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#32 12/29/05 #4

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

Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents YOTSUBA&!
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents A MIDNIGHT OPERA Vol.1
Indie Jones presents…


Written by Steve Engelhart & Mike Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

Is the Secret Empire real?

Does a shadowy cabal bent on world domination really exist? Or are such organizations simply the pulpish fantasies of conspiracy theorists? Is there an Illuminati out to control everything, or are the Illuminati the good guys, as Robert Anton Wilson has said? Is their creed closer to the original intent of the framers of the U.S. Constitution than what we are left with today?

Certainly, Ian Fleming based James Bond's opponents, the evil SMERSH group, on various black lodges and power bases. But aren't Freemasons just a bunch of old Protestant guys who raise money for charity? It seems like the most evil scheme they concoct are those Job's Daughters ceremonies that your cousin is in and your parents make you get dressed up to attend when you want to be home reading CAPTAIN AMERICA comics, and they serve that disgusting punch mixed with ice cream when you'd rather be guzzling the Slurpee you got with the aforementioned comics. Or am I the only one that happened to?

Just before the stories in this trade were published, a few bits of evil coolness took place in American history. We had the Vietnam War. The Defense Department kept a secret history of that war. Sec-ret fucking history! The only kind of history that interests us, right? This secret history was called the Pentagon Papers. A defense analyst named Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press. They were published by the New York Times beginning July 13, 1971. Ten days earlier, members of the White House "plumbers" unit burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office for files to discredit Mr. Ellsberg.

In May of the next year, another team broke into the Democratic National Headquarters located in Washington DC's Watergate Hotel and planted wiretapping devices. On June 17, the wiretaps needed a little adjusting, so five men broke back in and were arrested. Checks deposited into the bank account of at least one of the men linked him to Richard Milhouse Nixon, President of the United States. Nixon became the first US President to resign from office on August 8, 1974.

This story was covered extensively by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of the WASHINGTON POST. They received information from an inside source with the cool code name Deep Throat. Last year, Deep Throat was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, number two man at the FBI in that era. Of course, Mr. Felt is 91 years old, looks like he's in Depends, and would have probably admitted to being the alien that crash landed at Roswell, New Mexico if it got him an extra tapioca cup.

And I'm pretty sure the Secret Empire has taken over the country. They may not have done it by capturing the X-Men and a few evil mutants and draining their energies to power a fake UFO to land on the White House lawn, like they did in CA&F:SE. A few hanging chads, a little bit of confusion in the minds of the American people -- It was Osama, not Saddam! Get your bad guys straight! -- and not even the Star Spangled Avenger could stop them.

Maybe a ton of conspiracy lore (Gawd, the internet is full of it!) was cribbed from these stories. A smear campaign against Cap. Manipulation of the media. The villains controlling both sides. A high ranking political official in the thick of it.

I've heard of these stories since I started reading comics. I was never sure who Number One was actually supposed to be. Since Steve Engelhart wrote the story in SUPER VILLAIN TEAM UP that showed Henry Kissinger forming an alliance with Dr. Doom, I thought maybe Henry the K. would be under the hood. Or better yet, Nixon himself! Let's just say that these comics were published in 1974 and steel ourselves for a little disappointment. I'd pay to see Mark Millar or somebody like that Ultimatize these stories and have Cap unmask Dick Cheney.

Further disappointment: this storyline sets up the classic, original Nomad saga and stops just short of those issues.

I could have spent this whole review simply paying homage to one of the unsung heroes of Marvel art, "Our Pal" Sal Buscema (and many of you are probably wishing I'd done just that). Mr. Buscema, his brother John and artist George Tuska were what I call the workhorse artists on '70s Marvel. Good solid storytellers, in service of the plot, not so big on style but damned if they weren't able to deliver multiple books a month. John Romita Sr. doesn't fall into that group because his work was more detailed and his duties as art director kept him from being as prolific as his peers. These guys' work lacked the flash of that of such post -Kirby giants as Gene Colan, Neal Adams and Barry Windsor-Smith. They weren't as quirky as some of the younger artists laboring in the horror titles. But in story after story, it’s Mr. Buscema's artwork that drives things forward, that adds an everyman quality of realism to both the unreal and all-too-real.


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

Another gorgeous issue of JUSTICE by Braithwaite & Ross. This is one of those times where I want to speak to the art side of the storytelling first, but more than just "pretty pictures," this comic stands out in the way the story is told through the art. For example, look at the two page spread on pages 2 and 3. Three large slash panels bleeding off the page: the first a view of the JLA satellite headquarters in orbit above the earth looking down on the scariest-looking hurricane storm ever; the second a longshot view of a lone Martian Manhunter standing on a cliff staring off into the horizon toward the same storm; the third a wormseye closeup shot of the Manhunter's grim face. This just sets a perfect tone for this issue because a storm is brewing literally, but also figuratively with the gathering of the emboldened Legion of Doom. Later on, the page featuring the Red Tornado is so disturbing. First of all, it's just cool to see Red Tornado show up in his classic 70s look but through the painting prism of Ross where the red really shows a sheen and a gloss indicative of a metal android body. However, watching Red Tornado uncontrollably rip his own head off and tear his own metal heart out of his chest while crying out to the Manhunter (under the mental control of Grodd), "Help me! Why won't you HELP ME?!"


Beyond just the visuals, once again I have to praise what Krueger and Ross have cooked up here in the way of a story. Unfolding leisurely over two years, this third issue focuses on Martian Manhunter for narration but spends time further introducing and developing the villainous members of the Legion of Doom. Crazed robotic mad scientist Braniac for one has meticulously taken apart and examined the captured Aquaman's JLA signaling device from his belt. Now that his work is finished its time for Brainiac to have some fun…and his kind of fun apparently involves taking a scalpel and miniature circular saw to the head of Aquaman, Hannibal Lector-style. Just as Capt. Cold was discovered helping people rather than terrorizing them back in issue one, Toyman is found freely providing advanced prosthetics to children with missing limbs. The Cheetah empowers herself and sets out stalking Wonder Woman. The scene with Luthor helping Riddler escape from Arkham while pointedly leaving the uncontrollable and unpredictable Joker behind was great and like the old Hitchcock-ian adage about the gun spotted in the first act always goes off in the third act, I suspect that this "dis" of The Joker in issue three will come back to bite the Legion of Doom in the last part of this series.

But the bulk of the story this issue involves the takedown of the telepathic Martian Manhunter by the also-telepathic Gorilla Grodd. Using a telepathy enhancing device, Grodd is able to take over the Manhunter's mind which leads to the scene mentioned above where he forces Red Tornado to "kill" himself. He also, unfortunately, drives the figurative storm to its most dangerous level by revealing all the deepest secrets of the JLA ~ most importantly, their secret identities. By issue's end the already positioned and waiting Legion of Doom members are given the go-ahead by Luthor to strike.

Krueger and Ross use the freedom of this long form storytelling to fill the occasional page in this issue with wider-reaching glimpses of the full continuity-universe they are working within, with appearances by characters like the Metal Men, the Doom Patrol, Jack (Creeper) Ryder, and others. You know, I have zero interest in hearing that the loathsome Brad Meltzer is going to be guiding the direction of the in-continuity JLA for the next year or so, but I am very happy and satisfied to let Krueger and Ross be my JLA fix for the next couple of years instead.


Writer: Damon Lindelof
Penciler: Leinil Francis Yu
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

I'll say right now that I bought this book strictly based on the creative team. I've been an avid fan of the Ultimate line for sometime now because I really do like this style of "out of continuity" tales and reimaginings of whatever Marvel character the writers feel like. But this one almost drew the line. It just felt like another classic example of "Let's slap Wolverine's name on the title and let that sell it." But that was at first glance. Then on second glace I saw the amazing pencils of one Leinil Yu, a man whose art on some past CONAN issues and the recently ended SILENT DRAGON mini has always impressed the hell out of me. And as an added bonus the boys at Marvel went ahead and got the co-writer of easily one of my favorite TV shows on the air, LOST.

Way to earn my money boys.

Oh, and guess what? The book turned out to be good too. Funny how that works sometimes.

I do have to admit, though, that this book is pretty much on the setup side. We do get some glimpses of throwdown, and the book actually starts with the gruesome aftermath, but this issue is really to tell us why this fight is going down. Imagine that, a fight between two name brand superheroes actually having an excuse for occurring. And the reason is simple and straight to the point, but makes absolute total sense. If you've been following along with ULTIMATES VOL. 2 then you know that Dr. Bruce Banner is still at large, though as far as the world knows he was convicted and sentenced to death following his little rampage in New York City in the first ULTIMATES series. And if you didn't know that, well, now you do. And while the Hulk has fortunately yet to be seen, he has been raising a little havoc on the side leading Nick Fury to do whatever he has to to quash these incidents before the general public finds out his dirty little secret. And that's where the Wolverine comes in.

And I have to give Lindelof props on this as well, in that he writes Wolverine the way he should be. He's short and angry. He's the best at what he does and he knows it. He's death and arrogance incarnate, but with just that bit of humanity in him to make him "real". Wolverine always reminded me of Clint Eastwood in pretty much every Western he's ever done, and this issue just reinforced that opinion in my mind.

Oh, and he loves a challenge. That's his excuse for helping out his old buddy Fury. "You said he's tough. It'll be fun." That's just fantastic there.

And after all that the rest of the issue is just a matter of Logan tracking his prey. Seems the Hulk has made himself a home in Tibet (and I'll be damned if the kind of home he's made for himself didn't look very inviting) and that's where Wolvie tracks him to spoil his fun. Looks like issue two will be bringing the beats, not issue four or five like a lot of books seem to drag it all out to these days. One issue and we're all caught up and ready to go.

It's a beautiful thing.


Artist: Teddy Kristiansen
Writers: Teddy Kristiansen, Neil Gaiman, & Steven Seagle
Publisher: DC Comics
Review by Dave Farabee

The first thing you should know about SOLO #8 is that it’s worth the cover price for the Neil Gaiman Deadman story alone. You might not be instantly drawn to Teddy Kristiansen’s expressionistic artwork, you might not have the artsy-fartsy gene that requires you to buy every issue of SOLO to broaden your horizons, and indeed, you might have all your funnybook cash tied up in company-wide crossovers anyway, but

That Deadman story really is a gem. Dark, funny, melancholy…in the space of just six pages, Neil Gaiman will remind you why you love him and why he should be at the top of the list for a DEADMAN miniseries. Check out his summation of Deadman’s religious beliefs:
Deadman: But what the hell do I know? I’m an agnostic Episcopalian with a day pass to Hindu Heaven.
Girl: I don’t know what any of that means.
Deadman: Don’t sweat it.
Oh, and Teddy Kristiansen paints the hell out of the story too.

You familiar with his stuff? I really wasn’t. He’s apparently a Danish comic book artist, though. Painter. Did an arc on Gaiman’s SANDMAN, had a run on a Vertigo book called HOUSE OF SECRETS, and just a few months back he won an Eisner for “Best Painter” for his work on the Vertigo graphic novel IT’S A BIRD. Beyond that, he’s been here and there. GRENDEL, a STARMAN story, BATMAN: BLACK & WHITE – stuff like that. I think I’ve crossed paths with his stuff a few times in there, but his work never quite stuck in my head. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine why, because Kristiansen’s work on SOLO just knocked me on my ass with how damn good it is. Maybe I just needed to see a big chunk of it in one place, not in scattershot bits.

And what differentiates Kristiansen from some of his other painting contemporaries is that he’s not working some variant of the realist school or the Frazetta tradition or even the lineage of pulp magazine covers. He’s a stylist through and through, with forebears in the fine arts, specifically the Expressionist painters like Van Gogh and Edvard Munch (you might know him from such paintings as “The Scream”). His colors are rich, but somber, his layouts straightforward and uncluttered. There’s even an approachability that reminded me of the more lavishly illustrated children’s’ books out there. I couldn’t find any nice scans of the SOLO outing online, but you can get a feel for his work with a few pages from IT’S A BIRD – here and here, for instance.

As befits Kristiansen’s artistic approach, the stories here – excepting the Deadman outing – are of a moody, more serious lot. There’s one collaboration with Kristiansen’s IT’S A BIRD COLLABORATOR, Steven Seagle, following a pair of missionaries in 1913 New Guinea who come face-to-face with savage tribesmen and a choice of either the Bible or a copy of WUTHERING HEIGHTS as their one refuge. This one’s theme may have been lost on me – never read any Brontë, I’m afraid – though I took from it an elevation of literature to the level of Holy Word, and I can get behind that. Like all the entries, it was lovely to look at. It’s more linear than painterly, the first of several artistic change-ups Kristiansen exhibits within his broader style.

Much more interesting to me were the remaining three stories that Kristiansen himself wrote as well as drew. There’s a great give and take between romanticism and voyeurism in “Love Story”, which sees a painter obsessing over a woman he can neither bring himself to approach or capture on canvas. The trials of the fine artist are also front and center in “Ruins”, where a painter is driven to increasing agitation by a series of commissions that require that he work in complete solitude for months on end. Kristiansen actually shows us some of the paintings he creates – gorgeous - truly blurring the line between himself and his fictional creation (or should that be avatar)? Broadly speaking, the story isn’t just about painters but any act of creation that requires extended sacrifices and isolation from the creator. It also meditates on creations for a small audience – in the story’s case, an audience of one - and whether the effort poured into such endeavors is worth the toll the work can take on the creator.

Lastly, there’s “Ice.” Set in what appears to be the 1800’s, it’s a lovely little tale of a wooden ship trapped in iced over waters, the men forced to resort to “Donner Party” extremes in their trek across the ice. It’s cold as a Jack London story, painted exclusively in blue tones, and a fittingly dark capper to Kristiansen’s trio of stories about men in varying degrees of desperation. It’s nice to see thematic consistency like that, which really hasn’t come across in any other issue of SOLO.

For that sense of vision, and for introducing me to an artist whose work I’m clearly going to have to start seeking out, Kristiansen’s SOLO is now neck-and-neck with Paul Pope’s SOLO for my favorite of the series to date. And when you’re talking about the best issues of the best series DC publishes, that’s saying something.


Writer: Mike Carey
Penciler: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Well, there it is. The last Mike Carey HELLBLAZER. To get it out of the way I'll just throw this down and say that in my opinion this has been the second best run on this title that thrives on amazing creative teams. Powered by a terrific understanding of the character and his history, and a knack for very broad storytelling and some great support from the current artist Manco, and his lead in, Marcelo Frusin the book has just been a hell of a ride. I still think Garth Ennis is the king of this book, seeing as how he pretty much set the standard for him once Alan Moore had established him, but seriously, this could have been the last issue of the title and I would have been greatly satisfied.

But thankfully, it's not over. And I guess we should delve into this issue a bit and give you an idea why I love it so much. A lot of it has to do with the points I mentioned above. Honestly, Carey's ability to perfectly portray Mr. Constantine has made the run and this issue a very smooth read. After the loss of his sister John is again at a crossroads in his life. Despite all the good he's done in his life, the world of magic he lives in has caused just as much, if not more, misery to the world around him. And now that he's finally come to this realization, it's time to spread the word to the rest of his peers. He takes the opportunity of an annual gathering of them to show them just how weak and human they really are, the very thing that he's been fighting all his life. He shows them they're not gods but small people with a bit of power. And he does it all with the usual Constantine flare.

I don't know where this title is headed now. I'm still trying to figure out if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I'm not familiar with the writer (Denise Mina) that's coming on board. I've heard great things about her novels but alas haven't had the opportunity to delve into one. She's got an uphill battle on this following such a hell of an ending to Carey's run, but I think it actually helps that I don't really have a set level of expectations on her level of skill. But like I said, this book has had a tradition of pretty much nothing but at least above average (and most times simply great) writing, so I fully expect that whoever gave her the job knows what they're doing.


Creator: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: ADV
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

An Overview of Volumes 1-3

Gah... Must... escape... cuteness... Can't do it. YOTSUBA&! has hold of me and it won't let go. Mindless cuteness I can ignore, 'cuz I'm a surly modern man, but combine the adorable with the quirky and humorous and I'm the weak member of the herd. Reading books like this just makes me happier, dammit.

Like Azuma's previous outing, the superior AZUMANGA DAIOH, YOTSUBA&! seems like something for the womenfolk but is really for everyone. The basic idea is that young Yotsuba Koiwai and her father move into a new neighborhood, and she adjusts by making friends with the neighbor girls and their mother and wandering the neighborhood getting into trouble. The heart of the manga isn't the story, though - it's the characters and their interactions with each other, especially their interactions with Yotsuba, who seems to live on a different planet. To her, everything old is new and interesting, and propriety is no obstacle to behavior - which brings about some of the most natural and hilarious comedy back-and-forthing ever with the hidebound Japanese people around town. Her behavior is often startling, usually funny, and always true to life.

Azuma's facial expressions bring YOTSUBA&! to life, making every page feel rich with personality, almost radiating emotion. The faces play a key role in the art, dominating each panel but not overpowering it. A perfect match for the writing, Azuma has improved on his already great style from AZUMANGA DAIOH.

Yotsuba is the little girl I always wish I knew, and would love to spend time with - and I don't like kids.


Creator: Hans "Hanzo" Steinbach
Publisher: Tokyopop
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

Goth Rock, Manga Stylee

Steinbach has art skill. He's still developing it, but it is definitely there. The overlong, skinny people he draws give everything a slightly surreal quality perfect for a supernatural book like this one, and his use of shadows and black as part of the palette instead of an absence of lines is well-developed and strong. At times, he even integrates photographs, a technique rare in manga and one that works well for him here.

That said, I'm not entirely sold on his abilities as a writer. The manga centers around Einblick Delalune, an undead musical star (shades of VAMPIRE LESTAT!) who was involved in a war with the Catholic Church - undead vs. fanatics - with his brother some 400 years ago. He is in love, and wants to run away with her, but his brother drags him back into the war as it escalates again, this time with a third faction - the brutal undead woman who replaced Einblick as a leader in the cause oh-so-long-ago. This is an interesting plot, but there are one or two issues that I had that kept me from really getting involved in it.

What, exactly, is Einblick? We know he is undead (but only because the back cover tells us), he sleeps in a morgue, lives for 400 years and only ages a little, has greater-than-normal strength and speed, is hard to hurt, and can turn into a wolfman. There are also a number of others like him. Is he a vampire of some sort? What's up? This may seem unimportant, but if I am to identify with the character and his plight, I need to know a little more about him.

He also feels less like a character and more like a stereotype - the angsty goth rocker. I can't pinpoint exactly where, but there is a disconnect in the writing somewhere that made me go "Nice!" at the art, but failed to make me care about the characters. Too bad, really. Here's hoping volume two fixes that. I'm certainly gonna check it out.

IDW Publishing

There are times...and as a near-zealous advocate of comics it pains me to say this...but there are times when comics tackle non-superhero material and the result can best be described as, "Pretty good...for a comic." I want comics to match prose and film in all the myriad genres, and I certainly know it's possible -- it's just much rarer than I'd like it to be. And, alas, THE MAZE AGENCY is not one of the exceptions.

THE MAZE AGENCY, for them what don't know, is IDW's relaunch of a late-'80s indie success. The premise was to take the reader along on "fair play" mysteries in which he’s shown the same clues the detectives uncover and invited to solve the mystery alongside or before them. The original series is also notable for launching the career of the premiere cheesecake artist of comicdom, Adam Hughes. It was below my radar, but that didn't prevent the new series from being wholly approachable. Penned by series' creator Mike W. Barr, it's a done-in-one story that gives you not just a standalone mystery but a quick intro to the chic P.I., Jennifer Mays, and down-to-earth boyfriend, the true crime writer Gabriel Webb. Their investigation of a murder involving a 60s radical is pleasantly light and tongue-in-cheek - a nice change of pace from the hardboiled clichés - but the dialogue is fairly hokey, the twists and turns a little on the vanilla side. The penciller, too, while perfectly serviceable, is no Adam Hughes. In other words: pretty good for a comic...but not something I can see making it in other, more mainstream mediums. I can imagine fans of TV's MONK might like it, though, or those simply looking for a real mystery, minus all the macho finger-breakings, femme fatales, and other clichés. - Dave Farabee

Burlyman Entertainment

I know some of you aren’t too thrilled with Burlyman Entertainment, but dammit if they don’t publish two of the most entertaining comics out there today. Take this issue of DOC FRANKENSTEIN, for instance. We have the Catholic Church in hot pursuit of their century-old enemy, Doc Frankenstein. An immortal cowboy werewolf and the woman Doc loves are in search of him too. And in this issue, a pack of hillbilly werewolves with a grudge find the good Doc and try to tear him to pieces. All this and reanimated dodo’s, Jolt-induced spunky scientists, a warped version of Tinkerbell, an old West gunfight, and more blood, guts, and pure solid action than you can find in ten regular comics. Burlyman may not be too quick to publish their titles, but when they do, they know how to make each issue look and feel like a big budget extravaganza. This issue was a bit wordy for me, but once Doc started in on the pack of werewolves, I was reminded why this was one of my favorite comics. Highly recommended for those who are willing to wait for the goodness. - Ambush Bug

Archaia Press

I can’t say I’m completely sold, but the first issue of ROBOTIKA was a pleasant surprise. It’s wrapped up in sci-fi trappings about a future where humans and human-machine hybrids vie to stave off obsolescence, but the heart of the story is more actioneer than conceptual fiction. Our hero’s a samurai, you see, assigned to recapture a key piece of technology vital to protecting the fragile peace. To do so, he embarks on a neo-classical samurai trek, pitting his skills against first-gen cyborgs living like animals in the badlands and ex-domestic service cyborgs reforged as champion female warriors. There are some fun, Grant Morrisonian concepts bandied about casually, but none of ‘em has any real depth. The series’ draw isn’t so much its ideas but its action and its elaborate landscapes and character designs. In them I saw a bit of Michael Golden, a bit of Tony Harris, a bit of the mecha-organic aesthetic of THE MATRIX.

I suggest peeking at a few sample pages. If you like the visuals, give ‘er a look.

Great cityscape. Mad scientist. Futuristic samurai. - Dave Farabee

BOOM! Studios

This was my first taste of Steve Niles’ FUSED and it was a pretty good taste at that. Fused turns out to be quite the tragic character and this aspect is highlighted in this collection of three short stories. One set in Iraq, the next undersea, and the third in a suburban home, these stories focus on pulling at the heartstrings rather than churning out the action. Niles has created a reluctant hero, truly unique in design and actions. My favorite story of the three is “Moving Along” written by Christopher Long. This quiet tale pinpoints how tragic and flawed this character truly is. Great art throughout by up and comers Chee (with his clean, yet gentle linework), Nick Stakal (with his surreal minimalism), and Andrew Richie (with his stark and skewed panels). A nicely packaged showcase of an intriguing new character. - Ambush Bug

IDW Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

FALLEN ANGEL was my favorite original creation to come from the halls of DC Comics in many a year, but poised somewhere between DC’s superhero line and the darker doings of the Vertigo imprint, it never quite managed to find its audience. Being creator-owned, however, FALLEN ANGEL wasn’t a story destined to wrap just because it couldn’t pull in BATMAN-level numbers. Just recently it’s just landed a new home at the increasingly eclectic IDW, where its dark sensibilities do seem a better fit. But is it still compelling? Still cool? Still mysterious in a good way and not in a get-on-with-it way?

Bet yer ass.

Staged as a jumping-on point for newcomers, we rejoin our heroine “Lee” in the city of Bete Noire with nearly two decades having passed. The city itself seems unchanged. It’s still a vice den and still run by the enigmatic and sinister Dr. Juris…at least for a little longer (we’ll get to the change-up in a bit). The true nature of the city has never precisely been spelled out, but I like the description of its metaphysical nature as given by the Peter Lorre-esque Slate:
“Think of the world as a vast pond, and Bete Noire as a source of pebbles thrown into that pond. Pebbles causing ripples that affect all they touch.”
The city is also described as all-but sentient, living out a love/hate relationship with Lee - AKA the “Fallen Angel”, AKA the hot redhead who dresses up in a red cloak, has supernatural abilities and scars on her back where wings might once have been, and occasionally champions those in need at a bar run by Adolph Hitler. No, really. By day she curiously passes the time teaching girls’ phys-ed at a nearby college, the last 20 years having brought some gray to her hair, some lines to her eyes. By night the grays and lines fade as she returns to Bete Noire and we once again see the hard-ass chick we knew from the previous series. She’s not quite a crimefighter in the traditional superhero sense, tending to focus her efforts on individuals, not city-saving, and according to Slate, Bete Noire welcomes her interference come sundown. The whys and wherefores remain as tantalizing as in the previous series, making this a rare book where I can cite as a positive that the very nature of the lead and the setting are a mystery. A little like TV’s LOST, I suppose.

I was somewhat disappointed to see a new artist at the helm, David Lopez having acquitted himself stunningly on the previous run. But the new guy, J.K. Woodward, is interesting. He’s a painter, though his work clearly incorporates photography as well, maybe to such a degree that the book is largely photographs run through Photoshop filters. Whatever the case, the end result resembles nothing so much as Alex Ross’s art. It’s slick as hell and almost certainly more commercial than Lopez’s work. I still prefer the latter, but the only complaint I have about Woodward’s stuff is the obvious modeling of Juris’s wife on Lucy Liu. Beyond that, his storytelling’s impeccable and I’m particularly taken with the specificity of his faces. Lots of character to ‘em, and they still jibe nicely with the design work Lopez set up.

Sample page #1.
Sample page #2.

But it’s not all atmospherics and re-establishment of the lead. Juris is on the cusp of passing on control of the city to his son with ritual magic, and about to receive a rude surprise. Lee, meanwhile, gets a visitor from on high, a visitor with a key tie to her past – quite possibly her “fall” - and an offer from The Big Man to get her old job back. If you’re a longtime fan, you know just how portentous these doings are, and if you’re new to the series, I’m actually a little envious of the period of discovery you’re about to go through. Those first attempts to wrap one’s head around the mysteries of Bete Noire are among the best times the series offers. You realize just how different the book is from anything out there, how unpredictable its unfolding story, how charismatic its cast of hoodlums and rogues.

Oh yeah, and there’s also a big rooftop fight sequence between Lee and an old fella who’s her match and more. He’s smug and jerky, and like most of the rest of the cast, I liked him almost immediately. If the series has a weakness, it’s that I tend to like the charm of its villains – Slate, Juris, the Boxer, et al. – over the moodiness that defines its heroine.

That’s not such a bad thing, though. Villains deserve their day, and serial shows like BUFFY or even LOST often have supporting players that overshadow the leads as fan favorites.

FALLEN ANGEL is recommended.



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Hmmm. Wow. An IDENTITY CRISIS tie-in that is actually done extremely well. And we didn't have to get a dozen other titles involved. It's all self-contained, it directly affects just the title character alone, and it fundamentally changes the life of the character without having to go in some sort of "Bold New Direction". It's fantastic actually. As soon as I saw Zatanna appear on the final page of last issue I pretty much had an idea where it was going, but the execution made it all work. Selina's reaction to the news that Zatanna brings her about is perfect. From the anger she feels to the thoughts of doubt and confliction that haunt her at the end. It all works so well, and I'm can't wait to see how Pfiefer starts to unravel her life more from here on out. – Humphrey


Truth is there’s not a thing to differentiate this new ongoing from the two lighthearted, romantic, impeccably-drawn MARY JANE miniseries that preceded it…but why mess with a good thing? In the first issue, we see Peter Parker’s famed identity confusion as he tutors a Mary Jane obsessed with tracking down Spider-Man (who’s saved her several times already). There’s much fun to be had as she pops up at various villain take-downs to chastise Spidey for ignoring her, but as ever with Sean McKeever’s best book for Marvel, there’s a root wistfulness beneath the goofy stuff that makes the book endearing. Note also the always exceptional art of Takeshi Miyazawa. - Dave

Dark Horse

Would've reviewed this comic before Christmas if I could've gotten my hands on one, but this elusive comic is just hard to find. If you don't already know, Jingle Belle Kringle is Santa Claus's cute, spunky, and sexy spoiled little teenage daughter. Sort of a Paris Hilton by way of St. Nick. The art is kid-friendly with Stephanie Gladden providing Betty & Veronica-style art for the first story about a hockey match between Jingle's team of elves and Tashi Ounce's team of snow leopards. The second story is illustrated by the very Cartoon-Network-ish cartooning of Jose Garibaldi and involves a couple of lemmings taking one of Santa's toy cars out for a joyride. The third story, with art by J. Bone, sees Santa and family attending the "Pageant of Peace" ceremony with Pres. Bush down in Crawford. Funny but a bit overly heavy-handed in its disdain for the current administration. Overall though, this comic is the kind of fun and funny that needs to be produced on a more regular basis and marketed much more widely. Dark Horse really should promote little gems like this that would probably appeal to a wider audience than just the selective hard-core comic fans who will make the effort to search it out. Wake up, Dark Horse. - Prof.


Now in one single issue is an encapsulation of all that is wrong with the adultification of superheroes. First there are the excesses: a kid gets pissed on by some bullies and is later raped by his brother; a prostitute is raped; Nazis are shown experimenting on mutants in World War II; the boy from earlier is raped as an adult (again by his brother); and oh yeah, the Black Cat finally comes out with the revelation that...yes, wait for it...she's been raped too.


There can be no doubt: this shit-fest of a comic is almost darkly comical in its single-minded obsession with sexual assault, but the problem is that a Spidey comic is a pretty crap place to get into such issues. And Terry Dodson, a cheesecake artist who draws Black Cat with tit-spillage turned up to 11, is about the worst conceivable artist for such subject matter. A Bill Sienkiewicz or Michael Lark? Maybe. But Dodson's got a smooth, sensual line quality that makes everything look lightweight and attractive. Awful, awful decision. And as for Smith himself, if he thinks this book is any great shakes for the cause of sexual victimization, maybe he should reconsider dialogue like, "I don't go in for that! You can forget it, ya' freak-o perv!" Lastly, the issue reeks of Smith's ego. Guy can't put out an issue on time to save his life and has only a few dozen comics to his name, but look at the “marks” he’s made: he's killed off Daredevil's girlfriend, taken DC's kiddy concept Stanley & His Monster and re-written it to accommodate ritualistic torture of a kid, and now...yes, now he's retro-raped the Black Cat.

What an utter and complete fucking disgrace this guy is to the legacy of Lee, Kirby, Ditko and all the other greats. - Dave


I really want to love this book. I really do. Everything about it should be great. All the elements are there. And the Jim Lee art is still great, but everything going on in this is either dragged out to hell and points are repeated incessantly or things are just randomly thrown out there like in some sort of ADD fit. Really, the best thing I can say to pretty much drive home what I think about this comic is this: "This has everything that made SIN CITY a great work... but executed atrociously." - Humphrey


I’m officially recanting the endorsement I gave this series based on its first issue. The promise of that opener fell by the wayside as I became increasingly aggravated with Drax’s new human sidekick, a monumentally annoying teenage girl who appears to’ve been injected with a concentrated dose of Joss Whedon snark. That was painful, as was the localized environment for the action: a small Alaskan town that minimized the cosmic scale of the players to the point that the big finale is Drax breaking into an extreme sports store to gear up with extreme leather pants and an extreme pair of hunting knives. Yes, the green behemoth who once challenged the likes of Thanos with flight, super-strength, and energy bolts projected from his hands…spends the climactic issue of his re-launch running around a darkened small town with knives. And “climactic” is being generous, because it turns out this series was actually a stealth lead-in to Marvel’s NEXT MEGA-CROSSOVER EVENT THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING, EVEN YOUR STANK-ASS UNDERWEAR. Long story short: avoid. - Dave


Lots and lots of followup to the original SEVEN SOLDIERS SPECIAL #0 that kicked off the SEVEN SOLDERS saga. Turns out the Bulleteer was scheduled to be one of those unlucky souls who met their grisly ends in that issue, but she "chickened" out at the last minute. Now she's being courted by the FBI's Metahuman Specialists division to help solve the mystery of what happened to those heroes. Footage they've obtained implicates an old Golden Age Vigilante villain called The Napoleon of Crime who once called into our plane of existence a monster known as The Nebula Man. Nebula Man was spotted skewering Vigilante and the Whip back in the SSOVS #0. Don't ask me to explain how The Napoleon of Crime and the FBI agent are both werewolves and about how they had to prevent some girl from marrying a werewolf. That's when the comic kind of lost its hold on rationality. But it's still rollickin' fun and Bulleteer is still smokin' hot. Prof.


Borderline indecipherable, ROCK ‘N’ ROLL is the result of two pairs of Brazilian brothers working up a three-chapter story about a guy chasing after his girl and fending off a monster that looks to’ve been stolen directly from Mike Mignola’s sketchbook. Each chapter’s by a different artist, and there’s so little visual continuity between ‘em that I swear I didn’t know it was supposed to be one big story until I read that at a website. The one singularly remarkable thing about the book is the art of the middle chapter by Fabio Moon. It’s stunning work, calling to mind both Paul Pope and Scott Morse, but with the detail I expect from the Euro-artist community (Moebius, Bilal). Sample page. The other artistic contributions are fine, if wildly derivative of Mignola in chapter three, but Moon’s the one to really keep an eye on. - Dave


Read this one while I was taking a walk during lunch last week. I don't know the writer, Jen Van Meter, from anything else but the storyline she's unfolding about the Injustice Society feels very much to me like the old Mission Impossible tv-series ~ with villains. And I'm enjoying it. The theme in this issue involves trust. Icicle really holds on to his naïve belief that if he can just get his teammates to trust him and he can extend trust to them, that they will be unbeatable. Unfortunately, not every villain out there is simply a thief with a heart of gold. Some of them are just evil s.o.b.s and should not be trusted nor affiliated with in any way. That being said, when Icicle's Injustice Society is working together they do take out some key members of the JSA and successfully invade the brownstone to steal the Cosmic Key. Right now with VILLAINS UNITED, JSA: CLASSIFIED, and JUSTICE, DC has created an environment where the villains are more interesting than most of their heroes. - Prof.


The highest compliment I can pay this book is to say that it feels like a lost outing from the Marvel Comics of the early ‘80s – the era of Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR, Stern’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and Simonson’s AVENGERS. You know, the best Marvel era this side of the ‘60s? The villain’s a classic – theme-park assassin, Arcade. The guest stars – lesser-known baddie the Constrictor and lesser-known hero Nighthawk – are played with respect and bad-assery. Tony Stark makes the scene and writer Dan Slott even manages to contrive a way to get him into the iconic red-‘n’-gold Iron Man armor of the ‘70s/’80s. And the Thing? A true blue hero who’s not just a bruiser, but sly enough to work out a plan with an actress just this side of Paris Hilton in the brains department. The set-up has the lot of ‘em trapped on an island that’s got Arcade’s usual Murderworld set-up, but also a SURVIVOR-style component where the first person to make it to the other side of the island lives and everyone else dies. Chaos ensues, with fun along the way, but not so much fun that we forget the stakes.

Between this book and SHE-HULK, it turns out the best hero at Marvel these days might just be Dan Slott his own self. What can I say? He gets Marvel. No tricks, no shock events, no obsessive desire to change the status quo…just plain old, garden-variety great yarns. Hey, we could do with a bit more of this stuff! - Dave

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