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What I bought – 4 March 2009

Man, it was a slow week in the four-color world. I don’t know if I can spice it up at all! Still – a few good books below the jump …

Agents of Atlas #2 (“The Sale/The Dragon’s Corridor Part 1″) by Jeff Parker (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (penciler – “The Sale”), Gabriel Hardman (artist – “The Dragon’s Corridor”), Jason Paz (inker – “The Sale”), Jana Schirmer (colorist – “The Sale”), Elizabeth Dismang Breitweiser (colorist – “The Dragon’s Corridor”), and Nate Piekos (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.

There’s quite a problem with this comic, and it has nothing to do with the actual quality of it. Marvel seems to think it’s a big-time superhero team comic like The Avengers or Uncanny X-Men, something that can be a flagship title. Well, it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, unless Marvel is expecting ginormous sales on it. It stars a robot, a talking gorilla, a female Namor, a goddess of love, and a space man from Uranus (there’s at least one clear “Uranus” joke in this book, although you could probably make a case for two more). Oh, and a secret agent. It’s a quirky comic, and it probably won’t sell more than any other quirky comic does. So Marvel should chill out and not believe this is going to sell in the vicinity of the Bendis-verse.

What do I mean, you say? Well, Greg Land does the cover. It’s as lousy as you might expect, and does nothing to sell the weirdness of the team. The Agents of Atlas are vaguely like the Doom Patrol (hey, look – they both have a robot!) in that they operate on the margins of the Marvel U. (despite Parker putting them front and center in Osborn’s Brave New World) and therefore shouldn’t be sold by Greg Land. Look at that cover. It does nothing to make this comic stand out. It looks like another regular superhero comic, and even though it has a well-armed gorilla on it, why should anyone pick this comic up based on its cover? There’s nothing that says “Hey, this is a different kind of comic – check it out!” Greg Land is fine for selling standard superhero comics or an already top-selling book. Marvel should have found a weird artist to make these covers stand out. Off the top of my head, here are five artists who would be better at making this book stand out:

1. Jamie Hewlett
2. Frank Quitely
3. Tom Scioli
4. Scott Wegener
5. Ben Templesmith

I’m sure you can come up with many more! Embrace the quirkiness, Marvel!

Then there’s the interior art. I have nothing against Pagulayan, whose art is quite nice, but again, it doesn’t really jive with the tone of the book. Ian A. pointed out last time that Schirmer’s coloring is probably responsible for the “airbrushed” look of the art, and that’s an excellent point, but Pagulayan still looks a bit too slick to be on this book. He has a good “superhero” look to him, and, of course, this isn’t a superhero book, or it shouldn’t be. Contrast Pagulayan’s smooth look with Hardman’s quite excellent, grittier look in the flashback portions of the comic, and it’s quite astonishing. I’m not sure if Hardman should be the artist on the comic or not, but in this issue, at least, his pages are much more interesting to look at. He’s the kind of artist Marvel should put on this book, but they won’t. At least not full-time. As much as I dig the contrast between the 1950s Agents of Atlas and the modern story (which is, I suppose, why the two artists were chosen), the modern story doesn’t quite grab me as much as the 1950s one, and that’s too bad.

For instance, look at Grizzly. Here’s a dude wearing a grizzly bear outfit with the head hung over his back like a hood of a sweatshirt. Pagulayan makes him look … normal, I guess. He has a nice world-weariness about him, as if he’s already sick of Norman Osborn and his fascist government-within-a-government and just wants to get back to beating on J. Jonah Jameson. But he’s so normal. Here’s a dude wearing a freakin’ grizzly bear suit, for crying out loud! He SHOULD look wacky! This is the trend in Marvel books (and DC, to a slightly lesser extent) recently – the artists seem to want to make the characters look “real-world,” and so they draw characters who are otherwise ridiculous with far less emphasis on the weirdness than they merit. That’s fine, I guess, if Bendis is doing that with Luke Cage, but come on – it’s Grizzly. Buying weapons from a talking gorilla. Embrace the quirkiness, Marvel!

Why do I care about this? Well, the mini-series was quite good (although I didn’t like the ending), Parker is a fine writer, and this book has a lot of possibilities. I mean, come on, in this issue Hydra (should we just assume it’s Hydra?) busts into a beatnik bar after the Agents have fought a skinless person after Marvel Boy encounters a skeleton flying a Soviet MIG while tracing strange symbols on the cockpit glass. Come on, that’s pretty awesome. By tying this so closely into “Dark Reign,” however, I fear Marvel might create unreasonable expectations for it. I don’t know how well the first issue sold, but if the numbers were artificially enhanced (like A-Rod’s!) because of the tie-in, I fear what will happen when the book isn’t tied so closely in to the greater Marvel U. I suppose it’s a double-edged sword – more people, presumably, will buy this because of the “Dark Reign” logo on it (why else would Marvel put it there?), but I wonder how many will stick around when they realize it’s not a conventional superhero book. Marvel did the same thing last year with Captain Britain and MI 13, and that’s still around (although I have no idea if it’s selling well enough to last), so I guess they know what they’re doing, but I think they’re going the wrong way by selling this as a superhero comic. I have nothing against superhero comics, but we have plenty. This is (and should be) something a bit different, and I think Marvel is doing a disservice by slapping a bland Greg Land cover on it instead of going with something a bit more eye-catching.

Of course, I don’t work in Marvel’s marketing department, so I guess I should shut up.

Battlefields: Dear Billy #2 (of 3) by Garth Ennis (writer), Peter Snejbjerg (artist), Rob Steen (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

Ennis does a nifty thing in this second issue of the second arc of his latest war comic. Last issue, we saw that Carrie was confronted with a wounded Japanese soldier, who reminded her of the horrors she had endured at the hands of the Japanese. We thought she was going to kill him, but the issue ended before we could be sure. Well, we think this issue is going to be about the consequences of what she does (and no, I’m not telling), but instead it becomes something much grander, a story about what people in wartime are willing to do, what soldiers think about the war, and who is a killer and who isn’t. It’s also an interesting love story, as Carrie and Billy find time to be together, occasionally secretly, and Ennis contrasts that briefly with two gay soldiers and what it must be like for them to hide their feelings. It’s a much more complex story than you might have thought from the first issue, and the fact that Ennis can cram so much stuff into one issue (granted, it’s awfully wordy) shows again what a damned good writer he actually is. Snejbjerg, meanwhile, is tremendous as always. The battle scenes are brutal and horrifying, and the love scenes are beautiful and real.

The first story of the Battlefields series was decent if a bit by-the-numbers. “Dear Billy,” however, is shaping up to be quite excellent. I’m looking forward to the big finale. I fear the worst!

Galveston #4 (of 4) by Johanna Stokes (writer), Todd Herman (artist), Digikore Studios (colorists), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

As I pre-order many of my comics (not the Marvel and DC ones, but pretty much everything else), I had to sign up for this entire mini-series before the first issue even came out, and so even though I wasn’t impressed with issue #1, I kept getting it. And, unfortunately, it never got any better. A great hook can only take a series so far, and the fact that Jean Lafitte and Jim Bowie were buddies in pre-annexation Texas is a great hook, but Stokes simply turns it into a fight with some decent twists, but nothing we haven’t seen before (David Mamet’s Heist, for instance). It could have been so much more, such as a story about the U. S. encroaching on “virgin” territory (something Stokes teases but never explores). Herman’s ugly art doesn’t help. The figures are stiff, the backgrounds are non-existent, robbing the book of any sense of time and place, and the layouts are simply lousy. This might have been an interesting mini-series, but it’s, well, not.

I feel bad about that. Chip Mosher is nice enough to send us links to pretty much all of Boom!’s releases, and although I often don’t have time to read them all, I do like what the company has done over the past couple of years, since he came on board. This just isn’t one of the successes.

I Am Legion: The Dancing Faun #2 (of 6) by Fabien Nury (writer), Justin Kelly (translator), John Cassaday (artist), Laura Martin (colorist), and Crank! (letterers). $3.50, 32 pgs, FC, Devil’s Due/Humanoids.

I had forgotten, when I read this the first time back in the day, how creepy this comic is. I mean, yes, it’s a horror comic about a young girl who can control the wills of others and animate dead people, so it’s bound to be a bit creepy, but Nury does a fine job building a sense of horror throughout the first two issues, and when the Nazis run their trial with Anna and her powers at the end of this issue, it’s really disturbing, because he’s done such a nice job coming to it. I kind of wish that Devil’s Due had left the Bible quote off of the back of the book, because Anna’s ending line is really terrifying, and the Bible quote that explains it (sort of) kind of robs the book of the cliffhanger aspect. If you know the Biblical story, you’re creeped out, and if you don’t, you’re wondering what the hell she’s talking about and you can’t wait for next issue. It’s not a deal-breaker, of course, but it would have been nice to leave it off. (I knew the quote for two reasons: I’ve read the Bible, and I’ve read this book.)

Cassaday, of course, is stupendous. This issue is, like the Ennis book, very verbose, but Cassaday draws around the word balloons and does a great job. There’s a beautiful shot of Anna, scaring the shit out of a Nazi, and the final pages, where action is required, looks great. I’m anxious to see the rest of this series, because it features Cassaday art I haven’t seen yet. Coolio!

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #5 (of 6) by David Petersen (writer/artist). $3.50, 23 pgs, FC, Archaia Studios Press.

I’m not sure why Archaia is only releasing Mouse Guard these days. I know they’re restructuring, but they can still get this book out. I imagine it’s because it’s their biggest seller and it’s too cost-prohibitive to release the other titles. When issue #4 came out, I hoped we’d see more Archaia books. Didn’t happen. Now I hope again!

As for the book itself – well, it’s fantastic. Duh. Saxon is a bit of a tool, but that’s okay – he’s under some stress. As usual with this book, Petersen draws a battle between two animals, and it’s amazing. Celanawe challenges that one-eyed owl on the cover, and it’s perfectly rendered. The owl acts like an owl, and while Celanawe doesn’t exactly act like a mouse (he’s a mouse armed with an axe, after all), he’s still outclassed by the much larger bird, so the way he fights reflects that wonderfully.

Man, this is a gorgeous comic. I hope issue #6 comes out soon. I hope Archaia is able to publish more of their comics. I hope for a lot of things, don’t I? By the way, if you can’t find a copy of this issue, call my comic book store. It’s Greg’s Comics in Mesa, AZ. Google that for the phone number. Seriously. Through a bit of an input error, they ended up with 81 copies, and the owner can’t return all of them. They probably have more copies of this issue than any comic store in the country, even those fancy-pants ones in New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles. I’m sure they’d be happy to send one to you if you couldn’t find one!

(I’m totally serious. Seriously.)

Secret Six #7 (“Unhinged Finale: Revelations”) by Gail Simone (writer), Nicola Scott (penciller), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Rodney Ramos (inker), *Jason Wright (colorist), and Rob Clark Jr. (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC.

How can this issue be so good and so … not bad, but not good, exactly, in the space of 22 pages? It’s very weird. It oscillates wildly over the Quality-O-Meter, and although I’m convinced enough by the first arc to keep getting it (the first six issues were quite awesome, so one sort-of misstep isn’t enough to dissuade me), it’s vexing that Simone didn’t pull this off.

First, the good. Scott’s art is wonderful, especially as she’s called upon, like in many of these early issues, to draw bushels and bushels of super-villains. She does a great job, from the HI-larious double-page splash (which shows the villains doing their damnedest to stop our “heroes” on the road) to the magnificent scene on the bridge into Gotham (their slogan is “Come as a stranger, Leave as a friend,” which cracked me up, especially as Phoenix recently came up with “Arizona’s urban heart” as their motto – hey, Phoenix, Gail Simone or Scott – not sure who – came up with a better motto as a throwaway line in a comic book!) where all the villains attack our “heroes.” It’s a frenetic comic book, and Scott does a fantastic job. Except when she doesn’t. Which may be Simone’s fault. I’ll get there.

The story is a bit predictable, from why Lawton went nuts last issue to the resolution, but Simone keeps things crackling along, and the way Rag Doll dispatches the Mad Hatter is inspired. As has been par for the course so far, the good lines outweigh the dumb, and that’s not a bad thing when Simone is trying to make sure the script zings. She’s not 100% (I could have done without the information about Lawton’s, um, pants), but she’s on more often than not (Rag Doll’s line about Junior: “Never an unkind thought for anyone. Mostly. Somewhat.” was quite humorous). But the way the issue is structured breaks down a bit.

I guess I need to put that there are SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned.

Okay, so we know Lawton didn’t kill anyone. But man, that’s some control he has, isn’t it? That bugged me. But I’ll deal with it. Okay, then the rest of the group smashes into Lawton’s car on the bridge. Bane, laid out in the back seat, doesn’t move. At all. The impact smashes the trunk of Lawton’s car in, but Bane doesn’t move. Physics doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. But it’s a minor point. I’ll let it slide. I’m also going to let the presence of the Gentleman Ghost among the villains vying for the prize go. Isn’t he dead? Why would he need the prize? But he looks cool, so I’ll forgive it. But then things get weird. Komodo throws Scandal against the car in which Bane lies, unconscious. He sees this and takes Venom to save her. He bursts out through the roof of the car. Komodo’s fingers break, and then Bane is behind him. I’m going to assume that Bane leaped over Komodo, breaking his fingers (or finger, although there are three “krakk” effects), twisted around, and landed on his feet facing the way from which he had come. Is that right? Man, Bane’s impressive. Then, Bane goes nuts, getting to Junior, who manages to stiff-arm him like a running back. Suddenly, in the next panel, Bane is under control again. What the hell? How did he suddenly calm down? It’s very weird. Finally, why do the villains kill Junior and Tarantula? Didn’t the Mad Hatter want the prize? How did he know neither one of them had it? Tarantula says she has it, but the whole point (I thought) was not to kill the person who had it, but take it from them, then kill them. It seems rather odd.

Anyway, there’s still a lot to like about the first story. Let’s see where Simone goes with it!

So. Not a huge week, but some interesting books out there. And, as always, there are totally random lyrics!

“Missy’s at her workout burning calories on the bicycle she needs a cure
Worried as the saunas fill with nearly nude Madonnas more lean than her
Frustration bubbles as she scratches at her stubble reading magazines
Ads to cure her troubles come as bosoms bound in towels pushing Vaseline
Glances at the telly and it latches up her belly to believe the shot
Of a perfumed Pocahontas with her swining yound Adonis loving what she’s got
She’s mad just to be pondering how the catch is simply wondering when her time will come
When she’s forced to crave the honor of his pounding flesh upon her and she’s numb with cum”

I will marry you if you know this song. Yes, I will. It might be illegal in most states and I’d have to do some serious explaining to the wife, but I don’t care!

15 Comments

Hmmm. This is one of those occasions where we apparently agree, but the things that bothered you about Galveston– familiarity of the plot, etc — I didn’t actually mind. Although I do think that if the book had stuck with the first fella that was doing the art on it, Greg Scott, it would have worked a little better. I didn’t think Todd Herman’s work was nearly as well suited to it. I wonder what happened there?

Rohan Williams

March 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm

It’s funny – I just finished reading the Agents of Atlas trade, and the one thing that struck me about it was how … normal? … it was compared to what I was expecting. I normally love Parker’s work, and I loved the concept for AoA, but the execution felt really tired and pedestrian. It wasn’t particularly funny or inventive or exciting or anything.

All of which is to say, yeah, I can see why Marvel is treating it as a standard superhero book.

Archaia did publish the hardcover collection of Gunnerkrigg Court a little over a month ago. It’s excellent – highly recommended.

The Gentleman Ghost could want to card to sell or bargain with, couldn’t he?

Andrew Collins

March 6, 2009 at 1:57 am

I’ve re-read that issue of Secret Six a few times now and I still have no explanation for the two deaths at the end. I don’t know why everybody fired on them like that given the context you pointed out. Gail is usually pretty good about not writing herself into a corner, but she certainly wrote that scene like she felt like she was in one…

Other than that, a good issue in what has been an amazing series so far. Kudos to Gail and to Nicola for pulling off seven consistent months so far…

The Agents Of ATLAS probably are a bit standard, but when they were just coming out in the singles at the time they definitely came across as a bit quirky and different, and you couldn’t tell what would happen from one issue to the next. A nice change of pace that maybe didn’t translate to the TPB.

Really enjoying “I Am Legion” thus far…the way the little girl resolved her test at the end of the issue was just wonderful. I do wonder a little whether this isn’t going to read better in trade form, but I’m curious to see how this continues to ramp up.

Re: I Am Legion (a.k.a. “I Am Weasel” because that makes me laugh)

Hooooooray, next issue the new content starts! How long ago was the first (and only) book released by DC? It’s been at least a good four years, I think.

(Of course, we’ll probably be waiting more like 40 years for issue #27 of Planetary, but that’s a whole other thing… it’s Friday, so best to focus on the positive.) I Am Weasel is going to be awesome.

This is one of those weeks where I really noticed the lack of the Dixonverse books on my read list. Not having Robin / Nightwing / BoP around really makes thin weeks stand out.

Selling — or trying to sell — Agents of ATLAS as a “normal” “superhero” book is probably a good call on Marvel’s part because the direct market has proven deathly allergic to quirk.

The quirkier a book is, the less chance it has to survive in today’s market.

Can you think of one quirky series (that isn’t part of the Marvel Adventures or Johnny DC line) that’s lasted longer than a year? Two years?

I can’t.

I do agree that Greg Land needs to be replaced as the cover artist, though. But, I’m against Land “drawing” anything.

Honestly, that may be the best Land cover i’ve ever seen. I kinda dig the screamin’ ape, double-fistin it.

And to echo the above poster, i’m sick of “quirk”. Quirk gets you nothing but a quick grave (i.e. Nextwave, The Order).

I’ll take twelve glorious issues of Nextwave or ten excellent issues of The Order than 30-50-100 issues of bland superheroics. As I wrote, Marvel probably knows what they’re doing, but Agents of Atlas just looks boring, and it shouldn’t be.

Something different has to stick occasionally, right? RIGHT?????

To me, The Order was the boring piece of slop, while in AoA we’ve already got a mysterious dragon leader that has gruesomely eaten one villain, and a mysterious soviet jet piloted by some time-jumping skeleton. That right there was more than I ever got from the forced “quirkiness” of Fraction’s The Order.

Well, I disagree with you about The Order, Mr. Torpor (if that is indeed your real name!), but I do agree with you about Agents of Atlas. I didn’t mean that AoA is “bland superheroics,” but that I wouldn’t care about it if it turns into that. After two issues, it’s obvious that Parker isn’t really going for that, but he’s also trying to fit it into the regular Marvel U., and I wonder if it will backfire on Marvel. I hope not, but it seems like Marvel is trying too downplay the weirdness and highlight the superheroics. Maybe that will hook readers and then Parker can move away from that. That would be nice.

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