Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Weekly Haul: August 23rd

Despite what Mae West said about too much of a good thing, I think I’ve found my limit for reading freshly-released comic books on a Wednesday: It’s about 500 pages. Having done nothing between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., and then another hour and a half of reading after a short break, I can stand to read no more—506 pages is more than enough for one day. I blame Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, as I didn’t expect to see the crate full of their Lost Girls waiting for me at my local comic shop today, on top of my normal purchases. After my non-Lost Girls haul, I read 160 pages of the three-volume book before I grew so tired of looking at Gebbie’s drawings of vaginas I had to call it a night…

52 #16 (DC Comics) This week’s issue is probably the closest thing to a Captain Marvel comic DC has put out in quite some time. As Black Adam prepares to wed Isis, he calls on the closest thing he has left to a real family to attend the ceremony. Cap, functioning as the new Shazam, oversees the wedding, Mary Marvel is the maid of honor and Junior works crowd control. Bonus: Tawky Tawny! While most of the issue belongs to the Marvels, Montoya and the Question manage to save the day from a would-be suicide bomber, and the space heroes get two pages that amounts to a sweet impotence joke. The back-up is the origin of Black Adam, the perfect choice for the issue. Perhaps DC has straightened out the editorial problem that has had origins of characters who have nothing to do with the preceding stories running?

Action Philosophers! #6: The People’s Choice (Evil Twin Comics) Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s sixth issue is full of plenty of little pleasures, just as the first five were. I particularly liked Dunlavey’s Wittgenstien, who’s so intense that waves of intensity radiate out of his forehead at all times, and his Kierkegaard, who looks like a total nut. But as funny as AP!, I always find myself learning something. The most shocking thing I learned this issue? St. Thomas Aquinus was fat. Really fat. I never learned that in college, and I went to a Catholic school.

Astonishing X-Men #15 (Marvel Comics) Best. Kitty Pryde. Cover. Ever. As for the rest of the issue, well, John Cassaday’s art is still gorgeous, but increasingly I find myself wishing I’d waited for the trade. Joss Whedon just doesn’t pack much story into each issue, and when a book publishes as infrequently as this one does, you need an incredibly dense read to keep caring.

Batman #655 (DC) The gut-punch of a conclusion comes as a bit of an anti-climax, at least if you’ve read the solicits for future issues (and took the title of this story arc literally). Writer Grant Morrison does have one great idea here, however, and that’s to stage a Batman fight in an art gallery showing off comics-inspired art, so that huge, Lichtenstein-esque canvases read “Blam!” in the background of the panels. Morrison plays levels of reality and their interaction with each other like a piano in this fight scene, and it overshadows virtually all other aspects of an otherwise solid comic book—Andy Kubert’s art, Batman’s sarcastic narration and the dozens of ninja Man-Bats he fights. (Wait, what's the plural of "Man-Bat?" Is it Man-Bats, or Men-Bat?).

Batman and the Mad Monk #1 (DC) Is it just me, or has DC been going out of it’s way to have characters smoking ever since Marvel E.I.C. Joe Quesada announced their company’s anti-smoking policy? Regardless, this instance comes with an anti-smoking message: Captain Gordon goes out to the roof for a smoke, and gets attacked by corrupt cops. Luckily this is a Batman comic and not a Jim Gordon solo title, or else the captain might not have had a guardian vigilante to save him. Matt Wagner continues his Year One era story of Batman right where he left off, nicely decorating this issue with a gorgeous homage to one of the best covers in Bat-history.

Birds of Prey #97 (DC) As much as I love Dayton, Ohio-based heroine Black Alice, this current story arc started fairly weak, and ends even weaker. Four Birds fight three Society villains with Alice caught in the middle, and there’s so much stuff going on that it feels like nothing.

Doc Frankenstein #5 (Burlyman Entertainment) Frankenstein begins to find his faith just as one of his enemy priests begins to lose his. In this issue, Steve Skroce draws all kinds of ultra-violent madness in the past and present as Doc slays packs of werewolves, and we learn the secret origin of Jesus.

Eternals #3 (Marvel) Come one Marvel, I know you guys are really pushing this Civil War story, but does it have to be in every comic? I mean, you get Neil frigging Gaiman to write a miniseries for you, and you have to have civil war crap here too? I suppose we’re lucky they allowed this issue to ship without the special CW trade dress.

JSA: Classified#16 (DC) Is being omnipotent worth it if your obesity directly correlates to your power? Would you still want to be all-powerful if it means you’d have a third chin like a bullfrog’s swollen throat? Amos Fortune apparently would. In the final chapter of Steve Englehart’s weird, messy JSA story, things get weirder and messier. Vixen and Gypsy show off superpowers you never knew they had, Wildcat is the greatest fighter in the world (boxer, maybe), Stargirl knows all kinds of stupid-looking martial arts and The Wizard’s a weakling. I think I’ll be keeping this story arc with my pile of kindling rather than in my longboxes…

Justice League of America #1 (DC) I had a lot of reservations about Brad Meltzer taking over a book that used to be my favorite superhero comic, and I mean a lot of reservations, from my worries that he’d simply revert to the Satellite Era line-up, or simply ignore the last 20 years of continuity, or how on earth you can justify the “of America” making any sense in 2006, tor that he might “break” the concept as he broke some DC toys (I still can’t look at Hal Jordan and Black Canary and much of the “Power Pact” in a positive light after Identity Crisis). But his first, over-sized issue was pretty engrossing. I could babble about it endlessly, but I’ll save it for a full review elsewhere, and here simply accentuate the negative. The covers? Reeeeeee-diculous. All three are bad, but the two I was forced to choose between, each showing half a picture, are just awful on their own. DC should have kept the picture in one piece and used it as a wraparound. Secondly, while it’s fantastic to see Roy “Arsenal” Harper get the nod, and finally join the big league, his new costume and his R-shaped belt buckle on two of the covers points to him going by “Red Arrow” in the near future (Unless that “R” is simply for “Roy,” or, even better, “Roy Arrow”). When he changed his name from "Speedy" to "Arsenal," he began using his superior aim with other weapons beside the bow and arrow, differentiating him from his mentor. If he puts "Arrow" back into his name, he loses that something special that differentiated him from Green Arrow, making him just one more archer. It's a little like Nightwing changing his name to Batguy or Tempest changing his to Aquafellow.

The Last Christmas #3 (Image Comics) Santa finally starts to get his shit together, but it may be too late to save the few human survivors left in San Francisco, let alone Christmas. This issue is most notable for the disturbing detail writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn add to zombie lore. Everybody knows that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy their brains, but did you know that zombies feared images of Dr. Phil with breasts? Now you do.

Lost Girls (Top Shelf Productions) I’m not even done reading this thing, let alone thinking about enough to review it here yet. All I can say at this point? The packaging is gorgeous, it’s as wonderfully complex and challenging as Alan Moore’s best work, and even though it’s by far the most expensive comics-related purchase I’ve ever made, I don’t feel ripped-off in the least.

New Avengers #23 (Marvel) God, I hate this book. So why can’t I stop reading it? Anyway, despite the title, the only Avenger to actually appear is Spider-Woman, unless you count Iron Man, who appears in a few panels being a total dick. Nothing terribly pertinent or interesting really happens, other than we find out which side Jessica Drew lands on (Cap's; there, I saved you three bucks). The thrust of the issue is simply Brian Michael Bendis un-building the build up he had built up in New Avengers #14 amd #15. His artistic collaborator this time out is Olivier Coipel, whose line work is wonderful, but he and Bendis completely lost me on two separate occasions in this same issue, the confusing battle spiral on pages five and six and the conversation on pages 17 and 18 (I followed the top tier all the way across).

Ultimate Spider-Man #99 (Marvel) God, I love this book. Brian Michael Bendis has written 98 issues of it already, and yet this one has more “Holy shit!” moments than all of them combined. His willingness to stay on this title so long repeatedly pays off, as it does again in this issue—when a twist has been building for this long, it hits you that much harder. If he can end this story arc on the same high notes that he started it, the words “Clone Saga” may not be dirty ones to Spider-Man fans for much longer.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC) Oh yeah, DC has this superheroine named Wonder Woman with her own title, don’t they? I’d nearly forgotten, it’s been so long since #1. This issue is jam-packed with action and guest stars, as Batman, Robin and Wonder Girl join Wonder Woman, “Diana Prince” and Nemesis to do battle with amped-up Wondy rogues Dr. Psycho, The Cheetah, Giganta, Dr. Posion, Osira and Dr. Cyber. Whew! Plus, there’s a totally out of left field guest-star appearing at the end, one wearing a fantastic costume redesign. Terry Dodson’s design work and wonderful rendering (inked by Rachel Dodson) continue to be the selling point here. As for the story, it’s surprisingly simple, and requires perhaps too much suspension of disbelief even for a Wonder Woman comic book (Diana, one of the most well-known superheroes and political figures on the planet, adopts a secret identity and a Clark Kent-simple disguise to go to work for a federal government agency whose sole job is to study metahumans…like Diana).

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