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AICN COMICS REVIEWS YEAR FIVE!!!!!

#1 5/3/06 #5

AICN COMICS PRESENTS FYL…
FIVE YEARS LATER!

Five years.

Five years of snark and wit and parody and shrewd criticism and debate and flame wars and Cogs and trolls. Five years of reviews and Cheap Shots and Casting Couches and Tales from the Crevices and the @$$ie Awards and Roundtables and Big Eyes for the Cape Guys and Indie Jones and Moobie Reviews and @$$holes Abroad reports and Shoot the Messenger reports and utter, unabashed, wanton jack-@$$ery.

Five years ago, the legend known as The Comedian sent AICN a review of an X-Force comic. Soon after, he gathered a ragtag group of loudmouth comic book geeks and gave us a name (The Talkback League of @$$holes) and a purpose. Our motto was to not hold back and let the world know what we really thought of these little four-color addictions we all have itching at our wallets and minds. Little did any of us know that we’d be around five years later, still kicking it straight from the heart, off the cuff, and into your collective faces.

I’m Ambush Bug. We’re the @$$holes of AICN Comics. We’ve had a lot of fun at AICN over the years. Thanks goes out to all of you in the TBs for keeping us on our toes and keeping our talkbacks long and girthy. We’ve got a lot of cool things coming up for you guys this year. So let’s get right into it with this week’s pull.


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

ESSENTIAL CLASSIC X-MEN VOL. 2
INFINITE CRISIS #7
ANNIHILATION: SILVER SURFER #2
OUTSIDERS #36
CIVIL WAR #1
NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1
Big Eyes for the Cape Guy presents EAGLE: THE MAKING OF AN ASIAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT
Indie Jones presents WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE - THE TASTER #0
Indie Jones presents THIEVES & KINGS Vol. 1
Indie Jones presents SENTINELS VOLUMES 1-3
Indie Jones presents…
CHEAP SHOTS!

ESSENTIAL CLASSIC X-MEN VOL. 2

Written by Roy Thomas, Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich
Art by Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith, Ross Andru, Werner Roth, Don Heck, John Buscema, George Tuska
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik

Steranko!

Ster-ank-o!

Steranko!


Are you one of those people who can get away with shouting out your own name during sex? Many of us suffering from narcissism and egomania are inclined to do that, but unless we're alone at the time, we get called on it. Then, there are those who are cool enough that their partners may feel so lucky that they don't complain. Of course, these cool individuals may not be so self-absorbed that they must scream out their names at critical moments.

I'll bet you that artist Jim Steranko could get away with: "Yeah, go, Steranko, go!" and the chick wouldn't even mind.

Steranko is one of the rare geniuses in graphic storytelling. He came along at the right time and not only drew with a powerful flair and perspective that was incredibly different from the majority of the comic book art produced up to that point, but he kept ripping through the envelope. His page layouts, perspectives, use of shadings, mood, and general freaky design helped mutate Marvel art, just as Kirby creating the whole Universe helped mutate comic book art as a concept. Steranko mutated the mutant.

If you haven't already, I suggest that you skate down to your local comic shop and pick up such trades as MARVEL VISIONARIES: JIM STERANKO and NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD and NICK FURY: SCORPIO. All are exceptional and you may see something that inspired some of your favorite artists.

Unbelievably, Steranko, never the most prolific artist in the Bullpen or Industry, only did the pencils on X-MEN # 50 and #51, as well as the cover to X-MEN # 49. These stories are collected, in color, in the MARVEL VISIONARIES trade. You're probably saying to yourself, "Why is Buzz Maverik pretty much devoting the entire review of a trade containing 29 issues to an artist who only drew two issues and three covers?"

Simply, I believe that without Steranko's work, the X-MEN would have continued to exist and would have come back in some form, but may have never been the characters and stories that we know. They would have been one of those sets of characters that everyone relaunches like DOOM PATROL or METAL MEN at DC, or THE DEFENDERS at Marvel, but no one can sustain.

Unbelievably, X-MEN was the poorest seller Marvel had in the 60s. It had a stunningly original concept for comics at the time, and in many ways was one of Stan and Jack's most inspired conceptions. But without Stan and Jack, even Roy Thomas (a man we owe for keeping the Marvel characters alive after the true creators grew too busy) couldn't muster much interest in writing the book. Thomas wrote great stories for THE AVENGERS and THE INCREDIBLE HULK, but he passed the writing chores of X-MEN to Arnold Drake, co-creator of THE GUARDIANS O' THE GALAXY for Marvel and writer of some DEAD MAN and DOOM PATROL stuff for DC.

X-MEN art between Kirby and Steranko was serviceable at best. Most of it was done by Werner Roth (AKA Jay Gavin) and is not presented well in black and white. I've seen some of Mr. Roth's work in color and it is the fun, representational style of the era, like that of George Tuska and Don Heck, both of whom also contributed to X-MEN. This kind of artwork was okay in THE AVENGERS, where Thomas' writing was stronger and fans of the individual characters' books followed. X-MEN was an entity unto itself and the art work needed a special hook. Probably the best art of this era was by Ross Andru, who would shine more effectively on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN some years later. Not surprisingly, Mr. Andru does best with the Beast, giving hints of the dizzying perspectives and positioning that he would use on Spidey half a decade later.

The reason I say that Steranko saved the X-Men as characters is that things grew enormously more interesting after his issues. Barry Windsor-Smith, new to Marvel at the time, contributed an amazing Kirby pastiche. The problem was that you can tell it was conceived as a FANTASTIC FOUR story. We've got Scott subbing for Reed; Jean for Sue; and the Beast and Iceman taking the roles of the Thing and the Torch (and I'll bet Hank McCoy got tired of being called the anti-Johnny Storm!). They fight Blastaar, the Living Bomb, whom they inadvertently free from the Negative Zone (yeah, those X-MEN were always messing with the Negative Zone. Every other comic it was Negative Zone this, Negative Zo--,oh yeah, they probably had no idea the Negative Zone existed in their Universe).

The important thing is that one shit-hot artist lead to another on X-MEN. Two Sterankos got them a Windsor-Smith, which might have helped get Neal Adams. Mr. Adams' X-MEN work is not collected here, but has been reissued in numerous trades, most notably X-MEN VISIONARIES: NEAL ADAMS. After the Lee-Kirby originals, the Steranko and the Adams issues were the ones that were remembered and figured most prominently in the early days of THE ALL NEW, ALL DIFFERENT X-MEN. Co-creator Dave Cockrum had a style of design with some similarities to Steranko and he used odd elements introduced by Steranko, such as Eric the Red as a major villain. Simply, I think Steranko's X-MEN work made others want to work on X-MEN, to bring them back, and we're lucky as fans they fell into the hands of the right talent.

My big question is: will there be enough issues for an ESSENTIAL CLASSIC X-MEN VOL. 3? From what I can see, only if they collect the rest of the original series (which would include Adams' work in black and white) and cobble together all of the X-Men's various guest appearances (the team in CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON # 172-175; Professor X in DEFENDERS # 15-16; etc) and limited series (such as the Beast stories in AMAZING ADVENTURES) after the cancellation and up to GIANT SIZE X-MEN # 1.


INFINITE CRISIS #7

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Ivan Reis, Joe Bennett, Andy Lanning, Jerry Ordway, Sean Parsons, Art Thibert
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

What was the point of all this crap anyway?

After all that, Batman takes off on a year-long vacation with Dick and Tim, Superman takes a year off to recharge his internal solar battery and regain his powers sapped away by Krypton's red sun, and Wonder Woman flies away to rediscover her "inner Diana." Talk about your anti-climax.

When this series started, that first issue wasn't perfect but it did a good job of setting up the potential for a worthy successor to the original CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. But with each successive issue, the pieces just kept falling apart and by this last issue it was a total mess. SECRET WARS II level mess. Not only are plot points just mysteriously dropped, but the storytelling became so convoluted that it was near impossible to find consistency and coherency from page to page much less issue to issue. The stench of "too many cooks" just makes this comic reek. I'll point out some details here in a minute. Right now I need to rant just a bit about the lack of any level of thought given to the ramifications of some of the events in this series.

You know, the original reason for the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was to "simplify" the DC Universe because the vast multiverse was believed to be impenetrable to new readers. Fine. Like it or not, the state of the DC line right after COIE and MAN OF STEEL was just that - a less complicated world for the most part. Part of the reason for the lessened complications was simply that the characters themselves did not remember the multi-verse. I mean, truly, imagine if you suddenly found yourself in a world where everyone remembered you and your history but it was entirely different than your personal memories and you also knew that literally billions of your fellow alternate-Earth humans were now either dead or worse, never existed. It would drive even the strongest person insane. Yet, now, at the close of INFINITE CRISIS, we have all the pre-CRISIS characters now remembering their pre-CRISIS lives. Yeh. That's less complicated. Now we have Power Girl remembering that she's really the Earth-2 Supergirl and survived the destruction of Krypton and Earth and the pointless death of Kal-L, pummeled to death by a raving teenaged serial killer, and now she's paradoxically coexisting here on the current Earth with Supergirl and the rest of the world remembers an entirely different history about her. Head hurt yet? Mine does. Or how about the last JSA comic related to this where the ghost of the golden age Batman shows up which makes no sense given that even though some characters may "remember" their Earth-2 lives, the creation of the single universe means that the people they "remember" never existed so how is there a Batman ghost? And think once again of the implications here. If there are ghosts of lost characters like the golden age Batman, then does that mean there are ghosts of the golden age Capt. Marvel? How about the golden age Plastic Man? Aquaman? How about the billions and billions of non-super-powered souls roaming around the spirit world confused?

I'm also still confused about which Luthor is which and what happened to the Earth-2 that got recreated and how all the characters who got shuffled over there got shuffled back. As I said, confusing storytelling.

Again, I ask exactly what was the point to INFINITE CRISIS? Was it just to kill tons of worthless characters nobody really gave a crap about before? Was it to make the character of Superboy (whether Connor or Prime) unviable as a character as way of flipping the bird to the family of Jerry Siegel who just won the latest round in their attempt to negate the Transfer of Copyright for Superboy and his derivatives? Was it originally to restore at least a twin-Earth concept to the DC Universe and split the line back out into an Earth-1/Earth-2 continuity? I suspect it was a bit of all of that. But on the topic of the multiverse, it seems pretty obvious that for some reason orders from the top caused a mid-series shift to retain the single universe concept. This was stupid considering that the core comic-buying audience has demonstrated through the success of Marvel's ULTIMATE Line, simultaneously published alongside their mainline comics, that they are perfectly capable and able to support a multiversal publishing concept. But just as DC chickened out in 1986 by reversing their wheels and quashing the plan to restart everything from scratch post-CRISIS, DC pulled the same stunt here once again by chickening out on returning to a viable and limited form of a working multiverse.

But the conceptual problems are not where the idiocy ends. There is a scene in this comic book that is vomit-inducingly so wrong headed I'm just dumbfounded. I'm talking, of course, about the scene where Batman, in a fit of anger, puts a handgun between Alex Luthor's eyes. And it takes neck-snapper Wonder Woman stepping forward to tell Batman that it's not worth it to convince him not to pull the trigger? That is so egregiously wrong! Batman simply does not wield a gun. Even Bob Kane and Bill Finger figured that out and removed the gun from their Batman character very quickly. Just as we don't need a dumbass story preaching about natural law and how it justifies the last moral survivor of a planet executing three criminals to explain why Superman doesn't kill, we sure as hell don't need this story and Wonder Woman telling Batman "It's not worth it" to explain why Batman doesn't put a bullet into Luthor's brain. Batman and guns were settled when he confronted Joe Chill and turned him over to the police rather than exact personal justice.

Even pushed to his limits, Batman does not use a handgun. Period.

But beyond the existential problems and bringing the examination down to the four corners of the page, as a comic itself, the issue bombs. The artwork is all over the place. Over the course of the series, a noticeably silent in the press, Phil Jimenez saw his presence in this comic shrink and shrink. Was he pushed out? Was he too slow? Was he doing his work and having page after page yanked and redrawn by others as the "too many editorial cooks" kept intervening with "better" ideas than Johns and Jimenez had in their original vision for this miniseries? Who knows? DC Corporate does a good job of keeping the talent's mouths closed or at least in lockstep with the press release. Instead we get a disjointed round-robin art job by eight, count 'em, eight different artists! And the range on the art goes from slick and top notch to barely a notch above amateurish. The two-page spread of the villains tearing up Metropolis by Jimenez is nice (at least the characters in the foreground) but the final two-page spread by, I guess, Joe Bennett, is utter crap for a number of reasons beyond just badly drawn figures and faces, but also little things like showing: Hourman flying, when he doesn't fly; or J'onn J'onzz looking like a reject from the CONEHEADS movie; or Capt. Marvel with a pig nose and long hair.

And the writing's not much better sometimes. Get this: Green Lantern tells us all that "The Society has broken open every metahuman prison on the planet. They're declaring war on us. They say if Superman's city falls … the others will follow." Which leads to the two-page spread of gazillions of villains tearing up Metropolis while Aquaman flexes his neck muscles. And they didn't even bother to ink half the spread. Instead they did a color hold on the pencils and just doused it all in red. Time saver, sure, but looks like crap. But we're ready to see the hero vs. villain battle to end all battles, right? Nope. We get a nice shot of the two Supermen defeating Doomsday, but the action shifts into space before the villains are defeated. The defeat of the villains happens ENTIRELY off-camera. We only know it happens because at the end there's a newspaper with the headline: "HEROES SAVE EARTH."

All this crap with Superboy Prime just gets progressively more insane and insipid. At one point, the two Supermen fly Superboy right through the heart of Krypton's red sun. That makes a LOT of sense. The red sun removes Superman's powers, but somehow they all survive a trip through a red sun and crash land on to that weird planet-sized Green Lantern. This turns out to just be one more opportunity to show Superboy Prime spewing blood all over creation as he raves like a super-lunatic. This time the blood is that of the Earth-2 Superman. That's right, the guy strong enough to change and shatter reality just by punching his fists and who just survived flying through a sun! His face gets pulped by this skinny little creep. It's a death with less honor than Capt. Kirk getting killed by a "bridge" falling on him. Gee isn't it ironic? Superman killed by Superboy! The fans will love it!

By the end, there's a little literary callback to the original CRISIS with a scene where the adult Bart Allen passes on the tattered remains of Barry Allen's Flash costume to Jay Garrick, telling him that "You're the fastest man alive again." Basically a copycat of the scene where Wally accepted the mantle of Flash in the original CRISIS. The only scene I really liked in the whole comic was when the real Luthor introduces Joker to Alex Luthor and we watch Joker rather nastily and graphically kill Alex for not including Joker in his little Society game. Not that the scene is very positive, but I've come to so utterly loathe the Alex Luthor character over the course of this series that I was glad to see the Joker take him out. But I absolutely hated hated hated the last page with Superboy having gone from a frightened teenager unable to control his powers to a slobberingly evil villain who stands around supposedly depowered and carves a bloody "S" into his own chest with his own fingernails declaring that he'll get out one day. While slobber drips from his drooling mouth.

I ask once again, what was the point of this incomprehensible crap? If it was to entertain, it failed. If it was to tell a good adventure story, it failed. If it was to advance the characters, it failed. If it was to fix continuity, it failed. If it was to restore heroism as an ideal among the heroes, it failed. If it was to give the golden age Superman one last great adventure, it failed. If it was to further confuse continuity, further darken the heroes, set up plots and not follow through, glorify violence, kill arbitrarily, showcase inconsistent artwork, and generally demonstrate disrespect for 65 years of continuity, then I guess it succeeded at that.

What a waste of potential.


ANNIHILATION: SILVER SURFER #2 (of 4)

Writer: Keith Giffen
Artist: Renato Arlim
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

I may be genetically predisposed to hate all crossovers and mega-events at the moment, but…

This book is kinda rockin’.

In fact, I’m liking nearly all of Marvel’s ANNIHILATION prelude minis at the moment. RONAN THE ACCUSER is the weak link and I could live without the kid sidekick in SUPER-SKRULL, but I’m definitely digging the cosmic carnage. Shock value deaths that might bother me in an earthbound adventure somehow seem less egregious on a cosmic scale. The entire planet Xandar, and all its Nova Corps, destroyed? Kind of a bummer, but how many episodes of classic STAR TREK opened with starbases, planets, or whole star systems getting snuffed just so’s we’d know how dangerous the newest Romulan ship or the Doomsday Machine or that giant space amoeba were?

So I guess it’s in my blood to roll with the galactic genocide we’re seeing in ANNIHLATION, all the more so if it kicks Norrin Radd – aka the Silver Surfer – out of his perpetual emo funk and enrages him back into the pantheon of cosmic badassery. And so far, I gotta say that writer Keith Giffen is doing a bang-up job. In the first issue, Surfer tangled with agents of the series’ Big Bad, Annihilus, and lost a fellow herald of Galactus in the process. That was Air Walker, I character I never knew beyond his entry in the MARVEL UNIVERSE encyclopedia, but who went out memorably and with style.

Issue 2 opens with more herald skullduggery, this time involving Terrax the Tamer (always dug his visual design), then moves on to the Surfer surveying the remnants of the Skrull Empire decimated by the Annihilation Wave. He finds a lone survivor, a humanoid alien who was a slave to the Skrulls. Giffen gives us the full weight of the carnage, as the alien asks Surfer to take him to the surface of the planet so he can see the destruction for himself. Overcome, he’s ready to stay behind and die himself, even when the Surfer’s offered to take him along.
“Going to adopt me?” the alien asks. “That it, Surfer? You showed up like a biped on a mission. I’d get on with it if I were you. One more dead in all this…who’s to know?”
“I’ll know,” the Surfer tells him.
See, and that right there is how you write Norrin Radd, the man who defied Galactus. And lest you think the book’s veering into the ol’ Silver Surfer sentiment, rest assured that Annihilus’s hounds come looking for Surfer not a few moments later. I’m not wild about how artist Renato Arlem depicts the heavy-duty throwdown that Giffen wrote – he’s got a bit too much of Bendis collaborators like Alex Maleev and Michael Gaydos in him for that level of cosmic hoo-ha – but I like most everything else about his work. Draws a completely alien and menacing Annihilus, very creepy insectoid ships, a nicely restrained Thanos, and as per his Maleev/Gaydos heritage, he does handle the subtlety of the talky scenes quite well. I especially liked that he draws a distinctly furrowed brow on the Silver Surfer in close-ups. I can’t recall other artists drawing lines creasing the Surfer’s gleaming forehead in stories past, but it surely seems fitting given that he’s always been a philosopher in a warrior’s body. A good thinker’s gotta have a troubled brow.

As Surfer and the alien encounter several other heralds of Galactus and a plan begins to take shape, there are also several fine scenes with Thanos. Thanos is pleasantly laying low in this story, paying respect to Annihilus’s obvious surge in power, but he’s definitely starting to bristle as of this issue. I liked the menace lurking behind the pair’s conversation and the sense that Thanos, as ever, is scheming to turn the situation to his advantage. Giffen’s great with this kind of stuff, and my mind drifted back to a terrific confrontation he once wrote during the LEGION’s “Five Years Later” run in the 90s: Cosmic Boy facing off with Mordru in a war of words over the course of a formal dinner. Giffen seems to’ve found just the right balance between cosmic philosophizing and cosmic action.

Only negatives to the ish…color’s a little gloomy, Firelord’s redesign is pretty “eh”, and the one-page aside with Galactus was so brief as to suggest one of those “reminds me of the time…” non-sequiturs on FAMILY GUY. This is a character who’s literally too big for cameos. You include him, he’s gotta have three pages. Minimum!

But I’m a pretty happy camper for the most part. I was a bit down on Giffen as purveyor of cosmic fare after his DRAX miniseries played out on a decidedly small scale, but he’s definitely gettin’ his cosmic on at the moment. I’m even liking the hero/villain profiles in the back of the book, meant to be files from the Nova Corps’ Worldmind. Check out this aside from their profile on the Big G:
“Galactus is at his weakest between feedings. The Worldmind has suggested the possibility of luring Galactus to a world and destroying it before he has a chance to feed, leaving him with little energy to fight off a full assault.”
Not a bad plan. Too bad the Nova Corps got flattened, eh?


OUTSIDERS #36

Writer: Judd Winick
Pencils: Matthew Clark
Inks: Art Thibert
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Judd Winick is one of those writers I just want to shake the shit out of. I’ve read good Judd Winick books. I’ve read bad Judd Winick books. I understand that the guy has proven to be tougher than we all originally thought. I was one of those who scoffed at his stuff knowing that he was a former REAL WORLD-er. But the guy stuck through all of that. He made the mildly entertaining BARRY WEEN and the powerfully gripping/over-the-top schmaltzy (depending on who you talk to) PEDRO AND ME. Then the guy plopped into the big time when he took over the writing chores on GREEN LANTERN. Since then, Winick has become one of the premiere writers at DC, handling such big guns as BATMAN, SHAZAM, and GREEN ARROW. All the while, the guy seems to be one of those who loves to fight for this cause or that cause. Sometimes these causes seep into his stories. Other times, his books focus on pure, high-octane action. The strongest of Winick’s offerings have always been his action-oriented issues. These issues focus on movement and rhythm, slugfests and battle royales, tension and turmoil. It’s the kind of stuff that makes comic book reading exciting and fun. I’ve liked a lot of Winick’s stuff, but I have found that the guy often sabotages his own work by falling into the same old and tired potholes. And when I see someone continuously making the same mistakes over and over, I’m first in the bunch to roll his eyes and let loose an exasperated, Charlie Brown-like…

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

So I’m reading this latest issue of OUTSIDERS and I’m thinking it’s not bad. I kind of like the roster. Even though Nightwing is supposed to be busy being poorly written by Bruce Jones and kicking it with Jason Todd in New York in his own series, Nightwing somehow finds the time to lead a ragtag group of adventurers on a secret mission in Africa...

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

Continuity aside, I like the idea of Nightwing taking over for Batman to lead the Outsiders. It’s a much better place for him than the already tread path of New York City or the Robin-lead Titans. On top of that, former Outsiders Katana and Metamorpho have been added to the mix, along with Black Lightning’s daughter Thunder. This harkens back to an age when I first started reading DC comics with the original Outsiders lineup. Sure, new additions Faith, the super strong bar bouncer and the new Captain Boomerang (the original’s son) may not be the most obvious of choices to round out the team, but I’ll take them over former snooze-inducing Outsiders Jade, Indigo, and Shift any old day.

So after the first few issues of this OYL business, we find our team of Outsiders in Africa. Thunder has been undercover and sleeping with a murderous dictator…

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

We get a load of exposition regarding this military group’s heinous crimes against the people. It’s as if Winick saw HOTEL RAWANDA on HBO one Sunday afternoon and said, “Gol-durnnit, I got myself a new idea fer one-a them thar funny book stories.” (for some reason, in my world, Judd Winick sounds just like Jethro from the BEVERLY HILLBILLIES)...

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

Once the Outsiders’ cover is blown, Nightwing and the team do battle with a bunch of non-powered African soldiers. Seems the group doesn’t hesitate to kill as trucks are thrown around, soldiers are sliced and diced, and the army is generally blowed-up real good…

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

But after all of the human carnage, lapses in morality, news-clipping, and continuity flubs, we get this issue: issue #36, which is a pretty kick-@$$ issue if you ignore all that came before it.

Basically, out of nowhere, a speedster appears and kicks the seeping snot out of the Outsiders. Now that we’ve all read INFINITE CRISIS, we know that the speed force no longer exists and there’re only a scant few speedsters left in the DCU. What ensues is a slugfest of the highest order, highlighting Winick’s strength in telling a compelling action story. The team is taken down with precision and the counter-strikes by the still-standing Outsiders are intelligently and deftly executed. This is action that not only pushes the story forward, but tells the readers about the characters as well. Captain Boomerang Jr. is especially made out to be pretty formidable, as is Black Lightning’s daughter Thunder. The action they partake in within this issue makes me want to see more of this duo (which is exactly what a comic book should do).

The big reveal at the end made me scratch my head quite a bit. I’m not sure how this event can take place simultaneously with what’s going on in the current issues of JSA…

AAAARRRRRRGGHHH!!!!

But the big reveal in this issue, the events coming out of INFINITE CRISIS, and the fact that no one really knows who the new Flash is going to be in the new series, proposes quite a few interesting questions.

All in all, this was a pretty great slugfest issue, drawn nicely by Matthew Clark and inked by Art Thibert. This issue had a gritty look to it. The lines aren’t as defined which fits with the mood of the story. Clark and Thibert make some really great panels together, allowing each member of the team to shine. The art team’s depiction of Metamorpho is especially good and Thunder has never looked better in her Black Lightning spin-off costume.

Again, if Winick would just put the headlines away and focus on where his strength seems to lie, he wouldn’t leave such a bad taste in so many readers’ mouths. No one likes to be preached to and any Winick book tackling social issues is proof positive that real world, straight from the headlines, non-veiled problems shouldn’t be dealt with directly in the fantastic world of comics. A great and poignant story can be told. Issues could be addressed. But Winick does so too literally and sometimes a little finesse can go a long way towards adding to the effectiveness of the point one is trying to make. But as long as Winick continues to square-peg-round-hole social issues and straight from the headlines events into his stories, people are going to be turned off before they even get a chance to see that this writer does have strengths and a possible bright future in comics.


CIVIL WAR #1

Writer: Mark Millar
Penciler: Steve McNiven
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

So, another giant crossover "event" is upon us and that leaves me feeling the same way I always do whenever these things happen....wondering if we're really just that one step closer to the constant barrage of these things like in the mid-90's that made me quit comics for a rather long while.

But I have to give credit to those behind these HOUSE OF M's, and INFINITE CRISES, and now CIVIL WAR. Both of the Big Two are at least putting very solid creative talent behind these events, making me feel a little less apprehensive when they come out. How they end up working out is a different story, but they do always manage to sucker me in with a little hope when they're announced. And, to Marvel's credit, they haven't made me feel like I need to buy a dozen extra titles or so in order to follow along this CIVIL WAR of their's, unlike DC's INFINITE CRISIS. That's not really an endorsement of Marvel's handling of their events though, because as we saw with HOUSE OF M, while they may be somewhat more linear and easier to follow, they've also seemed very hastily thrown together as a means of "keeping up with the Jonzes" so to speak.

But enough rambling on about the current state of the comics world, how was the book?

I'd say overall, it was a solid book, but had its fair share of problems.

Now, to get started, I'll say that I honestly think the overall plot of this story is a solid one. We've seen the idea of superhero registration before as it's made for some classic X-MEN yarns. Expanding it out to the whole of the Marvel Universe seems like a completely logical step, and I'm somewhat surprised we've never really seen it before (though wasn't there something like this in an old Alpha Flight series? Oh well, who cares, they're dead). It genuinely is a "unique" story in that it really is one that seems like it could only be told in a Universe like Marvel, given their roster of characters, and the old stories that piece it together. So, the big picture is very promising, but it's when we get to the way events unfold that I have some issues.

The first thing is that I think there's just too many individuals involved in this tale being seen doing stuff out of character. The registration act is kicked off by an event involving the New Warriors, now the centerpiece of a reality TV show where they take down bad guys ala a super powered version of COPS, as they royally screw up a gig and cause the deaths of a large sum of civilians, mostly school children. Right off the bat, while I know the New Warriors aren't exactly a group that makes books fly off the shelves, to deny that they have a rather lengthy run in the MU and depict them as immaturely and incompetently as they are when taking down a group of C-list super villains is somewhat uncalled for. The scenario itself involving such a horrible incident is definitely a powerful way of kicking this event off. But I don't see the need to pretty much ignore a good decade or so of character development to start it off. I don't care how goofy the names or costumes are, if there's such a large amount of history there, don't just ignore it. At least show some respect to your characters.

Okay, with that out of the way I can say that I do think Millar does take good advantage of the following pages to bring up some good debate amongst the costume individuals that are going to be directly affected by this. There's a bit of a nice job bringing out the tensions between the fellow superheroes as some of them want to wash their hands of each other, some are genuinely scared by the implications of this new registration law, and some are simply angry that things have gotten to this point in their little community. I'm not really sure I needed Millar to create what is basically a comic version of Cindy Sheehan and spend a couple pages with a "media mom" that apparently is the single focal point of the people marching on Washington to get this law moving, but it also seems to be a plot component that is necessary to drive this law home since it is the whole purpose of this story. And I'm not exactly sure I also buy a group of civilians turning and attacking Johnny Storm the way they did, the man is a popular celebrity and has helped saved their world many, many times. But then again I've seen real citizens simply bat their eyes at the civilian casualties abroad caused by our little war overseas, and yet get irate over gas prices going up a quarter. Who the hell knows how people would react if this situation actually occurred in "real life?”

The conflict between Captain America and SHIELD is interesting enough, and it makes total sense that Captain America would be opposed to this the way he is. Plus it also results in one of the most badass action sequences I've seen in a comic since I read that latest issue of NEXTWAVE. Plus I think it goes a long way towards making this Angelina Jolie look-alike Director of SHIELD a bigger character in the Marvel Universe, so at least she finally has a point. She's been so disposable I can't even remember her name and I'll be glad when she's finally gone. But while, again, this scenario between Cap and SHIELD makes sense, I still really can't see how and why Iron Man and Cap are just going to turn on each other over this. After all they've been through, and the camaraderie that has grown between them after all these years, just like that Tony is going to turn government stooge and be the guy to bring "outlaw" Captain America in? They're really going to have to work hard to make me believe this. Not saying that there isn't some good justification that can be pounded out here, but right now, I don't think we've got enough to go on.

So, okay, I'm conflicted about the execution of this book. It happens. Not every book is perfect, and these events rarely ever go smoothly. You want to know what I'm not conflicted on at all? It's my being able to say that Steve McNiven is easily one of the top five pencilers in the business right now. Seriously, if you want to see what the standard of comic book art should be, you come see this guy. It's just all there. Proportion, detail, diversity in facial features and body types, great dynamic between the panels, highly kinetic action sequences, lush backgrounds and detail in them. Honestly, if you can find fault in his art, I'd really like to hear it. Because this is the kind of stuff that should be earning such high profile jobs. This book is worth the four bucks alone because of his pencils.

So, there it goes. The first shot is fired and while it wasn't a bulls eye it at least hit the target. I think this could still be pulled together into a very tight tale that earns it all the hype verbal kiss-@$$ing it's going to get all over the place, but it's got a lot of work to do. "Oh cool" moments do not a classic make. It's tight and meaningful storytelling that do. Let's get more of that and we might finally have an event to come out of this age of overhype and hubabalo that really earns it.


THE NEW AVENGERS ANNUAL #1

Brian Michael Bendis: Writer
Olivier Coipel: Artist
Marvel Comics: Publisher
Vroom Socko: Best Man

(Note: Yes, this book came out several weeks ago. But my shop only just got it in, and I feel like talking about it. You got a problem with that?)

I have to admit I was a bit leery of picking this up, yet I really couldn’t help myself. On the one hand, it’s a part of Jessica Jones’ story, and with ALIAS easily being the highlight of Bendis’ career I just couldn’t pass it up. On the other hand, it’s widely known that I think of DISASSEMBLED as Bendis’ low point, and that I’m not a fan of what he’s done to the Avengers. I think his Iron Man is a one-dimensional control freak. I think that Spider-Man, who could work as an Avenger, has been terribly mishandled. (I can relate to a Peter Parker who’s constantly juggling a difficult yet loving marriage, a low paying yet satisfying job, and a superhero persona who defends a city where half the people hate his guts. Peter the corporate yes-man who lives in a Manhattan penthouse that’s beyond even J. Jonah Jameson’s dreams? Not so much.) And as for Spider-Woman, the Sentry, and Wolverine… It’s not so much that I don’t like them as Avengers so much as I want to see the characters die in a public, humiliating fashion, (preferably involving super strong, horny monkeys,) and then have their skulls turned into end lamps, their tattered costumes made into the lampshades.

So yeah, I was expecting to read this story to enjoy the ALIAS stuff, while grimacing horridly over these “New” Avengers. What a kick in the gonads it was to find that the exact opposite happened.

Not since Kurt Busiek left the title have I had this much fun reading an AVENGERS book. The bulk of this story is a battle between the team and the Super-Adaptoid. (No, not that Adaptoid. She used to be the Black Widow. No, not THAT Widow. The other one. Where was I?) This version forgoes the green amalgamated look, instead resembling some sort of cross between a lion and DC character Metamorpho. The best news, however, is that she’s not here to crash the wedding. Nobody crashes the wedding. I know that it’s a Marvel tradition, but having the actual nuptials go off without a hitch was a refreshing change of pace.

What I loved about this fight is how pretty much each character has a moment to shine. Spidey proves that he can be smarter than Tony Stark at times. What little panel time Wolverine has helps to show just how good a team player he’s become over the years. Iron Man has what is simply the best visual moment in the book. Spider-Woman has her recent past bite her on the ass big time. And while I really, really don’t like the character, even I have to admit that the way Bendis used the Sentry here was beyond cool.

But it was the wedding that I bought this book for, and it’s in this scene that the book falls flat for me. There’s a fake-out here that I really thought was going to pay off amazingly, and instead there’s some of the sappiest dialogue I’ve seen in my life. I realize that it’s her wedding, but Jessica Jones and saccharine simply don’t mix. It simply doesn’t work. Add in the fact that there’s yet ANOTHER “to be continued in…” blurb at the end frustrates me.

I think I’m done buying comics featuring Jessica Jones. Not because I all of a sudden hate her, or that this one weak installment has damaged her somehow. It’s just that her story is now over, and there’s no point on going on any further. If I may compare Jessica to a movie, her story is like… let’s say American Graffiti. If ALIAS was the movie proper, then THE PULSE was (at least after Gaydos returned,) the scene in the airport parking lot and that last glimpse of the white T-Bird. This issue, then, would be the card saying that John Milner was killed two years later by a drunk driver. As far as I’m concerned, this is where the ride ends. To read on (and to drive this metaphor completely into the pavement,) would be like trying to watch More American Graffiti, where you’re watching people you once knew uncomfortably, all the while wondering just how the leader of the Pharaohs and Toad ended up in the same unit in Nam.

But as for the AVENGERS… I’m still not fond of this lineup, and there’s still some stuff in the regular title that irks me. But if Bendis ever decides to write about the Avengers I do care about; Hawkeye, Yellowjacket, Wonder Man, and guys like that, then based on how he handles the team dynamic here I’ll be on that book in an instant.


EAGLE: THE MAKING OF AN ASIAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT

Creator: Kaiji Kawaguchi
Publisher: Viz
Reviewer: Dan Grendell

How far is too far to see a dream realized?

An overview of the complete series

This is perhaps one of the best looks at politics, in any format, that I've ever come across. The backstabbing, double dealing, dealmaking, bribery and smooth talking - and that's just from the politician we’re intended to like!- is truly revolting, but at the same time incredibly engaging. Comparisons to the WEST WING television show are perhaps inevitable, and EAGLE stands right there alongside it in quality, even surpassing it in some ways. Places the WEST WING feared to go, EAGLE heads directly into, and emerges a better story for it.

The plot focuses around Takashi Jo, a young Japanese reporter whose mother dies somewhat mysteriously. Soon after, he is called to America by Senator Kenneth Yamaoka, a Japanese-American Democratic Senator who is making a play for the Presidency and wishes Takashi to witness the entire process. Takashi is confused as to why he would be chosen until Yamaoka reveals that he is Takashi's father, from a dalliance during the Vietnam War, but that such a secret could destroy his chances at winning. Yamaoka's current family, a billionaire banker's daughter and two children, have no idea who Takashi is, though his wife suspects...

The manga follows Yamaoka's travails along the campaign trail through Takashi's eyes as well as his developing familial relations with his father and new siblings, including the romance that develops between him and his unknowing half-sister (don't worry, she was adopted, though I'm sure that still makes everyone go yuck). As he sees what his father is willing to do to become President, Takashi begins to wonder about the man, and the difference between the beliefs he espouses that Takashi agrees so strongly with and his actions that bother the reporter so much. Can a non-white man actually become President in America? Is what is required actually something Takashi wants to condone? He holds the ace, he knows all the secrets - what will he do?

The art in EAGLE is wonderful, easily conveying all of the complex emotions and ideas required in a very realistic and believable manner. A major reason the story is so compelling is that the art draws you in and makes you feel as if these people could truly exist. Especially well done are moments when the politicians make speeches or otherwise incite emotions - you can really feel that stirring coming from them, that aura of command. Superb.

EAGLE is one of those manga that ties romance and drama and mystery and action into one compelling story that will hold your rapt attention for hours on end. If it doesn't make you think when you finish, you probably didn't think much when you started.


WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE - THE TASTER #0

Writer & artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Horror comics. Love ‘em. I’ve always loved ‘em. My first comics weren’t really superhero comics. They were HOUSE OF MYSTERY, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED, and the like. There’s something about those old stories that stood out to me and engrained themselves into my mind. The way the artwork crept between and around the panels. The spooky subject matter. The gruesome images. Love ‘em. Love ‘em. Love ‘em.

Today’s horror comics? Not bad, really. But I find more often than not, despite a good, scary premise, today’s horror comics don’t really understand how to take advantage of the medium enough to have the same scary effect those old books had. Y’see, there are a lot of zombie/alien/monster/scary books out there that don’t really understand that horror relies on the senses to be effective. The best horror relies on sight and sounds in order to creep out the viewer. Since you can’t really do audible sound in comics (word balloons and other text doesn’t count, it’s about feeling not explanation), you have to rely on what you see, or rather, what you don’t see to send that cold shiver down the reader’s spine. Horror is about the unknown. Something unexpected happens. Something creeps from the darkness, and before you know it, its bony fingers are wrapped around your throat. Horror makes you feel alone, in the dark, with no one to help you. So when you’re talking about horror in comics, bright panels and crisp lines don’t really do the trick. It’s what you don’t see or what you think you see that frightens you. Think of the best horror movies. Were they brightly lit or bathed in darkness? There are some that understand this. Bill Sienkiewicz, Ashley Wood, Eric Powell, Kyle Hotz, even Charlie Adlard in WALKING DEAD. Ben Templesmith is another.

Most famous for his work with Steve Niles on 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, Ben Templesmith is the type of artist that you either love or hate. His multimedia style combines drawing, painting, and computer manipulation. In the past, Templesmith has taken some flack because his panels were a bit too murky and sometimes, I must admit, it was hard to understand what was going on in the panel because it was filled with so much darkness and obscurity. But to me, that added to the palpable feeling of dread and horror that were often the subjects of Templesmith’s books. I can understand the disdain some may have for the work. Comics fans especially do not like to not understand something. A panel with nothing but some smears and a flash of glowing pointy teeth is not the easiest to understand when layered with murks and shades, but like I said before, I feel that good horror is about the unknown, so Templesmith’s style never really bothered me.

Those critics who think that Templesmith’s panels are too obscure and murky may want to check out his new offering WORMWOOD: GENTLEMAN CORPSE. Templesmith’s style has cleaned up a bit since 30 DAYS. There is a stronger line and the characters can be distinguished from the backgrounds more. Templesmith still has a firm grasp on making the panels look creepy, but this issue marks the artist coming into his own and honing his particular style. The tone of this story is kind of light, but the shaded and stylistic content within the panels makes the mood all the creepier as you scan the page.

And what about the story? Well, this is my first experience with Wormwood, but it looks as if he is actually some kind of sentient Mr. Mind-like worm who crawls into a corpse and reanimates and lives through it. Or at least, that’s what it appears. This one shot doesn’t really go into the origins of Wormwood, it just throws him into a weird little adventure. At Wormwood’s side is Mr. Pendulum, a robot who plays straight-man to the wisecracking worm/zombie star of the book. In this issue, we also have Medusa, an undead stripper whose snake-like tattoos can come to life and attack at will. All of these characters are creative and cool. In this issue, our gruesome trio faces Triffid-like aliens who plant themselves into the bodies of the patrons of a strip joint and sprout out of their mouths when they hatch. This makes for a great visual, one that I’m not doing justice describing it here in this review.

This issue is in the same vein as Eric Powell’s THE GOON and Steve Niles’ CAL MCDONALD mysteries. If you’re a fan of those books, you’ll probably dig this one. It’s some pretty top notch horror compared to the rest of the stuff out there. These characters have loads of potential and this comic leads into a full miniseries to be released soon. Based on this one shot, I definitely going to be picking that miniseries up when it comes out.


THIEVES & KINGS Vol. 1

Writer/Artist: Mark Oakley
Published by: I Box Publishing
Reviewed by Dave Farabee

For reasons vague and shadowy, I’ve managed to review comics for five years at Ain’t-It-Cool-News without once providing a full review of one of my all-time favorites: Mark Oakley’s THIEVES & KINGS. Truth is, I’ve often entertained grand plans of reviewing the entire series. Why, I’d cover all five trades in a single all-encompassing mega-review! It would shake the heavens and THIEVES & KINGS would be topping Diamond’s sales charts the following week! But it turns out, that thought was a touch over-ambitious for me. At the same time, this is series best enjoyed from the beginning. Reviewing a single issue always felt a bit too much like reviewing a random chapter from LORD OF THE RINGS. What to do, what to do?

All’s I know is that it’s been five years, dammit, and if I pass up the chance to talk up the best fantasy comic on the market one more time, I don’t know why the hell I’m reviewing in the first place. So let’s do this thing, but let’s keep it a bit modest. Just the first trade for now. It’s good enough to stand on its own...

At its heart, THIEVES & KINGS is a what I’d call a swashbuckler with insight. With a teen rogue named Rubel as its lead, an imp named Varkias at his side, its fairy tale setting plays host to rich characterization, the derring-do of Zorro, the visual humor of Chaplin, and a sharp point of view on both people and politics. Self-published since its debut in ’94, it delves into those Big Things that have long enamored fantasy writers – the world-building, the threatened kingdoms, the hairsbreadth escapes. At the same time, what makes it unique, what makes it so wonderfully readable, is that it’s more concerned with the small things even when Big Things are afoot.

Visually, THIEVES & KINGS doesn’t particularly look like any other book on the shelf. That’s a plus.

Its fully painted covers look like this.
Its interiors sometimes go the straight up sequential route (note the Miyazaki/anime flavor)…
…but at other times switch over to illustrated text, ala Sim’s CEREBUS.
And let’s not forget those pages where the art can really breathe! Like this one, or this creepy little number, or hey, howsabout this cool-lookin’ pirate ship!
The net effect is that reading THIEVES & KINGS is an experience. What it lacks in slickness, it more than makes up for with its unified, single-creator vision of a land as imaginative as Oz, Narnia, or Middle Earth. It’s a fairly progressive setting for a swords ‘n’ sorcery yarn, with Renaissance-era flourishes, the occasional gunpowder weapon, and guards whose uniforms wouldn’t look out of place in the 17th century France of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I get annoyed when I’m aware of the world-building going on in a fantasy story, but with THIEVES & KINGS, the workings of the world unfold naturally and only when relevant to the characters.

Rubel himself is a free-spirited, 14-year-old thief just come back to his homeland of Oceansend after four years at sea. You hear “thief” and you think “pickpocket”, or at best “the class that’s good at backstabbing in RPGs”, but in THIEVES & KINGS, the word’s ultimately invoked as an almost transcendent description of one who lives outside of society’s laws, beholden only to his own heart. And Rubel’s heart is about to be put to the test, as he returns home to find his only relative – his grandfather- dead, his childhood friends married off or moved away, and a witch-like woman called the Shadow Lady taking a keen interest in his misfortunes. From a flashback, we know he forged an unlikely friendship with the princess of the land before going to sea, but there are whispers that madness has overtaken her…

If the story sounds like somewhat familiar fairy tale fare, don’t be fooled: the execution is where the book shines. One of my favorite sequences, for example, is a straight dialogue scene that has nothing to do with standard fantasy tropes. In it, Rubel’s trying to convince his literal-minded imp, Varkias, that the stories he’s going to tell the princess are actually their own kind of treasure. Take a look (you don’t need to read the text part):

I love that Varkias sounds like everyone’s best friend - when they were ten - and that the dialogue in THIEVES & KINGS, like Simonson’s THOR run, eschews the tired traditions of Ye Olde English in favor of colloquial wit. I also love that the fantasy names aren’t cribbed from the Robert E. Howard tradition or laden with ridiculous apostrophes. Instead, we get familiar names, but laced with some character: Islen Porter, Dyme Dun Tate, and Captain McGovern. The strangest name is Quinton Zempfester, and when he gets his due in the second volume, you’ll see how well he earns it. There are moments of realism, as when a ship’s contract becomes a major issue over whether Rubel can return home, and moments of pure fantasy as when Oakley, like fantasy’s Grant Morrison, casually drops ideas like a device for talking to birds, or Varkias’s transformation into iron (“He had never heard of an imp turning into metal before,” the text tells us of Rubel, “But it seemed like the sort of thing an imp might well do.”)

And yes, there’s action, big time, crazy-imaginative action! Rooftop chases, swords blocked with feather pillows, Varkias swatting a musketeer’s face with a rose, and one very nasty dagger through the ball-and-socket joint of a shoulder. Despite Oakley’s lighter tone and clear love of high adventure and humor, there’s always a sense of danger – that the story might go from “Jack and the Beanstalk” to a true Grimm’s fairy tale if the characters don’t watch themselves. Thematically, the trade, and really the entire series, pits youthful idealism against the harsh realities of the adult world, the push/pull growing increasingly complex as the series goes on.

I cannot recommend it enough.

There are times when the text pieces, written with a straightforwardness that makes the series very all-ages, offer up truly sly and heartfelt observations about the workings of the world. There are times when the dialogue is as funny as anything I’ve ever read in a comic. And the characters are second to none. Rubel, Varkias, Quinton, Heath, and The Shadow Lady are all eminently approachable, the approachability belying a well-roundedness that becomes deeply satisfying as the series progresses.

Need a bit more convincing? Oakley’s website has more information on the world he’s created and buying the book if your shop doesn’t have it. More importantly, there’s an entire issue available for free. No Rubel in this one, but it’s got his imp, Varkias, and another one of the series’ leads, the plucky, would-be sorceress Heath.


SENTINELS VOLUMES 1-3

Written by: Rich Bernatovech
Illustrated by: Luciano Vecchio
Published by: Drumfish Productions
Reviewed by: superhero

Several weeks ago (probably more than a month ago) Erik Larsen discussed why crossover events in mainstream comic books had become irrelevant in his online weekly column at comicbookresources.com. He touched on the fact that it’s crossover events themselves and the very nature of corporate backed comic books which have ended up making the characters whose tales they told completely irrelevant. He inferred that it’s the very nature of the Marvel and DC comics beast that has made the stories about mainstream comic heroes lack relevance or meaning. The problem is that as soon as a life changing event occurs in a mainstream book it will more than likely be invalidated by another writer within the span of several months to several years. Meaning that nothing in today’s mainstream books really sticks or has any meaning because it’s all at the whim of either the comic character’s corporate sponsor or the rotating turnstile of writers who impose their own ideals on long established characters. So, quite honestly, why should readers give a flying fig if Spider-Man’s got a new costume or if there’s some crazy Infinite Civil War that’s going to invade the mainstream comic universe? In a couple of years it’ll all be rendered meaningless by another House of Crisis or by whatever writer decides that Spider-Man will become the next Dark Phoenix. So why should fans care in the first place?

It’s a discussion I’ve had several times with the guy who runs my comic shop. Every time he sees me getting steamed about some ridiculous concept or another, like Spider- Armor, he just tells me to relax because in a little while another writer will come in and write something else and it won’t matter anyway. In other words: you shouldn’t care in the first place because in the end it just doesn’
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