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Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Week In Ink: 4-25-07

Hello again, folks, and welcome to what may well be the last post you read on this blog.

Originally, my plan was to just go ahead and leave my introduction at that, but at the risk of scaring away what little readership I've managed to build over the past couple of years--or get anyone concerned about my whereabouts--I'll explain a little: After tonight's post, I'm taking a few days off to recharge, and while the ISB as you know it may never return, I'll be back Next Thursday night with a surprise that will crack the comics blogger internet in half. Or the parts that revolve exclusively around the eternal conflict of Man vs. Bear, anyway.

Change is in the air, friends. Of course...

...some things will never change.

Yes, come rain or shine, hell or high water, success or utter oblivion, it's Thursday night, and that means it's time for another round of the Internet's Most Final Comics Reviews! Here's what I snagged at the shop yesterday...

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


52: Week 51: I actually ended up enjoying 52 #50 quite a bit, but after the unmitigated disaster that hit the shelves alongside it last week, I've been getting the feeling that two weeks from the finish line, 52 has officially run out of steam. It could just be my disappointment with World War III creeping over, but this week's installment just felt like a bunch of stuff that toed the line between being sorta-neat and sorta-awful.

The high point, of course, was Animal Man coming back home to Ellen, and the low point was the reveal of Mr. Mind's amazingly goofy new look (which pretty much ignores the fact that being a weird little worm with a radio around his neck is 90% of what people actually like about the guy), and everything in the middle just sort of lays there like a stack of bad pancakes. I mean really: Robin's line about the reason for his new costume was a nice touch, but where exactly does he get off lecturing the Ravager about not knowing who Terra and Young Frankenstein were when he's the guy who hasn't mentioned them once in the stories that take place one week later and who seems to be perfectly content to let their killer wander around trying to think up a new magic word?

Which, for the record, is "Snausages."

Amazons Attack! #1: I'll be honest with you guys: Besides the obvious, I have no idea what is going on in this comic. Admittedly, there's a footnote in there specifically for folks like me that advises us to check out recent issues of Wonder Woman for the backstory, but since doing that would involve, y'know, actually reading recent issues of Wonder Woman, I think I'm just going to go ahead and pass on that little offer.

Anyway, from what I gather just from this one, Hippolyta's the latest beneficiary of a the completely unnecessary return from the dead, and for some reason, she is very, very angry at Abraham Lincoln. Other than that, I got nothin'. I don't know why she's back, but considering that she's an ancient magical Amazon queen who fought Nazis and then got killed during an intergalactic war in outer spaaaaace, I think it's safe to say that there aren't a whole heck of a lot of explanations that could make less sense then what we're already working with. Me, I'm just reading it because I'm hoping to pick up some tips in my own war with the sinister gynocracy. Vive Le Resistance!

Blue Beetle #14: Last month, I made the offhand comment that over the past year, Blue Beetle's managed to bounce back from a rocky start to become a fun, solid, character-driven title that I look forward to reading every time it comes out, and I was pretty surprised to find that a lot of you guys out there agreed with me. Not that I should've been: John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque have really hit their stride over the past few months, and are doing a better job putting a fresh spin on the reluctant teen hero than I've seen in a long while, and this issue shows exactly why. Heck, it even makes me actually sorta like Guy Gardner, and I didn't even like that guy during JLI.

Of course, the fact that he and the Beetle team up to fight a transgendered Nazi gorilla at the South Pole doesn't really hurt matters, but the point stands: If you've often found yourself lamenting the precarious state of solid DC Universe titles like Manhunter and Catwoman, then this is one you should definitely be checking out.


Catwoman #66: For those of you who were wondering why I picked up Amazons Attack! given my comments on the current state of Wonder Woman, look no further. I've been singing the praises of Will Pfeifer's work alongside David Lopez on this title almost every month since the OYL jump, and with good reason: This comic is nothing but fun.

Admittedly, this particular issue's probably more suited to my tastes than anything to come out since Nextwave ended, what with the fact that the major plot point of the issue is a fight scene where Holly picks up a chair and drops the hardest hit since New Jack on Blitzkrieg, a new villain who blows things up and dresses like a photo-negative version of the St. Pauli Girl, but while my love of a well-constructed fight scene is pretty well-known, it goes a little further than that.

Even with the rest of the great stuff that happens in this issue, those three pages where Holly throws down on Blitzkrieg stand as one of the best, most satisfying fight scenes DC's had in a long while, and they're a reminder that solid fights with some actual emotional content don't involve characters casually punching people's hearts out or ripping their arms off.

They involve pretty girls hitting each other with furniture, and damn it, there's a difference.

Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #35: One of the most frustrating things to deal with for a comic book reader is when a series meets its untimely end not just while it's on an upswing, but when the axe falls right in the middle of a story, and that's exactly what we've got here. I mean, it's bad enough for a series to end with Martin Stein lost to the clutches of Darksied--although what the almighty Lord of Apokalips could possibly want with a third-rate physicist who couldn't even get a job outside of the fast food industry in 1988 is well beyond me--but when the last page is Firestorm charging through a Boom Tube swearing vengeance, with no clue as to if and when this story's actually going to finish?

It hurts, Dwayne McDuffie. It hurts my heart.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #29: I'm generally pretty favorable towards Tony Bedard given what I've read of his work on Exiles and some of the latter-era CrossGen stuff, but man, this is the first issue of Legion of Super-Heroes that I've read in two years that I consider to be completely skippable, and that includes the entire twelve-volume set of Archives.

I'm not even saying it's Bedard's fault; from all appearances it looks like he was handed the bum job of scripting the issue that "explains" everything--including the relatively limited and generally pretty pointless return of the multiverse--and ties into 52, and to his credit, he handles it better than most. The problem, I think, is that I just re-read the shockingly underrated INVASION! mini-series a couple of months ago where the same themes with the Dominators were done in the mildly magnificent Mantlo manner, and when coupled with the fact that this issue ends with virtually the same shot as the last, it all feels warmed-over and repetitive. Here's hoping this won't be the issue that sets the tone for the rest of Bedard's run.

X-Men: First Class #8: I can't really speak for anyone else on this, but back when First Class started, I honestly didn't expect anything out of it, but here we are eight months later, and I've come to think of this book as a great kind of success story for everyone involved. Admittedly, it might not be that hard to get people to read something that has the word "X-Men" right there in the title, but with every issue, Jeff Parker and Roger Cruz have gone beyond just doing an all-ages book about the original X-Men into a title that's closer in tone to the classic Untold Tales of Spider-Man, leading to a giant-sized special next month and an ongoing series after that.

That, my friends, is the power of putting talking monkeys in your comic.


Agents of Atlas HC: As my recent eBaying will attest, I'm trying to avoid buying stuff in trade that I already have the issues for, but with this thing, I'm making an exception. And it's not just because Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk did one of the best Marvel mini-series of the year in a story that taps into an often-ignored segment of the company's history, although that's a big part of it. The love that Parker has for these characters is almost tangible when you read through it, and the fact that he seems to have spent the months since working them into any other place he can--like the upcoming Marvel Adventures Avengers Special with Kirk or Gorilla Man's appearance in X-Men: First Class above--comes as no surprise when you see how much he manages to do with them in the six issues that ostensibly just serve to get the team back together. All that's nice, don't get me wrong, but it's nothing I didn't already get out of the issues.

No, this thing does one better, and includes, along with a bunch of other bonus features, the seldom-reprinted first apperances of all these characters from the Golden Age and the What If story that has them teamed up as the '50s Avengers, which practically doubles the size of the book. The main story alone would almost be worth shelling out $24.99 for, but with that stuff thrown in? It's a no-brainer, and if you haven't read it already, it's less than seventeen bucks on Amazon, and well worth it.

Degrassi Extra Credit v.3: At this point, I realize that the amount of people who care about my affection for Canada's finest high school melodrama can be summed up as, well, me and any teenage girls who stumble across my blog while trying to find kickass MySpace layouts, but some things have to be said. So if you guys could allow me to just put this out there for J. Torres:

I'd just like to say thank you for using Spinner's sister Kendra, who, if memory serves, showed up for one episode, became Toby's girlfriend, and then vanished into the aether, never to be heard from again. I always wondered what the heck happened to her.

And that's the week. As always, if you have any questions or comments about something I read, passed up, didn't mention, or you just want to talk about how Black Panther riding the Silver Surfer's board through space in a battle to save a giant floating head is pretty much everything we all love about Marvel Comics, feel free to leave a comment.

Until next week, though, it looks like this is...


...or is it?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

WARNING: Spider-Man May Be In Your House

Kalinara once mentioned that when you're used to reading comics in trades, one of the most striking things about going through a run of actual back issues is that you get to see all the old letter columns, and admittedly, if you're used to recent comics, where the time-honored tradition that brought us T.M. Maple and Charles J. Sperling was thrown aside in order to make room for half-page editorial shills, she's probably right.

For me, though, it all comes down to the ads.

Go back far enough, and comic book advertising suddenly becomes, without question, the biggest gold-mine of the bizarre ever put to paper. And whether it's the nonsensical adventures on Earth-Hostess, the deadly fighting styles of Count Dante, or even Sea Monkeys--which, according to NPR's Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, were created by a hardcore Neo-Nazi--I just cannot get enough of them.

And that's why this one--from the pages of ROM #64, a series that produced a few great ads of its own--stuck out to me.

(Click for a larger image)

I think that pretty much speaks for itself, but allow me to point a few things out here:

  1. There was a time when Marvel Comics thought it was a good idea to put its entire marketing strategy into the hands of the readers of ROM: Spaceknight. This time will henceforth be referred to as "The Golden Age."

  2. FABOOM! sounds like a totally awesome game, but the slogan for Crunchy Cookies makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable.

  3. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing more ads for candy and sneakers, and less ads where the guy who chucked Gwen Stacy off a bridge advises me to buy a new Honda.

  4. And perhaps most importantly...

  5. Spider-Man and his Amazing Briefcase just totally broke into some dude's house, and then webbed some ad copy to his wall over a pile of broken glass! I'm thinking if times were that hard at the ol' House of Ideas, maybe they should've tried running more ads.

I gotta say, though: I love that last panel. Spider-Man's so sheepish and apologetic there that you can't help but forgive him for the mildly illegal B&E he just pulled. Maybe it could work for a few other transgressions...

You guys have any ideas?

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fan-Film Roundup: Batman - Defenders of the Night

As long-time readers may be dimly aware from the one time I've mentioned it--when I unleashed the Seasonal Greetings of Gunther--I have a sort of rule against posting YouTube videos here on the ISB. I'm not sure why I think of posting a video as any more of a cop-out than just scanning a panel from Jimmy Olsen and offering it up without comment, but in general, it's just something I try to avoid.

Tonight, though, I am compelled to make an exception by reader Ralph Burns, who emailed me something that I consider to be the single greatest piece of art ever produced by the hands of men.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...


And now, my commentary:

0:01: If there's one thing we simply do not see enough of in today's modern comics, it's Batman hanging out on a windy suburban rooftop in the middle of the day.

0:55: Little known fact? The Batcave's state-of-the-art training center is actually designed to look like the back lot of a local Hardee's, in order to simulate battle conditions. Seriously, it's in 'Tec #433. Look it up.

1:12: OWNED.

1:27: This is the single greatest line in anything, ever:

"I've been looking into something. There's a series of robberies all over... a bunch of technology companies all over. At least seven or nine security guards have been killed already."

2:28: Your eyes do not deceive you: This is basically the best fight scene since The Octagon, and it all ends with Batman hugging someone until they are knocked out.

2:25: Oh man. Oh man. Just the way he runs! This is genius.

3:25: Mark my words, folks: In twenty years, the Joker and Two Face are going to seem like also-rans when you stack them next to Hoodie Guy With A Tree Branch. Just listen to the terror in Batman's voice!

3:57-4:09: ...Or as I like to call it, the greatest shot in the history of film.

4:20: Remember, kids! When struck in the head by the twirling cane of a madman in cargo pants, just walk it off!

5:00: Yes, the Riddler is cawing like a rooster. No, I have no idea why. Yes, it is hilarious.

5:15: Whoa! Apparently Robin took that comment about his balls a little harder than anyone expected! Good thing Batman's there to set him straight!

See? In every way, a masterpiece. And on the off-chance that you're still standing, allow me to blow your mind one more time:

There's a sequel. And it involves both the most fantastic Commissioner Gordon ever, Robin stealing a dog, and a few close contenders for the second best line in anything, ever.

Believe it!

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Monday Meme: Who Does Mary Love?

Sleestak from Lady, That's My Skull has apparently taken a break from terrorizing Marshall, Will and Holly to pose a question to the comics blogger internet at large.

Specifically, he wants to know Who Mary Loves, but I think her desires tend to run a bit more horriscarifying!

I feel you, Mary. Who doesn't have a thing for the disembodied brain of Jimmy Olsen?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Annotated Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #6

Before we get started tonight, I have a small announcement to make.

It's recently come to my attention that Sean J. Jordan, the head editor for Dabel Brothers, has not only read the ISB's series on Anita Blake, but much to my surprise, has actually gotten a kick out of them, to the point where he linked to them on the DBPro website, calling them "an excellent series" and referring to me as "a really funny guy." All kidding aside, I think it says a lot about those guys that they're being good sports and have a sense of humor about their work.

So! Now that I've built up a small amount of good will from the people who make this thing, I think it's time to completely blow it with another round of comprehensive notes on the subtle nuances and were-rat Daisy Dukes of everyone's fourth-favorite vampire hunter, now featuring even more guys in mesh tank tops than anyone could have possibly predicted.

Grab your own copy and follow along!

0.0: This issue marks the first for scripter Jess Ruffner, who replaces Stacie M. Ritchie as the dauntless soul in charge of adapting Laurell K. Hamilton's original novel for the world of comics. To that, I can only say this:


1.1: This issue opens with virtually the exact same description of Dead Dave's that closed out #5, in what one can only assume is an effort to cater to the goldfish market, whose members tend to have a long-term memory of somewhere around 3 seconds:

Number 5...

Annnnd No. 6:

1.2-4.1: This sequence marks the first appearance of Luther, who--in the grand tradition of cutting-edge literary stereotypes that brought us a vampire who was actually a little girl--fills the role commmonly referred to by film scholars as "Magic Negro." The problems here should be pretty self-evident.

According to the article, such characters are usually "disabled... by discrimination" (Check!) and serve "as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them."


8.2: Anita's waving a pistol around her own empty apartment again, and while it's not often that I'll cop to making a mistake here on the ISB, I have to admit I made an error. Last month, I stated that my definitive firearms reference manual, Punisher Armory, did not have any information on Anita's pistol, the FireStar 9mm, when in fact, there is a mention of the gun right there in #3, where it's referred to by Frank Castle as "just another nine."

So it's nice to know that Anita's as picky about her weapons as she is about her gentlemen callers.

8.7: Check it out:

Looks like Anita's not an albino after all. Guess I owe you a Coke, Caitlin.

9.6: Hey Anita! Do you think there's fan-fiction out there where you become Harry Potter's next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?

Good call.

10.1: Hey everybody! It's Phillip!

In addition to being the male stripper/semi-professional vampire chewtoy that'll be guiding Anita through the sordid world of the undead key party, Phillip has apparently never heard of sleeves, which prompts even Anita herself--who, if you'll remember, spent the last issue kicking it in a knee-length t-shirt featuring penguins in swimsuits playing volleyball--to make fun of his outfit.

12.3: In a plot that was probably cooked up by John Hughes on a slow day in 1988, Anita and Phillip have to pose as lovers for the evening, despite the fact that she's a vampire hunter, he's a vampire fetishist, and together... they fight crime.

13.5: Oh boy.

This is Madge, and despite the fact that her thighs give me the impression that she's fully prepared for a trek across the Sahara without stopping for water, I think she's supposed to be sexy. Just be glad that I didn't scan any shots of Harvey, who appears to be a potbellied insurance agent clad in a loincloth and a leather harness that was apparently donated by Adam, Prince of Eternia.

18.1: Edward, Anita's hard-living flamethrower-packing sociopathic best friend, reappears here as "Teddy," an identity he uses to go undercover at "Freak Parties." Despite the fact that he's wearing an outfit that includes a vest, leather chaps, and a spiked dog collar, he looks only slightly more ridiculous than he does on the cover, where he's wearing a black trenchcoat with cargo pockets and his grandmother's reading glasses.

22.8: For the second time in the story thus far, Anita's forced to maintain her cover by making out with a long-haired pretty-boy who just shared his sensitive side.

And on a related note, I'm really starting to sense a pattern here.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Brief and Surprisngly Violent Marriage of Jimmy Olsen

Earlier this week, I posted a few panels of Jimmy Olsen engaging in some good-natured pastry-based violence, along with a reassurance that, yes, the events leading up to it were exactly as crazy as you think they were.

Normally I would've left it at that, but along with the fact that I will never get tired of discussing the pure wonder that is Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, I feel that a little explanation might be in order here.

Even so, brace yourselves: Things are about to go BANANA.

Springing from the pages of Jimmy Olsen #82--which features the requisite cover of Jimmy beating the crap out of his best pal for no other reason than he wants to--is "The Wedding of Magi and Sandra," which is unquestionably the craziest Jerry Siegel/Curt Swan story featuring Jimmy Olsen that I have read today, and as you can see from the image above, it centers around Jimmy finally settling down and marrying Lucy Lane.

This is, as we all know, a phenomenally bad idea.

Lucy is, without question, the most emasculating shrew in comics history, taking the mildly annoying foundation her sister built from years of trying to rope Superman into marriage and sharpening it to deadly, soul-crushing precision, except that it's even worse when it's directed at a normal guy like Jimmy.

Complicating matters is the fact that for the first two parts of this daring three-part novel, Jimmy and Lucy have been dating each other secretly as Magi--a suave stage magician with lifts in his shoes and a moustache borrowed from Tony Stark--and Sandra Rogers--an alleged "English Starlet" who presents no evidence to support this claim--and neither knows the other's real identity.

So suck it, Nora Ephron!

Realizing that this is no way to run a relationship--unless you're, y'know, Hal Jordan or someone equally loathsome--they both give up on their dreams of dishonest romance and retire their secret identities. That is, until Lucy decides to blow off a date with Jimmy, put on her wig, and go for a walk as "Sandra," whereupon she's immediately mugged by someone who didn't get the memo that nobody had actually pulled off a crime in Metropolis in twenty years.

Did I mention that her "disguise" consists entirely of a wig? That's it. Jimmy Olsen: Reporter, ladies and gentlemen.

Anwyay, Hey Armed Robber! Complete this Yin Yang Twins Lyric: "And believe me, when I'm up in there..."

"Givin' it the Mike Jones treatment!"

Yes, as you can probably guess from the "magic wand" that made it into my visual punchline, Jimmy not only saw Lucy/Sondra's plight, but had the time to hide his car and change into an ensemble that includes a Wrath of Khan-style fake chest and full tuxedo before rescuing her. It's the sort of thing that Mr. Action's known for, which leads Lucy--who, if you'll remember, is fully aware that Jimmy's in the neighborhood--immediately comes to the obvious conclusion:

Normally, that'd be sarcasm, but in 1965, that actually is the most likely conclusion.

Thus, they hook up again, but before long, nagging fears over living a lie--which seems to work out fine for the majority of their friends and relatives--rear their heads again, and Jimmy decides to embrace a life of honesty by faking his own death and halfheartedly proposing to Lucy, his clear second choice. She accepts, and it's off to a "famous resort," where they're married by a Justice of the Peace who recently recovered from the measles by sitting in a dark room for a week.

If that last bit there seems a little out of place, it's because it's the kind of bluntly stated factoid that's going to allow everything to revert back to the status quo in three pages.

Clearly, this is a marriage destined to last.

Before long, Lucy just can't take it anymore and decides to have the whole thing annulled. It's right about the same time that Jimmy comes to the same conclusion, but Lucy's a little quicker to action, and it's when she goes into his room to leave him a note that she finds his famous disguise trunk, which still contains his Magi outfit. Because when you're on your honeymoon, you want to drag along a box of costumes, one of which allowed you to seduce another woman while remaining incognito.

Surprisingly, Lucy does not immediately flip out, but instead puts on her own Sandra Rogers wig--which, again, she brought on her honeymoon--and goes down to dinner, prompting Jimmy to put on his own disguise.

Hence: Pie to the face.

And so everything works out--hey! Aren't Jimmy and Lucy still married?! And now they have no reason to annul their marriage, so what could possibly happen to disrupt their wedded bliss?!

Oh, well that takes care of that, then. Of course, they opt not to get hitched after all, with Jimmy claiming that "it's almost as though fate were warning us the time isn't ripe yet." Which, when you get right down to it, comes off a lot better than "I just want to be friends."

BONUS FEATURE: Jimmy Olsen Is Number Six

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Night Fights: SHOORRRRYUKEN!

Bahlactus may have brought the thunder with another round of Friday Night Fights, but before he steps to the ISB, he might want to think about the deadly moves I learned back when I was a fighter on the streets!

(Click for Super-Sized Face-Wrecking)

And that's real.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Week In Ink: 4-18-2007

As some of you may have noticed, the ISB just became Blogger's thousand-and-third Blog of Note, and between that and the spike in hits from last week's discussion of Chuck Norris Action Jeans, I figure there might be some new readers out there wondering just who the heck I am.

So before I get on with the post tonight, I'd like to take a moment to drink up all the Hennesey you got on your shelf, so just let me introduce myself: My name is Chris Sims, and I read a lot of comics. New ones, old ones, good ones, bad ones, I read 'em all. And then I make fun of review them here using my unstoppable blogging powers.

I post every day, so content varies from exhaustive histories of comics that really don't warrant that much attention to a crossword puzzle, a podcast, stick-figure recaps of major storylines done in crayon, and the occasional look at how the work of R. Kelly would be different if it had been written by William Shakespeare. Other than that, I'm also a freelance comedy writer and believe that Sonny Chiba was sent from Heaven to show us the way to a more awesome world.

Anyway, it's Thursday night, and for those of you who don't already know what's coming, that means that it's time once again for the Internet's Snappiest Comics Reviews, which usually lead off with something like this:

"Hey Batman! What are the odds that I'll ever stop using the phrase 'Mind-Shattering' in my post titles?"

And now that you've seen Batman kicking someone in the face, you've pretty much seen everything I have to offer.

But enough with the explanation! I've got reviews to get on with, and we're burnin' daylight! So here's this week's haul...

And here's what I wanted to talk about!

Birds of Prey #105: I think the record will show that I've enjoyed Gail Simone's work on a number of occaisions, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pretty stoked about the news that Sean McKeever was coming on as the new writer once she leaves. Admittedly, my hopes for a shift in tone along the lines of McKeever's previous work--and a subsequent retitling of the book as Big Barda Loves Scott Free--might be a little unrealistic, but I think he'll do well with it. Of course, that's not to say that, with the exception of "The Hero Hunters," Simone hasn't done a pretty bang-up job on the series for the past few years, because she has, and this week's issue is just another example of how fun and solid her work can be, even if it does feel a little bit like it should be an issue of Secret Six (Guest Starring the Birds of Prey).

And speaking of, that's a team that just gets crazier every time it shows up. And by crazy... I mean crazy awesome.


The Brave and the Bold #3: You know, I'm not quite sure why Batman suddenly ditched Blue Beetle so that he could go fight the Penguin with Cal Ripken in the middle of this thing, but I'll be damned if the rest of it didn't make for some highly enjoyable comics.

And that, my friends, is a joke that will not work once this thing's out in trade. Anyway, I'm not sure whether I should mention this and put my status as a hardcore fan of Legion craziness, but I really don't like the Fatal Five. Well, that's not strictly true: I like the Emerald Empress a lot, and Validus, well, he's a giant super-strong "man-child" whose completely visible brain can shoot lightning and who is always flipping out! How can you not like that? The rest of 'em, though--and I'm looking at you here, "Persuader"--I could pretty much do without for the entirety of my comics reading career.

That's really beside the point, though, which is this: Huge, half goofy, half almost-unbearably exciting stories that blow through every corner of the DC Universe are exactly what Mark Waid and George Perez do best, and this one's been three solid issues of them at the top of their game. It's fast-paced, energetic, and incredibly fun stuff, with a last page that honestly had me cracking up at the sheer joy of it. Simply put, it's excellent, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's well on its way to becoming the best DC Universe comic on the shelves.

Conan #39: Conan is one of the rare books that's managed to maintain a consistent, high level of quality not just for the past three years, but even through the change of writer from Kurt Busiek to Tim Truman, so it's often pretty difficult for me to think up something new to say about it. Really, once you've reviewed one issue, you've reviewed them all: "Conan acts like a badass, kills a bunch of dudes, and it's really, really good."

This one, however, sticks out a little, as it's Tim Truman's first use of Janissa the Widowmaker, who might actually be the only genuinely controversial character left in comics. After all, the letter columns for Conan are still filled with people debating the propriety of her origin, which happened twenty-seven issues ago. Me, I like her a lot as a character, if for no other reason than she provides an excellent contrast to Conan, and that's what's brought to the forefront here with a classically-styled sword-and-sorcery adventure that sees them assaulting an ancient temple from opposite sides, each unaware of the other's presence until the end. Janissa's great in this one, too, all finesse and trickery while Conan, equally true to form, gets through with brute strength and some of the hardest lines since Public Enemy. It's self-contained, amazingly entertaining, and if you've somehow managed to get this far without reading it, it makes a great place to start.

Hellblazer #231: As much as I loved the last issue of Hellblazer--the first part of Andy Diggle's debut storyline--I really had no idea how he was going to stretch it into a second part. It ends, after all, with Our Anti-Hero calling up the spirits of a hitman's victims just when the poor guy thought he had Constantine beat, and if that's not the most Hellblazer-ish ending a guy can ask for, I don't know what is. I get the feeling that this one, though, is where Diggle's setting the tone for his run, with a story that's equal parts Constantine loathing himself for the bastard that he's become and reveling in it as he swaggers around five steps ahead of everyone else.

I've said before that as far as I'm concerned, this is a book that could've ended when Mike Carey left and been perfect, but it's stories like this one that make me glad it didn't.

Invincible #40: We can all agree that I like violence, right? I mean, in this very post, you can find a picture of someone getting kicked in the face, so I think that's a pretty safe bet. And what's more, I like super-heroes committing violent acts against villans, and--assuming we're still counting Batroc Ze Leapair as a villain instead of the Savior of Mankind that we all know he is--I like it when villains beat up super-heroes, too.

But Sweet Christmas could we maybe take a break here? Invincible's one of my favorite comics, bar none, but this issue's big fight between the Guardians of the Globe and the Lizard League--which I'd originally hoped would be a sinister-but-fun pastiche of COBRA, HYDRA and the Serpent Society--is just ridiculous, especially when you consider that Dupli-Kate alone is graphically murdered nine times, and that's not counting her various dismembered bodies laying around the floor. I realize that shocking and disturbing are the goals here, but if there's one thing I've learned from DC over the past few years, it's that on its own, excessive graphic violence is utterly meaningless, and the whole sequence just comes off as cheap and poorly done. To make matters worse, the other subplots running through the issue don't suffer from that at all, which just strengthens the contrast. It's not a book that I'm going to rush out and drop--one bad issue out of forty isn't a bad track record, after all--but it's a pretty huge disappointment from a book that I usually look forward to, and I'm hoping it's not the start of a downward trend for Invincible.

The Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1: My earlier discussion of the Fatal Five aside, I like the Legion a heck of a lot. Not enough to go back to buying Brad Meltzer's nigh-atrocious Justice League of America or anything--I mean, I'm not crazy--but a series by two creators that I really like based on a cartoon that I've never seen? I'll give that a shot at the drop of a hat. Besides, until Chynna Clugston starts returning my calls, this is probably the closest I'm going to get to my proposed collaboration, The Many Loves of Triplicate Girl.

Manhunter #30: So, to sum up: Manhunter (which is totally awesome) has been uncancelled again. Suck it, Spider-Girl.

Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #12: Page 16, Panel 3:

EGO, THE LOVING PLANET (To Earth): I see your situation, baby. I know you got a shorty... I'm cool with that.

Jeff Parker, you are a delight.

Nightwing Annual #2: Despite the fact that I've never, you know, written fan-fiction about the guy, there was a time in my life when Nightwing was probably my favorite comic. Embarrassing, I know, but believe me: That time ended well before Devin Grayson showed up and decided it'd be a good idea to kill major supporting characters off-panel and began the downward spiral that made it one of the worst books on the stands. Still, I'll always have some shred of nostalgia for the character and the way that the Chuck Dixon run provided a fun string of adventures starring a younger, more fallible Batman, a void that's now being filled very well by Adam Beechen and Freddie Williams in the pages of Robin.

So that's what got me curious about this one, and it turned out to be a solid read. Of course, that's not really a surprise: Marc Andreyko regularly knocks it out of the park when it comes to solid, character-driven stories rooted firmly in the DCU over in the woefully underappreciated Manhunter, and his work here lives up to it very well, with a great retrospective on Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson's relationship, and one of Barbara's best lines in years.

To put it bluntly, this is everything that World War III should've been: If you're not going to explain the "One Year Later" changes in 52--which, if you'll remember, was the original point of that series--then take some time and do them right and do them well instead of cramming them into a stupid, pointless fight that doesn't make any sense to begin with. But we'll get to that in a second.

The Spirit #5: Kevin pretty much covered the major plot point of this one already, but to be honest? I just wanted to post that fantastic cover, and take a breather before I got to...

World War III, Parts 1-4: I don't usually do a Worst of the Week in my comics reviews, but, well, you're looking at the comic that made me want to start. Last night I referred to it as an "incompetent clusterfuck," and that might actually be a little too positive, because This comic is a failure on every possible level.

Even without getting into the story, it's actually difficult to purchase. It's a four-part series that shipped all on one day with covers that have the exact same layout with minor changes. Honestly, did nobody forsee that there might be a problem with this? I mean, I worked the register of a comic book store last night, and there were several people who came up with just one issue, thinking they were just variant covers. Eventually, we just started bagging them up as sets for the people who wanted to get all of them, but it's a problem that could've been solved easily just by making it an Eighty Page Giant. Of course, nobody's going to buy an 80-Page Giant for ten bucks, so there goes that.

Not that anyone should buy this thing anyway: It's awful, and given that the actual fight with Black Adam happens in its entirity in the pages of 52 (which is where WWIII allegedly "begins"), it's thoroughly unnnecessary. It reads like it was written on someone's lunch hour who was given the vague instructions to explain all the changes from the OYL jump, but didn't bother to actually read the books to see what was going on in them. They're explained so poorly that I'd honestly rather they weren't explained at all. And to make matters worse, all these huge, major changes happen two weeks before the OYL books start, which means they could've been called "Two Weeks Later" with the same effect!

Example: I really liked Kurt Busiek's take on Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis when it hit the One Year Later issues, but cripes, man: Atlantis fell into shambles because Aquaman was gone for two weeks? You're telling me that guy lost his mind and became the mysterious Dweller in the Deep in the span of less one day? Really?

And that's not even getting into another good-natured round of Black Adam punching teenagers' hearts out--which, again, nobody seems overly concerned about two weeks later. It's utterly irredeemable, and suffice to say that if you haven't been suckered in yet, avoid it like the freakin' plague.

And that's the week, but as always, leaving questions or comments about something I read (or that you read and just want to chat about) should not be avoided like the plague. Instead, avoid it like delicious muffins.

Which is to say, don't.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Mind-Shattering Malevolence of Mageddon!

Man, I don't know what you guys are talking about; World War III is awesome.

I'm referring, of course, not to the incompetent clusterfuck that shipped from DC this week--because yeah, that thing blows--but rather an event that rocked the DC Universe to its core in the distant past of seven years ago, which is apparently a long enough wait to re-use the name:

Say what you want about Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's run on JLA, but you pretty much have to admit that it was big--and World War III, Morrison's last storyline before Mark Waid jumped on with Bryan "Once An Epoch" Hitch, was the biggest of them all. I mean really: It's the sequel to a story where the Justice League fights Lex Luthor's Injustice Gang while also battling Darkseid... in the future... during the Apocalypse.

Man, Rock of Ages is awesome. But that's beside the point.

This story, in typical Grant Morrison fashion, sees the Apocalypse moved up ahead of schedule, and the Injustice Gang--this time consisting of Lex Luthor, Queen Bee, Prometheus and the Genera--is right in the thick of it. Within the first issue, they've already wrecked the Watchtower, found Oracle, and generally completely wrecked the Justice League. And to make matters worse, well, take it away, Mister Miracle:

Ah yes: MAGEDDON!: One of those wonderful comic book concepts that can only be described with a judicious use of exclamation points:


But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Originally referenced in his very first story arc, Mageddon(!) was the plot point that Morrison was building up to for his entire run, so it's pretty safe to say that it's a suitably big threat. Essentially a giant, planet-devouring sentient ball of hate and fear from fifteen billion years ago that already destroyed an entire planet of super-heroes twenty issues beforehand, it sets its sights on a planet and then slowly drives the entire population to madness until they annihilate themselves, leaving it to destroy the wreckage. And not to get too pseudo-intellectual here, but with Morrison's notorious meta-textual elements and the fact that he uses the League as a symbol of hope and the realized potential of the Good In People, it's no stretch to say that Mageddon's the embodiment of everything the League exists to fight.

Also--and I may have mentioned this--it is huge:


"Mother Box struggles to contain my rage for cosmic destruction."

And even with all that going on, even with countries literally declaring war on each other and mobilizing troops as Mageddon drives them to the edge of madness, Morrison and Porter still find the time to drop in one of the single most badass moments in comics history.

And everyone who's actually read this thing knows exactly what I'm talking about.

For those of you who only know of Prometheus from his brief, forgettable role as Hush's punching bag in A.J. Liberman's bottomlessly atrocious run on Gotham Knights, it may come as a surprise to learn that he was actually really, really awesome in JLA. This is, after all, a guy who nearly took out the JLA by himself in his first appearance, an accomplishment that included him beating the living crap out of Batman thanks to a device in his helmet that allowed him to download the moves of the greatest martial artists in the world directly into his brain.

Needless to say, it's a pretty radical throwdown, but the rematch is even better. Why? Because when Prometheus starts to get the upper hand, Batman uses a device that he prepared for just such an occasion--you know, because he's Batman--and rewrites the programming, giving Prometheus all the fighting ability of (drumroll, please)...


"Did I see you cheating?"
"Winning. First time I ever hit a man with Motor Neuron Disease."

I could seriously look at that page all day, I love it so much.

The thing about "World War III" is that everyone has that kind of amazing character moment--even Orion's dog--but as much as it might shock those of you who are familiar with my abject love of Batman-related grevious injury to the face, that's not the part that I get emotional over when I think about this sotry.

By the time the extra-sized 36 page final issue hits--which, for the record, contains more scenes of Orion flying around in his Astro-Harness shouting some of the most amazing phrases ever put on paper--Superman himself has been defeated by Mageddon and chained up within its "techno-active" body and reduced to an almost-mindless shell, reduced to an almost-mindless state. He eventually gets out, thanks to Aztek sacrificing his own life to blow up a good chunk of Mageddon by unleashing an explosion of 4-Dimensional energy (because Grant Morrison, that's why), but he's sorely outmatched.

Which is why the rest of the Justice League concocts a plot so complex that I can only tell you it involves a giant hamster wheel, the Purple Healing Ray, and the stone heads of Easter Island that temporarily gives every single person on Earth super-powers. And that's when the whole of humanity rises up as one to fight alongside Superman against the massive embodiment of despair and hopelessness, because after all the times that he saved them, how could they not save him when he needed them to?

It's an amazing scene, and it's one of the few moments in comics that I get honest-to-God choked up over every time I start talking about it, which is something I can't imagine anybody saying about Black Adam punching Terra's heart out or a clumsy, shoehorned plot about why the Martian Manhunter decided to wear pants this year. But really, I can only say so much, so if you haven't read it, you really ought to.

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