Thursday, April 06, 2006

What I bought - 5 April 2006

Lots of good books this week, and some made me grumpy. Probably not as grumpy as a few weeks ago, but still. Luckily, the good comics overwhelmed the grumpiness. Yay, good comics! And I'm kind of a corporate whore this week, especially for DC. Jeez, DC, release many comics this week?

Batman & the Monster Men #6 (of 6) by Matt Wagner
$3.50, DC

I've been putting off reading this because it's a mini-series and that's my policy, but it was killing me to not read it, because it's so purty and I read the first three issues and dug them, so I was happy that the sixth and final issue came out so I could read them all together.

This series has alternately gladdened me and angered me. It has made me happy for all the reasons you think it would - Wagner's art is wonderful and automatically makes anything look better. Is it me, or is he underrated as an artist and a writer? I'm just wondering. In this issue, he ramps up the carnage as the monsters attack the country estate where Sal Maroni is hiding out. It's very gruesome but strangely beautiful - not unlike most of Wagner's art when he gets gruesome. Meanwhile, the story speeds along, and Batman saves Julie's dad from certain death! Unfortunately, Hugo Strange gets away and in a nice twist, shows up on television denouncing the Batman as a nut. Bruce realizes he can't do anything to stop him, because there's no evidence linking Strange to the monsters. It's a fine mini-series and leaves enough stuff hanging (like the fate of both Julie and her father) to lead into the next Wagner mini-series, which will apparently feature the Mad Monk from way back in the early days of Batman's career (earlier than Dr. Strange, even, so why didn't he get a story first?!?!?). You know I'll buy that.

So why did it anger me? As I've pointed out before, I'm kind of getting sick of stories from Batman's early days. Yes, I understand that this was meant to show how he first dealt with creatures that were weird instead of just "normal" street crime, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And as has been pointed out to me recently, Batman's pre-"Year One" history has been officially retconned, so the original story doesn't technically exist anymore. DC is saying, on the one hand, that anything prior to 1987 or so doesn't exist, while on the other hand they allow Wagner to "update" a story from 1939 and allow Steve Englehart, last year, to bring back a character who doesn't exist, Silver St. Cloud. I know I'm thinking about it too much and I should just enjoy the story, but it bugs me that they can't simply allow Wagner to go nuts on a story in the present.

More than that, though, the fact that this story is set in the early years of Batman's career means that the drama is simply less than it could be. Who is the villain of this story? Well, there are two: Dr. Hugo Strange and Sal Maroni. Dr. Strange is the kind of villain who pops up every now and then, so I don't have a problem with him on television at the end, but any Batman fan with any tiny bit of knowledge knows that when Strange sends his monsters to kill Maroni, nothing will happen to him, because Maroni was the one who scarred Harvey Dent, which he hasn't done yet. Therefore, the tension is lessened a bit - we don't have to guess whether Batman will hesitate to save Maroni - just a bit! - because we know he survives. Similarly, we know Bruce isn't going to end up with Julie. Of course, we know Bruce isn't going to end up with any woman, but at least if it takes place in the present there's a chance. His romance with Julie is not dramatic, because there's no hope for it.

Again, this a minor objection, but it's just one of these things that bothers me about DC and Marvel. In the present, they seem to realize that they've made a mess of their comics (despite individual good issues and stories - I'm talking about the general direction of things), and they increasingly wallow in nostalgia. It's okay for fans to wallow in nostalgia, but for the companies - that's not a way to promote growth. At least that's what I think.

Still, it's a good book. See? I'm conflicted.

Detective #818 by James Robinson, Leonard Kirk, Andy Clarke, and Wayne Faucher
$2.50, DC

Speaking of the regular titles in the DC world, we have the eight-part crossover written by James Robinson. Someone in the blogaxy (okay, okay, it was Dorian) mentioned that this feels like "filler" until Morrison and Dini come onto the books. Hmmm. Let's get back to that. Batman is trying to figure out why someone would kill the KGBeast and Magpie and, as it turns out, the Ventriloquist and Scarface. Boy, Robinson is whacking his way through the minor Batman villains, isn't he? Harvey's not looking too sane, either. What to do, what to do???

Robinson is doing a nice job with Batman and Robin's interaction, which seems to be the point of this book - bring them back together as a fighting team that trusts each other. This is why I have some hope for the future of DC - they are willing to tell this kind of story, in which, let's face it, brutal things are still happening, but there is still a hopeful vibe to it, which is different from recent events in the DCU. As much as I enjoyed Lapham's recent run on this book, egad! was it depressing. And I like Bullock's little soliloquy, especially because I live one town over from Apache Junction, and he's right - Magpie would rule that trailer-park-lovin' town! I wonder if Robinson's going anywhere with this idea that these bad guys come to Gotham to be near Batman. I hope he is.

Okay, back to our favorite gay comics blogger. Dorian thinks this is okay, but "filler." That's fine. But the question I have is - define "filler." Batman is the kind of guy where the ongoing continuity doesn't really matter that much. This isn't a soap opera book, like the X-Men, where we need to tie everything together and the characters are all living their lives. Several writers have tried to turn Batman into that, and they've had varying degrees of success. But that's not necessarily what Batman is. A good Batman story is Batman doing some detecting and Bruce shows up occasionally and Alfred does his Alfred thing and Gordon is around and there's a nasty villain doing nasty things. If this is an eight-part story that simply tells a good story and Batman does some detecting, I'll be happy. I won't care if it fits into "continuity." It's Batman - he's a detective. Solve some crimes, man! If that's filler, that's fine.

Phew. I'm really ranting today, aren't I? I'll try to rein it in.

Ex Machina #19 by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

But I can't rein it in, because something about Ex Machina pissed me off this week! "But, Greg," you clamor, "this is one of your favorite titles! How could it piss you off?" Was it that Tony Harris's art finally looked crappy? Was it that I have turned into T. and I hate Vaughan's hippy-dippy politics? Did I dislike Mitch's vulgar language? NO!

So I'm sitting there reading my copy of Ex Machina, and I turn a page and one of the leaves just flies out. It was the leaf at the center, the one that begins with Wylie sitting at Journal's bedside. It just came out! What the fuck? I have comics that are 30 years old that are put together better! I don't really care about the condition of the book, because I'm not going to sell it or anything, but what the fuck? I went back and bought another copy, because I'm just that wacky, and it happened again when I flipped through it! What. The. Fuckin'. Fuck.

I can barely talk about the issue itself. It's awesome as usual. Lots of neat political discussion, some religious discussion, a tense confrontation in the subway, someone gets killed and it may lead to further bloodshed - you know, all the good stuff that we have come to know and love in this title.

But would it kill DC to put their comics together a little better? WOULD IT?????

Hard Time Vol. 2 #5 by Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Brian Hurtt
$2.50, DC

Well, it's cancelled, so there's not really much of a point in convincing you that you should buy it, is there? I'm not really that angry about its cancellation - books get cancelled all the time, and life goes on - and I'm as culpable as anybody because I didn't buy it the first time around, but if anyone ever complains about how the only thing in comics is crappy superhero shit, I will hunt you down and make you write a book report on Chuck Austen's run on Uncanny X-Men - complete with footnotes! Or force you to read Loeb and Maduriera's Ultimates. I haven't decided yet.

As usual, my point is: why waste time with dreck like Infinite Crisis? The comments pertaining to Brian's post, if they're not about the copyright problem (which, I must say, is a fascinating conundrum) are about how it sucks. Cronin, of course, has an unholy alliance with Mephisto that allows him to download every comic every created directly into his brain (he'll pay for that bargain in hell, of course, but for now it's working out for him), but for the others who are commenting on how it sucks, did you pay for it? If you did, why? WHY????? Why didn't you take your 3 dollars and buy something you might actually enjoy, like Hard Time? Or, if that's not your bag (that's cool), something else you might enjoy? I can't comment on whether or not IC sucks, because I haven't read a word. I have no interest.

Anyway, Hard Time #5 was good. Interesting characters, interesting dilemmas, interesting interactions between said characters. Well, shit, it's a good read! Shocking that it got cancelled, isn't it?

The Keep #5 (of 5) by F. Paul Wilson and Matthew Smith
$3.99, IDW

I'm not sure how I feel about The Keep. On the one hand, the mystery is interesting, the explanation is interesting, and the tension is palpable. On the other hand, it ends rather abruptly, and without giving too much away, someone who is supposed to be dead does not appear to be so at the end. It kind of robs the story of its drama, doesn't it?

Overall, this is a good mini-series - not worth the 4 dollars for each issue, which is always the problem with IDW books, but certainly worth it if you can get the trade for a bit cheaper than 20 dollars. Smith's art is better in issue #5 than it has been for the previous four, and although I was a bit disappointed by the fate of the "good" German soldier - Captain Woermann - the story is still gripping. What lengths will people go to defeat evil? Is it worth it if you become evil yourself? Where do you draw the line? It's an interesting moral discussion that Wilson doesn't get into too much, but enough to keep things moving along and enough to create tension in the story.

But the ending. Endings are the hardest thing to write, and this botches it. Maybe the novel on which this is based works better at the end, but this almost ruined the book for me. Almost. A flawed good story is still better than one that is lousy from the beginning. At least for me it is. Your opinion may vary.

Moon Knight #1 by Charlie Huston, David Finch, and Danny Miki
$2.99, Marvel

Yes, I'm a corporate whore. Yes, I bought a comic drawn by David Finch, who tears the comics blogaxy apart with his controversial art (is it good? is it bad?) Yes, it's another comic written by someone with no comics experience, because that's the cool thing to do.

I don't care. Moon Knight #1 is awesome.

You see, I love the character. He's one of those characters that I would start a web site for if they ever killed him (well, they did kill him, but in the days before web sites bemoaning that fact were in vogue). I would write letters to Marvel offering them my first born son if they would only bring him back. I would get tattoos of Marc Spector, Frenchie, Marlene, Gena, Crawley, Bushman, Morpheus, Randall Spector, Scarlett, and the members of the Committee all over my body just to proclaim my loyalty. I would buy a full-sized statue of Khonshu on eBay and display it proudly for visitors. I would force myself to have multiple personalities just so I can have the full-on Moon Knight experience. All these things I would do if Marvel would only bring him back in a series that is worthy of his greatness.

I may have to, because this is a good #1 issue.

The art is nice. I'm sort of on the "Finch is a good artist" side of the fence, even though I don't think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Moon Knight is WAY too muscular, but Finch tells the story nicely, especially in the latter half of the book when Huston's keyboard apparently broke and he couldn't write anything. And the last page of the book is very cool. As for the story - I don't want to give too much away, but it sets things up very well and promises at least an interesting ride that will define Marc Spector for the future. It's a six-issue arc (shocking!) but I'm on board for now.

A few things bug me. They kept the logo from the late 1980s/early 1990s series, which ended ignominiously with Stephen Platt on art and Moon Knight biting the big one. A small omen, but still. And in the back, Huston talks of his abiding love for the character (does he have all those tattoos! I think not!), especially Moench and Sienkiewicz's run in the early 1980s. Well, shit, of course those are the best issues, but once again, Marvel bugs me with their disregard for what has come before. As I said, I love the character, and I have read every single comic book that has "Moon Knight" on the cover - even the two late 1990s mini-series that Moench wrote and Texiera drew. Thought I forgot about those, didn't you, Marvel? I'm just wondering if those stories will be referenced. It's starting to bug me about the Big Two, that they are now going back to what everyone considers "the good issues" and claiming that those are the only ones that matter. Look, Moench and Sienkiewicz on Moon Knight is arguably one of the most interesting runs on a superhero book in the past thirty years. But Marvel decided to publish more comics with him after those two quit, not me. So they should acknowledge that those exist, even if they're not that good. I just wonder if they will.

Moon Knight #1 is good. Go buy it. Make Doug Moench, who was not, apparently, sent a complimentary copy of Essential Moon Knight, happy.

Planetary #25 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Whenever I get angry thinking about how it takes Ellis and Cassaday six months to write a 22-page pamphlet, another issue of Planetary comes out and appeases me like I was my daughter and Mommy or Daddy just shoved a bottle of warm formula into my gaping maw. Ahhhhh, Planetary. You calm me with your graphic goodness!

There's really not much to say about this issue. I mean, Ellis is slowly wrapping things up, and Elijah is continuing his campaign against the Four, and things from previous issues are referenced and make you say, "Oh, so that's what that was all about!" The guy at my comic book store said Planetary is one of those comics where the gap between issues doesn't matter, because when he reads it, everything comes back to him, and while I don't completely agree, it's still neat how Ellis can casually reference something that happened three or four or five years ago (in real time - man, this book comes out slowly!) and we still vaguely remember it. This book shows why I have faith in Ellis, even after all the crap he can and does publish - the fight between John and Jacita is beautifully drawn and mesmerizing (I suppose that's not Ellis and more Cassaday, but Cassaday could draw the phone book and it would be beautiful), while the revelations about the Four, while not super-original, is still one of those awe-inspiring moments that Ellis likes to throw at us every so often (usually in his sci-fi work, which is where he shines).

It's Planetary. It's one of the best comic books on the planet right now. It comes out once a year. What more needs to be said?

Ultimate X-Men #69 by Robert Kirkman, Ben Oliver, Jonathan Glapion, and Jay Leisten
$2.99, Marvel

I'm not exactly sure what's going on with that cover. I don't care that the scene doesn't appear in the book, but it implies that at some point, Scott and Logan are fighting about Jean, but Logan is barely in the book and never speaks to Scott. What the hell?

More interesting stuff from Kirkman here, as it appears we might actually get some resolution of the Ultimate version of the Phoenix. I mentioned this last time, I don't mind this story because this version hasn't been done to death yet, but I really, really hope that they resolve it soon and move on, never to speak of it again. The Phoenix is really an unbelievably cool concept that has been beaten to death in the regular Marvel U., so let's just figure it out in the next few issues and get it out of our systems. Won't that be fun?

As I've mentioned with this book for the past couple of years - it's nice to see the writer (whether it's Vaughan or now Kirkman) juggling all these plot threads without worrying that they fit into the trade. Logan is summoned to meet Nick Fury, Jean agrees to allow Lilandra check her out (and the most interesting scene in the book was when Xavier told her to stop using his first name - or was I the only one who thought that was cool?), Scott shows Elliot around the mansion, Warren has successfully infiltrated Emma's school and goes to a party, which the Brotherhood crashes, causing Scott to take Elliot with him on the rescue, which is just what Elliot wanted! How coincidental! Elliot's obviously pulling the strings here, but just what he's up to should make for good stories in the future. So there's a lot going on, but we never feel overwhelmed. That's why I like this book so much.

But Bobby has to take that stupid doo-rag off. That is my fashion advice for today.

Oh, and what is up with that painting in Fury's office? It looks like something from the Flemish masters series. Can anyone identify it, and is it significant in any way? I'm a little behind on my 17th-century Dutch paintings.

Batman: Secrets #2 (of 5) by Sam Kieth
$2.99, DC

Boy, that's a cool cover. Dark, yes, but cool. Kieth is awesome.

Bomb Queen #3 (of 4) by Jimmie Robinson
$3.50, Image

I like the strategically placed "Mature Readers" tag. I've often said, if it needs a "Mature Readers" tag, it's probably because the content is largely immature. I think that qualifies here. Am I going to regret buying this?

Team Zero #5 (of 6) by Chuck Dixon,, Doug Mahnke, and Sandra Hope
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Well, it's not a very good cover, but it's still a Chuck Dixon war comic, which, as we know, means it's good.

The Winter Men #4 (of 6) by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon
$2.99, DC/Wildstorm

Did everyone catch that? This was originally an eight-issue mini-series, and now it's six. This pisses me off more than is probably healthy. It's been months since issue #3 came out (November, if you're wondering) and any interest anyone had in this series may have dissipated. The fact that it was hard to follow also makes it a tough sell. I'm still interested, but I'm certainly not reading it until it's all said and done, because I was lost after three issues. So, DC did something stupid. Either it solicited a mini-series before it was completed, something that bugs me to absolutely no end. I can see Infinite Crisis getting behind schedule even though it's a mini-series, because its release has to be carefully coordinated with a bunch of other titles. But this? Why didn't they wait until the whole freakin' thing was in the can, or at least six of the eight issues or something like that? And now, suddenly, it's six issues instead of eight. That means to me that Lewis didn't have the whole story sketched out and is instead flying blind, which pisses me off again. I have no problem with writers sitting down and writing something without any idea where they're going with the story - that's how I write, and it's very liberating. But when you're coordinating with an artist and the publishing company and it's a monthly and terminal thing, have a plan, for crying out loud! This is just sloppiness on the part of the creators and on the part of the publisher. Grrr.

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. DC never tells us anything about why a book will be late, however, just that it will be. So it's up to me to speculate!

See? Even when I don't read a book it makes me angry! Oh, comics, what strange spell you have on me!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The painting referenced is one by Hieronymus Bosch a Dutch painter known for doing really eccentric religious paintings. This one might be "the garden of earthly delights."

4/06/2006 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Hill said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only guy with the Moon Knight love.The review has me excited for this book now.

4/06/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm kind of irritated about the Ventriloquist. He's by far the best Batman villain to be introduced in the last twenty years, he has a neat shtick, and I'm tired of writers only focusing on Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin all the time. There are loads of Z-list villains Harvey could whack before he got to Scarface. Do Black Spider and Mr. Zsasz really make for better villains?

4/06/2006 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger simon said...

Perhaps, since most of Moon Knight #1 is a flashback, his physique is somewhat idealized and distorted, in the manner of Frenchie's transformation elsewhere in the same issue.

4/06/2006 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

They already killed Black Spider off a year or two ago in Gotham Central. Also, Zsasz is one of my favorite obscure Bat-villains, along with Scarface, Maxie Zeus, Mad Hatter, and numerous others. It's the little guys I like, dammit, and the Joker is ridiculously overrated. I'd rather have Ratcatcher. Yes, they killed him. I know. Dammit.

4/06/2006 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Anonymous - that's Bosch? It looks far too normal to be Bosch. Maybe it was before he discovered those Renaissance shrooms and went nuts.

Dan, I'm glad you're excited about Moon Knight, but that was a lousy review. It was more me ranting about how much I like the character. The book IS good, and Huston seems like he gets the character, and the set-up is intriguing. It's a grim-n-gritty book, sure, but that's okay - it's Moon Knight! So buy the book - it's good.

The reason I don't mind the Ventriloquist getting killed is because DC has turned him into a laughable villain. When Grant and Wagner first introduced him, he was a bizarre and creepy guy, but recently he's turned into a joke. The same thing happened to the KGBeast - his first story was great, but there was no reason to keep bringing him back. I like the Ratcatcher, too, but it's the same thing - he had a reason for villainy the first time we saw him, but once that was done, why bring him back?

And my favorite obscure Bat-villain is Cornelius Stirk. Man, he was cool. Another Wagner/Grant creation - they had a damned fine run on Detective lo those many years ago.

4/06/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason I don't mind the Ventriloquist getting killed is because DC has turned him into a laughable villain.

That's no reason to kill him off. The Joker's been so overplayed he's become dull and predictable, but all it would take is one good writer to make him - or the Ventriloquist, or Firefly, or Ratcatcher, or any of the various other villains who have been ignored or gone to seed over the years - worth reading about again. And hey, I happen to notice two very good writers are taking over the Batman titles in just a couple months! Too bad about this James Robinson guy in the meantime. I'd much rather read a story by a writer that can make the KGBeast interesting again than read a story where characters are trotted out to get killed off to establish what a badass Two-Face is.

4/06/2006 06:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My copy of Ex Machina had the same defect. I thought about taking it back to my shop, but they only get enough copies to cover their subs--I guess it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

And Matt Wagner is DEFINITELY underrated. Even though the only things I've really read of his are Trinity and Batman/Grendel, I can tell you, based solely on those, that no amount of praise could be enough.

4/06/2006 07:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that when we see Wintermen has been reduced to 6 issues from the original 8, you assume the writer messed up. Instead, I assume DC editorial said "your book isn't selling enough so we'll only publish 6 issues instead of 8". The amount of rework required to tell the same story in 75% of the space, after the first few issues already shipped, would easilly create a delay in the shipping schedule.

4/06/2006 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I'm blaming EVERYONE for The Winter Men! I can do that, because this is America!

4/06/2006 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's a good point, Mr. Lungfish, but I'm willing to give Robinson the benefit of the doubt, because he's a good writer. I have railed against killing in comics before, but that was when they killed heroes for no discernible reason. If it turns out that this is for no discernible reason, then I'll be peeved, but if you're going to have a mystery, you have to have victims. At least it's not a bunch of regular folk who get slaughtered just for the hell of it.

But you're right - except for the KGBeast. Now that the USSR is dead, he has no point. Gun 'im down!

And it would be really cool if the next victim was the Penguin. I mean, talk about a sucky villain.

4/06/2006 10:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But you're right - except for the KGBeast. Now that the USSR is dead, he has no point. Gun 'im down!

I'll agree with you here. The Beast was a fantastic villain in his first and best appearance - but it should've also been his last appearance. He was created for a specific storyline, and once that storyline was over he was a character without a context.

But killing the Penguin? You're nuts! Cobblepot is fantastic, both as one of the few Batman villains who's actually sane and as one of the few sources of corruption Batman can't touch. We need more Penguin, not less. Of course, what I'm really hoping for in the coming months is a big Riddler revival. Dini did a great Riddler in the cartoon, and I'm sure Morrison could make him smart and menacing again. "Riddler factor" my ass, the man is the very definition of panache.

4/07/2006 01:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The painting is a Bosch, its the central panel of a triptych, titled The Garden of Earthly Delights. It was executed between 1505 and 1510. It can also be seen in the background of a conference room in the first Issue of Ultimate Wolverine Vs. the Hulk. I believe it's also referenced in Foucalts Pendulum, by Umberto Eco (however its been years since I've read it and might be confusing it with the Illuminati books). The Original measures over 7' tall, its two other panels are titled, The Creation of Eve and Hell. Bosch has been accused of being an alchemist, an over extended symbolist and a free mason over the years. Many believe the work to be heavily coded with layered references to the Philosopher Stone etc. While much of his work is expressionist and deeply rooted to the modern notion of the subconscious, his other works are reletively tame in comparison to this example. Not much is known about the man himself, he's believed to have been prosperous, which is something. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Grant Morrison has used it in The Invisibles either.

4/07/2006 01:38:00 AM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

the middle pages of my ex machina also fell out. outrageous. exchange is imminent.

Riddler is a clear example of Bill Finger being ahead of his time.
Morrison doing Riddler = OMFG 2 copies pls

4/07/2006 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My copy of Ex Machina also had a loose page. Only one of the staples came loose, but that's weird that it's such a widespread defect.

4/07/2006 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger chris said...

The middle page fell out of my copy of Winter Men also. Goddamn it Wildstorm, get a new printer.

4/07/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I'm totally fine with them killing off KGBeast and Magpie, but yeah, killing the Ventriloquist was dumb.

4/08/2006 01:59:00 AM  
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