(Click title to go directly to the review)
THE HUMAN RACE #1
INCREDIBLE HULK #79
TEENAGERS FROM MARS TPB
BLACK PANTHER #2
SIN CITY TPB VOL. 1 & 2
SHAOLIN COWBOY #2
EX MACHINA #9
THE HUMAN RACE # 1
Written by Ben Raab
Art by Justiniano
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Know why the original STAR WARS trilogy will always be cooler than the prequels?
In the prequels, everybody is either a Jedi, a Sith Lord, an alien or a politician. They all speak in basically the same, formal speech pattern and they take what is going on very seriously.
If Han Solo were there, he'd be rolling his eyes, nudging Chewie in the ribs and saying, "Midawhatians? Excuse me while I hit on the hand maidens or shoot somebody."
Obviously, Han Solo isn't going to show up and save THE HUMAN RACE # 1. I think we're supposed to see things through the eyes of high school valedictorian/loser (?) Ulysses Adams. He's contracted some sort of alien virus that I like to call HR-Gigeritis, so that his head looks like its' been shaved -- skin and all -- to reveal all those twisted cables and membranes that we've been seeing since the original ALIEN. He looks a little bit like one of those Martians from the stupid Tim Burton movie MARS ATTACKS! except he still has skin on his face.
Ulysses (and isn't that a name you see every day...people have names like Brian, O-Dawg and Daytona Dave, not Ulysses) takes off on a bus and sits next to Chloe from SMALLVILLE, except that she has one of those vague super-powers that replacement X-MEN always seem to possess and goes by the code name Nymph. The bus is attacked by guys who are either from DARK CITY or HELLRAISER...okay, they're not as kinky as the Cenobites, but they hurl lightning bolts.
Luckily, the Ex-Men show up to save Ulysses. No, I didn't say The X-Men. It'd be cool if Wolverine, Colossus and Storm arrived on the scene. Instead, we get the Ex-Men as in Exposition Men. If you thought the exposition in LIVEWIRES # 1 was overbearing (provided you read LIVEWIRES # 1), wait'll you get a load of this load. Something about a secret fraternity, alien viruses, Midichlorians, the Priory of Sion, the Great Ring of Power, unlocking the MATRIX, three different Supergirls, going back in time to be your own father, Fire Walk With Me, Ia-Ia-Cthulhu-fhtagen, and uh, stuff. I don't remember. I went out for a beer and when I got back, the comic was still going on and on.
The closest we get to actual X-MEN are some Claremontian dialogue from his period when no one was paying attention like : " ...you'll have to face your problems, Ulysses. Running will only make them worse and not just for you..." and "Only if you allow what you've become to define who you are. Your destiny is still your own."
X-MEN, my tattooed white ass. The closest we get to LIVEWIRES is when the chick who looks like a dude with a really narrow waist says, "The brain may be 100% nanotech digital, but the curves are 100% woman. Whatever my mind can conceive, this rockin' body can achieve."
As the guy who played Han Solo once said, "Ya can type this stuff, George, but ya can't say it."
I don't know if THE HUMAN RACE # 1 qualifies as a buy-it-for-the-art book, but artist Justiniano is good enough to deserve a last name! He's a real comic book artist. Not photo-real, not cartoony. Good, action packed, distinct comic book art here.
As always, I wanted to like the comic I reviewed. I wanted to tell you to run out and buy it, that you'll dig the beejeebers out of it.
Wanted. The key word here is wanted.
Probably the coolest thing in the book, aside from the art, is the credit "THE HUMAN RACE created by Ben Raab and Justiniano.”
INCREDIBLE HULK #79
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Lee Weeks
Inks: Tom Palmer
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Man, this was a great issue. Writer Peter David returns to INCREDIBLE HULK with a vengeance. Sure I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I don’t really care if the issues keep coming at this quality. I’ve waited a long time to say that the Hulk is Incredible once again, and I think I can finally say it.
So far, the Hulk has washed up on the shore of a not-so-deserted island, confused and weary. He meets a pair of survivors who provide the “Rick Jones” factor to this story. It’s not long before the Hulk is challenged by a darker version of himself that ends up being a Super Adaptoid. All the while we are treated to flashbacks of Bruce Banner’s teenage years when he resembled the bastard love child of Napoleon Dynamite and Crispin Glover from the movie RIVER’S EDGE (Remember how freaky Dennis Hopper was in that one?) and fit in with his schoolmates just about as much as the both of those characters did too in their respective films. Last issue ended with the two kids running into someone who looks and acts a lot like General Thunderbolt Ross and the Hulk standing over the defeated body of the Super Adaptoid wondering what the hell was going on. Over his shoulder rises the menacing head of classic villain/big @$$ dragon Fin Fang Foom and I filled my fanboy underoos with shit of glee!
One month, a thorough undie-washing, and a trip to the comic store later and the action continues. What happens between page one and twenty-two is one of the coolest fight scenes I’ve read in ages. The Hulk withstands a full-on flame shower from Fin Fang Foom and doesn’t flinch. I’ve always had a fascination for the character Fin Fang Foom, not only because his name roughly translates into “He whose limbs shatter mountains and whose back scrapes the sun,” but because he has the mouth of a large mouth bass and is the only giant dragon I know of that wears a tiny pair of underwear to contain his enormous dragon genitalia.
The Hulk in this series isn’t the snooze-inducing HULK SMASH! version of the character, nor is it the amalgamated Smart Hulk version that David seemed quite fond of in his previous run. This Hulk is more like a green version of the scrappy Grey Hulk, full of wise-cracks, dirty fighting, and relentless @$$-kicking. During this battle of titans, those two pesky kids dig deeper into the mystery behind the island and a flashback shows Banner being rejected once again by the cool kids in school. I like these snippets into Banner’s past. They are depicted with a cruel honesty and add depth to Banner’s character that often gets shuffled aside as the less interesting of the two facets of our star. These flashbacks suggest that the Hulk has been with Banner all along and that the gamma bomb merely released him from his mind. An interesting concept, one deserving of further exploration.
Lee Weeks is a treasure. He’s been around for ages and I don’t see the guy get the respect he deserves, so I’ll give it to him here. He draws a confident, simplistic line, more nuanced than John Romita Jr.’s and cleaner than Doug Braithwaite’s, but similar to both artists. The fight scene between the Hulk and Fin Fang Foom is laid out with clarity and wide scope. Seeing the Hulk in Foom’s mouth flying high above General Ross and the kids was a truly classic panel – one of many in this arc so far.
Here’s hoping Peter David and Lee Weeks stick around for a while on this title. I know this arc is intended to be a six-parter, but as long as they keep telling stories of this depth and scope, I can’t see a better team to take on the Green Goliath. Yep, the Hulk is truly Incredible once again.
TEENAGERS FROM MARS TPB
Rick Spears: Words
Rob G: Pictures
Gigantic Graphic Novels: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Reviewer from Venus
Ever had one of those books you keep hearing about and hearing about, but you can’t seem to track down? Then, when you finally find it and read it, it simply can’t live up to the hype?
This is not one of those books.
It must have been at least a year ago when I first heard of TEENAGERS FROM MARS. Since all I heard was the title, and I had come down with a small bout of 24-hour dyslexia that morning, at first I thought there was a new comic based on BIKER MICE FROM MARS. Once I sorted out just what the title was, however, I still hadn’t heard just what the damn thing was about. Nothing but “you’ve got to read this, it’s amazing!” No hint about the characters, the plot, nothing.
Then last week, I finally got my hands on the collected volume, yet still no clue was to be had as to the contents. Just to get a feel for whatever the hell the story was, I opened up to a random page. That’s when I read the following:
Do you swear to buy comic books monthly, let them corrupt you fully, and defend them fearlessly? Do you promise to never let anyone tell you that you’re too young, too old, or that you can’t?
Then, I welcome you to the Comic Book Liberation Army.
After reading that, well, the story could have featured photos of Mark Waid, Gail Simone, and Joe Quesada recreating the monkey fucking issue of POWERS and I’d still be in love with this book.
So what’s the story about? Well first of all, the titular Mars is not the red planet, but a small town in the heartland of America. The sort of town where there’s not all that much to do except what you come up with on your own, and the only store for miles (excluding a comics shop,) is the “Mall-Mart.” That’s where Macon, a self-published comic artist earns his scratch. That is, until an aggressively upset mother discovers that the comics of today aren’t exactly what Stan and Jack did back in the day. The comic rack is pulled from the store, the owner of the comic shop is forced to leave town, and Macon’s book is seized. Out of this adversity, almost of its own will, the Comic Book Liberation Army is born.
Still, having said all that, I can see why people would be blindingly billing this as a magnificent comic, without any indication of the above. That’s because TFM really is, first and foremost, a love letter to the medium. The love simply leaps off the page, for the spinner racks of yore, for the grungy comic shops, for the people who photocopy their creations into cheap chapbooks, for the kids who save and skimp and steal to afford that rare back issue, and for the boxes of comics that lurk in your grandparents attic, waiting to be rediscovered.
Of course, there’s also something to be said for a book that takes people to task for being stupid enough to blame the problems of the world on entertainment. I adore the very concept of the CBLA, and if I could I’d enlist. After all, there’s an abundance of jackasses out there who think they know better than you what you should be reading. Just ask the CBLDF. Hell, ask Funky Winkerbean for that matter.
When it comes right down to it, though, you really only need to know one thing; you’ve got to read this, it’s amazing!
BLACK PANTHER #2
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
Every once in a while I’ll pick up one of those special edition trade paperbacks that’s all fat-packed with sketches and scripts and cut scenes - the comic book analog to an extras-filled DVD. And it’s rare, but my favorite feature in these kinds of things is reading the writer’s proposal for the series. You can really feel the author’s excitement for the property, see all the details he planned out in advance, read his thoughts on the motivations and histories of the major characters. Sure, there’s a story to tell, but the proposal gives you all the back-history that was percolating in the writer’s head when he created that story.
The problem with the new BLACK PANTHER…one of the many problems with the series…is that it reads like it’s just the back-history you’d find in a proposal. That is, there’s no story to speak of - just a lot of exposition on the bad-assedness of the Wakandans (issue 1) and the bad-assedness of the Black Panther himself (this issue). There’s a generalized menace building, as it seems the cartoonishly conniving White House cabinet is looking to stage a coup in Wakanda just ‘cause, but generalized menace does not a story make.
Worse still, the exposition doesn’t make sense. Apparently Wakanda’s so tough it’s never been invaded and is among the richest and most technologically superior nations in the world…yet the cabinet has to be advised on the place as if they were all sixth graders. Actually, that got me to thinking that a more interesting framing device for the story might be to actually follow a group of sixth graders learning about Wakanda in their world history class, but then writer Reginald Hudlin wouldn’t be able to give us his cheap political satire, right? Issue one gave us the groaner of a Condoleezza Rice analog, “Dondi Reese”; issue two all but casts her as a villain by suggesting she’s behind the hiring of super-powered mercs to overthrow Wakanda.
Look, I’m no fan of the Bush administration, but this degree of heavy-handedness - Dondi, the Halliburton references, the cabinet members all but slavering over the possibility of carving up Wakanda – it’s not exactly making the opposition look smart.
And it’s not making for a compelling narrative. Issue one focused on Wakanda repelling invaders time and again over its history. Issue two spotlights the Wakandan monarchy and the physical prowess of its warrior-kings. And, hey, they’re super-tough! They’re so tough that each year, any Wakandan can challenge the king in physical combat and assume the throne if they’re victorious – that’s tough! So why am I supposed to be afraid for this nation because it’s gonna be invaded by a bad guy with a robot hand and a bad guy who can project his mind into the body of a hooker? Because that’s the threat level to date, which is to say: there is no perceivable threat. And therefore no drama.
Dialogue? Oooh, painful. Hudlin’s approach to writing Wakandan dialogue isn’t bad in theory – he’s converting the idiom of this African nation into colloquial English – but in practice…yowch. We get a Wakandan guard grousing, “And I need this job!” when someone escapes. We get a commentator on the duel for the monarchy saying, “Yeah right! As if!” We get an audience member shouting, “Aw man! I was gonna do that move!”
It’s like the translator was Joss Whedon.
Truthfully, the only character to earn a bit of depth by this second issue is the Black Panther’s sister, Princess Shuri. I don’t know if she’s original to this retelling of Panther’s origin or a historical supporting player, but her attempt to enter the monarchy duel against her mother’s wishes is the series’ first hint of three-dimensional characterization.
The one unquestionable quality of the book is its art. John Romita Jr.’s powerhouse art is some of his best since working on THE INCREDIBLE HULK a few years back. He seems very at home with powerful Kirby-designed characters like the Black Panther, adding an African-themed eclecticism with the same verve with which Walt Simonson once brought Viking motifs to Kirby’s space-age Asgard. Klaus Jansen’s inks provide a bit of gritty cred, and colorist Dean White in particular deserves credit for bringing Wakanda to life with his mixture of earth-tones and techno-glow greens. The whole team puts together some pretty snazzy fight scenes throughout the issue – it’s just too bad the fighters involved haven’t been established enough to give these scenes any emotional context.
Geez, I feel kinda bad panning this book. The industry needs more prominent black heroes, and of the established ones, I can’t think of any one of them with more potential to earn a strong mainstream audience than the Black Panther. And the Panther’s visual still owns!
But y’know what?
Readers deserve to discover (or re-discover) him in a better series than Hudlin’s hollow and cartoonish venture.
SIN CITY VOL. 1: THE HARD GOODBYE
SIN CITY VOL. 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR
Words and pictures by Frank Miller
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
I once spent an entire semester of college studying the various aspects of Film Noir and the detective film genre. My classmates and I watched films like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE MALTESE FALCON, MILDRED PIERCE, and even modern noir films like KLUTE, CHINATOWN, and SE7EN. We studied the various uses of lights and darks, symbolizing a grey area world trapped firmly between the light of truth and the blackness of deceit. We dissected the role of the detective and what it took for him to live in this shady world. Hour upon painstaking hour, for half a year, we took apart and talked to death a genre that is all but forgotten in today’s cinema of sparkle and spectacle. Tomorrow, I’m calling my college for a refund because I wasted an entire semester learning what Frank Miller summed up in two trade paperbacks: Never trust a woman. Sure it’s not that simple, but down to the nitty gritty of the noir genre is the simple fact that “Dames ain’t nothin’ but trouble.”
At least that’s the case with the first two trade paperbacks of SIN CITY, recently re-released in digest form by Dark Horse in conjunction with the release to what looks to be a super cool film adaptation of the series (I’m sure Schleppy, the @$$hole mascot slash moobie reviewing monkey will be taking a look at this one in a future column). I caught the movie preview a few months back and immediately became interested in the comic book. I had never read SIN CITY, but I heard a lot about it from my fellow reviewers at AICN Comics. The love for this series abounds and many argue it to be some of Frank Miller’s finest work. So I skipped to my loo to my local comic shop and picked up the first two trades to see what the hubbub was all about.
Volume one, entitled THE HARD GOODBYE, reprints a series of stories originally published in DARK HORSE COMICS PRESENTS and it is by far my favorite of the two trades. Marv is a down on his luck, possibly insane tuff. He’s strong. He’s big. And at times, he’s dumb as a rock, but Miller writes the character with such passion and emotion that you can’t help but fall in love with the loser. The story starts out with Marv hooking up with a knockout named Goldie. The next morning he wakes up to find her dead in his bed. As Marv hears the cops coming up the stairs outside the hotel room, he realizes he’s been set up for murder. What follows is a symphony of bodies, bullets, and betrayal. Miller follows Marv from one corner of Sin City to another, using the strength and power of Marv to lift up the rocks and show the reader the worms and critters slithering around its serpentine alleyways. This is a tightly knit mystery decorated with a large cast of colorful and memorable characters. The danger is real in this story and you don’t know who will come out alive. People you don’t think will be harmed are harmed. In this story, no one is safe. But at its heart, the events that unfold have a resonant emotional core. One made up of the lonely heart of a lovable loser. The end of this story is heartbreaking in that you feel for this monster of a man whose biggest mistake was falling for the wrong girl and letting nothing stop him from avenging her death.
Volume 2, entitled A DAME TO KILL FOR, has similar themes, but that doesn’t mean that Miller is becoming redundant. Dwight is your typical PI photographer, snapping photos of cheating husbands and the like for a quick buck. Out of the blue, he receives a call from a woman from his past who just so happens to be the wife of the richest man in Sin City. And yes, once again, our hero’s biggest faux pas is getting involved with the wrong gal. In this volume though, Miller takes one step further back and reveals the scope of this story set in this seedy town. Like a Tarantino film, events from the first volume, THE HARD GOODBYE, tango in and out of this narrative, making the story that much richer for the reader in that these stories are happening at the same time. A DAME TO KILL FOR has a wider scope than the first volume. You can tell Miller is becoming more comfortable in this city he created and his writing prowess shines as the relationships between these characters are fleshed out more. Whereas THE LONG GOODBYE was a more personal and touching story, A DAME TO KILL FOR is a more suspenseful thriller. You don’t have to read Volume One to enjoy A DAME TO KILL FOR, but reading both trades lets you realize the thought and care Miller put into the construction of this series.
The stories of SIN CITY are damn good. Dare I say the most perfect depictions of noir in illustrated literature form? Yes indeedy, they are. But the real draw for me was the spectacular use of chiaroscuro. Millar does with simple blacks and whites what few artists do with an entire palette of colors. He creates a somber mood, but electrifies the panel with streaks and smears of black and white. There are scenes that look alive and stick with the reader long after the story is over and the books have been closed. Miller makes a worthwhile achievement with the art in this book, one that secures his place in the pantheon of living legends in modern comics.
THE LONG GOODBYE and A DAME TO KILL FOR are two of the three volumes used as inspiration for the SIN CITY film due in theaters soon. I can’t wait to see these stories brought to life on screen. I was thinking about taking a date to the film, but after reading what happened to Marv and Dwight in these books I think I might reconsider bringing a dame. Yeah, on second thought, I think I’ll just take Schleppy instead. I may have to put up with the pungent smell of soiled diaper and month old bananas, but at least I have a lesser chance of getting kakked.
SHAOLIN COWBOY #2
Written and Drawn By: Geoffrey Darrow
Colored and Lettered By: Peter Doherty
Publisher: Burlyman Entertainment
Reviewer: Sleazy G
Anybody who knows anything about the Wachowski Brothers knows that they come from my home town of Chicago and produced a very entertaining little movie called “Bound” a few years back starring the psycho-but-hot Jennifer Tilly, the psycho-but-hot-in-an-oddly-ducklike-way Gina Gershon, and one of the best character actors of our time, Joey Pants. What those people may not know, though, is that the Wachowskis are huge comic book fans who’ve started their own company called Burlyman Entertainment. It’s a pretty logical step, really, considering their love of the genre and the fact that they did some sci-fi flick or other that used some of comics’ finest artists for both storyboarding the movies and for telling stories set on the periphery of the universe Andy and Larry created. When I first heard about this, though, I was a little unsure of how it would turn out. Sure there was some really big name talent attached, but as anybody who saw CON AIR knows, just because you put a lotta talent in the room together doesn’t mean the end result is worth throwing your money at.
Turns out sometimes you put a bunch of talent to work and you get some real quality entertainment, though, and so far that’s the case at Burlyman. SHAOLIN COWBOY springs, wholly formed like a tubby Chinese dude version of Athena, from the mind of Geoff Darrow. This guy has been blowing my mind for more than a dozen years—I first noticed him on HARD BOILED by Frank Miller, not to mention his BIG GUY AND RUSTY THE ROBOT and drawing the stories Dark Horse published featuring Andrew Vacchs’ character Cross. It’s been clear for a long time that Darrow does some of the most gloriously detailed work ever to grace the page. His work has always been gorgeous and gritty and ugly and kinetic. His work on HARD BOILED had me staring at each page for a minute or two at a time to absorb all the little easter eggs scattered everywhere, and he draws some of the bloodiest and most brutal action sequences around. The guy’s carved out his own niche, and his visuals can’t be praised highly enough.
I had no idea what to expect from his writing, though, and it worried me a little. We’ve all bought books written by the artists before and come away pretty disappointed, so I was nervous. To say those fears were unfounded is an understatement. Truth is, each of the first two issues is written in a completely different style that suggests Darrow has the potential to turn in some highly impressive work. The first issue took half a dozen pages to establish the environment and then turned into a 25-page slaughter. It seems the Shaolin Cowboy has amassed quite an array of enemies over the years, and they had all banded together out in the desert somewheres to corner the Cowboy and whoop some ass. There was a breathtaking 10-page run of the various ne’er-do-wells, and not a one of ‘em is filler. They could all be laid out end-to-end and you’d have one long panel of creeps, pervs, and butchers, all with a distinct look and attitude. And then we get what we all came for—the Shaolin Cowboy carving a bloody swath through all of those folks to truly impressive effect. Then, just when you thought things were done, a crab approached the scene and declared “It’s time to end this!” in the final panel of the issue, and that’s when I realized the talking horse wasn’t a fluke—the book really was about to get crazy.
And in this second issue, it sure as shit did. Darrow completely changes gears, and suddenly the book is rife with dialogue, much of it is pretty humorous. King Crab turns out to be quite the nemesis for Shaolin Cowboy. As the King explains, his whole family and his fiancÃ©e (all of whom are named after the British Royal family) were eaten by the Cowboy at an all-you-can-eat buffet, after which the crab swore vengeance. He went to the temple where the Cowboy trained so that he could challenge the Cowboy in combat, and proceeds to do so. This issue brings not only more dialogue, but a lot more laughs, showing Darrow’s got quite the sense of humor—another pleasant surprise. It still brings some truly impressive action/violence sequences too, though, as well as the first time the Cowboy actually speaks. He proves himself quite the badass, but again there’s definitely a self-mocking undertone to what Darrow does here. The crab has some truly over-the-top villainous dialogue that had me rolling, and I kinda hope the guy is gonna be back somewhere down the line. As for the universe this tale takes place in, well—it’s in a pretty Darrowy kinda place—a barren, rocky desert that has pterodactyls circling overhead and talking horses and crabs, not to mention typical American-looking cities and kung-fu temples who knows what else. The great thing about this kind of setting is it means that Darrow gets to tell whatever story he wants, and I can’t wait to see where it’s gonna take us next.
The sense of humor this title has actually serves as a nice counterpoint to Burlyman’s other title, DOC FRANKENSTEIN. That book looks great, and it’s an action-packed blast, but it’s got a dark, heavy tone to it. Stakes are high in that book, and the protagonist carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. It’s got a very apocalyptic feel to it. I like it, but if everything Burlyman put out felt like that it’d get old quick. Thankfully, everybody there seems smart enough to know it, so they’ve got SHAOLIN COWBOY to cleanse the palate a bit. It’s much more playful and fun than DOC is. The two titles offer up a lot of variety and take place in very different worlds, and frankly, that’s the way comics should be sometimes. It’s great to see somebody cranking out big, crazy, genre-bending ideas and having a ball with it. Hell, having read the first two issues of both of their titles, I kinda have to recommend both. Since they’re bi-monthly titles, it’s only one book a month you’re adding to your pull list. They’re both well worth checking out.
EX MACHINA #9
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Tony Harris
Publisher: WildStorm / DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
So I’m trying to figure out whether I like EX MACHINA or not.
On one hand, you’ve got a series that’s a taut mixture of politics, suspense, and just a bit of sci-fi. On the other, there’s not an issue of EX MACHINA goes by where I don’t inwardly groan at the contrived cleverness of some exchange of dialogue, some ironic scene capper, or some bit of over-the-top melodrama.
Example #1: Regular readers know the series jumps around in time over the course of Mayor Hundred’s term, and in an opener that flashes back to the chaos of 9-11, Hundred has a taut exchange with his NSA handler. The handler opines of Hundred’s machine-control powers, “Maybe you can talk to airplanes, but you can’t talk to monsters.” And as insane as 9-11 was, that’s just not good dialogue. Neither is the handler’s surprising threat to Hundred: noting that the super-powered Hundred is probably just as much a target of Al Qaeda as the Towers, he warns him, “…if you ever come near my family again…I’ll kill you with my bare hands.” What might work in the over-the-top pages of a superhero book like Vaughan’s RUNAWAYS just doesn’t suit the reality-based world of EX MACHINA.
Example #2: Jump ahead a few months and the newly-elected Mayor Hundred is at a press conference defending his plan to officiate at a gay wedding. Now this scene’s got some pretty strong debate-style exchanges, but it still veers wildly into melodrama by the end. It’s got the series’ second assassination attempt on Hundred’s life, and as if that wasn’t enough high drama – gasp! shock! – the priest in the audience who was taking Hundred to task is actually the guy who decks the would-be assassin. It’s all a bit too “David E. Kelley” for my tastes. So’s the scene of the priest standing over the KO’ed attacker while Hundred’s bodyguard approaches with gun drawn:
Bodyguard: This fuck’s still dangerous! Get out of the way!
Priest: Actually, I’m more concerned for his safety than I am for my own.
Bodyguard: I’m just gonna cuff him, not shoot him, Padre!
Priest: I hope so. You’d only be making him a martyr. (cut to dramatic close-up) Trust me, they’re harder to ignore.
End sceneIt’s the overwhelming sense of the writer’s hand that annoys me about the scene. I’m not expecting total naturalism, but when you set your story in real-world New York and not Metropolis or Gotham City, that’s entirely too many dramatic contrivances to let slide.
Example #3: Ooh, it’s always risky when a scene comes down to a woman scorned slapping a man in public. Such a Hollywoody, romantic-comedy kind of thing, isn’t it? But that’s what happens when a female reporter comes to the conclusion that Mayor Hundred went out on a date with her to stave off rumors he himself might be gay. That her conclusion is actually correct is actually a great set-up for drama, but any sense of nuance goes out the door when she walks up to the mayor – right in front of his security guard, no less – and actually slaps him. “No wonder you get along so well with machines,” she tells him. “You’re both fucking heartless.”
It just seems so obvious; such a waste of a scene’s potential. Maybe I’m feeling particularly critical because I’m reading back-to-back with EX MACHINA a comic that’s an avowed inspiration – CONCRETE – and I’m finding CONCRETE to be so much more deft in staging issue-based stories in a real world setting. Now CONCRETE’s got a few contrivances in its plotting, but on a scene-to-scene basis, it’ll never snap the reader out of his suspension of disbelief. EX MACHINA, for all that I generally like its characters and pragmatic, left-leaning political ideology, does this continually.
What’s likely to keep me onboard, at least for a little longer, is the straight suspense quality of the book. Vaughan’s flashback-heavy structure for the series is rife with mysteries and when it comes to the meat-and-potatoes of suspense, the guy knows his business. I still want to know what’s up with the murder-inducing glyphs, how Hundred really got his powers, and whether that freaky alternate-earth Kurt Cobain story was pure B.S. or what.
But that doesn’t mean I can really recommend EX MACHINA.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #4 - This is the first issue of Brubaker’s run where the story felt like it might be dragging a bit, but there’s still some great stuff happening. I was particularly fascinated with Brubaker delving into some continuity stuff from Cap’s past – his history with the The Patriot, Nomad, and even the Spirit of ’76 if you can believe it! Now I know zero about these dudes, but Brubaker’s keeping it all nice and straightforward such that I’m getting a cool, insider sense of Cap’s history without getting confused. I do think we need to see Cap being tougher and more proactive pronto, though. The surprise fight with Crossbones was rough as hell and very well handled, but geez…bad day for the Sentinel of Liberty! - Dave
BIGFOOT #2 - It’s more Sasquatch-palooza! This issue is better than the first. Not only do we have a chase scene that made my toe-hairs stand on end, but there’s flying bear carcasses and mucho mucho pummeling from our hairy star. My only criticism is that everyone has a smart-@$$ comment in this book, be it the cops, the mortician, or an innocent bystander. In a book where the threat is a giant man-ape, someone has to play the straight man. On top of that, the depiction of women in this book left a bad taste in my mouth. The women are either naked, raped, or killed, or they are naked, raped, and then killed. Not a real progressive stance to have in this day and age. - Bug
TEEN TITANS #22 - This issue of post-IDENTITY CRISIS fallout sees rape-meister Dr. Light trying to convince the Teen Titans (with some justification) that they’re morally superior to the mindwipe-happy Justice League. Then big fighting ensues with Dr. Light cast as a Magneto/Dr. Doom-level villain…but where those guys’ 1960s visuals have aged insanely well, Light’s fin-head longjohns don’t exactly carry the threat Geoff Johns is trying to write.
I hate IDENTITY CRISIS. - Dave
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #74 - Bendis is really turning the screws on this one. There's a very real and quite frightening edge to Harry Osbourne is this issue. He'd probably work as an exceptional villain, even if he never becomes a Goblin on-panel. There's also a moment featuring Spidey and one of my favorite supporting characters from the 80's that has a great lead-in fight and closes on a classic Bendis-style conversation. So THAT works amazingly well. What doesn't work, however, is the relationship moments. According to this issue, the whole of ULTIMATE. SPIDER-MAN has occurred in a span of nine months. That means that in that time, MJ and Harry have dated, then MJ started to go out with Peter. Then they broke up, got back together, and are now, apparently, about to break up again. What is this, Friends? - Vroom
PLASTIC MAN #15 - Picked up this issue completely randomly and damned if I didn’t have quite a fine time with it. Plas himself only appears toward the end, but I was much taken with the hyperbolic teen angst of the first half and the zealous narrative captioning that promises the act of one character eating a hamburger will CHANGE THE DC UNIVERSE FOREVER! C’mon, where else ya gonna see a kid gain superpowers when his tongue stud gets struck by lightning (“Hey! This could come in handy for my vengeance!”)? It’s goofy, it’s messed up, and it reminds me that I need to buy and review the trade of Baker’s PLASTIC MAN that came out a few months back. The thing to know going into PLASTIC MAN is that it’s not always laugh-out-loud funny (though sometimes it is), but its got a real good chance of slapping a grin on your face. Always looks great, too. - Dave
WOLVERINE #26 - Another great issue from the force that is Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. I prefer JRJR’s art on BLACK PANTHER, but he still delivers the goods here. This issue makes good on the build-up in the last arc with a full on onslaught by the Hand and its resurrected army of super-heroes. The final splash-page is dynamic and awe-inspiring, but JRJR goes a bit generic on the costume designs for my tastes. Story-wise, Millar is doing the best stuff I have read from him, despite the fact that Wolverine doesn’t show up until the book is halfway over. Wolverine’s apparent escape from SHIELD is both intense and shocking. Fun stuff. I just hope we get a bit more Wolverine in this arc, and less of the mind-controlled puppet from the last one. - Bug
CATWOMAN #41 - Alright, I know this is meant to be one of the darker Bat-books, but this issue begins with three pages of a man pummeling Romanian sex-slaves to death in alleyways. Sample caption: “When Virna’s mouth turns into a bloody pulp, he can’t help wondering how good she probably was with it.” Oh, and psycho guy also has a problem with dogs, so we see him administering a death-beating to a dog too. Twice. Jesus H. Christ, DC! - Dave
WONDER WOMAN #214 - Rucka continues to impress me with his shift in gears from the painfully slow build of his first arc in this series. Since then the action has been fast and furious. Diana is now blind after her battle with Medusa a few issues back and faced with the challenge of continuing to be Athena’s champion despite her handicap. In this issue (which is continued from FLASH #219), Wonder Woman must team up with the Flash to face Zoom, the Reverse-Flash and a now super-fast Cheetah. Both villains are especially menacing. Cheetah slices the Flash’s throat over and over, competing with his ability to heal quickly via the speed force. Meanwhile, Zoom continues his misguided goal to make Flash a better hero by being a better villain. Both villains provide great action in this big brawl issue, ending in what looks to be the formation of the coolest Secret Society of Super-Villains line-up I’ve ever witnessed this side of “Contest of the Super Friends.” All this and more pesky machinations being chess-pieced together by the Olympian gods and you have a pretty meaty issue. - Bug
YOUNG AVENGERS #2 - Holy crap.
I can’t believe it.
I’m at a loss for words.
This series is actually kinda good!
This ish, writer Allan Heinberg shows that he cares more about the Avengers than actual AVENGERS writer Brian Bendis by cleaning up some of Bendis’s mess from “Avengers Disassembled.” In particular, Heinberg picks up Bendis’s fumble of killing the second Ant-Man for shock value by finding an interesting new role for Ant-Man’s daughter. He also sets the stage for the first post-“Disassembled” resurrection of an Avenger, and it can’t happen soon enough. But I’m not just enjoying the series because Heinberg’s not Bendis – the guy’s building a fun and compelling mystery around Iron Lad’s ties to Kang, he serves up both a fine action sequence and the best superhero teen dialogue this side of RUNAWAYS, and he’s backed by some pretty great art from Jim Cheung. There’s even a cool little cliffhanger! I was so ready to slam this book over its doofy concept, but credit where due: it’s got some chops. - Dave