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#44 3/23/05 #3

Howdy folks. Welcome to another edition of AICN COMICS! As always (except on every other Tuesday, when I only answer to the name Judy), I’m Ambush Bug . This week, we feature the return of our INDIE JONES section focusing on the more independent aspects of the comic book industry. Look for a pair of Indie reviews from Vroom Socko and Special Guest Reviewer Matthew Wanderski towards the end of the column. Remember to contact your favorite reviewer if you have an Indie book you think is worth a look see in this here column. But first, let’s check out what’s in this week’s pull.

The Pull List
(Click title to go directly to the review)



Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart
Published by DC
Reviewed by 7 Buzzes Of Maverik

Grant Morrison appears to be many different writers. Luckily, each version of Grant seems to be supremely talented.

So far, each installment of Morrison's 7 SOLDIERS uber-series reads like it could have come from a different writer ... if there were three different writers of equal high quality who could still tell a story with a beginning, middle and ending (even when writing an issue of a far larger story); who could include character, realism, fantasy, science fiction and horror; who could write action.

Let's say that you're one of the four remaining comic fans with some testosterone flowing through your body (and let's say it's your own testosterone and not that some guy who promised he'd never tell anyone). You still like action in your comics. If you say you like action, somebody who has spent too much time at the Bendis Board will say, "Oh, you want thirty pages of mindless fisticuffs."

That's when you pull out THE MANHATTAN GUARDIAN # 1. It opens with a WARRIORS-esque attack on a subway platform by a gang of the Homeless, who think they're pirates! We're talking cutlasses, eye patches, filed teeth, hooks for hands and a treasure map tattoo that goes where WATERWORLD wouldn't. We then see a beautifully understated scene of a marriage under strain, a compassionate father-in-law, and our hero, Jake Jordan taking his first step toward redemption. Jake steps into a DIE HARD like scenario for a moment, only to end up duking it out with a Golem. Once he becomes the new Guardian, Jake is plunging into battle on the subway platform and end up clinging to a chain attached at one end to a fleeing subway car and at the other end to a guy who is being burnt alive.

Do you like noir? Real noir, not just people talking in shadowy rooms with light coming through the blinds? Jake is an ex-cop who shot a kid that he mistook for a cop killer. He's broken down and heartbroken, in danger of losing his wife Carla and all his self-respect. Without a ton of dialogue, with real adult emotions instead of teen angst, within a few pages we are as happy as Carla is to see Jake smile.

Jake answers an ad in a newspaper called THE MANHATTAN GUARDIAN. This is a paper written by its' readers, the Newsboy Army. The paper's mysterious owner, Ed Starguard, who may be a computer program and who has golems for his bodyguards, is looking to create his own superhero. His paper won't just report crime, it will fight it. The Newsboy Army is on hand to help out, sort of like Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars.

I'm a recovering Marvel Zombie who now slightly prefers DC and Image overall. Starguard may or may not be an old time DC character. The Guardian was created by Jack Kirby as the superhero pal of his 40s comic THE NEWSBOY LEGION. This is a welcome recreation that in many ways does not conflict with Kirby's tone.

Next up: ZATANNA # 1. Fishnets, bay-bee.


Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Ty Templeton
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

Alright you hipster bitches, best sit your JMS and Bendis-lovin’ asses down – the Spider-Mobile’s back on the streets…

And it’s comin’ for ya!

That’s right, SHE-HULK scribe and all-around Marvel history-lover Dan Slott returns us to the swingin’ ‘70s with this latest SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH outing, and he’s not only not embarrassed about the weird shit like the Spider-Mobile…he bloody well embraces it!

The particular genius of Dan Slott, however, is that he could take something so giddily stupid as the Spider-Mobile and work it into a story that’s actually got some heart. Keep in mind, the Spider-Mobile dates back to the same period as one of the most dramatic events in Spider-Man’s life: the death of Gwen Stacy. And it’s the loss of Gwen that actually kicks off the latest issue of this decidedly retro series. Spidey’s standing on top of the Brooklyn Bridge recounting the topsy-turvy events of his last few months – Luke Cage hired by JJJ to bring him down, his first showdown with the Punisher, Doc Ock’s attempt to marry Aunt May – and when the “camera” pulls back we see that he’s talking to his lost Gwen, trying to straighten his life out (while conveniently giving we readers some context for the era). It’s pretty much a cliché of the genre, but what hooked me was Spidey’s revelation to Gwen about how the unlikeliest of events was helping to bring him out of his depression…
“…in the end, I think the best help might’ve come from two strangers…Carter & Lombardo. They’re two ad men who approached me as Spidey. They wanted me to promote Corona Motors…by building a Spider-Mobile! Honest. I am not making this up.”
And just like that, not only does the silliness of the old Spider-Mobile drift away (even the original explanation for its existence is comic-book-plausible – eternally broke Peter Parker is hired to promote a pollution-free car – I buy that), but the notion that it helped Spidey get over Gwen’s death actually makes it…well…kinda cool. And that’s just three pages into the comic! This Slott guy is anti-decompression at its best.

The Human Torch angle dates back to the original comics, too, because he was the guy who helped Spidey trick out the Spider-Mobile and taught him to drive. What Slott brings to the table is the notion that the during the course of tuning up the Spider-Mobile, the Human Torch became the one guy Spider-Man could talk to about the death of Gwen. Of course, Torch isn’t exactly a lean-on-me kind of guy – he’s a hotrod punk! – but these are still some potent scenes from the Stan Lee school of superhero humanity. They really feel true to the era, like a lost comic from ’74, right down to Torch’s ugly red uniform.

And that’s the serious side of the issue, but Slott’s not one to linger on angst overlong, and the rest of the story is funny as hell! Hey, just ‘cause the Spider-Mobile was the catalyst for Spidey working through his worst emotional trauma ever doesn’t mean it’s not the ripest target for laughs this side of GIANT-SIZED MAN THING. Slott puts it at the center of a raucous theft by one of my fave Cold War villain teams, The Red Ghost and His Super Apes (hell yeah!), and just about every scene it appears in is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Let’s check out a snippet of dialogue from the scene where Spidey and the Torch are being flagged down by some cops:
Spidey: Um…this might not be the best time to tell you, but…
Torch: But what?
Spidey: I don’t have a license.
Torch: Great.
Spidey: And I’m wanted for murder.
Torch: Anything else.
Spidey: I’m pregnant.
Dan Slott, don’t you go anywhere, my friend – Marvel needs you. Later scenes have Spider-Man trying to parallel park, Torch and Spidey finding the Spider-Mobile on cinder blocks when they park on Yancy Street, and Spidey getting pissed when the Super Apes start changing his present radio stations. It’s bloody beautiful and I haven’t even mentioned the genius nod to the Hostess Fruit Pie ads of the ‘70s or the Spider-Mobile as an inspired tool of vengeance on J. Jonah Jameson. The latter is the comic book scene of the year as far as I’m concerned!

I’ll admit, when this series with its look at the oddball friendship of Spidey and the Human Torch first kicked off, I actually thought Slott was being a little too old-school with it. Each issue clearly occurs during specific eras of Marvel’s past, eras the current generation of readers don’t seem much interested in, and Ty Templeton’s art has a ‘70s vibe that might tickle the nostalgia-meter but is about as noncommercial as it gets. And indeed, sales on the book seem to be in the crapper.

Well the hell with all that second-guessing! Here’s the straight truth: this is the best Spider-Man comic of the last ten years, period, and the Spidey fan who fails to buy it is no fan at all. In fact, the Spidey fan who fails to buy this should be flogged, wedgied, and run over by a tricked-out Spider-Man-themed dune buggy.

Let the punishment fit the crime!



Words and Pictures: Frank Miller
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Last week, I took a look at the first two volumes of SIN CITY. It was the first time I ventured into Frank Miller’s dark world of mystery and noir. Like the obsessive compulsive that I am, I had to run out and pick up volumes three and four. I have to say that having read these volumes, the stink that I recently associated Frank Miller with after reading THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES BACK has been washed away with the black and white rain streaks that so often decorate the panels of a SIN CITY comic book. This really is a great series, one worthy of all of the praise that has been heaped upon it.

In volume three, entitled THE BIG FAT KILL, Dwight returns for more trouble. In this sequel to A DAME TO KILL FOR, Dwight is shacking up with a waitress who used to be bumping biscuits with a cop. When her old beau pays a not-so-friendly visit, things get real ugly, real fast. Dwight and the ladies of Old Town must work together to preserve the fragile truce the cops, the mob, and the ladies of Old Town have together. The final few chapters of this story are where the action really heats up. Miller makes an interesting break in the momentum of the story, flashing back to ancient times with a tale of a Greek General and how he and his small army overcame impossible odds against a much larger army. The break seems a bit bizarre at the time, but when we return to the story, anyone can see where this break is leading and when it does come to a head in the present, the result is nothing short of beautiful. Beautiful, that is, if you think massive amounts of blood, bullets, body parts, bomb blasts, and bombshells are beautiful. Out of the four volumes, Volume Number Two, A DAME TO KILL FOR, was probably my least favorite. I found Dwight to be a little dull compared to the lovable lug Marv and the star of the fourth installment, Harrigan. But in Volume Three, Miller peppers in some truly memorable characters that make this story shine. The silent but deadly character Miho is especially fascinating and rendered with the ferocity of a tiger as she slices apart the enemy.

THAT YELLOW BASTARD, Volume Four, is my favorite of the bunch though. Harrigan is your typical “I’m getting’ too old for this shit” cop, just a few piles of paper work away from retirement and on the trail of a child molester who just happens to be the son of a crooked senator. This is by far Miller at his best in this series. This story takes place through many years as Harrigan pays for a crime he didn’t commit in order to save the life of an innocent child. Once released, Harrigan realizes that his time spent in jail means nothing because she is still in danger. That Yellow Bastard is one of the more memorable and vile creations leering around Sin City. Like Marv in THE HARD GOODBYE, Miller follows a fragile man on his last leg trying to do one last good deed. Harrigan is heart breaking in his commitment to saving a young girl from the corruption and danger that oozes from every corner in the Town Without Pity. My only complaint is that the dialog Nancy, the 11 year old victim, spouts to Harrigan in his hospital room seems a bit off, as if it were a forty year old man writing what he thinks an eleven year old would say. But since Miller was probably that age when he was writing this, I guess it is pretty much accurate, so I’m willing to give those awkward panels a pass.

There has been a lot of talk about the overuse of splash pages in recent comics. I attest to the fact that I have been one of those who say that more often than not, they are a waste of space. But Miller uses splashes to space out the reading experience. Splashes are meant to be pauses, slo mo sequences, a chance to breathe or gasp or shiver. There is a sequence of splashes in THAT YELLOW BASTARD that signifies the death of a major character. It doesn’t waste an inch of space. It intensifies the moment and envelops you in the fascinating story. This is not a hack artist stretching out a half-assed panel to fill a 22 page book. This is an artist who is a master at his craft and utilizing the shape and space of the panel to its full effect. Miller instinctually knows when to slow down the momentum of the story or make your jaw drow in awe at the sheer emotion or spectacle of the image. Like a talented director of film, Miller makes sequential art like no other.

Last week, I made a blunder in my SIN CITY review stating that A DAME TO KILL FOR was part of the storyline followed in the theatrical version of SIN CITY. The film actually follows volumes one, three, and four, but to enjoy the entire back-story of Dwight (played by Clive Owen in the film) you might want to check out volume two. After walking through the comic book versions of Sin City’s twisted streets and alleyways, I can’t wait to see them come to life on film. These digest versions look beautiful and aren’t that pricey (moderately priced between 15 and 19 samoleans). SIN CITY has been called one of the most intriguing comic book series ever written and it is truly worthy of that hype.

ELFQUEST ARCHIVES Vol. 2 (Hardcover)

Writers: Richard and Wendy Pini
Artist: Wendy Pini
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

I’ve been covering DC’s ELFQUEST reprints pretty closely since they began, so indulge me a minute with some links to past ELFQUEST reviews to save me covering old ground:

*Review of the ELFQUEST 25th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL – here’s where I went nuts reminiscing over the series in general and how my horny sixth grade class loved it because the elves looked like hot teens.

*Review of the first volume of manga-sized, black and white ELFQUEST reprints…in which they’re found slightly wanting in production, if not content.

*Review of the first ELFQUEST ARCHIVES hardcover with an emphasis on the technical stuff – the re-coloring, the re-lettering, and the new content.

Still with me? Good, because I’m going to tell you about the chapter of the Elfquest saga where things get intimate. Not in the sexual sense…well actually, there’s one sex scene late in the story that’s as steamy as I’ve ever seen in a comic…but no, I’m talking about intimacy of character as the saga takes a break from its ensemble cast to spotlight a few key characters. In that, it’s more personal than anything in the first collection, but the momentum never slows for a minute…

The “quest” of the series’ title has always been, quite literally, the quest for the Wolfrider tribe of elves to find more of their own kind, to discover who they are and where they came from in a world dominated by humans. The unique setting is seemingly an Ice Age-era Earth, the elves’ technology existing at a simple medieval level (bolstered by touches of magic) in contrast with the relative primitivism of their human enemies. Volume one saw the Wolfriders burned out of their forest home and forced into deadly trek across the desert, ultimately leading to a (relatively) happy union with a tribe of darker-skinned desert elves.

In volume two, old troubles finally catch up with our heroes. Even as some of the Wolfriders find themselves bristling under the customs of the Sun Folk, a band of outcast humans shows up near death at the edge of the village. The relative simplicity of volume one’s adventurous, romantic plot gives way to more sophisticated questions of morality this time ‘round, for these aren’t the deadly human hunters who tortured and hounded the Wolfriders in years past – these are a starving band of outcasts, a child in tow no less – and for the first time the aggressive nature of the Wolfriders casts them in a darker light than their old enemies. The tribal leader, Cutter, reluctantly spares the humans, but exiles them to near-certain death in the desert even as he comes to a hard decision: with humans so prevalent in the world, the “elfquest” must go on – the more elves united to fight them, the better.

Sound like the old cliché that humans=evil despoilers? Think again. Cutter’s cruel decision regarding the human outcasts is just the first in a series of increasingly sophisticated culture clashes to come in the volume. Joined by best friend, Skywise (that’s the pair of ‘em on the cover), he sets out for uncharted territories, promising to return within a year’s time. And it’s the Cutter/Skywise friendship which drives this collection. Like all the best buddy pairs in heroic tales – Kirk and Spock, Butch and Sundance, Huck and Jim – it quickly becomes clear that their friendship exists on a deeper level than most friendships. Cutter’s the warrior/leader, Skywise the dreamer/lover, but they’d give their lives for each other in a heartbeat and their verbal sparring is a both fun and heartfelt. Wendy Pini’s art brings their friendship to life, her nuanced array of animation-inspired expressions bringing all the facets of sophisticated adults to their Peter Pan-esque designs.

And as they travel…

There’s mystery…

First when they rediscover the troll caves of the first volume, abandoned save for a likeable rogue of a troll, his would-be bride and would-be mother-in-law (scary). This is one of my favorite interludes in the series. I love how it bucks fantasy trends when the elves end up getting drunk with the trolls – turns out they’re as slick with wine-making as they are with metal-smithing. And the scene introduces one of the series’ most visually-stunning characters, the mad troll genius, Two-Edge. He’ll play a vital role in subsequent volumes, but for this outing, he’s just an enigma to rival the coolness of Boba Fett circa 1980.

And there’s danger…

Oh, the trolls aren’t all wine and song! They’ve got some nasty plans, though it’s actually a squirrel bite that does more damage than anything in this volume. Stagnant water…open wound…it’s a recipe for disaster and it also leads Cutter and Skywise directly into the lair of a human couple.

And there’s real emotion…

Turns out these humans are yet another stripe of humanity for Cutter and Skywise to try to decipher. Cast out from their superstitious tribe over the symbol-art the woman paints, they’re a truly loving couple…and is it just possible her paintings of spirits actually depict an undiscovered tribe of elves? There’s that mystery again…

And, okay, there’s a little sex!

One of the most refreshing aspects of the entire ELFQUEST series is that it’s so friendly toward sex, presenting it tastefully but without shying away from eroticism. It’s the beauty of a series created by an artistically-inclined husband and wife. They don’t just bring the naughty – they also bring complex character interactions, highs and lows in friendships, and the joys of family…all while managing to avoid the dangers of cheap sentimentality. After all, this volume sees one character lose a thumb to a blade, sees the heartbreaking final days of one the elves’ wolf-mounts, and sees a brutal ending that remains one of the most compelling cliffhangers in comics. Have the Wolfriders discovered a new tribe of elves only to find them a gathering of sadists?

I have a tendency to save art concerns for the end of reviews and I really shouldn’t, because Wendy Pini’s lush art (she’s penciller, inker, and colorist) makes every page of this book sing. Her lines are clean like the best of Disney, but her painterly coloring creates environments rich with texture and subtle colorations. You’ll feel the cool air of her desert nights, the softness of the robes that shimmer off the hottest of elf-babes, Leetah, and even the sun-hardened skin of the proud human tribesman. I could say she’s a consummate storyteller too, but it’s the sensuality and richness of the ELFQUEST setting the most sticks with me, so for this review my particular title for her is “world-builder.” Many try, few succeed, she set the standard that’s yet to be equaled.

My one beef with the story itself comes down to “Ewok Syndrome” – the introduction of a new, highly cute race whose mannerisms border on cloying. I like the role they eventually play, but they’re just a bit insufferable at first. They’re also at the heart of a “lost chapter” integrated into the collection, a long out-of-print story that appeared in the magazine EPIC ILLUSTRATED back when Marvel had the ELFQUEST property in the ‘80s. Not a bad story, but if this were a director’s cut DVD, it’d be the scene where I’d say, “Woulda been neat as a scene to view after the movie, but I kinda wish they hadn’t integrated it.”

The big question these DC Archives will always evoke is…are they worth the fifty buck price? And the answer with ELFQUEST will always be “yes…HELL YES!” I’ve got much love for the Golden and Silver Age classics that are the meat and potatoes of the line, but if we’re being honest, even fans have to admit that many of those stories are crude works, of interest to hardcore fans and comic scholars alone. ELFQUEST isn’t like that. ELFQUEST did for comic book fantasy what Lee and Kirby did for superheroes: establish the high water mark against which all future contenders will be judged. I’d say that deserves a hardcover!

As for me, I’m already jonesin’ for the next volume. It’s the one where things get dark, daaark, daaaaaark!


Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Pencils: Adrian Alphona
Inks: Craig Yeung
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

There is no such thing as a perfect comic.

There. I said it. If you sit down with a comic book, read it, say “That was a perfect comic book.”, and don’t have anything else to say supporting that statement or intelligently debating those who feel otherwise, then you, my friend, are not a comic book reviewer or critic (if you will). You are a fan, which is not to say that being a fan is a bad thing. There are millions of you out there. Comics and their creators need their fans. They need the people who can see no flaws. People who follow a comic creator’s every move and creation with utter and complete adoration. But that’s not what I am and that’s not what I do. I and the rest of my comic book reviewing cadre here at AICN COMICS look at comics and try to find the good, the bad, and something worthy to say about it all. The thing is, if you clicked on this column every week and all we did was list the comic and afterwards said, “Yup, I liked it.”, you probably wouldn’t click here again. I’m not saying that this is rocket science we do here every week, but it does take a bit of thought to churn out objective criticism on a regular basis. Sometimes it just isn’t as easy as saying “This sux.” or “That rulez!” As a comic book reviewer, it’s my job to elaborate on one of the two phrases and sometimes both.

That said, this week I am reviewing RUNAWAYS #2. I chose this book to review because, more than any other comic out there today, the @$$holes at AICN COMICS have supported this book and touted it as one of the best comics Marvel has to offer. For the most part, I agree. RUNAWAYS is always fresh. The stories are compelling. The characters are original. The cliffhangers are worthy of the name. I always walk away from reading a RUNAWAYS comic with the feeling that I did not waste my money and that can’t be said with a lot of the books I read.

Take this issue, for example. RUNAWAYS #2 features the first meeting between our team and a youngster named Victor who will one day grow up to be a powerful villain named Victorious and is the son of one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe (the identity of Victor’s father is part of the mystery, much like the “Who is the traitor?” mystery from the previous series). On the trail of the Runaways is a band of former teen heroes called Excelsior who have taken it upon themselves to stop the teen heroes of today from making the same mistakes that they did. This is a tightly-packed issue, filled with ups and downs, subplots and intersecting paths. In two issues, Vaughan has not only reminded us who the Runaways are and introduced us to a new character who will be a major player in the rest of this arc, but he has introduced another team of post-teens who aren’t cast as bad guys, but as misguided (or more accurately, misinformed) heroes themselves. That’s a lot happening in two issues and a leap away from the decompressed storytelling trend that has become commonplace at Marvel.

But like I said earlier, there’s no such thing as a perfect comic. It’s my job to not only elaborate on the good stuff, I must also do my duty as a comic reviewer and delve into the soft nougat of this comic to see if there is anything to gripe about.

One of the things that stood out as particularly gripe-worthy was the multiple usage of liberal opinionings present in the first issue of this series. Now, I’m not what you’d call a political guy. I tend to cast myself as a middle-of-the-road, self-proclaimed anarchist. I try to steer away from politics when I can because all it does is call assholes to arms and force them to fart factoids orally as if they are going to change the mind of the opposing party (who never falter in retaliating with a flurry of vocal flatulence themselves). These conversations bore the living shit out of me and anyone else who is confident enough about their own beliefs to kindly shut the fuck up about them and not give a shit whether or not the other tool below you in the talkbacks or on the barstool next to you feels the same way. These amateur politicians aren’t really trying to inform you. They just like the way their bad breath smells and want to share the stank with you. When I read barbs at the Bush Administration and Fox News in issue one, I automatically had an adverse response. Not because I like those greasy bastards, but because it really had no pertinence to the story. There are comics where politics are free game to be discussed, deliberated, and debated. Show me those comics and I will stay the hell away from them. But that has never been what RUNAWAYS is about, so why pigeon-hole an awkward political statement in the dialog that screeches the story momentum to a halt? This was merely the writer letting everyone know where he stands politically and I could give a shit and a half less. I’ll take some more teen angst and super heroism and a little less political egotism, thankyewverymuch.

Whew! Rant over. Breathe, Bug, breathe. The second issue itself was politics free, thank god. Let’s hope Vaughan got that out of him in the first issue.

The art from Alphonia and Yeung continues to be amazing. The cast’s detailed styles of clothing is especially unique. The simplicity of the line is exceptionally appealing and offers a worthy alternative to the bold lines and shadings of many of today’s comics. Alphona doesn’t follow your typical cut and paste muscles and boobs formula for drawing heroes. Each character has a posture, a stance, a weight and presence all his or her own. Each person is presented uniquely. This is a truly beautiful comic.

Like I said, there is no such thing as the perfect comic. But despite the distracting presence of politics in the first issue, RUNAWAYS is pretty close to perfection for me.


Ben Rosen: Creator
Vroom Socko: Injuring

Wow. Just last week, I was talking up a book where the main character was the creator of his own indie book, and here’s an indie book… about a guy creating his own indie book.


Oh, don’t get me wrong; Ben Rosen’s book is pretty damn entertaining, if somewhat by the numbers. Teenage comic book fan Greg is heading into finals week, his father is hammering on him to study, and his after school job sucks. Naturally, this is the perfect time to enter a local mini-comic contest. That’s it, really. Only it’s actually pretty funny. Greg’s dad is hilarious in his enforced study regiment, as are the difficulties he has in taking a state standardized test.

There are some jokes however, that do fall flat, primarily a running gag where everyone who reads Greg’s book asks if the villain is supposed to be his dad. The art is also quite sparse in places. But, as the comics pro that Greg talks to says, for a first-time work it’s better than I expected, and Rosen has nowhere to go but up. I’ll definitely want to see what sort of work he’ll be doing in a few years.

But don’t take my word for it, Just click right here to take a look at some sample pages, as well as find ordering information. As for Rosen, I only have one question for him: is that comic book writer at the end supposed to be Bendis?


Writer: Chris Wisnia
Artists: Chris Wisnia, with Dick Ayers, Damon Thompson, Ryan Sook, Steve Rude and John Severin
Publisher: Salt Peter Press
Reviewer: Matthew Wanderski

TABLOIA is a melting pot of goodies drawn from pulp and kitsch media as diverse as Raymond Chandler (or at least TV's THE NAKED CITY), old giant monster comic books, and The National Inquirer, naming only a few. Creative Mastermind Chris Wisnia packs every inch of his comic book with one or another aspect of the bizarre or sensational, the criminal or horrific, and the result is a complete and near-delirious package that moves from the serious to the silly, the truthful to the patently false (and in-between), always keeping in mind the promise of its title.

The lead serial – and heart of the anthology – is “The Lump,” a modern L.A.-style slice of noir concerning the investigation into a horribly disfigured victim of a highway traffic accident. Or is it murder? Or something even more sinister? The inexplicable condition of "the lump" serves as a springboard for some cultural commentary on modern notions of beauty and body modification, including direct dissertation that actually fits the story, since it's voiced by the hip, young, "alternative" type of characters (one of them seems a college student or recent graduate) who would expound on such concerns. They're also the most engaging characters in the feature (although Wisnia creates a promising figure in Homicide Det. Morelli, particularly in his visual characterization), and a good part of the intrigue is watching them weave in and out of the narrative. The Lump also pleases as a mystery; just when I thought I knew for sure where the story was going, this latest chapter took some unexpected turns, and I find myself guessing once again.

The back-up features are played for laughs and essentially the same ones each issue. They can't compare to the forensic puzzle of “The Lump,” but they do always bring a smile or laugh. The most consistently funny is “Dr. DeBunko: Debunker of the Supernatural!,” in which the weak-minded manage to rationalize the most outrageous – and sinful – behaviors with the help of superstition. It's in this strip that Wisnia's sense of humor really takes off, and I find myself laughing at it every time.

But not only the sequential art narratives in TABLOIA celebrate and lampoon the cannons of camp, noir, yellow journalism, etc. Almost every word and image, from front cover to back, contributes to the fun. The inside front cover contains goofball columns devoted to "fun sanitation tips" and "surprising sex science facts," while the letters pages reference issues decades old, even though TABLOIA debuted in 2004. TABLOIA creates its own engaging reality every issue, and the editorial features do a good amount of that mythologizing. It can be occasionally dizzying, trying to sort fact from fiction in these text pieces, but just as with the supermarket tabloid, it's best to err on the side of caution.

Special kudos should go to the smartly-designed covers of Damon Thompson. With a limited color scheme that alternately weights black, white, intermediate grey and striking red, and anchored by or composed entirely of one lurid subject (a severed hand on a nighttime road; a windshield bullet hole; a set of surgical instruments; a spooky, moon-lit barn), they beautifully set the tone for the lead feature. The other, goofier side of TABLOIA finds its way onto the back covers, as in this context their mock parental warnings conjure up the Fredric Wertham-led crusade against funny books of the 1950s. And each issue is rounded out by fantastical pin-ups by guest artists. This issue, Ryan Sook covers the giant monster angle; Steve Rude's entry is slyly sinister, while John Severin further broadens the series' pulpish palette with his stirring Western image.

But it's Wisnia who is the chief artist, and he varies his style effectively from feature to feature. The Lump utilizes solid, copious and highly atmospheric blacks, appropriate for the night scenes and shadowy offices and morgues that dominate the story. “Dick Hammer: Conservative Republican Private Investigator” looks much the same, but looser and rougher, befitting its manly, tongue-in-cheek tone. Dr. DeBunko's demons and sheltered hamlets are scratchily delineated, bringing to mind old, eldritch woodcuts; the contrast with the silliness of the stories makes the proceedings all the more hysterical. And old pro Dick Ayers, who inked many a Jack Kirby giant monster tale, brings perfect finishes to Wisnia's pencils in “Doris Danger Seeks... Where Giant Monsters Creep and Stomp!,” a direct homage to the kind of creature feature Kirby and Steve Ditko churned out in the 50s and 60s.

While each component of TABLOIA is at least pleasing (“The Lump” is especially worthy of notice), what makes this series really special is how they all come together as a total reading experience – and a gonzo one, at that. Meticulously, enthusiastically, and cleverly conceived and executed, TABLOIA brims with Wisnia's obvious affection for the source material and the ways in which they mix what we believe, what we want to believe, and what we simply can't. Everything wraps up in the extra-sized finale due in June, but all issues should be available via the TABLOIA website (itself a treat) if not at your local shop. Fans of other pulp-n-noir titles, from PLANETARY to HELLBOY, KANE to EVIL EYE, should find something to dig in TABLOIA.

NEW AVENGERS #4 - I've just realized why, despite being a well written and illustrated book, I'm just not enjoying NEW AVENGERS. No, it's not lingering hatred of “Avengers Disassembled,” or the stupid doughnut bit from this issue... okay, those play into it, but it's something else. It's that the whole book is little more than warmed over Morrison-style JLA. Think about it. The team is made up of the company's signature characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern compared to Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man and Daredevil,) along with a few of the writer's personal favorites, (Aztek, Orion, and Big Barda vs. Sentry, Luke Cage and Spider-Woman.) And these characters are being thrown up against wave after wave of crazy shit (White Martians, Angels, and crazy villains who can alter reality, or dozens of escaped super villains, the Savage Land, and crazy villains who can alter reality.) Why is this bad? Because it means two things. One, that it took doing what DC did ten years ago for Marvel to have the #1 book over SUPERMAN/BATMAN. Two, that despite any claims of narrative evolution in comics, what was the #1 book in the 90's would still be the #1 book today. Of course, I also fucking hated Morrison on JLA, so you might want to keep that in mind. – Vroom

JLA CLASSIFIED #5 - In this episode of the “Not Ready For JLA Players,” the team comes to terms with living next door to Guy Gardner’s new bar, Blue Beetle approaches Power Girl for membership, Sue Dibney continues to deny her pregnancy, and Booster Gold fucks up big time. More fun and laughs from the legendary team of Giffen, Dematteis, and McGuire. Sure, after the events of IDENTITY CRISIS, the running joke that Sue is pregnant leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but the rapid HIS GIRL FRIDAY-style dialog has a wit and charm that cannot be found in any other comic. Later in this Cheap Shots section, I will rip into Bendis for filling an entire issue with talking heads. In this series, I don’t object to the overabundance of the talkity-talk, since the word balloons bounce around with a vibrancy and energy of their own. It doesn’t hurt that McGuire’s art takes facial expressions to a completely new level. This cast of heroes are some of the most entertaining and fun aspects of the DCU. So why in the holy hell do they keep killing them off? - Bug

DAREDEVIL #71 - It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed DD. Good to see nothing has changed. You have to give the guy credit. Bendis sure knows how to stick to a formula. Never straying from his now-worn style of inaction and over-speak, this issue focuses on a group of people who have gathered together to talk and talk and talk some more about how DD has effected their lives since he assumed the mantle of Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen. With such memorable and to-the-point lines as:
“Now you said you’ve changed. You’re changing. Being there at that moment. You’ve said it changed you?”
I find it amusing that I am the one accused of being redundant in reviewing this series over and over. True, if I were simply a fan, I’d have dropped this book long ago, but since I am a reviewer of comics (good and bad, and in this case very bad), I’ll keep reading this book and pointing out how terribly dull Bendis has made the character of Daredevil and the once fascinating world of crime he used to bound about in. This issue also features the return of Ann Nocenti’s Bullet and some kind of art from Alex Maleev that looks as if it were produced by tracing photographs using a worn down pencil nub guided solely by the artist’s anus. This arc is framed around the Bible’s Ten Commandments. As if Bendis’ writing wasn’t pretentious enough. - Bug

HAWKMAN #38 - The Golden Eagle is re-introduced in this issue. And that’s a good thing, since I didn’t know who the hell he was before this issue. Hawkman and Hawkgirl attend yet another fancy, black tie soiree, only to be once again attacked by a cadre of super-villains. It would border on repetitious if not for the fact that Hawkgirl comments on how they can’t go to a party without someone getting killed. The villains are a bit too flip for me in the dialog department. In a previous issue, main baddie The Fadeaway Man comments that he “makes the Joker look like the Riddler.” In this issue, big baddie Lionmane growls, “Looks like an all-you-can-eat down there.” Ugh. That’s a bit too “Look at me, I’m so eeeevil!” for me. Other than that, though, Palmiotti and Grey have been delivering a fast paced and high-octane adventure comic for the last few months that’s worth checking out. - Bug

- Man, is JMS the wrong guy for this title. I haven’t been this bored with Spider-Man in years. The last few issues, Spidey has been wrasslin’ with an all new Molten Man-type who is after Peter Parker, and not Spidey. This would be an interesting twist…if half of Spidey’s villains didn’t already know Pete and Spidey were the same person, that is. Once again, JMS misses the mark. I’ve admired his high-concept work with SUPREME POWER, MIDNIGHT NATION, and RISING STARS, but when it comes to wall-crawling, JMS fails miserably. Although the character has potential for high-concept stories, Spidey has always worked as the Everyman hero. Here, JMS sadly doesn’t seem to be able to deliver those types of stories with the flair he does in his other work. - Bug

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