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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Relatively Serious Comics Reviews: The Professor's Daughter

From the comments section of the ISB's review of Red Eye, Black Eye:

"You really should do more of these, you know."

You want it? You got it!

Over the past year, First Second has quickly become one of the premier graphic novel publishing houses in the industry, and I'm not just saying that because they're nice enough to send me free comics to review, either. They are, after all, the same people who brought you Gene Yang's Printz Award-winning American Born Chinese (the first comic ever to be nominated for a National Book Award) and Eddie Campbell's truly phenomenal Fate of the Artist, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise that they publish some very, very good comics.

But then again, when something as remarkable as Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert's The Professors' Daughter comes along, it's always pretty unexpected.

Long-time ISB readers might remember Sfar and Guibert as the creators of Sardine in Outer Space (also released in America by First Second), the kid-friendly adventures of a young space pirate and her battles against a thoroughly inept dictator. It's charming, if a bit simplistic, but The Professor's Daughter is a pretty big departure from what you'd find in Sardine.

For one thing, the roles of the creators are reversed in this one: It's an earlier work, with Guibert doing the fantastic art and Sfar providing a story that has everything I could possibly want from a romance story. Seriously, it's got humor, tragedy, action, revenge, mummies, mummies who are also pirates, murder (both intentional and otherwise), all wrapped up in one of the most captivating love stories I've ever read.

It follows the romance between Lillian--the proper Victorian Englishwoman of the title--and one of her father's greatest finds, the three thousand year-old mummified corpse of Imhotep IV, a pharaoh that has become little more than an archaeological treasure for a civilization that views him as a novelty. The first scene picks up in the middle of their first date, and Sfar wastes absolutely no time bothering to explain why Imhotep's able to walk around wearing a tuxedo over his bandages; it just assumes that mummies occasionally wake up and go on about their lives, and also that they happen to be utterly charming:

Sfar's pacing is incredible, but translator Alexis Siegel does a wonderful job, keeping the dialogue at the start at a clipped, formal tone you'd expect from a Jane Austen story, then moving it to an increasingly manic pace as things go horribly wrong.

And they do go horribly wrong, in the grand tradition of all the great love stories, only magnified by the fact that one of the parties in this case is, y'know, a mummy. What follows is an amazing sequence of events, but it's a testament to Sfar's ingenuity that it starts with a double homicide and just gets worse from there, but still manages to stay fun and lighthearted amidst tragedy. The scene where the police are sent to round up every mummy in London alone is worth the price of admission for the great gags that Sfar and Guibert work into a sequence that's like a hilariously macabre Keystone Kops adventure.

Guibert's art, as you can see for yourselves, really requires no commentary from me: It's fantastic, and fits the story perfectly from the way each section is based around a single background color with a washed-out watercolor palette accenting it, to the way the art itself moves from the hazy pictures of first love to the stark, sharply-drawn picture of reality at the end. Simply put, it's an absolutely gorgeous book in every way.

It's one of the best comics I've read in a long while, and I really can't recommend it enough. If you're interested, it's in this month's Previews catalog on p.294, where it retails for $16.95, or--for those of you who prefer your commerce electronic--you can find it for pre-order on Amazon in both regular softcover and Collector's hardcover versions for a little less.

More Relatively Serious Reviews:

| ALIEEN and Sardine in Outer Space |
| American Born Chinese |
| The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, v.1 |
| Red Eye Black Eye |

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What Was Ray Thinking?

I picked up the first two Atom Archives, and as those of you who like your reprints in a more bludgeon-like black-and-white format will no doubt discover this June, those stories are nothing but a tiny little man in one crazy situation after another.

Really, it's no wonder that he ended up stomping around a comatose Batman's head and kicking him in the cortex until he decided to get up and go fight some crime, what with all the getting shot out of slingshots, trapped inside light bulbs, and traveling back in time to help Sinbad's grandson beat some guys up. But like a lot of those Silver Age Archives, it tends to raise a lot more questions than it answers.

Specifically, What's Ray Thinking?

I think he's probably dwelling on the fact that this sort of thing tends to happen with alarming regularity...

...while the internet's own Mark Hale stopped by from his home in the year 2000 to show us how edgy Ray Palmer really is:

What do you think, readers?

More Fun With the Atom:

| Crimes of Fashion |
| Silver Age Tech Support: A Sizeable Problem |
| The Crank File: Brave and the Bold #115 |

Monday, February 26, 2007

Chris vs. Previews: March, Part Two

After slugging it out with the major publishers in last night's installment of the ISB's monthly Previews Roundup--because you demanded it!--tonight belongs to the rest of the mag: The indies, the merchandise, and of course, a stern look at the Super-Classy Apparel that the tastemakers at Diamond have decided to unleash on a weary public. So of course, the question on everyone's mind tonight is...

What am I going to say to cheese off the readers of Gold Digger this time?

If I was a betting man, I'd say it's probably got something to do with this:

But there's only one way to find out! Part Two Starts Now!


P. 231: Archie Comics: It's offered again here, but I remember seeing the solicitation for Archie #500 the first time around, and thinking how weird it was that it promised to show the 500th time that Archie gets thrown out of Mr. Lodge's house, the 500th time he accidentally makes the same date with Betty and Veronica, and so on, because that's essentially trying to sell you on the book by saying: "It's everything you've seen before, just done again!" Of course, this was before I realized that that's pretty much the tactic DC's using to sell Justice Society of America, so now I just think it's nice that Archie's honest about it.

P. 242: Avatar Press: Earlier tonight on the Bad Signal, Warren Ellis, commonly known as the creator of Nextwave and therefore the Savior of Modern Comics, mentioned that he'll have a lot of work coming up from Avatar over the next year, and that he wants to "completely change people's expectations of that publisher."

You know what'd change my expectations of Avatar? A month without twenty-two covers worth of Lady Death.

P. 269: Del Ray: Okay, so from what I can understand from the solicitation here, Avril Lavigne's Make Five Wishes concerns everyone's favorite insultingly faux-punk Canadian pop tart appearing via mystical powers to her fans and inspiring them to believe in themselves and achieve their goals. Which essentially means that it's the exact same comic as Mr. T and the T-Force, except with Avril Lavigne.

If she fights Space Dinosaurs in volume 2, I will be on 'til the break of dawn.

P. 294: First Second Publishing: Expect a full review later on this week, but just so everybody knows where to find it, The Professor's Daughter's solicited here, and it is easily one of the best graphic novels I've read in the past year. It's funny, sad, action-packed, well-written and absolutely gorgeous, and will probably be the single greatest love story between a proper Victorian Englishwoman and a mummy that you read all year.

P. 374: Wildcard Ink: Bob Burden likes Gumby a heck of a lot more than I do, but from the one issue I've managed to scrounge up of his work on the title, it's like he's on a mission to show everyone else exactly why he loves the character so much. And it works, too: The stories he does with Rick Geary and Steve Oliff capture the great visuals and surreal fun of the concept in a way that the claymation stuff never managed to do for me, and they are pure joy to read. There was an issue solicited last month, but the trade of Volume 1's right here. Check it out.


P. 420: Even in these divisive times, I'd like to think that we can all join together as one people and agree on this:

Tie-dyed t-shirts need to stop. And tie-dyed t-shirts involving super-heroes need to die a swift and horrible death, never to be thought of again save for reflections on our most shameful hours.

P. 422: Like Sterling, I am simultaneously repelled and intrigued by the idea of footwear that I could purchase at a comic book store, but this can't possibly be a good purchase. Admittedly, I gave up my studies of cobbling when I realized that there was more money to be had in fields that haven't been obsolete since the 19th century (like, say, the daring jet-set field of internet-based freelance comedy writing), but those things don't look like they're one-size-fits-all. Still, fourteen bucks makes it almost tempting enough to order just on general principle.

The keyword, of course, being "almost." Those throwing stars over on page 498, though...

And that's the catalog. There's plenty more actually in there, but, well, what can I say about the allegedly Lovecraft-inspired statues of busty Anime girls in bikinis that isn't implicit in this very sentence? If you've got any questions, though--or just want to hear me extoll the virtues of the Cutey Honey live-action movie (p. 526), feel free to leave a comment below.

Seriously, though? I'm totally getting those throwing stars and building a fort out of long boxes of ROM: Spaceknight. Believe it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chris vs. Previews: March, Part One

Last month, when I did my first-ever ISB Previews Round-Up at the request of my readers, I like to think that it went over pretty well. I got two days worth of content out of it, you guys got a glimpse into the sort of thought process that leads me to fill up a sheet of notebook paper with orders every month, and everybody had a good time. Heck, it was even so popular that it was stolen outright and reposted on another website as a "Hot Blog Post," and if that's not a sign of success, I don't know what is!

So why not do it again?

That's right: It's the comics preview throwdown that you demanded, back for another round. And I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is: Just how excited am I about the new Avril Lavigne manga?

Read on!

P. 7: Free Comic Book Day Solicitations: Say what you want about Marvel Editorial--and I do, pretty much every week when it comes time to review new comics--but man, those guys are on the stick when it comes to FCBD. DC's up to their usual shennanigans, with reprints of a Johnny DC title for the kids and the astoundingly unnecessary Justice League of America #0 for everybody else, but much like last year, the House of Ideas is countering with a bunch of all-new stories by ISB Favorites Fred Van Lente and Dan Slott, and that's pretty exciting.

There's actually a lot of stuff for this year's FCBD that I'm really excited about--like the Fantagraphics book of un-reprinted Peanuts strips and First Second's preview of their new Eddie Campbell graphic novel--but for the first time in FCBD history, it looks like one of my stalwarts is going to let me down. I am, of course, speaking of Archie Comics, who usually put out the best stories of the year for FCBD, like the one with the kid who wanted to rock Archie's world, but ended up wrecking it. This year, though, it's going to be 32 pages worth of Little Archie.

And I hate Little Archie.

Dark Horse Comics

P. 36: The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair: I like the Dirty Pair a heck of a lot, but my affection tends to be solely rooted in the work of Adam Warren, whose witty, fast-paced stories are a pretty huge departure from anime version, which I'd always assumed to be more in tune with what the original stories were like. Even so, it's something that I've never actually read, and given that it's a 280 page illustrated novel about hot girls in crazy Barbarella outfits blowing up entire solar systems for $8.95, it's more than tempting enough to get me to cave in and satisfy my curiosity about it.

P.47: Weta Original Rayguns: As weird and wholly unnecessary as I think a lot of "prop-style" collectables are, even I have to admit that these things look pretty awesome.

...but for seven hundred bucks, I better damn well be able to rain lasery death on my enemies.

DC Comics

P. 64: Batman #666: Finally, confirmation that I'm not the only person astonished by the fact that we got through both DetectiVe Comics #666 and Action Comics #666 without somebody fighting the Devil. Thanks, Grant Morrison!

P. 66: All-Star Batman & Robin #5: Fun Fact: Hanging up this issue's cover in your home will serve as a ward against Ragnell and other evil spirits. Aside from that, though, I've just got to wonder: Can a comic book really be all that pulse-pounding when it's been solicited three times over the course of being a year late?

P. 67: Batman: Ego and other Tails HC: I can only assume that the "Tails" part comes from the Catwoman story, but groanworthy punnery aside, there are some fantastic comics in here. Ego alone is worth picking up if you don't already have it, but with the addition of Selina's Big Score in its entirety, and the backups from Gotham Knights--one of which was written by the incomparable Paul Grist--it gets pushed up to being an essential purchase if you don't already have these things, much like the Turning Points trade on the previous page.

Now if we could just get those Slam Bradley Trail of the Catwoman backups from Detective collected, it'd be perfect.

P. 74: Countdown #51-48: As much as I've groused about the occasional slapped-together, rushed-out issues of 52--or as I like to call them, the ones about the Space Heroes--and as much as I worry about this finally being the one that pushes Keith Giffen over the edge into full and complete insanity, I've got to say I'm pretty excited about this one. After all, following up a year-long weekly event comic that counted from one to fifty-two with one that counts down from fifty-one to zero is almost amusing enough just as a premise to warrant an entire series, even if it doesn't end up being any good. And I'm reasonably certain that won't be the case. After all, the guy behind this one is Paul Dini, and I've seen what the DC Universe looks like under that guy's direction. And, well, if he could handle the complex weekly schedule of a world as complex as Tiny Toon Adventures, I'm sure the DC Universe'll be a piece of cake.

P. 109: Re-Gifters GN: I already mentioned it last month, but for those of you keeping score at home, this is the new Minx graphic novel from the team that brought you the amazingly underrated My Faith In Frankie, and I'd be looking forward to that even if the solicitation didn't involve the following sentence:

"Korean American, dirt poor, and living on the ragged edge of LA's Koreatown, Dixie's only outlet is the ancient martial art of hapkido."

Congratulations, Mike Carey and Sonny Liew: You guys win again.

P. 127: Batman: Batman & Son DC Directs: I am not going to buy a Ninja Man-Bat Action Figure.

I am not going to buy a Ninja Man-Bat Action Figure.

I am not going to buy a Ninja Man-Bat Action Figure!

I might buy a Ninja Man-Bat action figure.

Image Comics

P. 142: Gutsville #1: It's not often that I have to read a solicitation three times before I'm sure I've got it all, but to be honest, it's not every day that I encounter a series with a premise like this one: An ocean liner swallowed by a whale grows over the course of 150 years into an entire city, which is also inside said whale. That is either the best or worst idea I have heard all month.

P 169: If you truly want to purchase a 3D wall-hanging of the poster for RoboCop, then you deserve to pay whatever price your local retailer is asking. Just a thought.

P. 172: Madame Mirage #1: I can't be the only person to think it's hilarious that the word Top Cow's using to market the first issue is "Oversized," can I? Anyway, despite my initial misgivings, I'm actually looking forward to Madame Mirage more and more as we get closer to its release date, although I'm not sure why. It could just be the wellspring of goodwill I'm feeling towards Paul Dini as each (non-fill-in) issue of Detective Comics hits the stands. Heck, to be honest, I'm even thinking about entering the "Who Is Madam Mirage" contest from back on p. 7, but really, the only thing keeping me from doing that anyway is that I thought I'd have to write an essay or something.

Marvel Comics

P. 13: Ultimate Power #6: Special Note to Greg Land: Drawing her all squinty-eyed on this cover does not make up for the fact that you forgot Ultimate Wasp was supposed to be Asian back when you were tracing the pornography used for #1.

P. 24: Black Panther #28
P. 41: Marvel Zombies: Dead Days
P. 44: Marvel Zombies/Army of Darkness #3
P. 87: Marvel Milestones Zombie Spider-Man and Mary Jane Statue
P. 87: Marvel Select Marvel Zombies Spider-Man Action Figure

Seriously: You guys have no fucking idea what you're doing over there sometimes, do you?

I'm not saying it's easy: Marvel Zombies hit a lot bigger than I think anybody ever expected it to, so the desire to capitalize on it is completely understandable, and as someone who thought the original mini-series was a hoot, I'm definitely planning on getting Kirkman's follow-up one-shot. But Sweet Christmas, man, a $125 statue featuring Mary Jane's eviscerated corpse in a wedding dress?! Who the hell is going to buy that?

By that, of course, I mean "Who thought it was a good idea to make and subsequently market such a product," but now that I've typed it out, I actually do want to know. If you can read this through the haze of thorazine, dictate a comment to someone who can operate a computer and let me know how you plan on explaining it to people who don't read comics whenever they drop by for a highly uncomfortable visit. I'm curious about my audience here.

P. 32: Incredible Hulk #106: With as much as I've been enjoying "Planet Hulk," it really shouldn't come as a surprise that I've been unreasonably excited about "World War Hulk" ever since I heard about it. After all, as the record will show, I consider the Hulk throwing down on the rest of the Marvel Universe to be a good time had by all. That said, the closer we actually get to the whole thing kicking off, the more I worry about it.

Don't get me wrong: I like Gary Frank a heck of a lot, but John Romita Jr.'s been one of my favorite artists since I was 14, and I've been operating under the assumption that he was going to be the artist for the whole thing, which apparently isn't the case. Add to that the things I've heard about how it's going to involve the evacuation of New York (presumably so it can get smashed in a big stupid fight and a bunch of Super-Heroes can whine about it), the possibility that it's going to be the magic cure-all for the divisions caused by Civil War, and the fact that it's going to come complete with its own completely skippable Frontline mini-series, and a load of other stuff that doesn't specifically relate to the Hulk picking up Iron Man and Wonder Man and bashing them together like cymbals, and "cautiously optimistic" drops to "Man, I hope it doesn't suck."

But I didn't care for "Planet Hulk" when it started either, and ended up liking that a heck of a lot. So we'll see, I guess.

P.39: Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #1: A few days ago, I mentioned that while I actually do like the character of Iron Man, I can't imagine why anybody'd want to read about him now. That, of course, was before I knew that Fred Van Lente was going to be writing a continuity-free Iron Man series in the vein of Marvel Adventures: The Avengers, and realized that there was nothing about that sentence that wasn't awesome.

P. 55: Punisher War Journal #7: "Frank ditches these duds for a new costume you will not believe!"

Translation: "What If #51: Now In Continuity!"

P. 56: Runaways #26: Runaways, by Joss Whedon, guest-starring the Punisher. Oh, Marvel! You know I can't stay mad at you!

P. 108: Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walt Simonson v.1: Despite the fact that they still haven't gotten around to putting out that last trade of his Thor run, I do think it's awful nice of Marvel to wait a mere seven pages after this month's quartet of Civil War trades before soliciting the story where Reed Richards testifies against the Super-Hero registration act.

Seriously, though, this run also involves Reed hooking Mjolnir up to Iron Man's armor while riding through space on his time sled so they can fight the Black Celestial at the center of the Universe, and then keeps it rolling with a battle against a thirty-foot tall half-Robot Josef Stalin. I have heard the word, and it is awesome.

And that's the major publishers. Next up: The rest of the catalog, including this month's offerings from the always super-classy Apparel section. Can you afford to miss it?!

The Second Opinion:

| Mike "Sugarbear" Sterling's The End of Civilization: March 2007 |

Saturday, February 24, 2007

And Now...

...Your ISB Saturday Night Sharkpunch:

"The Man of Tomorrow and a dozen sharks engage in a furious death-struggle!"

Admittedly, it's more like two sharks, but much like the way that Golden Age Superman totally threatens to kill somebody in pretty much every story, that's still pretty impressive.

Bonus Feature: DRINK SOME WATER!!

Maybe six people are going to get this joke, and I'm thinking there are only two who are going to think it's actually funny. But that's how a lot of my jokes work, so I'm not too worried about it.

More From the ISB's Vast Animal-Fighting Archives:

| Awesomeversary Special: Man vs. Beast! |
| Because It Just Wouldn't Be Friday Night... |
| Great Moments in Comic Book History, Volume One |

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Week In Ink: 2-21-07

Considering that everyone's going to be busy reading Wednesday night's post for the next few weeks, I'm going to forgo my traditional Kick To The Face this week, and instead share with you something from this week's shipment that brought me an almost untold amount of joy. After all, it's just us pals here, right?

Remember that part in the old Looney Tunes short Robin Hood Daffy, where Daffy Duck's trying to convince Porky Pig that he is in fact Robin Hood, and Porky just sits there howling with laughter for a minute, only pausing for a single tear of joy to roll down his cheek? Yeah, that is exactly what happened to me when I saw the third printing of Anita Blake #1.

Fan-tastic! It's like they're specifically trying to make it easy for me!

Of course, seeing as I've already discussed that little bit of vampire-themed quasi-pornography, it won't be included in tonight's installment of the internet's most two-fisted comics reviews! Here's what I bought...

... And here's what I thought!


52: Week Forty-Two: As I've mentioned, 52's been on an upswing in quality for the past few weeks, but this is the first time in months that I'd actually consider it to be an excellent comic, and I'm sure that a lot of that has to do with Darick Robertson's fantastic artwork. It fits the the story perfectly, and unlike recent issues, it doesn't seem rushed. As for the story itself, it's essentially the parlor scene of the Ralph Dibny sequence, and while I'm ready for pretty much every storyline to start wrapping up at this point, the plot twists of this one--along with some great visuals, like Ralph blowing the helmet off of his own head with a magical wishing gun--made for an incredibly entertaining wrap-up, and even answered those nagging continuity questions I had about Helmet of Fate. Even with his death, it's a great moment for Ralph Dibny that for the last year, he's been weaving a complex master plan designed to rid the world of a pretty serious threat. Here's hoping the rest of the stories end as well as this one did.

Birds of Prey #103: As much as I've been enjoying Gail Simone's run on this book for the past few years, and as much as I like that she's set up the Spy-Smasher as a great amoral counterpart for Oracle in this story arc, I've got to call shennanigans on the way this issue ended. It's not unusual in comics for the villain to pull out the Aunt May Defense, wherein the hero is threatened not with what the exposure of their identity will do to themselves, but to their withered, ancient parental figures, but when said parental figure is Comissioner Jim Gordon, it doesn't quite work. Admittedly, Barbara Gordon being arrested and tried as a traitor the United States Government wouldn't be a heck of a lot of fun, but, "it would stop his heart?" Really? That guy lived through two plagues, No Man's Land, finding out that his daughter was a global espionage operative, and still does Tai Chi in Robinson Park every morning and runs the police force in the toughest city in the DC Universe; I think he can cope. Of course, that doesn't really have any bearing on Barbara's concern for him, nor does it address the fact that this could just be a ploy to take the Spy-Smasher down from the inside.

Maybe I'm just sick of seeing protagonists give up without a fight this week. (See Below.)

The Brave and the Bold #1: "Mark Waid and George Perez" might not have the same ring to it--or the same promise of glorious insanity and bone-shattering uppercuts--as "Bob Haney and Jim Aparo," but if someone asked me to think up a team for a book centered exclusively on DC Universe team-up stories, I really doubt I could come up with a better team. Perez, of course, has a thirty-year career in comics that speaks for itself, and one of the truly amazing things about him is that he's never falllen off; his art's as good today as it's ever been, or--thanks to inker Bob Wiacek and Tom Smith's coloring--better. As for Mark Waid, well, it's pretty safe to say I'm a fan. He was one of the first creators that I knew by name and followed when I was a kid, thanks to his run on Flash, and despite the fact that I've recently grown disenchanted with Kingdom Come, I can honestly say that he's never written a story that I read and didn't enjoy. So needless to say, I've been looking forward to this one for a while, and it did not disappoint. The story's typical Waid: Fun, exciting, and full of the trappings of the DCU, from throwaway references to the Royal Flush Gang to the artifact the whole story's revolving around.

The only problem--for me, anyway--is that unlike its predecessor, this version of Brave and the Bold isn't going to focus exclusively on Batman team-ups. To be honest, that's perfectly fine, especially considering that we've got Batman and the Blue Beetle taking on the Fatal Five in #3 to look forward to, but the next issue's going to feature Supergirl and Green Lantern. And really, who wants to read that?

Checkmate #11: Aside from the Question, my knowledge of most of the old Charlton Comics heroes is pretty slim, and while I'm enjoying the appearances by his successor in Birds of Prey, everything I really know about Judomaster can be inferred from a look at his name. Still, the fact that Thomas Jagger's turned out to be the son of the original Judomaster is pretty exciting, as it's another reminder that Greg Rucka--along withi frequent co-writers Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir--are drawing heavilly on the DCU itself, which, along with this issue's cover homage, reinforces the idea of Checkmate as the new Suicide Squad. Of course, considering that pretty much everybody in the cast of the book is tied to the DC Universe--including my personal favorite, the all-new Madamoiselle Marie--that really shouldn't come as a surprise, and neither should the fact that this is consistently one of DC's best titles.

Civil War #7: And now, the reason we're all here. At this point, everything that I can tell you about the last issue of Civil War has already been said elsewhere, and I've even taken my own shots at it with Wednesday's 30-second recap, but it bears repeating: This has got to be the biggest pile of nothing that I have ever read.

To its credit, the artwork is fantastic. Steve McNiven's a great talent, and with Morry Hollowell's coloring, this has been an absolutely beautiful book from start to finish, even if he did forget that the Vision's a kid these days. The script, however, fails on every conceivable level. The biggest problem, of course, is that after all these months, with a year's worth of delays and promises that it's only late beacuse while the ending was awesome, they wanted to rewrite it to be super-awesome, it ends in the most poorly-written and anticlimactic resolution of Mark Millar's entire career. It's so wildly problematic that I don't even know where to begin, but I'll just start by saying that Captain America's tackled by a group of emergency workers who might as well be carrying a banner reading "THE HEROES OF 9/11" in grand political cartoon fashion, it's actually less tasteful than when the ghosts of the dead firemen show up in last month's issue of Tarot. And if they hadn't jumped on him, are we really supposed to believe that Captain America was about to decapitate Tony Stark--his friend--like he did to the Red Skull? Really?

Not that I could really blame him, considering the way Tony Stark's been characterized through the whole series. It's not enough that he's a facist who thinks it's a good idea to send out a team of serial murderers to kill Spider-Man, but he's become thoroughly unlikeable as a person. The cheap shot at Maria Hill at the end of the series--which would maybe be understandable if they hadn't been on the same side for the whole thing--just seals the deal of making him a total prick, and I honestly can't understand why anybody would want to read about that guy anymore.

And it only gets worse from there. The idea that this whole huge "event" has led to Captain America bursting into tears at the sight of a few wrecked buildings--in a city that's been invaded by Atlantis, trashed by Galactus, had literal Roman Catholic Hell break out, and had mile-long profanity carved into it with orbital laser beamsĀ¹--is only slightly less preposterous than the fact that it leads Captain America, one of two characters who stands as the voice of morality in the Marvel Universe, to quit. I honestly don't mean to go all fan-entitlement on anybody, but Sweet Christmas, Captain America doesn't quit. It's what defines him as a character. And for him to quit specifically in a battle that revolves around freedom is... well, it's crazy.

And that's just the high point, which in itself is predicated on the idea that Black Panther--a master tactician in his own right--thinks it's a good idea to teleport the giant super-hero battle into the middle of downtown Manhattan. And it just keeps getting worse, from the pithy, faux-tough dialogue to the phenomenally trite and poorly-written letter from Reed Richards (who, incidentally, apparently forgot that he's got stretching powers that would protect him from being shot, and that his wife can create force fields), to Spider-Man's nonsensical costume change. The parts that are "good" are only good in the way that all recent Mark Millar stories are good: They're exciting. Who doesn't want to see Namor show up and yell his catchphrase, or watch Hercules bash Cyborg Murderclone Thor's head in? Right on, that's stuff we all like. But it's cheap, and it's easy, and unlike The Ultimates--a book that's entirely based around cheap, easy fun--that's not nearly enough to save it here. Instead, all we're left with is a book that's thoroughly, unapologetically awful.

So, uh, anybody want to buy my run?

Conan #37: I honestly don't have much of a review for this one--you know, since it's been an amazingly solid and well-done title for over three years now--but after spilling four solid paragraphs of bile, there are two things that I'd like to point out here:

a) That cover totally looks like this issue's going to be Conan vs. the Goon, which actually isn't what happens, but the thought alone is awesome enough to make it worth picking up, and...

b) I am fascinated by the idea that there are t-shirts in the Hyborian Age.

Hellblazer #229: True Fact: Mike Carey's run on Hellblazer is one of the most underrated runs in recent memory. In fact, when I jumped off the book, it wasn't beacuse I had any particular dislike for what Denise Mina was doing, but rather because Carey's last issue was the perfect ending. Of course, now that Andy Diggle--whose run on Losers was similarly overlooked--is slated to come on next month, I'm interested again, but to be honest, I was way more excited when I noticed Carey was back for this issue's one-shot story, and I wasn't disappointed. In 22 moody, washed-out pages by John Paul Leon, Carey brings everything you want to see from John Constantine, with a fast-paced supernatural mystery that seems inspired by the annoying "trading sequences" of the Legend of Zelda games than anything else, with Constantine staying one step ahead of everyone as usual until he finally gets annoyed enough to shut everything down. It's fantastic stuff, and it's well worth checking out.

Local #8: In this issue of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly's always-excellent mini-series, attractive punk-chic Megan learns that she should totally have crazy sex with slackers in dead-end jobs who spent way too much money on Star Wars toys and don't appear to actually be doing anything with their lives. In light of that, I'd like to take this opportunity to declare Brian Wood The Best Writer Ever.

Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #10: With the fact that last month's installment is unquestionably one of the greatest triumphs of mankind, I've gotten used to the idea that Jeff Parker's scripts for this book are going to be a heck of a lot more entertaining than the regular Avengers titles, but the awesome Cameron Stewart cover for this issue alone just seals it. It's a fantastic read, too, as the Avengers hit the Renaissance Faire to stop Morgan Le Fay from stealing souls through evil magic brought about by World of Warcraft, but let's be honest here: Any comic where Spider-Man blows off going on a mission so that he can level up his Wizard and Tony Stark's college major is revealed to be "making battlesuits" pretty much guarantees a good time.


Punisher War Journal #4: One of these days, the super-villains of the Marvel Universe are going to learn to stop hanging out in bars together.

Until then, however, we'll just have to deal with some pretty fantastic stories, like this one. Matt Fraction's been thoroughly knocking them out of the park with everything he touches lately with books like Casanova and The Immortal Iron Fist, and the Punisher's no exception, with this issue focusing around the highly dysfunctional funeral of Stilt-Man. It's a great read, thanks in large part to the great little touches that Fraction works in, but by the time Spider-Man shows up, it suddenly becomes fantastic. Spidey's encounter with a drunken Princess Python and her insistence on referring to him as "Peter Shhpidermun" is funny enough on its own to warrant his appearance, but the fact that the Eel even stops to remark on how classy it is of Spider-Man to stop by and warn them to be careful out there is a wonderful bit of character that's sorely lacking in a lot of titles. And even better, it makes a great counterpoint to the Punisher himself, who functions solely as death with a grim sense of humor in Fraction's stories.

And that's exactly how it should be.

Spider-Man Family #1: Even for something that costs five bucks, this thing is thick. A full-length black costume-related story by Sean McKeever, a ten-page backup written by Fred Van Lente that features the Black Cat getting tied up by Patsy Walker after a round of good-natured wrestling, two full-sized reprints (including one from Untold Tales of Spider-Man), a handful of Chris Giarrusso strips, and a flat-out crazy manga story, and for a kid who's excited about Spider-Man 3 and wants to read about the character, that's a pretty good way to go about it. Me, I was just excited about getting more Spidey stories from Sean McKeever, but the news that he's signed exclusive to DC seems to have nipped that right in the bud (well, after the third issue anyway). Fortunately, there's still Fred Van Lente--whose involvement escaped me until I saw his name on the cover Wednesday morning--and a wealth of talent like Jeff Parker and Dan Slott that would be perfect on the book.

And while we're on the subject of Fred Van Lente, I just had a thought: I would buy every single issue of this thing if, in place of a couple of the reprinted Giarrusso strips, I could find a two-page story by Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, his Action Philosophers collaborator, where Peter Parker explained true scientific facts. Seriously, that should happen.

The Spirit #3: Three issues in, and I can already tell that this is going to be one of those comics that I never have anything fresh or interesting to say, because it's just going to be that good every month. The origin story of the Spirit in this issue is nothing short of masterful, as Darwyn Cooke nails the distinctive voice of every major character in a compelling, excellent read. It's the art, however, that really steals the show: With the intentionally sketchy linework and amazing, clashing pastels of Dave Stewart's coloring, the flashback sequences are just gorgeous, with Cooke and J. Bone outdoing themselves on every page. Simply put, it's a fantastic book, and it's one that everybody--not just comics fans, but everybody--ought to be reading.

Wasteland #7: A tip of the hat to friend of the ISB Dave Lartigue, who got blurbed on the back cover of this month. Of course, when they quoted me a few months ago, I was promised that they'd keep the riff-raff out, but, well, when a guy's right, he's right, and Lartigue hit it right on the head with his quote. The Post-Apocalyptic Western is a genre that's rarely seen anyone do it well, but the sheer amount of meticulous thought that Antony Johnston's put into every aspect of the world he's writing about is apparent on every issue, and it makes for some fantastic comics. Even better, this issue--which is a stand-alone story for all you fence-sitters out there--features the fantastic artwork of Carla Speed McNeil, which I haven't had a good chance to enjoy since either her arc on Queen & Country or Frank Ironwine, and it's always nice to see a reminder of how good she really is. As much as I've liked Christopher Mitten on this series, McNeil's art is clean and fits this issue perfectly, especially in the way the book literally gets darker as the story moves towards its end. It's great stuff, as always.

And that's the week! As always, comments or questions on my blunt, authoritative reviews--such as why it took me two days to get this thing written and I didn't even bother to review Wonder Woman--are always welcome in the comments section or via email. But we can pretty much assume that it's all Civil War's fault.

That kind of vitriol really takes it out of a guy.

1: Before you ask, according to the latest OHOTMU, Marvel Boy is in continuity.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Slight Delay

I'll be honest with you folks: As much as it might not look like it, I was up until four in the morning drawing "Civil War in 30 Seconds," which has left me in no condition to write comics reviews tonight.

So, in the grand Civil War tradition, I'm delaying the Week in Ink until tomorrow. But just so it's not a total loss, here's a scene from the 30 Second Recap that got cut. Or possibly not drawn until just now:

Tomorrow: Reviews!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Civil War in 30 Seconds

Spoiler Warning: I'm about to save you twenty-five bucks.

(Click any of the following for larger images)

And that's why Spider-Man's wearing his black costume.

(As always with this sort of thing, a tip of the hat to Rich Burlew, whose art style I ripped off entirely. He's much better at it.)

More Of the Same:

| Infinite Crisis in 30 Seconds |
| Civil War #1-3: The Poem |
| The 30 Second Recap Contest |