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AICN COMICS! ULTIMATES 2! GREEN LANTERN! SLEEPER! HULK! DRACULA VS. KING ARTHUR! AND MORE!!!

#3 5/25/05 #4

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

ULTIMATES #6
GREEN LANTERN #1
ESSENTIAL THOR VOL 2
SLEEPER SEASON TWO #12
THE INCREDIBLE HULK #81
BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE #2
FANTASTIC FOUR #527
DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY #1
HERO CAMP #1
INDIE JONES presents DRACULA VS. KING ARTHUR #1
CHEAP SHOTS!

THE ULTIMATES 2 # 6

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Bryan Hitch
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Samuel L. Maverik



In the last couple of weeks, we've learned from both REVENGE O' THE SITH and ULTIMATES # 6 that troubled, violence-prone guys with hot wives should not turn to Sam Jackson for mentoring. In almost identical scenes, the Bald-Bad One gives the royal brush off to Anakin Skywalker (while using the info Skywalker provided); and to Henry Pym (while using the scientific innovations Pym developed).

Funny how both Dr. Pym and Skywalker are later turned by shadowy forces.

Every now and then, comics should challenge long time fans. Our perceptions, preferences and attitudes need tweaking. It keeps us sharp and loose. A good challenge to our sensibilities keeps us from turning into that rigid, dogmatic cliche of a fanboy we all dread.

ULTIMATES # 6 did that for me. I'm not a regular ULTIMATES reader these days. The first two trades worth of ULTIMATES did a great job for me, although my infatuation was starting to fade by the end of the Skrull arc. After the first issue, I couldn't be bothered to follow this series they're calling THE ULTIMATES 2. But I've long planned to pick up ULTIMATES # 6 because I'm a big DEFENDERS fan. THE DEFENDERS was an offbeat, often brilliant Marvel B-title originating in my beloved Bronze Age. How could I pass up the Ultimate Defenders?

Then, I read the issue. A down and out Hank Pym is in talks to join a new team called the Defenders (just as Yellowjacket joined them in the Marvel Universe – and Hawkeye did, too. Could that be him with Pym on the last few pages?). The Ultimate Defenders are portrayed as a band of geeks, namedroppers and wannabees. They don't have a super power among them and really don't have any hero experience. As a group, they're kind of Reality Show Pretty, but that's it.

These are the Ultimate Defenders? Ultimate Power Man, Ultimate Valkyrie, Ultimate Son of Satan, all played for laughs?

I loved it!

It was a great perspective adjustment! Good satire can do that for you! I've always been a fan of the loser-superhero subgenre. THE MYSTERY MEN. Marvel's own, underrated THE CRAPTACULAR B-SIDES. THE GREAT LAKES AVENGERS. I even remember an FF story by Roy Thomas and George Perez in which the Frightful Four took over the Baxter Building and held an open audition for a fourth member. A bunch of losers, including one guy who was afraid of fire, turned up. Trussed up, the Thing and the Torch kept making all kinds of sarcastic remarks, prompting the Sandman and the Trapster to threaten to release them for ass-whoopins. To which our heroes naturally replied, "Okay, go ahead."

Challenges of perspective. No doubt Ultimate Cap will be called a thug because he tells Pym to take a walk or he'll put his head through a wall when he catches Pym talking to the Wasp. The Wasp, as you know, is Pym's ex-wife whom he brually assaulted. Millar doesn't really take us into Cap's head for this one, but I still think Cap did the right thing. You ask me, even Ultimate Jan is a little twisted and creepy. If you've been anywhere, you've been there.

This is Pym's story. As the saddest and most flawed Ultimate, Pym is the most human. This poor slob is so tortured that he can score with a hot, 19 year old shield maiden and still feel bad. While practically none of you would have a problem with that, I'm sure you can see that we're all closer to Henry Pym than most of the Ultimates.

Likewise, the Ultimate Defenders, whose crime fighting debut is a hilarious debacle, bear an uncomfortably close resemblance to comic book fans...except the Defenders are cooler looking. I have to admit, the Fanboy in me kept saying, "But the real Defenders never wanted to be a superhero team! And they were initially a quartet of very powerful Marvel characters, without the useless supporting characters that always fuck up the team books."

Then, I'd start laughing all over again.


GREEN LANTERN #1

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Marino (with a little help from Ethan Van Sciver)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger




In Brightest Day…

(Alex Ross Cover)

In Blackest Night…

(Hal Jordan: Spectre)

No Evil Shall Escape My Sight…

(Ron Marz)

Let Those Who Worship Evil's Might…

(Marble's "House of M")

Beware My Power…

(Geoff Johns and Carlos Pacheco)

Green Lantern's Light!

(Hal Jordan Returns!)

GREEN LANTERN #1 featuring the return to prominence of the greatest of Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan, and his famous oath appears nowhere? What the?!?!?

Other than that, this is superhero comics in the Prof's favorite style: old-school. Can't wait to see issue 2 with the snazzy new DC brand logo gracing the left-hand corner. Top-notch GREEN LANTERN logo gracing a cover with an Alex Ross painting of GL bursting out at the reader through the clouds like Christ returning for the final end-times battle. I want it in a landscape format so I can make it my computer wallpaper!

Let's see, how much does the Prof love his Green Lantern? Let me count the ways. Well, first of all, when Prof was a mere child and the gang and I weren't playin' SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN or PLANET OF THE APES, we played superheroes. The other kids always fought over who got to be Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man. I, on the other hand, always (except for a handful of exceptions) chose GREEN LANTERN. Why? Well, in my 8-11 year-old brain, GL was always the choice hero to be because he could do anything so long as he kept that ring charged up. In a one-on-one fight with any of those other heroes, GL was the winner because even in a fight with Superman, my brain reasoned, GL could just conjure up some Green Kryptonite and…goodbye Supey. Not to mention, GL (Hal Jordan) has the absolute, hands-down, best Silver-Age costume design ever. Even the new mild redesign involving the removal of the green shorts retains the elegant simplicity of the costume design. The white gloves are what makes it stand out from all other designs -- black and green with white gloves. The missing white gloves have kept me from fully enjoying John Stewart's costume for quite awhile. Nice to see Johns and Pacheco have fixed that costume design error and replaced Stewart's annoying green armbands with Hal-style white gloves. Anyway…GL is also the only superhero with a prominent position in my living room (much to Mrs. Prof's annoyance, but acceptance). I've got two of my 5 Hal Jordan action figures on the bookshelf: Original Gil Kane costume design standing next to Hal in his current costume design. Behind those are two figures of my all-time favorite superhero, the Golden Age Green Lantern, one in his classic Golden Age costume and one in his Kingdom Come armor, which, dammit, does not have that fancy GL sword because when I bought the thing years ago, I happened to grab the ONE off the shelf that was missing the sword and since I didn't KNOW it was supposed to have a sword I didn't know to go back and ask for it. Many months later when I DID find out it was missing a part, I contacted DC Direct and they told me they don't have replacement parts. Aargh! Anyway, flanking these are my signed and framed Marty Nodell print of GL, my GL hologram card, my glow-in-the-dark GL ring giveaway, and finally my original drawing of Hal/GL by Prof Jr. that was given to me on my birthday 2 years ago.

Did I say I love Green Lantern? Did I mention that I did not particularly enjoy the last 10 years or so of Green Lantern comics? Not that I have animosity against Kyle Rayner as a character, it was the manner in which the writer's got rid of Hal to set up Rayner as the next Green Lantern that I ultimately couldn't stomach and it burned my bridge, so to speak, insofar as my willingness to support the GL comic with my money.

Well, Geoff Johns and Carlos Pacheco have rebuilt that bridge faster than an Amish barn-raisin'.

Like all good first issues, the first four pages gave us the origin of the character. But this time, probably only noticed by us oldsters, Johns has added a few new retroactive tweaks to the classic origin. Get this. Ok, you still have Hal getting picked up by Abin Sur's ring. Only now instead of being grabbed while he's test-piloting, it's while he's been "grounded" for some "stunt he pulled at Edwards" AFB. Don't remember whether this was part of the ancient Giffen EMERALD DAWN mini-series or whether this is something Johns threw in to pick up on later. Doesn't really matter. It's new to me. There's also the use of this new interpretation of the ring as acting, and communicating, almost sentiently. So, this time in the retelling, as Abin Sur is introducing himself at a distance telepathically to Hal, the ring keeps adding info sort of like Kevin Nealon's old Subliminal Man character from SNL. The key thing that stuck out to me though is that the reason Hal is chosen by the ring is not that he is a "man without fear." Now, it is because he a "man that will OVERCOME great fear." That's quite a difference and is consistent with the way Hal and the ring were reintroduced in the GL:REBIRTH miniseries. Also, Abin Sur's dying words are "An Earthman..heh…I never thought I'd LIVE to see the d--" Now, I'm not sure what exactly that means since TALES OF THE GL CORPS introduced a GL from Earth back in the wild west days of the 19th century and Alan Scott had been around since the 40s with a GL ring that was at least peripherally connected to the GL Corps according to some old GL comic. But I trust that if Abin Sur's last words are really important, Johns will pick up on it in a later issue.

This new first issue presents Hal Jordan as he should be. He's self-assured. He's a take-charge guy. He's kind of cocky, but name me a hot-shot fighter pilot who's not. I don't know if the intention is to keep the setting here, but this issue spends a lot of time with Hal at Edwards AFB. It also shows him setting up a new apartment in the newly rebuilding Coast City. Which was nice to see and is a unique set-up for a hero: being first-resident of an all-new city. Noticed one panel with a shark fin off the coast of the city. One of Green Lantern's old villains was The Shark. Foreshadowing? I hope so. I'd love to see what the team of Johns and Pacheco could do with that character.

There's a great set-up for this first story-arc involving some unknown malevolent alien entity that's killing people. Presumably this is the alien from the abandoned "yellow" alien space ship that's in orbit around Earth that Hal and John Stewart investigate in this issue. This sequence introduces the cool new concept that, even though the Parallax-entity serves as an impurity in the power ring that makes it ineffective against yellow, the limitation can be overcome by the ring-wearer allowing himself to "feel fear." I like that. There's also some shadowy bad guy heading towards Edwards that has robot sort of eyes and talks with a stutter. Uh-oh, Tin from the Metal Men's gone evil! Run away! Run away!

Here's the best thing of all about this comic. It takes a long-established character and sets him up for the future with a new purpose and brings in some new supporting characters like Hal's brother Jim. But, here's what I dug majorly. You know how there are just a handful of "love interest" characters who make an impression immediately? Probably the most famous is Mary Jane Watson's "Face it Tiger, you hit the jackpot" appearance. I mean, who remembers the introduction of Gwen Stacy? I would say, for me, that the first appearance of Bethany Cabe during the Michelinie/JRJr on IRON MAN was one of these types. Well, the first appearance of blond bombshell, ace fighter-pilot, and most excellent new Hal Jordan love-interest, Jillian "Cowgirl" Pearlman ranks right up there with the best of them. I love Hal checking her blond head out and thinking "Yellow. My ONE weakness." I also love that after he's dramatically saved her butt from a deadly jet crash, he apologizes "Sorry I had to intervene" and Jillian, noticing how he's checking her out, smiles and retorts "Funny. Ya don't LOOK so sorry." She had me and Hal in that first panel. I can't wait to see how this relationship develops. Just please please please no Star Sapphire nonsense involving this girl. Keep her in the MJ/Bethany mold and don't overly mix her up in the superstuff. It helps for such a cosmic-type hero like Green Lantern to have a civilian love-interest, especially one like this who can be an equal or superior to Hal Jordan, test pilot.

I am totally groovin' with this comic. This may already be my favorite current comic series.


ESSENTIAL THOR VOL. 2

Written by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Kirby
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by
Buzz Maverik Vol. 2



I hate Thor.

All comic book fans have big time characters they hate. I'm not talking about hating the Vision or Orion, or some character like that. I'm talking about hating a mainstream Marvel or DC superhero who has been able to sustain a solo title since his or her inception.

A lot of people hate SUPERMAN. Or THE X-MEN. For me, it's THE MIGHTY THOR.

Why am I telling you this instead of talking about the book? Because critics who don't tell you about their prejudices and perspectives aren't giving you a clear picture of why they like or dislike something. I can talk about me and you can decide if we're alike enough for you to agree with my review or if we're too different to share the same opinion.

Thor is one of those Marvel characters that I look at and go, "Huh?" Why Thor? If we're going to go mythological, the Greek and Roman gods are easier to relate to and were created by cultures that had greater influences than the Norse, who were primarily responsible for prolonging the Dark Ages until the Celts and Gaels handed them their asses in Robert E. Howard's swell story THE GRAY GOD PASSES. The cultural differences with the Norsemen are just too great. Apollo or Hercules would make sense. But Thor?

In the early 60s, when the Marvel Universe was starting up and taking off, I suspect they needed a solo strong guy. THE INCREDIBLE HULK was such an original, outrageous take that even today you still have fans and pros who don't understand that the Hulk was and is in fact a superhero...just the most bizarre, antiestablishment superhero ever created. Power-wise, Thor sort of falls more in line with such Philip Wylie-inspired characters as Superman and Captain Marvel. He's strong, invulnerable, can fly, has that magic-but-nonlethal-hammer that can fire lightning bolts and transport you to Asgard, etc.

But he's a Norse god...who is sometimes trapped in the body of a handicapped doctor. Dr. Don Blake found a magic stick that turns him into Thor. Yet, Dr. Don Blake is Thor. So what was it: the magic stick or Don Blake. If anyone got the stick, would they have become Thor? Don't even mention Beta Ray Bill to me! For some reason, Thor performs super heroics on Earth and (more understandably) godly heroics when he's in Asgard. Apparently, Odin the head god and Thor's father, exiled Thor for his arrogance. We never see Thor behave arrogantly or brutally. He's always perfectly heroic and decent, except he talks in bad pseudo-Shakesperian English like all good Vikings didn't.

In fact, Thor is nothing like a Viking or like his mythological incarnation which was always described as red haired and bearded. Thor doesn't raid British seaports and ravage their wenches. Okay. The people in Nordic countries have changed over the centuries. Maybe Marvel's Thor reflects that. Similarly, maybe Kirby's version of Asgard, set in outer space but with blue skies, gleaming spires and a beautiful mix of the archaic and futuristic, may reflect the progress of the gods. In his book COMMUNION, alien probee Whitley Strieber wonders if the fairy folk of legend had their own technological revolution. UFO researcher Jacques Vallee has posed similar questions. It appears that the Norse gods have also made great scientific strides.

Why am I recommending this volume? Because I recommend all the Marvel Essentials. This is where you learn about the lost continuity. More importantly, I'm recommending it because of Jack Kirby. THE MIGHTY THOR was a title that really let the King go nuts with favorite sensibilities of lost civilizations, space gods, intricate architecture and weaponry, the melding of science fiction and fantasy, the melding of pseudo-science and mythology. The Thor stories, especially set in Asgard (and the back up TALES O' ASGARD feature), really let the King get cosmic.

Jack Kirby's art is perhaps the most amazing that 20th Century comics produced. It was neither cartoony or realistic. His sense of anatomy was certainly fanciful, to say the least, but there was powerful detail and conviction in the work. Looking at the Kirby pages here, you believe them because Jack believed them!

Out of all the Marvel Essentials, this is the one where I most miss the color. Jack penciled his big bold lines with the intention of color. If you look at such Essential Volumes as TOMB O' DRACULA, DAREDEVIL, IRON MAN, HOWARD THE DUCK and DR. STRANGE, you can see that Gene Colan's work is even more enjoyable without someone else's color. But with Kirby, it's like he's demanding color.

Stan Lee is my idol. I hate the school that gives Jack all the credit for the Marvel icons. Stan was in on most of them, but...with THE MIGHTY THOR, I have to wonder. All of those old time comic pros always claimed credit for everything, even things they clearly had nothing to do with. Stan did it. Jack did it. Everyone else. I know that Stan didn't write the first THOR stories. His brother, Larry Lieber, was the author. THE MIGHTY THOR, in execution, is so much more like the work of Jack Kirby than that of Stan Lee, that at least in this case, it would seem like Jack deserved the bulk of the credit.

I hate Thor. But I like Jack Kirby's THOR. I also like Walter Simonson's THOR, by the way. Two good versions of THOR. That means there's one person in the world now who can produce a THOR comic that I'll enjoy, because the King is gone.


SLEEPER SEASON TWO #12

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Publisher: Wildstorm/DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug



I got into this story late into the first series of SLEEPER. After taking the advice from fellow @$$holes Dave F. (AKA The Reviewer Formerly Known as Cormorant) and Jon Quixote (currently on hiatus writing his manifesto in a shack somewhere near the Weapon X Complex in the Great White North), I bought the first issue and was immediately hooked on it’s hard-edged depictions of espionage, noir, and seamless mixture into the stew that is super heroism. Noir stories are so often about the black and white; the nature of man and all of the temptations and conflictions that entice him to do either good or bad deeds. Throughout the last 24 issues of the last two “seasons” of this series, Double Agent Holden Carver has walked the fine line between the dark and the light.

In super hero books, the line between the good guys and the bad is bold, in four colors, and easy to distinguish. Pick up most mainstream comics and you can tell from first glance who’s on the side of the angels and who’s out to challenge that hero. Writer Ed Brubaker has chosen to blur these lines and he’s done it so well in SLEEPER that by the end of this series, I wasn’t sure which side to root for.

Many have said that this series lost its punch — that the pizzazz and excitement from the first series faded as Holden’s alliances switched and flip flopped between the government Nick Fury-type Lynch and Lynch’s creation turned international terrorist Tao. Brubaker cleverly avoided clichés and allowed the reader to discover that Lynch was a manipulative bastard even though he worked for an agency Holden initially believed in. Bru also made it a point to show us a sympathetic side to Tao in his origin story where he turned out to be a test subject who turned out to be too smart for his own good. By making the “villain” sympathetic and the hero’s mentor unsympathetic, Bru kept me questioning which side I wanted Holden to choose. In the end, Bru made it pretty clear that the both paths were pretty fucked up.

SEASON TWO of SLEEPER is basically Holden’s long fight to get out of this predicament alive. Choosing sides is not an option any more because he’s deceived so many people and so many have deceived him that trust is not a factor any more. Holden Carver is desperate, flailing around, trying to find something and someone to hold onto as his life quickly unravels. Despite it all, though, Holden has a plan and a glimmer of hope that if everything works out, he can live that life he dreamed of, away from all of this double-agentry, super powers, and lies. Maybe on a beach somewhere, sipping on a tropical beverage, and cuddling up close with someone who understands him. It is this hope that riveted me to this story and had me cheering for Holden to make it out of this one alive, even though I knew that Holden had dug himself into a hole so deep that this hope was highly unlikely to become a reality.

I don’t mean to short change the artist here. Sean Phillips is damn good and I don’t know of any other artist capable of matching the mood and emotion in Bru’s words and scenes. His ability to depict action and character with the least amount of lines and details is inspiring. I’ve gone on about the writing, but I am sure that if the story were in the hands of a different artist, it wouldn’t have been so powerful.

Writer Bru eloquently pulls at the yarn that holds Holden’s life together. It’s because of his skill at illustrating both the utter desperation and inspiring hope that permeates this character that I was biting my nails trying to find out how this was all going to end, and then feeling sad because the series was actually coming to a conclusion in this issue. I’m not spoiling who gets out alive and who doesn’t. Let’s just say that it is a powerful read and issue twelve is a perfect end to the second season. If Bru decides to never visit this universe of intrigue, deception, and, yes, hope again, he can be content in that he has written one hell of a tragic, yet inspiring, exciting, yet introspective story in SLEEPER SEASONS ONE and TWO.


INCREDIBLE HULK #81

Writer: Peter David
Penciller: Lee Weeks
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee



In the midst of all these big summer “events” going on in comics these days, I can’t help but feel a lot of people are glazing over something that in and of itself should be an event: the return of Peter David to the pages of the HULK. Really, I don’t think there’s anyone out there in comics who can write the HULK besides Mr. PAD and I think I prefer it that way. This arc has been nothing if but an exercise of how you do a HULK comic right, of how you mix the personalities of Banner conflicting with the Hulk, and how you hold the reader in suspense before unleashing the Hulk and his patented Hulk-style smashing. But let’s turn this back into a review instead of fanboy-like rambling.

First off, I have to say just how stunning I find the cover of this book. The idea may be a little cheesy to some, but I find it as a great homage that looks absolutely beautiful. I very much enjoyed the “apologies to Frazetta” comment made on the bottom-right corner, but I don’t see what they’re apologizing for, the detail and coloring are stunning and, guess what folks? Yes, the cover actually reflects some events within the book! Speaking of within, the art inside is just as capable as the cover is. Everything looks nice and detailed, the panel to panel pacing is fantastic, and I have to say Weeks’ facial expressions are some of the best I’ve seen, at least in recent memory. I really, really look forward to more of his work on this book as I’ve always thought that it just seemed this was a natural for him.

As far as storytelling goes I really did enjoy the twists and turns this issue took, as well as the arc as a whole. I loved the slow build that David did from issue to issue, starting us off at a total “What the hell is going on?” beginning and slowly feeding us bits and jumbled pieces of a puzzle, as well as further insight into Bruce Banners’ very damaged and troubled psyche. Throughout the arc we’ve been given all sorts of flashbacks in Banners’ life, and also images of characters from the past interacting with the Hulk now. What David managed to do here was play a very good game of sleight of hand as he definitely got us, well, me at least, to the point where you were questioning everything going on until we get hit with the reveals of this issue.

As I said earlier, his usage of Hulk’s smashing skills is about perfect. One thing that was made abundantly clear to me during Bruce Jones’ run on this book is that this is one title you can’t take what I like to call the “Bendis Daredevil” approach. In this book, your title character needs to be seen, and needs to take up a little bit more time than his secret identity/alter ego/whatever. But what David has learned over the years is that just because the Hulk needs to be seen, doesn’t mean he needs to be seen just doing his wanton destruction gimmick. Here we see more of the smart Hulk that I prefer. He’s not the super-genius as he was once written, but he’s smart enough to fit the purpose of the story, and when the time calls to start putting down the hurt, he does it with a great mix of savagery and style.

I want more of this. That’s really all I want to end this with. After dropping this title more than a year ago I knew it would take something major to bring me back… and this is it. We’re seeing a perfect combination of art and writing that has made this one of the best books on the market again. I know that PAD has said that he doesn’t know how long he’ll be on this book again. If I had it my way, though, he’d be doing it for another 100+ with Weeks bringing his pencils with him the whole way.


BATMAN : DARK DETECTIVE # 2

Written by Steve Engelhart
Art by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
Published by DC
Reviewed by Tar D. Maverik



The Scarecrow is in the wrong area of crime.

Think about it. He's developed this drug, called fearomone gas, that makes the experiencer have powerful hallucinations of things they fear or of their worst fears coming true.

What does the Scarecrow always do with his creation? Since he's a BATMAN villain, he uses it to try to destroy Batman, as in BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE # 2.

What a dumbshit. What a waste of a cool designer drug. The Scarecrow ought to know that he's never going to destroy Batman. He should take his invention and start marketing it at raves and in dorms and to old hippies.

"But, Buzz," you say, "who'd willingly take a drug that makes them experience their worst fear?"

I say, how do we know that Fearomone Gas always makes you experience your worst fear? Has it ever been given to a willing test subject, under laboratory conditions? Or at least in a cool party atmosphere?

Hell no!

Maybe if someone took a dose of Fearomone in a friendly, peaceful environment things would be different. You know, where they could listen to some Grateful Dead, drink some wine or some Mexican beer; look at some comics with some fine art, like that of Marshall Rogers; if they had someone to hug, especially someone who looks like Batman's chick Silver St. Cloud. They might see something other than their worst fears.

The Scarecrow would have to change the name. He could call it Tripomone Gas or Partyomone Gas.

He'd probably still be hassled by the Batman. But he'd be making a lot more money. I'm sure that the DC Universe is full of people who would be willing test subjects. Speedy, Green Arrow's sidekick, comes to mind. If necessary, Dr. Crane might have to recruit from the Marvel Universe, but I'm sure that Harry Osborne and Rick Jones would sign up.

The only drawback would be that the Joker would want to test his Joker gas. You don't want to mess with that stuff. Bad vibes.


FANTASTIC FOUR #527

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Pencils: Mike McKone
Inks: Andy Lanning
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug



Writer JMS and I have had a turbulent relationship. Like a yo-yo dangling from his finger, JMS has thrown me away and reeled me back in too many times for me to count. He really won me over with MIDNIGHT NATION (which is still his finest work to date), yet disappointed me with his inconsistent and uneven RISING STARS. I absolutely love his slow boil of a super hero epic in SUPREME POWER, but was so frustrated with his lazy and unfocused AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run that I have stopped reading the title for the first time since I started reading comics. It seems that JMS works best with high concepts – ideas that sound great when you first hear it, kind of like movie pitches to big time film execs – but sometimes a good idea and a great product are as different as night and day. Take for example, JMS’ heady concept in his ASM run that there was more to Peter Parker’s transformation from man to Spider-Man than just the radioactive aspects of the spider that bit him. JMS asked the question, was it the radiation itself that gave Peter his powers, or did the fact that the radiation’s host was a spider have something to do with it? This is an interesting question, but after reading the meandering cosmic storyline of spider totems and spider-men from the past, the notion that this was a good idea faded fast. It was a high concept, sure, but it was a bad one.

But this isn’t an AMAZING SPIDER-MAN review, it’s an FF review. Because I have been pleasantly surprised by some of JMS’ work in the past, I picked up FANTASTIC FOUR #527 to see what it had to offer. And once again, I am confronted with a pickle of a dilemma because dammit if I’m not intrigued by this new challenge and high concept to erupt from JMS’ fevered imagination that will surely cause the FF problems for months to come.

Government researchers have discovered that, although there have been many cosmic storms that have occurred in the past, a cosmic storm with the exact same attributes that lead to the FF’s creation is set to occur, not once, but twice over the next two years. The readings match up perfectly. SHEILD and a government researcher that looks a hell of a lot like Paul Giamatti from SIDEWAYS approach Reed Richards to oversee a project to send up a rocket filled with a troop of soldiers – creating a Fantastic Forty, if you will.

Now, this is an interesting concept and one that inspires hope that JMS is in for the long haul with this title as he maps out a story that looks to be taking place over the span of the next year or so. It’s an imaginative enough concept to inspire many stories with the potential to exploit the best and worst aspects of each of the members of the Fantastic Four. Now, when I read this concept, I immediately had the reaction, “There’s no way Reed would agree to do this. He’s basically cursing an entire squadron to the same fate his family has had to endure since that perilous flight all those years ago.” But the Paul Giamatti look-alike frames the discovery with the notion that the FF have done an awful lot of good with their super powers. Imagine the amount of good a well trained and disciplined troop of forty super powered soldiers could do. Of course nothing good is going to come of this, but the idea that Reed and Co. have the responsibility of training, mentoring, and most likely beating the snot out of forty or so people with powers derived from the same source as their own is an intriguing one and one that has me thinking that this is a story I’m willing to follow for a while.

But the FF has always been about family and character. Does JMS get this right? Well, yes and no. One of the things I admire Mark Waid for being able to do is that he actually got Reed right and made him an interesting and unique character. For years, Reed was the one character that writers consistently got wrong. It’s tough to write a smart character because (let’s face it) writing comics ain’t rocket science. You don’t have to be a genius to write this stuff. It helps, but you don’t have to be one. So of course, writing about the smartest man in the Marvel Universe would be a tough thing to do. Reed is often characterized as a bumbling Ward Cleaver/Father Knows Best-type. Waid stayed away from this image, making Reed an extremely complex and conflicted man – tortured with the sharpest intellect of the universe and the guilt tied to that one fateful rocket ship ride that changed the lives of his family forever. JMS continues to heap the guilt onto Reed in the first few pages of this book as he watches a tiny culture evolve from primordial goo and eventuality destroy itself. Reed says this is inevitable with every culture. JMS’ Reed is logical and scientific about it all, but Waid always grounded Reed with a strong familial anchor that I found to be lacking in this first issue. Sure, Sue and Reed share a few quiet and tender moments together, but Reed was cold and distracted throughout the entire issue. These moments lacked the heart that an FF comic needs. Waid nailed it. JMS is going to have to work a little harder to get there though.

One thing JMS seems to be having fun with is a side story where the Thing finds out that he is filthy rich. There’s an especially funny scene involving a copy machine, Bill Gates, and a Grand Canyon reference that had me rolling. This scene and Ben’s subplot made this book, filled with somber and ominous moments with Reed, a more even read. I’m looking forward to seeing Ben let loose now that he’s found out that he’s a ga-billionaire.

Art-wise, this book is rock solid. Mike McKone can sometimes be a bit stiff with his figures, but his mastery of strong lines and great facial expressions is evident throughout this entire book. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that he draws the Thing too short. In some panels, he’s damn near midget-like. Despite this one beef of perspective, McKone puts together some truly cosmic scenes with the alien landscape at the beginning of this book. He seems to have a firm grasp on the fantastical — a talent that I’m sure will prove to be useful in this book.

You had me at hello, JMS. Make me feel like you did with SUPREME POWER and MIDNIGHT NATION and let’s not relive the hurtful things you did to me with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. FF #527 is a good start. Let’s hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Please be gentle, though, because I’ve been hurt before.


DC SPECIAL: THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY #1 (of 4)

Writer: Phil Jimenez
Artists: Jose Garcia-Lopez/George Perez
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger



Wow, dude. Flashback. Those wacky DC folk introduce their nifty new logo on a cover that's a throwback to an earlier time with that "Collector's Item" starburst. Even the title of DC SPECIAL gives it a retro feel. I still remember when comic stands were filled to the brim with all these generic titles like DC SUPERSTARS, DC COMICS PRESENTS, DC SHOWCASE, MARBLE PREMIERE, MARBLE SPOTLIGHT, MARBLE TALES, etc. etc. etc. Well, this DC SPECIAL features the return of Donna Troy! How do I know that? It says so on the cover. But, but, but what if I'm one of those seemingly nonexistent "new" readers? Why would I care about that title? I'd be asking myself who Donna Troy is and why should I care. Hence the DC SPECIAL title I think. That way, even the ignorant among us will realize that this comic is…special. So, in what ways is this comic "special" enough to earn such a prestigious title?

The first way this comic is special is because the cover is cool. Presumed dead Donna Troy is flying out towards the reader in all her cosmic black bodysuit star-background glory. Judging by the sig, this cover was drawn by PJz and FoPz. I'm guessing that's Tamaranian for Phil Jimenez and George Perez. At least that's what it looks like to me.

Second way this comic is special is the interior art by Jose Garcia-Lopez and George Perez. Both of these guys are gods of comic book art and to see them teamed together in a grand story involving the Titans of myth is glorious to behold.

Third way this comic is special is simply the fact that it is accomplishing for Wonder Girl/Troia what the recent GL: REBIRTH mini-series did. It is taking a silver-age fan favorite and thrusting them to the forefront of modern DC continuity with respect and marketing support. That's nice to see.

Now, why might this comic not be so special? Well, I thought it a tad overwritten. Simply too much story setup by drawn-out internal narration and/or exposition about Donna's past and setting up who each character is. I guess it's something of a necessary evil, but after reading this, I can understand the rationale for why those old JSA and JLA comics would give you a roll-call on the first page or why those old Marble Comics included those classic origin blurbs across the top of the splash pages. They gave the reader the basic set-up for who the characters were and then just let the readers jump right into the story. This comic has lots of pretty pictures, but the set-up for Donna's return has not reached out and grabbed this reader like it needed to. In fact, I was never quite sure what the Titans' intentions were with this planet Minosyss or exactly how Donna's memories were returning. It was so wordy I found myself confused at times. I especially can't figure out what that sphere was that appeared on the last page talking like it thought it was Donna. I'm all for mysteries, but the set-up needs to flow a bit more logically to set up the mystery. Instead, I felt like I was presented with dues ex machinas and out-of-the-blue mysteries.

The comic looks so good that it's definitely worth getting just for the art. The Lopez/Perez interpretation of the look of the Titans of Myth was really nice. Much more impressive than their first appearance in the NEW TEEN TITANS when Perez made Chronus look like Robert Loggia with mutton chops. Heh. However, I cannot imagine that a "new" reader with no preexisting emotional connection to Donna Troy would be hooked by this story enough to commit to the four issues that make up this story. Instead, I can see the mentality of that same reader, who's interested in all this INFINITE CRISIS build-up, after finishing reading this issue and just deciding that he'll wait for the trade…if the buzz builds on the book.

So, I guess the Prof would give this issue a mixed review. Art = A+ and Writing = C+.


HERO CAMP # 1

Written by Greg Thompson
Art by Robbi Rodriguez
Published by Image
Buzz Maverik

, Camper of The Day

Camp @$$hole? It's only the best darn camp in the free world!

Am I associated with Camp @$$hole? I should say so! I'm Buzz Maverik, head counselor. At Camp @$$hole, we've been teaching kids how to be comic book critics since the Golden Age! Why, here's a final critique turned out by Ernest Cohen, age 16, in 1939:

Sue me, but the latest issue of Timely Comics' LARRY LIBERTY was just more blah, blah, blah and zzzz...zzzz...zzz. Larry wasn't even in the comic for the first half panel and then, writer Boris Bendis wasted two whole panels by having Larry talk to his archenemy Axl Axis before beating his brains out...

Sadly, the budding young critic was blown to pieces on Iwo Jima but a few years later. We persisted through the decades though! Another example of the fine criticism by our campers was turned out in 1952 by counselor-in-training Stevie McGeek:

...and in reading EC's GUNS & DOLLS # 35, I had a strong urge to machine gun the corner candy store, steal from the church collection plate before blowing up the church, smoke some opium-reefer, and have sexual intercourse with a leggy blonde gun moll. Just like reading OPOSSUM MAN & OPIE made me want to be a homosexual! My God! Dr. Wertham and Senator Kefeauver were right!

Stevie would have been a great comic book critic if he hadn't turned the whole staff into HUAC and named names! You would have certainly heard of Camp @$$hole's 1960s star critic Johnny Starchilde if he hadn't blown his mind on acid and forced a Hell's Angel to stab him at Altamont. At the Fireside Bitch, Johnny read this about DC'S GREEN ESTABLISHMENT/GREEN HIPPIE:

...social relevance at its' finest! You will cheer when Green Hippie, aka Olivier Queer, not only joins the Black Panthers but becomes their leader. The character Dewey Dewton, clearly modeled on Panther Huey Newton, officially changes the name of the group to the Green Panthers and decides that blacks, whites and greens should all be friends. A major bummer is brought on at the end when the Man, Green Establishment, uses his power ring to make shields and truncheons and bust everyone's head...

Me? I was a camper myself during the Bronze Age. You can see the Darkseid bong, the Mother (stash) Box and the Silver Surfer pipe I made in arts 'n' crafts. I was a counselor in training in the '80s and lead such seminars as "Which Love Interest Should Be Addicted to Heroin?" and circulated petitions asking the Big Two to let us vote to kill all of their characters. In the '90s, I taught poly bagging classes and we got into all kinds of variant camps. Earlier in this decade, we decompressed the camp experience, letting it stretch over a full year, but the smarter campers grew bored.

Now that I'm head counselor, I'm proud to present to you a review of HERO CAMP # 1 by the boys in Cabin Rant:

Sure, it's a gimmick series but it's a really good one. HERO CAMP, a summer camp where superheroes send their superkids. The interesting wrinkle devised by writer Greg Thompson and artist Robbi Rodriguez is that our hero, Eric, may not have superpowers at all, even though his parents looks sort of like Supreme and the Scarlet Witch, and he's got a Krypto-like pooch who makes an appearance. Poor Eric is still subjected to the superhero like activities, such as flying class, etc. Mr. Rodriguez' art seems to be pleasantly influenced by the work of Mike Allred, without going overboard in that direction. Aside from Eric, the most distinguished characters are the villains: the disfigured, but hot Bloody Mary, whose power seems to consist of holding Eric's face to her bosom (he seems to want to be rescued anyway) and her two goons, Hook and Goat. The back-up story, featuring Hero Camp's Hulk/Thing/Badrock character Block is even better. Some dude's should not read philosophy. When we were done, we wanted to see more of HERO CAMP. So will you.


DRACULA VS. KING ARTHUR #1 (of 4)

Adam & Christian Beranek: Writers
Chris Moreno: Artist
Silent Devil: Publisher
Vroom Socko: The Devil’s Concubine



This is one of those books that takes any and all of your expectations and twists them right around. I know that when I first heard about this book, I didn’t think much of the idea. Sounds a little too much like some sort of Freddy vs. Jason piece of shit. But then, I managed to get a copy. All it took was the five-page introduction to have me wondering why nobody thought to bring these two classic characters together before.

Vlad Dracul is facing the dying days of his kingdom, and his own death at the hands of invading Turks. At the last possible moment, he is brought into the presence of Satan himself. Lucifer, it seems has a most intriguing offer. There is a realm of virtue he wishes to see destroyed, one that would make for a splendid new kingdom for The Impaler. And so, Vlad is transformed and then sent back in time, eager to conquer a kingdom recently vacated by a king in search of the Holy Grail.

What makes this story work, however, is not the plot as much as the characterization. The Beraneks have done their homework on both these legends. These two are mirrored masterfully. The rest of the characters aren’t too shabby either, although I’d have preferred Merlin to be less Stephen Dillane and more Nicol Williamson. But that’s just me.

As for Chris Moreno, this guy must be having a blast. From the golden splendor of Camelot to the pits of Hell itself, Moreno’s covering all the bases with style and flourish. I especially love his hellhounds, which resemble a mad cross between rottweilers and giant frogs. Then there’s his closing scene, where Dracula confronts… well, that would be telling.

The best part, though, is that this book features 38 pages of story for the usual price of three bucks. Those 38 pages even manage to feel like sixty, what with all the content crammed into this thing. I haven’t had this much fun reading a comic in a good long while. Sure, it may sound like a silly premise, but I guarantee this’ll be a book to remember. Fun, yes. Creepy and cool, yes. Silly? Not on your damn life.

Remember if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.


DAY OF VENGEANCE #2

I’m still digging this miniseries in that it is bringing some pretty obscure characters to the forefront and avoiding the inclusion of such yawn-inspiring go-to mystical characters as Dr. Fate, Dr. Occult, and the Phantom Stranger. These lesser known mystical heroes are flawed enough to make their involvement in this cosmic debacle interesting. The Spectre and Eclipso have set out to destroy all of the magic in the DCU and only Blue Devil, Detective Chimp, the Enchantress, and Ragman (yes Ragman) can stop him. My one beef in this issue is that two new characters are re-introduced in this issue without one mention of them in the first issue and writer Bill Willingham doesn’t even give us their names in this second issue. Now, I don’t have my WHO’S WHO IN THE DCU handy, but I believe these guys are Nightmaster and Nightshade, but since their names aren’t even mentioned in this issue or the previous one, I can’t be sure. If a dude like me who is pretty well informed on the characters in the DCU is asking these questions, I’m fairly sure a new reader would be pretty lost at this point. It’s sloppy storytelling like this that really turns me off of big crossover/event books. - Bug

JLA #114

It sucked. I’m sitting here writing this, and I’m trying to think of something intelligent to say, something critical, yet a bit snarky, but to be honest being concise is really all that this book prompts me to be, and my being concise on the subject equals my saying “It sucked.” Maybe it’s because there’s so many ideas and plot threads being bounced around, maybe it’s because a lot of those fall flat due to the horrible pacing and the so-so dialogue, and maybe it’s because part of this spins out of a cross-company miniseries that felt just as cramped, but all I know is that this arc lost me by part three and by the time it hit part eight my brain was mush. Pity really because I love both the writer and the artist of this book, and have seen such higher efforts by them. But yes, it sucked, and now it’s over. Let’s move on shall we… - Humphrey

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #520

Why is it the best damn Avengers story I've read in over a year isn't in an Avengers book? The fight with the HYDRA doppelgangers has some excellent character beats from Iron Man and Cap that are slicker than slick while rocking old school style. Not to mention the sweet as all hell showdown between Wolverine and Aunt May. You heard me. Hey Marvel! If you're listening, if you hand over some of the "retired" characters from Avengers to JMS for an NEW AVENGERS WEST COAST book, I'd be eternally greatfull. That Straczynski, now HE knows how to write a team book! Oh yeah, and Spidey does have plenty of cool stuff to do in this issue too. Don't want to forget that. - Vroom

FLASH #222

One word can sum up this current “Rogue War” arc: Chaos! Virtually all of Flash’s enemies are running wild in the streets of Central City fighting each other and destroying everything in their wake. In this issue, one powerful foe meets a chilling end while another dives into the fray for the first time. Everything uber-writer Geoff Jones has put into this series is coming to a head with this arc. The action moves as fast as expected in a comic about the Fastest Man Alive. In this issue, Johns gives yet another example of how to write superb and thrilling super hero graphic literature. - Bug

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