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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Friday Night Fights: A Monster Unleashed!

Before I get to the violence that has been mandated by decree of Bahlactus, allow me to pose a question to you, gentle reader.

What is the most exciting phrase you can possibly imagine seeing in a comic book?

Take a moment to think about that, because there are certainly a lot of viable options here. "By Bob Haney and Jim Aparo," for instance, almost guarantees twenty-two pages of awesome whenever it shows up, and when Jack Kirby's promising you "a conflict that dwarfs the infinite," it's pretty safe to say that you're in for a good time.

When you get right down to it though, has there ever really been a match for "NAZI FRANKENSTEIN?!"

Yes, rising from the grave to terrorize the pages of Invaders #31, it's this week's FNF contender, the Fascist Flesh Golem as only Mighty Marvel could bring it, courtesy of Don Glut and Chic Stone in a titanic tale they just had to call..

I think that's quite enough alliteration for one night, don't you?

Anyway, there's the merest hint of a story attatched to this thing, but when you're working with an idea like NAZI FRANKENSTEIN, all you really need to know for the story is contained in those two simple words. Suffice to say that the Captain America and Bucky hear about a mysterious Nazi plot centering around a small Bavarian village (complete with its own castle, of course) that the Human Torch and Toro went to investigate and never returned, they decide to check it out.

The castle, of course, is Castle Frankenstein, the site of all the standard old legends, which--as tends to happen with these things--turn out to be one hundred percent true. Result?

Nazi Frankenstein drops a stiff-arm the likes of which have never been seen on Captain America, at the behest of his creator, the wheelchair bound Dr. Basil Frankenstein. Basil is, of course, a Nazi, and has not only furthered his ancestor's research into re-animating corpses, but has also concocted a plan to kill Cap and transplant his own brain into Steve Rogers' body so that he can better love his lady.

No, really.

Needless to say, it doesn't quite pan out for ol' Basil, and the Monster is revealed to be a mere pawn in Basil's evil scheme, a gentle soul that never wanted to obey his master's fascistic commands in the first place, which prompts the Human torch to try to capture him without actually hurting him.

And then Namor shows up and punches the living crap out of him anyway, because hey: Nazi Frankenstein.

And that is just how the Avenging Son rolls. Booyakasha!

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Week In Ink: 3-28-07

Aw, come on, is it really Thursday night already? I mean, I seriously just did this. Ah well, that's what I get for taking last week off.

Anyway, if there's one thing I've learned in seventeen months of doing this every week, it is this:

Sometimes, Batman kicks the living crap out of people. And really, isn't that exactly the sort of thing that brings us here tonight for the Internet's Snappiest Comics Reviews? I'd like to think so.

So for those of you keeping score at home, here's what came home with me this week...

...And here's what I thought about it!


Batman #664: As much as I actually ended up enjoying the last issue when it was all said and done, I've got to say that it's nice to get a Grant Morrison Batman story that's an actual comic, and not a well-written, poorly illustrated novella. Of course, that's not to say that this issue's completely without its problems, either. As you can probably tell from the image that leads off tonight's post and the fact that there's a sequence devoted to Batman kicking faces and intimidating the heck out of what appears to be the DC Universe version of Farnsworth Bentley, there's a heck of a lot to like about this one. Still, as much as I enjoy seeing smooth-as-silk Bruce Wayne hitting the slopes, charming the ladies and Batmanning it up a little bit, the whole opening sequence feels more than a little tacked on and extraneous here. It could just be the lack of context, but it feels like a framing sequence that never gets around to ending, and while that could certainly be fixed in the next issue, it sticks out like a sore thumb in this one.

Of course, when you get right down to it, it's all worth it just to see Batman handing out Bruce Wayne's business card to the wayward youth of Gotham City and telling them to go get an honest job. I'm a sucker for that stuff.

Catwoman #65: I noticed this week that Catwoman isn't selling nearly as well as it should be, and with an issue like this one--which contains killer robots, explosions, time travel, and a heroine who smack-talks the cornerstone of the DC Universe just because she isn't in any mood to deal with him at the moment--I am utterly mystified as to why. I've been meaning to go back and pick up the issues before the jump for a while now, but ever since I hopped back on for "One Year Later," Will Pfeifer and David Lopez have done nothing but tell some phenomenally entertaining stories, and if you've missed them, check out the trade. You won't be disappointed.

Fables #59: I've mentioned it a few times here on the ISB, but it bears repeating that Superman Adventures #41 is easily one of my single favorite comic books of all time. If you haven't read it, Mark Millar closes out his incredible run with an issue called "22 Stories in a Single Bound," wherein there's a full story from beginning to end on every page, with everything from a week in the life of Lois Lane to Mr. Mxyzptlk versus Batman.

So what, you might well be asking yourself, does this have to do with Fables? Well, in this issue, Bill Willingham takes a break from the regular trials and tribulations of everyone's favorite myths and legends to pull a similar gimmick with vignettes that answer questions sent in by readers. There isn't one on every page, but he does manage to cram in eleven quick stories--each by a different artist, ranging from Street Angel's Jim Rugg to Barry Kitson--and while the events discussed are largely inconsequential to the overall plot, they're a heck of a lot of fun to read through. It's another great issue, and it'd be worth it at twice the price just for the scene with the new Three Little Pigs. Excellent stuff.

Fantastic Four #544: Ever since he came on to wrap up the events of Civil War, it's been pretty obvious that Dwayne McDuffie's been having a lot of fun with the title. I'm pretty sure that feeling has a lot to do with the fact that he's done everything short of addressing the reader by name in the stories, whether it's his quick, sensible fix for J. Michael Straczynski's laughable "HUAC Was Right!" portrayal of Reed Richards, or the Thing throwing his two cents into the debate over whether Reed's been acting out of character for the past year. With this one, though, how can you not have a good laugh with him at the idea of Johnny and Ben putting on new black costumes so that everybody'll match at the same time that Spider-Man's running around in his black costume for no apparent reason? It's a hoot.

As for the story itself, McDuffie's picking up where he left off with last year's incredible (and thoroughly underrated) Beyond! with a story that manages to go from Gravity's descrated grave to the Blue Area of the Moon to the outer reaches of space in the span of ten pages, and that's the sort of pacing I can get behind.

Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #34: And just in case you're still wondering why I like Dwayne McDuffie so much, well, there's this issue, which features Firestorm and Mr. Miracle slugging it out with the Female Furies while Orion takes on Stompa--whose super-power is essentially that she can kick you in the face until you die--in a battle of who can hit the other person with more cars.

Man that is awesome.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #43: Jim Balent may actually be the most likeable creator in comics, but more on that in a second; we really ought to at least attempt a plot summary here. In this standalone epic, Tarot shows up at somebody's house for a meeting, only to find herself mysteriously alone. Of course, Tarot being Tarot, she immediately takes off her clothes and gets sucked through a swirling green vortex into a world inhabited by the spirits of dreams people have given up on, which is represented here by a knife-weilding ballerina with her vagina sewn up with pink ribbon.

Yes, really. No, I don't know either.

Anyway, and I swear this is all true, Tarot eventually fights her way through a crowd of demons (which are also naked women) and an evil scarecrow (which is also a naked woman) before finding a doorway in a tree (which is also a naked woman), popping back into our dimension in the living room of... a naked woman. This last one's fat, though--or as Balent seems to prefer saying, fluffy--and is upset because she's never going to be as hot as Tarot, but Tarot reminds her that blah blah blah be true to yourself blah blah we're all beautiful blah blah diff'rent strokes to move the world. Which, really, is pretty easy to say when you're Tarot, but it's the closest thing to a moral of the story you're going to find, so I'll take what I can get.

The real gem, though, comes from the always-amazing letters page, where a Yaoi fan writes in to ask if the Talent would ever drop some man-on-man action into the pages of Tarot, which prompts him to claim--in what appears to be total innocence--that Tarot's not just a porn fantasy for straight men. Why, he's got girls making out with each other and having threesomes all the time! Tell me that's not worth $2.99 every two months, and I'll call you a liar, pal.

Texas Strangers #1: With a new all-ages series, Antony Johnston, Dan Evans III, and Mario Boon seem to be taking the same path that Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco used for Arrowsmith, slapping the traditional magic-and-monsters aspects of the fantasy genre and applying them to another setting. In Arrowsmith it was World War I, but here, it's the Wild West, and while that's an idea with a heck of a lot of potential, this one honestly doesn't stand out as Johnston's best work.

Of course, that's a bar that's been set pretty high with stuff like Wasteland and The Long Haul (both Johnston's takes on the Western genre), and to be fair, the second half of the story runs a lot smoother than the first, but there just seems to be something missing. Fortunately for Johnston, Evans, and Boon, though, there's enough good stuff here that I'm willing to give the series the benefit of the doubt when it comes to first-issue awkwardness, and stick around to see if it keeps picking up next month, too.


Usagi Yojimbo #101: This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but when it's all said and done, I have no doube that Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo is going to go down as one of the greatest epics in comic book history.

I've got a few of the trade paperbacks and the Art of Usagi Yojimbo book, but this is the first single issue with actual story that I've ever bought, and I honestly don't think I could've picked a better time to jump on. Done with Sakai's consummate skill in everything from the clean linework to the distinctive lettering, it revolves around a dream Usagi has after being poisoned by ninjas--evil ninjas, naturally--where he's been taken over by the spirit of Jei, a seemingly indestructable madman who believes he's been sent on a mission from the gods to rid the world of sinners.

Considering that the last time I saw Jei, he and Usagi were having a throwdown that pretty much defined the term "battle to the death" over the fate of the Grasscutter, that was a pretty exciting thing to see here, but even without any prior knowledge, I can't imagine not enjoying this story. Sakai's a master at visual shorthand, and with the way the evil Usagi in the dream mows down his opponents while gleefully speaking to them in word balloons decorated with skulls, you'll get everything you need to know without the story slowing down a bit. It's an absolutely fantastic comic, and I'm kicking myself for waiting this long to jump on. Excellent, excellent stuff.

Wonder Woman #6: I'll be honest with you: I'm always a little bit wary when writers from other fields make the move over to comics. After all, for every Paul Dini or Greg Rucka there's a Brad Meltzer or a Ron Zimmerman just waiting in the wings, and if her first issue's any indication of how the rest of her run's going to go, I think it's pretty safe to throw Jodi Picoult right into Group 2. Granted, it's not the worst comic I've read all week, but, well, Tarot came out, and it was still a pretty heavy contender.

Why? Simply put, it's a mess. Picoult's Wonder Woman comes off as both petulant and inept, and Nemesis--who once stared down Amanda Waller in the pages of Suicide Squad--has been relegated to the status of a whiny, bumbling idiot sidekick. None of these are the qualities that I'd really care to see in my comics, but when it's coming as part of a well-publicized push to get Wonder Woman back on track as one of the iconic figures of the DC Universe, not to mention the iconic model of the strong heroine, it's pretty ridiculous. Even Drew Johnson appears to be delivering his pencils entirely via phone, and I know that guy can draw Wonder Woman, because I've got the issues he worked on two years ago during Rucka's run. At the very least, it's a disappointment after the promise that Alan Heinberg showed with the initial relaunch (which has since vanished into the ether under the pressure of a rigorous quarterly deadline schedule) and Mark Andreyko's excellent portrayal of the character in Manhunter, and I honestly can't see it improving from here.

So you know what that means.

Yeah, I have no idea what that picture's about, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, that's all for the reviews this week. As always, if you have any questions about something I didn't mention, or if you just want to mention that Blue Beetle's turned out to be a surprisingly solid read every month, feel free to leave a comment.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to head out to the DMV... and renew my License to Ill.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Annotated Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #5

Despite the recent delays in the posting schedule here on the ISB, time and tide wait for no man, especially where the wonderfully atrocious adventures of everyone's third-favorite Vampire Hunter are concerned.

And that's why our crack research department leapt into action with last week's release of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #5, even going so far as to look up one (1) thing on Wikipedia--the human race's greatest repository of pro wrestling holds and anime-based knowledge--in an effort to explain just what the heck is supposed to be going on in this thing.

It's an exhausting process, I assure you, but it must be done. Grab a copy of your own and follow along!

1.1: This issue opens up directly after the events of #4, with the story pausing only long enough for Anita to grab a shower, which apparently has the effect of washing every last bit of pigmentation out of her skin. Except, of course, for her scars, which tend to look like oddly-placed grape juice rorschach tests.

1.5: Anita's weapon of choice for this issue is the compact "Firestar 9mm." Unfortunately, this particular handgun was never covered in my definitive firearm reference, Punisher Armory, and so no further information is available.

1.6: Oh what is this?

Yes, in an effort to blend in while still packing heat, Anita apparently decides that it's a good idea to walk around in public sporting a white nightshirt, black bike shorts, and a pair of Nikes with Flashdance-esque rolled down socks. The fact that she's willing to risk direct sunlight on so much of her clown-white skin could be further indication of her developing super-powers.

2.5: Is this Anita's boss Bert Vaughn (described in previous panels as "a scalawag") or Crack Stuntman, the voice of Gunhaver on TV's Cheat Commandos?



That's what she said.

5.6: In a scene that kicks off here and runs for the next three pages, Anita--whose head appears to be in imminent danger of being devoured wholesale by her own Slashlike hair--tries to talk some albino gothtard's equally pallid, elfin mother out of letting him join the ranks of the Living Dead. At first, this might seem like she's worrying way too much about this guy, but once you realize that she's doing her level best to keep the world from having to deal with some whiny, immortal emo kid, you start to realize that Anita might not be that bad after all.

9.4: Hey everybody, it's Phillip!

For those of you whose long-term memories were irrepairably damaged by the sight of the Wererat King and his Daisy Dukes, Phillip's a male stripper and vampire fetishist from way back in #1. He's slightly less manly than the Oxygen television network, and--like every other supporting character in the book thus far--will be playing the role of Anita's codependent sidekick for the duration of his appearance.

10.5 - 10.7: For a more enjoyable experience, you can replace Phillip's dialogue here with pretty much any line from Top Gun.

Seriously, here's the original (click for more legible images):

And now, improved:

And again:

...and one more time, because I could seriously do this all night:

11.2: In the midst of her customary facial spasms, Anita spends a lot of time over the next few pages worrying about whether or not she's hurt Phillip's feelings, then deciding that she doesn't care, then worrying some more, and then deciding that she does care, and then buying him lunch. Her constant struggles with indecision would echo Hamlet's if Hamlet was, y'know, really, really shitty.

15.2: At last, Anita throws in some kung fu! And while I can't find a bit of fault with her technique, one is left wondering why her opponent--who has the thighs of a praying mantis--doesn't just leap to the safety of a nearby rooftop.

16.5: According to Anita, a "Freak" is "someone who likes vampires." I point this out only so that everyone knows that I'm not making a joke at the expense of Laurell K. Hamilton's readership here.

22.4: Although it's not made clear by anything other than the fact that Anita's wearing a different shirt with slightly different--and yet, no less annoying--penguin cartoons on it, this panel is actually the beginning of a flashback sequence that closes out this issue.





Man. That one cracks me up every time.

More Exhaustively Researched Annotations of Anita Blake:

| Matchup #1: Anita Blake vs. Dracula |
| Matchup #2: Anita Blake vs. Batman |
| The Annotated Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #3 |
| The Annotated Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #4 |

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Marshall Rogers: One Of The Good Ones

A few weeks ago when Arnold Drake died, I mentioned that I'm often uncomfortable eulogizing comics creators, even the ones whose work means something to me beyond just my standard affection. To be honest, it's not something that I think really plays to my strengths, but when I heard yesterday that Marshall Rogers had died, I felt like I had something to say about it.

Longtime ISB readers may be familiar with the fact that Batman is my favorite character, and even sitting here years after the first time I read it as a set of Baxter paper reprints, Marshall Rogers' run with Steve Englehart still ranks as one of my all-time favorite portrayals of the character.

That one image alone ought to explain why I like his art so much, and with any other artist, Batman leaping forward with every good intention of beating the living hell out of some hapless thug would be enough. With Rogers, though, it goes beyond that. He's not just a good draftsman or a great penciller; he was a great comics artist and a true master of the sequential format of the page.

I could go on all night about the sound effects alone. They're one of the truly unique aspects of comics, and the way Rogers worked them into the art--whether it's the screech of a car peeling out written out along its tire tracks or the way his characters dodge around the sounds of their own punches in a fight--just makes for an amazing visual.

And his page layouts work along the same lines:

Reading through these issues when I was a teenager blew my mind, and made me realize how much you could actually cram onto the page. The middle section of the image above could've been a page all on its own with the amount of tension that builds from the panels, each one a heartbeat racing faster as Batman has to decide whether beating on a criminal's going to really make him feel better about breaking up with Silver St. Cloud.

It probably would, which is what's so cool about the way Batman nonchalantly drops the guy, insults him, and then cruises out like a cool breeze, but really: once you've already wailed on a guy for third of a page...

...there's only so much stress you can relieve.

And then there's the Joker.

Brandon over at Random Panels already posted that panel, but it's always worth another look, because it's hands-down one of the best single images of the Joker ever printed: Lanky and sinister, wrapped in his own evil laughter as he strolls in, literally dropping his calling card as he casually holds a city for ransom with menace in his eyes and a smile on his face.

According to an interview I once read in Back Issue, Rogers believed that the Joker was actually physically incapable of not smiling, and as much as I like the way he's drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, or even the wildly exaggerated emotions that give him so much character with Bruce Timm's designs, I agree with his line of thinking. It's adds such a great element of tragedy to him and his motivations if he's a guy that can see the worst the world has to offer and literally have no choice but to laugh at it.

Even so, I can't help but imagine that if there was one thing that could wrench his permanent smile back into something a little sadder, it'd be the thought of a world without Marshall Rogers.

BONUS FEATURE: One More Awesome Page...

That image of the Joker ranting about infecting cattle with poison, then helpfully turning the page has got to be one of my favorite things in comics. If you've managed to get this far without ever reading Englehart, Rogers, Wein, and Simonson's Strange Apparitions, then you really, really ought to.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tonight, On Biography...

...a look at the Invincible Super-Blog's Chris Sims, Age Nine:

Who could've predicted the effects that a copy of Punisher Armory #3 could've had on the young man who would become the Comics Internet's Most Beloved Loudmouth?

(Note: Despite the fact that I do a pretty passable Peter Graves, that's actually not from an upcoming A&E special about my life and the development of my abject love for the Punisher. It is, rather, from Adam Warren's fan-tastic Empowered, which I would probably post something from every day if I didn't think somebody out there would eventually get tired of it.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Art of the Shill

Actual Content resumes below this post, but in my tireless efforts of self-promotion, I wanted to let everyone know that while I was off for the past few days, I decided to finally sit down and figure out how this whole eBay thing works.

So, if you find yourself wanting to by comics that come from My Actual Collection, look no further! Here's what I've got up there right now:

Civil War #1-7!
You've seen the recap, now get the actual comics!

The Walking Dead #1-29
Robert Kirkman! Zombies! The Kids Love It!

Red Sonja #1-12, Plus Bonus Issues!
Because everyone likes hot women in metal bikinis with swords, right? Right?!

And along those same lines...

D&D Miniatures: Drizzt, Drow Ranger!
Oh Drizzt! With your lavender eyes, twin scimitars, and magical panther, how could you not steal our hearts?

Feel free to click on the above links to see my overly-verbose product listings, but just so this isn't an entire waste of a blog post, there's one more thing I'd like to mention.

If you happen to win the eBay auctions for any of my stuff and mention to me that you're an ISB reader before I get up enough motivation to actually ship everything, then I'll include--at no extra charge--an official ISB Certificate of Awesometicity verifying your comics as part of my actual, totally radical collection. Here's the one I made for the Walking Dead:

It's on a high-quality 3x5 index card, and depending on how low your standards are, may very well be suitable for framing. Doesn't it just make you want to get out there and support capitalism?

Okay, that's all for the shilling. There's a real post under this one, I promise.

The Week In Ink: 3-21-07

And we're back.

Yes, my mother's back home and doing very well, so much to the consternation of Princess Zelda (who still hasn't managed to free herself from the evil clutches of the Twilight King), the daily update schedule of the ISB can finally resume. But I'm going to warn you, it's not going to be the same blog you might be used to, because in the four days since her heart attack, I've learned a few things.

1. With over a hundred comments offering sympathy and wishing her a speedy recovery, I've come to the realization that my mom has a HUGE fanbase. Seriously, she could be the most marketable property since Solomon Stone, and I've just been sitting on a goldmine. In the future, ISB readers'll thrill to Mantlo Mondays with Mom, featuring a 56 year-old school-teacher's thoughts on Marvel Two-In-One.

2. In times of crisis and personal trials, I've learned that there is a power greater than myself that I turn to invariably for support when things look darkest.

That power?

The power of a good solid kick to the face.

Okay, so maybe it is going to be the same blog you're used to. And what better way to get back into the groove than with a return to the internet's most mind-bending comics reviews for last week's books? Here's the list:

And now, here's what my stress-addled mind managed to process last Wednesday!

52: Week 46: on last week's Shopping List, I mentioned that I'd start caring about 52 again when the Mad Scientists came back, and that is exactly what happened in this one. It's easily the best issue in months as Black Adam takes on the crew from Oolong Island, and considering that it involves pages and pages of scenes like Adam being swarmed by Insectrons, Will Magnus fending off the advances of a topless end-of-the-world fetishist, and T.O. Morrow blithely remind us all that he used to fight the entire JLA by himself, it's pretty easy to see why.

Of course, it's not flawless: The inherent problem of a weekly series that moves in "real time" has reared its ugly head in the sequence where Lex Luthor's finally brought in by the cops in a scene that would seem a lot more compelling if it hadn't taken the cops six weeks to get over there and arrest him. And of course, there's the fact that the Secret Origin of Batman included neither uppercuts and shirtless makeouts nor battery throwing, and I think I'm safe in saying that those are pretty essential elements of his character.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter #5: You know, I did a lot of thinking in the few days I took off from the blog here, and, well, I'm not saying there's a connection between my mom's heart attack and the fact that I was thoroughly bashing a piece of lady-centric vampire-heavy fan-fiction, but it's the kind of thing that makes me think about whether I should be devoting so much of my time to tearing down the work of others.

And then I read this thing and remembered how beautifully horrible it is. Expect Annotations for this issue--which features Anita dressed like a mentally-challenged 3rd-grader for about twenty pages--later this week.

The Brave and the Bold #2: There's been a lot of discussion over this issue--what with the fact that a good portion of the banter revolves largely around Supergirl's crush on Hal "Blondes! My One Weakness!" Jordan and his constant thought-balloon reminders that she's Super-Jailbait--but I thought it was a hoot. Mark Waid's proven that he's pretty much the only person able to write Kara Zor-El so that she's likable and entertaining, and far from the angst-fueled tarting around she's been doing in her own title, Supergirl's flirting comes off as a lot more earnest and in tune with Waid's Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes version. As for Hal, the whole thing where he repeats her age like a mantra seems played more for tongue-in-cheek laughs than as him actually struggling to show restraint, and as a character who really does have an established weakness for flirty blondes, it makes for a good gag--especially once his "total honesty" comes into play.

Of course, when Supergirl shows up with her hair in pigtails in a fluffy-skirted Lolita costume, it gets totally over the top, but again, I'm way more inclined to view that as a parody of her constant oversexualization in Joe Kelly and Jeph Loeb's scripts than an actual continuation, and while it could be a textbook example of a biased reader giving Mark Waid and George Perez the benefit of the doubt when Joe Kelly and Ian Churchill get nothing but carefully measured-out scorn, it just feels more like a fun, goofy lark in this one. Plus, it's got the first appearance in years of the mind-blowingly awesome Planetary Chance Machine and a cover that was pretty much designed to thrill Ragnell, so there's something for everyone. It's great.

Conan #38: In this issue, Tim Truman and Cary Nord have pretty much captured everything that I want from my two-fisted loincloth-wearing barbarian adventure stories. Let's face it, people get killed every month in Conan, but man, this time around, there are some dudes who get KILLED. It's brutality at its finest, but like it has been for the past three years, it's amazingly well-done, with great character moments for Nestor the Gunderman right up to the point where he meets his inevitable end. Admittedly, I'm probably more of a sucker for a revenge story than the average reader, but if you can read a scene where Conan chops off a dude's head and then brings him back to life so that he can kill him again without getting crazy pumped, then you're probably reading the wrong blog, Buster.

Hellblazer #230: I've mentioned more than once that I consider Mike Carey's last issue of Hellblazer (#215, for those of you keeping track of my reading habits at home) to be the absolutely perfect last issue for the character, and that after reading it, I was fully prepared to put John Constantine on the shelf for the rest of my comics reading career, secure in the knowledge that I could consider his stories to be over and done with. Of course, that was before the announcement that Andy Diggle was coming on, and while I may not be a fan of his current work on the thoroughly unnecessary Batman Confidential, he's the kind of writer that I'll give anything he does a fair chance thanks to books like The Losers and--not coincidentally--Lady Constantine.

As for this one, well, John's in a heap of trouble because of some ne'er-do-well at the beginning, but by the time twenty-two pages have gone by, you realize that he's been four steps ahead of the villains and the reader all this way, and somebody meets the horrible fate that they so desperately deserve. It's as typical a Hellblazer story as you're likely to find, but like Mike Carey's one-issue fill-in last month, that's not a bad thing. It's a formula that showcases everything you like about the character, and considering that it's being billed as "To Be Concluded" next issue, it has the potential to work as a great foundation for events to come. When it comes right down to it, there are a lot of worse ways to kick off a run than this one, and it makes for a highly enjoyable done-in-one story for new readers to try out, so if you haven't, consider it recommended.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #11: Last week, Jeff Parker stopped by the ISB with some well-wishing for my mom, and with that, he's pretty much earned my loyalty as a reader for the duration of his comics-writing career. Not that he was ever in danger of losing it, as evidenced by the fact that this issue includes a well-run and efficient cult, Spider-Man working a crowd and lamenting the fact that nobody remembers that he's really smart, a sixty-foot woman wrestling a giant snake (no, literally), and best of all, a four-page throwdown with IT! THE LIVING COLLOSSUS!, and that guy's not even the villain of the story! It's another great issue that really lives up to the promise of an all-ages book with fun action and a few genuinely hilarious moments from Parker and Santacruz, showing that even with two ongoing Avengers titles in the "regular" Marvel Universe (and a third one on the way), this is unquestionably the best.

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #16: This issue marks the first for new penciller David Hahn, and while he wouldn't have been my first choice to replace Takeshi Miyazawa (which would be, of course, Colleen Coover), he acquits himself pretty well here. That might sound like damning him with faint praise, but as big a fan as I am of Miyazawa and as attached as I've grown to his work on my favorite teenage super-hero romance title, I wasn't expecting to like him at all. Stylistically, he's a departure from Miyazawa's clean, sharply-drawn figures, he doesn't quite nail Spider-Man's motion as well, and his figures are a little inconsistent, but there are certain panels--like Firestar shyly kicking up a cloud of dust on a rooftop or Spidey's embarrassed reaction to her microwavey hug--that are just perfect for the story. The rest of the team, of course, performs excellently, from McKeever's standard top-notch story to Christina Strain's beautiful coloring, although I do feel I should point out that it's another month gone by and they still haven't printed my letter. It's tragic.


The Spirit #4: Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit is rapidly becoming one of those books that I know I'm going to have trouble talking about every time it comes out, because there's only so many ways to say it's awesome. Each issue so far has been amazingly well-written with fast-paced single-issue stories that are just beautiful to look at, thanks to Cooke, J. Bone, and colorist Dave Stewart, and each one seems better than the last. Even the Will Eisner-style splash pages are amazing every month, with this one standing out in my mind as one of the best examples of the trick I've ever seen.

But there's something beyond those elements that struck me with this one. At the risk of spoiling it, it's a moment that comes from the final panels of this issue, where Silk Satin quite literally claws her way back from the brink of death and talks about being tough enough to live and fight another day, and while it was certainly unique to the situation I was in when I read it, it was the perfect moment for me to see last week. It's a reminder of how good comics--and how good stories in any medium, really--can touch people in ways that even the creators might not expect, and if that's not worth being the Best of the Week, then I don't know what is.

If you're not reading it, you should be.

Wisdom #4: I don't think I've mentioned it on the ISB before, but I've been following Paul Cornell's Pete Wisdom story off and on ever since it got started, and for some reason, it's never clicked with me. It's weird, because I can't really put my finger on what I don't like about it. The plots, for example, sound awesome, and there's really no way that I'm going to miss out on a story where Kitty Pryde's old boyfriend fights an army of alternate-universe Jack-the-Rippers, just like there was no way that I was going to skip last month's story where he teams up with Shang Chi to slug it out with the last dragon in England, but it's just missing something for me.

It could be the fact that it's a MAX book, and the tradeoff of a $3.99 cover price so that I can see Pete drop the occasional F-Bomb doesn't quite seem square or the fact that John the Skrull often seems like an idea that's a little too clever for its own good, but I really don't know. What I do know, however, is that this particular issue, with references to Edgar Allen Poe and Alan Moore thrown around and a great little set of action sequences and Lovecraftian psychic warfare, is the best one yet for the series, and gives me hope that within the next few months, it's finally going to hit its stride and make it all worth it. Check it out, maybe it's just me.


Empowered: I will literally buy anything Adam Warren would like to put out. Seriously. It can be a story where Iron Man's armor gains sentience and listens to hair metal or an Elseworlds one-shot where a computer program emulating Batman takes over a kid's body and proceeds to kick people in the face with other people's feet, I will buy it, no questions asked. Heck, at this point, I'd sign up for a thirty-six volume Adam Warren Illustrates The Phone Book series as soon as it showed up in Previews.

Of course, Adam Warren's Phone Book would probably still involve sexy girls and explosion-prone robots made of nanotechnology, so there's a pretty good reason why I'd do that. I say this only so that you all know where I'm coming from when I say that Empowered is probably the most purely entertaining graphic novel I've read all year.

The whole thing's essentially Warren's 248-page treatise on bondage fetishism starring a heroine who is more prone to being captured and tied up than any character in comic book history. That's right, Golden Age Wonder Woman: You may finally lay down your burden. It starts off with Warren's customary zippiness, with Empowered--the character's name, an irony which she herself is well acquainted with--with short, slam-bang-punchline stories that clock in at a quick four or five pages before moving on to the next bit, and there's a lot for Warren's fans to enjoy here. It feels like it has its roots in his work on Gen13 and the elements he played around with there, like Fairchild's propensity for having her costume shredded and Freefall's body issues, but by the time you hit the "real-life" origin of the character, you'll realize that there's a lot more here than just leftover plotlines where hot girls get tied up in varying states of undress.

Not that there's not a lot of that, too, because brother, there's a lot of hot girls getting tied up in varying states of undress here. I mean, really, it's pretty much the most "Mature Readers" thing he's done since he dropped the cover to Milk #2, but just like his work with the Dirty Pair, it's the kind of story that--even amidst wildly over-the-top sex scenes, explosions, and ninjas--manages to transcend itself and find a solid heart to it.

Plus there's a character called Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, and that is pure genius. So yeah: I freakin' love this thing, and if you somehow managed to miss out, then get on it, doggone it..

Showcase Presents: Hawkman v.1: I hate Hawkman, and I really don't know why. I mean really, if you go by the formula of the things I tend to flip out over, than a bare-chested spaceman flying around smacking the shit out of winged gorillas with medieval weaponry should, by all rights, be exactly what I want to read.

And yet, it doesn't. He's Hawkman, and the one thing he does--you know, the flying--is something that everybody can do. But I'm getting all the Showcases, so I ordered this one, thinking I'd put it on the shelf and get around to leafing thorugh it whenever Silver Age Aquaman stories stopped being funny enough to post about here on the ISB.

And then Kevin goes and posts a panel where Hawkman talks about how Thanagarian science never got around to inventing the sandwich, and I'm forced to re-examine all of my paradigms.

And that's the reviews! As always, any questions on something I read or didn't read, or questions for my mother's upcoming advice column can be left in the comments section below. Feel free to drop a line!