Harry here... Well because Moriarty decided to go to CanCun and get a vacation job as a donkey in a donkey act, I'm left with having to Post this column. God life is so unfair... there he is, walking around, being a rude American Tourist... displaying that white carcass of his, flesh barely clinging to those malnourished bones of his to all those innocent beach people. I hear he's been mistakened for one of the mumias of Guanjuato... so typical for one so old. Meanwhile, let's read about the comics...
Howdy, friends. Cormorant here, and in a week when we cast a hypothetical Team America movie, there’s really no introduction I can write to sufficiently brace you for what’s to come. Chug a bottle of Pepto and read on…
Carla Speed McNeil
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
If you haven’t been reading FINDER, the best comic currently on the shelves, here’s another good place to jump on. The new issue #30, “Beware of Dog”, is a stand-alone issue that bookends (with “Fight Scene”, issue #22) the recently completed Dream Sequence story arc. It’s probably a pretty good measure of whether or not a person will appreciate the series. First of all, this should weed out the hand-wringers. The story is about Jaeger trying to get laid, and no pussy-footing about it, either. You remember the saying about sailors having girls at every port – well, Jaeger’s just come to port, but none of his old girlfriends are willing to put him up this time around (as he puts it, there “seems to be an ass famine in the land”). So we find him at the pub with his realistically gay friend, relating some of his sexual misadventures. It’s terrifically blunt, which should knock out the “readers of mature comics are only kidding themselves” types within the first few pages.
More importantly, “Beware of Dog” is a character study of the most central figure to the series. You heard me: character study. In a comic. It happens, believe it or not. Details have always been closely guarded and sparsely dispersed when it comes to Jaeger, his past, and the inner workings of his mind, and we don’t discover anything earth-shattering here. What passes for characterization in so many comics, where every twenty or so issues some new secret relative or dirty past will be conjured up to give the hero some illusion of depth, is put to shame by Carla Speed McNeil’s ability to bring across a personality in a few brief, efficient strokes. Jaeger is such a good character: he’s utterly inscrutable some of the time, and there are panels where I would just kill for a thought balloon to explain what’s behind this expression, or that comment. The man will say that “what you see is what you get”, but we’ve been given much reason to doubt it. This issue, along with #22, gives us probably the closest look at the man since the Sin-Eater collections of several years ago, and it’s clear just how much McNeil has grown as a storyteller since then, even as her vision of the character remains strong and consistent. He was always distinctive, but Jaeger really comes alive for me in “Beware of Dog”, in the humor, in his entertaining and revealing monologues (“I get three kinds of Ascian women: disgruntled wives, Daddy’s little princesses, and death-obsessed psychos, all of which are actually one kind: pissed-off women who want to get back at somebody”), in the stories he *doesn’t* share, in the wide swath of moods we follow him through, and most revealing of all: in the eyes of an old friend, who has probably given up on trying to figure him out.
“Beware of Dog” is a typically top-quality issue of FINDER, and everything I look for in a comic: funny, insightful, intriguing, and a pleasure to look at. The artwork here is more focused on smaller panels and expressions than on the imaginative scenery that McNeil really excels at, but there are many great faces and one truly excellent full-page portrait that just knocks me out.
You can order this issue, and read several sample issues of FINDER online at Lightspeed Press.
THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #614
Written by Joe Casey
Art by Derec Aucoin
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
In his review last month of SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS #1, AICN’s Cormorant asked the question: “What if [a Superman comic] was actually intriguing?” I suppose the question was raised in light of the fact that “intrigue” doesn’t really seem to be a quality associated with Superman comics, at least not lately. His review went on to favorably discuss SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS as a newfound source of quality and interest, an idea I hope to at least partially challenge with my review of SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS #2 in this week’s column.
But as luck would have it, Corm really wasn’t that far off: There IS something intriguing going on with Superman right now, it’s just happening on another title. And surprisingly enough, it’s coming from Joe Casey.
Yes, I said Joe Casey. Former X-MEN writer/aspiring rock star Joe Casey’s began his run on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN a couple of years ago, near the time of “Our Worlds At War”, a period where all four of the Superman titles were often “linked” from week to week with the same storyline; an arrangement that, in Casey’s defense, I can imagine is not too conducive to individual creativity. His contributions during this period were not particularly spectacular, generally running the gamut from only mildly interesting (The “Persuader” storyline) to downright awful (AOS #610), with some occasional flashes of promise (his contribution to the “Ending Battle” hoo-ha last year). Moreover, I was beginning to get the sense that Casey’s heart really wasn’t in the enterprise, since he was simultaneously writing the avant garde AUTOMATIC KAFKA and describing in an interview how he used the money from Superman to finance the drug binges (!) that inspired it. Hate to sound like a prig (okay, not really), but this is the guy writing Superman?
And yet now that the Super titles are supposedly “de-linked”, with each title telling their separate storylines, Casey seems to have been let off his leash. In fact, he said as much in a recent interview. And things have definitely gotten better.
In AOS #114, Superman goes to Heroville. Superman goes to a town where the entire population is made up of Silver Age-type superheroes: everybody wears colorful costumes; everybody is guided by superhero ethics, and are thus kind and respectful to one another. Of course, any type of environment so rooted in nostalgic utopianism must be stifling and oppressive right? Wrong. Heroville is presented as a more ambiguous situation. It’s not perfect, in fact it’s pretty goofy, not to mention cloistered from outside interference. But at the same time, it’s nice and earnest in its innocence, and probably pretty fun. It’s like a superhero Brigadoon.
Meanwhile, a quiet menace seems to be getting louder. Across the U.S, super-heroes are turning up sick. Dying. Inexplicably, the life has been sucked from their bodies, leaving colorless husks that can only slowly writhe in silent agony, screaming without sound, like some kind of surreal nightmare. Of course we know that the heroes are falling in the wake of three mysterious, grim-looking men: The Hollow Men. By the time AOS #114 begins, the sick heroes at a meta-human medical facility are beginning to pile up; all colorless, all curled up into the fetal position, slowly wrenching in torment.
This Hollow Men subplot, which has been building since January, is getting genuinely creepy. The horror of the super-heroes is played slowly; subtly. We still don’t know how The Hollow Men are doing what their doing, let alone why; they’re shown simply entering or exiting a scene with a low-key noir undertone, leaving behind ruined super-heroes. (You want OUTER LIMITS Corm? THIS is OUTER LIMITS.) What makes it even more disturbing is that they’re beginning to affect super-heroes we know, like The Ray. A sense of dread is building, knowing that sooner or later, they’re going to come around to Superman.
A lot of credit for the emotional hits of this story, including the dread, goes to Derec Aucoin. His Heroville is fine, but since his art tends to be a little heavy on the inking anyway, the noir is where he’s really effective.
And of course, credit also has to be given to Casey, the new Casey. The new Casey began with AOS #612, in a story where Superman confronted a 1938 Siegel and Schuster “Champion of the Oppressed” version of himself. Next came an issue that I actually reviewed last month with a snarky FAQ, AOS #613. At the time, I really didn’t give too much consideration to what I thought was a pretty routine satire on commercialism ( I gave it a “C”). And yet, by the time AOS #614 rolled out, I was surprised to find that I was most eager to read it above all the other comics I had bought that week. The fact is that Casey is telling unique super-hero stories right now. He’s reaching for thematic relevance, and two out of three times, he’s been unexpectedly ambiguous about it; challenging about it. So although I find that I’m not walking away from ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN screamingly in love with the books, in three months time I’ve begun to look forward to these challenges.
And as it turns out, AOS #614 has turned out to be one of the most interesting comics I’ve read all month. Go figure.
THE ULTIMATES # 9
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
@$$HOLE Homeland Chemical Warfare Survival Kit
Greetings, Valued Paranoids! You have wisely purchased the @$$hole Homeland Chemical Warfare Survival Kit! Now, while your friends and loved ones are gagging on their own blood, you are able to survive for a couple of more hours, give or take.
Your kit contains:
1 roll heavy duty duct tape.
12 cellophane produce bags.
6 sanitary napkins.
1 pair of safety goggles.
1 comic book, THE ULTIMATES # 9, written by Mark Millar, art by Bryan Hitch, published by Marvel Comics Group.
For no extra charge, we have included:
1 case Herradura Tequila.
5 dozen limes.
1 set Ginsu knives.
1 shaker of Morton's Salt.
1 review of THE ULTIMATES # 9, as follows: "...it is insane how much I like this book! So many of my friends have issues with it, but I can find almost nothing to complain about in the pages of THE ULTIMATES. Not only does Bryan Hitch do action well, his art is always bold and evocative. Aided by Paul Mounts colors, Hitch always thrills us with the drama, with the size of the scene. Dawn at the Triskelion, with fighter planes and choppers taking off, carries with it a tinge of wistfulness. The clouds, the colors, outside the Wasp's infirmary room window are enough to underscore that something big is happening around the characters...
"...Mark Millar has a gift for both giving the readers what they want and smacking them in the face, often at the same time. A fighting mad Captain America has tracked down Giant-Man and takes him to the mat for Giant-Man's attack on the Wasp. Millar knows exactly who these characters are! Cap comes from a time that is no less complicated than today, but in Cap's time, people didn't make excuses, they didn't whine...hell, they didn't talk much at all. The Pyms, by contrast, only know how to communicate through excuses, wearing their dysfunctions and neuroses the same way they wear their superhero costumes. Bruce and Betty Banner have almost as strange a relationship as the Pyms. While it happened in another issue, I loved Betty's response to Bruce turning into the Hulk because he was jealous: "Well, that is kind of flattering." Reminds me of my favorite Jody Foster joke from NATIONAL LAMPOON'S letter column which featured a fake letter from Foster after John Hinkley attempted to kill President Reagan to win her affections: "It was pretty impressive, when you think about it." I'll bet Millar liked that gag too. Here, Millar uses a conversation between Bruce and Betty to cover the exposition, but he does it the way Elmore Leonard uses his characters’ conversation as narrative. It's simply more fun to read this away (at least once in a while; this is comics)...
"I pretty much like any version of Hawkeye and the Black Widow. Ultimate Natasha is my favorite member of the team. Again, Millar has Natasha reveal things about Hawkeye's character rather than having them come from Mr. Barton himself. I was surprised to learn that she isn't the girlfriend that has been mentioned at least once before and that Hawkeye has children. This was an excellent touch. Unlike most of the other characters, Hawkeye isn't much of a counterpart to his Marvel Universe doppelganger. He's an original creation, like Ultimate Thor, and he works well.
"The last two issues have had an interesting structure for comics. Action, followed by exposition/character. I hope Millar plays around with this, but doesn't overplay it.
"Normally, I don't buy individual issues, but I'm breaking this loose policy with the ULTIMATES. It's my favorite comic published on a semi-regular basis."
And because you've sprung for the deluxe survival kit, you also get:
1 AK-47S assault rifle.
60 extended ammo clips.
2 Smith & Wesson 45’s.
40 magazines of armor piercing rounds.
1 personal cassette player with a tape containing "Radar Love" by Golden Earring, or a tape of women saying sexy things in Southern accents, cued up to either Laura Dern saying, "I'm hotter than Georgia asphalt", or Meg Ryan saying, "Take me to bed or lose me forever!"
5 dozen blotters of laboratory quality d-lysergic acid.
GREEN ARROW #22
Written by Scott Beatty
Pencils by Phil Hester; Inks by Ande Parks
Published by DC Comics
A JonQuixote Review
SOLITUDE IS A KIND OF FREEDOM.
I’ve been thinking…
I’ve been thinking about my favorite comics from my youth. Fantastic Four #285. A child burns himself to death in homage to the Human Torch, leaving Johnny Storm to grapple with the guilt. Man of Steel #3, a clash of the titans free of the post-Dark Knight cynicism that still clings to those two icons. And Daredevil #191. One of the most formative literary experiences of my youth, a morality tale structured around the spine of a broken hero playing Russian Roulette with his infirmed nemesis.
Stories that stick out in my mind as being particularly well-crafted, or moving, or just somehow notable. Those are my favorites. My favorite Fantastic Four story. My favorite Batman/Superman team-up. My favorite Frank Miller tale. To that pile I could also add Sandman #31. Amazing Spider-Man #400. Superman Annual #11.
They’re all one-shots. Single issues; self-contained stories that tell one tale, cover to cover.
It’s a dying art.
Not a rant on an industry that is becoming increasingly trade oriented; business is business. Not a diatribe against writers who choose to draw out their stories over many issues. Not a baseless generalization on the inherent superiority of one type of story over another - art and writing do not lend themselves to those types of rules.
An acknowledgement. There is power there, power unique to the single issue story. Is it that the small size makes it easier to evade editorial interference, allowing a more cohesive creative vision to reach the page? Maybe it’s because shackles can be an artist’s greatest muse (my Cervantes is showing) or that limitations can challenge writers in ways that a blank slate cannot. Perhaps it’s just due to the simple truth that simplicity and constraint can be commanding literary devices.
I don’t know that Green Arrow #22 could be considered “commanding.” I do know that, in a week where critical juggernauts like Y – The Last Man and Sleeper hit shelves, flanked by steadily spectacular titles like Flash and Captain Marvel, a fill-in issue of Green Arrow, cobbled together by a guest writer, was my pick for best comic of the week.
And not because it slipped the dill of nostalgia into my pickle. Until I started thinking about the comic as a reviewer, instead of a reader, and until I tried to contextualize the issue, place it somewhere in the file of contemporary comics, nothing about it really evoked days of comic books past. Really, it’s just a Green Arrow story, one none too different in theme or goal than the six-part storyline that recently concluded. “The Vertigo Treatment” follows Ollie making an attempt to reconnect with where he came from, to resolidify his sense of self - events during which he is then confronted by a figure from his past. It’s very similar to “The Archer’s Quest.”
And more effective. More powerful. Certainly more poignant. And it’s not that “Archer’s Quest” was bad, not at all, but here my emotional involvement was greater - here the pathos resonated within. Maybe it’s because Beatty didn’t have all that space and leeway in which to get lost or tangled up in his own ideas, that he didn’t have to worry about structuring smaller arcs inside the larger, blanket one (not that many writers do anymore, but Metzer did). Or maybe it was simply because I didn’t have to go digging back into previous months to get my memory and my sentiments back up to speed as I rejoined the story, already in progress.
It’s good work. It’s everything a superhero comic book should be. It’s fun, it’s hyperbolized (but not ridiculously so), and, most importantly, everything – the action, the plot, the undercurrents – is predicated on character, characters we know and that we want to know more about, driving the story, driving our eyes from panel to panel.
And Beatty & Hester, the woefully underrated Phil Hester, get us in, get us out, and leave us feeling closer to the characters, feeling that we know them a little bit better, feeling satisfied that we got out of it what we want to get out of these comics in the first place.
I will remember this issue. And the people behind it. It’s nice to know there’s some life in the one-shot yet.
Will Pfeifer – Writer
Kano – Artist
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
By now we have heard the super-hero deconstruction song so many times, we not only know all the words, we know the chord changes. And the bass line. And the percussion track. (In fact, we could probably get a band together and put out a decent cover.) Since even before Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, we’ve been given comic after comic that once again shows us what it really means to be a super-hero. This motif is so ubiquitous that when we’re given a straightforward superhero with powers stops bad guys story, like THE FLASH, it’s darned refreshing.
And yet, I recently discovered that I haven’t seen every permutation. Although the theme and other aspects of the story are still familiar, some of the ideas Will Pfeifer has come up with in the new series HERO have felt new and thought-provoking enough to make for an interesting read. I’m enjoying it.
So far, the story is about a slacker named Jerry who has stumbled across the HERO dial from the DCU’s old DIAL “H” FOR HERO series, a magical artifact that allows the owner to transform into a new super-hero each time he dials the letters “H-E-R-O.” (I say “so far” because it’s my understanding that HERO will amount to a sort of anthology series as the dial is passed from new person to new person.) For a guy with low self-esteem like Jerry, the HERO dial would seem to be a godsend, giving him the adventurous superhero lifestyle that we read about in other comics every week, the kind enjoyed by the original holder of the Dial, Robby Reed (First appearance: HOUSE OF MYSTERY #156, 1966). (I’m telling you people, I do my research.)
But of course, this is 2003, and if you hadn’t noticed, postmodernism is all the rage, especially in comics, so we, along with Jerry, get to find out that the meaning of being a superhero is not quite what we thought it would be. We already know that things won’t go particularly well for Jerry because of the framing device, the old call-to-the-suicide-hotline-to-tell-the-story gambit, complete with tense, fervent exchanges where Jerry gets angry at the operator who just doesn’t understand.
But as Jerry’s superhero experience unfolds, I found myself fairly involved. We’ve all at one time or another dreamed about having superpowers. But the question is, once you have the powers, how exactly does one superhero? For example, as Jerry takes the persona of various superheroes, he adopts the classic superhero technique of skulking around the rooftops looking for crime. And as logic would have it, he learns that skulking on rooftops in the middle of the city just isn’t very effective for crime detection.
But then again, Jerry already knows where the real crime is: the same place it is in real life. So Jerry, the big, star-spangled behemoth superhero, goes into the ghetto to get it.
The tone of the story is pretty dark, due in large part to Kano’s atmospheric art, layered in blacks and murky reds. My only other exposure to Kano is from some ACTION comics from a few years ago, where his work seemed a little cartoony (like a cartoony Howard Porter, if that helps). But now his work seems much more textured, more fully realized, and actually an enjoyable part of the book.
As for how much gas the HERO concept will have when person after person has had an opportunity to discover what being a super-hero is really like, I have no idea. THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO lasted only one season, but then again, that was only one guy. Whatever the case, I’m honestly enjoying what HERO has to offer right now. If you can mange to look past a somewhat predictable structure and enjoy a few curves of the curves HERO manages to throw, perhaps you will too.
reviewed by: Lizzybeth
Let’s talk about that cover. It’s a beautiful, beguiling cover that a JPG just can’t do justice to, so keep an eye out for it at your shop. A scan robs the image of its warmth and dulls the tones that in person look like fire. An inexplicable layer of grime washes over the colors, subtly tinting the lovely woman’s face with an aura of impropriety. It’s sort of like a poster for Unfaithful as drawn by Mucha, isn’t it?
So saying the cover is the best thing about CHEAT isn’t as harsh as it sounds. It’s a perfectly nice book, with a simple domestic tale of infidelity and guilt in a young marriage. The characters are believable, and it’s easy to empathize with Janey and Marc, young travel writers whose hectic lives have allowed them to drift apart. Christine Norris is an eminently readable young artist whose work on HOPELESS SAVAGES has been turning heads for Oni Press over the last year. Drawing like a slightly more cinematic Jessica Abel, she knows how to portray a long conversation without letting the scene get static. Aside from an awkward frame where it looks like one character’s head is put on backwards, her characters have very natural poses.
Unfortunately, CHEAT has the weakness of being extremely reminiscent of every other indieship title. No matter how skillfully executed it may be, it’s hard for me to finish with more than a sense of, well, “so what?” While the story is very clear and readable, it’s a bit too uncomplicated – a little uncertainty could have done wonders. There are few surprises in store plotwise, as the book proceeds nicely from point A (flirtation) to point B (spouse is away) to point Impulsive Fling and Subsequent Guilt. What’s more, we haven’t spent enough time with these characters to really care whether they stay together. The cheating couple are shown together just as often as the married couple, and when the outside party drops out, so does an entire level of the story. As a series, it would have the makings of a good beginning; as a short story, it needs more. Still, some readers are looking for quiet, relatable tale like this, and for female artists to support, and to them I’ll recommend CHEAT for what it is: a nicely drawn, not terribly deep bit of domestic drama. Me, I’ll keep CHEAT on hand for that lovely cover alone, and hope for the day when Norrie will produce interiors with the spark and imagination to match.
JLA: SCARY MONSTERS #1 (of 6)
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciller: Joshua Hood
Inker: Sean Parsons
Reviewed by superninja
Claremont has written the best X-Men stories ever told and some of the best melodrama a superhero book has to offer. That's ultimately what drew me to comic books and it's missing in them today under the phony guise of "sophistication" *cough*Ultimates*cough*. Chris Claremont gets a lot of flack these days. And I'm about to give him some more, sorta.
Scary Monsters has some good things going for it. The story opens in 1877, with the black "Buffalo Soldiers" (named such by the Indians because of their dark skin and nappy hair - didn't know that myself). They're the cleanup crew in the cavalry of Colonel Daniel Rutledge, who is your typical asshole white guy officer in Union dress. They've just massacred the Native American hostiles and Lincoln Freeman (Claremont, never one for subtlety) and his fellow black officers are left behind to burn away the atrocity. But Lincoln has spared an old man and his daughter from the slaughter, and hid them at the outskirts of the camp.
What does this have to do with JLA? Good question. Still, it's interesting stuff. When it gets to the event that propels the story into the future, the derailing begins. It seems that the old man is a shaman and he's containing an evil that will destroy the entire world. One of those Lovecraftian numbers that comic book writers love. Is it an alien, is it metaphysical? Ho-Hum.
But the fun picks up again with Kyle and Wally vacationing together with their significant others in a resort hotel right out of The Shining. And here Claremont gets it right. Wally and Kyle are fast friends. Why wouldn't they go on vacation together? (Note to DC: Showing characters out of the costume acting like normal people is fun. It makes them seem more like us. Showing them interacting with other characters out of costume, even better.) Claremont brings back that old feeling of a life outside of tights. You can be a flashy superhero and still appreciate a vacation away from it all with your friends, no modern cynicism necessary.
Picking back up on the derailing note, Claremont introduces forest service firefighters for the sole purpose of interrupting the superhero vacation and letting the evil back into the world. And this is where Claremont gets it wrong. The idea of fate and circumstance is fine, when it's done well. But the firefighters are given a silly entrance that makes it seem contrived. Wally, Kyle and Jade then battle the firefighters possessed by the evil and contain the blaze they created in the nearby woods. The JLA doesn't show up formally until the final page.
That's the main flaw of this issue. Everything surrounding the monstrous evil is interesting. It's the obviousness of pushing the story forward that's distracting.
The art and colors are very effective in setting up the story. When we get to the modern setting, they are adequate but don't have the effect of the first several pages.
Five issues to go, but I'm curious to see how Claremont will portray the JLA team dynamic: cardboard icons or some of the soap opera stylings that made X-Men such a great read? After all, with possessed superheroes you can pretty much get away with anything: it can be fun to see superheroes misbehavin'.
Based on the strengths of this issue, I'm definitely giving the next one a try.