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AICN COMICS: TalkBack League Of @$$Holes To The Rescue!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

These guys are working their asses off, and you’ve gotta respect the way they’ve built a solid column for themselves in such a short time. Damn it, these guys have pluck. And now, before I turn completely into Burgess Meredith in ROCKY, I’ll hand you off to da boys...

Hi guys, Jon Quixote here, bringing you another installment of The Talkback League of @$$holes Comic Book Review and Cabaret. I wrote some really good reviews this week, but the other guys insisted on writing some too, so you’ll have to wade through theirs to get to my stuff. Sorry. I would have put mine at the top, but I’m practicing false humility. Plus, Buzz decided to review some of those comics-without-pictures things, and I thought that would be a good point to start things off.

And we’re also launching our @$$Hole Casting Couch this week, which is basically a venue for discussing comic book movies and dreamcasts in the talkbacks. What we’re gonna do is throw out a comic book movie idea, and then you guys talk about who you cast. Then we call each other idiots and insist that, dammit, our choices are the only logical choices and how can you be so goddamn stupid not to see that. It’ll be fun.

Oh, and Vroom wanted me to mention that he’s still running a contest to name his column, and if he picks you, you’ll get a Vroom Socko comic book. But, because I’m a bastard, I’m not gonna. What am I, his fucking secretary??


By Stan Lee and George Mair

Published by Simon & Schuster

Review by Buzz Maverik

Astonishing Author's Adventures Amaze Admiring @$$hole And Antagonize All @$$wads!

Hey there, True Believers, K.O.F. (Keepers O' The Flame), F.O.O.M. (Friends O' Ol' Marvel) and A.A.A. (All @$$holes Always)! It's "Boozin'" Buzz Maverik coming at'cha with something a little different! Usually, we review the exploits of four-colored fantasy figures fighting felons! But this time around, after conferring with my compadres "Jingoistic" Jon Quixote, "Slowhand" Sleazy G., "Artful" Ambush Bug, Vroom "Super-sonic" Socko, "Coo Coo For" Cormorant and uh...The Comedian, I decided to review an actual book, the autobiography of comic book great "Smilin'" Stan "The Man" Lee!

Now, as many of you @$$holites know, my current favorite novel is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael "Best Living Author" Chabon! It follows the story of two Golden Age comic book creators, through the shadows of the Holocaust, into the days of the U.S. Senate hearings on the effects of comic books on American youth (spearheaded by Dr. Frederick "Whattatool" Wertham and Senator "Should Have Stuck With Prosecuting The Mafia" Estes Kefauver). Excelsior is the real story...almost!

Like the fictional Sammy Clay, Stan Lee was a young Jewish guy growing up in New York City during the Depression. A voracious reader of everything from pulps to classics, young Stanley Martin Lieber worked in various publishing houses while still a teenager. A job at Timely Comics, owned by his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, lead to Stan's first comic scripting work. While at Timely, Stan met a pair of cool, slightly older guys: the art team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The book is loaded with amazing anecdotes. When WW II rolled around, Stan joined the Army, and served stateside duty writing training films and manuals and illustrating V.D. posters. Stan even managed to write comic books for Timely while a G.I., almost landing in the stockade for breaking into the mailroom to retrieve a letter from Timely telling him what stories they needed. My favorite story here is how Stan met his wife Joan. Upon returning to civilian life, Stan wanted to meet girls so he did what any red-blooded American boy would do, he went down to a modeling agency where Joan, a model, came out the door. How's that for chutzpah? Any of you guys try meeting girls by going to a modeling agency, and you'll be buried under restraining orders.

Stan was just about to quit comics for good in the early '60s when Goodman, returning from a golf game with DC honcho Jack Liebowitz who had been talking up DC's success with their new JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, asked Stan to create a superhero team for Marvel (then called Atlas Comics). Joan Lee suggested that, since Stan wanted to quit anyway, he do the comic the way he'd always wanted to, with quirky, neurotic characters unlike any previously seen in comics, characters who talked like real people ("but none that I've ever met" said a letter in the mail column of Alan Moore's 1963, a brilliant spoof of early Marvel Comics).

Stan came up with THE FANTASTIC FOUR (or did he?) followed by THE INCREDIBLE HULK (or did he?) and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (or did he?) the UNCANNY X-MEN (or was DOOM PATROL first?). The creation of the great Marvel characters is where the controversy comes in. In recent years, Lee has been vilified for not giving proper credit to artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Bill Everett for being the co-creators of the Marvel Universe. There's the Alex Ross camp which hates Lee and seems to want to deny him any credit, then there's the Kevin Smith camp which still calls Lee the creator of the Marvel heroes. To be fair to Lee, Kirby and Ditko have each claimed to be the sole creator of the characters they are associated with and Lee was a writer for hire just as they were artists for hire. Kirby even claimed credit for SPIDER-MAN when it's pretty clear that his art didn't work on the character. Of all people, Steve Ditko seems to have the most reasonable take on the creator tag. Personally, I agree with Ditko's assertion that a comic book character isn't fully created until an artist draws it. Comics are an amalgam of words and pictures, story telling through artwork. It makes sense to say SPIDER MAN created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; or THE FANTASTIC FOUR created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The most telling point for the co-creator tag is that none of these men ever created characters as memorable before they started working together or after they stopped.

In Excelsior, Lee somewhat grudgingly acknowledges the artists as his co-creators. Lee is a talented, affable man with a genuine love for comics and clear admiration for his collaborators. He's a class act. To modern readers, maybe the oddest thing about older creators is that few of them were comic book geeks. Lee glosses over the day to day stuff at Marvel. We don't get a detailed account of his work on the first Galactus story, probably because he doesn't remember it. It wasn't that big of a deal to him. Later, Stan goes into some of Marvel's fairly recent financial problems with corporate raiders, covered in the book Comic Wars by Dan Raviv. He also includes a chapter about his friends, which is nice of him, but I was expecting stories about Bob Kane and Gene Colan, not his accountant buddy or his next door neighbor. This was the only time he reminded me of my Uncle Ira, who often talks about people no one knows. This book is a must for all true students of comic book history and all fans of Kavalier and Clay.


By Dan Raviv

Published by Broadway Books

Review by Buzz Maverik

Imagine a world without SPIDER-MAN, or THE X-MEN, or THE HULK, or THE AVENGERS, or even SILVER SABLE & THE WILD PACK. Two real-life, modern day robber barons, in the tradition of Morgan and Carnegie, almost did what Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Kang the Conqueror, the Abomination and the Spot could not. Hell, Ronald O. Perelman and Carl Icahn almost did away with all the great (and not so great) villains as well. This book, by CBS correspondent Dan Raviv, may very possibly be the most important book ever written about the comic book industry, and may be more important than some of the comics themselves (okay definitely more important than a lot of the comics).

Insane management by Perelman's corporation placed Marvel in the path of a hostile take over by Icahn. This all happened not so long ago, when the powers behind the powers behind the comics did not care about the books at all. For brilliant billionaire businessman (sorry, I was channeling Stan Lee for a moment of alliteration), these guys didn't even seem that interested in merchandise. The real hero of the story is Avi Arad. Reading this book has made Arad my new personal hero and role model. Arad was a millionaire toy designer (is that the coolest job in the world or what?), a partner with fellow Israeli immigrant Ike Perlmutter in Toy Biz. Perlmutter comes off as far less of a hero because once he took over a billion dollar corporation, he cut Stan Lee's salary and wanted to do away with Stan's lifetime contract (hey, the guy only had a hand in creating EVERYTHING, but screw 'im, right?) and get this, took the free coffee and the bottled water out of the Marvel Bullpen, as well as insisting on drug testing for Marvel staffers. Hey, Ike, it's comics. They're on drugs, they're thirsty and they need caffeine, okay? But Arad is a very cool, very smart, incredibly successful version of one of us.

Arad loved Marvel comics, superheroes and he wanted to turn them into good movies. He was genuine and sincere in this, but it was also a brilliant business move! When Perelman owned Marvel, Toy Biz cut a deal with him that granted them the right to make Marvel toys without paying royalties. All Toy Biz had to do was give Perelman a big partnership, which put the toy company in mortal danger when Marvel faced a takeover by Icahn and later went into bankruptcy. The other heroes of Raviv's book are the fans. Raviv treats the comic fans with respect. He does not treat us like geeks or trot out clich̩s. Instead he points out the huge number of attorneys, investment bankers and high powered business types involved in the case who are true Marvel fans. Raviv also delights in tales of Jeff Schultz, a professor and small time investor (well, he'd be big time to a schmuck like me, but on this scale, with millions and billions at stake and guys like Perelman, Icahn and Perlmutter at the table, Schultz was small time). This economics professor Рa nobody to the big boys - would send them faxes, addressing them by first name and giving them advice. The funny thing is, all the parties got into Schultz' faxes and read them religiously.

Raviv has a soft spot for geeks of all stripes, and this book illustrates how close Marvel came to disappearing forever. I think that law students and business majors who are also comic fans would find this work particularly compelling. The book is humorously packaged with a cover that looks like a Marvel Comic from the ''80s, complete with a Money Comics logo and line up featuring Perelman, Icahn and a pair of shadowy bankers. The cover illustration depicts Icahn dropping from the Marvel Universe skyline to slug Perelmen while Captain America, She Hulk and Wolverine look on. Spider-Man narrarates the action. Inside, a page of Marvel artwork or cover preceeds each chapter and the chapter titles are taken from the most purple prose in the dialogue. For example, Chapter 14: "There's No Place On Earth Where You Can Hide From Me!" taken from AMAZING FANTASY # 15, with the page where Spidey captures Uncle Ben's killer. Or Chapter 19: "This Is a Job Only We Can Handle" follows the cover of ALPHA FLIGHT # 1. The good news is, as in the majority of comic book stories, the good guys won in the end. The Marvel Universe was saved and, arguably, improved since Toy Biz assumed control!


Writer: Kurt Busiek

Artist: Kieron Dwyer

Publisher: Marvel

Reviewer: Ambush Bug

I find it curious that the Avengers are so often compared to DC’s JLA. Sure, both teams depict the exploits of Marvel’s and DC’s iconic stars, but that is where the similarities end. The JLA is basically a pantheon of gods who fly down from the heavens whenever an Earth-shattering event rears its ugly head. The Avengers, on the other hand, are regular people with real life problems to deal with. They live in a mansion in New York. They have a butler. They fly around in a Quinjet. None of them have powers that match the god-like might of Superman, Wonder Woman, or even Aquaman, except Thor because…well…he’s a god. I’m not putting down the Avengers. I respect the fact that these are a bunch of super heroes who band together out of tradition, loyalty, and duty towards the good fight. It makes me cheer them on a little more because they can’t solve the problem with a flick of an emerald-ringed finger. The events occurring in The Avengers #54 are the perfect example of this.

The Avengers roster is ever rotating, but for this tale, almost every available Avenger has played a role. This issue features Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Yellowjacket, Wasp, Jack of Hearts, Firebird, Warbird, Triathalon (the modern day 3D Man), and the Vision. That’s a mighty load of Avengers, but Busiek has been working with these characters for over fifty issues, so he is able to touch on most of them without overcrowding the book.

***This review is spoiler heavy, so those planning on picking up the trade of this epic series might want to look elsewhere. You’ve been warned. ***

The Kang War started over a year ago. Kang the Conqueror and his forces sprung a surprise full-scale attack on Earth, spreading the Avengers ranks very thin across the entire planet. This would prove to be a true test for the Avengers who have to deal with an invading army of sea dwelling Atlanteans, an attacking ancient race of Deviants, the all powerful Presence from Russia, and Kang’s personal army, which is made up of the finest warriors gathered across space and time. On top of all this, the Master (the old Alpha Flight baddie) decides to pop back into continuity and announce his vie for Master of the World, which gets Kang all pissy because that’s what he is trying to do.

This is a massive tale with multiple heroes and villains following various plot lines, but Busiek keeps it all together, which is a testament to his strength as a writer. In the past year, Busiek has put each member of the Avengers through the wringer. Captain America fell in battle with the Presence; his wounds took him out of the battle for a while and Busiek deftly dealt with the conflict between his eagerness to return to battle, his frustrations with injuries, and his ambition to prove to his fellow Avengers that he is once again capable of leadership. Thor struggled with his choice to befriend humanity, which is extremely frail compared to his godly stature. Warbird has unfulfilled feelings for Kang’s son, Marcus, and is guilt-ridden over the fact that she slaughtered the Master with a shard of metal. A few issues ago, Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch’s relationship came to a heart-wrenching resolution in a super hero concentration camp. Washington D.C. was completely destroyed. Like the events of 9/11, the occurrences unfolding in this title have created a world very different from a year ago. The Avengers have fought their most massive battle to date and it’s almost over.

My one real complaint has to do with the way the book is handled editorially, more specifically, the way all of the Marvel Universe’s books are dealt with editorially. The events in this series are massive. I mean, Washington DC was freaking decimated, and there is not one mention of it in other titles. I know, due to the number of books Marvel publishes, events that happen in all of Marvel’s books cannot play out perfectly with one another, but when something like this happens, I think it should be dealt with in other titles, especially after 9/11.

I don’t know where I stand on real world events happening in the comics, but when you have beings that are able to toss cars and save the planet three days a week and galactic world eaters visiting the Big Apple every other year, it kind of overshadows the impact of tragic real world events. After 9/11, the world changed and so did the world of the Marvel Universe. Could the heroes of that universe have stopped the terrorists? Possibly. But they didn’t. And they didn’t stop the decimation depicted in this tale. But, maybe Busiek is trying to tell us that even though these guys are powerful heroes, bad things will still happen. They cannot stop every attack. They are human and can’t always be there when a super villain decides to show his hand or a terrorist decides to hijack a plane.

Avengers #54 brings Busiek’s epic tale to a close, but the battle has left much carnage in its wake. I included my JLA/Avengers analogy above because if this had been a JLA battle, it would have been resolved much quicker. At the end of issue #53, Kang was beaten. His master scheme to take down the Avengers and conquer Earth was shattered by Cap and Co. As a final blow to his enemies, Kang steers his massive space ship (shaped like a sword) on a collision course towards the Earth. The grim visages on the faces of the Avengers on the first page of issue #54 tell us that they didn’t stop the ship. They failed. The ship crashed into Maryland and the casualties are massive. If this were the JLA, Superman alone could have tossed the ship back into space. Green Lantern could have whipped up a catchers mitt and stopped it. Hell, even Plastic Man could have stretched himself across Maryland and snapped the sword back to where it came from. But this isn’t the JLA, this is the Avengers, and that is what makes the story interesting for me. Busiek has made these iconic heroes of the Marvel Universe fallible and human. He’s given them this massive task and presents the real world possibility that they could very well fail.

The real star of issue #54 is Kang. He is the narrator of this final installment of the Kang War. We get to witness his defeat through the Conqueror’s own eyes. Busiek has fully fleshed out his villain for this tale. This is no, “Mwoo-ha-ha! I vill take over thee vorld!” villain. This is a man who has an agenda. And we don’t really get to see this agenda until the end of this issue. He wants to beat his enemies and secure his legacy, but his only failure is that there is no one as maniacal or scheming enough to take up the mantle of Kang. Busiek has put together the definitive set of Kang stories with his pair of time traveling tales, Avengers Forever (the twelve issue epic series from two years ago) and this Kang War. Kang has been around since the beginning of the Avengers. Usually, it is hard to make these long time villains threatening since the heroes have handed them their short shorts about a million times, but Busiek’s Kang is more threatening now more than ever after the events of this issue because we have seen what is going on behind that fitted blue mask of his and it ain’t pretty.

***Okay, the Spoilers are over***

Kieron Dwyer has been around for years. His pencils are clean and crisp and perfect for this type of classic super hero title. Dwyer captures the horror on the faces of the Avengers as they ascend onto the aftermath of the war. He paints with an astute pencil the grief on Kang’s face in the final pages of the book. The final fight between Captain America and Kang is split up over an entire page of small panels, each one complimenting the last, showing a well choreographed battle between the Time Conqueror on his last leg and the Star Spangled Avenger who has just seen the people of his country slaughtered by the villain’s actions. I am glad Dwyer will be sticking around after Busiek takes his leave. He gives a classic style to this classic team of heroes

Even though this tale took a year to unfold, I am not happy that it is finally over. Busiek’s fifty -something issue run on this title was crafted extremely well. Characters were given personalities and problems that were handled the way normal people handle them. Additions to the team, especially the ultra-cool Jack of Hearts, will hopefully stay with the team after Geoff Johns jumps on as scribe for the title in a few months. If you missed the Kang War epic, try to pick up a trade if one is ever published. You will be witness to a massive, tightly crafted tale with real world tragedies, human heroes, and truly terrifying villains. Who knows, maybe you will like it as much as I did.


Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Butch Guice; Inker: Michael Perkins; Colorist: Laura DePuy

Publisher: CrossGen Comics

Reviewed by Cormorant

Somewhere between the mystery and atmosphere of Sherlock Holmes, the witty banter of a 1930’s romantic comedy, and the pulp fiction crimefighting of The Shadow and his agents, you’ve got RUSE, still the best title in the CrossGen stable.

One of the qualities that sets RUSE apart from the rest of the CrossGen pack is that its storylines are far more clearly defined. Most CrossGen titles I’ve sampled seem to work very much like soap operas, with sub-plots that may begin and end, but no obvious “big conclusion” issues, and no jumping-on points. It seems there’s an audience for this style, but I think there’s more drama to be had in well-defined beginnings and endings. Thus far, RUSE has had no less than three distinct storylines, and this latest issue is the second half of an eerie little two-parter that takes master-sleuth Simon Archard and his partner, Emma Bishop, out of the city and into a seemingly haunted European-style hamlet. I say “European-style”, because as with most CrossGen titles that appear to be set on Earth (THE PATH, WAY OF THE RAT, the pending ROUTE 666), this isn’t set on “our” Earth, but rather a fantasy-tinged variant.

The story so far: Brilliant detective Simon Archard and his quick-witted partner, Emma, are on the trail of Archard’s Moriarty-esque arch-foe, Malcolm Lightbourne. The terrifically moody previous issue took them to the deserted hillside village of Telestroud in their search, and quite remarkably, the missing villagers appeared suddenly at nightfall. The villagers seem normal save for their disappearing/reappearing act, but like all mysterious villagers, they keep a wary eye on the strangers in their midst! I happen to be a sucker for stories about creepy, paranoid little towns, and Mark Waid hits all the right marks in building up the mystery. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of the superhero stuff that made him famous, but the man’s cooking with gas when it comes to Victorian adventure. Makes me wonder how many other great concepts might be shuffling around in the heads of writers who’ve kept to the lucrative superhero genre over the years.

Now, in addition to the villagers’ disappearing act, there’s also the matter of their seeming war with a nearby band of gypsies and the mystery of the shackled captives Archard discovered beneath the village inn. Revealing more of these dark happenings would just be unfair to potential readers, but rest assured that the revelations are both imaginative and suitably pulpy. There’s even a great moment of cinematic action as pay-off, and all this in the span of a two-issue story. Quite a breath of fresh air in this day and age of five, six, and seven-part stories. Best of all, the series sparkles with wit whether a given storyline is leaning towards mystery, horror, or adventure. Any time Archard and Emma are together (which is often), you’re guaranteed to get some terrific barbs and verbal repartee. At this point, the romantic undercurrent is barely an ember, but they’re definitely the couple to watch in comics. In fact, I’m going to crib MTV’s “Best Onscreen Duo” movie award and apply it to comics. Archard and Emma win. Ha!

As for the art, you really have to credit two people: penciler Butch Guice and colorist Laura DuPuy. This is a package deal, and each of them is equally essential. Guice’s art resembles work by the classic pen-and-ink illustrators of the early 20th century, packed with detail and perfect placement of blacks, and he’s also got an eye for the elegant ladies that (in my opinion) transcends the quasi-cheesecake trappings of other CrossGen titles. Laura DuPuy is the award-winning colorist of the team, and what she provides is the all-important mood of the book. Her skylines in particular are a standout, grounding the characters in a realism rarely seen outside of European comic productions, and making the visuals absolutely worth the title’s $2.95 price tag. Her special effects are amazing too, light years beyond the heavy-handed graphical stumbling that came from Image comics at the dawn of computer coloring. Her rain and snow will leave you actually feeling the chill, and there’s a particular effect in this current issue that’s phenomenal yet subtle, and can’t be mentioned without revealing some of the story’s twists. What a tease I am!

Final judgment: I got nothin’ bad to say about this book. It’s funny, it’s low-key spooky, and the leads are two of the most appealing characters in the medium. If you like Sherlock Holmes stories, period-piece adventures, pulp-infused mysteries, detailed art, witty banter, women in Victorian underwear or dashing men in trenchcoats -- any or all of the above – you’d do well to jump aboard this series. A RUSE trade paperback covering the first six issues is due any day now, so why not nab issues 7 and 8 as a sampler? You’ll only end up buying them anyway after you have so much fun reading the trade.


A short story by Neil Gaiman

Adapted to comics by P. Craig Russell

Published by DARK HORSE

A demographically partitioned Jon Quixote review

Review for people who won’t read a story without pictures

Murder Mysteries is a short story by Neil Gaiman – arguably his best – which was first published in the collection Angels and Visitations and has now been adapted to comic format by P. Craig Russell, an artist who is best known for winning awards alongside Gaiman for their critically acclaimed work on Sandman. Murder Mysteries is, quite frankly, a must read.

To reveal much of the plot would be a disservice to a fresh reader. For those who require some plot summary, Murder Mysteries involves a mysterious stranger in Los Angeles who tells a story about the first murder to ever take place, in Heaven before the creation of the Universe. This tale is told to a young Englishman, stranded in L.A. for a week.

Listen closely: This is a comic book that will make you smarter for having read it. It serves as a de facto prequel to Paradise Lost, albeit one with an Agatha Christie framework; an episode of Columbo, as written by John Milton. As absurd as it sounds, this makes perfect sense. Murder Mysteries is not just about the first murder, but the first telling of the first murder. It is as much about the mystery format and the power of storytelling as it is about destiny, religion, and the breeding ground for evil that is love.

This is a brilliant short story, written by one of today’s premier fantasists. Russell is a talented artist, who uses his classical style to deliver a faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s work. Murder Mysteries is an intelligent, literary comic, filled with love and respect for its source material, and it helps the comic medium take another step forward on the path to being acknowledged as a legitimate format for serious literature.

Review for people who have either read the original short story, or want to

The road that introduced me to Neil Gaiman is probably opposite to the one taken by most; I discovered him as a prose writer first, and that let me to his comic work. On a whim, I picked up Neverwhere in an airport bookstore. I finished the book on the plane, and my first order of business upon returning home was to make my way to the bookstore and gobble up all the Gaiman I could find. This mission led me to the collection, Smoke and Mirrors, which in turn led me to “Murder Mysteries,” which is perhaps the deepest of the book’s short stories, if not the best. I’ve since devoured Stardust, Good Omens, American Gods, and about half of the Sandman trades, but Smoke and Mirrors remains my favorite.

I was excited to hear about the comic version of Murder Mysteries. Unfortunately, after reading it, I have to resort to that age old criticism: the book is better. This isn’t to dismiss the comic; Russell delivers a faithful adaptation, almost to the letter, and this hardcover format is a good way of delivering this brilliant story to an audience that might otherwise overlook it. But Russell’s faithfulness is also a detriment: if you’ve read the short story, there is no real reason to buy this comic book. Nothing of note is added. In fact, while I hoped Russell would clear up my one criticism of the original, that the ambiguity of the prologue and epilogue seemed detrimental to a mystery homage, Russell adds even more confusion instead of clarity.

But my real disappointment in the comic version has its roots in Gaiman’s near magical ability to create worlds with his words. When he creates the Silver City and its angelic population in the short story, its foundation is set in your imagination, which then constructs a fantastic other-worldly realm that stretches the limits of human perception. To see this magical, imaginary city rendered on the page in classic comic book style is a little humbling. And disappointing. It isn’t so much that Russell’s art can’t compete with the imagination, but rather that he doesn’t seem to try. The art seems very workmanlike, and if there was ever a story that cried out for experimentation with the comic medium, it is this one. This is a story that should be painted, Renaissance-style. Or computer effects and coloring wizardry could be used to give an otherworldly effect to the Silver City. Instead, we get art that would not be out of place in an issue of The Avengers. Russell is a talented artist, but this work seems uninspired.

I cannot recommend this book to someone who has read the original short story. You may enjoy reading it – I did enjoy it, to an extent, and I’m grateful it exists – but the final effect will be one of disappointment, because the comic cannot, does not, or will not compete with what the prose version creates in your mind. I cannot recommend the comic to someone who would be willing to read the short story, because they would find the prose version to be so much more enjoyable. “Murder Mysteries,” the story, is a must read. Murder Mysteries, the comic, is a lesser version of the same story. I would be so bold as to compare it to Wizard of Oz: you can watch it on a 20” Black and White television, and you’ll get the idea, but it won’t be the same as seeing it on the big screen.


Written by Rick Veitch

Art by Frank Cho and Rick Veitch

Published by ABC/Wildstorm/DC

Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

Who says there are no happy endings in Indigo City? Some of the characters get to live happily ever after thanks to Greyshirt, the science hero who wears an impeccable gentlemanly suit over bulletproof chain-mail (remember in the ABC universe, the term "superhero" doesn't exist since Superman was never published there. In fact, the most popular comic books feature Indigo hoodlums Franky Lafayette and Johnny Apollo).

Our story opens twelve years after Franky and Johnny disappeared in a gas explosion in Indigo. By now, we readers know that Franky has given up crime and become the hero Greyshirt to make up for his past deeds and to live a life of high adventure. He's taking a mudbath with his new girlfriend Laurel Lakeland (aka Cobweb). She speculates on Greyshirt's relationship with his sidekick Rocky, but he assures her that he and Rocky aren't anything like her and her sidekick/chauffeur Clarice, and you know what I mean by that. Their fun is interrupted by a call from Mayor Plato Plutarch.

It seems that Candi "Jailbait" Lovelace, ex-high school sweetheart of both Plato Plutarch and Johnny Apollo, and formerly the moll of gangster Spatz Katz, is on Death Row. She's asked to see the Mayor and Franky Lafayette. Not Greyshirt, but Franky. She has information that will lead Greyshirt to the redemption of his family (ailing gangster father Carmine Carbone, blind mother Lips Lafayette, and mildly retarded teenage sister Catherine) and a confrontation from a menace straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.

Frank Cho contributes art to an excellent, wacky back up story with Greyshirt battling teenage software pirate Jack Hawkins and his crew of buxom college babes. As always, the funniest portions of the book are the faux-newspaper THE INDIGO SUNSET, with new stories of Greyshirt stopping an invasion of "Eye-borgs" brought into our dimension after a dispute in a role playing game between physicists. It seems that the forces of super-string theory and quantum probability don't mix. Another story details the reunion of the Carbone family and the money they stand to make off the rights of the hit gangster show, THE CARBONES. In the advice column ASK DR. SYNTAX, a werewolf from Neopolis (the setting for Alan Moore and Gene Ha's TOP TEN) writes about his feelings of alienation. Another man, who happens to have a Greyshirt costume, writes in about finding evidence that his female boss fantasizes about being Cobweb and having Greyshirt make love to her on a rooftop. Dr. Syntax advises him to send his boss a Cobweb costume and an anonymous invitation, and to keep their masks on.

I have a feeling this book has been overlooked. Quite simply, it's a lot of fun and it says a lot about the great comic books of yesterday and today.

THOR #50

Writers: Dan Jurgens, Jose H. P. Armenta

Artists: Tom Raney, Deon Nuckols, & Joe Bennett

Publisher: Marvel

Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Is it a coincidence that Thor #50 (and Avengers #54, which I also reviewed this week) comes out a week and a half before Father’s Day? I’d like to think not. Stories of fathers and sons are common in the world of comics. Ennis’ Preacher and Robinson’s Starman are two series that come to mind that center around this type of relationship. Being a medium geared toward young males, it makes sense that there are so many comics dealing with this issue. At first glance, the recent Thor story arc entitled Lord of Asgard may not be categorized as a father and son tale, but the elements are ever present.

Quick re-cap time: Odin, the ruler of Asgard and father of Thor is dead, leaving Thor with the ominous duty of filling his father’s furry boots. Last issue, Thor left Asgard during a major Frost Giant attack to go to Midgard (Earth). This is a reoccurring tendency for Thor and the citizens of Asgard are not happy about it. Thor is now an all-powerful god torn between his duties as ruler of the godly Asgardians and protector of the frail humans of Earth. So what’s a god to do?

This question is dealt with in the whopper-sized fiftieth issue of Thor. The comic is split into three sections that, for the most part, work well together. The first story is by the regular creative team of Jurgens and Raney, but this is no regular story. Told in a series of splash pages, Jurgens and Raney recap the events leading up to Thor’s current role as Lord of Asgard and offer a peek at what is to come in the comic’s future. This is a good issue to jump onto if you haven’t been reading Thor in a while. Not only does this tale offer insight into the mind of the Asgardian Avenger, but it also defines what the Thunder God means to both the people of Earth and his fellow Asgardians.

The splash page is very common in comics, but in recent years, it has gotten a bad rap. More often than not, the presence of numerous splash pages in a book means lazy or poor writing. The early days of Image comics are a testament to this. Jurgens uses the splash page properly, in that he centers in on one defining moment in the story that is in need of special focus. The first story takes place over the span of about ten seconds, but these could very well be the most important seconds of Thor’s life. Jurgens gives importance to every moment and fills every page with thoughtful captions that tell an integral tale that could have long standing effects for this title.

Many of my fellow @$$holes have spoken vehemently about their dislike for Dan Jurgen’s attempts at writing. Jurgens did, in fact, drop the ball when he wrote the Teen Titans a few years back and I wasn’t too thrilled about his work on Superman either. But Jurgens seems to be more at home with Thor and I hope he plans on staying with this title for a long time to expand on the themes he has introduced in this series.

Let’s face it. If the splash page artist isn’t up to snuff, the book ain’t going to be worth it. Tom Raney’s art is definitely worth it. He’s doing the best art in his career, filling every page with enough depth and emotion to convey Jurgens’ heavy themes of conflict, loyalty, and responsibility. Jurgens and Raney have put together a very special issue that is definitely one of the best looking stories of this series.

Jurgens also writes a second tale, “Forever Divided”, focusing on the people of Asgard and how Thor’s neglect has affected their lives. A lot of interesting characterization is provided in this tale. Loki’s move to manipulate the population of Asgard into thinking that Thor may be unfit for leadership, and Thor’s long-time ally, Balder’s conflicted feelings about a friend who just doesn’t seem like he wants this mantle of leadership, are both examples of this. Balder has slipped into the background since Simonson’s classic run on the series, so it’s nice to see him showing a little depth in this issue.

One side note: I have noticed while reading this story that I have never seen Balder without his hat on. Even when he is on the mend after a battle and half naked, he still wears that blue hat with the little roll-y things on it. Very weird.

Anyway, the art on this story, by Deon Nuckols, is a too cartoony for my tastes and is a bit of a let down after Raney’s stellar first story. The story deals with some pretty heavy themes, and a more realistic artistic approach might have made it more effective. By the end of this story, Thor arrives at a solution to his conflicted feelings between Asgard and Earth. His solution is ballsy and I’m interested to see how the outcome unfolds in future issues.

The third and final tale is another episode of Tales of Asgard that fits in perfectly with the rest of the book. Writer Jose H. P. Armenta expands on Jurgens’s themes of the dangers that go with too much interaction between the gods and humans. History seems evident to repeat itself as Young Thor learns the hard way that it is best for the gods to leave the human race to make their own decisions. Fill in artist, Joe Bennett, does a good job of showing us a story of a father who lets his son make a mistake in order to learn an important lesson. But after the events in the first two tales of this book, it doesn’t look like Thor has learned this lesson and this time, Odin will not be around to console him when Thor’s decisions come back to bite him.

As Father’s Day comes and goes, thoughts of where we come from, who we can become, and if we have what it takes to fill the shoes of those who came before us often enter our minds. It was my own father’s passing many years ago that prompted me to dive into the world of comics at the age of twelve. The adventures of these colorful heroes provided an outlet for me when the world around me didn’t make any sense. Having missed out on many moments and lessons my father could have taught me, I find stories featuring this type of relationship extremely interesting. So thanks, Marvel, for the recent Thor and Avengers story arcs which deal with the complex relationships between fathers and sons. These stories are important to the world of comics and to its readers because isn’t everyone’s father the first hero in his or her lives?


By Mike Mignola

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by Village Idiot

And now, for the daguerreotypes.

You know those old, old photographs from the 19th century where the people look a little spooky; where eerily gothic-looking men and women sit stiffly and stare into the camera like corpses? For those of you who don’t know, those specific types of early photographs are called “daguerreotypes,” named for the French artist and amateur scientist who invented the process that created the pictures, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. And the reason why many of the people look so strange in the pictures is largely because the daguerreotype process required that the subject remain still for up to 45 minutes. Children would be harnessed in place. You’d look a little creepy too.

I’d imagine that for Mr. Screw-On Head, the hero of THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD, this wouldn’t be such a problem. After all, he is some sort of robot or metal man. On the other hand, you can see in the mock daguerreotype on the cover of the issue that he’s looking appropriately strange (of course, the fact that his metallic head is offset from his body and his neck is threaded like a screw is pretty freaky too). And once inside the issue, you find that daguerreotype feel, filtered through comic art rendering, throughout the entire story. When I first came upon this comic in the comic store, that’s what struck me: the eerily grotesque visuals. Those images were a little off-putting, but at the same time intriguing. I eventually bought it and read it, and was a little surprised discover that it was such a comedy. Well, kind of a comedy.

What story there is in THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD is about the title character trying to thwart Emperor Zombie from recovering a magical artifact that will allow Zombie to take over the world. But honestly, I don’t think this comic was really about the story. I think what Mignola was really going for was mood: a mixture of the dark, grotesque, and wacky. This is a comic where a daguerreotype-looking Abraham Lincoln gravely says, “God Speed, Screw-On Head”; where the hero, his sidekick Mr. Groin, and his three legged dog go searching for Zombie with zany aplomb (“Steady on, Mr. Groin”), and where the villain Zombie is ironically craven despite his horrible, rotting appearance (like a disgusting Mojo Jojo). For a final dada touch, the story ends with four page-size daguerreotype portraits of “three horrible old women and a monkey.” If you’re tuned into this kind of Victorian gothic camp frequency (lets imprecisely call it “Tim Burton by way of David Lynch”), you’ll probably like it. I have no doubt that this comic will find its audience: I’d imagine that the average comic book store cashier would go nuts for it. On the other hand, if you’re as square as I am, you’ll appreciate being able to talk with your Independent Comics-reading friends about one of their books; and then you can go back to reading Legion.

My Rating: A very wise man once said “If you’re tuned into this kind of Victorian gothic camp frequency, you’ll probably like it. On the other hand, if you’re as square as I am, you can probably skip it.”

NEW X-MEN #127

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: John Paul Leon; Inker: Bill Sienkiewicz; Colorist: Hi-Fi Design

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Reviewed by Cormorant

Why, I wonder, do we allow Grant Morrison to get away with shoddy dialogue and heavy-handed plotting, while simultaneously bashing Chris Claremont for the same on X-TREME X-MEN? I’m not defending Claremont; he’s lost much of what once made him great. I’m just saying that Morrison’s strong cult status shouldn’t put him above criticism when he writes a groaner of a line like this one, courtesy of a rioter shouting at the X-Men’s Jean Grey:

“Get her autograph, then let her burn!”

What the hell is that? The last time I saw such clumsy satire is…well, probably in skimming through X-TREME X-MEN. Here’s another winner of an exchange from the same scene:

Jean Grey: “Nobody here is a monster.”

Rioter (holding up the leg of a dog, supposedly killed by a mutant): “Yeah? Tell that to Snuffy!”

Grant, you’re killin’ me here! And if he’s not indulging in ridiculous moments of dialogue like these, he’s forcing dialogue into characters’ mouths that sounds suspiciously like his own words and suspiciously unlike anything they would say. That and cloaking half the dialogue in relentlessly serious, quasi-poetic musings. I think I liked Grant best when he was writing ANIMAL MAN, one of his more straightforward efforts. The characters there all had distinct voices, the plots were straightforward but smart as a whip, and the writing had a, dare I say it, warmth to it. All these things I find lacking in his run on NEW X-MEN, a title that I’ve been drawn to on several occasions, but am finally dropping after this issue.

Down to the specifics: This issue focuses exclusively on Xorn, the Chinese mutant introduced in Morrison’s near-indecipherable NEW X-MEN annual of several months ago. Xorn, for the uninitiated, is a mutant who was held in brutal captivity by the Chinese government for decades, only to be rescued and recruited by the X-Men. He finally joined the story during the previous arc featuring Cassandra Nova and the Shi’Ar, during which time I learned absolutely nothing about the character, save that he’s very empathic. Visually, he’s got the same uniform as all the X-Men, but his face is covered by a creepy, skull-like metal mask. Seems he’s got a miniature sun for a head ( Morrison loooooves that high-concept stuff), and his resulting powers are…well…very ill-defined. I know he can heal people, but when I tried to find more info on the ‘Net, here’s what I came across at a fan site:

“…possesses a microscopic star inside his skull which has consumed the rest of his head and shifted his consciousness to an astral plane while enabling him to harness its power as brilliant cascades of light, incinerating blasts of stellar energy, bio-forces which can heal the bodies of living organisms, and gravitronic emissions that manipulate gravity fields, or reverse the principles of his power to create a black hole which absorbs matter and energy into its event horizon.”

Yes, the proper response to that is, “WHAAAAAT?!!!!” Hey, I can appreciate the concepts Morrison is throwing out. They’re very imaginative. Unfortunately, Morrison seems to be more in love with creating ideas than expanding upon them or pinning them down, and in Xorn’s case, the high-concepts are so broadly defined that I suspect most folks will be clueless as to what Xorn does.

Oh, but the issue does have a plot. Seems a riot has broken out in “Mutant Town”, a sort of ghetto for mutants, regarding a mutant monster that may be eating dogs. Mutant Town is another one of Grant’s high concepts, and not a bad one, but once again, the concept is undercut with his love of bizarre execution. A riot cop provides the exposition for his partner:

“Go through it again, Dan – We got the gays in one part of town, the poets in the other and the anarchists here and the copy editors there. Now we got militant mutants setting up flags in Alphabet City.”

Again, the proper response is, “WHAAAAAT?!!!” What’s this talk about anarchists and copy editors having their own ghettoes? What’s “Alphabet City”? I get the concepts, strange as they are, but this is supposed to be set in a New York City that resembles our own world. Based on sales, it would seem fans are eating this stuff up, but on behalf of myself, I’d like to formally request that Grant come down off his high and try to write characters and settings that resemble the real world. I can deal with writers who take titles in bold new directions, but the Marvel Universe as a whole has always been grounded in a certain realism, and Morrison seems to be flaunting that realism for the sake of artsy self-indulgence. It was interesting for a while, but now it just seems masturbatory. Funny thing is, Morrison wrote passionately in his proposal for this series (reprinted in the first NEW X-MEN trade) regarding the need to make this series accessible to new readers. It’s anything but.

Back to the story. Xorn tracks down the mutant everyone’s all in a huff about. Turns out he’s another tragic mutant born of grim circumstances, much like Xorn himself or Morrison’s recent addition to the team, Angel, a flyer who escaped an abusive household. I realize this review is already pretty acidic, but let me say that I’m getting pretty tired of Morrison’s parade of sad-sack mutant tragedies. The pity-factor Morrison is evoking for mutants almost puts Claremont’s old stuff to shame. All humans seem to be evil and self-serving, all mutants empathic and beautiful on the inside. I gather this is Morrison playing up the “us vs. them” concepts he spoke of in his proposal, in which mutants stand for any disenfranchised group, but he’s carrying it to absurd lengths. Claremont used to write some silly mob scenes, in which average folks became vile mutant-haters, but he at least provided some balance by occasionally giving the X-Men a government agent friendly to the cause, or the thanks of some working-class stiff they’d saved.

Lordy, I could pick out dripping sentiment and cheesy dialogue from this book all day long, but let’s just say that the book has become so far removed from the traditions of old that either I just don’t get it, or Grant is doing one hell of a job of pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. In a telling irony, it’s actually the alternate-world adventures of the ULTIMATE X-MEN that I’ll be turning to for my mutant fix. It’s got its flaws, but at least Millar mixes some of his big ideas with action and characterization. We’re over a dozen issues into Morrison’s run, and I still can’t pin down any of the characters for Chrissake! Something’s seriously wrong!

Final judgment: Morrison’s as sentimental as Claremont at his most cloying. His dialogue is pompous, filled with non-sequiturs, and serves to reveal more of himself than the characters. He can’t write action scenes for crap. I recommend the title to non-fans of the X-Men and self-deluding hipsters.


Written by Grant Morrison

Pencilling by Chris Weston; inking by Gary Erskine

Published by Vertigo/DC

Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

I am the wrong person to review this comic. I don't like or understand comics that wallow in ugliness. Not that I'm a peaches and sunshine guy by any means, but I really don't see the attraction of the ugly and the degrading. I'm not sure why so many comic books go for it. You don't see it in many movies or novels or T.V. I dunno. I'm either too old or too young for this kind of shit.

So, Buzz, why'd you buy this comic and want to review it? Well, I saw some of the great looking bio-mechanical art in one preview or another, and I knew Grant Morrison is one of today's hottest writers, even though I've never read any of his comics before. Based on Vertigo's promotion "prosthetically outfitted dolphins in scuba gear, a hard smoking chimpanzee who dresses like a guard at the Kremlin and some cryptic pronouncements that something sneaky is going on under our very noses is just the beginning of the world-class weirdness to come" sounded very cool. And I'm not a prude. I'm just not interested in another guy's masturbation habits for one thing.

So what we have is this MATRIX-like story about a schmuck who lives alone with his cat, picks his nose, works for an asshole, whacks off to porn and keeps getting warnings from a mysterious Carrie Anne Moss babe. Another babe, bald with a comb over -- yeech! -- appears in said schmuck's shower, does the Kneeling Parisienne for him and turns him back into his real identity of Officer Schmuck or whatever. After that, they take some eye-drops and board a quantum garbage truck that takes them into the Matrix or whatever.

I am aware that Grant Morrison has a lawsuit going against the producers of THE MATRIX, stating that it was cribbed from his THE INVISIBLES. I haven't read THE INVISIBLES so I don't know. I might check out the first trade one day, but I'm in no hurry.

Anyway, the art is fine. The modernist, info-poster like cover by Carlos Segura is very cool. And the writing is fine as well. I'm just not into this sort of thing.

I just want to state that this might all be my personal taste or lack thereof. I would especially welcome any semi-intelligent defense of this comic and this style ("you suck, Buzz" does not count). Maybe some Talkbacker might be able to convince me to buy a second issue. In order to do that, you'll have to be pretty damned convincing.


Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning – Writers

Olivier Coipel – Pencils; Andy Lanning – Inks

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Village Idiot

George Will once said about baseball that the more you know about it, the more you enjoy it. Of course, this same principal could be said to apply to a lot of subjects, including, I think, DC Comic’s The Legion. I say “I think,” because, to be honest, I don’t know the stats for all the members of the The Legion team yet. Heck, I don’t even know the names of all the members of the team yet – and this is my fifth issue in. If ever there was a title that needed a Secret Files and Origins issue, this is it.

Sidebar: Of course, the writers of The Legion do make the effort to tag the characters early on in each issue with the usual helpful comic book expository dialog, where names find there way into every sentence. For example: “Hey Buzz Maverick, let’s get ready to fight the badguys!” “Right you are Jon Quixote! Let’s get ‘em!” “I’m ready when you are, guys, or my name isn’t Ambush Bug!” etc. (This is the type of dialog that constituted about 80% of Crisis on Infinite Earths.)

And yet even though I don’t know all the players, The Legion manages to serve up a pretty good ball game. The Legion #8 was an enjoyable read, with enough superhero smackdown to keep just about any mainstream comic fan entertained.

The Legion #8 is actually the third installment in the “Terror Incognito” story arc, featuring the classic villain Ra’s al Ghul. This time around, Ra’s has been masquerading as the 30th Century’s President of the United Planets, while hatching a plot to instantly create a race of superhumans through a comic book-science process called Hypertaxis. Apparently, a suitable global cataclysmic emergency will cause a species to jump ahead millions of years in evolution (yes, yes, I know: put your biology textbooks and any rudimentary knowledge of natural selection away for this one). Ra’s plan to bring about this emergency? Bring the moon too close to the Earth, creating a worldwide catastrophe. After human race jumps, Ra’s will then be able to lead these new superhumans onto greatness. Of course, if you happen to be one of the majority of humans that doesn’t get the jump, this sucks. That’s where The Legion steps in, trying to stop Ra’s and the encroaching moon, which has already begun to cause massive global destruction.

Like I said, Abnett and Lanning wrote a very enjoyable comic, even though I’m still only beginning to figure out who’s who in The Legion, and what they do. At this point, Mon-El, Cosmic Boy and Ultra Boy all seem pretty interchangeable, like different versions of Superboy. But don’t get me wrong, there were some good character moments in the issue; for example, Ra’s was written so pithy, so arrogant, so eeevil, he was great. However, this issue was clearly driven more by plot than character, and plot is where the issue really came though. For example, when the available members of the Legion carry out a strike on al Ghul’s headquarters, there’s a face off between The Legion and Ra’s that’s a blast (he single-handedly takes them to school). There’s also a nifty confrontation between Ra’s and Mon-El, who was formerly al Ghul’s tortured prisoner. Seeing Mon-El rise to the occasion is one of those resonant moments when you feel the triumph swell inside your chest. For a comic fan like me, those are the kinds of moments I live for. The issue even had a few surprises for those of us who’ve been keeping up with the series.

As for Coipel and Lanning’s art, I felt it was appropriate enough. I tend to feel that moments like Mon-El’s confrontation with Ra’s owe more to the writing than to the art; however, I’m willing to concede that a poorly executed picture could have blown it. None of the artwork really dazzled me, but it did allow me appreciate the story without obstruction; by and large, that’s all I really ask for. One observation: I feel as though there’s a manga or anime influence in there that I just can’t put my finger on, and manga-type art is not my favorite. But again, it was evocative enough to compliment the writing and help make the issue a solid read.

The world of The Legionseems dense and complex, and I really like that. The JLA has 6 members; in The Legion #8, I counted 16 Legionnaires. That’s quite a team. However, I have the feeling that as I continue reading this series, I’ll get to know these 16 people and their world more and more; and perhaps I’ll find that I enjoy this series on a deeper level, like Will’s baseball. Whatever the case, issues like this one give me no reason to stop reading this title, and some great reasons to continue.

My Rating: To drive this baseball analogy into the ground, reading the The Legion #8 as a Legion neophyte is like being my mom and going to see a Padres game back in the nineties, where Tony Gwynn gets a homer.


Written by Geoff Johns

Pencils & Inks by Scott Kolins and Andy Lanning

Published by Marvel Comics

An angry, then gushing, then hopeful review by Jon Quixote

The Thing gets no respect.

To me, Ben Grimm is the most richly painted character in comics. Equal parts Falstaff and Frankenstein’s Monster, he can be hilarious, tragic, and a remarkable testament to the enduring power of the human spirit, all in the space of a single panel. He’s the heart of the Fantastic Four, the star of one of the best comic book love stories, and has scrapped his way through some of Marvel’s most famous fight scenes. But when it comes to his own series, The Thing just can’t catch a break. Marvel Two-in-One was always mired in the shadow of Marvel Team-Up, even though the former was vastly superior in virtually every way (except maybe title). His mid-80’s solo series should be required reading for anybody who dares step into Joe Quesada’s office asking for a job, but yet it failed to stay on the shelves for more than a few years.

But after a long, undeserved hiatus, the Thing is back in a much ballyhooed mini-series. And not just any mini-series, this one comes from a superstar creative team just in time for comics’ biggest summer in at least ten years, and blazing a trail for Marvel’s much publicized Fantastic Four relaunch this August. Finally, Ben Grimm gets another chance to shine. And, of course, this is also the time that the morons currently writing Fantastic Four decide to screw it up.

A quick summary of Fantastic Four, specifically #54, but really, any issue.

Sue: I’m pregnant. The baby’s coming. Ow.

Doctor: Good lord, something is horribly wrong. Where’s Reed Richards?

Reed: I’m far away, stuck fighting bad guys.

Thing: I’ll help ya, stretcho! Aww crap, I changed back into Ben Grimm

Johnny: I’ll go find an evil genius to help instead. Anybody have Doc Ock’s number?

Sue: Gnnnnaaaaah! We tried him last time. Didn’t work.

Johnny: Ok, Doctor Doom then.

Dr. Doom: I’ll help, but only because it will put that accursed Richards in my debt. Plus I get to see his wife’s beaver.

Johnny: Great! Um, while you’re at it, would you mind fixing some problems I have with my powers.

Dr. Doom: Grumble Grumble. You have insurance, right?

Reed: Uh, can someone help me? These bad guys are tough.

Thing: I gotta figure out a way to change back. There, I did it. POW!

Reed: Just in time, too.

Thing: Hey, lookit’ I can change back and forth whenever I want to now.

Johnny: You’re still ugly.

Franklin: Daddy, I wet the bed. And the psychic backlash destroyed Boston.

Reed: Back into suspended animation with you, young man.

All: Hahaha.

Apparently, the Thing is in the midst of a done-to-death character arc, where he can change back and forth between human and rocky. Again. Freakshow is a character-driven piece about what it means to be the monstrous member of the world’s most famous superheroes, to dedicate your life to helping people who turn away from you in fear and disgust. So, because the morons currently writing Fantastic Four can only cannibalize previous FF storylines for their ideas, Freakshow is robbed of most of its emotional impact; it is hard to feel empathy for a monster when he can twitch his nose and turn back into a wealthy, good-looking celebrity. This is really unfortunate, because Freakshow could have been great, a classic. Instead, we’ll have to settle for simply good.

Credit Geoff Johns for salvaging this mini-series. I had not read anything by this guy before Freakshow, but apparently he’s the best writer in the D.C. stable, which is sort of like saying the Rock is the best actor in the WWF. Or would be, if the Rock ever won an Oscar. Because this Johns guy can write! We can tell he’s good, because the first thing he does is prove to us that he’s well-versed in the character’s history, as though he’s saying, “Hey, I love this character too. And I promise you I’m going to treat him – and you – with all deserved respect.” Then we get a classic superhero style slugfest: bad guys show up, start a fight, then the good guys beat the crap out of them. The comic book equivalent of comfort food. Ahh. But it isn’t a pointless slugfest, no sir! Johns uses the action as a plot device. He knows it’s stupid to have the Thing change back and forth, so he immediately comes up with a way to keep the Thing from changing. And not only that, but in doing so, Johns also answers what is probably the second most asked question about the Thing, the first being the one about his…thing.

Another selling point: Scott Kolins was born to draw the Thing. It is certainly the most subtly expressive Thing I have ever seen. Monstrous without sacrificing humanity, empathetic, and humorous without venturing too far into cartoon territory. Kolins seems to gloss over the rest of the FF a bit, but screw them anyways. This is the Thing’s book, and it shows!

This is classic comic book stuff. It is a character driven piece, but Johns doesn’t use the emotional context to sacrifice important comic essentials like brisk pacing, bad jokes, and the Wrecking Crew getting the living tar beat out of them. And, if you can forget how great it should be, it’s a really good book. Hopefully, you’ll buy it. Hopefully, good sales will remind Marvel what a gem of a character they have in the Thing. Hopefully, tha

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