Wolverine surrounded by the twelve Strikeforce members, all with self-healing powers, adamantium claws, protective armor and a slew of arsenal I figured Issue #3 to be a long, drawn out bloody battle royale with Wolvie emerging badly damaged but victorious.  He did cut and run at the end of the issue, but I assumed that was just so in Issue #3 he could flank them and surprise attack after getting into his usual mad berserker rage state and winning on adrenaline alone, shortly followed by my getting bored and crossing WOLVERINE WEAPON X off my pick list.

          Well, he actually does practice the “cut and run” battle strategy, acting like a jungle guerilla fighter and picking off his opponents one by one over the course of several days while he wears down their resolve.  But that doesn’t take up the whole book - - - and it’s what’s going on back stateside that really makes this interesting.

          The reporter Ms. Garner is becoming more active in her investigation of Blackguard and starting to get some help as she turns over some very damaging information while trying to stay alive.  Her prying has been discovered and Blackguard tries to suppress her.  It’s the interplay between the investigation to turn over Blackguard’s wrongdoing, and their actions to cover up their activities and influence Congress to grant them a big military contract that make this fun and interesting to me.  The scenes of the Congressional hearing are very well handled and realistic enough to create apprehension.

          There are some great moments on the action side of this book as well.  What I really appreciate is that rather than take up too many pages showing how Wolverine defeated all the Strikeforce members, Aaron uses the captioned narration of a Strikeforce member to describe it.  This takes up less space and is even more effective in planting in the reader’s mind the new gritty nature of Logan, as we can imagine things far worse than comics are permitted to show.

          I just love the narration on the Strikeforce X Performance Evaluation.  As you keep reading it you can sense the desperation and frustration as they fail to accomplish their mission.  The narrator resorts to reciting the operations manual to try to indicate that they know what they’re doing:  “Remember.  See your target before you fire.  These cancer bullets cost $250,000 apiece.  We waste ‘em, the CEO’ll have our asses.”  Then Wolverine takes the gun away from a soldier and off-screen pumps four rounds into him,  proclaiming “Best million bucks I ever spent.”  (Great scene!)  And the very last panel of this book is a grim reminder of the new hard-edged Logan. It shows what happened to that solider Wolverine tortured and then planted a bug on so he could trail him later.”   Again, indicating some extreme violence rather than showing it.  This isn’t your dad’s Wolverine book, son!

DARK WOLVERINE #75  by Daniel Way & Marjorie Liu, art by Giuseppe Camuncoli

          I made a decision to not get wrapped up in all the Dark Reign titles, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t check out some of them . . . . . nibble at the edges and see what’s good . . . the same way I’ve been nibbling at the Batman: Reborn titles and sampling them.  I didn’t want to like this book.  My limited exposure to Logan’s son Daken (who steals the book from dad with this issue) didn’t impress me and I really didn’t want to like the character.  So I didn’t want to like this book either, but I still wanted to check it out.

          Hmmm, it ‘s kind of interesting.   Oooo, it’s got an edge and a mean-spirited one at that!  Ahhh, I sort of like that.  Daken as portrayed here is a real conniving and manipulative sort of smart ass who also deliberately goads the other members of the Dark Avengers into skirmishes . . . but I can’t help but like him since he’s not going to fall for Norm Osborn’s crap (and that is one character I have never liked before and don’t like now).  Daken’s “got my own plans.”

          In fact, he baits Osborn right on page 2 after he gets asked “Do you know what a hero is?” and daken replies “You mean like Spider-Man?”.  The double-take, grim and frustrated expression on Osborn’s face as he reacts to this comment is priceless.  Daken’s heartless and doesn’t care who gets hurt as he works his plan, including a support staff member who gets caught and punished for stealing files for Daken, as well as an attractive female H.A.M.M.E.R. soldier whose emotions he manipulates to lure her to his bedroom so he can “hammer” her (couldn’t resist that set-up line, sorry).  She’s thinking that she’s sleeping with the famous Wolverine/Logan. 

          Daken baits Venom/Spider-Man and then Bullseye/Hawkeye.  And he’s got his mind set on using Dark Hawkeye for his plan as the story ends with the Fantastic Four interrupting a gala event to make an accusation about him.  As Daken concludes “ . . .as an extremely paranoid man once told me.  It’s all about perception.”  Great stuff, that.

          And somebody (I assume Mr.. Way) made it easy for us to get into this book and catch up to the character’s history, even if we’ve never read a single book featuring Daken before.  The credit page summary does a remarkable job of detailing Daken’s story in a very short space.  The end of this book is a 10-page “Dark Wolverine Saga” that gives a little bit more of the story in chronological order with some great single page artwork.  Very nicely done.  I know I’ll be looking for Issue #2!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cartoon of the Week

From pictures for sad children:


The Philanthropist

Like many of you, I’m a fan of Homicide: Life on the Street, so I checked out writer/director Tom Fontana’s new show on NBC. The Philanthropist (Wednesday nights at 10pm) is about a billionaire playboy who, after living through a hurricane in Nigeria, decides to dedicate his time and money to helping people instead of to making a profit. As a “high concept” that sounds clichéd, but this is Tom Fontana we’re talking about so it’s done with such skill and charm that it’s irresistible. Also they filmed in the actual countries the stories take place in, instead of trying to replicate them in Hollywood, so it looks like nothing else on TV. (And the political realities in these countries, at least in the pilot, are not glossed over.) I’ll be honest – Homicide it ain’t, but it’s well worth your time. The first episode is still available for viewing at NBC.com, and episode two (of eight) airs July 1.

. . . and two if by sea . . .

THE TRIAL OF THOR (Marvel One-Shot) by Peter Milligan and Cary Nord

This was just the right stuff to tide me over until I pick up Thor Volume 2 by JMS. This takes place outside of current Thor continuity, in an untold "Tales Of Asgard" type of story from the past. Despite the title and cover showing a chained and subdued Thor, events never get brought in front of a jury. Thor gets accused of murder after too many reliable eyewitnesses see him savagely killing citizens in a seemingly berserker rage brought on by a lengthy and bloody battle between Asgardian warriors and Frost Giants. The Warriors Three make like detectives and uncover the evidence to prove his innocence.
It's a nice story that we all can predetermine the outcome but it moves along nicely rather than boring us with predictability. Credit Peter Mulligan for the well-crafted pacing. He reveals some of his personal writing style in a few instances with his character treatment. The best reason to pick up this book is the stunning artwork by Cary Nord, ably assisted with beautiful painting-like color art from Christina Strain. It's the good work in color and inking that helps make me forget about the awful art in SECRET INVASION: X-MEN. I forgive you that one, Cary. You are back in fine form.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #30 (Marvel) by Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi

WOW! This is the big payola - - the conclusion of the first story arc by new team Ellis and Bianchi. It was definitely worth waiting for. OUTSTANDING! Turn off your computer now and get thee to a comic store to pick this up! If you are overwhelmed by the glut of X-books available every month and want to follow only one - - then make ASTONISHING X-MEN your choice. It's made me excited about the X-Men again (well, at least excited about this particular title).

Let's compare two X-books. It's been almost a year since new creative teams were introduced to ASTONISHING X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN. Two very good writers = one with years of experience and credentials galore, and one quickly moving into the limelight with some impressive debuts over the past years. Two very good artists = one relatively new and one with an established portfolio. ASTONISHING usually late while UNCANNY usually arrives monthly on time. ASTONISHING consistent in story and art while UNCANNY has highs and lows and is much less uniform. Warren Ellis has been methodically working a single story line, adding layer after layer and building complexity and characterization at the same time. Matt Fraction can't seem to write more than a few pages before changing gears and slowly (oh, so slowly) adding more to a huge handful of story lines, difficult to follow without confusion and enough to make your head swim. There are no lulls or low points in the art of Simone Bianchi. It's so detailed and consistent. Put the ASTONISHING art together with story in a trade edition and everything will just flow and meld together from issue to issue. Greg Land, on the other hand (hey, that rhymes!), who needs assistance from others (or even fill-in artists) will complete some beautiful illustrations one issue (worthy of standing beside his best works at CrossGen) and get sloppy and inconsistent in the next (or sometimes in the same issue). It's worth waiting for ASTONISHING despite the lengthy gaps between issues. I really hope Ellis and Bianchi return for more story arcs; and I hope you support this book.

In ASTONISHING X-MEN #30 the previous situations with artificial mutants, ghost boxes, parallel universes with their own mutant population, and the re-emergence of Forge are all explained fully and resolved (at least for now). Forge reminds me a little of Nick Fury in that he also has been waging his own "secret war" and building/developing his own army. But unlike Nick Fury, who was seen to be mad or misguided by some, Forge appears to be definitely gonzo. Bianchi depicts this perfectly - - just check out the close-up of Forge on page 2 = several days growth of beard, frizzy hair pushed back under a headband, eyebrows arched sky-high, nose flared, head tilted back to reveal an open-mouthed glare with upper incisors exposed, yellow and blood-shot eyes wide open. That picture tells all you need to know. (By the way, I believe and it seems like some of the X-Men believe that Forge is right and the threat is real. But they take action to stop him anyway. That's the difference with these X-Men.) And Ellis adds the ranting dialogue to confirm the suspicions of madness. And after just a few moments in his presence, the X-Men carefully respond by treating him with kid gloves, afraid that he might explode into craziness at any second.

One of the best snappy retorts I've seen in a comic this month is Forge's acknowledgment of the White Queen in the group = "Emma Frost. I didn't recognize you with your legs together." And this is an entirely different X-Men under the hands of Ellis. They're forced to face the biter reality of this new world post-House Of M and it's hardened them and given them determination and resolve. The downside is that they have become single-minded and purposeful in their mission, suddenly free of emotions and memories in their decisions and actions.
It gets pretty grim at the end. As the X-Men are fleeing the site of destruction, Beast tries to make small talk with Cyclops and says . . . "Do you remember when we were kids, Scott? When everyone called you Slim, and everyone called me Hank?" Cyclops replies: "Honestly? Not so much, anymore." (Seem they no longer have time to dwell on pleasantries either.)

Finally, if I haven't convinced you to spend some time with ASTONISHING X-MEN then check out the art. If you're like me there are some books you might buy just for the art regardless of the story. (Recent case in point -- ULTIMATUM. Gorgeous art you could admire over and over but one heck of a mess for a story. What?) Bianchi brings a science-fictional European/Heavy Metal look to the book and it fits perfectly. Beyond the amazing detail in the art there is also much experimentation in the use of angular panels, panel-less art, art over-lapping panels, cutout panels with jagged edges, etc. And it all works to great effect. Maybe the art is the reason for the delay in this book. And I see that Bianchi is involved more in addition to the drawing. The credits page shows that he also worked on the coloring, as well as "ink washes" (a really neat effect).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The wild worlds of Warren Ellis, part 1 . . . . .

ANNA MERCURY  Issues #1-5  (2008, Avatar Press)  by Warren Ellis and Facundo Percio


I’m going to be reviewing some older series or individual books from time to time, beginning here with the first article in a series about Warren Ellis, one of my favorite writers whose work I always find entertaining as well as interesting and provocative.  He rarely disappoints  (well, nobody is perfect, are they?) and never bores me.

Anna Mercury is wrapping up its second series, and both of these are going to be available in trade editions from Avatar Press.  I’ll be ordering Volume 2.

I’m going to summarize the first series here and list the things I like about it, followed by some issue by issue highlights.  If you’re thinking of buying this, then just read the summary so I don’t spoil the fun of discovery for you.   This allows me to share some of my enthusiasm for this series and detail some of the cooler features without ruining the storyline. 

Anna Mercury is a government operative and field agent for a covert British intelligence agency (The Constellation Project).  She is a cross between Marvel’s Black Widow and the fictional secret agent Modesty Blaise (if you are a younger reader and don’t recall Modesty Blaise you didn’t miss it – the stories were just published before your time).  As portrayed by Ellis, she  has a roguish independent streak and a high sense of moral responsibility plus she takes chances and liberties frequently, usually putting herself at fatal risk.   Throughout the issues Ellis satirizes our own modern world, politics and government, fashions and morals using his imaginary London and parallel worlds to reveal his insights to us.  There is much to appreciate here.

The art is breath-taking and full of interesting detail as it reveals the various alternate worlds in which Anna’s missions send her.   As illustrated by Percio she is gorgeous and very well-endowed, nimble and athletic (reminds me of Daredevil the way she uses grappling hooks and cable thin lines to travel across the metropolis skyline)and not afraid to use her big guns (ponder that!).  Percio is equally gifted at using facial expressions and body language to communicate feelings and reponses as well.  The art is worth it all by itself. And the wraparound covers are gorgeous, full of incredible detail and actions.


ISSUE #1:   “The Cutter, Part 1”        Warren Ellis’ skill at imagining  complex alternate worlds and science-fictional themes is well in evidence here as he details yet another creative universe. The opening two-page spread shows New Ataraxia to use both old school dirigibles for sky transport as well as modern monorails for ground traffic. The number of grays clouds arising between the buildings seems to indicate the use of steam-power (this shows up a lot as an energy source in many of Ellis’ worlds) and also magnetism, as we later learn.  New Ataraxia is constantly at war or threat of same with its neighbor Sheol City and will use a devastating new  gun (the Cutter) , firing it from the moon unless Sheol agrees to annex and submit to their law.  Anna has to hitch a ride on the outside of a “lifter” in order to get to the moon.

ISSUE #2:  Anna Mercury gets her energy as well as some “inductive field “ power from home base, where her power levels and field contact have to be constantly monitored from a mission control department back in the U.K.   The subject of the Constellation Project is revealed to a new incoming Prime Minister and we learn from his briefing that there are nine worlds in invisible orbit around Earth, none aware of the other’s existence.  The U.K. station is just one of many, operated by all the G-8 nations.  Anything, including humans, that transfer (by discorporation and then reconstruction at destination) from one of these worlds to Earth or vice versa will boomerang back within 28 hours and suffer from “LOA” (loss of anchor - - clever,that).  However, the launch field varies and between 10-14 hours is more like it.  All operatives have to wear hip sets with indicator lights - - if they go to red, a boomerang is imminent, followed by self-explosion and death.   Time to leave, and quickly.  The member nations of the Constellation Project feel responsibility for maintaining peace on these worlds as well as keeping them secret - - because back in 1943 an American warship was transported to New Ataraxia by accident.  It was surrounded by a huge electromagnetic field and became the foundation for a religious cult.

ISSUE #3:  Anna hitch hikes another ride, this time onto the gun/weapon/missile itself and subverts its directional controls to divert it from its destructive path just as her launch field begins to fluctuate and she is transported back to Earth just in time. There are several pages of flat out action (no dialogue) in last issue and this one that are just great to see and worth your taking a second look to get a firm grasp on everything that occurs.  As Anna uses the locker room to change into her street clothes we learn that her flowing hair comes from a wig, her black leather uniform is augmented with lifts in the shoes and breasts as well (power bra). In reality, she is a short-haired orange-tinted brunette who dresses in long coats and frumpy, loose fitting clothes (real name Anna Louise Britton, Ministry Of Defence  employee).  She heads out into the rainy night of what looks to be modern London as the issue ends.   The scene depicted on the wraparound cover of this issue has absolutely nothing to do with the story, but its indicative of the violent action to be found within the pages (as well as foul language - - this isn't no kiddie book, folks).

ISSUE #4:   Fortunately, last issue Anna diverted the Cutter missile/gun to an barren region between the two cities.  Unfortunately, the Cutter is tough and still armed and pointing in the direction of Sheol, with some of New Ataraxia in the way of its path.  Anna has to launch back there to try to disable or prevent the gun from firing.

ISSUE #5:  When Anna’s on a mission, she’ll let nothing stop her and kill as many soldiers as she has to. As this issue opens, we see that she’s not past using her anchor field to actually blow up everybody around her when seemingly cornered and captured.  Ruthless.  The end result is not without severe consequences.  During the wrap-up on the last page Anna comments to her boss that “I don’t feel like I saved anyone.”  He responds “That’s because you’re crazy . . . Also, because a hundred thousand people still died.  Do better next time.  Your next mission briefing is in twenty-four hours.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/17/09 releases, Conclusion

There’s a metric ton of books coming this week, so let’s get the rest of last week’s books out of the way…

Wolverine Origins 37: I just didn’t buy this – Romulus has supposedly been manipulating Logan’s life for a century, and Logan thinks he can find him by following his henchman? Of course it’s a trap. Aargh. Logan can be manipulated, but he should be way smarter than this.

Power Girl 2: There’s a new contemporary origin of the Ultra-Humanite in this issue. (There’s a reference to PETA, which was founded in 1980.) I’m a little bothered by this, but I guess there’s no real reason to keep him tied to the Golden Age without the GA Superman and I keep saying that I don’t expect companies to always hold to decades-old continuity, so I guess I should practice what I preach. At least he still retains his fetish for putting his brain in women’s bodies, which I always thought was amusing.

Green Arrow/Black Canary 21: Very good. There’s still no “sound” so Andrew Kriesberg tells the story using the characters’ inner monologues, giving him a chance to compare and contrast their points of view and to show how crazy Cupid really is. (“That strikes me as unusually cruel and unusual, Mr. Mixed-Signals!”) My only complaint is that, to me, Mike Norton’s version of Dinah’s face doesn’t look right.

War of Kings: Acension 3: A lot better than last issue, and very material to the main series. (The ending of this issue is the same scene as at the end of War of Kings #4, told from Darkhawk’s point of view.)

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance 4: I still like the ideas, but Joe Casey’s just not making them gel in a way that makes sense to me.

Dark Reign: Mister Negative 1: The opening salvo in a Chinatown gang war between The Hood (hence the “Dark Reign” title) and Mr. Negative. We get to see Mr. Negative’s power for (I think) the first time, and based on the last page this might turn out to be of interest for “Amazing Spider-Man” readers.

War Machine 7: I liked the origin flashbacks, but I’m ready for the present-day Ultimo story to be done. It’s also hard to reconcile the Tony Stark appearance at the end, where he still seems to have a company, with what’s going on in Iron Man. (That’s the kind of continuity issue, between editors that currently work together, that really bugs me – not the ancient stuff.)

Punisher 6: We get the rules for the returning villains, as well as some nicely done scenes between Frank and his new sidekick. Also includes the info pages about the villains that ran on CBR, which have better looking sketches of the characters than what’s in the regular art this issue.

Outsiders 19: I’m confused – I thought the new Outsiders were supposed to be covert, so what are they doing fighting Deathstroke on a crowded street? I did like the leadership argument between Geo-Force and Black Lightning, though.

Dark Reign: Hawkeye 3: More of the same here, as whoever’s messing with Bullseye really ratches up the pressure. (Or maybe it’s his own psychosis – that’s still not clear.)

Dark Reign: Young Avengers 2: The best of the “Dark Reign” minis so far, by miles and miles. I already loved Paul Cornell’s work from “Doctor Who” and “Captain Britain”, but this and his FF miniseries (which I’ll talk about soon – it’s in my pile of read trades) prove that he’s not just good at British characters. The instigator of the “new” Young Avengers is an artist, and her scene with Norman Osborn in this issue works on so many levels that I read it twice. Highly recommended. (Amazon doesn’t have a listing for the trade yet, but I’m sure it’s coming.)

Vigilante 7: I’m not yet convinced that I’m interested, but at least this is finally completely it’s own thing without being involved with Nightwing or the Titans. (It would probably also benefit from not being tied to Adrian Chase at all, but now that it’s been explained hopefully we shall never speak of it again.) Good enough to give a few more issues, partially out of respect for Marv Wolfman’s work.

Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special 1: It’s the Roger Stern trifecta this week, as this is so far my favorite of the anniversary issues. I think it works better than the others because it’s actually a contemporary Cap (Bucky) story with flashbacks to the war. The original stories must have been pretty racist, because Stern explains them away as just “comic books” and the only one reprinted here is a prose story. Also includes a “Terry Vance, The School Boy Sleuth” reprint for no apparent reason.

Incognito 4: On the text page, Brubaker says this is “one of my favorite issues so far in the series, where the knife just keeps twisting.” I can’t say it any better than that. The “Pulp Hero” feature this month is “Operator #5”, who I had never heard of. (Jess Nevins, who does these articles, is working on a book about the pulp heroes – I assume these articles are part of his research.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/17/09 releases, Part 1

I’m a little behind on reading because I spent most of the weekend at Wizard World Philly, but here’s what I’ve gotten to so far.

Batman: Streets of Gotham 1: Continues the trend of the new Bat-titles being better than the intermediate “event”. This actually follows Paul Dini’s Detective run more closely than I expected – Tommy (Hush) Elliot is involved in an interesting supporting role. Dini, like all the other writers, is obviously having fun with Damien as Robin and there’s what I assume is some setup for Sirens of Gotham with a Harley Quinn appearance. The Manhunter feature, like the Blue Beetle feature I forgot to mention last week, is of the same quality and should have the same appeal as the original series. This is a pretty clean starting point for the character, starting with her move to Gotham. I loved that she hadn’t made the connection between Barbara Gordon and Commissioner Gordon, and the scene with her son (“Will I ever see you again?”) was heartbreaking. (I’ve always loved that Kate is not a terrific mom.)

Action Comics Annual 12: The origin of the new Flamebird and Nightwing, who turn out to be linked in ways I didn’t expect. There’s also a religious aspect that’s interesting, as well as some chilling ground-level scenes of the day Brainiac took Kandor. (Also explains how Argo City and Kandor came together, which I don’t think we previously knew.) Great stuff from Greg Rucka and (new?) artist Pere Pérez.

Supergirl 42: Easily the best Superman-related book of the month. I absolutely love that Kara goes immediately to Lois to tell her about the events of last issue, instead of there being a soap opera misunderstanding or keeping a tortured secret or whatever. Sterling Gates deals with the situation head on with everyone behaving plausibly and in character, and Jamal Igle handles the “acting” of the characters superbly. Not to be missed.

X-Men: Legacy 225: A nice epilogue to the Xavier arc, showing both how much he’s changed and how powerful he can be. Ends with a Norman Osborn cameo, leading into the X-Men/Dark Avengers crossover. Switches to starring Rogue with the next issue.

Cable 15: More running around with very little accomplished. This is really at the point where the cards need to be flipped over – it’s time to say once and for all who or what the girl is and what Bishop’s reason for wanting her dead is, so that we can decide for ourselves who’s right.

Brave and the Bold 24: The first meeting of Static and Black Lightning. Matt Wayne does a good job of crafting a story without the usual cliches (they don’t fight) and Howard Porter seems to have improved his art style again. What surprised me is that it’s treated as common knowledge that Jefferson Pierce is Black Lightning. I know that Pierce was Luthor’s Secretary of Education and that he (as a civilian) pretended to be corrupt in order to gather intelligence for the JLA, but I don’t remember his secret identity being revealed. (I wasn’t even clear on whether Luthor knew it.) Does anybody know where this happened, or is it new information here?

Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem 1: Who says this isn’t the (Ultimate) Marvel Age of Awkward Titles? Anyway, this is the first part of the two-part bridge between the old and new Ultimate Spider-Man titles. This should satisfy those who thought the last issue of Ultimate Spider-Man was too much of a downer – Peter is in it (in flashback), and there’s a surprising change of heart from a supporting character that has the potential to affect the dynamic of the new series. Mark Bagley is back for part of this issue – I’m not sure if DC made an exception to his contract, or if it’s inventory material.

Mighty Avengers 26: Between this and the FF miniseries below, I’m warming to the idea of Valeria as a genius. At least it makes her into a character instead of a prop, which has hilarious results with Amadeus Cho here. Proving that he forgets nothing, Dan Slott uses established (but not obscure) facts about Jocasta and Cassie Lang to good effect. I also loved the battle of wits between Reed and Hank, and Hank’s challenge to his team in the last panel is very cleverly aimed at the reader as well.

Dark Reign: Fantastic Four 4: I loved the interaction between Norman Osborn and the Richards kids, and Reed’s conclusion about his role in the Marvel U is consistent (though a little redundant) with the Dwayne McDuffie issues. For some reason I thought this was four issues, but the conclusion is actually next month.

Invincible Iron Man 14: Another excellent chapter of “World’s Most Wanted” (which will be 12 issues total, according to an interview with Matt Fraction I read recently.) I won’t give away the character who asks, but the question is asked of Tony why he doesn’t just kill himself instead of going through this elaborate plan to erase the data. It’s a reasonable question – if the goal is to keep the data away from Osborn, suicide is a surer thing than what Tony’s doing now. He dodges the question (“Not that bad yet”), which makes me wonder if Fraction doesn’t think it’s legitimate or if Tony’s got an endgame in mind that hasn’t been hinted at yet.

Captain Britain and MI13 14: I think there will be some negative response to the way last issue’s cliffhangers were resolved, but I thought it was pretty clever. The plot is getting elaborate, but still easy enough to follow (and exciting) and the last scene syncs up with the last scene in the Annual. (So at least there’s some possibility that Brian and Meggan will meet before the end of the series.)

Captain America 600: The main story is above average, which is saying a lot for Ed Brubaker, mainly because there’s enough room to touch on each of the cast members individually. However, though I respect Marvel’s attempt to make a media event out of this, it doesn’t really warrant it – the idea that it might be possible to save Steve Rogers is only raised on the last page, and we don’t have any idea yet how it will play out in the Reborn series. Also features an excellent story of Steve’s old girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal by classic Cap writer Roger Stern, a great story of the ultimate Cap memorabilia collector by Mark Waid (wait until you see what Steve Rogers’ artwork looks like) and Dale Eaglesham (who’s adapting to Marvel really well), and some reminiscences from Joe Simon about Jack Kirby. Great stuff all, but not really worth newspaper coverage.

Amazing Spider-Man Family 7: Roger Stern (again showing the old guard has still got it) writes an excellent Peter/May story about how she met Ben and their early years raising Peter. I’m not sure how much of it was previously established – there’s a mention of some out-of-date clothing in a photo of May that must have been intended to explain away an old panel -- and how much is new, but I was really entertained by it. Also includes the usual Spider-Girl chapter, and a revival of Fred Hembeck’s “Li’l Petey” strip which is cute, but a little too long. (Though I am a huge Hembeck fan and am thrilled to have him back.)

More tomorrow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blog Post of the Week

Hey, it’s a new feature that I just made up and will probably forget about by next week! This week’s winner is Shaenon's Half-Assed Guide to Comic Book Message Boards. Favorite quote: “Also, flamewars are rare on the Byrne board, for much the same reason that heated political debates are rare in North Korea.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wizard World Philly Open Topic

Since there aren’t a lot of people signed up to initiate blog postings, I thought I’d set up a post where anyone who has any Wizard World Philly stories or observations they want to tell can do so in the comments section below.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Of Mignola and Moore . . . . .

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING trade paperback (Dark Horse, October 2008) by Mike Mignola and  Jason Shawn Alexander

If you enjoy reading tales that remind you of the works of H. P. Lovecraft and evoke the same kind of dark discomfit then you will also enjoy this storyline.

Of all the characters in Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D., Abe Sapien was the most interesting one.  THE DROWNING reprints  the five-issue mini-series that chronicles his first solo adventure back in the early 1980’s.

One hundred years earlier, a two-gun wielding paranormal investigator named Edward Grey uses a flying dirigible to sneak up and land on a ghostly ship taken over by a warlock and his demon minions.  Grey kills the demons and plunges a  Lipu dagger (crafted by monks and possessing special demon-killing properties) into the catatonic body of the warlock that the demons were apparently beginning to revive. In the process the ship runs aground and sinks to the bottom along with the drowning Grey. (We later learn that he survived,)  It’s an ominous and perfectly depicted 10-page opener that sets the stage and tone for the story to follow. Despite the absence of any dialogue (just short captions and a quote from an old English sea poem) this introduction to Edward Grey makes me sorry to see him go. Maybe Mignola will bring him back for another story.  I’d welcome seeing his long-haired, bearded grim countenance and equally grim determination/purpose again.

In the absence of Hellboy, Abe Sapien is given his first solo assignment to dive and recover the abe sapiendagger as well as any bodily remains of the warlock.  Abe is self-conscious, unsure of himself, and more of an observer/bystander until events force him to take action  - ironically because his presence acts as a catalyst for the coming disaster.  Mignola crafts an absorbing tale, intriguing as always when it comes to B.P.R. D.  - - somehow I find these stories more serious and dark versus the Hellboy stories.  The art by Jason Shawn Alexander is spot-on and similar to Mignola except that it enhances his style rather than mimic it.  The use of shadows and mist is particularly effective, as are the colors by Dave Stewart.   It’s a creepy story that involves an old fisherman's’ town , a castle that sits on the site of a former massacre and leper colony, some Lovecraftian offspring, a witch/sorceress and her obedient spawn, and the aforementioned demons who seek to resurrect not the warlock, but the ancient spirit/devil that inhabits his flesh.  What more could you ask for?

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN . . . CENTURY:1910 . . . BOOK ONE  (Top Shelf, June 2009) by Allan Moore and Kevin O’Neil:

I never read TLOEG: BLACK DOSSIER based on the advice of a highly trusted source who told me it was extremely disappointing.  Later I heard rumors that there were some troubles with DC and the way they handled the book, with Alan Moore ending his association with them.  So this latest installment (promiseleague_iii_century_1910_coverd as the third and concluding chapter in the LOEG trilogy) is published and distributed in the U.S. by Top Shelf Comix, an imprint that I plan to explore further (www.topshelfcomix.com).

This is going to become one of my favorite books of the summer of  2009. I can’t see much else topping it for quality, literary merit, creativity and just plain entertainment.  I was fascinated by the world of TLOEG as envisioned by Moore and O’Neil and thoroughly enjoyed reading this, one of 3 chapters of CENTURY,  a promised  216- page epic that will not see it’s final chapter until 2011.

The trilogy will span 100 years, beginning with events in Book One occurring in 1910 London.  Book Two takes place in 1969 (and the pulp-styled text fiction in the back of the book providemoore-ica-may09-pic_6s clues and hints as to what may come); and Book Three brings it into the modern world of 2008-2009.  I love the way that Moore utilizes secondary characters from classic literature and the skill with which he incorporates them into his story, adding to their character and making them his own.  Some familiar faces are back here = Allan Quatermain, Mina Murray, and Orlando (the gender-switching immortal who apparently shared the method of gaining eternal life with both Quatermain and Murray during the events of BLACK DOSSIER); as well as some new additions – the psychic detective Carnacki, the suave thief Raffles and villain occultist Oliver Haddo (as per Somerset Maugham).    Events in CENTURY:1910 revolve around the dying Captain Nemo who wants to pass his legacy/possessions/navy onto daughter Jenny, who would rather run away until trouble makes her “call io'neill-ica-london-may09-pic_1n the navy” for help (she actually becomes more ruthless and pirate-like than her father and is responsible for the slaughter that ends the book).   Jack The Ripper returns to London after a hiatus and the bloody murders begin anew.   Haddo’s cult is hard at work setting the stage for the ascension of the “moon  child” (and I expect this to crop up in all it’s finalized forms in the next book).  Carnacki has troubling nightmares that hint at all these things and the League sets out to investigate.  They are actually helpless to prevent anything from occurring and end up being witness mostly.  In spite of that, Moore spices up the detective work with snappy exchanges between the characters and personal insights into all of them. All is not well in League-land, whose members now seem to defer (some reluctantly) to Mina for direction.

   There is an obvious chemistry between Moore and League mainstay artist Kevin O’Neil that works so well here.  There is more to be seen in the backgrounds of O’Neil’s depictions that enhance the story and add to the enjoyment. I won’t spoil it for you by pointing any of that out so you can discover it for yourself.  If that wasn’t enough to make this an interesting book, there’s an operatic element running throughout it that reminds of the amazing way that Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd movie meshed classic musical structures with a grim and dark tale of murderous revenge. One of the minor characters here is the proprietress of the seedy Cuttlefish Hotel (as well as ale house and whore house), who relates many of the events she witnesses in a sing-song fashion (complete with notes) in the same manner as many a narrator of musicals/operas. in Moore’s nod/tribute to The Three-Penny Opera. Jack the Ripper also likes to sing about his deeds and intentions. I tried following along to the tune of “Mack The Knife” and it works in some places but not in all of them. An absolute delight, worthy of many a re-reading. A real keeper and highly recommended to you.

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/10/09 releases, Conclusion

Irredeemable 3: I accidentally left this out last week. The opening bedroom scene is disturbing enough to make me worry about Mark Waid a little, and then in the rest of the story we meet some of the “villains” for the first time. At the rate the main character is killing the other characters in this book, I wonder how long it’s sustainable but it’s still very good so far.

Flash: Rebirth 3: Lots of great scenes leading up to the (not surprising in retrospect) villain reveal. I loved Bart’s first meeting with Barry, the “race” with Superman that had a purpose for once, and even the explanation of why Barry used to wear bow ties. Ethan Van Sciver goes above and beyond – the speed force scenes at the end look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. My ultimate opinion of this series is going to depend a lot on the ending, but so far I’m still liking it a lot.

Green Lantern Corps 37: Shaping up nicely to be a major part of the “Blackest Night” saga instead of just “the book where other stuff happens”. There’s a sacrifice at the beginning that readers of Legion of Three Worlds will know is a fake-out, and the ending is pretty major. I was surprised to see that Scar, the Guardian of the Black Lanterns, actually lives under the surface of Oa. I’m not sure if that was new information, or if I just didn’t realize it before.

Titans 14: This feels like someone’s sequel to the recent Cyborg miniseries, but all crammed into one issue. The ending is somewhat unclear, but it seems that they may have written Cyborg out for now. If so, it would be odd timing considering that for the foreseeable future Nightwing is going to be off being Batman and Wally is going to be off wherever he winds up at the end of Flash: Rebirth.

Uncanny X-Men 511: Fraction obviously thinks the girl-on-girl fights are cleverer than I do, but there are some good scenes. I like the conflict between Logan and Scott, it’s nice that Psylocke is back, and I love that Hank knows that Scott and Emma are keeping secrets and plans to expose them. (Leading to the Dark Avengers crossover, presumably.) Favorite caption of the issue: “Ali Blaire – Dazzler. Transforms sound into light. Seven top-forty hits. Really wants to direct.”

War of Kings: Savage World of Skaar One-Shot 1: (Yes, it’s actually called “One-Shot #1”.) A good, but not essential, “Enemy Mine” riff where a Kree (Gorgon) and a Shi’ar (Starbolt) accidentally get trapped on Sakaar (while Skaar is still there) and have to work together to survive. Ends with both sides in the war vowing to possess the power of planet Sakaar, which doesn’t make sense considering its current status.

Amazing Spider-Man 597: Peter’s plan to infiltrate the Dark Avengers goes horribly wrong. It’s in character for him to be in this mess, because he was driven by (misplaced) guilt, but it would have been nice to have seen him think it through just a little more because his plan didn’t really have much chance of working.

JSA Vs. Kobra 1: This is kind of the spiritual successor to the recent Checkmate series, as the JSA gets involved with Kobra because of Mr. Terrific’s connection to Checkmate. Kobra’s actually using suicide bombers now, which I have to admit is something I never thought I’d see in a DC comic.

Booster Gold 21: I’m not sure how thrilled I am about Booster extending his honest relationship with Batman to include Dick-as-Batman instead of just Bruce, but at least the ongoing story arc seems to be moving again.

Deadpool 11: I get that this book is supposed to be funny, of course, and I laughed a lot at this issue. I’m just having trouble with the “serious” Marvel U events bleeding in. In Dark Avengers and Dark Reign: Hawkeye we have scary killer Bullseye and here he’s more like a cartoon character, which doesn’t work for me that well. Thinking about it some more, it’s not so much that I don’t think this book should be lampooning current events – I didn’t have a problem with Deadpool goofing on Skrulls during “Secret Invasion”, for example -- it’s just that “Dark Reign” depends on a delicate tone of paranoia that I don’t think should be punctured.

Sherlock Holmes 2: It’s a nice idea to spend the time while Holmes is in jail getting to know the supporting cast, it’s just a shame that they’re all bloody useless.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jeff’s Comic Reviews, 6/10/09 releases, Part 1

Red Robin 1: I’m not going to be coy here, because there aren’t any other viable candidates – it’s Tim Drake in the costume. (Though he’s going by Tim Wayne now.) The explanation for his more brutal behavior here is logical, but I’m not sure I agree that Tim would behave this way under any circumstance. The flashback scenes between Dick, Tim and Damien are worth the price of admission – Chris Yost’s dialogue for Damien is as good as Grant Morrison’s.

Batman 687: I know not all of you like Judd Winick’s work, and it may turn out eventually that don’t like this book, but I think this issue is worth buying anyway. This is basically the material that should have come before the end of Battle For The Cowl #3, and it’s well done. (Superman to Alfred: “Are you all right?” Alfred: “Am I all right? No, sir. I am not. My son has died.”) In fact, I would go as far as to say if you haven’t read Battle For The Cowl yet you might as well skip it and read this issue, Red Robin #1, and Batman & Robin #1 (in that order) instead. There’s nothing in the miniseries you need to know that isn’t done better in those three issues, except that there’s a new Black Mask. (That’s not a dig at Tony Daniels, who did the job he was hired to do well – I consider it an editorial planning failure.)

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape 2: This has become annoying. I have no problem with surrealism, or with stories that require some work to figure out, but there has to be some basis in the story to speculate on (like all the theories about what’s happening on “Lost”, for instance.) There’s nothing to grab onto here – it’s just one odd event after another with no way of figuring out what’s real and what’s in Nemesis’ head.

Wolverine 74: Nothing terrible here, but I wasn’t really satisfied by the end of either story. I stopped caring about what happened to the bikers, and I don’t think the (admittedly clever) explanation in the other story works because Wolverine was already appearing everywhere (including New Avengers) before House of M.

REBELS 5: Kind of plot heavy which I guess is necessary at this point in the story, but it doesn’t play to the strength of this book which is Dox’s obnoxious personality and manipulation of the other characters. On the plus side, Tony Bedard does a good job of using an established DC space villain in a new way that doesn’t require the reader to be familiar with past appearances.

Miss America 70th Anniversary Special 1: The idea is good – girl reporter infiltrates girl factory workers to look for saboteurs – but they lost me when the Nazi chicks with the lame code names (“Axis Annie”, “Fraulein Fatale”, etc.) showed up. Also, they couldn’t decide whether Miss America was supposed to be wearing glasses in her civilian identity or in her secret identity. (I’m pretty sure she’s supposed to be wearing glasses as Miss America, but not as herself.)

X-Factor 44: Interesting progress in both time zones, with a twist in the present day that I suspected a little bit but still didn’t 100% see coming. Oddly, the cliffhanger from the end of last issue is not followed up on at all, not even on the recap page. (That is to say that those characters don’t appear in this issue, not that the story pretends anything didn’t happen.)

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter 1: I liked seeing Thor and Bill together, the Agent Brand scene was fun, and though I doubt Bill will be able to defeat Galactus at least his method of trying is new and interesting.

Fantastic Four 567: I just am not as impressed by the badassness of Doom’s Master as Millar wants me to be. He does have a point about Doom being a failure because the FF are still around, but that seems to me like one of those story conceits that shouldn’t be examined too closely. Beautiful work by Bryan Hitch, though.

Buck Rogers 1: I want to like this, because I like Stuart Moore’s work and I thought the zero issue was good, but the talking, gun toting, cyborg bear is a little much for me.

Action Comics 878: Good, but it’s one of those “middle chapter” issues that I always have trouble finding something to say about. I love all the characterizations here, including General Lane, who is chilling.

That’s all I have time for today – I’ll finish tomorrow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jeff’s June Book Reviews, Part 1

X-Men: Magneto Testament HC: Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is labeled an X-Men story; it’s actually a historically accurate story of a Jewish boy in Germany from 1935 to 1945. Yes, it is technically the boy that grows up to be Magneto, but this is not a superhero story – there are a couple of scenes that can be interpreted as Max (as he’s called here) using his powers, but they support a mundane interpretation too. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before if you have read Holocaust literature, but it’s very well written and drawn and if the title gets young people to read this serious work then I’m all for it.


Cloak & Dagger: Child of Darkness, Child of Light HC: This is the original Cloak & Dagger miniseries from 1983 in a nice new hardcover collection, and it holds up really well. The coloring is a little garish, and the writing a touch melodramatic by today’s standards but it’s still really moody and interesting and rereading this material made me wish someone would come up with something contemporary to do with these characters.

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G-Man: Learning to Fly Digest: This is the successor to Chris Giarrusso’s “Mini-Marvels” comic strip (of which there will be no more, apparently). I loved the “Mini-Marvels” stuff, but I actually like this better. It’s got a dry sense of humor that I really like, the cartooning just bursts off the page, and some of the single page strips have a “Peanuts”-like feel. As an old dude (so I’m told), I wish this was printed in a larger format but if this is what the kids are buying then so be it.


Superman: New Krypton Volume 1 HC: I’ve written about most of these individual issues before, but I liked the Jimmy Olsen and Guardian specials even better on a second reading, and the issue with the Kent funeral made me a little sad that there hasn’t been any more followup on that lately.


Spider-Man: Death and Dying HC: These issues are about the point at which I realized I was really looking forward to “Amazing Spider-Man” (almost) every week. The stories here include Mark Waid’s first, featuring the introduction of J. Jonah Jameson Sr., and probably his most read (or at least most purchased) story ever from the Obama issue. (Although the Obama story is not reproduced here – I think there’s a separate book coming with that and some Presidential material done for Marvel Digital Comics.) Also here is the resolution of the Jackpot story, and the explanation of Harry Osborn’s reappearance (which has nothing to do with Mephisto.) A good starting point for anyone who’s interested in the new Spider-Man stuff but was put off by the initial issues.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Shane finally reads Dark Reign!

So I made a friend.

Crazy, right?


Anyway.  This friend has all sorts of Marvel comics.  Which is good, because I don't buy Marvel anymore.  I buy DC, he buys Marvel.  Now we share!  It is good.

So I took awhile and finally caught up with most of what the Marvel universe is doing right now--basically, Dark Reign and such.

My assorted thoughts are as follows.

New Avengers and Dark Avengers, while ostensibly the line's flagship titles, don't really appeal to me.  Not because I'm not interested in what's going on--because I am--but they seem to be only dealing with what other titles have already covered.  And the other titles do it better.  Still, they're interesting talking-head pieces, I guess, to introduce us to the characters and figure out what's going on, but I feel like I could skip these without any worry whatsoever.

Mighty Avengers, despite not catching me at all with the first Dan Slott issue, really grabbed me.  It's now my favorite Avengers book--as Jeff described it at one point, it's the "Avenger-y Avengers".  A lot of fun, and just...good.  Which surprised me, because I've never been a huge fan of Dan Slott.  (The final Avengers title, Avengers: Initiative, did not interest me at all, but I'm willing to give the new direction a try, since, you know, I'm not exactly paying for it).

Ms. Marvel is a great book.  I was really skeptical when Moonstone took over, but the first issue she starred in was really, really good.  This may be my favorite Dark Reign title right now.

Maybe I'm missing something, but Agents of Atlas just...hasn't done it for me at all.  There are a few interesting pieces here and there, but mostly I found myself just glazing over it.

War Machine's not a bad book, and the upcoming storyline seems really interesting, but it certainly isn't essential reading by any means.

Thunderbolts has not impressed me.  Deadpool is amazing, and easily carried that crossover between the two of them.

Wolverine Origins really surprised me with this most recent story arc, and I'm now really optimistic for Dark Wolverine, whereas before I was incredibly bored by Origins.  I hope that the new, higher quality sticks.  I love the fact that Daken is thrust into the spotlight, despite obviously not being ready for it--and he's taking it all in stride.

Invincible Iron Man is another one of my favorite Dark Reign titles.  It has absolutely everything I want from an Iron Man book, and I can't wait for more chapters to come in.  Which is crazy because I have never been a fan of Iron Man.  Buy this book.  The art is gorgeous, as well, and it actually feels like an important book, too.

Secret Warriors is decent, but the first issue seemed to promise more than the title has since been delivering.  I expected this book to be seriously important, but now it just feels like another irrelevant side-title.

Black Panther is decent, but just sort of there.  I'm hoping that the new writer takes it in a new direction, because while the Africa focus is interesting, the book hasn't exactly been successful lately.  Marvel's strength right now (at least to me) seems to be that all of the books tie into the big picture (and the few that don't excel on their own).  Black Panther doesn't really fit into either criteria.

Punisher?  I have never cared for the Punisher.  Ever.  No interest at all.  So when I say that I can't wait for the next issues of this new series, I think that's saying something.  Rick Remember has earned his place in the "Write Stuff" with this series.

From there, the assorted minis.  Dark Reign: Elektra is one of the better ones, and New Avengers: The Reunion is probably my favorite.  Dark Reign: Fantastic Four shows promise, but it's not quite "there" yet.  Skrull Kill Krew is a lot of fun.  The rest are decent, but I don't see the point (like Dark Reign: Hawkeye, for instance).

I'm not all the way caught up--the last two issues I read were Invincible Iron Man 13 and New Avengers: The Reunion 3, so I'm just around there.  But in all honesty, I'm liking what I'm seeing.  I think that the Dark Reign concept is providing for some very interesting stories.  I'm not sold on the quality of all of the books yet, and overall I'm much happier giving DC my money (I think that I'm far more likely to reread the books DC is putting out), but Marvel does have plenty of interesting "What's going to happen next?" moments.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Jeff’s Reviews, Week of 6/3/2009

Potter’s Field HC: Thanks to the folks at BeaucoupKevin(dot)com, I received a signed copy of this in the mail last week. (Which was nice because, among other reasons, it seems that Amazon doesn’t get Boom Studios’ collected editions until weeks after comic shops.) One of the things that’s great about Mark Waid is that just when you think you’ve seen all his tricks, he comes up with something new. This is a great crime thriller in the Greg Rucka (who writes the introduction) and Ed Brubaker vein.

Dark Avengers 5: What’s so disturbing about Norman Osborn’s media interview here, as Moonstone says selling “the fact that he put together a team of psychotic criminals and murderers and calls them Avengers”, is that it would absolutely work. (“When I was at my worst, I used to pray to God he would let me have this second chance. And look. Look where He put me.”) Also some interesting subplots with Marvel Boy (who has been lied to) and Ares (whose son is over in Secret Warriors).

Amazing Spider-Man 596: Still great, but I was disappointed that Phil Jimenez did not draw this issue. Joe Kelly is exploring an interesting aspect of Peter Parker here – he accepts responsibility (or feels guilt) for so much that he can’t let other people in his life handle their own problems. Everyone he knows tells Peter to stay out of the relationship between Harry and Norman Osborn, but he can’t do it and I think that’s going to screw up whatever plan Harry has to take Norman down.

War of Kings 4: There’s a somewhat major death at the end of this, and that person dies in the arms of the defector from last issue which makes me wonder what that person is going to do next. (Is that vague enough?)

Warlord 3: I’m done. I was bored by this again, and again I don’t remember any of it. It’s possible it’s just me, because I’m not a huge sword-and-sorcery fan, but I don’t think so. (I’m not that interested in the Conan stuff either, but I can tell it’s good.)

Ultimate Spider-Man 133: Last issue of the series – it starts over with #1 after “Ultimatum”. There were a lot of negative reactions to this on the Internet – it’s a silent issue and it ends on a huge downer. I think they have a point, but I wasn’t as bothered by it because it’s not really the end of the series and, as I often say, Bendis has earned a lot of trust. (People were also bothered by the $3.99 price tag.) It’s hard to imagine how this book will be the same in the post-Ultimatum world but I have to think that Bendis would have quit if he didn’t think he could make it work. Props to Stuart Immonen for pulling off a completely silent issue, which is not easy.

Secret Six 10: A chilling ending that reminds us of who these people really are, even though we are sometimes sympathetic to them.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run 2: I was as disgusted by the first half of this as I was by issue #1, but I was into it after General Immortus and his wacky villains showed up (“Why, I’m the Condiment King and I’m soy glad to meet you!”), so the jury is still out.

Ultimatum 4: The swath of destruction they’re cutting through the characters here makes me wonder if there will be some kind of reset at the end. The Nick Fury/Doom/Zarda scenes confused me because I couldn’t remember who’s supposed to be living in which universe at this point. Hopefully #5 will ship soon, so we can get on with whatever’s next.

Skaar 11: I guess the answer to my question about Planet Skaar Prologue is that there isn’t a Planet Skaar miniseries, it’s just happening in this book. So far so good, as we get to spend some time with Skaar’s alter ego and, as always, he surprises us with how ruthless he really is. Next: Hulk vs. Skaar!

Agents of Atlas 6: Ends kind of abruptly, but otherwise an interesting exploration of the Namor/Namora relationship and of what happened to the Atlanteans after “Secret Invasion”.

Black Panther 4: Storm fans will be interested in this and the next issue because there might be a significant change in her status. As far as T’Challa’s sister goes, it seems like we spent an issue and a half to get her back to the point she started at.

Mighty Avengers 25: I wonder if this was originally planned as a double-size issue, since it seems to stop in the middle of the story. There’s some really terrific Hank Pym vs. Reed Richards dialogue here, and they both have a point. (Reed: “And in the past, when you’ve been unstable, you’ve altered your own bio-chemisty, you’ve built killer robots.” Hank: “I’m not the one who handed the Skrulls everything they needed to infiltrate us. I’m not the one who built the clone-cyborg hybrid that murdered Bill Foster.”)

Strange Adventures 4: I really want to like this, but there’s no heart in it – it’s just a bunch of plot robots running around doing whatever the story requires. The backup story is a completely generic Lady Styx origin that should have either been left untold or been told by one of the 52 writers that created her.

Exiles 3: There’s an interesting not-yet-explained twist to the concept going on here, where the team seems to have actually made the world they visited worse before being shunted on to the next one. I’m not fully hooked yet, but Jeff Parker is another writer who has earned trust from me.

Jonah Hex 44: Part 1 of a six-part epic that looks like it probably will include a lot of the DC western characters (Bat Lash is in this issue.) I prefer the one-offs in this title, so I probably will wait for the trade to read the rest of this.

The Mighty 5: Getting creepier fast, as it seems that Alpha One’s mysterious behavior is getting close to being uncovered by his second-in-command. I’m not sure why co-creator Peter Snejbjerg didn’t do the art, but Chris Samnee was a good substitute.

Superman: World of New Krypton 4: I love the Gary Frank cover, but it’s misleading – the conflict here is between the Green Lanterns and the New Krypton military, but not between Hal Jordan and Kal-El. Kal averts more of Zod’s brutality, but it may cost him as it seems that the New Kryptonians equate insubordination with treason.

Captain Britain and MI13 Annual 1: I was never a Meggan fan, but Paul Cornell makes here interesting here, gives her a new code name, and integrates her into the story in the main title. The backup, about Brian’s feelings for Meggan, is OK but is hampered by a cricket game that confused me and art where I had trouble telling the (civilian dressed) characters apart.

New Avengers: The Reunion 4: The major revelations were all last issue – this issue is focused on wrapping up the plot and with finding a new way for Bobbi and Clint to relate to each other. I enjoyed it, and would buy an ongoing series.

New Mutants 2: A little confusing, with lots of characters jumping around to different bodies, and it’s a little unbelievable that the team just happened to stumble on to one of their enemies, but still good. How I judge this pretty much depends on how the story ends (next issue?)

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three 2: Surprisingly, this was more about what was going on in Astro City in 1982 than about the two brothers but that stuff is always interesting too.