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#16 8/31/05 #4

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

Indie Jones presents: RUNNERS Vol. 1: BAD GOODS
Casting Couch: THE DEFENDERS


Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Penciler: Al Barrionuevo
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

So the last time I checked in on GOTHAM KNIGHTS I was at a bit of a crossroads for myself. On the one hand I was beginning to find this whole "Hush saga" dragging out too long and meandering a lot along the way. But if you remember my commentary on the last issue I found myself slightly intrigued by the cliffhanger of that particular issue. The focus of said issue was on a two-time loser who randomly came across some footage of Bruce Wayne fighting Hush, and thereby connecting the dots towards him figuring out Bruce Wayne = Batman, and then trying to blackmail the hell out of him. After some stern warnings from Wayne/Batman, our Caped Crusader decided that the best way of dealing with this was actually to just throw some money at the kid, figuring that he probably wasn't worth the time to break... yet. Batman is a busy man these days, so he probably doesn't have the time to deal with such a chump, which is also why he sends in good ole Alfred (still reeling from a bout of amnesia after a run in with Hush) to give the jerk his money. But things didn't go as expected. After trying to talk our little extortionist out of doing what he was to Batman we were left with an image of the blackmailer dead and Alfred coolly walking away with blood on his lapel. And given Alfred's old spy training or whatever it is he has, and his devotion to Master Bruce, I saw this as an interesting and very feasible turn of events... Until now.

Why the sudden change of opinion? I've got two words for ya: New Clayface. As if everything surrounding Hush wasn't getting overly complex enough, we have yet another Clayface, one who is apparently working for Hush, to throw into the mix. So we've got the possibility of Hush still being Bruce's old school chum-turned-psychotic-murderer Tommy Elliot. But we've also got a plot thread still out there of Alfred being captured by Hush and during his captivity finding himself tied up next to "Tommy Elliot" on said boat. But Alfred also has no memory of the event. Until now!! But wait! Hush has a Clayface working for him now apparently, so now we have a game of "Who's who" going on. Is Tommy Elliot Hush? Is he someone else and using a captured Tommy as a scapegoat? Was the Clayface playing Tommy on the boat? Was the Clayface playing Alfred when he killed the blackmailer from last issue? Did we really need another goddamn Clayface?!?!? All these questions and more are raised with this issue... and my brain hurts now and doesn't want to deal with it.

I was really hopeful for this arc. I figured that, finally, we could get back on track with this whole long-running Hush mystery. After two+ years in GOTHAM KNIGHTS following his year long reign of terror in BATMAN, I was thinking we could finally get towards putting this thing to bed and moving on. But nope. Now anything is fair game. And with this new Clayface, God knows how much longer they can and will push this storyline. Given the kind of circumstances now around the character, I'm betting it will be a long time before we get even the slightest bit of truth towards a definitive answer to the question "Who is Hush?" And I think I'm going to wait and find out via message boards and news site spoilers than by reading the issues from now on.


Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

Okay. This is the X-MEN series that has got me reading an X-MEN comic once again for the first time since probably 1990. If I took my job seriously, I'd probably take out the last 11 issues and read the whole thing through to remind myself of what's gone on. But, no. I'll review this thing on its own and take a stab at recapping what I remember.

This is how it's gone down for me. For the first time in 15 years, Cyclops sounded and acted like Cyclops; Wolverine sounded and acted like Wolverine; Beast sounded and acted like Beast; and they all wore super-hero outfits rather than movie-inspired leather battle-suits. That hooked me in issue 1 and stayed consistent throughout the last year or so. When Colossus was brought back in, he was portrayed consistent with my memory and Kitty Pryde, while not the young lady she was when I stopped reading X-MEN comics, was a well-written presentation of the person she might have grown into. Not to mention the fact that John Cassaday's just one of the best comic book artists out there right now. I almost feel like I'm reading storyboards for a movie when I'm reading this comic, which means sometimes the panels can "feel" too static. But this issue Cassaday changed up something and added some real movement to his work. This was active storytelling throughout.

The gist of the past year hinges on the fact that the Danger Room became sentient and started causing havoc, including the death of at least one of the younger students at the school. Then the Danger Room, now calling itself "Danger" and assuming a feminine gender for some inexplicable reason, lured the X-Men, including Prof. X himself to the island of Genosha. Sorry folks, I have no idea what Genosha is or what went on there. I'm guessing some godawful drawn-out storyline happened some time ago that probably crossed over with ever damn X-book in existence and involved mutants setting up their own version of Liberia or something and ending with a nuke wiping out the vast majority of inhabitants. Am I right?

Anyway, at the end of the last issue, Prof. X apparently killed (or nearly killed) Danger but not before she activated some gi-normous Sentinel the size of Godzilla who looks like he's been through a nuclear blast. For the first time in a long time, I felt a cheer well up inside me when I realized what Kitty was about to do to prevent everyone from being utterly incinerated by Sentinel-zilla. Good stuff. Then we got a "fastball special." Haven't seen one of those in a looonnnng time. Way to go, Whedon and Cassaday. Better yet, we get to see a "curveball special" where Pete goes and reluctantly flings Kitty right into the head of Sentinel-zilla to save the day.

What makes a human a human? It's one of those unanswerable philosophical conundrums. Because of that, it becomes food for writers to examine, especially in science-fiction. At its core, what is H.G. Wells' ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU except an examination of what makes a human a human? The first STAR TREK movie clanged the viewer over the head with it. Even the HELLBOY movie is essentially about whether nature over nurture determines your humanity. Likewise, Whedon has spent the last year setting up the same such exploration within the pages of the latest comic chronicling the adventures of Homo Superior.

What is self-awareness, or sentience? When and how did Danger attain it? If mankind attained sentience at the point that God Himself breathed life into his lungs, doesn't that imply (whether literally or metaphorically) that spark of the divine (sentience) passes from parent to child unendingly? Here we see Danger give sentience to Sentinel-zilla when she reactivates him. Then, like God, she shields him from the fullness of truth (in this case, his memory of his past actions murdering millions of people in Genosha). But, as with Adam and God, once the veil is lifted (in Adam's case eating the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil, in Sentinel-zilla's case when Kitty unblocks the memory chip), Adam/Sentinel-zilla see themselves with full-on knowledge of their sins. And both try to run away and hide because of their sins.

The metaphorical analogy is pretty clear. But here's where the uncomfortable twist comes into play. Turns out that while Danger's sentience may have been evolutionarily spontaneous, the sickening reality is that Prof. X realized it had happened years ago and chose to ignore her because his "teams needed to be prepared. Mutantkind needed to be protected. Whatever the cost."

That's unsettling.

It really puts Prof. X in a morally relative position that sets him up as much more like Magneto than unlike him. I've gotten wind, from fellow commentators here even, that this development has totally pissed them off and turned them off the series. Not so with me. Maybe it's the fact that I moved on from these characters 15 years ago, but given the context, I can totally empathize with Prof. X. He's not Superman. He's never claimed to be perfect. In this particular situation, he did not immediately realize that Danger had attained sentience, and when he did it was rather easy for him to rationalize it away. It's not like a computer program could actually do any real harm . . . he thought.

In a way, he reminds me of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was at heart an abolitionist but continued to possess slaves and fight for the sovereignty of the southern states. However, as we know from his personal letters, Lee was in constant turmoil over the moral conflict raging within his own heart. After the war ended, Lee fell on his knees in a Black church and begged for the forgiveness of his fellow Christians there. Difficult as it was, they embraced him and the healing could begin -- they could all start moving forward with their lives.

At this point in the series, Prof. X is too stoic and guarded to truly ask for forgiveness from his students and teammates. But, if they have the family relationship they should have, and Whedon writes these characters honestly, this will come. I'm not going to give up on the series because of this. Also, I've got the freakin' Hellfire Club to look forward to next issue!


Writer: Simon Furman
Artist: E.J. Su
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

I managed to put my hands on a preview copy of TRANSFORMERS: INFILTRATION #0, scheduled to hit stands in October with an incentive price of 99 cents (for IDW’s adjusted prices, that’s practically like offering it for a nickel). Didn’t have much enthusiasm for jumping into it, though. I was a middle class kid with a decent number of the toys in the ‘80s, so naturally I’ve still got Energon in the blood and nostalgia for the supremely bitchin’ visuals of those big-ass robots, but we’ve all seen how nostalgia’s worked out in recent years, right? If you’re willing to sift through the crap, there’s the barest, most fleeting chance you’ll turn up something worthwhile – I’m thinking of Dan Jolley’s riff on John Carpenter’s THE THING in G.I. JOE: FRONTLINE, one or two of those Peter David NINJA TURTLE comics, and…uhh…

Blanking here. That’s probably it.

And now that I’ve hopefully convinced you guys that while I am a geek, I’m not Hasbro’s butt-boy…I can confess that TRANSFORMERS #0 gives me a spark of hope for Optimus Prime and company. It’s just a sixteen page story supplemented by some interviews and sketches, but the vibe I got is that vet Transformers writer Simon Furman really has a story to tell - a story constructed to re-mythologize the dusty ol’ robots and provide easy access for newbies and lapsed fans. That’s in sharp relief to the recent Transformer titles of imploded publisher Dreamwave. When I dabbled with them (some of which Furman wrote), I saw story sacrificed in favor of a never-ending series of impenetrable, continuity-heavy vignettes. Lots of stuff happened, scores of robots clashed endlessly, but damned if I cared about any of it.

Interestingly enough, TRANSFORMERS #0 reinvigorates the license’s possibilities with the intro of an old Transformers saw that sometimes induces groans: the human intermediary. Used to be the Transformers’ human pals were blue collar salt-of-the-earth types, mostly notable for providing a sense of scale for the robots, but also kind of annoying. Fans wanted robots, dammit, not dopey mechanics and their precocious kids!

The new human link, seemingly the first of several, is Verity Carlo, a tomboyish teenage runaway. She’s not quite salt of the earth – more like petty thief - as the intro sequence shows her swiping a laptop from a businessman snoozing on a bus. Seems Verity’s tech-savvy, not just looking for something pricey to pawn, but the laptop’s the story’s MacGuffin so of course it’s going to land her in trouble. Anyway, she’s a likeable loner and I like the Dickensian name “Verity” for a character about to get caught up in a world of “Robots in Disguise.”

And the “disguise” hook is something Furman is looking to play up. In this particular re-imagining, the Transformers are most definitely unknown to the public. But Verity ends up hitching a ride with a conspiracy theorist who just might know about ‘em:
Conspiracy theorist: “I run this web site, see, and it supports a theory – widely-held – that two or more years ago we were invaded [he hands Verity a printout]…by extraterrestrial mechanoids!”
Verity: “And what? We just haven’t noticed?”
Conspiracy theorist [panel tight on his cagey eyes]: “They’re…in disguise!”
Verity: “HAAH! Of course!
I actually laughed at the silly fun of the sequence and the clever updating of the mythology of the Transformers. That’s one of the goofier exchanges (intentionally so), but I was pleasantly surprised with the high level of craft in Furman’s writing throughout the prelude. His storytelling is concise, his exchanges witty without veering into hokey, and he intersperses just enough coy glimpses of the big ‘bots throughout that a sense of conspiratorial foreboding keeps the lighter moments from getting out of control. Furman also serves up a single fine action sequence that bodes very well for his stated intent to return a sense of awe to appearances by the Transformers. The sequence suggests that the first Transformer to get the spotlight in the book will be a somewhat lesser-known Autobot (not Bumblebee, not Optimus), and I like that too. In the accompanying interview Furman talks about some of the characters due personality tweaks or overhauls (even as some, like Starscream, are slated to remain almost wholly intact), and this is one I’m looking forward to.

More controversial, I suspect, will be the art by E.J. Su. Preview here. It’s slightly manga influenced, professionally colored, and the storytelling is impeccable, but it ain’t glam. Dreamwave’s TRANSFORMERS books? Those were glam. Ultra-detailed and saturated with rich computer coloring, they fetishized their robots with a zeal usually exclusive to Japan. Problem was, Dreamwave’s storytelling was for crap. All the detail in the world meant zilch when you could barely tell what was happening in a given panel for all the airbrush effects and overdesigning. But I do know many a Transformers geek loved it. Me, I’ll take the cleaner, infinitely more readable look Su’s working in a heartbeat, but it’s gonna be an uphill climb to win over the Dreamwave acolytes.

There’s also sure to be some resistance to the fact that, once again, the Transformers are getting a rebooted continuity. That complaint I can understand. Between the Transformers cartoons, Transformers toys, and multi-company Transformers comics, Transformers continuity is like toydom’s answer to the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. I can only speak to the casual fan on this front, because I don’t favor one continuity over another – I just want a fun story. And from my point of view, even as I remain cautious (it is only sixteen pages), my gut reaction is, “Gee, I sure wouldn’t mind if the pending Transformers movie kicked off this well.”

Is it Ultimate Transformers? Ultimate Ultimate Transformers? Ultimate All-Star Transformers?

Mebbe. Whatever.

I just know what I like, and this I like.


Writer: Allan Heinberg
Penciler: Jim Cheung
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Last issue left us with Kang the Conqueror being run thru the back with a sword at the hands of, uh, Kang the YOUNG AVENGER. In a story that could easily make your brain aneurism if you think about it too hard, we find with this issue a very concise and somewhat touching ending. The whole premise of this series opening arc has been that a young Kang (pre-Conqueror days) has been confronted by his future and despotic self. After learning what he is destined to become the younger Kang uses Kang's armor to flee to the past to find help from the Earth's Mightiest Heroes and to hopefully fight off his fate of becoming the greatest tyrannical threat the world has ever known. Since that setup we've seen the team fully come together, come into conflict with Captain America and Iron Man over what it is they are doing with their lives, and cross swords, so to speak, with the mighty Kang.

After the ending of last issue that I mentioned, this issue is dealing with the fallout of young Kang's murder of his older self, namely the effect it has on the time stream. As we all know by now, the time continuum is a very delicate thing, especially when it comes to someone who uses it as his own personal playground like Kang. With such a major player now dead out of his time and place, the time stream starts to unravel. As I said before Heinberg and company keep this resolution short and simple, which is probably for the best. The more I've read comics over the years the more I've learned that if you go into to great a detail with time-jumping and continuum effects, and the more you try and spell out possibilities, the more the writer just tends to dig themselves a hole rather than help themselves out. In order to jump start Kang's decision to have to become Kang the Conqueror, Heinberg does a nice job of pulling at his emotions by showing that without the influence of Kang on the world the Avengers may all have died at some point, and with their destruction, there can therefore be no YOUNG AVENGERS, and so on, leaving Kang no choice but do the inevitable. It does all wrap up a little too neatly, but again, there's always some sort of huge mess than can stem from these things, and the writer did a great job of writing pure emotion behind Kang's ultimate decision to move it along. Though I have to admit seeing a couple panels of Kang together with Cassie Lang (the deceased Ant-Man's daughter) and the supposed intimacy that they are supposed to share took me out of the moment, because I just reread the past five issues with this current one and by all rights Cassie and Kang have known each other for like, four hours tops--how you can get that close to have that big an emotional twist in such a short amount of time seems to defy more logic than half the randomness I see in most of your average superhero comics.

But overall the issue is very solid as usual. The book still looks great, and though some of the events I mentioned above may have been a bit stifling, the dialogue is anything but. If Heinberg brings anything to the table, it's a very smooth transition between characters when it comes to his talking heads. Sometimes during the dramatics it drifts more towards the cheesy side, but all in all it comes off very natural, despite the subject matter. We're also treated to a "reassembling" of the team towards the end that is a fun and quirky little read, we get some new and definitive codenames for some of the team members, and we get a glimpse of "YOUNG AVENGERS HQ" for the time being.

I still say this is a very underrated title that is doing a good job of defying my initial expectations. There's a lot of untapped potential ahead as we still have to find out just exactly how some of the remaining members are tied into Avengers continuity, plus (for better or for worse) we have a social/religious hot topic at hand between two of the male members of the team and their closeness (which has already gathered the ire of some of the book's readers, as noted in the letter's column), and we've got the Vision somehow tied into all the backstory. That's a lot of room for moving forward, and I'm happy to say I'm along for the ride.


Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

"I got a fever. And the only cure is more Cowgirl!"
-- Bruce Dickinson (paraphrased)
My all-time favorite episode of THE X-FILES is “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space.’” Charles Nelson Reilly's performance as Jose Chung is an utter tour de force of acting. His body language, the cock of his neck, a raised eyebrow, even how he holds a pencil - everything contributes to his characterization. You totally forget he's just old HooDoo from LIDSVILLE or that guy from MATCH GAME. He becomes Jose Chung.

”Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” is all about the relative differences between "truth" and "facts." It's so good at showing how difficult it can be to glean truth from different witnesses’ varying versions of the same event that I show the episode to my Legal Research & Writing students as a springboard for my lecture on disseminating Key Facts from just interesting tidbits. Now, why do I start my review of the latest GREEN LANTERN by reflecting upon an obscure episode of an old cancelled TV show? Because Geoff Johns is also obviously a fan of this episode.

When I turned the first page and saw that Air Force pilot come face to face with a bug-eyed gray alien on a desert road and he starts muttering, "This isn't happening. This isn't.” I laughed out loud. That's a classic line right outta the episode. That bug-eyed alien's last words are "I just went out for a cigarette." Har! Way to suck this old Green Lantern fan right into the story.

There's so much going right with this new GREEN LANTERN series. Remember when Kurt Busiek wrote the well-received Amalgam comic merging Iron Man with Green Lantern (IRON LANTERN)? Word came out around that time that one of Kurt's "dream jobs" was to do IRON MAN. IRON MAN was about to restart and Marvel smartly thought Kurt would be the perfect guy for the job. Made sense to all of us readers too. But, for some inexplicable reason, it didn't work. I can't explain why. And Kurt was off the title relatively quickly as compared to his rather healthy AVENGERS run. I was worried this sort of thing might happen with Johns on GREEN LANTERN, but I haven't read a stinker in the bunch and issue four might be the best yet.

That alien-hit-by-car kickstart to the issue is part of the setup for the gruesome return of one of GL's most dangerous villains. The issue also has some nice interaction between Hal and Kilowog on Oa where Kilowog is training the newest bunch of GL recruits. Word from Kilowog is that the reconstituted Guardians also includes some females. Hmm. Nice to see N.O.W. has extended their reach to the great planet Oa.

The characterization of Hal is consistently arrogant once again. But not obnoxiously arrogant like, say, Guy Gardner. In a nod to the vocal contingent of fandom out there who did not grow up with Hal Jordan as GL, Hal is shocked that a vocal majority of the new Corps recruits have no idea who Hal Jordan is other than that he looks like he may be one of those humans they've heard about. That's kind of a nice humbling change of pace for someone like Hal. Before he'd even been GL for very long he was being called the greatest of the GLs in his comic. It was like a mantra almost. The title is not one that precedes him anymore. If anything, he's now more infamous than famous galaxywide.

I loved Hal's encounter with Hector Hammond in Belle Reve Prison. Evocative of Clarice and Hannibal Lector in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Hammond wants to trade information relating to the dead "alien" for a slice of Hal's memories. Lasciviously, he wants Hal to let him experience telepathically one of Hal's one-night stands. That big-headed creep is nasty. Once again, a notoriously lame villain is given the modern DC once-over and turned into an extremely threatening and interesting character.

The dead "alien," it turns out, is actually a modern human being who has been instantly "evolutionized" millions of years into the future of potential human evolution. And what other GL villain experienced near-instant "evolutionization"? The Shark! As I thought, that dorsal fin off the coast of Coast City was foreshadowing. The Shark returns by attacking a young couple nightswimming off the beach at Coast City. When the boyfriend disappears under the bloody water in the middle of a pack of ravenous sharks in a feeding frenzy, the girlfriend scurries for the safety of the shore. The shocking last page triggers memories of the old "Land Shark" skits on SNL, but not in a good way, as the horrified girlfriend looks up into the open mouth of The Shark to see her dead boyfriend's head staring back at her. *shiver*

Geoff Johns is showing a real talent in this series of balancing a light touch where needed and building real tension when desired. The nods to TV and movies were fun in this issue, but the encounter between GL and Hammond at Belle Reve was seriously disturbing - and appropriately so. Likewise, the sickening appearance of The Shark was downright scary. All of this was helped by the exceptional artwork of Ethan van Sciver who just knocks my socks off every time I see his stuff. There appears to be real thought given to page design demonstrating effort on his part to most effectively tell the story first and making the pictures nice to look at a close second. I highly recommend this issue and this series for all fans of good old American super-heroes. The only downside was that "Cowgirl" only gets a one-line mention. I've seen Pacheco's version, now I wanna see van Sciver deliver me some "Cowgirl."


Writer/Artist: Sean Wang
Publisher: Serve Man Press
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

This here is my Happy Surprise of the Week.

It’s also a book that I’d completely passed over in its serial form (a five issue mini) and even as a trade for several weeks. But I was hearing some buzz. A number of friends that I trusted were telling me it was the real deal: a rousing, space opera comic in the tradition of the O.G. Star Wars and Joss Whedon’s rip-roaring FIREFLY. Even at a glance I could tell the art was phenomenal – character designs out of Disney’s best, architecture to match Europe’s tradition of stunning sci-fi draftsmanship, and the best gray tones I’d seen since Mark Crilley’s AKIKO…but there was just something about the packaging that was keeping me away.

I think it was the cover. Frankly, it’s a little bland and the colors don’t pop. It’s the one and only part of the book that looks a little cheap, and I guess I’m superficial enough that that was a barrier. Luckily my friends persevered in foisting it upon me, the occasional cry of “dumbass!” urging me on. Finally one of ‘em just lent me his copies of the single issues. I read ‘em.

Bought the trade the next day.

RUNNERS is about the adventures of a crew of five intergalactic smugglers, one of its novelties being that there’s only a single human among ‘em. If you can believe it, he’s not even the central character, giving writer/artist Sean Wang the opportunity to showcase the kinds of swanky alien designs cartoonists live for. They’re still from the humanoid school of space opera beasties, but within those boundaries there’s some wonderful diversity. You can check out the core crew on this page.

Now. It must be said that the meat-and-potatoes of the book could be said to be derivative. You’ve got a ragtag crew, plenty of smart-ass camaraderie, space pirates on the prowl, space dog-fights, last-minute escapes, and even a clunker of a ship whose asymmetrical design calls to mind the Millennium Falcon…but let me tell you, if all derivative works were this well crafted, we wouldn’t sling the term around with disdain.

RUNNERS is pure, unpretentious fun.

Every beautifully-rendered page is bursting with love of the genre, and if the witticisms and heart-of-gold scoundrels feel a touch familiar, it’s an easy familiarity. A comfortable familiarity that only a curmudgeon could turn his back on. I’d even go so far as to imagine it as a sci-fi analog to the pure, all-ages adventure of the much-loved LIFE AND TIMES OF $CROOGE MCDUCK, recently reviewed here. RUNNERS also shares with $CROOGE some of the best “cartoony” cartooning I’ve seen all year. Just take a gander at a few of these pages…

Alien shoot-out in the rain!

The artist puts his architecture degree to use.

More amazing cityscapes.

A glimpse of one of RUNNERS’ many chase sequences.

The story follows the trouble the crew gets into when they salvage a mysterious cargo that puts them in the sights of both the law and a legion of bounty hunters. No curveballs there, but the book hooked me by bringing in the troubled conscience of its captain over an old mission gone wrong, by revealing a loyalty schism between the original crew and the newbies, and by showcasing an overall geniality that bucks industry trends. You simply can’t dislike the players on this stage. There’s the lovestruck human, the happily grinning alien gunslinger with five eyestalks…hell, even their bounty hunter nemesis has a likeable brand of evil, obsessing as much over his own good looks as his calling for vengeance.

Like STAR WARS at its best, though, RUNNERS is the kind of space opera where character plays second fiddle to balls-to-the-wall ACTION. As a result, we get some of the best space-based chase and dogfight sequences I’ve ever seen in a comic. And because the Runners are constantly outgunned and usually being chased by at least two factions, they’ve got to get pretty innovative. They’ll fly their ship through dense city streets, pop the bay doors on their ship to use hand weapons on pursuers, and even launch escape pods as weapons. If launching escape pods into bad guys doesn’t make you think, “Cool!”, then the simple pleasure of RUNNERS probably aren’t for you, but if it does, then consider this book the place to be to fulfill that space opera void you’ve felt since REVENGE OF THE SITH either left you wanting more or left you disgusted.

It’s also worthy of note that RUNNERS has some exceptional bonus features: a pronunciation guide to some of the aliens, planets, and ship names; a reprint of the first RUNNERS story from the Small Press Expo anthology; and a sketchbook section worthy of George Lucas’s designers.

Definitely a surprise worth discovering.

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.


Wait. What? I clearly need to re-read this series from the beginning, ‘cause right now Morrison has me feeling like I’m too dumb to tell what happened. He’s really good at that. Anyway: one big twist in the finale, some very entertaining action, and a clear indication that this miniseries won’t really resolve until SEVEN SOLDIERS #1 arrives to wrap it up in…err…April, 2006. I want to believe, but I’m definitely sensing that Morrison might’ve delved too deeply into esoteric self-indulgence with the SEVEN SOLDIERS mega-series. Doesn’t mean I’m giving it up, as Morrison’s brand of self-indulgence can be pretty entertaining, but it does mean I’m left once again missing the more coherent Morrison of ANIMAL MAN. Guess I’m a little too literalist for Morrison unchained. - Dave


Hey, Joey Q finally got the second issue out of his 6-part over-hyped, but underwhelming DD miniseries! And this is me not giving a shit! Maybe I’ll pick up the trade when the big guy finally finishes passing this turd…somewhere around fall of 2025. Way to set an example of professionalism to the rest of your staff at Marvel, Mr. EIC! - Bug


So bad it’s almost comical. Ostensibly a murder mystery staged in and around the Vatican, REVELATIONS has ex-SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN scribe Paul Jenkins writing an awful John Constantine wannabe of a conspiracy theorist cop (“I want to smoke a cigarette and strangle the idiot in charge…though not necessarily in that order.”), cartooned with all the gravity of CALVIN & HOBBES by Humberto Ramos. There’s a pretense of sophistication, but when the shady types are drawn like Snidely Whiplash, it’s a little like having Pixar animate THE DA VINCI CODE. I’ll say this: Ramos is a talented cartoonist and Jenkins…well, I dislike most of his stuff, but as a result of three or four brilliant SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN stories I know he can achieve greatness in small bursts. Pairing ‘em together over a Vatican mystery, though? Quite possibly the weirdest idea since Loeb and Madureira on ULTIMATES Vol. 3. - Dave


Holy shit hitting the fan Batman!! After a couple issues of meandering and slow-playing the plot development, things are finally starting to hit the ground running. This issue we see the revelation to the public of Mark Milton's (Hyperion) extraterrestrial roots and "throwing him to the wolves" so to speak. Now we finally are starting to see the true potential of the character, as the once hero and savior of millions of humans now finds they meet him and his gestures of good will with hatred and fear... and he's not taking it well. Despite the orchestration that has been his life, and years of manipulation at the hands of the government, all Mark still wants is to help people and to fit in. But now he'll never get that thanks to those same people that manipulated his life for him all those years... and by god is he pissed. All of this culminates towards one of the more inspiring monologues and displays of power I have seen in a comic in a long long time. Add to such a big event a bunch of cool little asides giving us a nod towards other "SQUADRON SUPREME" characters like Nuke, and Arcanna, and so on, and we've got everything I could have hoped for from this book out on the table. I was seriously skeptical about this book with it's move to the Marvel Knights line looming on the horizon, but if this book is going to be of this quality (and except for a couple random f-bombs this issue itself was pretty much MK legal) then I no longer have any reservations. - Humphrey


Such a cool series. This time out the spotlight’s on a Spanish artist I’ve never even heard of – Jordi Bernet - but he combines qualities of both Alex Toth and Joe Kubert, so let’s just say he’s damn well worth knowing. First story’s my fave: a twisted, blackly humorous tale of a monster in small-town Texas, written by regular HELLBOY contributor John Arcudi. Then there’s a tawdry potboiler in black-and-white (love the “no rules” approach to SOLO) written by Joe Kelly, Andy Helfer on a tale of imprisoned revolutionaries, Chuck Dixon penning one helluva grisly grizzly bear story, and Brian Azzarello doing a Poison Ivy mood piece that gives Bernet a chance to show off the love of curvy femmes that informs the book’s cover. Simply put: SOLO is the book lovers of comic art need to be flocking around. Sometimes the story vignettes rock, sometimes they flounder a bit, but damn, man…they always look good. - Dave


This issue of RUNAWAYS was such a good experience for me that I'm going to go pick up the RUNAWAYS hardcover right away. It was that fun. I have no idea who these characters are or what their deal is but with this one issue I WANT to find out more about them. If that isn't what a single issue of a comic is supposed to do then I just don't know what the function of good comic is...- superhero

B.P.R.D.: THE BLACK FLAME #1 (of 6)

There’s been so many of these B.P.R.D. minis that the book almost feels like an ongoing monthly at times…and that’s not a bad thing at all when you’ve got a team as consistently entertaining as Mignola, Arcudi, David, and Stewart. This issue’s one big action sequence as new B.P.R.D. top dog Captain Daimyo leads an assault squad through a frog-monster-infested sewer system. Highlights: Roger the homunculus hilariously learning to mimic Daimyo’s tough-guy mannerisms and a gory egg-sac sequence in the tradition of the queen alien in James Cameron’s ALIENS. Who doesn’t love exploding egg sacs? - Dave

FLASH #225

God bless you, Geoff Johns. - Prof.


About a zillion years ago when this thing was solicited, I thought it would actually be really funny. Brian Bendis and Jim Mahfood heading a pack of talents spoofing the Marvel Universe through a series of WHAT IF?-style scenarios? Of course it would work. One of the best things Bendis does is bring the funny!

Many moons later, after vast delays due to some mysterious legal wrangling, the thing finally sees print…and it kind of sucks. Bendis’ strong sense of humor needs the kind of pacing that takes several pages, but here he’s mostly working in single-panel and one-page gags. Other contributors, notably Mark Millar, fare a bit better (“What if the Avengers all had beards?”). There were also some good non-PC laughs in Brian Vaughan’s “What if Black Panther were actually white?”, and Mark Waid’s got two winners. Alas…the high points are vastly outnumbered by the kind of groaners you might expect from CRACKED MAGAZINE: “What if M.O.D.O.K. had an itch?” (see, he can’t scratch because of his little arms – a-hyuck!) “What if DC let us do BATMAN/DAREDEVIL?” (accompanying image of – HAR! – Hell freezing over!). Also, Bendis and his pals are cartooned into so many of these strips that you kind of end up wanting to clock ‘em for being so self-aggrandizing and smarmy.

But that’s just me. You might think it’s funny. - Dave


The first issue of Warren Ellis’s JLA: CLASSIFIED arc packed surprising charm, with Ellis’s trademark acerbic wit well-suited to showcasing reporters Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Perry White. In the second outing, his approach gets a bit more shaky, never more so than when he shows us Flash’s internal monologue as he runs up to his wife: “Four steps and I need to slow down now, or else the bow wave from a dead stop will explode Linda’s internal organs when I pause to…” Jesus H., Warren, NOT EVERY CHARACTER IS YOU. There’re still some good bits, though. Lois and Clark continue to generate sparks under Ellis’s pen, Kyle Rayner’s intro has a neatly terse overview of Green Lantern history, and artist Butch Guice makes all the cinematic explodo look great. As ever, the pacing screams “trade”, especially the extended explodo bits, and you want to forgive and prep for the next issue of the slow-burn story, but then Oracle appears on the last page in a scene that evokes GLOBAL FREQUENCY’s annoying “You’re on the Global Frequency” catch phrase. And then you just feel kind of sour about the whole thing. - Dave


Great action sequences, but after nine issues I’m just weary of yet another book where the hero seems to win only the most pyrrhic victories at every turn. And Cap needs to take the stick out of his ass. Even Jack Bauer unclenches occasionally, y’know, and 24 sure feels like the model for Brubaker’s approach to the series. - Dave

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here and I’ve refurnished the old Casting Couch. For those of you just joining us, the Casting Couch is a place where a fanboy can be a fanboy. One of my favorite things to talk about is who should play what comic book character if adapted to the big screen. And it seems like I’m not the only one. I know there are a lot of comic book movies being made these days, but there are plenty more properties that deserve the silver screen treatment. This week we’ve reserved a seat on the couch for one of my favorite non-teams in comics. Yep, I’m talking about…

The Premise

When the evil forces of the Dread Dormammu and his devious sister Umar threaten the very fabric of reality, four of the most powerful heroes in the universe reluctantly band together to protect the Earth. Inspired by this union of titans, a team of wannabe heroes attempt to sidle up to these greats and form an all powerful super-team. Unfortunately, the big four’s egos are almost as powerful as their fists, everyone hates each other, and the only thing they agree on is that they want no part of this super-team business. The Defenders could be humanity’s only hope, if they don’t kill each other first.

The Cast

Gathering this band of heroes together is Dr. Stephen Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. After seeing him in DARK CITY, I knew Rufus Sewell was the guy who had the acting chops to shout out exclamations like “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!” and keep a straight face.

Say what you will about Ang Lee’s THE HULK, but I think Eric Bana did a pretty decent job as Dr. Bruce Banner. I think this Aussie actor deserves another chance at playing the timid doctor and his angry green alter ego. Since he’d be CGI Hulked out most of the time, Bana would have little screen time anyway.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner is an @$$. He acts like he’s royalty (well…because he is). When he’s not trying to steal Reed Richards’ wife, he’s attacking the surface world. I don’t know a single person who likes the actor Olivier Martinez. He’s made a career of playing pompous, weaselly pricks in such films as SWAT, TAKING LIVES, and UNFAITHFUL. So why not cast him as the most pompous, weaselly prick around? Yeah, the role of the King of the Atlantis belongs to this guy.

Rounding out our Big Four is the former Herald to Galactus, Silver Surfer. He’s the alien of the bunch, unsure of the ways of Earth, but filled with a sense of duty to use his Power Cosmic to protect it. Since this character would be done best in CGI, I’d go with a pretty recognizable, but alien-like voice and you don’t get more alien Christopher (I’ve had more cameos in movies than god) Walken.

In casting the big four heroes of the Defenders, I went with serious actors to play it straight against a set of more comical and eccentric characters making up the wannabe heroes.

Nighthawk is probably my least favorite character in the Marvel Universe. I mean, look at this unbelievable douche. A bird on his head, fake Wolverine claws…and are those nipples at the top of those wings? What a douche. I’d cast Ben (MEET THE PARENTS, ZOOLANDER) Stiller as this wannabe hero, who’s heart in the right place, but he doesn’t have the power to prove it. He’d be good at trying hard as hell to rally this all powerful team together. Sure, it’s reminiscent of MYSTERY MEN, except this movie would be good.

At Nighthawk’s side is the striking Asgardian warrior, Valkyrie. Riding a winged horse and brandishing the powerful sword, Dragonfang, this is one powerful Viking cutie. Staying with the comedic vein, I’d cast the statuesque, yet hilarious Kristen Johnston for the part. She’s played the warrior role for laughs on 3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN and would bring that same type of humorous charisma to this role.

The last three heroes to join our team are about eccentric as you can get, an offspring of the Devil, a supermodel, and a guy trapped in the body on an animated statue. We need some talented, yet off-the-wall character actors for these meaty supporting parts.

In Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, I went with Ben Foster of SIX FEET UNDER, HOSTAGE, soon to be playing Angel in X3 fame. I think this guy is a powerful, yet odd actor, a bit like a young Brad Dourif, always bringing his all to any performance he takes. And I’ll bet he’ll bring that extra oomph to play someone who claims to be the son of the horned one.

You have to have a few circuits busted to marry the Son of Satan. Former teen supermodel Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, always wanted to be a superhero. And this is her chance to shine. For this role, we need an actress who is young and beautiful, yet has a devious side to her. Playful, but deadly. Sounds a lot like LOLITA actress Dominique Swain. From that picture over there, she seems to fit the bill nicely.

Hellstorm and Hellcat’s noble lapdog, Gargoyle, is a tortured human trapped in the body of a monster. This tragic soul belches fire and may look like a demon from hell, but has a heart of gold. Actor extraordinaire John C. Reilly (MAGNOLIA, BOOGIE KNIGHTS, CHICAGO) has made a living playing this type of character. Plus he has a pretty memorable voice, which is important since Gargoyle would be yet another CGI creation in this epic film.

The Villains

In keeping in the vein of this being a adventure with some laughs, I think it is just fitting to have a comedic actor play the voice of the Dread Dormammu. There’s something about these universe conquering villains that makes me think that beneath all of those flames and power, there is a tiny, angry man. Maybe it’s because Dormammu reminds me of The Wizard of Oz. I dunno. Having played a tiny, angry man in both AMERICAN SPLENDOR and SIDEWAYS, I think Paul Giamatti is the perfect choice.

And we can’t forget Umar, Dormammu’s deadly and equally powerful sister. This sultry seductress has enough power to take on the Defenders by herself, but teamed with her flame-headed brother makes her virtually unstoppable. The gorgeous Ling Bai (aka Bai Ling) from SKY CAPTAIN and THE CROW exhibits equal parts beauty and deadly to do this character some justice.

Well, there are my picks for the Defenders movie of my dreams. As always, I invite you all to agree, disagree, tear us a new one, or put together your own cast. I’m sure every @$$hole in the Talkbacks has an opinion or two. Let’s hear them.

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