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

I don’t say this often enough, and since I’ve got two of our regular columnists on the site today, I’ll say it in both of their intros. As things get busier and weirder here on the site, we count on our regular contributors to help us maintain the personality that is AICN. This comics column grew as a response to another column that was running here, and it eventually became the only comics column by default. I love that. I think it’s great that these are just readers who decided they had something to say, and now we get to share their work with you every week. As always, it’s a real pleasure.

Hey all, Vroom Socko here. When the old GrayHaven/@$$holes feud was bursting across the AICN Comics division, an effort at peace was made by yours truly. While my reviews were (at the time) the exclusive domain of GrayHaven, I started up a little section of my own for my @$$hole friends. Now, over a year later, GrayHaven has departed from AICN and the Tales From the Crevice feature is about to have its twenty-fifth installment. But that’s how this column ends. It starts with the usual assortment of reviewing insanity. So let’s get to it.


Jeph Loeb – Writer

Ed McGuiness – Penciller

Dexter Vines – Inks

Published by DC Comics

Reviewed by Village Idiot

Hello everybody, Village Idiot here.

As part of our ongoing effort to bring you, the AICN reader, the very finest experience in comic book review reading possible, we here at the Talkback League of @$$holes Labs have taken it upon ourselves to boldly explore every new vista in comic reviewing technology; breaking away from the traditional “intro, plot, writing, art, conclusion” review format, and tirelessly searching for new and innovative ways to tell you, the AICN reader, that a comic book sucks. (Or not.)

It is in this spirit that we proudly present for you now our latest gimmicky review, The SUPERMAN/BATMAN #3 Quiz. Yes, that’s right, this review is presented in the form of a quiz, to convey all the necessary information to help you, the comics consumer and AICN reader, make the best comic purchasing decision possible, and allow me to type less. Sure, the formatting will make this sucker stretch down the page till next Tuesday, but perhaps in the end we’ll find that it was fun, informative, and well worth it.

Let’s begin.

1. The plot to Superman/Batman #3, where Batman and Superman attempt to confront Luthor while he's giving a live interview to Lois at the White House, but are intercepted by an onslaught of supervillains, is:

A. Banal, banal, banal.

B. Not even close to being violent enough. Now where'd I put my Ennis?

C. Poo. Pure, unadulterated poo.

D. Actually a story I'd be inclined to like. As a matter of fact, I was pleased with the plot, even though all pretense of presenting Luthor like a real president is totally out the window.

2. During the fighting, Banshee's destructive wail causes the Batwing (with Batman inside) to violently crash to the ground. According the internal dialog caption in the panel, Batman remarks:


B. "Must...maintain...control...!"

C. "Okay Bruce, assume crash position! This is going to be an ugly one!"

D. "Even if Clark is not responsible [for the giant Kryptonite asteroid that has absolutely nothing to do with the situation I'm currently involved in], I know Clark. He's internalizing it. Struggling with the guilt of what may happen if he somehow is responsible."

3. Batman has been attacked by DC's four ice-motif supervillains, including Captain Cold and Mr. Freeze. He's already frozen solid up to his waist, waiting for Superman to fire down some heat vision to melt it and subdue the villains. In the internal dialog caption, Batman says:

A. "So c-c-cold!"

B. "C'mon Clark, it's getting chilly down here!"

C. "Another second with these guys, and I'm going to be a Bat-cicle!"

D. "It is a remarkable dichotomy. In many ways, Clark is the most human of us all."

4. Unexpectedly, Superman has his face stomped into the ground by the massive boot of Mongul. In the internal dialog caption, he comments:

A. "What the --!?"

B. "My face! My beautiful, beautiful face!"

C. "So that's what dirt tastes like!"

D. "Mongul's silence is disturbing."

5. The 3 preceding questions were all intended to illustrate:

A. How Superman and Batman keep absurdly cool heads under pressure.

B. How the emotional issues between Superman and Batman are so felt, they can't stop thinking about them no matter what the circumstance.

C. How I can pad a review with lines like "So that's what dirt tastes like!"

D. How Loeb is getting so carried away with the internal dialog boxes, it's getting ridiculous. He seems to be trying to cram the characterization and exposition into those suckers every which way he can; but in doing so, it feels forced and awkward, especially during the action. The internal dialog no longer plays off the action, but undermines it.

6. Although Ed McGuiness has changed his style on this series, for this reviewer his art is still somewhat reminiscent of:

A. Astro-boy

B. Lego people

C. Pocket Super-hero toys

D. All the above

7. For this reviewer, the unintended effect of McGuiness's art is that dangerous or exciting situations are experienced as:

A. Dangerous and exciting

B. Emotional and moving.

C. Intriguing and thought provoking.

D. So cute. (See also: Mike Wieringo.)

8. This reviewer would like to conclude this review by saying:

A. "This comic is a crime against humanity, and should not be read anytime, anywhere, by anyone! Just like SUPERBOY #100!"

B. "It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most of all, it made me think."

C. "Thank you Jeph Loeb for showing us how to laugh at love – again."

D. "Although I came into this series with the best of attitudes, I've found Loeb's execution to be exceedingly awkward and McGuiness's art to be a bit too fluffy. All in all, a disappointment. I'll probably give it one more issue. Let this evaluations inform your buying habits accordingly."

Answer key: 1, D. 2, D. 3, D. 4, D. 5, D. 6, D. 7, D. 8, D.

Okay, okay: If you answered C on 5, give yourself half-credit.


Writer: Grant Morrison

Artists: Chas Truog & Paris Cullins

Publisher: DC / Vertigo

Reviewed by Cormorant

"All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream."

Sounds a bit like something from one of the MATRIX flicks, doesn't it? Or maybe from the anime movies that influenced THE MATRIX? Actually, the quote's courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe, in this case spoken by a character who's coming down from a mind-expanding peyote trip alongside Animal Man. Yep, boys Рwe're in Vertigo country. Now the age-old question, "What is the nature of reality?" is very trendy in adventure fiction these days, to the point that it's become a clich̩ that bores me and one more reason to avoid obtuse anime with half-naked robot girls. Because unless a writer's got a damn good answer to the question, how can it come across as anything but trite?

Well Grant Morrison's got a pretty damn good answer.

ANIMAL MAN: DEUS EX MACHINA is the third and final trade reprinting Grant Morrison's groundbreaking 26-issue run on the title. It's a run that began very much in the mold of Alan Moore's SWAMP THING, taking an obscure DC character and re-inventing him for adult readers without quite plucking him from the confines of the ostensibly all-ages DC Universe. Under Morrison's run, Animal Man - a superhero with the ability to draw on the abilities of nearby animals - fought aliens, had his wife terrorized by the Mirror Master, and kept up a membership in Justice League Europe. But he also joined the animal rights movement, became a vegetarian, and found himself embroiled in an anti-apartheid movement in Africa.

For a fan like me, who likes the classic escapism that's long-ruled the superhero genre, this strange borderland between the world of "good vs. evil" and the morally gray landscapes of adult fiction can be disenchanting, but with Morrison's ANIMAL MAN, I really have to make an exception. Y'see, while the book started out as a perfectly excellent Alan Moore pastiche, with a heartfelt animal rights agenda adding flavor, about midway through the run, it became something else. It became a story about the awkward place the series occupied in the DC Universe, about the changing nature of superheroes, and ultimately (and most interestingly) about the very nature of fictional characters and their relationship with their creators.

Kinda lofty, eh? But where Morrison's high concepts have sometimes come across as throwaway idea-fetishes in series like NEW X-MEN and JLA, the fact that ANIMAL MAN revolves around a single character – likeable, down-to-earth, suburbanite Buddy Baker – seems to anchor all the strangeness. And give it focus. As I read the series, I found that I cared about the strongly-realized Buddy (and his family) in a much deeper way than I care about the X-Men or the Justice League (though I still enjoy their adventures).

Surprisingly for a mature-reader superhero series that was among the titles that paved the way for the Vertigo line, ANIMAL MAN was always steeped heavily in DC's superhero continuity. This volume's no exception, featuring the Justice League, the Phantom Stranger, the Mirror Master, and, I kid you not, Streaky the Super Cat (who guest-stars along with a panoply of forgotten Silver Age oddballs). The key DCU player, however, is the Psycho Pirate, an obscure DC villain whose relevance stems from the fact that he's the only character in the current DC Universe who remembers the continuity-wiped events preceding the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS miniseries. In the previous volume, physicist James Hightower (an original character) had a portent-filled visit to the Psycho Pirate at Arkham Asylum. The seemingly insane Psycho Pirate seemed not only to remember the event of CRISIS, but also understood that all those involved were fictional characters at the mercy of their authors. When a doctor asked him why he wasn't sleeping, he explained, "How can I sleep? If I go to sleep they might decide to remove me from continuity and then I'll never wake up." Pretty smart for an insane guy; too bad for him only the readers know what he's talking about.

Now at this point you might be asking yourself: "Does a reader need to know all these characters?" To be honest – it helps. It'll make for a richer experience, because Morrison clearly has a great love for, or at least fascination with, the wild superhero concepts of yesteryear. But not knowing the characters, or having only a cursory knowledge of them (like me), is no hindrance; Morrison explains all the key stuff, and he explains it with an imagination that's both exhilarating and non-judgmental.

Highwater sets out to find Animal Man after the Psycho Pirate gives him a crumpled up page of a Silver Age Animal Man comic, a comic in which Animal man's personality is decidedly different from the one Morrison's seemingly retrofitted him with. And indeed, for reasons too complex to explain, Animal Man seems to be at the heart of a potential second Crisis, with an entire universe threatening to unravel if Highwater can't find him and determine the nature of what's happening. He's pretty motivated, too, since he occasionally finds his own body literally flickering into rough, un-inked pencil drawings! Early on in DEUS EX MACHINA, he and Animal Man finally meet. The page of the Animal Man comic has become a map of Arizona, highlighting a particular mesa on an Indian reservation. The pair travel there, find several peyote buttons, and a few hesitant chomps later, experience mind-bending hallucinations that are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how wildly Buddy Baker's life is going to change in the next few issues.

Beyond this basic premise, there's not much I can reveal without giving good twists away or becoming embroiled in writing about deep things. A few snippets, though: bad things happen to Buddy, a curious trip to the 1960's has him chatting it up with the Phantom Stranger and Jason Blood (a.k.a. The Demon), Mirror Master has a surprisingly fascinating return as a guest-star, realities bend, the reader himself is seen, and the series' long-running signs and portents come together in a manner that rewards re-reading like few comics since WATCHMEN. Along the way, Morrison offers up incredibly pointed commentary on the evolving state of superhero comics, one of the most memorable instances of which involves a terrifying, insane, alternate-world Superman. At one point, this violent Superman analog finds himself in a series of shrinking comic book panels, literally being crushed by the encroachment of the page's white space. "No! Let me out! I'm not like you! I'm real! I'm realistic! This can't happen to me!"

And then he pops out of existence. Heroes of Marvel's "Ultimate" line, take note.

But Morrison doesn't so much condemn any one style of superheroes as he acknowledges the human creators behind these styles. This focus on such a specific nature of reality – that of fictional creations to their creators – is perhaps why this three-volume tale works where other stories questioning reality feel like they've bitten off more than they can chew. Morrison also talks about reader culpability in the fate of superhero characters, reminding me oddly enough of a favorite pre-school read, THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. In it, Sesame Street's Grover (no kiddin') warns readers that there's a terrifying monster at the end of the book. Naturally, curiosity prevails on the young reader, and one can't help but keep turning the pages even as Grover begs you not to continue, boarding-up and even walling-over pages…only to see them "destroyed" when the reader inevitably turns the page. It's a strangely intimate introduction to the concept of breaking the fourth wall, and one that even puts the reader in the uncomfortable (yet empowering) position of thwarting a terrified Grover's wishes on each and every page. As puts it, "Grover is astonished--and kids are delighted--to discover who is really the monster at the end of the book!" Believe it or not, DEUS EX MACHINA works up a similar idea, but to no one's surprise, its final revelation is hardly the endearing moment of THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. Morrison's conclusions are far more melancholy and discomforting.

I was relieved, however, that Morrison was able to sprinkle these dire events with occasional humor. The trip to the 60's, the appearance of Streaky, and some of the stranger guests of the Silver Age provide some much-needed moments of levity. More than anything, though, this trade, and indeed the entire series, is grounded in Morrison's humanity and empathy, both in the general sense and as these qualities relate to fictional creations. The final chapter gives the reader the sense that perhaps he inadvertently painted himself into a corner with 25 issues of build-up, and that no answers provided can be wholly satisfying, yet I still found the conclusion cathartic. It's hardly upbeat, though. I might even suggest bringing a box of Kleenex, but I'm a bit of an old softie.

So I'm recommending the ANIMAL MAN trades at the highest level. Vertigo fans will be drawn by their multi-layered stories and realistic characters, DC fans will be wowed by Morrison's ingenious uses of continuity and his ability to analyze classicist superhero themes without debasing them, and intellectual-types will be fascinated by the literary backdrop to the series and Morrison's observations on fiction. Morrison's ANIMAL MAN is that rarest of beasts: a truly innovative story, impeccably told. And if, like me, you find yourself just a little disappointed that what it ultimately becomes is very different from what it began as, I suspect you'll also discover the detour was absolutely worth taking.


Writer: John Ney Rieber

Art: Jae Lee

Colors: June Chung

Published by: Dreamwave



Story: Ken Siu-Chong

Art: Alvin Lee (with lots of help) and Guest Artist Adam Warren

Published by: Image

Two-in-One Review by: superninja

Unlike most of you, I not only haven't given up on the 80's RELOADED, but still consider it untapped territory! I'm a nostalgia freak, and while almost all of the revivals have been disappointing (hey, you over there, stop snickering!), here comes two comic books that get it right.

I'm loving Transformers/G.I. Joe. It reads like a union of their cartoon worlds but with a revisionist twist. It takes place in the early stages of WW II, but instead of Hitler, we have COBRA becoming a world power and the Transformers awakening at the same time. I'm guessing Rieber is a fan of the cartoons because he's clearly adding elements that are familiar to anyone who was there when these cartoons kicked off. Unlike other 80's projects, which simply place them in the here and now, this series is grounded in familiarity.

It's not the stuff of legends, but it's a fun read, just to see these characters come to life again. Rieber nails them, particularly the Transformers. Rieber writes the best Megatron…. Aaaah…. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks. The WW II premise is candy coating. This is G.I. Joe vs. Transformers, pretending to be gritty. I like Jae Lee's art, but it doesn't lend itself to action. So, you get a lot of cool character moments and not a lot of mind-blowing action. Fortunately, I love these characters, especially with Rieber writing them. My only problem with Reiber is that he can't seem to stop writing needless inner monologues for the Joes that grind everything to a halt in a title that should be action-driven. As with his Captain America run, in each issue someone must say profound things that…really aren't that profound.

Street Fighter #2 is not trying to be profound. In fact, it's cheezy hands are wrapped around itself and giving itself a big hug. Yes, check your mind at the door, and do a "SHINRYUKEN!!” If you can.

I played this game to death in the arcade. (Cammy or Chun Li, because, y'know, chicks kick ass.) But I never, ever, expected to like a comic book based on it. It's fluff, but well-crafted fluff. The melodrama, the hyper action, the quiet moments of self-reflection. Could it be…manga? As a recent convert to the manga storytelling style, yes. This is a manga formula applied to an American comic book format and it works.

The charm of manga is in its ability to allow you to accept the absurdity of any situation because you like the characters and the world they're immersed in. I don't know how they do it, but Street Fighter is just one example. The characters are extremely likeable, despite their relatively thin back stories. And when the action happens, it's explosive. It's incredibly dynamic and it gives insight into the characters' strengths and weaknesses and still drives the story forward. The art, of course, plays a big part in this. It rides the fine line between silly and cool, which is a part of the inescapable attraction of manga and anime.

Each issue of Street Fighter has a short story tacked on that provides a flashback into the motives of the characters. Adam Warren tells Chun Li's story, which is basically an excuse for a girl fight with Cammy and Chun Li. Which is why they let Adam Warren do it. I'm not a Warren fan, but it's kinetic. But the chompers on his chicks…

Not to oversell these titles, but kids, the 80's ain't dead yet!


Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by Tim Sale

Published by Marvel

Reviewed by Buzz Maverik & The Committee To Free Chong

Hello and welcome to Political Bullshit! I'm your host, Buzz Maverik. As you know, each week on Political Bullshit, I get together with a couple of slimy politicians and review a comic book. This week, the comic book is HULK: GRAY #1 by Loeb and Sale, and the slimy politicians fit the title to a tee! For the "Hulk" part, we have none other than The Governor Elect (GE) of California. For the Gray part, who else but the Governor Reject (GR)? Welcome, guys. Big comic fans?

GE: Ja, ebery Vensday, I dribe der Homvee down to Golten Obble Gomigs und pig op mein boogs foah der veek! Bot I vas nod der Holg! Lou vas der Holg! Lou, you ah veak, Lou! You loog tiuhed!

GR: I get my comics at Sacto Funnies. Or I did. I dunno where I'm gonna get 'em now.

So what'd you guys think of HULK: GRAY #1?

GR: I'm number one? I don't think anybody's ever said that before!

GE: He vas talgink abohoud der comic, dibshid! I toughdt id had der uscual vunderbar Schale aht. Loep und Schale gabe Bannah ein inta-connegtednessch yoah doan' schee in moscht mohduhn vuhshons ob der Holg!

GR: I agree, but you know, when SPIDER-MAN BLUE followed the format of DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, with the ode to the dead girlfriend thing, a friend of mine predicted that HULK: GRAY would be Banner mulling over a dead Betty Ross near an anniversary.

GE: Ja, I vas scherprisched dat dey followed der schame foahmat ! Shage id op ein liddle !

I'm kind of glad that Loeb has gone exclusive to DC, myself. What were we going to get next, IRON MAN: BLACK LABEL with Tony Stark mourning an empty beer keg?

GE: Ah, Iruhun Mon! I could hab playt Schtark! Dat mages me schorry I gabe op ochtink!

GR: You? As Stark? You're nuts! George Clooney should play Stark!

GE: Glooney? He couldn't eben pull ob BOTMON! He'll nevah do einuttah comig moobie ogin!

I'm sort of partial to Ewen McGregor as IRON MAN. Did you see DOWN WITH LOVE?

GR: No.

GE: Nein.

There you have it! These Marvel Colors by Loeb and Sale are getting kind of old, but still worth buying for the art. Wait for the trade so you don't have an ad for a video game or gum or DVD or cel phone or not-smoking interrupting the flow. Man, I never thought I'd say "Wait for the trade."

That's all the time we have. Be here next week when former Presidents George Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter fight it out over PLANETARY # 17.

Until then: FREE CHONG!


Writer: Judd Winick

Artist: Phil Hester

Publisher: DC Comics

Reviewed by Cormorant

If I have one central thesis regarding the nature of modern day superhero comics, it's that individual titles are more mercurial in terms of quality than they've ever been before. It's the result of many factors, including looser editorial restrictions on creators, increasingly desperate measures to keep the attention of a rapidly graying audience, and a general paradigm shift that emphasizes creators over characters and isolated storylines over continuity and maintenance of superhero status quo. Say what you will of any of these factors - the net result for me is simply this: I can no longer even guess from one month to the next whether I'll like a given title – no matter who the creative team. The damn things turn on a dime these days. One minute I was loving Bruce Jones' INCREDIBLE HULK, the next I regretted ever recommending it to anyone. Once I liked J. Michael Straczynski's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and now it's fallen prey to all his bad habits. And DC's OUTSIDERS? It took all of a second issue of the relaunch to turn a fan into a non-fan.

For the record, this makes reviewing a bitch. You want to sound so confident in your opinions of a book, and then one month later - BAM! – some bastard of a book does a 180 on ya!

Which brings us to GREEN ARROW, which as of this latest issue wraps up Judd Winick's first arc since taking over on the book. It'd be an exaggeration to say the book has just completely slipped in terms of quality, but given that I've dropped no less than three glowing reviews of it in recent months (confession: the reviews were absolutely legit, but the proliferation of 'em was an attempt to get notoriously stodgy fellow-reviewer, Village Idiot, to give the series a try), it behooves me to say that I may drop the book after this latest issue.

Yeah, I said "behooves." Punk.

So what put me off? How could a creative team I was enthusiastically recommending mere months ago piss me off? (SPOILER FOR THE FIRST PAGE OF THE LATEST ISSUE IN THREE…TWO…ONE…) Call me temperamental or squeamish, but I was just hellaciously annoyed at the casual death of the recently introduced supporting character of Joanna Pierce that opens this issue. Her history in one sentence: she was introduced in Winick's first issue as the quick-witted and lovely niece of semi-obscure hero, Black Lightning, slept with our hero in her second or third appearance, and then was summarily executed in issue #30 (hung by the villain). The beginning of the current issue confirms she's dead as dirt, a vacuous death that does little more than fulfill the action-story cliché of giving our hero some angst by offing a close friend or lover. Renny Harlin would be proud, and Gail Simone will have one more entry to add to her Women in Refrigerators page.

There's a bit of sideline controversy to Pierce's death as well, as Winick's handling of Black Lightning and his newly introduced daughter and niece have drawn the ire of Black Lightning creator, Tony Isabella. At first I dismissed Isabella's gripes as little more than the surliness of an old fart who just couldn't deal with the fact that a character he'd created for DC was getting some superficial tweaks by someone who wasn't himself. And yet…Winick's handling of Black Lightning and kin have come to seem borderline vindictive. Example: Winick's given Black Lightning (a conservative and deeply religious man, at least according to Isabella) an illegitimate daughter, a niece who seems to have been created to get screwed and then get killed, and as of this latest GREEN ARROW, he's made Lightning himself a killer. Was it justifiable homicide? Probably in most readers' eyes, including my own, but it's 100% a case of vigilante death-dealing where it seems clear that Isabella intended for Black Lightning to embody a more classic superhero morality (i.e. he doesn't go all Charles Bronson on the bad guys). Whether or not this is as big an affront as Isabella's making it out to be I can't say – this story arc marks my introduction to Black Lightning – but Jesus, there's definitely some kind of overkill going on here! Coupled with repeated instances of inappropriate characterization in OUTSIDERS (when did Nightwing become a whiny asshole?), Winick's definitely losing cred in my eyes.

Which is too bad, because Winick's doing a damn good job with the characterization of Green Arrow himself, balancing the tough, older guy hook with hipster charm such that just about every panel he's in is fun to read. And as I've said in previous reviews, Winick seems to be one of a rapidly diminishing breed of superhero writers who can put together a kick-ass action sequence. Issue 31 is no exception, and actually gives over the majority of the book to an ultra-tense and grueling showdown between Green Arrow's son, Conner, and the hitman who offed Lightning's niece. It's scary, tough, and fast-paced - everything I want in a good fight scene. In fact, it's probably the best superhero fight sequence I've witnessed all year.

Too bad about that other stuff, eh? And the conclusion of the mystery surrounding the monsters terrorizing Star City and the corrupt company Elevast that clearly played a part in their creation? I kept expecting Winick to throw us a curveball, but the only twist is in the why of things, and it's a pretty pedestrian revelation. The corporate scumbags introduced in Winick's first issue wind up just as two-dimensional as they began.

In the end, what we've got is a disappointing, by-the-numbers wrap-up, brought lower by some questionable characterization and cheap death-dealing, then almost redeemed by a great fight sequence and the usual fantastic art team of Phil Hester and inker Ande Parks. It's enough to get me to sample the next issue or two, but at this point, I'm afraid I overestimated Winick.

Friggin' mercurial comics.


Alex Robinson

Top Shelf Books

Reviewed by: Lizzybeth

Have you seen this syndicated show Classmates? Where normally sane folks suddenly decide to look up the girl who dumped them ten years ago and see if she finds them more attractive now that there’s a beer gut to go with the dorky glasses? Where bullies meet up with the kids they used to push around, just to make sure all the years of therapy hasn’t helped them forget about it? And all on camera? Okay, what I don’t understand is why all these fake TV people want to do on this show is hook up and hug and cry and learn, and NOT ONE of them is there to punch someone in the gut. Come on. You’ve got a camera and an opportunity to drag out someone who made you miserable and ambush them in public. If people are obsessed enough to try to get a date with the guy they were crushing on at 15, there’s got to be people who can maintain a grudge for at least that long. If such an episode exists, kindly send a copy to @$$hole headquarters. I’m planning my own very special episode, where Classmates convenes my entire 8th grade gym class in a small room that I slowly fill up with water. (Bitter. Yes. Okay. Moving on.)

Alex Robinson’s BOP! is a new collection of shorts that didn’t make it into the BOX OFFICE POISON series before it ended in 2000, a set of stories about ex-lovers, former classmates, and bitter memories. While there is some new material, the majority was pulled from various anthologies and specials over the past five or so years. Even if it’s not recent, most of the material is new to me, so the collection is much appreciated. These tales as usual resist the temptations towards cliché and pat ending, coming out somewhere in the confusing middle ground between the Classmates-style reunions and my scary vengeance episode. Both Sherman and Stephen meet up with ex-girlfriends, and both entertain thoughts of might-have-been and still-could-be. Sherman has a failure to communicate with his less-than-thrilled ex, while Stephen remembers too late the bad times he had forgotten from their time together. Ed looks back in anger on a crushing disappointment: a comic convention he attended as a teenager hoping to be discovered as a comic book artist, only to get some pretty harsh criticism from one of his favorite artists. (Note: it would be nice if a great many more artists got the advice that Ed gets, though he doesn’t seem to see it that way). Jane takes a look back at her teenage years as an outcast, and realizes how well her life has turned out despite how hopeless things looked at the time. Best of all is the Caprice section, which manages to involve all three of these themes. Still hung up on her bitter high school memories, she looks up a former classmate hoping for some closure. Well, she’s actually hoping for some terrible bad luck and failure from this other girl so that she can feel a little better about herself. But Lori turns out to be a nice person now, which is sort of disappointing. She’s much nicer than Caprice’s current boyfriend, who will soon be an ex, and who will later show up at her place of work to do a victory lap with the new trophy girlfriend. I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to reveal these plot points - the real treat is how the stories are told, how the characters act like real people with personalities and egos and hang-ups.

Of course the whole volume isn’t a big mope. There’s a funny sci-fi bit that explains how Dorothy came to be such a bitch, and there’s a funnier piece where Robinson’s real-life girlfriend Kristen Siebecker describes how she came to be a “Cartoonist’s Widow”. There’s also a satisfying side-story on Sherman finally getting a promotion in his go-nowhere job at the bookstore. But it’s striking how concerned this selection of stories is with the past, an appropriate theme for a posthumous collection. (I mean the demise of the series; Alex Robinson is of course alive and well and looking to new projects). It’s nice to revisit these characters again even after they were wrapped up so nicely at the close of the BOP series. These short stories reflect on who these characters were, while perhaps gently reminding us that we’re better off looking towards the future.

The definitive BOX OFFICE POISON trade paperback, otherwise known as Sherman’s March, would be a much better buy for first-time readers, especially considering you’re getting 608 pages of story for under $30. But BOP! is very readable for newbies, and definitely anyone who’s read and enjoyed the series should not be without this collection. Keep an eye out for Robinson’s new project TRICKED in 2004.


MYSTIQUE #7: You guys know the basics by now, right? Mystique = James Bond, Professor Xavier = M, and Forge = Q. It's as simple as that, and while this issue is a little heavy-handed in mimicking its inspiration, this really is a bloody fun book. This issue's notable because it's the start of a new story arc and a jumping-on point, so give it a go won't you? It's easy to find with its purple-metallic-ink-on-black cover, and did I mention it's got a kick-ass opening? You know, like when the Bond movies were actually good? -Cormorant

STRAY TOASTERS (TPB): Bill Sienkiewicz is a fantastic artist, this much is true. So I was quite excited to find this reprint of his hard-to-find 90's miniseries. Reading this made me realize how little of his work I've actually read, as opposed to just kind of knowing of it by reputation-osmosis. I did love his stuff on NEW MUTANTS, which warped my little mind just enough to prime me for later obsession with Vertigo comics. But this book just crosses over my weirdness tolerance level. It's a bizarre horror story involving a serial killer attempting to turn bodies into appliances, to varying degrees of success. Sometimes he has a toaster for a head. There's a very disturbed young child involved, and a police detective on the case who was just released from a mental institution himself. And...that's about all I get. Sienkiewicz has artwork in here that could be described as eerily beautiful. However, there are words that I would *not* use to describe it, such as: Clear. Coherent. Concise. One probably knows going in that these are not the selling points of a Bill Sienkiewicz book. But if the story is not sufficiently developed, and/or the reader has any aversion to horror for horror's sake, they will probably have great difficulty finishing this volume, as I did. But I haven't seen either version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so what do I know? Real horror fans might really dig it. – Lizzybeth

NEW X-MEN #148: So Wolverine and Jean Grey are trapped on the old asteroid Magneto used for a hideout as it hurtles toward the sun. And it's so hot! Sweat flows like the second coming of COOL HAND LUKE, clothes are peeled, and…well, let's just say it gets pretty intense. Good issue. Surprisingly traditional. Read it with a loved one. – Cormorant

GOTHAM CENTRAL #12: Walking a fine line between relevancy and a tasteless USA network movie, this latest issue has Gotham City under siege by a nutso sniper. Turns out the shooter's someone Batman's gone up against before, all but ensuring that he'll be working alongside the cops as the story unfolds. Questions of poor taste aside, this is another terrific issue for a ridiculously under-appreciated series. Well worth checking out, even if the book's sorely in need of a roster at the start of each issue. I mean, we're a year in, and I still can't remember any names except for Renee Montoya and Maggie Sawyer. Possibly because they're lesbians. - Cormorant

AVENGERS #71: It may just be due to his having to follow the stellar perfection that is Kurt Busiek’s run, but Geoff Johns turn as Avengers scribe has been a textbook case of mediocre. Having said that, this is his best issue to date, focusing on a weekend in Vegas with the Wasp, Yellowjacket, and an interruption from Whirlwind. My only question is, when did Marvel decide to start publishing stories based on Bondage Fairies? – Vroom Socko

WOLVERINE #8: It's embarrassing to admit, but I'll be damned if this wasn't a terrific week for X-books! MYSTIQUE and NEW X-MEN had it goin' on, and the latest WOLVERINE, featuring a vintage Wolverine/Nightcrawler night o' drinkin', is a must for fans of either of the characters. This issue acts as a denouement for the series' first arc, but it's actually more interesting than any issues that preceded it (which weren't bad by any means – just kinda solid). Great characterization, great art, and it's essentially a standalone. Buy it! Then for added entertainment, make up your own wacky captions for the "Nekkid Nightcrawler" cover! - Cormorant


By Vroom Socko

Here it is, the twenty-fifth installment of my little corner of the net. Sure, it may be twenty-four too many, but I’ll take what I can get. As a reminder, here are all the past selections we’ve discussed in this space. Just click on their names for more information:

Vic and Blood, Box Office Poison, Joe Psycho & Moo Frog, Green Candles, Oddjob, Triple X, The Ring of the Nibelung, Heroes Among Us, User, Clan Apis, She’s A Nightmare, Bad World, Blood Song, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Lone Wolf & Cub, Picture Stories from the Bible, Thieves’ World, The Curse of Dracula, DC Comics Presents #97, Murder by Remote Control, Tangent Comics, The Liberty Project, Evenfall, Four Women.

As for the next title to be added to that list, it’s one of my all time favorites. In fact, it’s the book that got me into comics in the first place. I’m sure many of you know about this one already, but for those that don’t, I’ve got one word for you.


Tintin books were some of the first comics I ever read. The comics’ creations of Hergé (aka Georges Rémi,) not only were the perfect introduction to the medium, but set the bar as high as possible as far as creativity is concerned. These are perfect comics. The concept of a young reporter and his dog is one that lends itself to a multitude of genres, and these twenty-three books explore almost all of them. There’s action, (Tintin and the Picaros,) swashbuckling, (The Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackam’s Treasure,) science fiction, (Flight 714,) mystery, (The Castafiore Emerald,) and political intrigue (King Ottokar’s Sceptre.) No matter what your taste, there’s a Tintin story for you.

Part of what makes these stories so great is the amazing characters that inhabit them. Along with Tintin and his dog Snowy, there’s Captain Haddock, the drunken old seaman with a wealth of pirate treasure, the hard of hearing eccentric genius Cuthbert Calculus, and Thompson and Thomson, those inept agents of Interpol. (To be precise, they work for an inept agency.) There’s also General Alcazar, the South American dictator who has a back and forth coup d’etat arrangement with the country of San Theodoros, the Emir Kalish Ezab and his practical joker son Abdullah, and the Italian opera star Bianca Castafiore. These characters are simply a blast to read about.

The real star of these books, however, is the artwork. There are panels that are beautiful in their simplicity, and others that have more detail to them than anything out there today. My favorites are the crowd scenes, which are a veritable Where’s Waldo of gags. There’s also quite a bit of fun to be had in watching Hergé develop as an artist throughout the books. His early stuff is great, but the last few books… they’re pure genius.

Tintin is my gold standard, the book that all other comics strive to equal in my eyes. If you haven’t read them before, then I envy you in a way. Some of you will be able to read these stories for the first time, a particular joy that I first experienced almost twenty-five years ago. These books are the cream of the crop, no doubt about it.


What’s the book that made you a comics junkie?

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