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#49 4/27/05 #3

Hey folks, it’s your old pal, Ambush Bug welcoming you to another edition of AICN COMICS! You might notice a few new names mixed in with the regular crew of reviewers in this week’s column. Be sure to give 'em a warm TalkBack welcome - which is to say, give 'em as much hell as you do the rest of us! We’ve got reviews, a load of Cheap Shots, and Vroom Socko pops in at the end to remind you all of a very special day coming up. But first, let’s check this week’s pull!

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



Writer: Bill Willingham
Penciller: Justiniano
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G

When little kids first start reading comic books, they’re usually drawn to the superheroes. They’re colorful, they’re iconic, and they get to fly around or punch stuff or swing from building to building. As a kid, pretending to be Batman and Robin was right up there with cowboys and Indians. Sure, all of that stuff was supplanted when everybody suddenly wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker, but still—they’re all pretty straightforward tough-guy superhero types. I read and watched all that stuff just like everybody else. When I started reading what comics I could get my hands on, though, what really grabbed my attention were all the weird characters—the mystical ones with otherworldly powers. Dr. Fate, The Spectre, Dr. Strange and the like. They uttered the names of strange gods and visited dimensions the likes of which I’d never seen. I’ve been a fan of the occult and mystical characters ever since, collecting many of their books, being thrilled when they’re handled well and disappointed when they’re not.

Recently, The Spectre’s star had fallen, as he was transformed from the terrifying Spirit of Vengeance into a pussified namby-pamby Spirit of Redemption. Many of the other more mystical or occult characters of the DCU had also fallen out of favor, seeing less use as things seemed to focus on more “realistic,” street-level threats. Fortunately, somebody at DC realized these characters had a lot of potential, so they’re back in another one of their big summer crossovers. It’s a real treat for anybody who loves the offbeat weirdoes who would pop up in the mainstream books periodically. I mean, how can you not love a bunch of characters that spook Superman?

Most people who read IDENTITY CRISIS last year were left wondering what was going to happen with Jean Loring, The Atom’s batshit-crazy ex-wife. After all, she was deposited into Arkham Asylum, and we all know what that means: they’re comin’ out crazier than they went in, like Jack Nicholson hangin’ out with Ratchett and the Chief. Well, the wait is over: Jean Loring is now the new host for Eclipso, the God of Vengeance. I was never a huge follower of the guy, but I’ve seen enough of him to know that he’s pretty vicious and not necessarily known for championing the right causes. Unlike the self-righteous Spirit of Vengeance, The Spectre—who seeks out vengeance for those who have been wronged—Eclipso is pretty much there just for the sake of revenge, even when the person seeking it is the victimizer and not the victim. A charged-up Eclipso in a psychotic host is bound to spell trouble, and that’s just the warm-up act.

After a brief stay with Loring, we’re on to another great underused mystical character, The Ragman. A Jewish defender of the streets who absorbs the souls of criminals who are added as another patch on his suit of rags, he’s used to dealing with street-level trash in the alleys of Gotham City. He’s a bit thrown off when he suddenly finds himself teleported to another dimension to help save the Enchantress, who is fleeing the site of a supernatural slaughter. Those who’ve been paying attention know that The Spectre has been freed from Hal Jordan as its host recently. As happy as that makes me as a fan (because dear god that concept sucked, and the series was a travesty), it’s bound to be bad news for the characters in the DCU. Without a human host to reign in the Spirit of Vengeance and temper its actions, The Spectre has decided to cleanse the entire DCU of all traces of magic. Apparently the guy is convinced it’s the only way to wipe out evil, failing to see certain inherent flaws in his actions – like, y’know, using mystical means to commit wholesale slaughter even when vengeance isn’t being invoked.

Writer Bill Willingham does a great job of pulling in a lot of B and C-level supporting characters who have long gone unnoticed here, name-dropping ones beyond those who actually appear. I got a real kick out of getting to see so many key players hanging out together: Black Orchid, Blue Devil, Doctor Occult, Blackbriar Thorn, Deadman, Jason Blood, Animal Man—even an amusing cameo by The Phantom Stranger. There’s no question, though, that the guy who steals the show is Detective Chimp. I admit I’m not too familiar with the character, but I quickly got the feeling I knew all I needed to know. I mean, what’s not to love about a beer-swilling, chain-smoking, tough-talking monkey? It looks like the Chimp is there to add a little levity to an otherwise high-stakes mystical journey, which is probably the right way to approach things. Knowing that the traditional “rag-tag team of heroes” has only half the story (they don’t know about Eclipso yet) means they’re in for a much harder time than they’re already expecting, and knowing that Captain Marvel is about to jump into the fray means they’re going to get a little help. I’m hoping that his appearance here works well. He’s definitely an interesting call. Marvel’s powers were granted mystically, but he’s always come across as one of those bright, shiny superhero types, so there’s definitely a lot of potential here to have him walk both sides of the street.

So far DAY OF VENGEANCE is off to a pretty solid start. We’ve got our POV narration coming from The Ragman, we’ve got a god of vengeance in a nutty host, we’ve got a Spirit of Vengeance without any host at all, and we’ve got a lot of the weirdest and most fun supporting characters around finally getting the spotlight. There’s a real sense of the danger everyone is facing combined with a sly sense of humor, and there’s no question the tension is going to get ratcheted up a lot higher than it is right now. I admit I was a little nervous at first when DC announced their big summer crossovers, but with work this good I’m a lot more hopeful than I was a few months ago. If you’ve ever had any interest in the more mystical or spiritual side of the DCU, this miniseries is well worth picking up.


Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: DC/Wildstorm
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

I would be remiss if I didn't start this by saying I'm a little biased towards THE AUTHORITY. When I first started getting back into comics in the early days of the new millennia, Warren Ellis and Brian Hitch showed me just how great superhero comics could be, if given a chance to cut loose. Since this isn't the JLA, they are loosely/obviously based off of, they could do as they pleased because they didn't have to worry about the ramifications of their stories ten, fifteen, or twenty years down the road. These characters could be given a chance to grow and develop whichever way they pleased and as "realistically" as possible. Ellis showed just how exciting pulling off the godlike feats that superheroes do could be. And when he left and Mark Millar took over, the book depicted just what would happen if a team of this power level did more than just fight evil super villains. He showed them making a difference on a governmental and economic scale, something you never see in your typical JLA type book. Soon thereafter, the Authority started to be shown as celebrities, and as an independent world power, but it was only a matter of time before we saw how much these things could corrupt these characters, despite their good intentions. This line of thinking showed tremendous potential, but unfortunately, all good things don't last. Somewhere along the line the book lost its steam due to excruciatingly painful delays, creative team changes, and real world events dictating editorial constraint. And thus the once great Authority went from one of the hottest and most original books on the market, and demoted itself into the world of mediocrity.

Then a man named Brubaker stepped up to the plate.

I'm not going to say that Mr. Brubaker has revitalized THE AUTHORITY back to its former glory, because those days are long past. What he is doing here though, is crafting a very energetic story that can be appreciated by new and old fans alike. Those uninitiated to the glory days of the book have caught glimpses of the brutal, balls-to-the-wall action that drove the book initially while long-term readers, even all the way back to the STORMWATCH days, can appreciate how Ed is cultivating old ideas that never reached their potential.

At this point we stand with the team disbanded from within. The last issue takes us three years down the road, and the team is mostly in retirement with the exception of the Midnighter and the Doctor, who have reverted back to some old habits. The Midnighter has taken the "good fight" back to the streets, while the Doctor has reverted to drug use and was revealed to be dead of an overdose as of last issue. We are also left with the hanging plot-thread of long thought dead enemies coming back to take advantage of the situation.

That leads us to this latest issue and the focus shifts to Jenny Quantum, the adopted daughter of Apollo and the Midnighter (now split up) and the successor to the power of former Authority leader Jenny Sparks, the Spirit of the Twentieth Century. With everyone seemingly becoming content with the retired life, Jenny is the one starting to notice things gone wrong and asking questions. For example, where is the successor to the Doctor, as there should have been one active upon the death of the last one? Also, what exactly does it mean to be the Spirit of the Twenty-First Century, and just how much more powerful is she compared to her counterparts?

All these questions and more are raised and are done so with very fluid pacing, backed by some fantastic art. Nguyen is definitely bringing his A-game with this series as his artistic storytelling is just hitting on almost all the right notes. I say "almost all" because I do have to say at times his facial expressions come off as awkward or "cartoony, " but these moments take a backseat to his very fluid and intense action sequences. In this issue, there is a two page splash mid-book that just has to be seen to be believed. Absolutely breathtaking, that is.

For all those who lost their love with this book I beg you, please, give it another shot. While it's not quite what it was, it still has that feel to it. Big ideas, furious action, witty (and oft-times naughty) dialogue and that feeling in your gut that things are gonna get a whole lot worse before they get better. What more could you ask for?


Writer: Mark Waid!
Artist: Barry Kitson
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

Yeh. That's right. I said MARK WAID'S LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. I keep buying this thing and I can't tell if I really like it or not. I mean, the Prof goes all the way back to the days of Cockrum and Grell in his readin' of LOSH comics, so I've got some history here. And I know that buried somewhere in my garage is the whole gosh-darn series starting from about 1979 through the Giffen issues of the 5-years later sequel series. After that, I've been an infrequent visitor to the 30th century. However, I do have a fondness for Waid's stuff, generally (pissy crybaby public waa-waa rants against internet gossip-monger Rich Johnston notwithstanding), and I had this suspicion that he's one of those loooooonnnnnnngggggstanding LOSH fanboys who's now all growed up and had his chance of a lifetime to do the LOSH the way he always imagined it COULD be if only DC would ever give him carte blanche to do it.

So, how's he doin’? Well, if I've got high hopes for a series I tend to be gracious and give the title a good 6 issues to hook me (though, let's see, I dumped Byrne's DOOM PATROL after issue 5 out of sheer boredom and ALIAS after issue 1 cause I didn't much care for the "backend" deal Jessica received from Power Man, so my self-imposed rule isn't set in stone). MWLOSH is on issue 5 and, right now, I'm thinkin' I'm gonna stick with it a little longer to see where he's going with it.

There's some positives and some negatives about the series but, for me, the positives are outweighing the rest. Waid is introducing some clever, modern twists on the old series. He basically seems to have dumped every new LEGION series continuity that occurred after the end of the original - meaning the one that immediately preceded the previously mentioned 5-years-later series. Then he's gone and rebooted that original Silver-Age Legion into the modern comics world. So, the characters have back their goofy quaint "Lad," "Boy", and "Lass" names rather than those even more dorky, but supposedly "kewler" names from the most recent cancelled LOSH series. He's also returned those characters to costumes that evoke the classic Cockrum-designs of the '70s. But, he's given a lot of them some almost too-clever twists. Chameleon Boy is now just Chameleon and is androgynously a-or bi-sexual - as any chameleon-like race such as his would likely be. Colossal Boy doesn't grow big anymore - instead he comes from a race of giants and his superpower is that he can shrink to 6 feet. Phantom Girl now comes from a phantom dimension where her superpower is that she co-exists in our dimension and her dimension at the same time, all the time. It's these sort of too-clever twists on the familiar that I really dig and look forward to each issue to see what new take on an old favorite that he's going to surprise me with. I also like the fact that he's created a new vision of the DC future that has not really been seen before and is confronting this "familiar" Legion with new characters rather than just automatically recycling the Legion villain gallery.

Now, what I don't like is the pervading cynicism that has bogged down each issue, including this most recent one. The Legion, Brainiac 5 and Cosmic Boy in particular, are too too serious. They are affecting the Prof like Debby Downer at a dinner party. I'm missing the youthful sense of wonder, friendship, and fun that I believe is integral to the LOSH super-hero clubhouse concept. Leave the ruminating negativism to the grown-ups, you know? Waid is working real hard in this comic to set up a generational conflict allegory to the modern-world's familiar parent/teen conflicts. Problem is, he's got the teen leaders acting like uptight parents themselves. I'm already tired of that. I'm getting a bit of that sense you get from some of those old sixties teen comics where you had these 50 year-old writers trying to write hep and groovy slang talk. Waid's not writing these characters as "hep and groovy," but there's still a bit of a sense of the characters seeming way older than they are supposed to be - which is probably the voice of the author seeping in.

In this issue, Waid introduces Brin Londo, not called Timber Wolf, into his Legion. Problem. Nothing in Brin's look distinguishes him from anybody else. He could be Ultra Boy, Colossal Boy, or even the villain, Elysion. I'm not sure why Waid didn't set him up with the spiky Wolverine-like hair and the whited out eyes that make Timber Wolf more distinguishable in a LEGION comic. I thought Lightning Lad telling those other kids stories about their battle with the non-existent Bizarro-Legion was pretty funny. Makes me hope Waid makes a "real" Bizarro-Legion arc his second one. I'd also hope that the second arc would be a lot lighter in tone than this one where Saturn Girl gives us this oh so representative of a depressing thought: "These kids didn't unite in the Legion's name to enact social change or protest their government. They took up our banner to battle a genocidal army…and they're going to die." Someone hand me my pills.

Anyway, Waid's apparently setting up some huge galactic conflict that's likely going to include a huge bloodletting. That's all well and good for the drama of it, but I hope he can better balance the grim and deadly with the touching character bits like that Phantom Girl story in issue four. That was short and sweet and I liked it. I was looking forward to another backup like that in issue five and was disappointed it wasn't there. A note on the art: I mostly like Barry Kitson's art in this series, but I would like to see a bit less black. Pages 2 through 5 were just distractingly dark looking. I dunno, can we just lighten this book up a bit? It's got a lot going for it, but it's seeming a bit too dark, both story-wise AND art-wise.

A final note: I hate these cheesy HEROSCAPE inserts. Just wanna yank 'em out and toss 'em in the trash.


Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Gary Frank
Inks: Jon Sibal with Mark Morales
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

You know, it ain’t rocket surgery we at AICN Comics perform each and every week in this here column, but writing comic book reviews isn’t as easy as one would expect. There are times when coming up with an interesting way to present views on various books, creators, and trends in the comic book industry cause me to beat my head against the wall. Tossing out a recap, a thought on the subject’s history, and views on the writing, story, and art are pretty easy to do, but sometimes (and in this case in particular when I’ve reviewed this comic so many times), you have to make it interesting and write about something more than just the book itself. You have to start it off with a hook, kind of like this one, where I am describing how difficult it is to create a hook. Once you have an interesting hook, the rest of the piece kind of takes a life of its own and once you get to the end? Well, sometimes it makes for an okay read.

That long-winded intro was a segue into what makes SUPREME POWER so intriguing to me each and every month. JMS isn’t just telling a story as much as he is honoring the ever decreasing trend of episodic storytelling in comics. Each and every issue stands on its own while adding to the larger story. I never feel cheated or ripped off after reading SUPREME POWER. JMS packs in characterization, memorable moments, and details that advance the plot in each and every issue. It is this same level of craftsmanship that JMS brought to his comic book masterpiece MIDNIGHT NATION.

Back to that long-winded intro, though. The one thing that stands out in this book is that JMS always finds a way to hook the reader in interesting and different ways, be it a fight scene, a conversation held with a prisoner in a well, or (as with this issue) a tender discussion between a grandfather and his granddaughter. In this issue, JMS frames the story with our villainous one-armed general dissecting a pocket watch and describing the process to his fascinated granddaughter, who, according to mommy, “shouldn’t bother you when you’re working ‘cause…’cause I shouldn’t bother you when you’re working.” In this seemingly innocent exchange, the reader is not only shown a warmer, more complex side to one of the main antagonists of this book, but it perfectly maps out his plans to take these super heroes down.

JMS is telling a story of epic scope with this series. He has proven with past achievements like RISING STARS and the aforementioned MIDNIGHT NATION that these are the types of tales that JMS shines in. More intimate books with characters that aren’t creations of his own? Not so good. I continue to be unimpressed by his incarnations of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange in their own titles. But when JMS is able to play god and construct his own universe with his own set of rules, he stands out as one of the greats.

In issue #16, JMS uses an interesting hook to pull the audience in and watch a smear campaign against Hyperion and the rest of the Squadron. Like the disassembling of the pocket watch piece by tiny piece, the General meticulously manipulates the media, the government, and the general populace in order to bring Hyperion down.

This issue also features a teaser for what is to come. Namely, the ladies. Both Aquarian and Power Princess look to be finally coming into their own in this series. That has been my one criticism of this book so far. For too long, this title has been a super-powered version of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club. The two women in the group not only were birthed speechless and clueless as to the workings of the world around them, but they were always depicted as buck naked. Now, I’m as impressed to see a boobie or two as much as the next guy, but I’ve gotta call foul when the most three-dimensional women characters of this series are either a nude, mute fish creature, an nude, ancient, Amazonian succubus, or prostitute-fodder for the murderous Redstone to rip apart (and they were usually nude too). In this issue, though, Doc Spectrum finally decides to bring Aquarian home for protection and Power Princess is wearing clothes. I see this as progress. Baby steps, but progress.

Gary Frank continues to be one of the finest artists in the Marvel stable with his fantastic panels and facial expressions. And have a kudo, Mr. Frank, that character design of the Aquarian is both unique and gorgeous. The attention to aquatic anatomy makes this fishy femme stand out as both alien, yet human all at once.

So although, my hook about making a hook at the beginning of this review wasn’t the strongest I’ve ever come up with, the book I chose to hook the hook to is one of the strongest reads that Marvel publishes today.


Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
Reviewer: Matthew Wanderski


So now we say farewell to a fine series that never reaped the audience it deserved. I don't know if it was the lack of either capes or the occult, the sometimes intense subject matter and often downbeat tone, its pointedly political viewpoint, or all of the above, but something unjustly held HUMAN TARGET back, and now the comic book landscape lies darker and more parched before us...

The final issue throws the reader the biggest bombshell of the entire series, of course. Has the man we've been reading about actually been Tom McFadden all along? I really didn't expect this whopper, but it seems the grandest, most telling manifestation conceivable of what the whole series is. And it certainly suggests another powerful reason why Chance has continued to have such identity issues. What is so great about the ending is not so much how it might leave the reader unsure as to who is the original Christopher Chance – that we've been reading about the original CC in all these issues seems the "truest" explanation, if only by virtue of the fact that the idea that our protagonist might actually be Tom hasn't had much time to lodge itself too deeply in our minds... although that's a very intriguing possibility. What makes the ending so powerful is how believable it is that that man walking off into the distance in that last panel could HIMSELF doubt who is the real Chris.

And thus our protagonist leaves us more lost within "the Human Target" than ever.

Few mainstream series have ended on such a note of thorough sadness. The Target's final loss of self is even sadder than the fact that Mary chooses "Tom" over him. And seeing this lost soul, whoever he is, part with Bruno only adds to the heartbreak. It's sad because Bruno is bidding farewell to – indeed, practically turning out – either a man who is not Christopher Chance, but someone even more troubled, and yet someone for whom he probably has come to care, some; or his long-time best friend himself. These two characters could easily be reunited later on, in this comic book land, but there's such a profound feeling of finality, loss, and separation to this parting, as portrayed by Milligan and Chiang.

That final page is something of a personal best for Chiang, one of my favorite new cartoonists of the last decade or so. The page opens tightly on "Christopher," but is followed mostly by long shots of the characters, and mostly from behind, if not in close-ups that deny us contact – a fraction of the Target's sunglassed face; Bruno's blurry reflection in a window. Just as the characters bid farewell to each other, Chiang (and Milligan, to the extent that he "stage directed" the sequence) tear us away from them, too. Chiang's characters are so often such fine actors you don't even see them acting; here the cartoonist shows us how the scene itself can reveal depth of feeling without the spotlight falling directly on the cast.

The relationship between "Christopher Chance" and Mary has always been more problematic than the one between our hero and his sidekick, sprung from lies and never attaining the honesty and intimacy of our "Chris's" friendship with Bruno (and possibly even Tom, "The man I taught. The man I loved.") No one else, and certainly not Mary, became a part of and understood the Human Target's world like Bruno did (excepting perhaps Tom). So, while it hurts to see this difficult but somehow sympathetic person be rejected by his mate, there's the sense that he's losing less when he walks away from Mary than when he leaves Bruno.

Actually, I'd say that the handling of Mary is one of the weaknesses of this final issue. Her switch from being unhappy with the first "Chris" to being pleased with his replacement is a little too quick to hold much weight; it serves the plot but belies human behavior. A more subtle upswing in her contentedness with the relationship might've gone over better. On the other hand, one could argue that if Chris has never known what kind of a person he's supposed to be, how could Mary know? And if this is the case, why is she with such a man? Someone putting herself in such a situation may settle for the immediate gratification of a partner, who's suddenly, almost inexplicably intent on making her happy.

Mary also has the unfortunate privilege of delivering a particularly jarring bit of comic relief into a key dramatic/action scene; a misstep on Milligan's part that doesn't help the character come off as more cogent – or emotionally together, depending on how you look at it.

But let's not dwell on what are, in the end, minor faults in the issue and especially in the series as a whole. Milligan has taken on some heady topics in HUMAN TARGET, looking at identity, both individual and American, and he's managed to tell many an engrossing tale while provoking our thoughts – all the while keeping the character of "Christopher Chance" entirely in his sight. Artists Javier Pulido and one-shotter Cameron Stewart have provided solid and at times lively support. Chiang, who drew the most issues, gave HUMAN TARGET not only flesh-and-blood people in his body language, facial expressions, and staging, but also a clean, even elegant look that served both the Target's stylish lifestyle and the bursts of violent action that befell him and that he propagated.

And he and Milligan saved the biggest bang for last.


Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artist: John Romita, Jr
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

Man. What a cool comic. Those first two pages were great with the Rhino facing down a black rhino on an actual African savannah. You know JRJr's the MAN when you can have a panel introducing Batroc Ze Leaper without a costume and before you read his Frenchie dialogue you already know who it is. I mean, I looked at the face with that Errol Flynn moustache and itty-bitty beard and thought "Hey! That's Batroc Ze Leaper!"

We get some more background on the legacy of the Black Panther when we see the death of T'Challa's father and we learn more about Klaw's connection to T'Challa and his family. I'm guessin' that was T'Challa as a kid who shot the hell out of Klaw after he assassinated T'Chaka - but I could be wrong. Regardless, it was all really good stuff. Hudlin also introduces (at least it appears to me to be an all-new guy) a new Black Knight. Not sure how this ties in to the Black Panther, but hey, I'm easy-goin' about the Black Panther - I even own the complete Jack Kirby psycho-delic BP series from the '70s (yep, the one with the Black Musketeers and King Solomon's Frog). I don't know who the fat guy caning everybody is, but I want to see more.

This series is deadly serious though and does feel almost like I'm watching a really good hour-long drama on TV. A fine compliment. I like the fact that this is a series about the leader of an African country and we actually SEE AFRICA!!!! I appreciate the fact that these African people dress like AFRICANS!!!!! I appreciate the fact that there is obvious thought and consideration given to T'Challa's family history in such a way that, for the first time, it seems to be a serious story point that the mantle of Black Panther is passed on generationally almost like Lee Falk's PHANTOM. The emphasis here, by Hudlin, seems to be on the Black Panther first and T'Challa second. In fact, the last 3 issues lead me to believe that it would not be entirely unrealistic to expect Hudlin to set up T'Challa's successor as the Black Panther - and it will probably be a girl. See if this doesn't happen within 2 years and then get back to me to rub it in.

My only criticism of this series so far is that it seems to be firmly entrenched in current Marvel continuity (what with Rhino and Batroc Ze Leaper here and Capt. America in issue 1), yet Klaw bears absolutely no resemblance to the "Klaw" I grew up with (you know, the crazy physicist with that bizarre Kirby-design face and that big honkin' sound blaster for a hand that he's supposed to have???). Now he's just some psycho scarface killer. I like my soober-heroes to fight soober-villains, you know? It looks like all Black Panther continuity has been retroactively scrapped (as opposed to just, ya know, ignored). I'm now not even sure if those old FF and Avengers stories with BP ever happened, much less his old battles with Klaw.

Oh well, minor complaint at this point. It's not like BP has ever been considered a top-tier Marvel character. In fact, as much as I always liked him even as far back as when I was in third grade, I wouldn't even say he ranks as a second-tier character. He's a third-tier character at best and if it finally does him some justice in the comics world to junk his continuity to finally give him his due, I'm down with that. T'Challa's always just been just one of those indefinably "cool" characters and it's nice to have a "cool" comic about him. However, now I want to see more flashbacks of T'Chaka. I like him too. I also really like the art. I can't rave enough about the art team of JRJr and Klaus Janson. One of my all-time favorite art teams. And this is some of the best work they've ever done.

My favorite character interaction this week:

RHINO: "Yeah, like the way you Frogs lifted your skirts to the Nazis before we had to save your butts."
BATROC: "Repayment for helping finance your Revolution, imbecile."
RHINO: "Oh yeah? How about - if anybody got a problem with me, step up. Got that Frenchie?"
BATROC: "I don't know if you can fight, Rhino. But you are certainly the most clevair American I've ever met."
RHINO: "Ha! You got that ri-- Hey, is that a wisecrack?"
I love that.


Writer: Greg Rucka
Pencils: Rags Morales
Inks: Michael Bair
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

WONDER WOMAN is my nominee for most improved comic over the last year. You see, a while back, I reviewed Greg Rucka’s first issue of this series and was pretty darn critical of it. For those of you too lazy to click on the link, I’ll sum up my thoughts on Rucka’s first issue by saying that while Rucka seemed to have some decent ideas for our Diana (a character who has been mishandled more than any that I can think of by one bad writer after the next), Rucka aped the Marvel-style with too much of the talkity-talk, little or no action, and barely a glimpse of the character who’s name is on the cover of the book. Rucka spent the entire issue focusing on the first day on the job of a plain-clothed and uninteresting new employee on Wonder Woman’s staff and Diana didn’t appear until the last few pages. I called Rucka’s WONDER WOMAN #195 DC’s first Nu Marvel-ized book.

Well, twenty issues later and there’s nary a whiff of that Nu Marvel staleness. The action has been fast and frantic in the last few arcs. Diana went blind fighting a trio of gorgons on national TV. A coup has been staged on Mt. Olympus and all of the male gods have been exiled. Diana took on the entire JLA to prove to them that she was still a capable hero despite the fact that she is now blind. A newly Speed Force-amped Cheetah and Professor Zoom showed up for a FLASH crossover. Issue after issue was filled with intense battles at high stakes.

From the beginning of his run on this series, Rucka has drove home the fact that Diana is a busy woman. Being the Amazonian representative in Man’s World isn’t an easy job. From negotiating with governments to publishing her own book to battling Dr. Psycho, Rucka’s Wonder Woman is a walking, talking, lassoing, and punching multi-tasking machine. This isn’t a book that shoves the “Girl Power” attitude in your face. Rucka makes Diana a strong character simply because she is able to do it all, no matter how large the task or how many problems she faces. Past writers have tried to write this character as everything from a staunch representative of the Women’s Lib movement to the ultimate fanboy cheesecake babe. They’ve all failed to make Diana very interesting at all in my opinion. But Rucka’s Wonder Woman is a woman who is confronted with numerous challenges from all angles on any given day and more of a representative of the various roles a woman often faces in life than I have ever seen her depicted as.

In this issue, Rucka continues to inundate Diana with one new problem after another, not even giving her a chance for a breather. Despite her new handicap, Wonder Woman is still one of the big guns in the DCU. This issue is literally pouring over the edges with intense action and great characterization. Immediately after an intense street-level brawl with a kidnapping ring, Diana is faced with the ominous task of venturing to hell to rescue Hermes the Herald of the Gods. Dangerous machinations have been plotted by the dethroned Zeus and his brothers. Pallas Athena, the new ruler of Olympus, plunges Diana, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand the Minotaur head first into the middle of this war between the gods.

But just because the action is fast paced doesn’t mean that Rucka doesn’t take the time to make us care about these heroes. Wonder Girl tries to console a child who was turned to stone by Medousa. Diana confronts the media who is more concerned about her hairstyle than the fact that she just stopped a kidnapper. And in a truly bizarre twist, Ferdinand the Minotaur/staff gourmet chef makes a pass at the all too human Leslie. This scene in particular had me a bit freaked out (I don’t know if an all ages book is the place for some hot girl-on-man bull action), but Rucka handles this scene with tact and heart, showing a side of Ferdinand that the readers haven’t been privy to. Tender moments like these really allow the reader to care for these characters when Rucka sends them to hell. The stakes are high and the danger is real. With the way DC has been lately, no one is truly safe or untouchable anymore.

Adding to the excitement of this issue is the debut of the art team from IDDENTITY CRISIS. Say what you will about that miniseries, but it sure looked damn good. Rags Morales’ art shines particularly brightest during the aforementioned quiet moments where the uber-emotional facial expressions that made the tragic events of IDENTITY CRISIS so powerful tear at the heartstrings in these pages as well.

Rucka may have started out slow on this title, but for the last ten to fifteen issues, he’s made up for that big time. With a war between the gods brewing and challenges (ancient, modern, or otherwise) that can’t be lassoed or deflected with Amazonian bracelets, it doesn’t look like Rucka has any intention of stopping his barrage against Wonder Woman. Simply put: Rucka’s Wonder Woman is the way Wonder Woman should be written.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #639 - Part Two of the three-part "Lightning Strikes Twice", which was billed as a storyline guest-starring Captain Marvel. Turns out bullshit strikes twice, as the Big Red Cheese appears even less than he did in Part One: he only appears on the final page, and naturally, it's a splash so he doesn't say or do much. Now that I've read DAY OF VENGEANCE it's clear this story is meant to be a tie-in, but since not a goddamn thing really happens at the two-thirds point other than Superman knocking around a Luthor armored suit, it's fair to say this story doesn't so much fill in the background for the miniseries as it does empty out your wallet by making you think it mattered. Superman being possessed by Eclipso right at the end doesn't mean much, either, since we all know it took 44 pages to get there and it'll take well under 20 to get him back to status quo. Strike me with lightning once, shame on you; strike me with lightning twice, shame on me, I guess... - Sleazy

NEW AVENGERS #5 - Okay, five pages of the team (at this point finally including Wolverine,) just hanging around and talking is something I've become used to. Five pages of them *literally* hanging while talking amongst themselves and to their supervillian captors... okay, I suppose it might work. But five pages of this while the entire team is naked? To quote Master Shake, "I don't wanna see THAT! NOBODY wants to see that." - Vroom

RED SONJA #0 - The issue is a bit on the short side, which is fine since it's a 25-cent introductory issue. It's pretty slight, too, though. Not much dialogue, not much narration--just a lot of silent panels and meaningful looks before the ass-kicking commences. It looks great, but hopefully we'll see slightly more fleshed-out stories when the ongoing kicks off. It's an okay start, but there's definitely room for improvement. I've got a fair amount of faith in Carey, though, so I'll still give it a few issues to grow on me. - Sleazy

PHEONIX: ENDSONG #5 (of 5) - Why is it, whenever Marvel drags up another story centered around Jean Gray's all-powerful persona, I'm left more and more confused about the whole damn thing? - Vroom

- Hot off of the “Grand Reveal” of the Red Hood in last months’ issue, this latest issue of BATMAN takes the time to remind you of some of the more important issues at hand. Namely, that there’s still the plot thread from IDENTITY CRISIS of Batman’s memory being tampered with by his fellow Leaguers. Yes, after four months (or sixteen years depending on how you look at it) of building the return of Jason Todd to the Batman universe it has been decided that some focus needs to be returned to one of the main COUNTDOWN story points. And really, the end result isn’t that bad. In fact, the tie-in parts are very well integrated into Batman’s search as to how the Corpse Wonder could be back in the land of the living. We see the Batman visiting experts on ways of mysticism and resurrection like Zatanna and Jason Blood, and paying a visit to DC’s most popular resurrectee, Green Arrow. Tension is in the air as Batman so calmly and coyly lets them know that he’s on to them, and you can assume there will be hell to pay. And as for the Red Hood himself, he takes time to show just how much he enjoys reeking havoc and pissing off Black Mask, and confronts Onyx who has been left to seek out his trail in Batman’s absence. Overall, the issue isn’t bad in that it flows well and does push a couple threads along, but it’s a subtle push that combined with how fast the book reads makes it seem a bit filler-like. – Humphrey Lee

SUPERNATURAL FREAK MACHINE: A CAL MCDONALD MYSTERY #2 - I’m still digging this series despite the fact that Kelley Jones art makes everything look more cartoony than scary. Steve Niles’ writing is still top notch and you can tell that out of all of the horrors he has birthed, Cal is his best baby boy. I like Kelley Jones’ art, but it takes what could be a frightening story with an entertaining character and turns it into a Tex Avery cartoon. - Bug

ULTIMATE SECRET #2 - A lot of people complained that ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE moved to slowly or that the art was too dark. Consider both concerns addressed in ULTIMATE SECRET. The art is much brighter and more kinetic, and I really dig the Ultimate redesign on the outfit for Pluskommander Mahr Vell. On the story side, the thing never stops to take a breath. Crises are averted, stuff blows up, wisecracks are made, interrogations take a tenth the time they would in POWERS, threats are revealed, defectors appear, and the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four continue to prove themselves the most upbeat, fun characters Ellis has ever written. I thought ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE was okay, and took it for what it was – an opening act. No such reservations apply to this series, though – it’s slam-bang, high-stakes big fun. Check this issue out and watch your doubts fade away. - Sleazy

RICHARD DRAGON #12 - I know, I know. No one cares about RICHARD DRAGON, but I have to get one last word in on this the final issue of the series. This issue was the equivalent of a Jean Claude Van Damme film if it were written by someone with talent. It’s your typical tournament to the death scenario, but Chuck Dixon brings his A-game to the table and makes it worthwhile. And artist Scott McDaniel draws his most kinetic fight sequences ever. From Dragon’s clever way of getting around having to fight Connor Hawke (who just may be his equal or better in the ring) to his intense and bloody final battle with Lady Shiva, this issue has got it all. And to top things off, Dragon gets to give the finger to Neron himself in the end. I’m sad to see this series go simply because of the sheer overabundance of capes and powers in the DCU. It was nice reading a monthly dose of good, old fashioned chop-socky for a while. - Bug

Saturday, May 7th is FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

A friendly reminder from Vroom Socko

This Saturday is the third annual Free Comic Book Day. That special event where the major publishers in the industry send out special giveaway editions of their books, and the minor ones hand out all the crap they couldn’t sell during the year. An exciting time, where longtime readers get to pick up special free copies of books they already own, the curious get to take home books without forking over three bucks a piece, and shopkeepers get to say over and over, “No, if you want that near-mint copy of AVENGERS #57 you have to pay for it.”

Kidding aside, this is a great event. Both Marvel and DC have two of their more interesting all-ages books available. Dark Horse, it seems, can’t stop giving away Star Wars books, while Image is offering a small selection from the FLIGHT anthology. Gemstone, in its infinite wisdom, has a Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge book on the table. And much like last year’s BALLAD OF SLEEPING BEAUTY, Beckett Comics is offering the first issue of their new series, this one based on the saga of the 47 ronin.

I’d recommend any of those books, sight unseen. However, there is one book I can suggest after having read it, thanks to the gang at Oni. The ONI PRESS FIST-FEST features two absolutely insane stories. The first is Hysteria, set on an island filled with two-bit hoods, robot detectives, and samurai warriors. The story is similar to that classic 80’s piece of international cinema, THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY. Only here, instead of a Coke bottle, what plummets from the sky is a 9mm Ingram Mac 10. Violence ensues. Mike Hawthorne’s storytelling is solid here, and his artwork is quite impressive.

But the second story… The second story is Sharknife. Good Lord is it the biggest, silliest, craziest ball of fun I’ve read in ages. Created by Corey Lewis The Rey, Sharknife is a busboy at a Chinese restaurant that can transform into a twelve-foot tall fighting robot whenever danger appears. He does this, apparently, by consuming fortune cookies. The artwork is pure madness, and the story is the sort of insane, inspired lunacy that is sorely lacking from the more dim ‘n dour books prevalent today. Whatever you do, whatever other free books you pick up, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

(An aside to those in the Portland, Oregon area. SHARKNIFE creator The Rey will be spending his Free Comic Book Day at a signing from noon to four at Cosmic Monkey Comics, along with PIGTALE creator Ovi Nedelcu and some guy named Kurt Busiek.)

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