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What I bought – 26 July 2006

Another fine week in the comics world, as two storylines come to an end (sort of), another highly anticipated pairing disappoints (slightly), and one of the best books out there goes on hiatus.  And, of course, Shark-Man came out.  SHARK-MAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!

Astro City Special #1 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson.  $3.99, DC/Wildstorm.

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There are people in this world who don’t like Astro City.  Those people we call Communists.  Oh, I’m kidding!  I can understand why people don’t enjoy Astro City as much as I do, but you have to admit that Busiek can tell a mean story, and he’s obviously in love with the superhero form.  This is the story of Infidel, Samaritan’s arch-nemesis (and it’s a nice subtle opposition of their names), and his repeated attempts to – well, it seems like he just wants to live in peace and explore knowledge and Samaritan keeps stopping him, which doesn’t sound all that bad of him, but he also keeps enslaving people to work for him, and that’s not terribly nice.  Busiek does a nice job, however, of not exactly making us sympathetic to Infidel, but at least making us realize what he wants and that he’s not necessarily evil even though he does bad things occasionally.  The pretext for the issue is that he and Samaritan, realizing they are evenly matched, have dinner once a year to check up on the other and make sure there’s no mischief a-brewing, and this allows Infidel to reminisce about his life and his encounters with Samaritan while tempting him with the idea of taking over the world so that he can save it.  Samaritan resists, of course, but Infidel thinks he’s getting to him.  Busiek uses a nice story about an eagle wearing down a mountain over the course of centuries by sharpening its beak on it, and Infidel, because he is immortal, believes that he is the eagle, but then he begins to have doubts.  It’s a nicely done story.

Because it’s an Astro City story, we feel like Busiek has told the tales of Infidel and Samaritan’s fights before, even though this is (technically) Infidel’s first appearance.  Busiek has done such a nice job with this series that everything feels like it’s part of a vast continuous stream of stories, and that’s what makes Astro City such a joy to read.  This is a good, solid story of men who respect each other but don’t like each other, and each one has their own agenda, and it feels like we have been with them throughout all their encounters.

Anderson does his usual steadfast job with the art.  He’s not spectacular, but he is good.  Busiek mentions that the next AC mini-series should be along soon enough, but this is one series (like Planetary) that I don’t mind waiting for.  Each issue is a nice little gift of comic goodness. 

Batman #655 by The God of All Comics! and Andy Kubert.  $2.99, DC.

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Well, it’s finally here.  Does this mean that Morrison is finally finished the last Seven Soldiers book and we might see it in this millennium?  Wouldn’t that be nice?  So.  How’s the Neal Adams hairy-chested love god Batman?

Well, to tell the truth, it’s a tad disappointing.  Yes, I have questioned our Great New Age Deity!  It’s not horrible, mind you, and I’m going to pick up the next issue to see where he’s going with it, but as an introductory issue, it’s a bit heavy on the exposition and light on the action, which isn’t the best way to go with Batman, because we know so much.  Just throw him in and let him wade through the crap!  Sure, it begins with the Joker getting shot in the face, and I know Morrison has promised a new Joker, but come on – DC is not going to kill the Joker.  That whole scene is a wee bit strange – why is Batman throwing the Joker in the dumpster?  I thought it was the fake one, but he’s dead. Would Batman really do that?  And what’s this about ending all crime in Gotham?  Stuff like this makes my head hurt.

Anyway, the early part of the book, up until Bruce and Tim and Alfred are all in the cave together, had me really banging my head against the wall, because it was bad.  Once Bruce decides to go on his vacation, however, things got a bit better, but still stayed far too … I guess subdued is the right word.  Bruce and Alfred flirt (don’t tell me they don’t!), Kirk Langstrom shows up, Bruce acts like a dick just like he always does when a writer “wants to explore who Bruce Wayne is” (which is why Moench’s 1990s run is interesting, because Bruce doesn’t act like a dick), and Talia (I assume) shows up with Batman’s son.  I’m still waiting to see if it’s the kid from Bride of the Demon.  That would be cool.

Anyway, there’s some interesting stuff going on here, but if it weren’t Morrison, I might not come back.  I trust him enough to read some more, but I hope it gets better.  Oh, and Kubert’s art is Kubert-ish.  I like his brother a little more, but I don’t really have anything against Andy.

Daredevil #87 by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Stefano Gaudiano.  $2.99, Marvel.

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SPOILERS AHOY!  You have been warned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bwah-ha-ha-ha!  Go back and check it, people – I told you Foggy wasn’t dead!  Although what is he doing in the Witness Protection Program?  Against whom he is testifying?

And then there’s Iron Fist as the fake Daredevil.  That was pretty cool.

And so we come to the “end” of Brubaker’s first arc, although the only real resolution we get is that Matt gets out of prison and the Director of the FBI gets caught for his attempt to stir up trouble.  I mean, we learn some stuff, but a lot goes unresolved, and it appears that that’s just the Brubaker is going to roll, and we’re just going to have to like it!  I don’t really have a problem with that, but I still think this initial arc was too long for what exactly happened.  Three issues would have been enough – four, tops.  But that’s fine, because it’s still an interesting read, and if Brubaker actually gives us a “swashbuckling” Matt in Europe, I’ll be very happy.

And I like how Dakota North is smarter than Matt, Danny, and Ben put together.  Oh, that feisty Dakota!

Gødland #12 by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.  $2.99, Image.

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And so the insanity that is Gødland comes to a short close, as Casey and Scioli take a break to make sure that they can get back up to speed.  They’ve done a pretty good job of getting this book out regularly, and I’m willing to wait a few months so they can get another head start rather than sitting around for months in between issues.  Yes, I suppose I could wait for the trade, but, you know, I’m old-school!

Speaking of old-school, if you like insane comics with big bright colors and wacky villains and bombs that can blow up Manhattan, thereby opening a dimensional doorway so a weird god can rule supreme, then you really should be reading Gødland.  If that still doesn’t convince you, how’s this: King Janus shoots energy out of his hair extensions.  Plus, Neela has a Dave Bowman/Robert Forster moment¹, and Adam saves Manhattan – but at what cost? – and we have two nice cliffhangers to chew on for a few months.  The art, as usual, is spectacular, as Scioli pulls out all the stops to finish up the first year.  This has been one of my favorite books since it debuted, and this issue does nothing to change that opinion.  While it’s not as flat-out funny as some of the other issues have been (there are some laughs, especially Janus’ exposition, but the lack of Friedrich Nickelhead means there are fewer jokes), it’s a grand superhero fight on a cosmic scale, and if you don’t like those sorts of things, I weep for your cold, dark soul.

Don’t be a Communist – buy Gødland!

Jack of Fables #1 by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Tony Akins, and Andrew Pepoy.  $2.99, DC/Vertigo.

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Because Fables is one of my favorite books, I figured I’d pick up the spin-off title just for shits and giggles, to see if Jack can sustain a series on his own (as the cover says, “No one deserves his own book more”).  I’m still mulling it over.

It’s not a bad beginning.  When last we saw Jack, he was losing his movie business and being told that if he ever showed his face around Fabletown again, there would be trouble.  Now he’s hitchhiking around, and a hot babe (naturally) with a few mysterious henchmen pick him up and kidnap him.  They take him to a “retirement community,” where one of the inmates – an old Fable – tells him that they’ll keep him there until his story is forgotten.  That’s how they kill the Fables, or at least turn them mundane.  The old Fable – Sam – is all spooky, telling Jack about the “warden,” Mr. Revise, and the scary henchmen who aren’t really human.  Jack is in for another surprise, as when he gets to his new cottage, he finds a naked Goldilocks relaxing on his bed.  It’s a Vertigo book, remember!

It’s basically a set-up issue, with a few explosions when Jack tries to escape.  It’s intriguing, and I’m willing to give the set-up a few issues to see where it’s going.  It’s just tough to really review it, because it’s so obviously the first part of a story.  Willingham still shows that he has a nice grasp of this world he’s created, and I can’t remember if Akins’ art always looks like this or if he’s purposely aping Buckingham.  The art is decent enough.  Like I said, it’s tough to give thumbs up or down on this – it’s good enough to bring me back, and then I can get a better handle on the series.  We shall see!

JLA: Classified #25 by Steve Englehart, Tom Derenick, and Mark Farmer.  $2.99, DC. 

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Like the previous four issues, there’s nothing terribly wrong with this arc about our long-gone losers in JLA: Detroit.  It’s a superhero story.  Englehart tries to inject it with some modern angst, and Gypsy takes center stage in this issue, so we get a psychic vision of Vibe’s and Steel’s deaths, which adds a bit too much gravitas to what should be a more light-hearted story (but which I assume has something to do with JSA: Classified #15, which I won’t be buying).  The Justice League bonds some more, they defeat the Royal Flush Gang, Aquaman is entirely superfluous to the story (seriously – what is he doing in this story?), and J’onn realizes that hey! these kids can actually fight.  It was an entertaining enough story, but is weakened just a bit by the internal monologues that we had to endure.  The story was supposed to be about the kids becoming heroes and learning to trust each other, but whenever they internal monologued, they came off as whiners.  Just a bit.

And I don’t mind poses on comic book covers that have no relation to the story within, but that cover is so misleading it annoys me.  Vibe says one thing to Aquaman in the whole story, and he tells him they don’t need his help.  At no point does Aquaman need rescuing from Vibe.  Nor is Vibe outside the cave at all in the issue.  Annoying.

Shark-Man #1 by Michael Town, Ronald Shusett, David Elliot, and Steve Pugh.  $3.99, Thrill-House Comics.

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If you remember Steve Pugh from, I don’t know, Animal Man, or some fill-in issues of The Spectre, then you might be completely surprised by his work here.  It’s stunning.  It’s the star of this issue.  Just check out that cover!  I don’t know who that chick is, because she doesn’t show up in the issue, but look at how gorgeous that is.  The whole book is like that!

So begins Shark-Man, the (I assume) first book from Thrill-House.  The story is a bit clunky at times, as Shusett and Pugh (who are credited with the script, while the other two are credited with the story) try to cram as much exposition into awkward places as they can, but that’s a neophyte mistake, and I’d rather have too much information than not enough.  Alan Gaskill is Shark-Man, who protects New Venice City, a city he created and effectively rules through his bank.  At the beginning of the book, a cruise ship is headed to New Venice when it is attacked by pirates.  As Shark-Man tries to save the passengers (and fails, as they are mostly eaten by sharks), someone drains all the money from his bank and the governor of the city declares that all the evidence points to him and an arrest warrant is out on him.  When he gets to his bank to figure out what has happened, the pirates destroy his secret lair (the Shark-Cave?) and kill his friend Edgar, while a creature calling itself the Shadow-King enters his office and attacks Alan (and here is where the dialogue gets a bit clunkier than it should).  Meanwhile, Alan’s son Tom is coming to help him with the allegations against him, but before he can arrive, the Shadow-King kills Alan.  Tom finds the body just before the cops burst in, and in a standard cop-show cliché, find him holding the knife that killed his father.  Oh dear – that can’t be good.

The story is fun and intriguing, and promises some nice direction as Tom (presumably) learns that his father was a superhero  (it does not appear that he knows) and that he is going to take up the mantle (again, I assume that’s what’s going to happen).  As I mentioned, the real star of the book is the art, as Pugh does a magnificent job bringing this city and its environs to life.  Shark-Man is a ferocious-looking dude, and the fights with the pirates early on and later with the Shadow-King are very neat.  I don’t know how much of this is photo-referenced, because some of the faces look too perfect, but for the most part, it’s absolutely stunning.  On that alone, this is worth a look.  I’m interested to see where the story goes from here.  Let us hope this can come out on a relatively regular schedule!

X-Men #189 by Mike Carey, Chris Bachalo, and a bunch of inkers.  $2.99, Marvel.

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I enjoyed this issue.  Okay?  But I have many questions.  Let’s fire them off!

Why is it so important to fool Val Cooper into thinking that Xavier is at the estate?  Is he under house arrest or something and can’t go off into space?  That said, Mystique’s appearance as Xavier was very neat.

Why is Northstar in SHIELD prison?  What did I miss?

When did Northstar and Aurora become Fenris?  Their appearance at the end of the book was very cool, but what’s up with that power they have?  Is this some obscure piece of Alpha Flight trivia I’m not up on?

I’m sure it’s just an artistic conceit of Bachalo’s, but weren’t those chains on Sabretooth ridiculous?

I assume the host of inkers is somehow Bachalo’s fault, but how so?  I can’t imagine all the inkers are behind, so what’s the deal?

Anyway, this is a nice little story.  The bad guys aren’t terribly original, but it’s all about what the writer does with them, and so far they’re deliciously nasty and look formidable.  Carey is still finding his footing in terms of the X-people who are going to be part of the book and those who aren’t, but that will get sorted out.  This book has an interesting vibe to it, but I hope Carey gets the small stuff out of the way soon and gives us a coherent team, because the big plot is pretty neat.

MINI-SERIES I BOUGHT BUT DID NOT READ.

The American Way #6 (of eight) by John Ridley, Georges Jeanty, and Karl Story.  $2.99, DC/Wildstorm.

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I’m really looking forward to reading this.  It better not let me down!

So there you have it – another fine week in the comic book biz.  Any week with sharks eating people has to be good!

¹ I don’t know if I’m allowed to give Cool Points, but I’ll give one to the first person who gets the Robert Forster reference! 

26 Comments

I’m pretty sure Northstar is in SHIELD prison because he was killed by Wolverine, resurrected as an evil zombie by the Hand, and then taken into SHIELD custody when (inevitably) the good guys beat the Hand. Or something.

moose n squirrel

July 27, 2006 at 9:30 am

Even Communists like Godland. Know who doesn’t? Nazis. Filthy, stinking, Lost Ark-raiding Nazis.

Shoot, Ryan, I forgot about Millar’s big ol’ Wolverine story and the Northstar zombie action. Again, footnotes would help!

That’s true, moose. Those Nazis don’t like anything!

I haven’t picked up my stash for the week yet, but I checked out your Batman review anyway and now I’m thinking I might just stick with Detective and wait for the trade on Batman. I’m no Morrison fan so if that’s the only thing keeping you around, I’m pretty sure I’ll hate it.

Maybe I’ll pick up Shark-Man, which wasn’t even on my radar, instead?

I can understand why people don’t enjoy Astro City as much as I do…

I can’t =8^).

BTW, did they manage to fix the thing in Shark-Man when they spelled the same character’s name 2 different ways in essentially the same panel? I gave Matt Wagner a pass on that when it happened in Mage 2, but that’s because he’s Matt F***ing Wagner and I will forgive many things like that. Not so much when it’s a new comic trying to impress me.

Truly stunning artwork, though.

X-Men Questions:

1) Aurora, or whoever that stand-in is, and Northstar have the new power because just a few pages earlier the female bad guy remarks that she tweaked their DNA a little bit for some extra punch. I’m surprised you missed that, it was only a few pages prior.

2) Northstar is in SHIELD prison because of the events of WOlverine’s “Enemy of the State.” He was killed, brainwashed by the Hand and turned evil. SHIELD was in the process of fixing him when the bad guys came.

3) Sabretooth’s hands seemed ridiculous too. Bachalo’s strong suit is not subtlety.

4) Maybe Bachalo finished his pencils too close to deadline, so to save time they sent all the pages to different guys so that they could be inked simultaneously and still make the deadline.

And you nailed why Morrison’s issue was a little subpar, especially in light of Dini’s. I can always count on Mr. Burgas to ingest the least Kool-Aid.

Dang, T., you’re right – I forgot about that DNA thing. It still doesn’t explain why they were holding hands, which is what really puzzled me and led to the Fenris reference. I assume she altered it so they can share power and together they will be stronger. I’m going to stop thinking about it because it will make my head explode!

As far as I can tell, Edward, the spelling of the characters is consistent throughout. I just zipped through it again, though, so I may have missed it. You’re right – things like that bother me too, and usually I catch them, so I think they fixed it.

Aurora and Northstar holding hands and generating a blinding light is an old power of theirs. It’s just a power that has been forgotten about for years, it’s nothing new.

Little John,

You’re right, but it used to be just a bight flash. Now it seems to have a concussive/incendiary capacity as well. That, I believe, was the tweak.

T.

You are correct, that is apparently the tweak. I missed the DNA thing too, the artwork is too distracting to me. I wasn’t paying attention to the actual text.

moose n squirrel

July 27, 2006 at 12:04 pm

Well, now that half of Fenris is dead, some other pair of screwed-up mutant siblings has to pick up the slack, right?

Where can I bitch about 52? I’m almost numb to DC’s consistent abuse of Captain Marvel by now, but making Billy Batson insane is really too much.

Moose, I don’t think Billy is insane just yet. I found it interesting that we finally saw him and exactly what happens on the Rock of Eternity. I think Billy is overwhelmed right now and is learning to control everything.

/that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
//I love Captain Marvel and it’s my hope that I am correct

Is the Robert Forster reference from The Black Hole? I’ve been wanting to get some cool points!

Woo-hoo! Matt Brady with the geeky knowledge of a crappy Disney sci-fi flick from the 1970s! Let’s go to Cronin for the ruling – give him a cool point, Oh Lord and Master! He deserves it!

Fair enough!

Matt, you may have a cool point!

Hey, I was actually in a comic shop this week, so I almost know what I’m talking about. Unlike usual, when I pull stuff out of my ass.

I guess I’m both a Communist and a Nazi, though, because I don’t like Astro City (well, to be fair, I’ve never bothered to get into it, due to my general dislike of Busiek) or Godland (which I gave up on after #1, because I am an elitist bastard).

I totally would’ve bought Shark Man if the shop had ordered it. But I don’t even think the shop I went into orders Casanova. So…

Batman. Yes. Well… it was okay. I liked Dini’s issue better. The terrible art did not help (the layouts and blocking were piss-poor, to where it made some events more confusing than they had to be). I didn’t really like the opening sequence… it picked up halfway through. I’m sticking with it, of course, because of The God of All Comics. I mean, it *did* have Joker-copters and Bat-Poles. You can’t go wrong with those. Plus… Ninja Man-Bats. (Men-Bat?)

The little moments in Batman were great. The “big” moments, not so much. Still… best-written Alfred in ages.

Paul O’Brien’s mentioned several times on the X-Axis that when you see that Chris Bachalo’s pencils have multiple inkers, that usually results in more comprehensible art. His theory is that Bachalo tends to over-think things when he has lots of time, and ends up producing beautifully-designed but horribly unclear pages. When he’s in a rush, he just tells the story, and tells it reasonably well.

Though even when he’s in a rush he can design a page liek WHOA. The page where Northstar appears to Aurora, or the double-page spread with the “guardian angel” appearing in Northstar’s head? Freakin’ gorgeous.

You’re right, Katherine, about those two pages. The one last issue with Rogue and the bad guys was very nice, too. I used to love Bachalo’s work, and I wish he would get back to being comprehensible more often.

I’m going to wait for the trade on Morrison’s apparently arc-based Batman, as the summary for issue #1 and the reviews I’ve read here and elsewhere don’t make it sound as interesting as I’d expected.

Woudl you folks say this a case of disappointed expectations wherein Morrison has written an above-average story, while everyone was expecting sublime greatness; or is part 1 of “Batman and Son” simply too hinky, silly, or incomplete to satisfy in and of itself?

Great question, Omar.

Overall, I still think the issue was good, but it wasn’t great, and I guess that ties into Morrison more than anything, because with a typical comic book I’m not disappointed by “good.”

With a DC comic, my standards tend to be lower anyway because I find they tend to have dumber stories and premises, so Morrison was above-average by DC standards, that’s for sure. But I still expected better. By non-DC standards, it was just average.

Well, I finally broke down and bought Batman #655, and I guess I’ll answer a question no one asked and give out my thoughts on it.

I think both the strengths and the weaknesses everyone is pointing out stem from a basic decision Morrison is making on this: he’s trying to fuse every Batman era and style into one portrayal, one “Bat-verse” if you will.

This is what the opening pages are about, for instance. On the one hand, we have a very Silver Age story: the Joker vs. a fake Batman, cheerfully absurd dialogue, and so forth. But then it’s executed in the manner of a grim 1980s story, right down to the bloody crowbar imported directly from “A Death in the Family.” The red skies are from the Animated series.

And the idea of the Joker mistakenly killing a fake Batman an then trying to melt his face off is from a Bronze Age comic, the David V. Reed-penned conclusion to the “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Murdered?” story, an arc so dementedly odd in its own right — Batman is rumored dead, so the villains set up a fully-functioning court to assess everyone’s claims! — that Morrison must have read it at some point. And at the finish, we get a little homage to the very first issue of Batman and the very second Joker story ever, with the villain being declared dead in an alley, and then suddenly being declared alive again.

The rest of the issue works in much the same way. It’s there in explicit things, like Alfred literally listing his chief 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s love interests, Batman making a Milleresque grim joke about a decapitation victim in the newspaper, and the return of the Bat-pole. It’s there in plot element things, like having Batman’s 1980s son, the current all-evil version of Talia, and the very 1970s Man-Bats having been created via a generic Silver Age hostage bit.

Pages 22-3 are all about announcing this intention via the easily overlooked Lichtenstein-esque painting whose Morrison-scripted contents are actually homages to all eras of comics — everything from a Vietnam panel with the words “The jungle lit up like the Fourth of July” to Bendis-y “…” dialogue balloons on a blank background. And then on page 23, of course, we get all of those panels framed by that most stereotypical of 1980s and 1990s devices, the bank of monitors. (Cf. Watchmen‘s Ozymandias and Ira Levin’s Sliver).

And it’s why the dialogue in the cave scene falls a little flatter than it should — because to keep the fusion of these various elements, themes, and styles, some of them grossly contradictory as handlings of the character, Batman has to keep in motion at all times, and the plot likewise needs to be chugging uphill on all cylinders. The cave scene’s dialogue, spaced out, paced for conversational beats, winds up having a talky, unnatural, at times even nonsequitur feel as a result.

Of course, dissociation is one of the story’s themes in itself. Two Batmen, one of whom uses a gun as the post-1940 version of the character never would (save for Julie’s slipup in the first “New Look” Batman story of the 60s. Hmmm….). Dissociation in the cave scene, with Bruce forgetting how Bruce Wayne’s — his real — voice works, and Tim thinking his mask is his face. And the very real threat of dissociation in the form of the Man-Bat, the representation of what you’d get if Bruce’s Bat-avatar/totem/archetype really did become completely unmoored from Bruce Wayne.

And the threat in the story? The living proof that Batman is flesh and blood, that he has the sexual needs of a real human, and at the same time the threat of family, fatherhood, and domesticity represented by identification. The threat to Batman is the threat to his necessary dissociation. And it is inaugurated by two people quite literally and plainly fusing Bruce Wayne and Batman, someone who wants to force Batman to identify with Bruce and both of those “persons” to identify with them as beloved and as father.

It’s intellectually what onme expects of Morrison. But what he’s trying out is a real tightrope act, and just as on the high wire, slowing down for a moment makes it almost certain you’ll slip and set the line to wobbling for another moment before you’re righted and running again.

But did you LIKE it?

Mostly I did, yeah, but I’m definitely buying the rest of the run (including the next three issues) in TPB.

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