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(Click title to go directly to the review)
THE LIGHT BRIGADE TPB
ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE VOL 1
INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL: RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1
SNAKE-EYES: DECLASSIFIED #1-6
Y THE LAST MAN #42
THE PULSE #13
GOTHAM CENTRAL #40
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents GORGEOUS CARAT V. 1
Indie Jones presents…
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THE LIGHT BRIGADE TPB
Writer: Pete Tomasi
Artist: Peter Snejbjerg
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
The other day, I went to my neighborhood movie-plex and was dumbfounded by what passes at entertainment these days. Hmmm…what to do…what to do….the choices. BIG MAMMA’S HOUSE 2 or WHEN A STRANGER CALLS? Flabbergasted at the lack of inventiveness and ballsy-ness that movie producers seem to have these days, I said screw it and went home and read comics. Fortunately, I had the trade paperback of THE LIGHT BRIGADE that I had been meaning to dive into. And I’m glad I did.
THE LIGHT BRIGADE is the type of comic that you wish would be adapted into a major motion picture. Having just read the trade paperback of the prestige format limited series, I can see the people in the Hollywood boardrooms right now pitching this story to be translated onto celluloid. "It's BAND OF BROTHERS meets EXCALIBUR meets THE EVIL DEAD." And they'd be right. This story seamlessly combines bone-chilling horror, big budget war-time action, and intimate character moments highlighting the nobility and honor of the men who served our country during WWII.
Right from the start, Tomasi introduces each character who will soon become THE LIGHT BRIGADE much like a filmmaker, highlighting quirks and intricacies that make them easily recognizable in the field of battle amongst soldiers wearing the same uniform. This often comes off as trite or hokey, but Tomasi writes each character with heart and dimension. One of the soldiers is an avid baseball fan. Another reads comics on the frontline. Another just found out that his wife was killed in an automobile accident, leaving his son an orphan if he should not come back from the war. This ominous pressure to "get out of this one alive" is one of the most powerful messages throughout the story, immediately investing the reader in the character and making one hope he makes it through all of this in one piece. Tomasi permeates his story with this type of attunement to human nature.
What starts out as a routine battle soon swirls into the world of the uncanny. The troops are attacked by a marching group of Nazis that won't die. As the handful of surviving troops escape, they see a meteor fall not too far away. When they go and investigate, they find the bodies of two creatures that look to be angels. It is at this point when you realize you are not reading your run-of-the-mill war story. What follows are lakes of frozen corpses, magical swords, angels, demons, zombies, monks, castles, the absolute best zombie vs. warplane dogfight you'll ever read, and quite a few other surprises. This band of misfit soldiers has been chosen to partake in a quest that makes their actions a deciding factor in an age-old war between heaven and hell. Now I know what you are thinking, and you're right. This "War Between Heaven and Hell" concept has been done to death in PREACHER, HELLBLAZER, and THE PROPHECY movies, but the thing that makes THE LIGHT BRIGADE stand out is the wonderful characterization and the setting of the events in a modern field of battle.
Most high concepts sound good, but the problems often arise in the execution. Combining a war story with horror is something that could be a recipe for disaster. The problem is that the writer often knows too much about one genre and very little about the other. This is not the case with Tomasi. He shows great skill at mastering both genres. The little details (like pissing on their guns to unfreeze them before a battle) about military life are included and scattered throughout; not amateurishly but confidently, as if the writer had an extensive knowledge of the subject and added these little details only when it would help enrich the story. Tomasi is also not afraid to gore it up either (a quality I admire). The scenes of half decayed Nazi soldiers are truly frightening. There was a moment, when the Light Brigade has to cross a frozen river. Below them are the bodies of soldiers who have fallen before them. As the river gets deeper, we see soldiers, not just from WWII, but from WWI, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and even before that. It gives a creepy history to the relevance to this quest the Light Brigade has embarked upon and an ominous setup for the battle that lies ahead.
I believe artist Peter Snejbjerg has received a bad rap. I remember he caught a lot of flack when he took over the art chores after Tony Harris left James Robinson's STARMAN. Harris was such a superstar on that book that Jesus Cross-Eyed Christ (a master cross-hatcher) could've taken over the book after Harris left and fans would've still been in an uproar. I've always found Snejbjerg's art to be amazing. He goes for a more simplistic approach, reminiscent of Mike Mignola or Eric Powell of THE GOON. There is a minimalist feel to the strong lines in the faces of his characters. He captures the feeling or emotion in as few lines as possible. In this age, when scribbles and scratchings are supposed to be the "in" thing, Snejnjerg's art stands out as something to be admired. His renditions of zombie Nazi soldiers and the aforementioned lake of the dead are shiver inducing. Truly phenomenal work on this series.
So WARNER BROTHERS execs, before you rush out and sign the papers for CATWOMAN II, you might want to read THE LIGHT BRIGADE if you want to make a comic book movie that'll actually be good. It's got one of the strongest premises I've read in a long time. The characterization grips your heart and squeezes. The thrills are fresh and scary. And the ending doesn't peter out into convention like most high concept stories. From page one to the very last; THE LIGHT BRIGADE was like watching the very best war film and the very best horror film on side-by-side wide screens. Treat yourself and seek out THE LIGHT BRIGADE. You won't be disappointed.
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ESSENTIAL MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE VOL 1
Written by Steve Gerber, Bill Mantlo, Chris Claremont, Roy Thomas, Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Scott Edelman, Mike Friedrich, Roger Silfer
Art by Jim Starlin, Sal Buscema, Ron Wilson, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Gil Kane, Bob Brown, John Buscema
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Know, O Talkbacker, between the time when the dudes drank kegs of beer and the rise of the sons of Shooter lay an Age of Bronze. Unto this: Buzz, bong in hand, destined to wear the ridiculous name "@$$hole" with a sarcastic smirk. It is I, his Kronic-dealer, who alone has enough brain cells left to tell thee of his saga. Come, let me tell you of the days of getting high and reading comic books....
Back in the Bronze, Marvel published two team up books. I hate research so I'm not going to check the facts, but I think both were respectable but modest sellers. But I think MARVEL TEAM UP, usually starring Spider-Man but occasionally the Human Torch, outsold MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE PRESENTS THE THING &....
This could be a fact. I don't know. I'm too lazy to find out. But a definite opinion, based on being as regular a reader of these books as convenience store shoplifting would allow: TWO IN ONE was the superior comic. It was better written, better drawn. Maybe it was because the Thing didn't have any other solo comic, but it always seemed like the writers and artists made more of an effort to put out a real comic. While TEAM UP had its' moments, and writer Bill Mantlo certainly gave it his all, except for a Claremont/Byrne run that preceded and only slightly overlapped their tenure on UNCANNY X-MEN, the book was treated as a throwaway. Spidey meets and fights another hero, then they team up against a throwaway villain. Occasionally, you'd get a single gem of a moment, such as when Nighthawk becomes fed-up with Spidey's out of character right wing stance and sucker punches him at the end. Beat that, spider-sense.
TWO-IN-ONE was one of the infrequent Marvel portrayals of Ben Grimm as an intelligent character, a test pilot and an astronaut. In fact, in one of the best Mantlo/Wilson stories, Tony Stark hires Ben to test pilot a dangerous vehicle to launch into the ground. Bizarre, Crusade themed villain Prester John shows up and surprise...the Thing and Iron Man team up.
Art wise, the early issues feature Jim Starlin's wonderfully detailed take on the Thing. When Starlin draws Ben, he's made up of lots of defined pieces. To me, the Thing always resembled the surface of this dry lake bed in the Mojave desert where my Dad used to take me to ride motorcycles as a kid. I think I told my Dad that once. He looked at me sort of like Red Forman of THAT '70s SHOW looked at Eric when Eric had beat up a guy and said that he learned his fighting moves from Spider-Man comics.
Other stand out issues include a FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL in which the FF goes back to World War II to meet the Invaders, a Roy Thomas/Frank Robbins created team consisting of Captain America, the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. At the time, Ben has lost his cosmic ray spawned powers and has been reduced to wearing a Thing exo-skeleton, which I've always found to be both stupid and cool at the same time. On his own, Ben checks to make sure everything is alright and ends up teamed with a second, Roy Thomas-created WW II superhero team, the Liberty Legion. The best part is when Ben has to destroy a giant, swastika-shaped ship.
I know you all cherish your ESSENTIAL MARVEL TEAM UP VOL. 1, which is a little hard to find without effort, and as with research, I hate effort. But gives Marvel's consistently better Bronze age team up rag a try.
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INFINITE CRISIS SPECIAL: RANN-THANAGAR WAR #1
Writer: Dave Gibbons
Pencillers: Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
In 2005, Andy Diggle gave a lot of DC’s cosmic characters a higher profile in his outstanding ADAM STRANGE miniseries. That mini ended with Rann and Thanagar slamming into each other, leading straight into the RANN-THANAGAR WAR miniseries written by Dave Gibbons. When that mini ended there were still a few loose ends in need of tying up, and some of them get wrapped up here, to varying degrees of success.
For those of you who weren’t reading the other two miniseries, it’s pretty easy to sum up: thanks to the machinations of some evildoers, Rann was teleported out of its own galaxy and smack into Thanagar, or so everybody thought. Needless to say, the always-militant Thanagarians flipped the hell out and tried to kill off the Rannians. A coalition of do-gooders is trying to establish a highly uneasy peace and convince the two groups to live together on the wreckage of a single planet, but the Thanagarian military is pretty sure it’d rather just keep wiping out anybody who comes along. Pretty much everybody’s at the party: Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Adam Strange, Captain Comet, the Omega Men, and so on. Meanwhile, along comes Donna Troy, back from the dead again, with that big-ass posse she rounded up a few months ago: Sentinel, Starfire, Firestorm, Cyborg, Jade, Animal Man, and…umm…Bee Girl? Whatever, you know the guys I mean. They’re trying to figure out why the whole universe is out of whack, and conveniently find themselves not far from the Rann-Thanagar party staring at a giant pair of hands, floating in a vortex of yellowish energy. Apparently my first thought—that the hands were raised in prayer or exaltation, and all the badness was soon to end—was a bit off the mark, and they’re actually Bad Hands ™. Said vortex begins spitting out waves of uncontrolled power that destroys anything in its path.
The heroes split up, with one group trying to deal with the Rann-Thanagar sitch and the other trying to figure out how to get rid of the Bad Hands ™. Tigorr of the Omega Men finds a Thanagarian satellite that proves something else actually pushed Rann into Thanagar, and while it’s destroyed immediately thereafter they know enough to track down the evidence that reveals the real culprit: Bad Superboy, now with Head Punching-Off Action ™. His handprints are right there in a huge crater, and that’s enough to get the Thanagarians to back down, at least for a little while. Meanwhile, Kyle and Jade make the decision to head off alone and try to stop the shock waves. They get knocked around by a couple of waves of the energy coming from the Bad Hands ™, and try to devise a way to at least slow it down until somebody else is able to pitch in. It’s then that Jade learns the lesson I’ve long known: when a giant crackling golden hand tries to give you a high five, or displays its kung fu grip, or rocks the shocker, it’s not cuz he’s yer brah. Kyle and Jade don’t cut and run, though. They tough it out, which leads to what really bugged me about the issue, and means I have to be a big Spoily McSpoilerson, so if you worry about this kinda thing, *BIG-ASSED SPOILER*--*NO, SERIOUSLY*: Jade bites it for no good reason.
We all knew the storylines tied to INFINITE CRISIS would have a high body count. I was prepared for that. I was just hoping the deaths would mean something. That’s just not the case here. Jade doesn’t die to stop the Bad Hands ™. She doesn’t buy the hero’s time to shut the thing down, and she doesn’t get out a crucial piece of information before it’s too late. She just dies because she’s not as strong as Kyle and can’t take the hit, which is weak as hell. Actually, the real reason she dies is as a plot device: Kyle once lent her some power way back when, and this way he gets it back, which means Kyle gets a power upgrade. There were other ways to do this, but they weren’t used (for example, a direct hit from some of the vortex’s lightning to Kyle’s ring suddenly torques the ring up just like Jade’s energy would). We cut briefly to the Guardians, who say that Jade returned Kyle’s power to him “subtly changed”, which makes him super-special, or as I like to call it, “whatever”.
It doesn’t just bother me because it was pointless or unnecessary, though. It also bothers me because this is the third girlfriend of Kyle’s to get whacked since he was introduced, and it’s just getting to be a bit much. There are also, at this point, dozens of Green Lanterns we see regularly who are either male or of indeterminate sex. Female reoccurring GL-related characters? Nope, not really. Jade’s dead, and things didn’t go so well for Katma Tui, ex-GL and wife to John Stewart, who was also killed off. If a GL had to die, I suppose Jade was the least developed—but that’s no fault of the character. Killing yet another Kyle girlfriend, and one of the only two female Green Lanterns we’ve ever spent time with, just bugs me—especially at a time where there are four different white guy GL’s running around. I mean, would somebody just kill off Guy Gardner and make it stick already?
There’s also this whole “Kyle is special now” thing. Y’know, I’m one of those people who never wanted Hal Jordan back. Ever. I’ve always liked Kyle better (other than his ridiculous mid-90’s costume, which took almost a decade to ditch). As far as I was concerned, Kyle was already plenty special. Now, though, he’s The One: some mystic intergalactic messiah, but one nobody knew they were waiting for. The development doesn’t feel organic; it just feels shoehorned in. That it’s shoehorned into an issue that doesn’t resolve the threat before leading back into INFINITE CRISIS doesn’t help matters. Neither does the idiotic redesign of his character: as I mentioned earlier, it took years to finally get Kyle into a decent costume. Apparently, though, the guy can’t be allowed to look reasonable for long, so his normal mask is gone—replaced by a goofy-looking star field. Yep, it now looks like Kyle is wearing a patch of material off Donna Troy’s outfit—on his face. I guess it could be considered camouflage, since he’s in space a lot—but the only thing that’s gonna camouflage is his face from his cheekbones to his chin, which ain’t gonna cut it when the Tamaranians or the Weaponers of Qward come gunnin’ for yer ass. I’ve never been a fan of his old-new Winick-created moniker, either—Ion? As in Ziering? Thanks, but…nah.
In the end, it’s not a terrible issue. It does its job, wraps up a few danglers, ties the mini back in to the events of IC, and sets up the status quo for a coupla new series. I just expected a better thought-out wrap-up to the series. I have a hard time laying the blame at the feet of Dave Gibbons, though. It feels like he was asked to get the story from A to B and did it. I get the sense he didn’t make the call on what happened to either Jade or Kyle, and was just asked to set up future events. He does a solid enough job of doing that, and I can’t really fault him for the direction editorial wanted him to go. I’ve been enjoying Gibbons’ work on GL CORPS: RECHARGE a lot, and was intrigued by the first issue of THUNDERBOLT JAXON. If you’d like to see Gibbons’ best work this month, turn to those issues instead of this.
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SNAKE-EYES: DECLASSIFIED #1-6
Writer: Brandon Jerwa
Artist: Emiliano Santalucia and Robert Atkins
Publisher: Devil’s Due Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee
I noticed in PREVIEWS that G.I. Joe guru Larry Hama would be contributing an introduction and a new 5-page story to the collected version of SNAKE-EYES: DECLASSIFIED. This was of genuine interest to me. I’d read the first two issues of the “secret origin” mini, determined ‘em to be solid but not noteworthy, and moved on. But if the Big Kahuna himself was offering up approval, well…surely that was worth something, right?
So I re-opened the investigation. Read the issues leading up to the big finale. Read the big finale. And y’know what? A few rough patches aside…I was impressed. I haven’t found much worthy of Hama’s original series since Devil’s Due relaunched the license, but here at last is a new G.I. JOE story deserving of that hushed honor of being considered canonical. For a nostalgia-driven title, this is nothing short of miraculous.
Issues one and two showed us Snake-Eyes’ time in Vietnam, the death of his family, and may or may not have added into continuity the sequence where he spends some time working through his angst as an urban vigilante. I’m pretty hazy on some of Larry Hama’s later additions to the G.I. Joe “mythos”, but certainly the vigilante sequence sets up a key domino for the future of both Snake-Eyes and those pesky terrorists, Cobra.
Where the series gets noteworthy, I think, is right where I’d originally trailed off – issue three. Here writer Brandon Jerwa dives into the longstanding mystery of Snake-Eyes’ ninja training. It all springboards off plot points slowly doled out over the course of Hama’s 12-year+ run on G.I. JOE, but Jerwa’s impressive accomplishment here is in bringing all the puzzle pieces together into a cohesive whole. Hama gave the highlight reel, often revealed through flashbacks dotted with narrative captions, but Jerwa gives the immediacy of seeing it through the eyes of the characters as it happens. Core questions I’d always glossed over as a sort of leap of faith (“How exactly does an honorable guy like Snake-Eyes end up training among assassins?”) are answered. The doomed friendship between Snake-Eyes and the increasingly jealous Tommy – later to become Storm Shadow – takes front and center. Even the side stories with Cobra baddies Zartan and Firefly make their appearances. And as per Hama’s original stories, there’s a heavy dose of Eastern philosophy underpinning it all. I particularly liked what I think was an addition to the back-story – dissent from within the clan over inducting a Western pupil, dissent that fosters the eventual split between Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow.
In the final two issues, we follow Snake-Eyes’ induction into the newly formed G.I. Joe team in the wake of the downfall of the ninja clan. Jerwa builds up Snake-Eyes’ self-loathing, driving home his guilt over the death of his family, the death of friends in Vietnam, and the fall of the ninja clan that had become his surrogate family. It’s hardly the subtlest of tragedies, but for those who care about these toy-based characters that Hama miraculously invested with life, it remains potent. It goes without saying that the G.I. Joe team becomes the third and final family for Snake-Eyes.
Issue six has some of the series’ best moments as we see the assembled Joes standing at attention for the first time even as Cobra’s upper echelon meets for the first time in a darkened basement (yes, that’s Dr. Venom and several other forgotten supporters from G.I. JOE’s first year). The issue also features the early Joe mission where Snake-Eyes was permanently scarred, and here the series did its final work to win me over. There’s a line, a two-word bit of military jargon, that recurs twice in the issue to bring Snake-Eyes’ character arc to perfect fruition. Repeating it wouldn’t do any good – it needs the series’ context – but wrapping on such an ideal note meant that I was able to forgive the series some of its clunkier moments. The tough part with a mini like SNAKE-EYES: DECLASSIFED is that we all know how the story ends, so finding a way to make it resonate is an accomplishment truly worthy of a salute.
No, I’m not gonna say “Yo, Joe!”, fool.
(But I might be thinking it.)
My only lingering disappointment with the series is that the art wasn’t a little stronger. Both Emiliano Santalucia and Robert Atkins contribute workmanlike art, but their poses run a bit awkward and their action sequences aren’t particularly energetic. Perfectly serviceable stuff (I’d liken the effect to Chas Truog’s art on Morrison’s ANIMAL MAN), but accompanied by the overly literalist, air brushy coloring on the series, the net effect is a series carried more by story than art.
I still really dig it. I’d pretty much given up on new G.I. Joe material, but here at last is a new Joe story I can recommend wholeheartedly to old-school fans of the series, unsurprisingly rooted in the earliest history of the team. I buzzed the Devil’s Due message boards to see what the reaction to the series was (very strong) and saw fan ruminations of more “Declassified” series to come. Dunno if such plans are actually on the docket for Devil’s Due, but if a writer as respectful of Hama’s era as Jerwa was to be the mastermind, I’d be interested. C’mon, tell me there’s not a fun story to be had in Zartan’s formation of those Aussie biker terrorists, the Drednoks…
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Y THE LAST MAN #42
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artists: Goran Sudzuka and JosÃ© Marzan Jr
Publisher: DC Vertigo
Last week this column asked the question “What comic story has actually brought you closest to tears?” Well, dammit, this one didn’t actually make me cry but it came damn close.
In this issue of Y we are treated to the saga of Yorick’s pet monkey Ampersand. It’s a really great bit of storytelling that actually sucked me in and made me realize how much I’ve actually come to care about that damned monkey more than I’d care to admit. Seems like there’s a bit more to Ampersand’s history than we’d been led to believe and he may actually be a key piece of the puzzle as to why the plague in Y: THE LAST MAN may have occurred. We already knew that some of his monkey poop may have been part of the reason Yorick actually survived the plague but now it seems like there may be even more to it than that. Ampersand’s former masters may have actually had something to do with engineering the plague. Or maybe not. I guess we’ll see.
But that’s not even what makes this issue great. What makes it absolutely fantastic is how the storytellers humanize Amp’s journey. He doesn’t even actually DO anything but we’re made to sympathize with him because of what he’s going through. You can’t not identify with him and he’s a monkey for Pete’s sake! Not only that but beyond his shrouded history we’re made to see how integral he’s actually become to Yorick’s journey. I mean, if that scene where Yorick first brings Ampersand to his apartment wasn’t pure storytelling gold then I don’t know what is. The panel where Ampersand tries to eat Yorick’s remote control tugged at my heart and made me laugh at the same time.
If anything proved to me that this book is priceless this issue did. I loved it from cover to cover. I’ve always said that this book was second only to PREACHER for me but with this issue I’d have to say it’s now neck and neck between the two.
Y: THE LAST MAN is a rare book indeed and I’m incredibly thankful for it.
But if that ninja bitch hurts Ampersand’s tail again I’m gonna have to reach into that comic and beat the shit out of her myself…!
I can’t believe a story about a monkey got me this riled up. There’s something seriously wrong with me.
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THE PULSE #13
Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Michael Gaydos: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Thumb
Well, there’s only one more issue after this, and then it’s goodbye Bendis. I have to admit, I’m glad there’s one more installment to look forward to. No, not because I’m going to be sad to see The Bald One leave the book, but because it would be a real shame if his final issue on the title he started were to be such a stinker.
Oh to be sure, there’s a small measure of good stuff in here. Readers have been waiting a little over two years to see the birth of Jessica and Luke’s baby, (and if you add up all of Bendis’ “six months later” blurbs, Miss Jones has probably been pregnant for the same amount of time,) and the moments with these two heroes are the best parts of the book. There’s also a bit with Ms. Marvel (she is calling herself Ms. Marvel again, right?) that’s quite stirring. The rest of the book though…
There’s a scene early on with J. Jonah Jameson that hit me right out of the blue. I don’t read NEW AVENGERS, so I had absolutely no clue what Jessica was so pissed off about. It would have helped to have set this plot point up a bit more in this title, methinks. Also, Jameson’s double-dealing (what I heard about it second hand, at any rate) doesn’t strike me as being his style. Sure, he’s a duplicitous swine who’s about as impartial and honorable as a Super Bowl referee, but his slamming of the Avengers in print seems a little off to me.
But what really got to me was the way Bendis mistreated D-Man.
Yes, I said D-Man.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that he’s a favorite of mine, but I do have a certain fondness for the concept. I like the idea of a homeless hero, of an underground community and their defender. So what does Bendis do with the concept of Zerotown and D-Man? He takes it and turns it into one crazy guy living alone in the sewer. Yeah, that’s another Avenger he’s made cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs. Whoopee. Like I said, D-Man’s not even close to being an important character in the Marvel universe, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bends has taken a unique and interesting character and turned him into something mundane and boring. Who in the name of hell would call that a good thing?
If you’re one of those people who’ve followed Jessica Jones ever since the first issue of ALIAS, then you’ve probably already bought this book anyway. To everyone else, you can go ahead and skip this one.
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GOTHAM CENTRAL #40
Writer: Greg Rucka
Penciler(s): KANO & Stefano Gaudiano
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Well, there we go. It's done. Finished. Finito. Dead and buried and cooling in the ground. A little over three years since its inception and one of DC's most heavily praised and criminally under bought series has come to an end. I'll take the time right here to go ahead and thank all the guys who made this such a great read: Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, who scripted this series and brought together such great stories and a very lively cast. This book was also my first exposure to Michael Lark's fantastic pencils and I can't thank it enough for that. And also I have to say both of the gentlemen who did the art chores on this book, KANO and Stefano Gaudiano, did a great job of filling in Lark's rather large shoes after he left. I can dare say that this was consistently one of the best reads I've had over the past three years and the book will be greatly missed.
But enough with the love fest, how was this particular issue?
Well, it was good. Really good. Not especially great given the kind of quality that this title has put out before, but definitely better than the majority of the books I've read in the past month. But, at the same time, I was also a little let down by the ending. That I'll get to later though.
The thing that made this issue really good is Rucka's characterization of Renee Montoya. If any character has been run through the wringer during this titles run, it's be Ms. Montoya. She's been kidnapped by Two-Face, outed to the public as a lesbian, disowned by her own family, and as of two issues ago she lost her partner and one of her best friends, Crispus Allen (who apparently is our new host for the entity known as The Spectre) to a murder at the hands of a corrupt cop named Jim Corrigan (and if you're up on your Spectre history, the irony of this is not lost on you). This issue is all about Renee's slow decent into total meltdown as we watch the detectives of this particular Gotham City precinct try and pull together the evidence needed to put Corrigan away for good. But alas, it seems Jimmy boy has covered himself well and life behind bars isn't in his future. And the meltdown ensues...
Again, Montoya has been such a great character for this book, it's actually very harrowing to watch her actions in this issue. Tension really builds as you wonder just what she's going to do to Corrigan for his crimes. I actually found it rather poetic too, as this is the same kind of situation we saw another fantastic Batman universe supporting character, one Harvey Bullock, go through back in the Brubaker and Rucka driven storyline, “Officer Down”, at the beginning of the century. "Will Montoya cross the same line he did?" was weighing very heavily in the back of my mind as the issue progressed to its conclusion, a conclusion that I found rather lackluster.
I mean, okay, it was technically a very powerful ending, but at the same time, it just kinda left things up in the air. Montoya does what she does, and then leaves the force. The End. Now, apparently we get to follow what happens to Montoya in the INFINITE CRISIS follow-up series, 52, but isn't that kind of a rip off? GOTHAM CENTRAL for years has been this "little book that could" and the whole purpose and intrigue of it was how it was a book with normal people in a world with superheroes and more importantly super villains. It was a book about contrast between the lives of normal people in the world of the superhero trying to do whatever good they could in that world as well. And now, if we want to see what's going to happen to one of GOTHAM CENTRAL's lead characters, here, go and buy this giant "event" spawned book? Eh, that's kind of a kick in the jimmy to those who have been loyal to GC these three-plus years if you ask me. The ending here is satisfactory enough to not make me lose any sleep over it or whatever, but still, it doesn't seem right in the back of my mind.
Anyway, don't let that little tangent undermine any of the praise I've heaped on this book earlier. It truly is a classic read and will be missed. While I might be a little upset over the outcome and where it's leading, really, the only true crime here was how under read this book was and how little support DC threw behind this in the way of trade paperback collections. If there's anything that should be proudly up on display on bookcases across the country, this would be it. Thanks again for the ride.
REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP
Creator: Rei Mikamoto
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Dan Grendell
Worshipping Satan for fun and profit
It's not common to find a comic where the protagonist is actually empowered by Satan and doesn't have a problem with that. Nope, no angst here - the cute young schoolgirl Reiko calls out "Oh, Satan Lord of Demons! Hear our Prayer!" with gusto, raising her pentagram-marked palm high. And you know what? It's refreshing. Maybe it's because this is a Japanese comic and to most Japanese Satan and Jesus are both just legends without any of the real connection Americans and Europeans feel to the names (I'm reminded of the Japanese schoolboy who exclaimed "So, Jesus was a zombie?" after being told the resurrection story). Whatever the reason, Mikamoto ignores the normal comic device of not using Satan and instead including some obvious stand-in. And I like it.
She also has no issue with making her main character a mercenary bitch. It's pretty hard to actually like Reiko as a character, really. She's cool - she uses her satanic power to raise zombies for money and often ends up kicking their ass - but she isn't exactly fun to be around. She's pretty much entirely driven by money, for example, and she isn't exactly Miss Personality either. But those qualities mean that when the inevitable zombie attacks come, she doesn't just freak out like most people in zombie books - she gets pissed off, and she fights back. Reiko's actually pretty unflappable. There's some serious psychological trauma in her past somewhere, I'm pretty sure.
Unfortunately, the book consists of a series of somewhat repetitious events. Reiko raises a zombie (or more), it isn't tied down properly, goes berserk, and mayhem ensues. There's more to it than that in each case - each story has its own interesting plot - but I got a little tired of seeing the same basic formula.
Mikamoto's art is somewhat reminiscent of Junji Ito, with long triangular faces and protruding, bulbous eyes. Sound effects play a large part, especially in action scenes, and they are used quite well. Though much of the book is gory and most people look a bit elongated and just a bit unreal, Mikamoto draws her children squat and cute, similar to the way Ted Naifeh draws COURTNEY CRUMRIN or Chynna Clugston draws herself in the back of BLUE MONDAY (odd comparisons, I know, but whaddayagonnado). This contrast is actually pretty disturbing, and a good choice on her part.
I enjoyed the hell out of this manga, and I'm looking forward to the next volume, but I really wonder two things - Will the second volume follow the same tired formula? And after the ending of this one, how on earth is there a second volume?
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GORGEOUS CARAT V. 1
Creator: You Higuri
Reviewer: Dan Grendell
A Master Thief and a poor noble in Gay Paris
Okay, before I actually get into any real reviewing, let's set something straight. (Oh, an unintentional pun). GORGEOUS CARAT is a shonen ai or boy's love manga. That means it deals with a romance between two young men. If that bothers you for some reason, or just isn't your interest, you are probably not gonna like this book. Or much else BLU publishes, for that matter, since that's a big chunk of what they do. If you do like that kinda thing, you may want to check their various books out. Me, I don't much care, so long as the story's good. And in this case, it is.
The tale unfolds in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Paris, where gorgeous young Florian Rochefort's aristocratic family is going broke. Florian is a classic bishonen, or pretty boy, with feminine features and long hair. To maintain their status, Florian's mother sells nearly everything - except the 120-carat diamond known as the Flame of Mughal. Plenty of people come sniffing around looking for the gem, including Ray Balzac Courland, better known as the master thief, Noir. Noir offers plenty of money for the gem, but when rebuffed, offers the money instead for Florian - and to help his mother, Florian accepts! This begins a tempestuous relationship between the two that hasn't gotten much better by the end of this volume. Through a search for the gem, an escape from a murderer, and attempts to help a young boy find his father, they continue to argue and fight - and Noir falls hard for Florian.
The action flows well from scene to scene, and the developing romance doesn't seem to drag or feel tacked on really. Higuri does seem to have a thing for drawing people being whipped, which was a little odd, and I got tired of that pretty quick, but other than that the story was quite solid. The art is quite pretty, but doesn't really stand out in any way. I didn't see the obsession with costuming that you often find in period manga like this. There were occasional flashes of great art, with good use of shadowing and detail, but for the most part it was just okay, in service to the story.
GORGEOUS CARAT isn't for everyone, but if you don't mind or actively seek out boy-boy romance, it's definitely worth hunting down.
BUCKAROO BANZAI: RETURN OF THE SCREW PREVIEW
I am so ready for some more Banzai! BUCKAROO BANZAI limped onto theater screens back during the summer I graduated from high school. But while it may have flopped financially, it was one of those movies that I and my circle of buddies went to see over and over. I'll never understand why a movie about a genius/adventurer/scientist/inventor/neurosurgeon/rock star with an eccentric team of agents battling the crazed Dr. Lizardo and evil aliens all named "John" was not immediately successful! Moonstone is coming out with a brand new BUCKAROO miniseries based on an original story by BUCKAROO's creator and this 50¢ Preview is an excellent way to advertise it. The artwork is black and white and very professional - helped I'm sure by the quality inks of veteran comic book inker Keith Williams. Highlights for me were the text pieces in the back of the preview that give background on how the comic came to be and why various attempts to bring back BUCKAROO on the small-screen have failed. What a coup for Moonstone. Can't wait for the new mini. Right now? I think I'm going to crack out my BUCKAROO BANZAI: ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION DVD. It's been about 6 months since I last entered the world of the BANZAI INSTITUTE FOR BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AND STRATEGIC INFORMATION. - Prof. Challenger
WORLDWATCH # 1-3
Written by: Chuck Austen
Illustrated by: Tom Derenick
Published by: Wild and Wooly Press
Reviewed by: superhero
You ever wonder what the JLA would be like if they starred in their own version of a Skinemax soft-core porn comic? Well, true believers, now you don’t have to because courtesy of Wild and Wooly Press we have WORLDWATCH.
WORLDWATCH deals with the adventures of the world’s foremost super team. They save the world, fight the bad guys, commit feats of derring-do and pretty much everything else all of your favorite superheroes do, except for one thing. They have sex. Lots and lots of sex. Oh, and they tend to use nasty four letter words a bit. I’m not talking about stuff like @!#$. I mean bad, bad words like the f word and the other word which I won’t spell out here because, well, this is a column about comics and as we all know comics are for kiddies. Well, at least most comics are. WORLDWATCH is most decidedly not.
Which is fine, actually. I mean in a world where DC comics is actually publishing books where villains like Dr. Light are homicidally raping supporting characters and old-school heroes like Superboy are bloodily beheading super villains what’s wrong with a comic where the superheroes actually get to have a little on screen hokey-pokey? Nothing, I say. I mean, if heroes can tear off other heroes arms with wild abandon in mainstream books why not have a comic where the Wonder Woman archetype takes it from behind from the Superman archetype? Nothing at all. Just so long as no one under eighteen gets to look at it, right? I mean kids of all ages can watch the Last Son of Krypton homicidally murder a bunch of costumed clowns but they better not get a good look at him doing the nasty with Wondergirl. That’d be way too traumatic.
And it’s actually funny because WORLDWATCH is actually one of the most juvenile books I’ve ever read. The characterization is pretty flat, the action is straightforward, and it’s about as deep as a rain puddle. I mean if you’re looking for something insightful go read WATCHMEN, bucko, because you’re not going to get it here. WORLDWATCH is as basic as a comic book can get. I mean, let’s face it, the only thing that really separates it from other books is that it’s got its fair share of nudie sex scenes starring heroes that are basically morally bankrupt. But, here’s the thing, I actually enjoyed the heck out of it.
The thing about WORLDWATCH is that it’s actually pretty amusing in its own way. Not in the way that you’re thinking either. Get your minds out of the gutter people. OK, we are talking about a superhero sex book here so you can have them in the gutter if you want but there’s a bit more to WORLDWATCH than meets the er, um, eye.
WORLWATCH actually has some funny little character bits sprinkled here and there. Like what if Wonder Woman wasn’t into Superman or Batman but actually had the red hots for Lex Luthor? Or what if you had the power to change into a Captain Marvel type hero but Marvel was actually gay and you were straight?
It’s clever stuff like that which keeps WORLDWATCH from being just some pathetic porn comic. I’m not saying it’s actually an intelligent book but there are enough neat ideas in it that keep it from being completely dismissed as your typical T & A book which, let’s face it, a lot comics are anyway. They just tend to cover up all of the sensitive parts that the conservative among us would have problems with people actually seeing.
The other thing that really lifts WORLDWATCH above the norm is the artwork. Derenick’s art here is truly fantastic. He brings a truly great style to this book that makes the superhero stuff look absolutely powerful. Sure the figures are a bit overly muscled but the artist is able to avoid the stiff look that a lot of other artists employ when drawing super heroic proportions. The inking is smooth and precise and the storytelling is clear from panel to panel. It’s really rare these days that an artist of a superhero book impresses me this much but Derenick did. If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book in the first place. I honestly don’t know what else he’s working on but someone needs to put this guy to work on a high profile book because he could be the next big find much like Rags Morales was a couple of years ago.
But the artist isn’t the only thing that actually made me take notice of the book. All around, the production on these books is highly professional. Everything from the paper stock to the coloring of issues two and three (issue one was in black and white) make the book look like something that might’ve been published from one of the big two. It’s an indie book but it doesn’t come across like it. WORLDWATCH is a book that was put together with a professional look in mind you can tell. It wasn’t just thrown together and that’s a major selling point as far as I’m concerned.
If WORLDWATCH reminded me of anything it’d be the Rick Veitch book BRATPACK. It’s almost the same sort of thing dealing with superheroes that have some pretty bizarre foibles. WORLDWATCH doesn’t portray as harsh a reality as BRATPACK did, though. In this book the superheroes are still glamorous and great looking if a bit kinky and loathsome. Still, it is an entertaining and fun read and I’ll be keeping my eye out for the fourth issue, if it ever gets released. I’d read on the internet somewhere that the decision had been made to not go ahead with issue four which really is a shame. Because if comic book publishers can let some of their characters start acting like machete wielding Rwandan militia men then there’s no reason that they can’t act like San Fernando Valley porn stars as well.
ATHENA VOLTAIRE is the kind of pulp adventure comic that would’ve fit in perfectly among 11th hour CrossGen offerings like KISS KISS BANG BANG and EL CAZADOR. By that I mean the writing is rock-solid, the art detailed and inspired by classic illustrators, and the concept…well, “classic” is the nice way to say it, “derivative” if you’re feeling a bit more critical.
The quickie premise: Indiana Jones as a cute chick in the genre known as 1930s action/exploration/Nazi-stomping. Our lead is Athena Voltaire, an expatriate French air ace who grew up in America to become a crack shot, a romantic interest for Howard Hughes, and the founder of an air courier service that runs risky missions. And lots of stuff happens in the first issue. There’s Nazis, headhunters, rope bridges, an air battle, the Maltese Falcon, and even a hottie rival in the form of a blond, Nazi ice queen. It’s all very nicely done, very comfortable, but in the end I need a few more curve balls in my pulp adventure (eg. THE ROCKETEER, XENOZOIC TALES, GRIMJACK, etc.). Newsarama ran a nice preview so you can get a feel yourself. The one advantage ATHENA VOLTAIRE has over those CrossGen books is that it’s a miniseries, so less chance of coitus interruptus if Speakeasy follows in CrossGen’s footsteps. - Dave Farabee
THE FLYING FRIAR #1
Artist: Thomas Nachlik
Publisher: Speakeasy Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
I enjoyed THE FLYING FRIAR. It brought a smile to my face…and an occasional groan. But more smiles. What was fun for me was going into the comic without really reading up on any of the news reports or Johnston's own shilling for his project - which I don't fault him for. In fact, if some old-timers in the biz spent as much time and effort promoting themselves and their products I think we might see some unexpected career resuscitations. Johnston knows the importance of advertising and marketing just like Stan Lee did. Good for him.
He obviously got struck one day, while drinking some fine Irish beer and watching his SMALLVILLE SEASON ONE DVDs, by a concept - What if the legendary St. Joseph was the "real" Clark Kent. Johnston blends the historical legends about St. Joseph's miraculous levitations with a fictitious SMALLVILLE-inspired storyline. In Johnston's storyline, a mysterious meteor shower in Spring of 1603 deposits a dark-haired boy who would grow up to exhibit supernatural powers such as flight, invulnerability, x-ray vision, and heat vision. Joseph is also frequently beset by ecstatic visions of God's miraculous hand in creation. Driven by a calling on his heart to devote his life to God by joining the Franciscan Order, the uneducated Joseph unfortunately has a reputation for clumsiness and weirdness which prevents the Order from wanting to accept his application.
Joseph also has a lifelong friend in Lux Luther, the heretic scientist and descendant of Martin Luther. Lux is obsessed with inventing a flying machine for himself. He also lost his hair during the meteor storm. This was the first big tip-off to me that Johnston wasn't going to be subtle in the Superman/Joseph parallels in his story. The groaner moment came when we found out that Lux's thick-maned and bearded father was named Lionel. That may have been slightly too much in the way of parallels.
However…I still found the comic fun and I even thought a lot of Johnston's manner of presenting Joseph's legendary visions. It was well-thought out both visually and textually. Joseph's discussion with Lionel Luther about God's majesty and the clockwork nature of the universe was exceptionally thought-provoking and appropriate for the time-period of the setting. Johnston also takes this story as an opportunity to address some of the horrors of the Inquisition, including a failed secret attempt to try and execute Joseph. The personal confrontation between Joseph and the corrupt Pope was intense and unpredictable.
Where Johnston took it into an original direction - less derivative of the Superman source material - culminated in the final conflict between Joseph and Lux that results in a paralyzed Lux that Joseph takes care of for 20 years. The evil heretic has his revenge, though, in Johnston's clever take on "kryptonite."
The black and white art for the comic is by Polish artist Thomas Nachlik and is a real treat. It's got a very European feel to it with a stylized high-contrast look. I loved the artwork. The cover by Thorsten Ebert was my favorite cover of the last month. Beautiful, beautiful stuff.
Yes, THE FLYING FRIAR comes off as if it may be a failed DC Elseworlds proposal, but in the vein of mixing a real-world legend with a modern pop-cultural legend, it's a more than decent romp. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so since the issue's sold-out just about everywhere inspiring Johnston and Speakeasy to make the comic available for a purchased download at www.richjohnston.com. I know Rich Johnston may be the most popularly loathed individual in the comics news biz in his role as purveyor of rumors, but you know what? He wrote a decent little comic that even sent me onto the web to get up to speed on the background of the real St. Joseph of Copernito and my hat’s off to him for that.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
Remember, if you have an Indie book you’d like one of the @$$holes to take a look at, click on your favorite reviewer’s link and drop us an email.
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GREEN LANTERN #8
You remember that scary little plant that Mongul used to nearly defeat Superman by making his mind disappear into a false reality of how perfect his life might have been if Krypton had never exploded? Well, now we got Mongul Jr. pulling the same stunt on Green Lantern and Green Arrow - sharing one of those monstrous plants. Where Geoff Johns has been reading like he's pulled a little too thin on comics like the TEEN TITANS, there was no such indicator here. Intelligent, literate, and emotional, this was a fine example of the modern super-hero with no shock-value moments, just solid storytelling. The trickiest thing to any story involving these little wish-fulfillment plants is figuring out a logical and believable way for the heroes to break that hold on their minds and hearts. In my view, Johns pulled off the near-impossible: he topped Alan Moore in his solution. This series is the only DC series I'm disappointed in about the "One Year Later" jump that's coming... because I don't want to miss out on a whole year of the newly reenergized Hal's life. - Prof.
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I (HEART) MARVEL #1: MY MUTANT HEART
Marvel really shoulda gotten Bendis to write a story for each of the I (HEART) MARVEL Valentine specials. It’s not that there aren’t some fun stories here, it’s just that A) This mini is very low profile and could’ve used some star power, and B) There’s no denying: Bendis writes some great relationship drama, whether we’re talking Ultimate Peter Parker and Mary Jane, Matt Murdock and Milla, or Luke Cage and Jessica Jones (insert butt-sex joke here – ha, I practically did it for ya! “Insert”! Awesome!). Hell, I’d much rather have Bendis on something funky and intimate like this than shaping the destiny of the Marvel Universe on all the big projects – but hey, it’s not to be, so let’s give the book a look-see on its own merits. What we’ve got here are three short mutant-themed stories by relatively small names. First one’s from Marvel stalwart Daniel Way, a dark tale of love lost for Wolverine, and a payback that’s decades in coming. Solid. Second is a Doop story from Peter Milligan, and it’s absolutely the winner of the bunch. There’s much amusement to be had as a hardboiled detective stalks Doop’s affair with a married woman (not for the faint of heart), and the ending is absolutely grin-inducing. Great art, too, from Marcos Martin – reminds me of Cameron Stewart and Javier Pulido, Milligan’s collaborators on THE HUMAN TARGET. Lastly, there’s a Cannonball/Lila Cheney yarn about mistrust in a relationship. Always liked that pairing, the backwoods hick and the rocker chick, but somehow I was hoping for more than the goofy outing we get. Props to writer/artist Tom Fish for an alien seeking a stolen guitar, though (“Surrender the Fender!”). Fish cooks up several winning lines, including the last one. Made me laugh out loud, or LOL to you internet kiddies. - Dave <!>
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ANGEL: OLD FRIENDS #3
I’m a huge fan of Jeff Mariotte’s creator-owned series DESPERADOES. While his work on the ANGEL series isn’t quite as impressive, he still turns in solid work. Spike, Gunn, Lorne and Illyria all speak in voices that feel like their characters from the series, which isn’t always an easy task and hasn’t always been the case in the comics based on Whedon’s TV series. It’s an interesting enough story—evil doppelgangers of the characters are turning up and causing trouble around LA—but it’s not without problems. For one thing, there are a lot of questions left unanswered between the end of the TV series and this mini, with no clear indication of when they’ll be addressed. More seriously, though, is a general sense that there just isn’t enough going on. The issue clocks in at a full 22 pages, but it still feels a little slight. There are places where the art could have been tightened up a little, some panels condensed or combined, and it would’ve allowed for more story in the same number of pages. Definitely one of the better ANGEL/BUFFY related series in a while, but not perfect. Probably better for existing fans than new readers. - Sleazy G
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BATMAN & THE MONSTER MEN #4 (of 6)
Matt Wagner’s putting out a damn good miniseries here. More than anything it reminds me of the first few years of LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT when the quality was at its highest, everyone was doing “year one” stories, and everyone was aping Frank Miller’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE narrative captions. The “year one” stuff does feel a touch derivative in that sense, but with strong old-school writing and terrific art, there’s no reason to get testy about it. I also like the concept: a retelling of a Golden Age Batman story, mildly retconned to act as his first battle with metahuman foes. More specifically, these are giant Frankenstein monster-types created by Batman’s mad-scientist baddie, Hugo Strange. The highlight of the issue is a spectacular extended battle between Batman and three of the brutes in an enclosed cell. Batman’s pushed to his absolute limits of stamina and innovation just to survive, all with excellent fight choreography and a real sense of the stakes. I also like Batman’s love interest, debutant Julie Madison, given a surprisingly rounded characterization that reminded me of Matt Wagner’s excellent treatment of Dian Belmont in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE (buy the trades, buy ‘em now!). An excellent standalone series. - Dave <!>
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A DOUBLE SHOT OF
Once again, Garth Ennis proves just how capable a writer he can be. The same more mature approach Ennis has brought to the last few years of his PUNISHER series is put to use here with great affect. This series is set in WWII, at a time when a young (and two-eyed) Sergeant Nick Fury is stuck leading a doomed squad of green kids into battle in one of the many African campaigns that were dominated by German forces. There’s a great framing technique used a few different times where we see the squad in training, being told how impressive the American air and ground support are, and then cut to the battle and see just how miserably the tanks and planes are failing. Darick Robertson’s battle sequences are easy to follow and fall solidly in the tradition of great war comics. I wasn’t a fan of the “cranky old nihilistic whoremonger” take on Fury Ennis did a few years ago, but this book is light years from that (and from his lame GHOST RIDER mini). Between this and the new SGT. ROCK miniseries, it’s a good time for fans of war comics. - Sleazy G
FURY: PEACEMAKER #1
But Humphrey says…Garth Ennis! Darick Robertson! Nick Fury in a World War II setting! This book has to be awesome, right! Well, no, not exactly. While I've tremendously enjoyed all the previous engagements that Ennis and Robertson have done for Marvel the past few years (the FURY limited series for MAX, and BORN) this book just failed to pull me in like those books did. I don't know if maybe Ennis' war tales are starting to wear on me by now, or maybe it's just that I'm a sick sonuvabitch and really miss the extra brutality this book is no doubt missing by inexplicably not being a MAX title, but this first issue was very "meh". If anything, it really just feels forced. We've got a little too many of the old standby's that drive these kinds of titles: Your little pack of outgunned and inexperienced soldiers fighting for survival, and an incompetent leader who would only get them killed if not for Fury (not that things turn out good anyway with him in the lead). It just seems like too much rehash, and toned down rehash at that. I still believe in the creative team enough that I think this limited series could turn out to be an overall entertaining read, but this was definitely not the start I was hoping for. - Humphrey Lee <!>
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