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AICN COMICS! SEVEN SOLDIERS: ZATANNA! INVINCIBLE! MNEMOVORE! POWER PACK! AND MORE!!!

#46 4/6/05 #3

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

SEVEN SOLDIERS: ZATANNA #1
SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL #3
INVINCIBLE TPB VOL.4
POWER PACK #1
MNEMOVORE #1
GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #1
SUPERNATURAL FREAK MACHINE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY #1
CHEAP SHOTS!

7 SOLDIERS: ZATANNA # 1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ryan Sook
Published by DC
Reviewed by Zzub Kirevam



A long time ago, on a message board far, far away, someone once posted that Black Canary shouldn't wear fishnet stockings because they aren't practical for kung fu fighting. I couldn't figure out who could possibly object to a leggy blonde in fishnets.

Straight guys? Nope, we're down with it.

Gay guys? Can't speak for 'em, but I'm pretty sure that it would have some kind of icon status or camp appeal.

Lesbian guys? See answer for straight guys.

Straight chicks? Yeah, like they care about practicality in kung fu fights.

I blame the asexual, who really are responsible for all the ills in society.

Zatanna is the other DC heroine in fishnets stockings. She's the Magic Brunette, who wears the magician's assistant costume (you know those skimpy numbers designed to draw yer attention while the magician hides a wad of doves up his nose). I think she last appeared in a Paul Dini produced one-shot.

Writer Grant Morrison and talented artist Ryan Sook have grabbed her up for her own 7 SOLDIERS series. Aside from the cover, which features fishnet gloves (gloves can be a cool fetish) instead of the stockings, the babe cake art Zatanna is downplayed. In the flashbacks where she's helping her father Zatara perform magic on a TV talk show; she's played for laughs as the bumbling assistant. In fact, the framing device for this issue is Zatanna attending a support group meeting for superheroes with low self esteem.

Morrison ties this book closer to the stunning open 7 SOLDIERS O' VICTORY # 0 than he has done with the other entries SHINING KNIGHT and GUARDIAN so far. Gimmick, the fading beauty/fame junkie from 7 SOLDIERS is in Zatanna's support group. References are made to the pixie bug riders and the alien/demon queen, etc.

This superbly illustrated issue contains one of those trippy, comic-dimensional stories that guys like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Mr. Morrison excel in writing. They must either be fun or a pain in the ass to draw, with each panel representing a new reality. See almost any issue of PROMETHEA for example. Zatanna's current, incompatible boyfriend, a professional skeptic, says, "What did you slip into my latte, Zee?"

In a scene echoing Zatara's death in SWAMP THING, Zatanna is apparently responsible for incinerating her entire circle during a ritual. It seems that one lonely night, she summoned her ideal lover, who turned out to be a demon bent on destroying the universe. Didn't she do her Banishment rituals. Ya gotta do the Banishment rituals and ya can't skimp. Any of you ever been butt-probed by gray aliens? That happened because early in the 20th century, wizards were screwing up their Banishment rituals. Next time the things with the black eyes trot out the Probe device, say, "Thanks, Aleistir! Thanks, Jack!"

Zatanna has apparently lost her power to conjure through speaking backwards. Her new sidekick, on the other hand...

Morrison and Sook really move at a fast pace this issue, as they should. 7 SOLDIERS is going to be one fine achievement for Morrison, the artists, and DC. Next up, KLARION THE WITCH BOY, who'd better not be in fishnets.


SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL #3

Writer/artist: Frank Cho
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G



Wow, this book sure looks great.

That's pretty much all it's got goin' for it, though. It's a pretty lousy read. The weak plot, lame narration, and cheesy dialogue loom over every page like a brontosaurus' head. The Nazi scientists and the viral outbreak don't really add much.

This month we had a scene with a steak-head taking a piss mentioning that he got a "shiver." Not content with letting the people who knew what he meant groan at his tactlessness, Frank Cho then has to *explain* the concept of the "shiver" for us (those quotation marks are his, not mine, BTW). The more readers suffering the better, I suppose.

Admittedly, much of the problem is Marvel's fault. The mini is clearly set in The Savage Land – except they're not allowed to call it that. Oh, and Shanna isn't really Shanna – she’s just somebody the smarmy guys who litter the title as dino-fodder named after somebody they used to read about in comics when they were kids. It's not really self-referential, though, since it doesn't refer to itself – it’s just disappointing.

Marvel should have worried a lot less about a couple of nipples and a lot more about the fact they had what was a mediocre script at best and decided to hamstring it by stripping it of the handful of recognizable elements that would make a longtime Marvel reader give a crap.

But this book sure looks great though.


INVINCIBLE VOL. 4: HEAD OF THE CLASS

Robert Kirkman: Writer
Ryan Ottley: Artist
Image Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Diff’rent Strokes.



I was first turned on to INVINCIBLE by these wise words of Dave “Stop Calling Me Cormorant” Farabee. Oh sure, I’d seen some of the promo stuff before then, but come on. His costume is the Image logo, for pity’s sake. But then I read the first trade collection. And then grabbed the next two. Even having heard from Dave where the story was going, I had a blast. This volume, however, was the first one I went into cold, with no idea of where the story would go.
Well, reading this fourth collection has brought me to an inescapable conclusion: INVINCIBLE is the most idyllic example of a superhero comic book currently being published.

For starters, each of the seven stories in this book is self-contained, as well as wildly different from each other. Here, Mark, aka Invincible fights off not only alien invaders, but extradimensional ones as well. He also takes a trip to Mars, brings down a crime lord, and gets betrothed to a fish woman. All this, and he also managed to graduate from high school. Just one of those events would be a six-issue story arc, plus an epilogue, from certain other creators. Here, these stories are stripped down, lean machines, which suits me just fine.

Then there are the multiple subplots that are cruising through this sucker. Well, strictly speaking they’re not actually subplots. That’s one of the beautiful things about TPB compared to monthlies. Separately, the main focus is on the action, but in this collection the aliens and fishpeople become the subplots. The main story becomes about Mark’s mother dealing with the truth about her husband, about his relationships with his classmates, about his growth as a person. That’s why I love comics. The same material, in two different formats, results in two totally different storytelling experiences. That’s just wonderous.

But what’s really great, what I really, really love about this book, is how it can shift tone so quickly and easily. Kirkman isn’t afraid to make his book seem ridiculous. In an era where the Big Two publishers are quickly turning into Graham Chapman characters from Monty Python, (“This has all gotten far to silly. Come on, you’ve got to do something else now…”) this is a blast and a half. Sure, there are some books that can shift tonally from drama to humor between issues. ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN does this quite often. But Kirkman, he can do it between panels, man! The last two pages of the Mars storyline are the perfect example of this. I’m looking at this one page, with the most perfect joke imaginable, then I turn it over and there’s an amazing “OH FUCK!” shit-hitting-the-fan moment. Just amazing.

Any of you out there dissatisfied with the serious, dramatic “event” storylines out there? Pick up this series. Hell, those of you who enjoy those sort of stories should get this book too. It’s wild fun, dramatic, suspenseful, and this volume also includes the funniest introduction I’ve ever read, courtesy of Mark Waid. This title is one of the great ones, folks.


POWER PACK #1

Writer: Marc Sumerak
Art: Gurihiru & Chris Eliopoulos
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug



I have every issue of the old POWER PACK series and for the life of me I don’t know why. I never really liked the saccharinated adventures of the Power brood. I always found them to be a bit annoying and had no idea why they took part in crossover events such as the “Mutant Massacre” (possibly one of the darkest and one of my most favorite X-Crossovers) where every Morlock and his mother were slaughtered. A tale depicting a Holocaust-like murder of an entire population of mutants in the sewers of New York just didn’t seem to be the place for a quadruplet of tweens in skin-tight body suits. But I bought every issue, since back then I was the most mindless of Marvel Zombies. So mindless, I even bought all of the Marvel UK stuff. Man, am I embarrassed I just said that.

Since SHANNA, SLEEPWALKER, STRANGE, SQUADRON SUPREME, and everyone else is getting a reboot, nowadays, I guess it was just a matter of time before Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power had a chance to shine again. I have to give writer, Marc Sumerak credit. The popular trend these days is to have a) the title character/s not appear in the book unitl the very last page, b) forget all continuity and start as if any issue featuring this/these character/s never existed, and c) retool the character in such an extreme way that said character/s are completely unrecognizable even to those who actually have been reading comics for years. Sumerak bucks all of these annoying trends at the House of Ideas. The Powers are there, front and center, on the first page. They haven’t aged a bit since the eighties, which makes me feel kind of icky, since a smokin’ hot, twenty-something Julie Powers has tits in the latest issue of RUNAWAYS and here she’s a bookish thirteen year old. And Sumerak even has the balls to shell out a recap of the Power’s origin and pretty much their entire 100 plus issue series in the first few pages of this book. It’s refreshing to see the lack of Nu Marvel-ization here.

But I have to say, though, that this isn’t really the type of book for me. The story is light and fitting for the POWER PACK U. I guess that’s okay. Had I a child of my own, this is a book I’d give him or her if he or she were interested in comics. A kid may be interested in seeing other kids his age flying around and beating up aliens. But the best children’s stories are interesting to adults too, and the simple plot of Katie Power wanting to write her “What I Did For Summer Vacation…” report left me cold. Plus plot-holes like the fact that the aliens weren’t able to track the Power kids when they used their powers in their home, but when Katie lets loose with a fire ball on the roof, her power signature is immediately detected from deep space don’t help sell this story for me. I wasn’t a big fan of the cartoony, manga-style art either. Too animation cell-like. Too cutesy. Like I said, I don’t want to be too harsh because there aren’t too many comics out there that would be good for kids, but this type of art just does nothing for me.

So why am I recommending this book, you may ask?

Well, the last five pages of this book were simply the most fun I had reading a comic in a very long time. Sumerak returns with Marvel Bullpen artist Chris Eliopoulos with a back-up story featuring FRANKLIN RICHARDS – SON OF A GENIUS. This tiny tale is just that: a work of genius. It’s worthy of its own series in itself. Like a super-powered CALVIN & HOBBES, Sumerak casts an ornery Franklin Richards as an ornery troublemaker. And if you’re dad had portals to the Negative Zone and the Ultimate Nullifier lying around the house, you’d probably have gotten into a bit of trouble as a youth as well. Sumerak characterizes Franklin not as the cooing, 4 _ shirt-wearin’, arm candy for Sue Storm that he is often depicted as. He’s headstrong, determined, and temperamental. He’s just like his stretchy pop, without the vast amount of know-how Reed picked up in his adult life. Complimenting Franklin’s ornery side is H.E.R.B.I.E. That’s right. This issue features the dramatic return of H.E.R.B.I.E., who here acts like Hobbes voiced by David Hyde Pierce. H.E.R.B.I.E. is high-strung and neurotic. He’s constantly trying to keep Franklin out of trouble and is being dragged into one misadventure after another by the little shit.

I simply loved this story and the concepts behind it. The reader gets to see a side of the Fantastic Four that we rarely see. Through the eyes of a child, the FF Universe can be a pretty amazing place. This is a concept that oozes potential and I hope Marvel is smart enough to give us more adventures with this truly dynamic duo. This issue features Franklin Richards trying to fake illness in order to stay home from school. But Reed’s complex innovations diagnose Franklin as germ-free. PO-ed all to hell, Franklin lifts a shrink machine from his father’s lab and quite literally has a tiny adventure under his father’s nose. Truly fun stuff.

If the rest of this book had this type of imagination and ingenuity, I’d be recommending the whole thing. But for the last five pages, this book is worth the cover price alone. Hey Marvel, more Franklin and H.E.R.B.I.E. please!


MNEMOVORE #1 (of 6)

Writers: Hans Rodionoff and Ray Fawkes
Artist: Mike Huddleston
Publisher: Vertigo/DC
Reviewer: Sleazy G



Vertigo is an imprint that has always been willing to take chances on new writers, stories, and artists. While still in its youth SWAMP THING and HELLBLZAER were there to anchor the imprint. One of those chances the editors took ended up being Neil Gaiman, though, and by the time his run on SANDMAN came to an end his work had left an indelible mark on Vertigo. People loved the world Gaiman had created so much that Vertigo kept publishing follow-ups and spin-offs, some of higher quality than others, that continue to this day. While that’s fine in and of itself, it has made it awfully hard for anyone else to introduce works of horror that aren’t overshadowed by the earliest, most influential Vertigo books. I admit to being partially responsible for this, as I still haven’t read the graphic novels about the paparazzi, Lovecraft, and Poe that I’ve heard such good things about. When I heard about MNEMOVORE I decided it was a good opportunity to give a shot at the kind of stuff I’ve been overlooking and see what else might be crawling around over at Vertigo.

MNEMOVORE follows Kaley Markowic, a 19 year old snowboarder. She wipes out in a tournament and ends up in the hospital. When she wakes up she has amnesia—and a strange little squiggle turning up on her brain scans. When she’s released from the hospital she begins the process of relearning who she is, who the people around her are, and what her life used to be. She decides to go back to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend despite not remembering him or anything about her life, and that’s when things get weird. Kaley and her boyfriend Scott don’t know it, but she’s a carrier for something…well, I don’t know for sure yet if it’s evil, but it sure is icky, and it’s already gotten a hold of Scott.

The one big reservation I had when I first heard about this series was the whole “competitive snowboarder” angle. I was worried it would end up being some lame-assed attempt to hip up her character by having her be all EXTREME! and spouting ridiculous youthspeak catchphrases. Thankfully, there’s none of that. Instead the snowboarding is used to contrast who and what Kaley once was with what’s going on in Kaley’s life since the accident. Near the end of this first issue, there’s a scene where something dark and ugly is invading Scott, and Kaley tries to intervene and finds herself attacked as well. The thing assaults Kaley’s mind and memories, and in a very effective sequence artist Mike Huddleston manages to depict the claustrophobic and horrifying assault while using Kaley’s memories of snowboarding as a counterpoint. The images of Kaley in midair above the trees are clearly meant to be taken both literally and metaphorically. They represent the joy, freedom and hope Kaley has lost, to be sure, but they are also reflections of the very real cost of the accident and what may yet be lost to the forces at work in its wake.

The sequence works even better thanks to the design Huddleston has come up with for the strange creature that appears to have taken root in Kaley’s head. The thing has a body similar to an octopus, if octopuses were made of slugs and had a cluster of eyes like a spider. Or, to put it another way, eeeewww. It’s slimy, it’s mysterious, and…yeah…a hint Lovecraftian. Which is fine—I mean, who doesn’t like creepy transspecies Lovecraftian ickmonsters, after all? I’m just really hoping Rodionoff, Fawkes, and Huddleston have something a little more interesting and thought-provoking up their sleeves than an H.P. riff. So far, though, they’re certainly off to a good start. The book looks good (check out that killer painted cover by Huddleston) and it’s already going in a slightly different direction than I was expecting. There are hints that there may be some metaphorical exploration of the human condition to come instead of just a straight-ahead, literal gorefest, and I’m pretty happy about that. I tend to prefer psychological horror anyway as it tends to lean more heavily on character development and tension. It looks like this might be a story that gives us some of the creepy late-night freakout stuff, some of the “am I going crazy?” paranoia we all dig, and a look at how we define who and what we are. All in all, a pretty good set of material to work with, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the miniseries holds.


GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #1 (of 4)

Dan Slott: Writer
Paul Pelletier: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Dying Over Here!



Man, have I been looking forward to this one. Dan Slott, the writer who’s brought the funny on books like SHE-HULK and SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH stepping up to take the piss out of the Disassembled event. What better way to do that than to have Marvel’s most beloved obscure goofball character, Squirrel Girl, handle the intro, with sidekick Monkey Joe providing a running commentary.

Much of the book lives up to the humorous tone set by the intro. The main focus of this issue is the secret origin of Mr. Immortal, and it’s damn hilarious. His first solo attempt as foiling crime is a blast, and a cameo from the real Avengers had me in stitches. There’s also a great gag similar to one of my favorite bits from the film ORGAZMO, where the team heads out on patrol in their Quin-Jetta.

But then, a strange thing happened…

The ending features a fatality among the team, one that surprised me. When Hawkeye was shot in the back and exploded, I went into immediate denial. (Hell, I’m still in denial. They didn’t find a body, after all. Besides, he’s Hawkeye fer fuck’s sake, the Colossus of the Avengers. You know he’s not gonna stay dead!) Then last week, when Blue Beetle bit it, I was just pissed at DC, nothing more. But here… here someone died and I actually gave a shit. Yes, I know. They’re the GLA, nobody sane gives a damn about any of them. (Well, maybe John Byrne, but like I said…) This, along with a bait and switch flashback sequence, had me absolutely enthralled.

Sure, this is a funny, funny book. But it’s also phenomenally dark. The story begins and ends with Mr. Immortal holding a gun to his own head, and his caption boxes are eerily shaped like shell casings. Sure, the grim ‘n gritty stuff’s not all perfect. Mr. Immortal’s childhood especially comes off as a little too After School Special for my tastes. But it works to make you involved with his character and history.

Slott is giving his all on this book, which should surprise no one. He’s the fastest rising writer currently at Marvel, and if he isn’t given his own Spidey book soon then there is no god. With this issue, however, my estimation of him has risen tenfold. Damnit, man! They’re the Great Lakes Avengers! Why are you making care about them?


SUPERNATURAL FREAK MACHINE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY #1

Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Kelley Jones
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Ambush Bug



There are two ways to mix comedy and horror.

There is horror with comedic elements. This is the type of horror that I love. The horror is often so intense that a funny line or situation is thrown in to ease its intensity. This type of horror knows just how much the audience can take before shocking them back into reality with a good laugh. It clears the air. It reminds the audience that no matter how intense the situation is on the page or on the screen, you are safe and able to laugh and breath a sigh of relief that it isn’t you in that dire situation.

Then there is a horror comedy, which is basically a comedy with horrific elements. These are the types of stories that I’m not so fond of. The horror comedy is often so ludicrous that you can’t take the film or story seriously enough to become invested in the characters or plot. The writer and you are too busy laughing at the characters to care. And when you don’t care about the characters, just what kind of kooky, spooky situation they can ludicrously and narrowly get into and escape from, it becomes more of a cartoon than a story.

I distinguish these two horror/comedy types because I find SUPERNATURAL FREAK MACHINE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY to be walking along the fine line separating these two extremes. At times, as I read this book, there is a wonderful use of pacing exuding a tangible feeling of dread. I loved the scenes depicting the warden returning to the asylum only to find one of his inmates has been experimenting on the staff. These panels leading to an amazing double splash page was horrific and beautiful all at once. It features a return of a character that hasn’t been seen in the comic books, but one who has appeared in the superb Cal McDonald novellas; Dr. Ploynice, a modern day Dr. Frankenstein bent on revenge against Cal.

Then there’s a scene where Cal McDonald, down and out paranormal detective, pukes off the top of the Hollywood sign while talking about his new girlfriend with his ghoul friend, Mo’lock, who just happens to look just like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein.

I’ve been reading Cal McDonald stories for quite a while now. From novellas like GUNS, DRUGS, AND MONSTERS to more recent comic book series like CRIMINAL MACABRE, Cal has always been a comedic character; always there to blow a puff of smoke and a snarky comment up the @$$ of whatever ghoulie or freaky-deek he stumbles into. It’s always been a part of his character to have moments where the reader laughs out loud at him. My problem is that recently, Niles has been writing McDonald as more of a joke than usual. He’s starting to become a caricature of the original version and I think this is why I am having an adverse reaction to one of my favorite characters in comics.

One of the reasons I’m feeling this way definitely has to do with the fact that the last few Cal miniseries have been drawn by artist Kelley Jones. I’ve been a big fan of Jones’ art. To me, in horror comics, first there was Bernie Wrightston, and then came Kelley Jones. These two guys can draw horror. Period. But Jones seems to amp up the catroonishness in his Cal stories and I find that very distracting. I’d rather be scared then laugh than look at the page, laugh, then maybe get scared as I read. But in the end, that immediate fright-filled reaction is gone because I first see a caricature instead of a character.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that when I was first introduced to Cal and his wonderful world of monsters in CRIMINAL MACABRE, I was truly scared about what was happening. These creatures he was fighting were all-together ooky and Cal’s comments and actions put me at ease in that it brought me back from the darkness with a laugh. But lately, I’m just laughing at Cal and even the dark moments aren’t so scary anymore.

For me, this is simply a case of a great artist but ultimately the wrong artist for the material. Drawn in a darker tone, this would be a truly creepy read, but Jones toon style kept me from flitting through this story as if it were a Saturday morning cartoon.

It appears as if writer Steve Niles may be taking the character into lighter, more comedic territory. I’ll be sticking around because of my love for the character, but I don’t know how long that’ll be if Cal proceeds down this less horrific and more comedic path. This was an entertaining read, but those who have followed Cal McDonald throughout the years may not be satisfied at its overabundance of levity. If you’re looking for a dark tale like the ones depicted in the Cal McDonald novellas and CRIMINAL MACABRE, you’re not going to find it here. I got a kick out of the story, but that kick got me in the funny bone and not in the gut where the fear lies, and I’m not used to that in A Cal McDonald Mystery.


GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #5 - Writer Geoff Johns and uber-talented artist Ethan Van Sciver deliver another winner of an issue, this time featuring the climactic battle between Sinestro and a newly resurrected Hal Jordan. The scope is cosmic, the cast is large. This series is setting the stage for the GL Corps of the future. This issue is filled with fun moments like Hal meeting Kyle for the very first time. Van Sciver draws some great special effects shots depicting small lanterns streaking after the GLs in flight and tiny lanternettes gleaming from a powerful ring blast. Geoff Johns is making Hal Jordan cool for this reader for the very first time. - Bug

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #75 - Just when I think I'm starting to get sick of this book, Bendis and Bagley come up with a moment that has me running to my back issues with glee. That second issue of this story, the one that seemed extraneous at the time, pays off magnificently in the final scene of this one. And what a scene it is. The damn thing gave me goose bumps. And the rest of the book ain't to shabby either. - Vroom

DEADSHOT #5 (of 5) - Fun series showing a softer side of Deadshot without turning him into a complete panty-waste. In this issue, the mob has had enough and hires a handful of z-rate villains to rub Deadshot out. Lots of death and bad@$$ery ensues. - Bug

INCREDIBLE HULK #80 - In this issue, we see more of Bruce’s troubled teen years and are offered clues as to what the mule is going on. But it was the final page that really made the issue. “It’s all been a bad, bad dream.” In those seven words, spoken by a two eyed (!) Doc Sampson, writer Peter David summed up my thoughts on the entire Bruce Jones run perfectly and had me smiling so wide I could taste my ears. Great stuff. Those of you scared away from Bruce Jones’ convoluted run should do yourself a favor and check out how the Hulk should really be written. Oh yeah, Wolverine is in this one too. – Bug

WALKING DEAD #17 - Hey, I know some of you are getting sick of me repeating myself about this series being the best of the best. But it’s so true. Why the hell can’t Kirkman bring this type of writing power to MARVEL TEAM-UP? So much major shit happened in this issue that it got promoted to Commander in Chief of All Shits. The killer is revealed and dealt with. Alliances and relationships are damaged. Dastardly plots are being woven. A fragile society is being constructed in the prison with a growing mass of zombies gathering outside its fences. Each and every time I sit down with this issue it ends too soon. And now for my only complaint about this issue: I understand it’s thrilling to get your letter printed in a comic, but do we really need a ten page letter column?!?!!?! I’m sure I’m not the only one who wouldn’t be upset if a few reader letters were left unanswered to make room for a page or three more of pure zombie action. – Bug

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