Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
I’m a tardy mofo this week on everything, so let’s make it short and sweet. Here’s the funny books.
Greetings, Cormorant here. This week we’ve got anoth-*THWAK!!!*
Move over Corm, or it’s another boot to the head for you. I’m taking over this week! Hey, turds and turdettes. I’m Ambush Bug from the Talkback League of @$$holes. To commemorate last week’s return of Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug to the world of comic-bookdom, I’ve seized editorial control of @$$hole HQ. I’m providing you, the Faithful TalkBackers, another gaggle of reviews from the guys and gals who fluff and flog your favorite comics on a weekly basis. This week, Vroom Socko uses the word “butte” in his HULK: GREY review. I might allow Cormorant to spurt out a JLA: LIBERTY & JUSTICE review if he recovers from the boot simply because Alex Ross had the decency to include the Bug in the background of KINGDOM COME a few times. I pop in with a HUMAN TARGET review that hits the mark (ooo I’m such a punster), and then I come back and take a look at the return of my namesake in LOBO UNBOUND. Village Idiot steals Vroom Socko’s schtick at the end with a Superman-lovin' Tales from the Crevice, and how could I forget those Billy Barty-sized reviews that have become so popular these days? We call those cute lil’ guys Cheap Shots and we’ve got them coming up too. So scroll down and enjoy all of the @$$y goodness.
HULK: GREY #3 (of 6)
Jeph Loeb: Writer
Tim Sale: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Feeling Green
You have to wonder about Jeph Loeb. He’s a good writer, in fact he can be excellent at times, but he seems to have slipped into a sort of double grooved rut. Either he’s writing a thirteen issue Batman book that (were it to lose all the pointless cameos) could easily be told in three or four parts, or he’s retelling a Marvel character’s origin crossed with an ode to their dead lover.
With Hulk: Gray Loeb is definitely treading water story-wise. We’ve seen this before. Everyone’s seen this before. And much of what we haven’t seen doesn’t seem to work. The beginning of this issue even has the Hulk acting like Lenny from Of Mice and Men, for god’s sake. It’s ridiculous.
So why am I enjoying this book so much?
Part of it is definitely due to Bruce Jones. Now that the regular Hulk book is about a group of shadowy agent types enacting a convoluted conspiracy that even JFK assassination nuts have a hard time following, seeing a story focused on Banner’s internal emotional turmoil while The Hulk bounds across New Mexico smashing mountains to gravel is just so damned gratifying. There’s also this issue’s guest appearance of Tony Stark. Whoever decided that he should always have a glass of scotch in his hand is a fucking genius.
And as for Tim Sale… Whoa Mama! Tim Sale. I love his stuff. Love it. I’ve been a fan for decades, and yet he still surprises me. There’s one panel of the Hulk kneeling beside a lake that rocked my socks off. So did the two page spread at the beginning, where the Hulk’s this tiny figure hanging off the side of a butte. And that closing page? Damn.
So the book’s not the best work these two have done (FYI, their best is The Long Halloween). So it’s not even the best of their Marvel work (Daredevil: Yellow). But it’s got a behemoth running around the desert smashing things, and an Ahab-like army general, and a teenager caught in the middle, and everything else that the Hulk’s been missing for a good long while. And besides, it just feels fun. When was the last time anyone said that about the Hulk?
HUMAN TARGET #4
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Javier Pulido
Publisher: DC Comics/ VERTIGO
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Dammitalltohell! VERTIGO has done it to me again. I didn’t want to get into another VERTIGO series. I don’t make a mint being one of the comic book reviewing gurus here at AICN Comics. I don’t have the shekels to buy every damn comic out there. So why, oh why, does DC’s VERTIGO line have to publish so many damn good books? First we have the dynamic duo of VERTIGO: FABLES and Y: THE LAST MAN. Month after month, these books are filled with some of the best writing in the biz. Then there’s THE LOSERS, my little A-Team treat that supplies me with a heavy dose of both action and intrigue. I thought that was it for me. I was done. I was cool with my three stellar reads from VERTIGO, a line that continues to set the standard for greatness in the entire comic book industry. And then, on a lark, I picked up the first issue of Peter Milligan’s HUMAN TARGET. And now VERTIGO’s got me hooked on another series.
HUMAN TARGET tells the tale of Christopher Chance, who makes his living impersonating people who have been marked for death. For the right price, Chance can become anyone, mentally and physically. If Chance is in a person’s skin, not even his or her mother would know the difference. He’s that damn good. And so is this book. So far this series has been full of superb twists and turns, a semi-truckload of psychological drama, and more disguises and make-up than you could shake a fake mustache on a stick at. I wanted to review issue one when it came out because it was one of the strongest first issues I have read in a long time; fans of FIGHT CLUB and ADAPTATION would have loved this one. Peter Milligan took clichÃ©d nuances from those films and deftly transferred them into sequential art form. If you giggle with kitschy glee at those moments in spy movies where the hero tears off his false face, you’d love HUMAN TARGET #1. And it just got better with the two part follow-up featuring Chance’s impersonation of a man who faked his death during 9-11. This short story arc dealt with issues of that tragic day, but didn’t once feel like some propaganda clad exercise in tedium; you know, the kind of “cutting edge/ripped from the headlines” story that we all have been inundated with since 9-12. None of that happened. In this story arc, 9-11 was a backdrop for an intense emotional drama between Chance, a man who should have died, and a family who believed he did.
Milligan continues to amaze me with his writing skills in issue four, entitled “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” This issue was part one of a two-parter, where we find Chance impersonating a Major League baseball player in order to uncover a mystery. Chance is good at what he does, but can he play ball? The answer is hell no, Tonto. Chance hasn’t played baseball since he was a child and now he has to impersonate a Major Leaguer, which leads to one of the coolest cliff-hanger endings I’ve read in a long time.
This book’s strengths lie in the writing. Milligan not only gets you to care about Chance and whether he's going to get out of the pickle du jour, but he also surrounds our hero with three-dimensional characters with real problems - problems that can't always be fixed with a fake mustache and glasses. After Chance’s mysteries have been solved, the characters aren’t always happy, and since Chance impersonates every nuance of these problematic people, he experiences their pain and problems as well. If THE LOSERS is the A-TEAM of comics, then HUMAN TARGET is THE EQUALIZER or better yet, MCGUYVER with masks. HUMAN TARGET feels like a great TV show where the hero has a gimmick and that gimmick is smartly put to the test in every episode.
The art is another reason to immediately put this book on your pull list. Think a bit of Tim Sale, a bit of Allred, with a touch of Kyle Baker and you have the art of Javier Pulido. Great art throughout. There is a scene where Chance is attacked in an apartment. Two thugs pull some pistols on him and Chance has seconds to react. The following action scene is told with art not babbling word balloons. You can tell Milligan has full faith that his story will be told with Pulido’s pics. He lets the panels speak for themselves and doesn’t clutter it up with word balloons or captions. This is a book about action and the artist is more than qualified to render it.
So go. Now! To your comic store. Pick up HUMAN TARGET #4, and #3, and #2, and #1 if you can find them. You won’t be disappointed. I’m ashamed of myself for waiting until four issues into this series to write up a review on this phenomenal addition to an already phenomenal stable of VERTIGO books.
JLA – LIBERTY AND JUSTICE
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
My favorite Alex Ross project is still the one that made him a recognized name: MARVELS. His photorealistic art style was just so perfectly suited to Kurt Busiek's tale of a photographer chronicling the great moments of classic Marvel comics…who could deny the genius of concept? Follow-up projects I liked far less, finding his realism to be a well-crafted novelty that nevertheless detracted more than it added to the grandeur of superheroes. Batman by Alex Ross or Neal Adams? Neal. Captain Marvel by Alex Ross or C.C. Beck? Beck. The characters of the EARTH X series by Alex Ross or…wait, wait – EARTH X was horrible, incestuous crap. Who cares who was drawing it?
Okay, so now that my biases are out of the way, I'm ready to confess that JLA – LIBERTY AND JUSTICE kicked my ass. Really. It's another one of those ROLLING STONE-sized collaborations between Ross and Paul "Batman: The Animated Series" Dini, and easily their finest hour together. At $9.95 for 96-pages in an oversized format, it's also practically a steal, so let's all take a moment to say thanks to DC for providing a price point so outrageously good that they can only be making it up with sales volume…which I suspect they'll get.
Readers of previous Ross/Dini collaborations know that the series has taken as its theme pitting classic DC icons against down-to-earth threats that just can't be beaten with a good right hook. For instance, child wish-fulfillment icon, Captain Marvel, went up against child abuse; the unstoppable Superman was brought low in his effort to end world hunger; Batman learned that the war on crime isn't something he can ever realistically win. So, okay, these somber all-ages projects weren't exactly an energetic good time, but Dini was trying to tell stories with heart that spoke to the central qualities of DC's icons. Cut the man some slack if they drifted a little into "After School Special" territory - I remind the jury that he did create Harley Quinn! And more to the point, JLA – LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, while it does have a mild subtext workin', is nowhere near as preachy as the volumes that preceded it. This immediately put it in my good graces.
The threat of the story is a mysterious, fast-spreading virus that may be extraterrestrial in origin. It strikes in Africa first, and the League is immediately called in by the Pentagon to investigate. And these are the Big Gun members, the Silver Age Leaguers: Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash (Barry Allen), and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). Man, I love the icons when they're handled right, and Dini gives each of 'em several revealing moments in the spotlight. I'm not a fan of DC's modern legacy-themed stories, which have seen classic heroes like Barry Allen and Hal Jordan offed in favor of hep, young counterparts, and after reading Dini's smart takes on the classic characters in this volume, I'm more convinced than ever that their deaths in regular continuity were the wrong play. Dini cuts to the heart of Barry Allen's simple, Midwestern nobility, for example, when Barry makes a heart-wrenching "things'll be okay" call to his wife as he lies dying of the plague. And who can resist the nice touch of Hal Jordan using his Green Lantern ring to gently lower some enemy planes to the ground rather than destroy them? As Superman notes with amusement, "Once a test pilot, always a test pilot."
Yes! These classic characters aren't old and stagnant – they just need talents like Dini to chronicle their tales with heart and imagination. Hell, even Aquaman comes across as cool in this story – has the world turned upside-freakin'-down? But it's perpetual loner-within-the-team, Martian Manhunter, who's at the heart of the story. As a stranger in a strange land, he's like the immigrant who sees in America all the greatness the natives take for granted – it's just that his "America" happens to be the entire planet Earth. And it's through his eyes that the subtext of the story is revealed, as the JLA's radical, unsupervised actions leave many civilians wondering if these gods and aliens among them are worthy of their trust. It's tempting to read the story as a defense of unilateralism and trust in the government, but for the fact that it's so uniquely attuned to the Justice League, who we know are beyond reproach when it comes to trust. Therefore, I read the story more as Dini's tribute to the ideal of the superhero, the endearing fantasy of those in power wielding it to unquestionably altruistic ends.
Did I mention that there's action along the way? Fighting a virus – even a super virus – sounds a bit dry, but we've got heroes blowing up planes, Aquaman kicking the crap out of a Russian submarine, the Atom doing a "Fantastic Voyage" riff in the Flash's bloodstream, and all kinds of other coolness. Ross's art, for all that I find his photorealism a bit gimmicky, nevertheless exudes nobility and heroism. I could do without the seams on Batman's cape, but I loved the honest face Ross gave to buzz cut speedster, Barry Allen, the cool confidence coming off Hal Jordan, and the "don't piss me off" regal fierceness of Aquaman. There's also a nice timelessness to the backdrops, which feel modern, but also a touch retro (note the vintage computer screens in the Batcave and Atlantis). Perfect for a tribute of this order.
And the slight change in format from previous Ross/Dini get-togethers is what tips my appreciation for the project into full-blown fan love. See, what we got before was well-written picture books, but LIBERTY AND JUSTICE is very much a big ol' comic book - panels, word balloons and all. So we get more sophisticated staging, better action sequences, and just a stronger superhero vibe all around. Excellent call, guys. With wit and a non-ironic appreciation for pure heroism, you've put together a tribute to the stalwarts of the DC Universe that's as strong as any I've ever read.
LOBO UNBOUND #4
Writer: Keith Giffen
Artist: Alex Horley and Andy Kuhn
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: It’s me, Ambush Bug!
2003 should be marked as the return of Keith Giffen. I thought the poor guy had lost it after his miserable attempt to resurrect the SUICIDE SQUAD concept last year. But Giffen chugged along and, within the last few months, has once again become one of my favorite writers. FORMERLY KNOWN AS JUSTICE LEAGUE has been continually great at inducing belly laughs and guffaws with its incessant barrage of in-fighting, in-jokes, and innuendo. Giffen has also brought back the man you love to frag, the main man, Lobo in LOBO UNBOUND. This hasn’t been the best mini-series, I admit. I have to really be in the mood for the lowest common denominator thrills that this series has provided. But it is what it is - Lobo, walking around beating the snot out of people and trying his damnedest to offend just about everyone.
FKATJL pokes fun at the spandex-clad, super groups that have become commonplace in comics. LOBO pokes fun at the grim and gritty, all-action, Rambo/WWF/Jackass types that crowd every book shelf. It seems that Giffen has made a name for himself by poking fun at all of the comic book standards. With all of Giffen’s old creations coming back for a good amount of mock and roll, how long would we have to wait for the return of the one character who poked fun at the entire comic book industry AND its fans? I’m talking about the green guy in the bug suit. The guy who knew he lived in a comic book and grew to hate every minute of it. The guy who drove Superman nuts, fought sentient argyle socks, and had a toy sidekick named Cheeks. I’m talking about the name I chose as a moniker at this wonderful site you have on the screen. Ambush Bug. A few months back, word got out that Ambush Bug was scheduled for a comeback and I was immediately filled with glee. I remember laughing my head off as a kid as I read Giffen’s AMBUSH BUG series. The non-adventures, the cut out WHO’s WHO pages, and the non-stop assaults on editor Jules Schwartz - there wasn’t a book out there that had more fun with the comic book industry. I recently re-read those great stories and they still hold up as pure comic book goodness.
Needless to say, I couldn’t wait till LOBO UNBOUND #4 came out. But wait I did. And waited. And waited. Finally, last week, it arrived and I read it. And I have to admit that it wasn’t half bad. Granted, given my handle, I may have a bit of a bias. Any issue with Ambush Bug in it is good in my book. Was this the funniest Ambush Bug story? No. Did it make me laugh? Hell yes.
Issue #4 starts out as a true-to-form LOBO book. Alex Horley’s art continues to remind me of my limited experience with the art of MAD and CRACKED magazines. His creatures and characters are more caricatures of Lobo and a bunch of aliens than realistic representations. It looks satirical, but since this story has been all gross-out satire, I guess it fits. Lobo is shown wheeled in Hannibal Lecter style. We think he’s been captured, but actually he is being transported to his reward…a harem. That’s right, Lobo gets laid in this issue, but before you ladies get all hot and bothered, I have to let you know it’s off panel. So while Lobo is bumpin’ Czarnian uglies, we are treated to an issue centering on Ambush Bug.
For those of you expecting to see Bug painted in Alex Horley’s real toon style, look elsewhere. He doesn’t paint Bug until the last panel and I wasn’t impressed by his rendition. I was impressed, though, by Andy Kuhn’s art in the extended Ambush Bug sequence of the book. Kuhn's stuff reminds me of Giffen’s art when he was drawing LEGION OF SUPER HEROES back in the day. All dark and atmospheric, but stylized to convey the comedy that occurs throughout.
But art schmart - I’m interested in the funny. And this book had enough of the funny to satisfy me. If you think circumcision jokes are funny, this is the book for you. If seeing Ambush Bug getting beaten repeatedly by a bunch of sheiks with clubs, then having them stop for a brief breather, only to have them start beating him again brings a smile to your face, then pick up this issue. But beware. The Ambush Bug that shows up in this issue is the cynical, depressed Bug that we saw later in the AMBUSH BUG mini-series, not the playful imp that drove Superman nuts every year back in the waaay-back days. Bug’s progression from plucky prankster to solemn, self-aware sad sack was well documented, but not as fun towards the end of Giffen’s run with the character. I was hoping for a return of the earlier Bug, but got the later version. But his story was still funny as hell, and like I said, any appearance by Ambush Bug is worth the price of admission.
I was never a huge fan of LOBO. I thought the character was pretty one-note and was a poor man’s Wolverine. But I cannot wait for the next issue of this series because it promises more Buggy goodness. There's a whole generation of comic book readers who haven’t read this character. If DC had any brains at all, they’d collect the AMBUSH BUG miniseries and appearances in one complete trade for all to enjoy. I hope, with the buzz behind this issue, Bug will someday have his own series again to go nutzo in. Last time, the industry was on the verge of a boom. Creators like Frank Miller and Alan Moore were stirring things up for the comic book industry, and Ambush Bug was there to make fun of it all. These days, we may not have comic book gold like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS or WATCHMEN to read, but there’s plenty of fodder for the Bug to make fun of. Once again, the industry is ripe to be Bugged and if this issue is any indication, Giffen still has what it takes to do it.
ELFQUEST ARCHIVES Vol.1
Writers: Wendy & Richard Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
A few months ago, DC comics released a spruced-up edition of the first issue of the legendary fantasy comic, ELFQUEST. The original series dates back to the swingin' year of 1978, but this edition had been re-colored, re-lettered, and was essentially a formal announcement that DC would be treating the newly-acquired Elfquest license right in the months to come. I reviewed it here, and really, that review encapsulates all that I love about the series, so give it a skim if you've a mind. This review, however, is specific to DC's new hardcover release of the first Elfquest trade, lavishly produced in DC's "archive" format (dust jacket and everything). It's been a long time since the classic Elfquest saga has seen print in color, so let's see if it lives up to the promise of that preview issue that wowed me.
First things first: this thing costs fifty bucks like all the DC Archives, so if you need to indulge in a Scooby Doo-style "GULP!" in response, please do so…now. Yes, it's a big ol' bite, especially if you're planning next year to nab the three subsequent hardcovers which will comprise the core ELFQUEST saga. For me, there was never any question. I ultimately dropped two hunnert an' fiddy bucks to pick up all six volumes of the AKIRA manga, and I bet you SANDMAN devotees have spent something close to that to take in the entirety of Neil Gaiman's beloved modern mythology. Bottom line: the good stuff is worth it. You might have to mow a few extra lawns, learn to count cards in Vegas, knock over a bank or two - whatever - but it's worth it.
Let's start with the visuals - there's a new cover of course, a lovely image of the series' big couple, Cutter and Leetah, embracing. It's a touch romantic for my tastes, and not very indicative of the epic adventure of the series, but no one can doubt that their relationship is one of the keys to the series, so no complaints. If I had to guess, I'd say the cover was designed to court the same burgeoning female audience flocking to romance-themed manga collections - not a bad idea by any means, as ELFQUEST is one of those rare comics with as strong an appeal to women as men. Think of it as comicdom's answer to THE PRINCESS BRIDE.
Next up we get a new introduction from a fantasy author that puts the series in historical context - nice, but nothing of note. Much cooler is the fact that after the intro you hit the first of many gorgeous pin-ups that continue to appear between each chapter. These pin-ups, all painted and mostly taken from front and back covers dating back to the series' initial run, have traditionally made their way into the Elfquest collections, but this is their classiest presentation to date.
Howsabout that new lettering? It's clean and it's nice, presunably computer generated. No doubt fixes a few typos, and I distinctly see where captions and word balloons have been moved around to better accommodate the art. That much I really like, but I prefer the original lettering simply because it felt a little more hand-crafted, and thus a touch more heartfelt. On the plus side, you know how older comics used to go a little crazy with emphasizing words in boldface? ELFQUEST had a few instances of that, and I notice they've been toned down here. I also noticed several cases of replacing exclamation points at the end of narrative captions with good old-fashioned periods. It reduces some of the over-the-top sense urgency the original captions used to have – you know, that Stan Lee narrative gusto - and to good effect.
Now the biggie: the re-coloring. Honestly…I'm a little disappointed overall. The new computer coloring is, in fact, excellent for the most part - perhaps a little dark on a few pages - but I miss the more "hand painted" look of the old Starblaze editions I grew up with. The coloring on the Starblaze editions had a stronger suggestion of texture - on hair and fur in particular - while the new coloring has a bit more of an airbrush/animation cel quality, reminiscent of the Warp Graphics versions of the trades (yes, this series has seen many different formats!). Is there anything actually bad about it? Absolutely not. Though Wendy Pini's amazing drafting skills are what most think of as her greatest talent, she's also one of the most gifted colorists in comics. These pages are still beautiful and amazingly lush, suggesting naturalism without slavish devotion to it. It just so happens that this longtime fan prefers the color stuff he first read.
Along with re-coloring, I noticed at least three pages of altered art and/or added scenes. For instance, there's a new scene of Nightfall comforting the dying Redlance after the tribe is forced to leave them behind in the desert. Is it completely new, or perhaps one of the scenes added in previous editions I missed? Couldn't say for sure, but it's a good scene. There are also a few panels added to the page where Cutter's tribe finds the desert village of Leetah's people, with the actual panel of discovery now replaced with a full splash page. Again, I like it. It's appropriately grandiose and makes the village look slightly larger than it used to, which better fits with the interior shots to come. Lastly, I caught some additional panels in the chapter where the tribe exchanges stories about Cutter's father, Bearclaw. As the tribe ritually names off the ten chiefs to come before Cutter and Bearclaw, the names are now accompanied by ethereal visuals of the chiefs. These are characters who got their own stories after the main Elfquest saga ended. I haven't read most of them, but I liked getting a hint of who these people were with the new images. Are there other new scenes? Probably. And it would've been nice if the collection had a bit of documentation to let longtime fans in on these details. All I know for sure is that the new scenes are good, minor additions. As noted in my previous review, there are no George Lucas excesses in these pages.
The book wraps with a new story that I really like. On the surface, it's a sensual romp as three lusty elf-girls vie for Skywise's affections, but it also touches on his deep friendship with Cutter, and how that's at least part of what prevents him from settling down for a lasting relationship. My only gripe? The new tale's not clearly separated from the last page of the main story, and so reads as sort of an epilogue - which it's not. Good story, but just a bonus really, not an epilogue. Then there are a few more pin-ups, some terrifically crisp cover art and bridging chapters from the time ELFQUEST spent as a Marvel property, and a thoughtful afterward from the Pinis.
If I have a few minor issues with this collection, they're mostly mitigated by the fact that only the longtime Elfquest reader would even catch them. This really is a sumptuous production, touched up exclusively by the original creators to mostly good effect, and featuring not one major slip-up in the process. Hell, most DVD special editions should be so lucky. Given that many folks have been waiting a loooong time for a new, definitive color edition of ELFQUEST, what else is there to say but…
And if the price tag is still scaring you…well…don't hesitate to hint to your friends and loved ones that it'd make a helluva Christmas present.
RUNAWAYS #8: As the series hits the second issue of its second storyline, I'm beginning to get annoyed at some of Brian Vaughan's attempts to write catchy kids' dialogue. "Everybody, West Wing!" shouts quasi-leader, Alex, when the kids need to run from cops, the order explained to the new member as meaning, "Walk fast, talk fast." Quite the groaner, but sometimes the dialogue's pretty good: "Wow, you're...you're like a junior version of the A-Team." "What's an A-Team?" Much better. I've occasionally thought Brian Bendis should be the only person to write kids' dialogue for comics, but he wouldn't be able to bring the same energetic "Goonies"-style pacing that Vaughan does, so let's not be too hasty. We also get a new member for the team (isn't it a bit early for that?), shenanigans at the hideout, and a little angsty romance. Lightweight but still fun. - Cormorant
LEGION SECRET FILES 3003: At the end of my review for LEGION #26, I embarrassedly admitted I was looking forward to this week's LEGION SECRET FILES. ("SECRET FILES" being the comic book term for "useless money hole.") As it turns out, it wasn't what I was expecting -- it was a bit better. We actually get a chance to meet most of the Legion, in brief bios, yes, but mostly through the narrative as a futuristic Diane Sawyer shoots a news segment about the group. More edifying than you might expect. LEGION has recently embarked on a new story arc, an arc that, according to @$$hole reader Andrew Taylor, is patterned on "The Great Darkness Saga" from LEGION's pre-CRISIS heyday. For any new or newer readers beginning this new storyline, this book would be clearly helpful. - Village Idiot
EL CAZADOR #3: Chuck Dixon's gorgeously illustrated pirate comic continues to walk a slightly uneasy line between realism and escapist melodrama, but it's always redeemed by its strong moments. In this issue, that includes a band of pirates setting an aging galleon aflame and crashing it headlong into the docks to facilitate rescuing their captain from the gallows. Great concept, sliiiightly dry execution, but next issue promises the series first major ship-to-ship battle. I'll be there. - Cormorant
SCOOTER GIRL #4: This series has been quite a bit darker than I'm used to from Chynna. And yet, somehow, it's still got the same light humor that she does so well. The two shouldn't mix the way they do, but it works - I'll be damned if I know how or why. This issue actually is stolen away from Margaret and Ashton by Desmond, whose flashbacks walk that creepy/funny border like Philippe Petit on dental floss. - Vroom Socko
STREET FIGHTER #3: I remind readers that I'm not a duly-designated fan of Street Fighter, having never played any of the games (while confessing a fondness for TEKKEN and SOUL CALIBUR). Nevertheless, I finally watched the STREET FIGHTER movie, so I know a little more about the series' cheesy-but-fun mythology, and I say this comic is doing a fine job of capturing it and looking damn good in the process. This issue's highlighted by a Ken/Vega face-off seemingly inspired by the movie's Chun-Li/Vega face-off. Relentlessly hokey dialogue compliments the great actions scenes, making this book about perfect for its target audience. - Cormorant
WONDER WOMAN #198: As Wonder Woman's big 200th issue approaches, I come to realize that the major thrust of Rucka's new direction is the controversy Wonder Woman is finding herself in...for writing a book. Are we having fun yet? The book's a collection of essays and speeches from Wonder Woman in her role as DC's resident goodwill ambassador, and even as conservative political pundits go after it (ZZzzzzzz...), god of war, Ares, makes mischief by letting it slip to Zeus that he's the only god not mentioned in it. Okay, it's well-written if predictable fare, but Good Lord, do the benefits of this political approach - which does, if nothing else, make WONDER WOMAN a unique book - outweigh the fact that it's kind of boring as dirt? George Perez's relaunch, while it initiated Wonder Woman's new-agey role as peace-preachin' ambassador, never shied away from gory JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS-style action. It's seriously time for some more of that. - Cormorant
Hey everybody, Village Idiot here. Time for another one of those trips down memory lane that we like to call...
TALES FROM THE CREVICE! - BOOKS THAT FELL THROUGH THE CRACK
Here, look at this.
That was a picture from the cover of an upcoming issue of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness's SUPERMAN/BATMAN, issue #6 to be exact. As you can see, Lex Luthor is in a big green and purple battle suit, laughing his head off. I can't tell you for sure what he's laughing about (although I'll bet it has something to do with those capes in his hands), but what I can tell you about is where that suit came from, at least historically, within the hallowed mythos of the DCU. That green battle suit first appeared in a story from a comic that is the focus of this week's TALES FROM THE CREVICE!, ACTION #544.
ACTION #544 is what some believe is one of comicland's rarities: a classic Superman comic. What makes it rarer still is that it's also one from the eighties, a few years before CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and John Byrne's subsequent reboot; i.e., it's from an era not exactly considered one of the most glorious runs in the history of comics. Yet ACTION #544 is a key issue that introduced big changes to the Superman rogues gallery (Luthor AND Brainiac!), changes that are still remembered fondly today. Moreover, it's also an issue that had some stories that were pretty interesting in their own right, and pushed the boundaries of Superman comics for that time. Again, it's a classic. Now let's go into a little more detail as to why by looking at its first story, "Luthor Unleashed!" with the liberal use of hypertext so you can see what I'm talking about. It'll be like we're reading the issue together!
"Luthor Unleashed!" begins shortly after a major battle has taken place between Superman and Luthor - and Luthor hasn't come out so hot. Battered, broken, and near dead, he's taken by one of his retrieval robots to his lab and placed on a rocket set on autopilot for the planet Lexor. For those of you who don't know, Lexor is the planet where Lex is considered such a hero, they actually named the planet after the guy. (Those Lexorians really know how to show their gratitude.)
Once there, the Lexorians manage to patch Luthor up, and perhaps more importantly, Lex finds out his Lexorian wife has had his son since his last visit. (Lex never really made it out Lexor all that often.) Confronted with his new obligations as a parent, his beautiful and adoring wife, and not to mention a whole planet that's devoted to him, an emotional Lex decides to do the sensible thing and settle down on Lexor in peace and domestic tranquility.
And things go well, at least for a while. Lex turns out to be a loving father, and while nestled in the bosom of his family and community, he's able to pursue all his scientific interests freely. But unfortunately, as much as he tries to repress his old feelings anger and resentment, Lex finds himself thinking about Superman. In an unusually reflective moment, a tortured Lex tries to figure it all out:
"Was it this obsessive hatred of Superman that warped me into who I am - or do I hate the Kryptonian with an all-consuming rage that has been part of an evil nature he only brought to the surface? Is there no way I will ever be free of this curse?"
Luckily he finds a distraction after accidentally stumbling into an ancient underground Lexorian lab, with all kinds of mind-bogglingly advanced technology.
Soon after, someone in some sort of green and purple battlesuit has begun to terrorize the people of Lexor. Night after night, this Mystery Marauder takes to the skies creating all kinds of mayhem. Things reach such a state of crisis that the Lexorians turn to Lex, their greatest hero and benefactor, for help. Luthor agrees to help out, but something seems a little fishy; even Lex's wife Ardora picks up on it. But Lex assures Ardora with every shred of convincingness that a four color character can muster that he has nothing to do with it. And I think we really want to believe him. Here, look.
Meanwhile, after dealing with a few of Lex's lingering Earth-bound traps, Superman manages to trace Lex to Lexor. When Superman arrives, he soon finds Luthor and chases him across Lexor and into a secluded mountain. Suddenly, the battlesuit erupts from the mountain! Superman and the Marauder, now revealed to be Lex, have a terrific battle in the skies of Lexor, as Superman's powers begin to wane under Lexor's red sun, and as the aghast and disillusioned Lexorians look on. At a crucial moment, a blast from Lex's battlesuit is deflected off of Superman and onto Lexor's towering "Neutrarod," a huge pole that extends deep into the core of the planet. This sets off an apocalyptic chain reaction. Lex desperately tries to reach his wife and child - and they're almost within arm's reach - when Lexor erupts into a huge exploding fireball. Superman barely makes it out alive, as does Lex, who grief-strickenly claws his way across a chunk of Lexor to end the story.
"Luthor Unleashed!" was written by Cary Bates, a longtime writer of Superman whose imagination and characterization could often seem like vintage Ed Wood. There's plenty of Ed Wood to the story, which I'll touch on in a moment, but at the same time, I think Bates was able to stretch things in a new direction, especially concerning Lex Luthor's psychology. This was a side of Lex that we hadn't seen before, with his rehabilitation so close at hand. And he almost made it. Lex wants to go on the straight and narrow, and by all logic should go on the straight and narrow, but tragically, he just can't. He throws it all away. Lex's awareness of the situation and his struggle with it, and the almost cognitive dissonance of his duality gives the story unusual pathos. It's a tragedy.
Of course, the story still bears many of the telltale marks of DC writing of the era: melodramatic dialog, awkward plotting, improbable science, etc. In a moment of odd emotional disproportion following Lexor's annihilation, Superman's reaction seems a little blasÃ© and ill-focused: "I always suspected that Luthor might become the victim of his own evil one day! But I never dreamed he'd blast an entire race into oblivion along with him!" Rather than commenting on the irony of the situation, I think a more appropriate reaction from Superman would be something along the lines of "HOLY F#@$ING SH*&, THAT WHOLE F#@$ING PLANET JUST BLEW UP!!! OH MY F#@$ING GOD!!!" Then again, everybody grieves in their own way.
The story was drawn by the pencil and inking team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, collectively and affectionately known as "Swanderson." Curt Swan had been penciling Superman stories since the '50s, and from that time to when he all but retired in 1986, Anderson was often considered to be his best inker, with the pair producing some of the best artwork in the history of the character during their brief collaboration in the early to mid '70s. For the most part, their work in this book seems remarkably safe in comparison with the art you're likely to see today, and Swan's characters could always be a little stiff. But it's still genuinely effective, and like him or not, Swan's Superman was the definitive Superman for 30 years. This is the real stuff.
And, of course, there's the suit. Designed by George Perez (who drew the issue's pin-up for it), the ancient Lexorian battle suit gave Lex unprecedented powers and shifted the relationship between Luthor and Superman. Or at least it would have, if the writers had had more time to work with it. Unfortunately, CRISIS was just around the corner, and the suit would drop out of the story, only winding up as a sight gag in Byrne's MAN OF STEEL reboot. But in some of the stories immediately following ACTION #544, Lex admitted that he was only just beginning to learn what the suit could do, and it's not hard to imagine that the suit had New Gods-type power and technological prowess. It stands to reason that Lex and his suit would figure so prominently in Jack Kirby's later SUPER POWERS miniseries.
So there you have it -- "Luthor Unleashed!" and the origin of the green and purple battle suit. And that's just one of the stories in ACTION #544; the other deals with Brainiac's phantasmagorical transformation into a truly cool looking robot, and his declaration of war on God! Written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by Gil Kane, it's a freaky trip, lemme tell you; and I'll try to come back with a TALES FROM THE CREVICE about it in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's a preview. Pretty cool, no?
Meanwhile, if you find yourself browsing around the quarter bins at your local comic shop, keep an eye out for ACTION #544, a classic Superman comic and another entry in the annals of the @$$hole's TALES FROM THE CREVICE!
And now for the Vroom Sockovian Question of the Week!:
Which is the better Luthor: Fiendish Mad Scientist Luthor or Omnipotent
Corporate Mogul Luthor? Why?