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#29 10/11/06 #5

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


Writer: Andy Diggle Artist: Jock, Colin Wilson Publisher: DC/Vertigo Reviewer: Baytor

I’ve been a bit of a fan of this series since it debuted, but there’s always been something about this title that prevented it from being one of my favorites.
Some of it was the art. I like Jock’s style, but sometimes the action has been a bit confused and some of the character designs were a bit too similar to make quick identification possible. A big part of this is that real world designs tend to make everyone a bit samey in military stories, and the various props the main characters had never quite made them stand out in the crowd they way they probably should have. Sure, you could always spot Cougar in a crowd with that cowboy hat of his, but the same really couldn’t be said of anyone else. In this trade alone, I managed to confuse a male character with a female one, because they were both camouflaged blobs with dark hair. Even the one black character ften tends to blend in with the crowd because of some murky coloring. Too often recurring characters would show up and my reaction would be “who the hell is that?” instead of instantly remembering them.
Mind you, a good bit of the blame has to go to Andy Diggle who has cluttered the book with a bit too many characters for its own good. Many of whom don’t have particularly memorable character hooks.
Still, it’s always been an enjoyable romp, even if it left me scratching my head more often than it probably should have.
In many ways, “Endgame” illuminates a lot of the flaws of this series by not falling victim to them. Up until now, I had only the vaguest clue what anyone was really up to. The Losers were doing stuff, the bad guys were doing stuff, no one seemed to trust anyone else, and there was a good sense that all of this was vitally important, but I could barely remember the plot details two days after reading it. Here, everything comes into crystal focus, with all the cards being laid on the table, and my interest levels ramp up considerably.
We start off in the abandoned Ukrainian city of Pripyat, where the stolen nuclear material from previous installments is about to be used in a black ops plan masterminded by the mysterious Max. We’ve all seen the set-up a million times before (although this is the first time I ever heard of the very real city of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the Chernobyl accident), but it doesn’t turn out quite the way I expected, as The Losers, once more, live up to their name—although they manage to score a spot of revenge in the process. This has only been the prelude to Max’s sinister manipulations and we soon learn his real plan and how a Cold War operative managed to survive through seven decades. Apart from a timejump mid-way through the book (which I think is the only real misstep of the volume), the story doesn’t let up, building the tension to the very end.
The quick, exciting pace of “Endgame” does crystallize a thought I’ve had for some time: that THE LOSERS would have been better off as a much shorter story than its 32 issue run-time. Maintaining the mystery about Max and his scheme for two years never really served the story and a certain amount of momentum was lost because the main plot (unlike its action movie counterparts) wasn’t being revealed in regular intervals. The other great Vertigo epics (SANDMAN, PREACHER, TRANSMET) always maintained a sense that you were following a set of characters through a series of mildly related adventures before tying the whole thing up at the end, but THE LOSERS was following a very specific story through a series of complications. Had Andy Diggle managed to pare this down to 12 issues, it might very well go down as one of the undisputed classics in the medium (along with having a nice single volume to hand off to novice comic readers), but at five volumes the narrative comes off a bit flabby and doesn’t properly build up a head of steam until this final volume.
All-in-all, a great conclusion to a good series. If you’ve been following this book from the beginning, you will not be disappointed; and despite my misgivings, all five volumes of this series are a worthy addition to your comic library.


Writer: Ed Brubaker Penciler: Sean Phillips Publisher: Icon/Marvel Comics Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Brubaker. Phillips. Crime. Noir. If those words don't get you excited about this comic, then you really have some reading to do.
The creative team behind the modern-day classic SLEEPER is back and doing what they do best under Marvel's criminally neglected "creator-owned" imprint. As the title implies the lead of this book is a man of, uh, "loose morals". Actually, what he is is a thief, and apparently a pretty damn good one but one with a somewhat troublesome and untrustworthy past. See, our main man Leo is about as sneaky as they come and can case any theft you can dream up, but when the going gets tough, well, Leo gets going. That little bit of his personality is shown to us in flashback form as we start this series with a heist gone wrong to set the stage. Jump five years later and we find our Leo running into an old "friend" with a job involving some cops and five mil in diamonds, and what honest criminal could turn that down?
Right off the bat what really grabs you is the depth of our lead character. He's got that bit of scoundrel in him that we all find intriguing, but he's got some genuine heart to him. As Brubaker lays out to us the world Leo lives in we see that he's actually taking care of a junkie buddy of his deceased father's (both of them were also members of the criminal element). And despite his "flight over fight" nature Leo has built a good trust with a handful of people that we are also introduced to in this issue in some pretty fun and humorous "gathering up the crew" scenes. Leo's cowardly nature is also given justification as we find out that it stems from his father's being incarcerated and dying while locked up in prison. All of this is some really great groundwork setting us up with what is already looking to be a genuinely fun cast of characters.
When I said earlier that CRIMINAL is a creative team "doing what they do best" that also includes Sean Phillips doing what he does best with his pencils, and that is setting the perfect tone and atmosphere for the book. The panel work, the proper use of close-ups and zoom-outs on the characters, and the use of's masterful is what it is. I'm also a pretty big fan of Sean's painted cover too. It looks and has that feel of an old film noir movie poster, like something you'd see for some old-school French flick or whatnot (a subject I'm by no means an expert on, but you'd know the look if you saw it).
If you like crime fiction then this is a good time to be a comic book fan. Between this, THE CROSS BRONX from Image, the always great 100 BULLETS from Vertigo and so on and so forth, not only are crime comics showing up more often on the stands, but they're oft times in the upper echelon of what they're there with. CRIMINAL also furthers the tradition of Mr. Brubaker being one of the most consistent writers in the business today. We already know his work on CAPTAIN AMERICA and DAREDEVIL is stellar, and this book follows suit so well I can easily see it surpassing his work on both those titles. If you've read either or those titles or have read the likes of SLEEPER then you know by now it's not a stretch of the imagination that this title could end up being one of the best on the stands. And if you haven't, well, no reason not to get started now is there?


Writer: Chuck Dixon Artists: Kevin West (pencils), Bob Almond (inks) Publisher: DC WildStorm Reviewer: Ambush Bug

Y’know I love the horror. I was in utero when my mom went to see original THE EXORCIST in the movie theater. She says the film rubbed off on me and has called me a ghoulish child ever since. On my thirteenth birthday, I had the pleasure of seeing ALIENS, THE FLY, and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 in the theater on the same day. It was one of my best birthdays ever. You might say I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to horror films. The thing is, the biggest name in horror in the last 20 years is the one character that I’ve never been a big fan of. I know there are those who think Freddy Krueger is the best of the best when it comes to slashers. I admit the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movie scared the living shit out of my brother and I the first through thirtieth time I saw it. There was something about how Freddy was this truly evil boogeyman bathed in shadow and only hinted at that made him truly scary. My problem is that, as the films went on and Freddy’s popularity rose, he stepped out of the shadows and into the light and turned into more of a cartoon Bugs Bunny character than a movie monster. After the videos with Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Dokken, the appearances on MTV and all of the talk shows, when a child molester/murderer had become a national icon, Freddy just lost all semblance of scary in my book.
But I’ve kept up to date. I know there have been a few Freddy comics around in the last few years and every time I give them a look to see if they are worth a spit. Most recently, Avatar Press had the rights to not only Freddy, but Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. The problem with those books was the same problem I had with Freddy’s rise to popularity in the eighties and nineties and it’s the same problem that is persistently annoying in this, the most recent attempt to make Freddy a viable commodity in the comic book market: Freddy is out in the light, drawn crisp and clean, without a sense of mood or darkness; key factors in telling a truly scary story in comics.
It’s the art that turned me off in this first issue from WildStorm. I remember Kevin West all the way back from the nineties when he did quite a few issues of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY for Marvel. He’s got that clean, straight-forward style that is suited perfectly for super-hero comics. He’s one of those artists with a confident and definite line. One capable of a dynamic image cleanly showing what’s going on in the panel. I want to see Kevin West back on super-hero comics. I think that genre is lacking without him.
The problem isn’t the capability of the artist in A NIGHTMARE OF ELM STREET #1. It’s the fact that West just isn’t appropriately suited to make a comic book look scary. You don’t want clean panels and definite lines done in confidence. Horror is the one place where you want to put the reader on unsteady ground. You want to question what is going on and be suspicious of the darks used in the panel. You don’t want sure footing, especially in a comic book where dreams and reality are enmeshed as they are in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Told in a clean, straight-forward way, this comic lacks any scare factors at all.
It’s not that the book is in incapable hands writing-wise. Comic book action guru Chuck Dixon writes a pretty compelling tale of a girl haunted by a mysterious boogeyman in her dreams. There’s an especially haunting sequence where she encounters her brother in her dreams which ends very gruesomely. Had this book been given to an artist who had a more surrealistic or dreamy style, someone with a lighter brush-stroke or less of a tendency to ground the panel into comic book realism, it may have come across as scarier. But as I lay this book down, I found myself bored and pissed off at another missed opportunity to make a truly good and scary comic out of a franchise that, although it may not be one of my favorites, still deserves to be done right. Under a different art team, this comic may have legs. But as long as they’re telling these horror stories in the same style that they tell super hero stories, they’re going to miss the boat every damn time.


Writer: Jeff Parker Penciler: Leonard Kirk Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewed by: Squashua

Have you seen the rave reviews about NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E., and how it's so fucking awesomes and kewl and nutritious? Well, if you extricate the extreme!, catchphrase! and internets! from NEXTWAVE and add some actual plot!, a dash of retro! and limit the series to six issues!, you'll discover that you've ended up with AGENTS OF ATLAS.
AGENTS OF ATLAS, the comic for people who rejected NEXTWAVE because they wanted their $3.00 to last longer than 3 minutes. It might not have drop bears, but it's got Uranus jokes a-plenty. Now, don't get me wrong. I do read and enjoy NEXTWAVE, but AGENTS OF ATLAS is NEXTWAVE with substance. Then-again, it pretty much is NEXTWAVE, substance-or-no. Both books (1) start with a one-page bring-you-up-to-date summary, (2) are about secret, superhuman strike forces gone rogue from S.H.I.E.L.D. (H.A.T.E.), (3) have a human robot man agent, (4) have feature teams that travel the world in a super high-tech transport vehicle, and (5) hit you right in the cool bone, located somewhere between your shin and clavicle.
In the same sense that DC incorporated the Charleton heroes (Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, etc.) when it acquired the company, AGENTS OF ATLAS features characters from Atlas Comics, Marvel's ancestor, some of which have seen prior use. Instead of discarding these possibly conflicting appearances and hitting the reset button, writer Jeff Parker embraces the discrepancies and ties up any disparate continuity so well that you'd think he was taking tailoring lessons from Dan Slott.
In the course of this issue, the heroes meet a long-missing member, combat their greatest menace returned to life, investigate a mystery altar, discuss an ally behind its back, hear the origin of one of their members, and go in search of their last missing teammate. All in an age where a single comic battle can take the span of three issues, AGENTS OF ATLAS delivers a lot of bang for your bucks. Now yes, the origin of Marvel Boy (not Vance Astro) did get a little long-winded and I had to put it down for a minute to process the data in my head; information overload is not always a winning situation, but I'll take it any day versus an issue-long battle with meaningless speech balloons. Pick up AGENTS if you haven't already; new readers can catch on as the complexities of the plot are summarized in the front page. Uranus will thank you for it.


Writer: Jason Aaron Penciler: Cameron Stewart Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Okay, here's me not mincing words again: Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart's THE OTHER SIDE is the sleeper comic of the year.
I first heard about this little title back about the time of San Diego, I believe, as it was buried as always in the tiniest of tiny announcements Vertigo had as a plethora of "huge" announcements engulfed them whole. But when I read the pitch I could tell this book was going to be something. I mean, how can you go wrong with a Vietnam tale Vertigo style, and illustrated by the Cameron Stewart nonetheless? I was a little put off by the fact that I had no freaking clue who Jason Aaron was, but hell, I'll give anyone a shot if it sounds like they have a good story to tell.
Well, so far this is one hell of a good story being told.
THE OTHER SIDE is the tale of two young soldiers on opposite ends of the world preparing to enter a war that will lead to an inevitable encounter. Nineteen year old Jon J. Faulkner has just been drafted to fight the war on communism and he's not too happy about it. In fact, he desperately wants to avoid it, but he's plain shit out of luck and about to go through hell on earth. Vo Binh Dai, on the other hand, has embraced the war whole-heartedly. To him it's a chance to prove his worth and die with honor. The dichotomy here is what makes this book very exciting. Sure, anyone who has seen the great Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" probably has an idea of what to expect from Jon's story, but it's very rare to see the standpoint of the Vietnam soldier. These were a people that were willing to go to the extremest of the extremes to fight for what was theirs. Seeing their viewpoint through the eyes of Vo Dai is a very unique perspective, and one that gives a new light to just what it was that our soldiers were facing in that war.
All that said there's still some life in the tried and true approach of seeing the rigors and, yes, even horrors that were the United States Army during this time period. Watching as Private Faulkner goes through his training isn't any less disturbing than when you saw it the first time. Seeing these young men being verbally and mentally broken down to face an enemy that won't rest and will go to any length to see them dead is just surreal when you sit back and realize this kind of stuff actually happened and even goes on today. And Aaron adds a little bit of a twist as we watch Faulkner start to have a bit of a mental breakdown as he starts having extreme and horrid visions of dead, decayed and dismembered soldiers taunting him, as well as his rifle that has also developed a nasty habit of talking to him. It's all very interesting, and even somewhat humorous, and adds some great psychological horror in a way reminiscent of some classic EC horror stories.
Cameron Stewart's art is at an all-time high here in THE OTHER SIDE. It's actually almost a textbook of what good art should be. The scenery is lush, the background detail is amazing, the anatomy of his figures perfect. There's a great level of range in his facial expressions and there are some truly horrific looks to the mutilated visions that haunt our grunt here. The art is just another reason why this book is definitely a break out work of the year.
Like I said earlier this is probably the most unexpectedly good read I've read all year. Despite being a relative newcomer to comic, Jason Aaron has thrown out a comic that even seasoned pros would be proud to have their name on. If this quality keeps up I can definitely see this book spreading some positive buzz about Aaron himself and maybe even getting itself nominated for a Best mini-series or some kind of award like that. Get in on the ride now though. That way if/when we have ourselves a new "breakout talent" you can say you were there at the beginning.


Stan Lee: Writer Alan Davis: Artist Brian Michael Bendis: Back-up Writer Mark Bagley: Back-up Artist Marvel Comics: Publisher Vroom Socko: Met Bendis a bunch of times, but none of the other guys.

I hear tell there’s going to be five of these one-shots celebrating 65 years of Stan Lee at Marvel. Well, based on this one, I’ll be buying them all. And for no other reason than this was the most fun I’ve had reading a Marvel comic in over a year.
What makes this book such a blast? Dude, it’s written by Stan Lee, you need more than that? Okay then, how about the fact that this entire issue is one colossal dig at the current state of Marvel? The first story, with Stan paying a visit to his old pal Steven Strange, has Stan taken aback at how the Sorcerer Supreme has sold out. The good Doctor is more concerned about the bottom line than fighting evil, with his landlord replacing the Dread Dormammu as his arch nemesis. The Sanctum is now a gift shop stocked to the gills with T-shirts and Essentials volumes. And when Wong greets Stan at the door, he offers not a cup of tea, but a senior citizen discount on tours.
What I love, what I absolutely love about this story, is the writing from Stan. Now, when you read a Stan Lee comic, you can tell in an instant that The Man is the writer. It’s the same with this one; the first captions, and even the dialogue Stan has as a character are very much in the Stan Lee “voice.” But once we get inside the Sanctum that voice changes, with Wong and Dr. Strange speaking with a totally different tone and style than Stan. You know what that tells me? It tells me that even when he’s pushing 84 years old, Stan Lee is still growing and learning as a writer. And that’s dynamite. Throw in the playfulness and inherent fun in the story, and you’ve got the best work I’ve read from Stan in years.
Then there’s the back-up story done by the uber-team behind ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley. Oh sweet lord. The Impossible Man has returned to Earth, and like all reasonable lunatics he’s horrified and disgusted by what he finds. Civil War, the FF shattered, “No more mutants,” Spidey an Avenger… It’s all too much to take. So Impy storms the Marvel Bullpen, demanding that Stan Lee explain just what the fuck is going on. Last time Bendis had the Impossible Man tear through the Marvel offices, it was funny as all hell. This was funnier, mainly because of the abuse heaped on poor Dan Slott throughout. However, the touch that pushed it over the edge was having Joe Quesada responding to any and all questions by playing video clips of his interview on The Colbert Report.
If I do have anything to complain about, it’s how this section ends. I’ve heard the whole “Change is good” bit from Marvel so often it’s become the comics version of “Why do you hate our troops.” Now, I don’t hate change. How can I? Change is a part of storytelling: a situation is presented, and then a change occurs. That’s called plot. All stories feature change, but you can’t reasonably say that all stories are good. “Heroes Reborn”, anyone? But this is really a minor quibble, and I don’t want to rain on Stan lee’s parade, so what the hell. Change is good (unless it’s Spider-Man getting married, of course.)
Besides Dr. Strange, Stan Lee is set to meet Spider-Man, The Thing, Dr. Doom, and the Silver Surfer. I’m on board for each and every one. You should be too.


Writer: A.J. Lieberman Artist: Al Barrionuevo (pencils) & Bit (inks) Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Prof. Challenger

"Hey Prof, I hear you're reviewing the first three issues of MARTIAN MANHUNTER, you lucky bastard. That shit is so bad, your review is going to write itself. The editing for the last issue was terrible; they spell the word "shear" instead of "sheer" and yet use "sheer" correctly later on the same page. The same page. Not only shouldn't you use the same obscure word twice in such close proximity, where the hell is the editor? Later on, we've got a case of "you're" instead of "your". This isn't the internet, it's a globally distributed comic from one of the big two. Is it the writer, the letterer, or the editor fucking up? This disrespect for the reader is precisely why this fourth-rate comic book is going to stay a fourth-rate comic book. I will not tolerate this shit from a $3 mainstream book when the total number of words doesn't exceed the length of a two-page high school essay.
I implore you to call bullshit on this. -Squashua" that Squashua has succinctly spanked DC for the embarassingly amateurish editing/lettering (I don't know which to blame the most here), that allows me to get right into more substantive criticism as to why this series is just not working.
I've always kind of liked J'onn J'onzz, The Manhunter from Mars. But nothing about the publicity for this series really got me interested. But last week I basically didn't see anything on the shelves I was interested in and decided to pick up these three issues and read them through to give an evaluation on the series up to this point. The basic plot, as it is, is that some event, or events, from the last year have inspired J’onn to stop with the barechested look with buccaneer boots and change his costume to something that actually kind of looks cool on him. He’s also come into contact with a Martian artifact that has convinced him that there are other Martians alive and here on Earth. Which they are and being held in custody by one MORE super-secret DC corrupt government group. So, he’s trying to track them down to rescue them and deal with those who imprisoned his fellow Martians. We get to see glimpses of his detective training as he attempts to unravel that mystery. The villains of the piece are cardboard cutout villains from every bad secret agent/corrupt government movie from the last 20 years--the kind where the evil agents shoot the evil scientists between the eyes and nobody reacts to it. In three issues, J’onn has tracked down the Martians, saved as many as he could, and told a concerned JLA to leave him the hell alone. By the end of the third issue, the evil, corrupt guv’ment has gone and brought in a cadre of JLA members to try and take down J’onn. Now, exactly how in the name of everything rational Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Vixen could contribute anything to such a mission, I don’t know. Unless the evil, corrupt guv’ment is expecting them to be the frontline cannon fodder so that Green Lantern and Zatanna can do the serious damage.
After reading this through and mulling it over, I would say this was a missed opportunity for DC. The thing is, J'onn is a good character that a lot of people like. He's probably more well-known than other third-tier DC characters like Atom, Elongated Man, or Red Tornado because of his prominent role on the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon. As a member of a group, J'onn functions as an alien observer/perspective on the other characters. As the lead character in his own series, and without the Justice League around, every writer seems to grab the same sales-killing "hook": over-emphasis on his alienness to the point that it alienates (pun intended) the reader.
I can see that the writer, Lieberman, is attempting to give some depth to J'onn with the narrative so that the reader can gain deeper insight into J'onn's character. So, over the course of these three issues, we've had to endure J'onn telling himself that "Clark was right. They do feel like needles." when being shot or endless mentions about how he does not feel human emotions. The comment about bullets like needles is stupid considering how many times he's been shot. You think after 40 years of eating ice cream, I'm going to sit down to a bowl and say to myself "Mom was right. Ice cream is really cold."? That's a line that should've been edited out for stupidity. The thing about the emotions is supposed to build tension for the reader so that at the end of issue one, when J'onn says that “Now I am filled with the one human emotion I never thought I was capable of...hate,” the reader can gasp in horror.
The problem here is that he has demonstrated that he feels very emotionally over the decades, and even in these three issues he's demonstrated varying emotional responses such as love, shame, anger, and bigotry. At the end of the second issue, J'onn says "Of all the human emotions I have observed...revenge is the only one not foreign to my people." The way I've read these three issues, his "people" are full of emotion and demonstrating actions that betray the fact that they feel the same sort of emotions as we mere humans. So, again, poorly written. Revenge is not an emotion, it is an action. Driven by emotion, usually hate or anger or sadness, but revenge itself is not an emotion. As well, you don't "observe" emotions, you experience or feel them. Which J'onn, and the other Martians, have demonstrated that they do.
In this series, Lieberman has done everything he can to jettison everything about J'onn that is likeable and remake him into an eminently unlikeable alien who has lost his moral center. He kills without guilt. He manipulates peoples' minds without regret. As it stands now, he's coming off like Spock from the Mirror Universe but without the human half. He's highly intelligent, very powerful, narcissistically self-focused and as a result, the series is just depressingly morose.
This series does not carry a tag that says it was inspired by concepts developed by Grant Morrison, but it does smack of his hand. In the most recent BACK ISSUE from TwoMorrows, Morrison is quoted from a 1997 WIZARD interview where Morrison stated that if there was ever a JLA story where one of the members betrayed the League, it would logically be J'onn because he's the most alien of the group. He also remarked that he thought the reason why none of J'onn's solo series have been successful is because of an inherent racism in the marketplace because of how alien he looks. Now, in the first three issues of this series, Lieberman has set up a split and standing conflict between J'onn and the JLA. He also has had J'onn drop even a semblance of the more human look he's adopted for 50 years to revert back to his natural Martian look. All this basically so that there can be scenes where the people on the street recoil at how he looks and distrust him. It's an irritating turn of events because it reminds of self-important people like that lady at PetSmart yesterday, who grows her fingernails out six inches, paints them black, sticks a ring in her nose, puts on eyeshadow like Endora, tattoos the entire upper portion of her body, dresses in a green bikini top with her fat pierced belly jiggling out, wears skin tight capri pants and six inch platform heels, and in her face you see that invisible neon sign flashing “LOOK HOW FREAKY I AM, BUT DON'T YOU JUDGE ME! LOOK AT ME!!! BUT DON'T YOU JUDGE ME!!!!!!” If I were talking to J’onn, I’d point out to him that if he’s going to go out into a world of pink, hairy Earthlings who can’t really control their appearances all that much, then don’t judge THEM for simply reacting viscerally when confronted by your extraordinarily alien appearance that YOU have control over. There’s nothing wrong with him deciding to drop the charade, but it’s the height of arrogance, and pure self-serving bigotry on his own part to expect others not to react badly to the visual shock.
So, if Lieberman was inspired by Morrison’s comments in WIZARD, I would lament the fact that he did not read to the end so that he could have caught this more insightful gem: “[J’onn’s] remote from the others, but at the same time, completely dedicated to what they represent, like honor, truth, and justice.” In the course of these three issues, J’onn has betrayed all three of those moral dedications and gone from “remote” to “detached.” All in all, a series that has some very impressive art by Barrionuevo but is barely competent writing wise. And the piss-poor editing that leads to no less than four glaring typo errors in the third issue doesn’t help either. Just ask Squashua.


Writer: Rick Spears Penciler: Vasilis Lolos Publisher: Image Comics Reviewed by Humphrey Lee

Honestly, I'm not sure what to write here.
This comic I have before me is honestly one of the most unusual comics I've ever read, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But the problem is I'm not really sure of what this story is supposed to be about. Apparently there's a gang of punk chicks called The Cherries that go around the piers assaulting those unfortunate enough to wander by for their belongings. A bookie gets assassinated gangland style, and a young man loses an eye to our bevy of femme fatales. Other than that mish-mash of ideas there's really not much going on here in PIRATES.
But, the thing of it is, this book has such a unique style in the way it's presented I can't help but want to see where it's going. The art and the characters have such a life of their own they just seem to grab you despite the fact that we know next to nothing about them. Also, there's no "Pirates" to speak of just yet. Apparently we find out just who the PIRATES OF CONEY ISLAND are with the next issue, but there's not a trace of them in this issue. And I'll be there, because despite the fact that this issue was a little on the light side, I think the same can be said about the predominant Rick Spears work, TEENAGERS FROM MARS, and that book in my opinion might be the most criminally undermentioned comic of the past five years. If PIRATES can build up steam and tell the same level of yarn that TEENAGERS did, than this first issue is just a quick start to something that could be a hell of a ride.
Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a comic that has punk chicks beating on people with a metal pipe that says "Love Handle" on it? Mmmm... punk chicks.


Writer: David Lapham Penciller: Eric Battle Backup Story: DR. 13 Writer: Brian Azzarello Artist: Cliff Chiang Reviewer: Squashua

Talk about unexpected. I missed the "The Spectre" boat two iterations ago and was markedly disappointed with the Hal Jordan iteration, so I originally had no interest in picking up this series. Then I saw a few preview pages that DC released and was impressed enough to give it a go. Also, it was a light week for me, I needed some filler, and the very talented artwork that attracted me to the series would help take the edge off.
Don't let the retro title fool you; this series is "The Spectre" with a backup story featuring Dr. 13, essentially a spiritual/magical counterpoint to MYSTERY IN SPACE, which features Captain Comet and a The Weird backup. This book is the latest in a number of 8-issue miniseries by DC; a wise move considering that 8 issues (A) are easy to collect in trade paperback format and (B) are probably long enough for the series to run before the audience loses interest and it gets cancelled.
Your enjoyment of the lead story will depend on one simple factor: how well you can swallow the concept of The Spectre. The Spectre is a manifestation of God's vengeance and therefore can only act when God requires…vengeance. He's bound to a human host, which traditionally has been a formerly dead investigator; Jim Corrigan, Hal Jordan (patrolman of Sector 2814), and now Crispus Allen, formerly of GOTHAM CENTRAL. I only read the first trade of GC, so I'm not attached to the character in the way that some of the more vocal online fans are. This allows me to approach the new Spectre as an outsider.
Even after a year being dead, Crispus is still getting used to being a ghost and (not) interacting directly with the world around him; he can't be seen by others, but he's still trying to help what I can only assume are his former Gotham Central coworkers. They're investigating the murder of a slum lord to bring the killer to justice, but The Spectre has tasked Crispus with the mission of finding the killer first. Granted, there were really no clues pointing the way; the revelation is made rather nonchalantly as a defensive comment with no other evidence to back it up. There's no investigation or intrigue involved, but that's this Spectre; he's not supposed to be involved. In typical "Rear Window" fashion, Crispus can only watch the action until he witnesses a declaration of guilt. Only then can vengeance be unleashed.
Though I was disappointed with the straightforward manner in which this first act ran, I have faith that it was simply to help set up the overall conflict that will take place across the next eight issues.
For the backup story, we get Dr. 13 or Doctor Thirteen, depending on who you ask. He's a character that I've never heard of until now. I could check Wikipedia to find out that his nickname is "The Ghost Breaker" and that he was killed off in SEVEN SOLDIERS: ZATANNA #1, but that would be cheating. From what I can tell simply from this issue, Dr. 13 is a professional skeptic, like Scully from “X-Files”, a one-man Scooby Gang.
Of course, that's a really tough thing to be in a world where Superman parades across the front page of the Daily Planet. I know I wouldn't be able to stay in disbelief. The concept reminds me of a character archetype from the Palladium Role-Playing Game (yes, I am a versatile geek) called the "Nega-Psychic", a very powerful psychic who is so up his ass in denial that he actually causes psychic phenomena to fail in his general vicinity. If expressed in gaming terms, Dr. 13 just might be a Nega-Psychic. Level Twelve. With +3 Glasses of the Blind Eye.
Half abstract dreamscape, half French Alps exploration, the story introduces us to Terence Thirteen and his hot, possibly spoiled (based on her constant referral to her father as "Daddy"), teenage daughter Trian…Traci Thirteen. The banter is there, and the artwork is fresh and inviting, a sharp contrast to the dark and grim Spectre lead-in. I have no idea who that guy is on the last page, even though he hollers his name. I thought he was a Marvel character. Overall, it was an entertaining read that ends on a very strange cliffhanger.
It's good to see some non-super-heroic, non-Vertigo magic stories (I'm looking at you, SHADOWPACT), and both tales were unexpectedly worth my time, and yours. The price is $4 for the issue, but there are more than enough pages and dialogue that it doesn't feel like they're trying to draw out the stories. I'm going to pick up the next issue to see if they can maintain my interest.

Q-KO-CHAN Vol. 1

Written and Illustrated by: Ueda Hajime Published by: Del Rey Manga Reviewed by: superhero

OK, I’m going to say it right now: there are times when manga just out and out confuses the heck out of me. While I consider myself a fan of manga, manhwa, and anime in general there are some books that just boggle my mind. Q-KO-CHAN is just such a book.
If anyone’s seen the manga or anime FLCL (otherwise known as Fooly Cooly) then they’d probably say that I should have known what I was getting into as this book is from the same creator as those aforementioned titles. While I consider the FLCL anime to be nothing short of weird brilliance, the manga was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read. It was a torturous read which made little to no sense in the end and which just made my head hurt trying to figure it out. Again, you could say that I should have known what I was getting into as the anime was completely mind boggling but I had expected some of its charm to have been present within the pages of the manga. That wasn’t the case and after I read the FLCL manga I was left utterly disappointed.
So why would I pick this book up you ask? Because I like the art. Now I’m sure that anyone who’s picked up the Fooly manga would think I was on crack for saying that but, yes, I like the art dammit! Yes, I know at first glance it looks like chicken scratch but there’s something there that fascinates me. See, I’m impressed by almost anyone who’s able to put out a comic book. Most of all I’m impressed with someone who puts out a comic book and obviously doesn’t fit the normal definition of what “good comic art” is supposed to look like. I love coming across books that have such a different visual approach that you can’t help but notice them. Sure, this book doesn’t have the graphic panache of, say, THE ULTIMATES or, hell, even half the manga out there but that didn’t stop the creator from putting it together. The style here, while incredibly simplistic, is impressive in its own way. Yeah, a five year old with some artistic training could probably make a book that looks just as good but that’s what I liked about the look of FLCL and Q-KO-CHAN. It’s hard to explain but as soon as I saw this book I knew I was going to pick it up. Needless to say, the art isn’t for everyone.
Unfortunately, while the art is interesting because it’s different it’s also the thing that ruins the book as well. It’s obvious to me that Hajime has some sort of artistic skill but what’s obvious as well is the fact that his storytelling ability is basically horrible. It seems to me that Hajime is more interested in the sparseness of his style than telling an actual coherent story. While this book is far more linear in its approach than FLCL ever was, it’s still easy to get lost due to the poor panel progression as well as the simplistic character design. While I was able to make out what was happening there were times when I just couldn’t figure out who was who. I get that the style is supposed to be minimalistic, but if I can’t figure out what character’s doing what to whom, then there’s a problem.
It’s a shame, too, because I wanted to like this book when I picked it up. It seemed like something different even amongst all of the manga that populates the shelves at my local Borders. While Q-KO-CHAN isn’t the mess that the FLCL manga was it’s still a disappointment. If I were to say anything to the creator of this book I’d advise them to tighten up their work a bit. I appreciate his style being unique but if you’re telling a story in the pages of the comic book it’s better to maintain a coherent sense of storytelling than losing your audience because of your overindulgence of style.

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