Thursday, September 01, 2005

What I bought - 31 August 2005

Crap. Just when I thought I would make it out of August without spending all my lunch money on floppies, this Wednesday hit me hard. Oh well. Let's look at this week's excellent comics, shall we? How can you know that they're excellent? Well, I bought them, so they must be!

(Okay, before I begin, TWO different comic book writers this week used the lame-ass joke: "There's no justice. There's just us." It made my eyes hurt. Will Pfeifer and Brian K. Vaughan are reasonably intelligent people, it seems like. Did they really think that was clever? Arrrrgggghhh!)

Astro City: The Dark Age Book One #3 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Phew! That's a long title! Almost as long as those X-Men: The End books. Anyway, there's not much to say about this book. Either you're buying it or you're waiting for the trade. Three issues in is enough for you on-the-fencers to decide to keep up or not. I think it's still a wonderful book, and in this issue we learn about the cliffhanger from last issue, when it appeared that the Silver Agent had something to do with burning down Charles and Royal's apartment. He didn't, of course - he's the hero! - but he was there, and his actions help define why Charles and Royal are the way they are. See, this is another reason why Busiek is an excellent comic book writer. He gives us action, sure, but he also gives us mysteries that don't necessarily shake the world, but help define character. He might have gone a teeny-tiny bit too far by using a couple of panels to explain the brothers' thoughts after that crucial day, but he doesn't beat us over the head with it. If you want to read this comic as an allegory for the industry as a whole (and why not?), Busiek makes it clear that even before Gardner and Stan and Jack and Steve and anyone else I may have missed brought comics out of the Dark Age and into the glorious irony-free zone of the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were still disturbing undercurrents below. Cool reading.

Beowulf #4 by Brian Augustyn and Attila Adorjany
$2.99, Speakeasy

Feh. I want to like this, but it's just not doing it for me. I'm on the hook for the next two issues, but after that, I think I'm done, unless they get substantially better. It's not that the book is horrible. It's a cool idea, and the plot is interesting, but it doesn't grab me and shake me up. It's a little boring, and more than anything, that's a reason to drop a book. The art on this issue doesn't help, either - despite the cool name, Attila is a little like a low-rent Phil Noto, and it's not working for me. It just seems like things are happening a little randomly and although I doubt that's the case, it feels off. The pacing is strange. I can't quite put my finger on it any more than that, but the book is not working for me. I wish it did, but it don't.

Catwoman #46 by Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods
$2.50, DC

I'm still on the fence with this one. I am waiting, probably through issue 50, to decide if I'm keeping it. The art is fabulous. Selina looks great and, you know, like an actual woman, and all the characters have distinctive looks. The story in this issue slows down a bit, as pieces move into place for the big showdown, which I think comes next issue (isn't this a four-parter? I don't even know anymore). Selina shows Ted Kord exactly what you do when confronted by bad guys who ask you to join them - you say YES! They don't trust you, you don't trust them, but they don't put a bullet through your brain, now do they? I like Captain Cold in this book, too, gleefully reveling in bad-guyness. Being a goofy villain IS fun!

I don't know who the shadowy people are who offer to take Selina on board. Well, okay, Hugo Strange is there, and probably Cheetah, but the others - sorry. Can anyone help?

And look! it's Leslie Tompkins! Selina obviously doesn't know she's a child-killer. Won't that be a shock!

Ex Machina #14 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Wow. First we had a stand-alone issue, and now a two-parter, and after this another two-parter! That wacky Vaughan!

Gee, what can I say about one of the best comic books out there? I didn't see the revelation about the crazy dude coming? Sure, it's not that essential, but it added an interesting layer to his psychosis. I didn't see the revelation about the new superhero coming? Well, yeah, but I don't go thinking about those things - I like to be mildly surprised. I don't really like the cursing all that much? Well, although it has increased recently, and it's kind of jarring, it's not like it's at Ellis-levels yet.

This is simply a finely-crafted comic book. I really can't say anything more. It continues to tread the fine line between action and politics, it has some humor (especially the last scene in the comic book store), and it has beautiful art by Harris (14 issues in a row and counting!). Okay, the last page and the last two panels on the previous page were kind of lame - a weird shoehorning in of Vaughan's theories of history. But other than that, it was another good read. Fascinating comic book goodness!

The Expatriate #3 by B. Clay Moore and Jason Latour
$2.99, Image

I really wonder if Moore has this thought out in his head. I hope so, because this is a really intriguing thriller that keeps pulling the rug out from under you. If he doesn't, then I worry that he's just sitting thinking, "This will be cool! Yeah, I'll do [the big surprise at the end of the book, which I'm not going to reveal] and really fuck shit up!" I hope it's the former. Not much to say about this, except that I wasn't aware that it took place in 1964. Maybe I should have been, but I suck. It makes it a little more interesting, actually. Also, Jack Dexter seems like a different person in this issue than he was in the first two. He turns into a sniveling little wuss here, and it's kind of weird. Explain, Mr. Moore, explain!

I can't say much about it without giving too much away. Weird stuff happens, and the art is nice and rough. I suppose I should be happy that this came out this soon at all. How's that Hawaiian Dick mini-series coming, Mr. Moore?

Hero Squared #2 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Abraham, Mark Badger (?!), and Shannon Denton
$3.99, Boom! Studios

I'm still a little squeamish about the price, especially if it's going to come out more often, but this is turning out to be a nice book, especially if you want to see more out of Giffen and DeMatteis than simple slapstick (I still enjoy the slapstick, but Giffen did work on "The Great Darkness Saga" and DeMatteis did write Blood, for crying out loud!). Sure, this is funny (I especially like how Captain Valor explains the difference between villains and superheroes laughing), but that's not all of it. We hear how Caliginous destroyed Captain Valor's universe, but, like the title ("He Said, She Said") implies, we hear both Captain Valor's account and Caliginous's account. Now, we're inclined to believe Captain Valor, because, you know, he's valorous, but Caliginous makes some convincing arguments as well, and it's obvious that Giffen and DeMatteis want to show her as someone with a very real grievance against the captain (not that that excuses, you know, destroying the universe). The interplay between the four main principals is nicely done, too, with both Milo and Stephie obviously digging their alternate universe doppelgängers but also resisting (with varying degrees of success) the temptations offered by them. There's a lot to like in this comic book. Why oh why must it tax my wallet so?

JLA: Classified #11 by Warren Ellis and Jackson Guice
$2.99, DC

See, now, this banter between Lois and Clark I like a lot more than the sexually-charged stuff from last issue. This is how married people talk to each other!

If this is D-list Ellis, than this proves why Ellis is much better than most writers out there. Anyone can write big, shoot-'em-up superhero extravanganzas (well, I can't, but I suck). Ellis does that nicely here. But like Morrison (among others) he allows personalities to come out subtly, such as Batman's great line: "The bar I tracked my perp to just exploded. Which was irritating." Ellis understands that the JLA has worked together for a long time and can speak shortly to each other (not angrily, just without a lot of extraneous crap) because they are professionals. And the mystery is intriguing. A bit spooky, a bit creepy, and a bit fantastical. All the elements that make a good comic book!

The thing that bugged me the most about this book was the ending. It's so obvious that it was written for the trade, and it's frustrating. Another book I bought did that this month (hint: Diggle and Yu!) - just kind of ended because the requisite number of pages had been reached. In fact, that's how Jack Cross ended last week. It's annoying. I wonder if Ellis wrote the whole thing and then DC said, "Here we are on page 22. Let's end the issue. What, it's not terribly dramatic? Who cares?" Sigh.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4 by THE GREAT HAIRLESS ONE! and Simone Bianchi
$2.99, DC

Test not THE GREAT HAIRLESS ONE'S wrath by passing this by! Lo, he is a jealous deity, and will smite the ignorant when he comes to quiz you on obscure DC characters and when they last appeared! Do not tempt him!

Man, that evil queen chick has some big breasts on the cover. One down, six to go! Some day I will read them!

Silent Dragon #2 by Andy Diggle, Leinil Yu, and Gerry Alanguilan
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

This is a truly gorgeous book, but as usual, it's written completely for the trade. It's frustrating, especially for old-school comic book readers like me. Anyway, after last issue's violent ending, we learn how Renjiro survived getting his head chopped off and got a new body. It's all very techno-geek. Then we get introduced to the babe on the cover, who looks not even remotely Japanese but I suppose is. She wants to join up with the Black Dragons now that they're the big guys in town. Then there's a fight, and the issue ends rather jarringly. It's obviously setting things up, which is fine, and it does tell us some good information, but it's just a chapter in the longer work, so it feels incomplete. Still, it's absolutely beautiful to look at and it's a pretty neat story. Ah, the old wait for the trade!

Supreme Power #18 by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal
$2.99, Marvel

I'm a little perplexed by this issue and the aftermath, simply because I haven't been paying attention to Previews. So, is the main title canceled? At the end it says that it's continued in two different mini-series, which annoys the hell out of me. Are they giving Frank a break, since he's done every issue of this and although it doesn't come out every month, it's still pretty consistent? I just don't know. It feels like a "wrapping up" issue, however, so even though it's being continued, this is still the end of an act of this title.

Faithful readers will know that despite the glacial pace of this title, I enjoy it because it feels like the way superheroes would exist in the "real" world. In this issue, Bush II offers amnesty to any superpowered individuals who want to come work for the government in case Mark Milton goes apeshit. We also see how the little people react to Milton now that they know he's an alien. All of it makes sense in the context of the "real" world, or at least as much sense as it can make in a world with aliens walking around. Milton's demonstration of power at the end is pretty nifty, too.

So now I'll have to track down these mini-series and see what's what. It's annoying.

Wha ... Huh? by a bunch of people
$3.99, Marvel

Boy, the people who frequent Dorian's and Mike's comic book shoppe hold this in contempt, which is their right as Americans! The biggest problem I have with it, in case you couldn't guess, is the price. And Jim Mahfood's art, which is fine but gets old quickly. It's funnier than What Were They Thinking?!, at least. The best part of the book was the single pages examining what if the Internet existed in 1965, 1975, and 1985. And what if Andrew Jackson was the fourth member of the Fantastic Four instead of Ben Grimm. The first is as Homer says: "It's funny 'cause it's true." The second is just surreal enough to make it brilliant. The rest is amusing, but nothing earth-shattering. I was a little annoyed with the jokes about the tardiness of Marvel's books. Yes, the jokes were amusing, but if Marvel thinks shipping books months late (ironically, this book is months late), then it's a good thing they're not, you know, in a real business. Sorry, I'm bitter.

Tom pointed out that the editors deleted Iron Man's bottle from a couple of panels, even though he's clearly drunk. They also allowed Galactus to be shown sitting on a toilet with his pants around his knees. The censorship board at Marvel is really weird.

There you go. All the comics that you need, and some that you don't! Of course, let's be honest - you really don't need any of them. Buy some anyway!

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Blogger T. said...

What--Huh? was mildly amusing, but hardly worth the wait and price. One funny gag was the ID Crisis one where Spidey is fawning over how great Cap is, similar to how all the DC heroes masturbate furiously whenever Superman or Hal Jordan enter a room.

9/01/2005 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger Eli said...

To be fair to BKV, the character who said that was a teenager who clearly has a problem with melodrama and oversimplifying, even as an adult. So I don't think we can really assume BKV thinks the joke is funny, or subscribes to the kid's reading of history or anything like that.

9/01/2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

By the by, while I did not like the stories much in Wha Huh?, Mahfood's art was very, very good.

9/02/2005 02:13:00 AM  
Blogger Mo Soar said...

Astro City - the term I keep coming up with to explain why I like Astro City is "hearts and minds" - because Busiek does a great job examining the characters and making you feel their situations, their individual strengths and weaknesses. I like the important-yet-secondary role the superheroes play in this. You see them as figures, you see their actions, but their motivations and thoughts are never all that clear and you have to sort through the interpretations.

Beowulf - we're in the same camp on this one. I like the concept but the execution has been incredibly uneven. The artist changes with this issue (I actually liked Adorjany's art on this) and the writer changes with #7 (Joshua Ortega) and then again with #12 (Mike Carey). So I'm not looking for the series to get any more "even" - just, hopefully, BETTER.

Expat - there have been a couple of hints so far that we might be headed off in a strange new direction (was it last issue that had what looked like a flashback to an astronaut?), but it took me by surprise. Next issue is out, I think, late November, and Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort has an issue out in Nov and then December. At least that's the last I read from B. Clay over on the Image boards.

9/02/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

They probably both stole the "no justice" line from Terry Pratchett, too.

9/02/2005 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Spencer said...

Warren Ellis used that justice line in the Hong Kong ghost issue of Planetary. Wonder who did it first...

9/02/2005 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I used to hear that "justice" line in militant rap songs in the 80s. One of them was "Friendly game of baseball" by Main Source. I think militant blacks have used that line for decades when describing "the man's" justice system.

9/02/2005 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

Supreme Power is re-launching next year as a Marvel Knights title. (There's an interview with JMS somewhere online.) The two miniseries are supposed to bridge the gap and (IIRC) lead up to actually forming the team.

I'm hoping it works better than the switch from Alias to The Pulse because I gave up on The Pulse after the first 4 or 5 issues.

So is there anything left at MAX these days, or is the label pretty much dead?

9/03/2005 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

Oh, yeah, on the "Justice" quote: Peter David used a variation of it in Young Justice #1. Robin, Impulse and Superboy ended up at an incident where reporters called them the Junior Justice League, and one of them said, "No, we're young, but we're just us." Reporter: "There you have it, Young Justice is on the scene..."

9/03/2005 12:30:00 PM  

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