Pantalons sans Robotieres: Jeff's Reviews of 4/26 Books...

Here's a question for the Savage Commenteers: can a man who's sucked at every other rhythm game to date find happiness with Guitar Hero? Or will it just be a waste of cash and flashy peripheral controller space? Discuss. And in non-maybe-it's-finally-time-to-hang-up-my-PS2 news:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #531: Like many of JMS's machinations, I find the idea kinda interesting, and the execution lousy. If you buy into the conceit behind the Spider-Man movie, Peter is particularly vulnerable to the influence of a father figure, and Tony Stark could be filling that bill so much that Spidey can't see he's being led around by the webs. But that's not what I'm getting from what I read; that's what I get when I set my Benefit-of-the-Doubtometer to overdrive. What I'm getting when I read is a headache from all the plot-hammering. Eh.

ANNIHILATION RONAN #1: Is this whole Annihilation event with its bookend issues and four issue miniseries Marvel's answer to Seven Soldiers? If so, it's kind of a shame Marvel doesn't really understand that maybe a unifying vision (or better, Grant Morrison's unifying vision) is what's needed to pull that kind of thing off. Because although I thought the art on this was pretty nifty, and the story interesting in a "Hey, look what I found in this old issue of 2000 A.D.!" kind of way, it has so little to do with the other books in the event, it's probably gonna feel jarring when it does. OK, although like Graeme, I too have a hard time remembering what happened: the art more than made up for that.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #14: As you might expect from Mr. Whedon, Emma's mindfucking of Scott (and not in a good way) was satisfying and interesting, although I find the take on Cyclops to be very, very iffy: so the guy who's been a big, old control freak his entire life deliberately chose not to take control of his powers because he was too afraid of the responsibility of hurting people? It almost kind of works, but there's just too many hurtles to be overcome. If nothing else, it wouldn't make Scott a reluctant leader, it would make the idea of being a leader anathema to him. And then there's the whole "and he hid it from all the world's greatest telepaths all this time" angle. Sorry, made my disbelief saving throw by thisss much.... OK.

BATMAN #652: The new Batman on E is still pretty cool, but it can't obscure what feels like some heavy-duty vamping on the writer's part, particularly where Harvey "how can you even suspect me when I admit everything points to me as the prime supsect?" Dent is concerned. OK.

BLACK PANTHER #15: Beware: reading this issue and the most recent Joe Fridays column within 24 hours of each other will make your brain explode. (Big points for Joe Q. for saying, "Yes, there are single characters that you can marry, but they have to be characters that don’t necessarily have their bachelorhood as a prime story point. T’Challa is a perfect example." Because, of course, marriage is only about the man, Joe. And that's the more charitable interpretation of that comment...) As a bonus, Hudlin perfectly captures Ororo's speech patterns--when she's being played by Halle Berry. Crap.

BLUE BEETLE #2: I feel a little crawly about the first group of villains faced by our young Latino hero being "The Posse," but maybe my tighty-liberal-whities have shrunk in the wash a bit. Still a Good read, though.

CHECKMATE #1: Greg Rucka's new humor book gets off to a rollicking new start, with the golden age Green Lantern wearing an eyepatch and a kooky leather jacket to appear before the U.N. (get it? It's like having Jimmy Stewart dress up like Nick Fury!) with Amanda Waller (who, to avoid showing us a fat woman in a kooky leather jacket, is either drawn in tight close up or distant two-shot--the discretion being a clever tweak of reader's expectations for a comedy book). Like the film Top Secret, Rucka and Saiz take established spy movie cliches and deflate them through deadpan delivery, revealing such cliches as the "flirtatious nice guy who's too good to live," the "inscrutable Asian mastermind," and even the "tough guy tag line delivered with the killing stroke" as ripe targets for parody. I think the funniest part is when Checkmate realizes that the mastermind behind the plan to dissolve their funding isn't being headed up by the French, but the Chinese. Like the French could head up anything! Like the Chinese would be down with an international police division based on Chess, and not Go! Not nearly as funny as Team America, but it's only the first issue and it's obvious Rucka and Saiz are just warming up. Allow me to offer up a cover blurb for a future ish: "Look out for the Ruy Lopez of laughs: Checkmate!!" Awful.

FANTASTIC FOUR #537: Here's how well JMS understands Dr. Doom: Reed Richards asks Doom how he got out of Hell and Doom goes, "Eh, it's not important." Yeah, like Doom would pass up the chance to gloat to Richards about anything, particularly his escape from the infernal pit of torture where Reed consigned him. Of course, since there are pages to kill, we get to see how it happens anyway and, yeah, sure enough, it's presented in the dullest way possible. Throw in a scene of Doom trying to pick up the hammer, and then giving up and leaving when he fails, and you've got a real turd of a FF story. Stick around for next issue, when Galactus shows up and turns down a sandwich. Awful.

HAWKGIRL #51: I can tell if it's laziness or contempt (or, God help us, old age) afflicting Simonson and Chaykin, but something is stinking this up pretty bad. Remember last issue's cliffhanger? You know, where Hawkgirl was trapped in the dark? This issue opens with her clever escape by waking up from a bad dream. If that's not enough, there's a scene where Hawkgirl and her buddy, after drinking in a bar, hear cries for help and the buddy who knows Hawkgirl is Hawkgirl, tells her to call the police while he goes to check out the problem. And Hawkgirl, who also knows she's Hawkgirl, complies. Although not explicitly stated, the subtext is clearly:

GUY: Uh-oh, trouble! You stay here and call the police, because you're the lamest superhero ever.

HAWKGIRL: You're right. I will.

While I guess this issue admirably clears the way for Norman Mailer's upcoming run on Wonder Woman, I found it Crap on just about every other level.

ION #1: I have to admit I read this really quickly, but based on this set-up, I'd guess Ion is a hero who gets his powers from killing girlfriends? (Hmmm, maybe this is clearing the way for Mailer's Wonder Woman) Because that'd kind of explain Kyle's creepy "All my girlfriends are dead! All my girlfriends are dead! Hey, who's that hot number next door? Oh well, it's just as well she can't talk and isn't interested in me because she'd only end up dead!" In short, the book read more like a romantic comedy scripted by Jason Voorhees than a superhero book I'd be interested in reading. Crap and crap, again.

NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1: I can really imagine Bendis wrapping up the script for this, and going, "Finally! A complete done-in-one issue with a good fight scene, solid characterization and good laughs. Who says I can't compress my storytelling?" before realizing (a) it took him forty some-odd pages to do what he should be doing in twenty; and (b) he forgot to include the wedding that was ostensibly the point of the whole issue and having to rewrite his last five pages to include it. Good, but also frustrating.

SENTRY #8: As I said previously, this whole mini ended up living or dying on the big revelation of this issue, which I guess means this sucker's dead. The idea that Robert Reynolds is nobody special and the Sentry could have been anybody, anyone, isn't much of a brain-blower, even considering that Reynolds is an insecure paranoid schizophrenic. (Also the whole "it's Captain America's superserum from the program that created Wolverine! Times 1,000!" is so bad I can't tell if it's supposed to point to its own badness.) I think there might have been a way for Jenkins to take his whole meta-conceit--maybe the relationship Reynolds has with The Sentry and The Void is less that of a secret identity and more the relationship between a comic book reader and the characters--but, whatever. Frustrating hokum, but well-drawn. Eh.

SEVEN SOLDIERS FRANKENSTEIN #4: Frankenstein fights sentient universe, blows its brains out. Nuff said. Excellent. (Although if you need more, Jog's review is a lively, informative read.)

VILLAINS UNITED INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL: Ah, fooled me twice. I remember reading the Villains United mini and being initially annoyed the focus was on the new Secret Six, rather than the Secret Society of Super-Villains. And now, when I pick up this special curious to read about the Secret Six, it's actually all about the Secret Society. Well played, Simone. Well played.

Unfortunately, unlike Graeme, I thought this was pretty goofy. All the metahuman convicts from all over the world are freed and told to go to Metropolis. How are they going to get there at all, much less at the same time? I think it'd be hilarious if all the Chinese prisoners show up six months late because they had to come by barge... OK compared to the other one shots but I don't think that's saying too much.

PICK OF THE WEEK: SEVEN SOLDIERS FRANKENSTEIN #4, and I wouldn't be surprised if every issue of this made my pick of the week. I loved it.

PICK OF THE WEAK: HAWKGIRL #51 because even Hawkgirl has contempt for Hawkgirl.

TRADE PICK: No pick. The only one I was tempted by was COLLECTED JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR VOL 5 TPB and I think I already have all the issues.

MANGA FIX: So I read all fifteen volumes of BATTLE ROYALE last week. By the time I finished them (at the rate of three volumes a day), my brain was prety broken--I couldn't see anything remotely sentimental or sweet without expecting someone's head to explode. Admittedly, I read them far more quickly than I should have, but after the shocks of the explicit gore (and sex--mustn't forget the sex) finally(!) faded, I didn't feel like there was as much insight into human nature as there could have been. For a book that's about people being put in the most evil situation possible, the authors seem to have no real belief in evil. Makes me wish Carter Scholz was still writing essays for The Comics Journal. He could have untangled the conundrum, I bet.