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Saturday, September 30, 2006

ISB #600: Return of the DCR!

According to the stats provided by Blogger, this is my six-hundredth post here on the ISB, and to celebrate, I'm bringing something out of retirement.

See, back before I eventually narrowed my focus specifically to comics (and you know, the occasional pro wrestling espionage novel or bearfight-related DVD rental), the ISB was more of a freeform attempt at humor writing and, as anyone who's gone back to the archives will attest, we're all a lot better off for the change. But it's not like I wasn't still writing about comics--about once a month, I'd post a review of a comic I'd found in the shop's massive, ever-changing one dollar inventory, but once I was talking about comics all the time, it seemed pretty redundant.

Still, I like the format of those posts a lot, so in celebration of my sexacentennial post, I bring you the one night only return of The ISB Dollar Comic Review! And what better comic for such an occaision than...

"Deadly Knights"
October, 1994
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Aritst: John Romita, Jr.
Cover: Totally Awesome

The Plot:

In case you've ever wondered what the phrase "it practically writes itself" means, feast thine eyes on Punisher/Batman: Deadly Knights, wherein the the Joker and Jigsaw team up to take over the mobs of Gotham City, which in turn causes the Punisher and Batman to fight, then team up, then fight again, then team up again, then fight again, and then go on their relatively merry ways, and even though the Punisher doesn't get to kill as many people as he wants, everything still works out okay. That is, aside from a minor battle between Micro and Robin waged entirely over the internet, the sum total of what happens.

It is, of course, a work of purest genius.

The Highlights

  • Although it's presented as a stand-alone one-shot, Deadly Knights is actually a sequel to the same year's Batman/Punisher: Lake of Fire which, like most things that feature both Denny O'Neil and Jean-Paul Valley, could be charitably described as not very good. There is, after all, a scene where Frank and Ol' AzBats visit a bath house and, after dosing everyone with knockout gas, proceed to "check them for disguises" while they sleep, and that tends to overshadow any attempts at making Jigsaw's attempt to use stolen rocket fuel to set the entire Gotham City water supply on fire actually sound threatening.

  • Speaking of Jigsaw, he returns as the Punisher's contribution to the villainous side of the story, along with the Joker, whom I assume was chosen because he's the most iconic foe in Batman's formidable Rogues Gallery. With Jigsaw, though, it was more a matter of being the only surviving Punisher villain, whic is a problem you're going to run into when your protagonist is built solely around shooting people in the face.

    If only this thing had come out ten years later, they could've used The Russian, because honestly: If there's an better partner for the Joker than a massive, wisecracking, dimwitted indestructable Slavic transvestite, I haven't seen it.

  • Back to the story at hand, while the plot leaves a lot to be desired in terms of actually having a plot, it does have one gigantic thing working in its favor: John Romita, Jr.

    The whole thing's full of absolutely gorgeous panels like that, and considering that JRJR's been exclusive to Marvel (with the exception of his creator-owned series The Grey Area) for thirty years, seeing him draw Batman and the Joker is not something that happens very often.
  • Dixon, however... Well, he's Chuck Dixon, and like most of his work over the years, he turns in an interesting and perfectly readable story that gets the job done in a fairly enjoyable manner without anything being wrong with it.

    Except when Tim Drake opens his mouth.

    Admittedly, I'm not a super-computer-genius like Micro or Tim there, but I'm not even sure that's actually English. And it goes on for four pages, with the epic struggle of fat nerd and teenager blasting each other with logic bombs and mouse-arounds intercut with Matches Malone tailing Frank Castle to the Joker's hideout, and the whole thing ends with--get ready for it--Robin turning off the Batcomputer. Those guys are like... Web 4.5.
  • One of the plot points of the story is that the Joker's arranged for Jigsaw to have plastic surgery to repair his face, but--as you might expect--said repairs last a grand total of five panels before the Punisher chucks a grenade directly at his head and resets him to the status quo, marking, if memory serves, the fifth time this exact sequence of events has happened.

    Although to be fair, the time before this one involved both Satan and a cactus.

Defining Moment

And now, I give you the entire reason the ISB, and quite possibly comic books as we know them today, were created:

Oh but wait. It gets even better.

The moral of the story? You only get one.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Brief History of Team America, Part Three

For three pulse-pounding days days, the ISB's been devoted to the adventures of comicdom's most ridiculously awesome counter-terrorist motorcycle racers!

For three spine-tingling nights, they've battled HYDRA, Team Mayhem, and the common sense that usually stops me from devoting an entire week of blog entries to a short-lived early-80s toy tie-in!

But tonight, it's all on the line, for this is...


By the way, that's got to be my favorite last-issue cover blurb since Transformers #80.

Anyway, after the senses-shattering spotlight issues for each character and a stopover for a Mint 400-esque off-road race through the desert surrounding Cairo--an issue that includes the revelation that Wolf is afraid of flying and Honcho's clandestine meeting with an old CIA contact in broad daylight at McDonald's, among other things--it was probably pretty obvious that sales on the book weren't exactly "kicking it into high gear," leaving the creators of the book to do the only thing they could to boost sales:

Bring On the Guest-Stars!

Because if you like Iron Man, you'll love a team of dirtbike racers who tend to get beaten up by everybody and their sister until a mysterious plot device rides in and rescues them. Make Mine Marvel!

Finding themselves broke in Brooklyn, Team America's confronted with wrecked motorcycles and dwinding prospects when the Marauder--after doing a bit of soul-searching atop the Brooklyn Bridge, as Marvel characters are wont to do--decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and leaves his souped-up motorcycle for TA to find the next morning, which they use to win a few races and then almost immediately sell to Stark Industries R&D.

Okay, so it's actually more like they fail to read the fine print of their contracts and end up accidentally turning over the Marauder's bike, but still, the theme of the issue here is "Team America Sells Out!" and that's about as exciting as it sounds. In a perfect world, that would've been the moment that sparked Civil War--Mantlo Style!, with the supporters of proprietary technology--your Hank Pyms, for instance--lining up behind Iron Man and the small businessmen of the Marvel Universe siding with Team America, with Scott Lang's loyalty hanging in the balance. And it also would've included many, many more panels of Wolf exploding into latino fury, requiring forty-three other men holding him back from beating something to death. Just one of those is simply not enough.

In reality, it doesn't quite work out like that. Instead, the Marauder and Iron Man have more of a friendly meeting where Tony returns the Marauder's bike and then gives Team America a truckload of money and sends them on their way, which marks the only time in the history of Bill Mantlo's career that a problem that could've been solved with punching actually wasn't.

The Ghost Rider story, on the other hand, suffers from no such impediment, probably because it actually makes sense for Team America to run across a stunt cyclist and part-time demonic avenger like Johnny Blaze over the course of their travels.

Unfortunately, that's not what's memorable about this issue. Because when your comic features one of the protagonists going out on a long, uncomfortable sex-charged date with what appears to be a nine-year old girl, that tends to overshadow things. Here, see for yourself:

Yep. He kidnaps her out of the back seat of her parents' car. But just wait.

Shower all you want, folks, but after seeing those two panels, you're never going to truly feel clean again.

Eventually the other members of Team America show up to the carnival to watch Johnny Blaze and Red Fowler ride, at which time Honcho gives Wolf a stern look and reminds him that "It isn't wise to get involved with the local chippies," a piece of dialogue that really should've read "Holy fuck, Wolf, are you dating a child?!" and eventually--mercifully--Mary Michelle and Wolf part ways...

..with him leaving her dissheveled in the middle of a seedy carnival after she tells him that he's "opened [her] eyes so much in such a short time."

And just in case you were wondering, that's why the moustache went out of fashion.

To be fair, her parents are HYDRA agents, and about three pages later she's referred to pretty definitively as being 19, but man. The only thing I can think of is that artists Dave Simons and David Weiss somehow missed the first digit of Tom DeFalco's script, but figured since the plot came from EiC Jim Shooter, they might as well just draw it and be done with it. Still, though... Jesus. That's enough to make a guy uncomfortable for the rest of the issue, even with an all-out brawl with HYDRA and a scene like this...

...where The Ghost Rider tries to beat the Marauder to death with a bike chain while they fly through the air on their motorcycles.

And that's pretty much what leads into...


Yes, this is the one where it all comes together, kicking off with--at long last--the shocking revelation of the Marauder's true identity! And it is, of course...

Wrench's Girlfriend Georgianna! But more on that later.

Even more important than that, Team America #12 features their final clash with a character that surpasses even Team Mayhem to easily become my favorite character in the entire series:

Elsie Carson, Regional Manager of HYDRA!

And if ever there was a character that needs to be in Nextwave, she's it, because despite the fact that HYDRA is a clandestine organization led by a Nazi scientist bent solely on world domination, she's never killed anyone, is on a first-name basis with her sinister underlings, and, in fact, is only in it for a $250,000 annual salary and incredible benefits package. But, as should be expected, this does not stop her from karate kicking the living hell out of anybody who gets in her way. Fan-tastic!

So yeah, she's definitely my favorite villain of the series--although considering that her main rival for that title is Monique Areadite, whose desire to humiliate her male opponents and giant pink triangle belt buckle could pretty much just be replaced with a t-shirt bearing the words "EVIL LESBIAN," that might not be saying much.

Eventually, after Supreme Hydra decides to kill her because Ghost Rider went apeshit on a bunch of tanks when they tried to take out Our Heroes last issue, she goes rogue and heads to Team America, where, in exchange for their help stopping HYDRA from vaporizing her family with a gigantic laser cannon, she explains that they're all the product of a thirty year-old eugenics experiment designed to create super-soldiers by putting additives in their parents' food. See, the members of Team America are, of course, mutants!

Well, technically, I suppose, they're one mutant: In times of trouble, their psychic link allows them to project their various skills and strengths onto a host body (in this case, Georgianna), in what one of Tuesday's commenters rightly termed Marvel's ass-kicking dirtbike-riding version of The Infinity Man. And yet, she still doesn't explain why Wolf has super-strength.

They are, of course, victorious, but decide after the battle that maybe this whole motorcycle racing anti-terrorist thing isn't working out so well. So, after Wrench and Georgianna finally tie the knot while riding motorcycles...

...Honcho heads back to the CIA to battle HYDRA full time, Reddy reconciles with his father, Cowboy goes off to open a school full time, and Wolf, struggling with the fact that he was forced to kill a man... well, pretty much goes back to being a shady drifter who leers inappropriately at young girls, I expect. And in the world of Team America, that means that everything works out okay.

Well, at least until they show up in New Mutants as the Thunderriders and team up with the Thing, anyway.


BONUS FEATURE: Pin 'Em Up, Cretins!




The Mysterious Marauder!

The set is now complete! Find the "How To Trick Ride" pages your own damn selves!


I didn't mention Team America #10, which falls between the Iron Man issue and the Ghost Rider team-up, above, mostly because outside of the fact that Honcho fights a chemist-turned-guru who invented a chemical compound that can turn the human body to dust within ten seconds of contact, it's not very remarkable. But I will say this:

That's the most well-endowed cultist I've seen outside of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose.

More From the ISB's Brief Histories:

| Firestorm, Part One |
| Firestorm, Part Two |
| U.S. 1, Part One |
| U.S. 1, Part Two |
| Nemesis, Part One |
| Nemesis, Part Two |
| Gen13, Part One |
| Gen13, Part Two |

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Week in Ink: 9-27-06

Unlike the unfortunate dry spell we suffered through last time, this week's comics feature a truly incredible amount of kicks to the face. Seriously, if anything, I've been spoiled for choice, to the point where I thought it was going to be a pretty difficult decision.

But then again...

When Captain America is doing Guile from Street Fighter II's patented Flash Kick, there's not really a competition at all, is there?

And just in case you've been following the ISB's Brief History of Team America--which concludes tomorrow in the all-out no-holds-barred finale you demanded--don't worry. I've got a little something for you, too:

That'll have to hold you over for tonight, though, because tonight belongs to reviews and commentary on the comic books for the fourth week of September, 2006!


52: Week Twenty-One: I'm not sure whether the cover blurb for this one--"You asked for it! Infinity, Inc.!"--is meant to be satisfying or threatening, but even so, I'm left wondering just who exactly was clamoring for the return of comics most maligned super-team? It certainly wasn't me; I've been spending all my time lobbying for a Champions relaunch. Anyway, with only two pages given over to Ralph Dibny and no Secret Origin backup, the majority of the book is given over to Lex Luthor's super-team, and it's pretty enjoyable--even if the joke about having four writers is virtually the same one Keith Giffen did with Captain Atom back in Formerly Known as the Justice League.

Even so, it's notable for having the first real appearances of Little Barda and Power Boy, and while I'm not usually in the habit of tossing my personal theories out there, I like the idea that they both come from the Fourth World. I picture Little Barda as the Supertown equivalent of Tim Drake or Kid Devil, and Power Boy seems like he'd fit right in as a Hunger Dog who makes good. It's fun stuff, even if the whole thing does seem a bit obvious and sloppy by Lex Luthor's usual standards.

Action Comics #843: As much as I love the covers for these issues--especially the capital letter emphasis added into the box on the upper-right that reads like something I'd write--the story itself generally left me pretty cold. Still, there are some high points as Busiek and Nicieza work with one of the wackiest team-ups I've ever seen and do a very nice job of making Superman's motley crew work, and by the time it was all over, I liked this issue more than any of the previous installments. It's perfectly serviceable, but trust me: it reads like a stock plot Busiek's had laying around for an occasion when he needed a story out the door quickly.

All-New Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe A-Z #9: If there's one concept better than a Soviet cosmonaut and his super-powered monkeys, it's the fact that I now own a piece of reference material with three pages on said commies and their various criminal exploits. Even beyond the Red Ghost, though, this issue's the closest the ANOHOTMUAZ has gotten to having a "must-have" issue, since it contains not only a mention of Ulysses Solomon Archer (of US 1 "fame") in Razorback's entry and all the information you need to catch up on the ISB-favorite New Scorpion, but also profiles the Scorpion's mother Monica Rappacini in a segment that closes with this sentence:

Note: In an alternate future timeline of Earth-6216, Monica's granddaughter Varina Goddard attempted to assassinate the United Nations Secretary General with an alien Death's Head robot housing synthetic Uni-Power

...which I'm sure clears up all of your questions.

Batman 657: As much as I love John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake--both individually and together--the fact that we're getting a four-issue fill-in story instead of Morrison and Kubert over the next few months doesn't exactly thrill me, especially considering that right now, the Batman books are more flat-out entertaining than they've been in years, even including the wildly underppareciated Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker runs. This issue's no exception, and although it didn't quite get me as excited as last month's--owing, I suspect, to a distinct lack of ninja Man-Bats, which are turning out even better than I thought they would--it's still absolutely fantastic. Batman showing his parenting skills is something usually only seen in Robin, and with this one, it's incredibly fun to see Batman giving some tough love to a kid that I assume is a lot like he was at that age. You know, without smacking him in the face and leaving him in the dark to eat rats, I mean.

The story's working out to be some excellent stuff, with a fun subplot and a dynamite last few pages, and Andy Kubert's art has never been better, especially in the full-page shot of Batman swinging over Gotham City while wearing one of his rarely-seen forty-foot capes. Highly entertaining stuff.

Batman and the Mad Monk #2: If you haven't already read Matt Wagner's Batman and the Monster Men--recently released in trade paperback for your convenience--you really, really ought to: Not only is it one of the best Batman stories in recent memory, but it may just be one of the best comics Wagner's ever done, and that guy's not exactly a slouch. And considering that it was originally slated to be part of the same twelve-issue mini-series retelling some of Batman's earliest stories, it's no surprise that Mad Monk is shaping up to be every bit as awesome. With Batman fighting a mad cult of vampires and great character moments from Jim Gordon set against a Year-One backdrop, it's fun, accessable, well-done, and pretty much everything that All-Star Batman should've been. Only better.

Bite Club: Vampire Crime Unit #5: As much as Bite Club v.1 was structured as a classic tragedy based around Leto Del Toro's fall from grace as the head of his mobbed-up vampire crime family, these five issues have essentially done the same with Risa, starting her on top and ending with a pretty thorough--but not insurmountable--defeat that makes for a highly enjoyable read. Plus, don't miss Howard Chaykin's excellent typeface-related joke on page 18. It's sans-serific!

Blue Beetle #7: After being pretty underwhelmed for the first six issues to the point where I was all set to give Blue Beetle the proverbial axe, I actually ended up enjoying this one quite a bit. Oddly enough, it features--finally--the return of Cully Hamner to pencils, thus bringing his "regular artist" credit up to a whopping 57% accuracy, while at the same time being the first issue without Keith Giffen doing the script with John Rogers. Not that either one of those is necessarily a bad thing--I like Giffen quite a bit, but Rogers acquits himself nicely with a story telling what exactly happened to the new Blue Beetle during Infinite Crisis. If you've been curious about the title but managed to dodge the first six issues, this is the one to check out. Especially with the great Black Canary/Green Arrow moment as they fight OMACs aboard Brother Eye.

Captain America #22: Considering that he's easily one of the best writers working today, it's no surprise that Ed Brubaker's written the best Civil War tie-in yet, or that it deals with the events of the crossover while seamlessly advancing his own plots at the same time. What can I say? The guy's good, and he works with good people: Mike Perkins does a fine job filling in for Steve Epting (although to be fair, Sharon Carter and Maria Hill do look more like teenage models than SHIELD agents on page three), and I suspect that he owes a lot of it to Frank D'Armata, whose muted, heavily shaded coloring has done a lot to set the tone of the book and keep things looking smooth through multiple pencillers.

Civil War: Young Avengers and Runaways #3: And speaking of coloring, while it's still a far cry from the excellent work Christina Strain and Justin Ponsor do on the ongoing titles, Daniele Rudoni's coloring from this issue is a marked improvement from the last. Of course, considering that the last issue looked like the Rainbow Raider threw up on it, this one almost had to be better. Seriously, though, everyone's still weirdly pallid and monochromatic, but as I said before, Rudoni's technique seems to work better in exterior scenes, and, well, this one's just a big fight in the woods, and since he got by with two pages of solid white backgrounds, he probably had a little more time to work with. Anyway, the story itself continues to be a fairly passable treatment of the main characters, although I'm still not quite happy with the way Zeb Wells is writing Noh-Varr, especially with the odd fragment quoted from the narrations of Morrison's Marvel Boy right on page one. At best, it's odd, and at worst, it could turn out to be a phenomenal waste of some great character potential.

Daredevil #89: Remember all that stuff I said up there about Brubaker being one of the best writers working in comics today? Yeah, it still applies, as this issue sees a fugitive Matt Murdock take on the seedy underbelly of Monco in a story that involves both face-kicking and a man fighting lions, with a script that's probably better than any comic featuring those elements has ever had before, all set to the tune of Michael Lark's pitch-perfect artwork. Fantastic.

Eternals #4: At this point, John Romita Jr. could pretty much just draw Celestials, Eternals, Deviants, and other assorted Weirdies for the rest of his career, and I'd be perfectly happy to buy anything he cared to put out. That guy is rad, and this issue shows off his talents better than anything in the first half of the series, and--not coincidentally--it's also the best of the run so far. It's reasonably telegraphed, but Gaiman's script finally seems to have settled into heading for where it's going to end up, and after the clumsy use of Druig's powers in #3, it was nice to see a far more subtle and well-handled version employed agains this enemies in this issue. It's not the best thing he's ever written, and barring anything wildly spectacular in the next two issues, I'm not expecting it to wind up all that great, but, well, it sure is pretty.

Hawkgirl: Have I mentioned lately how much I love Walt Simonson's run on Thor? Seriously, as much as I'm going to lose Mike Sterling's friendship for saying it, it's the only run of comics I've ever read that I think is actually better than Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. And that, my friends, is why I'm still reading Hawkgirl despite the fact that it may be the worst non-Nightwing book to come out of DC's One Year Later titles. In this issue: Hawkgirl and her double-jointed hips battle Khimaera, Hath-Set, and a giant tentacular space vagina that sucks everything into the gaping maw of Lovecraftian space. And in this case, the operative word is "sucks."

Invincible #35: Despite my recent disillusionment with Walking Dead, my disappointment in the way the last Marvel Team-Up story-arc ended, and my all around dissatisfaction with the last story in Ultimate X-Men, Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley's Invincible is still one of the books I look forward to each month, and this issue's a perfect example why. He manages to advance three ongoing subplots, lead off with a fight scene, and still devote the bulk of the story to a genuine and entertaining sequence where his title character sits down with a family friend to hash out his trouble with women. I've said it often, but it's exceptionally entertaining in the same way that makes classic Spider-Man stories so enjoyable, but with way more outer-space infinity-ray alien fighting. And that, for the record, is a good thing.

Jack of Fables #3: I've been singing this book's praises as loud as I can to anybody who will listen for three months now, and for good reason: It's one of those rare comic books where there is something incredible--a line from Willingham and Sturges, a panel from Akins and Pepoy, or all of it coming together--on every single page, and that, my friends, is not an exaggeration. This issue's no exception, either, as Jack finally steps fully out of his riff on The Prisoner and organizes a conspiracy to escape from Golden Boughs, and while I have a nagging suspicion that his escape plan's going to work about as well as No. 6's always did, I have absolutely no problem with that. Just seeing the characters that Willingham and Sturges are pulling out to populate the place--which this time around includes fabledom's most famous racers, for instance--is worth the price of admission alone, even without the fantastic book built around them. Plus, not to spoil anything, but this one's got my favorite line of the week on page 21. Don't miss it.

Justice League of America #2: I have a strong personal distaste for the way that Brad Meltzer constantly uses everyone's first names in the captions, but seriously: If Vixen says the name of whatever animal she's tapping into every time she uses her powers, this is going to be the most annoying comic book ever printed. Not that it really needs the help at this point. After all, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been sitting around a table with a stack of VS System trading cards for three issues, trying to figure out who to put into the League, and yet the team we already know they're going to end up with is already doing the legwork on a string of obviously interconnected cases. So it's either going to end up as an amazing coincidence that these guys are exactly who the Big 3 picked, or that it was just a monumental waste of time to have them sitting around discussing the merits of Firestorm.

And that's the thing: It's almost good. Dr. Impossible, the missing super-villains, the Parasite being used to mask villains--those are all interesting and well-done elements, but when it's stacked up against Superman and Wonder Woman pulling the biggest dick move in League history as they vote on whether they should let Batman into the League while they are sitting in his house with him standing five feet away, it really just doesn't work. At the very least, I imagine he was the tiebreaker in a lot of those votes, so maybe they should've decided if he was still in the club before they started voting on everyone else. Jesus, I would've kept files on them, too.

Even without that, though, it's already on shaky ground when Meltzer cranks it up a notch and completely obliterates the entire issue with a single panel. Specifically, it's panel one of page fourteen, wherein the Big Three are discussing the prospect of letting Kimiyo Hoshi, the heroic Dr. Light, into the League. The dialogue--told, of course, in color-coded captions--is as follows, and I quote:

SUPERMAN: Dr. Light?

BATMAN: It sends a message, Clark.

WONDER WOMAN: We don't need that message. It's not appropriate, Bruce.

BATMAN: It'll scare them.


Okay, now I don't know how you intepret that little scene, but for me, it means only one thing, and that is this: Holy shit, Brad Meltzer's Batman wants criminals to think he's going to rape them! And yeah: That pretty much says it all.

Punisher #38: Just for the record, not even the Punisher wants his enemies to think that. Just sayin'.

She-Hulk #12: As much as I like Dan Slott--and the record will show that I like his comics quite a bit indeed--he comes more than a little hypocritical in this issue. He is, after all, the guy who broke the fourth wall to have one of his characters tell the comics readers of the Marvel Universe that the best way to solve minor continuity gaffes was to invent solutions of their own out of respect for the creators and a love for the universe, and while that's perfectly fine, there's a small dig at what Thanos has been up to in recent years when he appears at Starfox's trial. I'll be the first person to cop to preferring the huge, Starlinesque "Let's go get the Infinity Gauntlet, punch out Galactus, and go to war with the Skrull Empire" style Thanos stories than the Keith Giffen religious pilgrim angle, but, well, it happened just as much as Thanos getting beaten up by Squirrel Girl in GLA happened, and casually dismissing it while it's still being played out in other books is hardly the best way to deal with it. That doesn't neccessarily make this a bad comic book by any means--there's a lot to enjoy about it, including some pretty wild stuff about Thanos himself--it's disappointing coming from Slott. Unless, of course, this is all part of some grand hoax.

Snakes on a Plane #2: Even among movie adaptations--a genre that, aside from 1991's Rocketeer of course, are useless across the board--the comic book version of the world's #1 animal-on-a-vehicle movie is astoundingly worthless. Mostly, as I've said before, because it reads like they took every third page of the film's script and just drew what was happening without making an attempt to connect the events, and, well, let's face it: That script wasn't exactly the most cogent narrative in the history of cinema to begin with.

So why did I drop my hard-earned cash for a copy? Because it has panels like this:

And that is solid gold in any medium.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #10: Along with the usual fun, highly entertaining story of high school drama and occasioanal super-heroing, this issue contains a lettercolumn announcement that series artist Takeshi Miyazawa will be leaving the book after #15, and while that's an incredible bummer for fans of his work on the Mary Jane titles--like me--I can fully understand why he's doing it. One of the things that stuck out to me from Alan Moore's Writing for Comics was Moore's comment that to truly get better, you have to constantly challenge yourself with new and different projects, and I imagine the same thing goes for an artist, even if it means leaving the best teen romance comic since Bob Kanigher stopped writing Young Love. Still, it'll be a shame to see him go, as his style works so well with the book, and over the past couple of years has come to define it as much as Sean McKeever's scripts. As for this particular issue, I will say this: I absolutely love last pages in comics, and while I get excited about them often, this one got me more ecited than anything else I saw this week.

Yes. Even Ultimates.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #22: Another fine issue from Waid, Kitson, Bedard, Dekraker, and the rest, this time focusing largely on the perpetually lovelorn Karate Kid. Alas, Val, the path of a face-kicking future space teen badass is a lonely one indeed. Just be glad you're not being punched to death on your honeymoon. Yet.


Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #40: Usually, Tarot comes with a friendly "suggested for mature readers" label slapped on the cover just in case the you somehow missed the cover itself, but this issue claims to be "For Mature Readers Only," and considering that it opens up with a tarot card featuring Our Heroine naked with her legs in a V pointed to the ceiling followed by nine solid pages of her getting it doggystyle out on the back porch, that was probably a smart move on Jim Balent's part.

Seriously, that's what happens. Tarot and her boyfriend/developmentally subnormal partner in supernatural crimefighting Jon bang the day away while she ruminates on whether or not she should tell him she's been having sex with her friend the lingerie store owner werecat until she has an orgasm that is literally represented in lightning bolts coming off her body that knock everyone down, which... wow. I couldn't have made that up if I tried. And I assure you: I didn't. Regardless, despite the fact that this issue is called "The Lovers" and spends nine pages of captions on Tarot debating about her lovers, she doesn't actually resolve the problem with said lovers at all. Instead, she cries a little, Jon tells her that he loves her no matter who she has sex with, they go back to boning on the patio, and, in typical Broadsword Comics fashion, this is presented as a happy ending.

And the second half's even better, as said lace fetishist werecat reuinites with her vampire lover who, as it turns out, has spent the last two years dismantling a ring of internet snuff porn auteurs with a series of grisly murders recapped in a nine-page flashback that is both comically violent and thoroughly devoid of intentional humor.

But here's the thing: Said flashback sequence, which depicts Whatsername the Lesbian Vampire literally gouging a man's eyes out and leaving his intestines strewn across a dining room table includes lines like--and I'm quoting verbatim here--"I only left a smudge on the table. The rats will eat the rest and sh*t him out" and "I spent the last two years tracking down every name on that sick mother f**ker's list." Yeah--it's censored like that.

So, to review: In the mad world of Jim Balent, it's okay to show people having sex and other people having their intestines ripped out, but you can't actually say "fuck" or "shit." And that, my friends, is bat-sh*t f**king insane.

Teen Titans #39: I have to admit, so far, the Substitute Titans--a name which didn't occur to me until I typed it that I now want to see hung on them immediately--are actually turning out to be a lot more enjoyable than I thought they'd be. I mentioned Power Boy and Little Barda above, but this features Zatara, whose origin makes a lot more sense than I expected it to; Bombshell, who I find appealing based on her design and brief personality alone, since there's barely a hint of background offered up; and Miss Martian, who I actually have pretty high hopes for regardless of which way she turns out, even though the last page reveal's been pretty obvious now for a few months. All in all, it's the best issue of the Teen Titans since the first one after the OYL jump, and it's a good step towards getting it back to where it was a couple years ago.


Ultimates 2 #12: I'd never call The Ultimates Mark Millar's best work, not by a long shot. Not that it's his worst--that honor still belongs to the bottomlessly wretched Trouble--or even that it's bad at all. But to be quite honest, his Swamp Thing run's a lot smarter, his Superman Adventures stuff has a lot more heart to it, and even his minor jabs at social commentary were handled with more subtlety and nuance in The Authority.

But it is, however, the most flat-out entertaining comic book being published today. In essence, The Ultimates is Mark Millar doing Bill Mantlo: It's a big, stupid, over-the-top fight comic, and this is the biggest, stupidest, most ludicrously over-the-top issue of them all. And it's fantastic. Seriously, Captain America fighting super-terrorists with lightsabers? Iron Man blowing up vast portions of major cities with his ludicrous new armor? The Hulk beating the living hell out of someone smarter than him? That stuff is gold, and it has no illusions whatsoever about what it is.

It's an amazing contrast to a book like Civil War, which is essentially a big stupid fight comic with a half-baked morality play wedged in and an attemp to add shades of gray into a conflict that's clearly black and white, which completely fell apart halfway through. The Ultimates indulges in no shades of gray whatsoever, and thrives in its own dumbed-down punch-out that even has the exact same ending as Civil War #3, only done worlds better--by the same writer.

It might sound like I'm bashing the book unnceccessarily, but really: I think we can all come together and agree that The Ultimates isn't Citizen Kane good. But it is Die Hard good, true believer.

Wonderland #2: Considering that the first issue came out back in May, you'll forgive me if I run through the basics again here: Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew are doing a sequel to Disney's Alice in Wonderland, featuring Mary Ann, the unseen housemaid for the White Rabbit that Alice kept getting mistaken for during her visit. It's a fun little story, and Liew's art--which was what drew me in originally since I liked his work so much on the vastly underrated My Faith In Frankie mini-series he did with Mike Carey--is absolutely fantastic, except for the relatively minor problem that it's computer colored and there are little black Xes left everywhere that's supposed to be solid black. Even so, the art's a beautiful combination of the spirit of the animation and a style closer to the illustrations from a children's book, and it suits Kovac's script beautifully. Especially in this issue, which features a danger I've been wanting to see since I was four and a turn for the sinister at the end. They shouldn't be that hard to find, but if you're a fan of Liew's style--or, for that matter, Alice in Wonderland--it's well worth it to track them both down.