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#45 3/8/06 #4

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

Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL Vols 1-5
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents CRYING FREEMAN Vol.1
Indie Jones presents…
Casting Couch: JSA


Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Tom Scioli
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

“I’m not sure if the Cosmos knows what it’s getting into, inviting us to their little tea party…but I say, ‘Bring it on!’”
-- Stan Lee-esque omniscient narrator from the opening page of GØDLAND #1
I can admit it: I’m a retard for taking so long to get onboard this series.

I mean, why’d I wait? I acquired my taste for Kirby in my teens, not, like most Gen X’ers, in my 20s or 30s (*sniff*, and some never figure him out at all). And, son, GØDLAND is the best post-modern Kirby there is! As our own Prof Challenger so aptly put it a few months back, GØDLAND is Kirby as a genre, translating his 60s/70s flair for cosmic doings and wild melodrama into a modern setting. It’s a good fit for a writer like Joe Casey, who may indulge in some illicit substances to get his Kirby on, but by God he makes it happen! Consider: he actually names the transformative cosmic word at the heart of the book’s cosmic philosophy after one of the most powerful psychedelics out there: Iboga. Subversive? Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t pass for the cosmic phraseology dotting the likes of Kirby’s ETERNALS or NEW GODS.

That said, the book plays much of its cosmic action with a straight face. This is the tale of the heroically named Adam Archer, lone surviving astronaut of a crash-landing on the Martian surface. Aside: the bold images of the dying Archer walking on Mars, courtesy longtime Kirby acolyte Tom Scioli, make for some of the best comic visuals I’ve encountered all year. Beautiful lensing of the reality of Mars’s bleak topography through Kirby-vision, all the more so as backed by colorist Bill Crabtree’s masterful flat coloring.

Archer stumbles into a mysterious temple, his old-school thought balloons laying on the purple prose like the second coming of the Silver Surfer (“The Universe…so cold…so massive…so humbling…”). There he encounters…The Cosmic Fetus collective! They’re a pack of little star-babies pulsing with energy and spinning the kind of riddles you only get in a good ninja or Jedi master. The freaky little guys save Archer. They grant him powers. Their word balloons are all differently-shaped geometric forms! And I actually want to call attention to the speech balloons. Like the lettering, the coloring, and every other visual in the book, they speak to a total immersion in Kirby’s sensibilities, his milieu – it’s the total package with GØDLAND.

On Archer’s return to Earth, he hooks up with the government, gets a big, teched-out skyscraper to study him (the Infinity Tower), and heeds the call of adventure when crises call. He’s backed by his three sisters – a dynamic I can’t recall ever seeing in comics – one of ‘em being a hipper-than-thou snark dispenser; another a dedicated tech-head who looks like a 30-year-old spinster; the last an astronaut herself, frustrated because Adam’s crash grounded the whole space program. My favorite’s the sarcastic sis. There’s something about seeing a Kirby-girl with piercings and a belly shirt that’s just so bizarre as to be innately cool. She’s full of it, though, as spinster-sis is well aware: “You’re so punk, Angie. The rest of us just aren’t worthy. Unfortunately, you’re about twenty-five years too late. Now you’re just a beer commercial.”

Archer’s first adventure pits him against what can only be described as a cosmic dog, crash-landed on Earth and possibly tied to the mystery of Archer’s origin. They fight, they make friends – you know the drill, but somehow Casey makes it all seem fresh. Maybe it’s the hipster dialogue, referencing everything from MY NAME IS EARL to MAXIM to THE WARRIORS – references sure to be dated in ten years, but that’s almost the charm, and certainly Kirby did the same. But it’s probably the bizarre villains like S&M fetishist Discordia, Friedrich Nicklehead with his Hef dinner jacket and one-liners (“Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like a million bucks…pre-inflation?”), and of course, the scene-stealing Basil Cronus. Cronus has the book’s best visual: a sideways-floating head in a jar, perched on a jumpsuited, humanoid body. He’s also got the most outrageous motivation: finding the ultimate, cosmic high. And he gets all the best lines…
“Wrong answer, sparkplug!”
“Peace is for hippies! Haven’t you heard? Violence is the new black!”
“You wouldn’t make sense even if I was stoned…!”
It’s characters like Basil that set GØDLAND apart from Kirby’s square-jawed doings and keep the book from being a direct pastiche or homage. Likewise the torture-fetish of Discordia (admittedly somewhat blunted by torture machines that look like pieces of Galactus’s armor). There’s even media commentary, as Discordia’s televised trial becomes an OJ-level event. And always there’s the existential backdrop of Archer trying to figure his cosmically-enhanced role in the evolution of mankind, asking the big questions, occasionally being rebuffed by a cosmic dog for his “boorish whining” (response: “Harsh.”). It’s all presented with the same heavy hand Kirby used in his celestial morality plays, so it’s hard to take it too seriously, but damned if it isn’t fun. Some of the most fun I’ve found in a comic all year, matter of fact. Casey writes the book “Marvel style”, scripting over completed art by Scioli based on his loose plots. Gives the book a spontaneity and sense of fun, evoking Stan Lee’s hipster smartassery without feeling like a dusty throwback.

But I’d be probably be recommending this book even if every bit of dialogue where edited out – such is the power of Scioli’s visuals and Bill Crabtree’s colors. Together, they evoke a world I not only believe in, but like a kid, wish I could visit. The character designs are nothing short of brilliant. The massive fortresses are just plain cool, steeped in Kirby iconography, but different – more modern. It’s actually a little mind-blowing to see ILM concepts like those holographic computer keyboards you see in movies like MINORITY REPORT as visualized with a Kirby makeover. Feels like a “What If?” scenario where “The King” is still alive and well, filtering new movies through his art the way he once filtered the likes of 2001 and PLANET OF THE APES.

I cannot recommend GØDLAND enough. It’s both sincere and kitschy in its loving evocation of the era of cosmic comics when action was explosive, metaphors were as big as a space ark blasting through the galaxy, and the only proper reaction to a concept like the Silver Surfer was, “Dude…AWESOME.”

Awesome indeed.

Read the first issue online in its entirety! Best cosmic dog since Lockjaw!

Read the eighth issue in its entirety! Behold Iboga! Squeegee your third eye!


Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Penciler: Becky Cloonan
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Everybody is looking for someone. Someone to love. Someone to marry and grow old with. Even someone to fornicate with in the bathroom of a Denny's after taking several hits of ecstasy and downing half a bottle of Jack Daniels...... okay, that's pretty much only me. But still. Everyone wants that special person in their life. And some people want being with that special someone to be extra special by staying chaste for them until their wedding day. Sick, I know, but it is sort of sweet in its own right.

Adam Chamberlin is that kind of person. Adam has a girlfriend named Cassandra, a girl he loves very much, and hopes to stay a virgin for until their wedding night. Because Adam believes that that is what God wants for him, and Adam believes wholly in God's word and lives his life accordingly. And he believes in it so much that he has become a spokesperson for a youth movement to preach the word of chastity. And he's the model spokesperson really. Young, very attractive, naturally charismatic, and surprisingly enough, very devout in his belief on chastity and marriage. He's not some fake out there to sap people out of money for their beliefs, he's just there to spread his message. His mother on the other hand, not so much...

What this issue does is it gives us a very detailed insight on Adam's life and the people in it. Which is only fair, it's the first issue and characters are important. The only downside to this is that a lot of the secondary characters seem to be pretty cliché. The "evil" parental figure trying to use Adam to make money and maybe even a political figure later in his life. Plus there's her sniveling sidekick. And some rather uncouth cousins that feel obligated to get Adam laid by hiring him a stripper/prostitute. But honestly, all this does is reflect better on Adam, who in himself is a rather unique commodity in honest to god believer. But that belief is shaken to the core as his girl Cassandra is horrifically murdered while on a Peace Corps mission in Africa. Now there's the Vertigo I know and love at work right there.....

Overall though, this was a really good starting issue. Adam himself is an interesting enough character to make up for the less than original side characters. But also, this is a first issue, and we really don't have much of a fleshing out of them, so who knows what we'll get as we get more insight into their personalities and motives. The book is ripe with satire and irony, but except for an instance on the last page it never really feels like it's overwhelming you with it. And the art is very solid as well. I loved Cloonan's work on DEMO, and was very excited to see that she was teaming up with Seagle on this book. And it works with the subject matter. I mean, there's the occasional unusual looking head shot or whatever, but for the most part the facial expressions and body language of her renderings do a lot to enhance the events going on. Just like in DEMO she brings a lot of personality to the characters (even those hurting in that department) and the book enjoys her presence.

AMERICAN VIRGIN has a lot of potential. The twist at the end of the book leaves a lot of room to develop Adam's character, and like I said before, there seems to be a lot of building to be done on the rather dysfunctional family around him. If Seagle can work his satirical magic, and avoid falling into predictablepitfalls, I can see this book becoming one of the more engaging reads on the stands. This first time was anything but gentle...and I think I liked it that way.


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Gaydos
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

Anyone remember when THE PULSE was first announced? Lead Jessica Jones had gotten to a better place by the end of her MAX book, ALIAS, and was ready for a new, more mainstream friendly title. And it was originally billed as a book about her new life working for the Daily Bugle newspaper. I remember being intrigued by some of the themes writer Brian Bendis was planning, talking about the modern news business, the pressure that all print media outlets are under from electronic media, and the problem that people just don’t read any more.

Well, that approach didn’t last long. The Daily Bugle backdrop kinda/sorta remained for the series, but lost center stage within the first few issues. Afterwards – encounters with the Green Goblin and Hydra, awkwardly timed crossovers with the perpetually late SECRET WAR miniseries, a Hawkeye-centric crossover with the HOUSE OF M miniseries…and just every once in a while, some quality time between Jessica Jones and boyfriend Luke Cage. That last item is really the only quality that’s given the book any grounding and the only reason I’ve kept up with it. As muddled and directionless as THE PULSE has been (four artists in fourteen issues, by the by), Cage and Jones are a couple I simply enjoy seeing Bendis write. I’ll even go a step further: they’re the best-written couple in the current Marvel Universe.

Good thing they get the entire last issue pretty much to themselves.

The framing device for PULSE 14 is Jessica trying to make up her mind whether to marry Luke Cage. They’re a modern couple, neither of ‘em really the marrying type – but out of nowhere, Luke springs the question and Jessica’s gotta deal. And, honestly, it’s a pretty beautiful scene. It happens as a flashback kicked off when Jessica’s babbling away to her sleeping baby (her kid by Cage), a decent storytelling device for a giddy new mother. Jessica confides in the kid that she didn’t even think Cage knew what the word “marriage” meant, and suddenly we cut to the moment right after he popped the question. Artist Michael Gaydos takes some static for his photo-derived artwork, especially for action sequences, but those beat panels of Cage’s beaming smile as Jessica cocks her head, trying to figure him out…really, they just capture the moment wonderfully.

What follows is one of those Bendisisms that drives me to drink: the soliloquy where one character says a whole damn bunch of stuff over just a few utterly word-crammed panels. In this case, it’s Cage telling Jessica why he wants to marry her. It’s a double-page spread with two stacked panels running across both pages, and it’s got Cage going on for no less than 33 connected word balloons. On one hand, hitting a spread like this always feels like a brick wall after pages of sequential art. But credit where due: Bendis arranges those 33 word balloons with intricate precision to control timing. The approach allows for more control over timing than would straight text, and given that the characters are meant to mostly have fixed expressions, not requiring sequential visual updates…I can sorta roll with it.

I certainly like the words themselves. Cage makes a heartfelt case for giving their kid “legitimate” parentage given that he’s already gonna have to deal with being biracial and the son of two superheroes. And Luke admits that he doesn’t want to be a cliché – the guy who knocks up a girl and just takes care of her on the side. I have to say, I really, really like old school Luke Cage from the yellow shirt/chain-belt days, who combined blaxploitation flair with traditional heroism, but the more rounded tough guy Bendis has fleshed out is pretty great too. Unlike Brian Azzarello, Bendis has never lost sight of one of the most quintessential facets of Luke Cage: he’s always been and always will be a stand-up guy.

While Jessica mulls Cage’s question over, she flashes back to their first meeting. It happens during a bust-up of the Owl’s gang during a short-lived period when she tried being a superhero for the second time (first hinted at waaaaay back in ALIAS). This was a period when Jones was trying out the “dark hero” look when everyone else was doing them same (she cites even Spider-Man having a black costume), but it’s short-lived. Obviously her heart’s just not in it, but the reason she finally drops it, quite publicly, is actually a selfless one. See, one of the thugs she busts alongside Power Man and Iron Fist has his two kids with him, and the police are about to take them into protective custody at the station. It’s a neat tip to the surprisingly maternal nature Jessica will eventually exhibit when she volunteers her own home for the night over an unnerving stay at the police station. Of course, the cops are hardly about to hand the kids over to a costumed vigilante, but someone with a name, a record on file, and even some S.H.I.E.L.D. connections…well, that’d be another story.

So ends the career of “Knightress” (ouch), but Jones’ move definitely catches Luke Cage’s attention. The best scene in the issue starts with him visiting her apartment after she’s unmasked for the police:
Luke: Hi.
Jessica: Hi. Uh, what are you doing here?
Luke: I had guilt so I thought I’d come hang out a little.
Jessica: You had guilt about what?
Luke: I was going to go home and watch Kung Fu reruns while you took off your mask in front of the cops just so a couple a’ kids can get a good night’s sleep. I never seen anything like that…what you did. And I’ve seen some stuff.
Jessica: How’d you find me?
Luke: Jessica Jones. I’ll never forget the name now.
I can cite plenty of faults with Bendis’ work at Marvel, but the depiction of this relationship sure ain’t one of ‘em. Makes me wish maybe that Bendis had some book where all he did was write about superheroes in their downtime. PULSE could have been that book, but most of the time, it didn’t know what it was.

Still and all: it did manage to end the right way, so in the spirit of the moment – best wishes to the happy couple.


Writer: Tony Bedard
Artist: Jason Orfalas
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewerbot: Ambush Bug

I have to admit that, at first, this was a hard issue for me to pick up and get into. I do it all of the time. I pick up a book. Glance at a few pages, then put it down and move onto something else. This doesn’t mean that the discarded book is good or bad. It just means that I am a fickle sumbitch and I have to be in the right mood for the right type of story to read it. So when I picked up RETRO ROCKET and began to read it for the third time, I decided to stick with it until the end.

And this was one of those times that I’m glad I did.

Initially, I thought I would have a hard time writing a review on this book. I’m not the biggest fan of the giant robot genre. Sure, I loved IRON GIANT, but who didn’t? But I was never a fan of VOLTRON or SHOGUN WARRIORS or GEOFORCE or even TRANSFORMERS and one look at the design of RETRO ROCKET and thoughts of those old battle robot properties immediately came to mind. But after the initial battle sequence that starts out this issue, writer Tony Bedard lets us peek under the hood of Retro Rocket and quickly clues us in that this is a story about a complex character that just so happens to be a robot. An obsolete robot. A robot out of touch with the world. A robot who still wants to do the job he was programmed for despite the fact that those around him think of him as scrap-heap material.

That’s right. Robot angst is what this issue is dripping with and Bedard introduces enough of it to push aside those initial prejudices I had towards the giant robot genre. Turns out that Retro Rocket was actually once a human. Now his brain is the only thing left that isn’t made of metal and circuitry. But Retro remembers what it is like to feel. He knows heartache and disappointment. He knows loneliness and shame. He is a conflicted character, trapped in a metal body with only vague memories of humanity. I found myself cheering on this underdog hero and in the end, when Retro is racing to grab his jetpack to join the battle, I held back a “Hell yeah, go Retro, go!” This is not a story about giant metal monsters crashing into each other and knocking over buildings. Well, it has that. But mainly, it is a story about an underdog with a heart of gold who is doing everything he can to be the best despite what others tell him. Think RUDY meets ULTRA MAN with a little bit of STARSHIP TROOPERS thrown in for good measure and I think you’ll get the feeling of this book. Add a spunky and leggy new mechanic assigned to polish Retro’s knobs and this book may turn out to be something kind of special.

Although I found the designs of the more modern robots to be a bit clichéd, I really like Retro Rocket’s design. He kind of looks like an old Cadillac with silver streaks lining his crimson armor plating. Jason Orfalas seems to be heavily influenced by Manga, but his style fits this genre, so that’s okay with me. I really like the way Orfalas makes Retro express himself through his large blue, circular eyes, which just amps the Manga feel of this book, but like I said, it didn’t bother me much. Retro Rocket has a distinct design that is immediately eye-catching.

I had initial reservations about this book, but after plowing through it, I found this to be an endearing introductory issue. One worth picking up. I like the way Retro looks and I ended up cheering for him in the final pages. RETRO ROCKET was a nice surprise. I’m interested in seeing what this little angst-ridden robot has in store for me.


Writer: Stuart Moore
Artist: Jamal Igle
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

A solid little surprise, that’s what FIRESTORM #23 is.

Quick bit of background: I’d tried the first few issues of the relaunched FIRESTORM two years back and didn’t find anything worth sticking with. What little I’d read of the original Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond, I missed, as the new kid – college geek, Jason Rusch – regressed Firestorm’s concept back to the character being a newbie hero. Gah, not another Kyle Rayner! I missed Ronnie as the somewhat cocky hero who tended to get in over his head; I didn’t need DC’s answer to a nerdy Peter Parker type. And the new FIRESTORM suffered from Hulk syndrome: it didn’t know what to do with the character, especially the core concept of Firestorm as a hero created by the melding of two personalities. Unlike the original Firestorm, Rusch could merge with anyone – decent possibilities there, having random folks in his head while he did the hero thing – but later, Rusch was able to power up with no merge at all. But he could merge if he wanted to. Still later he forged a more serious bond with the other half of the original Firestorm, professor Martin Stein, now a cosmically-aware entity. And all the while, the series was saddled with IDENTITY CRISIS and INFINITE CRISIS crossovers…

Jesus jumped-up Christ, that ain’t how you establish an identity for a new book!

But the new issue was part of the post-CRISIS “One Year Later” relaunches - hypothetically a fresh start. And since I still liked the concept of Firestorm, still liked the costume that with each issue moved closer to the original look (the puffy pirate sleeves are back), I decided to give it a shot.

For a book whose previous relaunch always felt sluggish to me, I liked that this one kicked off with a bang – literally. Lexcorp is demo-ing a nuclear missile design for the military, a design reverse-engineered from Thanagarian technology (Hawkman’s peeps, ya know?). As Firestorm notes, “If you’re gonna build genocidal weaponry, you might as well go Thanagarian.” Of course, the missile’s supposed to be armed only with a fraction of its potential for the test in the desert, but when it hits its target – whoops! - a full-scale nuke goes off. With the worst nuclear disaster in American history looming, the Lexcorp exec coolly tells everyone to relax – see, she’s got a man on the inside.

That man man, of course, is Firestorm, and he truly is inside. Gets a badass splash page walking through the heart of the nuke like Keyser Soze slo-mo stalking out of his burning house in THE USUAL SUSPECTS. A pretty neat little action sequence follows, with Firestorm soaking up all the excess radiation and taking out the cluster-bombs meant as stage two in the test. The scene also introduces a mystery: just who’s in his head? Who’s he merging with “One Year Later”? It doesn’t seem to be Professor Stein, though the Professor’s clearly still a part of Jason Rusch’s life. Thankfully the mystery doesn’t drag on, and the answer’s pretty satisfying. Fellow hero, it turns out. Second or third-tier, but an interesting and appropriate choice, especially if you know a bit of the original Firestorm’s history.

Now. There are some weak points to the sequence as well, notably the “oops, we thought it was a low-yield missile!” shrug of the Lexcorp rep. And it’s pretty silly that after such a near-disaster, Firestorm seems so nonchalant about it all, flying off seemingly minutes later with a simple, “I gotta go. I’m sure you’ll figure this out.” Uh, did ya miss that the entire state of Nevada nearly got smoked, kid? And no serious concerns about the mysterious, cyborg-lookin’ corpse found near the missile’s impact site (at least he took a skin sample for Stein to check out)?

Definitely some groaner moments, but I really liked the larger-than-life nature of the opener - enough to be forgiving as long as the book does some serious follow-up work. Firestorm’s one of those heroes like Green Lantern – powerful enough that you gotta throw some heavy-duty shit at him to match his power level. I see a nuclear explosion as a good start.

The second half of the issue follows Jason and his new merge-pal, clearly having the same personality clash issues Ronnie and Stein used to. Solid soap operatics, with some notable allusions to the One Year Gap. I don’t know that I like these One Year Later books playing the gap’s mysteries so coyly, obviously a lure to read DC’s “52” mega-series. If you’re trying to relaunch a book with total approachability, isn’t it a better idea to have all the cards on the table? To let the series develop its own mysteries? Writer Stuart Moore does a good job of getting the reader up to speed, but there’s still a nagging feeling that he could easily fill in a bit more history but for 52 looming as DC’s Next Big Thing.

Moore doesn’t dwell on history too long, though, as the book’s second action sequence kicks in, a new threat is leveled, and we wrap on an explosive cliffhanger tied into a new aspect of the Firestorm merge. Careful, now! Good cliffhanger, but that mutability of concept is precisely the kind of thing that keeps the character from becoming iconic.

At least the look remains good and memorable. Hell, I think half the reason Firestorm’s maintained a DC presence is the swanky costume design, ably handled here by Jamal Igle. It’s slightly updated, with cool glowy piping here and there, but for the most part we’re getting the same look Al Milgrom first cooked up in ’78 (give the man his due). Igle’s a solid craftsman from the same realist school I associate with guys like Leonard Kirk (JSA) and Dale Eaglesham (VILLAINS UNITED). I usually like my artists a little more individualized, a little more demonstrative stylistically, but he’s solid as a rock. Good storytelling, distinct character design…action sequences might could use a bit more punch.

All in all, I liked the package enough to make plans to try the next few issues. The character still needs to be pinned down (I noticed his powers weren’t particularly well explained in the issue) and he could probably use a good villain as part of that very defining. ‘Course, I wasn’t expecting to have any interest in the book at all, so just the fact that I’m interested in what happens next suggests it might be on the right track.


Creator: Eiji Nonaka
Publisher: ADV
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

An Overview of Volumes 1-5

Good ol' Dave Farabee reviewed the first volume of this manga about six months ago and he pretty much hit the nail on the head there, but I felt it deserved another look with the recent release of volume five. The basic premise is this: smart guy Kamiyama agrees to go to any high school his dumb friend can get into to help inspire him, even Cromartie - the lowest of the low, where only dumb badasses go, because everyone else can qualify for better schools. Kamiyama ends up at Cromartie - but his friend fails to even make it in there, and he's alone with a school full of dumb thugs.

Meet some of his classmates:

Hayashida: An idiot with a trademark mohawk, he's dumber than the gorilla. He likes to change the subject.

Maeda: Badass with no nickname, which means he's a nobody. He is constantly kidnapped by other schools, and people hang out at his house without asking all the time. He looks just like his mother - and I mean JUST like her.

Mechazawa: A barrel-shaped robot who thinks he is human. Nobody can bring themselves to tell him otherwise. He is sometimes broken and rebuilt as a motorcycle.

Mechazawa Beta: Mechazawa's little brother, he's actually older than Mechazawa. Figure that one out.

Freddie: Nobody knows who this guy is. He's an older man who looks just like Freddie Mercury who just showed up to school one day. He never actually says anything. Freddie rides a horse to school, and is friends with the gorilla.

Gorilla: Yes, this is an actual gorilla. It just showed up in class one day. In volume five, more will arrive. The gorilla is better at arithmetic than Hayashida and smarter than most of the hoods in the school. He can actually use a stepladder, for example.

Hokuto: The son of a rich businessman, he came to Cromartie in an attempt to crush it under his bootheel and stayed as one of the gang. He's a pompous boob kept in his place by thugs. In later volumes, his Hokuto Corps rebels against him.

Hokuto's henchman: This guy keeps trying to tell people his name, and nobody cares enough to listen. He's got no presence at all. He acts like Hokuto was his master.

Takenouchi: The head of the 1st years at Cromartie, this guy is the biggest badass of them all but he gets motion sick. He's also quite intelligent.

Masked Takenouchi: One of the crooks who hijacked a plane the Cromartie guys were on. Takenouchi took his place in the hijack gang, and he took Takenouchi's place at Cromartie. Nobody noticed the difference. He wears a Mexican wrestling mask all the time, and lives at Takenouchi's house, even after Takenouchi returned to school.

The Four Great Ones: The biggest badasses of Cromartie's second years, there are actually five of them. They wear makeup like KISS and can't recognize each other without it.

Unlike most manga, CROMARTIE HIGH SCHOOL runs in a series of short, six-or-so page gag strips. There is continuity, but the manga isn't focused on it unless it is necessary to make one of the jokes work. And occasionally, something will just happen. And it will be fucking hilarious. I laugh more reading this book than any other, and it is a laugh of sheer joy. The absurdity of the goings-on at Cromartie are so wonderful that they make my head hurt. The comic timing is perfect, and that makes up for a bit of roughness to the art. Character designs are hilarious, and comic masterpieces all on their own. Masked Takenouchi, Freddie, the Four Great Ones, Akiro Nakao and his puppet Mick, and Mechazawa are just some of the characters that made me crack up before they even did anything.

I'm in love with this manga. If you like to laugh, and have any fondness at all for absurdity, you will be too. And let's face it - who couldn't use a good laugh?


Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Ryoichi Ikegami
Publisher: Dark Horse
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

Even tough guys cry

The idea of freedom is a basic one to most of us, taken for granted by many. Even at its worst, though, the law doesn't really take away your freedom to do something - it imposes consequences for doing it, and some of those consequences may take away freedoms, like prison or death. So, if you really want to do something restricted, you can - you may just have to face the consequences. Not so Yo Himemura, protagonist of CRYING FREEMAN.

Himemura was once an up-and-coming artist, working with pottery, until he got hold of some negatives that the Chinese mafia known as the 108 Dragons wanted back. Instead, he sent them to the police. In retaliation, they kidnapped him, used acupuncture to place post-hypnotic suggestions to turn him into an assassin and trained him, then set him loose under their control, after convincing him that his life was theirs now. In the early stages, he had no choice - when they activated the hypnotic suggestion, he lost all free will, and so they gave him the ironic codename Freeman - because that's what he wanted to be. But after each murder, he would always cry a stream of tears for his lost innocence and foul deeds, so he became the Crying Freeman instead.

Eventually, Himemura became inured to the idea of an assassin's life, and now does it willingly, though he does not seem to enjoy it. He was seen, however, killing one of his most recent targets by the lovely and lonely Emu Hino, and she has decided that though he will most certainly kill her, he must make a woman of her first. After killing a powerful yakuza boss, Himemura sets his sights on Hino, and their meeting sets off a chain of events that complicates both of their lives as they try to find love while the yakuza and police hunt them both and the 108 Dragons take a dim view of their relationship...

This is a manga I'm glad to see being reprinted, as I missed it the first time around. I've heard a number of good things about it over the years, so I'm glad it's back in circulation. The idea of a brainwashed killer isn't a new one, but it's done so well here that it doesn't feel at all retread. The artwork certainly compliments the feel of the story well - Ikegami does great greasy mobster and wire-style kung-fu action - and the emptiness inside both Himemura and Hino comes through palpably in their eyes and faces. There is a nice blend of action, intrigue, and romance here, and though it comes across as fantastic, it never seems really unbelievable. There is also some explicit sex, so if you don't want to read that or are thinking about giving this to a child (what the hell are you thinking?) be aware of that. It features my favorite manga device, the inviso-dick, where censors made the penis invisible but by god she's sucking on something.

The latest in a line of Kazuo Koike-penned manga to be reprinted by Dark Horse, this is another winner, and Ryoichi Ikegami lives up to his reputation as a manga artist supreme. If you have an interest in crime or just like a good action story, CRYING FREEMAN is for you.

Writer: Gerry Finley-Day
Art: Brett Ewins, Cam Kennedy, Boluda, Steve Dillon, Trevor Goring
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

I recently had the privilege of having a bundle of 2000AD reprint trade paperbacks land on my doorstep. Fellow @$$hole Sleazy G tells me that this is the first time a lot of these stories have been collected and reprinted in America, giving a whole new audience a taste of 2000AD goodness. For years, I had heard about 2000AD and how innovative and entertaining the serialized magazine was. I knew that in its 25 years of existence the magazine has made a name for itself as one of the forerunners in science fiction comic books. I knew that some of today’s hottest creators got their start at this company and it continues to be a pool with a wealth of creativity. But until I cracked open my first trade ( FAMILY , which I reviewed in Indie Jones just three weeks ago), I had never read a 2000AD book in my life. You see, I have never been a big fan of science fiction stories. I always found them to be too invested in the technological aspects of the genre and that the over attention to those aspects often was a deterrence to the story itself. Too often, in films, TV shows, and books, the flow of the plot comes to a screeching halt as the tech head explains the hows and whys behind whatever futuristic gizmo is the center of attention. It’s this fetishistic attention towards science that turned me off. It’s like the story was secondary to how much the writer can prove he’s “light years” ahead of his time with all of the future stuff he’s come up with. Kind of like a bad horror movie which spends months and a lot of money making the monster or effects look cool, then churns out a half-assed script on the way to a shoot.

Turns out I was wrong. Turns out I was paying attention to the wrong sci fi. Turns out 2000AD pays attention to both the future stuff and the story. Turns out 2000AD is one of those late finds that I’m going to have a hell of a good time catching up with.

After digging the hell out of FAMILY, I chose to read through ROGUE TROOPER. I noticed the eye catching cover featuring a determined, blue, bare-chested soldier carrying what looked to be a frightened soldier in a gas mask through a jungle of spiked wire. Check out the cover. It’s definitely something you don’t see every day and this image alone was enough to make me choose this book as the next one to cover.

ROGUE TROOPER is the story of the last of the genetic infantrymen. This is the third trade paperback in this series and it picks up as Rogue has gone AWOL. But he’s not alone. With him, he’s carrying the bio-chip personalities of three dead soldiers. Helm’s chip is grafted to Rogue’s helmet. Bagman’s to his backpack. And Gunner’s chip is sealed to his rifle. These three chips provide most of the dialog throughout the trade. Each has its own personality. Each has gained the respect of Rogue. And each, from time to time, pisses him off. Rogue is a one man army with talking equipment searching for the traitorous general that betrayed him. Pretty damn cool, huh?

The cool thing about these ROGUE TROOPER trades is that they are split into five to eight page installments. They are easily digestible and a good way to kill an afternoon. I found myself diving into these stories and losing myself in this battle zone world.

Both trades have many great stories, but I liked EYE OF THE TRAITOR’s batch the best. “Bio-Wire” is the story that goes with that distinctive cover and ends on a truly horrifying note. “Major Magnum” introduces Rogue to a handgun with the memory chip of a dead commanding officer who still likes to boss around his troops. But by favorite of the bunch is entitled “Milli-Com Memories” where Rogue is wounded in battle and it’s up to Rogue’s helmet, backpack, and rifle to save the day without the battle-ready hands of their handler. As Helm, Bagman, and Gunner try their hardest to protect and revive Rogue, he slips in and out of consciousness and accidentally reveals secrets that his talking paraphernalia did not know. It was entertaining to see a helmet arguing with a backpack and a gun, telling them to shut up and listen as Rogue mutters away secrets from their past. I think I liked this story the most because I myself often talk in my sleep and fear that one day it’s going to get me into deep trouble if the wrong set of ears are listening. Whatever it was, stories like these take full advantage of the futuristic setting the stories are set in and run in imaginative directions. Never is the story bogged down with unnecessary details. Sometimes the futuristic ideas are backdrops for the stories, but the stories are themselves strong and take advantage of the sci fi setting to build a more interesting story.

ROGUE TROOPER is one of those properties thats only limit is the writer’s imagination. Writer and creator Gerry Finley-Day confidently melds military action with sci fi thrills. The art provided by the likes of Cam Kennedy, Steve Dillon, Trevor Goring, Brett Ewins, and Boluda capture the grit and grime of the war-zone and makes all of the future stuff look battle-worn. This black and white trade is something special and another indication that 2000AD has been producing some of the best comic book stories I had never heard of until now. It took me a while, but I’m glad I discovered these stories that may have been published over 20 years ago, but read as fresh as if they were produced today.

IDW Publishing

Okay, I’m ready to outright say it: this story is paced for the trade. Four issues in (there was a zero issue, remember), and we’re only now getting to the point of somewhat regularly showing the Transformers in their robot form. I’ve also decided I don’t like the coloring, a kind of blah airbrush look that either needs a broader color palette or more imagination and subjective choices. That said, I’m still enjoying the story and characters, especially the resistance our current lead, Ratchet, is hitting in helping out the humans. There’s a strong exchange with the most by-the-book Autobot, Prowl, and old-school fave Bumblebee finally appears, eavesdropping like Samwise at the beginning of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Also notable: Triple-changer Blitzwing blowing shit up with the help of the lesser-seen Decepticon jet, Skywarp (nice to see writer Simon Furman employing both heroes and villains to their strengths – Skywarp’s perfect for hit-and-run nastiness with his teleportation abilities). Overall the series still rates, still has my eye – I just wish it moved at a faster clip or had a few less scenes spotlighting meat-people – I mean, humans. - Dave Farabee

The New Radio

This was an awesome read. It’s the kind of comic that perfectly exemplifies what sequential art means, using only pictures to tell a surrealistic tale. Is it a political statement? A fable pitting civilization vs. nature? A moral lesson about no man being an island? That’s the cool thing with this story. The lack of words makes this comic universal and open to many interpretations. Creator Alex Cahill is responsible for the silent one-shot SOMETHING SO FAMILIAR that I reviewed a few months ago in this Indie Jones section, and his mastery over the progression of silent panels has grown in that short time. The story opens with a boy sitting on a lone island, enjoying his solitary existence, but that relaxing state is soon interrupted by another boy, mysterious parts of a machine, and a city that appears in the distance. This is a truly wonderful read. A fast read, but one that stuck with me long after I put it down. It’s available in April. You adventurous indie types shouldn’t miss this one and those of you who are sick of the over-speak littering mainstream comics should check it out too. - Ambush Bug

MU Press

“Here comes a cynic,” remarks a sentient rock as alien liaison Keif Llama approaches on her mission to debunk local dieties for the Galactic Confederation. It’s typical of the issue, a wry look at religion from an intergalactic perspective, riffing somewhat on Douglas Adams’ infamous answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (“42”). She finds some deities easy to explain away – one’s just a bird left by a tourist on a planet of immobile mold cultures who pick up its “caw caw” sound as inexplicable vibrations running through all of its citizenship (“Zazar is bigger than us.” “Zazar calls to us.” “We hear Zazar everywhere.”). Other gods are harder to explain, like the three-headed centipede-thingee on the planet called Laverne’s Garden (“I’m not converted,” Keif ultimately notes, “But I am impressed.”) Overall, it’s a lesser outing for the series that won me over so completely when I stumbled across it a few months ago, but even a lesser issue of KEIF LLAMA is good fun. Hell, no less than Neil Gaiman says so on the inside back cover. An ongoing recommendation, best ordered through creator Matt Howarth’s own site. - Dave Farabee

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.

DC Comics

As with much of Grant Morrison’s work, I put this comic down recognizing that it was some pretty entertaining, well-written, and innovative storytelling, but at the same time I damn near scratched a hole straight through my scalp, past skull, and deep into the lobe of my brain trying to figure it all out. “Wha-huh?” is the only word I can use to describe this trippy ending to Morrison’s retake on Kirby’s New Gods concepts. Morrison takes us back in time, stopping at various periods of Mister Miracle’s life, and ties it all up in a bow to ham-fistedly attach it to the final SEVEN SOLDIERS issue that brings all of these miniseries together. Morrison has the ability to entertain me while making me feel like an idiot. And I’m kind of okay with that…I think. *scratch-scratch* - Bug

Marvel Comics

Have you always felt that the Fantastic Four should be approached with a morose touch emphasizing their freakishness over a sense of adventure? Then I’ve got the book for you! Somehow written by the same Joe Casey who gave us the lovingly trippy Lee/Kirby pastiche, GODLAND, and drawn with stunning, if utterly inappropriate realism by Gary Erskine, FIRST FAMILY is essentially a retelling of the FF’s origin. It’s really the same pattern we saw in Casey’s other revisionist origin miniseries, X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM and AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES – great art, story that’s about as fun as GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS. First issue takes place entirely at a government facility where the FF are isolated and interned following the crash, and if hearing the Human Torch’s ability to generate flame described as “ambient, spontaneous combustion combined with a self-generating plasma field” sounds like your bag…well…have at it! For me, going with a NASA metaphor to suit the issue’s realism, it’s less Apollo 11, more Apollo 1. - Dave

DC Vertigo

If this issue shows anything, it's that Bill Willingham really does have an unfaltering direction for how this book develops. Last issue introduced us to Rodney and June, two animated Wooden Folk residing in the Fable's Homelands and who also happen to be in love. Rodney and June intend to become flesh so they can fully express that love, but they can't afford the attention brought to them over it so they secretly make their way to Father Geppetto's in order to do so. He agrees, but at a cost. Rodney and June become flesh, but they also become spies for the Adversary as they are sent to the mundy world to live alongside the exiled Fables and report on them. They've also apparently been at it for quite a few years, being observers to the same events of Fabletown as we have since the series' inception. And with that Willingham takes what looks on the outside to just be a "throwaway tale" and turns it into a very important plot point that can and will have huge ramifications on the series. Plus it looks pretty cool under Jim Fern's guest pencils. And it's funny to boot! Just another example of great writing and great planning from a great book. - Humphrey

Marvel Comics

Seriously, folks. Do we really need another ongoing Spider-Man book? I mean, we already have the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN retelling and making it look new book, JMS’ convoluted AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Peter David’s well-written but anything but FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN, and now Marvel is restarting SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN. Is this needed? Well, the answer is “Hellz yes, hombre!” because this is the only title out of the bunch that is actually worth talking about. I think a lot of people are going to overlook this book because it started at #23 last month and doesn’t have the biggest of big-name creative teams, but writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Angel Medina have delivered another rock-solid issue as a gaggle of Spidey’s friends and foes are acting a more than a little crazy. It’s all tied together somehow and Spidey probably would have figured this out by now if he didn’t have to deal with a cannibalistic Vulture last issue and a blood-lusting Lizard and son in this one. Add a completely feral Black Cat and things just got interesting. Aguirre-Sacasa pays attention to a lot of Spidey history and adds some great interactions between Black Cat and Spidey. Angel Megina’s art hasn’t looked better and his action scenes rip and roar. Last issue ended with a race against time nail-biter. This issue ends with similar intensity. Two issues in and I have to say that this is proving to be the best mainstream Spider-Man comic on the stands. - Bug

DC Comics

This ish: Matt Wagner draws one helluva bitchin’ Batmobile. Oh, there’s other good stuff too, but damn is that a cool Batmobile! - Dave

DC Vertigo

This book is definitely damned creepy. Last issue we had some happy-time moments like AJ, the bug-fighting partner of our main character Henry, dying from pretty much exploding from the inside due to shooting up with roach killer. This issue we have a really old naked woman being partially devoured by magots in some sort of insane asylum... Yea... But I have to say, I'm really enjoying this book. This issue introduced some really interesting twists. We've got Henry getting a new partner in the Buddha loving Stretch. We see Henry finally meeting up with the Latino woman with the roach problem he met in the first issue to help her with that problem...but that goes to hell. And we get a little bit deeper in just how bad the bug situation may be getting due to this DRAXX stuff. If there's anything I can say about this book, it’s that it is truly unique. I can honestly say I've never seen characters like this in a comic book, nor the subject matter around it. And that's a very good thing. I love the dark humor about this book, and I love the way Tony Moore illustrates it all. The only real problem I have is that the pacing is a little too slow. We're getting decent glimpses of the ongoing story each issue, but that's pretty much it, glimpses. But I'd just like a bit more than that. Just a little more direction as to the kind of scope this book is working on. Otherwise, this book is about as fun as you get when it comes to "mature reading" in comics. Highly recommended. - Humphrey

DC Comics



Forget Grant Morrison for a moment. Even though this is another well-done installment to the SEVEN SOLDIERS epic, I want to focus on the real treat of this issue. Doug MAhnke’s art. Fellow @$$hole Professor Challenger wrote an entire review a while back commending artist Doug Mahnke on the character design of Frankenstein. Well, after reading this issue, I have to add to the @$$-lathering of Mr. Mahnke for this issue’s design of the Bride, the four-armed (each brandishing a pistol) femme fatale created long ago to be the perfect mate for Frankenstein’s Monster. It is well known that the Bride rejected ol’ Frankie long ago, but Morrison reveals that she is now a government operative looking to recruit the newly resurfaced Frankenstein into the fold. If you thought Mahnke’s Frankenstein looked cool, check out the Bride. After this whole SEVEN SOLDIERS thing is over, I DEMAND to see an ongoing starring these two. Simply breathtaking artwork in this miniseries. - Bug

I know, I know. You can’t get much more fanboy-ish than doing a dream cast of your favorite comics, but since there’s been such a heightened activity of casting going on in the Talkbacks, I thought it was prime time to do another Casting Couch. Haters, take leave. You know you all do it. Admit it. It’s fun to talk about these types of what if? scenarios. And the Casting Couch is the place for fanboys to be just that.
Ambush Bug here and once again I’ve got the casting bug. This time, I’m making room on the couch for the greatest super-hero team ever. The Justice Society of America, otherwise known as…

A JSA movie would span decades, require a pretty huge cast, and in the end would be a massive project. The theme of this one would be the same as it is in the current JSA series: Tradition. Special effects to match the team’s various powers and abilities would require a pretty big budget, so big-time A-list actors requiring big paychecks would be out of the question. I mean, would you rather see some lesser name stars as these heroes or Ed Wood effects shots? Be sure to click on the pics for larger images.

This team would consist of old timers, heroes in their prime, and newbies representing the past, present, and future of heroism. The old timers, displaced at the end of World War II, find the world in need of a team of super heroes. The leader of the old schoolers is Alan Scott AKA Green Lantern. For this role, I’d cast wizened actor Jon Voight (ANACONDA, MIDNIGHT COWBOY). Even though these days he’s sealed his fate as a villain in the upcoming GHOST RIDER film, I always thought he played a good guy much more effectively. I believe he’d do the job as the original JSA’s most powerful member and ring bearer of the magical emerald flame.

When the Flash Jay Garrick comes up, everyone always screams for Paul Newman to play him in a film. But although he’s still a great actor, Newman is looking pretty elderly and I just don’t see the guy running anywhere. I’d go with someone a bit younger. Sam Shepard (THE RIGHT STUFF, upcoming DON’T COME KNOCKING) is still lithe and spry enough to pull off the role. Look at his pic and the Flash’s. Almost an exact match. I could believe this guy could still run. Newman—not so much.

Although the actor playing Dr. Fate would spend most of his time wearing a golden helmet, he’d have to have a voice that is both powerful and recognizable. Clancy Brown (CARNIVALE, HIGHLANDER) has both the size and the voice to achieve such a task. With or without the golden helmet of Nabu, Brown
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