Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Good stuff this week, and plenty of it...
Howdy, comic fans! Cormorant here! This week, I write two regular reviews, a passel o' Cheap Shot reviews, and kick off a new, semi-recurring manga feature geared for you American comic book fans who have your doubts about them crazy Japanese comics. I'm tired! I can't possibly come up with anything witty to say, so I'm just gonna turn the mike over to one of our most erudite members, the esteemed Village Idiot. He'll be covering the much talked about follow-up to Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee's BATMAN run, and it goes a little sumpin' like this:
Written by Brian Azzarello
Illustrated by Eduardo Rizzo
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Village Idiot
Hey everybody, Village Idiot here.
You know, one of the best things about writing for AICN Comics is the fact we're given complete editorial freedom over whatever we write. No matter what I choose to say about a comic, I know that my review is my domain; it's my opportunity to take the spotlight for a moment, and discuss my feelings freely, openly, and without any outside qualification whatsoever. It's something we're proud of around here, and I can't think of any other website that would offer such creative latitude.
Take BATMAN #620 for example. I didn't like BATMAN #620 very much. Now this may not be the only opinion out there; it may not even be the majority opinion, but it's mine, and the remainder of this review will be my opportunity to discuss these feelings wholly unmolested.
BATMAN #620 begins with Batman ruthlessly –
I'll take it from here VI.
Hey everybody, Cormorant here.
I've got mixed feelings on the issue, m'self, which sees Batman on the trail of a dead girl found partially eaten. Yessiree, the flashy, superhero-oriented team of Lee and Loeb are out, and the 100 BULLETS team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso are in. It's about as startling a change of timbre as one can imagine, but a clever choice on DC's part. No traditionalist team could possibly recreate the fan adulation that took Lee and Loeb's run to #1 in sales, so given that Batman's one of the few superheroes so open to reinterpretation, DC's letting the 100 BULLETS guys return Batman to the hardboiled Raymond Chandler stylings that made Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT RETURNS a megahit.
And if you can suppress your inner continuity geek, you might just enjoy the ride. I'm a sucker for superhero books that can surprise me, and #620 succeeds on that level – not with plot twists, ala Lee and Loeb, but with a new interpretation of Batman's personality. On one level I was mildly repulsed to see Batman enjoying a teeth-shattering interrogation of the all-new, all bling-bling Killer Croc, hinting at a "God's piss" metaphor for the rain falling on Gotham, and exchanging double entendres with a half-nekkid mob girl – shock value, anyone? – but again, Batman seems to be one of the superheroes best-suited for new visions. And, man, can Risso draw a half-nekkid mob girl!
– interrogating Killer Croc about the disappearance of a dead girl who's been partially ea... Wait a minute, what the hell was that??
This was supposed to be MY review for BATMAN #620, solo, not one of those goofy "Two-In-One" reviews! Me! Mine! MY show! What, you think you can drop in with your big fancy "Ooooo, look at me, I'm Cormorant, King of the @$$Holes Column Compiler" font, and just start opining? That's pretty effed up right there! You could at least have given me a chance to finish a freaking sentence! I mean come on, man!
Well, I suppose if this is a Two-In-One, I can at least pick up on your point about the "new interpretation of Batman's personality." A new interpretation of Batman? Boy, I'll say. In fact, I don't think I've ever –
Hey everybody, Jon Quixote here.
I gotta tell you: Boy, I miss thought balloons. Oh sure, they were often corny and overwritten, but guess what? Transforming them into little boxes in the margins didn't really change that, and now it seems that every frikkin' comic book has to be a parade through a character's psyche. While sometimes, that's dandy, sometimes it means we get a Batman that talks like a creative writing student who just discovered Chandler.
Say it with me kids: Omniscient Narrator. Yeah, Frank Miller was the shiznit, but he's been dead for a decade now (I've just gotta keep believing). Time for today's writers to break out some new tricks, or at least some different ones.
The ending was great though.
– heard Batman sound so much like a nihil... All right, what the hell is going on here?
You know you guys, I can almost accept Corm butting in and adding stuff to the review since he's almost like our leader, but now Jon Quixote? I mean, that doesn't even make sense. What's next? Are we just going to let anybody start throwing their opinion into this review now too?
Hey everybody, Xandr37 here.
Alright, first let me get what I didn't like about this issue out of the way. The ending ended as so many Batman issues have before, with Bruce brooding in a dark alley with his horrible childhood memories. I won't dwell on this though with the hope that Azzarello works his magic and adds some novelty to this overused tangent.
Now onwards and upwards to all things golden that the bastard sons of Midas, Azzarello and Risso, have presented us with. As usual, Azzarello sets his story in a very dark and gritty environment which is perfect for our caped crusader. His usual elements are present: sex, dark humor, and having a supernatural ability to fit dialogue perfectly to any character. And Risso never ceases to amaze with his simplistic linework and beautiful angles. The thing that stands out the most is Risso's ability to draw characters realistically. Not only does he draw the everyday individuals as normal, non-model types, but he also makes monsters like Killer Croc into believable people. Whether DC planned it or not, having Jim Lee precede Risso's run produces a great juxtaposition that adds even more to the current arc.
Now look, people: I'm an understanding guy, really. I understand that it's good to have two opposing views in a review from time to time to liven things up. I even understand the value of having a wider mix of ideas presented. But keeping in mind the fact that I HAVEN'T EVEN BEEN GIVEN THE CHANCE TO EXPLAIN MY OWN OPINION YET, have things really gotten to the point where we need to drag a random TalkBacker like Xandr37 into things? How far are you guys planning to take this little farce?
Hey everybody, Greg's mom here.
I'm not really sure what's going on here. I guess you're all talking about some sort of comic book thing, which is fine, but you know what I'd really like to see is "Village Idiot" try to get a job instead of spending so much time on the computer. I see him put so much energy into all this stuff, I just wish he could find a way to make some money at it.
You know what? Screw this! All I wanted to do was share my feelings on BATMAN #620 this week, and talk about how the book was grim 'n' gritty, sure, but how a really engaging story requires more than just atmosphere and attitude, which is what I felt BATMAN #620 primarily was. But no, you people ruined it. RUINED IT!
So fine, if this editorial butchering the kind of respect I get around here, let me just conclude this review by saying –
BIRDS OF PREY #60
Written by Gail Simone
Penciled by Ed Benes; Inked by Rob Lea & Alex Lei
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Jon Quixote
I love the women in this comic.
And I don’t mean just because Ed Benes draws The Huntress in such a way that makes my subscription to Maxim quite redundant. Or suggests that Black Canary’s jumpsuit has a wraparound zipper. Or has Oracle doing for wheelchairs what Jennifer Beals once did for coveralls.
I love the women in this comic because they’re vivid. Because they’re real. Because I can almost reach out and touch them (and trust me, it’s an almost). Because they leap off the page with vibrancy and depth that I rarely see in any medium. Because I read them and I feel guilty for starting my review with a spank joke. Because they remind me of women that I know.
And the women I know tend to hit me when I make spank jokes.
It would be nice if I could talk about the Birds of Prey as characters, rather than make special note of their double x chromosome. But in a genre as predominantly male as the superhero genre, female characters like these stand out, and need to be noted. There are a lot of female supercharacters, and more are popping up everyday (for good or for bad), but usually their feminine personalities fall into the tough-but-vulnerable, trying-to-succeed-in-a-man’s-world archetype, while their feminine physiques are exaggerated to Popeye-esque proportions. The message seems to be: you’re a strong, independent, and competent heroine, who can do anything a man can. Now take off your clothes and go fight crime!
But the Birds are competent without having to sacrifice or subvert their softer sides, and they’re sexy and sexual without acting or dressing like Poppa Dawg needs his bling bling ‘fore midnight and if he don’t get it, it ain’t gonna be his ass, y’dig? They’re not catty, they don’t act like they have to prove themselves, and when they have personal problems with each other – get this – everything ISN’T resolved with a hug and some ice cream.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Birds of Prey is the most spankable piece of feminism you’ll ever read.
Sexy art. Strong characters. Hot Chicks in Wheelchairs – admit it, you’re curious too. Kick Ass Action (Did I forget to mention the action? It is, as you probably surmised, of the Kick Ass variety – check out last issue when a crippled Black Canary had to fight her way out of the bad guy’s lair with both legs in casts. Spectacular!). So what’s not to like?
I’m going to go out on a limb and criticize one of the funniest writers working today for her jokes.
Gail Simone sure can make with the funny, but sometimes it feels like the funny is coming for no other reason than because it’s expected. There’s one very poignant and elegant scene in this book that is rudely interrupted by a pratfall. And it’s not that it wasn’t comical – I can’t remember the last time a comic book stumble made me laugh out loud (Peter David, please take note) – but that it seemed to be included in order to meet an unwritten joke quota, and it knocks me out of the moment. There are a couple other examples where the comedy winds up undermining the writing.
But as my Gram used to say, “If that’s all you have to complain about, then Lithuanians are turnips,” (Grammy drank). In a week where JLA/Avengers hit stands, Azzarello took over Batman, and Amazing Spider-Man celebrated its 500th issue, I pulled Birds of Prey out of the bag and read it in the parking lot of my comic store. It’s one of the most consistently exciting books on the market, and offers some of the deepest writing and most vivid art on the shelves today.
Also: Hot Chicks in Wheelchairs.
QUEEN & COUNTRY – OPERATION BLACKWALL (TPB)
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Jason Alexander
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewed by Cormorant
This trade reprints my least favorite storyline from Greg Rucka's QUEEN & COUNTRY, which is to say – it's still pretty damn good. What sets it apart from the rest of the series is that the espionage elements don't involve terrorists, poison gas attacks, or violent life-or-death scenarios. It's a more personal focus on Tara Chace, hardboiled agent of England's Special Section, and the stakes are merely her emotional health and mental well-being.
Sound harsh? Do I care nothing about a spotlight on characterization? Well make no mistake, Rucka's created a compelling character in Chace, and watching her one chance at a bit of relationship happiness ground beneath the weight of her responsibilities is still fairly brutal. But…I miss the overt spy stuff and actually thought the relationship woes were dealt with in too cursory a manner. Have I just read too much of Brian Bendis's hard luck Jessica Jones in ALIAS, whose miseries are made far more explicit to the reader? Maybe so. Maybe.
And yet we've still got a pretty compelling story, even if the scale is smaller than normal. The deal is this: Tara's involved in a fling with a fellow agent – a fling all but doomed should it come to the attention of their superiors – even as she's called in to assist on a sordid case involving billionaire, Colin Beck, who's turned to the British secret service to resolve a private matter. He's being blackmailed, you see. His high-profile, dilettante daughter has been secretly filmed in flagrante dilecto with an unknown man, and a particularly vile French businessman is using the video as leverage to force him to agree to a lowball contract. Given that England would have secured the multi-million-dollar contract otherwise, both to the country's benefit and to Beck's superior gain, the Brits agree to step in and try to undermine his blackmailers. Tara comes into play because she actually knew Beck's daughter in college, and has the best chance of getting close to her to find out about this mystery man she's been seeing. Bit of a coincidence? Yeah, but not an unreasonable one.
The bulk of the story involves Tara taking on the uncomfortable role of "accidentally" bumping into her old friend in order to play at catching up on old times and draw out the identity of the mysterious lover seen with her on the tape. It's particularly grueling because A) Tara's friend is clearly in love with this man, who quite likely was paid to seduce her with blackmail in mind, and B) Tara has to pretend to be interested in all this relationship talk even as her fling with her fellow agent is going down the shitter. As ever, I enjoyed the procedural elements of the story, like seeing Tara and company analyze the video for digital manipulation, and watching the seamy office politics that have forced a secret service branch to do favors for a private citizen just because he's wealthy. Rucka's got a fine talent for immersing readers in the disheartening world of real espionage, and for every moment of exhilaration, there's also an acknowledgment that it's a thankless, soul-numbing way to spend your life.
Where I felt the story slipped a bit was in revealing Tara's ailing relationship with her fellow agent. The clichÃ© of "duty over love" comes into play, and while I like the unsentimental treatment, I also needed the story to linger on Tara and her lover for longer than it did in their scenes together. I couldn't help but feel their slipping relationship was more of a plot device than something I could really believe in. We, the readers, simply didn't see enough of their affair to become emotionally invested in it. Now QUEEN & COUNTRY is a businesslike comic, not a soap opera, but this story's a rare case where I think it would've better served the book to delve into personal matters.
I was also mildly put off by the art of Jason Alexander. On one level, it may be the series' most "commercial" art, with its look of heavily-shadowed, gritty realism (think of Bendis collaborators like Alex Maleev and Michael Gaydos). But I had a hard time telling some of the characters apart, which is a major no-no, and the inkiness was almost overbearing at times - more distraction than atmosphere, to my mind.
Ultimately OPERATION BLACKWALL is still a worthy addition to one of the strongest series you're likely to find today. Rucka always captures the trademark British wit (and sarcasm) with ease, can stage a kick-ass action scene (and yes, we do get an instance or two of good, old-fashioned violence in this trade), and has created a supporting cast that's among the most believable in comics (especially fond of agency secretary Kate here). This trade's not my fave, but the series is. In fact, I doubt it's left my personal "top five" since it's debut. Start with volume one or the QUEEN & COUNTRY: DECLASSIFIED trade (untold tale of Tara's boss when he was a field agent) and you won't be sorry. Surely you've got some book that's just barely cuttin' it for you right? Yep, that's the one to drop so you can try QUEEN & COUNTRY. And the trades are only between $9 and $12, so don't gimme no guff about the sorry state of your finances. This book's worth skipping a meal or two.
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: Stefano Raffaele
A Hawkeye For The @$$hole Guys Review by Ambush Bug and Vroom Socko
AMBUSH BUG: Man, I am sick, sick, sick of this. Hawkeye is one of my favorite characters. Next to Iron Man and Moon Knight, there isn't a hero in the Marvel U that is cooler in my book. So when I heard that there was going to be a new ongoing series featuring our favorite Avenging Archer, I damn near had pups. And with Fabian Nicieza writing? Even cooler beans. Fabs Nice-n-cheesy has always been a great writer of superhero fiction. I couldn't wait.
So I picked up Hawkeye and read it, and did I see the purple-clad archer cracking wise, flipping through the air with his bow cocked with an arrow that most assuredly would hit its mark? No. I got slapped in the face with another Nu Marvel cold fish. You will see no purple costume or mask in HAWKEYE #1. You will see no bow and arrow play. And that sarcasm and wit that made Hawkeye famous? Not that much at tall.
You see, for some reason, Marvel books have lost their imagination. They have become so self conscious that they're writing about guys in tights that they forget what made the whole damn thing special. To pick up a Hawkeye book and not see one arrow slung or shot is as stupid as seeing the Hulk once every four issues of his own book or having Wolvie only pop his claws off panel in his first issue. What's next, the Punisher doesn't kill someone in the first issue of his newly relaunched title?
I know some of these writers are saying, "We all have seen Hawkeye shoot an arrow. Why not give them something they haven't seen?" Well, Sally, quitcher teasin' and gimme the goods. There's a reason why this character is cool. It's no surprise that Hawkeye would sling up his bow when faced with a problem. A big splash page reveal at the end with Hawkeye picking up a bow is not the type of drama that has me itchin' for a second issue. I love the character, so I'll be back for a few issues, but people who are unfamiliar with the character won't know how or why this character deserves his own title. And that's too bad, because a character like Hawkeye has loads of potential in the Marvel U. Just look at how spectacular Busiek is writing him in AVENGERS/JLA.
VROOM SOCKO: And Ambush Bug whines about Marvel yet again.
While this wasn't the greatest first issue of all time, it was a pretty solid opening that played to the strengths of the Nu Marvel style. Nu Marvel only works on solo books where the character behind the story is more or less human. Team books like Avengers and X-Men, and books like the Hulk are wrong, wrong, wrong for this sort of storytelling. But it works on Daredevil, it'd work on The Punisher if they actually treated him like a character instead of a killing machine, and it works here.
Seriously, Hawkeye is more than just a guy who shoots arrows. He's also an ex-carny and ex-con who loves to showboat, and that's all perfectly conveyed in this issue. Nicieza is a writer who knows Hawkeye well, due to his involvement with THUNDERBOLTS (and yes, I'm pleased as punch that Fabe and Marvel are going to give that series a proper conclusion), and I trust the man to give us something good. Would I have preferred it if Clint had brought his costume with him on his little South Florida vacation? Yes. Is
that a make or break detail? No. Do I expect to see the costume at some point? Yes.
BUG: True, Hawkeye IS a lot more than just a costume and arrows, but those ARE important facets to his character. I'd love to hear about Clint's con and carny days. Those seem like great untold tales. But if the cover says HAWKEYE, then Hawkeye should appear in the damn book. If not, then call the fucker "Clint Barton's Road Adventures" and be done with it.
And damn straight I'm pissed at Marvel. They have almost all of my favorite characters and they continue to piss on or act completely embarrassed about writing them. Everything is so self-aware and deconstructive. As soon as Marvel stops drawing out every frikkin' nuance of the character and writing stories about everyone but the character whose name is on the cover, I'll quit my bitching.
But you're right. Fabs is a good writer. The opening flashback sequence at the circus is testament to this. He's proven himself to me with this character in THUNDERBOLTS, but there's a whole generation of readers who haven't the slightest idea who Hawkeye is and what makes him so freaking cool. I doubt anyone who doesn't know the character would be intrigued enough with this issue to come back for more. The core elements of the character (the bowslinging, the costume, the wiseass comments) are hardly present.
Instead we get a morose and depressed Clint Barton forcibly being shoved by the writer into a situation at a bar because something had to happen in this issue. There is nothing in this book that reminded me why I love the character so much. All we got was a scene where Clint tosses cards into a perfect pile (admittedly damn cool), a convoluted action sequence in a bar involving a spoon and a scrunchie, a Tiger Woods riff, and the fun fact that Clint buys his bows from Wal-Mart. I want and expect more from a writer who
was around long before this Nu Marvel fad came and shat on the shelves the comics sit on. This book read like the first half of some low-budget syndicated action drama playing on USA at three in the morning.
CORMORANT: Yeah, Lorenzo Lamas called and wants his RENEGADE schtick back.
BUG: Good one, Corm. But shush, this is our review.
VROOM: Waitaminute, waitaminute. Where do you get that Clint is morose and depressed? I saw a character that's laid back and fun loving, who'd drive a motorcycle from New York to Florida just to have a bowl of chili. A guy who throws around his Avengers stipend not to impress people, but because he doesn't care much about money. A guy who helps out a complete stranger simply because he can. These are elements of his character as well. You're ignoring the forest for the trees here Bug. And you're kidding yourself if you think you can bitch about people not knowing who Hawkeye "really" is, while at the same time praising the use of his character in JLA/Avengers.
You can't have it both ways, Bug.
Now, do I want every issue to be just like this one? Not at all. But this is a solid first issue. The fact that it wasn't what you were expecting doesn't change this. Honestly, I think your dislike for this style of storytelling is blinding you. Would you prefer that Crossfire show up out of the blue and brawl with Clint for six pages? With no explanation? That sounds like something that'd happen in Byrne's GENERATIONS book.
VILLAGE IDIOT: Dude, that's way too harsh.
VROOM: I know, I'm just trying to make a point. Now shush, this is our review.
BUG: I'd LOVE to see a mindless brawl just once in this era of Nu Marvel staleness. A well-structured first issue slugfest would show the audience what to expect from the character because he is reacting to some type of action, not some discourse that takes three pages of dialog to map out. It's a pretty sad fact, but it also would be an homage to the character's roots; a time where action was mingled in with character moments. At least then the innards of the book would be indicative of the cover. Most of Marvel's books are all promise and no payoff.
My problem lies with the fact that this is a writing style that has become the ONLY form of writing Marvel chucks out nowadays. And I'm sick of it. I said it earlier. Fabs did a good job with the character and I'm sure editorial is more at fault than the writer himself for the snail's pacing, but DAMN is this shit getting old. You're right though. This type of writing works with Daredevil and maybe even some Spidey books, but we've seen this type of shit with every character from Silver Surfer to Hulk to Captain America over the last few years. There are other ways to write comics. One style does not fit every title.
And I do see the forest, Vroom. But do you? I know you were a big supporter of THUNDERBOLTS and Hawkeye has been in that series, but NEWSFLASH! That title was canceled due to low sales. Not too many people read that book. And before that, Hawkeye hadn't been in his own series for years. Is it completely "out there" to think that there are some readers who haven't read a story starring Hawkeye? Not everyone has read comics as long as you and I. And guess what? If those new readers aren't nabbed up with a strong first issue showing what this character can do and what this writing team has got up their sleeves, people won't stick around and there ain't going to be too many issues of this series to follow.
Back to the book. The art left me cold. It was very undynamic. Clint looks more like a zombie than a super hero. The reason why I thought Clint looked morose and depressed is because he had the same overly-shadowed, "someone just pissed on my Pop Tart" look throughout the entire book. I remember stories where Hawkeye flashed a wiseass smile as he whupped glute. You could see that he was the one hero who loved doing his thang. The guy drawn in these pages isn't that guy. The rest of the art seemed rushed and undone. Same complaint. I don't think "grim and gritty" when I think of Hawkeye and "grim and gritty" art is what we got. Someone with a cleaner style and a better concept of how to draw different types of people and expressions may have gained more praise from me.
VROOM: The artist in question is Stefano Raffaele, Fabian's cohort on the kickass Dark Horse book THE BLACKBURNE COVENANT, and I for one love his stuff. But you're right, I'd probably have loved the book more if the artist had been someone like frequent Fabian cohort Mark Bagley. Still, I'm willing to give Raffaele a chance.
And you're also right about Nu Marvel; just because it works for some characters doesn't mean it works for them all. Marvel would do well to start injecting a wider variety of storytelling into their books, including Nu Marvel, classic hero stories, and more. But that's beside the point.
The point is this is a good opener by a great writer about an excellent character, and I'm definitely going to be picking up this series regularly. Are you telling me you won't?
BUG: No, I'll stick around for an issue or two out of sheer love for the character and reverence for the writer. For me, this issue was a lukewarm start for a character with a lot of untapped potential and a good writer who is being forced to follow stale storytelling techniques. There are enough books out there following this formula. I'm not about to buy into another one. I've come to the point where enough's enough as far as this Nu Marvel structure is concerned. I doubt I'm the only one.
LIZZYBETH: Are you guys done rambling about guys in tights?
BUG: Not even close, Indie Chick. Now shush, this is our review...
VROOM and BUG: Okay, now we're done.
Kurt Busiek – Writer
George Perez – Artist
Published by DC and Marvel
Reviewed by Village Idiot
I believe it was legendary Black Flag lead singer/angry buff guy Henry Rollins who once talked about how the music you listened to at 13 is the music that dictates the music you like for the rest of your life. You may learn to like other types of music, but it's always judged in relation to those songs that hit you when you first started adolescence.
So too have people described the appreciation of comics. Your idea of the right way to do comics is how they did it back when you were a kid. Thus, the most avid Silver Agers are the ones who grew up in the early sixties reading Silver Age comic books. Kids who read comics now (if there are any) will perhaps be forever comparing their comics to the ULTIMATE titles. For me, the measuring stick is probably the comics from early eighties' Marvel: books that were simple, but not simplistic, economical, and fantastic.
And so, when AVENGERS/JLA is simple, but not simplistic, economical, and fantastic, and I'm absolutely adoring it, I sometimes hear Henry Rollins telling me that the reason why I might be liking it so much is because it's the same music I listened to when I was 13.
But then I remind Henry that the idea of AVENGERS/JLA being a good comic book, and the idea of it being comic book reminiscent of the comics from when I was a kid are not mutually exclusive. And then he and I decide to take a hard look at whether AVENGERS/JLA is indeed a good comic book. And then maybe we write a review about it.
AVENGERS/JLA #2 picks up almost immediately after #1 ended, with the characters from both DC's JLA and Marvel's Avengers fighting in all-out combat on the streets of Metropolis. This fighting doesn't last too long before the teams go off in search of the various magical/powerful artifacts they've all been directed to find by the mysterious Grandmaster; all part of the Grandmaster's bet with the omnipotent and universe-destroying Krona. As each detachment from each team battles one another for the McGuffins, Batman and Captain America search for the real reasons behind the conflict, and discover the surprising basis of the Grandmaster's bet.
As I said, the story is simple, but not simplistic, especially visually. In many respects, AVENGERS/JLA #2 is just a series of fights; but each one crackles with excitement and personality. I think this is largely due to the layouts of the book: the panels seem to have a kinetic energy all their own. But on top of that, Perez is still on his game with some amazingly beautiful work. Look at the Scarlet Witch as the Chaos Magic of the DC Universe begins to overtake her. Look at Hercules as he's pounded in the face by Wonder Woman. Look at the detail and novelty in the Grandmaster's Home Base. Look a the reflection of Captain America in the glass case holding Jason Todd's costume in the Batcave:
"You...lost a partner?"
This moment really got me. There was a really poignant echo there that I really felt, and it was perhaps my favorite moment in the book. Like I said, much of the book was a series of fights, and although the characterization was fairly obvious, even blatant, it felt true. Indeed, this was not decompressed storytelling.
Sidebar: Nor was this lack of decompression retrograde (a charge that has also been leveled against Perez and his art by a few fans). Ultimately, compressed or decompressed narrative are merely different styles of presentation, like the difference between Impressionism and Cubism; neither is necessarily more advanced than the other. Busiek managed to work this compressed style across a huge canvas, and I would argue that he did so as well as anyone could have hoped.
Which made for an amazing ride. The fights are the fights you wanted to see: Martian Manhunter versus The Vision, The Flash versus Quasar, Batman versus Captain America, and the Main Event, Superman versus Thor. Busiek even managed to throw in a few fights you didn't even know you wanted to see: Wonder Woman versus Wonder Man? How brilliant is that? Of course, the internet is in a bit of an uproar right now due to the result of the Thor/Superman bout, but even the most irate fan has to admit that fight had some great moments. But just the sheer inventiveness of the way Busiek plays with these two worlds pretty fun itself: The reasoning that the DC Earth is bigger to accommodate the extra major cities on the East Coast (Gotham and Metropolis). Or the way Iron Man integrates with the Mother Box. Or the way Green Lantern recharges through the Cosmic Cube. Terrific, unexpected stuff.
And so, when the voice of Henry Rollins starts bugging me about why I like AVENGERS/JLA, he's right: AVENGERS/JLA #2 appeals to the 13 year old inside of me. But this comic is good enough to appeal to the 13 year old in practically anyone, no matter when they started reading comics. On the other hand, let's be honest, there will be some who will not like it: those who see grandeur as bloat, those who see detail as clutter, and most of all, those who see a kind of purity and simplicity of narrative as shallowness; in other words, those people whose appreciation for Cubism interferes with they're ability to enjoy an Impressionist painting. (Jess Lemon: Eyes on you.) But for the rest of us, AVENGERS/JLA is quite simply a wonderful comic book.
And then I ask Henry Rollins about his rule and why I don't like Duran Duran anymore. ("The Reflex"?? What the heck was I thinking?)
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #5
Writer: Peter David
Publisher: Dreamwave Productions
Reviewed by Cormorant
When I first heard that Peter David was writing a Ninja Turtles relaunch, I must confess (don't laugh) that I was intrigued (okay, you can laugh now). I was intrigued in spite of the fact that I was growing to hate the 80's nostalgia movement. David's particular knack for blending action and humor – hell, even his bad puns – seemed like an ideal fit for the Turtles. And, yes, I'm not embarrassed to say that I still liked the Turtles, who're really no more juvenile than any superhero an adult might remain fond of. Before the Turtles became a merchandising machine, their title marked my first experience with indy comics, and proved to me that the black-and-whites could handle adventure just as well as Marvel and DC – maybe even better at times, what with the mild swears and stabbing!
My enthusiasm for the relaunch hit a brick wall, though, surprisingly as a result of the book's art. Artist LeSean's original pencils were probably just fine, but I couldn't wade through the coloring to see them. Like all Dreamwave Productions coloring, it mimicked the look of Japanese animation cels, but while the coloring was rich, it also diluted the coloring on the Turtles so much so that they blended drearily into the backgrounds. Heroes that should have been popping off the page with vibrant greens and yellows were rendered in understated gray-greens and faded yellows, severely undercutting their iconic nature, and hell, even my ability to tell what was going on.
Boo! The Ninja Turtles look cool! Don't hide them!
So I dropped the book like a hot potato, and only gave the latest one a flip-through because it proclaimed "Brand New Story!" on the cover (note to publishers: this remains a good tactic for snaring new readers). Well, the cover still had the washed-out coloring I hated – see it here – but the interior coloring was actually looking good! Still a little to muted, but much, much more vibrant than in previous issues! Good start.
So I picked it up, read it, found that it wasn't gonna change the world or anything, but that, yes, I was glad I'd bought it. Peter David spins a fun tale of Ninja Turtle, Raphael, deciding he's tired of the ninja lifestyle that forces he and his brothers to live in the shadows and never receive an public adulation. On impulse, he reveals himself to a little girl when he gets her cat down from a tree, and much to his surprise, she's just fine with him. Doesn't freak out, burst into tears, or anything. Of course, when moments later she tries to tell her mom she just met a giant lizard named "Raffle," she ends up getting a slap for making up stories. Remind you of the similar scene in Richard Donner's SUPERMAN movie? That was doubtless the inspiration for this story, and David even has Raphael acknowledging the parallels, but noting the key difference: "This is just like that bit in the Superman movie! Except it's not funny!"
And indeed, his seemingly innocent act of revealing himself spirals out of control with alternating comical and serious repercussions. Gets a little outrageous at the end, but hey, it's a comic about mutated turtles with nunchuks - what'cha want here? Stateliness? What I enjoyed throughout was the reminder that when the Turtles are played right, they're just fun characters to be around – part wise-cracking Spider-Man types, part idealized big brothers. Nothing deep to the appeal – they're just likeable giant-sized reptiles who fight evil. And is that so wrong?
In the end, some yuks are had, some lessons learned, and best of all, I could actually see Raphael doing all his ninja leaping around and stuff because he was – yes! – colored distinctly from the background! Why it's almost enough to make me to check out the next issue. In fact, I think I will.
WILDGUARD – CASTING CALL #2: Todd "Young Justice" Nauck continues to entertain with his lightweight and tongue-in-cheek tale of a superhero reality show in the making. Check out the review of issue one here for the full skinny, but really, all you need to know is that the series plays out like a more action-packed version of FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE. Issue two sees hundreds of alien invaders swooping down on the try-outs, giving our would-be heroes a chance to show their stuff. Art's solid and energetic, coloring's kinda "eh," but longtime superhero fans should give it a look. –Cormorant
SLEEPER #10: The use of the origin story motif may be wearing thin for some of the readers of this book, but not me. The monthly adventures of our favorite deep cover superhero continues to please. This book is something truly special, expertly melding intense action and intrigue with finely crafted pacing while knocking every superhero clichÃ© on its @$$ in the process. Issue #10 features the secret origin of Genocide, Holden's bulletproof best bud. The story is filled with by-the-comic-book standards, but shines in the way they're revealed and how they fit into the stomach-flipping climax. I literally screamed "Holy shit!" while reading this issue. As SLEEPER: Year One comes to a close, I find myself yearning for the next issue month after month and truly fearful for the characters who are tangled up in this intricate, but devilishly clever, web of a story. - Ambush Bug
CAPTAIN AMERICA #19: Dave Gibbons is a genius artist, but his every effort at writing, from BATMAN VERSUS PREDATOR to WORLD'S FINEST to ALIENS: SALVATION, has been a chore to read. How, then, am I having so much fun with his alternate history, "Nazis win WWII" Captain America serial? I mean, Lee Weeks' gorgeous art doesn't hurt, but the story's a blast-and-a-half too, like some kind of blend of 60's Marvel and rah-rah GREAT ESCAPE military adventure. Who'd believe a Brit is writing the best CAPTAIN AMERICA in years?! Check this story out, folks. In the words of Nick Fury as he leads a charge on a Nazi garrison: "Come on, you sissies!" - Cormorant
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #500: In this culmination of 40 years of Spider-Man history, our favorite webhead must re-experience the great and terrible moments of his career as he metaphysically claws his way back to our reality! Translation: it's a clip show. –Cormorant
BIG EYES FOR THE CAPE GUY!
Cormorant here with a new, semi-recurring feature that's to be my focus on those wacky comics of the Far East, those black-and-white, big-eyed, speed-line-packed volumes called manga. Now I'm a die-hard superhero fan, but some of my best comic reading experiences over the last few years have come from manga titles. Just check out the columns featuring my reviews of books like PHOENIX, WHAT'S MICHAEL?, IRON WOK JAN, and GYO. I love the hell out of those stories! Sure, I've had to filter through a lot of samurai and giant robot dreck, and enough big-eyed-schoolgirls-in-panties comics to get me investigated by the FBI, but I ask you, what medium doesn't require a little work to separate the wheat from the chaff?
And that's what I'm here for. I know that a lot of Westerners fear the big-eyed manga and resent its encroachment on their beloved costumed vigilantes, and hey – in some cases they're right to. Honestly, there is something spectacularly lame about seeing Spider-Man drawn in a quasi-manga style. But don't let bad Ameri-manga put you off the original stuff. The cinematic storytelling…the insane variety of genres…the sheer length and depth of some of the storylines!…it's truly an experience to discover manga when it's done right, and that's what I hope to convey in this column. The plan is to open with one full-length feature review (sometimes something new, sometimes coverage of a classic), then move on to some shorter reviews. This week, we open with…
PLANETES Vol.1 (TPB)
Writer/Artist: Makoto Yukimura
Reviewed by Cormorant
If you haven't heard of Tokyopop, what you need to know is that they are to American manga distribution what Sony is to music distribution: fucking huge. You know how you're always hearing that manga trades dominate the best-selling graphic novels at bookstores? Well Tokyopop dominates those trades. I'd even go so far as to say they're flooding the market right now, but my main beef with 'em is just that most of their titles are decorative, angsty, girly manga. Hey, I'm glad Tokyopop's bringing the ladies to comics – in fact, God bless 'em for it! – but relationship comics about androgynous boys just aren't my thing, dig?
So PLANETES caught my eye because there was nothing even remotely girly about it. Okay, there's a good bit of angst, but the meat-and-potatoes of the comic is a look at the life of a 23-year-old guy named Hachimaki whose job is to clear dangerous orbital debris in the year 2074. Yep, he's essentially a glorified garbage man, but the book's highly realistic, NASA-inspired art makes it immediately clear that this is no wonky sitcom story. If anything, it falls into another stock manga formula: "the loser kid with the dream." It's really nothing more than what we'd recognize as the "ROCKY" formula (or Horatio Alger formula for you college boys), where a lower-echelon protagonist works his ass off to become the best there is at what he does. Still it's pervasive enough in manga to become a little tiring even to a casual fan like me.
In Hachimaki's case, his big dream is to become the real astronaut he wanted to be as a kid – to go beyond the colonies established on the moon, gain some experience working a project to colonize Mars, and maybe, just maybe, earn enough to buy his own ship. If I had to guess, he'll make it happen by series' end – no shock there – but so far the formula hasn't bothered me; I'm too impressed by the realism of the book. The zero-g stuff and the rocketry physics are real, references are made to "Kessler Syndrome" (a legit phenomenon of orbital debris), and when Hachi breaks his ankle clearing some debris, his week bone structure (due to working years in zero-g) sends him to the Lunar colony for two months of physical rehab.
Sound dry? It's not. Consider my favorite chapter in the trade, for instance. At the heart of it is one of Hachi's two co-workers, Fee. She's a cute tomboy type who loves her cigarettes, and indeed, nicotine is at the heart of her quest in the chapter where Hachi's laid up on the moon. The problem? Anti-space-development terrorists have been setting off bombs on the moon colony, always planting them in cigarette machines. The result: all the smoking rooms get closed down just as she's hitting the mother of all nicotine fits. Y'know, I don't like smoking, but ya gotta love the idea of a quest for a cigarette on the moon. People complain sometimes that nobody's trying anything new in comic books – well read this book, ya whiners!
Hachi's other co-worker is Yuri, a thoughtful, occasionally depressed guy whose wife was killed in a spaceliner crash years before. His story and some of the others in PLANETES occasionally veer into heavy melodrama, which is kind of annoying given the book's general realism. On the other hand, melodrama's typical of nearly all manga, so that's more of a broad criticism of Japanese storytelling than a criticism of PLANETES in particular. Among the other chapters, we have Hachi visiting his bickering family on Earth, meeting a legendary astronaut stricken with cancer (who calls Hachi a "pussy-heart" for wanting to go back to Earth), and befriending an upbeat girl who grew up on the moon colony and doesn't know any life beyond it.
Kinda different, huh? And kinda cool. That's what I thought, and that's why I'm already looking forward to future volumes of this series. It's marred slightly because it unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve, but I love the "blue collar" approach to space adventure, and I can't overemphasize the merits of the fantastic, realistic art. It's obviously researched out the wazoo, and really conveys the somewhat sterile, claustrophobic look of NASA designs, but gives everything a "lived in" vitality. And I totally want to visit that moon colony!
Fans of Warren Ellis's graphic novel, ORBITER, would do well to check PLANETES out, and it goes without saying that space-junkies of all stripes will likely dig it. Really, this is an ideal "entry point" manga. Nothing particularly "Eastern" to it beyond the cinematic storytelling, no annoyingly ambiguous storylines, and no spiky hair or giant eyes! Curiosity seekers, give it some real consideration.
On a final note, you might be wondering – as I did - what the title, "Planetes," means.
No friggin' clue.
BERSERK Vol. 1 (TPB)
Writer/Artist: Kentaro Miura
Published by Dark Horse Comics
If you like your swords and sorcery on the dark side or dig anime like NINJA SCROLL, this blood-soaked new series might be for you. The lead goes by the unlikely name of "Guts," and has all the sentimentality of John Constantine – less maybe. He carries one of those ridiculously oversized swords you see in FINAL FANTASY video games, helps no one but himself, and when he goes on the attack, he cuts guys down with roughly the same level of violence you'd expect from a Garth Ennis comic. Limbs are hewn, whole bodies sliced in half, and halves of faces lopped off. Wheee! And because sometimes a guy's got to fight at a distance, he also wields this freaky, automated, rapid-fire crossbow that's attached to a gauntlet on one of his hands. Very cool-looking. It porcupines opponents with crossbow bolts, and opponents appear in no short supply in this first volume. Remember the island shoot-out at the end of COMMANDO? Similar body count here.
The story? Umm, it's still kinda vague and shadowy, but Guts has a mysterious past (don't they all?) related to a mystical brand on his neck that draws monsters and general badness to his vicinity. He wanders among lovingly rendered, medieval towns, reluctantly finds himself being followed by a naked, androgynous fairy, and kills any mercenary, zombie, or snake-man that screws with him. So far, that's about it, and I can't say I'm overly impressed. It's a shame, because the detailed, gray-toned art is pretty jaw-dropping, occasionally reminding me of Hayao Miyazaki's work on NAUSICAA. But it's a nihilistic book that's more in love with ultra-violence and moments that'll make twelve-year-olds croak, "bad ass!" than telling a story or creating any interesting characters. Given that manga stories can sometimes evolve quite a bit over the course of the hundreds or thousands of pages they might run, I can see how BERSERK might…might…evolve into the comic book equivalent of a Paul Verhoeven shocker – and I often like Verhoeven – but for now, I'm recommending it only to those still reeling with glee from Tarantino's use of anime-style blood gouts in KILL BILL. Five page preview to be found here (and remember to read right-to-left).
SHAOLIN SOCCER Vol.1 (TPB)
Writers: Andy Seto & Kwok-Ho Leung
Artists: Chi-Chuen Li, Kwok-Kit Wan, Yiu-Ming Lee, & Wing-Tak Chan
Published by ComicsOne
"It's like when master would make steamed buns using his internal energy. Wow, those were sooo tasty!"
That's an actual line from SHAOLIN SOCCER there, typical of the book's laugh-out-loud ridiculousness and borderline incomprehensibility. If you're a regular at Ain't-It-Cool-News, you might already know a bit about this tale of MATRIX-level, kung-fu-kickin' soccer players, as it's adapted from a feature film that's been highly publicized here. The movie's been through name changes, multiple soundtracks, and many a release-date switcheroo, and in all the confusion, I honestly don't know if it ever hit theaters. Whatever. Point is, there's a manga adaptation, and a rare, vibrantly-colored one at that. The other point is…
"I am no ordinary crippled old fogey!"
…The other point is that while this may be the funniest read-aloud comic I've seen in ages! It's obviously meant to be slapsticky, but it reaches a special level of badness with its dialogue. Likewise, while the art's gorgeous to look at, the storytelling is atrocious – almost non sequitur from one panel to the next! But if you're looking for the comic book equivalent of laughing your ass off over a horribly subtitled chop-socky movie, your comic has arrived! Reading SHAOLIN SOCCER is like reading Stan Lee at his most hyperbolic…times ten! Everyone is always leaping! Everyone is always shouting! And as for the plot…
"Yes! Playing soccer can help us promote our Shaolin kung fu. Our dream and destiny will be fulfilled."
And that's about it. Unlike the previews I've seen of the movie, though, SHAOLIN SOCCER the manga has action scenes where I can't really tell what's going on. Everyone seems to be flying around ala CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, trailing energy tendrils and whirlwinds in their wake, but as to specifics, I'm like, "What the fuh was that?" And yet I must recommend this book to lovers of chop socky weirdness. Why? Because of lines like this:
"I'm an auto mechanic, so it's normal for me to carry a wrench in my pants!"