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Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Hiatus

This is going to be the last ISB post of 2005, since I'm heading up North tomorrow to see my family. And we all know how well that usually goes. So, I'm afraid you'll have to turn elsewhere for your vitriolic comics-related humor until the dawn of 2006. Me, I'll be bumming around Ohio doing my best to fulfill my two stated goals, which are:

1. Being drunk as much as possible.

2. Reading my Peter David Aquaman run.

Easily achievable, and I think they might enhance each other. Still, before I go, I'd like to give a rundown on the Christmas Swag I've gotten so far, a list that for the first time since I was five years old does not include a video game. Yet.

My pals came through pretty well this year, with Chad's custom OMAC action figure and Tug's gift of the most awesome t-shirt ever, but my mother decided to take a different tact.

In addition to a nice new digital camera, she got me an astounding amount of liquor. And I'm not talking about swinging by the liquor store on Christmas Eve, although we did that, too. I'm talking about a fifth of Old No. 7 in my stocking and a bottle of Jäger wrapped up under the tree, all topped off with a shiny new flask.

I can only assume that she's fully supportive of my New Year's Resolution to be drunk at work as often as I possibly can. It's a Christmas Miracle!

And finally, I can only consider the following a personal gift to me from the publishers of Archie Comics, from a one-page strip explaining why Betty likes sports so much:

Yowza!Happy New Year, everybody!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Or possibly a clone.Click for a Santa-Sized version, and leave some tidings of comfort and joy, wouldja?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Special: The Holiday Diaries

Lights, please.

My mom and I moved to South Carolina when I was five, and for the next fourteen years, we drove back up to Ohio every Christmas to spend the Holidays with our family. Mom's a teacher,s o we'd head up usually as soon as we all got out of school, getting up there in time for Christmas Eve with Mom's people over at my grandmother's house, and Over the years, the whole event became more and more stressful for my mother. None, though, have ever matched the Tale of Woe that was Christmas with the Sims Family, 1997.

So far, I got this hatchback.School had stayed in pretty late that year, so it was already the 23rd when we piled everything into my mother's car: The model of German engineering known as the 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit.

It was a diesel-powered hatchback with roughly three cubic feet of passenger space that we managed to cram my mother, me, luggage, presents, and possibly a dog into for the six hundred mile drive to Ohio. There was, of course, no radio.

That was the least of the car's problems, however, as we found out when we reached the top of a mountain outside of Asheville, and it unceremoniously died on us. We spent the night in a hotel, and the next morning a friendly local mechanic fixed the problem by--and I swear this is true--shoving a paperclip into the engine and telling us to be careful not to dislodge it when we sprayed pure ethanol into the intake, as was necessary to get the thing running at all.

Fortunately, all that happened at the highest point, geographically speaking, of the trip, so we were able to pretty much coast the rest of the way down to Hamilton, arriving at my Grandmother's with enough time to shower and change before the big Christmas Eve dinner with her side of the family.

Dinner had traditionally been cooked by my grandmother, but she had decided to take the year off, and deservedly so. She'd made reservations down at the Hamiltonian, a swanky hotel with a Chritmas Eve buffet, and the plan was for us to eat, then meet back at the house with my sister and her then-new husband David for presents, since they were spending dinner with David's family.

This was a plan that my grandmother refused to acknowledge, telling my sister that she should just ditch her new in-laws in the middle of dinner and come with us, despite the fact that everyone else in the family was trying to convince her otherwise. She kept it up even to the point where the hostess asked us how many were in our party, and she maintained that we were expecting ten, even though there were only seven of us.

Eventually, though, we got seated, and Mom and I immediately went for the buffet. I'm not the kind of person to waste time with salad when there's prime rib and roasted chicken involved, so I loaded up my plate and came back to sat down, finding myself in a powderkeg of holiday cheer.

The problem was this: My cousin Craig, whose fashion sense you might remember, was in a phase of his life where he refused to eat anything but ham. My grandmother had been aware of this fact, but when she made the reservations, had mistakenly seen the Christmas Day menu--with ham--and not the Christmas Eve menu--with everything else. My aunt was just convincing him to give the chicken (which was delicious, I might add) a try, when my uncle, always one to exacerbate things, slammed his fork down, turned to us in all seriousness, and said:

"Well I'm not gonna eat... if the little guy's not gonna eat."

And that was pretty much that for everyone at the table who wasn't me or my mother. We were quite enjoying our food, thank you very much, and elected to stick around and finish when everyone else got up to leave. I was just getting up for a second plate when my aunt, pulling on her coat, affected the soft, saintly voice of a martyr:

"You two go ahead and eat... We'll just [sigh] go to Burger King or something."

Mom didn't miss a beat: "Cool, we'll catch you back at the house."

So we ate, and ate well, stopping by the hotel bar afterwards so mom could get a martini before it was once more into the breach, then out to the lobby where we found my grandfather, who had dropped the rest of the family off and then returned, spending the entire time we were eating in the lobby, killing time by counting the people with canes.

It was one of the coolest things he's ever done, in my opinion.

The rest of the trip passed relatively uneventfully after that. Ruby refused to let David into any of the family pictures she took, and my brother-in-law's father broke his hand trying to fix the car.

Given that, it's pretty understandable that in 2002, Mom took an Ambien at dinner and spent Christmas Eve knitting in the corner, responding somewhat less than graciously to the George Foreman Grill she got.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

More ISB Mistletoe and Holly:
| Ant Man's Big Christmas |
| Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #17 |
| Santa Saves the DC Universe! |
| The Worst Christmas Song Ever |
| A Marvel Comics Christmas: Marvel Team-Up #127 and Marvel Two-in-One #8 |
| Starman #27: Because YOU Demanded It! |

The Jackson Ten: 2005's Most Totally Awesome Graphic Novels

Around this time of year, the only thing more cliché than a holiday special is a "Best of the Year" list, and considering that I've ran the former reindeer right into the ground, I thought I'd try my hand at the latter.

Yes, it's time for the first annual ISB Dave Jackson Awards for outstanding achievement in the field of graphic novel total awesomeness. Tonight, ten of this year's graphic novels will be honored in the name of 1984's expert gamesman, whose appearance in DC Comics Presents #67 has inspired us all.

Undeniable.I mean, check him out. Those shades, that spiked collar, and an endorsement of the Q*Bert Board Game. The guy knows what he's talking about.

Me, however, I'm a little more suspect. So while these are the ten trade paperbacks that stick out in my mind, it's by no means a comprehensive list of all the good stuff that came out last year--and I'm not even sure that all of it did come out last year. So if you're using this as a guideline for some last-minute shopping for the person on your list who enjoys awesome things, don't let the fact that they're not on the list stop you from bying something like We3, Aaron Renier's Spiral-Bound: Top Secret Summer, Demo, or any of the Owly books. These, though... these are the books that stuck with me the most over the past year. And unfortunately, a lot of good trades out there I bought as single issues, so it didn't even occur to me to put, say, Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days on the list even though it's a great read.

So, now that I've completely shot my credibility, let's get right to it.

$10.95, from Viper Comics.#10: Daisy Kutter: The Last Train

Starting things off at #10 is Kaz Kibuishi's Daisy Kutter: The Last Train (Viper Comics), which is not only one of my favorite comics of the year, but also one of my favorite westerns period, regardless of media. The book's absolutely gorgeous, from the slick packaging of the trade paperback to Kibuishi's amazing art.

The story, of course, centers on Daisy Kutter, a former outlaw and war hero who has settled down to the boring life of a shopkeep in a Western-style world populated by humans and robots that's highly reminiscent of the best parts of Trigun. One bad hand of poker later, she's on her way to rob one last train--as a favor to its owner, no less--and things just go downhill from there. It may sound a little thin, but Kibuishi fills it out wonderfully with lush art and great interplay between Daisy and Tom the Sheriff, along with a lot of intriguing references to Daisy's past.

On my copy of the trade, there's a small number 1 on the bottom of the spine, which I can only hope means we'll be getting more stuff like this:

Gun-blazin' Western robot action!

34.95, Image Comics34.99, Marvel Comics
#9: Invincible: The Ultimate Collection / #8: Runaways v.1

These two are pretty similar in format and appeal, so I figured I'd lump them together for ease of comparison. Invincible: The Ultimate Collection (by Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker, Ryan Ottley, and Bill Crabtree) and Runaways v.1 (by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and a bunch of other talented folks) are both oversized "deluxe edition" hardcovers with a ton of bonus material, and they're also both Totally Awesome. Invincible, which touts itself pretty accurately as "Probably the Best Super-Hero Comic in the Universe," is what Ultimate Spider-Man should be. It's Robert Kirkman's best work so far, telling the story of Mark Grayson, the son of the world's greatest super-hero, whose own superpowers finally kick in during high school. It has everything you could possibly want in a super-hero comic, with fun action, to intense drama, an entire universe of supporting characters, and even one of the best recurring gags in comics. Walker's style and character designs are great, and a wonderful fit for Kirkman's script, and Ottley's are sharp, but compliment the earlier designs and only build on them.

Runaways, on the other hand, tackles teen super-heroics from another side, and not only sets the story in the rarely-seen West Coast of the Marvel Universe, but goes so far as to give a reason why you don't see much of it. Vaughan's comics are always fun to read--which is probably why Marvel used the script for Runaways #1 as an example of what they wanted in the submission guidelines for their short-lived Epic line. There's even a throwaway line about The Prisoner in the first issue that, when I finally finished watching the show, made the whole first series even better. The art, though, is downright amazing, especially on the oversized pages of the hardcover. By the end of the book, Alphona's pencils with Craig Yeung's inks and the coloring of Christina Strain and Brian Reber are just gorgeous.

The content, then, is well spoken-for. But it's the packaging that puts these onto the list. Kevin and I have had the discussion about the way the trade paperback market works, and he cites Runaways specifically as an example of how its done right: they allowed the book to build a fan-following through issues, then digest-size trades at a price point less than ten bucks, then finally put out a great hardcover. Now while that does lead to certain people, like me, buying the same story three times, it also allows new readers to jump on in a variety of ways, and keeps the trades cheap while having the nicer presentation of the hardcover once you realize you like it, and the way Image marketed Invincible works about the same way.

So why does Runaways slip into the higher spot? Well, it's four cents more expensive than Invincible, and has eighteen issues to Invincible's thirteen. Not a bad deal either way, but it's enough to get them sorted.

$9.95, Oni Press#7: Sharknife v.1

I'm not the first person to talk about how Corey Sutherland Lewis the Rey's Sharknife is awesome, and I'm pretty sure I won't be the last, so I won't waste your time. I will, however, say this: Every good thing you've heard about this book is true.

It's a masterpiece, from the literal love letter to comics at the beginning to the story of the villain's life as told through his suits, to the cookie fortunes Sharknife says when he transforms. It's probably why the word "kickass" was invented.

Plus, in the Free Comic Book Day Special--which I hope gets collected for you poor souls who missed it--we find out that Sharknife fought a bear. And if there's one thing I've grown to love in 2005... it's bearfightin'.

Holy Crap.

$16.99, Gemstone Publishing#6: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

And while we're on the subject of love letters to comics, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better one than Don Rosa's amazing tribute to Carl Barks. In this twelve-part story, Rosa pulls together every single story, comment, and throwaway line about Scrooge McDuck's past and ties it all together, all while explaining how he went from a wide-eyed scrapper on the streets of Glasgow struggling for every dime he could get to the bitter, miserly Uncle Scrooge of his first appearance, dragging him down so that we can understand how much Donald and his nephews redeemed the rich old duck. There's so much beautiful storytelling in it, including my personal favorite moment in Chapter Eight, where Yukon claim-jumpers push Scrooge one step too far and feel the wrath of his heretofore unknown super-strength.

The best part, though, comes in Rosa's commentary at the end of each chapter, explaining the bits and pieces that he culled from not only Barks's stories, but the man's notes on the nature of the Ducks and their world. It's fascinating stuff, and it'll make you want to read more, which is exactly what a good comic does.

$39.95, Cartoon Books#5: Bone: One Volume Edition

In case my incredibly longwinded review of the two hardcovers at 8 and 9 didn't tip you off, I like trades that deliver a lot of content for the money. And with almost sixty issues for forty bucks, this omnibus edition of Jeff Smith's Bone delivers nicely indeed.

Of course, it doesn't hurt matters much that the story's pretty incredible, starting off almost like a gag strip before turning into a fantasy adventure, and yet never losing a bit of its charm along the way. Anything else I could say about it would sound like hyperbole, but it really is that good: Clean, smooth art, engrossing storylines, loveable heroes and genuinely terrifying villains, and an old woman racing against a herd of cows. It's not only a book that I think should be on every comic fan's bookshelf, but on everyone's bookshelf, adults and kids alike.

19.95, Top Shelf Productions#4: The King

The premise of Rich Koslowski's The King sounds crazy: A mystery about the seeming resurrection of Elvis Presley--or in this case, a man called the Second Coming of Elvis, who, known only as the King, rules the Las Vegas strip and sports a golden helmet that hides his true face. And it's up to Paul Erfurt, a washed-up former tabloid reporter to find the truth.

But through it all, as Erfurt sorts through his own issues, Koslowski tells a story of fame, religion, music, faith, and redemption. Like so many good comics, it's hard to describe without making it sound bad, but it's one of my favorite stories ever. And while the $20 price tag is a bit hefty for a book only slightly bigger than digest-size, it's worth every penny.

$11.95 each, from Oni Press#3: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life / #2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

He's the best fighter in the provinceMuch like the Sharknife situation, the last thing anyone with an internet connection needs is another comics blogger telling them how great Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim is. But really, it's one of those comics that just won't stop being awesome. The first volume tricks you into thinking it's going to be your standard quirky romance, but most love triangles floating around these days don't involve musical kung-fu battles with one of the girls' Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends, and that's a shame that needed to be rectified immediately.

And Volume 2's even better. Seriously, when you can start a comic with a River City Ransom joke, you are awesome forever and that is a fact.

Best house ad ever.

So what, you may be asking yourself, could possibly top the Scott Pilgrim books as the single most Totally Awesome trade paperback of 2005?

Well there's this guy.

You might've heard of him.


It's not just that there's nothing wrong with this book, it's that everything's so right. Every problem that you could have with Marvel's Essential line is fixed in the DC Showcases, from better paper stock to the beautiful cover design of the books themselves. And this volume of Silver-Age Superman adventures stands out even among the Showcases: Curt Swan's pencils look great in black and white, most of the stories are like some kind of mad genius, and since this was the first of the line, it's ten bucks, a price that would make it absolutely unbeatable even without the added value of panels like this:

Kills me every time, I swear.I've talked about that particular story here on the ISB before, which is no surprise since I was obsessed with how awesome this trade was for weeks. It's got it all, True Believer, from the first appearance of Supergirl to the story that inspired Grant Morrison to write All-Star Superman--a tale wherein Superman not only loses his powers, but gains the ability to shoot a miniature version of himself out of his hand, at which time he does everything he can to kill it.

And if that isn't convincing enough, then allow me to kick some science to you:


It's a fact.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Special Double Update: Another Brick in the Wal

The toilet backed up on Mom at 11:30, and by 11:35 we'd given up looking for the plunger. It was gone, lost to the ages, and there we were: High and dry, but getting wetter by the minute.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands, and grabbed my hoodie and a pair of bedroom slippers and went out into the 30-degree night with every intention of driving to the grocery store down the block, grabbing a plunger, and getting back in time to catch the end of Stephen Colbert.

But here's the thing: They don't sell plungers at the grocery store. And at a quarter to twelve on a Thursday night, there's only one place that does: Wal-Mart. The local one's on the other side of town, but I figured I'd already gotten to Rivendale, might as well head to Mordor.

It was an analogy that would prove to be stunningly accurate.

It's been a while since I've been to Wal-Mart at midnight, but I'm sure we've all been during the day. You know the people you see there? Think about them for a minute. Then imagine the people that wait until midnight to swing by, shambling past the employees with tattoos and knife-fight scars that are deemed too "raw" for daytime service.

The horror... the horror.

The place was packed. It's two days before Christmas, after all, and unlike me, there's a lot of people that don't start their shopping in late October. No, they wait until it's down to the wire, lurching around with an air of increasingly unquiet desperation. But they weren't what caught my eye at first.

No, that honor goes to the goths. Apparently being a vampire involves not only waiting until the Witching Hour to pick up a fresh pack of socks, but also wearing a black faux-snakeskin trenchcoat while you're doing it. Immediately on seeing them, I completely forgot what I was doing there, and slowed my pace to follow them for a few minutes, right up until I was distracted by the teenagers in bizarre and gigantic plastic Afro wigs. They were standing around chatting in the middle of Men's Shirts, politely stepping out of the aisle as I passed.

Eventually I made my way to hardware, but couldn't for the life of me find the plungers, which by this point was becoming more and more personally important as the cold outside began to wear on me. So I sought the assistance of one of the helpful indigenous employees, asking him where I could find them.

"Well, I'm not sure if we've got any left," he said, leading me down the aisle.

"Popular gift this year?"

As it turns out, they had plenty, in enough of a variety that I had to take time to decide. I ended up going with the one that looked like a mace, like the one the guy who looks like a really buff Ronnie James Dio uses in Conan the Barbarian. I was starting to get the feeling that I might have to fight my way out, and I figured that was my best bet for defense and home repair.

Then came the long wait in the line. I looked to my right, and saw a guy about my age with an out-of-control soul patch buying nothing but an entire bag full of candy and a stepladder. There's a story there. There's got to be. And while part of me wants desperately to know what it is, the other part knows that if I ever found out, it might just destroy my mind.

I finally paid and made for the door, almost tasting the sweet, frigid air of success when the Midnight Wal-Mart threw one final fresh horror in my path. Remember the Singing Billy Bass from a few years ago? The little fish you hang on the wall, and it sings when you press a button?

Well it's back.

And it's evolved like the Goddamn Terminator.

It's no longer a fish. No, it's four times bigger and comes in the form of a singing, moving, disembodied deer head.

That is some Evil Dead shit, and somebody's going to buy it as a Christmas present.

I have no memory of making it back to my car, but I eventually made it home, and now the toilet works fine. But part of me will never be back.

Part of me is gone forever.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Week in Ink, 12-21-05

January's issue of Previews came out yesterday, and while I was doing my monthly order this afternoon, I decided to jump on every single one of DC's "One Year Later" titles that was not a) Green Lantern or b) written by Judd Winnick.

See, when I do my order, some switch goes off in my brain and I apparently decide that I'm not getting enough comics, despite the fact that I post a veritable mountain of evidence to the contrary on this very blog every Thursday. Still, I may actually not be getting enough, since I managed to get fifteen comics this week and none of them were Christmas specials.

Attention, Publishers: You're a bunch of heathens.


Yeah, I'm pretty sure I heard he is.Adventures of Superman #647: The cover to this issue poses the question: "Faster than a speeding bullet?" which I think is more than a little odd. I mean, that's like having a Spider-Man comic with a cover blurb like: "Bitten by a radioactive spider?" or an issue of Batman with "A witness to his parents' murder?" I mean, that's kind of his deal. At the very least, a third of it. Anyway, this issue continues with getting all that Ruin stuff knocked out before "One Year Later" hits, and while I don't feel as vehemently about it as Radical-C, I do think that having Ruin turn out to be Emil Hamilton was a bit of a copout. I liked him better when he was just a crazy new villain, and I'm not sure if it came down as an editorial mandate to go along with Hamilton's villain status on the Justice League cartoon or what. But still, the script by DeFillipis and Weir isn't bad, and Renato Guedes is a heck of a Superman artist.

Batgirl #71: Gabrych and Mahn deliver another solid issue after the minor disappointment I had with the last one, thus proving the lesson I learned from KARATE BEARFIGHTER: Big kung fu fights in the woods make everything better. I've mentioned it before, but Gabrych is doing a great job building on the last five years of Batgirl, even going so far as to throw a reference to the absolutely nonsensical Justice League Elite in there, and I'm excited as heck about Batgirl fighting the Mad Dog.

Birds of Prey #89: Secrets are revealed, but it ends up being a little anticlimactic. I'm not saying I want Gordon to have another heart attack, but really, addressing the issue would be nice. Not that this issue's bad; Savant pulling the reverse of what Anton Arcane said in Hell was pretty darn enjoyable. He's become one of the most enjoyable parts of Gail Simone's run, and makes a great foil for Black Canary.

Captain America #13

Conan #23: Another issue where Busiek drops an installment of the Young Conan Adventures, and while they're a lot less likely to feature naked serving wenches than the main story, I like them.

The Goon #15 The Goon's Christmas issue dropped two months back, which left Eric Powell free to fill this one with the hardest punch I've seen the goon throw since he knocked that cow out a year or so back. It's a fun story, but what really caught my eye was that Powell's coloring has changed to a new style. It looks beautiful, of course, but I'm not sure whether I prefer the flatter coloring of the previous issues to the newer, more painted look. Of course, when a comic book involves a slugfest in a mud pit created by zombie scab labor, commenting on a book's coloring is just quibbling.

Hellblazer #215: Mike Carey's thirty-one issue run on Hellblazer comes to an end with one of the best last pages I've ever seen. It's vastly underappreciated, but Carey made Hellblazer a solid book month after month, and now that it's finally getting collected in trade, I think it's going to stand out as one of the sharpest runs on the book.

Infinite Crisis #3: Well, that clears that up, sort of, maybe. For those of you keeping a tally at home, the score stands at Pérez: 3, Lee: 0, with no sign of that changing anytime soon. As to the actual content, I had to explain to Josh why I thought the phrase "Purple Death Ray" was awesome, but we both instinctively knew that an appearance by the Breach makes everything better. Look close, I promise he's there. I still don't know if it's as good as I want it to be, but I'll admit that big double-page spread right before the last page gets me pretty excited.

JSA: Classified #6: Huh. Looks like I forgot to read this one. Give me a sec.


Okay, there we go. I was pretty underwhelmed with the last issue, which makes me unique among most of the people I talk to. Kevin likened it to a heist movie where you get the crew together, but for me, the pacing stood out as being far too jumpy and it just didn't grab me. This issue, though, is significantly better. It's still not great, and to be honest it seems a lot like warmed-over Villains United.

Justice #3: Tug pointed out to me that in the world of Alex Ross, the Martian Manhunter seems to exist soley to be lit on fire and act totally gay with Superman, a theory that this issue bears out pretty well. I'm starting to think that I'm only going to like the even-numbered issues.

Manhunter #17: This week's Invincibly Suggestive Piece of Dialogue is brought to you by Mark Andreyko and Javier Pina:
KATE SPENCER [To Cameron Chase]: Can you believe this is our life? Not what I would've guessed in our dorm freshman year.
Rowr. No I don't, ladies... But I want to.

Robin #145: When this issue was first solicited, the cover was colored all wrong. I mean, Blue Devil was red, and he has the word "blue" in his name. Nice to see they fixed it, and that the interior reads like a clearinghouse for every wacky super-villain idea Bill Willingham had kicking around in his head. My personal favorite: The Jury, twelve vigilantes with assault rifles and masks with numbers on them. That's good stuff.

This Issue: Gert vs. Petey Boneclaws!Runaways #11: Everything about this issue is awesome, from the fantastic James Jean cover to the great Spider-Man appearance that, oddly enough, does not involve Peter Parker popping boneclaws. Certain writers out there might want to take note of that fact. Adrian Alphona's art gets better with every issue, and with Craig Yeung and Christina Strain, this is the best-looking book Marvel's putting out these days. Also, the Pusher Man and his Pimp Hand? Maybe the greatest throwaway villain of all time.

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer< #2: Even better than the first issue, as the mysteries behind Seven Soldiers #0 start to get explained--along with the events of Justice League of America #100! It also has the best piece of dialogue in the week when the Bulleteer and Helligan bust into the wedding, and while I'm more than sick of seeing super-heroes stand around posing for no Goddamn reason (And yes, I'm talking to you, New Avengers), Yannick Paquette pulls off the Bulleteer in a cheesecake pose in every panel, while everyone around her looks normal.

X-Men: Deadly Genesis #2: And now, a joke that only my friend Phil will get, and only if he's reading this series: "HOODY HOOOOOOOOOOOO!"


Channel Zero: I ordered this along with the rest of the Brian Wood books I jumped on, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet, what with it coming out yesterday and all. Still, I'm pretty excited about it, and it looks pretty good from the little I saw when I flipped through, which included a page of graphics Wood designed for the sole purpose of readers copying and using for petty vandalism. Still, considering that I'm two trades, a miniseries, and an ongoing into this whole Brian Wood thing, I'm glad that he turned out awesome.

Happy face exclamation point!Owly vol. 3: Flying Lessons: Owly is amazing. Andy Runton has managed to create a series that manages to be sweet and honest, while at the same time staying fun and enjoyable to read. It's an All-Ages book that can actually be enjoyed by all ages--and he's done it all without words. Owly and his pals speak to each other in fun pictograms, with my personal favorite being a horseshoe and an exclamation point, the friendly raccoon shopkeep's standard "Good Luck!" Plus, it's a little known fact that Runton has in his posession a copy of the Best of the ISB I had printed up, assuming that he didn't throw it away as soon as I walked out of sight with my Owly t-shirt in tow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cowboy Joe's Two-Gun Manga Round-Up, Volume 2

In my last rootin' tootin' cow-punchin' installment, I adressed a few of the things that led to my disenchantment with manga, but I left out one of the key factors.

The fans.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that a good ten percent of them are lovely people. But comics fans in general tend to fall on the elitist, and working in a comic book store, I've seen more than my share of folks wander in applying Japanese pronunciations to English words and referring to things as "kawaii." Could just be that I'm a bitter and petty young man, but it pushes my "I want to stab you" button pretty hard.

But then again, my hatred of goths led me to resist reading Sandman for years, so I should probably just let go of the little chunks of anger that make up most of my soul.

But every cloud does have its silver linin', pardner, and in this case, the broad fanbase of manga has allowed for more new creators to break in with their own work,and sometimes it's pretty darn good. And sometimes... sometimes, they're Ladies.

Blazin' Girl Comic Action!Such is the case with tonight's subjects, Steady Beat by Rivkah, and Svetlana Chmakova's DramaCon.

No seriously, I'm all man.  There's punching, I swear.Steady Beat tells the story of Leah, a high school girl in Texas who finds a love letter to her perfect sister--valedictorian and captain of the varsity soccer team--from another girl. Complicating matters are Leah's conservative state senator mother, a series of phone calls that lead to Leah getting hit by a car, and hunky love interest Elijah, who has two fathers, one of which appears to be based on Dana Carvey's "Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual" character from SNL.

There's a lot of emotions involved and a severe lack of the martial arts, but seeing as it has both lesbians and gunplay (it is Texas), that pretty much makes up for the girly bits.

Seriously, though, Rivkah does a fine job with it. The characters are well-established and interesting from the start, and her art is great, especially when it comes to storytelling. My favorite art element comes in the form of an elephant that shows up around Leah whenever she's avoiding confronting her sister about the letter. It's a great little device that works well in the story as the weird kind of symbolism that tends to only work in manga, and her page layouts are wonderful.

It's especially impressive since--according to her bio on the inside front cover--Rivkah's only been drawing manga since 2003, and Steady Beat is her first full-length series. She's also apparently "been a professional in the print industry for over seven years," despite being only a year older than me, which is a little depressing. But then again, I've probably written way more about Chuck Norris than her, so that's something.

I guess.

There's a fight scene on Page 145!Best to be moving on to Svetlana Chmakova. With DramaCon, also from TokyoPop, Chmakova creates a manga about a girl who creates a manga and then goes to her first anime convention to promote it. It's a quick read--I knocked out the 172 pages in less than half an hour--and along the way you'll get every single manga cliché you've ever seen.

There's Christie, our protagonist, who is so sweet and innocent that she's managed to to make it all the way to an anime convention with a self-published manga under her belt without knowing what hentai is. Me, I found out within picoseconds of my anime fandom, but, well, that could just be me. We've also got Christie's Friend the Slut™ (dressed as a catgirl), her Evil Boyfriend™, and a love triangle completed by the aloof Matt, who a) wears a trenchcoat and fingerless leather gloves with no hint of irony, b) has a Dark and Mysterious Past™, and c) has a deformity that somehow only makes him more attractive. Add in a series of wacky and heart-wrenching hi-jinks, and all of your standard manga elements are present and accounted for. I'm really hoping that Volume 2 is going to open with Christie running down the street at super-speed in a sailor uniform with a piece of toast hanging out of her mouth after her mother tells her she's overslept again and now she's late for school!

But don't get me wrong--that doesn't make DramaCon bad. In fact, it ends up being pretty awesome, thanks largely to those elements. At its core, it's a manga about manga, and by reveling in the clichés of the genre, Chmakova is able to create a fun and compelling story that's as much a love letter to the tricks of the manga style as it is a love story between the characters.

Trust me on this one: Chmakova lives in Canada, and the girls up there love that stuff.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Special: Because YOU Demanded It!

You have to review Starman #27. You just have to.
--Spencer Carnage

Now I am reasonably certain that Spencer, who writes about comics over at Of Course, Yeah!, is not a wide-eyed eight year-old Victorian street urchin standing knee deep in the snow with a quivering lip just hoping for a Christmas miracle. But every time I read that, that's the image I get.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I'm going to shout at Spencer from my balcony to go and find the fattest goose he can--for it's almost Christmas Day! I'm a changed man, Spencer! It's a Christmas miracle!

"Christmas Knight"
December, 1996
Writer: James Robinson
Pencils: Steve Yowell
Cover: Tony Harris

For those of you who don't know, Starman is probably the single best super-hero comic of the '90s, and along with Mark Waid's definitive run on Flash can be given most of the credit for Geoff Johns-style trend of nostalgia that holds comics in its powerful claws even today. The whole thing is a great love letter to comics from James Robinson, written before he wrote a movie about how reading comics is utterly pointless, and while you can make a case that everything ties in a little too well, it's phenomenal. And this issue--along with #55--is one of my favorites.

Our story starts off at the home of Clarence and Faith O'Dare, who spend the first few pages tossing around a little banter about "stuffing the turkey," by which I mean... Well, I actually mean filling a turkey with stuffing, but there's also a lot of sexual innuendo...

Slightly creepy....because nothing says Christmas like oral sex.

Mistletoe belt-buckles aside, they're preparing for a Christmas party that features the entire cast of Starman, One of the things Tug said when he got started reading it last year is that everybody in the book is a super-hero, and he's not wrong--especially when it comes to the O'Dares. They're an entire family of supercops, including Hope, the firecracker, Mason, the silent kung-fu beat cop, and Matt, the reincarnation of Western hero Scalphunter. Everybody's a super-hero.

But then there's Jack Knight, the son of the Golden Age Starman and the best everyman super-hero since Peter Parker. The way I feel about him can pretty much be summed up by one of my favorite quotes from the series: "Superman's 'the Man of Steel.' Batman's 'the Dark Knight.' If I'm not careful, I'm going to be 'Starman: The Guy Who Gets Knocked Out And Tied Up A Lot.'" He doesn't have a big tragic flaw or anything, he's just a regular guy. Occasionally petulant and often wrapped up in his own concerns, but a stand-up guy nonetheless, with a Cosmic Rod and a decent sense of right and wrong.

Which is why, when everyone else is gathering for the Roast Beast down at Supercop Central, Jack's listening to a sob story from a homeless guy dressed as Santa. The guy's crying his eyes out on a park bench over losing a locket with the last picture of his family he has, and there's Starman, feet on the ground, leaning on his Cosmic Rod, rolling his eyes as he realizes that of course he's going to help this guy, because it's Christmas and it's the right thing to do.

It's beautiful.

Steve Yeowell's pencils are great in this issue, filling in for Tony Harris, who stands as not only a great artist but a heck of a nice guy. That's one thing you can say about Starman: It's not just a great book to read, but between the incomparable Tony Harris, the unpronounceable Peter Snejbjerg, and great fill-in guys like Yeowell, it's a fantastic book to look at too.

Anyway, while the rest of the cast hangs out getting priceless gifts from the Shade, Starman rolls around Opal City shaking down homeless guys for information--and emptying his pockets so they can get a hot meal and a room for the night--with Santa Pete in tow until he finally gets to Tolk, the guy who rolled Pete for his locket, and his deformed hench-muscle Crab Hand. They're dealt with handily, and Jack returns the locket to Pete without even having to cut off his hair. At this point, I start getting a litty misty, because Pete thanks Jack, refuses his offer of money, and then walks off into the snow, telling Jack that his one Christmas wish has been fulfilled.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. Jack Knight is apparently the Zack Morris of the DC Universe, and in a plot development exactly like the one in the Saved By The Bell Christmas episode, Jack catches up with Santa Pete and takes him to dinner with the rest of the Starman Family. Merry Christmas, one and all!

Teacher says...It doesn't have the Ghost Rider, or MODOK, or even an appearance by the one and only True Santa, but for pure It's A Wonderful Life-style holiday cheer, it's one of the best Christmas comics I've ever read. Predictable? Sure. But really, who wants a shocking twist ending in a story of being a decent guy and looking out for your fellow man?

Besides J.M. DeMatteis, I mean.

More ISB Yule Logs:
| Ant Man's Big Christmas |
| Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #17 |
| Santa Saves the DC Universe! |
| The Worst Christmas Song Ever |
| A Marvel Comics Christmas: Marvel Team-Up #127 and Marvel Two-in-One #8 |

Bears Are The New Ninjas

Prepare yourselves for bold type.

Earlier this year, the unstoppable Kevin Church consorted with dark and sorcerous powers in order to discover the most awesomely titled movie of all time. Or he might've used NetFlix. Not quite sure. Anyway, he told me about it, and last night I finally got a chance to see it, and it shattered my world, roundhouse kicking me straight into a higher plane of consciousness. That movie?


Unbelievably righteous.Holy crap, this movie is awesome. It took me a while to get around to seeing it, since I had to wait for it to come up on my pal Ben's NetFlix list, and apparently he doesn't think seeing a movie called KARATE BEARFIGHTER is the most important thing in the entire world.

The movie stars Sonny Chiba, and has a plot that's entirely negligable. Everything you need to know is contained in the title: Sonny Chiba fights a bear. WITH KARATE. Seriously, if you watch it, you can pretty much skip most of the first hour. Here's what you need to know.

KARATE BEARFIGHTER is actually the second part of a trilogy, falling smack in between KARATE BULLFIGHTER--wherein Sonny Chiba kills a bull with his bare hands, a scene recapped in the opening of BEARFIGHTER--and a movie whose title brings joy and laughter into my heart: KARATE FOR LIFE.

Chiba stars as Masutatsu Oyama in all three movies, which are based entirely on fact, which will blow your mind as soon as you realize that I'm talking about movies where a guy fights a bear with martial arts. Chiba rolls around for the first part of the movie in much the same way as he does in The Street Fighter, the film all movies aspire to be. There's X-Ray Arm-Breaking, a dude getting kicked through a wall, and a scene where some guy bumps into Sonny Chiba while he's trying to eat, and you just know that he's not going to survive the next five minutes.

Then, heartbreak. Oyama's confronted outside of a nightclub by a woman who tells him that much like John Kreese, he's forgotten what Karate is all about, apparently because he won't take off his sunglasses. What better way to remember the true meaning of karate, then, than by fighting a bear.

Oyama rolls out to the forest where he befriends a shrill but loveable urchin, whose lumberjack father just happens to injure himself horribly about five seconds after Oyama tells the kid that he learned karate so that he could deal with the loss of his own parents. They rush back to the boss of the lumberjacks, and he says that the only way he'll pay for the operation to save the father's life is if Oyama can defeat a bear in single combat, and gives him a week to prepare.

The flaws in the logic here are varied and numerous, and I won't bother going into them, because it's time for the BEARFIGHT.

Sweet Christmas, it's a thing of beauty. Stock footage combined with a guy in a bear costume charging at the hardest working man in the Martial Arts Film industry. Not to spoil anything for you, but Oyama wins after he remembers that he can jump fifteen feet in the air and stomp on the bear's head until he gets a chance to rip its eye out with the power of his karate. Watching that scene is like drinking three cases of Red Bull in two minutes. While breakdancing.

Surprisingly, the movie's not over yet. Oyama's rival still wants to kill him, and so they have a big showdown on a beach that involves Sonny Chiba running up and down the surf like he just drank three cases of Red Bull. Me, I'd probably let it go if I found out the guy I was about to fight just punched a bear to death, but Evil Rival seems to think he can take him out. Well, old son, the movie's called KARATE BEARFIGHTER and not That Guy Who Beat the Karate Bearfighter.

You do the math.


The DVD copy I watched, from The Sonny Chiba Collection, was awesome. Not only did they not bother to subtitle vast sections of the movie--which was understandable since Bearfighting, much like love, is a universal language--but it also featured some of the most mind-blowing trailers you will ever see.

Personal favorites include Legend of the Eight Samurai, which apparently features special effects and mysteriously becomes Legend of the Eight Ninja by the end of the trailer, and GI Samurai, the story of a platoon of Japanese soldiers who travel through time to the Warring States Period of the 15th to 17th centuries along with a jeep, a tank, and a helicopter.

If you've never seen Sonny Chiba mow down samurai with a machinegun from the door of a chopper, you are not truly alive.



Sunday, December 18, 2005

Christmas Special: A Marvel Comics Christmas, Part Two

Yesterday at the store, my pal Jim--known to most of you message-board lurkers out there as CapVsBats, stopped by, and we exchanged presents. He got me Sex and the City Season 1 on DVD. Apparently, I looked a little puzzled, and he felt the need to explain himself.

"You're always saying you don't understand women," he said, "so I figured this would help."

That sentence alone makes it a great gift.

UPDATE:  Bought it for myself last year.In return, I got him what may actually be the perfect Christmas gift for anyone who likes anything: Essential Marvel Two-In-One.

Kevin described it as five hundred pages of the Thing + _____ = Beatdown, but that's not the reason it should be at the top of your Holiday wishlist this year.

It should be there because it features the most ass-kickingest Christmas story ever printed.

"Silent Night, Deadly Night"
December, 1974
Writer: Steve Gerber
Pencils and Cover: Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito

I've always had the feeling that the story of the birth of Christ would be better if it had a super-powered orange rock monster and a flame-headed demon from the depths of Hell itself, but now I know for sure. And it is.

Our story kicks off in the Arizona Desert on Christmas Eve, with the Ghost Rider taking a sharp curve and narrowly avoiding a skull bike-on-Camel collision as he meets the Three Wise Men. Yes, those Three Wise Men. On camels. I told you this was the best Christmas comic ever, and I mean it.

The Ghost Rider of this story is the same version that we last saw kicking it with the Legion of Monsters--he's got the flaming skull, but it's Johnny Blaze calling the shots. That's why when the Three Kings explain that they're riding towards a newly-shining star, Ghost Rider stands around in slackjawed silence and doesn't give the Magi a gift of soul-eating Hellfire. They invite the Rider to join up on the trip, but since the Skull Cycle is a heck of a lot faster than a camel, Johnny decides to ride ahead and check it out.

See, over in his own title, Johnny's been saved by Jesus. I mean, he hasn't been baptized or anything, there's literally this mysterious bearded guy who pops up with wise advice from time to time and helps him fight Satan. Johnny, whose religious education extends only to some books on the occult that he found laying around a stuntman's Winnebago, never quite makes the connection, but he takes off in an awfully big hurry to find this kid everybody's talking about.

Oh, and he also drops a bit of casual racism:

Well, he did grow up in a carnival. And besides, he's not exactly thinking clear:

Meanwhile, back in New York, Benjamin J. Grimm, the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing himself, is helping Reed Richards build a telescope so he can check out the new star that appeared on Christmas Eve. Reed, of course, admonishes Ben to be careful with the lens, like he always does, which just begs the question as to why the smartest guy in the world gets his friend the giant rock monster to help him move fragile equipment around anyway. They get the telescope together, and Ben offers to go check out the town the star's pointing to while Reed enjoys his Christmas party with the rest of the FF. But alas, such is the life of a Jew on Christmas.

Back in the town, Ghost Rider pokes around and finds that the residents "don't look like Semitic types at all. They seem to be--American Indians!" Wyatt Wingfoot's people, to be exact, but before he can make any sense of this discovery, Ghost Rider runs across the mastermind of the whole thing outside of the Manger and is smacked out of town. The Thing arrives, mistaking the Ghost Rider's flaming skull for a flare, and the two of them decide that the best way to get into the ersatz Bethlehem would be by knocking out two of the Wise Men and sneaking around in their clothes.

I'll go through that one more time: This comic's plot centers around The Thing and and the Ghost Rider dressing up as the Three Wise Men in order to sneak into the manger where the possible second coming of Jesus Christ lays, no crib for a bed.


As it turns out, the whole thing's a plot by the Miracle Man, last seen in 1961's Fantastic Four #3, who decided that the best way to achieve godlike status would be to use his own mystical power to immaculately create the new Messiah. Unfortunately, his plan doesn't go quite as well as he thought it would. Ghost Rider runs off to save Jesus II from a fire, while the Thing goes head to head with the Miracle Man, and, well, you know what time it is:

And true to the spirit of Christmas, violence solves everything. Things around the reservation go back to normal, Wyatt Wingfoot agrees to look after the immaculately conceived infant who has the soul of an ancient mystic, and the next issue box advertises the Thing and Iron Fist in "kung fu action as you've never seen it before--and may never want to again!"

Now that is how you write a Christmas team-up.

More ISB Stocking Stuffers:

| Ant Man's Big Christmas |
| Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #17 |
| Santa Saves the DC Universe! |
| The Worst Christmas Song Ever |
| A Marvel Comics Christmas Part One: Marvel Team-Up #127 |

Christmas Special: A Marvel Comics Christmas, Part One

Last week, I was in K-Mart looking for some Martha Stewart brand "First Snowfall" wrapping paper that matched my tree decorations--thus proving that yes, I may actually be a woman--when the store's music suddenly switched from "Frosty the Snowman" to Inner Circle's "Bad Boys."

Now while I suppose you could make the argument that "Bad Boys" shares a similar message with, say, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," it's a little disconcerting when you're expecting a jolly holiday tune and you get the theme from COPS instead.

That's exactly what reading Marvel Team-Up #127 is like.

"Small Miracles"
December, 1982
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Kerry Gammil
Cover: Ed Hannigan and Al Milgrom

You know, I don't think I ask for much from a Christmas special. A bit of holiday cheer, a nice message of forgiveness and redemption, and an appearance by Santa Claus, that's all I really want. At the very least, I'd like it to not revolve around a drug-related homicide.

Apparently J.M. DeMatteis doesn't share my feelings on that particular matter. Here's how it all goes a-wassailing: Spider-Man webs his way over to Queens for the Christmas party at Aunt May's, which at the time served as a boarding house for a bunch of swingin' seniors. Everybody's having a good time, even Sophie and Martha, the Blanche Devereaux-esque spinsters who ambush Peter Parker with mistletoe--which apparently is enough of his danger to tingle his spider-sense, and that's not a metaphor. Everyone, that is, except for Mr. Chekov, a beret-sporting poet who's usually a lot more lively. Peter, being the kind of swell guy he is, asks what's wrong, and we find out that Mr. C hasn't seen his granddaughter Bette in a few years, and was hoping she'd swing by.

Peter offers his sympathies, but then gets a spider-sense buzz that isn't related to post-menopausal smooching and darts outside, where he finds himself suddenly caught in a blizzard and changed into his Spider-Man outfit. Things finally clear up, and he finds himself face-to-face with the Watcher.

Pay attention, speculators: This is apparently their first meeting, since Spider-Man has no idea who the twelve foot tall bald guy in the toga is, or what he's doing in the middle of the street in Queens. To be fair, though, Uatu doesn't go out of his way to explain himself--in fact, he doesn't say a thing, and just hands Spidey a strange jewel that shows him a picture of Bette Chekov before disappearing back to the Moon.

Spidey, naturally, gets a Bad Feeling About This™ and swings off to Brooklyn, leaving the Watcher to do what he does best and watch Bette stumble around half-dead in the snow. And he seems pretty excited about the prospect of her crawling down a New York street and possibly dying. But hey, that's just how he rolls.

After checking the phone book and having more of a team-up with Directory Assistance than he does with the Watcher, Spidey runs across a murder at Bette's apartment that involves a few kilos of cocaine, and gets pretty bummed out about it. Captain America shows up to cheer him up a little, but then he remembers that his team-up isn't scheduled until next month, so he leaves Spider-Man to follow the Watcher's Magic 8 Ball to a bar, where he hassles Joe Face for information.

Joe Face, from what I've been able to gather, is sort of the DeMatteis equivalent of Turk from Frank Miller's Daredevil run, the low-rent thug that the hero can safely smack around whenever information is required. His funeral, in fact, is what kicks off DeMatteis and Mike Zeck's Kraven's Last Hunt a few years later. Unfortunately, he doesn't have anything to tell Spidey, so Our Hero leaves him stuck to the wall and walks out, whereupon he hears sounds of a struggle from up above, dashing through the window just in time to save Bette from being stabbed to death by her dealer.

And the Christmas Cheer keeps on coming. Bette, freaked out and jonesing for a fix of the H, dashes out into the alley where she dops her bags of stolen cocaine and is promptly gut-shot by a gangster and left to bleed out in the snow.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Everything works out relatively okay, though: The Watcher shows up in the alley and receives a stern talking-to from Spider-Man about being a manipulative jerk, and he somehow uses his Magic Jewel to keep Bette from dying while Spidey carts her off to a hospital, and Mr. Chekov spends his holidays at the bedside of his recovering heroin addict daughter, and somehow I fail to become cheered up at all.

I mean really, now. It's not like I was expecting a story where Spider-Man has trouble picking out the perfect present for Aunt May and Mary Jane, so the Watcher decides that one day out of the year, he can interfere to help Spidey bring a little joy into the lives of the people closest to him--although holy crap that would be a great Christmas comic--but when it says "Special Christmas Issue" right on the cover, I'd like something that wasn't quite so full of cocaine and soul-crushing despair.

J.M. DeMatteis, you're getting coal this year. Right, Tiny Cap?

Not in this one it ain't.
Fortunately, that wasn't the only foray into the world of the Holday Special that the House of Ideas ever made... And the other one I found might just be enough to make up for it.

Next: The Thing! Ghost Rider! Jesus of Nazareth! The titanic team-up we just had to call O Holy Fight!

More ISB Boughs of Holly: Ant Man's Big Christmas | Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #17 | Santa Saves the DC Universe! | The Worst Christmas Song Ever

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas With the Wiz

Tonight was the annual Wizards and Villains Christmas Dinner and Party, and while Matt P. was true to form and didn't bother to show up, the rest of the evening went off without a hitch.

Dinner was down at the Macaroni Grill, a fine place where they make the deadly mistake of giving a bunch of guys who work at a comic book store crayons and a table they're allowed to draw on. Me, I drew a picture of the Hulk wearing a Santa hat:

You better watch out...It's probably the best picture I've drawn since I was in second grade and made a comic about Batman fighting Blanka from Street Fighter, so I kept it.

Post-pasta, it was back to Scott's for an evening that included almost 4000% less drinking than last year's big holiday shindig and the distribution of presents. And seriously, not to brag or anything? I buy awesome presents. Say what you want about the fact that I celebrate my birthday for six weeks, but it's taught me a thing or two about shopping and giftwrapping, and except for a minor misstep last year when I bought Ben a copy of Simon Winchester's Krakatoa (well he likes history, and The Professor and the Madman is awesome), I usually do pretty well.

Everybody seemed to think so this year, anyway. But even though MG3 looked thrilled at the digitally remastered copy of Love Gun I got him, I'm pretty sure I made it out of there with the best present. Radical C got me something you can't buy in a store, my friends.

He got me a custom-made OMAC action figure.

Are YOU ready for the gift that's coming?!It'll be hard to top.

But don't let that stop you from trying.

Next: The ISB fights alone against the Worst Christmas Comic Ever!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Week In Ink, 12-14-05

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Chuck Norris. The man so badass that the very act of writing about him rendered me unable to update the ISB for an entire day.

Fortunately, I'm back now. And while I did pull something in my leg while demonstrating roundhouse kicks at work today (dear God, how I wish that wasn't true), that didn't stop me from reading this week's comics. Tonight, however, I'm going to deviate from my standard format and discuss a few along the way that I didn't buy, but feel are worth mentioning anyway. You'll know them when you get there.

Sadly, there were no science fiction themed weddings this week. But onward!


Action Comics #834

Books of Doom #2: Ed Brubaker's retelling of Dr. Doom's origin continues, and while I'm fairly certain that the last thing we need is a new origin story for any Marvel character at this point, it's well done and interesting. Plus, this issue has the added bonus of answering the question we've all been asking: Yes. Dr. Doom is going to have to choke a bitch.

I'm hoping for an Office crossover.Corporate Ninja: I saw this on the wall a few weeks back when it came out, and finally got around to picking it up this week, due to my noted love of ninjas. It is pure nonsense interspersed with horrendous violence, which is in turn played for laughs. So yeah, pretty much right up my alley. It's highly enjoyable, especially the gag about the Corporate Ninja's marketing plans, but the biggest kick I got out of the whole thing was finding out while looking for the cover that there's actually a motivational speaker with a katana who bills himself as "The Corporate Ninja." Now that is pretty exciting.

DMZ #2: Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli's second issue is only slightly bogged down by the holding pattern storytelling a new series goes through while everything's established, but it still manages to be a solid read with a lot of nice touches. Kevin mentioned that Wood's political commentary was like "using a sledgehammer instead of a knife," and I think he's pretty dead on with that, but Wood and Burchielli have been doing a good enough job so far that I don't really mind. Hopefully, things'll pick up enough that I stop hoping to see Matty fight Isaac Hayes in a burnt-out hotel.

Fables #44: The political satire of this comic, however, with the Western fables leading Sinbad's crew to the dungeons in chains with sacks over their heads while they worried about a Djinni of Mass Destruction, was one of the best comics I've read in a while. No surprise, though, as Willingham and Buckingham consistently deliver great work with this title. And what a great trick ending!

Ghost Rider #4: We're well past the halfway point with this series, and it remains incredibly forgettable and not very good. I've seen Garth Ennis do epic struggles between Heaven and Hell before--on a few occasions, actually--and I've seen him do it with artists I like a lot better than Clayton Crain, and those stories had the added bonus of not making Johnny Blaze act like a major tool.

Thank you, Dan Slott.GLX-Mas Special: I loved this comic. And why wouldn't I? It's a Christmas Special that has a story drawn by Paul Grist (with excellent coloring by Laura Allred), and another story where Squirrel Girl fights MODOK. AT CHRISTMAS. Plus, the pulse pounding return of the Grasshopper! And a cameo by the Punisher! Not only is this my favorite comic of the week, but it's probably my new favorite Christmas special of all time. Here's hoping we get Ben Grimm's Fantastic Hannukkah next year.

Jingle Belle: The Fight Before Christmas: It should be no surprise that I'm a big fan of Jingle Bell, but this particular one-shot's remarkable if for no other reason than the incredibly Anti-Bush Christmas story and the inexplicable Charles Atlas ad. Apparently that guy will send you information not only on a big chest and powerful legs, but success with girls and a magnetic personality! Only two bucks?! I'm sold!

JLA #123: I've gone to bat for Bob Harras quite a bit over the past year with my unwavering support of The Breach, but this JLA story is rough. Unless I'm missing something, the Key doesn't seem to jive with his previous appearances in Gotham Knights and the Morrison run of JLA, to the point where I wasn't really sure that was who it was supposed to be until Batman came out and said it in this issue. Plus, I cannot bring myself to care about what happens to Manitou Dawn.

No, seriously.  I'm not a serial killer.Local #2: I liked the first issue of Local quite a bit, but "Polaroid Boyfriend" is even better. Wood manages to turn the concept of a guy breaking into your house, taking pictures of himself, and leaving threatening and vaguely sinister messages in your bed into a fun and quirky romance. Ryan Kelly's no slouch in making it come together either, pulling off faces that tread the thin line between looking maniacal and genuinely sad. It's incredibly well constructed, highly enjoyable, and even includes a one-page lesson on Minneapolis that reccomends NPR Superstar Garrison Keillor. What's not to love?

New Thunderbolts #16

New X-Men #21: I didn't buy this comic. I read it though, and to be fair, it's not bad; I'm just not going to buy a comic that Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFillipis were kicked off of so that Marvel could cram one of the worst characters ever into yet another book. That said, I was sorely tempted this issue, since Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost threw in an appearance by Neil Conan. I'm seriously thinking about putting together every one of his X-Men appearances, thus combining my love of NPR with my love of Wolverine.

Noble Causes #15

The Punisher: Silent Night: There's no concieveable reason why I wouldn't buy this, but it left me feeling pretty cold. It's enjoyable enough, but Frank Castle spends the entire issue acting completely out of character--and really, I should know. He shows little to no concern for the children in the story, which just makes him seem like an asshole, especially when he leaves a dead body dressed in a Santa suit out in the open for a bunch of orphans to see. Considering Frank's own reasons for turning to vigilantism, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'm not saying I wanted him to kick back and share a mug of cocoa with Jigsaw (although really, that's exactly what I wanted), but a jollier killing spree would've been appreciated.

Wait a second...Secret War #5: Didn't buy this one either. And why? Because it's terrible. I don't even remember reading #4, but from what I understand from this one, Nick Fury hires Angelina Jolie's character from Hackers to kill some lady in Latveria (for which they need Spider-Man), and they all put on ridiculous ninja suits, and Luke Cage gets blown up, and who gives a shit? I like the premise of someone funding all the hi-tech criminals, and I even like the idea of a secret super-hero war, but it's so poorly executed as to be embarassing. Del'otto's art looks--ironically--extremely rushed; that panel of Acid Burn's face is used over and over again in the talky framing sequences. It's no good, and it's no good for you.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #2: Diamond finally sent it to us, but Leigh's already gotten to it.

The Surrogates #3

Teen Titans #30: In case you haven't been paying attention, this issue features Watchmen as performed by Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew interspersed with the main story in a way that's highly reminiscent of the Black Freighter story from Watchmen itself. That's genius. Yeah, there's some stuff with zombies going on in the main story, but when you've got the DC Universe version of Geoff Johns teaming up with Scott Shaw! to deconstruct the funny animal genre, why even bother? It's great!

X-Factor #1


Best of the Spirit: I've never actually read a whole lot of the Spirit, so I've really been looking forward to this trade, and to the upcoming series by Darwyn Cooke, who is probably the coolest guy ever. I've only read one of the stories so far, but it's great stuff, and it looks like it's mercifully free of the Spirit's little sidekick--although if you're curious, he's there on page fourteen, panel six. Yeesh.

The Complete Peanuts: 1957-1958: I think I may have found my new personal motto:

Awesome.I never liked Peanuts much until I started reading the Fantagraphics archives, but they're awesome. Incredibly well-designed and produced, and relatively inexpensive--especially if you get the boxed sets.

PS: MegaMorphs was awesome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dollar Comic Review: Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos #1

Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Chuck Norris:

You are now 2.7% more awesome.I think we can all come together as a society and agree that Chuck Norris is one of the baddest motherfuckers alive. His very name has become synonymous with the word "awesome," and his feats are legendary. And why not? The guy was Bruce Lee's sparring partner for God's sake, he taught Steve McQueen--one of history's greatest badasses--the secrets of the martial arts, and I'm pretty sure he's the only man who could have defeated Count Dante. But rest assured, their battle would shake the very heavens themselves.

What you might not know about Chuck Norris is that back in 1987, he led a team of martial arts-themed counter-terrorist operatives that answered only to the President. Their adventures were then transcribed into the 100% Factual and incredibly short-lived Marvel series Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. Sterling recently tackled some of the highlights of #2, but I found myself a copy of the first issue last week, and it rocked me to my very core.

It is the single most awesome thing you will ever see.

I hope you guys like roundhouse kicks."The Super-Cruiser"
January, 1987
Writer: Jo Duffy
Pencils and Cover: Steve "I Created Spider-Man and The Question So You Bitches Can Suck It" Ditko

The Plot

From what I understand, Karate Kommandos was based on a cartoon produced by Ruby Spears Entertainment, the same folks who had Jack Kirby turning in a stack of ideas for Turbo Teen and Roxy's Raiders every day. Sadly, I've never seen it, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that Chuck Norris and his pals--which at a bare minimum include a big fat goofy guy, a scrappy kid, and a fiesty gal--battle a sprawling terrorist organization that never actually manages to shoot anybody. I did, however, manage to find a copy of the show's intro, which I will have played at my wedding.

This issue concerns the aforementioned Scrappy Kid™, who goes by the name of "Too Much." He's so called because he's constantly saying things are "too much," which puts him in the same category as Snapper Carr, only it makes a lot less sense. He and his class are going to take a guided tour of the government's new top-secret counterterrorist weapon, the Super Cruiser, the main feature of which is that it looks exactly like an RV. And it was also designed by Too Much's friend Chuck Norris. I'm not exactly sure why the government is going to let a bunch of schoolchildren poke around a top secret anti-terrorist device, but according to their teacher, it's because of Too Much's "special connection" with Chuck.

We can assume this special connection involves a lot of roundhouse kicks.

Unfortunately, the Sidekicks-esque special connection has its drawbacks as well, and in a nefarious plot to steal the government's shiny new Winnebago, the Super Ninja--and yes, that is his name--sends some thugs to hold Too Much hostage. The Karate Kommandos mobilize, and Chuck Norris beats the living hell out of enough people that everything works out okay.

The Highlights

  • This entire book is a highlight. Things really kick off when Too Much starts thinking about Chuck Norris in class and then daydreams about busting out his nunchuck skills. That's pretty much how I pass the time at work, so I could relate.
  • Too Much apparently deals in the illicit trade of signed eight-by-tens of Chuck Norris, surreptitiously passing them to his friend Tommy while the teacher's back is turned. In the prison economy that is middle school, those things are like gold.
  • Too Much spends so much of his time getting pumped and flipping out that he doesn't do his reading assignment, but is spared humiliation when he's called on by the gun-totin' ninja of the Cult of the Klaw!! bursting into the classroom.
  • Ahem: Badass Panel #1:

Ninja One is my favorite.
  • From what I can understand, the Cult of the Klaw!! is structured thus: Numbered Ninja answer to the Super Ninja, who in turn is answerable only to a guy who sits in the shadows, petting his cat with his metal hand. Apparently the guy who used to fight Inspector Gadget is moving up in the world.
  • The Karate Kommandos! Sumo Guy! Dude with a Katana! Templeton "Faceman" Peck! Some Girl! And Chuck Norris's pet wolf, Wolf.
  • Chuck Norris doesn't waste time with negotiation. Chuck Norris puts on a crazy white vest over his red turtleneck and walks into the middle of a hostage crisis, and we get one of the single best panels in comics history:

You're Goddamn right you won't.
  • Once they've rolled in and demanded that the Cultists of the Klaw!! let the hostages go so they can settle things man-to-cult, the Karate Kommandos pretty much stand back while Chuck Norris beats up eight fully-armed ninjas... by breakdance fighting. Then he gives a little book report and everybody has a good time standing amidst the broken bodies of men foolish enough to challenge Chuck Norris.

Defining Moment

Page One:

He's the best!  Around!  Nothin's ever gonna keep him down!...And that pretty much says it all.

Final Thoughts

Give the man a prize.