Saturday, September 30, 2006

He is Vaughan, hear him roar

This week's Las Vegas Weekly column features reviews of Pride of Baghdad, Otherworld and Blade #1. You can read it here. If you still haven't heard enough praise for Pride, I have a longer write up of it here.

Weekly Haul: September 27th

52 # 21 (DC Comics) The most interesting, exciting and downright alarming story about DC’s best ongoing series this week doesn’t occur within it’s covers at all. ( has the story on that here, here and here). As for the issue itself, however, it’s got gueststars galore. Lex Luthor appropriates the old Infinity Inc. trademark (shades of Milligan’s X-Force and John Arcudi’s Doom Patrol), and his sickly-designed green and purple superteam take on new names and costumes, led by Natasha Irons’ Starlight. The new Infinity Inc. gives an excuse for the absolute least likely character in DC’s entire character catalogue to become a legacy character, as we get Nuklon II (Hell, the original Nulkon didn’t even like the name or that hideously dated look, and changed them both). The new team comes face to face with first the new Blockbuster (What’s this, Blockbuster III? Come one DC, not every character needs to be a legacy character!), who is busily rampaging in Las Vegas (shades of Hulk), and then the new Teen Titans. This line-up is lead by Beast Boy and Raven, and includes an import from the Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans-iverse, Hotspot (nee Joto), plus two rather lame Apokalyptians, Power Boy and Little Barda, and someone apparently integrated to the DCU from the Kingdom Come-iverse, Zatarra II (who we’ll learn more of in this week’s Teen Titans). Plus, Ralph Dibny finds a new, hardcore use for his Gingold extract, Red Tornado get a new look and we skip the secret origins for a week.

Action Comics #843 (DC) Kurt Buskiek and Fabian Nicieza’s three-part story arc may have started in as simply a place holder fill-in story, something to plug into the title while the oncoming Richard Donner and Geoff Johns super-team were still getting ready, but it turned out to be an incredibly fun Superman story. Supes’ ragtag band of superheroes—Nightwing, Firestorm II, The Veteran, Skyrocket, Livewire, Bluejay and Aquaman II—regain their powers, free their fellow meta-humans, defeat the Auctioneer and save the world. Woo hoo! I loved this weird assemblage of heroes, and some of the cameos (look, Plastic Man still exists on “New Earth!” Sweet!), but the best part by far is the cover, with it’s headline of, “Superman to aliens: We’ll smack you up!” Somehow, I just can’t imagine Superman saying “We’ll smack you up!” On a side note, another article teased on the cover reads “Entire Ohio Town Forms Human ‘S’ That Can Be SEEN FROM SPACE!” As an Ohioan, I’m curious as to which town. Anyone know where I can get a copy of this Action tabloid, or is it only available in Metropolis?

The Amazing Spider-Man #535 (Marvel Comics) You win Marvel—I’m your bitch. Suffering crossover fatigue from following Infinite Crisis for so long, I swore I’d read nothing but the two main Civil War titles, and the Marvel books I was already reading that just so happened to crossover into Civil War. But I was weak. The 90-page, four-issue reprint of Amazing Spider-Man’s “Civil War” tie-ins last week, plus the drama of Civil War #4 was too much to resist, and I just had to see Spidey turn on Tony “Iron Man” Stark. Maybe it was the cover of this issue alone that made me cave and buy it—I’ve waited so long for someone to punch Iron Man in the face, that I just couldn’t resist. In this issue, written by JMS (whom I occasionally wish was writing Civil War, as he’s been able to frame the pro-registration argument in terms that seem compelling, at least in a vague sense—the implementation, on the other hand, remain indefensible). In this issue, Peter Parker’s doubts about what side he’s on intensify, and he asks Stark to take him to the Negative Zone to investigate the prison complex captured non-registrants are forced into. He also has a conversation with Reed Richards, who explains why he’s acting like such an evil douchebag—it basically comes down to Richards agreeing that Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts should have been complied with, and those called before HUAC should simply have rolled over for the commission, a position that Reed Richards and Ann Coulter are the last two human beings on Earth to hold. The punching in the face doesn’t really occur between these covers—the issue ends with Iron Man tackling Spidey, and flying through his own walls and endangering the lives MJ and May to do so. I was pretty surprised by this issue, in part because I thought it was the knowledge that Tony had recruited the Green Goblin to help him enforce the Superhuman Registration Act that would cause Spidey to flip, but also at how hardcore evil Tony is becoming. The N-Zone institution is like Guantanamo Bay, only worse. Guantanamo gives feds plenty of wiggle room in treating detainees because it’s not on American soil, but this place isn’t even in the same universe as America, and these aren’t foreign nationals and/or American citizens suspected of affiliation with terrorist groups, but citizens whose only crime is not signing the equivalent of a federal draft. Their sentence? Lifetime imprisonment until they sign. Yikes. The Superhuman Registration Act makes the Patriot Act sound like the Bill of Rights.

The American Way #8 (DC/WildStorm) Now this is a superhero civil war, complete with North vs. South tensions and racial issues at the core of the conflict. If you missed it in singles, don’t you dare miss it in trade.

Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #12 (Bongo Comics) I’m not the most faithful reader of Bongo’s Simpsons comics; hell, at this point I’m not even a faithful watcher of The Simpsons TV show, which seems to have peaked a decade ago. But just as it never pays to miss a Halloween episode of the show, it never pays to miss a Halloween issue of the comics, partly because the freedom of the format allows comic book creators (like TV writers) to go wilder than usual, and partly because Bongo brings in some big names to create the Treehouses, and it’s always interesting watching these talents with such peculiar art styles of their own working in Matt Groening style; more often than not, the art and humor becomes a unique hybrid. In this issue, Kyle Baker, Terry Moore and Eric Powell take a crack at the first family of animated prime time television, and the results are well worth a read. While I’m a big fan of emu-based humor and an emu plays a big role in Powell’s story, I think I enjoyed Baker’s tale of fairy vengeance even more.

Batman #657 (DC) Wow, who knew the giant trophy Tyrannosaurus robot in the Batcave was still operational? Grant Morrison continues to weave an exciting story, as Batman brings his alleged son from a drugged night of passion with Talia al Ghul back to the cave, where he grates on Alfred’s nerves and on Robin’s bones. Artist Andy Kubert’s Batman seems heavily influenced by Jim Lee’s designs, and some panels called to mind the work of Norm Breyfogle , still my favorite Batman artist. I particularly enjoyed Batman and Robin’s conversation about young, spoiled Damien al Ghul, and how it sounded like a couple bickering: “So tell me it’s not possible. Is it possible?…What about us?…This doesn’t change anything.” Kubert’s shining moment is page 20: Holy God, that’s a beautiful page. Confidential to Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain fans driven mad by DC’s “New Earth” continuity: So, if Damien al Ghul was raised and trained by the League of Assassins, but the League was decimated in “Destruction’s Daughter” and rebuilt by Cassie during the missing year, did she raise and train Damien, or is he yet another example of a League-trained child, of the sort Cassie claimed to believe she was the only one of in Robin?

Black Panther #20 (Marvel) The post-nuptial “World Tour” story arc continues, and like, the first installment last month, this second chapter is a solid B effort from writer Reginald Hudlin, whose main goal for each issue seems to be to get T’Challa into a different cat-themed costume (Hudlin’s either pushing for a Black Panther action figure line, or trying to beat the Silver Age Batman for the amount of different costume’s in his hero’s closet) and bringing him to blows with a some royal super-person or another. T’Challa and Ororo take the Panther Rocket to the Blue Area of the moon to chat with Inhuman king and queen Black Bolt and Medusa, but end up fighting much of the royal family before the misunderstanding is all ironed out. The fight seems overly forced (as last month’s one with Doom was) and the Bruce Lee quote seemed odd coming from the mouth of an African royal/superhero/scientist who presumably has little time for pop culture study, but all in all, Hudlin seems pretty savvy when it comes to pumping out fun done-in-ones.

Blue Beetle #7 (DC) Wow, it really works. It’s common knowledge that Marvel will stick Wolverine or Spider-Man on any cover they possibly can to boost sales, just as DC will use Batman, but I was skeptical that it actually translated into more books moved. Well, now I’ve seen the light, having experienced it first hand. I’d tried the first issue of DC’s new Blue Beetle, and while the writing was fine and the art was great, I never picked up #2 or any future issues. I guess I questioned the need of a legacy-for-legacy’s sake charcter like Blue Beetle III, especially since I was still so sorry to see Blue Beetle II killed off, and was unimpressed with the basic story of a young hero having a legacy thrust upon him, as I’ve read that story in several dozen other comic books. Well, this week while scanning the shelves of my local comic shop, and image of Batman’s pointy ears caught my eye, and I picked up Blue Beetle #7. The tag “How I Survived My Infinite Crisis” (the usually wit-free tag lines on the cover of DC comics are another thing I’m incredibly skeptical of) and a flip through landed it atop my stack of books. The new Beetle Jaime and his family (okay, that is a new twist) plus the new Peacemaker (What, Peacemaker VIII? Aaaa! Too many legacies!) gather around the divots made from issue #1’s fight with Guy Gardner, and Jaime recounts his role in Infinite Crisis, form his perspective, allowing for guest stars like Batman, the Green Lanterns, Green Arrow and Black Canary, plus some cameos from the likes of Black Lightning and Mr. Terrific. It was a fun one-issue story, and I love Cully Hamner’s art, particularly his design of and rendering of BB’s costume, so the opportunity to see him drawing so many different DC characters was welcome. As with the #1, however, I don’t see any strong reason to pick up the next issue. At least I finally know why no one could find the Brother I sattelitte until the scarab and Jaime teamed up.

Civil War: Frontline #6 (Marvel) One issue, four stories, four different levels of quality. In “Embedded,” we see the Battle of Geffen-Meyer Chemical Plant from a different perspective, that of embedded journalist Ben Urich (Sally Floyd, meanwhile, is under arrest). Tony Stark seems even more blasé in a post-Goliath casualty interview than he did in Civil War #4, but Urich wants to talk about the new “Thunderbolts” more than Goliath, to Stark’s consternation. In an inadvertently hilarious sight gag, first responders try covering Goliath’s gigantic corpse with a blanket, but end up needing dozens of them, and even then they’re just barely covering his face and shoulder. In “The Accused,” Speedball tells off a particularly goofy Reed Richards, and the last panel may be the single most surreally ridiculous one I’ve ever seen. “Sleeper Cell” opens with a pretty cool image, and I didn’t bother with the insulting fourth story, wherein real life military tragedies are offensively compared to Marvel’s “Civil War” crossover. This issue’s seemed to be Stark and SHEILD to Hitler and the Nazis, and you know what they say about comparing an opponent to Hitler or the Nazis—if that’s all you’ve got for rhetoric, it’s time to give up the argument. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Paul Jenkins and Marvel will therefore give up on these back-ups in the next few issues of Frontline, but somehow I doubt it.

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #3 (Marvel) The unexpectedly large role the Young Avengers are playing in the main Civil War book—with Patriot, Stature and Wiccan front and center for the last few issues—have rendered this particular issue a little confusing. I assume this whole series takes place before the last issue of Civil War, which means we have to expect that Wiccan, who gets captured by SHIELD here, will escape, only to be captured by SHIELD for a third time. Regardless of the continuity traffic copping, this was an okay read, with Morrison’s Marvel Boy handing out beatdowns to Marvel’s two premier super-teen teams. Zeb Wells’ story is devolving into simply so-so, but Stefano Caselli’s art is reason enough to finish the series. I particularly like his Old Lace, his sexy take on Nico and the edge of bad assed-ness he brings to Chase Stein and Victor Mancha. And the scene with Vision’s hand? Hardcore.

DDP Quarterly! (Devil’s Due Publishing) Among the rules of thumb I have about comics purchasing is this: Any new comic that costs a quarter or less is well worth the purchase. Even if it totally sucks, you’re probably getting your moneys worth in paper alone. So when I saw the 25-cent price tag on this new publication from DDP, the publishers of so many decent licensed comics that they could be on the verge of becoming the industry’s next Dark Horse Comics, I put it atop my stack without even flipping through it. So it made it all the way home with all of the real comic books before I flipped through it and saw that it was nothing but preview images and interviews, with not even a single sequential art story within. It was shaped like a comic book, sure, but it wasn’t a comic book. It was simply DDP hype disguised as a comic book, and, to add insult to injury, they asked us to pay to look at their advertising. Man, I’d write an angry letter to complain and ask for my money back, but the cost of a stamp greatly exceeds the cost of this publication.

Eternals #4 (Marvel) I find myself somewhat embarrassed to say I’m not loving Neil Gaiman’s next go-round with a Jack Kirby creation, but considering how The Sandman turned out , The Expositionals, er, Eternals seems like sort of a waste of everyone’s talent and time. I’m particularly annoyed by the covers, which are so different and (frankly) so much weaker than John Romita Jr.’s artwork inside. Sadly, not only is Gaiman’s new Marvel book no Sandman, it’s not even a 1602.

Justice League of America #2 (DC) Three issues in, counting #0, and Brad Meltzer is still slowly putting the League together, at a write-for-the-trade/wait-for-the-trade pace. Of the ten heroes shown on the cover, one of them hasn’t had so much as a cameo appearance yet. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Diana, not Donna; I don’t get it either) continue to look at glamour shots to determine who’s in or out; admittedly, a cool idea, although it probably need not take more than one issue. Black Lightning continues to infiltrate the villains, who Meltzer takes similar liberties with the characterization of to what he did with Catman in Green Arrow and Captain Boomerang and Dr. Light in Identity Crisis. Vixen fights some villains. Black Canary, Hal Jordan and Arsenal fly around. And Red Tornado has sex with his wife, and is sore afterwards (Ew!). He also puts on a costume that makes him look just like he did when he was an android; not sure how that works, exactly. If I had to offer a theory on the mystery villain pulling the strings and bossing a human-looking Dr. Ivo around, I’d guess it’s Amazo, but I hope I’m wrong, as I want more from Meltzer than the League vs. Amazo, round 2,456.

JSA: Classified #17 (DC) Tony Bedard makes a connection between the original Hourman’s Miralco drug and the Venom drug that fuels Bane. Seeking to save Santa Prisca from drug dealers, Bane does battle with the Priscan mob, loses, and is forced to assassinate Hourman I, opting instead to team up with Hourman II. The story’s nothing special, really, but the art, by Scott McDaniels, is the usual treat.

Ramayan 3392 AD #1 (Virgin Comics) I’ve grown somewhat bored with Virgin Comics already, in part because all of the titles I’m reading seem so similar (and are all so slowly paced). I couldn’t resist giving this new series a try though, based on that glorious Alex Ross painted cover alone. The science fiction-like re-telling of the Indian mythological epic reminded me, somewhat unfavorably, of Devi and a handful of European comics of similar themes and tone, but by the time I reached the end, I was excited to see what happens next. In that respect, Ramayan is like the rest of the company’s line—even the worst comics they put out are good enough to keep you reading.

Red Sonja: Monster Isle (Dynamite Entertainment) This oversized one shot is a nice jumping on/trying out point for barbarian comics fans who want to see what the number two name in the genre is up to these days. Writer Roy Thomas (yes, that Roy Thomas) deposits the She-Devil with a Sword on the titular isle, which is run by a Marlon Brando look-a-like pulling a sorcerous version of Dr. Moreau’s trick. It’s not a bad read on a pot-boiling, genre level, and though artist Pablo Marcos’ work is only so-so (Sonja’s anatomy is fluid and ever-changing), he gets lots of cool monsters to draw.

Secret Six #4 (DC) The titular team’s glaring lack of raison d’etre isn’t going away, and I find myself wondering why they’re still all hanging out together and what they’ve been doing over the course of the last year, but despite this lack of foundational strength, Gail Simone’s team book remains a pretty fun read. I guess it comes down to really liking most of the characters, and Simone’s way with them (particularly her Dr. Psycho and Mad Hatter). This issue is mostly devoted to a throwdown against the new OYL Doom Patrol, which makes for some fun moments (particularly the bit with Ragdoll and Elastic Woman, and Knockout’s goodbye to Robot Man). The relish with which Psycho took to his punishment was a nice twist too. Brad Walker’s art is improving each issue as he gets a better handle on his subjects, but I think Troy Nixey’s inks look much sharper on his pencil art than Jimmy Palmiotti’s do, based on how much more snap Walker’s work had in the rather dreadful “War Games” crossover than it has here.

She-Hulk #12 (Marvel) Wow, I thought new artist Rick Burchett had hit his stride last issue, but this one is head and shoulders above #11. Little can be said about the surprising guest-star here without spoiling some of the book’s coolest surprises, so let’s just say that Shulkie is whisked away to Saturn to fulfill her cosmic duties as an objective observer of the trial for Starfox, a difficult task considering their history, recent an ancient. The plot also allows Dan Slott to get his book out of the “Civil War” mega-story for a while, and that’s a very welcome development, considering Shulkie is apparently on the (clearly) wrong side of the debate at this point.

Snake Woman #3 (Virgin) One more baby ssstep forward, as Jesssica learnsss a little more about her passst, and the Bad Guy shows up to confront her.

Stan Lee Meets the Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Marvel) I hate to be a cynical young comic book reader, and I do understand the man’s hard to overestimate impact on the comic industry and medium (he did create the Marvel Universe with a handful of artists and re-create the American superhero, influencing every single superhero comic to follow), but over the past few years the name Stan Lee has become more of a logo or brand name to me than the name of an honest-to-God comic book writer. Well, a read of his contribution to this quirky work disabused me of that notion. He may have long since entered into the elder statesmen era of hiscomics career, but Stan has still got it. The wacky concept of this book was all it took to convince me to pick it up, and I’m glad I did. The first story, penned by Stan Lee (who’s credit sequence shows no matter how many times you may have seen an homage to or parody of Lee credits, no one does ‘em like he does—“pluperfectly,” ha!), is about Spidey swinging by to ask for some advice from his creator and father figure. Lee sets it up as the perfect excuse for a speech on the importance of heroes, and then switches it up with a punchline too good to spoil. Olivier Coipel’s Romita-esque pencils don’t hurt none, either. The next story, by Joss Whedon and Michael Gaydos, is about an interdimensional comic book convention, which has fun with the concept of parallel versions of the same person comparing notes, and shies away from Lee until the end, where Whedon makes the predictable “There’s only one Stan Lee” comment, but saves room for a porn joke. Perfect. And if that still wasn’t enough comics for you, the back up is an apparently re-colored (as it looks much better than anything from that era) Spidey story by Lee and John Romita, whose work here shows all us young whippersnappers where John Romita Jr. inherited his name and talent (if not his style). Somewhat surprisingly, this was probably the most satisfying read in a huge week of releases.

Teen Titans #39 (DC) Tony S. Daniel returns to art chores for the second chapter of “Titans Around the World,” a round-the-world search for a missing member that makes for a pleasant story arc. We meet three more Titans from the missing year this issue (one of whom was also in this week’s 52--now that’s synergy!). The first is Zatara, the never-before-mentioned cousin of Zatanna who has her fathers name and gained powers similar to his namesake and cousin “during that whole mess with the Spectre” (I’m guessing it had something to do with the Rock of Eternity explosion?). His appearance is a bit of a letdown given the fact that DC readers were led to believe he came to our dimension during Infinite Crises’s multiverse re-jiggering (Offspring, Batman’s son and a new Starman, all of whom appeared in the Kingdom Come-iverse previously, have also been sighted in the modern DCU). It’s also a little underwhelming. While his appearance, like that of Miss Martian (a teenage J’onn J’onnz) and Bombshell (a teenage Captain Atom) may make for an interesting few pages of a story arc like this, none are very inspired creations, and none really add anything interesting to the fabric of the DCU. As for M.M., how a green martian other than J’onn J’onnz is on earth is explained, though why she’s adopted a Sailor Moon (Sailor Mars?), Japanese school girl look, despite the fact that she lives in Australia, isn’t. Confidential to Plastic Man fans disappointed by the thought of their hero as a deadbeat dad: There’s another hint that the new Offspring character isn’t from the Kingdom Come-iverse either, but is actually the out of wedlock, long-ignored son of Plastic Man that Joe Kelly introduced during his JLA run and Kyle Baker erased from continuity in his Plastic Man.

The Ultimates 2 #12 (Marvel) It’s finally here! The long, long, long, long awaited conclusion to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates 2, the latest book in the world, arrives this week with an oversized chapter appropriately entitled “The Avengers.” But what’s this? We actually have one more chapter to go, as Millar and Hitch just had way too much story for 12 issues. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to wait another four to six months for that (In the meantime, we can look forward to enjoying Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #3…sigh). While it’s hard to utter the words “worth the wait” during waits this long, this book has never once disappointed, and in this issue we see the Ultimates not only kicking ass, but killing ass, like the soldiers they are. Watching the Hulk pound the Liberators into the ground is to be expected (I loved his dialogue, by the way, even if he seems a tad calmer than he did in the first volume), but I was a little surprised at how harshly Quicksilver and the Wasp—not to mention a completely smashed Tony Stark--dealt with their opponents, and particularly the lack of mercy Captain America showed his fallen opponent. This title couldn’t get much more over the top without a Max label, which makes it the perfect fusion of PG 13-rated summer blockbuster and Marvel comics, as it was intended to be. If I were Jeph Loeb, slated to follow this series up with Ultimates 3 and Ultimates 4, I’d probably be crying myself to sleep every night.

Ultimate Spider-Man #100 (Marvel) The good thing about a creative team sticking with a single title this long is that it allows them to build up vast amounts of momentum when they want to hit you with the sort of revelation they do in this issue (this is a story that was literally 100 issues and years in the making). The bad thing about a creative team sticking with a single title this long is that it makes it awfully hard for people like me to think of new ways to say how amazingly awesome it is. I mean, how many times can you say Ultimate Spider-Man is the very best ongoing superhero comic book on the market before it starts to lose meaning? Ah well, I ‘ll say it one more time, and then excuse myself to go scour Mark Bagley’s sketchbook section for clues into possible future storylines.

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters #3 (DC) DC’s FF heads out west to recruit the new Black Condor (if Geoff Johns would have merely wounded rather than killed Black Condor II, it would have saved them the trip), who, like the last one, is a Native American granted mystical powers to save his people from the white man back in the 19th Century. The bit about teaming up with the spirit of the country was interesting, and artist Daniel Acuna has certainly busted out a super-cool character design for Black Condor III, but I’m having some trouble seeing what’s so incredibly different about BC III that it dictated the creation of another generation in the legacy of such a minor character. The rest of the issue is devoted to the FF fighting superheroes from their former employers, all sporting the lamest names you could imagine for a group of evil, government-sponsored superheroes—Chief Justice, Spin Doctor, Propaganda and Embargo. Together, they are First Strike (snicker!). Acuna does something different with his art here, and I think I like it better (the characters lose some of the plasticity they had in previous issues), but I’m not sure if the third issues in an eight-part miniseries is the best place to experiment with new styles. Now, what the hell was Jonah Hex doing in the third panel, I wonder?

*I take it back, I suppose you could imagine worse names for a group of evil, government-sponsored superheroes, like Killer Flag, The Reclublican, The Demolition-crat and the Spirit of Seventeen Seventy-Kix. Those names are lamer. Well, a little lamer.

Wonderland #2 (Slave Labor Graphics) Like Haunted Mansion, this unlikely collaboration between Disney and indie publisher SLG is surprisingly high-quality, and I enjoyed the second issue every bit as much as the first, for much the same reason. Writer Tommy Kovac is able to ground his story in the works of Lewis Carroll and the Disney film without ever striking a single discordant note, and it’s a treat to see artist Sonny Liew’s stylistic take on Disney’s stylistic take on the original John Tenniel designs. At last count, there were somewhere around fourteen thousand comic books set in or around the worlds that Carrol created, but this far, Wonderland seems to be the best.

Zombie #1 (Marvel) Okay, I have something of a rule when it comes to zombie comics. There are so damn many of them that, at this point, they need to have either a seriously interesting hook or some seriously awesome artwork to justify their existence (let alone a purchase). I let this book off the hook, however, as it’s the first new, non-Punisher book on Marvel’s Max imprint in a long, long time, and I’ve yet to read a bad Max comic (Think Bendis’ Alias, or Ennis’ Punisher books, Fury or Thor: Vikings). Well, Kyle Hotz’s art is pretty cool, but not cool enough for another tour of Night of the Living Dead Homage Land. The book starts with a bank robbery, complete with hostages, gone horribly wrong, when the robbers drive into a zombie apocalypse. The first issue cliffhanging ending, in which our surviving protagonists get ready to hole up in a fortified building for an impeding zombie siege, was simply a scene I’ve seen way to many times. Zombie #2, I just don’t think I’ll be reading you.

JLofA Switcheroo

Back in July, I posted a short piece guessing the members of Brad Meltzer's new Justice League of America based on the partially blacked out cover of Justice League of America #2, and saying that everyone who read it owed me $1 if I was 100-percent correct. Well, JLoA #2 was finally released this week (it's the first one posted above) and, as you can see, the League is out of the bag. You can also see that DC cheated, coloring the bow differently to throw us off the trail, and positioning Black Lighting and Black Canary differently; even Hawkgirl's original outline seemed blockier, suggesting Hawkman.

Now, I'm not going to get worked up over the changes or DC's attempts to deceive readers, mostly because it was a fun guessing game and I was pretty close anyway. Of my original guesses, it looks like I had eight out of ten. Sure, I guessed Green Arrow Connor Hawke instead of Arsenal, but I'll give myself that one, since DC cheated by mis-coloring the bow. Hawkgirl's original shape did seem to suggest Hawkman, due to its size and the shape of the helmet, but I'll give that one to DC, and therefore you don't owe me a $1 after all.

But what's most interesting about DC's switcheroo is that they apparently neglected to tell cover artist Michael Turner who was actually the team as well. Check out Arsenal in that picture. He's wearing a version of his "Red Arrow" costume, the one he sported during his appearances in Dan Jurgens' Teen Titans, the first issue of his own miniseries and in Kingdom Come. This is the costume he was wearing on both versions of the cover for JLoA #1 that he appeared on too, except in the previous JLoA covers his beltbuckle had a big "R" on it, either for "Red Arrow," or "Roy" or, possibly, "R-senal." But on this cover, Turner gives him a "G"-shaped belt buckle, like the kind Green Arrow wears.

It looks like in the process of fooling readers, DC made a pretty glaring error on the cover of one of their more popular comic books. It just goes to show that it never pays to lie.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Eulogy for Bill "Goliath" Foster

(Text of speech delivered by the 616 version of J. Caleb Mozzocco on Thursday, September 21, 2006, at a New Jersey cemetery)

Friends, we are gathered here today to say good bye to Barrett Foster, known to those of us who knew him best as Bill, and, to the world as, Goliath, the really big superhero who wasn’t Yellowjacket, Giant Man, Atlas or that other Goliath…who’s really Hawkeye…and also dead now. I think.

I didn’t know Foster as well as some of you. In fact, I didn’t know him at all. I even had to wiki him and re-read my copy of Civil War Files while preparing these remarks this morning. But Tony Stark asked me to say something here because, well, he felt someone should, and everyone else who knew Foster better than me either feels partly responsible for his death, or is a wanted criminal who’s afraid they’ll get killed themselves if they show up here today. So I guess it’s down to me.

Foster may have become most famous as a superhero, but he was also a scientist, and, by all accounts, a rather brilliant one. When Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, a.ka. Giant-Man, a.k.a. Yellowjacket became stuck at his giant size, it was Foster who helped with his research, becoming close enough to Pym and experienced enough with the usage of Pym Particles that Foster developed his own superhuman identity, taking the name of “Black Goliath.”

Why he chose that particular name, I’ll never know and, sadly, will now never be able to ask him. This was back in the day when there were fewer black heroes than there are today, of course, but even then few seemed to need to identify themselves by announcing their race in their codename. After all, it’s not like Luke Cage was calling himself Black Power Man, or his highness King T’Challa was going by Black Black Panther, and certainly the white heroes never felt the need to call themselves White Thor or White Giant-Man.

And what was with “Goliath?” I mean, he was a bad guy in the Bible, wasn’t he? A bad guy who got taken out by a slingshot.

Now it hardly matters, of course. As time went on, Foster would take on other names, including “Giant-Man” and just plain old “Goliath,” which is what he was going by when the Superhuman Registration Act was passed. It was in resisting to register with SHIELD and become a federal employee that Goliath became branded a criminal, and banded together with fellow outlaws Captain America and the Falcon to form a team that the papers have been calling “The Secret Avengers.”

They were responding to a distress call when they came across the government’s registered super-heroes, lead by Tony “Iron Man” Stark. Foster and the others were told there was a petrochemical plant on fire, with three or four hundred innocents trapped inside. So Foster did what heroes do: He rushed there to see what he could do to help.

There was a chemical plant on fire, but it was empty—Stark put the call out to lure the Cap, Foster and their allies into one place so they could talk it out. Stark showed up with a veritable army of super-people behind him, not to mention hundred of SHIELD soldiers and a soulless clone of his fallen friend Thor. He brought them all along not because he was looking for a fight, but rather to show the rebels how strong support for the Registration Act actually was among their peers.

It was raining, just like it is this morning, when things turned ugly, and the Thor clone started shooting lightning and swinging his mechanical Mjolnir—did I pronounce that right? Reed? Is it “muh-jol-nur” or “yolnir,” or “mo-yol-nur?” His mechanical hammer.

Foster, showing the bravery we’ve come to expect from a man who saved the lives of every one of us standing here—and billions of others—when he risked his own against the Nth Man—Reed? Is it “Enth” Man? Did I say that one right?—stood up to Thorzarro, attacking him head on, and paying the price for resisting arrest at the hands of a soulless clone created in a government laboratory.

Goliath’s death seems all the more tragic because things were really starting to look up for him. He’d had more cover appearances in these last few months than he has since his own short-lived title, and he has been appearing regularly shoulder to shoulder with the greatest hero in our universe, Captain Ameri—well, second greatest hero, behind Iron Man, of course. And Mr. Fantastic. And Yellowjacket. And, of course, the lovely Wasp.

There’s also been some talk, gossip really, about an all-black superteam recently. And Goliath’s death means we may not ever get to see a Black Avengers team, featuring Josiah X, Black Panther, Storm, War Machine, Goliath, Falcon, Cage and Blade.

But instead of focusing on the negatives, we should try to focus on the positives, as hard as it might be to do so, under the circumstances. I know that’s what Bill would have wanted. Well, I assume that’s what he would have wanted--his entry on doesn’t really say what he would have wanted us to focus on in the event of his death.

If nothing else, Goliath’s death should serve as a reminder to us all of what happens when you refuse to follow the letter of the law, even laws passed within a week’s time of a horrible, traumatic tragedy, by lawmakers who certainly didn’t have time to read the whole thing, let alone debate it. And this is what will happen: You will be arrested and sent to a prison in an alternate dimension, or you will be killed by lightning while resisting arrest.

Goliath has taught us a very important: No man, no matter how big he can grow, is bigger than the law.

I know it’s going to be hard living without Goliath. He was always there for us, whether we needed him to get our kitten out of a tree, fiddle with the TV attenae, put the star on top of the Christmas tree, reach something on the top shelf of the grocery store, or saving us from Stilt-Man or Atom-Smasher.

But keep in mind, just because he’s dead and gone now, doesn’t mean he’ll be dead and gone forever. Death isn’t always final, and dead doesn’t always mean dead—unless you’re related to Peter Parker of course. Heh heh, just kidding, Pete.

I’m sure we’ll see Bill again someday. Maybe it will just be as a ghost or zombie, or resurrected to join the Legion of the Unliving. Or maybe we’ll see him while journeying through the past, or heaven or some weird astral dimension. Maybe Kang The Conqueror or Immortus will bring him back, pulling him out of the time stream before the lightning hit him. Maybe an alternate Bill Foster from a different dimension will come here to our universe, and make a home for himself here.

At the very least, I’m sure Tony and Reed will be able to grow another Bill Foster, just as they grew another Thor. It’s not like we don’t have enough genetic material, I mean, just look at the size of that thing!

Yes, Tony and Reed can grow us another Bill Foster, one that’s just as good as the original—no, better than the original! One that will obey the Superhuman Registration Act, one that won’t resist arrest and one that would never swing a truck at a federal agent. So dry your eyes, friends and family of Bill Foster, now that we’ve perfected the fine art of cloning superheroes for government usage, the sky’s the limit.

I can’t speak for Tony and Reed, of course, but I’m sure they’d be happy to make you another Bill. After all, it’s the least they could do, given the fact that it was their clone that—I’m sorry Tony, what did you say? “Audio-blocks?” What do you mean by—wait, does anyone else hear that? Like a buz--Aaaaa! Aaaa! Make it stop! I surrender! I surrender! Oh God, the pain!

(End transcript)

Weekly Haul: September 20th

52 #20 (DC Comics) The secret origin of the Emerald Eye of Ekron is revealed, and it’s as satisfactorily inspired and obvious. Most of the action is superheroic, as the space set battle some sort of space locusts, but we also check in with Steel, who’s been keeping busy as a volunteer fireman, and Supernova, who floats into the Batcave and has a looksee around, until his eyes fall on the Infinity Gauntlet (or at least Jeph Loeb’s version of it). The back-up is the origin of Adam Strange by Kevin Nowlan. The Kuberts (who drew the Man of Two Worlds storyline suggested at the end of the story) or Pascal Ferry (who drew Planet Heist) would have been better choices; sure, the latter’s exclusive to Marvel now, but surely the Kuberts could have found the time to draw nine stinking panels.

Astonishing X-Men #17 (Marvel Comics) It’s cool that Joss Whedon is playing with some Grant Morrison additions to the X-iverse, particularly considering Marvel’s company-wide efforts to undo all of Morrison’s innovations, but I sort of wish he would have left Cassandra Nova out of it—I’m completely lost as to what the Hellfire Club’s motivation is, if the characters that make it up are real or not, and what that thing they want Kitty to retrieve for them is exactly (Having no idea what’s going on is a common problem when reading X-Men comics). Otherwise, Whedon continues to do a nice job with the characters, particularly Kitty, and there’s a cool twist when a mole on the X-Men team is revealed. The last page has what should be a bigger twist, but it’s similarity to the way Morrison ended a previous invasion of the mansion by Cassandra Nova takes away a lot of the punch. The scene in which Wolverine regains his personality, thanks to the timely intervention of his own personal version of spinach, ranks among the coolest Wolverine moments of them all. A special note to those without Japanese friends to ask to help translate: She says something along the lines of “Why can’t you be asleep like everyone else.”

Blade #1 (Marvel) He was the first Marvel character to make it to the big screen—not counting Howard the Duck, whose film I’m still trying to forget—and yet for some reason Marvel’s had trouble making a comic starring their vampire-slaying Daywalker work in the years since Wesley Snipes brought him to life. Er, death. Un-death? Regardless, the latest try seems poised to succeed. Writer Marc Guggenheim pits Blade against a vampire Spider-Man who was turned by none other than Dracula himself, but that’s just a warm-up (and a convenient excuse to put Spidey on the cover to boost sales). The real action is divided between Blade’s discovery of a vampire conspiracy that has infiltrated SHIELD and a re-telling of his origin. It’s a deftly handled first issue, one that packs in quite a bit of story and gives us a good glimpse of what’s on the horizon. The art, by Howard Chaykin, is pretty great stuff, much stronger than his first issue of Hawkgirl. Good to see the man getting so much mainstream work these days.

Civil War #4 (Marvel Comics) With this issue, we pass the halfway point of the monumental Marvel series, and, appropriately, things escalate like crazy, with Thor’s return revealed and explained, a very big death occurring, Marvel’s first family splintering, new characters joining the fight, some leaving the fight, and some switching sides. Mark Millar is certainly telling a gigantic, pulse-pounding, can’t-wait-until-the-next-issue series, but as soon as I put the issue down, I couldn’t stop wondering about where Marvel Comics could go from here. At the very least, it will be hard to ever look past Tony Stark and Reed Richards’ actions here—hell, even Hank Pym, the Wasp and the other Pro-Reg heroes seem like total shitheels for going along with them. It’s been a couple years now, and I still haven’t been able to think of the “Power Pact” in a heroic light, ever since what they did to Dr. Light and Batman was revealed in Identity Crisis. And what they did is nothing compared to what Stark, Richards and their allies do to one former friend here.

Birds of Prey #98 (DC) This issue we get yet another Bat-female. As a Cassandra Cain fan, I’m still smarting from DC’s nonsensical character assassination of Batgirl II, and am not quite ready to deal with Batgirl III just yet, although writer Gail Simone sure does present her appearance as a puzzler, seeing as how she has some sort of superspeed or teleportation powers, plus seems to know the secret IDs of the main three Birds. Simone almost makes what would have been a sweet reference to All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy, I Wonder When the Next Issue of This Book Will Come Out? when Batgirl III introduces herself, if Simone didn’t censor it for religious content. The line is actually, “I’m the goddamn Batman,” not, “I’m the damn Batman.” And because I just can’t let what DC’s done to Cassandra Cain go, it’s worth noting that Oracle decides to look into the whereabouts of Batgirl III here, but has yet to search for Batgirl II. What the hell is that all about?

Conan #32 (Dark Horse Comics) Kurt Busiek returns from the DC Universe to continue the origin story of Conan, the occasionally running “Born on the Battlefield,” lushly illustrated by Greg Ruth. In this installment, Conan has hit puberty and already started bedding frails like the B.C. version of James Bond. He also proves that if he didn’t grow up to become a thief, barbarian and king, he would have made a hell of a professional bull rider.

Conan and the Songs of the Dead #3 (Dark Horse) Dear Joe R. Lansdale: Please write every Conan comic books from now on.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #5 (Marvel) Note to self: Be sure to read the credits more carefully before snapping up books. I would have passed on this ish if I had noticed in time that it was Tony Bedard rather than Jeff Parker who was scripting it, since it’s Parker’s writing that’s kept me interested in the title. Still, Bedard does a decent enough job. I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but it certainly wasn’t poorly done. And given the developments of Civil War this week, this title just got all the more important—It may be the only place you can expect to see Captain America and Iron Man getting along from now on.

Runaways #20 (Marvel) Given that writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona (who sits this ish out, with Mike Norton and Craig Yeung filling in) have announced their departure from the book, and that Joss Whedon will be coming on next, the book suddenly has an unfortunate, lame-duck vibe about it. The Runaways continue to do battle with the giant monster wrecking L.A., while Chase and Old Lace seek out the Gibborim to do a deal that will bring Gert back from the dead.

Superman #656 (DC) Alien spaceship crashes down in Russian wilderness, Soviets recover it and perform tests on the alien found within, alien escapes bent on revenge, hero fights alien. It’s hard to imagine a more played out plot for a superhero comic, but somehow writer Kurt Busiek and his top-notch art team make it seem like this is the first time anyone’s ever written that story. Plus, I’m loving what they’ve done with Arion, and can’t wait to see where that plotline’s going.

Testament #10 (DC/Vertigo) The sad thing is, “Get tagged and you’re it” probably would sell RFID tags to today’s youth. I’d be a hell of a lot more comfortable with Douglas Rushkoff’s near-future sci-fi/political thriller if the future it presented didn’t feel so damn much like our present.

Union Jack #1 (Marvel) Britain’s working class hero, an Old World answer to Captain America, is enlisted by his government to lead a team of international hero on a desperate hunt to find and stop eight super-powered terrorists before they destroy large chunks of London, and the people living on them. Writer Christos N. Gage’s premise is solid, although the bickering between Jewish mutant Sabra and Saudi Arabian hero Arabian Knight is predictable and tiresome, and this story seems to be in poor taste, considering the actual terror attacks on London. Union Jack’s an interesting character though, with a cool look, and penciller Mike Perkins turns out some sweet action-packed art to go along with Gage’s story.

X-Factor #11 (Marvel) Writer Peter David has just added a fascinating new twist on to mutant evolution, tying it into European folklore in a novel and interesting way. The characters and their interaction has always been this titles strongest selling point, but now the plot is finally starting to catch up. Quicksilver seems terribly out of place, however, especially given the way he just pops in for a few panels before prancing off.

Stream-of-Consciousness Review: Civil War #4

This is it folks, the big one, the halfway point, the issue where someone dies. I’ve been racking my brain (and scouring my copy of Civil War Files for clues) to try and figure out who, and this is the list of suspects I’ve come up with, in order of likelihood:

1.) Hercules—He seems a little out of place being featured so prominently alongside Cap, Daredevil, Falcon and the other street-level, anti-registration heroes. Plus, he’s a longtime Avenger, whose death would have a serious impact on both sides of the conflict, and since is presumably Thor who does the accidental killing, then there’s no better demonstration of the thunder god’s power than to have him kill off another divine hero.

2.) Goliath—Even more so than Hercules, I have no idea what the hell Goliath is doing in this story. He’s been on so many covers, and been given a disproportianate amount of panel-time, given his staus in the Marvel Universe. As a guy who’s power is to grow giant, he’s a redundant hero so wouldn’t be missed all that much, but, more importantly, Mark Millar hates giant superheroes, and is always looking for excuses to slot them. Stature's the only other anti-reg giant, and she’s a teenage girl in a popular series, so Goliath it is.

3.) The Falcon—Nothing would make Cap go apeshit faster than the Falcon getting accidentally killed by Iron Man’s pro-registration side, would it? If there’s one death that would escalate the conflict like crazy, it’s Falcon’s.

Page 1: Awesome. Picking up right where we left off, there’s the mighty Thor, missing and presumed dead for years, standing in the middle of the biggest disagreement between his two Avengers allies Iron Man and Captain America ever. He looks really pissed, a little crazy, and totally bad-ass—Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell are divine themselves. Look at the lightning arcing from the hammer, the way it seems to glow within, casting light on Thor’s helmet. There’s lightning in his eyes and, hell, even his hair looks like it’s glowing. I can see why Marvel would rather delay #5 than get a fill-in artist—You can’t fill-in for this team. Page 2-3: Thor throws his hammer at the Secret Avengers. He speaks in Thor font, but his dialogue sounds off—he says “you” instead of “thou,” and there’s no “yon”s or “verily”s yet. Then he pounds it into the ground, throwing them all over. Page 4: Cap looks like he’s gone through a meat-grinder, but still spits at Tony, “You really think I’m going down—to some pampered punk like you?” Ouch. Tony hits Cap and the rest with a sonic attack; his side’s spared because of their “audio-blocks.” Of course, Tony probably should have just used those in the first place, and spared everybody a lot of punching and kicking. Page 5: “Tough old bird?” That’s Captain America you’re talking to, Shellhead, not Aunt May. Look, out, here comes a Greek god with a giant tank full of something explosive! Page 6-7 : Hercules’ plan to save Cap? Cause a gigantic explosion a few feet away from him. It turns the sonics off though, and the anti-regs rally for a few panels Page 8: Nobody can accuse Goliath of being a coward. He head straight for Thor, and even has the balls to quip: “Get ready for the shortest comeback in history, Thor.” Mr. T. responds, “I don’t think so.” Which sounds off. Shouldn’t he say something like, “Verily, I think not,” or take the opportunity of fighting a giant man to say something about fighting frost giants? Oh, snap! Lightning bolt raight through the chest! So, Goliath is the one who dies! Man, what is up with Millar and giants? Page 9: Goliath hits the ground in one panel, but it lacks something—how many times will giant men fall dead on a field full of warring superheroes? Let’s see some earthquaking action here, McNiven. Dagger confirms it: “Thor just killed Goliath.” So, after entrapping the anti-reg team (remember, the pro-reg team faked a warehouse fire to trick them into that location), Tony’s team uses lethal force while trying to capture former allies guilty of what amounts to civil disobedience. But the Green Goblin they stick in prison? What the hell? Page 10: Thor tries to off the rest of them with a lightning bolt (If McNiven and company ain’t drawing the new Thor ongoing, I don’t know how it could possibly live up to this Thor story), but, what’s this? Susan “Invisible Woman” Richards saves the day. Page 11: The anti-reg team escapes, thanks to Sue’s ointervention and Cable’s ability to operate Cloak’s teleportation powers. I reiterate: McNiven is the fucking man. The scene where the rebels disappear into the folds of Cloak’s cloak is just gorgeous, particularly the shell-shocked, sad look on Falcon’s face, the anger emanating from Cage and Hercules, the fear on Patriot’s face…just a beautiful, beautiful panel. This issue would probably work just as well without dialogue, McNiven and company get so much emotion in the expressions and body language of the characters. In the bottom two panels, Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards shuts down Thor by reciting a verbal code. Ah-ha! So that’s not Thor after all, or he’s hypnotized or something…? Page 12: Yellowjacket and Sue yell at Reed, Spider-Man tells Iron Man, “I thought you said you knew what you were doing, Tony.” Meanwhile, Wonder Man and She-Hulk climb up Goliath (Man, this may even dampen my enthusiasm for Shulkie, if she stay’s on Tony’s side after this), and the Watcher looks like he’s about to start crying. Page 13-14: In Avengers Tower, the pro-reg “heroes,” who now seem more like the villains of the piece, are getting patched up. We see the interior of a Mjolnir hammer, with circuitry coming out of it, and Reed seems to be sticking a syringe into Thor’s ear. Spidey shares his shock with Pym and the Wasp. “I still can’t believe we cloned a god,” Pym says. Ah-ha! Uh, huh? That was a Thor clone? I’m relieved in one sense; it explains why Thor was talking funny (that is, not talking funny enough), and why he was so bloodthirsty. On the other hand, a fucking clone?! Millar does realize that nothing good ever comes from stories involving clones, doesn’t he? Matt Brady of brought up a good point regarding the pro-reg heroes cloning on behalf of the federal government, presided over by President George W. Bush (as seen in Civil War #1). Bush and his administration are vocally against cloning, on religious and moral grounds. If they were going to support the cloning of anything or anyone, do you really think they’d make that exception for a clone of a being that claims to be a pagan god? God, could you imagine Tony Snow’s press conference on that? Page 15-16: We check in with the anti-regs, as they lick their wounds. Not sure who’s in the background here: I see Triathalon, but that’s all I recognie. Is that Justice? Misty Knight? Nighthawk quits because, well, he’s a pussy, apparently. Cable quits too, saying only “The way I see it, they can do anything they like not that they got Thor on-side.” Stature quits too, because this isn’t why she wanted to be a superhero. Someone watches the three of them leave from the shadows. Page 17-18: That someone is…Beachead? No, whoever it is, he’s got blue eyes, is apparently white, and is wearing a ski-mask. It could be the Punisher, who’s yet to show up, but he’s never worn a ski-mask while skulking about before. My guess? It’s Hank Pym, having second thoughts. If anyone would feel guilty about Goliath dying, it would be the guy who invented the particles that gave him his growing powers, right? Plus, Pym is white with blue eyes. Jump to Goliath’s funeral in New Jersey, where we learn he’s been buried in 38 burial plots. Tony paid for them. So he’s not a total ass yet. The mother of one of the kids killed in the Stamford disaster appears to give him another guilt trip, which is the only real motivation I’ve seen for Stark’s actions within the series. Page 19-20: Thus far, Reed has been simply cold and uncaring, but at the funeral, he seems to be getting infected with Tony’s dick-ishness, as he acts suspicious about Peter Parker. Meanwhile, Susan leaves a Dear Reed letter to her husband, which Millar lets us read. She says how ashamed of him she is, and explains that she and the Human Torch are defecting. The Thing seems to know about their decision, but is staying behind. Page 21: You can practically hear the Imperial March as Reed, Tony, Janet and Hank—no, wait, Happy?—walk down a hall in Avengers Tower, discussing the “Fifty States Initiative” (what, an army of Thor clones?) and the fact that they’ve got a new version of the Thunderbolts. Basically, they’re going to use microscopic nanobots to control these new Thunderbolts, “people with experience in superhuman combat.” Page 22: The pro-reg’s newest allies? Bullseye, Lady Deathstrike, Venom, Jack O’ Lantern, Songbird* and two others I don’t recognize. It’s quite a “Holy shit!” moment, but, on the other hand, it’s getting harder and harder to suspend disbelief here. Keeping in mind that the pro-reg heroes are simply trying to enforce a registration law, capturing their friends and allies who have broken no law other than failing to sign a piece of paper, doesn’t unleashing an army of psychopathic mass murderers seem a little, um, extreme? Particularly given the fact that their last high tech solution to capturing the rebels lead to an ally’s death? Isn’t this a little like shooting Saddam Hussein full of nanobots and then sending him out into the deserts of Iraq to capture conscientious objectors fleeing their military service?

*I had originally mistook Songbird for Mockingbird, mixing the Thunderbolt up with an old Batman villainess. I corrected it above. The other two villains are Taskmaster and the Jester, as is pointed out in the comments section below.

Wait, how many lanterns for, "Forget the redcoats, the werewolves are coming!"

"Listen my children and you shall hear

of the midnight ride of Paul Revere

and how he kicked plenty of werewolf rear..."

Apologies to Longfellow (Heh. "Longfellow.") Between Revere and The Black Coat, Revolutionary War Era action/adventure horror stories are practically on the verge of becoming their own genre of comics. To read an interview with Revere creator and writer Ed Lavallee, click to

"Fascination with kids being assholes will never die down. It's always funny."

Have truer word ever been spoken? That's according to Derek Hunter, the writer/artist behind crazy Slave Labor Graphics series Pirate Club. You can read myinterview with him over at

Samurai private eye

This week's Las Vegas Weekly comics column features reviews of Abandon the Old in Tokyo, Sam Noir: Samurai Detective and Civil War Files. (But in the case of that last one, it was mainly only to make a snide remark at the president's expense).

The Broken Universe: "Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter"

I was pretty surprised when I saw Batgirl: Destruction’s Daughter on the Diamond shipping list for release this week, as I have no idea why DC would actually want the stories within that trade collection to be read by any more readers.

Not because they’re not any good (Re-reading Andersen Gabrych’s three story arcs that comprise the collection this week in one sitting, I was reminded what a strong send-off it actually was for the character, bringing her personal story to a close while clearing her from the board to simplify the sprawling Bat-mythos).

No, I was surprised because it’s downright impossible to enjoy Adam Beechen’s debut story arc as the regular Robin writer after reading “Destruction’s Daughter.” As I’ve pointed out before here, Beechen’s arc presents Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain in a completely opposite manner than the way in which she was presented throughout the entire run of Batgirl, particularly in these last story arcs, "Destruction's Daughter" and "Blood Matters."

For example, in Robin, Tim follows a subtle clue left for him to find Cassie. Inside a fake Batgirl costume that Lynx was dressed in, Tim finds a tiny roll of paper, with Navajo writing on it. In narration, Tim tells us that Batman taught he and Cassie Navajo just in case they ever went up against the Signal Man. Which is odd, because in "Destruction’s Daughter," Oracle and Batgirl again discuss her inability to read (any language, let alone Navajoh), and Oracle even runs experiments on Cassie’s brain, determining that it’s possible for her to learn to read, although it will be difficult.

In Batgirl #67, part two of “Destruction’s Daughter,” Cassandra visits the Bronze Tiger in Detroit, and he lays out to her David Cain’s attempts to train an ultimate assassin in the past. First he tried training a whole crop of kids, but it failed, and he put them all down, the last of which was likened to a “mad dog.” He then tried raising a “few” from infancy, as he did with Cassandra, but ultimately decided that genetics must be the key, and he therefore decided to try with his own child, Cassandra. Near the climax of the Destruction’s Daughter trade, Cassie even faces off against one of these other children of Cain’s, Mad Dog.

But in Beechen’s Robin story, Cassie freaks out at Cain and Robin, ranting, “I thought I was the only one! The only one you trained! The only one you taught! The only one you loved!” Clearly, she knew that she wasn’t the only one for at least a year, so why did the discovery of this Annalea send her over the edge all of a sudden?

In “Destruction’s Daughter,” Nyssa al Ghul and Shiva try to thrust leadership of the League of Assassins on Cassie, but she repeatedly refuses. She’s uncomfortable with killing, obviously, but also with leadership of any kind. When she smashes up Nyssa’s operation and the League-in-training divides into two factions, one looks to Cassie for leadership. It’s a role she’s very uncomfortable with, owing to her poor language skills, and she stumbles through giving them the most basic instructions.

But one year later, in the pages of Robin, not only has she apparently mastered her language skills, never pausing for an elipses as she did throughout the run of her own book, but speaking in complete sentences. She’s also taken over the League of Assassins, and now acts as it’s leader.

More troubling though is her sudden decision to start killing again. Though she was trained from birth to kill, after she committed her first murder, she freaked out and ran away from Cain, spending almost a decade as a mute runaway. After she became Batgirl, succeeding Batman became her number one ambition, although she still felt she was unworthy of life, having taken one herself (a duel to the death with Lady Shiva during which she had a near death experience cured her of this).

Throughout "Destruction’s Daughter” and “Blood Matters,” she continually re-asserts this belief:

“Heroes don’t kill.”

“My heart only knows one thing…killing is wrong. No matter what. Or who. Isn’t it?”

“Killing is killing. And killing is wrong.”

Throughout this last storyline, the villains and supporting characters like Alpha tell her that she must kill, it’s her destiny to kill, and some of them even make the argument that killing is actually the moral thing to do in some cases, if you’re taking a life from someone who would go on to take many more lives themselves.

Cassie seems to become convinced of this at the end, when she agrees to another fight to the death with Shiva, pausing to ask how many Shiva has killed since the last time they fought. And certainly the “Isn’t it?” in the quote above shows that she was at least mildly confused about the absolute “Killing is wrong” line that Batman follows wholeheartedly.

But though she technically kills Shiva, breaking her neck and then impaling her on a hook that immediately begins to rip through her flesh, that hook is over a Lazarus Pit, which magically restores those immersed in it to life (indeed, Shiva appears in Robin even before Cassandra does).

The last page of Destruction’s Daughter says that Cassandra Cain was “born to be something unlike the world had ever seen. A dancing hunter,” an metaphor for her assassin’s training used throughout the last three issues of the series, “But she didn’t want that.”

And yet one year later, she’s doing just that. She also takes lives left and right. She claims to have killed Nyssa, Lynx and Annalea, and either she or David Cain broke the necks of the various ninja henchmen that had assaulted Robin.

It’s perhaps worth noting that between the end of Batgirl and the “Boy Wanted” arc of Robin, DC (unwisely, in my opinion) rebooted their continuity. As part of Infinite Crisis, DC continuity was temporarily unraveled, and then violently put back together, with changes big and small having occurred. So, in effect, Batgirl continuity, like all other DC continuity, was destroyed and rebuilt during the crisis, and the changes to it haven’t been revealed.

It’s quite possible then that contrary to what Oracle said in pre-Infinite Crisis continuity, Cassie could learn language and had learned Navajo in the new post-IC continuity. It’s possible that she was a better speaker and more charismatic leader than we thought. And it’s possible that she really did want to be leader of the League of Assassins after all, and that she didn’t really regard killing as such a big deal after all.

But if that’s the case, why on earth would DC publish Batgirl: Destruction’s Daughter at all? If something was so wrong with Batgirl continuity that it needed to be erased and changed during the Crisis, then why continue to introduce these broken stories to new readers? Clearly one of these storylines is no longer true and should not be read; by publishing this in trade format, DC seems to be implying that it's the Robin arc that gets Batgirl wrong.

On this, then, we agree.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Delayed Reaction: Night Fisher

Night Fisher (Fantagraphics Books), by R. Kikuo Johnson

Why’d I Wait?: The debut work of a newcomer, the book had little to recommend it other than the fact that it had a nice cover and that its publisher, Fantagraphics, tends not to publish much in the way of crap. Still, I never trust writers whose names start with an initial and go by their middle names instead, and I’m always skeptical of graphic novels that are so insecure that need to define what exactly they are on the cover (Night Fisher, for example, insists on being called “a comic book novella” on its cover, instead of a graphic novel).

Why Now?: Facing the prospect of eating dinner alone in a restaurant, I needed to read something, and didn’t have anything on me, so I needed to grab something on the way out of the library, preferably something that was a graphic novel, and that I haven’t read before.

Well?: Coming of age stories are like opinions—everyone’s got one, but not every one is worth listening to. Johnson’s is. While it’s not billed as an autobiography, it certainly feels true, with a lot of details that seem too specific and random to come entirely from the imagination. The book’s title comes form a hobby formerly enjoyed by our protagonist Loren Foster and his friend Shane. As they near the end of their high school careers in Hawaii, and start to grow estranged from one another, however, night fishing becomes a convenient excuse for being out all night. The pair are both ace students at an expensive and prestigious college prep private school, but Shane has begun experimenting with drugs, and has thus grown distant from Loren…at least until he finally invites him into the new world with him.

As a high school geniuses gone wild type of story, it strongly calls to mind Better Luck Tomorrow, but reads more like Fantagraphics’ other works of teenage existentialism and alienation (particularly Daniel Clowes’ works).

Johnson’s black and white art also calls to mind Clowes’ work, though Johnson’s is at once more vague and more realistic; almost impressionistic in its ability to get so much representation out of such minimal line work, particularly when it comes to faces and expressions (Loren, who wears glasses, doesn’t even seem to have any eyes for passages of the book).

Johnson fills in the story with some pretty effective, symbolic imagery and fantasy sequences, including a particularly brilliant visual description of what getting high on “batu” feels like (Sorry, I have no idea exactaly what kind of drug that's slang for, orther than the fact that it's something you smoke).

The exotic setting and details for such a universal tale give Johnson’s coming of age story an instant leg up on so many others, and the minimal nature of the story itself, and the way so many of its conflicts rear their heads and trail off, give this “comic book novella” a powerful emotional impact. Of course, it’s possible Johnson just didn’t know how to end it, but that’s the beauty of the open-ended ending—if the rest of the story is good enough, you can get away with it. Johnson does. It will be interesting to see where he goes next.

Would I Travel Back in Time to Buy it Off the Shelf?: Eh, no, and I probably won’t be adding it to my personal library in the near future. It was certainly a rewarding read, but not exactly a must own book that I could see myself returning to again and again, nor the sort of book I could imagine forcing into the hands of others.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Things I Learned from Reading Marvel's Civil War Files

--Tony Stark is an arrogant dick. He’s offered dozens of example of his arrogance and dickishness throughout his appearances in the Marvel Universe lately, but man, he even comes across like an arrogant dick in his writing.

--Atlantean history makes for inadvertently hilarious reading. Particularly any and all off-handed references to the Seal People.

--The Marvel character whose physique mine most closely resembles is Speedball. We’re the exact same height, and he only outweighs me by five pounds. The next closest is reporter Sally Floyd. So I guess I either need to start working out more, or get myself some kinetic energy-based powers.

--Just because you’re an arrogant dick doesn’t mean you can’t also be funny sometimes. For example, “In retrospect, I'd have to say that was pretty much the most humbling alien robot fight I’ve ever had.”

--No Marvel artist ever draws Wolverine correctly to scale, if this 5’3 height statistic is accurate.

--Susan “Invisible Woman” Storm is the curviest 120-pound woman in the world. Does she have hollow bones , or what?

--Robbie “Speedball” Baldwin’s powers are really fucking confusing. Even when simply written about in straightforward prose, I still can’t understand them: “The energy permeated Robert’s body, creating a kinetic energy field that enabled him to absorb any impact without harm, but with the disadvantage that sufficient force would activate the field, bubbles of pure and weightless kinetic force surrounding his person, with or without intent. The energy also saturated his clothing, possibly setting up the same atomic-level transfiguration phenomenon integral to unstable molecutles but shaped on the subconscious psionic level, with the result that the field’s activation also transformed his clothing into, for all intent and purposes, a super-hero costume and mask.”

Um, what? And this is part of a daily intelligence briefing for President George W. Bush? Good luck getting him to understand all of that.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Weekly Haul: September 13th

52 #19 (DC Comics) Well, now I’m even more skeptical about the wisdom of Booster Gold’s death (in the unlikely event that it’s even semi-permanent), as well as the rationale for it DC’s top man Dan DiDio gave in his post-mortem interview with If the character is truly no longer relevant to today’s readers, what’s the point of killing him off simply to replace him with someone who looks and acts the exact same? (And if ever there’s a superhero name that doesn’t deserve to be carried on, it’ s “Booster Gold”—what does that even mean?). Aside from my issues with this particular issue, it remains a thrilling read, with one hell of a major twist at the end. No idea what’s up with Supernova, or Bishop Lobo yet, though. The back up is the origin of Animal Man, featuring gorgeous sequential art by the old Animal Man cover artist Brian Bolland. Bolland interiors are just way too rare, and are always a welcome sight. Nitpicks: Colorist Alex Sinclair colors Booster II’s eyes and teeth a weird, solid blue in some panels.

A Man Called Kev #3(DC/WildStorm) Probably the strongest single issue of the five-part miniseries so far, Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra’s “Thin Red Line of ‘Eroes When the Drums Begin To Roll” reveals the real reason the ground invasion of the first Iraq War (the one masterminded by the first Bush Administration) took so long to get started once hostilities commenced. It’s also the reason why someone wants Kev dead so bad. You’ll have to read the issue to find out for yourself, but I will say this is a perfect example of Ennis at his best—a thrilling little war-time adventure story, with some dark bloody humor at its center.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #44 (DC) It’s been a long time coming—so long, in fact, that I’ve forgotten the last time I read an issue of this “monthly” book—but now that it’s finally out, we get to see the first meeting between the new Aquaman and the old Aquaman’s evil brother, Ocean Master. More interestingly, particularly to us Orin fans, is that the Dweller in the Depths seems to be starting to put together the fact that what he thought was a prophecy might actually be memories. Random New Earth Continuity Change: Is Ocean Master’s deal with Neron is null and void, or did the devil simply have mercy on Orm and decide he doesn’t have to hold onto his staff at all times to avoid excruciating pain after all? Nice little speech by the bad guy about why he prefers trying to master the ocean to living on the land anyway.

Civil War Files (Marvel) In a way this is the best Iron Man story in recent memory, as reading his writing about the rest of the world’s heroes and major political powers reveals more about him than you could imagine. He’s cold-hearted and arrogant, he thinks of his peers in terms of their powers and their ability to affect his plans. Everything is ultimately all about him: Could they help him? Hurt him? Could he take them in a fight? Should he have done something differently in the past to guide the path they ultimately ended up taking? Could he ever get around to banging Susan Richards? The seven credited writers do a consistently great job of creating a unified work with a unified voice, essentially 40 mini-essays boiling Marvel history ancient and recent down for readers, making for a great continuity catch up. As a reading experience, I think it’s well worth the $4, though I tend to be resistant to such books. This isn’t a comic book, but prose pretending to be a comic book—When I want to read a floppy, 40-page seven-by-ten inch works of fiction on Wednesday afternoons, I want them to be comics, not prose about comics, damn it! Even worse than the DC Secret Files and Origins Specials, which I almost always regret shelling out the dough for after reading, Civil War Files contains no actual comics/”sequential art” stories within, and no original art at all, save for that kick ass Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines and Morry Hollowell cover. Still, an awful lot of stuff gets covered within, and Marvel editorial apparently takes the opportunity to smooth over some of the inconsistencies that fans are wont to bitch about online. Reading this, it’s clear that Tony Stark realizes he is a changed man, and holds himself responsible for the New Warriors’ irresponsibility. Also acknowledged and addressed are Reed Richards’ seeming change of heart on superhuman registration over the last few years, the fact that the SRA is just a re-named and expanded version of the old Mutant Registration Act and even how Flag-Smasher seemed to appear in Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways.

The Escapists #3 (Dark Horse Comics) Any comic book that prominently features a break-in of the Plain Dealer’s offices and a discussion of my favorite Ohio newspaper is a must-read in my book (Quick Caleb fact: My first professional writing gig was with the PD, contributing to their old teenage-written “N.E.X.T.” section). Brian K. Vaughan’s cheeky meta-metafictional script, Steve Rolston and Jason Shawn Alexannder’s amazing art, and a sweet cover from John Cassaday should make it a must-read in just about everybody else’s book too, I imagine.

Green Lantern #13 (DC) In this month’s (late) issue, the Cyborg Superman just wants to deliver exposition, but no one seems to want to listen. At one point, he even cuts in with, “All these years and you’ve never once asked me why I chose Coast City for destruction.” Hal Jordan doesn’t really seem to care, but the Cyborg goes ahead and tells him anyway, as well as explaining why Arisia’s not dead after all. (Hal Jordan, meanwhile, spends some time explaining things to readers too, like why it was actually okay that he was sleeping with a 13-year-old alien girl—turns out that on her planet, 13 years is the equivalent of 241 years on Earth. See, he wasn’t robbing the cradle, but the grave). It’s sort of unfortunate that Johns seems to be un-writing the last 20 years worth of Green Lantern history rather than moving it forward, but it’s at least as fun to see it occurring sped up in reverse as it was to watch it originally unfold. The part people will be talking about all month, however, is the second-to-last-panel, with its surprising relevance to one of DC’s best ongoing titles (Reviewed above).

JLA: Classified #27 (DC) The JLA teams up with the president of the United States, and engages in some dog wagging, while their secret identities infiltrate two fictional South American countries on the verge of all-out war using illegal WMDs (That’s Weapons of Meta-Human Destruction). With Wally West and Orin MIA and young upstarts filling in for them, with Kyle Rayner having retired from Green Lantern-ing to do his Ion thing and with J’onn J’onnz dressing like a Skrull and acting like a total dick, it’s a pleasure to see the Big Seven version of the JLA here, particularly as drawn by Plunkett and Nguyen.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective #1 (Image Comics) I admit I initially wrote this book off based simply on it's title--It's a godawful title, way too obvious by half, and sounds like a limp parody of two genres. Well, if you didn't pick it up on the shops on Wednesday, do yourself a favor, go back to your comic shop, and plunk down your $2.99. It's an incredible read. Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson have the sound and look of crime fiction and samurai films and comics down so perfectly that it's more a genre mash-up than parody. And there are lines of half-serious dialogue I can read over and over, and they never seem any less funny. Like, "Nobody ever expects a fella to jump out of his third story window. People should expect those types of things. I do. That's why I jump out of windows. Cuz' nobody thinks of it." And that's just one panel. Easily the book of the week.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Me 1, Jordan B. Gorfinkel 0

The very first writing about comic books I’d ever done--way back before I’d ever earned my first byline writing about anything, way back in the olden days before the Internet was ubiquitous, when comic books still had letter pages--was as a way too frequent letter hack in the back pages of Batman comics.

As a teenager, it was still a huge thrill to see my name in print, and an even bigger thrill when the editors would respond to my letters in print (Peter Tomasi and Jordan B. Gorfinkel probably being the two that printed my letters most often). One of the more curt responses I’d ever gotten from Gorfinkel was regarding Robin #23-#24, the “Underworld Unleashed” tie-in issues in which Drury Walker sells his soul to Neron, transforming from Killer Moth into “Charaxes,” a killer moth man monster thing.

Rereading these issues, writer Chuck Dixon did do an incredibly solid job. I didn’t always like the directions he went with Tim Drake, but Dixon was really good at characterization and action plots. But changing Killer Moth into Charaxes seemed like a terrible mistake to me at the time. The essential lameness of a guy dressed like a moth, the incredible idiocy of his very oxymoron of a name, seemed to be what distinguished Killer Moth from so many other villains.

In short, his lameness made him unique, so why take that lameness away (That lameness, by the way, could be exploited to tell good stories—at the time, I was thinking of Alan Grant and Tim Sale’s Shadow of the Bat arc “The Misfits,” in which Killer Moth joined with similar loser villains Catman and Calendar Man to get some respect, but Killer Moth’s lameness has since been key in other cool stories, notably his appearances on Cartoon Network’s animated Teen Titans and in Batgirl: Year One.

Charaxes, on the other hand, was just one more half-man, half-animal monster for Batman and Robin to fight, no different from Killer Croc or the then feral Man-Bat. I wrote a letter saying all of this (and bitching about Tim Drake’s romance—I had a hard time buying a 14-year-old going to high school, serving as a vigilante crimefighter and having time for girls), and Gorfinkel printed it, and disagreed. Rather strongly. I recently revisited my longbox to find the issue it was printed in--Robin #11--to re-read Gorfinkel's thoughts about Charaxes vs. Killer Moth: “I doubt that anything I am going to say now wil change your mind about anything, so I’ll be brief. With Charaxes, we now have a real Player for the Batman, and Robin, to contend with. And what Super-hero comic couldn’t use another true threat to spice up his/her adventures?”

Well, that was about ten years ago. In that time, I don’t think I’ve seen a single Charaxes story told, though the character has appeared in the background of some panels and had some cameos here and there.

Earlier this year in the pages of Infinite Crisis, DC completely rejiggered their shared fictional setting, the DCU, with a new continuity, bringing a lot of dead characters back to life, and changing things big or small within their fictional history.

If you read the eight-part “Face the Face” story that ran through Batman and Detective and was released in a trade paperback collection this week, you’ll notice on page 90 Batman and Robin start flying their Batplane toward a robbery, which Robin descends to solo to bust up. A robbery being committed by Killer Moth. Not Charaxes, who was apparently one of the things changed during the continuity rejiggering, but Killer Moth, in his old, lame suit.

Now, I hate to be the sort of guy who says I told you so, so I won’t. I’ll just say this: In your face, Gorfinkel!

The 9/11 Report, now with more pictures

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon's comic book adaptation of the 9/11 Report has garnered plenty of mainstream media attention, and for good reason. Here's some more, from my Las Vegas Weekly column. What I haven't heard much of is the comics press commenting on it. If nothing else, it's a new and unique application of the medium, covering a report, and a challenge to the accepted nomenclature of "graphic novel." It's obviously not a novel, or even novel-like--it's a report. I just called it a "comic book," because "graphic adpatation" isn't the right term either (it's not just graphic). I guess Scott McCloud's term for the medium, "sequential art," really is the best we've got.

Weekly Haul: September 6th

52 #18 (DC Comics) Fans of the more obscure corners of the DC Universe should absolutely love this week’s installment of the company’s most exciting ongoing, 52. Not only do Detective Chimp and the Shadowpact get some nice panel-time along Ralph Dibny and Dr. Fate’s helmet as they set out to unlock the mysteries of life and death in the DCU, but the funeral of Booster Gold features some Z-List Pallbearers. My knowledge of DC’s character catalog was tested and bested this week (anyone who can identify the members of the Croaton Society featured within as well as all six of Booster’s pallbearers—I got Odd Man and Beefeater—in the comment section would earn my undying appreciation). A lot of great stuff this issue, starting with J.G. Jones’ cover (somewhat compromised by the logo and busy cover text) and including Detective Chimp’s patter (“We figured out the ending of “Lost”, we can find one of our own guys”) and Clark Kent’s comments both on Booster’s funeral and 52’s inability to check in with all cast members on a regular basis. The art was a little weak in the consistency department—check out Question’s changing medal on page four—and I was a little disappointed in the choice of his origin artist. Denys Cowan should have topped the list of choices, maybe followed by Bruce Timm (who gave new life to the character through Justice League Unlimited) or Dave Gibbons, for a real elbow in fans’ ribs, since he drew Watchmen, the greatest non-Question Question story ever.

Agents of Atlas #2 (Marvel Comics) Writer Jeff Parker sure seems to have learned how to pack a lot of story into a single issue from his done-in-one run of stories on Marvel’s Adventures line’s Avengers title. In this single issue we get a summary of Marvel Boy’s history in the 616 Universe, the secret origin of Gorilla Man, the reappearance of both Yellow Claw and Venus and the story flies forward. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an ongoing.

The All-New Atom #3 (DC) This likable new title hasn’t changed a bit since it’s first issue, thankfully—if anything, this issue is simply a little wilder than the last two. Gail Simone’s scripting is still a ton of fun, her asterisk usage is still insane and better off ignored (I stopped reading the lame “footnotes” after the first issue), John Byrne’s art is still good but not great and, as always, distracted from by the byline itself, Olivetti’s covers are still sweet. Plus this issue we get more pilgrim action, praise the Great Giver of Light.

Death Comes to Dillinger #2 (Silent Devil Productions) The text-less image above comes from the cover of this book. Which you should go buy and read immediately. Or, if you haven’t read the first issue for some reason, you should go buy that and read it first, and then pick up #2, the other half of this fantastic, two-part story.

Detective Comics #823 (DC) Okay, maybe I was a little too effusive in my praise of the first Paul Dini-written issue of the series and it’s new creative team, especially considering the fact that the announced artist on the team, J.H. Williams III, has only gotten eexactly one issue out so far, giving way to a string of fill-ins. This issue’s art team is Joe Benitez and Victor Llamas, and while this issue isn’t quite on the level of Williams’ issue, Benitez is one hell of a cheesecake artist, thus perfectly suited for this issue’s villain, Poison Ivy. A typical comic book babe body, extra-dewy doe eyes, and a baby doll-sloped forehead all add up to making Benitez’s version of the vegetable vamp one of the sexier ones. Benitez’s Dark Knight is only so-so (dig that sloping, pointy-nose), but he does a hell of a Robin, too. For his part, Dini tells another complete story in one issue, though this one hews closer to superheroics than the mini-mysteries of his previous issues. It’s somewhat disappointing to see him working the Batman Rogues Gallery so hard so soon after introducing a new villain in his first story, at least this one introduces a new character who may or may not live to threaten Batman and Ivy again in the future.

G.I.Joe: Scarlett Declassified (Devil’s Due Publishing) It’s not often you see an artist getting top billing over the writer on the cover of a comic book, but it certainly makes sense that Phil Noto gets top-billing here—he is unquestionably the star of this special, oversized issue, which reveals the secret origin of the red-headed heroine. I never liked her much at all on the TV show (I was a Lady Jaye man, myself), but writer Mike O’Sullivan presents a rather complex character sketch here, particularly considering how much action he packs in and how little space he gets to work with. The G.I.Joe franchise of comics, under every publisher that has held the license over the years, has always suffered from a wealth of great characters (plenty of whom could probably carry their own title, honestly), so many great characters that too often they all get lost in the shuffle, eclipsed by Snake-Eyes. So it’s nice to see DDP giving some of those characters a chance to shine on their own in formats like this one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go start praying for Shipwreck Declassified and Lady Jaye Declassified

Hero Squared #3 (Boom! Studios) Giffen and DeMatteis continue to bring the Bwa-ha-ha’s with this series, which recaptures the feel of their old JLI collaboration (and is especially welcome now that DC is offing the old JLI cast left and right), and in this issue they even bring some emotional drama too. Their collaborations have grown predictable over the decades, sure, but they’re still predictably enjoyable.

The Lone Ranger #1 (Dynamite Entertainent) Wait, wait, wait…the Lone Ranger? Seriously? Dyanmite grabbed Army of Darkness, Darkman, Red Sonja, Battlestar Galactica, Xena and now the Lone Ranger of all things? Does anyone really want to see a new Lone Ranger comic? Well, I guess so, as I’m proof that the book would sell—at least one issue…out of curiosity. Actually, make that two issues, because after the first, I’m dying to see what happens next. The most well-known (played out?) and iconic (clichéd?) western hero of all time in a new, 2006 comic book series seems like a counterintuitive step to me, but there’s no denying that writer Brett Matthews and artist Sergio Carriello have crafted a gripping first chapter of the story behind the man behind the mask. For the first time in my life, I actually care who that masked man was. The true test of whether or not Matthews and Carriello can make The Lone Ranger work in the post-Unforgiven era of the deconstructed Western won’t come until they take on Tonto,however, which seems to be next issue’s agenda, judging from the cliffhanger ending. John Cassaday covers sure as hell won’t hurt the series, either, even if this first issue one was a little too Watchmen. When you’ve got John freaking Cassaday drawing a cover, why just have him draw a bloody badge?

Marvel Team-Up #24 (Marvel) So this is the end of the “Freedom Ring” arc? I must say, I’m quite disappointed. I give Kirkman’s some props for the twists and turns of the plot—we get a cool, new Marvel hero, only to seemingly lose him, no wait, he’s back in action, no, wait, he’s gone again, etc.—but I would have given him still more props if things ended differently. The breaking of the issue into individual stories that occurs this issue (as it did last issue) is also oddly off-putting.

Savage Dragon #128 (Image Comics) “This place is a fucking madhouse,” the villainous Mr. Rictus says with a smile near the end of this issue of Savage Dragon, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” That pretty much sums up my feelings about the title, which I’ve only read on very few occasions (the Madman and the Atomics crossover and the issue with S.D. clocking President Bush on the cover come to mind), but each time it reads like a fucking madhouse. I mean that in a good way, for the most part, but it’s the kind of madhouse I always feel like getting the hell out of by the time I reach the end and steering clear of in the future. Erik Larsen’s achievements on the book—writing, editing and friggin’ lettering the damn thing—are a wonder to behold, especially considering the fact that he’s running a comic book company at the same time (Joe Quesada has been unable to get just six issues of his Daredevil: Father out) and how long his fellow Image founders lasted as the chief creative forces behind their books (Savage Dragon is truly the last man standing in that regard). I also appreciate Larsen’s zaniness and peculiar art style—if J ack Kirby were working for an independent publisher today, I doubt it would look much different from Larsen’s ongoing. But it’s just so mad, I’m always lost to the point of distraction, even in this issue, the hook of which (as indicated by the cover) is that the villains who starred in Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ fantastic series Wanted invade Dragon’s dimension . While I’m familiar with all of these characters (each basically a R-rated analogue of a DC character), the story is still couched within the wild stream of conscious plotlines of the Dragon-iverse, so even with so many familiar faces, I still felt like I was in a very hostile environment.

Snake Woman #2 (Virgin Comics) It all starts to come together, as Jessica gets accustomed to her new snakish nature, and the crazy bum poet and mystery villains begin to reveal their real nature. I’m enjoying the Michael Gaydos art and the way this reads and feels like a cross between Marvel/Max’s Alias and DC’s pre-Byrne The Demon series. Confidential to Virgin: That Grant Morrison/Deepak Chopra “The Seven Spiritual Laws of the Super-Hero” SDCC panel you guys were hyping in the back of the issue? For the love of God, adapt it into a comic book!

Thrud the Barbarian #2 I caught up with this issue this week, having missed it’s original release. I’m glad I did. Carl Critchlow’s Conan parody is the only one you really need, and, if you missed #1, don’t worry, both issues are self-contained. Highlights this time out include the monster known as the “Lluddi-Ell” (you may have to shout it’s name to get the joke) and Thrud’s problem-solving skills, shown in a scene where he finds a way to consume beer once it’s been frozen solid.

The Toy Box #1 (Alias) A relatively light week for releases and an interesting cover sold me on this ish. An “all-ages” book in the sense that it’s written for kids, writer Kevin Grevioux crafts the story of a young boy who gets wrapped up in his imagination and playing with his toys who has a stressed relationship with his father, who thinks he spends too much time playing with his toys. The end of the first issue sees the pair of them trapped inside a magic toy box in the world of “Hobbyland.” Grevioux actually has a pretty great idea for a comic book going here, but it’s somewhat hampered by the fact that all the best, most iconic toys are now all owned by corporate entities and licensed to their own comic books (For example, I could never get trapped inside my toy box to play with my He-Man and Star Wars guys, my G.I. Joe and Transformers, my sisters’ Barbies and My Little Pony’s. Regardless, the idea behind the book is still interesting, and especially interesting is that in this story of a child transported to a fantasy world a parent comes along—something rare to the point of uniqueness. Grevioux’s sense of humor is a little too broad and his moralizing a little too transparent for us cynical adult readers, but I’m definitely interested in seeing where he can go with the story in the second issue, which is really all you can ask for from a first issue.