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

What? Did the headline not pretty much say it all this week? Get busy!! Check this out!!


We've got 'em and other comic review sites don't. Fact.

From indie comics guru, Lizzybeth, to Superninja, who proves that superheroes can appeal to cool chicks, to High Priestess of Ain't-It-Cool-News, Alexandra DuPont (who guest reviews for us at the close of this very column!)…we've got the coolest comic-reviewing women to be found online. Y'see, we're actively shaking up the old "boy's club" mentality. We're breaking down archaic barriers. Hell, we even let a Canadian join us.

What's that you say? What about the women of the Sequential Tart website? Okay, fine. They're pretty cool, too. But that's, like, an all-women commune, and if a man dares to walk into their clubhouse…THEY KILL HIM. Fact.

Us? We're all about mixin' it up. So c'mon, female comic fans - come hang out with us. You can talk with the other ladies when the guys inevitably start to creep you out.


Writer: Mark Waid

Pencils: Mike Wieringo with Casey Jones

Inks: Karl Kesel with Casey Jones

Colors: Paul Mounts

Reviewed by superninja

What a pleasure to finally read a great Fantastic Four story!

Let me backtrack for a moment here. After picking up the beginning of Waid's run with the 25-cent issue, I had been underwhelmed. It was lightly entertaining, but certainly didn't hook me, and I didn't care for the Disney-esque art.

The Fantastic Four have never been my cup of tea. It was fun when they showed up in crossovers or other titles when I was a kid, always filling their classic roles: Reed the great idea-smith, Sue the spirited fighter who never gives up, Johnny the hot-head, and the Thing's, "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" But they never really caught on with me. They seemed more a part of the past in the context of those early defining encounters with Galactus, Namor, Dr. Doom… While their villains became staples for the entire Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four just seemed like archetypes without much substance. (Admittedly, I only began reading them in the 80s, so feel free to castigate me when I say that my favorite Fantastic Four run was when Simonson wrote them in a little-known book called The Avengers.)

Meanwhile, the debate was going long and hard between FF fans during Waid's run and it reached its pinnacle during "Unthinkable" - only to be later outmatched by the Waid firing/rehiring debacle. After listening and waiting, I had already made up my mind to pick this trade up due to the fan controversy surrounding it. I'm very glad I did. This story arc is, in my mind, one of the best Fantastic Four stories ever told. Are all of the stories leading up to this particular story great? I have no idea. But this? THIS ROCKS.

Doctor Doom goes after Reed Richards and his family in a very personal way. I'm not really shocked by the idea of Doom attacking Reed's family to get to him because he's done it before. "Even the children?" Nope, not shocking. What's shocking is that Doom sells out a part of himself to do it. Doom knows he can't beat Reed with technology so he has to admit defeat and fall back on magic. This caused some controversy, which I can't say I disagree with it, because it undermines the vanity in Doom, which is such a classic element of his character. However, if this element were just a gimmick, I wouldn't be writing this review.

Waid opens the story from Doom's point of view as we see him seek out his first love Valeria through fortune tellers. He relates their relationship warmly through flashbacks, with redemption in his words. Then Doom finds her, an old woman, and holds her in his arms, speaking of the past, making promises. You want to believe him. Then as Valeria's old face crinkles in a tearful smile thinking that at last she's found love…

That's when I realized how well the art fits the story. Its warmth and friendliness softens Doom's cruelty and desperation while still punctuating it. The opening of "Unthinkable" really grabbed me, and this story is as much about Doom as it is the Fantastic Four. Reed and Doom are both driven intellectuals, they can become focused and single minded and forget about the world outside their own personal bubbles. The comparisons have been made before.

The main crux of the story is that Doom gives up his ego in a desperate attempt to finally defeat Reed. Reed gives up his ego in a desperate attempt to save his family. I remember Waid saying he wanted to focus on the family aspect of the Fantastic Four when he started this run. Family plays a big part here and the emotions run high while seeming true to the characters. There are consequences, they suffer, and you feel it with them.

Waid has done an excellent job in crafting a Fantastic Four story that brings them together so that we feel they're family, and not just pretending at it.


Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Barry Windsor-Smith

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Reviewed by Cormorant

Over the years, I've heard many a comics fan all but swoon over the early 70's CONAN comics published by Marvel. Not only was writer Roy Thomas supposed to have been the perfect guy to adapt Robert E. Howard's famed barbarian to comics, but readers always went on and on about how those issues were such an kick-ass sampling of Barry Windsor-Smith's emerging art. And over the years, I've really wanted to see that art. I'd come to dig Windsor-Smith's work on various Marvel projects in the 80's, on a variety of Valiant comics in the early 90's, and on his short-lived creator-owned series, STORYTELLER, in the late 90's. So when I finally got my hands on THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN Vol. 1, the first in a series of Dark Horse reprints of Marvel's classic Conan comics, what to say of the legendary Barry Windsor-Smith's earliest comic book art?

He did a pretty damn good Jack Kirby.

It's true. Windsor-Smith's in total Kirby mode in this trade, unmistakably aping Kirby's grandiose poses, dynamic anatomy, and explode-off-the-page storytelling. Of course, following in the footsteps of master like Kirby can hardly be a bad thing, but I have to admit I was taken aback, having expected a nascent version of the lush, "New Romanticist" style defined the Windsor-Smith I knew. You can see bits and pieces of that style, and sometimes the accompanying hatching and baroque detail seem an awkward finish over the harsh Kirby-esque forms. Ultimately, though, the sheer energy and impeccable storytelling just force the mix to work. Conan's not what you call a subtle character, anyway, and so the Kirby pastiche ends up a nice compliment to Roy Thomas's ball-to-the-walls stories of honor, vengeance, freedom, and all those other qualities that later made their way into flicks like BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR.

And, yes, Thomas was on! These are densely-written tales of unforgiving adventure, and Thomas ably conveys Conan's rugged amoralism with the best of the barbarian's chroniclers. Conan's an honorable warrior, absolutely, but also an unrepentant thief, a loud-mouthed braggart, and a mercenary who unhesitatingly puts his needs above those of all others. If he happens to give cutthroat a lesson in honor or teach some conniving wench that not all men are her puppets, rest assured, it's purely by accident.

What I enjoy most about Thomas's writing is that, while the "barbarian warrior" archetype has become a well-worn cliché over the years, there's still an air of fierce originality to Conan's world in his hands. Part of the originality stems from the realism Howard originally invested the mythic "Hyborean Age," making it far from a generic swords 'n' sorcery setting, but also from Thomas's moment-to-moment writing which blends classic Marvel gusto with almost poetic descriptions of this lost era. In point of fact, several of these stories are freely adapted from Howard's originals, or from snippets of poems he wrote; no surprise, then, that his exotic, pulp descriptions inform the stories. But Thomas picks up the baton and runs with it like a natural. Little wonder that he'd go on to win over more and more fans as he scripted over 200 Conan comics in the years to follow.

I think my favorite story of the lot is "Tower of the Elephant," one of the Robert Howard adaptations. Set in the "thief city" of Zamora, it has Conan pulling some serious breaking and entering on a cultist tower to obtain a fabled gem within. The story's clearly the source for the similar scene in the movie CONAN THE BARBARIAN, with Conan working side-by-side with another badass thief (different name from the movie thief, though) and going toe-to-toe with a creepy, giant monster (a spider instead of a snake, though). Where it departs from the movie and breaks from the fantasy clichés is when Conan encounters the titular elephant of the tower, a god and/or alien who walks the fine line between the extraterrestrial and metaphysical in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft. It's a fantastic scene. What's more, it reveals rare moments of both fear and pity in Conan, humanizing a character we sometimes think of more as an unstoppable cliché than as the unique creation he is.

All the stories within THE CHRONICLES OF CONAN have been re-colored with lush computer tones, and I applaud Dark Horse's efforts. I cringe when I see how poorly Marvel and DC's Golden and Silver Age stories look when they make the transition from the weathered tans of the old pulp paper to the crisp white archival pages, but Dark Horse has actually evolved the process. They've re-colored the material using modern techniques that suit the glossy paper, but they've kept the special effects and airbrush-style color gradations to a minimum such that it still suits Windsor-Smith's style. Is the artistic integrity of the original visuals compromised by the re-coloring? The purist in me says "yes," but unless publishers are willing to go to the trouble and expense of photographically reproducing the actual look of the old pulp paper (as Art Spiegelman did on JACK COLE & PLASTIC MAN), I can get behind quality re-coloring like we see here.

My fellow Fans of Barbarianism, we're still several months off from Kurt Busiek's Conan relaunch for Dark Horse, and in the interim, you owe it to yourselves to check out the big guy's roots. I think readers will be surprised at the quality of these stories, which don't feel a bit dated, and given the density of panels that characterized 60's and 70's comics, you damn well get your money's worth for a mere sixteen bucks. Besides, where else you gonna go to find so many endlessly great lines to read aloud in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice?

Note: Be sure to read Roy Thomas's entertaining afterword to the trade, in which he relates the story of how Marvel got the rights to Conan and how he came to write the series. The best anecdote revolves around the first sales increase the book saw after Stan Lee sagely advised Thomas to correct its one notable weakness: "Too many animals." Awesome.


Story 1:

David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns – Story

Geoff Johns – Dialog

Stephen Sadowski – Penciller

Wade Von Growbadger – Inker

Story 2:

Brian Azzarello – Writer

Eduardo Rizzo – Artist

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Village Idiot

The final panel of the first story of JSA: ALL-STARS #6 shows Doctor Mid-Nite standing triumphant on what appears to be the rooftops of Portsmouth, Washington. Yes, that’s right, the bustling metropolis of Portsmouth, Washington. (Apparently, Portsmouth is moving up in the world: they also have a subway system, which is featured prominently in the story...)

Now those of you who know me know that my natural comic book tastes tend towards the fundamentals: the fantastic situations, the celebration of virtue, and, of course, the costumes. Needless to say, I really like Doctor Mid-Nite's costume. It's a sublimely elaborate affair of a full cowl and goggles, a cape, various straps of unspecified purpose, and even crescent-shaped buttons on the front. (How many superhero costumes can you name that have buttons?) It's great stuff, really; and in fact, if they gave Mid-Nite a new mini-series, I'd be all over the first issue, mainly just to see a guy in the weird costume do stuff.

But back to ALL-STARS #6: as I said, the story ends with Doctor Mid-Night standing triumphant upon the rooftops of Portsmouth, Washington, in full Mid-Nite regalia. And I couldn't help asking myself: How in the world is this guy getting home?

That’s what I get for reading so much Bendis. (The deconstruction on my part is getting involuntary.)

This is not to suggest that I disliked ALL-STARS #6. After all, I got to see a guy in a weird costume do stuff. On the other hand, there wasn’t that much stuff for the guy to do outside of deliver a baby in the back of a taxicab (okay, a crashed subway car) and recap his origin (with some new details that builds on Matt Wagner’s 1999 mini-series which introduced the new version of Mid-Nite).

As with all the installments in the ALL-STARS limited series, this ALL-STARS #6 was a fairly straightforward a character piece, with a stylized Golden Age (1940s) backup story. The stories in ALL-STARS are very much like the small story vignettes you’re liable to find in DC’s recent SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS books; so much so that I’m inclined to simply call ALL-STARS an extended SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS series for the JSA, only without the cheesy profile pages. (For an extended discussion of the decline of encyclopedic superhero reference comics, please consult Cormorant’s review of JLA-Z).

So both of the stories in ALL-STARS #6 were nicely diverting, but only at the level of a SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS book. That is, there was nothing there to blow anybody’s doors off, or even kick them open with verve; but perhaps there was enough to please the established fan looking to get to know Doctor Mid-Nite a little better, or maybe satisfy a bit of the curiosity of the non-fan wondering what’s up with the guy in weird costume on the cover.

And speaking of the guy in the weird costume on the cover, How did he get home that night? To my knowledge, Mid-Nite’s not a grappling hook and rope guy like Batman, so he couldn’t swing home Does he have a Mid-Nite Mobile? He is a “lurking in the shadows” kind of guy. Did he skulk home? How dignified is that? Does he take a taxi while in that outfit? What??


By Mark Wheatley

Cover by Adam Hughes



Written by Robert Kirkman

Art by Tony Moore



Written by Jason Henderson

Art by Greg Scott

Published by Image

Reviewed by Buzz "Free Chong" Maverik

Once upon a time, whenever superhero comics weren't selling so well, the major comic publishers would trot out other genres. Crime. Western. Science fiction. Film adaptations. Even toy and video game adaptations (the first time around, not the retro stuff which is trotting out retro stuff, a different thing altogether). Nowadays, we get the same superhero stuff released under a cool sounding group line. But that's another bitch.

In the early 1970's, Marvel superhero sales were starting to fade again. Ever the brilliantly innovative opportunist, Stan Lee told Roy Thomas to come up with something. Soon the racks at 7-11, Circle K and Stop 'n' Go were filling up with monster comics. The best of the lot was TOMB OF DRACULA by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. But there were many, many wonderful others! WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. ADVENTURES IN FEAR (at first starring Man Thing, which got its own title, and later Morbius, The Living Vampire). GHOST RIDER. SON OF SATAN. SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS. MONSTERS ON THE PROWL. CREATURES ON THE LOOSE. TOWER OF SHADOWS. CHAMBER OF DARKNESS. FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER. MARVEL CHILLERS. Running around in these titles we had such characters as The Living Mummy, the Golem, Man-Wolf, It the Living Colossus, and various assorted zombie types.

Image Comics, still underrated after all these years, has launched its own mini-wave of horror this month (to coincide with Yom Kippur or perhaps Columbus Day or even Canadian Thanksgiving, I would imagine). I'm happy to report that all three books are winners. All are beautiful, highly readable and innovative.

Mark Wheatley's FRANKENSTEIN MOBSTER more closely resembles FABLES and Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT than a straight-up attempt at chills. All of the Old World monsters have immigrated to the U.S. In one major city, they live in a ghetto called Dead End where they are preyed upon by the Mafia. Rookie police detective Terry Todd, still grieving her father's mysterious death, assists a Mummy cab driver in rescuing his kidnapped Mummy daughter from the mob. Meanwhile, a mysterious mad scientist is assembling body parts while singing a sad song. How much better can it get? This masterfully cartooned story is playful without being silly.

Eventually we all know the world will end up in the dead hands of zombies (or killer cyborgs or damned dirty apes, take yer pick) . Zombie plagues are kind of an archetype that arose in the mid-twentieth century. Like the protagonist in DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, Officer Rick Grimes wakes up in a hospital to find his world overrun by creatures (zombies in this case, not monster space plants). Writer Robert Kirkman, who is currently doing superlative work on INVINCIBLE and a slew of Image titles, and who will one day be in the Geoff Johns league in the majors, tells us in lettercol that this is not a horror comic. FANGORIA readers know the groan when a filmmaker tells us his horror movie is not a horror movie. THE WALKING DEAD is a horror comic and a damned good one!

Kirkman has the unique gift of leaving much of the story in the hands of the artist. His stories read so well because he doesn't overwrite. He only tells us what's necessary and allows the artist, Tony Moore, to show us the rest! Moore is a great find. He's a comic book artist who definitely learned to draw from life and not just comics. Everything in THE WALKING DEAD looks like the real world, if it were devastated by zombies. The setting, not just the reanimated, has a great aura of decay.

Like THE WALKING DEAD, Jason Henderson and Greg Scott's SWORD OF DRACULA is in beautiful black and white. May neither of these books ever be colored. S.O.D. involves a paramilitary group attempting to exterminate Dracula. We have the inevitable Van Helsing character (this one being Veronica "Ronnie" Van Helsing) leading her troops against Dracula's enormous castle, mystically shielded in a French valley (although I'd say there's no place more deserving of Dracula than France). If you're missing action in modern comics as much as I am, this book is for you! Henderson and Scott prove that fast pacing can be as effective, if not more so, in story telling than the dirge-like pace of most modern comics.

Dracula in S.O.D. is interesting in that he has powers to control blood. He can do strange, mystic things with blood, use it as weapon, turn it into a sword. This would look amazing in CGI. This isn't the Drac from TOMB OF DRACULA. It's a new take, and the Count is well portrayed (yeah, Dracula actually appears in his own comic so you know this isn't a Marvel book!). The book ends on an old fashioned note, with a scientist about to unearth something that's bound to be hideous from the bottom of the Dead Sea.

Leave your WIZARD top ten books for a moment. Save the books you always read for later and check out all of these new Image horror titles.


DR. FATE #3 (of 5)

Christopher Golden: Writer

Don Kramer: Artist

DC Comics: Publisher

Vroom Socko: Mystic Reviewer

The following are a series of excerpts from the e-mail account of Vroom Socko:

Are any of you @$$holes reading the Dr. Fate mini? I got the first one, curious about Kramer's art, and although it wasn't bad, it wasn't good enough to hook me. I remember how some of the eyes were a little weirdly googley too, something I couldn't understand. Anyway, is anything interesting happening with it? Spill.

-- The Village Idiot


I also bought the first issue. I really liked it. It hooked me. Well enough to buy the second issue and then I dropped it like a hot rock.

The writer had a lot of interesting setup in the first issue - Hector is living in a new city, his neighbors are into Wicca, there is an evil entity that's come after him...and most importantly, a waitress in the local diner thinks he's cute. It's TV. formula (Buffy, Angel, etc.) and I actually liked it.

But I was turned off in the second issue because I personally thought the writer wasn't thinking beyond this story arc, which quickly became by-the-numbers. Everything happened too quickly, and didn't reinforce the setting and the people he's dealing with. And the evil guy is just so "evil" that it scared off the guy that lives in his helmet that has been the advisor to the previous Dr. Fates. So I'm thinking - where do you go from here? I think I'm in the fifth season of Buffy and realizing the writer has run out of ideas.

And Hector, frankly, isn't that interesting. The second issue had the Wiccan neighbors offering him help, the girl in the diner thinking he's cute and the evil entity using her jealous boyfriend to go after Hector while Hector's teacher (the Helmet guy) abandoned him.

So, how was the third issue?

-- Superninja


Hey man, Electric Eel Shock is playing at Berbati’s tonight. You’ve gotta come check it out.

-- Cris


The third issue was just a little bit better than okay. It’s not stellar by any means, but it’s not the worst thing out there. Sure, the writer isn’t thinking beyond this story, but is that really important? Not every comic has to be some monumental achievement in storytelling. So far this book’s just been a fun little diversion for fans of the new Dr. Fate, and that’s all it’s trying to be.

Anyway, the third issue starts with a flashback to the initial defeat of the book’s villain, the Curse. Basically, he’s the Anti-Fate (not to be confused with the Anti-Monitor), a soldier of chaos embedded in a helmet worn by some 21st century schmuck. The intro shows how Nabu trapped this guy in his helmet back in ancient Egypt, then the rest of the issue is mostly just Fate stomping on the various daemons and zombies conjured up by the Curse. Other than an aside or two with the Wiccans and a bit of talk in the diner, this issue is all about kicking ass.

Sure, it’s not for everyone, especially people who don’t like Hector Hall, and it’s pretty much a disposable series. In fact, if it becomes a TPB, I’ll eat my hat. But if you like what’s been happening with the good Doctor in JSA, then this book just might be worth a look. Sure, it may be the comics equivalent of a Pop Tart, but I like Pop Tarts.

-- Vroom


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Writer: John J. Miller

Art: Jorge Lucas

Publisher: MARVEL

Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Does this mark the end of an era, an era of royal suck-@$$-itude of the highest order in the pages of IRON MAN? That is the question I kept asking myself as I read THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #73 (or #418 depending on what eye you read with). For years, I have hung my head in shame as I purchased IRON MAN with the hope that someone would come along and make the character as cool as he was when I first started following his adventures. Not only was this guy a billionaire playboy alcoholic (an honored distinction I hope to achieve one day. I’ve got the drinking down, so I guess two out of three ain’t bad), but he was one of the most ingenious men ever to whittle shit together in the Marvel Universe.

I joined the adventures of the Armored Avenger during the much-ballyhooed David Michelinie years. I watched Tony drink himself loopy, lose his company, toss the armor to his helicopter pilot buddy, and crawl back from the depths of self destruction. I’ve seen Tony track down and downright cornhole every armored foe in the Marvel Universe when he found out that his technology had been stolen in the “Armor Wars” saga. I watched Tony’s armor become sentient and whup Tony’s ass Franken-stylee and then wipe said keister with Whiplash above the Pacific Ocean. And these are the good stories I remember. There are nights I still wake screaming with visions of a teenage time-traveling Tony Stark, collapsible iron roller skates, and every panel of Mike Grell’s god-awful run (but I’m going to a hypnotist to help me forget all of that). But in Marvel’s stable of heroes, Iron Man stands out to me as one of my true favorites from the beginning. I get excited every time a new creative teams jumps aboard IRON MAN with hopes that this is the beginning of something special; something that makes IRON MAN a cool book to read again.

So I read IRON MAN #73 and guess what?

This is the beginning of something special; something that makes IRON MAN a cool book to read again. I was uneasy when I heard about the future plans for Tony Stark at this year’s CHICAGO WIZARDWORLD Comic Con. Tony Stark: Secretary of Defense didn’t scream pulse-pounding excitement to me. This was a concept that was “all in the execution” as my pal Sleazy G put it. It could either be something new and exciting or fall flat on its face depending on how the writer handled the material, but John J. Miller made an impression on me during the Marvel panel of the Con. Miller sat at the end of the long table. He was the new kid on the block, some fresh find who used to write online and was given a shot that many dream about. But did the guy seem like an ass-latherer or crowd panderer? Hell no. He didn’t really hype his stuff, but promised something new and different. He seemed confident and sure of himself and his work. Hell, he even commented on the lack of presence of the Hulk in his own mag in front of Joey Q and the slew of fans, so I guess you could say that I was impressed.

As I read this issue, the one thing that stood out to me was the lack of that Nu Marvel-ness that has stained and haunted so many Marvel books lately. No unneeded splash pages or snail's pacing that guaranteed the existence of a meaty trade and ignored the fact that this was, in fact, an issue of a single comic book in your hands. No. This book was so chock-filled with stuff that at the end I had to count the pages to reassure myself that I had actually read a 22-page comic. In this book we have a tense opening sequence that establishes the tone of the story, an introduction of a problem that challenges the very core of the hero, the involvement of the title character THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BOOK with spot-on characterization, an extremely insightful ethical and political debate between two of Marvel’s biggest icons, and a ballsy solution to the problem that had this reader wishing time machines were an actuality so that I could zip forward and read the next twelve issues to see how this is all going to turn out. All this and we have two big action scenes. Wow. First SUPREME POWER and 1602. Then JemASS gets the boot. And now this. Maybe this truly is a new age for Marvel.

John J. Miller has created a problem that Tony cannot tech his way out of. It is a dilemma seeded with responsibility and guilt. In this issue, the government approaches Stark with a proposition: work with the military to help save the lives of our soldiers. They want Tony act as a consultant to make sure the technology they use is safe to use because (much to Tony’s surprise) much of the military’s new technology originated from Stark’s own designs. Tony is challenged to accept responsibility for his creations. To make things more complicated, the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys in this book. Sure they are forcing Stark to do what they want, but they are doing it so that people can be safe and they do not hesitate to remind Tony of that fact. This is a problem that causes Stark to look at everything he believes in. It’s the stuff good characterization and great drama are made of.

So with all of this moral dilemma-ing, do we get nothing but a bunch of scenes with talking heads? Hell no, Jethro. Miller peppers in a stunning opening scene, a bit of playfulness in a scene where Tony quickly fixes a glitch at a tech fair while flirting with one of the show girls (wonderful characterization), and a large scale action sequence with a guest spot by Captain America. And this is no run of the mill action scene. This scene deftly shows two long-time comrades who are so damn good that they can debate the pros and cons of Stark’s situation while saving a truckload of lives. This scene was made memorable because it highlighted the differences in these two icons while keeping in touch with what makes them tick. Not only does Miller handle Stark’s character and morality with ease, but he knows Cap enough to give the argument a counter-point without making it seem forced.

Side note: Miller writes Captain America the way he should be written: progressive and understanding while still slightly stuck in the past and not afraid to tell it like it used to be and should be again some day. Miller writes Cap as cognizant enough to know the faults of the government, but idealistic enough to see that he still believes in the core concepts of America. I’d love to see what this energetic new writer would do with Cap in his own book.

To top it all off, there is a mention of the “Armor Wars” storyline: an arc that is over fifteen years old!!!!! Whatthewhothehey!?!?!?! This is major news from a company who thinks continuity is a four letter word. This MARVEL comic book actually acknowledged comics that were made before the year 2000. Will wonders never cease? Next you’re going to tell me that the Cubs are going to the World Series.

This book wasn’t all roses, but the weeds are minuscule and okay as long as the writing continues to be of this quality. One - I hate it that they gave Tony his pencil-thin mustachio back. I liked the goatee. The mustache makes Tony look like he should be starring in bad 70’s porn. Two - Cormorant mentioned this to me and I haven’t been able to shake it since. During the above-mentioned action scene, Cap and Iron Man fail to acknowledge any of the military men that they are saving. Corm thought that was callous and so did I, but I’m willing to forgive Miller for neglecting to add a line where they salute the troops since the book was so chock-filled to the gills with goodness as it was. Something had to go. Finally, three - The flipped up face plate look that Tony sports when he talks to people face to face in the armor is just plain dorky-looking. It is much cooler to have Stark hold the helmet instead of seeing his rosy face squeezed through the armor like that. But like I said these are minor beefs, barely worth mentioning, but I did anyway, so there.

Ever since he pencilled CABLE, I knew Jorge Lucas was something special. He’s got the whole Kirby thing down without making it seem obvious or forced. Lucas draws Iron Man as chunky but funky. The armor has all of these plates and gizmos sticking out every which way. Who knows what the hell it all does? I don’t, but it looks too damn cool, so who gives a shit? Lucas was born to draw this type of stuff. It is over the top and unrealistic, but I haven’t seen such a memorable look for Iron Man in a long time. Every scene, spectacularly shot and rendered. I hope this Lucas guy stays with this title for a long time.

So color me surprised. Finally, a creative team has come to one of my favorite titles and given it the coolness shot in the arm that it needed. John J. Miller is a treasure of a find for Marvel. If this issue is any indication, we may be witness to the birth of the next big-name writer in comics. This is a writer who knows how to fill an issue with good, clean comic book goodness and not filler. If you want to see how great comics can be, pick up IRON MAN. It’s got this Shellhead excited about Iron Man for the first time in a very long time.


JLA #88: I really, really like Kelly's Plastic Man. He has endeared this character to me and made him more than just simple comic relief filler. Mahnke does excellent work here, too. His designs of Plastic Man and his kid have a retro feel to them that made them stand out. The rest of the story is nothing to write home about, but if you like Plastic Man, pick it up. -Superninja

ULTIMATE SIX #3: More like ULTIMATE SUX. (Just kidding. Kinda.) Seriously, this issue was a big disappointment. I know this seems odd considering the nice things I said about it last week, but they spent the WHOLE ISSUE GETTING READY TO FIGHT THE BAD GUYS! THE WHOLE ISSUE! It's issue three already; ferchrissakes is a little superhero vs. supervillain engagement too much to ask? Normally, I sing the praises of Brian Bendis and his work on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN like a canary, but this...not so hot. I'll probably get #4 out of loyalty. – Village Idiot

HEAVEN'S DEVILS #1: Apparently over at Image black-and-white is the new, uh, black. Looking a little more like someone forgot to send the pages to the colorist than a deliberate aesthetic, H.D. at least gets points for originality. Set mostly in Mexico, this miniseries ties together environmental commandoes, a chemical spill, the Texas border, and a guilt-ridden drug runner (or at least I assume these things will be tied together at some point) into a politically-minded action/intrigue. A little confusing, but worth a look. – Lizzybeth

ULTIMATE X-MEN #38: I didn't read much of the Millar run, mainly because I think his stuff is too mean spirited and dark for the X-Men. I only really started buying the book because Bendis had Spidey guest starring. Having said that, if there was a bigger, more badass moment this week than the last six pages of this book, I didn't see it. – Vroom Socko

RUNAWAYS #7: New story arc, curiosity-seekers! Wanna know the skinny on Brian "Y: The Last Man" Vaughan's teen superhero book that bucks the superhero conventions in favor of a more Buffy-esque horror/conspiracy angle? Here's your shot, and if you like it, the first story arc hits as a trade in a month or two. It's really fun stuff, and the more I see of artist Adrian Alphona's work, the more I picture him becoming a major talent in the next few years. - Cormorant

1602 #3: This continues to be too predictable for me. I will buy this book for the lovely artwork and to see the big twist which explains it all. I'm not a fan of Gaiman's Sandman, but I'm a big fan of his novels. The biggest disappointment to me with this series is that I know Gaiman is capable of creating something that can transport his readers to another place. That quality is not in 1602, despite his attention to history. It's still a fun read, but when it's Gaiman, you set the bar higher. -Superninja

HUMAN DEFENSE CORPS #6: Who knew a character-driven Army story about fighting demons in the DCU would be this good? Although never reaching the pinnacle of fun and excitement, the ride was interesting and entertaining enough to be more than worth it. This final issue went out with two things I never would have expected given the first issue: humor and hope. A tragically underrated series. I may even review this issue. – Village Idiot

EL CAZADOR #2: This book is gorgeous, but could it be moving...any...slower? Chuck, pick up the pace! Where's the non-stop action and witty repartee that you are known for? I love Chuck. I especially love Chuck on a pirate book. So get down to the swashbuckling already! This issue is half progression and half extraneous story that could be told as dialogue while the characters actually go to do what they're talking about! Less talking, more action - pretty pictures are not enough. –Superninja

THE INCREDIBLE HULK #62: Wake the Pope and phone Guinness! The Hulk showed up in this week's issue of his own book. Sure it was only for five panels, but I saw more Hulk in this issue than I did all summer. Jones' use of intrigue isn't bad, but once again, this isn't a tale about the Hulk. Jones is more interested in Doc Sampson, the Abomination's wife, the enigmatic Mr. Blue, and a bunch of suits in a dark room than the adventures of the guy whose name is on the frikkin' cover! Sound boring? It is. Great Deodato Jr. art though. I'd love to see his art with a writer who actually wants to write about the Jade Giant. - Ambush Bug

EMPIRE #3: Forgot to pick it up a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still dialed in. I'm finding this series very compelling and clever, and not entirely predictable. And I really want to see Golgoth, the world-dominating supervillain, go down. I dislike him so much. – Village Idiot

FALLEN ANGEL #4: It's part two of the series' first multi-part storyline, and dark, labyrinthine events are unfolding. Watch as women explode, as our heroine shares a cigarette with a cool, Peter Lorre-esque henchman, and as Peter David keeps his trademark quips to a catchy minimum. I'm a big fan of this series' slow-burn mysteries, and find that it continues to be DC's best kept secret. Buy the handful of back issues and get your ass onboard. It's the kind of series that would've been a worthy addition to Marvel's Epic line of the 80's, back when the Epic name actually stood for quality and innovation. –Cormorant

Ah ah ahh! The column's not over just yet! Cormorant here, back one more time to shine the spotlight on longtime AICN contributor, Alexandra DuPont. We're pleased as punch to have her guest-reviewing for our motley crew, though vaguely uneasy that she might try to class up the joint. Take it away, Alexandra!

BONE #52 and GIANT THB 1.v. 2

By Alexandra DuPont

The boys from Ohio have returned! Two of comics' greatest indie writer/artists - Jeff Smith and Paul Pope - are back, with new issues of Bone and THB, respectively.

Now Bone is internationally beloved, but it's very likely that you've never even HEARD of THB, much less read it. So why am I pairing these comics up in a review capsule? Well, for a few reasons; the fact that Smith and Pope both hail from O-Hi isn't the only thing these two have in common. For one thing, both Smith's Bone #52 and Pope's Giant THB 1.v.2 are drawn in black-and-white. Both are self-published and free of editorial meddling, which leads to the occasional typo but also all kinds of cool, eccentric stuff, like groovy full-page art pauses and action set pieces that go on for pages and pages. Both are absolutely freaking enormous - Bone #52 ($2.95 US cover price) is 32 ad-free pages; THB 1.v.2 ($6.95 US) is a staggering 96 oversized ad-free pages. Both comics started out fairly lighthearted, but got downright meaty and serious as they went along. Also, with these new issues, both throw pretty intense dramatic revelations into their ongoing storylines. And finally, whether you've heard of one or both of them, these are two of the best comics you'll read all year.

(Oh, and Smith and Pope once drew a comic together. If you ever find Dark Horse 100 (issue 5, Aug. 1995) in a remainder bin somewhere, grab it and take a gander at the short story "Pan-Fried Girl." It's about a sexy chef and her talking dog traveling through the desert, only they're being followed by a masked tax collector from Pope's THB universe who keeps trying to audit them while they walk and camp and eat - which sounds totally stupid, I know, but is actually rather surreal and charming - and then they all get into some morally complex situations with creepy "Rock People" that look like what would happen if Jeff Smith were adapting "Planet of the Apes." All this in like eight pages. Wild stuff. Weird and sensuous and sad.)

Anyway. Jeff Smith is ending Bone at issue #55, and #52 comes after a multi-month hiatus during which Smith was reportedly tweaking his final scripts and, I'd wager, sleeping poorly as he sweats out exactly how he'll bring a significant close to 12 years of writing and drawing a single story. I'm happy to report that, at least in issue 52, the sweat stains aren't on the page. Fifty-two moves fast, it's funny when it needs to be, and it's even packed with a decent amount of action and exposition, considering that our heroes spend the entire issue trapped in a city, surrounded by invisible supernatural booby traps called "ghost circles." (Parenthetically: Why Smith didn't make his antagonist's most heavy-duty weapon of mass destruction visible to the naked eye - in what is, after all, a visual storytelling forum - has always sort of mystified me.)

So a lot of big stuff gets set in motion with 52 - this really feels like that "calm before the storm" moment in epic stories; one senses that the "fun-wow" stuff is coming in issues 53-55 (e.g., quest for the Crown of Horns, confrontation with mysterious arch-villain[s], bittersweet denouement, etc.) The issue kicks off with Jeff Smith retelling the Queen-Mim-goes-nuts Creation myth that first appeared in Rose, Smith's collaboration with Charles Vess. Everyone gets their final-reel assignment, and there are some marvelously feverish drawings of crazy dragons and Briar cackling while volcanoes erupt behind her, and some very odd appendages protruding out of what looks like nothing so much as a thermonuclear explosion. (Frankly, a few panels wouldn't be out of place in heavy-metal album art circa 1982.)

On his Web site, Smith has said he means to put out the remaining three issues monthly - meaning Bone could be finished by year's end. Whether he can wrap up a quest, one or two supernatural mysteries, several loose narrative threads, and an epic battle in 128 pages remains to be seen, but I for one (and my stepdaughter for another) wish him all kinds of luck.

[Personal pimp note: Check out my three-part interview with Smith here, here, and here; in it, he talks about some of the weird Kubrickian notes he says he plans to hit in the final issues.]

Which brings us to Paul Pope and THB. I've been dying for years to write something about this guy. Pope is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, and it just kills me that this new issue of Pope's supergroovy sci-fi series about a 14-year-old girl on Mars is so damned good and so few people will be able to fully appreciate it.

Let me explain. People won't be able to fully appreciate THB NOT because the comic is somehow obtuse or pretentious. In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable, accessible stories currently unspooling in panels. No, the problem is that I'm guessing there are, at most, a couple thousand people on Earth who've been able to read every issue in this serial, given its ridiculously erratic production schedule. To wit:

Giant THB 1.v.2 is actually the 10th issue in an ongoing series that Pope started in 1994. He released issues 1-5 from 1994-95. He then burned out (and given that he put out several monthly issues after a 96-page debut, who'd blame him?), took a long break, re-released THB 1 after re-drawing several dozen pages, took an even longer break, released issue 6 in four parts (6a, 6b, 6c, and 6d), and now - a couple of years later, after cranking out the amazing 100% for Vertigo - he's released the eccentrically named THB 1.v.2, which isn't in fact version 2 of anything but IS in fact THB 7, but is really the 10th issue in the series.... Anyway. You get the idea. Oh, and there's the fact that issues 1-5 are way out of print. Oh, and Pope refuses to collect the previous issues in a single trade edition, because in his copious spare time he's re-drawing issues 1-5 to rectify his changes in character design and story. Which means readers should finally be able to enjoy this story in its totality by, I don't know, 2010.

Now, I know this all makes Pope sound like a world-class flakeroo, but he's not: I'd argue all this eccentricity is the product of an imagination explosion. Pope wedges in issues of THB between hundreds of pages of comics for big publishers - The One Trick Rip-Off, Heavy Liquid, and 100%, most notably. The guy's got a lot of ideas, and draws something like four pages of comics a day by his own account. But THB's the only one he self-publishes, and for my money it's his weirdest, niftiest, most passionate work.

THB tells the story of HR Watson, daughter of a wealthy robot manufacturer on Mars. Dad wants to move his business out of the city to dodge taxes and circumvent some pesky space-travel laws; trouble is, the Martian government is run by a bunch of tax-and-spend fascists who model their party on insect politics, even going so far as to wear silly metal bug masks to work. (Many of the funniest scenes in the series involve minor functionaries growing exasperated as they fail to accomplish even the simplest tasks in the ruling party's hopelessly choked bureaucracy.)

So the "Bugfaces" decide to bring in HR for questioning about her father's dealings, but they've been having a devil of a time catching her over the 10 issues in the series. See, HR is armed with (a) a magnetic vest that allows her to sort of waft above her enemies, and (b) THB, her inflatable purple robot bodyguard. Most of the time, THB is "dehydrated" into a little rubber ball that HR wears around her neck - but he expands, genie-like, into a seven-foot-tall superbeing when you pour water on him. And he can beat the absolute crap out of any giant robot who threatens HR.

Yes, it's a strange little story - sort of a magic-realism libertarian fable - but the really cool thing about THB is the way Pope builds his world. His Mars has one of the most well-developed pop-culture underbellies in comics, ever - he's figured out what the popular rock bands, restaurants and beverages are, and he understands that a 14-year-old girl, even when she's on the run from the authorities, is going to spend a lot of time thinking about them - and about love. Currently in the story, HR and THB have been hiding out with the members of a popular rock band on Mars - the Complex Passions - and HR has been falling in love with the lead clarinetist, "The Jiggler." All this while her father's bodyguard, Mr. McHaine, the so-called "Meanest Mother on Mars," has been sent to fetch her and bring her back to Daddy. When Pope wraps up all these narrative strands and collects it all in a book, this thing's gonna be the size of Akira, only much less frightening.

So as you've gathered by now, there's a ton of backstory here - and THB 1.v.2 builds on it all in a big, unapologetic way. One of the biggest developments in this latest chapter is the way the whole story (particularly w/r/t the father's business dealings) gets a lot meatier and more serious. In fact, it feels a hell of a lot like the way Bone got more serious midway through. Is that a good thing? I don't know. In the earlier issues, HR was chased by a robot disguised as a Steinway piano, the bad guys were hilariously stupid, and there were nifty satirical touches, like when HR defeats one robot by telling it the simple logical paradox of Zeno's Arrow. In the new issue, the bad guys are more Machiavellian and more intelligent, people aren't as inclined to go out for coffee or discuss music, and there's an obsession with the trappings of high-tech that simply wasn't in the series in 1994.

But the art is so much better now, and Pope's understanding of the comics language is so much stronger and more playful, that it's really hard to complain. After a chatty first half, the new issue divides its time between two simultaneous fight scenes that go on for, I shit you not, an exhilarating 30 pages; the art gets unbelievably loose and fluid as McHaine's fighting some giant robots. I'm told that people will dismiss Pope's style as "messy" or even plain "ugly," but really, it's a European stylistic trope, designed to make the action just leap off the page - and there are panels where THB is dancing between rooftops that are so beautiful in their use of dark blacks and negative space that I had to linger. (To get an idea of what I'm talking about, go here .)

I guess I've gone on a bit, haven't I? Well, THB will weave its spell. It's a dizzy gas. It's a pop bomb. It's fine art. Check it out.

- Alexandra DuPont

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