Thursday, July 28, 2005

What I bought - 27 July 2005

Hey. I have comics over here. Don't be afraid ...

Astro City: The Dark Age #2 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

I happen to like Astro City, although I'm sure there are people who don't. It has a thing going on, though, that I'm going to examine in today's purchases. That theme is: continuity and building a story.

Ah, the dreaded continuity. The thing about Astro City is that it's Busiek (and, to a certain degree, Anderson's) baby, and so therefore, he knows everything about it. This can be daunting to people who are just trying to get into it, since there's something like 35 issues of back story (and pretty dense back story at that) to consider, but Busiek is such a good writer that you only notice his working with continuity if you actually have read the previous issues. If you haven't, it doesn't matter. Busiek's epic has been building to this point, and unlike another epic, Rising Stars, it is focused on telling the story through its characters, something JMS's story got away from a little during its long hiatus. Busiek packs this issue with exposition as well as action, something he's quite good at, and as a long-time reader, I appreciate stuff like the invasion of Tyranos Rex, even though a new reader won't and more importantly, won't need to.

Anyway, the saga of Royal and Charles takes a dark turn, as the Blue Knight shows up and kills people. A mystery about their childhood is revealed, but it just leads to more mysteries. Busiek knows how to build a story and keep us wanting more. That's why this is a cool book.

Batman: Dark Detective #6 by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin
$2.99, DC

Remember that Seinfeld episode in which George looks like that guy Neil who somehow managed to get a gorgeous girl? And then George manages to get the girl until the end, when Neil gets horribly scalded at the crepe restaurant by a poorly-rolled crepe and the girl dumps George to nurse Neil back to health? Englehart must have seen that one too.

And Batman pimps out Silver! Go Bruce!

Okay, this wasn't awful. But it wasn't that good, either. It was six issues that could have been three, tops. It featured a devilish Joker house that might have been cool if we hadn't spent so much time getting to it. It had cool sound effects. It had thought balloons. Ultimately, though, it was a disappointment. If you don't have the comics from the 1970s that these gentlemen collaborated on, trust me - they're MUCH better than this. Seriously.

Beowulf #3 by Brian Augustyn and Dub
$2.99, Speakeasy

Speakeasy is taking over independent comics, aren't they? Wild.

You know what? Every once in a while big-ass fight scenes are what you need, and that's pretty much what we get here. Some dragon (the Wyrm! the Wyrm!) shows up in the New York subway system (actually, it's transported there by an evil woman - crazy dames!) and Beowulf goes and fights it. Okay, there are a few scenes with the superpowered girl from last issue, and Nicole Conrad finds out about Beowulf, but basically, it's Beowulf fighting a big-ass dragon. And that's cool.

I don't know what's going on with this series, since both writer and artist have been kicked off (or quit), but it's pretty good, and when you have guys with swords stabbing dragons in the heart, you just have to say ... groovy.

Catwoman #45 by Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods
$2.50, DC

Another instance of building a story nicely. We get a little more information than we got last issue, and although we're in the middle of a story arc and therefore have the obligatory "cliff-hanger" ending, enough happens in this issue to keep us interested. I still think Hush is incredibly stupid, but it's not a bad use of him. The art continues to dazzle. The biggest problem I have with it is the ending - does Hush really think that Batman will ignore the East End once all those supervillains hit the scene? It seems a bit of a stretch. Maybe he will - I don't know. After two issues, I like what I see from this creative team.

Gødland #1 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli
$2.99, Image

Ooh, it's a Kirby comic! What a rip-off!

Go screw, all you people. Did anyone complain when Ken Steacy ripped off Kirby for that issue of Doom Patrol? Did anyone complain when Morrison stole the whole story? No. If you're going to rip anyone off, why the hell not Kirby? And if you're going to complain about comics not being fun anymore, then why the hell are you not buying this? The final page feature Basil Cronus, who has a skull floating in a jar where his head should be! And there are thought balloons!

Actually, this is a fun comic. I wasn't sure if I'd like it, but it's fun. It features a big-ass fight at the Great Wall of China PLUS most of an origin tale PLUS an interlude with a superhero being tortured by a supervillainess. Phew! Yes, it rips off old comics, but so what? What doesn't these days? The point is - Casey is a writer we should trust. Yes, he gave us some godawful X-Men comic books. But he also gave us Wildcats Versions 2.0 and 3.0, Automatic Kafka, and The Intimates. This is pure fun, and I dig it.

GrimJack: Killer Instinct #6 by John Ostrander and Timothy Truman
$3.99, IDW

Ah, the final issue. If you haven't been buying this, I can't help you. Especially if you're not planning on buying the trade - then you might be beyond help. The first 16 pages of this issue are pretty much all fighting, as the shit hits the fan and Gaunt, as usual, needs to clean it off. There's a nice two-page interlude where he deals with Simone, the head vampire, in a particularly nasty way, and then it's back to the killing. Ostrander, another wildly good writer at building a story and keeping continuity tight and plausible, makes everything fit together and leads back to the main series. Without making John less of a bastard, he shows that he has a heart and knows what is right in the world. Whereas someone like, say, Bendis would make John give a big speech about what is right, Ostrander limits Gaunt's thoughts about Jo Chaney to three sentences that sums up why he's a big ol' softie at heart (okay, not really, but sort of) and how horrible he feels about letting her down. Then he's back to bastard mode.

Best mini-series of the year so far. Buy the trade.

Hero Squared #1 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Joe Abraham
$3.99, Boom! Studios

I could just rerun my quick review of Defenders #1 from last week, since it's the same writers. But I won't. You may be getting tired of the Giffen/DeMatteis schtick. Why you would get tired of their schtick and not the Morrison schtick or the Ellis schtick or the Bendis schtick or the Ennis schtick is beyond me (I just like typing "schtick"). The point is, yes, they have honed their craft to the point where they could probably write this in their sleep, but so what? No one gets bent out of shape when Ellis writes another British bastard who curses and drinks but has a soft spot for the ladies! And the neat thing about this book, as opposed to their work for DC or Marvel is that the possibility exists that things will not work out, because it's their creation. In this issue, there's the hint of darkness that always made their best Justice League stuff some of the best comics of their time. Captain Valor did something awful to Stephie in his world that made her a supervillainess, but he's not telling. Stephie in this world is obviously madly in love with Milo, but she is hiding something from him. Captain Valor doesn't know how to live like a normal person because he isn't one, while Milo doesn't know how to be heroic because he isn't one. Character studies were always the strong suit of the old Justice League, and Giffen and DeMatteis are presenting us with four fairly flawed people (in their own ways) and letting the chips fall. Of course the humor is there, but it's tinged slightly with desperation (not on the creators' part, on the characters' part) because they're all in situations that are completely new to them. The second issue (really the third, since a "preview" came out months ago) might never materialize, since this one took forever, but this is a neat little series. 4 bucks every month is a little steep, but the infrequency with which this appears makes it worth it.

JLA: Classified #10 by Warren Ellis and Jackson Guice (I refuse to call him "Butch")
$2.99, DC

Is Luthor still president in the DCU? If not, then this tale really is dated. I know this is a couple of years old, but as anything with über-writer Ellis, it feels pretty fresh. Shit happens. I never said Ellis was bad at hooking the audience. We'll see if this story justifies (sigh) six issues.

I have a couple of complaints, or rather, questions. Does Perry White really talk like that? Here's some sample dialogue: "Lane. Kent. I am your editor. Prepare to die." "In fact, I intend to kill you myself after I have drunk your blood." "Then get him out of the bar! Use weapons! Use explosives! I don't care!" This sounds like J. Jonah Jameson on speed, but as I don't read Superman comic books, is this how White talks? Or is this Ellis trying to make him cool? It was really jarring.

And also, for my married readers, do married people really banter like Clark and Lois? I have been married almost 11 years, and I love my wife, and we banter a lot, but this seemed strange, like Lois and Clark were just beginning to date. My wife and I usually banter about how stupid I am. Believe me, there are plenty of opportunities. So what's the deal, married people?

Anyway, it's pretty. And Ellis-cool. Yes, I'll be back. Stamp "Ellis whore" to my forehead.

Silent Dragon #1 by Andy Diggle and Leinil Francis Yu
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Holy Mother of Crap, this is a beautiful book. Yu has gotten a lot better over the years, and this simply stunning. The Japanese landscapes are exquisite, the people are nicely differentiated, the final page is brutal and beautiful at the same time, and the big dude on page 5 is breathtaking. Amazing.

The story is pretty cool, too. Renjiro is an enforcer for a Yakuza clan in 2062. This clan plans to unite with two other clans to take Japan back to the glory of the samurai days. Lord Hideaki, the leader of the clan, has a hot wife, Lady Takara. She digs Renjiro. Oh, it's all very dramatic. She plans to poison her husband because, well, he's a jerk. It all goes horribly wrong (of course), and Renjiro is blamed for the crime of poisoning the other two clan leaders. So he's beheaded. Whoops! Why does he appear at the beginning of the book, a year later, to meet up with Takara? Why, we don't know, do we?

This is really a neat book. Diggle structures it well, with the scene at the beginning, then the flashback, and the final page, which shows Renjiro's headless corpse. This isn't how every comic book should be structured, but it works well here. Get 'em hooked, and then tell the backstory! But don't drag it out! How hard is that?

Western Tales of Terror #5 by Various Creators
$3.50, Hoarse and Buggy Productions

Guy has been pimping this anthology for a while, so I bought the latest issue. Turns out it's the last one. Speakeasy is also taking over Hoarse and Buggy. What the hell?

Anyway, it's an anthology. That means the stories are short and rest solely on the hook. If you don't like the hook, you probably won't like the story. Luckily, most of the stories contained within are good. Tom Mandrake writes and draws a creepy tale about a crazy old woman (I LOVE Mandrake's art); Joseph Gauthier writes about what happens when people start listening to the wind, with R.H. Aidley supplying Barry Windsor-Smith-esque art; Jason Rand and Juan Ferreyra, the creative team behind Small Gods (just go buy it!), tell a rather predictable tale about, well, chili; Jason Rodriguez and Marco Magallanes contribute a story that confused me (did the guy kill the other guy? help me out here!); Matty Field, Tony Moore, and Nate Bellegarde show what happens when you play poker with the wrong people; Steve Niles and Scott Miles bring us a goofy tale about zombies; and Joshua Hale Fialkov and Mark Dos Santos continue a story about a Chinese dragon in a gold mine. Phew! Most are good (the quality actually declines the further you go in the book, which is weird), and all have something to recommend. This is the kind of thing I wish Marvel and DC did more of (and no, the new Spider-Woman book doesn't count). Vignettes are fun.

X-Men #173 by Peter Milligan, Salvador Larroca, and Danny Miki
$2.50, Marvel

Here's another writer who knows how to build a story. While he's concentrating on the main plot about Mystique infiltrating the Institute and trying to drive Gambit and Rogue apart, Milligan also remembers the previous storyline with Golgotha and keeps bringing up Lorna's weird experience in space, and he keeps in mind that Rogue has new powers. The main story is actually pretty weak, except for the fact that Mystique has an ulterior motive for being at Xavier's. The bickering between Gambit and Rogue is silly, but the other aspects of the plot are interesting. I appreciate that Milligan is trying to create a feel to the book that Morrison and Claremont did - that events have consequences far down the road, and things shouldn't be wrapped up just for the trade paperback. I'm still not totally sold on him, though, and next issue might be the deal breaker. We'll see. Larroca's art is pretty.

Another big chunk of change out of my bank account. When will I learn? What do y'all think of my purchases?

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Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

About JLA Classified:
Sure is dated. Isn´t it the point of the classified stories? "A place to tell stories of any point of the continuity of JLA, with any incarnation of JLA that ever existed?"
The Morrison arc can really only happened logically after his run on JLA, since is high improbable that a flying city full of superpowered individuals was ignored by the entire world for years. The same with Giffen /Matteis arc...

7/28/2005 02:18:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

True, Julio. I forgot about that. I be stupid.

7/28/2005 09:45:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

FUCK! I forgot to get Astro City!

7/28/2005 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

"Lane. Kent. I am your editor. Prepare to die."

Bwahahahahaha! That is the best line of dialogue ever written. Coming from Perry White, it's hilarious. In fact, it makes me want to buy the comic.

I'm also tempted to look at Godland now.

7/28/2005 01:17:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I liked the dialogue too, Bill. I'm still wondering whether Perry White talks like that usually, though.

7/28/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Not really. The most exciting thing he's said is "Great Caesar's Ghost!" of course, and he repeats it, often. He's an old man, and usually not that hard-edged anymore. From what I've read.

7/28/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff R. said...

Perry White doesn't talk like that. But Royce did. Clark slips into Spider a couple times, and likewise Lois and Channon/Yelena, but get to be something like themselves most of the time, but Perry is pretty much completely possessed by the spirit of his Transmetropolitan analog.

7/28/2005 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Think of it as a Western equivalent of signing your soul to the devil.

7/29/2005 04:18:00 PM  
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