Thursday, March 09, 2006

What I bought - 8 March 2006

In this installment: mini-series conclude, mini-series continue, and mini-series begin! Doesn't anyone write ongoing titles anymore???? And I prove why Harvey Jerkwater, though well-intentioned, is still misguided. Won't that be fun? (Click here for an archive of previous installments of "What I Bought").

Down #4 (of 4) by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner
$2.99, Image/Top Cow

Well, this was certainly a sad, nasty little series, wasn't it? The most depressing thing about this is that Ellis can do better, but he often doesn't. It makes me wonder if I should just stop buying his "creator-owned" stuff, because too often it devolves into nastiness like this with absolutely no point. And that's what's sad - this story has no point. Deanna saves Nick's life, which is fine, I suppose, even though she's on assignment to bring him down. Seven pages later she shoots him in the head. Wha da fug???? This is, of course, after killing two cops on her way to save Nick's life. By the end she's in charge of the underworld, and she's gone "down" as far as she can, but no one cares anymore. It's just a pointless exercise, and a waste of Hamner's fine pencils and Ellis's talents. I just don't get it. Blech.

Continuing this blog's look at rape, Ellis is implying here that if you are raped when you are a child, you automatically have a death wish and you kill and kill until someone kills you. Isn't that what he's implying?

Fables #47 by Bill Willingham, Jim Fern, and Jimmy Palmiotti
$2.75, DC/Vertigo

Another nice issue of Fables throws us a little bit of a curve ball, as we finish the two-part story about Rodney and June's desire to be human so they can, you know, fuck. We think it's going to be about their trials as they try to become human, but it's really about the price they pay after they become human. It's an interesting twist and it helps tie the story into the main arc, as they are sent to New York to spy on the Fables in Exile.

The biggest issue I had with the story was its speed. Willingham flies along, as Rodney is released from prison, the two leads travel the kingdom to meet Gepetto, they become human, June gets pregnant, they are sent to the Mundy world to spy, and they are forced to do some evil little things while they're there (we don't know what they are, but Rodney comes home one night with blood all over him, so it's probably not pleasant). That's a lot to pack into the story, and while I don't mind too much, we get very little from June (she narrates the story, like Rodney narrated last issue) to make us feel that badly for her at the end, when she lies in bed awake and weeps for everything she's given up. We can see what she's given up, but we don't feel that bad, because it was her choice. And it seems like she's been pregnant for an awfully long time!

Still, it's a decent enough issue, and I'm sure it will tie in somehow soon. Next month we get the Big Search For Bigby, so that should be fun.

Fell #4 by W. Ellis and Ben Templesmith
$1.99, Image

The backlash against Fell has begun. "How dare you like a comic book just because it's $1.99!" Well, that's not the only reason I like it, but it's certainly a component. You can argue against the quality of the stories, but why is Ellis able to pack quite a bit of information into fewer pages and Templesmith able to bring each panel to life? Maybe you can argue that the information is stupid and unnecessary, but it's certainly there. Fell might not work for you, but don't hate it because it's shorter than the comics you're used to. That's just dumb.

I like it partly because of Templesmith's art. He is rapidly becoming a great artist, and it's nice to check out Richard's face as he navigates through the case of the "floater." Templesmith has always been good at the horror aspects, but in this title he is dialing it down just a bit, leaving us with more creepy images than simply horrific ones - the Nixon nun is the most obvious, but the dogs Richard encounters on the way to the pier are just as creepy.

The stories are ways for Ellis to write about things that freak him out, and they're nothing special, but, unlike Down, for instance, there is a vague sense of hope for Snowtown, despite what everyone keeps telling Richard. This is the most interesting part of the book - whether Richard can resist the despair that clings to everyone in the city, or if he too will eventually succumb.

So no, it's not a perfect comic. What is? However, it's beautiful, it has something on its mind, and it won't set you back as much as, say, Pietro wondering what he's going to do with his miserable life. How's that for a recommendation?

Hard Time #4 by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, Brian Hurtt, and Steve Bird
$2.50, DC

If you don't buy Hard Time, you may make Cindy cry, and nobody wants that. In this issue, we learn more about Cindy than is probably healthy, as Cole reads her diary because he thinks he might learn about her relationship with Cutter, whom he dislikes. We learn that Cindy was around women all her life, so when it came time to play, he naturally turned to girls' toys. We learn that Cindy's mom took up with a loser who tried to turn Cindy into a man, with predictably horrible results. We learn that this loser eventually decided to treat Cindy like a woman, with more predictably horrible results. None of this it terribly original, but it's not bad, either. It at least helps us understand Cindy's character a bit more, including why she might gravitate toward Cutter even though he's a man. Meanwhile, in the prison, Cutter is getting mixed up with the Italians, and he pays the price. The big story of how Ethan's spirit-thing is drawn to Cutter is expanded a bit, and it appears there is more to it than we previously thought.

This is somewhat of a treading water issue, but it still moves us forward a tiny bit. I don't mind issues devoted almost solely to character development, but using the diary as a device is kind of annoying because it doesn't allow room for anything but character development. It takes us out of the flow of the narrative. But like I said, for only part of one issue (a large part, but still only part) it's okay. And Hard Time continues to be a very interesting book.

Hysteria: One Man Gang #1 by Mike Hawthorne
$2.99, Image

Okay, so here's where I begin my brave and valiant assault on an unsuspecting Harvey Jerkwater! Here's the deal: Harvey wants DC comics to regain some fun and wonder. Fine and good. But why? That's what I want to know. Who cares if Batman wears a fake sea gull on his head? That's not what Batman does anymore! Why is there such a big deal on whether DC or Marvel with regain "that sense of fun"? Just because when we were all kids we watched Batman defeat a shark with anti-shark spray? I, personally, don't care if Batman ever uses that again. Or wears a sea gull on his head. Why? Because there are plenty of "fun" comics out there. I try to mention them whenever I can, and this week we have two more, the first of which is Mike Hawthorne's weird little tale.

Hysteria is a fight comic. That's all it is - fighting. It begins on the thinnest of premises: Port Aesteria (spelled differently later in the book) is divided into four sections, each with its own gang running things. Everything is peaceful as long as no one steps on another's turf. On the first couple of pages, Bruce Lopez, the One Man Gang of the title (that's him on the cover, and yes, there is something ridiculously funny about the fact that his name is Bruce Lopez) leaps across the border between his section and another gang's (the Eggs Gang) to rescue that little girl on the cover from a truck bearing down on her. The Eggs Gang doesn't care why he did it, just that he did it. Mayhem ensues.

This is a silly book, and it may not be to your liking, as all that really happens is that Bruce tries to get away so he can return the girl to her home, while the entire Eggs Gang chases him. He fights the first three gang members (one of whom has three forks tied to the back of his hand and a suspiciously familiar haircut) and beats them up. The rest of the gang comes after him, and the issue ends with Bruce incapacitated and the girl in mortal peril!

This is a fun comic. There's nothing socially redeeming about it at all, it won't make you a better person, and you'll be done with it in less than five minutes, which may make the price tag a bit steep, I'll admit. However, we should stop whining that our childhood heroes aren't fun anymore and go find ones that are! More proof below!

(I shouldn't pick on Mr. Jerkwater, as he's much smarter than I am. Go read his blog if you don't believe me.)

Matador #6 (of 6) by Devin Grayson and Brian Steelfreeze
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Matador comes to an end with a bit of a whimper, as it's been months since the last issue shipped (Steelfreeze had some health problems, apparently). It's certainly a slam-bang issue - lots of people die, but it turned into something different than I wanted it to be. I realize that reviewing what you want something to be rather than what it actually is is pretty stupid, but lemme 'splain. We learn what the Matador is in this comic, and the explanation makes little sense. It seems like Grayson and Steelfreeze were trying to make it "realistic," but they fail, and I say - why? It's a comic book. It's fiction. Make it a bit outlandish - we can handle it. I don't want him to be some kind of weird alien, because this is essentially a hard-boiled police thriller, but it can be a little wacky.

This has always been Isabel's story, and that's another problem with the book. She gets away too easily. There is so much corruption in Miami, and she is battling against it, but it feels like Grayson and Steelfreeze kept piling corruption on corruption to make the odds against her that much greater, and then they realized it would be completely unfeasible to work out how she triumphed, so she just does, somehow. We're not quite sure. The obvious thing is for her to go to the press, but she doesn't. It all just ... goes away. Am I missing something?

So: very nice art, sort of compelling story, very good characters (both Isabel and the Matador are interesting, and the others are nicely done), good set-up, lousy pay-off. Sigh. Unfortunately, that's what I could write about a lot of mini-series.

Sky Ape: King of Girls by Phil Amara, Tim McCarney, Mike Russo, and Richard Jenkins
$4.95, AiT/Planet Lar

Exhibit #2 in the "Comics Are Fun!" case is Sky Ape. As the back cover puts it: "Who doesn't like Sky Ape? Communists, that's who!" Well, that might be pushing it - this is another comic where you really have to be in the mood for a gorilla wearing a jet pack (although he doesn't really use it) and the central conceit - that a gorilla wears a jet pack and fights crime - isn't as funny as the creators think it is. However, if we ignore that, this is a goofy, fun, throw-everything-in-there-and-hope-most-of-it-works kind of book, and luckily, most of it works. It's ridiculously nerd-friendly, as "normal" people may not get all the jokes and instead just laugh at the nerds, but nerds will "get" even more. How can you not love the guy who looks for love at a comic-con with a "smokin' Greedo gittup"? And the only bite he gets is a "fifty-year-old drunk nudist from Utah with crimped hair, dressed like the Valkyrie." There's a lot of inanity in this book - the role call of Victory's 13 goes on for four pages, which is about three too many, and the Minotaur isn't funny and makes little sense - but the joy with which the creators throw it all down and never let up, and that makes reading it easy and fun and not a bad way to spend ten or so minutes. It's the kind of book that doesn't try to be anything more than it is, and therefore succeeds admirably. And, like Hysteria, it brings a sense of goofy insanity to the proceedings of comics. We simply do not need Batman with a sea gull on his head. Really!¹

Mini-series I bought but didn't read:

I didn't look through this, but from the cover, it implies that Julie Madison might be in peril. Shocking.

I know I had some fun with this last issue, but it was entertaining, and at least satirical enough to keep me interested.

Rabid zombie gerbils, I guess. Edgy!

"To be concluded in Seven Soldiers #1." Oh, the betrayal!

¹ Maybe Mr. Harvey was making a different point. I often miss the point. What say you, Mr. Jerkwater?

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Anonymous Chuck T. said...

I thought Deanna in Down didn't have a death wish, she wanted everyone else to die. Not the best from Ellis, and I kind of think if this had come out when it was supposed to (five years ago? Longer?) it might have fared a little better. And been cheaper.

3/09/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I think she wants everyone, including herself, to die. At the end, the guy says to her "It could kill us all," and she says "God, I hope so."

3/09/2006 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

I like Fell because I can afford it (Oh, and the art is good, I dig the atmosphere, and I like the protagonist). Seriously, I can't afford to buy more than a handful of comics every few weeks. 2 bucks for spooky Law & Order? Word.

Issue 4 wasn't amazing (although it may have been Templesmith's best), but it was at least 2 bucks worth of good. I was drawn into the story, cared about the characters, and was invested in the outcome. The last two panels were cool. Fell 4 accomplished its purpose, to provide cheap, creepy entertainment.

3/10/2006 08:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Gabriel Lundeen said...

There was a lot more going on in this month's Fell than in Sensational Spider-Man 24, which cost a buck more and wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. With Ellis and Templesmith it's all about economy of storytelling. I appreciate them not dragging everything out. I think we've seen Richard Fell develop quite a lot since #1. Economy is something more comics should strive for. Just because they're traditionally a certain number of pages doesn't mean they always have to be.

3/10/2006 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Thanks for the praise! Though I'm not sure I'm smarter than you. Hairier, yes. Smarter, I dunno.

The "Gull-Head Batman" test is just to see if the hype around DC's alleged lightening and differing in tone is real or not. Do we need a gull-headed Batman? No, not really. I'd love to see one, though.

Why should we concern ourselves with DC Comics getting a sense of fun and wonder? Eh, out of fondness for the characters and history, I'd say. We know their stuff can be fun, and when it's on top of its game, it's great. But if they never get their mojo back, it's hardly a tragedy.

Yeah, the fun comics right now aren't coming from the Big Two. Godland and Action Philosophers are wild rides I recommend to everyone. (My copy of Sky Ape hasn't arrived yet--I can't wait.)

Still, I'd say there's a shortage of Good Time Hoo-Hah Comics. Both indies and the Big Two gravitate towards the self-important and the depressing. Dude, I'm already self-important and depressing. I don't need help. Make with the wacky!

Ya know, the only Big Two comic that feels like big fun to me right now is The Thing.

I've been trying to come up with a piece about the excellence of Hard Time for a week now. I love that dang series. Well-written, engaging, good art, great pacing and sense of anticipation,'s a great freakin' book.

3/10/2006 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

Thanks for throwing a spotlight onto One Man Gang. That comic's freakin' NUTS!!!

3/10/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Harvey - yeah, I understand. It would be nice to see DC get a bit lighter, just because one extreme or the other doesn't really work. Ultimately, though, it's what drives the market. We'll see what happens.

3/10/2006 03:37:00 PM  
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