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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.


Blogger Madeley said...

I just want to mention that Blue Beetle's turned out to be a surprisingly solid read every month.

3/30/2007 6:15 AM

Blogger LurkerWithout said...

1st off you should be buying ps238. Why do you hate super-heroes so that you don't buy the best book in the genre?

2nd, if you're looking for magic + Western, you may want to check out Richard Moore's Far West...

3/30/2007 6:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Sims, I bet you've been waiting ages for one of your regular purchases to get really bad so you can stop buying it and use that Beastie Boys image.

And I'm glad you did!

3/30/2007 6:57 AM

Blogger Flidget Jerome said...

I too would like to mention that Blue Beetle's turned out to be a surprisingly solid read every month.

That and I recently realised that while scans_daily is responsible for most of the new mainstream titles I pick up, you're firmly to blame for most of the new independants I'm now reading. This is not a compliment, Mr. Sims, you're costing me a lot of money.

3/30/2007 7:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three McDuffie stories (his 'Action' fill-in being the third) in the same week! When's the last time that happened? And who do I have to bake cookies for to ensure that it happens again?

3/30/2007 7:51 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God someone agrees with me on Mike Turner. I couldn't understand the appeal of hard, angular women, and dudes who all look like the same guy.

Thank you, Professor Sims.

Thank you.

3/30/2007 10:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your knees'll start shaking and your fingers pop
Like a pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock...

3/30/2007 11:17 AM

Blogger Edward Liu said...

"I honestly don't thin I could've picked a better time to jump on (Usagi Yojimbo).

I like to tell people that I jumped onto Usagi Yojimbo by picking up TPB #18 (at the time). After finally getting and reading them all, I think there's exactly 1 TPB in the 20 or so that isn't a good jumping on point (Grasscutter II) and that's only because it's really a sequel to something else.

UY is the poster child for the belief that continuity doesn't make bad comics. Bad continuity makes bad comics.

3/30/2007 11:53 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Beastie Boys pic is hilarious.

3/30/2007 12:23 PM

Blogger Ferrous Buller said...

Re: Usagi - welcome to the fold, sir.

And I concur with lurker: check out Far West.

3/30/2007 12:29 PM

Blogger Alex said...

I think you're giving Tarot the short shrift here. You're obviously ignoring the underlying themes. According to Wikipedia:

"Through the stories told, Balent is also conveying a deeper insight into the often misunderstood Wiccan theology. Within the fictional prose, ideas of tolerance and acceptance are put forth. This is backed by interviews of real witches at the end of each book. The message speaks about much of the trouble of this world, the intolerance that leads to violence, what people can do using theology as their excuse, and the dangers of these narrow-minded beliefs that bring chaos and suffering to the world. Much the way Tarot speaks, the comic does not try to convert people to witchcraft or 'unholy, satanic transpirations', but merely wishes to give an honest view of wiccan theology."

3/30/2007 1:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100% on the Batman issue. I love it when we see Bruce do something to fight crime in a way that doesn't involve kicking people in the head, much as I do love him kicking people in the head.

As for Wonder Woman - can we please retire the cliche that a person is out of touch simply because they don't know how to order a coffee by the exacting standards of the Starbucks corporation or indeed because they like black coffee?

3/30/2007 1:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everytime I find myself in a Starbucks I say "small coffee to go," and they just give it to me. No sass mouth, no "we don't have 'small' coffees; we only serve 'tall's."

I'm not gonna play their little game, and neither is Wonder Woman.

Anyway, that book woulda been an okay Year One, but it's Year Friggin' Eleven now, people.

3/30/2007 3:25 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You like McDuffie so why ain't you review Action Comics (also a solid read by the way)?

3/30/2007 3:28 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Alex: I went back and checked, and I'm pretty sure that mentioning naked women four times in three paragraphs pretty much nails the underlying themes of Tarot pretty accurately.

Anonymous: Well I can't read everything. I dropped the hammer on Action a few months ago, and while I saw that McDuffie wrote this month's fill-in, I haven't had a chance yet to pick it up and give it a read.

3/30/2007 3:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blue Beetle is DC's Ultimate Spider-Man and they're just too stupid to realize it...

And is it Jodi Picoult's fault that she was invited to do the book with almost zero previous knowledge of the character? Blame the editor for not bringing her up to speed better or correcting inaccuracies before they made it to print. Hell, blame the guy for Circe being the villain AGAIN!

And BTW, I wouldn't know how to order a Starbucks coffee if you put a gun to my head and insist I try. Never been in one of those places. Anyway, does that mean I can fightcrime in a patriotic themed costume too? Just wondering...

3/30/2007 4:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an ass kicking, samurai bunny!?!

Can someone tell me more?

No words on WW. I'm content to believe her story stopped after Rucka's run.

3/30/2007 6:07 PM

Blogger Nate said...

YEAH! ditto on the PS238. So glad I started reading those.

Order the TPB's straight from Aaron and they come autographed. Thats cool!

3/30/2007 8:12 PM

Blogger Jeff said...

I believe that is we were to take the cover of this month's Tarot, combine it with next month's Anita Blake, and get it on the shelves of say, Wal-Mart, the Comics Code will be reinstated in all of about five minutes.

3/30/2007 10:42 PM

Blogger LurkerWithout said...

There is an ass kicking, samurai bunny!?!

Can someone tell me more?

Stan Sakai does a comic set in a mystical feudal Japan. Using anthromorphic animals. Which is full of sword fighting, ninjas, demons and stuff of pure awesome. The nice thing is its pretty easy to jump in at any point with any of the trades. Except for maybe Grasscutter II. Plus of course Sakai's art is frickin' gorgeous...

3/30/2007 11:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should mention: Blue Beetle's turned out to be a surprisingly solid read every month.

For example, the latest issue features our young hero teaming up with a badass commando to fight a mob of armored blue zombies. Next issue he'll apparently hit a bar with Guy Gardner, or so the cover would have us believe.

The whole series is filled with awesomeness like that. A few issues back we saw our young hero asking his parent's permission to go fight a monster, a scene I cannot do justice.

3/30/2007 11:29 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God someone agrees with me on Mike Turner. I couldn't understand the appeal of hard, angular women, and dudes who all look like the same guy.

I believe it's in this month's Previews where I saw Turner draw Power Girl for the first time. Most of the time, he seems to try and draw women with a 'swimmer's physqiue,' influence I guess from the not-very-good Fathom. He tried to add... more to Kara. It was a horrible, lumpy creature with the same face as Black Canary next to her.

Our numbers in the He-Man Turner Haters CLub are small, but I like to think growing.

3/30/2007 11:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Our numbers in the He-Man Turner Haters CLub are small, but I like to think growing."

We should get shirts.

3/31/2007 1:48 AM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Willow: Ditto what everyone else has said about Usagi Yojimbo. I actually just started reading it in trade last year, but I can give my absolute highest recommendation to jumping on the first one and going from there.

See, I even provide links to purchasing opportunities!

3/31/2007 2:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, I think the amount of people who dislike Turner's artwork is probably totally huge, but the work is just so awful that to even make a point of saying it sucks would be to aknowledge its existence, which is a psychological toll many are unwilling to pay.

I respect the fact he learned very quickly how to draw , he is a better artist than me, and I don't want to be one of those 'internet fanboys' that complains about everything, but man, his art typifies everything I hate about 'mainstream' comics. Ugh.

3/31/2007 11:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't agree with you more about the Catwoman title...I think that it is the best that is being printed right now.

3/31/2007 11:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that issue of Wonder Woman in the store, and was horrified. I kept waiting for someone to accuse her of being outdated because she didn't know what MySpace was.

Anyway, I put Wondy back on the shelf. I bought Tarot instead, and was alternately amused and horrified, which was better.

4/02/2007 9:12 PM


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