Thursday, December 08, 2005

What I bought - 7 December 2005

Thirteen books. Another huge week! Sweet Fancy Moses, that's a lot of books. But they were generally good. I'll tell you when they don't stack up, believe you me!

Batman & the Monster Men #2 by Matt Wagner
$2.99, DC

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Man, Wagner's art is beautiful. I could just stare at it for hours. Okay, maybe not that long, but it's still gorgeous. He draws great faces, and excellent cars. Yes, I'm serious. Nice cars. And his Batman is wonderful, too - powerful and compact without being stocky, and a touch of panther-like grace to him. You should buy this just for the art!

Oh, but the story's good too. Hugo Strange needs money, dispatches monsters to get it, Batman is on the case, Julie Madison is in peril. Okay, that last one isn't true yet, but you know she's going to be in peril at some point, right? Isn't that the cardinal rule of comic book women who aren't masked - if you put a woman in your comic, at some point the hero will need to rescue her. It's all about Chekov here at the blog, people!

Detective #814 by David Lapham, Ramon Bachs, and Nathan Massengill
$2.50, DC

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Unfortunately, the ending to Lapham's epic is a little weak. I liked it, and still maintain that, for the most part, this is one of the best Batman stories in years, but it's a little disappointing. For one thing, once again he fails in detection. I want my Batman doing some detecting, damn it! For another thing, doesn't he pretty much kill all the people who are attacking him? He leads them to a spot that he has wired with explosives and then runs for it, letting them all blow up and go boom. That left a bad taste in my mouth, because I like Batman-Who-Never-Kills. And the people who are attacking are mind-controlled, right? They're not in control of their own actions, right? Am I missing something? Have we decided they're not really human? I'll have to go back and re-read this whole thing, but that bugged me. Anyway, this is a great read, for the most part. It's depressing and grim-n-gritty and doesn't offer you a whole lot of hope, but it's also psychologically fascinating and probing and develops nice relationship between Batman, Robin, Gordon, and the city. Interesting story, with a bit of a weak ending. Oh well.

Down #2 by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner
$2.99, Image/Top Cow

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Deanna gets in with the mob. That's it. That's all. Good night, folks!

Okay, okay, so there's a little more than that. How she gets in with the mob, for instance. She's playing a nasty little game that requires her to pretty much kill anyone who stands in her way. So she does. Mobsters, crooked cops - it's all the same for our little undercover girl! Lots of violence in this issue as well, and by the end Deanna's in a prime position to meet with the last cop to go this route - her target.

There's something wrong with Down. I can't quite put my finger on it. It's certainly not as bad as Jack Cross, but it's not brilliant Ellis either. Deanna is interesting as a character, but a little shallow. Maybe it will come to me. It's only four issues long, and it certainly has the potential to be a very good book, but we're too issues in and something is missing. Grrr.

Hard Time Vol. 2 #1 by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, Brian Hurtt, and Steve Bird
$2.50, DC

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Damn it. I had heard good things about Hard Time the first time it came around (I refuse to call them seasons - that's just about the dumbest thing I've heard in a long time), but I resisted because I didn't jump on at the start and couldn't find the trades and don't have time to dig through long boxes for the back issues (get yourself two small children and you'll understand). But I figured I'd pick up the new series to give it a whirl. Well, I liked it. Are you happy now, Internet? Do you want to drive me into bankruptcy because of my comics addiction so I will have to sell my children to the Gypsies just to survive? Is that what you want?????

This is basically a recap of how Ethan got into jail in the first place, and that's fine for losers like me who missed it the first time. Despite my enjoyment, I have a nit to pick. Keep in mind I still like the book and recommend it to you. But still:

Okay, the high school clichés. I imagine, since Gerber was writing comic books in the 1970s, that it's been a while since he's been in high school. I'm very tired of every high school in comics portrayed the way it is in the book. I graduated in 1989, at the height of Reagan's "masculization" of the country, and even then it wasn't like this. I went to a large public school with a proud (if not particularly good) sports tradition, and there were plenty of jocks like the ones in the book. I was part of the geek crowd, I suppose - I took honors classes and sang in the choir and acted in the plays - but none of the geeks I knew were ever persecuted by the jocks. Hell, the jocks and cheerleaders loved our valedictorian, and not because he did their work for them and not because they treated him like a mascot, but because he was a great guy and very funny and genuinely nice. I had a lot of friends who were jocks and cheerleaders, and there was great deal of crossover. There was a rivalry, sure, but it never got out of hand and evolved into violence. Any geek who felt persecuted had a huge network of friends to help him or her out, and there were a lot of so-called geeks who were also pseudo-jocks - they didn't play on the football team, but they participated in other sports and were in good enough shape that they could beat the crap out of the football players. The teachers were also not the uncaring jerks you find in comic book high schools. One of my math teachers was the ex-football coach, and while he was a bit of a meathead, he certainly didn't pick on you if you were a geek - he picked on you because you were stupid. It wasn't utopia by any means, but it wasn't like the situation in which Ethan finds himself, and it annoys me when writers take the easy way out and say, "Oh, well, he was a geek who got pushed too far!" Yes, there are school shootings in this country, and we should take them seriously, but it just seems like this avenue of storytelling is old hat. It bugged me.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox! Pick up Hard Time! It's nifty.

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #1 by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier, and Ben Templesmith
$3.99, Image/Desperado

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This is a weird book. I mean, really. The draw will probably be Templesmith's art, and it's very nice and bizarre, but the writing is what makes this book weird. It's the story of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland, except he's not mad, he's an elite bodyguard of Alyss, who's not really from this world after all but rather a princess of Wonderland. Hatter is sent to our world in 1859 to find Alyss, and mayhem ensues. His hat is a magical weapon (like Oddjob's!) that becomes a whirring spiral of blades that kill without mercy! Unfortunately for Hatter, he loses his hat early on in the issue. Most of the issue is his quest to find it.

If that sounds odd, well, then, it should, because this is, as I mentioned, an odd book. It looks all serious and the description sounds like it will be serious, but it reads like a goofy comedy. Hatter wanders all over Paris looking for his hat, and when he retrieves it, he promptly loses it again, albeit briefly. The police wrap him up in a carpet to bring him to court because he's so dangerous. The women of Paris swoon over him because he's so dreamy. He wounds the judge in the nose and escapes, and when the judge orders the cops to chase him, all three of them look at each other and say, "You first." It's goofy. I suppose Beddor and Cavalier are going for a comedic touch because of the Alice connection, which was, after all, comedic in its own way, but it's a different kind of comedy than that. That was more surreal comedy, and this is situation comedy comedy. It's not enough to keep me from getting the next issue, but it's certainly a strange tone for the book to have. It's still intriguing, and certainly different. Unfortunately, there are zombies. At least I think they're zombies. Zombies are boring. There. I've said it. I fear no retribution from their kind!

Jonah Hex #2 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Luke Ross
$2.99, DC

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Another issue, another single story! Can we handle the old-school-ness of it all???

I'm liking the single-issue story format of this, because it allows me to decide whether I'm going to buy this long-term without investing in a four- or six-issue arc. If Palmiotti and Gray decide to go that route, at least I'll have something to base whether I'm going with them or not on. This is another nice tale of the Olde West, when scummy bounty hunters roamed the plains and didn't give two shakes of a rattlesnake's tail 'bout no honor or justice, just giving as good as they got. Jonah does the job and treats the lady nicely and all, and he's working for a priest, after all, so maybe he has a heart - whoops, the end of the story puts the kibosh on that notion! The nice thing about the series so far is that although Jonah gets the job done, he doesn't always do it quite successfully, and this makes it a more interesting read than it might be. He also has no time for human emotion - maybe he will down the line, but he's not looking for it so far, and he doesn't care about getting entangled in relationships with anyone. These first two issues have been slam-bang hard-nosed action with a pure cynical edge to them, and although I can whine about cynicism with the best of them, here it's kind of keen.

The Maze Agency #1 by Mike W. Barr, Ariel Padilla, and Ernest Jocson
$3.99, IDW

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IDW brings us another 1980s creator-owned series, this one that was published by the ill-fated Comico. Barr is a wildly underrated writer, responsible for Camelot 3000 (subject of a future Comics You Should Own column, because it's excellent), Batman And The Outsiders, and a short run on Detective with Alan Davis that is simply brilliant. The first few issues of the old series also brought Adam Hughes to the comic book world, so you know they're pretty. Now Barr resurrects his Moonlighting rip-off, and the comics world is a better place.

Did I say Moonlighting rip-off? Well, yes. Jennifer Mays runs a detective agency, and Gabe Webb is a mystery writer, and together they have a flirty, on-again off-again relationship. It's that relationship that drives the book, because Barr writes them both so well. It's fun to read their banter, because these are two people who care deeply about each other but can't ever make that final plunge.

The splash page says that The Maze Agency is a "fair-play whodunit series." Well, sorry, Mr. Barr, but it's not. The story is a fairly typical murder mystery - I won't bore you with the details - but although we get crucial clues that help give away certain parts of the plot, the final clue is nothing we can get from the actual book. It's annoying.

Apparently Barr is going to give us four issues of this latest incarnation. Pick any one of them up, because it sounds like each one will be a complete story. Fancy that. Barr is very good at setting up a mystery and wrapping it up in one issue, so you won't miss anything (I presume) if you skip this one and pick up issue #2. It's a fun series, and well worth a look.

Robotika #1 by Alex Sheikman
$3.95, Archaia Studio Press

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That's a nice Ryan Sook cover there. This is a bizarre book. Really. I bought some weird books this week. It's very cool, though, and as it's a four-issue mini-series, I have no problem looking for the remaining issues. In the "far future," a geneticist has been able to develop a biological machine capable of reproducing itself. Unfortunately, this pisses off the world's cyborg population, who will now be obsolete, and they kill said geneticist and steal his invention. The queen calls on her best bodyguard, Niko, to retrieve it. Mayhem ensues. With the help of a bandit (possibly - we're not exactly sure who she is) he meets and helps on the road, he learns that a large cyborg manufacturer stole the invention. Niko, who has no tongue, gets going. More mayhem, I'm sure, will ensue.

It's an interesting story, described as a cyberpunk wasabi western (it takes place in Japan, or what appears to be Japan). There's a lot to like about it, including the art, which is kind of a combination of the Pander Brothers and Tony Harris. It's very detailed and brings this weirdly fascinating world to life. The book flies along, thudding to a halt only when the girl Niko meets on the road speaks. Her speech is rendered vertically,

and it's annoying. Other than that, it's a good book. If you can find it, check it out.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #2 by The Bald Scotsman, Billy Dallas Patton, Freddie Williams II, and Michael Bair

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The art's not bad, for a fill-in guy. There's a guy with no eyes. Ooh, spooky! I didn't read it, in case you weren't sure. The pile of unread Seven Soldiers comics continues to grow!

Spider-Man and the Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do #4 by Kevin Smith, Terry Dodson, and Rachel Dodson
$2.99, Marvel

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This comic book says "4 of 6" on the cover, but I'm confused. Where are the first three issues? I mean, I assume they came out recently, right? Marvel is occasionally late with their books, but issue #3 could only have come out a few months ago, right?

I'm just funnin' with you. Let's see - issue #3 came out ... wait for it ... THREE YEARS AGO! Yes, it was October 2002 when issue #3 hit the stands. Why on earth didn't Marvel just put this out in a trade? That's just weird. I suppose suckers like me will still buy it, but how many other people did? Anyone?

I didn't read it, by the way. I'm lucky if I remember the names of my children, much less what's going on in a comic book published three years ago. I'll get around to it - I remember enjoying the first couple issues, and the art is very nice. But I just find the whole delay humorous. And, of course, stupid.

Supreme Power: Nighthawk #4 by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon
$2.99, Marvel

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Don't buy this. Seriously. It's nasty, mean, utterly lacking a sense of humor, depressing, disgusting, cynical, and derivative. Why did I buy it? Haven't you people learned yet? I'm a sucker.

Don't buy it. Don't say I didn't warn you!

The Surrogates #3 by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
$2.95, Top Shelf

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Scheduling note to get out of the way: here's an independently-produced comic book that comes out regularly. Isn't it nice? Other indies: take note!

The nice thing about this series is that it balances talkiness with action, unlike a lot of books from the Big Two, which tilt one way or the other too much. For the first part of this book, we get Zaire Powell talking about why he hates surrogates so much and then a conversation with his second-in-command about preparing the reservation for the crackdown by the cops that they feel is inevitable. Then we shift to the cops trying to stop Steeplejack as he steals software that will allow him to trigger electromagnetic pulses that will destroy all surrogates! The knave! How could he?

Nice stuff from these creators. The Surrogates is an interesting sci-fi book, full of all sorts of ethical questions and kick-ass action. Go find it. What are you waiting for????

Team Zero #1 by Chuck Dixon, Doug Mahnke, and Sandra Hope
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

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Hey, look! It's a Chuck Dixon war comic! You know what that means - it kicks ass. Dixon might be a hack when it comes to superheroes (even though I enjoy some of his stuff, it's still hackery), but when it comes to soldiers blowing shit up, he's good. Since this takes place in the Wildstorm Universe, references to the other teams (with Grifter!) will crop up, but I doubt it will distract from the story. I'm looking forward to kick-ass straight-forward war action, like Where Eagles Dare. Goddamnit, that's a good movie. Go rent it right now!

So what's going on in this book, anyway? Well, "Collins" (I couldn't find his rank or even his first name - can anyone help? - although apparently he's Deathblow - wasn't that the movie that Jerry Seinfeld illegally filmed?) is on a mission to get a Japanese admiral in charge of the planned invasion of the West Coast. The mission goes pear-shaped¹ and he is the only one who escapes alive. While he recuperates, the government tells him they want him to parachute into Peenemunde to snatch some Nazi information about their rocket program. No problem!

Oh, and there's a hot nurse. I've been in hospitals before for a variety of reasons, and I have never been tended by a hot nurse. Someone needs to get on this.

This is a six-issue mini-series, and the first issue is very good. I just mentioned recently that Mahnke makes anything he works on better. It's true here, too! You could always wait for the trade, but then you'd miss the hot nurse. Do you want that on your conscience????

¹ What the hell does "pear-shaped" mean anyway? Well, I know it means FUBAR, but where did it come from? Why is the shape of a pear bad?

Read More


Blogger Bill Reed said...

I was too lazy to go to the shop this week. Again.

I mean, when it was a 45 minute drive away, yeah, I'd go all the time. Now that it's three miles down the street... Eh.

Maybe next week.

12/08/2005 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were the creatures in Detective Comics people? I thought they were clay-clone-type-things that killed and replaced the peoples' lives they took over.

It started out good, but by Lapham's sixth issue, I was just confused.

12/09/2005 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

How long have they been using that cover design for Detective? Because I quite like that.

I think "pear-shaped" is bad because it's not perfectly round. Or something. I don't know.

12/09/2005 12:57:00 AM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

did anyone see the ending to Gotham Central?


12/09/2005 05:59:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's what I thought about the people in Detective, too, but in the last issue, when the mayor's assistant kills his wife, HE sees the dirt creature, but the narration says that everyone else saw blood. So that threw a spanner in the works as far as whether or not they were dirt creatures or human beings. I'm just going to have to sit down and re-read the whole thing.

The cover logo for Detective has been in use at least since Lapham began his run, in issue #801.

12/09/2005 08:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Dizzy said...

Oh, and there's a hot nurse. I've been in hospitals before for a variety of reasons, and I have never been tended by a hot nurse. Someone needs to get on this.

We save the hot nurses for the Nazi-fighting two-fisted heroes. Go fight some Nazis and you'll get your hot nurse.

¹ What the hell does "pear-shaped" mean anyway? Well, I know it means FUBAR, but where did it come from? Why is the shape of a pear bad?

Have read a couple of explanations for this one over the years. There was one that if humans get older and go out of shape, they go pear-shaped, but the most popular explanation is that it came from pilot training: trainee pilots need to do a looping as part of their training and most beginners make it sort of pear-like instead of a perfect circle.

12/09/2005 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

If it helps, Deathblow's 1st name is Michael.

Hard Time vol. 1 wasn't about the crime (beyond the first issue), mostly Ethan's experiences inside the prison. It's one of the best comics of the last few years. Go find it. Your kids can eat next week.

Good point about the tired jock/ geek stereotypes cliche. My high school experience, like yours, did not fall into that trap. I'm guessing the reports about the Columbine Massacre, and how the kids who committed that atrocity were treated by their peers, informed Gerber's writing more than anything else.

I haven't read vol. 2 #1 yet (oh, that pesky kid of mine who keeps needing food & shelter), but Ethan was not portrayed as an outcast with a violent streak in vol. 1, or one who would take retaliation against his oppressors. He seemed to be a runty smart ass.

12/09/2005 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Mike: I should have mentioned that in issue #1 of Hard Time, it's Ethan's friend who does the shooting. Ethan thought the guns held blanks and they were just going to scare their oppressors. Since he was with him (and holding a loaded gun), he got convicted for it.

12/09/2005 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I think 'Tec has had that trade dress since Loeb and Lee took over Batman.

They'll prolly change it with OYL.

I quite like it, though.

12/09/2005 09:33:00 AM  
Anonymous The Super-Absorbent Alex Freakin' W said...

Oh, and there's a hot nurse. I've been in hospitals before for a variety of reasons, and I have never been tended by a hot nurse. Someone needs to get on this.

Wait, so you want us to hospiltalize you? (Rubs hands together) That can be arranged...

Only kiddin'!

Spidey & The Black Cat wasn't very good. I re-read the first three pretty recently so I could follow it easily enough, but from a lot of the talk it sounded like Smith had really nailed the last three in the end. But this one wasn't as good: the pacing and spread of action felt unbalanced, elements of the last scene were forced, and he's really button-pushing on the darker elements of the plot.

I was disappointed, and fell into a depressed state for the minute and a half before I picked up Marvel Zombies, which was zombie-rific.

12/09/2005 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in high school when the first issue of Hard Time came out, I hated it for the high school cliches and everyhing. That was probably a bad choice, but old people writing so poorly about young people just irritated me at the time. I guess maybe I should have stuck with it in hindsight.

12/09/2005 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mo Soar said...

Robotika #1 reminded me strongly of those Hong Kong movies that I love for the visuals yet have no clue of the plot - I get the basic plot here, at least: mute ninja must retrieve McGuffin and go to strange places and meet strange people and lop off strange heads whilst doing so. In addition to the vertical text, there are a couple of full-page narrative exposition dumps that irritated me, but after I finished the book, I found myself thinking - "wonder when the next one comes out?" The answer would be February, and the other answer would be that I'll but it.

I read and liked Hatter M - to be sure it's a quirky, highly improbable comic, but it was also a fun read. Templesmith seem perfectly suited to the book.

The other title in my trifecta of off-kilter books this week was Rock'n'Roll from Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. One story, three changing POV scenes, three different artists. No actual dialog, except a woman's name. It's a little time-period challenged, juxtaposing cars with fins, scooters, Blue Meanies and Beatle posters with thugs wearing Ramones patches on their jackets and CD jewel cases, but once you accept the basic premise it's just a short trip for the rest.

I hadn't read the first "season" of Hard Time either and found this issue a good intro issue. I'm a bit bothered by the way Ethan's physical age seems to vacillate between about 12 and about 18 and there were a couple panels that I was unsure of which character I was looking at. All in all, though, a pretty good title.

12/09/2005 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You know who's awesome?

Brian Hurtt

12/09/2005 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous said...

Brian Hurtt is indeed awesome.

The thing that irked me the most about Hatter M was the French people saying things like "Le Huh?" and "L'Aaargh" like it was a Pepe Le Pew cartoon. The tone was all over the place, trying to be an action movie and a cartoon at the same time, and the disparate styles didn't mesh.

12/09/2005 04:32:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

I liked the humour in Hatter M (we reviewed it a few weeks ago at SBC, and I'm only linking so you don't get it confused with the other Silver Bullet Comics on the off chance you fancy a look and end up at the wrong place. I'm not self-promoting, honestly), and the art, but I did think it was a bit of a mess in terms of style, and something about the way it subverted the original characters irked me.

I did quite like Rock 'n' Roll, but it lacked drive, I thought.

I've never read Hard Time.

12/09/2005 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger markus said...

On Hard Time:
The first series was a good book, but eventually I got a bit sick of all the convenience. The initial setup is a bit contrived, the trial is pretty odd and most of all it just irritated the hell out of me that the protagonist gets to be smarter than everyone else inside. Constantly. In my own experience geekdom loses against age and street smarts every time.
So there goes the series' realism credibility as far as I'm concerned, which kind of makes it hard to see the point of the prison setting.

12/10/2005 04:09:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

Deathblow - wasn't that the movie that Jerry Seinfeld illegally filmed?

Why, yes. Yes, it was. Hot nurses or not, though, I'll consider it when/if the trade comes out.

Re: Hatter M, I didn't read any of the solicitation text. I assumed that since Templesmith was on art, it was going to be Something I Don't Like. But to hear it described, it sounds like it might just be squarely up my alley, Pepe Le Pew dialogue and all.

12/11/2005 02:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Brett said...

The only two of these comics I'm getting are Hard Time & Nighthawk.

Hard Time I'm getting because the first year was just so interesting. However, I must say I'm surprised by the criticism of the jock/geek cliche. Yes, it is a cliche but I'm amazed to hear that it doesn't happen anymore. Maybe thinks are different here in Australia (where all of those things and more still happen) but I'm glad that there is apparently no bullying (or intimidation or picking on other kids because they're too small or fat or smart or dumb or weak or just different) going on in American schools anymore. I felt the use of the cliche was worth it if only for the ending of issue #1.

Nighthawk I haven't read yet but flicking through it I think I'm going to agree with your opinion. It looks like it's needlessly sadistic.

12/12/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Brett, I'm certainly not going to say bullying doesn't take place. I'm just saying that it's overused and I doubt if it goes on to the degree that comics (and, to be fair, other forms of entertainment) show. It just seemed that Ethan (and all the other people in entertainment who endure this) are always in the perfect storm of EVERY jock being a bullying jerk, EVERY geek being a hopeless tool, and EVERY teacher and administrator being an uncaring bastard. As a teacher, I know bullying exists, but it's something the staff takes very personally and something that a LOT of kids don't tolerate anymore. That's why it annoyed me - because the portrayel was SO far removed from what I believe is the more subtle reality. Yes, I know - if I want subtle I should read Proust. But still.

12/12/2005 05:17:00 PM  
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