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#22 10/12/05 & 10/19/05 #4

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

Indie Jones presents…

JUSTICE #2 (of 12)

Writer: Jim Krueger
Artists: Doug Braithwaite & Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

Damn. Has it been 2 months already?

I was somewhat concerned about these guys’ ability to maintain the quality level from issue to issue, but I guess I shouldn't have been concerned. If anything, issue 2 is better than issue 1.

It's a good idea to choose the narrative style that they've chosen for this series, considering that it is going to be bi-monthly for 2 years. What it looks like they're doing is choosing a different character to narrate each issue's stand-alone, yet interconnected, story. Last issue was Luthor and set the stage for the overarching storyline, but this issue is narrated by Batman as he works to take down the Riddler, who's just downloaded a lot of very important secrets out of Batman's batcomputer. And it works. Just as last issue presented the most revealing presentation of Luthor's character I think I've ever read, this issue does the same for the Riddler. Krueger sets up for the reader, through Batman's narrative, enough of the Riddler's backstory to inform all of us as to the demons that drive the Riddler to do what he does. What I thought was so clever was that his pathological need to provide riddles as clues is really his attempt to get around an unfortunate inability to ever lie ~ beaten into him by his abusive father. So sue me. I thought that was a fantastic way of establishing an understandable motivation to the character.

Visually, the look that Braithwaite and Ross chose for the Riddler was unique to this series but evocative of past designs. Gone are the Gorshin-esque tights, but maintained is the bowler hat and sunglasses of the Bruce Timm design from BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Retained as well is the big Question Mark staff wielded by Jim Carey in BATMAN FOREVER. Now Riddler wears a heavy trench coat that glows green from within. When the Riddler throws open his trenchcoat a blinding barrage of glowing question marks fly out and render his opponents utterly senseless just long enough for him to escape. I'm assuming it's one of those sensory stimulation devices similar to say….the Vortex, where you try to walk through it while your visual and aural senses are assaulted and your equilibrium gets thrown totally out of whack and you feel like the earth is turning around under your feet. That's what it looks like Batman experiences from Riddler's assault.

Even though the focus is on this conflict between Riddler and Batman, there are enough little tidbits that advance the overarching storyline. The nesting dolls and recurring mention of toys that indicate a strong chance that these villains may not be acting entirely of their own volition ~ can we say…Toyman? Also, there's a panel that seems to indicate that Joker's appearance cannot be too far on the horizon. Capt. Cold's work in issue 1 is followed up on here, but at this point is confounding Flash. But the best reveal of the issue was that last creepy panel with Aquaman about to go under the knife at the hands of one nasty looking Brainiac. {{{shudder}}}

This is some damn good superhero comics here. Definitely worth picking up, even if you've never been particularly a fan of DC comics. As opposed to INFINITE CRISIS where you'd need an encyclopedia of DC to know what's going on and who's who, this series seems written on two levels so that it can be totally penetrable by the new reader, but embraced and enjoyed by the longtime fan. I think it succeeds on all counts. Nearly perfect work.


Writer: Dan Slott
Penciller: Juan Bobillo
Published by: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: superhero

OK, let’s just get this out of the way right now: Dan Slott is a genius.

There, I said it. Dan Slott is the best writer (along with Joss Whedon) that Marvel has writing their books right now.

Why, you ask?

Because with the new issue of SHE-HULK #1 Slott has brought me back to the days of John Byrne’s SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK.

Yes, someone out there has finally, FINALLY recaptured the crazy, goofy spirit of John Byrne’s classic run on the She-Hulk. Miracle of miracles! And it took only say, what, more than ten years for someone to get it right again? Well, get it right is what Slott does and I, for one, am happier than happy to have been able to enjoy this latest issue of this new SHE-HULK run.

See, back in the day (Has it really been that long?) John Byrne reintroduced the world to the long lamented character of the She-Hulk by making her the newest member to join the Fantastic Four while Ben Grimm was off chasing otherworld adventures on the Secret Wars planet. This move ticked a lot of fans off but as the book progressed Byrne managed to inject some personality into Shulkie that other writers had never been able to. Through a combination of great writing and art Byrne made SHE-HULK a fan favorite before you could say “Hulk Smash!” and eventually steered her towards a really great graphic novel adventure (Aped from a segment in the movie CREEPSHOW) and a really funny series of her own. Byrne used She-Hulk in an innovative and humorous manner by placing her in situations and putting her up against foes that other books wouldn’t touch. Camp and cheesy humor were the name of the game during Byrne’s run and this book held its own against another humorous super-hero book of its day, Giffen and DeMatteis’ run on Justice League. In my opinion Byrne’s SH even surpassed some of the Bwa-ha-ha’s of the Justice League mainly because he actually used some really different storytelling techniques to add humor to his stories. One classic bit had She-Hulk ripping through one page and walking through a price guide layout on the next double page spread to continue the story on the third page following. An even better bit was when She-Hulk gave in to the fans’ demands for cheesecake and skipped rope in the nude just to please them. Of course, her naughty bits were covered up by the rope’s speed lines as she skipped but it was a great joke and made up for the fact that horny teenage comic fans everywhere would never get to see Jen Walters’s alter ego in the buff. Almost.

But all good things must come to an end and Byrne was off of SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK almost as soon as he began the book. By around issue eleven J.B. had quit the book. Rumor had it that he left because of his wanting to use a character that greatly resembled his own creation ROG 2000 and Marvel editorial had a problem with him using a character that wasn’t owned by Marvel. Whatever the reason for his departure no one ever recaptured the spirit and fun of Byrne’s run. Heck, Byrne even returned to the book later on and restored the fun of the book that no one else could duplicate if only for a few issues.

Well, no one was able to duplicate it…until now.

In this first issue Slott has crafted a fantastic first issue which recaptures the feel of Byrne’s SENSATIONAL run. There’s humor to spare in this book and at the same time Mr. Slott has captured Jen Walters’ personality perfectly. Not only that but he takes advantage of the fact that She-Hulk is an actual attorney by trade and uses that to his advantage. He uses this aspect of her character to introduce some new and fantastic elements such as a law firm that has a division which specializes in superhuman law and leads to some really, really interesting story elements. In this issue alone the court has to use a time machine to pull jurors from the past to try a case in which her and her partner feel it would be impossible to get an impartial jury. It’s stuff like this that makes the book interesting and will more than likely keep me coming back for more. While the book does have some typical superhero moments it all takes place within the framework of Jen being a lawyer in a world with superheroes and just how ridiculous and surreal that would actually be. Not only that but he also pulls elements from Byrne’s run, such as the constant breaking of the fourth wall, that make the book seem familiar to a fan of the aforementioned run. Slott seems to know what old-school fans would want and yet is able to craft a story that wouldn’t alienate a casual or newer reader. Who’da thunk it? New characters are brought in and yet there are enough touches of what made She-Hulk unique to fans so that every base is covered. Slott knows how to maintain the balance between new and old and stick in a twist of humor without making it overly crass or sprinkling curse words everywhere. Once again: who’da thunk it?

The other element of this book that really helps is Juan Bobillo’s art. Bobillo’s style is cartoony and energetic enough to keep the action flowing without getting distracting. While some of the characters have a touch of anime to them, particularly in the eyes, it’s a welcome touch that adds some softness to their faces, Jennifer Walters in particular. As a matter of fact I actually thought that Bobillo’s rendition of Ms.Walters was probably the best I’d ever seen. So many artists just made her always seem like a plain Jane without any character but Bobillo was able to add that touch of feistiness to her appearance that the She-Hulk always had so that you get to see some of that famous She-Hulk personality shine through even before she’s transformed. The opening page where Jen begins her morning jog set the tone for the whole comic and a lot of it is due to Bobillo’s art. He adds character to the page which is something not a lot of artists are able to do. My only problem with his style is mostly when he actually draws the She-Hulk. His anatomy is a bit off here and there and there can be some really wonky foreshortening in some places but those small weak points are made up for in spades because of the vibrancy his style brings to the page.

In the end SHE-HULK seems to be just what new and old comic fans may be looking for. It’s a book that’s fun without being boorish and that’s accessible enough to new fans without spitting on everything that’s come before it. If there’s any justice in comic book land this book will be a runaway hit. But then again, I’ve seen lots of great books slip through the cracks so maybe SHE-HULK’S too good for the comic fan at large. I’m hoping the comic community proves me wrong, though, because if there’s one thing we need it’s fun comics that respect fans and are interesting enough to suck in new readers and SHE-HULK is a book that does and could do just that.


Writer: Tim Seeley
Artist: Stefano Caselli & Federica Manfredi
Publisher: Devil’s Due Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

Barring John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN and maybe the SCREAM movies, I always thought of the “slasher” subgenre as the lowest rung on the horror totem pole. Ironically it’s paved the path to one of the most entertaining horror comics on the stands: HACK SLASH. Because where I could never quite get my mind into the right place to enjoy nutjobs dismembering teenagers, it turns out I can find a good deal of amusement in watching the nutjobs receive some karmic payback. Go figure.

Taking its cue at least partly from SCREAM’s tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, HACK SLASH collects a series of one-shots following the vengeful young Cassie Hack. She’s a tough, Gothed-up chick with the looks of a Suicide Girl and the monster-stomping skills of Buffy Summers. I know these qualities are a dime-a-dozen these days, but…

Have I mentioned that the introduction to the trade is written by none other than Craig Thompson of BLANKETS and CARNET DE VOYAGE fame? If you were getting nervous that this was a review of some total trash comic, let Craig’s good name keep you onboard long enough to learn that…

HACK SLASH is actually a good kind of trash comic!

In the fast-paced first outing, we learn that Cassie was a troubled teen whose own mother was a “slasher,” the book’s jargon for supernatural murderers in the Michael Myers/Jason Vorhees/Freddie Krueger tradition. As Cassie describes ‘em:
“It’s a type of undead, I guess…sort’ve like a vampire or zombie. They’re so full of anger that they don’t wanna die. They hate love, youth, sex…things they miss from life.”
Flashbacks fill in the details on Cassie’s psycho momma, a killer dubbed “The Lunch Lady.” The long and short of the origin flashback, though, is simply that Cassie’s driven by guilt to seek out other slashers and put ‘em in the grave where they belong. Her right-hand man’s a Frankensteinian behemoth she met on her travels – “Vlad” - a simple soul she first mistook for a slasher but who later proved to be her greatest asset (and the closest thing she has to a friend). For all her tough-talk (think Faith from BUFFY), Cassie’s actually got a bit of depth that comes out during the course of the trade. She misses a love life, for one thing. And she’s afraid the hatred built up in her might even be enough to turn her into a slasher one day. Not bad for a comic that does more than its share of reveling in the prurient side of the genre, heaping blood and gore a’plenty and waltzing a good deal of T&A in front of the camera.

So how do Cassie they find their prey, you ask? By watching for the right kind of murders. “Slashers love a good ironic kill,” Cassie explains - the smoker who burns to death, for instance, or as one story goes in HACK SLASH, the horror comic writer who gets offed PSYCHO-style in the shower. Rather amusingly, in fact, said horror writer is real-life superstar Steve Niles, best known for 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. He’s in the story, Robert Kirkman’s in the story, Skottie Young’s in the story…and all are threatened with violent, horrible death! The killer stalking ‘em is particular effed-up in that outing – so bizarre that I don’t want to give his secret away – but my favorite bit has the show’s promoters, clearly modeled on WIZARDWORLD staffers, trying to keep the show afloat even after the murders begin. They’ve got perpetual “Stepford Wives” grins and play the same role as the mayor in JAWS: no closing the beach! Keep packing ‘em in!

Other stories feature a slasher who commands an army of undead pets and a religious loony slasher out to croak all the naughty girls at a GIRLS GONE WILD-style beach party. All follow a broad mystery build up, interspersed with killings and usually racing headlong towards violent, creative showdowns. I can’t really claim there are heaps of great ideas at work- hey, it’s still the slasher genre - but I like the post-modern tone, and Seeley’s dialogue is genuinely fun.

Good art, too. The first story’s drawn by Stefano Caselli (G.I. JOE – AMERICA’S ELITE), and you know he can draw good horror ‘cause he’s Italian. Don’t look at me like I’m stereotyping, smart guy. You go watch some Bava or Argento and you’ll know that horror is in Italy’s blood. And Caselli’s got a great style for it: realistic, with a touch of an animator’s exaggeration, and made vibrant with coloring rich enough that it wouldn’t be out of place in a European comic album. The other two specials don’t have that lush coloring – displacing it with something like muted cel-shading – but the art’s just as good. It’s courtesy of another Italian, this time a lady, this time named Federica Manfredi. She actually continues very much in the same vein as Caselli, but the net effect with the coloring is that the book looks more like the stuff from the Luna Brothers – GIRLS and ULTRA. Tops marks for art all around, and no shyness with the gore and boobery!

For all the book’s murders, swearing, and babes, though, you might be surprised that the feel is almost more PG-13 than R. This is a book that wants to have darkly comic fun with its genre, embracing the stuff that makes you laugh in slasher flicks over the stuff that makes you wince. No Rob Zombie extremism here, in other words. The book even flirts with a bit of heart in some of the moments between Vlad and Cassie, the both of ‘em likeable oddballs.

But don’t fret – you’re never more than a page off from a dismemberment.

Fine Halloween fun here, and easy on the eyes to boot. It’s the kind of high-concept that lots of folks come up with in the comics biz, but precious few execute with wit or craft enough to make it worth your time. If you’re a horror fan, HACK SLASH is worth your time.


Artists: Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel<


Artists: Pat Lee and Dream Machine


Artists: Mike Deodato Jr. and Joe Pimentel
All written by Peter David
Publisher: Marvel
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

For those of you who can’t get enough of all of this HOUSE OF M-ing and INFINITE CRISIS…er-ing business, Marvel has smartly scheduled a Spidey mega-crossover running through the months of October, November, and December. For a solid month, each of the three Spidey book writers will write four consecutive issues tying into a twelve part storyline. Basically, Peter David will be writing the first four issues, Reginald Hudlin will be handling the next four, with J. Michael Straczynski wrapping the whole thing up with the final four. We’re three issues into this thing, so I figured I’d pick them up and give them a look. Confused? Good. So am I. Let’s move on.

Peter David offers up the first arc of this crossover and starts out strong with FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #1. The issue has a fun little sequence where Spidey squares off against a new villain named Tracer who proves to be tougher than his gaudy costume looks. The conflict ends with Spider-Man taking a bullet, forcing him to seek medical attention, which is where the dourness begins. Turns out Spidey has some kind of “condition,” the kind of condition that kills you. Through MARVEL KNIGHTS and AMAZING, Spidey begins to come to terms with his condition as he fills in those he loves about it. MARVEL KNIGHTS focuses on MJ, Spidey’s wife, while AMAZING puts the spotlight on Aunt May.

Each of the three issues has their memorable moments. Writer David does a good job of making each issue a full read with a set-up, conflict, and resolution occurring in every one. David always has been a master at the little moments. In FRIENDLY, these moments occurred as Spidey is treated by a doctor and when Captain America teaches Peter and MJ how to focus their chi. In MARVEL KNIGHTS, MJ has a moment to shine when a stalker approaches her. And in AMAZING, Aunt May shares a tense lunch with Tracer. Little moments like these make this whole thing readable. Again, David shines at this type of thing. Each issue has at least one great sequence involving either the conflict for the issue or the advancement of the overall plot. This is good comic book storytelling told by a man who has mastered his craft.

The problem is that the overall threat isn’t very interesting. Spidey has a blood condition. He’s having blackouts. A JMS creation, Morlun, is looming in the background. It’s all pretty ho-hum here. To top it all off, the characters seem forced. All of a sudden, MJ is a worrying ninny on all things Spider-Man. She’s frantically pleading with Pete, psychoanalyzing his methodology, and questioning the strength of their relationship. I guess you could say that MJ is reacting in this way because she is faced with Peter’s mortality, but Spider-Man puts himself in danger every day. What’s the difference if he dies from a weird “condition” or from being battered by the Sandman? The entire threat isn’t as jaw-dropping as the writer or his characters are making it out to be. It isn’t something Spidey hasn’t faced before and it certainly doesn’t warrant a multi-part crossover. The title to this crossover, THE OTHER: EVOLVE OR DIE is pretty laughable in and of itself and adds to the melodrama heaped upon the reader in heavy doses by the writer. Hmmm, I’ll bet Marvel’ll choose DIE for their mult-billion dollar, toy/lunchbox/movie franchise carrying property. Yep, that’s what’s going to happen.

This “condition” everyone is hemming and hawing about is rather annoying as well because no one is really talking about it specifically. Few details have been provided in three issues. This lack of information regarding this “big threatening condition” makes the impact of it all pretty weak. If I knew what exactly Spider-Man has wrong with him, I might give more of a shit about it all.

The art is pretty solid throughout. I’m not a fan of Pat Lee’s manga style, but Mike Deodato Jr. turns in some impressive work, as does Mike Wieringo. Both of these artists are suited for pitting the drama high and keeping the action fast and interesting to look at.

The true victim of this crossover is the book FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN. It’s too bad that this more lighthearted series had to start right out of the gates with a downer crossover before developing its own tone or name for itself. FRIENDLY had the type of in-continuity Spider-Man that I was looking for and if David sticks with the title after this crossover business is over with, I can see great and interesting things with this title which would separate it from the “edgy” MARVEL KNIGHTS and Spidey’s flagship AMAZING title. I know this because I have faith in David as a writer, but that’s not the case for many readers who will see FRIENDLY as just another #1 Spidey issue (tied in with all the other Spidey issues none-the-fucking-less) and more than likely pass it by. If Marvel really wanted to give Spidey a shot in the arm, they should hand him over to the uber-talented and mega-funny writer Dan Slott, not put the readers through another tired crossover. He’d be the perfect choice to handle FRIENDLY.

One last thing: I noticed that the ratings from part one of this crossover to part two and three are different from one cover to the next. FRIENDLY receives an A rating, while MARVEL KNIGHTS and AMAZING get a T+. Now, I’m not sure what all of this means. Maybe A is for All Ages or Adults or Aardvarks or maybe even Asthmatics. Maybe T+ may be for Teens and Up or Pregnant Teenagers or Turtles who like Addition. I guess a rating system is a good thing to have in comics, but if you’re scheduling something like a crossover, you probably want to coordinate things so that they are all rated the same. I know if I had a little one, I’d be confused with this system. Lucky for me, I do have a Pregnant Teenage Aardvark and an Asthmatic Turtle who likes Addition so I think it’s okay for them to follow this entire “event.” And that’s a good thing, because that wheezing tortoise loves him some Spider-Man.


Writers: Pat McGreal & David Rawson
Artist: Chaz Truog
Publisher: Vertigo / DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

“Chiaroscuro,” Italian for lightdark, is one of those words you pick up when you study art history. Refers to a technique for depicting forms using extremely contrasting light and shadow. Very hoity-toity, but a pretty neat title for a biographical tale of Leonardo da Vinci, the original “Renaissance Man” and one of the pioneers of the technique.

Or as Da Vinci’s handsome male assistant (and perhaps lover) Salai might have summed it up:
“Pompous shit!”
That’s Salai’s assessment of Da Vinci’s intellectual pontifications just a few pages into this trade, which collects a lesser known, ten-issue Vertigo miniseries from the mid-90s. It’s also a pretty quick indicator of Salai’s personality – dismissive, crude, and self-centered. He plays a central role in CHIAROSCURO’s historical fiction as both the muse and tormentor of Da Vinci, the story even positing he was the model for Michelangelo’s statue, David, during an estrangement from Da Vinci. It’s all speculative fiction, as the authors freely admit, but evidence does seem to favor the interpretation, and well…it makes for a good story.

I actually missed CHIAROSCURO during its first run, but discovered it in a back issue bin some years ago and am much pleased to see it collected. Could the rationale for its reprinting be as base as Vertigo trying to hawk a few books amidst DA VINCI CODE mania? Probably, but you won’t catch me complaining. This is a legitimately daring and complex work, to my mind far more interesting than one more Vertigo crime book, one more HELLBLAZER collection, one more SANDMAN spin-off.

But it’s also surprisingly approachable. For all that Da Vinci carries himself as a high-minded artist, the story paints a bawdy picture of his world in Renaissance-era Italy, chock full of casual sex, crude swearing, cut throats, cadaver dissections, and court dwarves taught to piss themselves on command to amuse the nobility. In other words, I think HBO would be only too happy to produce CHIAROSCURO as an original series. Hmm, and I bet Adrian Grenier from ENTOURAGE would make a pretty good Salai.

In Da Vinci’s early years, we see the establishing tragedy of “The Maestro’s” life – a father who casts him off as a result of his bastard birth. But you can’t help but sense that it’s this very tragedy that lends Da Vinci the drive to excel at all his passions: painting, architecture, engineering, music, invention. Certainly it’s part of why he brings Salai into his life, rescued as a boy from a parental beating on the streets of Florence and established as Da Vinci’s project. What writers Pat McGreal and David Rawson posit, however, is that Da Vinci cannot help but become something of his father. This leads Salai to grow increasingly resentful even as he’s constantly aware how intimately his own fortunes are entwined with Da Vinci’s. Therein lies the meat of a book that follows the artist from birth to death, through a number of his major artistic endeavors – the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Gran Cavallo horse statue he sees as his masterwork but never completes.

The interest throughout CHIAROSCURO isn’t so much in getting into Da Vinci’s head or unraveling his creative process as it is revealing him through Salai, his other assistants, and his various patrons. Writers Pat McGreal (I, PAPARAZZI) and David Rawson show him as a man always on the run, many of his projects left unfinished or lost. The bronze for his beloved horse statue ends up melted down for weapons to fight the French; Salai’s treachery nearly sabotages the Mona Lisa; a storm destroys the plans for a massive mural. And harshest of all, Da Vinci’s own artistic fame ends up eclipsed by that of Michelangelo.

It’s honestly fascinating as hell. It’s an alien world of patrons and political maneuvering, of Da Vinci’s strength of character and the pragmatism that forces him to serve as a military engineer. At times Da Vinci is every bit the genius we think of him as, at others a bitter old bastard, outdone in callousness only by Salai (a nickname meaning “Little Devil”). Even for your average joe with no knowledge of art history, this is compelling stuff. If I were to pick a musical analogue, it’d be Milos Forman’s AMADEUS.

On to the art!

Well, it’s not exactly the work of The Maestro, but I can say that artist Chaz Truog does fine work on this series. I know Truog best for his work on ANIMAL MAN, where truthfully I thought his stuff didn’t live up to Morrison’s brilliant story, but here he seems much more in his element. Only makes sense – he actually came up with the premise for CHIAROSCURO – and even this test sketch from the book suggests the detail and eye for the period he brings to the project. His Da Vinci is always visually commanding, with his massive beard and sagelike features. His Salai, appropriately eroticized and cruel. I also enjoyed the coloring by Carla Feeny and Lovern Kindzierski, notable for sporting a brighter than usual palette for Vertigo – one perfectly suited to dramatic stylings of Renaissance-era costuming. On a few occasions I thought the coloring veered slightly into gaudiness; by and large, though, it’s a nice change of pace from Vertigo drabness.

Meticulously researched, devoid of sacred cows, and dotted with memorable moments of dialogue, many derived verbatim from Da Vinci’s vast journals, CHIAROSCURO is ultimately about the power of art to transform men both for the better and for the worse. Unspoken but implicit is the human toll that lurks behind those masterpieces whose creation we rarely dwell on unless they show the artist with his ear lopped off. That makes CHIAROSCURO an obvious reading choice for all the art history fiends out there, but I’d warrant it’d be even more enlightening for the casual reader.

Sometimes, the reader will find, the artist can be as fascinating as his art.

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

Comicdom’s king of horror, Steve Niles, serves up another tale of misery and terror with his re-imagining of the AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, ATTACK OF THE 50FT WOMAN, GODZILLA, and other creatures of mammoth proportions running amok genre. Although this first issue starts out slow with a boat-load of discourse for the reader to swallow, Niles smartly dives right into the scares and carnage and uses said discourse as motivation for this astronaut turned ravaging, meat-eating goliath to destroy a lot of stuff and eat a bunch of shit. This issue, more than any of Niles previous works, reads like a screenplay and screams to be adapted into celluloid. Sure there are clichéd characters: the gruff general, the innocent yet smart-assed pair of kids, and the beast’s wife weeping, handkerchief in hand. But this issue is worth the price of admission for the shark attack scene and the aircraft carrier/navy diver sequence. This is some scary tense action that I’d love to see played out on screen. And since nearly all of Niles’ properties are being optioned for film these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if this story didn’t make it to Hollywood soon. Nat Jones turns in some extremely kinetic artwork. His sketchy lines and attention to detail make this an even more enjoyable read. Given the awe-inspiring scenes of destruction, I’d love to see what this guy could do with a Hulk comic. BOOM! Studios continues to churn out one great project after the next and GIANT MONSTER is another one that doesn’t fail to impress. - Ambush Bug

7 DAYS OF FAME #1 (of 3)
Publisher: After Hours Press

“A Reality TV Show…About Suicide!” barks the cover, accompanied by an image of a woman with a gun in her mouth. Sounds trashy, but this small press offering surprised me with some genuinely interesting moments. Follows an ambitious, oily host for an ailing talkshow as he makes a bid for shock-success. What he does is clear a week’s worth of guests, bring an old woman with terminal cancer onto his show to spend the week discussing her personal life in intimate, shockingly candid detail…only to have her commit on-air suicide on the final day, actually at peace with herself before she goes. It’s surprisingly thought-provoking, with subsequent issues presumably poised to follow both the macabre notion of this becoming a regularly scheduled event for the show and the kind of people who’d be willing to do it. I can’t ignore some hokey dialogue, the “meh” art, and the cliché of a buoyantly gay co-worker offering sage advice, but I turned the last page and thought to myself, “File under possibilities.” - Dave Farabee

Publisher: The New Radio Comics

In UNDERSTANDING COMICS, Scott McCloud adamantly states that the most important section of the page in graphic storytelling is the alley between panels. It is in this space where the reader puts together the panel they are reading with the one they previously saw. This is a detail that many creators fail to recognize, much less master. Instead, they feel the need to over explain and fill each panel with the talkity-talk. Alex Cahill is no such creator. He shows much promise as a sequential art storyteller in his stand alone story, SOMETHING SO FAMILIAR. The story deals with disappointment, rage, sadness, loss, and contentment in a mature and heartfelt manner. What made this book so appealing to me is the fact that Cahill relied on the pictures to tell the story. This silent tale of a normal man who deals with his grief through dreams resonated with me long after I put the book down and makes me glad that I have an Indie Jones section in this column to tell you all about it. - Ambush Bug

BANANA SUNDAY #3 (of 4) Publisher: Oni Press

A smaller-press book like BANANA SUNDAY you don’t want to say anything bad about, but frankly, it’s meandering. I love the characters, love the art, and I think the first issue was damn close to perfection. None of which means this series about a teen gal and her talking monkeys couldn’t use some structure. - Dave Farabee

Publisher: Burlyman Entertainment

The cover to this issue proudly states that this book is a 2005 Eisner Award Loser. That’s the type of humor you’ll find in this book. Not afraid to make fun of itself. Not afraid to rip on the industry. Not afraid to feature a dangling pair of hairy donkey nuts in a full splash page. Geof Darrow serves up another issue full of rambunctious ramblings and rumblings. After reading and reviewing every single issue of this book, you’d think I would run out of things to say about it, but the term “a picture is worth a thousand words” was made for Darrow’s hyper-detailed art. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you whiz right through this book without spending time absorbing the insane amount of detail that goes into each panel. On top of all of the eye candy, Darrow serves up some of the most irreverent non-sequiturs this side of a padded cell. This series has been interested in the exploration of the visual and verbal aspects of this medium and it’s been doing it to perfection. For three issues, the Monk has simply ridden through a desert and kicked a lot of @$$, but in this issue, the teasings of an actual plot are beginning to form. Darrow is too smart a creator to have a completely vapid and plotless story. Usually, plot-lite books are a turn off for me, but I have such a good time reading through the manic dialog, scanning the panels for details that I missed the first go-around, and watching the Monk kick the @$$ of each and every lowlife that crosses his path, I didn’t mind the lack of direction. Now that the Monk and his talking donkey have a purpose, I’m even more interested. Highly recommended to lovers of dialog and art. - Ambush Bug

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Well, damn. There’s a part of me that wants to disown this trade. I love the material it collects - a tech-heavy action series staged in the Marvel Universe, gleeful in its amorality and rich with cyperpunk mindbending – but I have some major issues with the cheap printing. The paper stock’s just plain weak (same shit they used on the first few RUNAWAYS trades) and the shrinky digest size does the visuals no favors. More specifically, it renders all but unreadable the smaller of the Windows-style pop-ups that Adam Warren peppered throughout the story to identify which character is the source of intranet transmissions bouncing around between the robots. And, y’know, I was fortunate enough to have my own quote on the back of this trade and I don’t regret a word of praise I gave it…but there’s just no excuse for printing that actually infringes on a book’s content. As it stands, I can only give the collection a marginal recommendation. It still works, and at a glance the art holds up reasonably well. But the devil is in the details, and the details are…blurry. - Dave


This may be the first issue of ASTRO CITY that I was disappointed in. Not because it didn't look great. Not because it didn't have a lot of action and characterization. I was disappointed because I honestly don't know exactly what happened. It's clear that Silver Agent disappeared out of his cell and jumped forward slightly in time to save the world from Madame Majestrix. But there was nothing that I caught that let me know exactly what caused SA, of all the heroes, to bump forward in time to do this. Neither was there any explanation for exactly how SA suddenly grew into a giant and was able to float. I'm sure Kurt's planning to reveal this stuff later, but for this reader, it seemed like a lot to just leave out of this story right now. The "resolution" scene on the last page between Huggy Bear and Danny Glover was right on the money though. Not what the reader wanted to see, but exactly what would happen. - Prof.

GHOST RIDER #2 (of 6)

See? I told you it sucked. - Dave


In this issue, Carol breaks off her relationship with Tyreese after she saw Tyreese and Michone having sex in the gymnasium. Herschel comes to terms with Maggie’s relationship with Glenn. Rick gets his bandages off and sees the extent of his injuries. And Axel ponders life, love, and farming. Wait a minute…isn’t this book supposed to be about zombies!?!? - Bug


I took a gander at a preview copy of this a few months back and found it surprisingly…worthy! The full review. - Dave


After last issue's heartwrenching death of a child story, this issue's salvation of a child was a welcome balance. Next issue is the last issue of this excellent series and while I'm disappointed to see the series end, I'm glad to have it end without ever once compromising its own quality. BREACH may have spun out of a cancelled idea for a new CAPT. ATOM series, but it reached a level of sci-fi excellence that puts it in a class like no other DC Universe comic out there. And this issue was just more proof that even the best comics out there don't always find that all-important audience. - Prof.

X-MEN/POWER PACK #1 (of 4)

I always had a soft spot for the earliest issues of POWER PACK. They were Marvel’s pre-teen superheroes, and before Marvel overexposed ‘em, they had some pretty kick-ass sci-fi adventures in their first few arcs. Had the series continued in that vein, with the kids going on space adventures and fighting aliens, I almost could’ve seen it as the sci-fi HARRY POTTER, but instead the kids ended up forced down the throats of Marvel readers, even appearing in the death-drenched “Mutant Massacre” arc of UNCANNY X-MEN. Da fug?!

So the team’s recently been relaunched with a more kiddie-centric focus, and this issue…well, it’s got ‘em teaming with the most violent X-Man of ‘em all, Wolverine. Will we never learn? Still and all, the book’s got some cute charm, even going so far as to spoof Wolverine’s overexposure when half the kids at a Halloween party dress as him. The real Wolvie shows, the real Sabertooth shows, the kids help out in a bloodless fight, and lessons are learned. The curiously named GuriHiru makes with the clean-line art, somewhere between Bruce Timm’s style and Mike Wieringo’s, and I have to say he’s quite good. I still wish the series would return to its early Judy Blume/Madeleine L’Engle underpinnings and skip the neutered superheroics, but if we’ve gotta have the latter…this ain’t bad. I expect younger readers might enjoy it quite a bit. - Dave


Okay, I’m torn with this book. I can acknowledge the preciousness of the fact that this is a dinky little comic about a dinky little girl who befriends a dinky little tombstone. There were some really tender moments in these pages as horror writer, Steve Niles, and his daughter Nikki take us on a tour of the life of a lonely little girl named Darla. The artwork was pretty amazing too, by Benjamin Roman, who seems to be channeling styles ranging from manga artists, to Rick Mays, and even the legendary Fred Hembeck with those squiggly elbows and knees. There’s a Shel Silverstein THE GIVING TREE vibe to this story that endears me and that alone makes me want to love it. And I did…up until the last two pages. I’m trying not to be heartless here. I know this is Niles’ daughter’s tale and that in “kid logic” all of this may be entertaining and make some kind of sense, but the delicacy and sincerity of the first 23 pages of this book was kind of shattered for me with the final two. The potential for something truly original and great was there, but it just didn’t make it to the last pages. - Bug


I think this might only be the third comic that Brian K. Vaughan’s written with Cloak & Dagger, but can there be any doubt that he’s adopted ‘em? With so many heroes getting casually offed or distorted these days, Vaughan’s work with Cloak & Dagger is a shining example of how even the most C-grade characters can prosper under a bit of loving care. Take note: this is what it’s like to see a creator nurture rather than destroy, and wouldn’t it be nice if that was the norm?

And now for the bad news: Vaughan kicks off the issue with an old-school riff that actually should be forgotten: the misunderstanding-that-leads-to-superheroes-beating-each-other-up. In this case, the New Avengers jump Cloak, having seen the irrefutable proof of…get this…a videotape…that he nearly killed his partner, Dagger. Yeah, ‘cause in a world of mind-controllers, Skrulls, and technology that gave us Ultron, the premiere superteam is gonna dogpile on a known good-guy over the evidence of…a video tape. Why, Brian? WHY?!! It’s the same dopiness that had even longtime RUNAWAYS fans cringing when the relaunch kept forcing the kids to fight the Excelsior team! Dig it, my man – I’m gonna let this one slide because of the good work with Cloak himself and the keen Runaway/Cloak interactions after the New Avengers dipshittery is out of the way, but we gotta work on evolving the old clichés. There’s good tradition and there’s dumb tradition… - Dave


Judd Winick writes a kick @$$ battle royale issue as Green Arrow and Black Lightning face off against Killer Frost and Mirror Master. This is one hell of a slugfest and Winick deserves attention for giving obscure character Black Lightning a chance to shine. BL really cuts loose against the villains in this issue, proving that he is very much a Big Gun in the DCU. There’s also some sort of plot going on with GL and BL tracking down Doctor Light leading to another cliffhanger which once again sets off my Connor Hawke Mortality Sense. But I like the way Winick is focusing on the action instead of preaching for the cause of the month (a problem a lot of his early work at DC fell into). If you’re tired of the talkity and just want to see super heroes beating the spit out of one another, give this issue a try. - Bug


Each issue I dig this series more and more. This comic is as cosmically whacked out as any of Kirby's craziest concepts, but it's much smarter than anything he ever produced. This issue (and the series as a whole) works because it's not making fun of itself or winking at the audience. It has set a tone and an attitude and it treats it seriously ~ even when having fun. Our hero, Archer, is in quite a fix by the end of this issue trapped by the deadly Discordia. Highest compliment for a cliffhanger is that the reader doesn't want to wait a whole 30 days to find out how it resolves. That's how I felt when I finished this issue. For old-school fans, this comic's a real treat. - Prof.


Is it just me, or is Ultimate Johnny Storm turning into the Greatest American Hero? Compare the hair at your earliest convenience and discuss. Meanwhile, Johnny and Sue’s mother turns up much less dead than she’s supposed to be. She’s all milfed-out like a good little Greg Land girl, and she wants her kids to help her find Atlantis. As concepts go, that’s perfectly superhero-y, but for whatever reason, Sue’s angst over mommy dearest’s surprise return and manipulation just felt contrived. What jumped out at me in the issue, though, was the underwater scenes. Land’s long since gone nutty with the photoreferencing, but aided and abetted by the gloomy indigo coloring of Justin Ponsor, his undersea scenes are rare in comics for actually conveying the gloom of the deepest oceans. For a few lovely pages, there’s actually some of the mysterious, unearthly feel of James Cameron’s ABYSS, and for that, a hearty, “Well done!”

And then Namor has to come along and fuck up all that good atmosphere. Ankle-winged asshole! - Dave


I’ve already seen the Robert E. Howard story “Tower of the Elephant” adapted by Roy Thomas through the magic of Dark Horse’s CONAN reprints, but no offense to Roy…Busiek’s take one-ups it. Written almost as a medieval breaking-and-entering procedural, “Tower” teams Conan with a master thief named Taurus on a seemingly suicidal mission to steal the whispered treasures of an impregnable tower. Taurus is a nice change of pace from Conan’s regular enemies and allies because he actually seems to be better at his “trade” than Conan – even shuts Conan down a few times with his mad thievin’ skillz. Not bad for a fat dude. What’s funny is that the infiltration plot is hypothetically about as clichéd as they come – hell, it’s pretty much the basis for Dungeons & Dragons! – but with good art, good writing, and good characters, it becomes one of the strongest outings in a series that’s been terrific from the get-go. - Prof.


Although Keith Giffen is one of my favorite creators, I have to admit that he does have some annoying tendencies when it comes to writing team books. First and foremost, Giffen often starts out his stories with floating word balloons from off-panel characters. Lengthy conversations are held without seeing who is saying these lines. Now when you’re writing established characters like Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Sub-Mariner, that may be okay, because one can distinguish who is who without too much trouble and follow the lines of dialog. But when you have a cast of new characters (as we do with this book), this is maddening beyond belief. Aside from the confounding dialog, penciller Eduardo Francisco and inkers Kris Justice and Terry Pallot made reading this book difficult, with crowded panels, Lefield-ian character designs, and an uneven sense of space and plane. I like the concept behind this book (SHIELD recruits supernatural operatives to take care of supernatural threats) but I can’t recommend it. - Bug


Sometimes the simple idea are the great ones. And brilliant simplicity is what’s at work with this start of a new story arc, one that sees the Adversary taking his ambitions to the magical lands of the Arabian fairy tales and forcing their inhabitants to take refuge amongst the Euro-centric lads and lasses of Fabletown. Page one has a series of repeated panels showing a limo parked outside the Fabletown city hall. Hours pass, and from within the limo: “No reception committee? No pomp or ceremony? Not even a train of courtiers to express the dignity and majesty of the occasion?” Ah, Prince Charming, did you go and forget that Sinbad and his entourage were coming today? Oh yes you did, and the culture clash to ensue is gonna have me glued to my favorite comic every step of the way. - Prof.


I love this book. Plain and simple. I want this book to be an ongoing. The concept: a space police procedural series is a brilliant mix of the sci fi and cop genres. All that and the fact that we get to see great characters like Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, and Kilowog bounce off of one another and you have a surefire hit. Plus this issue features a guest star…or is that guest planet? That’s right: Mogo the Green Lantern Planet makes an appearance. A lot of mystery, a lot of cop drama, and a lot of fun sci fi is going on in this book. Plus it’s not bogged down with all of this INFINITE CRISIS business. Can’t recommend it more. - Bug

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