Hey @$$holes, @CR editor Greg Scott here.
Last week you were all crying about how we didn't review enough books, or we didn't review the right books, or we didn't review enough of the right books. Well now you're going to get it.
I present for you now...
Bow in its awesome presence!
Right now you might be asking: "Greg, what makes this column an
The answer: Reviews, and lots of them. In fact, I challenge anyone to find a more ultra, more super-huge, more mega-monster comic review column anywhere. You just can't do it. (Note: "Monster" refers to column size and not actual monster content.)
And we don't just have any reviews - we've got super-awesome mega-reviews!
Now most review columns would be happy to stop there. But we're not done. Oh no, this isn't over until we say it's over!
- Does Scandinavia have more to offer the world than IKEAs and easygoing socialism? Find out as Jon Quixote lays down the hammer with his review of the very nordic THOR!
- Vroom Socko seeks a divorce from ULTIMATE SPIDEY - but on what grounds? Find out in his review of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #63!
- More X-MEN reviews than we have any business having! UNCANNY, ULTIMATE, THE END - If it has an X on the cover, we're whoring ourselves out to talk about it!
We've also got:
Not a good column. Not a great column. Something even better...
- Not just a review of Chynna Clugston-Major's latest BLUE MONDAY issue, but a VERY SPECIAL INTERVIEW with the characters from the book! That's right - Ms. Clugston-Major has granted @$$hole Comic Reviews special access to the cast of BLUE MONDAY, plus original artwork just for this interview! It's an @$$hole @$$clusive!
- And more ecclectic comix reviews! Lizzybeth looks at Adrian Tomine's SCRAPBOOK and SEBASTIAN O, while Sleazy checks out 2 SISTERS! So many Indie reviews, we're almost cool!
- Plus Cheap Shots, clickable images, BATMAN, DAREDEVIL, and more!
(Click title to go directly to the review)
THOR #82 & 83
X-MEN: THE END VOLUME 1 #1
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #63
ULTIMATE X-MEN #50
ESSENTIAL DAREDEVIL VOL. 2
BATMAN AND CATWOMAN: TRAIL OF THE GUN #1
Adrian Tomine's SCRAPBOOK: UNCOLLECTED WORK 1990-2004
UNCANNY X-MEN #447
DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERMAN
SPECIAL BLUE MONDAY Interview!
THOR #82 & 83
Written by Michael Avon Oeming with Daniel Bergman
Art by Andrea DiVito
Published by Marvel Comics
A JonQuixote Review
My second favorite moment of this arc (to end all arcs) came in issue #82. Valkyrie showed up. Those of you who have passed puberty but never quite let go of adolescence may remember her from the old NEW DEFENDERS series. Warrior chick on a flying horse. Enchanted Sword. Great legs. Pretty cool, as far as warrior chicks on flying horses go but I haven't seen her for years.
She shows up outta nowhere in THOR #82 shouting what translates into "Here I am!" and charges into battle. The next panel has her zapped with…something. Something that went KAZAAKK! And then she fell to the ground, dead like disco. And her little horse too.
Two panels. Dead. Man, even the notoriously indiscriminate Bendis would have given her a splash page or something. Oeming just has Thor telling one of his lackeys to throw her on the fire with the rest.
But boy did I laugh. Out loud. Good and hard. Scared the dog. 'Cause man, sucks to be her.
My favorite moment in this arc (to end all arcs) came in the next issue. Thor's trying to figure out what's going on. He's trying really really hard – his face even gets all scrunched up and I know now what it looks like when Fabio farts – but let's be honest, if old Goldilocks was the sharpest knife in the drawer, he wouldn't need giant snaps on his shirt to keep it from falling off.
Some birds and a ghost take him to the Well of Mimir so he can find some wisdom. They tell him that this is the well where Poppa Odin plucked out an eye and threw it in (boy those Vikings are tough. The wells around here take pennies). So Thor, ever the dutiful scion, gouges out his own eye and throws it in.
Nothing happens. If I was writing, I would have had the birds shout "Punk'd!" and fly away. But Oeming's birds are smarter than mine. He has them shout "Dumbass, Odin already threw in an eye. The well ain't coughing up for that shit anymore. Do better."
So Thor pulls out his other eye and chucks it in there ("Punk'd!!").
And boy did I laugh again. I laughed so hard I peed a little. Way to think outside the box there, blondie. I can't wait 'til Cap finds out about this – Hey Thor, remember when you sent your master strategist best friend away 'cause you didn't need his help?
The issue ends with the birds and the ghost telling Thor that for his next trick, he's gonna have to kill himself. "But first…give us your WAL-LET!!"
I hope I'm not making this sound too bad. I'm having a blast. I really am. And not just in a MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 way. When I'm not laughing my ass off, I'm usually givin' it a "Yeah baby!" at some coolness. Sif calling her dismembered arm a 'scratch' before jumping into the fray. A flying boat letting loose with a hail of arrows that would make Braveheart gravy-spray his kilt. Issue #82 concluded with, in the face of all hopelessness (again!), Beta Ray Bill showing up. Issue #82 opens with him beating the Fenris Wolf into a skeleton. THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! Bones. Awesome. And all the rest of the bad guys just go runnin', 'cause this guy kicks serious ass.
And then – I shit you not - Thor sends him away.
I'm gonna have such undie stains by the time this shit is through.
Is it shoddy? Is it wrong-minded? Is it ruining THOR forever? Maybe. But I can't analyze shit like this too closely. It's a comic book. The body count is Schwartzennegerian. I'm laughing my ass off. Money well spent.
2 SISTERS: A SUPER-SPY GRAPHIC NOVEL
Written and drawn by Matt Kindt
Published by Top Shelf Productions
Reviewed by Sleazy G
2 SISTERS is billed as a World War II spy thriller. It's that and a whole lot more, spanning the ages from Ancient Rome to the days when buccaneers roamed the oceans committing wholesale slaughter. There's also a bit of family tragedy thrown in for added drama, not to mention an ill-fated love affair. There are a lot of interesting ideas and possibilities waiting to be explored here. It's also quite interesting to see the more traditionally indie elements and style meshed with the more mainstream war/spy material.
Much of this story works really, really well. The spy we follow is unlike any other spy I can recall seeing: she's a lonely, withdrawn woman who seems to drift through her life with nothing tethering her down. She starts out volunteering to drive an ambulance in the countryside to help the Allied troops. While doing this work she meets a man who changes everything for her. As we watch she slowly begins to open up ever so slightly, falling for this person. The relationship has barely had a chance to begin, however, before something terrible happens, leaving her reeling from the loss of what is apparently the only actual relationship in her life. This event also throws her into a dark new world of espionage.
There is very little dialogue in this tale. It's impossible to quantify such things, but if I were to guess I would say that 70-80% of the story here is communicated through Kindt's art, not his words. He's got a very distinct style, and he's able to communicate everything you need to know about the characters and their feelings through his images. The changes in the main character that we see over the course of the story are plain to see. You just have to look at her face to see her go from being solitary and desperate to the blossoming of hope and self-confidence, then on to grim determination, then shock, then relief, and then, quite possibly, right back to where she started decades before—not just geographically, but emotionally.
Her personal journey leaves the reader wondering if we can ever really escape our pasts, but it's told in parallel with a truly unique spy tale. It seems pretty obvious, really; I mean, we all know how many regular, every day citizens were spies during World War II as well as the Cold War. Even in the recent past there have been dull pencil pushers and desk jockeys who turned out to be acting as spies for one government or another. Still, somehow fiction always focuses on what they consider daring or sexy or exciting in the world of espionage. In this tale Kindt takes the obvious reality of the situation to give us a truly unique spy. There's more to it than that, though. We've all read or watched a lot of spy thrillers by this point in our lives, and it's usually pretty easy to guess where things are going halfway or two thirds of the way in. Oh, sure, maybe not exactly where, but we've got a fair enough idea. This is the first story I've seen in a long, long time in print or on screen that actually surprised the hell out of me. I thought I knew exactly what was going on, and then Kindt turned the whole thing on its ear. The unexpected surprise also injects the novel with a bit of humor that was a welcome palate-cleanser in an otherwise grim tale.
My only criticism of the novel goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning. Kindt has a lot of disparate elements at work here. The subplot with the Romans and pirates just never quite clicked for me. The story told there provides some action, and it does serve to provide some parallels to the main story. It's not as well developed, though, and therefore not as insightful. Its connection to the main story is finally made clear near the end of the novel, but it felt too forced — more of a plot contrivance than a coincidence. I would have greatly preferred to have the large chunk of the book dedicated to that storyline instead used to tighten the focus a little. The title is 2 SISTERS, and yet I left wanting to know more about the main character's childhood growing up with her sister and single father. There are events that occur there which are clearly defining moments for the lead character, but it feels like they're given short shrift. Less time spent swashbuckling would have given these events more import and resonance, making me feel for the characters involved all the more.
Still, that's not enough to stop me from recommending the novel. The aspects of the story that worked for me worked well enough that I can overlook the elements that didn't. Those of you who go for the more indie-oriented graphic novels should give it a look. Those of you who usually stick with the mainstream might want to consider it, too — there's plenty of action and excitement to keep you riveted, but with a more introspective look at the people involved and how the action affects their lives than you're used to seeing.
X-MEN: THE END VOLUME 1 #1
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Sean Chen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
Chris Claremont is one of those creators I always root for. I'm 99% certain he'll never catch lightning in a bottle the way he did with UNCANNY X-MEN in the '70s and '80s, but this guy did so damn much in his heyday that he's got a lifetime reprieve from me for all the...how to put this?...for all the poopy stories he's done since. And, hey, I looked in on X-TREME X-MEN once in a blue moon and he did have his moments of inspiration there: integrated human/mutant communities, Sage and Bishop as teched-out mutant cops, Rogue as self-assured adult sporting tattoos down her arm. He was even nice enough to round out some of Grant Morrison's more hastily tossed aside concepts, like the international X-Corps.
Which is not to say X-MEN: THE END is particularly good. It isn't. But I was rooting for it. If I had to guess, I'd say Claremont got too ambitious when given the opportunity to write this hypothetical "last" X-Men story. Hey, I know there're a shitload of mutants out there, but do we really need three six-issues miniseries – and that's what we'll be getting - just to get the dramatic finale these "The End" projects are supposed to provide? Sounds more exhausting than exhilarating to me.
But at least everyone will be able to see their favorite characters, right? Uh, maybe. But this first issue is actually devoted exclusively to a newcomer. She's a girl (late teens maybe?) who's the daughter of Bishop and on-again-off-again villainess, Deathbird. Personally, my favorite Deathbird moment from X-Men history was when she impaled Colossus with an acid-tipped spear and nearly killed him, but I guess she became redeemed like all the X-villains (ex-villains?) seem to do. Whatever. The important thing is that her child with Bishop, one Aliyah Bishop, is said to have...a destiny.
Oh boy, a destiny! And from one of Claremont's dime-a-dozen "strong women!"
Y'know, all I really wanted to get from a last X-Men story is whether Xavier's ideology beat out Magneto's – well, that and a few great action sequences and teary farewells - but suddenly it's all with the prophecies and destinies. Oy.
And just to make sure we get a proper sense of the scope of this yarn, this first issue takes place entirely in space with a galactic scope. Aliyah and her cool, sentient ship are caught up in a confusing interstellar incident on a planet in Shi'ar territory. If you know the Shi'ar, the X-Men's extraterrestrial pals, then you'll at least have an inroad into this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink opener, but good luck keeping up with appearances by the Kree, the Brood, some interstellar slavers from X-TREME X-MEN, Multiple Man, Siryn, Nocturne from EXILES, and just for grins, a Warskrull.
Hardcore X-junkies might, just might have as much fun geeking out with this as I did spotting obscure JLA members in the premiere of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED. But I suspect they won't. The host of heroes in JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED were just brief on-screen eye candy, but in X-MEN: THE END, they are the story...such as it is. And ultimately it's not much more than a single big chase sequence that sets up in its final pages the inclusion of the X-Men we actually care about. I think I was more interested in the two-page glimpse of what Scott, Logan, Kitty, et al. were up to than the entirety of Aliyah's space adventure.
Oh well. It's just a hypothetical ending, so no big whoop. It's just a shame that Claremont didn't rise to the occasion like I optimistically hoped he would, indulging instead in his worst habits, from overly verbose narration to generically self-assured babes to (and here's a relatively recent one) dialogue that comes across like the poor man's Joss Whedon:
"The Kree used to be the top dogs in this part of the cosmos... The Shi'ar kicked their collective butts. Major reality check. Not well received."
Sean Chen's the man on the artwork, and he's pretty good. Bit of Gary Frank style on the characters, bit of Geof Darrow detail on the backdrops. I remember Chen best from his collaboration with Kurt Busiek on IRON MAN, and sure enough, he shines again on all the high-tech landscapes and spaceships. No complaints on the artistic front - it just feels like wasted talent.
In the end, X-MEN: THE END looks to validate my theory that the quality of these "The End" projects is inversely proportional to their length. The one-shots PUNISHER: THE END and HULK: THE END have been exceptionally strong. The extended pieces – WOLVERINE: THE END, MARVEL: THE END, and now X-MEN: THE END – exceptionally flaccid. Who knows, maybe Claremont will manage to right X-MEN: THE END after its extremely shaky take-off, but I've seen enough to know that it's not for me. Someone let me know how it pans out once all eighteen issue have been released. Seeya in February 2006!
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Steve Yeowell
Published by Vertigo (DC Comics)
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
Soon enough just about everything Marvel and DC have published will be re-released in trade format; much like the movie studios and the DVD format, one senses that these archival re-releases are less in the spirit of serving the fans than in mining another buck from an old shaft. Trade paperbacks seem somewhat less useful than DVDs, lacking the benefits of extra programming and clearer picture. Both have the advantage (and I suspect this is the real reason for their success) of convenience, saving us the trouble of fast-forwarding to the good parts, or thumbing through the box for the next issue, and both save on storage space. I could be becoming a luddite in my old post-adolescent age, I suppose. I will never stop supporting the Original Graphic Novel format, and I'll admit that those TV box sets are a godsend. But I'm in no hurry to upgrade those comics and movies that I already have. The only use I can think of for these revisited collections is to draw attention to releases that were overlooked the first time around.
And here we come to SEBASTIAN O, the early-Vertigo-era miniseries written by a post-ANIMAL MAN, pre-INVISIBLES Grant Morrison. Justifiably obscure, or sadly overlooked? A bit of both. Clearly DC is capitalizing on Morrison's post-X-Men popularity by releasing this volume - once they were out of ANIMAL MAN reprints, they had to do something, I guess, and I don't recall anyone clamoring for this one. Make no mistake, this isn't one of his major works. But, it is rather fun, and hints at some of the themes and styles he would be hitting later in his career.
SEBASTIAN O begins the series by escaping from Bedlam, where he has been incarcerated as a deviant, and going on the run. Of course, "going on the run" is meant only in a figurative sense, as Sebastian would hardly stoop to doing anything so undignified as run. Sebastian is a dandy, meaning a guy in a poofy shirt who can fall into a sewer and come out looking like a gentleman, albeit an annoyed one, and given to making statements such as:
"The dandy has one unique advantage over the common herd. No matter what the situation, he will always be more exquisitely dressed than his enemies. Therefore, he has already triumphed."
Your enjoyment of SEBASTIAN O depends on whether you would find such a character amusing or irritating. Much as the character himself espouses style over substance, the comic emphasizes charm over things like plot and character development. The character basically floats through a scenario of "cops on his trail, the escaped criminal seeks revenge upon the man who framed him" banality, with the only point of interest (aside from Morrison's witty dialogue) the trace of a reality-bending curveball at the end. The plot, such as it is, is swiftly paced, and leaves little time for one to get bored before moving on to another FutureTech-Victorian set piece. The high point is probably the Morrison/Yeowell collaboration, a successful match-up which would continue into the INVISIBLES series. Yeowell's realistic and appealing artwork damps down the excesses of Morrison's writing, making for a more pleasurable reading experience than perhaps the book deserves.
Still, I do recommend SEBASTIAN O for fans of Morrison's work; it is an entertaining and amusing read, though not at the level of his better-known projects.
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #63
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Mark Bagley: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Had His Fill of Carnage
Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that Brian Bendis is without a doubt the best writer Marvel has right now. Not only that, his partnership with Mark Bagley has brought about some of his best work to date. Just look at that image from this issue of Peter holding his costume: that whole page is breathtaking. Simply put, Marvel hasn't had a writer like Bendis working for them like this since Stan Lee was in charge.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me tell you why I've decided to drop this title and never look back.
Last issue featured one of the best cliffhanger moments in the series, where one character was shown to be near death. I spent a month wondering just how this person was going to pull out of this one, a month that felt more like a year really. Well, it turns out that there was no cliffhanger. That character is dead. Hell, she's not only merely dead she's really most sincerely dead. She's not pining, she's passed on. She has ceased to be. Gwen Stacy is dead. Again. And I'm fucking pissed off.
Why, you ask? Because Gwen Stacy was the lone symbol the Spider-Man book had of the unlimited potential of the Ultimate line. Peter's still the awkward teen who lucked into powers. Aunt May is still the worried parental figure. MJ is still the gorgeous girl next door. Flash is still the arrogant jock who's Spidey's biggest fan. But Gwen… Gwen was different. Stan Lee sure didn't have her threatening to shiv a bully, or stick a gun in Peter's face. Out of all the characters in this book, Gwen was the most fully realized as independent from her non-Ultimate persona.
That Bendis would have Gwen killed shocked me beyond words. The thing is though, I keep thinking of the scene that referenced her original death: the moment with Mary Jane being thrown off the top of a bridge. Like this time, there was a long month to wait between chapters. Back then I had that big voice in my head hoping that she wasn't dead, but that little voice was saying, "If Bendis does have her die, the man's got some serious grapefruits." This time the big voice was the same, and the little voice was right along with it. And when I saw that those voices were to be denied, I headed for the best place on the Net to vent. When I got to the Bendis Board, this was the first post I saw:
Uhhh...Gwen Stacey HAD to die at some point. This is the turning moment for the whole book. This is where Peter grows up, whether he's ready to or not. I knew it was coming...I just didn't know when.
And that's where I started to see red.
Reading more postings at that greatest of all message boards soon had my blood pressure rising to dangerous levels. Many, so many opinions were expressing the belief that this was some sort of inevitable event; that Gwen Stacey was simply here to go. This, it seems, was the only possible result of even having Gwen in the book, because her death is so important to who Spider-Man is as a hero.
Wrong, and wrong.
The only inevitable death in this book was Uncle Ben. Period. Gwen's death is important to the Peter Parker being written by JMS over in AMAZING, but this character isn't that Peter Parker. That was the point of the Ultimate line, right? That this was a clean break from decades of continuity. This means that nothing, NOTHING should be what we expect. I gave the death of Gwen's father a pass only because of how it was followed up, but you ain't foolin' me twice. I flat out fucking refuse to accept that these characters fates were predetermined by Gerry Conway over thirty years ago. If that's the case, why even bother.
Where's it going to end? Is Flash going to become Peter's bud next? Is Harry going to become the next Goblin? Will Kraven blow his brains out? I've seen all that shit before, and I don't need to see it again. For fuck's sake, there's already a Dead Pool going for what issue Jean DeWolfe is going to buy it. Fuck that.
Bendis is a great writer. A phenomenal writer. But he's dropped the ball here. He's playing it safe, when the most memorable work on this title has been when he's taken a risk. My favorite single issue of his run has been the much @$$hole maligned "Aunt May in Therapy" issue. Why? Because it was something we'd never seen in a Spider-Man comic before. That was memorable. That was daring. This isn't. Or does anyone out there think that when someone says Gwen Stacy, they're going to think of her being turned into a goddamn mummy by Carnage. No, they're going to think of the Green Goblin. They're going to think of that bridge.
To put it another way, imagine this same story if it featured Gwen consoling Peter, after Aunt May had found the dried out corpse of Mary Jane in the bushes. Sure, I would have been upset over that as well, but that little voice would have been screaming "Holy SHIT! Anything can happen in this book!" But that's not the case, is it?
If you want to see what the ideal Ultimate comic looks like, take a look at what Brian K. Vaughan's doing with the X-Men. Look at what Ellis is doing with the FF. As of right now, they're the only Ultimate books worth buying. They're the only ones I'll be buying, at any rate.
ULTIMATE X-MEN #50
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Andy Kubert
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Cormorant
You gotta know an issue is successful when it tempts you to go back and pick up the run of a series you quit years ago. That's ULTIMATE X-MEN #50 for ya, courtesy of Brian Vaughan and Andy Kubert. In some ways it actually feels "realer" to this old-school X-Men fan than Joss Whedon's ASTONISHING X-MEN, a terrific comic in its own right but one that can't help but feel a little "off" to me for Grant Morrison's additions (the feline beast, Scott and Emma together, etc.). I came to really enjoy Morrison's run, but on its own merits and not because it particularly upheld the X-Men tradition I came to love as a kid.
Vaughan's ULTIMATE X-MEN upholds that tradition.
Which isn't to say it feels old-fashioned. Well okay, just every once in a while Vaughan's dialogue is a little hokey, but for the most part he does what Bendis does on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN when the pistons are firing on all cylinders: captures the quality and tone of the source material while updating the idiom for modern times. That's harder to do than it seems, and original ULTIMATE X-MEN writer Mark Millar wasn't able to pull it off to my satisfaction. Great action, but a tone that was too mean-spirited. It lacked heart. Saw too much bad-assedness in place of characterization. When Bendis did his run it had some strong moments, but veered to far into the opposite direction: all characterization at the expense of pulse-pounding action.
Vaughan finds the balance.
A big chunk of ULTIMATE X-MEN #50 is downtime for the X-Men, a time-honored tradition that's included baseball games, theatre at Lincoln Center, picnics destined to be interrupted by Alpha Flight looking for Wolverine, etc. Readers love hanging out with these guys and gals, and I'm no exception. This time the team's hitting Coney Island, though Scott and Jean kick the issue off with a sweet scene outside the mansion that longtime X-fans will recognize as a nod to the famous "take your glasses off" love scene from the original Dark Phoenix storyline. In particular I liked the tone, light at first when Jean jokes about Scott carving their initials into the moon, then suddenly intimate when his beam lights up the purple clouds gathering at dusk.
Meanwhile at Coney Island, the rest of the team pair off. Punk temptress Dazzler tries to lure Colossus into some guilt-free hetero boots-knockin', but he's not having it ("...you have more metal in your skin than I do. We would scrape.") Meanwhile Kitty and Iceman have a very revealing exchange over Iceman's necessarily platonic relationship with Rogue even as Storm bonds a bit with Wolverine. I'm happy to see that Ultimate Wolverine is acting more like the mainline Wolverine with each passing issue. Will anyone really miss the cradle-rocking, hitman lech Millar first painted him as? The best scene in the book, though, goes to Angel and Nightcrawler. Storm figures they're probably agonizing over the fact that their physical mutations kept them from joining the team on the trip to Coney...but Vaughan turns that notion on its head with a Danger Room sequence sure to leave readers with a grin.
And, YES, there's action too. Damn good action drawn with panache by Andy Kubert! And at the center of it...
S'true. Consider me a skeptic when it comes to all things Gambit, but I actually thought Chuck Austen's fill-in issues starring him a few years ago were pretty decent, and Vaughan outright makes him cool in this issue. It's a healthy reminder of the "no bad characters, only bad writers" adage, and Vaughan is no bad writer. For reasons I'll leave readers to discover, Gambit turns up at Coney and ends up engaging the whole team in one of the better superhero skirmishes I've seen all year. Not since Spidey trashed the X-Men in SECRET WARS has it been such fun to see a lone, low-powered character catch 'em with their pants down.
Yeah, I know...
Ah, just trust me on this one. Sure the encounter veers a bit towards melodrama at times, but isn't that what the X-Men are about? Even when Millar's shock value tactics were beginning to turn me off this book years ago, I admired the fact that he was keeping the drama amped up – where it should be – and Vaughan keeps the faith.
I guess my only real complaint is that the story here isn't taking place in the mainline Marvel Universe. We got Whedon there, and that guy's on the ball too, but he's only down for twelve issues on ASTONISHING X-MEN before he likely retires to a life of cocaine and hookers with all money he rakes in from the FIREFLY movie. You know it's true. So while I don't begrudge Vaughan the fun he's obviously having over in Ultimateville, could...uh...could we have him on ASTONISHING when he's done?
Man knows his X.
ESSENTIAL DAREDEVIL VOL. 2
Written by Stan the Man
Art by Gene the Dean & Jack the King
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Buzz the Scuzz
What was the first issue that made you are DAREDEVIL fan? Did you come aboard during the recent Marvel Knights series, maybe on a storyline by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev? Or David Mack? Or Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti?
Writer Ann Nocenti and artist John Romita Jr. have a strong following from their run on title. You may have joined us then. Or was it further back, during the storyline that came to be known as BORN AGAIN written by Frank Miller (more on him in second) with art by David Mazuchelli, who'd drawn the book when Dennis O' Neill was writing it?
Do you go even further back? Was it Frank Miller's amazing, groundbreaking stint as writer and sometime artist (with Klaus Janson) on the book. That would have been a killer place to start. Miller was doing a lot of Eisner-esque, SPIRIT-inspired stuff that no one else had done in years. And he added so many elements that made the character his own: Elektra, Stick, the Hand, Kingpin as arch-foe (but not Bullseye; Bullseye was created earlier for DD by writer Marv Wolfman and artist Bob Brown, a team that kind of pioneered DETECTIVE COMICS storytelling in DD, substituting a wiseass Daredevil for a grim Batman).
For me, the issue that made me a fan is one contained in ESSENTIAL DAREDEVIL VOL. 2. No, I'm not THAT old. But I am old enough to have been the perfect tween target audience for a number of series Marvel published in the '70s called GIANT SIZED....You all know the GIANT-SIZED MAN-THING joke. Well, they had a GIANT-SIZED DAREDEVIL, which was an annual-sized story. For Daredevil, they simply reprinted a KING-SIZED SPECIAL DAREDEVIL from 1967. That was the Summer O' Love, for all the hippies and the people who hate them.
Stan Lee, one of the true geniuses of the comic book artform, dialogued the issue. It was drawn and plotted by Gene Colan, the definitive DAREDEVIL artist. Colan is semi-forgotten by newer fans but this guy gave us the mood, the noir, the pacing, all with a red garbed acrobat crashing through it. Colan worked for both DC and Marvel, of course. If you want to see some great artwork, I can recommend his TOMB OF DRACULA, HOWARD THE DUCK, DR. STRANGE, IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA for Marvel; and his SPIDER series for Topps.
Colan didn't create Daredevil. Stan Lee and Bill Everett did. But Colan recreated the character and the book much the way Miller, and later Bendis would.
THE KING SIZED DAREDEVIL story, "Electro &His Emissaries of Evil" is wonderfully simple. Several of DD's old foes are banding together to kill him because alone, they get their asses kicked inside out! I remember as a kid thinking that Electro's lightning bolt mask was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen, until I saw the costume John Byrne designed for the character a few years ago. That lightning bolt mask wasn't so bad.
Electro gathers up the Matador, Stilt-Man, Leap Frog and Gladiator. They stalk the city looking for DD while he stalks the city looking for them. After beating the crap out of each of them separately, DD then beats the crap out of all of them together at a power plant.
What grabbed me about Daredevil was that he was the first Marvel hero I'd encountered, besides Iron Man, who didn't seem like some sort of freak or kid. He was an adult, the way most of the DC heroes came across as adults but they didn't count because they were Super-Friends. Matt Murdock was the kind of adult I wanted to become! He was rich. He looked cool, had a cool job and cool hobby. The book didn't get into his motivations, which is still fine with me. Is anybody else here a fan of the films of Walter Hill? I would later want to be Walter Hill instead of Matt Murdock, and I was struck by an interview with Hill in which he said that he never gave his characters motivations and he hated motivations. You didn't see his WARRIORS joining a street gang because they had lousy home lives. Hill, his fans and I didn't give a shit because Ajax' Dad slapped him around or Swan's Mom turned tricks. And I didn't give a shit why DD did what he did. At least in that story.
That particular issue had a comic version of a story conference between Stan Lee and Gene Colan which illustrates Colan's daring and Stan's ability to laugh at himself. Essentially, Stan keeps coming up with these vague, preposterous situations to put Matt and crew into, and telling Gene that it's up to him to figure out how they got there and how the get out. Like I said, Stan is a genius but I'll bet this was fairly close to the truth.
The other stories in this volume are cool too.
I learned that DAREDEVIL was always an art-driven book. It contained tons of splash pages. Colan really gave himself room to cut loose. I feel that Gene Colan was the best comic book artist ever when it came to portraying motion. His Daredevil really seems to bound across the page to strike like lightning (hell, his Howard the Duck always seemed to attack at 90 mph like Donald Duck on meth!). He also uses angles and perspectives you just don't see much in comic art. DD's shadow as he swings past a glass high-rise for example. A captive hornhead aboard a speedboat driven by the Cobra and Mr. Hyde en route to their lighthouse hideout. DD rounding the top of the Statue of Liberty while battling the Jester. A triumphant Dr. Doom standing over DD's thrashed body.
Back when these stories were done, the Marvel Universe truly was a universe. Any character could appear in any book. Here, DD battles the Trapster, a foe perfectly in his league but who was an enemy of the Fantastic Four. He and the Trapster sort of beat each other, leaving Matt open to a body-switching Dr. Doom. In the stupidest story here, DD disguises himself as Thor to lure out the Cobra and Mr. Hyde. And speaking of convenient stupidity, Foggy Nelson is elect D.A. of NYC but is pissed at Matt who hogged the office the night before the election. It turns out that Matt knew Stilt-Man was coming to kill Foggy so he wanted to be waiting as Daredevil. It seems like Foggy would have noticed the Stilt-Man shaped hole in his wall, but that's just me.
That's why I love comics, though.
BATMAN AND CATWOMAN: TRAIL OF THE GUN #1
Written by Ann Nocenti
Pencilled by Ethan Van Sciver
Published by DC COMICS
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Gun control is one of those hot topic issues that have the public split, yet unwavering in their beliefs. Both sides like to toss out a mountain of facts and statistics that have them convinced that their side is right and both are always amazed that anyone would believe otherwise when presented with that information. Because both sides are so firmly dead-set on their own beliefs that they refuse to listen to anything else, nothing gets accomplished in the end but an ever-building sense of frustration. Had BATMAN AND CATWOMAN: TRAIL OF THE GUN dealt with this topic; I would have been much more impressed with this issue. Sadly, that is not the case.
Ann Nocenti wrote some of my most favorite issues of DAREDEVIL. Since then, whenever I have seen Nocenti's name tagged to a book, my interest is immediately piqued. Nocenti has never shied away from hot topic issues. One of my favorite DD stories revolves around a nuclear war-obsessed kid who locks himself in a bomb shelter while his hit man dad and DD duke it out above him. It was a story that addressed the Cold War fears of the eighties while firmly embracing the super-hero genre. The fight between the boy's father and DD was symbolic of the fears that all of us felt at the time. In that story, Nocenti was able to make a statement through dynamic storytelling and not come off as if she were standing behind a podium.
In TRAIL OF THE GUN, a new kind of weapon has arrived in Gotham: a gun that never misses. This smart gun, when fired, always hits its target. The gun is in Gotham, but no one knows where it is or who has it. Whoever has this gun would reign supreme in Gotham. The police, the media, the criminals; all of them are in a dither and scrambling to get a hold of this weapon. Of course Catwoman wants a piece of it. This story follows Catwoman on her quest to attain what could be the score of a lifetime. And since nothing happens in Gotham without him knowing about it, Batman gets his pointy ears mixed up in it all too.
There are parts of this book that I really liked. The opening sequence is a shocker. You really don't know what's happening and it automatically hooks you in. Something really fucked up has happened, Catwoman is dazed and in the middle of it, and I wanted to know why! Nocenti does a great job of addressing the seriousness of this story when we see Catwoman wake up in a room full of dead bodies. A great opening; one that ensures you will be there until the end of the story.
The story then goes into flashback mode, with Catwoman trying to figure out what has happened by retracing her steps. It is in this flashback that we get some great little moments of character. Nocenti captures the thrill Catwoman experiences when a big score presents itself. Catwoman has a selfish sense of entitlement in this story, one firmly rooted in her origin as an orphan in Gotham. Nocenti paints an elaborate picture of a woman who is blinded by her own selfish motivations. I don't know if this bit of characterization coincides with the way Catwoman is depicted in her own title, but I think it fits the context of the story and meshes with my understanding of her from my experience reading about the character cast as a villain in Batman stories. It is this thrill of the hunt that motivates Catwoman to do what she does. Later in the book, Batman doesn't hesitate to point out the selfishness of her actions.
And that's where this book falls apart. Peppered throughout this story there are long discourses for and against gun control. Everyone has a "fun fact" about the pros and cons of keeping a gun in a household and the legality of buying and selling guns. On the television, in bars, in households, in the back alleys, and on the rooftops; people have an opinion and they aren't afraid to say three thousand words about it. Nocenti tries to give voice to both sides of this issue, but by the end of the issue, it is pretty obvious where she stands. Catwoman is the one caught in the middle. And whereas, she is not being convinced either way due to her selfish motivations, this moral tale will most likely end with an important life lesson learned. And this makes for an okay story if the decision was hard to make, but given the information presented, one would have to be a heartless robot moron not to feel something. Because of this fact, Catwoman kind of comes off as a stubborn idiot. After we are inundated with pro and con gun gabfests, we are treated to an annoying appearance by a fact-flinging Batman towards the end. The Batman I want to see swoops in and kicks ass. His actions speak much louder than words. Seeing him pointing an accusing finger at Catwoman and lecturing her about gun related deaths isn't what I call taking advantage of dynamic storytelling potential. If I wanted to read a list of gun facts, I'd hit the million and one sites on the web supporting or opposing this issue. This is supposed to be a story, not a commercial for gun control.
I guess my real problem with this book is that is it misleading in its presentation. It tries to come off as a fair presentation of both sides of the issue, but those in favor of guns are often most likely cast as the bad guy or the idiot, whereas those supporting gun control are labeled as the hero or victim. Had this book been brave and chosen to report both side of the issue without resorting to 2D characterization, I might have given it a more positive review. But Nocenti attempts to promote one aspect of the case, while casting the opposers as mongoloids, and that really isn't giving both sides of the issue a fair shake, now is it? It is groovy that you have a stance on gun control, Ann. I'm happy for you, really I am. But I for one, hate to be preached at. And by the time I put this book down, I felt like I had spent six hours in church. Less facts and more story would have made this into a far more interesting read.
One thing that helped me get through this book was the art. Ethan Van Sciver is damn good. He's truly an up and coming talent (soon to be given his own series with Johns' GREEN LANTERN reboot). His hyper-detailed work is reminiscent of George Perez and Phil Jiminez, but with a style all its own. This is an artist to watch. And I like the decision to lose the goggles and put Catwoman in her old skintight outfit with a tail. Man, I miss that look.
TRAIL OF THE GUN is an interesting story featuring some good characterization from Catwoman, but ultimately, while it might be informative to those not "in the know" about the gun issue, it ends up shooting itself in the foot by becoming repetitive and preachy. Buy it for the art, but be prepared to he beaten over the head with gun control facts.
SCRAPBOOK: UNCOLLECTED WORK 1990-2004
By Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn and Quarterly Publications
Reviewed by Lizzybeth
Adrian Tomine is a peculiar talent – a short-story writer most recognized for his narrative voice, his ability to establish a fully realized scenario in a simple single-page story, in a medium more inclined to draw a story across multiple issues. His artwork is disciplined and carefully composed, and very distinctive. I remember geeking out over the Weezer poster in someone's house, not because of the band, but because I immediately recognized the artist. The poster, contained in this collection, is a somewhat ambiguous picture of two girls in superhero costumes lounging in an album-strewn bedroom. You could imagine a story to go with this image, and you sense that Tomine has one worked out already that he isn't sharing.
There are few short-story writers in comics as skilled as Adrian Tomine; Jessica Abel is one; newcomer Derek Kirk Kim is another. The value of short stories has diminished in comics since the great anthology series of the past, but these writers maintain the tradition through their own anthology series. In SCRAPBOOK, Adrian Tomine collects some short stories not published in his comic OPTIC NERVE, along with other professional artwork and sketches he has composed over the last 14 years. Several of the short stories contained within were later reworked into stories for OPTIC NERVE; others were clearly abandoned versions of longer tales that never made it to the page. Included is his first published story, "Liquid Time" (something I wish I had when writing these reviews), and a series of strips originally published in the Pulse magazine distributed at Tower Records. These stories are worthy enough additions to Tomine's repertoire, although there are probably a few too many of them. Tomine is going for a warts-and-all representation of his earlier work here, and there are some warts to be had. Only a few of these strips are at the level of his collections 32 STORIES, SLEEPWALK, and SUMMER BLONDE.
As a big fan of Tomine's short story work, it was the promise of the unpublished stories that lead me to buy this volume. To my surprise, it is the Illustrations section that is really worth the purchase. This commercial artwork section really illuminates Tomine's skill in layout and design, which can be so low-key as to be invisible in his monthly work. Even the simple flyers and advertisements are worthy inclusions to my collection, attaining a nearly art-nouveau quality of attractiveness. There are several New Yorker illustrations included that originally accompanied the film reviews, and Tomine's renditions of familiar movie stars demonstrate how well he can capture a face and figure with only a few details. (This is particularly true of the portrait of E from the band The Eels. Even if it is "practically traced" from a photo, Tomine brings his own style to the portrait without losing the intimate feeling of the photo.) He also (this is going to sound strange) draws clothing better than anyone I can think of at the moment, whether it's punker gear or superhero costumes.
The sketchbook section is also worthwhile. Although some of the life-drawings do become repetitive from repeated poses, there are some lovely watercolors. The sketches consist mostly of people, and since many are of people he sees during his day, they are usually seen in profile or from the back – interesting alone, but looking through many in a row starts to feel like being snubbed in a strange way. All these people with their backs to you. These are well-integrated with extra little strips and cartoons (apparently Tomine does a lot of his sketching while doing the laundry) so the book never becomes monotonous.
All in all this is an excellent collection, and a fine summation of Tomine's skills as an artist, even if it does neglect his skills as a writer a bit. It's well worth the cover price, and is incidentally a very nice oversized softcover with well-reproduced b+w and color illustrations.
UNCANNY X-MEN #447
Written by Chris Claremont
Pencils by Alan Davis
Inks by Mark Farmer
Published by Marvel Comics
A Jon Quixote review
Jan Quixote, the gal dumb enough to let me share her bed, has two kids, aged 8 and 12. They're good kids too, for the most part. They get good grades, they always remember to say 'thank you' when I buy them ice cream, and they're level-headed enough that we can watch GAME OF DEATH and I don't worry that some kid at their school is going to catch a roundhouse to the head the next day.
I took them to day care the other day. We were pulling out of the driveway when Jan's son said to me, red-faced, "I forgot my shoes." I looked back and sure enough, there he was in his stocking feet.
It was raining.
"Buddy, you have to put your shoes on before you go outside." I said this to him. And then I felt almost as stupid as he did. I shouldn't have to tell an 8 year old to put his shoes on before he goes outside, especially if it's raining. But more to the point, I should know that I didn't need to point that out to him. Deep down, he knew. Right?
I'm about to feel stupid again. Because deep down, Chris Claremont knows that he shouldn't climax his story in one of those scenes where everybody links hands and joins their powers or wills together to beat the bad guy. Not anymore.
The guy's, what, 60 years old? He's been getting paid by big fancy companies to write stories for most of that time. He knows, for example, that you don't end your stories by having somebody make a pun and then everybody throws their arms over someone else's shoulder and they all have a good laugh anymore. He knows, hopefully, that you don't cliffhanger with the apparent death of Wolverine 'cause nobody's buying the threat.
And he knows better than what we got at the end of this latest UNCANNY X-MEN arc. He knows that nobody's gonna be wowed or impressed, or that the "united we stand" metaphor is about as fresh and attractive as Phyllis Diller's pink.
He knows better. He just phoned it in. This is rote. If you punched any 10 years worth of X-Men scripts into the right computer, it would spit out something that looked a lot like this story.
I like the old school stuff. All things being equal, I would rather read an issue where the heroes beat up a bad guy rather than an issue where they run over rooftops while their internal monologues whine about why they can't beat up a bad guy. And I think there is a huge stack of writers out there who prove that you can have dynamic and exciting superhero comics, viz. the old school stuff, without cutting and pasting a lot of the moldy, tired stuff into the scripts.
If Claremont is one of them, he doesn't show it here. There's a big, fat line between old-school and clichÃ©. It's time for somebody to give Chris a ride to the right side.
DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERMAN
Story 1: Written by Stan Lee
Art by Darwyn Cook and J. Bone
Story 2: Written/Co-Plotted by Paul Levitz
Co-Plotted/Pencilled by Keith Giffen; Inked by Al Milgrom
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Gregory Scott
"A hallmark of Julius Schwartz's editorial vision was his ability to concieve imaginative covers to serve as springboards for writers in need of story ideas."
- Explanation of one of Julie Schwartz's editing techniques, and the concept behind the DC COMICS PRESENTS tribute series to Schwartz.
Whoever wrote that was almost right: Julie Schwartz's covers weren't just imaginative, some of them were downright inspired. As a casual SUPERMAN collector, I own a few (some of my favorites are decorating this review; click 'em to see them big), and in some cases, the covers really did talk me into buying issues.
Of course, after such knockout covers, once you read the story inside, you can't help but be a little disappointed. The covers are packed with so much drama, so much intensity, so much novelty, and yet when you read the story inside, the scene amounts to a safely drawn panel by Curt Swan, in the context of a dependably ridiculous story written by Cary Bates. Not always bad by any means, but sometimes you do want to sue someone for false advertising.
So when word first came down that DC was going to be doing a series of tribute issues dedicated to former editor Julius Schwartz, a series featuring stories by based on some of these striking covers from comics he published, I thought it was a nice idea. A nice idea, but I wondered how it was actually going to work.
And how did it work?
That's right, absolutely charming. The first story in DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERMAN was written by Stan Lee of all people, and was absolutely, unexpectedly winsome, and the most fun I had reading a comic book last week. It's a surprisingly tight little comedic story about a nebbish college professor trying to impress a pretty colleague in a world full of football heroes and supermen. His solution: To somehow become...The Phantom Quarterback!
The story takes such a light approach, it had the form of an early Silver Age tale; but really, this was much sharper and cohesive than any real story from that era - sharper even than a lot of Stan Lee stories I've read over the years. A peppy pace, running gags, even snark, who knew Stan Lee even had this in him?
You want Stan the Man narration?
"This tugid tale is not for the faint of heart! It will tear at your emotions and grab your guts! It's the gripping saga of a man who refused to accept his fate! Torn from the twisted tapestry of life itself, he's a man who could be -- you!"
That's either Stan Lee, or someone doing a knockout impression of Stan Lee.
Darwyn Cooke's art was downright cartoony, drawn like a humor comic, but totally appropriate for the story. (If you can handle the DC Animated style, you could handle this.) Overall, the story was clever and cute, and again, absolutely charming. I think this Stan Lee kid might have a future in comics.
The second story swtiches gears from the Silver Age into the Bronze, even bringing back Clark Kent's Don Meredith-like foil, Steve Lombard. Only this new Lombard is an over-the-hill NFL pro who tries to save his career by taking an extra dose of experimental steroids and becoming...you guessed it...The Phantom Quarterback!
Not quite as fun as the first story; in fact it reaches for poignancy, and almost gets there - but I think the story was so compact there wasn't much room for real emotion to grow. The story's creators, LEGION vets Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, manage to bring a casualness to Superman's superdeeds (traveling through time, instantly depositing a criminal in prison, builting a "cosmic treadmill" from rubble in the middle of a fight), a casualness that is, again, very Bronze Age; and to the degree that that tone could be set in such a short story, it set the tone interestingly.
Giffen's pencil was a little looser than I usually like it, and to my memory, not too reminicent of the work that he did on a few issues of the real DC COMICS PRESENTS back in the eighties. (Team-ups with Ambush Bug. Anyone remember those? I think his work seemed a little cleaner back then.) Some lines were so shakey, in some panels, Superman looks like Ronald Reagan.
I have to hand it to DC - like I said, I thought the tribute issues for Julie Schwartz was a nice idea, but I'm not sure how lucrative. It seems to me that to spread out this project with so many titles, a project largely based on sentiment and retrospection might not burn up the sales charts. (I could be wrong, but so many of you top-ten reading types don't seem all that sentimental or retrospective.) Even I approached this series with a little trepidation. But I have to say, if the rest of the tribute issues are like DC COMICS PRESENTS: SUPERMAN, I think the enterprise was well worth it.
BLUE MONDAY: PAINTED MOON #2
Chynna Clugston-Major: Creator
Oni Press: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Having the most fun you can have by yourself
I'm a big time fan of Chynna Clugston-Major's sense of humor, let me tell you. Every time she has a book out, I guarantee that it'll be the funniest comic you'll read. But this issue, this is the funniest Chynna comic that's seen print to date. This issue had me laughing like an idiot in more than one section.
This story has Bleu still suffering from the humiliation of the public airing of the nude video the boys made of her bathing. She's become so overwrought that now she's having trouble sleeping at night. When her friends learn about this, they naturally recommend the world greatest stress relieving activity. You know the one.
You don't know? Come on, in a 90's teenage sex comedy where nobody's having sex, this activity had to come up sooner or later. I'm talking about bushwhacking. Petting the kitty. Groping the grotto. Shelling the clam. Trolling for tuna. Beating the rug. Digging a trench. Pounding the mound. Letting your fingers do the walking through the valley of love…
Wait, since Alan and Victor get involved in this conversation, I should mention that there's also some talk of slapping the salami. Choking the bishop. Creaming the banana. Buttering the corn. Playing a flute solo. Getting a grip on the trouser snake. Giving the seamen shore leave. Going on Pee Wee's big adventure…
For those of you who don't get it yet, this issue is 22 pages of masturbation jokes. Extremely funny, madly bizarre masturbation jokes.
Sure, beat off jokes can be an easy laugh, especially if they involve a dessert of some kind. But Chynna makes this work, especially in the scene juxtaposing the nighttime activities of Bleu and another character, (whose name I will not spoil,) who are both having their first experience with Ms. Rosie Palm and her five daughters. The payoff for the two of them is a riot, especially what happens to the other person. The real winning stuff comes after this, when we see what happens to Bleu after she's stuck her hand into Pandora's box.
The best thing though, is that despite being the middle point of a miniseries, this issue is remarkably self contained. If you haven't read the first issue, or even if you haven't read any Blue Monday, you'll still be able to get into this story with no problems. And if you really haven't read Blue Monday, then you've got no excuses, you have to read this. Chynna Clugston-Major is simply the funniest female writ