Hibbs and the Single 11/30 (part one)

Haven't finished reading everything yet for the week, so this is just part one... but I'll be pretty close to Old School Savage Critting, here...

ANGEL & FAITH #4: I'm kind of loving this book. I suspect that's because both the premise, as well as the motivation of the protagonists is significantly more focused than over in BUFFY SEASON 9. The art's fab, too. I honestly think this is VERY GOOD stuff. BATMAN ODYSSEY VOL 2 #2: What. The. Fuck? I didn't read #1 (and stopped reading v1 at #4, I think?), but whoa this has taken a serious turn towards the inexplicable with Caveman Batman and Robin, and dinosaur riding and man oh man Neal Adam's style is kind of inherently "serious", y'know, and completely works against what I think is meant to be a Silver Age Pastiche. Or tribute, maybe? Hard to actually tell. His Batman is zooming all around here, at one point really even sounding like a teenage girl (with an "I hate this. I hate this. I hate this." as he starts to ride a giant flying bat, followed by a big ol' "I love this!", yowsers!) I m just utterly baffled at what Adams is going for, and it is ultimately stiff and awkward and weird. So much "Work For Completionists Only", and kind of crazily AWFUL, sorry. DAREDEVIL #6: The idea of a villain with sponsorship patches, like an anti-Booster Gold, is sort of amusing, but that was a bloodier end to the fight than maybe was needed. The McGuffin of the patch was likewise interesting, but I guess I just don't see what the stakes are for DD. The art as is nice as always, but I just couldn't wrap my head around how this was a Daredevil story, and not a Spidey story. still, even with that, it's still a low GOOD. FF #12: I didn't say last week, but I thought FANTASTIC FOUR #600 was pretty terrific, but no I didn't like this. Maybe it's because in a FF book, I want to see one of a quartet of individuals specifically driving the action; or maybe it's because Bobillo's art (dunno for certain if it's a change in base-style, or the inker's work) went from sweet cartoony (like in his run of SHE HULK, man, those are great) to like harder edge euro-styled art. Like, dunno, Alex Nino, and that whole school of Philippine artists that was most prolific at Warren in the 70s? Either way, not a change I liked personally. So, yeah, while I can appreciate the intricacy of FF, this left me feeling pretty distant, so best I can must is a weak OK.

FLASH GORDON ZEITGEIST #1: Back to the top start again on this venerable property, and it is done with adequate style -- more enjoyable than the BUCK ROGERS reboot from last year, say. I'm just kind of loath to recommend any Dynamite book to people because I know if it show the slightest chance of catching on, Nickie will commission three different spin-off series, and we'll lose all of our readers for it, and have to stop ordering it. But, anyway, that's too meta! There was also an interesting choice at the end to have the rebel aliens come to Earth before ever encountering Flash, which would seem to me to be extremely likely to dramatically shear the central appeal of Flash which would be "Rugged American Individual goes to weird (and primitive, except for the spaceships) alien planets, shows them how incredible fucking awesome Rugged American Individuals are". Tell me you can't picture TEAM AMERICA's "America: Fuck Yeah!" playing behind any filmed Flash Gordon to date, right? Well, we'll see how that thread plays out, but I'm not optimistic on that. The rest of it I quite liked, though -- and that is a pretty awesome Ming, so, sure, I'll say this comic is a strong OK.

GAME OF THRONES #3: A lot of good choices in this adaptation, but the art's a little cutsie to work, I think. EH.

HAUNT #19: New Direction! Jump On Now! I thought the Kirkman/Capullo run was just too much trying to evoke a Spawny/Venomy kind of 90s feeling, but Joe Casey and Nathan Fox really change it up well here. I'm going to put the bulk of that on Fox, I think, as this looks pretty much the opposite of a Capullo comic. Solidly GOOD, though I can't say I would rush to buy another issue, necessarily.

STAR TREK ONGOING #3: Loving this, as well. Really, it's kind of a brilliant idea to adapt the old episodes with the new cast, they've got 150+ issues of material on tap, without having to generate a new story idea, yet they seem fresh because of the new dynamics among the characters. Solidly GOOD.

THUNDER AGENTS VOL 2 #1: A much better first issue than the last one -- action, AND plot movement, AND mysteries for the future AND soap opera is really the format that each issue of a super hero comic should deliver, and the first run had issues with only half or less of those in any average issue. Still, dang, in any incarnation of these characters, I'd have to say I think the appeal tended to be the artists drawing them (from Wood to Kane to Perez), and this is a writer-driven run, I think, from Nick Spencer. That's not to say that CAFU isn't fine (he [?] is), but not really in that same kind of weight class as many of the others. Ultimately, I kind of don't care about these guys outside of that art nostalgia, so you'd have to be exceptionally exceptional for me to say anything better than an OK on this. And while this is competently done, that's about it. If you have a jones for these guys, you'll probably rate this much higher than I.

THUNDERBOLTS #166: I'm going to kind of recycle the last few lines of the previous review for this -- this is competently done, but I have nothing emotionally invested in these characters, and this issue doesn't do anything to change that, so, sure, it is therefore kind of EH.

ULTIMATE COMICS ULTIMATES #4: First issue of the 4 that I liked on its own merits. I think this miscalculated on scale -- millions more dead, and this after the earlier devastation of New York... these things would dramatically change a world and how it operates, and it's exhausting as a reader to boot.  THIS issue seemed a lot more personally driven, and so worked for me much better. It's a low GOOD.

UNCANNY X-MEN #2: That's all weird, and not really very X-Men-y (though, yes yes, I get "new premise" and all; whatever, I stand by that assessment), and it doesn't suck, but it sure ain't for me. OK

WOLVERINE #19: I like Funny Jason Aaron, I think, better than All Serious one. Very enjoyable, low GOOD

X-MEN LEGACY #259: I feel like I can see the sets, and someone left the script pages in the shot, and no no no no, you're supposed to emote, dear! and it's just little stick figures being moved around, and it's no different than the rest of Carey's run, mostly, and I think its unfortunately pretty AWFUL. I almost upgraded that just so we wouldn't end this session on a down note, but ugh, can't do it.

Right, more tomorrow (I think!), what did YOU think?


Wait, What? Ep. 59.1: Only in Our Dreams

Photobucket It's true: this is indeed the podcast installment where you will hear Graeme and I talk about Debbie Gibson (or Deborah, if you prefer), Tiffany, and New Kids on the Block, along with Frank Miller's Holy Terror and Grant Morrison's Invisibles. I'd like to try and deny that Graeme and I came up with a marvelous piece of speculative audio fanfic showing how NKOTB were, in fact, an early '90s Invisibles cell....but I can't.

(That said? We didn't, don't worry.)

How does that saying go: sometimes we don't get the podcast we want, we get the podcast we need? That's not really applicable here but it's a fun sentence to type, certainly.  And it's not even one-tenth the fun you'll have listening to Wait, What? Ep. 59.1, be it through the magic of iTunes, or the rheumy prestidigation of this site:

Wait, What? Ep. 58.1: Only In Our Dreams

Ep. 59.2 is right around the corner, don't worry.  And, as always, thanks for listening and we hope you enjoy!

More Cowbell: Jeff on Things and Stuff.

At first, I was just going to write about Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Gingerbread Girl, but I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to say about it.  (Uh, things?  And, uh, stuff?) So, after the jump, Gingerbread Girl, X-Men: First Class (the movie), Star Wars Omnibus (Vol. 3), and more...things and stuff.

(oh, and don't forget to scroll down for the shipping list...and John's reviews...and Graeme's reviews?!  Holy shit. We need to learn how to pace ourselves.)

GINGERBREAD GIRL GN:  In an age where comics are taking their cue from movie and cinema, it's delightful to read Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's Gingerbread Girl, a graphic novel about a mysterious twenty-something in Portland, OR and her odd affliction:  it's comics shot through with a big ol' dose of live theater, as every character breaks the fourth wall to address the reader about what they know about Annah Billips.  (I'm not much of a live theater guy at all, but more than once I was reminded of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (basis for Hello, Dolly?  I did not know that.  Thanks, Wikipedia!).)  Tobin's speeches are shot through with high-end whimsy -- "But of course that's all we really we want from someone," Annah's reluctantly smitten date says at one point, "Destroy a lover's mystery and they're less glimmering.  Throw breadcrumbs at pigeons and they'll flock to you in droves.  Throw a bread loaf at them and they'll scatter.  Crumbs of a mystique are just right. A loaf of explanation is too much." -- but they've still got nothing on Coover's delicious art, able to invest seemingly anyone and anything with charm and clarity.

Gingerbread Girl is a mystery of sorts, with the lead character believing she has a twin created from her own stripped away Penfield Homunculus, and everyone else trying to figure out if she's crazy or not.  As the above speech suggests, the graphic novel decides not to solve that mystery, but rather leave us tantalized on the edge of realization.  It's a fun choice, but one that left me feeling more than a little cheated.  I'm sure the idea is to make me look from the book's plot to its possible theme -- I'll take "narratives about narrative strategies" for $500, Alex! -- but I can't help but feel we could've gotten that and a more traditional nod toward conventional narrative climax.  One of the things this gorgeous looking book repeatedly reminds us about its main  character is that she's a tease.  It's a reminder the reader would do well to take to heart about Gingerbread Girl itself. Being teased is much more fun when there's little to lose, and $12.95 doesn't exactly grow on trees these days.  GOOD stuff,  I think?  Or maybe just at the very highest end of OK?  I still can't decide.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS:  The last thing I expected from this movie was to be reminded of Mario Bava, and yet as the film hit hour 35 of lovely visuals, paper-thin characters and a boredom that teetered on the edge of hypnotic, it was the reference point I came back to.  Of course, I expected a movie about a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Something-Or-Other-Because He's-Still-Magneto-To-Me (Michael Fassbender) recruiting mutants to fight Sebastian Shaw's Hellfire Club to have more than a dash of Brian Singeresque touches to it, so I figured there would be the usual queer subtext (tearful speeches by young teenagers about how they wish they could be like everyone else, young men with full lips and big eyes rubbing their bare arms).  But Matthew Vaughn turns X-Men: First Class into a sensual free-for-all, with ladies walking about in excessively cumbersome lingerie, diamond girls being tied to beds by the rails of the bed itself, excessively nude exploding female mannequins, and I'm not even getting into the whole Xavier/Magneto/Mystique triangle.

More than that, though, Vaughn's tremendous sense of visual flair and attention to detail makes the movie just visually sensuous: it sounds goofy, but there's a scene where Magneto plucks a submarine out of the water, and the way the droplets spun off the propellers had me transfixed. There were at least a dozen more moments like that and I savored each one of them.

Unfortunately, the movie has just too much fucking stuff in it -- it's sodden, is what it is -- showing us not just the opening of the first X-Men movie where a young Erik pries at the gates of Auschwitz, but also the scene that comes after that, as well as what Charles Xavier was doing at that point.  We not only get their meeting in mid-action scene, but the CIA's decision to help them recruit mutants, a long recruitment sequence, Hank McCoy as both versions of the Beast, a long sequence introducing the Hellfire Club...none of it is bad, exactly (except for January Jones, who in her inability to smile, talk, drink or even walk convincingly I now believe to be the genuine embodiment of  the Martian Spy Girl from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!) but there's just no fucking room for anything to breathe.  It's three good movies jammed into one exasperatingly long and dull one, with every dramatic conflict boiled down so much they might as well been bullet points on a Powerpoint presentation.

I think if I'd seen this movie while hopped up on prescription pain medication, I would've loved its horny languor. (If it turns out that Vaughn knocked up January Jones as the rumors have it, it won't be surprising at all.  In fact, what would be surprising would be if he didn't also impregnate the script girl, Zoe Kravitz, Rose Byrne's slip, and that kid who played The Beast.) But it was a slog and a chore to make it to the end of this movie and it really didn't have to be.  Somewhere between EH and AWFUL.

STAR WARS OMNIBUS, VOL. 3:  At Graeme's suggestion, I picked up a copy of this from the library way-too-long ago and have been poking through it at the rate of a few stories a week.  These are the Marvel comics from the early '80s reprinted, covering the period immediately following The Empire Strikes Back.  As I told Graeme on the podcast, the ESB is exactly where I jumped off the Star Wars comic wagon, in no small part because it became obvious that none of it really mattered:  nothing says "we've told the creators of our licensed product nothing" like a romance between Han Solo and Princess Leia and the infamous "Luke, I am your father" speech.

Did I say "nothing"?  That is a lie, I admit it -- what really says "we've told the creators of our licensed product nothing" is reading this volume in light of the events of Return of the Jedi.  The subtitle for this volume is "A Long Time Ago..." but it really should've been "George Lucas' Galactic Twincest Follies." There are no less than half-a-dozen disquieting scenes where Luke and Leia almost kiss or spend quiet moments pondering their unspoken, but strongly felt feelings for one another.  If only V.C. Andrews could've written that "Splinter of the Mind's Eye" sequel!

But Graeme is right in a lot of ways -- these stories, the majority of them by David Michelinie and Walt Simonson, with Simonson plotting and doing layouts with Tom Palmer doing heavy finishes, are a lot like watching the original trilogy over and over again.  Curiously, even though this takes place after Empire, the only real bits the talent take from that movie are Lando and the idea of a rebellion always on the run from a seemingly all-powerful Empire. Otherwise, it's a lot of impervious imperial bases that need exploding, blasters that need blasting, feelings that need trusting, and possible romantic triangles where two of the participants are siblings.  There's probably a good reason why Marvel's creative teams continued to treat Luke Skywalker as the untarnishable focal point -- my guess is Luke, young and orphaned and full of questions and potential, was much closer to the '70s Marvel hero archetype than awesome, dashing (kinda assholey) Han Solo -- even as Lucas threw a whole bunch of cold water on the idea of Luke as hero in Empire.

Ultimately, the story I enjoyed the best was the weirdest one -- the two-parter by Chris Claremont, Simonson and Carmine Infantino where an inventoried John Carter of Mars story is shoehorned into a Star Wars story.  I've always enjoyed Claremont's infrequent work on Star Wars (pre-teen Jeff would've told you that his favorite Marvel Star Wars issues were #17, co-plotted by Claremont, Star Wars Annual #1 with art by Mike Vosburg...and also Star Wars #38 with that awesome Michael Golden art, Claremont be damned) and here he gets a chance to let his ham actor instincts dig into a story in which Princess Leia crash-lands on a world suspiciously like Barsoom, and the swashbuckling hero suspiciously like John Carter gets something suspiciously like a space boner for her.  Strong, courageous, and the survivor of brutal torture, Princess Leia is Chris Claremont's idea of a hot chick and he makes the most of the first person narration by the Carter pastiche to talk about her brave resourcefulness and sad eyes.  In its way, the story is a better acknowledgment of Star Wars' roots than what Lucas went on to do in The Phantom Menace, though the airships here show a marked similarity to what is done there.  However, because these stories were written in simpler, far less ambitious times, there's not the thorough airing out of influences there could be, where we can really get the sense of just how much Star Wars owes to Burroughs' desert landscapes, exotic princesses, alien pals and low-gravity swashbuckling.  There's just a repurposing of art, a light feeling out of topics that will later become fetish (for Claremont, anyway) and then it's on to the next.

I thought this stuff was highly OK, and in some places quite GOOD, but I guess I prefer more Cosmic Twincest Follies far more intentional and far less accidental.  It was fun revisiting what so many of us thought Star Wars was, instead of what it actually turned out to be.

FLASHPOINT: LEGION OF DOOM #1:  "My name's Heatwave.  I've got a hunger... burning in my gut.  The only way to stop it... is to satisfy my appetite."

So begins the dumbest, most inept comic I've read in a while.  It's so bad I'm shocked Hibbs passed it over for his ever-increasing number of "I Have Read The Worst Comic I Have Ever Read" columns.  Here, Adam Glass and Rodney Buchemi treat us to a tale of  non-starter supervillain Heat Wave, who starts off the book incinerating one-half of Firestorm's secret identity because he wants to fight a guy whose head is on fire.  Then Cyborg shows up and awesome dialogue like "Didn't your mommy ever tell you not to play with matches, Heatwave?" "Sure did! So I burned her to death."  Then Heat Wave makes a train run out of control by...shooting it with flames?  Then Heat Wave ends up in prison where he proves himself to be a bad-ass by breaking the leg of a dude who must have shins made out of breadsticks.  Then Heat Wave gets manhandled by prison guard Amazo, which totally makes sense because Amazo is a robot with all the powers of the Justice League in an alternate universe where there never was a Justice League.  Then there's a Hostess cupcake ad, just like we had back in the '70s, except it's eight pages long and it's about Subway.  Then the awesome Legion of  Doom headquarters shows up but here in the Flashpoint universe it's a prison for super-tough criminals but for some reason Heat Wave is put in there, too.  Then Zsasz threatens Heat Wave. Then Clue Master turns up.  Then Heat Wave kicks a dude in the nuts.  Then, later in their cell, Clue Master clutches his stomach, coughs up blood, and then Plastic Man pulls himself out of Clue Master's mouth.  Yes, Clue Master was a mule used to smuggle in Plastic Man who on the last page is standing there grinning evilly, saying "Okay, you ready to blow this popsicle stand?" as one bloody arm still juts from Clue Master's mouth.  The next issue caption helpfully says, "NEXT ISSUE:  PLASTIC MAN!"

(Finally, I know why Jack Cole killed himself. Poor precognitive bastard.)

If you're the fan of the noise that's made when someone scrapes the very bottom of the barrel, this is the book for you. I actually hope this book has 100% sell-through for retailers, because I worry it will otherwise end up being donated to a hospital somewhere and make ill and injured children lose the will to live.  This book gets the seldom-used ASS rating which is actually overrating it by just a tad.  Please don't tell me you bought it and enjoyed it.

Verse Chorus Verse: Jeff's Capsule Reviews from 6/8

Does it bode ill for my reviews when I can't think of a clever thing to say while convincing you to follow me behind the jump for capsule reviews?  It probably is, isn't it?  Ah, well.  I just finished watching the screen adaptation of The Black Dahlia.  I mean, I'd heard that movie would be bad, but there were wrong casting decisions, terrible direction, and some bad mistakes in adapting Ellroy's skeezy epic to the screen. As a quasi-fan of Brian DePalma, it's a painful, painful movie to watch.  And I blame it for my inability to bring you a witty intro: the movie is a like a form of slow-acting toxin to the higher brain functions. Anyway, after the jump:  lower brain function reviews of Empowered: Ten Questions for the Maidman, Invincible Iron Man #504, Witch Doctor #0, and more.

EMPOWERED: TEN QUESTIONS FOR THE MAIDMAN:  Maidman -- the cross-dressing vigilante of Adam Warren's Empowered universe -- gets his own one-shot with alternating black and white sections by Adam Warren and color sections by Emily Warren. It was a book I wanted to deeply like, but really only admired. You can read this one-shot as a deconstruction of Batman (Maidman is one of the few non-powered superheroes in the Emp universe and easily the most feared), a deconstruction of Batman analogs (in some ways, this is the funniest issue of Midnighter never published), or maybe even a spoof of the cape industry's current trend in Mary-Sueisms.  Alternately, you could also take it as a face value, with Warren using the same gimmicks to get the reader to like Maidman that Johns or Bendis or a host of others use these days -- (a) introduce character; (b) have everyone talk admiringly of character; (c) show character doing something impossibly awesome; (d) profit.  Empowered: Ten Questions... shows Warren as being as skilled a practitioner of the current bag of comics writing magic tricks as anyone currently working.  I'm glad he at least has his own little universe to toy about with, but I wish I could get more worked up about a more-or-less OK one-shot...in no small part because I worry about him getting it yanked out from under him if the sales aren't there.  Vexingly OK.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504:  Really interesting to read a book where the regular writer is caught off-balance by the obligatory line-wide event when the same guy is writing that event, too.  I mean, that two page scene with Tony and Pepper is really quite good for what it is.  But the meat of the issue, where Tony goes to Paris because one of the hammers of the Worthy has landed there, is underwhelming. Fraction clearly built the issue to that last page climax but it feels like that's the only thing he's trying to  accomplish.  So when you get to that last page, it definitely has some punch to it but it also eaves you feeling super-empty and annoyed immediately after.

Also, that last page what feels like part of an ongoing tug-of-war between Fraction and Larrocca. Instead of focusing on rendering that kinda-important pile of stones Tony is on top of, Larroca focuses on the building beside it.  It doesn't feel quite like a "fuck you" from one collaborator to another, but it does suggest painfully opposing goals\.  $3.99 price-tag + ineffective storytelling + forced event crossover=AWFULness.

POWER-MAN & IRON FIST #5: Similarly, last issue of this miniseries turned out very meh in the end despite my modest expectations.  Wellinton Alves' work ended up rushed and ugly, and Van Lente's script tried to do wayyyy too much in too short a time.  Not only do both heroes have romantic relationships resolved in this issue, but a mystery is solved, fight scenes are had, and the creepy Comedia Del'Morte are...well, frankly, I have no idea what happened to them.  It's a shame because I was won over by so much less with that back-up story from Amazing Spider-Man. (On the plus side,with very little rejiggering, Van Lente and Alves could re-tool this as an arc of the post-Morrison Batman & Robin and it'd fit right in.)  I'm tempted to get all Rex Reedy on you and say this puts the EH back in "meh," but I won't...in part because it was AWFUL.

SECRET AVENGERS #13: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.

WALKING DEAD #85/WITCH DOCTOR #0:  Although I like the swerve Kirkman made with this storyline a few issues back, I don't know if there's really much more going on than that.  I suspect as we come 'round issue #100, Kirkman's biggest flaw --his ability to dramatize character development is rudimentary at best, and so he has to have scenes where his characters explain their motivations to one another for us to get it --  is getting more and more apparent. While I'm at it, Charlie Adlard's biggest strength -- drawing a large cast of characters to keep them easily identifiable without resorting to any flashy tricks -- may also be hindering this book:  the dramatic scenes either run to the inert or the occasionally overheated.  Energy, ambition and craft have gotten these guys farther and higher than anyone would've suspected and I in no way mean to diminish their achievement.  But I think if this book is going to make another 85 issues, they're going to need to shake up their skillsets for a change, not their storyline. OK stuff.

As for WITCH DOCTOR #0, despite having very little interest based on the material I'd seen online, I ended up enjoying the hell out of it.  Everyone [by which I mean at least me] has always wanted to write a biologic explanation for vampires, a la Matheson's treatment in I am Legend, but writer Brandon Seifert really goes to town here. Lines like "his saliva's got the usual bloodfeeder chemistry set-- vasodilator, anticoagulant and an anesthetic--plus some interesting mystical secretions.  I think one's a anterograde amnesiac--" make my heart go pitter-pat, and Seifert has a lot of them.  I can easily see how it might feel dry to some, but to me it showed a commitment to research and world-building I think you really need to make a series about a doctor (even a mystical one) work.  As for Lukas Ketner's art, it's enjoyably quirky, especially when it chooses to go detailed and when it decides to loosen up: panels of this remind me of Wrightson, others of William Stout, and still others of Jack Davis, and I could never figure out when the next swerve was going to happen.  VERY GOOD stuff and I'm definitely on-board for the first few issues of the regular title now.

WOLVERINE #9:  Not the most recent issue I know, but so much more satisfying than issue #10, I figured you'd forgive me for writing about it instead.  I mean, to begin with:  God damn, this is some gorgeous looking work.  Daniel Acuna (who I guess is doing both the art and the colors) really sold me on this story about a mysterious assassin (Lord Deathstrike) and Wolverine both trying to hunt down Mystique on the streets of San Francisco. But I should point out that there's three full pages of wordless action that feel perfectly placed in the script and I think writer Jason Aaron should really be commended for having the confidence to let the art do its stuff.  And there's also a hilariously over-the-top assassination scene at the beginning that I loved.  I suspect this book is going to have diminishing sales in no small part because Aaron just can't keep away from writing Wolverine's adventures with a strong dash of the absurdly extreme, and a larger audience for this character really want this stuff served straight-up.  I can understand that desire (especially when you get issues like #10 where it's Logan vs. the Man with the Jai-Alai Feet) but when you get such an artist who can sell you on both the sweet & sour sauce of Aaron's mix of awesome and absurd? It's really pretty satisfying.  This was one hell of a  VERY GOOD issue.

UNCANNY X-FORCE #11:  I guess this is what you can do with okay art and good characterization--you can make me care somewhat about stuff I wouldn't ordinarily care about. I missed out on the original Age of Apocalypse stuff powering the plot here and yet, thanks to a forty-issue Exiles habit, I'm pretty familiar with what's going on.  In fact, arguably I'm too familiar as I felt like I was at least a beat or two ahead of the plot at all times.  But at least some of the time I was surprised by what the characters said or how they said it.   I still quietly pine for the awesomeness of the first five issues, but this was on the high end of OK for me.

SECRET AVENGERS #13: Seriously, though.  Do you need to know why I thought this was terrible?  Well, let's just say when your plot about a Washington invasion hinges on the fierce determination of a congressman who also happens to be a magical negro mutant, and that leads to Lincoln from the Lincoln Monument and all the dinosaurs from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History rising up to hold the line, then I think it's safe to say things have gone wrong.  Weirdly, I could've bought it in a DC book -- for whatever reason, I expect the surreal and the schmaltzy to intermingle more freely there -- but here it seems like a big ol' misfire.  Again, to sum up:  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. CRAP.

And that's my week in pamphlets.  As for my TRADE PICK....

BAKUMAN, VOL. 5:  Oh man, how I love this series.  It's not an easy sell, I know, and I'll be the first to admit that first volume is more than a little forced.  And in fact, here in volume 5, there is still a surprising number of misfires:  for example, there's a chapter here about an artist who is so committed to proving his worth to his writer that he draws pages outside her window in the middle of a blizzard and it's really treacly and ineffective. And there are more than a few hilariously cynical moves by the writer and artist to pander to their publishers:  in more than a few places, the editors and publishers of Shonen Jump are treated with a degree of reverence that borders on the fanatical.

On the other hand, Bakuman has changed my understanding of how manga is created so much I've since read other titles with new eyes --I doubt I would've enjoyed my thirteen volume romp through One-Piece nearly as much without it. And even more than that, I'm totally a sucker for the way Ohba and Obata have introduced so many different young manga creators and then blurred the lines between enemies and allies so much you realize none really exist.  As a book about the comics industry properly should, Bakuman is very much about who you have to decide to trust and the possible long-term implications of those choices.  But it's also a book where competition doesn't preclude comradeship and that totally hits a sweet spot of insecurities and needs I didn't really know I had.  Really, the series is so very far from perfect it's kinda painful...and yet the last four volumes now have been some of my favorite reading of the last year.  VERY, VERY GOOD for me, but you really not might feel at all the same.

Backwards Lap: Capsule Reviews from Jeff

Yes, dammit.  I am currently committed to this capsule review thing, if only because it forces Hibbs and Graeme to also write reviews and my WASPy upbringing inherently enjoys guilting people into stuff. After the jump: comics from last week, last year, and a very cool fan letter.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #169-173:  Still pretty much a mixed bag for me, but I do love how loose story plotting becomes during this period:  issue #169, for example, teases J. Jonah Jameson showing pictures proving that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but that's barely more than three pages of the story and the rest has Spidey beating the crap out of people he encounters essentially at random.  #172 is the debut of the Rocket Racer, but he gets only the opening four pages and then the rest of the book sets up the return of the Molten Man...and even then, interestingly enough, the cliffhanger is Spider-Man being drawn on by two armed security guards.  (The first page of #173 is Spider-Man getting shot by one of those cops and escaping, only to get jumped by bystanders, one of whom has been taking mail-order kung fu lessons.)

I know I carp on this again and again but: although none of that shit would pass muster in your basic Bob McKee workshop (or, as I recall, Dan Slott's advice sessions on Twitter), it's very fun in the right doses and it helps contribute to that "man, anything can happen" feeling...even when every issue opens and closes with a fight scene, and you have Molten Man coming back from the dead and then dying for the fifth or sixth time.

All that said, the highlight of this batch of issues for me was the following letter from issue #169:


Yup. It's that Frank Miller, approximately nineteen years old, saying everything it's taken me the last thirty-five years or so to try and articulate...and doing a better job of it.  I'm heartened but not surprised to find out Miller's a fan of Andru...but the mention of John Buscema is a little odd.  I wonder if that's why the two of them worked on that very odd issue of Daredevil years later?

Anyhoo, it's all pretty low-stakes stuff but I honestly think it's OK or better. The nostalgia factor bumps it up to a low GOOD for me, but I don't think I should really factor that in.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #1: I really shouldn't read interviews.  If I hadn't perused Brubaker's interview with Spurgeon over at Comics Reporter, I think it'd be easier for me to see this as an excellent take on the "guy kills his cheating wife" crime tale with the metatextual stuff being a nice little bonus. But having read the interview, I walked into this expecting the metatextual to be meaty and satirical and a brilliant insight on nostalgia and it was...just kinda okay.  I'm hoping there will be a way that stuff goes a little further: it seems to me that Criminal has always been packaged in a nostalgic way -- Sean Phillips' amazing covers clearly reference those Gold Medal Books, among others -- and I think it might be uniquely suited to comment on more than the "wow, now we think of the past as somewhere safe but it was fucked up, too" element of nostalgia, but the "we even miss the fucked up stuff" element that is a little more distressing.  Is it a form of innocence to pine for something evil? Or is it a sign of corruption? I think this book is going to address this stuff (god, I really hope so), but the first issue didn't really deliver on that for me.  It's still GOOD, mind you -- well-written and lovely as hell, but I'd been primed for something great.

FLASHPOINT: BATMAN: KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE #1:  Thomas Wayne as Batman? Don't care. The Flashpoint version of The Joker? Don't care.  Art by Eduardo Risso, colored by Patricia Mulvihill?  I didn't care...until I saw it. Risso's art is just eye-wateringly good and in the sewer fight scene he has this neat trick of using the page turn to up the surprise by reversing the angle or tightening the focus (or, in some cases, both).  A fight between Batman and Killer Croc in the sewers isn't anything we haven't seen before but I don't think I've ever seen it quite like this. I wish the story had been more than your usual alt-universe blather, but danged if this didn't strike me as a GOOD stuff, anyway.

HELLBOY: THE FURY #1:  Also, in the "Holy Shit, Look At This Art!" category is this book, which somehow manages to be jaw-droppingly beautiful from the first page to the last.  Like Flashpoint: Batman, I don't really care know or care what's going on, but the art by Duncan Fegredo (and colors by the amazing Dave Stewart) and the pacing of Mignola's script miraculously negates all that.  I felt flashes of dread and wonder and, more than once, something like awe.  (I guess this'll sound obvious to you if you've read the issue, but reading it made me feel exactly the way I did when I first watched John Boorman's Excalibur, that same weird mix of the epic and the creepy.) I always feel weird giving books VERY GOOD ratings or higher based on nothing more than just the art but here we are.  Amazing stuff.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #623:  The art didn't fry my burger this time around but I'm still enjoying the story and Gillen's take on Loki.  In fact, the mix of classic myth and the story's own sensibilities reminds me of the stuff I'm reading in the Simonson Thor Omnibus.  I wish the art didn't look so wispy, but I think I'm gonna give this one a VERY GOOD, nonetheless.


New Year, Old School -- Hibbs on 1/9/08

I've been meaning to do an "old school" style Savage Critic for a while now, but keep running out of time at the end of each day. So today, I thought I'd try instead of reading everything, then writing it all up, that I'd write-as-I-go, in between helping customers (it's a slow day too, so I guess that works out). Hopefully this won't suck too hard...

This is pretty properly "old school" too in that I'm just writing up my reaction to the work presented, rather than actually reviewing anything, or being a "critic" -- most things will have two sentences or less. Its been a good long while since I've tried it this way, so be sure to tell me how much you hate it....

52 AFTERMATH THE FOUR HORSEMEN #6: All in all, pretty much a big nothing -- it strikes me any characters could have taken the place of the "trinity", so, meh. EH

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #546: I've already talked about how I thought the "One More Day" story was stupid and contrived (if executed alright at the end), but if you put all of that aside (something I know many of you won't be able to do), I thought this was quite a decent "new start" for Spidey. The writing is crisp, the art is really nice, and, most importantly, it feels exactly like a Spider-Man comic book should (something that was missing through much of the JMS run). I won't know for a little while whether people are BUYING this or not (as I write this, I've been open for 20 minutes), but I'm willing to look at OMD as a band-aid ripping off -- sure it stings, but you're better off at the end of the day. Judged on its own, I thought this issue was pretty GOOD.

BAT LASH #2: Great Severin Art, solid enough story, so let's say GOOD.

BOYS #14: Good enough conclusion, if uninspiring. A low GOOD.

BPRD 1946 #1: Terrific as always. VERY GOOD.

COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS 16: The last couple of issues have been pretty decent, I have to say. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that they rewrote the back half of this series once they saw the commercial reaction. I wouldn't nominate the Mark II phase of COUNTDOWN for an Eisner or anything, but I've read far worse comic books. EH.

EVIL DEAD #1: I didn't so much "read" this as page through it. I have a hard time in believing that anyone, at this point, is looking for an adaptation of this film, even "expanded" like it is. Nice art, but who cares? EH.

GOON #20: Funny stuff, and very well drawn. VERY GOOD.

GREEN ARROW BLACK CANARY #4: Man, Cliff Chiang's gets better and better each issue; and Judd didn't do anything too objectionable here either. I think a "Hey, aren't you dead?" might have been nice from someone, and the kinda huge absurdity of the situation (Superman can't find a trace, the bullet also had a poison, and so on) works badly against it, but yeah it was pretty as fuck. Still, four issues in, it would be nice to know by now to know what the book is about, y'know, thematically? OK

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #20: Yeah, that was fine; nothing much more that I can say. OK.

HULK #1: There's something funny about the Hulk pulling out a gun and busting a cap in someone's face, but, like much of Loeb's work the "big funny idea" doesn't really play that much out into becoming a good comic. There's nothing really wrong with this book; but there's equally no real reason for this reader to come on back for issue #2. OK

INFINITY INC #5: Uninteresting characters, ugly art... but even with moving Pete Woods on to the book (see Newsarama today), it's hard to imagine any audience coming back/sticking with this. It's generally impossible to recover from such a lousy start. AWFUL.

JENNA JAMESONS SHADOW HUNTER #0: The cover price says $2.99, but it's actually meant to cost 25 cents. If you bought one, and your LCS charged you more than a quarter, go ask for your money back. In fact, if you paid that much, you might want to ask for your money back, since this isn't a story, but a "preview" of #1 (wait... what?!?). This can't even be rated, since it isn't actually a comic, but an ad they're charging for.... NO RATING

JLA CLASSIFIED #50: Stern and Byrne reunite for some "old school" JLA action -- decent enough material, but won't set the world on fire. A rock-solid OK.

MIGHTY AVENGERS #7: "Super hero hoo hah" is, I think, the phrase? I'd probably have been more enamored if we hadn't seen the Venom scenes what feels like 6 months ago. Lime green lettering on a yellow background is REALLY hard to read. Still and all, strongly OK.

NIGHTWING #140: I liked it. Solidly well written, with some interesting bits of history and whatnot. Though the idea of Bruce Wayne owning the Cloisters is... kinda strange. GOOD.

NOVA #10: I wish this stupid transmode virus storyline would end already -- I'm not interested in a page of it. On the other hand, being trapped in a transdimensional birth-canal is pretty much high concept. EH

PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #15: A seriously nothing idea stretched out too long, and that didn't end as much as stop. Plus the art was pretty stinky. AWFUL

SALVATION RUN #3: What happened to Bill Willingham? Not that he's really needed here -- this is a limp premise, limply executed. Lots of running and hitting and gnashing of teeth, but nothing I especially care about or want to see how it ends up. AWFUL.

SCALPED #13: Really strong stuff. I haven't read the last 3-4 issues either, and I followed everything here just fine. This is probably Vertigo's strongest current title. VERY GOOD.

SIMON DARK #4: Pretty, but I just don't care about any of the characters or situations. EH

SPIRIT #12: I find myself carrying very little about the stories involved in this series, but instead just marveling over the art and storytelling. Cooke's amazing Eisner flashbacks raise that bar even further. A really strong GOOD.

SUICIDE SQUAD RAISE THE FLAG #5: solid enough espionage material, though a big part of me wonders why this is running concurrently with CHECKMATE when they both basically mine the same territory. Another part of me wonders how this lines up with SALVATION RUN, which shows some of these characters off world... Either way, a low GOOD.

SUPERMAN #672: Perfectly fine, I guess, but I was a bit more interested in the Chris-has-a-fever sections than the Insect Queen stuff... probably because she may look like Lana, she isn't. Reasonably OK.

TEEN TITANS THE LOST ANNUAL: Seriously strange (as was probably to be expected), but I think Jay Stephens inked by Allred didn't look as good as I was hoping it would -- the other way around might have been better? EH

TWELVE #1: No idea where this can/will go, moving forward, but as a single issue I was strongly entertained, both by the setup and fish-out-water elements, as well as the relative innocence of the "golden age" heroes. Spiffy art, too. VERY GOOD.

WOLVERINE #61: Another storyline that went probably an issue or two past its expiration date. The real problem is that despite the "stakes" and the Angel of Death and the talk of missing souls, there's little real tension involved here -- its not like they're going to kill Wolverine, after all. EH

WONDER GIRL #5: Terrible art, and a yammering on-and-on story (this coulda been 3 issues, tops) AWFUL

X-FACTOR #27: Another week, another chapter of crossover. Actually, this has been a reasonably strong event all around, but nothing thrilling for me. Probably because of all of the time travel elements, which seem like they're overwhelming the point of this. EH.

YOUNGBLOOD #1: Pretty generic hero stuff, and nothing that hasn't been done better elsewhere, really. EH

There, my patience came to an end -- not quite everything read, but most of it....

PICK OF THE WEEK: I'm going to go with THE TWELVE #1 -- nice solid read, with an intriguing set up


TP/GN OF THE WEEK: This one is easy: BLACK HOLE COLLECTED SC -- if you haven't read it yet, it's the must have.

So, what did YOU think?


Oy to the World, Part 2: Jeff Looks at the 12/19 Books.

Wow. Thank goodness things picked up there at the end.

MARVEL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: This year's story by Andrew Farrago and Shaenon K. Garrity had some really cute moments, like the jingle noises on Santa's Sentinel, but seemed forced in a way last year's story by them (the AIM holiday party) did not; the Loners story by C.B. Cebulski and Alina Urusov made me interested in characters I've never read about previously (and had really lovely art to boot); and the Mike Carey and Nelson story about a reporter asking Marvel characters about the meaning of Christmas was, like the Hembeck reprint and the Irving pin-up, well-intentioned filler. It's high EH, particularly at that price point, but it doesn't make you feel like a total chump for indulging in nostalgia and buying it.

MIGHTY AVENGERS #6: It's amusing to pick up a title you dropped six months earlier and notice you've only missed two issues, although probably not as amusing for Brian Bendis, Tom Brevoort and retailers: crafted to be a quick-read of an oversized adventure, the ending wouldn't have felt as lame, I think, if it'd come out on time. And it'll probably be pretty decent as a trade. But disconnected from the momentum of the story, watching a hairy guy play Fantastic Voyage, then the shock-ending from six months ago makes this extraordinarly EH. If I hadn't quit on the title first, I'd probably drop that even lower as these are the kind of hijinks that actually punish readers for buying periodicals and not waiting for the trade.

SHADOWPACT #20: First issue I've read since issue #2 (which I didn't much care for) and thought it was highly OK. Kieron Dwyer's art looks crude (deliberately so, I think) but always has a lot of vigor and the storytelling is clear. It's particularly well-suited here, as the Shadowpact are trapped in a grimy, devastated landscape. I also liked Matthew Sturges' economical script which set up situations (Jim's lack of faith in himself, Blue Devil's cliffhanger) and then resolved them neatly. The characters are straightforwardly drawn--maybe a little too much so--but if the book always has this much forward momentum, I could see its appeal. Like I said, highly OK, particularly for a new reader.

SUPERMAN #671: Had me at that first Superman scene, which I thought was a fine updating of the Silver Age "Superman does cool show-offy shit for charity" trope, and the rest of the issue had a similar "how can we take classic bits and update them?" vibe to it. I'm fussy, so I can't give it more than a high Good, but I thought it was quite fun.

SUPERMAN BATMAN #44: Not perfect, but I thought this issue did a nice job of setting up an interesting story in a dramatic way, and it even involves an event that previously happened in the title. I'm more than a little leery--I'm not 100% onboard with the characterization, and there's a lot of stuff you have to take on say-so because the DCU's history is now about as stable as Lindsay Lohan's electrolyte levels--but considering I picked up this issue with genuine dread and I'm now curious as to where the story may go next, I think it's deserving of a high OK.

THE ORDER #6: First issue of this I've read (although I picked up the first five issues the other week and haven't read them) and Kitson's art and Fraction's dialogue make for an appealing book. I'm kinda shocked nobody thought the black band running behind the interview panels wouldn't screw up the way people would read those first two pages (ditto for the panels at the bottom of that tidal wave spread, now that I look at it), but, y'know, it happens. It may be paced a bit too quickly--I'm not sure if I really like anybody, except the character interviewed in the first few pages--but that's far from a sin these days, and I assume the back issues will flesh the characters out. I'd call this pretty GOOD.

UMBRELLA ACADEMY APOCALYPSE SUITE #4: Not particularly big on action, but this issue was well-packed with great visuals, a brisk wit, and a ton of charm. As a bonus, the editorial page lists Rocketship owner Alex Cox and Cade Skywalker as heroes (I think Cox is a far bigger hero than Skywalker, even if Skywalker wasn't packing a hair-metal mullet). I may be falling under the sway of the book's brio, but I'm gonna go with VERY GOOD and hope the miniseries lives up to its potential.

WOLVERINE ORIGINS #20: Having not kept up with this title, I read the text page intro and, wow, what a weird metastatement Wolverine's origin has become: "The mutant Wolverine has spent a century fighting those who would manipulate him for his unique powers..." If you think of "those who would manipulate him for his unique powers" as the creators who are always retconning more convoluted backstory bullshit into his history, you could maybe make the case that Wolverine is an utterly post-modern superhero, a figure whose struggle outside the comic--to retain his iconic power and relevancy (his identity) no matter what is foisted on him--is more or less the same one he faces inside the comic. For that matter, that struggle taking place outside the frame is the same one faced by every superhero with more than twenty or so years under his belt.


Anyway, in this issue, Captain America clenches his teeth and beats the shit out of Wolverine just like he did the last time I read this lousy fuckin' book. AWFUL stuff, and apparently how Steve Dillon wants to make a living which I find horribly depressing.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT #2: It makes sense. World of Warcraft has something like an estimated nine million subscribers: if you can get 1% of that base reading your book, you've got a very healthy 90,000 readers. But I can't imagine these people want to read about Walt Simonson's characters any more than I wanted to hear about somebody's fourth level Halfling thief back when I was playing D&D. I would think an illustrated "World of Warcraft for Dummies" where the "story" like a fancy, tip-filled walkthrough for noobs and munchkins, would probably have a better chance at gaining that audience. As a fantasy book illustrated in the Rodney Ramos manner, it's highly EH. As a tie-in to one of the great gaming successes of our times, I think it probably ranks far lower.

X-MEN FIRST CLASS VOL 2 #6: If the proportions of this were reversed, and it was a sixteen page story with Marvel Girl and Scarlet Witch illustrated by Colleen Coover and a six page "to be continued" story with depowered X-Men and attacking Sentinels, I would've given this sucker a high Good: Coover's work has so much charm, and Parker really seems to enjoy working to her strengths. Sadly, I gotta go with OK because I find Roger Cruz's art very dull and it's the larger part of the book.


And since this week has (nearly) all of my favorite manga:

DRIFTING CLASSROOM VOL 9: Just when I thought this book was getting a little off-track with its creepy mutants, it brings back the Lord Of The Flies backbeat and gives us some underage knife-fights and senseless life-taking territory wars. And, just because it loves us, there's also an appendectomy performed without anesthesia and giant carnivorous starfish. I read this at a breathless clip and think its VERY GOOD material in its startling, go-for-broke way.

GOLGO 13 VOL 12: Probably my favorite volume so far, as it's got Golgo versus his Russian counterpart in the first story, and a nifty piece of Southern exploitation trash ("Shit, they make you a Colonel for fryin' chicken down there.") in the back-up. GOOD stuff, although it looks like we won't be getting any of the truly batshit crazy stuff in this collection.

NAOKI URASAWAS MONSTER VOL 12: Like the previous volume of Beck, the only drawback for me is that the length of time between volumes means a longer time for my involvement with the material to ramp back up. While I appreciate the recaps and character flowcharts Viz uses here, it's just not the same: I can't imagine how engrossing it would've been for this stuff to unfold on a weekly basis. VERY GOOD material, though.

OTHER SIDE O/T MIRROR VOL 1: Jo Chen's artwork is so lovely, I had to pick this up. And while there are dozens of effortlessly sensual illustrations, both the narrative flow and the story itself are pretty amateurish stuff. It's not so much the lack of drama--on the contrary, for a few pages, it almost seemed like we were going to get Barfly as drawn by Ai Yazawa and I was downright giddy--as much as Chen doesn't have the chops to bring any depth to her lead characters and so give their struggles any resonance. I hope her talents continue to develop, but this deeply EH volume suggests she's still got a way to go.

PICK OF THE WEEK: IMMORTAL IRON FIST #11 and/or UMBRELLA ACADEMY #4. Good work by new(ish) talent. That's encouraging, isn't it?

PICK OF THE WEAK: I only brought down the CRAP hammer on FOOLKILLER #3, but that may be because I'm building up a slight immunity to Countdown related events.

So. Since next week's books come in on the 28th, and I work both the 29th and 31st, I think this will be my last "what the hell is he thinking" mega-roundup for the month. I'd like to figure out a proper way to work this kind of thing into my schedule, but posting may be a little spotty for the next month or two as other parts of my life get busy. Again, lemme thank everyone for taking the time to read these and throw in their two cents, and sorry I didn't get a chance to respond to everyone who commented in the detail they deserve (particularly in that thread where there were many fine comments from old-schoolers like gvalley and Heinz Hochkoepper). Hope everyone has a fine ol' set of holidays and, should I not get back to here before 12/31, a most excellent New Year!

Glutton for Punishment Part II: Jeff Wraps Up His Look At the 12/06 Books.

Oy, I'm such a dink. Not only did I screw up the arrival dates of the books (it's 12/05, not 12/06) but I totally forgot to open my previous post with sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to vote on what I should do for the site this month. I really appreciated janesmith3's vote since it looked like an ASCII cylon raider, but, honestly, I'm grateful to everyone who took the time to give me feedback, both there and just below. Anyhoo, Part 2:

NIGHTMARES & FAIRY TALES #21: One of the things I regret about splitting when I did is never writing about the high weirdness that was volume 1 of "Make 5 Wishes," the deeply odd Avril Lavigne comic from Del Rey by artist Camilla D'Errico and writer Joshua Dysart: it's this book in which a lonely girl ends up with a demon that can grant wishes and the only one who can help her figure things out is her imaginary friend Avril Lavigne. It was one of those books you kinda can't believe you're reading while you're reading it and, while still not in the same league as, say, Fletcher And Zenobia Save The Circus, something so distinct you give it a pass on all of its shortcomings.

I'm tempted to do the same with Nightmares & Fairy Tales #21, since writer Serena Valentino and artist D'Errico are trying something similarly odd (Valentino describes it as a mix of Carnivale, Deadwood and H.P. Lovecraft) in this story of a traveling freak show, the heartless bastard who runs it, and a captive mermaid. Unfortunately, D'Errico's delicately sketched linework doesn't have the same impact without the lovely color work of Make 5 Wishes, and Valentino's script is relatively hackneyed; only the suggestion that the innocent-seeming mermaid might be even more inhuman and terrible than the main character gave me any inclination to pick up the next issue. I gotta go with EH, as much as I'd prefer otherwise, but I hope these creators continue to develop their chops here and elsewhere.

NORTHLANDERS #1: I'm really frustrated with myself on this book--while I really like a lot of the ideas Wood's playing with here (a story that takes echoes of Hamlet and turns them into almost a Norse version of Point Blank, a narration that subtly uses anachronisms to give the protagonist's concerns and thoughts an immediacy), I didn't actually enjoy any of it. Colorist Dave McCaig seems like he's working overtime in every panel to work some depth into Davide Gianfelice's art but it's not quite enough: the book didn't look spare as much as it did not-quite-finished. I'm gonna call it OK and let's see where it goes.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #3: Lethem continues to nudge this book toward its own concerns and between him, Dalrymple on art (and--Jeezis!--Paul Hornschemeier doing the coloring!), there's no denying there's a ton of talent tackling this book, but I'm still a little underwhelmed. One of the things that made the original Omega such a strange book was the clash between Gerber & Skrenes' unorthodox scripts and Jim Mooney's traditional art. And while Mooney,like John Buscema, liked working on non-traditional material, his work had enough associations and influences from his superhero work it made the material even more striking. Whereas here, Lethem and Dalrymple (and--Jeezis!--Hornschemeier!) alll seem too much in the same vein: it's a little too glib, too easy, and too superficial. What I'm trying to say is, maybe a book called Omega The Unknown would benefit from a little more not-knowingness, you know? I'm still on board, but the meter keeps moving toward EH, bit by bit.

SILVER SURFER IN THY NAME #2: Simon Spurrier obviously took the time to put himself through Silver Surfer 101. So even though I disagree with The Silver Surfer suddenly being able to astrally project himself (don't even get me started on how it messes with previous contuity, let's just agree the last thing The Silver Surfer needs is yet another vaguely defined power and move on), I'm not even gonna bother. Similarly, although Tan Eng Huat (and ace colorist Jose Villarrubia) aren't really anywhere close to following the moves from the Kirby/Buscema playbook, they're working their butts off. But even taking all that off the table, the book feels really cramped to me, making me think the Surfer is one of those larger-than-life characters who needs less panels per page than the relatively steady six-per-page we get here. I'm bummed I gotta go with EH here as well.

SUBURBAN GLAMOUR #2: It's great to get a big eyeful of Jamie McKelvie's work in color, and the story is blessedly direct. I'd be lying if I didn't admit I have quibblage--for an artist working from his own script, McKelvie occasionally stages things a bit more awkwardly than you'd expect, and there's one sequence that exists for no other reason than to eat up a bit of space--and yet I found it to be GOOD fun, overall. More, please.

SUPERGIRL #24: My first read garnered me an enormous "Huh?" In part, this was while the good people at Supergirl were kind enough to have a story-based recap page, the next few pages were so disorienting I wasn't sure if the recap had stopped. The second read made quite a bit more sense, however, and I guess it makes a case for why Supergirl's discontent that's a lot less gross than what we've seen previously. But unless the first issue (which I didn't read) is a lot more action packed than the first, all the wordless pages makes me wonder if this wasn't a single issue story expanded into two. On its own, I'd generously give it an EH (if I hadn't felt so rusty with this reviewing thing, I doubt I would've given this issue a second read-through and just dismissed it out of hand), but if the first issue is especially kick-ass or sets a tone that makes this pacing more valid, I guess you could bump it up to an OK, if you wanted.

THE SWORD #3: Didn't read the first two issues and maybe that's for the best because this issue moved like a MOTHERfucker, escalating things steadily so the final splash page simultaneously lets you catch your breath and tries to kick you one last time in the gut. I liked Ultra, and thought Girls was a huge ol' mess, but if these guys can keep their control of the material as strong as it is here, The Sword might just knock it out of the park. Very Good stuff, I thought.

ULTIMATE X-MEN #88: Haven't read an issue of this book since Millar left, so I'm coming into this very, very cold and, again, am impressed with the recap page. It wasn't a work of genius or anything but it did give me an idea of the bigger picture. This wasn't a terrible issue, I gotta admit--in fact, as a guy with a thing for girls with glasses, I'll go one step further and admit that last panel of Ultimate Emma Frost made me glad I picked it up--but Ultimate X-Men has clearly become the X-Men equivalent of Beatlemania, where all the greatest hits get trotted out one after the other, or even run together in a medley as needs dictate. For example, this issue alone has Ultimate Cable, Ultimate Bishop, Ultimate Emma Frost, Ultimate Psylocke, the return of Ultimate Beast, Ultimate Phoenix, a round of Ultimate softball out at Ultimate Xavier's Mansion, Ultimate Hellfire Club and a last panel of, I'll assume, Ultimate Apocalypse (though it'd be awesome if it were Penultimate Apocalypse or something). Oh sure, Ultimate Colossus is gay and Ultimate Cable is apparently Ultimate Wolverine from the future or something, but that doesn't seem to matter as much as you'd think. Ultimate Paul is playing and singing Paul's parts, and Ultimate Ringo is playing the drums just like Ringo. In this age of trade paperbacks and CD-Roms and experimental direct comics subscriptions and bit torrent and back issues--to say nothing of how many fuckin' X-Men books are still on the market--does anyone really need this apart from the company and creative teams' bank accounts? Ultimate Emma Frost in white corset and sexy black glasses aside, I'd say no. Sub-EH.

UNCANNY X-MEN #493: See? The regular X-Men books are doing perfectly fine all by themselves at taking all the old greatest hits and mixing 'em up. As for this issue, I read it and, as you would expect from starting a crossover at Part 6, I don't really have the necessary investment as a reader for anything in this issue to have much of an impact. I liked that we got to see someone in striped pajama pants fight the Sentinels, I guess. It all seemed coherent enough even if I didn't care, however, and that's a good sign. I don't know. Issues like this make me wish Paul O'Brien had Google Ads or something set up over at The X-Axis because reading books like this make me realize what an invaluable service he performs each and every week, and he should get paid for it. Because while I feel confident saying this was an OK issue, Paul can really tell you and, to the extent your opinions mesh with his, you can bank on it. That's a valuable god-damn service.

WORLD WAR HULK AFTERSMASH: No offense to the current creative team, but if Marvel put Greg Pak on Iron Man, I think they might be doing themselves a favor: apart from the shout-out to that insane issue of Marvel Team-Up where Hercules tows Manhattan back into place, the only thing in this weak sauce that really impressed me was how well Pak handled the (presently) complex character of Tony Stark/Iron Man. However, between the above-mentioned weak sauce and the price tag of $3.99 for a book that includes six pages of promo material Marvel couldn't even be bothered to color, I gotta go with Awful. I'll assume the rest of the event wasn't this lame.

X-MEN DIE BY THE SWORD #4: I can't really give a decent review of this book since I didn't read the previous three issues, but since Chris Claremont didn't give it a decent script, I'm okay with that.


I kid, I kid. If you're still reading Claremont at this point, you know what you're getting (a morass of characters and plots, quips and aphorisms so hoary they're probably on a motivational poster somewhere) and you obviously either want it or feel compelled to support it. I can dig it. It's a shame that a previously unsinkable franchise like The Exiles is getting rebooted as a result of all this, though, and that Claremont--like some fanboy Captain Ahab--is obsessed with being able to finally write The Fury (or the The Fury Prime, or whatever it's called) but those are my hang-ups. But I think some messy storytelling flubs (the weirdness with Longshot's knife and invisible Merlyn, the lack of a splash page at the end when the Fury emerges so Captain Britain has to tell you what the hell is happening) would bump this down a few notches even for you, right? So I'll go with Awful and you can go with _____, and we'll both go with God, okay?

ZOMBIES VS ROBOTS VS AMAZONS #1: Well, it's dumb. And expensive. But really, really pretty. And here's only one robot (so far). I'd go with AWFUL even though, again, it's really, really pretty. Keep in mind I'm so far afield of Ashley Wood's target audience--pot dealers who like to leave comic books out on the kitchen table so their customers have something to read, I'm thinking--I should not be considered fair counsel.

PICK OF THE WEEK: My memory's a little hazy. I think it's LOBSTER JOHNSON IRON PROMETHEUS #4 and/or THE SWORD #3.

PICK OF THE--ULTIMATES 3 #1!--OF THE WEAK: Sorry, couldn't wait.

NEXT WEEK: Maybe not as many books!

Oh, and make sure you don't miss Diana's post about webcomics below, okay? I'm hoping it's just the first article of several giving noobs like me the lay of the land.

Glutton For Punishment: Jeff Takes on the 12/06 Books (Part 1, Maybe).

This is both caveat and invitation. Six months ago, I stopped working behind the counter at CE and reading the week's releases as they came out. It feels like it's been fifty kajillion years, to be honest. I've only read one issue of Countdown, missed two wars (World War Hulk and the Sinestro Corps War), and let entire storylines I was kinda interested in finish up without me bothering (Action Comics, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Fantastic Four). I've continued to buy some monthly releases (everything by Brubaker, pretty much, Morrison's Batman, Blue Beetle) on which I am, with a few exceptions, completely behind. Since June, it's pretty much been Kirby Omnibuses (Omnibi?), some indy books, and a ton of manga.

I'd like to think this'll mean I'll bring "soft eyes" (as the people at The Wire would have it) to these old school big-ass round-ups. But what it probably means is you'll have to issue corrections-a-plenty in the comments field, and remind me that "Ben Grimm is The Thing, not The Hulk," "Norman Osborne is still alive and running Thunderbolts" and "Geoff Johns is only writing twenty comics a month now, and not forty."

Caveat/invitation (or cavitation, if you prefer) out of the way:

30 DAYS OF NIGHT BEYOND BARROW #2: Steve Niles and Bill Sienkiewicz have a lazy-off and we're invited! While I've never cottoned much to Niles' tin ear, he's at least trying to make things easier for his artist by setting the bulk of his scenes either inside a Humvee or in a snowstorm. Sienkiewicz, on the other hand, while turning in some lovely splash pages, can't even be bothered to make the book's single action scene slightly comprehensible. (If you've read Sienkiewicz's classic work, you know he's capable of doing it and getting all the neat splashy impressionistic effects he wants.) Didn't read the first issue of this; won't be reading the last issue of this. AWFUL stuff.

ABYSS #2: A sitcom version of Wanted, this works moderately well, with decent dialogue, great pacing, and a good change-up in the plot (also, a helpful, legible recap page which, since I didn't read the first issue, was a huge plus). I'm a little over books that use analogues to shorthand relationships (and provide for easy joke fodder) but that wasn't handled too badly. Highly OK and I wouldn't mind seeing the next issue.

ALL NEW ATOM #18: Didn't read the previous issue of this, but the priorities of the ending seem a bit off: what about Atom's date? Is Head dead? It's a bummer the big hero moments push away the small character stuff, but isn't that usually the way with Marvel and DC these days? On the plus side, having an angry mob burn Atom on a Foreman Grill is a funny spin on the classic Silver Age "Atom in Peril" scenes. If I was following this book regularly, it'd probably rank on the OK side of things for me. Since it's not really my thing, it got a high EH.

ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER #8: When a comic book opens up right after the Joker has finished making sweet love, you know it's gonna be weird. Although, actually, the rest of the book is relatively straightforward, slow-moving, and cameo-jammed; it's like it was written by Jeph Loeb on elephant tranquilizers. The only other notable bit of weirdness about it is Batman's interior narration concerning Dick Grayson, which sounds a bit like if you cast Marv from Sin City in the Adam Sandler role in Big Daddy: "Damn. This brat's starting to get to me. What am I doing, playing father? This is the dumbest move I've made in my whole life." Huh? Sadly, not insane enough to be more or less than EH.

ATOMIC ROBO #3: Every time I read that title and it doesn't say "Atomic Hobo," I die a little. The pacing falls apart a little--okay, a lot--at the end (there should at least be a "To Be Continued---?" or something before launching into the back-up story, and the back-up story has no real kick to it unless you know who Jack Parsons is), but writer Brian Clevenger has a nice, rambley way with the dialogue and Scott Wegner's art seems simple and clean without being lazy (although I might've felt differently if this book had been in black and white). Like Abyss, the high concept seems a little too clear to me--it's a robot Hellboy only much sunnier, basically--but, like Abyss, I can see myself picking up another issue if I come across it on the stands. Oh, and I also really appreciated the text page here, too. OK stuff.

AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE ANNUAL: With the possible exception of the guy who goes on military maneuvers in his wifebeater, this is all pretty intelligently crafted, less a typical Marvel annual than the sort of Secret Files thing DC was so big on not too long ago. What's weird to me, though, is how un-Marvel the approach to the Initiative is--with the possible exception of The Liberteens (an amusing Young Avengers style take on the Liberty Legion), these characters feel like they could be characters in the Wildstorm universe, or Shooter's New Universe, or half a dozen other generic superhero universes. Having the Avengers logo slapped on the logo only makes that stand out even more for me. It's highly OK at least, but it didn't instill me with the faintest desire to see the characters again, because I feel like I've already seen them twenty or thirty times before, and that's kind of a bummer.

BATMAN #671: I've been pretty underwhelmed with Morrison's run on Batman so far--that lovely work by J.H. Williams on the Black Glove story arc was the best case of lipstick on a pig I've seen in some time--but this issue makes me think I just shouldn't expect more than some clever jokes and a bunch of the good ol' kick & punch. Taken purely on that standard, this was pretty OK. In fact, considering it's part 4 of a 7 part inter-book crossover, it's really highly OK. It's still not kung-pao'ing my chicken, though.

BLACK SUMMER #4: First issue of this I've read, although I'm aware of the story's hook thanks to our pal The Internet. Juan Jose Ryp's art is always initially lovely but there never seems to be a lot of signal to go with all the noise, and while it makes for a pretty kick-ass street fighting scene, the following airfight sequence loses, rather than gains, tension as a result. Although I'd say this was mighty EH, it was also more interesting than the last three Authority reboots I read.

BLUE BEETLE #21: I tried to read this with an open mind, but guest writer Justin Peniston has still got a ways to go. He opens and closes the book with the old saying "there are no atheists in foxholes," but to do so, Jaime's father explains the saying means "you have to have faith in yourself" which couldn't be more wrong. Amusing ("And that's what the old saying 'never do anal' means, Jaime: you have to have faith in yourself"), but wrong. EH, but since this is normally one of my favorite books on the market, that's more disappointing than the rating would show.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER #9: Wraps up a pitch-perfect little arc by BKV, and if he ever decides to do a Faith miniseries, I'll be front and center. I'm extraordinarily underwhelmed by Georges Jeanty's work, however: there's a few shots of Giles where he looks like a ginormous headed Martian (the purple coloring doesn't help, I admit). Overall, though, really Good stuff.

COUNTDOWN ARENA #1: Of course, I wasn't expecting this to be good or anything, but I was still startled by how god-damned stupid it was, even by its own "Contest of Champions meets Saw" standard. Wake me when they get around to doing "Secret Wars II meets Hostel," will ya? Craptacular.

COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS 21: Second issue of this I've ever read, and it looks less like an epic storyline (or even several) than an epic excuse to cram in every secondary figure of the DCU so as to get cash from their readership. I mean, OMACs, Jason Todd, Karate Kid, Donna Troy, Batman Beyond, and the Monitors, all in one issue, plus Granny Goodness on the cover? (The last of which, by the way, I think even Kirby was never foolhardy enough to do.) This isn't a comic book, it's a mating call! And yet, when one gets down to such uninhibited pandering (as in, say, porn), what's fascinating is how fickle and impatient those being pandered to really are: like any cheesy porn, Countdown is actually really dull because the viewer, encountering a world ostensibly created entirely for them, can't help but pick it apart. (In the case of porn: there's no story; these women are creeping me out; why isn't the sex hot? In the case of Countdown: there's no story; Jason Todd is creeping me out; why isn't the art any good?) It's tempting to give it an EH since it could be much worse than it is, but pandering rarely engenders good will, which is probably why it's easier to call it AWFUL.

DEATH OF THE NEW GODS #3: Seeing Jim Starlin finally write and draw a New Gods comic is a dream come true for me: unfortunately, it turns out to be that dream where Mr. Spock won't stop making unwanted sexual advances. Seeing the guy who created the second best rip-off of Darkseid (with George Lucas arguably creating the first) finally get his hands on Darkseid should be fun and exciting, but instead I kept noticing how everyone in this book looked like they had to poop. So much squatting! It's like Starlin decided to draw Kirby poses but show them from new angles to highlight how unnatural they are. There's also some bullshit about fighting artificially created parademons so the heroes can destroy indiscriminately without worrying about taking actual lives. Lame, lame, lame. It's like paying money to watch Eric Clapton cover a Howling Wolf blues tune and seeing him not only blow the melody, but shear off a fingertip on a guitar string. Depressingly AWFUL.

EXTERMINATORS #24: That faux Kurtz scene amazed me by transcending simple parody--there's a great panel of the character staring with a despair and horror that that tells more than just the exposition he's delivering--and using "Heart of Darkness" as a way to comment on how cruise lines continue the evils of colonialism is really sharp. But once the focus is changed from "colonialism" to "patriarchy," the theme, and the story, falls apart as you read it. (Like, why would the guy go onshore to get his whores and rock when he could stay on the ship?) One of the few times I've read a book and wished it could get a do-over: I think I'd like the next draft of this a lot more than I did this one. EH, in the end.

HOWARD THE DUCK #3: This has a lot going for it--Templeton's script, like classic Gerber scripts, is a mixture of social satire and sheer absurdity, and Bobillo's art is wonderful to look at, particularly in panels when Howard looks a duck version of Harvey Pekar--but also kind of misses the boat in some fundamental way I can't put my finger on. Templeton nails Howard's "only sane person in a world gone mad" positioning, but it's Howard's unique mercurial reactions to that position (angry, depressed, bemused, weary, self-pitying, resigned) that make the character who he is, and the Howard here is maybe a little better adjusted than that. (I also think that Howard worked better on the fringes of the MU, rather than so front and center). So I don't know how to rate it: It's OK, but it also feels a bit like a big mistake.

HOUSE OF M AVENGERS #2: As long as you can get over the creative team's utter misunderstanding of The House of M premise (if I remember correctly, Magneto isn't able to retcon all of reality, which is why Wolverine remembers the truth when he gets his memory back, and why Hawkeye flips out after reading the back issues in the Daily Bugle's morgue--it's a precarious half-universe Magneto and Wanda have set up and the history doesn't go very far back), it's pretty darn good. Mike Perkins' art is glossy but expressive (although occasionally very stiff), and Christos Gage puts a lot of depth into his B and C list characters. There's some plot-hammering, sure, and, depth of character aside, I'm not really sure why we're supposed to care about this alternate reality spin of events, but as a Marvel Elseworlds kind of thing about characters only me and a few other '70s nerds would care about, it's GOOD stuff. Baffling in a "why is this on the market?" kind of way, admittedly, but Good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #15: Haven't bothered with the book since Meltzer left, but this issue at least, thanks in part to the art team and McDuffie's script, reads like Meltzer without all the Mary Sue date rapery ("Come on, you really like Red Arrow, don't you? Don't you? Come on...") which makes it both much more readable and less interesting. It would've been nice if there'd been at least one establishing shot to let me know where this was taking place since there was, at most, two panels with any sort of visible background in them at all, but whatever. Seemed like a pretty vacuous wrap-up but I didn't read the first three (or four?) issues setting it up so maybe I'm wrong. EH.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #11: Might be the Alex Ross influence, or whatever nine million other deadlines he has going on, but Geoff Johns is usually better at having issues of his books read like actual issues and not just collections of cool scenes. I mean, we've got a cosmic treadmill sequence, the JLA and the JSA checking out Kingdom Come Superman, Power Girl crying, the JLA apparently fucking off because we never see them again, the JSA inspiring people by flying around like a Macy's Day parade float, we're introduced to Judomaster and three or four potentially embarrassing ethnic supervillains, there's a fight, Kingdom Come Superman thinks Judomaster should be arrested because she won't talk to people, Kingdom Come Superman and Power Girl have a touching scene together, then people find a body and Mr. America shows up. In the past, Johns was pretty good at traditional storytelling (something in the fight between Judomaster and those villains would make KC Superman realize he has to reach out to Power Girl) but this is frustrating in its "and then this happens to set that up, and this happens to set that up, and this happens because Alex wants an exploding Japanese fat man, and you can figure out why they're all in the same book." I'm loathe to call it AWFUL, but when I remember what this book was like in its previous run (particularly before issue #50 or so), I get very sad.

LOBSTER JOHNSON #4: I'll be picking up the trade on this. Hadn't bothered with previous issues since the Hellboy spin-off books usually don't do it for me (and I'm always suspicious of characters that sound like someone's nickname for their penis), but goddamn if artist Jason Armstrong and colorist Dave Stewart don't drive this baby to Awesometown. Mignola is also on his game here with a script that leaves plenty of room for big action moments, and he's got a nice way with the dialogue, so that when the villain says of this request for 369 dragons, "That will be the number of my army," you get that "hey, it's the pretentious-speaking bad guy" jolt without it just sounding like recycled Dr. Doomisms. VERY GOOD stuff and, like I say, I'll be getting the trade.

MIDNIGHTER: Some spiffy political subtext, brings back a character and ideas from Millar's run, filled with a lot of bloody violence, and has about the only plot hook (who was the Midnighter before he became the Midnighter) I can see being left to play with the character. Apart from a bad storytelling slip (Midnighter breaks the surveillance camera in his room, but a previous page shows that's he's being watched from multiple angles), there's not anything to bitch about. If Chris Sprouse was still on the book, I bet I'd even give this sucker a Good--but a combo of the art not doing much for me and being burnt out on the character puts it at highly OK for me. If you still like the character, however, you'll probably like this.

ROBIN #169: A real and ongoing problem with the bat-books--and with nearly all superhero books these days--is that the writers treat character motivations like switches they can turn on and off whenever they want. Not that I follow it that closely, but Tim Drake is fine with being an orphan except when he isn't; is the most level-headed member of the Bat-Family except when he's the most headstrong; and the least threatened by all the other Batman successors, except when he is. I'm okay with a gimme or two--Tim is obsessed with restoring Conner because he can't bring back his family, for example--but the conclusions Milligan comes to here about Robin's character seem like perfectly rational ones made by someone who hasn't bothered to read up on the character much. Which is all my long-winded way of saying: felt plot-hammered and I didn't care. EH.

ULTIMATES 3 #1: Weird and desperate even by Jeph Loeb's current storytelling standards, and I'm kinda shocked by the hubris at signing on to a book for which he has absolutely no affinity whatsoever. I read somewhere that Loeb had no interest in playing with political text and subtext as Millar did, but all that's leaves him with is making explicit the erotic bits and pieces Millar left more or less implicit, and the usual Loeb "here's a full page reveal of a surprise cameo" trick. The scenes are shittily paced (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver leave the room and don't come back when something crashes through the wall five seconds later), the characterizations are off (the Ultimate Thor is using faux Shakespeare speak, Ultimate Wasp acts just like 616 Wasp, Ultimate Captain America is a sullen prude), and new characters are introduced without the slightest bit of characterization. It's all genuinely terrible stuff, but, amazingly, still not as bad as the overly dark, stilted, sketchy art. I mean, check out that first splash page where Thor is apparently punching himself through a wall, or where Valkyrie would be leaping off her winged horse if it wasn't thirty feet behind her, or that sequence where Quicksilver apparently chases a bullet after it's missed Wanda (rather than go after the shooter) and the bullet is beside him in one panel, behind him in another panel, and moving in a completely different direction in another. By the time Millar and Hitch were finished with their run, I had lost already lost interest in reading The Ultimates, and this issue still made me all but weep tears of blood. True CRAP, and an embarrassment to everyone involved. Yikes.

WET MOON, VOL. 3: Fetishistic plump girl cheesecake intermixed with ultra-banal dialogue--kinda like if Larry Clarke was into chunky girls instead of shirtless skater guys. And while Ross Campbell's work is formidably realized, with detailed characters and an ear for conversational nuance, it also felt aimless, obsessive, and incapable of insight (which is why I prefer, say, R. Crumb's and Dave Cooper's and Los Hernandez Bros' material as it rises above mere chunky girl obsessions). The craft makes it an OK book, and it wasn't an unpleasant read, but the unsavory onanistic qualities make it hard to really recommend.


Whew. I've still got another twelve books or so to go, but lemme get this out into the world and give my brain time to recharge, 'kay?