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#4 6/2/05 and 6/8/05 #4

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

ACTION COMICS #827 – 828
JLA #115
Indie Jones presents: OZ: THE MANGA #1

ACTION COMICS # 827 – 828

Written by Gail Simone
Art by John Byrne
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

The comic book community – writers and artists; editorial; support staff and marketing; retailers; journalists; and the fans – truly is a community. Since I'm from Southern California, I think of it as a middle class suburb in the Valley.

Up in the Country Club, where the creative types live, Gail Simone would be that cool chick who throws the best parties on the cul-de-sac. And John Byrne would be the old guy who calls the cops if you park in front of his house.

Incidentally, everyone writing and reading AICN Comics would be those guys squatting in the condemned trailer park out by the freeway. Now, if you'll excuse me, ol' Buzz is off to shoot your dinner.

Gail Simone and John Byrne seem like an odd pairing, at first. Ms. Simone is a newer writer building a strong reputation and following by telling engaging stories with good characterization and dialogue. She's not one of these writers who are going to set comicdom on its ass and MAKE YOU LOOK AT insert character name IN A WHOLE NEW WAY (which usually means turning them into jerks and making them boring). She's more of the Geoff Johns type of writer who will use the traditional format to truly make you look at the characters in a whole new way, without hitting you in the head with hype.

John Byrne is a living legend. Thanks to our friend the Internet, we now get to trash our living legends and sometimes see them trash themselves with no help from us. The fan portion of our community is very much like the Japanese culture in that they must have consensus. The consensus is now firmly against Mr. Byrne. We here at AICN tend to trash everyone equally, but at most other fan waterholes, you can only get away with trashing Rob Liefeld, Chuck Austen, Ron Zimmerman and Mr. Byrne. Raise a question about anyone else and you're gonna get some peeved postings, Mister Opinion-pants.

Mr. Byrne reinvigorated Marvel art. He brought it back from the Bronze Age slump. As Obi Wan Kenobi said in REVENGE O' THE SITH, "Only a fanboy thinks in absolutes." Yes, there was some good art at Marvel during the Bronze Age. But the majority, especially in mainstream superhero books, was indistinct at best. Not so with Mr. Byrne's work. It was an exercise in contradictions, combining realism and exaggeration, subtlety and bombast. Some of his FANTASTIC FOUR and X-MEN has an almost 3D effect. I say this with no irony, the fucking floor on the Hellfire Club, where the X-Men were prisoner, shimmered. I still haven't seen anything else like that in a comic.

Of course, Mr. Byrne is the man who relaunched SUPERMAN. His writing and art were things of beauty on that. Later, he started relaunching things at Marvel, like AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that weren't such things of beauty. While his work always makes an impact on me, probably the last Byrne series I really followed was the Neal Adams-inspired X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS.

Unfortunately, lately, Mr. Byrne has become known for things he writes on his messageboard like the infamous "It's Spider-Man and Superman, not Spidey and Supes", which isn't that big a deal either way but you woulda thought otherwise between Mr. B and the fans. The great thing about Mr. Byrne is that he seems to be pissed off at everyone from Dave Cockrum to Chris Claremont to Roy Thomas to Christopher Reeve. Probably the last really big boner was when, in reaction to news that Jessica Alba was playing Sue Storm in THE FANTASTIC FOUR movie, Byrne reportedly posted something along the lines of how, in his opinion, Hispanic women who dye their hair look like hookers. Like anyone can afford a hooker that looks like Jessica Alba.

The reason Gail Simone and John Byrne work so well together is that they both excel at putting the story and characters first. It's harder with art because of distinctive styles, but I honestly got the feeling reading these two issues that Simone and Byrne probably weren't trying to get us readers to notice them. They wanted us in that story and they succeeded. That's extremely rare in today's comics, where most of the time we should just be looking at pictures of writers at their word processors and artists at their drawing board (like if they want to insert their own boring personalities and tics into their work, they should move down to the low rent district and become critics where no one gives a crap what they do).

When you have two talents like these, it's kind of hard to differentiate what makes the comic work. An interesting, credible threat to Superman was presented by Dr. Polaris and the Betty Page-looking Repulse. Superman's vulnerabilities were explored without resorting to Kryptonite. Simone and Byrne know just when to bring in Lois, when to show us something through Jimmy's POV, when to have a gag. I will credit Ms. Simone with a great depiction of Lois and Clark's marriage. Their interaction really helps us understand who Superman is today, without the standard, big boring DC mini-series that no one reads about WHO SUPERMAN IS TODAY.

So that's how they do it right on the Right Side of the Tracks. Those of us here on the wrong side can still enjoy it while we throw our own party ... which you know the cops will be faster to bust up.
rich snobs on the hill....


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciller: Mark Bagley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

So it’s been roughly a week since we had our little Roundtable about the Bendis penned HOUSE OF M and it looks like there has been some, errr… interesting feedback about it all. And I’ll be quite honest with everyone right here, and right now: I don’t care. Last week’s column was the first time I’ve glanced upon the Talkback session since I did my first review here about two months ago. I made a conscious decision when I first agreed to do these weekly reviews that I simply wouldn’t make checking those a regular thing because, quite frankly, I don’t want to be influenced by them. See, I agreed to do this because I love comics, especially good comics, and if I could use this as a platform to preach about the comics I think are highly enjoyable and try and steer people away from the ones that aren’t so much, well, that’s what I came here for. Just as long as I happen to get one person who reads this to try something they normally wouldn’t, then I consider this a success.

That said, though, I do feel like someone here needs to follow up last weeks’ column with something else Bendis related. Like him or not, he is the biggest force in comics today, and he needs to be talked about more, especially around these parts. And I’m going to take it upon myself to do this.


Because, if I haven’t made it apparent so far, I’m an idiot… that’s why.

Now let’s talk about the comic for a bit, shall we?

This issue here of ULTIMATE SPIDEY is a bit of a self-contained follow up to the fallout of the Hobgoblin arc that ended last issue. The focus here is on Mary Jane and how she handles the drama around her as Peter has called off their relationship as of last issue… again. I’ll say it right now, this kind of issue is what Bendis does best. His strength as a writer lies in how he can take any character, no matter how secondary, and give them a voice. The strongest issues of this entire USM run of his have, really, been based around Mary Jane, and how she drives and is driven by Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s world. And this issue is definitely no exception, though it isn’t without its flaws.

I enjoy the emotional ride that Mary Jane is taken on in this issue. From “seeing” her as a wreck at the beginning of the issue, to her coming to terms a bit in the middle, to her resolve at the end, it has a nice, pertinent flow. There’s a very nice and insightful conversation between her and a new would-be suitor towards the end that made me realize two things, though. One, there really does tend to be too much usage of “focus panels” for dramatic effect in these books. There’s a lead up to a kiss between the two of characters at the end of the book and it takes a whole page to get there. One. Whole. Page. To get to a kiss. Call that nit-picky, call it anal retentive, call it whatever you want but I call it excessive, and it’s starting to wear on me somewhat. And it mainly irks me because, while I thought that was a poor bit of execution for that moment, there was a great two-page bit at the beginning of the book using that same method of “pause panels” that was executed perfectly IMO.

Secondly, I have to say I really would like to see these characters grow up. I enjoy seeing Peter and MJ going through these kinds of things with the high school backdrop, but I would like to see some more maturity and growth brought to the book. I know Bendis has said that as long as he’s on the book Peter will never leave high school, but I think that’s a mistake. I personally think that bringing him up to college age would be a better fit for this book now. After having gone through so much over nearly eighty issues, I’d like to see more weight brought to Peter’s life than just teenage relationship angst. I’d like to see him “get out into the world” so to speak, but to keep him young and more energetic than the “subdued urban husband” he’s become more of in the Marvel Mainline.

Again, I thought this was a nice little break in between story arcs. To be honest, I kind of would have liked this story to be stretched out another issue and have alternating perspectives over the break up between this MJ story and more reactions from Peter. But I imagine we’re going to be seeing the Peter moments throughout all of the seven-part “Warriors” arc starting next issue. I’ll gladly take the respite this single-issue brings.

ZATANNA #2 (of 4)

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Ryan Sook/Mick Gray
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

I guess I'm just a sucker for girls in fishnet tights and top hats, but I'm enjoying this mini-series. Affiliated with the SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY sort-of-side-universe-maybe-in-maybe-out-of-DC-continuity collection of various mini-series. That first SEVEN SOLDIERS comic that kicked off this whole thing was utterly fascinating and horrifying. One of the best comics this year. And most of the related mini-series sounded interesting enough to give a try.

Now, this first set of mini-series included SHINING KNIGHT, GUARDIAN, KLARION, and ZATANNA. Well, SK had a good first issue, but lost me on the second. GUARDIAN was kind of interesting, but even though I liked the new character taking up the role of the GUARDIAN, the story didn't make me care enough to pick up issue 2. KLARION I had no interest in. But ZATANNA. That's a different story. That was a first issue that made me want to pick up issue 2. In that one, Zatanna had lost her ability to control the casting of her spells and inadvertently let loose a deadly and malevolent demon when she wished for the "ideal man." They call him "the shapeless one" because he can basically take on the shape of anything.

Well, her "ideal man" wound up incinerating a number of DC's magical heroes, including Ibis and Taia (though, being magical heroes, I'm sure resurrection is in their future). This series is demonstrating such a sense of whimsy that I can't imagine any comic fan not enjoying it. It's smart, sexy, funny, and scary with a fond but twisted take on DC continuity. In issue one, I was especially happy to see one of my favorite mystical characters, Baron Winters, make an appearance and laughed out loud when I noticed the leopard-skin in his house – clearly his old pet leopard, Merlin, must've done a big no-no. Ha! Issue 1 also introduced a young girl, Misty Kilgore, who wants to be Zatanna's apprentice.

So, issue 2 picks up with Zatanna and her apprentice searching out some help on how to get rid of that shapeless demon who's chasing them. This search takes them to a cool little magical shop in San Francisco that would be at home in an episode of BUFFY or ANGEL. It’s run by a blind lady named Cassandra Craft, who I would swear I've seen before but I can't remember where (Talkbackers – help out Grampaw Prof here).

I like the bright-eyed enthusiasm of Misty and her magic die. I snickered when Cassandra introduced her black cat named "Prowley." Get it? Duh. Aleister Crowley + Prowl = Prowley. Clever. The hallmark of this series and this issue particularly is an understanding of performance magic and crafting a relationship between this real-world magic and the fantasy-style magic found in super-hero comics. What Morrison does is set up the "reality" of the mystical/magical world with demons, spirits, and magical spells, but even within that grand paradigm the need for distraction in accomplishing your goals still plays a large part. In truth, Zatanna pulls off the defeat of "the shapeless one" by utilizing her stage skills with sleight and swiftness of hand, but the manner in which she does it will seem noticeably familiar to anyone who watched the first 15 minutes of the recent CONSTANTINE film.

This comic is chock full of little visual bits that strain my continuity-brain. Like Cassandra, they spark a memory in me but I can't quite pull up the file. Similarly, there's a potential future plot set-up with the death or disappearance of an old group of kids who had adventures with the Cabinet of Ali-Ka-Zoom. Again, my continuity-sense is tingling. Looks like Ali-Ka-Zoom is the wizard from SHINING KNIGHT and the massacre probably involved the old Newsboy Legion who used to pal around with the original Guardian. So, the connections between these SEVEN SOLDIERS series are starting to become clearer. It makes me want to tune in next month to see what else Morrison throws my way.

There's also a funny bit with the Phantom Stranger that has a nice payoff in the last panel of the comic. For anyone who's ever wondered a bit about the Stranger's personal life, it gives you a tiny bit of insight and is worth a guffaw. I'll definitely finish out this mini-series and I'm also looking forward to seeing what Morrison does with the FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER and especially how he wraps up the whole SEVEN SOLDERS thing. "The Harrowing" is just that, harrowing and unsettling. Most likely Zee will find herself confronting the Sheeda more directly come next issue.

Final word on the art. Ryan Sook's artwork is outstanding. Smooth and slick lines, strong figure work, and excellent story-telling abilities. He reminds me of that guy who did PROMETHEA – J.H. Williams. Or maybe it's the fact that the same guy, Mick Gray, inked Williams on PROMETHEA also inks Sook here on ZATANNA. Either way, I find Sook's art to be more aesthetically pleasing to my senses. His cover to ZATANNA #2 was the most striking cover of the whole DC line this month. That single, haunting, blue eye staring out from under her top hat. Nice work.


Art by ....duh!
Written by Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik Visionary: Buzz Maverik

As a sociopath, I don't feel guilty about anything because I can't. So I'm not confessing anything here, but I didn't buy this book.

Didn't have to. I've owned all of these issues of THE FANTASTIC FOUR since I was 10 or 11 years old. George Perez appeared big at Marvel during this time. Suddenly, the guy was on a ton of team books. FF. AVENGERS. INHUMANS. He graced all of them with clear, distinct yet ornate artwork. He gave us clumps of heroes that looked different from each other. Like the best comic artists of every era, his work wasn't exactly realistic but you couldn't call it cartoonish either. Mr. Perez gave us lots of tight little panels of storytelling in each issue.

One of our pointless, drunken debates around the @$$hole clubhouse is over the reaction shot. The guy whom I still can't get used to calling Dave F. is a fan of the reaction shot, used in manga and modern comics. I say they are a story-stopper in an already static medium. George Perez (like Dave Cockrum) could insert his characters reactions into the same panel with action and dialogue. He didn't have to stall anything to let us know what his characters were thinking.

The first two stories in this volume were written by Roy Thomas and were intended as issues of GIANT SIZE FANTASTIC FOUR. That mag was discontinued but since most Marvel writers edited their own books at the time, Mr. Thomas made them regular two-parters and brought their artist, Mr. Perez, on as series artist. The first story is notable for the introduction of long time Johnny Human Torch love interest Frankie Ray, a girl who later became the Herald O' Galactus known as Nova (whom I call Chick-Nova to distinguish her from Buzz Favorite THE MAN CALLED NOVA). It also brought back a character from pre-FF Timely/Marvel days who would later somehow morph into the Avenger Quasar. Note Johnny Storm's hip, happenin' new threads which were out of date when the story was originally published.

The second story is one of the most interesting Thing vs. Hulk tales Marvel has ever done. The Hulk accidentally causes a jetliner carrying the FF to crash. They are on hand to save the day in a spectacular example of superhero and writer/artist team work. Ben Grimm has been having a bad day. He's feeling like a monster. And when his teammates take down the Hulk through cruel and dirty fighting, and after he sees the treatment Dr. Banner receives at the hands of the Army, he decides whose side he's on. It's the Hulk and the Thing on a road trip. Ben comes to his senses when he realizes that the Hulk has all the impulse control of a hyperactive three year old on PCP. There's a big dukeroo atop the St. Louis arch that culminates with the Thing reverting to human form thanks to prolonged exposure to the Hulk's gamma radiation.

This was where things got interesting. Without the Thing, Reed had to hire Luke Cage to be the muscle on the team, which Grimm resented. Reed later developed Thing-armor for Grimm to wear. This arc involved the Wrecker and the Puppet Master because guys like Perez and Thomas knew you could still explore concepts like identity, resentment, humanity and reinvention while things actually happened. Now, we'd get five years of these kinds of stories before a supervillain showed up off panel.

For some reason, probably deadlines, other artists drew a Galactus/Counter Earth/High Evolutionary arc in which Ben was turned back into the Thing. But Mr. Perez was back when the FF returned to Earth, first to visit the Marvel Bullpen (they were doing a lot of those kinds of stories at the time. As a kid, I hated 'em. As an @$$hole, I still do). Then, we were back at Baxter Building, now occupied by the Frightful Four who were holding an open audition to replace Medusa. With the FF as prisoners, the Anti-FF saw one loser after another including a dude who was afraid of fire (the Torch voted for him!). The wiseass remarks of the Thing and the Torch were great. Defenders like both Tigra and Thundra showed up for no apparent reason and became adjunct FF.

More fill in issues, not seen here, and Mr. Perez was back. By then, Len Wein had taken over the writing chores. Mr. Wein was great on BATMAN, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THE SWAMP THING, among others. For some reason, his FF never worked for me (neither did those of his friend and successor, the brilliant Marv Wolfman who was sort of Matt Damon to Mr. Wein's Ben Affleck). One of the coolest things about this volume is that Marvel didn't correct a color mistake on a splash page in which the now depowered Reed Richards is being hauled out of the Negative Zone. Thundra's costume, for some reason, is green instead of red.

This is how it was. Dazzlement for the eyes. Art as storytelling and characterization.


Writer/Artist: Eric Powell
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

THE GOON is a gem of a comic book. There's a lot of comics published every month or two. A whole lot. And if Sturgeon's law holds true then a good 90% of it is crap. The top two publishers DC and Marvel dominate in quality and in crap simply because they publish, between the two of them, the majority of continuing series out there. At the same time, there are a lot of admirable smaller publishers and self-publishers out there risking money where a true financial risk is involved while trying to introduce the comics world to the next classic series. For my money, BONE, AKIKO, A DISTANT SOIL, SIN CITY and THE GOON are exemplars of what can be achieved independently in the modern comic book market. These are series that had and have a full-on grasp of who and what they are and what type of audience they wish to attract. Most of all, the love and enthusiasm of the creators permeate each and every page. A common flaw in many wannabes out there is that their books are either too calculated in their attempt to reach an amorphously large audience or they feel like an automaton is producing it – emotionless.

THE GOON is just damn pretty to look at and alternating in funny, sad, and serious. But it's always interesting. My intro to THE GOON was the latest TPB that included the funniest comic book story I've ever read, the one with LLAGARTO HOMBRE. I mean, that one was so blasted hilarious I collapsed in a heap. Even the second time when I was reading it out loud to Prof. Jr. – who also collapsed into a heap. We still occasionally bring up that silent 3-panel of Gorilla-Goon stomping Llagarto and then we just start giggling.

Well, that impulse-buy has me buying THE GOON now and it's just so good. Obviously, earlier in the series, Powell was using inkline work on the characters but has now foregone that. The book is a mixed-media fan's paradise. Looks like Powell's doing full graphite pencil work and then using an ink line only for the outlines of the characters. Which makes for a neat effect. It also looks like he's utilizing a mix of actual watercolors sometimes and computer coloring other times, all to good effect.

In the latest issue, Dr. Hieronymous Alloy (great name) goes bad (again) and starts tearing up the town with his robots. Llagarto Hombre reappears basically as the bard of the story talking in his hilarious nonsense-Spanish. There's an unrelated funny bit includes a zombie putting on a plastic "human" mask to try and sneak into Norton's Bar and just be "one of the guys." Well, Goon'll have none of that and takes care of the situation in his own inimitable fashion.

The Goon is cut out of the classic Kirby thug-like character (much like The Thing) - in fact, this comic almost feels like it should be illustrated by the late, great King. Here, Goon functions like a mob enforcer in a world where supernatural zombies and vampires are constantly cutting into profit margins.

The robot designs, as well as much of the look of the series, are all retro simplicity. I'd say the robots are similar in style to the giant robots of SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW. The setting is one where you'd expect to be hearing the howling of a wolf in the background at any time and dry-ice fog would gather around everyone's feet as they walk around. Taking advantage of the comic book medium, Powell makes good use of panel to panel storytelling to mix character-revealing bits with a driving story and lots of action. Talking heads would not fill a Goon story – unless they were then lopped off by a disgusted Goon who got tired of all the talkin'.

THE GOON also sports a funny, kind of bizarre letters page and an appearance by the RAIL YARD BULL. The BULL is the winner of THE GOON'S CREATE A MONSTER contest that ran in Diamond Previews. So, if nothing else, check it out to support the winning fan-created monster. THE GOON is a fun comic-reading experience and needs a movie!. C'mon Hollywood! Nice change of pace from your average funnybook.

NEW WARRIORS #1 (of 6)

Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Skottie Young
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Man, was this a fun read.

I loved the old NEW WARRIORS series. It took the age-old concept of throwing together a bunch of misfit kids and tossed them into one bizarre situation after another and added action that was often fun, characterization and personality that was often quite ingenious, and adventures that were often better than those of their adult contemporaries in the AVENGERS and the X-MEN. But all good things must come to an end and so did the NEW WARRIORS. Sure, they tried to relaunch the series a while ago with a few new characters, but it just didn’t stick. Well, the Warriors (or at least most of them) are back. Apparently, they have become the stars of a reality television show. They are traveling across America seeking out crime and showing it off in the prime time. Doesn’t that concept just make your sphincter wince? It did mine when I first heard it. But one thing made me pick up this series: writer Zeb Wells.

Like Dan Slott, Wells writes great comedy and makes his stories fun (a concept that the rest of the Marvel line is desperately lacking). He respects the Marvel Universe and all of its quirky and charming characters. He knows it is a place filled with wonder. This issue illustrates Wells’ clever use of all of what makes the Marvel U special. When the Warriors track down Tiger Shark and Armadillo (who have recently escaped from the Vault in the NEW AVENGERS – WHAT!?!?!? CONTINUITY AT MARVEL!?!??!? IS THIS FOR REAL!?!?!?!?), they knock Armadillo unconscious causing him to instinctively roll into a ball. Unfortunately, he’s still chained to Tiger Shark. Hilarity and chaos of the highest order ensues as Tiger Shark swings the unconscious Armadillo at the New Warriors like a ball and chain. What a wondrously creative fight scene!

Setting this series in the “reality TV” genre could have been a complete flop, but Wells is too smart to do that. He uses the shows’ directors and producers as part of the story. When Speedball mentions former teammate Vance Astro, the director steps in and says that they’ll have to edit that out in post because mentioning old teammates just confuses new viewers. At the same time, Wells is not only adding some serious laughs, but commenting on how overbearing editorial can be in comics and how misguided they can often be in giving the viewer or reader what they think the viewer wants. In another scene, the Warriors are forced to recreate a missed shot of Speedball getting creamed by Tiger Shark. The only problem is that Tiger Shark is unconscious and must be held up my crewmen in order to get the take. It’s fresh elements like this that will bring me back for a second issue.

Despite the fact that every time I see his name, I think of a lisping Marky Mark Wahlberg talking to Phillip Seymour Hoffman from BOOGIE NIGHTS, Skottie (Thhssskottie!) Young is damn talented. His cartoony style reminds me of movies like THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES. This style completely fits the mood of this book, which I would very much like to see translated into some form of cartoon. It’s not over the top Manga-ish, like Cartoon Network’s TEEN TITANS. It’s much more grounded in reality, but it does provide the type of energy one would expect from a book about a bunch of kids in a van traveling across country with a camera crew and getting into kooky adventures.

One criticism I have to point out is that as much as I love the concept and execution of this series, comics like this and SHE-HULK are walking on the edge of becoming self-parody. I’m all for making stories fun to read. Lord knows, I need a bottle full of Prozac to get through most of Marvel’s somber monthlies. So far, Wells and SHE-HULK’s Dan Slott are laughing with Marvel’s characters and not at them. So far, the heroes have come away from these treatments pretty unscathed. But the villains, on the other hand, are usually made to look like complete doofs. This may be funny in the story itself, to make every villain into an imbecilic punching bag, but it kind of shits on long time characters like Captain America and Namor (two heavy weights who often went toe to toe with Armadillo and Tiger Shark) and makes them look like douches for actually once breaking a sweat when facing these foes, when the New Warriors mop the floor with them so easily. All I’m saying is that, just a while ago, when editorial decided that Marvel’s heroes had to keep it real and fight “real life” villains and face everyday challenges – somewhere in a bar, in a back alley, in the Marvel Universe, a bunch of super villains were sitting around with absolutely nothing to do. That trend seems to be dissipating, but making these classic villains into complete and utter fools isn’t that much of an improvement.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this book. Out of all of the new Marvel series to come out in the last few months, this is the first miniseries since Peter David’s amazing MADROX mini to provide a fresh, funny, and original take on old characters. Don’t let the “ugh!” inducing concept scare you away. This is a strong first issue with a fresh take on some classic characters.


Writers: Judd Winick
Artists: Carlos D'Anda
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

I hate being lulled into a false sense of cross-over security.

These DC COUNTDOWN/INFINITE CRISIS cross-overs have almost uniformly been pretty good. Some less so, and some exceptional, but overall...not bad. So, color me naive when I opted to pick up OUTSIDERS #24 because it included the second part of a cross-over with TEEN TITANS. The story is called “The Insiders” (oh so clever) and began in TT where Superboy proceeded to shave his head bald like Luthor and cut an "L" into his super-shirt. Then Superboy beat the holy living hell out of the Titans – including a particularly nasty facial smash of poor Wonder Girl. “The Insiders” Part 1 ended with a scene cut to Outsiders HQ and an android member named Indigo suddenly pulling the same sort of stunt like Superboy except she starts calling herself Brainiac 8.0. It was an engrossing and disturbing issue paced tautly by Geoff Johns and illustrated very well by Mike Clark, filling in for the now exclusive to Marvel Mike McKone (who did contribute the cover to the TT issue and the cover to OUTSIDERS 24).

Now, I'm one of the original OUTSIDERS readers. By that, I mean I was a monthly reader of Mike Barr and Jim Aparo's BRAVE AND THE BOLD and was right on board with them when they transformed that title into BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS and later when the OUTSIDERS stepped outside of the shadow of the bat and into their own. I liked the group. Sure it was a conceptual riff on what corporate probably perceived as the successful elements of the NEW TEEN TITANS, but it gained its own quirky identity quickly. Not only that, it also introduced the art of the great Alan Davis to the Prof.

So fast-forward to today and this latest OUTSIDERS comic. It's been a couple years now but I did pick up the first 2 or 3 issues of the series. I kind of liked the art (Tom Raney at the time) but I didn't care for how out of character Metamorpho was written – I just really hate the whole "I don't remember who I am" kind of schtick when everyone else around him knows who he is including the reader. Much more interesting as a plot device when nobody else knows who the amnesiac is and the process of discovery and revelation is all new to everyone. Basically OUTSIDERS, kicking off concurrent with the new TT series, came off as a poorly executed angry Titans spin-off. Johns has been able to make Cyborg an interesting adult in TT but Winick took Nightwing and the original Speedy and made them morose and dull to me. I didn't keep reading. Yet, because of the cross-over here I plunked my $2.50 down to be entertained.

About the only thing I appreciated about the whole book was the 2-page rehash about Indigo and "her" involvement in the death of Donna Troy. I appreciated it because I never really knew exactly how the entire Death of Donna thing happened – I didn't pick up anything affiliated with it. So, that was helpful. Beyond that....the art was awful and the story just irked me. I think I'm turning into the hair-police now, but just look at the first page. Roy's hair looks like it was cut out of felt and laid on top of his head and Nightwing's hair looks like Bart Simpson's. Beyond that, the faces are all wonky too. I understand artistic styling but there should still be some attempt to make these characters look recognizable. They've each got specific facial and bodily features that distinguish them - this artist utilized none of those distinguishing elements. His Donna Troy also lacked any resemblance to the same character blazoned on the cover of her recent RETURN OF... comic.

On the story side, it was basically the same thing as the Titans. Member goes brutally berserk and starts beating the crap out of the team. We finally learn the truth about Indigo. This android was put back here as a sleeper agent Brainiac from the future. And now the plan of the current Brainiac and Luthor is ready to come to fruition. They want to destroy this entire generation of heroes. I don't know if this is part of the build-up to INFINITE CRISIS, but it sounds like it probably is.

I wasn't as caught up in the emotional horror of this comic as I was in TT, I think, simply because I'm not already involved with the characters. But the comic just left me cold. There's a different resolution to the assault than there was in the Titans, presumably because the OUTSIDERS are supposed to be much more experienced. However, it seemed a little too deus ex machina to me. When the Titans showed up, Wonder Girl did not show near enough damage to her face – one stinkin' bandaid? C'mon! Then some Superman robots show up. I'm so out of it. I don't even think I realized there were Superman robots in the post-Man of Steel Superman, at least other than the one I've heard blamed for Donna Troy's death. Anyway, I sure didn't expect a whole army of them.

You know, I remember when I was reading my Hulk comic book, back in the day, and there was a crossover with Cap America so I picked up that Cap comic. It hooked me instantly and I started buying Cap from there on out. Presumably that's the point of a cross-over. Didn't work this time. For the rest of this crossover, I think I'll stick with the Titans side.


Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Art by Mike Ploog
Published by Image / Desperado
Reviewed by the Buzzdust Kid

CrossGen comics took a lot of flack from Marvel Zombies, much of which boiled down to the fact that CrossGen's fantasy books weren't Marvel superhero books and also because Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada were programming young zombie minds. Granted, CrossGen books as a whole had a lot of flaws with the Sigil-crap and being as rigidly fantasy as Marvel is superhero.

One of the most promising CrossGen titles, which seemed to just start before CrossGen was killed off, was ABADADZAD! created by writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Ploog. It was fantasy, sort of in the L. Frank Baum and John R. Neill vein, filled with glorious, whimsical images.

Mr. DeMatteis and Mr. Ploog have reteamed for THE STARDUST KID. This series is a modern version of the early 20th Century type of childrens' fantasy that involved crossings between the real world and the imaginary world. Like Dorothy in OZ and Wendy and her brothers in PETER PAN, 13 year old Cody has met an impish, magical being who seems to be able to bridge realms. This shapeshifter is Paul Brightfield, who appears to be a boy Cody's age except he looks a little goatish. Cody's mother and Cody's best friend Alana do not like or trust Paul. Hey, Peter Pan was named after Pan, a dangerous forest god associated with satyrs, sprites and fauns. Paul looks more like one of Frodo's bastard, half-human children.

Paul can become any one of a number of Wonderland/day glo poster fantasy characters. He and Cody hang out in a trans-worldly version of the Lost Boys' hollow tree, where Paul shares wisdom that is Yoda-level annoying. A danger is lurking that seems to be tied to Cody growing up. Puberty and poltergeists are almost always associated.

Mr. DeMatteis, who created MOONSHADOW and who has written SPIDER-MAN, DEFENDERS, INCREDIBLE HULK, JUSTICE LEAGUE, SPECTRE, and scores of other characters, makes a great argument for the return of the caption box. Using a novelist's style, without resorting to the now overused in comics first person, he takes us inside the thoughts of several characters and gives us their backstory in a few pages that are well illustrated by Mr. Ploog. I'd love to see this device come back into vogue because most exposition dialogue sucks and comics have a way around it that has become neglected.

Mike Ploog. This man pencilled my single favorite issue of Marvel's CONAN THE BARBARIAN ever. Issue # 49, filling in for John Buscema, and setting up Marvel's adaptation of Robert E. Howard's QUEEN O' THE BLACK COAST. He co-created GHOST RIDER and did significant work on Marvel's Bronze Age horror titles like MONSTER O' FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, etc. With Doug Moench, in MARVEL PREVIEW, he co-created a Tolkienesque fantasy called WEIRD WORLD. Here, he combines the best elements of cartooning, illustration, and poster art (which should be the same thing, but aren't). He's gotta be the Fantasy guy. You need a fantasy artist? Mike Ploog!

THE STARDUST KID is fresh and fun, creepy and wondrous in both story and art.

JLA #115

Writers: Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg
Penciller: Christ Batista
Inker: Mark Farmer
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Superhero

Oh, IDENTITY CRISIS, what hath thou wrought?

Why is the first line of my review attempting to ape the language of the famous Bard or, at the very least, a 1970’s Silver Surfer comic written by Stan Lee?

Because the way things are going, it seems that the whole DC Universe (or at least the Justice League) is about to become one giant Shakespearean tragedy starring different kinds of protagonists who wear tights.

But first let’s backtrack a little. Not too much…just a little.

In the epic (or misdirected, depending on your point of view) mini series IDENTITY CRISIS a beloved, if criminally underused, supporting character was brutally murdered. This of course led to the great chase to discover who the dastardly villain was who had committed the heinous crime.

Of course once you gaze into the abyss, the abyss (as they say) also gazes into you. Our esteemed heroes ended up uncovering some of the most shocking (and some say most uncharacteristic) secrets ever revealed in the DC Universe. In the end what was revealed rocked the foundations of the DC Universe…or so the head brass at DC comics would have you believe.

What was revealed was that our great heroes had used their powers in unscrupulous ways. The bright shining heroes of the JLA, who in the past wouldn’t think of crossing against a red traffic light, had actually crossed the line. They had used their powers in the past to wipe the minds of several major villains who had discovered their secret identities. Not only that, but when several of the individual heroes feared that their actions would be discovered by other good guys within the group, they ended up mind wiping one of their own. Namely, the Batman. And as anyone who’s ever read a comic book knows…nobody fucks with the Batman.

Which brings us to the current issue of the JLA.

The cover of this particular issue brandishes the following dramatic copy: “It had to happen! The unavoidable fallout from Identity Crisis begins here!”

Does it deliver what it promises? Well, yes, it does begin something. Is it particularly dramatic? Um, not really.

This issue acts as a set up issue and as a set up issue it does what most set up issues do. It recaps what has gone before and begins the first part of what may be a very intriguing story. Maybe.

The issue opens with the some members of the JLA at their headquarters on the moon, The Watchtower. We are introduced to the cast as they are in the midst of a heated argument amongst themselves. It turns out that the cards have been laid out on the table and the secret’s out for sure. Hawkman and Green Arrow are ready to engage in fisticuffs because The Flash has decided to let them all know he’s going to spill the beans to Batman. He’s going to let the Dark Night know that the others wiped some of his memories and it’s caused quite a stir among the world’s greatest heroes.

Enter the Martian Manhunter. He’s yet to be let in on the big secret but is curious to know why they are arguing. They tell him what’s going on and in his usual cryptic manner the Manhunter reveals to them that, through his ability to read minds, he knows that Batman already knows.

This, by far, is the best moment of the book and it’s a great hook. It shows us that the team is ready to come apart at the seams and that none of the members are too happy with the way things went down with the Batman incident. Even former mass-murderer and renegade Green Lantern Hal Jordan isn’t thrilled and that says a lot. (Yes, I know he was manipulated by the yellow impurity of his ring…but that’s the key word there: manipulated. Not controlled. Hal still killed a bunch of people and I don’t buy the whole slate wiped clean thing…no matter what Geoff Johns wrote in GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH. He’s cold blooded…I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.)

Johns could have better served this issue by focusing on what the opening pages establish. The dynamic of the team as they deal with the horrifying fact that they’ve done the worst possible thing they could do to one of their own is what the story should have focused on. But instead of that what we get later in the comic is a bunch of super-villain assaults. We get to see the very criminals that the League mind-wiped gathering together to try and take out the heroes one small group at a time. While I’m not saying that this is particularly bad per se, what I am saying is that I could’ve dealt less with the super-villain plot and would’ve appreciated a bit more focus on what the opening pages of the story introduced to us: a simmering internal conflict within the team. Now I’m not asking for a Bendis-inspired 24 pages of talking about how they’re going to deal with the crisis at hand. But what I am saying is that the most intriguing part of the story could’ve carried the comic through to being great instead of what it becomes…just so-so. I mean, if we *have* to have a fight or some action piece just have some of the heroes actually fight each other instead of trying to cram in the obvious VILLAINS UNITED plot point where it doesn’t belong. Save that for the next issue. Yes, I know that DC wants writers to “write for the trade” at this point but the opening chapter of an ongoing story should blow me away (much like Identity Crisis did) instead of just making me go “Eh, typical”. By focusing on the team falling apart Johns could’ve done that but instead we get the typical super-villain assault on the hero team that we’ve come to know all too well.

Now, to be fair, Johns wraps up the story with an interesting enough plot point which will get me to buy at least the next issue. Apparently the reason all the baddies are ganging up on the League is because they suddenly remember what the League had done to them (a plot point tied in from VILLAINS UNITED) and they are pissed.

The best part: one of the villains actually calls Batman “Bruce”. So, yeah, they remember everything.

All in all it’s a good comic that could have been great. I just think the writer tried to cram too much into one story. If this is going to be a multi-part arc then take your time with it a bit more. But then, I don’t know what’s coming down the pike so maybe the pacing is spot on…for a trade collection. Nah, even in a trade I think it’d come across as a bit rushed.

Oh, and one more thing. Does anyone else out there seem to think that IDENTITY CRISIS wrote the whole DC Universe into a corner? I mean if my friends mind wiped me I don’t really think that I’d want to hang out with them much, right? Much less have them watching my back as I fight some psycho who’s trying to off me. I mean with friends like that…

And if the villains all remember everyone’s secret identities how in the hell are they going to fix that without mind-wiping them all again? I’m interested in how the writers of the DC Universe are going to pull their fat out of the fire with this one. To me it just seems like they keep writing themselves into that tiny corner with no plausible way out in sight.

Which is what, I think, is keeping me interested. If there’s some brilliant way out of all this then I want to be able to find out what it is. Of course, every part of me just thinks this is going to be a major train wreck if past cross-over events are any indication but I, for one, hope this is the one time they don’t disappoint me.


Writer: Peter David
Artist: Jae Lee
Color Art: June Chung
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Two positive reviews of Marvel comics in one week from me? I’d a never thunk it. But here I am again touting yet another Marvel title that is getting it right.

I’m convinced that until some unknown prodigy comes along Peter David is the only one who truly can get the Hulk right these days. Others have tried and failed miserably over the years to make the Hulk both interesting and exciting. At times, Peter David’s famed run became pretty heady with the internal psychobabble, but even then the guy knew how to spice things up with some conflict, some action, and something guaranteed to make old Bruce Banner “Hulk out” on occasion. And really, that’s all you need in a Hulk comic. David has once again returned to the Hulk and he’s picked up right where he left off tossing Bruce Banner and his hulking alter ego into one offbeat and original situation after the next.

INCREDIBLE HULK #82 is a quiet, stand-alone issue. At its heart, it’s a love story. A story of two people whose paths cross only for an instant and how that moment can be a memory one takes to the grave. This is a truly beautiful and poetic story, filled with elaborate descriptions of feelings of love, loss, sadness, and (something every HULK comic should always deal with) anger. In this issue, Peter David flexes the same writing muscles he utilized to perfection in his noirish gem of a series FALLEN ANGEL. There’s a mystery here. The Hulk must solve a murder, but this isn’t Batman gathering clues. The Hulk acts in true Hulk fashion and must smash his way though one obstacle after the next in search of the answer to the mystery. This story is about love and anger and passion and how all of that is more similar than what we all care to admit. I know deconstruction has become a dirty word these days, but done with this eloquence and skill, Peter David takes apart the feelings one has when falling in love and losing that love and plops it directly into the middle of the Hulk’s world. Check out this snippet from the issue:
I lived with death all my life, Tricia. Been looking it in the face ever since I stopped a foolish teenager from losing his life…and earned a lifetime of punishment for my good deed. I’ve feared death…fought it…cursed it…returned from it…but I never just…took it in stride. And I think…the Hulk respected you for that, Tricia. Just a little. Just enough.
Damn, now that’s some powerful writing firmly set in the Marvel U and proudly taking it seriously.

I gave Jae Lee some pretty harsh criticism for his work on the recent HULK/THING miniseries. Most of that criticism, though, was directed towards the writer who chose to waste the artist’s talents by having two of Marvel’s most powerful beings sit in a diner and talk for six issues, occasionally trading a punch or two throughout the entire series. In this issue, Jae’s somber and dark inks and pencils fit perfectly. Jae’s shadowy panels convey the sadness brought on by the tragedy which is central to the story. But the Hulk ain’t just sittin’ and mopin’ and gabbin’ throughout this entire issue. Oh no. He’s tossing cars and smashing through walls. He’s stomping and intimidating the hell out of everyone in his path. I couldn’t think of a better artist to put pictures to this story.

This really is one of my favorite HULK stories I have read in quite some time. It shows that iconic Marvel characters don’t have to be typecast into one genre to make for a good read. Who would have thought that this truly haunting and beautiful tale about love and loss would be found in a HULK comic? Well, I did because I have faith in David’s powers with the word and figured out long ago he could write a successful Hulk story in just about any genre. If you’ve grown weary of the Hulk or never even knew what the hell all of the appeal was about the character, pick up INCREDIBLE HULK #82. There’s plenty of HULK SMASH!’s, but you’ll also get an extremely powerful story and it may enlighten you as to how the Hulk versatile this icon and this writer really are.


Writer: Bob Harras
Artists: Marcos Martin/Alvaro Lopez
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger

ZATANNA #2 had the best cover of the month. BREACH #6 had one of the worst. And it ticks me off because an ugly cover is less likely to draw the impulse buyer. You know, there's a reason why DC likes to have Alex Ross and Michael Turner doing bunches of covers – attractive covers sell comics!

But ugly cover or not, BREACH continues to rock along on the interiors as "the danger grows." In my last review of BREACH I challenged all of you reading to go out there and pick this book up and give it a try. Well....I'm waiting. If you give BREACH a try shoot me an email and let me know what you thought – good or bad. I can't believe I'm the only one who grooves to this smart and creepy comic book.

X-FILES, that's what I couldn't come up with last time. It finally popped into my head while reading issue 6 that this comic is CAPTAIN ATOM crossed with X-FILES. Mulder and Scully would fit in perfectly with the sensibilities of this comic investigating the disappearances relating to the Rifters -- those disturbing other-dimensional killers. Or even investigating the sudden reemergence of a military man who survived a massive explosion and spent 20 years in a catatonic coma-like state.

Heraclitus once wrote "Character determines destiny" and Breach demonstrates the strong character of a born hero. The Herdsman communicates with Breach in his mind and shows him images of what "he" and his "brothers" plan to do to the soldiers and scientists surrounding Breach on a mission to find and subdue the Herdsman. At this point, as much as Breach desires to stay and face The Herdsman, he sacrifices his own desires and declares to the team that he made a mistake so that they will promptly return back to base and safety. The Herdsman and the rest of the Rifters are testing Breach. They want to see how "connected" to them he is. They want to see how powerful he is. And they want to see where his weaknesses lie.

The least of the issues so far for me was the one where the Justice League popped in. However, my complaints there are not heavy. I just feel like the BREACH comic stands stronger when it does not involve the costumed heroes of the DC universe too much. But this issue has a stand out couple of pages where Clark Kent shows up at the Meyers house. The Meyers are the poor unfortunate family that was attacked by the Rifters a couple of issues back. The house is still under police cordon and quarantine, but Daily Planet reporter and columnist, Kent, comes walking up to the scene -- but nobody heard a car. Heh. He engages the guards in a little conversation while his eyes do a little x-ray investigating of his own. It's a subtle couple of pages but effective.

The most interesting development is the "great escape" hatched by Breach and Dr. Chambers. Also this issue, McClellan considers the "ultimate" solution to his moral dilemma and Tobias gets summoned by The Herdsman. {{shudder}} I don't know why, but The Herdsman just really creeps me out.

I'm also starting to wonder about this book in the face of Dan Didio's continuing press releases about INFINITE CRISIS and beyond. I guess there's a chance that BREACH actually plays a role in the CRISIS since the whole "breach" incident occurred 20 years ago and in a recent JSA there was a scene with Power Girl reacting to 1985 as she moved through the timestream. We'll see. If BREACH is one of the lucky series that get to continue post-CRISIS with the one-year-later jumpstart, it could be one of the simpler tales to tell since Breach himself could end pre-CRISIS with a cliffhanger where he gets pulled into another cross-dimensional breach and then the very next issue post-CRISIS finds himself popping back into our dimension "one year later." Either way, Bob Harras, a writer who I never had any inclinations about has jumped right up there on my list of writers to seek out new projects from.

Good sci-fi soap-opera stuff. If that's your cup o' tea, pick up BREACH.


Bryan Lee O’Malley: Creator
Oni Press: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Evil Ex-Boyfriend

There was a time, long, long ago, when independent comics (here meaning any comic not published by DC or Marvel,) were serious affairs. The intent was to forward the medium as genuine art, instead of just being colorful goofiness. Today, however, the Big Two are as serious as can be, with superheroes spending entire issues standing around in conversation, pondering things that seem very, very important. And those smaller publishers, they’re putting out some of the craziest, most insane shit you’ll ever see. And damn if it doesn’t make for a more interesting read.

Just look at SCOTT PILGRIM. There’s wild combat that ends in the victor winning a weapon that appears from nowhere, like a Mario Mushroom. Or there’s the catfight, between a delivery girl who travels through dreams and a knife-wielding schoolgirl. Or the recipe for vegan shepherd’s pie.

Vegan shepherd’s pie. You’ll never see that in any Countdown tie-in!

At its heart, though, the focus here is on the maturation of the title character. Poor Scott. He’s met the girl of his dreams, but he has a hard time dealing with her past relationships. Okay, his problem has less to do with inadequacy and more to do with the fact that all her ex-boyfriends are evil killers, but c’mon! That’s a comic book metaphor for the ages there. There’s also the requisite rite of passage that all guys go through at age 23: having your 17-year-old Catholic high school girlfriend go nuts and try to destroy your life.

What? Nobody else went through that? Just me? Okay…


Bryan Lee O’Malley’s got a real winner on his hands here. Not only is his story out of this world, but his vibrant, expressive art compliments the wackiness to perfection. Just look at the fight scene in the reference library. It features dynamic action, quick paced panel progression, moments of story and character development, and an absolutely beautiful reference to the original Secret of Monkey Island game. MONKEY ISLAND, PEOPLE! That’s the good shit right there!

This book is insane, a mad crossbreeding of DRAGONBALL Z and BLUE MONDAY with laughs and fun galore. It’s easily the most entertaining comic I’ve read in almost a month. I’m already on pins and needles waiting for the next installment. So get out of the House and pick this up--missing out on it would be a real Crisis.


Writer/Artist: David Hutchison
Publisher: Antarctic Press
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

There is no question of “improper” historians of Oz, if the one telling the tales loves the originals and does not seek to “update” the canon with the introduction of modern troubles.
--Harlan Ellison in his introduction to Eric Shanower’s Oz 1986 graphic novel, THE ENCHANTED APPLES OF OZ
That Ellison – sharp guy. And handy! In one line he eliminates my need to defend the existence of yet another interpretation of one of the most interpreted fairy tales of all time. ‘Course, the justification might not feel self-evident if you didn’t grow up with the land of Oz beyond the much-loved MGM musical, but I did. Read all fourteen of Frank Baum’s Oz books in my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youth, was so influenced by Eric Shanower’s Oz graphic novels that one of the first comics I ever drew as a kid was a direct rip-off, enjoyed a young Fairuza Balk in RETURN TO OZ (as I snorted derisively at critics who didn’t realize the unexpectedly spooky flick was closer to the books than the musical ever was), and even remember with fondness an old Oz video game my brother programmed into his TI-99/4A computer…in Basic.

So, yeah, bit of a fan here. Show me an earnest Oz tribute and there’s a good chance I’ll like it (McFarlane’s “Twisted Oz” toys falling just short of the mark despite their “Oh, dear GOD!” iconoclasm).


Easily makes the cut.

First off, it’s more faithful than just about any other Oz adaptation I’ve seen. Look for line-for-line book dialogue throughout, the Wicked Witch of the East accurately sporting silver slippers instead of the movie’s ruby ones (girly accuracy, I realize, but accuracy nevertheless!), and even the right kind of hats on the Munchkins – wide-brimmed, pointed, bells on the tops of ‘em. Has me really looking forward to the weirde
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