Thursday, February 23, 2006

What I bought - 22 February 2006

Not a bad day in the comics world. Won't you come along as I rant about ill-shaped comics, lousy comics, and comics that are chock full of politics! We might not agree on politics, but I trust you'll allow me to rant about them!

The American Way #1 by John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Story
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

The "hook" of this (mini-)series is that the main character, Wes, gets a job in the Kennedy White House as the PR man for the government-made and -sponsored supergroup, the Civil Defense Corps. Through Wes, the authors imply, we will gain perspective on these super-people and we will also learn how the people of the early 1960s lost their innocence about their government. Oh, the cynicism!

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, it is. There is quite a lot that's derivative about The American Way. Of course, there is quite a lot that's derivative about most fiction, so that shouldn't stop us from buying it. The question is, of course, is it done well?

For the most part, yes. It starts off with nothing but clichés, as we see an attack by an alien invasion that is defeated only at the last minute by the hero "Old Glory" after all his comrades have fallen. As this takes place in 1961, Wes is full of awe and wonder at these heroics (because these days we would be looking around for someone to sue), but that soon turns sour when he loses his job and then gets a call from the Attorney General, someone named Bobby Kennedy (was he, like, famous or something?). Kennedy offers him a job "selling" the CDC to the public, and Wes finds out that not only are they not heroes, but all their fights have been stage-managed. Kennedy insists it's "practice" for the day when the Russians come up with their own superheroes, but for Wes, it's a particularly depressing look at realpolitik. He takes the job, but only because his wife is pregnant. The twist at the end is another standard theme - someone dies! - but, because it's supposed to be stage-managed, it makes it more interesting than if it's just another superhero fight.

Where the book falls a bit flat is in the rather ham-fisted attempts at social commentary. It's kind of shoe-horned in, and while the exposition about Russians is okay because the book skews to the political side of the spectrum, but the other things - about the problems with racism, for instance - feel just tacked on to make the book more "relevant." It's not that annoying, but it feels like Ridley just wanted to throw it in there to let us know that he knows racism is bad. Yeah, we get it.

And you must love "The East Coast Intellectual." He's freakin' excellent.

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her ... #6 (of 6) by Richard K. Morgan, Sean Phillips, and Bill Sienkiewicz
$2.99, Marvel

This is the kind of comic we need more of. That's not to say it's a great comic - it's certainly good, but it's not something you need to sacrifice your mother to own. We need more of these kinds of comics because Morgan actually has quite a bit on his mind, and he uses the story to get his opinions out without sitting down and bashing us over the head with it. You may disagree with what he's saying, but at least he's not just writing another dull shoot-'em-up. In the two mini-series (this one follows closely behind the first one he wrote) he has delved into cosmetics and what they mean in our society, the U.S. government's alliances with big business and the consequences of those actions, the manipulation of memory, and the way women are viewed in this male-dominated world and what they can do about it. Through it all, Morgan and his artists have kept the cheesecake to a minimum, and when a woman is dressed provocatively, she either calls out the guy ogling her or she is doing it specifically to manipulate men. It's quite well done, especially when you consider this is the Black Widow, a character known for wearing leather all the time.

This mini-series ends with, well, a big fight, as Natasha and Sally Anne, with help from Yelena and Matt Murdock, escape from the big complex in Panama. It's brutal and disturbing, but considering what Natasha and Sally have been through, justified. Like the previous mini-series, Morgan leaves the door open for a sequel, and although I was annoyed that the Navy Seal who hates Natasha was just a red herring throughout the series, he looks to be a prominent player in the next series, whenever that might come out. At the end of the book, Natasha still has not cleared her name, and she's on the run from the American government. This situation could lead to a lot of different plots in the future, and it will be interesting to see if Marvel lets Morgan write another series.

Like I said, some people might object to Morgan's politics, especially as regards to the way the U.S. government colludes with big business in such an outrageous manner. Well, that's a point - this is certainly not a terribly patriotic book, even though, as a Russian, Natasha is under no compulsion to support the Americans. However, the eerie timing of this book, coming out as it does during the week when our president is planning on selling the maintenance rights of six high-volume ports to an Arab company, makes us step back and consider whether Morgan's scenario is really that far-fetched. I would have liked the book regardless of what was happening in the real world when it came out, but it adds a nice little edge to the fiction when we compare it to what our government is actually doing. Maybe Richard Morgan is behind the port deal ...

Catwoman #52 by Will Pfeifer and Pete Woods
$2.50, DC

"Just when I think I'm out ... they keep pulling me back in!"

Damn you, Will Pfeifer. Damn you. This is the last issue before EVERYTHING CHANGES!, and I was going to buy it and more than likely drop the book because, frankly, it was decent enough but just not grabbing me. And the Pfeifer drops this gem on us. Yes, it's a big downer. Slam Bradley is in the hospital after last issue's events, and his son soon joins him. Selina doesn't know where to turn to deal with Black Mask. So she takes him on herself. The results are ... well, unexpected. At least to me, since I'm stupid and don't often try to guess what's going to happen. It makes it more fun.

Anyway, Selina does what she has to, and then at the end of the issue, the world turns wacky and (presumably) a year passes. What will happen when next we check in on our heroine? Well, I certainly don't know, but Pfeifer has made me interested. So I'll have to pick it up. Damn you, Pfeifer!!!!

Mouse Guard #1 (of 6) by David Petersen
$3.50, Archaia Studios Press

This comic book is square. I feel like I have to explain to the fine folk at Archaia, who brought us this nifty little piece of comic book literature that those of us who don't really care whether their comics are in "mint" condition still like to preserve them for future years of enjoyment, and finding a freakin' square Mylar bag is no easy task. Either make your comics standard size, or print them on more durable materials so that they don't go to shit in the future. I have kept my two copies of Big Numbers in reasonably good shape, but this book is even flimsier than those are. Sheesh!

Because, as Brian points out, this is a good comic (I haven't read his review, so as to not sully my own thoughts, but from the title of his post, I'm going to make some assumptions). It's beautiful to look at, and while the story treads familiar ground in the fantasy realm - mice who are intelligent and organized, defending their borders against predators - as usual, it's in the execution, and Petersen gives us some nice scenes of the mice and develops their characters enough that we're willing to go along for the ride. A mouse merchant disappears on the road, and the Mouse Guard are sent out to investigate. They soon discover what happened to the merchant - a snake got him - but that's not the end of the story, and they uncover something that could threaten their very existence!!!! It's a nice set-up issue. Petersen throws some darkness into his cute little fantasy world, as when the mice stumble across the snake's nest and her eggs, and, of course, when they fight the snake herself. These mice are bad-ass because they have to be, and it's a good way to establish both their credentials as warriors while showing us that they're still mice.

This is a six-issue mini-series, and I highly recommend it. However, although I hate to say this about a small independent series that might die if nobody buys it, you might be better off waiting for the trade in a year or so, because then the squareness of it won't be as annoying. Or you could buy the individual issues and hunt down appropriately-sized bags. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

Supreme Power: Hyperion #4 (of 5) by J. Michael Straczynski, Dan Jurgens, and Klaus Janson
$2.99, Marvel

I know I said I was going to save mini-series until all the issues were out before reading them, but I just don't care all that much about this to do that. This is certainly not as bad as the Nighthawk mini-series, but it's just kind of dull. Hyperion from the alternate world speaks to Mark Milton of our world and tells him that he has to take over. Whoopee. I worry about the new Squadron Supreme series, which is the only reason I'm buying these minis, because if this is what we have to look forward to, I'll lose interest right quick. I enjoyed Supreme Power despite its slowness because it felt like Straczynski was building to a monumental experience, but if it's another series about superheroes taking over and other superheroes taking them down, what's the point? Seriously. Blah.

The Warlord #1 by Bruce Jones and Bart Sears
$2.99, DC

I wanted to like The Warlord. Despite its ending, Jones' run on The Incredible Hulk showed that he could really build suspense, and maybe in the last few years he's figured out to pay off on that. I've always enjoyed Sears' art, but the past few years, starting with his work on The Path, it's gotten a lot more interesting. And what the heck, I'm always on board for some good old-fashioned "sword-and-sorcery excitement," as the cover promises.

So why didn't I like it? Well, I'm not sure. I was confused about why Morgan wasn't already in Skartaris. I guess this is a new origin issue, but even though I know absolutely nothing about any previous iteration of the Warlord, I wouldn't mind picking this up in the middle of the story. I honestly don't know why or even if that would work better, but it seems like a better idea. The action was fine, and the politics I can handle, but the whole thing just felt off. Sorry, but it's just a gut feeling - I can't articulate it any better.

I'm waffling about the next issue. I want to give this more of a chance than just one issue. We'll see. I should probably just pick up the trades of Busiek's Conan.

X-Men #183 by Peter Milligan and Salvador Larroca
$2.50, Marvel

Milligan is really zig-zagging around on this series, as he follows a very strong issue like last one with one that just kind of sits there. Maybe it's because Marvel wants five issues out of this. Maybe it's because Milligan is leaving the book. Whatever - this is just a dull issue. Apocalypse shows up at the X-mansion, sics his Horsemen on our heroes, then promises them they won't be hungry anymore (because of Famine, don't you know) if they pledge eternal fealty to him and drink his blood. Eeeewwwww! Yeah, I guess they're starving, but that's just icky. It took the Crusaders trapped inside Nicomedia months before they starting drinking each others' urine! However, it's one of those horrible little details that Milligan excels at, so I'll let it go. Some X-students rush to Tall, Dark, and Gruesome, while others deny him. It's so very Christological! Meanwhile, Apocalypse fights the sentinels, the X-Men attack him and argue with their students about how they just can't follow Apocalypse (sound familiar?) and Gambit sneaks into Apocalypse's stronghold and offers to serve him. Ah, Remy - once a traitor, always a traitor, right? I'm sure it will all work out in the end.

Some stupid things abound in this book. For instance, are all the mutants that are left in the world at the Xavier Institute? Cyclops seems to think so. Or are the "198" something else? I don't know and I don't care? And why are some mutants so affected by hunger and not others? Cyclops and Beast mention that they're hungry too, but they don't seem to be bothered, while others are literally falling over. Did Scott and Hank have a nice, satisfying meal just before their foe showed up? I wonder ...

I've spent too much time on this already. It's a shame. I had high hopes for Milligan on X-Men, and although he's given us some interesting scenes, that's all they really are. Nothing coheres. We'll see if Mike Carey can do something with these leftover mutants.

Mini-series I bought but did not read:
Robotika #2 (of 4) by Andrew Sheikman
$3.95, Archaia Studios Press

Another gorgeous issue. I flipped through it and was amazed. I didn't read it because that's my policy, but I still recommend this book. If it's around, grab it, and if not, I'll let you know if and when a trade gets solicited. This is really a cool book.

Well, that's it for this week. By the way, I decided to order neither the Astonishing X-Men 12-pack nor the Omnibus. I will probably get the trade of the first six issues of Astonishing, and I may hunt down the Omnibus in the future, but Matthew's point about the binding made a lot of sense. I'm scared to open Absolute Watchmen, and that's probably a lot thinner than the Omnibus will be. Thanks for your opinions, especially with regard to the "Dangerous" story in Astonishing.

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Blogger Bryan-Mitchell said...

No Legion? I thought you liked GOOD comics!
I guess no one is perfect... ;-)

2/23/2006 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

A "hey, look at old comics!!" comic from a guy who wrote a story a few issues earlier stating fairly unequivocally "Stop paying attention to old comics, losers!"?

Silly Waid.

2/23/2006 06:43:00 PM  
Anonymous C. Tynne said...


I bought the latest LSH issue on a whim.

It was so...palpable, in its contempt for the reader.

The worst sort of fill-in story.

2/23/2006 07:07:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

Catwoman is awesome right now, stop pretending it's not!

2/23/2006 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Uh, Brian?

Stuart Moore wrote the latest issue of Legion.

2/24/2006 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Tim O'Neil said...

Who wrote it is irrelevent. I was really, really looking forward to seeing the return of the "real" Legion, and instead we got.. campfire stories!

If that's not a bait and switch, I don't know what is.

2/24/2006 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

It was *very* relevant to Brian's comment, but I get your point.

Me, I'm both perverse and not particularly attached to any previous version of the Legion, and so I enjoyed it.

2/24/2006 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Dead on with the Catwoman- it rocked! And I completely agree with Warlord, it was just kinda blah. Conan and Red Sonja are excellent options for sword and sorcery books. I have, after this last ish, taken X-men off the buy list, its just been so off.

2/24/2006 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Samuel said...

Aren't we pretty sure that at least Molly & GLA/GLX still exists outside Xavier's?

2/24/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks Apocalypse looks like a muppet?

It's that mouth thing. How can you be scared of someone who looks like he's about to break out in "Wakka wakka!" or start devouring cookies?

2/25/2006 11:20:00 PM  
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