Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“And if I offended you, oh I’m sorry, but maybe you need to be offended, but here’s my apology and one more thing …”1
Buck Rogers #4 (“Future Shock Part Four: Red Means Dead”) by Scott Beatty (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.
I’ve been enjoying this comic, but not enough to really love it or order you to buy it (yes, I can do that, and you must obey!), but it’s getting better, and this is the best issue yet. First of all, Twiki makes an unexpected cameo, and it’s pretty hilarious. More than that, though, Beatty is doing a really good job balancing the ridiculous (the Pack is kind of goofy even though they are, after all, dangerous) with the more hardcore science fiction, and the fact that Buck and Wilma spend most of this issue in 1930s-style spacesuits (complete with jodhpurs!*) makes me happy. Rafael is doing a solid job on art, and Beatty is building the story nicely, not giving too much away until it’s necessary and keeping things moving along. Like the other Dynamite licenses I’ve been reading (Zorro, see below, and The Lone Ranger), it’s a sturdy, engaging comic that doesn’t promise too much and delivers what it promises. And a wolf wearing a codpiece? Gold!
* Fashion-wise, you can never go wrong with jodhpurs.
Detective Comics #857 (“Elegy Part Four: Rubato!” and “Pipeline Chapter One: Part Four”) by Greg Rucka (writer), J. H. Williams III (artist, “Elegy”), Dave Stewart (colorist, “Elegy”), Todd Klein (letterer, “Elegy”), Cully Hamner (artist, “Pipeline”), Dave McCaig (colorist, “Pipeline”), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer, “Pipeline”). $3.99, 30 pgs, FC, DC.
Rucka does a bit better with the story in this issue, mainly because he finally gets around to Alice doing something, you know, criminal that affects the world at large rather than makes Batwoman grumpy. I lost patience with superhero stories in which the villain does a villainous thing that seems only to affect the hero – why do I care? – so it’s nice to see her aim high, and Rucka does a good job with the big fight, as there’s plenty of tension and two beautifully laid-out fight scenes. Rucka and Williams do a nice job foreshadowing the ending throughout, both in the words and, notably, in the art. Williams is one of those artists whose page designs actually mean something – they don’t just look fancy for the fun of it. This hasn’t been the best story, story-wise, but at least Rucka ends on a good note. I will say that Stewart’s choice to make Kate zombie-like in her civilian identity really doesn’t do it for me, and I’m curious about the drawing of Batwoman when she’s flying through the air toward the plane: Why does it appear like her nipple is on the side of her breast? It’s really disconcerting.
I know it’s a cliché to say I’d buy a Williams-illustrated phone book, but I would. Not only is he a great illustrator, but the way he creates a comic is just so different from pretty much anyone working in mainstream books today, and it really does make reading a comic drawn by him a joyful experience.
Oh, and there’s the back-up story. As much as I like Hamner’s art on it, I don’t dig Renee’s blonde hair. I’m also not sure how it gets to be blonde, as we watch her putting on her outfit and her brunette hair never changes color, and then, when she’s in full Question mode, it’s blonde. I’m thinking too much about this, aren’t I? Anyway, I wish she’d just keep the brunette hair. But that’s just me.
I’d like to thank Richard Starkings once again for sending me the latest issue of Elephantmen. He’s a mensch.
We get another one-and-done story, which has been the modus operandi for this “Dangerous Liaisons” theme that’s been running the past six issues, as Starkings is focusing on one character from the book while still moving the overall plot forward. In this issue, for instance, he focuses on Ebony Hide, the elephant cop who often works with Hip Flask, the series’ nominal star. Like all the elephantmen, Ebony has a neurochip implanted in his spine that “turned him on” – filled him with bloodlust and made him a better soldier. That was for when he was a warrior, but he still has the chip. In this issue, someone turns it on. Oh dear. Ebony ends up in a dry canal (the Los Angeles river, I assume) facing off against four crocodile hybrids which have also been turned on, and they fight to the death. It’s all a test, proving that the hybrids can still be controlled if someone wants to. We’re not sure who’s behind it (they’re obviously connected to Mappo, the company that made the hybrids in the first place), but that, presumably, will be something Starkings gets back to eventually. And the issue ends with a chilling epilogue that portends far more serious problems for the population.
It’s basically a big fight scene, but that’s fine – Starkings does a nice job with it. Cook, who’s not a bad artist, is not as up to snuff on the action scenes – he cuts some corners, it seems, and the figures occasionally come off as a bit too cartoonish. You can see by the cover that he knows how to draw, and some of the panels are absolutely gorgeous (the flashback scenes to Ebony’s war are very well done, as is Ebony’s pose when he claims victory). But the fight itself is rushed and even a bit confusing, as in a few panels, we’re not sure how many crocodiles there are. For the most part, however, Cook does a fine job with the art. The lack of a regular artist over the past few issues hasn’t hurt the book at all – Starkings finds good artists, certainly!
It’s always nice to read a new issue of Elephantmen. Starkings continues to craft a wonderful science fiction adventure, and I’m always excited to see what’s going to happen next.
I don’t think I like buff Reed. Big Fat Reed, however – now there’s a hero!
This turned fairly conventional in a hurry, but I’m still going to read the rest of the arc to decide if Hickman deserves my well-earned coin. I mean, Reed wants to solve everything, so the other Reeds show him the good they can do, the bad they feel they must do, and then the bad guys show up because they’re all jealous. Meh. Eaglesham draws the hell out of it, of course, but it’s kind of dull. Perhaps because I’ve never really been a fan of Reed and his massive ego, so when he dismisses Sue like that early on, I want her to expand an invisible air balloon in that big brain of his and show him who’s really in charge. The four pages with the entire group at the breakfast table is the best part of the issue, and then Reed goes off to his weird autoerotic club and it’s just not that interesting. Hickman has earned a look at least through how he resolves this arc, but I wasn’t impressed with this issue as much, because it felt too “super-heroic.” But I hope for better!
There’s a cameo in this issue that freaked me the hell out. You know which one I’m talking about! It was pretty awesome, though, but still extremely freaky. Look at Milligan, indulging in some old-school Vertigo continuity! How cute!
Anyway, this is a nasty little issue in which John learns (or remembers) some awful stuff to do with Phoebe. It’s a good issue, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Vertigo’s coloring policy. Look at that cover. Bisley draws a freaky monster embracing John, and although the colors are slightly muted, they still pop a bit, and that’s pretty keen. Then we get to the interiors. Bisley is a very good artist with an unusual visual style, and he’s a good choice for this issue (and, frankly, for the rest of Milligan’s run – Camuncoli just doesn’t seem to fit, and I like Camuncoli). And then Jamie Grant mutes everything, including that creature on the cover, and everything is gray and brown and dull. I don’t blame Grant, actually – we’ve seen how well he can make a book pop before, after all (All Star Superman, anyone?). I don’t know if it’s Vertigo’s paper stock or just their overall editorial policy, but the books don’t look as well as they could. John’s demented journey through his past ought to be more hallucinatory, but it’s just not. I think of Bisley in the same way I do Brendan McCarthy in terms of wackiness, and when I think of some of the old Shade, the Changing Man comics, with Bachalo being crazy and McCarthy doing that one issue in which Shade goes a bit nutty, I wonder how those would have looked under the current Vertigo regime. The same as most of their other books: dull. I can’t think of a Vertigo book that doesn’t suffer from this problem – some are a bit better than others, sure, but even the brighter ones are still dull. I really like this issue and I even like Bisley’s pencils, but why on earth are Vertigo books so dour? Does anyone know? Am I going to have to go MarkAndrew on Shelly Bond and demand an e-mail? I’M ENTITLED, DAMN IT!!!!!!!
Anyway, that cameo. Awesome.
The Incredible Hercules #135 by Fred van Lente (writer), Greg Pak (writer), Rodney Buchemi (artist), Guillem Mari (colorist), Emily Warren (colorist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Oh, Dr. Japanazi, you with your two evil Axis brains. How can we stay mad at you?
I will say, if this is really what role-playing games are like, I’m glad I never played a role-playing game. Are they really that boring? You roll a die and then explain what’s happening? Blah. My friends and I used to smash models of World War II planes into each other while we fought a made-up empire based on a kid who lived down the street and who we couldn’t stand. That, my friends, is what childhood is all about.
What redeems the role-playing, of course, is that Amadeus and Pythagoras are battling not just over Pythagoras’s RPG, but over reality itself!!!!!! Amadeus is trapped in some strange alternate realities, and he needs to figure out a way to escape, and despite the hot chick with ripped clothes carrying a machine gun, violence won’t necessarily get him there. He needs to use his 7th-smartest brain to get out of Pythagoras’s trap, and van Lente and Pak do a nice job with that. Plus, they end with a nifty reveal and a set-up for the Hercules special that’s coming out soon (Spider-Man was in the solicit in Previews, so I assume that’s what it’s setting up). This story arc, with Amadeus, hasn’t been as funny as Hercules-as-Thor, but Pak and van Lente are still writing a wildly entertaining and fun superhero epic, plus it’s smarter than almost anything out there (I’m not talking about the Boltzmann brains, but just the general intelligence of the storytelling). So yeah, it’s still awesome. Even with all the role-playing.
Madame Xanadu #15 (“Exodus Noir Part Five: Unto the Furnace”) by Matt Wagner (writer), Michael Wm. Kaluta (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.
Here’s another Vertigo book, with a different colorist, that suffers from the poor coloring. The cover is on the glossy stock and has some nice tones on it – the colors aren’t garish, certainly, but they definitely glow more than the interiors do. Inside, it’s more of the murk, and although the demon is brightly colored, the scenes in Spain, where it ought to be bright (I’ve been to Spain, and one of the few things I remember was how danged bright it was), just aren’t. I don’t mean to harp on it, really, but Vertigo often gets top shelf artists and good colorists, and I think they’re doing themselves a disservice by (apparently deliberately) making the books uglier than they should be. Again, I get that events in Vertigo books are often dour, but think how much more effective the scenes in this book set in Spain would be if the glare was overwhelmingly cheerful – the irony would be thick! Alas, it’s just a sad little scene that we saw coming from the very beginning of the arc.
As for the arc, well, it’s over. I have now read all 15 issues of Madame Xanadu (I got the trade of the first ten issues), and I won’t be picking up issue #16. Amy Reeder Hadley is a pretty good artist, and I like Wagner’s writing, but the series just isn’t grabbing me, and even though this arc (with more Vertigo cross-continuity – what’s up with that this week?) is a pretty good read, I was buying it for the art, and now that Kaluta is gone, so am I. If Kaluta does another arc, I might check it out. We’ll see. It’s not a bad comic, it’s just not that great. Oh well.
I wonder if, while Gray and Palmiotti are hammering out a script on this comic, they consult the artist. Ms. Conner is intimately connected to Mr. Palmiotti, after all, and I wonder if she tells them, “You know, I’m going to draw asses this time around. YOU CAN’T STOP ME!!!!!” Wisely, they stay out of her way. And so we get this issue, and these drawings:
I’m totally not objecting to this kind of gratuitous ass-drawing, mind you – in a comics universe where female superheroes wear clothing that they ought to, by all rights, pop out of on a regular basis, these drawings are almost innocent – but I was just struck, in this particular issue, by how Conner managed to work asses into the story. Really, only the final shot of Power Girl is from a POV that would make it necessary. But Conner can do no wrong in my book (she posed with Laura’s gnome, for crying out loud!), so I love that she drops ass shots into this book, as well as a fun “Power Girl changing on the roof” scene that is actually necessary (as it introduces a subplot) and allows Kara to say “fucked” without Palmiotti and Gray having to use grawlix. That’s always fun.
I’m still not sold on this series (and I usually give new series that don’t piss me off in the first issue at least six to impress me), but Palmiotti and Gray are slowly loosening up, and although this issue is mostly set-up, as three babelicious aliens land on earth (in Brooklyn, of course, because aliens would never land someplace gauche like Saskatoon or, if you live in Saskatoon and are now swearing vengeance upon me, Brisbane) and PG tries to track them down and encounters the dude who is chasing them. It’s a humorous issue, for the most part, with a gorgeous male android sex slave and the three alien foxes discovering hot dogs and yet another joke about PG’s rack and a good cat-washing. Unfortunately, it’s not a chimpanzee washing the cat, but I guess we can’t get everything! It’s certainly getting better, and as long as Conner is drawing it, I’ll at least think about buying it. But I might have to bite the bullet next issue and make a decision. If we get another issue like this, I might just keep getting it. Until it gets cancelled. Come on, this can’t last, can it? I hope it can, but it doesn’t feature dead superhero zombies eating other superheroes, so I doubt if anyone is reading it. Because dead superhero zombies eating other superheroes is, you know, real.
Speaking of cheesecake, that cover disturbs me. Not that much, just to the point where I have to comment on it. Inside, we learn that Maleev used a model named Jolynn Carpenter for Jessica Drew (I would have pegged Jessica as older than 25, but whatever). I assume Ms. Carpenter posed for that cover, too, and I wonder if she was, you know, unclothed. Why? Almost right in the center of the page we see her left nipple, and you can see the slight change in direction as we reach the areola. Again, I have absolutely no problem with this, I just found the “realism” of the breast odd, especially as everything in the painting seems to revolve around it, like it’s the sun or something. I’m always disconcerted when we see “realism” in superhero art (which is why Alex Ross’s art, despite its craftsmanship, is a little weird), so I just thought I’d point that out. Yes, add this to Power Girl and Detective as comics that made me obsess for a few minutes over female body parts. Deal with it!
I accidentally read a bit of Our Own Chad’s review of this comic, and I think I agree with him – it seems really late. I mean, does anyone in the Marvel Universe even care about Skrulls anymore, now that the Green Goblin has taken over the U. S.? Skrulls, like Brad Lidge’s skills, are so 2008. In theory, I guess Skrulls are always a problem in the Marvel U., but it seems like this issue loses some sense of urgency because it’s taken so long coming out in printed form. That Chad – when he’s not rotting his brain by snorting crushed Smarties, he’s pretty smart.2
Overall, this is the kind of Bendis book that I like – yes, Jessica is a superhero, but she gets recruited by S.W.O.R.D. (buy the new series by Kieron Gillen, people!) to track down aliens and kill them. So this becomes a weird kind of pseudo-noir tale set in the Marvel U., which works for me, as Bendis did the same kind of thing on Daredevil (and his run is really, really good). Obviously, this feels like it’s going to be a bit more superheroey than that comic, but it’s still a murky, morally shifty kind of book, and I can dig it! Taken as a discrete issue, this is frankly kind of boring, as nothing much happens until the very end, but I’m patient, and Bendis does a pretty good job catching us up on what’s going on in Jessica’s life and why she’s, you know, suicidal (to tie this into this week’s theme). Bendis writes about Wolverine a bit too much, but that’s okay.
Maleev is a weird artist, even though I like him. Occasionally his art looks terrible (the splash page, for instance), and occasionally it looks very stiff and out-of-context (the people in the scene when Jessica arrives in Madripoor don’t look like they’re occupying the same space, for instance). But I can’t stay mad at it. He sets up the scenes very well, and his weird use of photo-referencing works for him and, most importantly, for Bendis’s comics. It’s always strange to consider what Maleev has evolved into over the past decade-and-a-half or so, considering how, well, crappy his art was back in the day. You may not like his art, but he has a cool style that fits what Bendis is doing.
I will say that I’m surprised the people in the Marvel U. are so close-minded. Not like the Men in Black at all, are they? Thirty-two alien races on Earth, and all are unwelcome? Sheesh. Abigail Brand is a meanie.
So I’ll give this a few issues. It’s off to a pretty good start. And I’d love to see some DC alien races make cameos. That would be fun.
I could have read this a while ago, as Parker sent me a link to where you could read it on-line, but I didn’t. I suck. I knew I was getting it in printed form, and I just forgot to check it out. You can read it on-line, though. It’s in black-and-white, but you cheap bastards out there won’t care about that, will you????? Just click the link on the title up there.3
So here’s the set-up: There’s a cave in Kentucky. A developer wants to, you know, develop it so he can make some coin and, somewhat incidentally, help the depressed economy in the region. Two park rangers who at the beginning of the issue have made the beast with two backs for the first time are trying to stop him, because it would ruin the natural beauty of the caves and shit. Two shady characters are planting explosives in the caves for some nefarious reason. The male park ranger (yes, one is male and one is female – it’s family-friendly!) discovers them and one of the explosives goes off, knocking him out and trapping him in the cave. The female park ranger finds him. And … exeunt!4
Parker, of course, does a fine job setting this all up. On the first few pages, he and Lieber blend the pertinent information (in the form of a reporter interviewing various people around the region, a tried and true method) with scenes from the cave as Wesley (the female … yes, the female) has a dream in which she sees the punks blowing shit up. From there it’s fairly straight-forward, but still a darned good read. Parker doesn’t make the developer, Winston Barefoot, a purely evil dude, although he’s pretty unctuous. The people in town just want jobs to come back, and they’re willing to sacrifice natural beauty for a chance to regain some dignity. Meanwhile, Seth, Wesley’s new boytoy, isn’t completely on her side, but he’s also not willing to side with Barefoot, who he thinks is exploiting his Cherokee heritage (Seth is also Cherokee) for profit, counting on the fact that nobody will say “boo” to him because of political correctness. It’s a nice character study, and Parker, more than in his Marvel work (which is, of course, fantastic) does a good job making these people real. And it’s always nice to see Lieber’s art. He has a good, naturalistic feel to his pencils, and the scene where Wesley tries to figure out what to say to Seth after their night together is very funny.
I’m not surprised this is good. I expected it to be good, after all, and it is. Yay, good comics! And the creators’ web sites are listed on the inside cover. I like to think that was just for me. Thanks, Image!
As good as Wasteland is, I hope the schedule has been righted now that Mitten, we hope, has regained his sanity following the full-color, double-sized issue #25. Poor Christopher Mitten. He should punch that British git Johnston right in the face!5
But we’re off on another story arc, and if Warren Ellis can’t get you to buy this book (as he’s quoted on the cover), then I just don’t know what to do with you guys. Johnston returns to Newbegin and begins checking in on the characters who are left, apparently focusing on one in each issue of this arc. In this, he focuses on Yan, the son of the ex-Primate Heddor, who is given a job by the Founder and doesn’t really like it: He’s taking care of Neelan, the artisian who is under house arrest. Yan doesn’t think this is too good a job, but he does it, and over the course of six months, he begins to discover that life is a tiny bit more complex than he thought it was. Johnston ties this into the bigger events of the city, events which will presumably be fleshed out in subsequent chapters.
It’s a nice character study, as Yan, a youngster who is certain he knows everything about the world, slowly realizes that things aren’t always black-and-white. Yes, that’s not a terribly original plot, but plots ultimately don’t matter – it’s how the writer deals with them, and Johnston does a good job letting Yan discover things on his own and change his own mind. As usual, he takes his time and lets these characters live and grow on their own, and it continues to be a pleasurable read. Mitten, of course, is fantastic, although I’m a bit confused on a few pages, where two characters seem to be substituted for each other at random. Hibberd, the artisian’s servant, seems to magically appear in one panel and replace Neelan, who seems to disappear. In a book like this, which has a large cast of characters who often are not identified by name, it’s kind of confusing. Hibberd and Neelan don’t look anything like each other, which is why the shift is so jarring and obvious. It becomes clear what exactly happens (Neelan leaves the room, Yan talks to Hibberd, then goes into the room where Neelan went), but it’s not laid out particularly well. Still, it’s a minor complaint. And it’s just one page (plus one panel on the previous page).
I’m happy to see Wasteland back, and I hope it will continue to come out on a regular basis. It’s too good for these gaps between issues!
Wednesday Comics #12 (of 12). $3.99, 15 pgs, FC, DC.
I thought I’d give you some trivia about Wednesday Comics. Okay, one piece of trivia (trivium?). There were 12 “issues” of this serial, and 15 stories. So there were three stories that didn’t get to be featured in the “big circle” at the lower right. Which ones were the ones that didn’t get the star section? Can you remember? Thanks to me, you don’t have to! The ones that didn’t make it were Azzarello and Risso’s Batman, Berganza and Galloway’s Teen Titans, and Simonson and Steelfreeze’s Demon/Catwoman. Why were they shortchanged? Beats me. But there you have it!
Anyway, I was going to delve into this much more, but I’m not going to. Some worked, some didn’t, some got better, some got worse, and it’s disappointing that Kubert’s Sgt. Rock didn’t feature Rock killing Nazis in every. Single. Panel. But still. I can certainly understand why people didn’t like this and bailed on it, but despite some uneven quality, I kept getting it because it was just such a cool idea and it was fun reading the stories. It was interesting seeing the writers try to create these 12-page stories, one page at a time, and although some failed (you know which ones I’m talking about!), it was still a really keen experiment. We’ll see what they come up with next time!
I’ll just point you in the direction of my review of the entire series, and leave it at that.
Zorro #16 by Matt Wagner (writer), Francesco Francavilla (artist), and Simon Bowland (letterer). $3.50, 22 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.
See, one Matt Wagner comic I don’t really love, while another I think is very good. It’s odd when that happens – I can only assume I have more interest in Zorro the character than Madame Xanadu the character, because I don’t see a huge difference in actual writing quality in the two books. I do like Francavilla more than I like Hadley, but it’s not like I can’t stand Hadley. I’m always curious as to why I don’t like certain things by a writer when I like other things by the same writer. Oh well. I think Zorro is better than Madame Xanadu. You may disagree!
Wagner continues to look at Zorro through the eyes of those who have encountered him, this time letting a privateer in the employ of Spain tell General Mancado about the time Zorro fucked his dudes up. It’s basically an excuse to let Francavilla draw a big fight, and of course he does it magnificently. Plus, Diego lets Lolita know that they must pretend not to love each other because of the old chestnut: to “distract any who might wish [her] harm.” Oh, you’re a crafty one, Diego! So we’ll see where that goes.
Wagner is still setting this thing with General Mancado up, so everything is still simmering, but it looks fantastic. Of course it does!
All right, let’s fire up the totally random lyrics!
“When I was a very small boy,
Very small boys talked to me
Now that we’ve grown up together
They’re afraid of what they see
That’s the price that we all pay
Our valued destiny comes to nothing
I can’t tell you where we’re going
I guess there was just no way of knowing”
Yeah, that’s easy. Such is the randomness of totally random lyrics!
Finally, let’s think fondly about frequent commenter FunkyGreenJerusalem, who probably woke up this week after napping off a Vegemite and Carlton bender and thought he was on Mars:
Finally (yes, I know I just wrote “finally,” but let’s ignore that), I’d like to make a request of you guys that isn’t comics-related. My lovely wife has Polycystic Kidney Disease, and in a couple of weeks she’s participating in a walk to raise money for research into it. If you would like to donate to her, please go to the PKD Foundation web site. There’s a button there to “donate to a walker,” and if you click on that, it will take you to a screen in which you can search for a specific walker. Her name is Krysta Burgas, and after you search for it, you can click on her name and it will bring up her personal page. On that page is a button labeled “give a gift.” If you’re so inclined, donate some money. It would be groovy if you could. If not, c’est la vie. And thanks for indulging me.
Let’s take it out with a final thought:
“I don’t need no Ph.D. to be a doctor of fuckin’ misery!” Testify, Mike!
1 Honestly, I wrote that before Brad posted his Wednesday Comics thing and got everyone riled up. I just happened to be listening to “Lights … Camera … Revolution” this week, and as it’s, you know, freakin’ superb, I figured I’d fire up the quote machine.
2 I doubt if Chad does this. I used to do it when I was in junior high. It’s a weird rush. Surprisingly, I never graduated from it to cocaine. It seems like an easy transition!
3 I suppose some of you have, you know, bills to pay and family members to feed and lame shit like that. Okay, you’re not cheap. We’re still friends, right?
4 A Shakespeare reference and a stage direction in the same paragraph? I was an English major, bitches – deal with it!
5 Once again, I should probably point out that I’m joking. Johnston is a swell guy. Unless I’ve been misled all these years and “git” is actually a good thing. If so, then he’s totally a git!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.