Hey Hole@$$es, Ambush Bug here, hijacking the intro section of this week's column from Greg Scott.
From the looks of it, the Head Geek is finally on to us! I knew it was just a matter of time before he actually checked out our column. I mean, we've only been doing this here comic book review thingee for about two and a half years.
This week, Buzz Maverik dons a leopard skin thong and treats us to another Book Club installment focussing on TARZAN! For all our sakes, let's hope ol' Buzz doesn't bend over backwards for this one.
And Buzz is back like...uhm...err...like something that did a review, left, and came back to do another review with a look at the new WARLOCK series!
All this and shots, so cheap in our Cheap Shots section, that we're practically giving them away!
So you'd better zip down and enjoy the column now, while you still can! Who knows how much longer our marginally organized hijinks and full scale jack@$$ery will still be around before Harry gets wise and pulls the plug?
(Click title to go directly to the review)
QUEEN & COUNTRY Vol. 6: OPERATION DANDELION (TPB)
Buzz Maverik's Book Club: TARZAN THE UNTAMED
THE PULSE #5
DREADSTAR – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTIONS Vol. 1 (TPB)
THE GOON #6
ACTION COMICS #819
JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS: INCUBUS (TPB)
QUEEN & COUNTRY Vol. 6: OPERATION DANDELION (TPB)
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Mike Hawthorne
Publisher: Oni Press
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I know, I know...
“Operation Dandelion”? What kind of candy-assed name is that for an ultra-hardcore book about the real world of espionage?!
Ah, don’t be so superficial!
When all’s said and done, QUEEN & COUNTRY Vol. 6 offers up hard-drinkin’, war crimes, and the planned overthrow of Zimbabwe, so you’ll get your hardcore, my friends - you’ll get it. But at its heart, this volume’s about understated power – the manipulative power of the canny old bastards who control the chess pieces in “The Great Game.” To that end, the spotlight shifts somewhat from field agent Tara Chase to her boss, Paul Crocker, about to find himself caught up in some internal politicking as ugly as any overseas mission gone wrong.
The kickstart event of the piece is a conversation between two upper echelon Brit spymasters over cognac and cigars. A stroke has just cut down the head of British intelligence (codenamed “M” in the Bond books, “C” in QUEEN & COUNTRY and the real world) and the matter of his successor is the topic at hand. The two are discussing the direction of British intelligence in the wake of the incident, with every exchange backed by weight, power, and political maneuvering as they gauge whether or not they’re to have an alliance in the matter (one of them’s a possible candidate for the position, the other the man who could recommend him). Rucka brings a real credibility to their measured dialogue, turning what could have been a bore-you-to-tears scene of politicking into the fierce keynote for a tale of internal backstabbing.
Where the story intersects with our regular players is when the field director, Crocker, is offered an under-the-table deal from a higher-up interested in undermining the man likely to become C – an asshole chomping at the bit to dismantle everything Crocker’s put together over the years. Now in past arcs we’ve seen that Crocker himself’s something of a bastard, but we know he cares about his field agents and has a bluntness that makes him a political liability to the power brokers of the intel community. Ah, but if he were to stage a daring mission to justify his people’s value? Not only would that protect his branch of intelligence from the new C, but it might put him in the running for C one day himself.
The proposed mission: nothing less than the overthrow of the corrupt president of Zimbabwe – real-world sleazeball Robert Mugabe.
On planning it:
“How long will you need?”
“A couple of months.”
“You have until Monday.”
This is mighty cool stuff, folks! No James Bond death-trap shenanigans – this is the real deal in the John le Carre tradition of really smart people trying to outwit other really smart people. Me, I’d be a smear on the wall in that kind of scenario, but I sure do like reading about it.
And it’s a nice, dense read, too. We get a rare glimpse at these spies’ humanity when the book’s usual lead, Tara Chace, gets piss-drunk with a fellow agent. We also get an interesting glimpse into the business of recruitment when a crack soldier outed as a homosexual finds his dossier on Crocker’s desk. And then there’s the actual spying portion of the show, with Tara investigating the loyalties and background of the man the Brits want to succeed Zimbabwe’s president. Rucka really puts the pressure on her. There’s heat from the minimal time frame, heat from the risk of discovery that S.I.S. is conducting domestic operations (the would-be president’s visiting London), and heat from the fact that the agent she’s working with is on the verge of quitting the service.
Damn, this is a good comic! Just...damn! I’ve found Rucka to be an uncomfortable fit on mainstream superheroes, but he’s good on GOTHAM CENTRAL and he just writes the hell out of QUEEN & COUNTRY. Every character is well-rounded, every scene lean and taut, and the dialogue among the most natural in the biz. My only criticism of note is that once or twice I was thrown by some of the unexplained spy jargon. Sure, I gathered from context that the words “elint” and “humint” stood for “electronic intelligence” and “human intelligence,” but it took a few seconds of pondering and interrupted the story flow a touch. These are cases where I think Rucka’s training in the world of prose novels might be undercutting his comics slightly. In a novel, the omniscient narrator can cover all these little details, but comics eschewing narrative captions don’t have that luxury. Rucka surely knows all this stuff, but it’d be nice for we readers to get a few more details. Does that mean dozens of little captions like Larry Hama used to have in G.I. JOE (“RPG = Rocket Propelled Grenade!”)? Might seem too great a contrivance at first thought, but I’ve seen Paul Chadwick boldly include narrative sidebars in CONCRETE, and no one’s ever thought less of Stan Sakai for footnoting Japanese words in USAGI YOJIMBO, right? Something to consider, perhaps.
On the art front – quality merchandise as always. QUEEN & COUNTRY breaks in a new artist with each arc, and while you’d think this would hurt the visual continuity, the early designs were clearly strong enough that, no matter the artist, the cast members are always instantly recognizable. And always interesting to see reinterpreted. This latest artist, Mike Hawthorne, continues the series’ broad trend of minimalism, his particular gift being a crisp, clean-line look that’s easiest to describe as reminiscent of Bruce Timm’s art, but also evokes EC alumni like Harvey Kurtzman and Bernard Krigstein. He’s got a very elegant control of line weight, a wide variety of expressions within his mildly cartoony style, and well-researched settings. Total pro.
Look, the series was, is, and is always gonna be one of the top ten ongoing series on the market. If you haven’t tried it yet, no biggie. I’ve somehow gone years and years of comic reading without sitting down with MAUS, and I’m pretty sure I could be disbarred from reviewing over that - but you’re not getting any younger, are ya? Go grab a volume. Any of ‘em, really. You’ll get a little extra out of the whole tapestry if you start with volume one, but if a more political storyline like volume six here intrigues – screw protocol and just you go start with volume six!
TARZAN THE UNTAMED
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Out of Print
A Buzz Maverik's Book Club Simian Selection
There I was in the @$$hole Bullpen, minding my own business, innocently snorting demon tranquilizer off the point of a punji stake, when a voice over the intercom shattered my peace. "Buzz, can I see you for minute?" It was Greg Scott. My editor at the AICN's @$$hole Comic ReviewsTM. I didn't trust this Scott. It was too convenient that he should arrive on the scene right after the disappearance of everybody's favorite @$$hole, The Village Idiot.
Come to think of it, since Scott took over, a lot of my old friends were disappearing. Cormorant. The Comedian. Weird clones like Dave and Ali Knieval were taking their place. Was I going to be next? Not without a protracted gun battle and a high speed chase across three counties!
"Sniff. Kinda...snorf...busy right now, Greg. Maybe next...sniff...month."
"It'll take a second, Buzz."
"Awrgiht! Awright! But the Village Idiot would never interrupt a man's work like this." Scott probably wanted to yell at me for going over my expense account again. Blow up one Tijuana bordello and you're branded for life.
I decided I'd let Scott know I couldn't be pushed around. When I entered his office, I beat him to the punch. "So I'm a loose cannon on the edge? The mayor's on your ass, huh? Well, I am not backing off the Delgado case and I'm not working with a partner."
Behind his desk, Scott rolled his eyes. "Comic book reviewers generally don't work with partners, Buzz. It's about your book club--"
"Oh, you want me to sell out? You'd like that! I'm on to you, mister! I can't prove anything yet, but I know you iced the Village Idiot--"
"Buzz, I keep telling you, I was the Village Idiot. I just decided to use my real name. Look, I wanted to ask you if you'd review a Tarzan novel."
"No way! No one tells Buzz Maverik what to write."
"I'm not trying to tell you what to write. I'm just a Tarzan fan."
Scott sighed. "Review a Tarzan novel or you'll be back in the Talkbacks next Monday."
"I'll have 500 words on TARZAN THE UNTAMED on your desk by midnight."
It would be impossible to look at the prose roots of the comic book hero without mentioning TARZAN by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Some of you younger talkbackers probably know the character best from WALT DISNEY'S TARZAN but it is important to note that Disney did not create Tarzan, and Burroughs' character was considerably more bloodthirsty and less enchanted with his ape family than the cartoon character.
In Burroughs' original TARZAN OF THE APES, we followed the story of the orphaned child, John Clayton, also known as Lord Greystoke, as he is raised by apes in a remote part of Africa at the turn of the 20th Century. Unlike most feral children, Tarzan, as his monkey friends know him, was able to attain literacy and reclaim his humanity. He battled jungle beasts, native Africans (ah, the pulps, ya gotta have that obligatory racism), and pirates. He eventually rescued and fell in love with an American woman named Jane Porter.
Burroughs had been a flop at everything until he started writing in early middle age. I guess that makes him a Proto-@$$hole. His "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" novels were all better written than his Tarzan books, and John Carter preceded Tarzan. But Burroughs was no fool. Tarzan was where the dough was, so he embarked on a long series of novels.
The problem with the Tarzan series is that Burroughs had to revert Tarzan to savagery in each one. Usually, that meant sidelining Jane for most of the book. In TARZAN THE UNTAMED, the seventh book in the series, Tarzan returns to his banana plantation in Africa to find Jane's charred corpse. World War I has broken out, and a German platoon was crossing Greystoke land. Big mistake. Soon, a naked monkey man is kidnapping German officers and feeding them to lions.
The World War I angle is the best part of the book. The problem is that eventually Burroughs abandons it and reverts to a lost city story. According to the pulps, Africa is filled with lost cities populated by weird Caucasians. In this case, it's a race of morons ... not the coolest set of weird Caucasians ever to populate a lost city in Africa.
It would have been more interesting to me to have Tarzan continue feed der Kaiser's troops to his trapped lion ... but how can you not love Tarzan vs. a lost city of white morons?
THE PULSE #5
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Mark Bagley: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Pounded
I, like many of my fellow @$$holes, am a bit of a superhero traditionalist. This is not to say that I have no appreciation for some of the possibilities being explored in the more popular books of today. I do. But just because dirt is a popular color nowadays doesn’t mean I want to see the heroes of my youth dressed in mud. For that, I’ll settle for new characters, thank you very much. In this issue, Brian Bendis walks a very thin tightrope between these two views, yet manages to make it look like he’s strolling down Broadway.
Just consider this scene, my favorite in the issue. The Green Goblin is blowing up his own building in an attempt to kill that pesky reporter Ben Urich. Spider-Man shows up, naturally, and immediately starts doing what he does best. Webs are weaved, punches are thrown, and innocent bystanders plummeting from the building are caught. But then, and here’s the good part, the woman that Spidey saves from certain death worms her way out of his grip and flies straight toward the Goblin, screaming “You crazy fucker!” while beating the shit out of Ol’ Norman with his own glider.
Okay, what she really says is “$%^&ER!!” but the woman in question is Jessica Jones, late of the title ALIAS. We all know what word that is. And with that, it finally feels like the Jessica of old is in this book. For an ALIAS style story to fit flush with one helluva Spidey story is an amazing achievement. The hospital scene halfway through, that’s an ALIAS scene. The newsroom scene, that’s Spider-Man, through and through. But it’s the Spidey/Luke Cage team-up scene that really thrilled me. It’s both styles standing side by side in one blowout fight that kicks about seven kinds of ass.
Then there’s that final page. With that page, this issue immediately becomes the best Bendis/Bagley work I’ve ever seen. If there’s a flaw it’s that this book is still bimonthly. If only this thing came out weekly, I’d be in heaven. I guess I can settle for rereading this arc again, while looking forward to the next one. The next arc, after all, is being drawn by the kickass Brent Anderson. The guy’s doing a Bendis book, ASTRO CITY, and the finale of RISING STARS all at the same time? I’ve died and gone to heaven!
With this issue, Bendis has regained his stride with Jessica. This book rocks, plain and simple. And god help me, I’m now looking forward to more Cage and Spidey. If NEW AVENGERS ends up half as good as the end of this issue then I’m going to be one happy camper. In the meantime, I’ve got THE PULSE #5.
DREADSTAR – THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTIONS Vol. 1 (TPB)
Writer/Artist: Jim Starlin
Publisher: Dynamic Forces, Inc.
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
“I’ve always been amazed when folks bring up the fact that I’ve created myriad worlds along the way. Why? Because it was never my intention to create them. The awful truth is that I simply hate drawing every-day scenes. Give me a space ship to draw over a mini-van any day.”
– Jim Starlin on his creative process
I’m having a ball discovering DREADSTAR, Jim Starlin’s classic space opera of the early ‘80s. Maybe more than I should, even. DREADSTAR didn’t showcase particularly brilliant writing – it’s highly STAR WARS derivative – but perhaps because Starlin was both writer and artist, it’s buoyed by an energy and creative consistency that you’d have to be a real curmudgeon to deny. You read the quote up above – Starlin clearly loved what he was doing, and it shows.
‘Sides, STAR WARS itself was derivative of FLASH GORDON, old Republic serials, and Kurosawa’s HIDDEN FORTRESS – but that didn’t keep it from being fun, now did it? I mean before the prequels, smart ass.
So! What my meticulous Google research and reading of the trade’s Walt Simonson-penned intro has determined is that DREADSTAR was a creator-owned sci-fi comic published originally through Marvel’s Epic line in the early ‘80s. Back then my main funnybook interests were UNCANNY X-MEN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, maybe the occasional TEEN TITANS if I was looking for something crazy. My brother picked up a handful of Epic titles which I read - borderline “mature readers” stuff like COYOTE and ALIEN LEGION - but somehow DREADSTAR slipped under my radar. A shame, because these stories feel more “general audiences” than most of Epic’s other books and I probably would’ve just eaten ‘em up at age ten or eleven.
Lucky me, I still like as an adult a lot of the same escapist hokum I did as a kid! Bring that DREADSTAR on! ‘Long as it’s well-crafted, I’m interested.
Our lead is Vanth Dreadstar, last survivor of the destroyed Milky Way and a space hero of the Flash Gordon school of tyrant-deposers. There’s a definite superheroes-meets-space-opera vibe to the series, as Dreadstar himself has limited superhuman strength (think Spider-Man’s level), an energy sword with all kinds of nifty properties, and perpetually wears a hooded, superhero-esque blue jumpsuit which shows off his manly, manly muscles. And is it just me or do all of Starlin’s characters seem to have those same Gil Kane physiques, from Dreadstar to Thanos to Adam Warlock? Whatever. He can draw ‘em. It works.
Oh yeah, and Dreadstar appears to’ve stolen Green Arrow’s Van Dyke beard, but we won’t hold it against him.
What Dreadstar does is fly around the galaxy with his band of rebels, raising hell for the two galactic superpowers who’ve oppressed the galaxy with a war that’s raged 200 years. His crew includes a cat-man, a part-cyborg magic user, a bulky alien smuggler, and a blind lady telepath whose costume, by whatever curious coincidence, is a dead-ringer for Scarlet’s uniform in G.I. JOE. Together the group is such a badass fighting force that they’re truly considered the key threat to the Powers That Be. That might seem a little hard to buy, but DREADSTAR really is FLASH GORDON reengineered with just a touch more realism for the audiences of the ‘80s, and as with FLASH, suspension of disbelief is key to enjoying the work.
Consider: In probably my favorite chapter of the 12-issues collected, one of the warring parties, the Church of the Instrumentality, nukes an entire city into oblivion on learning that Dreadstar and his magic-user pal are staging a diversion there. A whole frickin’ city! And though the aftermath is grisly enough, the scene doesn’t really carry much more weight than the destruction of Alderaan in STAR WARS. It’s just one more bad thing the bad guys do, and in the case of the nuking in DREADSTAR, what I remember most isn’t the destruction but the rousing escape sequence whereby Dreadstar and his mystic pal escape it. With only minutes to spare, they make a break for the deepest sub-levels of the city’s massive underground tunnels, their flight intercut with scenes of the missiles looming ever closer. An instant before impact, the mage throws up a mystical sphere, Dreadstar uses his sword to siphon the radiation, and BLAMMO – one brilliantly-drawn mushroom cloud later and it’s exeunt an entire alien city!
Also on the docket: Dreadstar and company staging heists on giant treasury satellites, pillaging enemy starships for teleportation drives, preventing assassinations, buying time for their own propaganda through galactic video channels, and concocting a so-goofy-it’s-cool religious event as the masterstroke in their bid to overthrow the galactic theocracy known as The Instrumentality. The latter’s probably the edgiest element of the series, touching as it does on religious fanaticism and religion as a tool for controlling the masses. Starlin’s delivery is lightweight, though, as befits the tone of the series. His religious arch-villain evokes the conniving Cardinal Richelieu from THE THREE MUSKETEERS (if Cardinal Richelieu looked like an albino Thanos), so any subtext about the dangers of religious extremism comes second to traditional villainy.
There’s also a somewhat risquÃ© story in which we learn the telepath on Dreadstar’s team was molested by her father, but it’s no darker than some of the “adult situations” Chris Claremont was writing in UNCANNY X-MEN at the time. Nothing too explicit.
And the rest is all rayguns, fisticuffs, explosions, escapes, and art that calls to mind Steranko’s ‘60s pop art as updated for ‘80s electronic iconography. I had to chuckle at a few outdated elements, like snippets of programming in Basic (bwahaha!) glimpsed when the team’s telepath manages to link her mind to a computer, but the cool stuff - Starlin’s iconic costume designs, his detailed cityscapes, and his starships – will always be in style. And as for the stuff that is dated, and the previously mentioned superhero overtones, well, we’re all sophisticated enough readers to appreciate the context in which it was created, right?
Well, for those who are, I recommend this trade. Offers up some of the better space opera the medium’s produced, and all without an ounce of post-modern irony or annoying self-referential parody. I suspect you’ll find yourself, like me, forgiving the fact that the characters are mostly defined by their abilities because it’s so enormously refreshing to see them exulting in said abilities (read: stomping villainy) instead of making with the jibba-jabba.
Note: DREADSTAR Vol. 1 isn’t new this week – just something I picked up on a whim looking for some non-STAR WARS comic book space adventure. It was actually released some months back and has been followed by a second volume that’s next on my purchase list...
THE GOON #8
Writer and Artist: Eric Powell
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
A doctor walks through a mental ward with a nurse on their rounds and comes across a man in a straightjacket running in circles.
"What's wrong with this patient, nurse?" the doctor asks.
The nurse looks at the patient's chart and says, "Well, doctor, this patient seems to believe that he is a hoola-hoop."
The doctor replies, "Yes. Well, that's been going around."
Did you find that funny? Well, I did when I heard it. Maybe it had to do with my mood at the time or the person who told it to me, most likely it was the drugs and liquor, but I nearly shit myself when I heard that joke. Humor is a funny thing. It's one of the few things that is completely selective from one person to the next. What I deem funny may be labeled as sophomoric, corny, or downright painful to hear. Then again, it could've been the funniest damn thing you read all day and something that will be repeated at the water cooler or the lunch table or the bar the next time a round of jokes are being flung like Frisbees.
I'm not going to say that THE GOON will be the funniest thing you will ever read. That would be pretty presumptuous of me. But it is one of the most consistently funny funny books I have ever read. It never fails. At least once or twice during the reading of a GOON comic, I find myself laughing out loud at the sheer nonsensity of it all.
THE GOON is attuned to my offbeat, goofball kind of humor. It's the same kind of humor you find in any episode of Sunday night ADULT SWIM. It's the same kind of humor that makes me guffaw every time someone is hit in the nuts with a blunt object. It's the type of humor that makes me laugh uncontrollably when my eighty year old aunt bends over to pass out presents in front of my brother who is sitting by the Christmas tree at the Ambush Bug Holiday Family Hootenanny and accidentally farts in his face. THE GOON has that type of inappropriate, guttural, lowest common denominator funny that some will find stupid, but I find to be the spice of life.
Case-in-point: THE GOON #8. This issue starts out with a Mongoloid shitting his pants and then rubbing it all over his head. When I read this, I laughed so hard that stuff jiggled. Where does writer/artist/creator extraordinaire, Eric Powell go from there? Well, we get a peek into the world of Vampires. And these aren't just any vamps. They are the froo froo frilly types that hang out in Anne Rice novels and goth bars. Powell pokes hard at the goth culture in this issue, pointing out that these vamps are more concerned with looking good and somber than actually doing any vamping. When a group of gothic vampires resurrect an honest to gosh blood-sucker, the real fun begins and, as usual, it's up to our reluctant hero, the Goon, to save the day.
The usual amount of belly laughs are scattered throughout, but I also found this issue to be kind of sentimental. We get to see a side of the Goon that is often hidden by that gruff exterior. Ain't it always the case that there's a dame behind the grimace of every tough guy? Well, the Goon is a wounded guy too. Some dame has hurt him bad and there will never be another that will take her place. This issue fleshes out the Goon a bit and while I like the tongue-in-cheek-ness of this book, it's good to see Powell add a little depth to this character. I look forward to reading more about this dame who captured the Goon's heart.
I'm not sure how many times I have recommended THE GOON to readers of this column, but until each and every one of you give this book a shot, I'll keep on hollerin' about it from high atop @$$hole Tower. Every issue is pretty self-contained, so it's easy to hop on at any time. The only thing you have to know is that the Goon and his little pal, Frankie, beat the snot out of weird shit in an even weirder world. I don't know if you'll love it for its irreverence or hate it for its immaturity. I do know that if you're like me, you won't be able to get enough of it. So check this book out and see if it contains your type of humor. In an industry that often takes itself way too seriously, it is refreshing to read a book that does everything but that.
And c'mon, you can admit it. You're going to be telling someone that opening joke tomorrow. I know you will.
WARLOCK # 1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Charlie Adlard
Published by Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Could the SILVER SURFER syndrome be spreading? A new comic creator takes an old second tier Marvel cosmic character (let's face it, Joey) that hasn't carried any kind of series in the past five years (which means that the current Marvel regime is completely unfamiliar with said character). The creator pretends that the character never existed before and that the fans will have as little knowledge of comics as the Marvel suits. A human female protagonist is introduced and we see the cosmic events unfold through her eyes (about as exciting as the origin of Green Lantern as seen by Carol Ferris - less so, because Ferris was a rich chick who owned an aerospace plant).
Calm down. WARLOCK is not as bad as SILVER SURFER. SILVER SURFER # 1 was stick-needles-in-my-eyes-bad. I wouldn't even say WARLOCK is bad. I'd say it is...okay.
The first thing we can be relieved about is that we're dealing with the character Adam Warlock here, not that stupid character Bill Sienkiewicz created for THE NEW MUTANTS. (It was pretty smart of Bill to create a character only he could draw). Adam Warlock was this sort of hippie creature developed by a group of mad scientists. Somewhere along the line, he picked up ties to the High Evolutionary and ended up in outer space, battling Thanos. Jim Starlin, in his prime, did several weirdly cool WARLOCK stories, and gave Warlock a cigar smoking, beer guzzling, bimbo chasing troll sidekick named Pip. One of the best Starlin stories involved a comatose Earthman who was destroying star systems via astral projection.
From time to time, Warlock would retreat into a cocoon like thing to reemerge in a slightly altered form in time for a cosmic epic. This little bit of continuity helps the current series by writer Greg Pak and artist Charlie Adlard along, although it is not mentioned here.
Instead of starting off with any reference to an Adam Warlock we've seen before, the new series follows a design student named Janie Chin who has been hired by what she thinks is a film production company to create the visuals for a new cinematic superhero named...Adam Warlock. Janie must not ever watch any "making of" features on her DVDs or read DAILY VARIETY or even check out AICN, because she doesn't have the slightest concept of film production. She actually buys the line that an outfit called Beehive Productions has a giant studio in one of those South American countries with a fake sounding comic book name. She also believes they have a team of scientists on hand "for accuracy."
I like that this Warlock could still be the same Warlock who has skirted the Marvel Universe since the hippie days. It is natural that he falls more in line with Janie than with his creators. The book contains a weird dream sequence in which Janie dreams she turns into Adam while making out with her boyfriend. I guess you can give the book chutzpah points for homoeroticism, but it seemed like a cop out that they wouldn't have Janie sexually attracted to the man she designed.
Adlard's art is good, more in line with a good Vertigo comic than mainstream Marvel. I'm not sure if Adlard and Pak were playing it straight or spoofing, but it was kind of annoying that they had Janie's boyfriend refer to a clearly Starlinesque, badass Warlock as corny, while Janie's design, which is supposed to wow everyone, looks like a Power Ranger without a helmet. Of course, there's also a joke about how corny it is that a superhero gets his powers by being bitten by a radioactive spider. Boys, on your best day, if you live to be 1000, you'll never be in that league.
I just wish that the next revival of a cosmic character won't focus on a character I'm supposed to relate to, and will focus on a character I actually can relate to, like, say a cosmic powered star voyager or an artificially created savior.
ACTION COMICS #819
Written by Chuck Austen
Pencilled by Ivan Ries
Inked by Marc Campos
Published by DC Comics
Reviewed by Gregory Scott
Fans of this column may remember my long dissertation back in April regarding ACTION #814, where I suggested that writer Chuck Austen was compromising Superman's long-standing nobility for an easier, more conventional, and decidedly less noble approach. (I.e., Smacking around the bad guys, while belittling them with a smart-alecky quip.) My argument hinged on the fact that the more principled, moral aspect of Superman is one of the most significant features of the character throughout his long, venerable history, and to give this up for the sake of a more edgy version was just a bad idea. Austen just wasn't writing the classic, time-honored version of Superman.
And now, after hours late night deep thinking and tough-love straight-talk with myself, I've begun to consider the fact that maybe I was wrong.
Austen pitched his idea for writing Superman on the basis of harkening back to the 1930's Siegel and Schuster version of the character; a version that I'd argue is too embryonic to lay claim to any definitive value. The Superman that most deeply seeped into the culture was not what he began as, but rather what he became. And when I look at this evolution, I consider the essential Superman to be the Bronze Age version; the one organically developed after years stories (rather than drastically overhauled, like John Byrne's version). This was the Cary Bates written, Curt Swan drawn Superman. We're talking 100% pure-grade Colombian Superman.
And after going back and reading a few of my Bronze Age SUPERMAN issues, I couldn't help noticing that Superman smacked around bad guys while belittling them with smart alecky quips.
So maybe, in the long run, "classic, time-honored Superman" isn't quite the Boy Scout we all think he is. I have some theories about this, giving a lot of credit to the movie for creating an as yet indelible imprint on all of us that Superman was as much of a moral icon as an action-adventure hero; perhaps even more of a moral icon. But I've already harangued my friends enough about this in private conversations, and I don't expect you to cut me the same sort of follow-the-tangent slack. The point is that perhaps Austen's characterization of Superman in ACTION is, at least by my own standards, more authentic than I initially gave him credit for. Perhaps.
In any case, we have a comic to review here, so let's get to it.
ACTION #819 is an issue with a dual narrative: Lana Lang earnestly makes a romantic appeal for Clark, while scenes are interspersed from Superman having a furious battle with the new supervillain couple of Sodom and Gamorrah. Both stories tally their share of damage: As Lana makes her appeal to Clark, she seems to poke every insecurity Clark has about his relationship with Lois; meanwhile, the united power of Sodom and Gamorrah turns those within their blast range into salt. Luckily Superman is made of sterner stuff, and manages to survive several blasts from the pair; but we find at the end of the story that his talk with Lana has left more wounded than we might have thought.
Of course, the real news here is that Austen is trying to work the love triangle angle, real hard. When Lana tries to sell Clark the idea of why she would be better for him than Lois, it's almost as if Austen himself is trying sell us on the idea of the triangle being a viable story. It's easy to imagine that fans of a character like Superman, moral icon that he is now, wouldn't take too kindly to even the suggestion of infidelity. But all the suggesting in this case is really coming from Lana, and all things considered, it wasn't nearly as exploitative as I'd feared it might be. In fact, I thought it was handled fairly maturely. You could complain that Lana's sudden full court press for Superman's affections was out of character; and in the long history of this character, for this continuity, it is. But Lana's been so peripheral for so long, I'm inclined to give Austen the slack to tell this story.
As for Ivan Reis and Marc Campos' art, it's durable. Reading ACTION for these past few months, I've been generally enjoying Reis and Campos' work. But I think Superman is one of those titles that benefits from greater vividness; something tighter; something like Art Adams' work on the covers. In other words, I'd prefer that the lines were a little cleaner. But aside from that, and aside from a little confusion during the battle with Sodom and Gammorah, the artwork went down suitably enough.
Towards the end of the story, a moment came where Superman got a little rough with the bad guys; a roughness consistent with Austen's rendition of Superman up to now; the roughness that bothered me in the beginning. And so I performed the mental operation of comparing it with the Cary Bates-style roughness I mentioned earlier. And yet, for whatever reason, it still felt wrong. For however similar the Austen and Bates approached might be, I think Austen has it cranked up just a degree higher than where it should be; just one more notch on the amplifier, and that notch makes the difference between roughness and something more like brutality. And this stands in the way of me really enjoying his run.
However, I realize that not everybody is so closely attuned to such distinctions, and to that degree, if you're hankering for some Superman action with an equal mix of slugfest and earnest soap opera, you might want to check out ACTION #819.
JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS: INCUBUS (TPB)
Writers: John Wagner & Andy Diggle
Artist: Henry Flint
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/2000 A.D.
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
“Citizens are advised to remain vigilant. Do not panic. Remember, you have more chance of being attacked and murdered by a loved one than by an Alien.”
-Newscaster reassurance unlikely to comfort the citizens of Mega-City One
The Brit addition to the innumerable ALIEN crossovers in comics turns out to be a much-welcome sense of black humor! Bravo. That, alongside some splendid artwork, a good mystery, and a number of gore-soaked action sequences make this that rarest of rare comics – an ALIENS project worthy of your hard-earned money. And if that BATMAN/JUDGE DREDD collection I talked up last week didn’t sound like your cuppa, consider JUDGE DREDD VS. ALIENS one more entertaining opportunity to see what Dredd’s likeable police brutality is all about before DC begins reprinting his U.K. adventures in a November.
Like BATMAN/JUDGE DREDD, DREDD/ALIENS (collecting a four issue mini) is a case of property whoring done right. That both projects were co-written by the creator of Dredd should be enough to convince readers they’re a step above most intercompany crossovers, and DREDD/ALIENS co-writer, Andy Diggle, is no slouch either. He’s been tearin’ it up over on Vertigo’s action/espionage book, THE LOSERS, and seems to have a knack for writing military teams that serves this trade well.
As with most Alien-related projects, we’re working with a pretty simple premise here, namely that a terrorist group (specifically anti-Judge radicals) has acquired samples of the Aliens to use as a terror weapon in Mega-City One. Dredd gets a slight leg up on their plans, though, when a low-level con man dies in an Alien chestburster incident in a hospital. Turns out he’d gotten his hands on some of the terrorist Alien samples, planned to use them in illegal pit fights, and...well, clearly he hadn’t seen enough Alien movies to know this was a spectacularly bad idea! The story splits up a bit at that point, with Dredd and his team following leads to track down the Aliens (gotta love him jailing the con man’s old, gray-haired mother for aiding and abetting her son), even as a team of heavily-armed pest-control “Verminators” try to track down the escaped chestburster Alien in the hospital.
And, ooh, does it get good and bloody fast!
I mean, it’s not like we hadn’t had a chestbursting in the first few pages and Judge Dredd shooting a guy’s head off, but the acid blood is really about to start flowing freely! Barbed Alien tails will sever Judges’ arms, Aliens blasted apart by high-explosive rounds will rain down acid death, and yes, Judge Dredd will physically throw down with an Alien and pitch its sorry ass for a miles-long trip from the skyscrapers of Mega-City One to the sub-level of the Undercity. British artist Henry Flint is a new name to me, but he’s right in his element with all this grit and violence. His style employs only slight exaggeration and has an eye for ultra-grimy detailing perfect for H.R. Giger’s Aliens and the seedy dens of Mega-City One (check out this link for a gander at the original art before it was colored). Flint’s best page is a splash (no pun intended) revealing the point where the Dredd-flung Alien exploded on impact with the Undercity to leave a house-sized hole carved by its blood. Truly spectacular, and he draws a mean Judge Dredd too. When the massively armored Dredd growls to an Alien, “Take me if you think you’re hard enough!”, you’ll know he’s ready to back up his threat with tooth and nail.
Of course, that’s just one Alien from hundreds, if not thousands, in the hands of the anti-Judicial terrorists...
What works so well in this book is the fact that the Judges operate on a level commensurate with the Aliens. All those superhero/Aliens crossovers seem silly because the writers have to contrive to de-power the heroes or empower the Aliens, but the Judges are a lot like the Colonial Marines of James Cameron’s ALIENS in terms of firepower and willingness to use it. Unlike Superman, they don’t give a crap whether the Aliens are sentient or not – they’re gonna put the bastards in the ground! And like ALIENS, there’s even a surprisingly strong element of camaraderie and sacrifice in this graphic novel. The Verminators subplot rises to the fore after their extermination team gets decimated in the hospital and payback becomes a matter of honor.
It’s crazy, I know, but this really is a good book. Mega-City One is a real presence, almost BLADE RUNNER-esque, and turns out to be a great playscape on which to turn the Aliens loose. Dredd’s a hardass cipher, which I’ve come to presume is the norm, but all the other cops and Verminators around him are likeable cannon fodder – hell, even the crooks are fun to watch. All that, and a sense of humor too!
“And so it is that we commit their bodies to be recycled. Grateful in the knowledge that they may continue to benefit their fellow citizens in a variety of useful products, many of them available at a discount from the souvenir stall in our foyer.”NOTE: This was released some months back, so expect to find it among the regular graphic novels at your comic shop, not on the new wall.
CHEAP SHOTS!FABLES #29 - It's Frankenstein versus the Wolfman! Okay, well, Frankenstein versus Bigby Wolf, but close enough. This is the conclusion to a two-part flashback interlude, and like most of the interludes the series has seen...solid, but a little uninspired. It's rare that I read a Willingham book and wonder, "Where's the bite?", but I kinda did on this one. Even with Nazis getting mauled by The Big Bad Wolf. –Dave
CAPTAIN AMERICA #31 - Breezy? Sure. You'd think that Cap might at least break a sweat taking on the entire Serpent Society (!) in their underground lair. But it was fun. Lighten up! I thought the issue also had it's share of charm, as when Cap and Diamond back part company after a morning full of the above mentioned melee. These kids have a future, you can see it in their faces. My favorite moment was, of course, the world-class supervillains at the bottom of the lair, awkwardly waiting for the auction that was supposed to sell Cap to start. How much small talk do you think they endured before they finally decided to leave? - Greg
FALLEN ANGEL #15 - Start to a new story here, and it's a good 'un, but this particular Cheap Shot is dedicated to the series' consummately professional artist, David Lopez. To the best of my knowledge, he's not missed a single issue, and he just keeps getting better and better. Reminds me a bit of CrissCross before CrissCross’s art got a little out of control, but also of underpraised draftsmen like Peter Snejbjerg (LIGHT BRIGADE). In other words, he ain't flashy - just damn good. Probably his most amazing scene is a double-page splash where the script probably read something like, "Fingers of lightning streak across the sky, revealing a miles-wide pentagram created by the streets of Bete Noire itself." It's the kind of simple but wildly challenging description any artist could stumble over, but Lopez sells the hell out of it - probably one of the best cityscapes I've ever seen in a comic. And kudos, too, to colorist Nathan Eyring. He's got the patented Vertigo palette, but a little amped-up, a little more electrically vibrant. Guy really adds to the rain-swept atmosphere of the issue. - Dave
JSA #65 - All three Hourmen, together in one issue. It's an Hourman-a-palooza! One of the most intriguing and elegant story elements in JSA was where the junior Rick Tyler Hourman could visit his father, Rex Tyler Hourman, in a time pocket any time he wanted. The one stipulation was that the combined duration of all his visits could only total one hour, and when that hour was up, Rex had to return to the moment before his death. This was a great concept that could have been milked for a long time. Rick Tyler could have budgeted his meetings with his father to last the rest of his life; meanwhile, a lifetime to the son is still only an hour to the father. Can you imagine what that last minute would be like? Maybe Rick would never use it. Again, a great concept, but as of JSA #65, it may be cut short. Or maybe not. Then again, all kinds of other wild, time-twisting things are going on, with the promise of more to come. JSA has been leaving me vaguely disatisfied lately; it might be that the two previous issues dealt with Sand's freaky dreamworld, and I guess I'm a little dreamworlded out. Luckily this one had 77% less dreamworld (a time pocket is pretty dreamy; there's the 23%), so things are headed in the right direction. - Greg
ULTIMATE X-MEN #51 - Phenomenally good issue. Rogue's been kidnapped by Gambit and effects an escape attempt that marks her coolest action sequence since her mainline counterpart crippled a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier in the '80s by pitching a half-dollar through its communications array. I'm not generally following the ULTIMATE line, but I might just have to nab the trades of Brian Vaughan's run. - Dave
THE WALKING DEAD #10 - Hey, just 'cause the dead walk the earth doesn't mean there's no time for a little nookie. Downtime issue here with a very tense opening (the lead's son has been shot by someone who thought he was a zombie), and then...later...SEX! Kirkman's characterization sometimes seems a touch "comic booky" at times, but most of this is solid observational work. Not sure precisely what the last line indicates, but it was definitely chilling. As always, can't wait for the next issue. - Dave
JLA #105 - According to union bylaws, I'm actually prohibited from reviewing two Chuck Austen comic books in one column. However, I will say this: Austen's "Pain of the Gods" arc is not nearly as bad as I was worried it would be, or was hoping it would be, since "Pain" is in the title and those kinds of joke opportunities only come along only so often. - Greg
PUNISHER #11 - It's not like I'm particular about this comic, but as I've found in any number of Garth Ennis books I only half-follow...contains some very interesting observations about the nature of British/Irish relations in between all the exit wounds and torture. - Dave
SHE-HULK #7 - It's probably the weakest issue since the first issue, but that doesn't mean there aren't any number of fun sequences. In particular, I got kick seeing the return of obscure antagonist Tryco Slatterous, aka "The Champion of the Universe", aka the one Elder of the Universe who expresses his cosmic grandeur by staging...intergalactic boxing matches. She Hulk's about to get caught up in his latest throwdown it seems, having been invited to participate in the "Magistrati," an intergalactic law body working under The Living Tribunal ("These guys are the supreme Supreme Court.") Cosmic ha-ha ensues, with some fun to be had but too many of the gags veering into silliness even for this book. Even Juan Bobillo's stylized art, usually a high point for the book, seems to fall down a bit during the cosmic proceedings. I always look forward to his reinterpretations of classic characters, though. Included this time out: Adam Warlock, Pip the Troll, Beta Ray Bill and Gladiator of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard. S'funny: Bobillo's take on The Champion himself looks like a "before" picture for his original look! And did I mention the leggy cover? Gotta mention the leggy cover. Behold! - Dave