Thursday, January 19, 2006

What I bought - 18 January 2006

Sweet fancy Moses, what a week! Four, count 'em, four of my favorite titles came out. FOUR! Plus, a very good mini-series that has been delayed for a while. Plus, the beginning of a mini-series starring a sadly-missed character and a kooky Doctor Strange! Plus, ASS! ASS, people! Phew. Can I handle the comic goodness?????

Ex Machina #17 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm
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After a few issues of short story arcs and decent single issues but less-than-satisfying arcs, this issue starts a story that has "intriguing" written all over it. Some guys in Baghdad are wondering whether President Bush will send Mitchell over to Iraq when the war begins (the issue takes place in February 2003). Meanwhile, back in New York, Mitchell is in a bit of a pickle because he is allowing a peace march through Manhattan to the United Nations building even though most people are for the invasion of Iraq and think those Commie hippies should shut the hell up. Mitchell has a couple of interesting conversations about the march and the war, one with Journal Moore, the youngster on his staff, who resigns so she can march (Mitchell denies members of his staff to make such overt political statements). Then Mitchell goes and talks to a priest about the impending invasion and whether it's the right thing to do. As usual with this book, we get no easy answers. Vaughan continues to do a nice job of presenting all sides of an issue without really allowing Mitchell to have an opinion. It could be annoying, but he makes sure that Mitchell has opinions, it's just about what to do in New York itself. He doesn't care about anything bigger, which is probably how it should be. The march goes off, and something bad happens. Doesn't it always?

Readers of this book might wonder if I'm going to go off on the fact that Journal carries on her entire conversation with Mitchell basically naked (she's wearing a sheer babydoll nightie that reveals pretty much everything). Well, I'm not. It's not gratuitous (she has just gotten laid) and it's not titillating. It's just what she happens to be wearing. I don't mind it, because it's not obnoxiously degrading. So there.

As usual, an excellent issue. Good stuff.

The Iron Ghost #5 (of 6) by Chuck Dixon and Sergio Cariello
$2.99, Image
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Whoo-hoo! It's an issue of The Iron Ghost! I mentioned that it had been delayed by Katrina, so it's nice to see it back. I didn't read it, in keeping with my by-now world-famous statement that I will not be reading mini-series beyond the first (and maybe second) issue until they are completed. But I still like it, and it's been good, and it wraps up next issue, and if you're not buying it, you should check out the trade. Right?

The Maze Agency #2 by Mike W. Barr, Ariel Padilla, and Ernest Jocson
$3.99, IDW
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See, the only thing we have to do with The Maze Agency is see if it holds up as a mystery and if the clues are there. That's its point, right?

Okay, we're at a beauty pageant. There are four contestants (it's to be the queen of the four boroughs of New York not called Manhattan - you know, the ones nobody cares about) and someone is trying to knock off people involved with the contest. First, the previous year's winner topples down a sabotaged staircase! She doesn't die, though. Then, one of the contestants is poisoned! She too, lives. But then the production assistant is murdered. Horrors! Jennifer and Gabe are on the case!

Do we have enough clues? Well, we get a crucial one that is there if you're looking. But another one is missing completely. I looked. It ain't there. It's kind of annoying.

In the case of The Maze Agency, I think, perhaps, two-issue stories would work better. I admire what Barr is trying to do, but I wonder if he's leaving stuff out just to fit it all in. We don't need a huge, sprawling mess of a six-issue mini-series, but I think all the clues could have been presented in two issues much more easily, and then we, along with Gabe, could have solved the mystery and made sense of it. In this issue, we're still not completely clear at the end why the crimes have been committed. We think we know, but we're not sure. It's a shame.

Noble Causes #16 by Jay Faerber, Fran Bueno, and Freddie E. Williams
$3.50, Image
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Another of my favorite titles comes out this week, and more craziness ensues. The Nobles have found out that the Blackthornes have targeted Liz for termination, so they lock her away. Then they plot to lure the bad guys into a trap. The trap springs, and the bad guys win! Well, no they don't, because it's all a ruse, but at the end, the bad guys find out they've been hornswaggled. That can't be good.

It's a fast-paced issue, with not a ton of forward movement, but there are some nice issues. Rusty gets a new, synthetic body, which has benefits that Cosmic Rae enjoys. Liz is finding out that marrying into a superhero family can get annoying. And Zephyr confronts Frost about his nighttime activities from last issue. So things are still moving forward, but Faerber catches his breath a bit and gives us a big fight. Nothing wrong with that!

And just in case you're not reading the comic, Faerber gives all the slobbering fanboys a reason to pick up next issue:
 Posted by PicasaChicks making out! Can't get better than that! So far Faerber hasn't gone all gratuitous with Celeste and Dawn's affair. Let's hope it stays that way.

Planetary #24 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm
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What's this? An issue of Planetary? Hi there!

Issue #23 came out in June, so we're all forgiven if we don't remember what happened. Hell, I don't. I also don't care. This, more than Transmetropolitan, is Ellis's masterpiece. It's brilliant. It's freakin' brilliant!

Okay, I haven't convinced you. Maybe not. It's difficult to review this sucker, because it's part of the big grand storyline and since each issue only comes out every so often, it's just hard. Elijah reveals a great deal about what's been happening and what he's going to do about it. Ellis actually does make it a bit easier to remember all the fun stuff that's been happening, so that's nice of him. And Cassaday's art is, well, spectacular. Did you think it wouldn't be?

So, apparently, the endgame is upon us. I'll be there. Buy Planetary, people. It will make Baby Jesus smile.

Rex Mundi #16 by Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreyra
$2.99, Image
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Finally, it's another of my favorite titles, coming out when promised! With a new artist, Juan Ferreyra from Small Gods. His art on that book was beautiful, and here it's in glorious Technicolor!

This issue brings us closer to the end of the first half of the book, as the Duke of Lorraine issues an ultimatum to the Cordovan Emirate (in Spain) because he wants French troops to go into Iberia and search for of "Muslim extremists" who have been assassinating French nobles (or so they tell us). When Cordova naturally rejects this, the French prepare for war. Even though this takes place in the 1930s, it's set up for the alternate universe World War I, as Ottoman Turkey naturally backs Cordova and will enter the war with France, while Prussia and Austria are allied with Turkey, and England with France. So the shit is going to hit the fan hard, and soon. In the meantime, Julien meets the hot daughter of the Duke of Lorraine, and his ex-girlfriend doesn't like that. That should heat things up nicely.

Rex Mundi moves slowly. I won't deny it. It comes out slowly. I won't deny that either. However, it's amazingly rewarding to read. The story is fascinating, the art is gorgeous (all three artists have been very good), and all the machinations are starting to pay off. I did not like the somewhat un-subtle dig at our war in Iraq, even though I disagree with it, because it takes us out of the story a bit. It's a bit annoying. Other than that, an excellent book. Go buy the trades!

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #3 (of 4) by Scotty McBalderson and Freddie E. Williams II
$2.99, DC
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Six months ago I had no idea who Freddie Williams was. This week I bought two books featuring his art. I just find that amusing.

All-Star Superman #2 by Morrison, Frank Quitely, and Jamie Grant
$2.99, DC
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Hey, look, everybody - it's ASS!

Yeah, I didn't like it.

(Brief pause while I wait for the Internet to stop throwing things at my head.)

Why didn't I like it, you may ask after you've calmed down. Well, I'll tell you a charming anecdote about my bygone collegiate days to illustrate my reasoning:

Back in my bygone collegiate days at venerable Penn State, I took an honors creative writing class with many snooty honors students, one of which I of course was. The students were smart people, full of fascinating ideas for stories, and we would sit around and critique each other (as one does in a creative writing class). So after reading yet another story about some fascinating idea, I brought up the fact that none of the stories we had read that week had a plot. Plots are good, I said. I was roundly criticized by the students. I was criticized by the teacher, who wrote this book (an extremely densely plotted novel, I might add). All I said was that plot is good. Which, if you're paying attention, brings us back to ASS:

Nothing happens.

Why, exactly, does this issue exist? Although I had some problems with issue #1, I enjoyed it. But now we get this, in which Superman takes Lois Lane to the Fortress of Solitude and nothing happens. On the cover it asks, "Can YOU guess the secret of Superman's FORBIDDEN ROOM?" Well, no I can't, but when it's revealed, it's stupid. The two principals spend the entire issue flirting obliquely and doing, well, nothing.

Morrison does this sometimes. The "Good" Morrison knows that fancy ideas should always work to service the story. The "Bad" Morrison finds the ideas so freakin' fabulous that he can't be bothered to come up with a story. I do not like the "Bad" Morrison, because there's only so much goofy, incomprehensible crap we can take before we call bullshit and move on. I could deal with the largely incomprehensible Rebus issue of Doom Patrol because it was part of the greater storyline, and, more importantly, it wasn't the second issue of the series! Yes, Morrison has earned credit over the years, so he thinks he can pull this weird shit off early on before he delves into the story, but should we let him get away with it?

I will keep buying this, because I do trust Morrison, and I do like the art, and it appears, from the first issue, that he has some interesting plots to consider. However, next issue better be good. Really good. Because here are some things from this issue that sound clever but don't advance the story at all (unless in some obscure way that will be revealed in the future) and annoy me:

Keys made out of dwarf star material
Life-sized chess pieces of all of Superman's friends and enemies
The Titanic in his living room
Whistling flowers from Alpha Centauri 4
Ooh, look - Grant references Seven Soldiers!
Ooh, look - Grant references 1,000,000!
"What do you feed him?" "Baby suns, of course."
Traditional Kryptonian formal wear - it's a bath robe!
References to the Superman of the 1950s and '60s - we get it - everything was cooler before we were born!
Mummified Superman making cryptic remarks (actually, that will probably be an important plot point, but it's still annoying)
Alien chemicals that can cause visual distortions and extreme paranoid reactions

How about next issue something happens? Would that be too much to ask?

Sigh. I have to go make my apologies to The God Of All Comics. You'll have to excuse me.

X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl #1 (of 5) by Peter Milligan, Nick Dragotta, and Mike Allred
$2.99, Marvel
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Since I will no longer be reading mini-series until they're all done, my job on first issues is to tell you whether it's worth buying the rest of them. Sound fair? So what about this?

Well, it's Milligan returning to at least one, if not more, of his wild and crazy X-Statix creations. It's about why Marvel characters come back from the dead with such stunning regularity. The art is neat. I say go for it! Buy the whole thing!

The best, or worst depending on your point of view, part of the book is the depiction of Stephen Strange. Deadgirl herself appears only on the last page of the book, and the main character throughout is Dr. Strange. He's kind of goofy. I don't mind it, but I also wonder why we need a Dr. Strange who suddenly feels necessary to change his speech patterns from the pompous blowhard we all know and love. It's a comic book - of course people say things like "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!" (Or however you spell it. Sorry, people, I don't have my Dictionary of Marvel Words in front of me.) And I don't need to know that Strange has hemorrhoids. Sweet Jebus, what is up with Too Much Information these days? Anyway, I kind of like this version of Dr. Strange. He's bizarre. He has to go find out why certain Marvel characters (including Deadgirl's old teammate, Tike Alicar) are coming back from the dead. For this, he'll need Deadgirl. See how it all fits together?

This is a fine first issue, and I have no problem with buying the rest of it without reading the issues. Lots of weirdness to ensue, I'm sure. And it's the "Good" Milligan, so it's sure to be fun.

Do your worst! But be gentle!

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Anonymous The Ultimately Untimely Alex W said...

You know what would really make the Baby Jesus happy now?

A fourth Planetary TPB before the end of 2006.

1/19/2006 06:05:00 AM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

I think that the motivation for Milligan's depiction of Dr. Strange comes from a theme he used as a tenant of his X-Force/X-Statix stories:

Heroes as people, not people as heroes.

It's there to get a laugh and make you giggle while the intellectual message of the piece sneaks into your subconscious and tricks you into thinking without even knowing it.

But I don't have to tell you that. You have demonstrated your ability to recognize the good Milligan.

1/19/2006 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Brian Mac said...

Hey! You got personally insulted by Paul West? Congrats! What an arrogant jerk he was -- was he still refusing to teach on campus then? (And I hated his stupid book, too.)

1/19/2006 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Brian - yeah, we had to meet in what I assumed was his apartment building way up some street off-campus. I actually enjoyed West for the most part, despite his arrogance, and Women of Whitechapel was an okay read, but nothing great. I just couldn't believe someone who plotted something so densely could say that plot didn't matter.

1/19/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I will keep buying this, because I do trust Morrison...

Say this about any other mainstream writer and the average Morrisonian would scoff. You're killing comics with your blind loyalty, Greg! ;-)

1/19/2006 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Dweeze said...

Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. I was beginning to think I was the only person on the planet who found ASS #2 to barely rise above the "meh" level.

1/19/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger David C said...

I think you've explained my own lukewarm reaction to Morrison, and why I still think his run on *Animal Man* might be the best thing he's ever done. Weird, freaky ideas are fine, but annoying when shoehorned into a story - and often just as annoying when he's shoehorning a story *into* the weird idea, if that makes any sense.

1/19/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Woo! Hoo! Iron Ghost, baby!

Underrated series. Having been reading it issue-to-issue, I think I can firmly say that you'll enjoy this to no end.

Can we make a comicsblogoweb agreement to not use "ASS" to abbreviate All-Star Superman? Maybe throw a hyphen in or something, I don't know. But every time I see it I want to bust out laughing.

And I, too, love Grant Morrison, but not even the God of All Comics can get me to buy a Superman comic.

1/19/2006 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Regarding your ASS review...I think you make some good points, but I think that comics readers today are so over-exposed to "decompression" and molasses pacing that there is an automatic knee-jerk reaction to any issue that does not advance the uber-plot.

Personally, while reading something as slow-moving as a Bendis (or G-- forbid Bruce Jones!) comic can be frustrating, I have no problem with taking a issue here or there to focus on the characters and their reelationships.

Not every issue should be a 22 page long string of plot beats, and I don't think it was a bad idea to slow down and have some quiet moments after the frenetic pace of the first issue.

Certainly there is a balance to be struck, and you're right in the assertion that Plot is Good. But interludes are OK, too.

1/19/2006 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Marionette said...

Go Quakers!

1/19/2006 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Dale said...

I wasn't a big fan of ASS #1- though there were many, many smoochers out there blogging about how damned perfect it was.

So it's much to my astonishment how much I enjoy issue #2.

Nothing happens?
Yeah, maybe nobody gets in a slugout and no buildings crumble.
But there are two very interesting characters hiding secrets, both terribly aware of how they're coming off.

I've never seen the Supes/Lois dynamic work better.

1/19/2006 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Ah, Marionette, you flatter me by thinking I went to an Ivy League school. The Quakers are the University of Pennsylvania, while Pennsylvania State University are the Nittany Lions.

With regards to All-Star Superman - my big problem was that I didn't feel it moved the relationship forward either. Yes, both characters have secrets, but they didn't come any closer by the end of the issue (except for Superman offering to turn Lois into a superhuman, which, if you ask me, she should go all Liz Moran on him). It's weird - we're supposed to accept the relationship because of what we've read in other books, so Morrison can just graft on everything that has come before, even though this is obviously not the same Lois and Clark from the DCU. It's just strange.

I have no problem with quiet issues of people talking. But to me (more shocks ahead), Ultimate Peter and Mary Jane blathering endlessly for an entire issue about whether they should be dating is more interesting than this verbal dancing that doesn't seem to lead anywhere.

As usual with decompression, it's all about balance. This is an unbalanced issue, I thought.

1/19/2006 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

On A-S-S (that was for you, Chris' it's way too easy to write ASS): I didn't like this issue as much as #1, but I don't agree with some of your criticisms, mainly in the "Nothing happened" department. While I will go out on that limb and agree that Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man issues where MJ and Peter spend a whole issue having a conversation are more entertaning, I thought this worked well for what Morrison was going for, in that it was an awkward date between Lois and Superman. It helps that I liked all the made ideas and references to his work and work he likes that annoyed you (even if the 1,000,000 reference was mad paternailistic continuity). It just wasn't as exhilirating as you'd expect a Morrison Superman comic to be, especially after the great pacing of the first issue.

"It's weird - we're supposed to accept the relationship because of what we've read in other books, so Morrison can just graft on everything that has come before, even though this is obviously not the same Lois and Clark from the DCU. It's just strange."

This is an interesting point, but I think you're getting too hung up on this "It's not continuity!" thing. From what I understand, the reason why he's expecting you to accept the relationship because of a prior knowledge of the characters is because the All-Star comics are supposed to be about the most memorable versions of the characters, just not tied to a bunch of satelite books. It's not an Ultimate-style "reintroduce every single element from the ground up" kind of thing. I prefer Morrison's approach of refering to an established relationship between the two (even if I can concede that he probably leaned too heavily on referencing Silver Age comics) than an Ultimate Superman kind of thing. That he starts his stories en media res is one of the reasons I love his work so much. Even if this issue was unsatisfying.

1/19/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Apodaca said...

"It's weird - we're supposed to accept the relationship because of what we've read in other books, so Morrison can just graft on everything that has come before"

You forgot something, though. With a character as iconic and widely known as Superman, it's not about what we've read in other books, it's about what's in the public consciousness. It's pretty much guaranteed that anyone who knows who Superman is knows who Lois Lane is. And it's pretty much guaranteed that everyone knows who Superman is.

Morrison knows that he doesn't have to go to great lengths re-establishing their relationship, because it's common knowledge.

1/19/2006 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you been reading Gail Simone's run on Action Comics?

It's nothing earth-shattering, just fine, well-plotted superheroics, topped off with excellent characterization.

It's one of the finest "Superman" runs I've read in a while. DC should beg this woman to return.

1/22/2006 03:19:00 AM  
Blogger Juan Ferreyra said...

Hey greg!, glad you liked Rex Mundi! ;)

nice blog by the way

Juan F

1/23/2006 03:42:00 AM  

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