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Hey @$$holes, Village Idiot here.

We're back!

Yeah, that's right, we took a week off for personal enrichment (i.e., television watching), and now we're back - tanned, rested, and reading to kick some comic book @$$! (Or kiss it, depending on what the situation demands.)

What has our sabbatical yielded? Glad you asked!
  • Features, features, features! Buzz finally tells us how to pronounce "Cthulu" in his special book review of the Lovecraftian NAMELESS CULTS!

  • You like X-Men, don't ya? Ambush Bug finds out whether Marvel is shooting blanks or loaded for bear with a special look at both recent X-MEN RELOADED titles!

  • Corm is back with another BIG EYES FOR THE CAPE GUY, where he tries to convince us all to break out of our superhero shell, read some manga, and live, dammit, LIVE!

  • Will the recent Stamos break-up affect Jon Quixote's comic reading habits? Find out in his latest review of MYSTIQUE #14!

  • Plus reviews of FABLES, ORBITER, BIRTHRIGHT, NIGHTWING and more!
So there you go -- back and better than ever. Now all you've got to do is read it.

Table of Contents
(Click title to go directly to the review)

Buzz Maverik's Book Club: NAMELESS CULTS
Cheap Shots!

Devin Grayson: Writer
Patrick Zircher: Artist
DC Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Holy Shit Batman!

When I reviewed NIGHTWING last month, I called it my “Why?” book. It's been a title I buy almost out of habit, one that is fun to read, I guess, but nothing I dwell upon. I bought the book for Dick, not Devin, and I only really thought about the book when it was in my To Read pile.

Well, here's proof that a single issue can turn a book around, because it's been three days since I read issue #93, and I can't get it out of my head. Sure the plot is still a riff on Born Again, but the direction it flows is so different, that at this point it can be forgiven.

This issue manages to be a hard hitting slugfest while serving as an example of the flaws of superhero clichés. But here's the thing; it doesn't mock those clichés. It doesn't disrespect the genre. And then, there's the moment. You'll know it when you see it. The moment where Nightwing's world as he knows it ends. I'm not going to tell you what that moment is, but I will tell you the scene that directly follows. It's Nightwing kneeling on a rooftop in the rain, covered in blood that's not his own, muttering, “So sorry Bruce… I'm so sorry,” over and over. How does he get there? Well, his life has been pretty much fucked since his secret identity was exposed, and in this issue it becomes even more fucked. There's a murder, then another, then a rape. (Well, an implied rape, or at lest implied sex.)

Devin Grayson has written one hell of a story here, possibly the most important story the character of Dick Grayson has ever seen. You know how comics often say crap like “Things will never be the same” all the time, and then whatever happened becomes irrelevant in six months? Well, this time it's true. I guarantee it. And with Zircher back on the art chores, it's also one of the best looking Dick Grayson stories as well. This book looks simply haunting, especially that aforementioned moment. Seriously, that moment may have more ramifications than IDENTITY CRISIS will.

I can't even conceive of dropping this book now. I have no idea where the damn thing is going to go from here, but I can tell it's not going to be pretty. And I can tell you that I'll be there to see it all. I hope that Dick recovers, that Amy somehow manages to still be able to support him, that the Tarantula gets what's coming to her. But I don't expect any of that to happen. Not after this issue. You want to know how good a comic this was? In a week that saw issues of FABLES, FALLEN ANGEL, and JSA published, this was the best DC book I read. Now that's saying something.

Written by Sean McKeever
Pencils by Manuel Garcia
Inks by Raul Fernandez
Published by Marvel Comics
JonQuixote Review

A new creative team takes over MYSTIQUE this month. Which means it is a good jumping on point for new readers. Like, potentially, myself.

I'm going to go out on a limb here. If you wait for the trade, you won't miss anything.

Trades are usually cheaper, certainly more durable, and infinitely more readable. I am ten times more likely to re-read a mediocre trade than I am to dig through my longboxes for another go with an excellent series in which I bought in the monthly format. I am quite sure I'm not alone.

So in order for me to recommend a new monthly comic, it has to make it worth my while. And yours. It needs to give us a complete story, even if part of a greater arc. It needs to feed on that gap, make us so hungry to find out what happens next that not only can we not wait for the next installment, but to have all the installments plunked down in front of us would steal an integral portion of our enjoyment.

Based on the this issue of MYSTIQUE, it appears that its ideal medium is the trade paperback. “Unnatural” Part 1 of 5 reads exactly like Part 1 of 5. It is the opening act, the 20 minutes of a Mystique movie coming soon to a theatre near you. Chapter One.

Which isn't to say it is a bad comic. In fact, it's damned good.

It opens with a young mutant running from armed pursuers. This sequence is absolutely gripping – very cinematic in its presentation and it drags you right into the story. The script itself is very sharp, especially considering the amount of exposition it provides (new jumping on point and all) – Mystique is bitchy and sexy and ambiguous; the storyline is neat and topical, involving a bio firm that has begun using mutants as lab animals, and moves along at a decent pace. The art is stunning: clear, vivid, and energetic.

MYSTIQUE makes excellent use of its 22 pages. And I'll be buying the next issue.

But only 'cause I bought this first one already. MYSTIQUE certainly isn't a bad monthly comic – it even pays lip service to the format by working in a decent To Be Continued. And in no way do I feel lifted, the way I do when I pick up a comic filled with characters repeating each other's dialogue intercut with fat full-page panels of their heads. Plus, Mystique is actually in this comic. A lot.

If it was one of 'those' comics, I'd be screaming at you to stay away in any format. 'Cause even in a trade, you're paying by the page, and there's no excuse for pissing away space in any medium, let alone one that charges its audience in that manner. But MYSTIQUE isn't like that. It does everything it needs to, gives the reader everything they require from a spy-comic called MYSTIQUE.

But ideally, I'd read the whole thing at once. If this first issue is any indication, I'd enjoy the hell out of it. And then it would slide right into my bookshelf, and in a few months time, when I was planning a nice long throne sit, it would land in my hands and I'd enjoy it again.

Now, I'll buy each chapter individually. I'll hopefully keep enjoying it, though I'll almost certainly walk away from each one but the last a little bit unsatisfied. And then it'll be consigned to longbox purgatory.

Of course, if everybody waits for the trade, then there will be no trade. Low interest. And a lot of people intend to wait for the trade and when it hits shelves they pick it up, see the $20 price tag and think, “Well, if I'm going to spend $20, I might as well pick up the missing spine in my row of SANDMAN or BONE.” Maybe that's just my idiosyncrasy though – I'll happily plunk down five simple installments of five dollars a month for a comic, but ask me to pay twenty at once for the entire kit in a sturdier, more convenient format and I balk. So waiting for the trade will probably damage the prospects of the title and the creative team – which would be a shame.

But as a reviewer and as a consumer, the weight of the industry is not on my shoulders. Nor is it on the shoulders of the creative team of MYSTIQUE, who I am unfairly singling out for the crime of writing a comic I enjoyed, just not as much as I wanted to. It is on the shoulders of the publishers, and their decision to produce more and more comics that cannot stand or be enjoyed on their own. I could be writing the same review about recent issues of BATMAN, for example. I'm picking MYSTIQUE because here nothing about this observation is really a criticism. Certainly, McKeever, Garcia, et al, by plotting a 110 page story, are able to accomplish things unique to the large canvas. The aforementioned opening sequence, far and away my favorite part of the book, needs its space to build tension. Larger, panoramic panels showcase the excellent art. And single large arc certainly allows the plot to progress in a stronger linear manner than a bunch of smaller arcs strung together into a bigger one.

But these are things that would be enjoyed more in a complete package, one with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. As it is, you're only getting part of a movie.

It's a good comic, but I think it'll read better collected. I'm pretty sure you won't miss anything by waiting. Except, I guess, everything.

Andi Watson: Creator
Oni Press: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Looking for love in all the wrong places

I have remarked on several occasions that I'm a sucker for a good romance. Well, this isn't exactly a good romance. In fact, it's an awkward, difficult, conflicted romance. But of course, that's what makes the story itself so damn good.

This book starts with an accident that shuts down the New York subway system, trapping Jack Newton and Nora Pepin in one of the cars. Jack is the artist on the comic book “The Flamer,” a job that's not as rewarding as it could be. His current inker is moving on to greener pastures, and his new inker makes George Pratt's work on SANDMAN #34 look like genius by comparison. While he and Nora are stuck, they strike up a conversation, but once they make it back onto the street Jack can't manage to ask her for he number. The poor guy chokes, and this isn't the first time: Jack hasn't been on a date in three years. Luckily for him, they run into each other again. It's then that he finds out that Nora works for the gossip magazine Expose, a publication that's been reporting on the rumored existence of an illegitimate child of the Flamer's.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the comic Jack works on is a biography?

This is one crazy blast of a book. Andi Watson's art has a simple, yet fitting style that matches the narrative to a t. He also manages to tell a romance story that's not romantic but down to earth and real, despite the unreal superheroic elements. Pushy gossip columnists and lackadaisical editors exist side by side with secret lairs hidden in statues and super powered animals. Yes, I said animals. One of the supporting cast is Jack's cat Guthrie, who was catnapped and experimented on, giving him superpowers. Kinda like Speedballs pet cat Niels, only not as stupid. Actually, Guthrie is one of the more intriguing characters in the book. He does the whole hero bit, but only because he can, not out of any sense of justice or duty. In fact, Guthrie is quite the little bastard, going out of his way to attempt to keep Jack and Nora apart.

As for the Flamer, he claims that the child isn't his, although he does have a few other secrets to hide. Personally, I'm inclined to believe him, that this is all a set-up to destroy his reputation. I mean, come on. Do you really think that someone with superpowers who calls himself The Flamer is going to be sleeping around with women?

This book is a real winner, one that manages to combine stories about superheroes, dating, and comics themselves while making it seem almost effortless. It's funny, dramatic, and it doesn't sugarcoat the realities of romance. You definitely need to give this comic a look.

Mark Waid – Writer
Leinil Francis Yu – Pencils
Gerry Alanguilan – Inks
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by
Village Idiot

Reflecting on BIRTHRIGHT #10, I'm struck by the fact that a theme of the issue, if not the plot itself, seemed so familiar.

Let's investigate:

Lex Luthor, as part of a coordinated effort, has managed to turn public opinion against Superman, portraying him as a nefarious "alien," and culminating with a full-scale attack on Metropolis by S-shield-wearing Kryptonians. Needless to say, Superman's Q-rating is at an all-time low.

I think what seemed so familiar is that Superman found himself in a similar predicament in the final episode of SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, after he attacked the Earth while brainwashed by Darkseid. I'm sure Superman has handled similar scenarios where the public trust is broken. And in fact, the situation even brings to mind all the various incidents of mind control for Superman, a comic book malady for which he seems to have an alarming degree of susceptibility.

So what do the recurrences of these themes mean? Perhaps thess types of stories are a reflection of the fact that as much as we love Superman, we don't entirely trust him. Perhaps we need to periodically revisit a scenario where that mistrust is played out and eventually triumphed over in order to keep the worry to a minimum. Or maybe it's just an interesting plotline that works.

Whatever the case, in BIRTHRIGHT #10, Superman is in trouble. Again, he's lost public support, and all hell is breaking loose downtown via the "Kryptonian" invasion force. And to make matters worse, Luthor has even more tricks up his sleeve - kryptonite tricks. This makes for a tense, exciting issue that I recommend, despite the fact that BIRTHRIGHT #10 was not entirely free of rough spots.

Rough spots like the art. In my earlier reviews of BIRTHRIGHT, the art seemed to be one of the consistent and dependable highlights. I still remember the beautiful shot of Clark swooping along the African plain. Lenil Yu brought a new style to Superman that I'd never seen before; work that had an almost Impressionistic use of color, compostion, and texture. It was pretty. But lately the work has become less appealing; not so much with the darker hues of the Luthor flashback, but just a more general and perhaps unnecessary hardness to the images, and some instances of downright grotesqueness. Halfway into the #10 there was a shocking scene with horrible monster at the Daily Planet. Oh, no, wait, that's not a monster -- that's just an excited Perry White. Yu's work in #10 wasn't really bad; perhaps I've simply reached a point where I'm taking the virtues of his work for granted. Whatever the case, I ending up walking away from this issue with a more lingering sense of what didn't work.

I thought the story worked a lot better; I found myself as emotionally keyed into what was happening as much as I have with any of the previous issues. This is largely due to a situation that I would like to explain by way of the movie GHOSTBUSTERS.

There's a moment that comes towards the end of the second act of GHOSTBUSTERS, when they loses track of the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper, Peck shuts down the containment grid, and the guys wind up in jail. The Ghostbusters are dealing with a problem of massive proportion, and it seems like there's no way that everything could possibly ever be sorted out again. And because of this, you feel a little anxiety in your stomach.

BIRTHRIGHT #10 has one of these moments.

Does he get out of it?

C'mon, he's Superman.

So despite whatever problems I may have had with the art this time out, and despite whatever familiarty I might have gleaned from the theme, and despite the fact that I've had reservations about BIRTHRIGHT here and there throughout its run, I recommend BIRTHRIGHT #10 to anyone looking for a Superman fix - perhaps a better fix than you're liable to find with any of the main titles right now. It's a gripping little comic about a guy with superpowers who finds himself in a serious jam, and how he manages to deal with it.

Ever feel like hitting on Chick Lit? Or sending all those little tykes, interested in reading thanks to Harry Potter, outside to mow the yard and wash your car? Ever feel that the drunk and the violent are unwelcome in America's bookstores? If the answer to these questions and many more is "Yeah, I guess so," then you need to join...


Edited by Robert M. Price
Published by Chaosium
Review by Buzz Maverik

We all have our hobbies and interests. If you're like me, you could be at a party, rummaging through your host's liquor cabinet in search of the Herradura and someone will point out a couple in the corner and say, "That's Jack and Mandy. He grew up in Synanon and she survived Heaven's Gate because the chicken pot pie didn't sit well."

And you say, "I know who I'm talking to all evening!"

Cults are sort of my special thing. And having probably read more Robert E. Howard than I have any other author, how could I pass up a collection of his fiction called NAMELESS CULTS?

Howard, the creator of CONAN, KULL and a ton of characters all named Steve Costigan, frequently exchanged letters (today it would be e-mail and instant messages) with H.P. Lovecraft, a fellow contributor to WEIRD TALES, a pulp horror/fantasy magazine of 1920s-1950s. Lovecraft wrote a series of highly influential stories centered on a pantheon of completely inhuman, completely Other supernatural entities who were exiled to fringes of our physical existence but were always on the verge on breaking through, of coming back. Their return would spell doom because of their indifference to mankind. These stories have been labeled The Cthulhu Mythos, after THE CALL OF CTHULHU, a work of genius centering on a squid-headed, Poseidon-bodied giant almost rising out of some odd ruins on a South Pacific island. Think of a cross between Godzilla and Satan, and you get Cthulhu.

All of Lovecraft's friends, Howard among them, wrote Mythos stories. Subsequently, thousands of homage's have been written and published over the years. Neil Gaiman is a big Lovecraft fan. Three-quarters of everything Stephen King has written owes a debt to Lovecraft.

Chief among the conceits of the Cthulhu Mythos created by Lovecraft is a blasphemous book called THE NECRONOMICON. If the characters aren't driven insane by these evil writings, they can summon or banish such creators as Yogsothoth or the Black Goat of The Woods With A Thousand Young. Howard created his own version of THE NECRONOMICON, called UNAUSSPRECHLICHEN KULTEN or NAMELESS CULTS, written by German named Friedrich Von Junzt.

The stories in this volume don't directly feature any of Lovecraft's characters. They center on entities similar to Lovecraft's creations, pulp being a highly derivative art form. The opening story, the often reprint THE BLACK STONE is perhaps the most Lovecraftian. We're also treated to one of the rare appearances of one of Howard's pre-Conan barbarians, Bran Mak Morn in WORMS OF THE EARTH . The problem with this story, and with many in this book, is that it isn't a Cthulhu Mythos story. It deals with a favorite theme of Lovecraft's, that of the Little People, some malevolent, pre-British pixie/neandrathals, sort of created by Arthur Machen, an influence on Lovecraft. Bran Mak Morn is my favorite Howard barbarian, so if one of his tales was going to be included I would have preferred KINGS IN THE NIGHT, which had nothing to do with the Mythos either (instead Bran has captured 200 Vikings who have agreed to help him against Roman Legions...provided they are lead by king who is not British. Bran's sorcerers use black magick to pull Kull across the gulf of time. Kull thinks he's dreaming but loves a good fight so...).

Incidentally, a Kull story THE SHADOW KINGDOM is included here. Also not a Cthulhu mythos story. Don't get me wrong. I love being able to read these stories and seeing them in print, but many of them are simply themes that interested Lovecraft or stories he liked or simply stories he read. I'm just sayin', is all...

Two of the most interesting and most racist stories are THE BLACK BEAR BITES and SKULL FACE . In the past, you see, white people were stupid. We feared that people of other races would take over and treat us the way we'd been treating them. An entire sub-genre of fantasy fiction existed about horrible, Oriental (now we'd say Asian) villains, the most famous of which was Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu. Howard was Fu-nut, and I can't blame him because they are great stories. His version of Dr. Fu was a revived Mummy called Kathulous ... which sounds like Cthulhu, the reasons SKULL FACE is included among the Mythos. SKULL FACE will piss you off with its' depiction of Asians and Africans (or it should piss you off) but it is also the greatest black 'n' white cliffhanger serial you will get a chance to read. Catacombs below London. Opium dens. Villains disguised as corpses. And the hero, Steve Costigan (not to be confused with the thousands of other Howard heroes called Steve Costigan -- Costigan and Conan were favorite Howard names. The story People Of The Dark here stars a barbarian named Conan who is not our Conan) is a hashish addict. Well, we all know that hashish isn't addictive. Why, I've smoked several bowls a day since grade school and I'm not...sorry, I had to go smoke some hash.

To tell you what I've told you, this is great pulp but it's not all Lovecraftian. It doesn't have to be, but don't expect it to be.

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by

Right on the heels of last week's GOTHAM CENTRAL trade that you should've picked up by now...a new story begins in the monthly! Rockin'. This arc's by Ed Brubaker, and sure as the best Star Trek movies are the even-numbered ones, Ed's arcs are always superior to those of GOTHAM CENTRAL co-creator Greg Rucka. No exception this go-round.

Our leads for the new arc are Marcus Driver, the likeable cop whose partner was offed by Mr. Freeze, and Josie Mac, who brings to the table low-level psychic abilities that allow her to key in on people through objects they've touched. It's kind of odd that her powers are just played off as intuitions – sure she hides 'em from her fellow cops, but shouldn't the readers be clued in? – but it doesn't really affect the story. And the adrenaline gets pumping too fast to worry about it. After a page or two of fun cop banter between Mac and Driver...

“Y'know, my last partner never busted my balls on quite this level, Josie...”
“Really? Man, mine did.”
“Well $#&%, you probably deserved it.”

...the pair are called to a really tense hostage situation. It's at a bank, and the nutball with the shotgun is specifically requesting Driver. It's instantly nerve-wracking, because the guy with the gun is clearly agitated (read: fucked in the head) and he remembers Driver from high school and rants as if there's some secret between them. I have to give a quick shout here to artist Michael Lark, who draws one helluva convincing hostage scenario. Click on that link! Is that nice or what? Kind of a BATMAN: YEAR ONE Mazzuchelli vibe, which is about perfect for a gritty book like this. Lark's been working with inker Stefano Gaudiano since the last story arc, and I think Gaudiano's inks tighten up Lark's Alex Toth leanings nicely. I love Toth and all those he's influenced, but in a book with an ensemble cast of average-looking guys 'n' gals, a little extra detail is a nice addition.

Inside the bank, Driver and the hostage-taker face off, and we get the first hints of the mystery that already has the makings of a favorite for this book. I'm keeping my lips sealed, but I will say that the tale looks to involve a Batman villain I've rarely cared for, and the dawning realization of who it was actually got me jazzed for 'em. Brubaker knows how to tell a mystery - how to let little clues drop at just the right moments to keep things exciting, how to keep the reader itching to turn the page for the next revelation. He's also a very humanistic writer, so that even while I'm reading this hardboiled story, against all odds I'm finding the hostage-taker sympathetic. Brubaker's bringing to Gotham the memorable characterization that defined his straight-up crime comics, THE FALL and SCENE OF THE CRIME, both well worth tracking down once GOTHAM CENTRAL gets you primed for more.

There are even a few nice continuity details to the story. A TV running in the background has a news show interviewing the author of a book about the Joker's winter sniper spree (that was issues 12-15), a book with the quite believable name “Jingle Hell: The Christmas That Shook Gotham.” I also liked the difficulty the cops have in tracking down some records in the wake of the hostage scenario, referencing the damage from the earthquake in the excellent “No Man's Land” crossover. They're details you don't need to know at all, but for Batman fans its the icing on an already deliciously moist cake.


The most promising hook to this story, though, is that it's to feature the return of Harvey Bullock, comicdom's answer to THE SHIELD's Vic Mackey. Batman readers haven't seen Harvey for a few years, Harvey having resigned under strong suspicion that he engineered a hit on the man who shot Commissioner Gordon. Bullock's presence has been felt throughout GOTHAM CENTRAL, though – as the embarassing name that ends conversations or raises tempers whenever it's mentioned. Given that the realism level of GOTHAM CENTRAL is so high – an occasional criticism being that the cops are almost too normal, and not colorful enough – I think Bullock's presence will be a welcome shot in the arm.

Really, the recent trade paperback is the way to go if you want in on this series, but this is a damn good sampler issue. You don't need to know a thing about Driver and Mac to get in on the story, and it's one of the best opening issues GOTHAM CENTRAL has seen. Brubaker's on, Lark's on, and that fat bastard, Bullock, is right around the corner.

Give 'er a try.

FABLES #25 Written by Bill Willingham
Pencils & Inks by Mark Buckingham
Further inks by Steve Leialoha
Published by Vertigo/DC

Story and Illustrations by Frank Cammuso
Published by Nite Owl Comix

A Brothers Quixote Tale

Once upon a time…I thought I was the only person in the world who didn't really care for SHREK.

I see now, on this very site, that I am not alone in finding the Ogre's tale a little hit and miss. Not horrible, mind you. But it carried with it the stink of wasted potential. All that glorious fairy tale territory that went unmined because the filmmakers decided the movie needed another fart joke or maybe a Matrix parody.

But I have been dreading the day Jan Q forces me to take her to see SHREK 2 because not only am I bracing myself for more Eddie Murphy voice-mugging (and yet, oddly enough, no donkey bray laugh), but I think I've been spoiled. Because for two years, I've been enjoying brilliant fractured fairy tale work on a regular basis. And last month, an equally adroit if entirely different approach to similar territory fell on my desk.

SHREK has some mighty big shoes to fill.

Because you read the credits, you know the first book I'm talking about is that critical darling FABLES. Issue #25 sees the exiled members of Fabletown bracing themselves for an invasion by the Adversary's wooden soldiers.

It doesn't really fit into the tone of this review for me to dwell too much on the fact that this is the first issue of FABLES in recent memory that I've really had a problem with – that while Willingham has the Fables spend most of the issue preparing for an invasion, I think he's lost sight of the fact that the readers have been preparing for it for four months now. I can't help but wonder if the proceedings couldn't have been expedited in the name of audience antsiness.

But that shouldn't detract from the moments of brilliance found throughout the book. The Stalingrad aura around the wooden soldiers arming themselves for battle. The clumsy but hilarious Young Republican jokes. Prince Charming getting the Beast all revved up for battle by suggesting to Beauty – who subconsciously influences her husband's bestial nature – that he's purchased 15 minutes of her…time from her spouse.

(er, did I mention this book ain't for kids?)

Waiting for the next issue will be harder than it was last month. Last month, I lucked into some copies of MAX HAMM: FAIRY TALE DETECTIVE to help sate my love for the perversion of the innocent.

Frank Cammuso does more than just throw Mother Goose and Raymond Chandler and push the button marked 'frappe'. MAX HAMM is brilliant in more than its content. Cammuso works his comic noir takes on Bo Peep and Snow White into children's book form, and the result is a blending of form and function that would make Louis Sullivan weep with joy. (Yeah, I'm reading DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY…what's it to ya?)

I direct your attention directly to “The Big Sheep”, a Hamm adventure that also borrows a bit from THE MALTESE FALCON, and a whole lotta fairy tales. Not only is it packed with wit and winks, like casting Boy Blue as a Peter Lorre-esque Jazz Musician, but it starts off in semi-traditional comic book format, before flashing back and telling the tale as a picture book, with block narration over the illustrations, and Chandleresque rhythm in place of the nursery rhyme.

Ma G knew everyone's story.
The file on the kid was as thick as a phone book.
There was a lot to learn about her.
That's when I found out how she got the name 'Peep'

The mix may seem natural, in hindsight. But the execution is top notch. This book had my eyes bugging out in amazement and my liver quivering with laughter.

So go see SHREK 2. I won't stop you. In fact, I'll probably be there too – though hopefully well medicated.

But when you walk out of the theatre, and you want to see how much fun can really be had taking the piss out of fairy tales, swing by your local comic book shop. Pick up FABLES if you aren't already. And ask the sweaty fat guy at the register about MAX HAMM.

Or swing by The Nite Owl website and take a look for yourself. The new Max Hamm is being solicited for this month.

Sure, the fart jokes are few and far between. But I think you'll like what's there in their stead.

[Note: The following review of the ORBITER softcover released last week is a tweaked version of my review of the ORBITER hardcover from last year. Same general sentiments, but just for you guys, I touched it up and edited out the parts where I tried to downplay the hardcover price. Heh. – Cormorant]

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Colleen Doran
Publisher: DC Comics / Vertigo
Reviewed by

I've never been a particular fan of Warren Ellis. THE AUTHORITY ultimately felt like an exercise in hipster violence beneath its deconstructionist veneer, PLANETARY fumbled a great concept with shallow storytelling, and TRANSMETROPOLITAN…okay I've actually liked what I've read of TRANSMET. So now that the caveats are out of the way, let me say that I was pretty impressed with Ellis's original graphic novel, ORBITER. It sees him trading in some of his acerbic cynicism for a rare sense of unmitigated wonder as he looks at the possibilities of space travel - specifically manned space travel. Ellis and artist Colleen Doran are unabashed supporters of this sometimes thorny cause, and in a tale of dark mystery and scientific discovery, they offer an emotional argument in its favor.

ORBITER opens, however, with a grim scene. It's been ten years since the space shuttle Venture literally disappeared from Earth orbit, and in the wake of that tragedy, NASA's been gutted and manned space flight abandoned. Unspoken, but implicit when we see the grimy shantytown that's sprung up around the defunct Kennedy Space Center, is the fact that America's fallen into a parallel decline. In light of the real world loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003, such scenes might have the reader believing the story to be Ellis' response to post-disaster NASA timidity; in fact, however, he began writing the ORBITER in 2001. Eerie coincidences aside, the story nevertheless serves as such a response, and a poignant one at that.

What kickstarts the story in ORBITER is the return of its lost space shuttle, Venture. It comes crashing down on the outskirts of Kennedy Space Center in a fiery landing that incinerates a goodly number of the shantytown's inhabitants. Its landing is, of course, seemingly impossible after ten years presumably in space, and only one member of a former seven man crew is even present. Mysteries abound: where's the rest of the crew? What the hell is up with the seemingly organic skin that's covering the shuttle? And how, precisely, did grains of sand from Mars manage to get embedded in the Venture's wheels? Unfortunately, the one survivor's certifiably insane and he's not talkin'.

What follows reads a lot like the first half of a Michael Crichton techno-thriller, as a diverse team of specialists sets to investigating the mystery at hand. Ellis kindly avoids the endless chases that characterize the second half of most Crichton books, for which I'm very grateful. I'm also grateful that like Crichton, it's obvious that Ellis knows what he's talking about when the techno babble starts flowing, and even kindly explains it to readers through some clever intermediaries (like the military supervisor of the project who doesn't know squat about space flight). Said military supervisor got on my nerves a few times, as he epitomizes the detached macho bullshit that I usually dislike about Ellis's characterizations. For instance, he casually refers to hosing the corpses of children off the shuttle's wheels. It's one of a several moments that had me tempted to put ORBITER down early on, but I'm glad I stuck around. After Ellis works through the “grim 'n' gritty” that's maybe necessary for him before he can dare to be humanistic, he begins exploring at an invigorating clip the myteries he's set up.

The investigation team is made up of three principles. None of them gets really fleshed-out, but we get enough snippets of their past to care about them. The most compelling of the lot is Terry Marx, a long-haired, young propulsions specialist. He's a total techno-geek, and like the rest of the trio, a little on the emotionally screwed-up side. He's also got an enthusiasm for discovery that's totally infectious when he's in manic mode, his wide-eyed expressions and beatific smile courtesy of artist Colleen Doran. I've always liked Doran's artwork, especially on her own comic, the sci-fi/adventure series A DISTANT SOIL. Here she changes her M.O. a bit, trading in her love of design and decorative flourishes in favor of stark realism, heavy shadows, and elaborate machinery. She keeps Ellis's wild science concepts grounded in a recognizable world, but when she wants the reader to soar at the possibilites of space flight, she can do that too. In particular, her images of the space shuttle are lovingly rendered and dynamic. She gives it the same visual power that a great splash page of Batman might convey in a superhero comic.

My one notable disappointment in ORBITER is that it feels a few chapters too short. The ending is satisfying, even exhilerating, but it's also a touch hasty and I'd have preferred more build-up to it – more time to get to know our leads as we watch them work. For anyone with a jones for space, though, I can't help but give ORBITER a full recommendation. I grew up alongside a brother whose love of all things astronomy gave me the same enthusiasm, and a comic that embraces that outside the bounds of space opera is a rare treat. If you've felt the swell of admiration watching movies like APOLLO 13 or THE RIGHT STUFF, if you've ever been awed by the short film “Power of Ten,” or if you got chills watching CONTACT when John Hurt asks, a twinkle in his eye, “Wanna take a ride?”... I think you're gonna enjoy ORBITER.

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Like many of you, the X-Men were the guys who introduced me to the world of comic books. I'd like to think my second grade teacher, old Mrs. Worthington, was the one who taught me how to read. But the truth is, I spent most of my youth learning to read the big words laying on my belly in the living room with a comic book in my hands. Some of my first comic book memories were that of Kitty Pryde's introduction to the X-mansion and meeting this Uncanny cast that would soon become legendary; the most expansive and complex world in comics. The universal concept of being an outsider and finding a place in this world tempted me to purchase each and every X-spin-off and X-mini series for close to twenty years. I've watched Scott and Jean and Hank and Logan and Charles and Kitty and Peter and Ororo and Kurt grow, shift, change, and evolve. I love these characters. Like many other X-fans, I have thrilled to and lauded the stories of their sweet and troubled existences. I hold the X-Men and their crazy, mixed-up, koo-koo kind of wacky world close to my heart.

But lately, things have changed. There are those who praise Grant Morrison for evolving the franchise to the next level. But for me, the characters who introduced me to the concept of the X-Men were sacrificed and replaced by even higher concepts spewed from the madcap mind of Morrison. The characters I grew up caring about took second stage to bigger things such as the drug Kick and secondary mutation, X-barrios and Fantomex's, Xorn's and Phoenix eggs. These were interesting concepts, but ones that overshadowed the characters that made the X-Men special to me all of those years. And don't get me started on the mess that was and is Chuck Austen's run.

Despite the high sales and fanfare, I had the haunting feeling that my X-Men had become extinct and replaced by something that I could no longer relate to. I was thinking about doing something that I had never been able to do before; walk away from the X-Mansion and stop reading all of the X-books for good. Then I heard about the X-MEN RELOADED month-long event at Marvel and I decided to stick around a bit longer and bring you, the Faithful Talkbackers, with me. I decided that the month of May would be my litmus test. I will choose one X-book every week in the month of May and give it a fair and objective review (that's right, even the Austen book) and at the end of the month, I will decide whether or not it is worth it to me to continue to read the X-Men.

Week One:

Writer: Chris Claremont
Pencils: Alan Davis
Inks: Mark Farmer
Publisher: Marvel Comics

There was a whole lotta good going on with this book. A lot of the things that annoy me about Chris Claremont's writing was here, but it didn't feel as wordy as recent endeavors. There are definitely parts of the book that needed to be explained: Where the hell did Rachel Grey come from? How did the X-Men become the XSE all of a sudden? Where has Lockheed been hiding? But I think it's a good thing that I'm asking these questions because the alternative would be what we've come to expect from Claremont; pages filled with dialog explaining the plot instead of showing it. Claremont has kindly shut the fuck up and left the reader with a few questions to ponder and a few mysteries that don't need to be solved in a page-long discourse. Good for Claremont for reeling the word count back a bit.

The best part of the book for me? The Danger Room sequence, of course. In these few panels, depicting Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm whuppin' Sentinel glute, it was like seeing old friends do what they do best (and do things that they haven't done in quite some time). It was this type of character, this type of teamwork, this type of fun that had been missing from Morrison's head-trippy run and Austin's melodramatic streak. This sequence (and the intro baseball game bit) is old school coolness of the highest order that only those who have been reading the X-Men for years (AKA those who read the title before Morrison's run) can appreciate.

And how can I not cheer for the return of the costumes? It was great to see the crew in spandex again. It seems that spandex is going to be the new black at Marvel and kudos to the higher ups to embrace the roots of comic-bookdom and accept that throwing black leather on everybody is not the way to make your characters distinct and recognizable.

My only complaint is the XSE angle that Claremont is introducing in this issue. The X-Men are being upgraded to the rank of “government-approved super team.” No longer are they outcasts fighting to help a world that hates and fears them. Oh, the world still hates and fears them, but the government now fully accepts the X-Men as a police force for mutant activity. That may sound cool, but it takes away from the mystique when Wolvie and Nightcrawler stroll in and flash a badge instead of Bamf-ing into the sewers underneath and entering a sticky situation all stealthy-like. But this is one tiny gripe that I can overlook because of the care Claremont put into this book to nod and wink at longtime fans and show newcomers why the X-Men have been so cool for all of these years.

As far as art goes, this book was pretty good. It isn't Alan Davis' best work, but on a bad day, Davis shows us that, apart from George Perez, he is one of the most rock-steady and stable artists in comics today. There's a heart to this book; one that was missing in the blank sunglassed stares of Frank Quitley's popular depiction of the team. Claremont and Davis work extremely well together. It's one of those creative teams that you can tell have worked together many, many times. Towards the end of the book, there is a scene where the desert children make a snowman with Marvel Girl with snow of Storm's creation after the X-Men have successfully warded off tyrannical forces. It is a singular panel that conveys a sensitivity and message that today's popular creators would write off as uncool. This scene is closer to the core concept of the X-Men than those Wizard writers of the month will ever get and one both Claremont and Davis nail perfectly.

So at the end of Week One of this little experiment, I'm liking what I'm seeing. It is old school enough to refresh my X-Men character jones. The costumes are a sight for sore eyes. And even the parts that I might find questionable (the XSE angle) aren't enough to steer me away from this one. Congrats must go to Claremont. I feared that he had lost his touch with comics, but this issue proves that the old guy still has a few good stories left in him.

Week Two:

Writer: David Hine
Pencils: David Yardin
Inks: Alejandro “Boy” Sicat
Publisher: Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights)

DISTRICT X is Marvel's answer to DC's stellar comic, GOTHAM CENTRAL. Both tell the stories of regular cops trying their hardest to function in a world crawling with insane freaks (GOTHAM CENTRAL) or genetic mutation (DISTRICT X). Comparisons are bound to be made between these two books and I'm going to do it in this review too. You see, I read GOTHAM CENTRAL five minutes after I put down DISTRICT X. While the premises are similar, looking at the two side my side DISTRICT X pales in comparison. That's not to say that this book is crap. It's just that GOTHAM CENTRAL is one of the best comics out there today and DISTRICT X just ain't.

The book starts off in a hospital. A cop sits by his wounded partner in a dark room. As his partner comes to, the cop explains the whys and the hows behind the wounded cop's injuries. The story is told slowly in flashback. There is a beat that most of the cops don't want to work. It's called District X. It's a section of New York that is filled with mutants, but Writer David Hine doesn't tell us this right off the bat. Mutation slowly creeps through the panels as these human cops discuss their lives. I liked the way the story slowly unfolded, revealing that everyone in this neighborhood is either a mutant of some sort or a relation to a mutant. This concept expands on the themes laid out when Morrison made every other person in the world a possessor of the X-gene. I'm not happy with Morrison's original concept. I think it takes away from the special Uncanny-ness of it all when there are more mutants than Samoans in the world, but since it's already done, Hine rolls with the concept well.

It wasn't a bad read. Not spectacular, but not bad nonetheless. Like I said, I had the misfortune of reading the real deal just moments later, so maybe I'm a bit biased here. If you like GOTHAM CENTRAL, but want something a bit lighter, try DISTRICT X. Issue number one of this series has a few nice twists, some tense moments, and a lesson in the strength of friendship between these two officers. It unfolds well and with the introduction of X-Man Bishop as the cop's new partner, things are bound to heat up in subsequent issues.

The art is pretty good too. Alejandro Sicat reminds me a bit of Brian Bolland in the faces he draws for his characters. It's not flashy, but these aren't flashy stories. These are real world cop stories set in the world of fantastic. The art suits the story well.

Give DISTRICT X a try. It's GC Lite. Writing-wise it may not be on par with it's DC counterpart, but the concept is an interesting one and has loads of potential. So with Week Two over, I have to say that I'm liking this RELOAD event. So far so good.

Cheap Shots!

SCURVY DOGS #4 - I thought this issue was a tad off, but this is still the funniest comic ever about pirates in the modern world fighting the Hobo Mafia. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, great comedic timing despite the rough-hewn art, and some of the most giddily bizarre pop cultural references I've EVER seen in a comic. “Get that Potsie-hater out of my sight. He's no brother of mine.” - Cormorant

OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE: X-MEN 2004 - This is the smallest of steps up from Marvel's crappy, overpriced, hardcover encyclopedias, but only because the entries are so thorough. Maybe too thorough, in fact, as they include such Chuck Austen plotting travesties as the demonization of Nightcrawler, the slutization of She-Hulk in the arms of the Juggernaut, and the bitchization of Polaris. Ouch. Where's some Cold War censorship when you need it? It also profiles only 17 major characters, which kind of defeats the purpose of the original MARVEL UNIVERSE books that got so many of us excited over every character in the Marvel Universe. 17 characters?! Shit, I think UNCANNY alone has more than that running around. And carried over from the encyclopedias we have those stupid goddamn graphs to rate power levels like these characters are Transformers or something. Aside from the relatively complete write-ups for those 17 characters, the one-shot's only major asset is a breakdown in the back of memorable moments for these characters (i.e. Beast grows blue fur, Wolverine stripped of his adamantium, etc.) that tells you what issue they occurred in. It juuuuust keeps the book from being a total waste. C'mon, Marvel, just follow the original MARVEL UNIVERSE playbook line-for-mother-effin'-line. It's not rocket science. – Cormorant

THE COMPLETE PEANUTS (1950-1952) - Make some room beside all those CALVIN & HOBBES volumes on your shelf, because comic strip collections don't come any more essential than this. Charles Schultz's alternately sweet, bittersweet, and cynical comic strip is as seminal as Bugs Bunny to the uniquely American sense of humor, and some of its finest moments came in the early years reprinted here. This is actually the first of a 25 volume hardcover series reprinting material that spanned 50 years, with two to be released each year, and it's backed by gorgeous production designs by cartoonist and graphic designer, Seth, an introduction by Garrison Keillor, extensive biographical notes, and a sizeable interview with Schultz. DO NOT BALK AT THE HARDCOVER PRICE TAG. You can always sell plasma, and if you don't buy this, you're clearly un-American. - Cormorant

Y: THE LAST MAN #22 - Y debuted pretty close the Bill Willingham's excellent FABLES, and for the first few months the two titles vied regularly for my favorite comic, with Y juuuust edging FABLES out. Then FABLES took the lead for a year or so. Y was maintaining its quality, but FABLES had the spark. But Y seems to've been jumpstarted in the wake of the creepy “interrogation” two-parter, and I think it's back on top again. With guest artist Goran Parlov (who?) turning in some expressive work that maintains Pia Guerra's designs, this issue balances two plotlines – one a violent militia run-in, the other a pleasant, drunken bonding session. I didn't quite buy Dr. Mann's big reveal during what should've been a life-or-death moment of tension, but by the time the typically great cliffhanger rolled around, I'd already forgiven it. A favorite read each and every month. – Cormorant

FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND #3 (of 5) - This series is reminding me why I think Steve Niles (30 DAYS OF NIGHT) is way too overrated to be so damn prolific. His tale of a freakish mutated child growing up in an isolated Midwestern community is just too forgettable to be as slow-paced as it is. Give me some meaty, memorable scenes and I'll forgive just about anything, but that's not what we're getting here. The art, however, continues to be stunning. Gestural, detailed, filtered through enticingly sickly colors – it's some of the finest comic art I've seen all year. - Cormorant

SPIDER-MAN #2 (Marvel Knights) - It's not that this title is egregiously bad – it's not – but when a single issue has as many annoying moments as this one, you have to wonder if it's worth existing as the fourth core Spider-Man title. The story guest-stars the Avengers and sees, among other things: Jarvis being an asshole to Spider-Man as if Spider-Man had never teamed with Cap and friends; Spider-Man noting that Nick Fury could find, “a virgin in Arkansas”; Quicksilver smarting off to Hawkeye with, “Drop dead, redneck!”; three pages of Electro and the Vulture hitting a whorehouse (with an oh-so-titillating hint that Electro's into guys after one too many trips to the pen); and Spider-Man referring to the Avengers, a team he's always respected in the past, as “super-jocks.” Millar does not get the classic Marvel Universe. He may profess love for it from his childhood, and I have no reason to doubt him, but his writing for it is strictly “Ultimate”-style. Skip it. This ain't Spider-Man. – Cormorant

EL CAZADOR #6 - Well, we all know CrossGen's going to implode at any given hour, so pardon my crudeness of diction here, but...what a motherfuckin' bitch of a time for it to happen! Finally – the publisher had finally gotten a clue to start producing non-Sigil titles that represented untapped genres – and now nothing less than divine intervention can save book like KISS KISS BANG BANG, ABADAZAD, and EL CAZADOR, the later title having had a great outing this week. This latest issue is part two of the rousing and extended pirate ship chase and battle that began last issue, and it's a winner from beginning to end. FUCK! First good pirate comic since...well, ever, I'm pretty sure...and it'll be lucky to make it a few more issues. Hell, even if the series gets picked up by another publisher in the wake of CrossGen's ruin, I doubt they'll be able to get genius artist Steve Epting back, and he's half the reason to be there. What a colossal waste. Recommended to lovers of all things piratical and of great art, 'long as you're ready to have your heart broken when it's cancelled any hour now. - Cormorant

BLUE MONDAY: PAINTED MOON #1 - Let me tell you one thing right now, Chynna Clugston-Major is the personification of cool. Her art is cool, her style is cool, hell even her uncol characters are cool. And this story of Alan's pratfalls, Bleu's emberassment, and Bleu and Clover's night on the town just reeks of cool. If you're a fan of Blue Monday, then you're probably getting this one already. If you're not, then ther's something wrong with you. Go buy the Absolute Beginners TPB and this issue if you wish to become enlightened. If you don't, then I'm afraid I'm going to have to stomp your face in. It's better all around if you just buy the book. - Vroom Socko.

SHE-HULK #3 - Man, they don't make comics like this anymore. A comedy book that manages to reference both INFINITY GAUNTLET and Forbush Man without seeming forced. A comic that tells a self-contained story that also builds on the foundations of the previous issues. A story that's smart, funny, and doesn't take itself too seriously. A stand-out storyline where the heroine is lovable yet tough. A stellar comic in every aspect that's sutable for readers of any age. Yep, they don't make 'em like this anymore. - Vroom Socko.

FIRESTORM #1 - In true Marvel fashion, Firestorm doesn't show up until the last page of this book. Normally, I'd be pissed, but writer Dan Jolley and artist ChrisCross does a pretty nice job of keeping things interesting until ol' flamehead shows up. Meet Jason Rusch, a down and out waiter trying to save up money to get into college and better himself. Unfortunately, life doesn't make it that easy for him. This one won't burn up the shelves, but there is enough interesting stuff here to pique my interest. Where Firehawk or the Professor or Ronnie? You won't find those answers here. Mysterous bruises, drug deals gone wrong, and a nuclear explosion in the middle of nowhere seals it that Rusch won't be the same again after this intro issue. Jolley provides enough hooks to make me want to pick up issue #2 and CrissCross is on top of his game with a highly cinematic and exciting flair to his artwok. Worth a look. - Ambush Bug



or, Hey Manga, Nice Shot!


Cormorant here with more manga reviews for all you American comics “straights” out there! When last we met, I inundated you with one of the more curious subgenres of manga - basketball comics! This time we're back to the usual eclectic mix, although there is a loose theme. It's one I think you'll enjoy, encompassing as it does everything from ultra-violence to booby humor to manga's answer to DUNE! Yes, today's manga theme IS...


Writer: Koushun Takami
Artist: Masayuki Taguchi
English Adaptation: Keith Giffen
Publisher: Tokyopop

If you've been visiting Ain't-It-Cool-News for any length of time, you've probably heard of BATTLE ROYALE, the live-action movie if not the manga. Harry Knowles and other cult cinema aficionados have championed this junior grade RUNNING MAN, but the premise – a class of ninth graders forced to hunt each other on an island for a televised Japanese reality show – do I even have to say it sounds exploitational? Distastefully so? I recognize the appeal, of course. I watch shows like THE SHIELD fully recognizing that part of the draw is the depravity of the world it presents. But the upper echelon of violence exploitation – works like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, FACES OF DEATH, and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST – not for me and never has been.

And I figured BATTLE ROYALE to be in the same vein - something for the hardcore twistos (no offense, twistos), but not the more casual horror/violence fan like m'self.

Having read the first volume, I won't say that I've been completely won over, but whatever it might say about me...I enjoyed the read. BATTLE ROYALE is the manga equivalent of a Garth Ennis comic, assaulting the reader with twisted ideas and acts of raw violence until they eventually become compelling in a blackly humorous way.

The ensemble cast lead of our near-future story is something of a “Big Man On Campus” type. He's a cool customer named Shuuya, a handsome ninth grader who plays the guitar (smooth!), defends the weak from bullies (noble!), and has all-around leadership qualities. Other students get shorter personality-establishing vignettes throughout the story (she's the slut, he's the martial artist, that big guy is the juvie hall punk), but Shuuya's our hero. It's not clear why his class has been selected to appear on this insane, state-sponsored show known only as The Program, or even why The Program exists - I gather that the movie makes out that youth crime has reached catastrophic levels and The Program is some sort of response - but in the comic, all we know is that the kids are on the chopping block and the carnage is about to start.

The “fun” of this first volume is the chilling immediacy of the situation, contrived or not. The kids are gassed into unconsciousness on a bus they think is taking them on a field trip, only to awaken in a makeshift classroom on the very island where they'll shortly be fighting for their lives. They meet their “instructor,” a leering, jowl-cheeked, middle-aged man named Yonemi Kamon who's instantly a “love to hate” character. He's sickeningly cheerful as he explains the rules of the game to the kids, delighting in their discomfort and terror. There's a slight element of grotesque caricature to the art on BATTLE ROYALE that reminded me of MAD MAGAZINE cartooning, and it particularly suits Kamon's sadistic features. But while the exaggerated facial types might be a little maudlin (though good for quick identification), don't expect to be thinking of MAD MAGAZINE when Kamon puts a bullet into the face of Shuuya's dorky friend for speaking out of turn. It's straight-up Ennis gratuity, with vividly rendered tissue damage (including a severed tongue) and the grisly fact that the kid lives for a few minutes with half his jaw blown off.

Okay, so it's not what everyone

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