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Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Week in Ink: 8-31-06

Amazingly enough, out of eleven comics I bought this week, there was not a single kick to the face to be found.

Fortunately, I have a backup plan. Previews came out this week, and that means that it's time once again to play Spot The Yaoi! Can you tell which of these upcoming titles does not feature wispy, man-on-man action?

A) Surge
B) Princess Princess
C) Superman Confidential
D) J-Boy


Find out after the ISB's two-fisted reviews of the comics for the fifth week of August, 2006!




Comics

52: Week 17: This might come as a surprise considering the kind of comics I tend to enjoy, but I pretty much hate everything about Lobo. Outside of his earlier appearances by Giffen, Dematteis and Maguire in JLI--which I actually enjoyed a lot--every experience I've had with the character has done absolutely nothing for me other than to reinforce my feeling that he's an annoyingly over-powered and over-used one-joke series of poorly-developed plot contrivances wrapped up in an exterior so "bad-ass" that it could've only come from the early '90s.

That said, that guy's coat is awesome. When I first glanced at the cover yesterday, I actually thought it was Frankenstein from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers, but then wondered where exactly Lobo got a crazy pirate coat in space. And that, of course, is a question that presents its own answer: Space Pirates.

Unfortunately, that's about the only question raised in this issue that wraps up that neatly. Specifically, I'm wondering how exactly I'm supposed to reconcile Starfire's line about Lobo joining the church and turning his back on violence (which would actually be an interesting twist that I'd like to see played out) with, y'know, the severed head of Devilance mounted on a pike two panels later. Mixed signals, 52. Mixed signals.

Action Comics #842: The tabloid-style covers for the current story-arc, along with the way that Busiek's been using them as an actual in-story tabloid over in Superman, are great, especially in the way that they're recapping the plot and throwing in a few gags all before you even crack it open. Once you do that, though, it's another issue full of giant set pieces with lots of super-heroes--which, honestly, is what I want from a book called Action Comics--but unfortunately, it's not doing much for me. It's enjoyable stuff, and Pete Woods has been doing a great job with the art, but I'm still left wondering how The Auctioneer is different or more interesting than, say, Manga Khan, and the reference to Mr. Terrific's highly nebulous power of being "invisible to all forms of electronic detection" always creates more problems than it's worth for me, especially when he's seen communicating electronically with Superman a few pages later. There are a lot of details like that in this story that if nothing else strike me as a little off, and, well, you know what they say about where the Devil is. Here's hoping it picks up.


All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #8: This might actually be the most thoroughly uninteresting Handbook issue yet, and that's coming from a guy who found himself thoroughly fascinated with the unseemly demise (via being eaten) of The Gamecock a few months back, so take it as you will. Really, though, when your main draw is a cache of information about Paibok the Power Skrull and a detailed list of the life and times of Priapus--fertility god and occasional foe of Terror, Inc--you've got to expect that it's not going to bring the fans out in droves.

There is, however, one redeeming quality:




A picture of Prester John, the time-traveling veteran of the Crusades whom ISB readers might remember as the guy being punched out by the Thing for not being happy enough, looking way more badass than he actually deserves.

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK




All-Star Superman #5: It might not be as good as last issue's Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen-style adventure, but considering that that was one of my favorite comic books ever printed, it can fall short of that mark and still be an incredible piece of comics.

The issue's focus, of course, is on Lex Luthor, and Morrison and Quitely don't waste any time, kicking it off with one of the best pages in that character's history. It might just be because of when I grew up, but I've always really preferred the John Byrne-style businessman Lex who hides his evil schemes behind a façade of corporate legitimacy to the purple high-collar-sporting criminal scientist of the Silver Age, but even so, I've always had a soft spot for the kind of guy who fills a hallway in his underground lair with statues of History's Greatest Villains. And that's the type of evil madness that Morrison really brings to the forefront in this issue: Superman's the sharpest, best, and most honest person in the world--as evidenced in this issue where he continually saves his most hated enemy's life despite the fact that he's been condemned by law to death, all while playing it off as more of Clark Kent's bumbling--and Luthor's the exact opposite. He's not just incurably crazy and irrevocably evil; he's the craziest, the most evil, and perhaps most importantly, the most insanely smart person in the world, a dynamic that he set up in the first issue and builds on even better here. It's incredibly entertaining and well-done on all parts.

Plus--and I hesitate to even bring this up--that part with the monkey? Genius.

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #2: I'm really not one to get all upset about a character I like being taken in a new direction--or at least, I like to pretend I'm not--but having read through a few issues of Marvel Boy a couple weeks ago looking for that scene where he kicks Midas in the face, it's pretty rough to see Noh-Varr reduced to what essentially amounts to a brainwashed lapdog under the control of SHIELD, especially considering the way his own book ends. To be fair, though, there are actually a a few bits of Zeb Wells' script that I really liked, particularly the parts that revolve around the Skrulls hanging out with each team. Unfortunately, most of those bits take place in interior scenes that are colored like a rainbow threw up on it, which would be jarring enough even if I wasn't used to seeing the Runaways in one of the best-colored books on the market.


Jack Kirby's Galactic Bounty Hunters #2: The mroe I read of Galactic Bounty Hunters, the more I get the feeling that I would've enjoyed it more as a few entries in Jack Kirby: The Unpublished Archives--the single greatest trading card set ever printed--than as an actual comic book, but I've got to say, I liked the second issue a lot more than I liked the first. The story seems to be picking up a little bit now that Mainframe is almost through the requisite "getting the team back together" phase of the story, and with a scene where a drunken, floating, tenatacle-waving robot (?) gets thrashed around by some surprisingly polite Space Pirates, I'm almost sold on the whole idea. What's really enjoyable, though, are the great chapter titles, which in this issue includes, in giant yellow letters written across a krackling purple starfield, "D-DAY IN DANGERLAND!" Your mileage may vary, but me? I get pretty excited about things like that.


Justice #7: Alex Ross's SuperFriends fan-fiction continues at a mind-numbing pace, pretty much bearing out my theory that odd-numbered issues of this series totally suck. Harsh? Possibly, but consider for a moment that this issue revolves around Aquaman's healing factor, which allows him to grow back chunks of his brain.

Aquaman's healing factor.

Aquaman's healing factor.

Yeah. Anyway, throw in a thoroughly incomprehensible conversation with the Doom Patrol's Chief, and you've got yourself a comic. One thing that surprised me, though: Aquaman's had the top of his head lopped off so that Brainiac can poke around in his noggin, but we never actually see that in the story--it's always obscured by a lamp or something. Don't get me wrong, I don't really have a particular desire to see Aquaman with the top of his skull cut off; I just think it'd be great to see the "Behind-the-Scenes" shots of Alex Ross with a bonesaw in one hand, strapping down a neighbor with the other, whistling merrily as he sets up the scene for a reference photo.

She-Hulk #11: From reading through a bunch of Essentials over the past few weeks, I've come to realize that Dan Slott is very much an "old-school" Marvel writer, which may actually be why I like him so much. What clinched it for me was the fact that this issue features quick segues into full-page recaps of Man-Wolf's origin and subsequent hi-jinks, and believe me: Slott pulls it off a lot better than even the mighty Bill Mantlo did back in the '70s--if he was writing this issue, She-Hulk would've probably paused in the middle of the fight and said something along the lines of "Didn't you know John used to be The Man Wolf, Matt?" before the whole thing moved into a lengthy nine-panel grid of flashback.

Of course, it also probably would've had futuristic laser-powered explosion sharks, but that's probably a fair trade to get Slott's writing.


Snakes on a Plane: Someone please tell me: Has there ever, in the entire history of comics, been a movie adaptation that was actually any good? I mean, I remember liking the one for The Rocketeer quite a bit, but I was ten, and it featured drawings of Jennifer Connelly putting on stockings, so my judgement here is probably clouded. Point being? Snakes on a Plane: The Comic is not very good.

That is, of course, part of its charm. But unfortunately, it's got its share of problems, not the least of which is the fact that cramming a movie--even one as light on plot as SoaP--into 44 total pages of comics is going to necessitate a lot of script trimming, and as a result, the comic reads more like a jumbled, spastic collection of disjointed scenes than an actual story. Plus, for some reason, Chuck Dixon cut out all three of my absolute favorite lines from the film (which, incidentally, is awesome). Those lines?

"These pheremones are gonna drive 'em fuckin' nuts."

"Do you think I haven't exhausted every other option?!" (Spoken by Eddie Kim when someone asks him why he put snakes on the plane. No, Eddie, I don't.)

And finally: "Fuckin' snake, get off my dick!

How, I ask, could any right-thinking person leave that out of an adaptation? Trust me, it's the catchphrase of a new generation.


Teen Titans #38: There's just no getting around it: Carlos Ferreira's art in this issue is rough. The recent issues by Tony Daniel haven't quite been up to par, but Ferreira takes the static poses and ups the ante with oddly-shaped bodies, thoroughly bored expressions, and the occasional shot right up the Red Star's nostrils, and while I'm a person that's more into story than art, it makes for a book that's more trouble to read than it's worth.

Speaking of the story, there's nothing wrong there, although I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the person wo betrayed the Titans is probably the one who was pictured on an upcoming cover with a bunch of other people who betrayed the Titans. Just a thought there.


X-Factor #10: I honestly wasn't sure what to make of this issue's opening sequence, seeing as it takes place in the 12th century and doesn't really tie into anything just yet, but fortunately, this issue picks up bigtime after that. There's a great comedic moment--with another great punchline from Layla Miller, who gets more likeable every issue--and a shock ending that actually does the job pretty well, setting up a lot of intrigue in the process. It's a good, solid read.





Trades

Lost Girls HC: I've mentioned it before, but according to the fine folks over at Wizard magazine, I just purchased a $75 slipcased hardcover of, and I quote, "Alan Moore's Steamy Sex Comic," and while that is technically true, it also manages to miss the point entirely. Anyway, I read the first three issues a few years ago when my friend Chad loaned them to me, and, well, they're Alan Moore, and as you might've heard, that guy's pretty good at this whole "comic book writing" thing. Really, though, what sticks out in my memory is Melinda Gebbie's art--the whole thing's full of interesting visual tricks and layouts. There's the fact that the book's opening sequence, which introduces Alice (of Wonderland fame), is depicted entirely in the reflection of a mirror, and the scene where Wendy does the mending while her husband discusses business is really fun, and that's got me excited about finally finishing it.

Showcase Presents Batman v.1: Out of all the Showcases that I've bought--and, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed--I get the sneaking suspicion that this is going to be the one I have the least fun with. After all, Batman's my favorite character, but like most people, I imagine, I've got a pretty definite idea of what I like about him, and for me, that tends to include a pretty definite cutoff date for stories that I enjoy. Really, it all comes down to this simple rule: If it pre-dates the first appearance of Ra's Al-Ghul and does not involve Batman saving Gotham City from a nuclear explosion by lifting up a gorilla for fifteen minutes, then I'm probably not going to be that into it.

Seriously, I read the first few stories today, and as I'm sure Scipio would be happy to point out, there's a Carmine Infantino story where Batman busts up a criminal ring base that's been set up in what appears to be the entire Carlsbad Cavern system conveniently located under a Gotham City Warehouse, shortly followed by a tale of Batman helping out a band called "The Hootenanny Hotshots," which works out about as well as Bob Haney's "The Flips," but without the board, babe, or bike.

And really, without that, what's the point?




Spot the Yaoi Answer: It might surprise you, but the correct answer was C) Superman Confidential, which--despite having a terrible title, is going to be by Darwyn Cooke and Tim Sale, and is probably going to be totally rad. As for the others, Princess Princess is, of course, the story of a high school boy bribed by his new high school into transvestite prostitution (with his heroin addiction and jaded, drunken suicide presumably to follow in later volumes), and you know what? I'm just going to assume that the rest of them are pretty much exactly like that.

Anyway, be sure to tune in next week for our new game Who's Greg Land Lightboxing Now?, featuring the cover to Ultimate Power #2!



Hint: It's Kurt Angle.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Battle You Never Knew You Wanted!

What with all the Jack Kirby tributes and reviews of new graphic novels that you really should buy over the past few days, things here on the ISB have come very close to having an almost-alarming air of legitimate comics journalism.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

And that is why tonight, I turn once again to the continuing saga of The Punisher.

Specifically, I'm talking about Punisher #62, the penultimate chapter of 1992's seven-part "EuroHit," the standard by which all other mid-90s Punisher epics must be judged. It was one of the bi-weekly stories that ran through The Punisher every summer, capitalizing on the fact that the Punisher's target market--impressionable children--were a) out of school, and b) possessed of an uncontrollable thirst for vengeance.

This was, of course, back when Marvel had a publishing schedule.

As you might expect (and as I've mentioned before), "EuroHit" revolves around the Punisher going to Europe for a hit on some bigtime European crime bosses at a meeting called by one Wilson Fisk, alias The Kingpin. And it goes on for seven entire issues. Not exactly the high point of Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Dougie Braithwaite's careers, but this particular issue is surprisingly entertaining.

See, this is the one where it all comes together, as the Punisher and his strike team infiltrate the high-rise office building where the meeting's going to go down, with the express purpose of killing pretty much everybody in the room. "But wait," you ask, "The Punisher has a Strike Team?"

Feast thine eyes, dear reader:



Frank, of course, takes center stage, and needs no introduction. To his our left, however, we have Nigel Higgins, The Outlaw. Not to be confused with Inez Temple, Deadpool's ex-girlfriend who operates under the same name as a cowgirl-themed mutant mercenary, Nigel was inspired to become the British version of the Punisher after he suffered a tragic loss of his own, and he's actually the best thing to come out of "EuroHit," even though he only appeared two, maybe three more times after his debut story-arc.

Unlike Frank, Nigel's actually pretty happy-go-lucky, as far as murderous vigilantes go, and is often way too eager for his own good to get to the part where he shoots people and blows things up. You can see the appeal for me.

Unfortunately, he's also completely irrelevant, because the mind-blowingly awesome punch-out of this issue revolves around that dapper gentleman on the right: Spider-Man's old foe The Tarantula (although technically, this is the second Tarantula--third if you count the Western one--but really: I can assure you that nobody cares).

He's brought on as hired muscle by the Punisher to counteract any unexpected security measures that the Kingpin's brought to the party, and brother, does he earn his pay in that regard. Why?

Because this is the issue where the Tarantula fights Batroc Zee Leaper.



It is amazing that it took those two that long to fight each other, especially when you consider that they are exactly the same character, but with slightly different moustaches and accents.

Anyway, they fight for a total of four pages, which is actually the longest sequence in the book, and as far as a pair of third-rate villains wailing on each other goes, it's a throwdown that wouldn't be matched until years later, when their respective daughters would team up to fight the Taskmaster in the pages of Agent X. Seriously, it entertains me way more than it actually should, and that can most likely be attributed to one simple reason: Nunchucks.



Unfortunately, Tarantula's edge is short-lived, and Batroc's able to get the upper hand (or possibly the upper foot), thanks to--what else?--a well-timed kick to the face, sending his opponent careening through an interior window that seems to have been placed there solely for a super-villain to be kicked through.



And thus, everything is once again made right with the world.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: American Born Chinese

Assuming this isn't your first day reading the ISB--and even if it is, considering that there's a picture of a super-hero punching a bear right above this--you've probably latched onto the fact that my main goal here is comedy--or, at the very least, comedic spotlights on comics that are totally awesome.

Still, even with all the writing I do about topics like, say Bizarro Computo and Hate-Face, there's the occasional person--like the fine, friendly people over at First Second Books--who gets the idea that people actually listen to my opinions about these things and sends me a copy, leaving me to write a Relatively Serious Review.

Fortunately, with a book like Gene Yang's American Born Chinese, spotlighting the awesome and giving a serious review are exactly the same thing.



If you share my tastes at all, you will love American Born Chinese.

It's a bold statement, I know, but trust me on this one: Gene Yang has created something incredible here. At its heart, it's a story of outsiders who desperately want to fit in, and in that respect, it excels more than any other comic I've read in years.

The story itself is divided into three plotlines, each one complementing the others perfectly in a structure that shows exactly why Yang won the Xeric Grant for his previous work.

The one that I'd originally considered the "main" plot revolves around Jin Wang--whose name is suspiciously close to his creator's--whose story starts with his arrival in a new neighborhood as a kid. That alone is rough on a lot of kids, but for Jin, who's greeted with a classmate telling everyone else in the school that he heard Chinese people eat dogs, life in his new neighborhood kicks off with being ostracized by everyone but a few mostly Asian-American friends. From there, the story follows him into middle school and his first romance, which results, as you might expect, in a poorly-chosen perm and, eventually, Jin experiencing life on both sides of a friend's betrayal.

Jin's story isn't the one that the book opens with, but it is the one that I was reading when Yang completely hooked me, with this scene:



It's not just a great punchline, but it might be the most important panel in the book; On some level, everyone in the story wants to be a Transformer.

The actual plotline that Yang leads with is a re-telling of the Chinese legend of the Monkey King--essentially detailing his "secret origin" from the first few chapters of Journey to the West and it is phenomenal. I'll be honest: I love the Monkey King, even though I'm only familiar enough with the legend to get excited whenever he shows up, and Yang's portrayal of his rage at being spurned by the gods--going so far as to master twelve mystical disciplines of Kung Fu and reject his own name in favor of being called "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven"--is an incredibly entertaining story in its own right, and only becomes moreso in the context of the other sections.

Even on its own, though, it blows Katsuya Terada's The Monkey King (the only other book I've actually read about the character) completely out of the water as far as pure enjoyment.

I mean really, with panels like this...



..I hardly even need to make the case for it at all.

Finally, there's the last plot, which also stands out--to me at least--as the strangest: An over-the-top series of sitcom-style chapters--complete with laugh track--that revolve around average, All-American basketball playing high school student Danny, and what happens when he gets his yearly visit from his cousin, Chin-Kee, described by the book jacket as "the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype."

And brother, they're not kidding.



There are a lot of the segments with Chin-Kee that are, by design, hard to get through, if for no other reason than Yang goes out of his way to nail every single ethnic slur with the character. Within two pages of being introduced, Chin-Kee's already referenced both Confucius and foot-binding, and the next day when he accompanies Danny to school, he eats cat fried rice for lunch.

Subtle? Not in the least. But having white, blonde Danny try to make it through high school with a living embodiment of racism hovering over him all the time is a metaphor that thrives on its brutal, almost painful overtness.

But here's the thing: Those aren't three separate stories. And while the book jacket refers to the way they come together "with an unexpected twist," the actual effect of Yang bringing them together--not just thematically in the way that each story deals with someone rejecting a part of their identity--was, for me, something a lot closer to mind-blowing.

The only problem that I have with the book--and it's a minor one at that--is the incredible amount of empty space on each page. Yang's art only uses about half of the available space, leaving vast sections of unfilled page to the top and bottom, and while it's a design element that looks great and makes for a stark contrast in the brief section where the Monkey King travels to the edge of reality (a scene that I absolutely love, by the way), I can't help but thinking that so much more could've been done to fill that space.

Right now, there's a preview (and a fun little Flash Game) up on the First Second Website for you to try out, but starting in early September, you'll be able to pick it up at your local comic shop at a cover price of $18.95 (or $25 for the clothbound hardcover, if that's your thing), and on Amazon.com, you can order it in both Regular and deluxe flavors (currently on sale for less).

Regardless, I can tell you with my absolute highest reccomendation that Gene Yang's American Born Chinese worth every penny. Give it a shot.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Birthday Beyond Reason!


"Comics is a world of bad guys and good guys...
That is why Jack King is here."
--Will Eisner,
The Dreamer.


Originally, I'd slated tonight for a review of American Born Chinese, Gene Yang's incredible new graphic novel from First Second Books--and I will be doing just that tomorrow--but as you probably know by now, Jack Kirby would've been 89 today.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you know that I'm a fan of his work--how could you not be?--but like so many of us, it goes a little beyond that for me.

I've mentioned it before, but a few times when I was a kid, my dad told me bedtime stories about the New Gods. But the stories he told wouldn't just be about Orion and Darkseid--in fact, the main focus of what he used to tell me didn't involve them at all. Instead, he would tell me not just about the stories, but about the man who made them, a guy who created Thor and the Silver Surfer (his favorite characters), and then, after a dispute with Marvel, went to DC and decided that if he couldn't tell stories about the old gods, he was just going to have to create some new ones.

There's a lot to like in that story.

Happy Birthday, Jack. I made you a card.






BONUS FEATURE: OMAC - The Tributes


If you've been reading the ISB for any considerable length of time, you've probably latched onto two key factors in the way that I write:

1) The opening splash pages from Kirby's OMAC #2--one of the most fightin'est comics ever printed--is one of my favorite panels things of all time.

2) I physically cannot go a month without bringing it up.

Fortunately, today, it's somewhat appropriate. After all, last Thursday I mentioned that the opening splash of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men #16, wherein Ord of the Breakworld rampages through a squadron of SWORD agents, was an awesome homage to the scene from OMAC--and that I'd seen another.

So tonight, I invite you to celebrate the King by enjoying OMAC: The Tributes:

Kirby's original, totally awesome piece.
OMAC #2



The always-radical Paul Pope uses the scene in a re-telling of Buddy Blank's origin.
SOLO #3



Whedon and Cassaday take a more head-on approach.
ASTONISHING X-MEN #16



And finally, for the first time here on the ISB, I present...

Len Wein and Paris Cullins offer up the most unexpected "OMAGE" of all!
BLUE BEETLE #3


Got any others?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Unfortunate Sound Effects of The Savage She-Hulk

I spent a good amount of time reading through The Essential Savage She-Hulk today, and let me tell you: Even for a book where a giant green woman rampages around Los Angeles wrecking cars and jacking up the occasional mobster so that he'll turn State's Evidence, that thing's got a lot of sound effects.

Page for page, it might just be the noisiest comic I've ever read, and considering that I consider a panel without an explosion to be a panel wasted, that's saying something.

And they're not just the regular kind, either. I'm only a few issues in, and already I've counted three TBUNGs, along with KRIMPLLL, DAKRUNCH, and, my personal favorite, KAR-CROOM--a sound effect that, considering it's the noise made by Shulkie chucking a Volkswagen at an eighteen-wheeler, really should've been "KAR-TRUK!"

There is, however, one sound effect right at the climax of Savage She-Hulk #2 that stands out even among those, one that writer David Anthony Kraft maybe should've thought about a little harder before he went ahead and slapped it onto a a scene where a buxom green Amazon stomps around in a ripped-up hospital gown:



I mean really: That's got to be the most judgemental lamppost in comics history.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Challenge of Retarded Superboy!

Given that his powers back then were pretty much limitless, I imagine it was pretty difficult for Silver Age Superman writers to come up with a problem that could actually provide enough of a conflict to get him through eleven pages. Fortunately, Jerry Siegel was able to find his way around this little problem back in 1959, finally answering the question as to how exactly one challenges a completely indestructable hero who can fly through the time barrier and move planets with his bare hands.

You make him fight a younger, completely idiotic version of himself.

The whole thing goes down in a daring tale called "The Revenge of Luthor" from Action Comics #259--conveniently available in crisp, monochromatic glory as part of Showcase Presents Superman v.2--and, as you might expect from a story where Superman fights his younger, developmentally subnormal counterpart, Red Kryptonite is involved.

Before we get into the story, a quick word about Red K, or as I like to call it, Plot Device #3: I think it's been made abundantly clear by now that I'm a pretty big fan of the outright wackiness of DC's Silver Age. But that stuff essentially amounts to carte blanche for Jerry Siegel and Otto Binder to weave pretty much whatever opium-fueled fever-dreams they wanted. Moreso than usual, I mean.

To be fair, though, it did provide me with one of my favorite moments of Legionnaire dicketry, when Supergirl flies through a cloud of the stuff and gets aged to an adult on her way to try out for the Legion, which goes a little something like this:

SATURN GIRL: So, Red Kryptonite made you old, huh? And how long does that last?

SUPERGIRL: I don't know... Couple hours, maybe?

SATURN GIRL: Yeah, have fun trying out next year, grandma.

SUPERGIRL: Aw, peas!

But anyway, back to Superman: The Red Kryptonite of this story shows up as a meteor that Superman grabs mere moments before it smacks into a passenger jet, immediately realizing his mistake and mentioning that he should've just blown it away with his super-breath. Which, yeah, pretty big mistake there, Clark. I'm pretty sure that if there were two things--and only two things--in the entire universe that could kill me, and one of them was a rock that comes from space, I'd make sure to check out pretty much every meteor I came across before I went over and grabbed it, especialy at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.

Fortunately, Superman has plenty of time to ponder the error of his ways as he plunges headlong into a conveniently-located field, all the while hallucinating the floating heads of friends and enemies orbiting around him, including a giant and incredibly disturbing Judy Garldand-esque Lois Lane that goes a long way towards explaining why those two wouldn't go ahead and tie the knot for another thirty-five years. Eventually, he shrugs it off and wakes up, only to be confronted by the reasonably shocking sight of Superboy standing there. And this, of course, presents somethign of a problem.

Quoth Superman: "But you can't exist at the same time as I do! You're me, as a youngster! You ceased to exist years ago, because I grew into an adult!" The fact that he says all that in a single word balloon leads me to believe that Red K has had the weird, unpredictable effect of making Superman speak in incredibly redundant expositions! Great Guns!

And oddly enough, that's not the only secondary effect that the Red K's had on Our Heroes, because really, plucking one's younger version of Superman out of the timestream without causing the entire universe to implode upon itself is just small potatoes compared to, say, giving him an ant head. That effect?

It has turned Superboy into a complete and utter moron.



Siegel makes a halfhearted attempt to set up Superman as having been afflicted by the Red K with a short temper, but by the time he gets around to dropping a scene like this...



...his frustrations seem pretty reasonable.

And things just go downhill from there, with Clark the Younger bumping into Clark the Elder and generally making a nuisance of himself, and eventually Lex Luthor devises a sinister Master Plan™ to turn the situation to his advantage by buliding a giant jungle gym out of Kryptonite (the regular green kind), and then putting a huge sign on it that says, in bold lettering, "LUTHOR TRAP TO CAPTURE SUPERBOY. ENTER HERE, PLEASE."

So, just how stupid is Superboy?



So stupid that even the narrator of the story turns against him. I mean, Luthor, you expect, but to actually have the captions break down and call him an idiot, that's a mean feat indeed.

Eventually, Luthor captures Superman as well (with a robot, naturally) and takes them both to a secret underground lair, where he's holding Lois and Lana captive in what I can only refer to as a Science Bubble, holding them hostage in a bid to make Supers Man and Boy fight each other to the death. It doesn't work of course because, y'know, they're invulnerable, so Luthor switches things over to Plan B, which involves Superman choosing between a locker containing Superboy (who will then be killed) and a locker containing a giant piece of Kryptonite (which will kill himself), thus begging the question as to why Luthor didn't just use the giant piece of Kryptonite in the first place.

Fortunately for all concerned (except Luthor, I guess), Superman finally snaps out of his Red Kryptonite trance and, of course wakes up from the crazy mixed-up dream he's been having for the last twelve pages and explains that he should've realized it was a dream all along, since, and I quote: "if Superboy really materalized, we would get along fine and make a great team!" Seriously, the ego on that guy sometimes...

So, for those of you keeping score at home, "The Revenge of Luthor," is both a dream and a hoax, and a Red Kryptonite story involving Retarded Superboy.

That's got to be some kind of record.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Ben Grimm Wants You To Be Happy



It'd probably be best for all of us if you didn't disappoint him.

(Vaguely threatening image courtesy of Bill Mantlo and Ron Wilson's Marvel Two-in-One #12)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Week in Ink: 8-23-06

This week's pulse-pounding installment of ISB Kick to the Face Action Theater is brought to you by Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's Fell #6:



I'm toying with the idea of doing one of those every week to open up my comics reviews. You know, just to set the tone for anyone who comes by accidentally looking for legitimate comics criticism. Plus, it saves me the trouble of writing an extra joke!

Which, really, just kept me from getting around to the reviews--in this case, for the comics I purchased during the Fourth Week of August, 2006--and we don't have that kind of time!




Comics

52: Week Sixteen: Maybe it's just the fact that one of them involves the Question and Renee Montoya in a race against time to stop a suicide bomber and the other involves Captain America and Iron Man seething at each other from opposite sides of the cake, but for my money, DC's "Wedding of the Century of the Year" came off a lot more entertaining than Marvel's. It's a fun adventure story, Montoya putting the clue together in particular. I actually stopped while reading it and asked myself why a city police officer would immediately assume missing rat poison meant a suicide bomb for a few seconds until I remembered that she's a cop in Gotham City, and then it all made perfect sense. Plus, Captain Marvel seemed a lot more well-adjusted than in his last appearance (and not nearly as petulant as in next week's Trials of Shazam, incidentally), and Joe Bennett came through with some sharp pencils. Very enjoyable.

Action Philosophers: The People's Choice: This issue of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's incredibly entertaining series focuses on the winners of a poll on their website, and while it's pretty clear that the kids are into Kierkegaard, it seems like there are some German idealists who just Kant catch a break!

(rimshot)

... Yeah, I apologize. Won't happen again. Anyway, it's another issue of the often-hliarious and always fascinating look at philosophy that you really have no excuse for not reading.


Astonishing X-Men #16: Hot on the heels of last issue's ridiculously awesome last panel comes what is, unquestionably, the single greatest X-Men comic of all time. And it's not because of Kitty Pryde's one-woman war against the Hellfire Club accompanied by a shrill, wide-eyed Wolverine, or even the surprise villain reveal that caps it all off. Those are all well and good, but what makes this one great? The book opens with John Cassaday's homage to the splash page of OMAC #2. And it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen:




For comparison, the original:



Note the guy in the upper left-hand corner of the Astonishing page. That is roughly how hard I was freaking out when I saw it.

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK




Batman #656: This week's issue of Batman is one of those comics that's going to be incredibly hard for me to write about, because I love every single thing about it.

The plot? Both simple and incredibly awesome: Batman fights a gang of Ninja Man-Bats in an art museum. The script itself? Fantastic. The action's great, and--between this and the last issue of Detective (which I also absolutely loved), where Paul Dini put it to good work--Batman's got the dry, almost-smirking sense of humor that Morrison used so well in JLA, and the whole thing builds to a legitimately thrilling ending. And the art? Incredible.

Morrison's known for sketching layouts with his scripts, but Andy Kubert does a phenomenal job of pulling off one of the best visual gimmicks I've seen in a long time. The way the "comic-inspired pop-art" of the gallery interacts with the action of the story is great, from the simple EC-esque "Yikes!" in the background when the Ninja Man-Bats first show up to ISB favorite Sgt. Rock shouting "INCOMING!" in a panel hanging on the wall as they swoop down towards Batman. Visually, it's one of the most entertaining things I've seen since JH Williams on Desolation Jones, and Kubert executes the concept perfectly. Simply put, it's an excellent comic book.

Batman and the Mad Monk #1: And speaking of amazingly well-done Batman comics that I like to an almost-unhealthy extreme, we have the first issue of Matt Wagner's new mini-series. I'm a huge fan of Wagner's work, and while many have tried to pull off a "sequel" to Batman: Year One, Wagner pulls it off better than any of them. Which is to be expected, considering that he's actually re-telling stories from Batman's first year. This one picks up after the events of Batman and the Monster Men (conveniently released in trade this week), which wrapped up a few months ago as one of the best mini-series of the year, and it stays at the same level, riffing on Year One with a two-fisted Jim Gordon slugging it out with a gang of corrupt cops and Batman's encounter with Catwoman while setting up its own story, and the whole thing ends up being, in a word, awesome. Pick it up.

Birds of Prey #97: I mentioned last month that I really love the concept of Black Alice, and it's great to see more of her from Gail Simone and Paulo Siqueira, and that pretty much stands as the story with her wraps up, apparently leading into a mini-series next year. Fun stuff.


Blue Beetle #6: It's been six issues--only three of which, I believe, were actually pencilled by the "regular artist" of the series--and finally, all the players have been assembled to pave the way for what's actually going to be going on in the book. And therein lies the problem: I've read a lot of Keith Giffen books in my time, and with as muddled as the last few issues have gotten, I'm pretty sure he could've gotten to the same place in half the time, with a lot more clarity than he's been delivering here. It meets the bare minimum requirement of interest to keep me reading it from month to month, but only in the same way that, say, back issues of El Diablo do, and while I've gotten it up to this point, I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that it's not an experience worth three bucks every month.

Daredevil #88: Despite the fact that--when you get right down to it--he's the guy that brought Bucky back as an unstoppable communist killing machine (in a story that I quite like, actualy), Ed Brubaker's been spinning Marvel's revolving death door better than just about anyone else working at the House of Ideas today, and while he didn't really kill Foggy Nelson when "The Devil in Cell-Block D" kicked off, he certainly had me fooled, so I'm counting it. Which, really, is just a longwinded way of saying that this issue, which focuses on where Foggy's been for the past few months while Matt Murdock's been punching his way through the best Daredevil story in fifteen years is highly enjoyable indeed.


DMZ #10: "Body of a Journalist" wraps up with an unexpected and highly enjoyable climax (featuring a guest-star from Liberty News rival "The Deus Ex Machina News Network"), and while I'm looking forward to Wood and Burchielli returning to the shorter done-in-one stories that kicked the series off, I think it's safe to say that DMZ's first longform story-arc has been an unqualified success. It's a great read that manages to flesh out all of the "big picture" details of the world while still keeping a fast-paced action story going and turning Matt Roth from a guy doing his best in an awful situation into a purpose-driven crusader that we can all really get behind. If you haven't been reading it, check it out. It's worth it.


That Umlaut kills me every time.Doc Frankenstein #5: Despite the fact that the most recent issue featured a man with a staff capped at each end with chainsaws battling a talking shark, I've never really gotten into Burlyman's Shaolin Cowboy (but, assuming that they ever actually get around to putting one out, I intend to buy the trade). Doc Frankenstein--sorry--Ültimate Doc Frankenstein, however, is a hoot every time I read it. Last time I bothered to check, there was a lot made on message boards of the Wachowski Brothers' over-the-top anti-Christian sentiment in the book--which in this issue is represented by a Fairy telling a priest the Secret Origin of Jesus--but honestly? In a comic where a one-legged, one-armed reanimated corpse adventurer battles a windmill full of revenge-crazed redneck zombies armed with a hatchet and a couple pithy quips, I'd be upset if I saw anything remotely resembling subtlety.


Eberron: Eye of the Wolf: I'm always a little hesitant to bring up gaming-related subjects here on the ISB, since I get the distinct impression that most of you couldn't care less--you know, because comic books and roleplaying games cater to such vastly different markets--but even with my usual caution, I wouldn't hesitate to explain, in thorough, agonizing detail, why I love Keith Baker's Eberron campaign setting. The conceit behind the setting is one that appeals to me incredibly: a mixture of standard D&D fantasy infused witih a '30s-style pulp action feel. It's two of my favorite genres crammed together, and in Baker's Eye of the Wolf--much like in his highly entertaining Eberron novels--he pulls it off excellently, with a heroine that deals as much with swords and sorcery as she does with Spillaine-style tough-guy narration (along with a host of other pulp novel tricks) and postwar disillusionment, all set against the backdrop of a fun adventure and a cast of legitimately compelling characters.

Plus, I'm reasonably sure that Ir'ryc Greykell is the first fantasy heroine in the history of comics to actually wear armor that's a little more substantial than, say, a chainmail miniskirt, and that's got to be worth something. Give it a shot.

The Eternals #3: Well that was a pretty unexpected Civil War tie-in. So yeah, we're halfway through the series, and The Eternals really hasn't done much to spark my interest, aside from this issue's mention of recent ISB subject The Black Celestial. Mostly, it just seems like Neil Gaiman retreading a lot of what he's done before: The Deviants who torture Ikaris to death read like a Kirbyed-Up version of Neverwhere's Croup and Vandemar, Druig and the cheap narrative tricks he employs to shock people into madness are highly reminiscent of Sandman, and--to be perfectly honest here--the line "she is a weapon!" was a cliche five years ago, and the intervening time hasn't done anything to make it fresher. Make no mistake: It's not a "bad" comic: If nothing else, Gaiman crafts a perfectly interesting and readable story, but aside from the fact that it's got absolutely beautiful art from John Romita, Jr., there's really nothing here that I haven't seen done better elsewhere, often by the same guy.

Exiles #85: I really like the concept of a group of characters travling from one "What If?" world to another, but I've never been a big fan of The Exiles. As you might be able to tell from the cover, however, this issue is nothing but Wolverines fighting Wolverines, and that is a premise I can get behind, expecially when said All-Wolvie Battle takes place in a city with one of the best/worst puns ever for a name: Dark Phoenix, Arizona. Even better, it's actually a really fun read--Tony Bedard is an often-underrated, solid writer, and Paul Pelletier is more than well-suited to drawing a cast of stylistically varied characters. There's more than a few great moments to be had in this one, and--not surprisingly--a lot of them involve punching.


Fell #6: I almost wish Casanova hadn't come out last week, because I pretty much explained my feelings on Fell while I was discussing its sibling-in-format, but it bears repeating: The stories Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith tell in this series are surprisingly dense, succeeding by being reduced down to what amounts to a single idea--in this case, a relatively simple one--and having the extremely well-done characters play it out, as depicted by Templesmith's incredible, mood-heavy art. In a lot of ways, Richard Fell reminds me of No. 6 from The Prisoner--that same constant external calm coupled with the knowledge that he is the last righteous man (albeit one with regrets in his past) trapped in a place where everyone else has bargained away a part of themselves to some hellish force over which he has no control. And much like the Prisoner, it's great to watch the slow buildup of rage beneath the calm and the finesse that explodes into moments like the one with which I opened this post. He's a great character, and through his interactions with the rest of the cast--with this issue, Mayko in particular, they're great to read too.

Forgotten Realms: The Crystal Shard #1: Yeah, I think I've talked about D&D comics enough for one night, don't you? Suffice to say that while Devil's Due's "Legend of Drizzt" series is the best fantasy novel to comic adaptation I've ever read--I've never been able to put together a run of Chaykin and Mignola's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser--the fact that it's covering a third of a novel in each issue--even at 48 pages--means that there are a lot of captions that move the story along from swordfight to swordfight.


Hawkgirl #55: I've read this issue cover to cover once, and flipped through it two or three times. There's a giant naked lady, a bunch of ersatz cops, a suicide attempt during which Kendra Saunders' nipples almost pop right out of her bizarrely intricate lace bra (not to mention her heavy make-up), a two-page hallucination sequence that doesn't make any less sense than the rest of the story, Hawkgirl ripping someone's face off, and I have no idea what the hell any of these thigns mean in the story. Really, I think I've demonstrated my love for Walt Simonson enough here on the ISB so that you guys know I'm a pretty big fan of his, and I've tried my best to like it, but man: this thing's rough, and loyalty can only take a guy so far.


Jack of Fables #2: I hate to bring it up again so soon after I talked about Fell, but Jack of Fables is, as I said last month, essentially Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges doing The Prisoner with a character that's the exact opposite of No. 6, and I love it. There's even a scene in this issue where Jack finally meets the equivalent of No. 2, in a scene that thoroughly mirrors the meeting from one of my favorite Prisoner episodes, "Hammer Into Anvil," right down to Mr. Revise threatening Jack with a sword-like pair of scissors. It's an issue every bit as good as the first, too, with an appearance by The Man from St. Ives (and, of course, his wives), and any doubt I had about Sturges as Willingham's co-writer is long gone by now. As usual, it's incredible stuff.


Justice League of America #1: As you might expect from last night's post, I'm not exactly thrilled with Brad Meltzer's choice of a line-up for the new Justice League. I mean, really, I like Black Lightning, Vixen, and Hawkgirl just fine, but they're not the guys I want to see going up against, say, Solaris the Tyrant Sun. Which, really, is the problem: We had an entire zero issue to get us to a point where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were sitting around a table, and when we join up for the kickoff of the new series, they're still there, trying to decide whether they should go with a couple of New Gods or the recovering heroin addict and fourth-best archer in the DC Universe. Still, with Meltzer's admitted infatuation with the "Satellite League" years, that sort of thing should be expected.

What shouldn't be expected is the complete lack of anything exciting happening at all. You know what happens in Brave and the Bold #28? The League fights a giant world-conquering telepathic starfish from outer space. Justice League #1? The League foils a terrorist suicide-bomber at the UN. JLA #1? White Martians disguised as super-heroes show up, solve World Hunger, hold public executions of super-villains, and THEN fight the Justice League (also, incidentally, in space). And in this one? Sittin' around a table. Roy and Hal watch a boxing match. Red Tornado tries to decide which of two options would allow him to be more emo. Plus, there's a line in there about how Will Magnus couldn't build robots with a sense of humor, and brother, I got a whole frigg'n hardcover over here that says you're wrong.

Beyond just the story, the art seems off, too. I'm not sure if it's just Sandra Hope's inks over Ed Benes's pencils (as opposed to Alex Lai inking him on Birds of Prey, which had a much cleaner look to it) or if Benes is going for a different, more Jim Lee-ish look, but the overall effect is something less than what I was expecting from him. And man, I'm not sure if it's Benes's doing or something that'll be revealed later in 52, but that redesign on Platinum is rough, way too busy, and thoroughly unnecessary.

But here's the thing: It's not all bad. Much like with Meltzer's Identity Crisis, wherein I liked most everything outside of the actual main story, there are a lot of good bits to it--Benes's dead-on art in the flashback sequences was a pleasant surprise, and while Meltzer might not have a good handle on the Metal Men, the concept behind his new villain Dr. Impossible is a good and interesting one, even if he does have the name of a character my pal Chad created and published two years ago. But yeah, overall, it's pretty disappointing. But I might just be upset because the preview of Meltzer's novel, The Book of Fate, had absolutely nothing to do with Jared Stevens.

The Last Christmas #3: Seeing as it's co-written by the awesome stand-up comic Brian Posehn and actually has the word "Christmas" right in the title, I'm pretty much obligated to buy this comic. Which is good for the people behind it, I suppose, because man: It's not that good.


Rex Libris #5: This is one of the few comics that I don't read the day I buy it, for the simple reason that it's not a comic I can get through while laying in my bed at two in the morning. It's not that it's boring--it's not that at all--it's just that it's dense. It is, however, the perfect comic to enjoy, as its creator suggests in the "How to Read Advanced Visicomboics" section on the inside front cover of every issue, while relaxing in a chair with a glass of wine while listening to smooth jazz. What can I say? Sometimes you have to do it up right.


Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Warren Ellis was once discussing some television show--God help me, it might have been The Prisoner again--that was considered to be part of the "Spy" genre, which it maintained by just having the characters engage in one minor spy-type activity in every episode. Much in the same way, SM♥MJ is a Spider-Man comic by virtue of the fact that once per issue, every issue, there's a scene of Spidey fighting the Looter or something. But these scenes aren't just put in there to justify Spidey's appearance on the covers (when, really, it should be Peter Parker on there); the characters actually react to what's going on with him, making it an integral part to every story. I mention this because--due to the fact that it's, y'know, a comic about high school romance, which doesn't quite fit in with the usual comics I rave about--there is an incredible level of craftsmanship put into this comic by everyone who works on it that is nearly always overlooked, and just as often underappreciated. McKeever, Miyazawa, and Strain are really doing something amazing here every month, and considering that me and Ben's 9 year-old daughter are the only people I know who read it, the rest of you are totally missing out.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #21: So. To review: Over in her own book, Supergirl has recently gotten back from making out with her cousin and spends the issue in a dance club dressed like a refugee from a Cyndi Lauper video, smoking cigarettes, ignoring the signal watch, explaining that while her body might be sixteen, her brain was still active while she was in suspended animation, and therefore she's totally legal. Let's have a big hand for Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly, everybody.

Meanwhile, in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Kara is not portrayed as a thoroughly unlikeable whore. Instead, Waid spends a highly enjoyable scene putting the spotlight back on the solipsism angle and really gets to the core of what her character should be about--and, in Legion, actually is. Plus, there's a scene where Brainiac 5 flips out and attempts to throttle a fellow Legionnaire to death, which, all things considered, is still better than "accidentally" unleashing a massive, genocidal, death-ray-blasting robot on them. Great stuff from Waid, Bedard, Kitson, and Dekraker, as usual.

Supermarket #4: There's not really much to get into here, but it's a fun ending for a fun mini-series, wrapping up everything that the previous issues developed neatly, with yet another absolutely amazing cover by Kristian. Don't get me wrong: Brian Wood tells an entertaining story with a lot of great hooks and some fantastic high points, but for this one, there's a lot to be said about the look of this comic, from the stylized pencils to the incredible way the colors have built from what I recall as a muted pallette in #1 to the high-contrast brights in the final issue. It's a neat little storytelling technique, and it's well suited here.


Wonder Woman #2: Alan Heinberg seems to be getting a pretty big kick out of introducing minor characters to cap off each issue, which gives me hope that the next issue's going to end with Diana Prince being sent to the Quad Cities and having a team-up with the one and only Wild Dog. Completely unlikely and bizarrely out of character, I know, but a guy can dream, right? Anyway, Tug mentioned at the store that it's going to be weird if Nemesis, whose entire deal is that he's a master of disguise, can't tell that Diana Prince is Wonder Woman when a) She looks exactly like Donna Troy, save for the stars in the hair, b) she's just wearing sunglasses and putting her hair up, and c) she spends a lot of time standing right in front of gigantic pictures of herself, and I agree--but I'm willing to put a little more effort into suspending my belief if that means we'll be getting more lines like Nemesis's response to Diana's line about him working with Catwoman. That was solid gold.

And by the way? You can find a description of every Nemesis team-up Wonder Woman mentions right here on the ISB's Brief History of Nemesis. You're welcome.




Trades

The Middleman: The Second Volume Inevitability: I really, really like The Middleman, as you may recall from back when I reviewed the issues as they came out, which, in turn, begs the question as to why I bought the trade if I already had the issues. The answer? Three new stories ("Tales of the Middlemen" stories by guest creators) and a few pages of bonus material. Admittedly, I love new stories and bonus material, but the fact that I bought every issue of the series as singles and still had to get the trade paperback to complete the story is more than a little frustrating, even with the relatively low cover price of $9.95. If, however, you don't already have The Middleman v.2, it's a great buy and a fantastic read. Heck, I bought it twice.

But really, that's my fault.