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#21 10/05/05 #4

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



Writer: Bob Haney (with one story by Gardner Fox)
Artists: Ramona Fradon, Sal Trapani, Mike Sekowsky & others
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

“EEEEEEK! It’s not Rex Mason…he’s some horrible freak!”
“Who did you expect, honey – Ringo Starr?”
-- Metamorpho risks making dated references as he wisecracks his way through freakhood
I was actually a little disappointed when I first hurled myself into this 500 page+ tome of adventures spotlighting one of DC’s weirdest heroes of the ‘60s. Culled from the pages of THE BRAVE & THE BOLD and the METAMORPHO solo title, the stories are certainly more tongue-in-cheek than DC’s standard Silver Age fare, evoking titles like PLASTIC MAN and CAPTAIN MARVEL. But where I’d hoped for a little of Marvel’s Silver Age depth, introspection and angst…nada! No, for a dude who looks like a mummy that’s had each limb dipped in a different kind of jelly, Metamorpho’s surprisingly well-adjusted and generic as a lead, and his adventures are all done-in-one novelty yarns. In other words, pretty standard DC Silver Age.

I did a bit more digging, though. Not the easiest thing in the world, ‘cause Silver Age stories are dense as uranium, but it was ultimately time well spent, turning up plenty of off-kilter appeal. And nothing jumped out quicker than the art, especially the work in the first half by Metamorpho co-creator Ramona Fradon. She’s one of the few lady artists of the era, and I can’t believe I never knew her work before now – she’s the bee’s knees! Quickest way to describe her stuff is as a meeting between the grotesques of Chester “Dick Tracy” Gould and the buoyant, clean-line art of seminal Batman artist Dick Sprang. Absolutely love the stuff, and would recommend the volume on its basis alone. Fradon’s art really suits the series’ light approach, and you’re gonna crack up when you see her hilarious rendition of Metamorpho’s alter ego, Rex Mason. Fradon gives him a perpetually smarmy, squinty grin – think a self-satisfied Robert Mitchum - and I kept hearing everything he said in the voice of Phil Hartman or FUTURAMA’s Zap Brannigan.

Rex Mason, we learn, is a “soldier of fortune,” that all-purpose Silver Age descriptor for explorers and adventurers. He works for the wealthy, egotistical, brilliant scientist Simon Stagg, another great Fradon design with his Gandalf eyebrows and white hair curled up almost into devil horns on each side. Stagg’s daughter is the beautiful Sapphire – think Paris Hilton – and much to papa’s chagrin, she’s all over that oafish Rex Mason. Stagg’s diabolical enough that he’s practically the villain in some of these stories, but ultimately he cares enough about protecting his daughter that he stops short of straight-up evil. Rounding out the cast is Java, a caveman discovered by Mason, resurrected by Stagg, and educated enough to act as a thuggish henchman and pine away for Sapphire in nearly every story. Yes, a caveman is a regular player in METAMORPHO. As supporting casts go, this one’s pretty novel, their interactions mirroring the kind of silly scheming you’d get in a THREE’S COMPANY episode. It’s important to the book’s appeal, because beyond Metamorpho’s powers, he’s not wildly exciting as a hero.

Long story short, Mason gains his elemental form from an Egyptian artifact he’s sent to recover by Stagg (with the intent that he not come back, mu-ha-ha-ha!). Best part about the origin issue is the hilarious dialogue from Rex as he preps for the mission. “A million?” he asks of Stagg’s offer for the job. “That’s a lot of bubble gum!” Hear it in Phil Hartman’s voice. Works wonders. And when Sapphire tries to convince him it’s too dangerous, Mason tells her:
“Baby, baby…that kind of loot I can’t turn down! It means I won’t have to work for your father anymore! We’ll both be free of his millions and his power-madness!”
What’s hysterical is that Stagg is drawn about three feet from Mason in that panel – no wonder the old bastard wants to off the swaggering Mason!

Once Mason gets his powers, the book’s formula establishes itself: As Metamorpho, he reluctantly continues to work for Stagg in return for Stagg finding a cure for his bizarre appearance. Metamorpho wants to be normal so he can marry Sapphire, even though she actually loves him the way he is. And poor Java, more sad sack than villain, constantly schemes to bring that lovin’ his way. In the space of about two panels, Metamorpho makes the standard hero’s decision to use his powers for good while he awaits a cure, and from then on, it’s one wacked-out supervillain after another. The tone throughout is adventure/comedy and hipster undertones, the hipster stuff being alternately funny-as-hell and kind of painful. Lots of ’60s go-go slang and pop references, a bit like Stan Lee’s oeuvre, but without the pulp Shakespearian gravitas to ground it.

One of the interesting things about these old Metamorpho yarns is that the writers are constantly, constantly putting his powers to innovative use. His powers give him invulnerability and the same kind of morphing abilities as Plastic Man, but more importantly he can convert his body into any element (or combination thereof) in existence. So he’ll turn into a bone-dense calcium ladder for Sapphire to crawl across, combo-up into gunpowder to blow apart a robot-controlled tank, turn his hands into solidified carbon dioxide (dry ice!) to chill some champagne, or dodge a raging bull by rising up on giant copper spring legs. That he tells us what he’s doing every damn time is a clunky Silver Age conceit, but you’ve got to give it up for the sheer imagination. What few modern stories I’ve read with Metamorpho practically serve him up as a second-rate Plastic Man with only the occasional use of his element abilities, but you read these stories and you see just how powerful the character could really be. You also get to thinking, “Someone put this book into the hands of high school chemistry students - it actually has some fun with the topic!”

A few favorite stories and moments:

*“Terror from the Telstar”, in which Stagg saves a flash-frozen Metamorpho by crushing his body in a compressor (“When a substance is compressed, its molecules are forced together and lose speed, thus giving off their excess kinetic energy in the form of – intense heat!”). Strange! Educational!

*”Who Stole the USA?” for its brilliant line, “Any red-blooded American boy, who’s been changed into a chemical freak, could have done it!”

*”The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy” for its sheer number of awful Latino stereotypes, as Sapphire tries to make Metamorpho jealous by courting a playboy named Cha-Cha Chavez. From mariachis to bullfights to South American revolutions, you just can’t make this kind of stuff up! (“Look! It is the Hombre Elemento! We have no quarrel with you, El Metamorpho!”) Incidentally, the French and Italians don’t make out so hot in this collection either…

*“Attack of the Atomic Avenger” in which Metamorpho literally transforms into an atomic bomb.

*“Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?” which pits Rex versus another element man in a chemical battle filled with wild shape-changing, chemical transformations and counter-transformations: “Okay, buster, right back at you with a barium change – which decomposes the water!”

*“The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!”, one of the few stories to shake up the book’s status quo with its introduction of Element Woman. SANDMAN readers might remember that Neil Gaiman brought this character’s life to a tragic end, but here she’s primarily a rival for Metamorpho’s affections, trumping Sapphire’s ditziness with secret agent smarts and the ability to adventure alongside Metamorpho. “Ooze, baby…OOZE!” Metamorpho instructs his novice partner, and indeed, there’s something weirdly intimate about all the gaseous intermingling of the pair. She recurs throughout the latter half of the book, where we lose Fradon as artist, but Sal Trapani steps up to the plate admirably.

*“Last Mile For An Element Man!” is my final pick, notable for its unsettlingly textured art from one-time guest artist Jack Sparling (think “EC Horror”) and an appearance by the “first” element man, a 200-year-old Roman soldier who found only tragedy in his element powers. It’s a rare Metamorpho story with some weight to it, both from the art and the surprisingly serious ending. I don’t follow JSA these days, but presumably this character was the inspiration for the Metamorpho-type enforcers I’ve glimpsed in that book’s flashbacks to ancient Egypt.

What you want to do with this book, and really, all reprint books like it, is pace yourself. Read a few issues a day or even a week. That way you can enjoy the humor, the madcap ideas, and the stunning art…without being overwhelmed by the hammy mad scientist and ex-Nazi villains, the groaner alliteration, and the repetitive formula of the plots. With that approach in mind, this baby gets an easy recommendation to connoisseurs of the unusual, Grant Morrison readers, fans of the DICK TRACY school of cartooning, and of course, chemistry teachers. I mean really, how can you resist a superhero who signs off one of his stories like this:
“Well, characters, so ends another regular, routine adventure in the life of the old Element Man! See you next issue! Meanwhile, luv ya, meatballs!”


Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciler: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

This... This I could use more of.

The second issue of Warren Ellis' little "compressionists" project is upon us and it's looking like this little adventure is on it's way to becoming a successful one. If you don't know by now, the premise behind this project is a simple one: 16 pages of story, short and direct, but very dense and intense material, and all for the measly price of $1.99. And quite frankly I'll go on record now as saying that most writers could only dream to tell the kind of stories Mr. Ellis is in just 16 pages if they had an entire twenty-four page book to work with.

So far we don't know much about our main character, one Detective Richard Fell, but we do know this: he's damn good at his job, and he has to be because his new territory is one fucked up place to live. The first issue saw Detective Fell in the midst of a murder mystery involving a wife killing her husband via an alcohol overdose to the man's weakened liver... and it was given to him thru the method of enema. This issue we are introduced to the subject of "Smoke Children." As Ellis tells us in the supplementary material at the back of the book, another little bonus to this book that makes it a wonderful read, "Smoke Children" are basically aborted fetuses, torn right out of the womb, and used as good luck talismans and evil wards and so on. In this issue the premise is simply that someone in the city is killing young pregnant women and taking their unborn babies. Fell is on the case and has to stop them. It's that simple. But what's amazing is how Ellis is able to just set this up, give us some background info on the subject matter, show Fell doing his job and showing just how damn good and original he is at it, and even giving us just a little taste of character development between him and one of the secondary characters, a young barmaid named Mayko. The writing/dialogue is very fresh and never seems forced. The pacing is quick but it doesn't feel like it's rushing you towards anything. The setting is very unique and feels just terribly dirty... you almost feel like taking a bath when you read this it's so soaked in that sort of ambiance. It's just a very well done book, and it happens to cost you two bucks. Fantastic.

And I have to say here, Ben Templesmith is the perfect artist for this book. Without him, this wouldn't be half the things I said it was earlier. The atmosphere he's able to portray in such limited space since most of the pages consist of nine-panel grids is very admirable. And one thing I have to give huge amounts of credit to him for is for not forgetting the backgrounds. Anymore when a book is predominantly talking-head it's easy to just pretty much have color in the background. But at least with FELL we get some detail in those backgrounds. Now, it's not always the case because the setting is sometimes just something bleak and unremarkable, but for the most part we're given something to take up the space. Random things on the wall, building faces, lighting effects... something to avoid each page being nine panels of some guys head. It might not mean much to most people, but I find myself appreciating his art on this book all the more because of it.

But yeah, all in all, I can't give this book enough hype. It's smart, it's deep, it's witty, it's dark and depressing but light-hearted all at the same time. And fuck it all, it's two bucks. Worth every penny.


Writers: Phil Jimenez and Chuck Kim
Artists: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

If there was a better-looking comic last week, then I didn't see it.

It really just doesn't get any better than the team of Garcia-Lopez and Perez. Wow. Because of the poor, overdone writing in this series, it was really up to the art to carry through any enthusiasm for this story. You know, one of my numerous complaints about that infamous first issue of the HOUSE OF M was the fact that the bad writing was unfortunately supported by even worse artwork. In the world of comics, it is much easier to forgive bad writing when it is supported by great artwork, but wretched artwork can render a well-written comic to the realm of the unreadable. Part of the reason is, quite simply, that in comic books, both the "writer" and the "artist" are telling the same story collaboratively, but the artwork is what carries the eye of the reader. A weak narrative or silly dialogue can be overlooked because of the artists contributing the visual side of the story. In the case of THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY, it would have been incomprehensible without the art team it was blessed with.

I reviewed the first issue originally and gave the writing a C+ versus an A+ for the artwork. By issue 4, the ratings stay the same. I had hopes that the series would pick up steam but it just didn't happen. In fact, issues 2 and 3? I know I bought 'em. I know I read 'em. I just can't remember 'em.

Here's the problem, and it relates to the big honkin' spoiler ending that I'll be revealing herein: This DC SPECIAL should've been one extra-length issue and that's that. By stretching this thing out over 4 issues, it necessitated a bunch of unnecessarily dense and complex expository dialogue and narrative. Basically, the writer had the story to tell of Donna regaining her memories and breaking from the Titans of Myth who were attempting to escape our universe because of the upcoming destruction of whatever's triggering the INFINITE CRISIS. In the course of that story, the writer wanted to team Donna back up with both the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and lay the foundation for Donna, who now remembers the Multiverse, as the Harbinger of the INFINITE CRISIS.

Jimenez did not need 4 issues to tell that.

In fact, in my opinion, the entire thing could've been jettisoned and replaced with that two-page spread that laid out Donna's unique existence as part of the INFINITE CRISIS series itself.

Which draws me back to the only thing that interested me about this comic: The revelation that Donna was the common factor among all the Earths in the multiverse. I smiled inside at seeing the blonde Hippolyta from Earth 1 again. I sat confused by the image of Wonder Woman saving baby Donna from the fire while the misplaced narrative box related that on Earth 2 she was saved by a fireman. I was kind of curious about the whole Earth 7/Dark Angel scenario. I remember buying most of the John Byrne run on WONDER WOMAN, but I think I cut out on that series when Dark Angel showed up, so I don't know how much of this was actually in Byrne's story or is original to Jimenez's story. Either way, as it stands now, the Donna Troy of Earth 7 was whisked away by the Anti-Monitor and transformed into Dark Angel - his perverted version of the Monitor's Harbinger. Which, once again, triggered my confusion. The two-page spread ends with a picture of Donna as Harbinger from the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and the Donna narration says that she was Harbinger, but I don't get how that works. First of all, in all the incarnations of Donna, she's always got dark hair. Even here in this two page spread, the picture of Donna as Harbinger shows her with dark hair. But, Harbinger had blonde hair. Second, I thought the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS (or maybe it was HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE) actually showed Lyla being rescued by the Monitor and she wasn't Donna Troy. So, if this comic was supposed to clear things up, I gotta confess to some lingering muddiness.

But, in the end, the point of this whole series was to set up the INFINITE CRISIS and, I guess it was successful in that…on the last page. As a sequel to the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Donna kind of assumes the role of more than just Harbinger, but also the Monitor as she orbits the earth on New Cronus (similar to the Monitor and his satellite that was blown up in the original CRISIS) and …well…monitors things for a couple of seconds where she sees images of Krona and the Guardians, Superman, Trigon, the Titans, and some mohawked guy fighting a big lizard guy. Then she sees the future - the end of everything - and freaks.

End commercial for this week's INFINITE CRISIS.

This comic exemplifies my reservations about these INFINITE CRISIS lead-in miniseries. I thought COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS was a powerful kickstart to the whole thing as was the 10-years-later Titans story in the TEEN TITANS comic. Then the COUNTDOWN was followed by the DAY OF VENGEANCE, OMAC PROJECT, and VILLAINS UNITED. All of them went on too long. None of them should have been more than 3 or 4 issues long at the most. THE RETURN OF DONNA TROY was a one-issue special stretched and pulled into 4 issues. I'm beginning to be afraid that INFINITE CRISIS is also going to drag out too long; especially when I know that the end of that series is really just a kick-off for a bunch of year-long story arcs and new series like the "52" series. See, if they had published INFINITE CRISIS two months after COUNTDOWN, the enthusiasm level on my part, and I suspect many others as well, would have been much higher. As it stands now, sure, the end of RETURN OF DONNA TROY has me primed to read INFINITE CRISIS, but I'm harboring a real sense of dread - not so much about the series, but about all the infinite tie-ins and spin-offs. It smacks of marketing driven editorial and I just don't like being seen as nothing more than a pigeon-holed demographic group with a wallet full of money. Hopefully, the creative artists involved in the next stage of the INFINITE CRISIS can transcend my cynicism and knock my socks off with a worthy sequel to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. RETURN OF DONNA TROY, however, doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.


Writers: Tom Sniegoski and Eric Powell
Art: Eric Powell
Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Ambush Bug

This MARVEL MONSTERS series of specials crept up on me. I had no idea that so many of my indie faves would be jetting over to Marvel to tell kooky tales utilizing Marvel’s long forgotten Giant Monster characters. This is a genre that has been untapped, and the company deserves a Kudo or a Fig Newton or something for dusting off these properties for a fresh audience. DEVIL DINOSAUR is the first of these properties to hit the shelves and I wish I could exude the same enthusiasm I felt after reading it that I had when I saw this book staring up at me from the shelf.

But alas, I can’t. And it really pains me to give this issue an unfavorable review.

Maybe it’s because co-writer and illustrator, Eric Powell, has knocked my socks off in every issue of his indie sensation, THE GOON, with fresh and off the wall humor that pushes the boundaries of good taste and tact. Reading that book makes me laugh until stuff jiggles each and every time I pick up the book. When I cracked open this issue, I expected the same brand of irreverence and wanton jack@$$ery. Eric Powell takes on the Hulk and Devil Dinosaur? Suh-weeet!!!!!!!!

Instead, I found the story be lacking in the ability to make me blurt out a muted “heh.” The humor in this book is very restrained – very uncertain of itself. There are instances when I could envision Powell and his collaborator Tom Sniegoski, bouncing off-the-wall humor back-handedly right into our collective baby-makers, but the creative team seems to stop short of the true and great funny every time. The humor isn’t groan inducing as much as it teeters to the edge of a guffaw, but is afraid to take the dive.

The story goes like this: The story opens with a war between two tribes of primitive man. The Killer Folk are trying to wipe the Small Folk from existence. And they have been quite successful until one of the Small Folk befriends a giant fiery red Tyrannosaurus-like Kirby-beast named Devil Dinosaur. Observing this battle for survival are two Celestials, wagering on the outcome. Unwilling to lose the bet, the Celestial who sides with the Killer Folk plucks the Hulk from the future to destroy Devil Dinosaur, allowing the Killer Folk to dominate the Small Folk as they should. At first, the Hulk makes short work of the big red monster, but soon after the Celestials continue to intervene, both green goliath and crimson beast are forced team up to take on their manipulators.

This story stars a giant red dinosaur with a monkey man riding him around like a bucking bronco. That’s good stuff. That image alone would make you think that Powell would be able to do something completely off the wall with his brand of GOON humor. But that’s not the case. The funniest thing in this issue involves the Hulk wearing a funny hat. To top it all off, the ending of this story is a riff off of EXPLORERS.


I can’t really fault Powell for this. His brand of humor and irreverence isn’t really the right match with the PC/All Ages-friendly/Non-risk-taking Marvel. I guess it is too much to expect a foul mouthed Moonboy yelling “Giddy-the-fuck-up!” on the back of Devil Dinosaur as it chomps, devours, and shats out a caveman. Hell, Moonboy isn’t even used at all in this issue. If Marvel had allowed Powell to cut loose, there might be something really special here, but the final product I read is nothing like the Powell that made him the name he is today.

Now in the art department, Powell is at his best with this issue. His depictions of Devil Dinosaur, the Hulk, and the cavemen are iconic and silly, Kirby-esque yet firmly set in modern stylings, rendered in bold yet detailed lines. Powell really has come into his own and this issue shows how talented this guy really is. Had the art matched up with the story in this issue, I’d be hailing this book as the cure for gout and better than chopped cheese.

In the end, it seems Marvel was just too lame to let Powell cut loose. Given those restrictions, the resulting DEVIL DINOSAUR is simply “meh” inducing. Too bad. Maybe Marvel will one day grow a pair and really let Powell’s insanity run rampant in the Marvel U. Until then, this is a case of talent wasted.


Writer/Artist: Kyle Baker
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

“I must go weep. Like a hero.”
“Boy, is he sad. That’s what it would really be like to be a superhero. Sad.”
- Plastic Man and best-bud Woozy Winks skewer DC’s latest trends
Who’d have guessed that the funniest, most concise criticism of DC’s INFINITE CRISIS would come from within DC’s own line? Ah, but with a book like PLASTIC MAN, multi-Eisner winner or no, it’s so far below most readers’ radar that it’s exactly the kind of vehicle for some laughs at the company’s own expense.

And there’s lots of ‘em!

I’d fallen behind on the book, but decided to jump back in with this latest issue ‘cause, hey, who can resist a cover of Woozy Winks dunkin’ Michael Jordan style, propelled upward by Plastic Man shoes? In interviews I’ve read with Baker he talks about how a big reason he ended up on this book is just to draw Plastic Man doing funny stuff – the whole visual humor angle. And it works. It’s actually really refreshing to see a cartoonist just cut loose with no obligation to reality or seriousness, especially when they’re as talented as Baker.

So we’re at the fourth issue in a story arc called “The Edwina Crisis,” Edwina being Plastic Man’s recently introduced, Gothy stepdaughter. Wasn’t at all up on the issues leading up to this one, but you know what? It didn’t matter. As the story begins, it’s clear that Baker’s spoofing all the grim ‘n’ grittay stuff with both Edwina and Plas’s ex, Morgan, seemingly killed at the hands of an angsty teen with electrical-based superpowers. Perpetual goofball Woozy Winks stumbles onto the scene, spills some water on the kid, and accidentally offs him with a short-circuit and an explosion. Woozy’s nonplussed as usual:
“I hope nobody saw me blow that kid’s head off. I always get blamed for stuff like that.”
Oh, and Plastic Man’s dead too. Or at least frozen and shattered into a pile of shards. But when Woody trips onto the stuff, a legion of smurf-sized Plastic Men arise from the pieces beneath Woozy’s gut! Explains one of them: “The heat radiated by your flab has countered the effects of the dry ice!” Awesomeness. And it leads to a brilliant bit of physical comedy as Plastic Man tries to rebuild himself by having all the little Plastic Men…err…consume each other. This is the kind of weirdness Baker lives for on this book, and his glee is infectious as one of the little men leaps into a mouth, screaming, “I die like a hero! Weeping!”

Meanwhile, a subplot follows the adventures of Edwina and Morgan in the afterlife, where indeed they’ve found a new role as…The Spectre! Except they’ve sort of got to share all the power and they can’t seem to come to an agreement on how to use it. Their test case is a mugger in an alley. Morgan starts controlling the guy’s knife, enlarging it to stab him, but Edwina intervenes:
Edwina: Big knife? Couldn’t you think of anything cooler than that?
Morgan: There is nothing cooler than JUSTICE!
(They argue a bit. Edwina tries something else)
Morgan: A giant spider? That doesn’t even make sense!
Edwina: Who needs sense? I wanna see a guy get eaten by a giant spider! That would be awesome!
Morgan: It’s supposed to fit the crime! If someone’s smuggling diamonds inside of teddy bears, you have the teddy bear come to life and maul him! A guy uses a knife, so you stab him!
Edwina: Big knife’s lame. Spider’s cool.
Absolutely one of the best Spectre sequences of all time. And adding visual humor to the whole thing is watching this poor schmuck of a crook tormented by all their ideas! If you’ve ever seen the classic Looney Toon where Bugs draws Daffy and puts him through Hell, you know what I’m talking about.

And that’s only about half of the book. There’s still Plas and Woozy infiltrating a mystical monastery to resurrect their dead friends (“Gone forever! Dead like Robin! Dead like Supergirl! Deceased like Superman! Hal Jordan! All gone!”) and taking on members of the League of Assassins.

What I say is this: even if you’ve never followed this book before and have no intention of following its last few issues…risk a few bucks and pick up this one issue. It’s funny as hell, has tons of great cartooning, and features the wondrous sight of a legion of miniature Plastic Men devouring each other.

This…this is cartooning!


Writer: Garth Ennis
Penciler: Leandro Fernandez
Publisher: Marvel MAX
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

If there's one thing Garth Ennis does best, it's write evil characters I instantly hate and wish to see die a horridly, painful death.

This issue brings us deeper into a story arc titled "The Slavers" and does an excellent job at getting us all riled up and building a good mad on at just those people referred to by the title. Last issue, good old psychotic vigilante extraordinaire and all around medieval badass, Frank Castle, happens upon a young girl who had been routinely abused physically/sexually in a sex slave ring over the past few years. Immediately, Frank is enraged at the sheer concept of this. Then in this issue, the girl goes into detail about her tortured past. And now Frank is even more pissed.

Seriously though, the issue is just so brutal and it has nothing to do with what Frank actually goes out and does to people. The words Ennis puts into the mouth of the young lady, Viorica, as she drones on in horrid detail about all of the atrocities visited upon her over the years by The Slavers do more than most images could hope to accomplish... but there are pictures too to drive some of those points home even further. Especially the sequence involving her son that came in the midst of all the rapes and tricks and god knows what else she endured throughout her life. You'll know it when you see it, and if it doesn't make you angry then you are probably just as dead inside as young Viorica.

But the book isn't all about just Viorica's story. Ennis properly pushes along a few other things, like getting us acquainted with the men behind this ring of filth, and pushing along the thought process of yet another Police Chief that thinks he can make it big by bringing down the Punisher by using an incident last issue with some officers as fuel to the anti-Punisher fire. Poor, dumb, bastard.

And, again, I have to push just how great the book looks. Leandro Fernandez is the point man again for this arc and he's marvelous. As always his detail is fantastic, which is especially important in this kind of issue since it's necessary for the facial expressions of the characters to help drive home all the emotions... the sadness and loss on Viorica's face as she tells her story, the quiet, un-abiding rage on Frank's, the glee in the Slaver Ringleader's face as he does his job, and so on. This is one of those joyous occasions where a good story is being told, and the art is matching it perfectly, making it all a complete and wonderful read. This is definitely shaping up to be one of the best stories to come out of Ennis' already stellar run since this book went MAX. Keep the bloodshed coming.


Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Scott Hampton
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

When people criticize the way someone writes an established icon, they often cite that the creator just doesn’t “get” the character. But this is a pretty vague term. Not getting a character can mean a myriad of things to a myriad of people. Just because a character hasn’t acted one way in the past, doesn’t mean that said character wouldn’t ever react that way. As I read through the first issue of BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE, I said to myself, “Man, this just isn’t the way Batman would react to this” or “this isn’t something Batman would say in this situation.” It was at this point that I caught myself. Batman is a fictional character. Sure he’s as familiar to me as some of my own relatives. I read about him numerous times a month. I have my own views on the character of Batman and how he should be written. Often times, this does not match up with the way the writer portrays the character. So when I put down the book and thought about how I would review it, I forced myself to put all that aside and review the book in front of me, not how I thought the character should have been utilized.

The book in front of me was an interesting read. An intriguing mystery, wrapped in beautifully sketchy art by Scott Hampton, and filled with interesting twists and turns that one would want in a miniseries. The crimes in this book are harsh. The mystery grabbed me. The danger is real. I didn’t know what to expect from one page to the next. The pacing moved me along at a quick step and provided all sorts of scares. Storywise, this is a full course of a read, fulfilling by itself, yet teasing the reader to come back for the next issue. Writer Steve Niles delivers, on all counts, a mystery filled with chills and twists. One that will bring me back for issue two of this miniseries.

The thing is, though, I just didn’t feel like Niles “got” Batman.

Since I’ve already established this as a poor way of criticizing something, I’m forced to give some specific examples. And yes, this may delve into the realm of geek, but since this character is known the world throughout, there are certain aspects about the Batman that you just can’t get wrong and still expect it to be the Batman we all know and love.

Let’s take the first line Batman has in this issue: “You’re finished, Joker. Surrender now and live.”

Yeah, you read it right. A death threat from Batman to the Joker. The man who has sworn not to kill. The man who has fought back the urge to murder the Joker for years despite numerous vile acts. This man now throws out this type of threat in the very first page of this mini. Sure this is the throwaway fight scene that occurs at the beginning of every Batman story, but while doing this, the Batman shouldn’t betray his code of ethics, the very thing that makes the Batman…Batman (unless that’s what the focus of the entire story is, but it isn’t, so that doesn’t apply). So is this a hollow threat? Don’t think so. Batman doesn’t make hollow threats, especially to the Joker.

Flash forward a few pages. Batman meets Ex-Commissioner Gordon in his backyard in the middle of the night for info regarding a murder in the suburbs. After viewing photos of the murder scene that almost make the Batman flinch, Batman swings off, stating to Gordon: “Nice slippers.”

Uhm-hmm. Yep. A witty quip from the Batman. After seeing photos of a grisly murder. This isn’t Arnie in COMMANDO. This is Batman. A line like this may show up as a groaner in a BATMAN movie, but it just seems out of place in the comics. And even if Bats were to suddenly develop a sense of humor, I doubt it would be after he sees gruesome photos of four murdered families.

Later in the story, Batman is interrogating a junkie about a possible connection with the murders. Suddenly a laser site dot appears on his head and before Batman can get the bum out of the way, he’s blown away. Batman screams, “NOOO!” like a school girl with a skinned knee. Not the silent and strong hero I remember. A few pages later, another unexpected death forces another multi-O “NOOOO!” from our grim Dark Knight.

So, am I being nit-picky here? You bet your rosy red @$$. But it’s pretty hard to get the character of Batman wrong. It’s not like this is some obscure character like Night Thrasher or Ragman. Everyone knows who Batman is. Yet, time and time again, I see this type of misrepresentation of character happening. And I can only attribute it to one thing…one rule that I have seen broken so many times recently…one that people who write comics don’t often understand…

You’re working with established characters here, folks. Don’t mold the characters around your story. People will notice it and call you out on it. Mold the story around your characters. That is, you could tell the same story a million times and if you have a separate, established, and well rounded character in each, it’ll be different and interesting each and every time. Too many times I have seen characters like Batman or Spider-Man or Wolverine or whoever bent and twisted because the write has a story to tell and doesn’t care about the gabillion other stories that has happened before it and how their character acted in each of those.

Again, I’m getting into specifics with this review. Who’s to say a character should act one way over another? But there are certain truths that apply to the Batman mythos and I think a few of them were manipulated because the writer had a story to tell and didn’t care about bending those truths to tell it. I’ve been a huge fan of Steve Niles’ independent work. I love the Cal McDonald character and the 30 DAYS OF NIGHT stories, characters and stories Niles created himself. But if these creators who are used to writing their own creations are going to advance into the big leagues, they have to realize that there were stories before that established who these characters are, especially an icon like Batman.

BATMAN: GOTHAM COUNTY LINE #1 was a nice mystery filled with twists, surprises, and chills. But the guy running around with the cape and bat ears doesn’t sound like the Batman to me.


So wait. We have the "first" encounter between Superman and Shazam, and there's no random case of mistaken identity, followed by a fist fight between the two, followed by a team up to take down the baddies? Doesn't Winick know how these things work?!? Apparently not, and thank god for that. - Humphrey


I've talked up MARY JANE in the past, a series that manages to combine both the awkwardness and the giddiness of teen romance without ever getting too heavy. Think of it as ARCHIE without being dumbed-down...and with the occasional guest-appearance by Spider-Man. Or as an indie slice-of-lifer without the masturbation and drug stories…and with the occasional guest-appearance by Spider-Man. What popped for me about this digest collection, though, is the crisp, almost cardstock paper it's printed on. Isn't necessarily superior to the previous MARY JANE trade (which had glossy paper), but it's absolutely a step up from the RUNAWAYS digest paper, which is kind of pulpy and doesn't do the art any favors. MARY JANE gets it right, and Takeshi Miyazawa's art looks great on the crisp stuff. I think this guy's one of the best artists in Marvel's stable, and all you have to do is look at that dreamy, wistful expression he gives Mary Jane to know I'm right. Aww, see? Pick ‘er up as prelude to the ongoing MARY JANE book due in a few months. - Dave


Winick takes time this issue to give us some more detail on the unearthing of Jason Todd, specifically by examining the coffin they buried him. This is good. He also takes time to reiterate for the 40 thousandth time that Jason Todd was no Dick Grayson. This is tedious and bad. - Humphrey


Our heroes finally meet the great and powerful Oz, and cartoonist David Hutchinson does strong work in living up to the scene from the original book. Each of the leads meets Oz separately in this case, and he appears alternately as a giant floating head, as a beautiful princess, as a really effed-up rhino-spider hybrid, and as a glowing ball of fire. The Wizard’s still a big ol’ fake, of course, but he liked to mix it up a bit in the original story. The big downside for the issue is that our first glimpse of the Emerald City is surprisingly blah, seemingly rendered hastily and with thick, harsh lines that belie the more intricate renderings we’ve seen of the Wicked Witch’s fortress or the Munchkin city. All told, though, I remain happy with the faithfulness of the translation. When this is collected, I suspect it’ll stand the test of time as one of the worthier Oz-inspired outings. - Dave


In this issue, Will Pfeifer reminds us just how stupid some old character creations can be by reintroducing "Hammer & Sickle" and gives us a genuinely badass Batman appearance. Worth it alone for the random laughs at the expense of lame characters. - Humphrey


This is the kind of book that feels like it was written more to showcase an artist than to tell a story. Which almost works with an artist as quirky as Seth Fisher, who's sort of a daft version of Geoff Darrow (picture a little Jim Woodring thrown in), but I still found myself zoning out toward the end. The story has the FF visiting Japan as guests of honor at the opening of a museum dedicated to Japan's history with giant monsters (loved the schoolgirl holding the sign, "JOHNNY STORM - KING OF SUPER HOT!"). Also present is Tony Stark, checking out business opportunities. I enjoyed the notion posed here and in some of Marvel's other retro-monster books appearing at the moment that there was a distinct "monster era" in Marvel's history, an era which ended with the rise of the superheroes - specifically the monster-stompin' Fantastic Four. Anyway, writer Zeb Wells isn't as "on" as he's been in NEW WARRIORS, so when monsters suddenly started stampeding, I kind of lost interest. Great, somewhat whimsical visuals, though, and I liked when the Japanese kid got saved by Iron Man, high-fived him, and said "Iron Man!" - Dave


Too... much... funny!! Can't... stop... laughing at... SHAZULK!! line... Also, the Hulk gets laid.... There's money well spent right there. - Humphrey


You know what? Somehow this book survived the loss of artist Michael Lark. What's more, the new artist Kano is kicking as much ass as his MORTAL KOMBAT namesake. The high point of the issue for me was something that's supposed to be a bit of a no-no in GOTHAM CENTRAL: Batman as a device for plot resolution. You'd think it'd diminish the detectives, but this Batman is almost an elemental force and I got a real kick out of his scariness. I also liked that his assistance seems to've toned down the "shoot on sight" approach the cops had been giving him in the wake of the ill-considered "Wargames" crossover. I don't have a problem with Batman as outlaw, but it's hard to sustain that idea when he's so overtly helping the law. Of course, the book also has a satisfying resolution to the "Robin murders," and some good moments with detectives Romy and Marcus, but Batman steals the show (and rightfully so) in this case. - Dave


Ellis takes the time here to explain why so much shit has been blowing up the past couple issues and where the arc is going. Then there's a lot of posing and posturing done by the team as they try to look badass. Good, but not so much as the last issue or two. - Humphrey

SENTRY #1 (of 8)

Any ASTRO CITY readers out there? If so, brace for deja vu on reading SENTRY #1. Like the very first issue of ASTRO CITY starring Samaritan, it delivers a Superman analogue with the responsibility-factor cranked up to 11. And like Samaritan, Sentry even has a device that reports incoming world disasters to him, forcing him to think in terms of a superhuman triage: duking it out with some badguy jet fighters means four people burn to death in a Boston fire...but the jets get priority because more lives are at stake. And writer Paul Jenkins does a halfway decent job with these scenes, but the bad news is that Kurt Busiek did the concept perfectly ten years ago. SENTRY can't help but come across an also-ran as a result. And then there's the sense that the character's sheer uber-ness is being shoved down the reader's throat. In addition to handling scores (hundreds?) of emergencies in a day, we also see Sentry take out Galactus's herald Terrax without breaking a sweat ("Leave this planet. Now,” commands Sentry after breaking Terrax’s axe) and seemingly flying through the head(!) of Atlantean conqueror Attuma in mid-villain speech. It smacks of authorial egotism - "my superhero can beat up your superheroes." It also showcases why this character only merits a miniseries: he's simply too powerful for the kind of ongoing adventures we get at Marvel. Or maybe he's due a depowering? If not, the New Avengers are gonna end up even more obsolete than Bendis is already making ‘em. The best moments in the issue are the scenes between Sentry and his evil, imprisoned counterpart, The Void, which at least offer something new to the Superman formula. Nice art from Romita Jr., too. Too bad he ain't drawing a more compelling title. - Dave

JSA #78

Oh hey, look! It's Mordru again! Everybody roll your eyes as they make him a threat again for the fourteenth time! But I can't be too hard. At least this issue featured the characters doing more than standing aside and watching random non-team characters take over the book to remind us about "THE CRISIS!!!" And, y'know, it's actually kinda well written. - Humphrey


“Then the House of M went away…” I have to recommend this book for this line alone from the intro page. Once again, Peter David tries to work through the mess that other writers caused with this big HOUSE OF M “event” that will be forgotten right about the same time the next big event comes along. The aborigine storyline has been carried over. The book starts out with Banner waking up in bed with someone he vaguely remembers (I’ve had that experience a time or two). After some Hulking out, we’re informed that a mass hallucination/hysteria/amnesia has swept the world (I guess these are the after effects from HOM, but since that series is delayed, who the hell knows or cares?). David ends his run on this title strongly with Banner once again alone, as he should be. It’s too bad David wasn’t able to get into some more meaty storylines with the Hulk, but the ones he told in this most recent return to the title were memorable additions to the Hulk myth that David has been mostly responsible for (at least the latter half of it).

One last thing. The two page splash of the Honda Civic placed directly after the Intro page was jarring. In fact, I was floored by the sheer amount of ads in this issue. I guess I just never took notice as to how many there were, but, not including the front and back covers, I counted 25 pages of ads. 25?!?!?! What is this, a comic book or an issue of MADEMOISELLE magazine?


Okay, yeah, there's some good character moments here, but come on. A fucking EMP? That's the best we can do? Great, so Batman's master plan to take down the OMACs consisted of a random shipping error and something he picked up from watching OCEAN’S 11 the other night on Encore. Master planner indeed. - Humphrey

Greetingssss, minionssss. Insssidiousss Bug here. Lasssst time on the @$$$$$$hole Cassssting Couch, we put together a casssst for that inept fighting force, the accursssed GI JOE. Thissss week, we casssst the ssssoon-to-be leaderssss of the free world, COBRA!!! Rumorssss have ssssurfaced sssuggesting that an actual GL JOE film issss in the workssss. Thissss sssseems to be the perfect opportunity to casssst the mosssst vile menagerie of villainssss the world hasss ever sssseen with a cassst of international evil-doing actorssss. Sssso line up in formation and sssscream, ALL HAIL MIGHTY COBRA!!!


Sorry, had a lisp there. But I think it’s all cleared up.

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 are being made these days, but there are plenty more properties that deserve the silver screen treatment.

The Premise

Now more than ever, America needs to feel safe and protected from the thralls of tyranny. In these troubling times, when terrorism and anarchy lurk around every corner, a film about the best fighting force this great nation has to offer is not only needed, it’s necessary. A mere two weeks ago on the Casting Couch, we put together a roster of Joes to battle Cobra. Now it’s the bad guys’ turn. In casting this film, an international cast of character actors and scene chewers is needed to fill out the Cobra ranks. Special thanks to JMM’s GI JOE Comics Home Page for some of the images in this and the last Casting Couch.

Leading this cast of villains is Cobra Commander , the most ruthless criminal mastermind in the world. Cobra Commander’s face should never be shown in the film. It should be covered by his hood or his battle helmet, but I still think a major actor should play the part. Gary Oldman ( LOST IN SPACE, THE PROFESSIONAL ) has made a living playing over-the-top bad guys, but it’s all been leading up to this role. His villains convey power and weakness all at the same time. He would be perfect to lead the forces of tyranny and chaos.

Destro is one of the most powerful and deadly men alive. He’s the one who supplies COBRA with the deadliest of weaponry. I know, I know, he’s not an Irish actor, but keeping with the international flavor of the villains, I’d go with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje , best known as Adibisi from OZ to flesh out this metal-faced madman. I promise that I chose this guy before he showed up on LOST last week, but the power in his performance there just sealed the deal for me. A man of this size sporting that silver mask would be truly ominous indeed.

One woman is conniving enough to manipulate the Cobra Commander and melt the cold steel heart of Destro. The Baroness shatters the myth that guys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. Juliette Lewis (NATURAL BORN KILLERS ) always plays off-kilter characters, but she’s always been a bit of a pixie. Then I found this photo. She’s all grown up and ready to WOW us as THE woman of COBRA! Yum, full body leather and guns.

To be the bodyguard of Cobra Commander, one of the most wanted men in the world, you have to be the absolute best. Storm Shadow is all of that and more. Snake-Eyes’ former friend and now arch-nemesis is a ninja master of every weapon and even deadlier unarmed. International martial arts sensation, Donnie Yen ( IRON MONKEY, BLADE II ) has the talent and abilities to bring this character to life. Imagine an extended silent martial arts extravaganza, reminiscent of the classic silent GI JOE #21 issue, between Donnie and Ray Park as Snake-Eyes. Classic!

Two parts snark, two parts untrustworthy prissy bitch. Sounds like the qualities needed to be a mercenary/field commander for COBRA. Major Bludd has all of these qualities and will sell you his services if you match his price. English actor, Richard Roxburgh showed us his slimy side in MOULIN ROUGE. In that role, he conveyed power, yet showed how much of a weasel he could be when backed into a corner. Major Bludd is the same kind of weasel.

Hurt one and the other feels it. Why waste money on split screen technology to bring the evil businessmen brothers, Tomax and Xamot to life, when real life brothers, Gary and Martin Kemp (THE KRAYS, THE BODYGUARD) can do the job? These guys were born to play these slimy brothers who take care of the business and legal end of COBRA keeping their operations out of reach of the law.

Before FIREFLY was a major sci-fi property, he was the baddest saboteur and terrorist around. No one knows the real name of the man in the camouflage ninja-suit, but everyone knows that they should fear him. This guy is ruthless and probably the most dangerous man alive. By knife, by gun, or by bomb, this guy will always get the job done and leave much destruction in his wake. When I saw Said Taghmaoui in THREE KINGS, I was scared shitless at how ruthless his character was. That’s the same kind of intensity I’d want to see in Firefly.

Master of disguise, leader of the Dreadnoks, and total badass. He’s Zartan and his action figure changed color in the sunlight. I don’t know what kind of radioactive chemicals went into that toy, but it as one of my favorite figures as a kid. Playing with that toy probably shaved a few years off the end of my life, but I didn’t care. Zartan was just plain cool. LORD OF THE RINGS actor, Sean Bean is cool too and I’m pretty sure he’s not radioactive, so he’d be a safe bet.

Pick three wrestlers, any wrestlers. I’m not big on grown men wrestling around with each other in tights (except maybe in comic books!) and don’t really keep up with who’s who in the WWF and the like these days. But going by looks alone, Brock Lesner, Sean O’Haire, and The Edge would do the trick in a pinch. All you need to be is big and look mean to play Buzzer, Ripper, and Torch . These wrestlers spend all day fighting and being nasty, which is exactly what the Dreadnoks do too. By chainsaw, by machete blade, or by flame-thrower, these guys would bring a little world wrestling mayhem to the most destructive biker gang out there.

So trem-…*ahem*…Sssso tremble in fear, loversss of peace and order. With a cassst of baddiessss like thissss, the Joessss don’t ssstand a chance. Asssss alwayssss, we invite you to agree, dissssagree, call ussss crazy, or form your own picksss in the Talkbackssss. Usssse your power of free sssspeech, minionssss, while you ssstill can. COBRAAAAA!!!

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