The Week In Ink: July 8, 2009

You know, as much as I love the “What was the capital of Poland between 1038 and 1596” joke…

 

 

…it’s really the kind of thing you can only get away with once.

Then again, repetition does lead to comedy, but there’ll be enough time to discuss comedic theory later, because it’s Thursday night and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Effervescent Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I got this week…

 

 

…and here’s what we’ll all be thinking about in… the world that’s coming!!

 


 

Booster Gold #22: Last month, I mentioned that while Booster Gold wasn’t spectacular, it’s a consistently enjoyable book that’s always worth picking up. With this issue, though, I thought I ought to go ahead and revise that statement.

Not because Booster Gold‘s suddenly not enjoyable or anything, but because I may have been damning it with faint praise. The truth is that over the past few months, Dan Jurgens has been quietly slipping one of DC’s better titles under the radar every month, and the more I read, the more I like it. I think a lot of it has to do with the new direction for the character that Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz launched the series with. The idea of sending Booster back to any moment in the history of the DC universe is not only one that appeals to the Nerd Hat-wearing fan in every reader (and every writer, for that matter), but also one that fits the character perfectly, with great opportunities for the action and comedy that make the character so appealing, and Jurgens is really using it to its potential. Going from a nominal tie-in to the “Batman Reborn” books to the events of New Teen Titans #2 is not only clever, but Jurgens makes it thrilling and genuinely funny.

It’s a great book even before you hit the Blue Beetle backup story, which–even without an appearance by THINKO!–is just as enjoyable as the first. It’s good stuff, and well worth the extra buck.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

BPRD: 1947 #1: I’ve enjoyed all of the BPRD series, but last year’s 1946 was far and away the best of them, with is fantastic execution of a deceptively simple soldiers-versus-Nazi-vampires premise. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, and as you might expect from the fact that it comes from a series that allowed me to just throw “soldiers-versus-Nazi-vampires” out like it ain’t no thang, it’s awesome.

Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart’s script is the usual–which is to say fantastic–offering, doing a great job of introducing a new cast and setting the typically creepy mood, but it’s also notable for the reappearance of Varvara. I mentioned back when 1946 was coming out that Mignola and Dysart had single-handedly breathed new life into the tired, evil-little-girl archetype, and that continues here. She’s just so incredibly understated that the creepiness doesn’t feel forced like it does in lesser works, and the interplay between her and the increasingly haggard Professor Bruttenholm is just great.

To be honest though, the real star of the show is the art team of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, which probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen their work on books like Casanova or The Umbrella Academy. They’re phenomenal, and under Dave Stewart’s colors, they’re perfect on this book, delivering great shots of everything from a group of comically shocked 18th century French aristocrats to the horrors of the D-Day landing.

It’s great stuff that only underlines the fact that the BPRD books are one of the best things going in comics right now, and these are the best of the best.

 

Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1: I don’t really have much of a review for this one, I just wanted to point out that Paul Cornell’s Sub-Mariner story is basically just Namor taking a shower for nine pages and getting a soft touch from Norman Osborn.

That sound you just heard was Rachelle Goguen breaking the sound barrier on her way to her local comic shop.

 

GI Joe Origins #5: All right, folks. I realize that what I’m about to say might be a little controversial, but trust me here: This might be the best GI Joe story ever.

Admittedly, it doesn’t have Destro–which under normal circumstances would be an automatic disqualification–and only an ersatz Cobra Commander in the person of the hilarious/awesome/hilariously awesome Dr. Chimera, but what it does have is more than a match for what it lacks. Yes, there’s the standard GI Joe militaryish action and it’s all very well done by Larry Hama and Mike Hawthorne, but there are really only two things that you need to know here:

1. It is revealed that Cobra Commander (or at least a reasonable mask-wearing facsimile thereof) is behind the current global economic crisis, with an assist from Duke, and

2. Snake Eyes fights a guy while he is on fire, presumably because they can’t grab you if you’re on fire.

It not only makes a great wrap-up for the first arc of Origins, and what’s more, it puts the main book to shame, as that title has yet to have any ninjas on fire. Ball’s in your court, Dixon, and Hama’s up by five.

 

Street Fighter II Turbo #7: Okay guys, serious question here: Is Poison still a dude?

I mean, I know that she was originally intended to be female, and then changed because Capcom thought the American SNES-buying audience would be happier with a transvestite hooker than Mike Haggar actually piledriving a woman, and then replaced with two decidedly male characters for the American release, and the whole thing’s way more complex than it ought to be. Even this issue seems to have fun with it, with Cody’s “you’re not much of a lady” and her irate response, which could be taken a couple of ways.

Not that I particularly mind, you understand, but it’d be nice to know which comics I read involved cross-dressing prostitutes. My filing system is oddly specific.

Anyway, as you can probably tell from this line of discussion, the last few issues have featured some of the characters from the Final Fight series, and there’s even an old-fashioned call at the end of the issue for readers to write in if they’d like to see a Final Fight series, and honestly, I’d love one. As inherently goofy as video game comics are, Ken Siu-Chong’s Street Fighter stories have managed to be incredibly entertaining, mostly because they seem to refuse to take themselves seriously. But you know what? I’ll do one better than just asking for a Final Fight book. Hey Udon Studios: I will write you a Final Fight comic for one dollar. And that’s real.

 

Wasteland #25: Break out the party hats, everybody, because this week brings us the double-sized, double-sexy, full-color 25th issue of everyone’s favorite post-apocalyptic Western!

I’ve mentioned before that Wasteland is one of my favorites, and if you haven’t been reading it, this is probably the one to check out. It’s not so much that it’s a good jumping-on point–which it is, but after all, with four trades, it’s pretty easy to get started at the beginning–but it’s the first standalone story since the incredible Rashomon-style Chuck BB issue, and it’s an incredible read on its own.

One of the most appealing aspects of Wasteland is the world-building, which under a lot of writers can come off as very forced. With Johnston, though–and this might just be a side-effect of the fact that he’s been working on it off and on for fifteen years–it all comes out organically, and after almost three years, it’s all laid into place so well that he can focus on a sharp, clever story that captures the fun and heartbreak of the series all in one issue. And it’s all wrapped up in Mitten’s art, which is just beautiful in this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s usually good, but going from the normal black and white of the series to the watercolor-style colors is flat-out gorgeous.

It’s a fantastic issue, and while it does carry the price tag of a double-sized story, it’s well worth it.

 

Wednesday Comics #1: And finally, we hae the book that everyone’s talking about: DC’s newspaper-sized Wednesday Comics. I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was announced, and now that I’ve got the first issue in my hand, well, it’s certainly an anthology title.

Admittedly, it’s a good anthology title, and with the talent DC’s brought in to pull it off, it ought to be. I mean, this is a book that is giving us Kyle Baker’s Hawkman, which, in case you missed that, is Kyle Baker’s Hawkman, a pairing that gave us quite possibly the best quote from any interview ever:

“Hawkman carries a mace, so it’s important for a writer to create dilemmas which can be resolved with a mace. A guy with a mace fighting a T-Rex is a good fight to watch.”

And I’m sure it will be. But any anthology is bound to have a mix in quality, and while it’s a triumph in terms of format–the huge, single-page stories are strikingly beautiful and every one is immediately visually engaging–Wednesday Comics is no exception.

The biggest disappointment, sadly, was Busiek and Quinones’ Green Lantern, which I was really looking forward to. I get that this is only the first page of a twelve-page story, but it’s also their first opportunity to really use the new format to hook the reader, and while Quinones does a great job with the art, he’s drawing exactly one panel of Green Lantern, with the rest of a 14″ x 20″ page devoted to Hal Jordan’s coworkers and their drink orders. It’s obvious what Busiek’s going for–setting up the contrast that’ll lead into future weeks–but the strip-style format lends itself better to pages that can function as complete chapters in and of themselves, and he’s loaded this one up with way too much setup. There’s even a wordy caption explaining that this is the “New Frontier” Hal Jordan that could be done away with altogether. The Supergirl story, for instance, doesn’t bother to explain that it’s not the Supergirl running around in the ongoing, it just presents a fun, well-drawn one-page story that could work as a gag strip just as well as it sets up future installments.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Wonder Woman page, which–again–is beautiful, but just doesn’t do it for me. I can see that Caldwell’s going for a more Little Nemo-esque adventure that does take advantage of the larger page, but it just seems to hit wrong, with Wonder Woman talking to birds and then an honest-to-God “It was all a dream… OR WAS IT?!” ending. It is, however, very pretty, so I’m hoping to get more out of it in future issues.

Lest you think I’m being overly negative, though, the good definitely outweighs the bad. I mentioned Supergirl already (which Amanda Conner does an incredible job with), and the Azarello/Risso Batman story does a great job setting the mood on the first page. More to my taste, though, was Neil Gaiman, who does a passable Bob Haney impression in his Metamorpho story with Mike Allred, which I’m really hoping holds up for the duration. And of course, the biggest shocker for me was the Metal Men story. I mean, I knew the art was going to be great–it’s Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan, for cryin’ out loud!–but I wasn’t expecting to see the ’70s styled Metal Men, complete with the Avenging Disco Godfather Who Is Liquid At Room Temperature.

Far and away the best, though–at least until Hawkman starts solving dinosaur problems with his mace–was Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures. It’s a perfect use of the format in terms of layout, and while there’s very little action from Adam Strange himself, Pope gives us a fantastic setup with a perfect piece of dialogue to accompany it. More than anything else, this is the one I’m looking forward to sitting down with at the end of the series and reading one installment after the other.

So yeah: It’s an anthology, but it’s one that does a great job in doing something different, and if the worst it has to offer is a beautifully drawn Green Lantern story that’s not quite as good as it oughtta be, then it’s well worth the trade-off.

 


 

Annnnnnnd that’s the week! As always, any questions, concerns, or speculation on whether or not Scott Gray can live up to the record Jeff Parker’s established on X-Men: First Class (which was highly enjoyable this week) can be left in the comments section below.

Also, I did have a couple of cocktails while I was writing these reviews so uh… I mean… I didn’t offer to write anything for a dollar, did I?

Oh man, not again

The Week In Ink: May 13, 2009

It’s a pretty well-known fact that comics based on video games are at best a mixed bag, but I’ve got a surprising amount of affection for Udon’s Street Fighter comics.

Mainly because writer Ken Siu-Chong frequently combines my two favorite things:

 

 

Kicks to the face and Mr. Dan Hibiki.

But enough about comics’ greatest martial artist! It’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Hyperbolic Comics Reviews! Here’s what I picked up when I wasn’t learning the secret art of the Saikyō-ryū

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of them!

 


 

Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape #1: I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but there was a time when the legendary Jack Kirby was set to do an adaptation of The Prisoner, which as we all know was the greatest television series of all time. He even went so far as to produce pages for a complete 17-page story, and while it was never published, they did make it into the Jack Kirby Collector, which is where I saw them a few months back.

I bring this all up because with Escape, Ivan Brandon and Marco Rudy have taken the idea of “Jack Kirby’s The Prisoner” and run with it, and as you might expect, that’s something that I have absolutely no problem with whatsoever.

Brandon’s Prisoner riffs are completely unabashed, with Nemesis standing in for Patrick McGoohan’s Number Six and the strangeness of the Village replaced by the strangeness of Jack Kirby, with elements like the Global Peace Agents stripped of their context and cast in a far more creepy light. Even the opening sequence, with Nemesis being poisoned and waking up in Electric City, is a dead ringer for how “Arrival” kicks off, and the bizarre surreality of Nemesis waking to be confronted by three smiling Build-A-Friends–of OMAC fame, naturally–is a perfect blending of the show and the source comics. Heck, there’s even a gentleman who looks like Number 6, down to the white piping on his jacket.

In short, it combines three things that I absolutely love, with all the strangeness and inherent excitement that you’d expect from those elements, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Jack Staff #20: Saints be praised! With Paul Grist busy doing the art on the Torchwood comics, I honestly didn’t think we were going to get an issue of Jack Staff anytime soon, but here we are, with a new installment only six months after the last one. And while I’d normally chide a comic for lateness at this point, let’s be honest: Two issues of Jack Staff a year are more than we deserve.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Jack Staff is my favorite comic, and while this issue isn’t Grist’s best work, it’s still an incredible book that reminds me of why I love Grist so much. Not only does he cram this thing full with 29 pages of story, but he does it with enough skill to not only deliver six interweaving plotlines, but he makes them all work so darn well that it makes other writers just seem like amateurs.

I know, I know: Throw in a line about his innovative art style and page layouts, and it’s the same complimentary gushing I write about every issue, but hey, a new issue of Jack Staff is a rare and wondrous occasion enough that it’s time we start celebrating it with traditions. So really, if you’ve never read it, grab the first trade and discover the unbridled radness that is Paul Grist for yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1: I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was solicited, and while it’s a great, fun idea in theory I gotta say, I was slightly let down in practice. If I may be allowed to put on The Nerd Hat for a moment, I’ll confess that Redwing’s characterization threw me off a little. Not just because he didn’t mention his 11 Stanley Cup wins, but because if there’s one animal in the entire Marvel Universe that shouldn’t be espousing the superiority of one group of animals over another, it oughtta be the bird that hangs out with Captain America a lot. You’d think he’d–

Oh God. Has it come to this? Am I actually debating the character flaws of a talking bird? Nerd hat or no, it might be time to just move on, and any problems I might have with this title are more than balanced out by the fact that it’s got Colleen Coover drawing the Thunder Frog. Give it a shot!

 

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #6: In a week without Jack Staff, this would’ve easily rocketed to the top of my slightly arbitrary ranking system to be the best of the week, as it is hands down one of the best kids’ comics I’ve ever read.

Like all of the best kids’ comics, this issue’s biggest strength lies in the fact that it stays fun and lighthearted without ever talking down to to the young readers at which it’s directed. Instead, Landry Walker and Eric Jones reveal that they’ve been crafting a surprisingly complex story over the past six months, tying it together with a Mxyzptlk that has more in common with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow than Superman the Animated Series and a climactic battle that would be on a huge scale in an issue of Justice League, let alone a book aimed at kids! Heck, there’s even a Lex Luthor moment in here that’s one of the best pieces of characterization the company’s had all year.

It all adds up to something that’s not just DC’s best kids’ book, but one of DC’s best books period, and the best Supergirl story in at least twenty years. The fact that this is the last issue makes it more than a little bittersweet, but like almost everyone else who’s read it, I’m holding out hope that it returns soon. I think all six issues are still available from DC, so if you haven’t already, check it out at your local shop. The payoff alone is well worth it.

 

Unwritten #1: I’ll be honest with you, folks: I’d be recommending this book even if I hadn’t read it, because it’s thirty-two pages of story by Mike Carey–writer of what might just be my favorite run on Hellblazer–at a cover price of one dollar. Even sight unseen, that’s a deal that’s hard to pass up.

But as it turns out, Unwritten #1 is even better than I thought it would be. The basic hook of the plot–a guy whose father wrote a series of Harry Potter-esque novels, casting a fictionalized version of his son in the lead role before vanishing under mysterious and as-yet-unexplained circumstances–manages to hit the same notes as the books it’s referencing, using them as a jumping off point rather than lapsing into parody.

Best of all, despite the fact that Tommy Taylor is shown as a burnout making his living off of convention apperances, Carey doesn’t fall into the trap of making him difficult to like. For all of his frustrations, he’s still nice to his fans, and that bit of characterization does a lot to make him a character that we care about. It’s very good stuff, sharply written and very well-drawn courtesy of Peter Gross.

And again: It’s thirty-two pages for a dollar, and as good a book as this is, there’s no reason to not jump on.

 

GI Joe: The Best Worst of Cobra Commander: I’ve been pretty pleased with IDW’s efforts with GI Joe ever since they got the license, especially the way that they’ve been getting Larry Hama’s historic Marvel run back in print, but I gotta say: This thing’s a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cobra Commander–a fact that I’m pretty sure the record will support–and it’s not that these issues are bad, but they’re far from the best of Double-C.

It might just be that there’s a discrepancy between what I was expecting and what I got, although I can’t imagine that anyone who’s actually read the run would deny that a “Best Of Cobra Commander” trade ought to feature GI Joe #100, which not only opens with Cobra Commander kicking a puppy, but continues to show him taking over a town by pure charisma and a speech about the evils of taxation. It’s one of the best issues of the run, and it’s got everything you love to hate about the guy. And yet, it’s not here. Admittedly, there is a “1” on the spine, which implies a second Cobra Commander collection that would have issues from later in the run, but I’d rather they just get around to producing it in the Classic trades.

Beyond my personal preferences though, there’s another glaring flaw with this thing: The reproduction quality takes a turn for the crap about halfway through. All of the issues that have been reprinted already in the Clssic GI Joe line are nice and crisp, but the last couple of stories just look like poor scans slapped on the page. And even weirder, the jump in quality happens during an issue, which makes it even more noticeable. If I wanted to read crappy, deteriorated versions of those stories, I could easily just pick up the issues for cheaper than the trade.

I’m already down for the rest of the “Best Of” line of trades, but after this one, I’m not really looking forward to them, as it’s starting to look like we’ll get a Best of Snake-Eyes without the Snake-Eyes Trilogy or a Best of Destro that is somehow not the most awesome book ever printed. If you’re in the mood to read some good issues of GI Joe, this one’ll fit the bill, but to be honest, you’d be better off grabbing Classic GI Joe trades than this one.

 

I Kill Giants: Long-time readers might recall that I’ve been very vocal about my difficulties with writer Joe Kelly in the past, having long since written off the work he’s done for the major companies for what I feel is a pretty good reason. Recently, however, I’ve had a lot of people telling me that his creator-owned stuff is actually really good, and while I checked out Bad Dog and enjoyed it well enough, the real buzz surrounded I Kill Giants, with recommendations coming from more than a couple of ISB readers and writer and boy genius Benito Cereno. So I ordered the trade, and while I’ve been looking forward to reading it, it was more out of wanting to satisfy my curiosity than anything else.

Thehe result? As much as I’m loath to say it, you guys were right: It’s good. No, scratch that. It’s very good. So good that I’m having a really hard time figuring out how it was written by the same guy who scripted the abysmal Justice League Elite.

It’s compelling, legitimately heartwarming, and beautifully drawn by JM Ken Nimura, whose art is absolutely wonderful at conveying the emotions that are central to the story. I love the small touches–like the way words are scratched out of the balloons when Barbara refuses to hear them, and I love the blending of fantasy and reality that’s the cornerstone of the story. There are one or two bits that I thought were a little too cloying, and Barbara in no way sounds like any ten year-old should (even a super-genius who has developed a stirring cynicism by the fifth grade), but those are two minor complaints in what is otherwise an excellent read.

And yes, I’ll admit it, I got a little choked up at the end. But as anyone who has seen me read Walt Simonson’s Surtur Saga can attest, I always do that when I read a story about someone hitting a giant with a hammer. Either way, check this one out. With as rare as it is that I admit to the possibility of being slightly hasty in an initial judgment, you know it’s got to be good.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest HC: Okay, DC, look. I bought this. See? I bought it. Even though I bought this story as single issues, and it’s not exactly what I would refer to as Jim Shooter’s best work. I bought it.

And I bought the Life and Death of Ferro Lad hardcover, even though I already have those stories in both Archives and Showcases.

I even bought that 50th Anniversary book you guys put out, even though I already own all of those stories, too. I bought them all.

Now can we please get the Goddamn Great Darkness Saga back in print?

 


 

Annnnnd that’s the week! As always, any questions or concerns about something I read this week–such as how awesome Captain Britain was, or the fun of Mark Waid’s new detective series–can be left in the comments section below.

Oh, and also? Some trades of the Abnett/Lanning run wouldn’t be bad either. Just sayin’.

Chris vs. Previews: August 2008, Round One

We’re getting close to the end of Summer, and as my birthday fades over the horizon, you can all finally stop worrying about what you’re going to buy for me, and go back to thinking about what you’re going to get for yourselves.

Well, until Christmas, anyway.

 

 

And really, what better place is there to spend all that hard-earned scratch on stuff you don’t need than within the Previews catalog? Once again, I’ll be your guide through its five-hundred plus pages, and tonight, we start with the major publishers!

 


 

Dark Horse Comics

 

P. 26 – Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch: This is probably the biggest news to come from Dark Horse this month–and it’d definitely be the best if not for the solicit on p. 37–but after three years, I’m crazy excited to see Mike Mignola back to writing and drawing a full-length Hellboy story.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m one of the apparent few that doesn’t mind Mignola’s shift from writer/artist to just plain writer all that much, if for no other reason than it means we get new, totally awesome stories of his BPRD universe at least once a month. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that there are a lot of really talented folks like Guy Davis and Richard Corben handling the art, but it doesn’t hurt that Mignola–and cowriters like John Arcudi and Joshua Dysart–knows how to put together a darn good story.

That said, Hellboy is and always will be Mike Mignola’s book, and since seeing him do short stories was enough to get me to buy the Dark Horse Books four years in a row, I’m looking forward to it.

 

P. 37 – Harvey Comics Classics v.5: The Harvey Girls: Or as Dr. K and I like to call it, Richie Rich’s Bitches.

 

P. 37 – Proof That We Are Living In The Best Of All Possible Worlds:

 

 

As you read this, the first Herbie Archive should be hitting shelves at finer comic book stores everywhere, and I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that it is without question one of the greatest, funniest and most under-appreciated comic books of all time. I’d hesitate to call it a surrealist masterpiece because that’s awfully pretentious for what’s essentially a silly comic about a fat kid and his magical lollipops, but when even the Wikipedia article reads like something out of a fever dream, you know you’re onto something.

Something like Herbie’s Bee Pants:

 

 

It is truly amazing, and it warms my heart to see that we’re getting another collection.

 

DC Comics

 

P. 71 – Batman Confidential #22: Okay, folks: I like Batman as much as the next guy–or let’s be honest here, way, way more than the next guy–but I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’d be perfectly fine if I never got another “Year One”-era story.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Year One and I fully understand the appeal of doing stories with a younger Batman that hasn’t yet become the super-competent vigilante we all know, and I’ll admit that Matt Wagner’s recent Y1-style books were phenomenally entertaining, but come on. At this point, we’ve had Year One itself, the Wagner books, Long Halloween, Dark Victory, “Year One” mini-series for the Scarecrow, Ra’s al-Ghul and Two Face, and a 179 issues of Legends of the Dark Knight. I think it’s pretty well-covered.

Now if we could just move–hang on, this one’s a Year One Joker story written by Andrew Kriesberg? Andrew Kriesberg who wrote HELEN KILLER?! SERIOUSLY?!

Dude, I am there.

 

P. 74 – Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Special: To be perfectly honest here, I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would care less about the whole “New Krypton” thing–as much as I love the Silver Age, I’m one of those people who thinks that the Last Son of Krypton actually does work better when he’s the LAST Son of Krypton–but a Jimmy Olsen special by James Robinson, who, having now revived both Atlas and Codename: Assassin, seems dead set on bringing back every single character who ever appeared in First Issue Special? That sounds awesome, if only because it’s one step closer to the inevitable Jimmy Olsen/Green Team crossover featuring the Dingbats of Danger Street.

It’s the comic I was born to write, folks.

 

P. 79 – Manhunter #35: Hang on for a second while I grab the Nerd Hat… Ah, there we go. Okay, so the solicitation for this issue says that “Kate uses the Fed’s own weapons against them.” Now, do they mean that she uses the Feds’ own weapons against them, or is Manhunter going to start fighting crime by adjusting interest rates? Will she finally be ending the Motley Fool’s reign of terror?

 

P. 87 – The Spirit Archives v.26: No joke for this one, I just wanted an excuse to post this cover:

 

 

I get the feeling this Will Eisner kid’s gonna go far in this business.

 

Top Ten Season Two #1: Top Ten is without question one of my favorite comics ever, but when I first heard that DC was bringing it back without Alan Moore, my reaction was… Well, pretty much the same as the last time they brought back Top Ten without Alan Moore: Complete disinterest. I mean, sure, even the most die-hard purist would have to admit that there are in fact good comics that Moore didn’t write, but when it’s something that he created, the old magic just isn’t there.

Of course, that was before I actually sat down, read the solicit, and found out that while Moore wasn’t involved, the original art team of Gene Ha and Zander Cannon was back, with Cannon moved over to scripting duties. And really, that’s a heck of a lot more exciting.

I mean, hell… It worked for Swamp Thing.

 

Image Comics

 

P. 147 – Jack Staff #21: Oh for… Who got Ian Churchill all over my Paul Grist?!

 

 

Okay, okay, to be fair, as weird as it is to see Staff & Co. drawn by someone who isn’t Paul Grist–especially someone about as far from his distinctive style as you can get–Churchill actually does a pretty good job here. Jack himself is a little off, with the lanky form that Grist gives him replaced by a standard Super-Hero physique, but his Alfred Chinard is dead on, and he even resisted the urge to tart up everyone’s favorite Vampire Reporter.

And for the guy who drew Supergirl with an 8:1 midriff to miniskirt area ratio, that’s saying something.

 

Marvel Comics

 

P. 3 – Ender’s Game: First Series #1: Hey, here’s an idea: Fuck you too, Orson Scott Card.

 

P. 8 – Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: The Laughing Corpse Book One #1: And moving on to an author that–believe it or not–I have slightly less antipathy for,

 

 

For those of you just joining us, I have something of a history with the Anita Blake comics, to the point where there’s a good chance that Anita’s “pointing a gun at the reader” cover is aimed squarely at me. But rest assured, the ISB Research Department takes its charges very seriously and will not be deterred from its appointed task, no matter how ridiculously long the title of this series gets.

You hear that, Framingham? Don’t sing it. Bring it.

 

P. 17 – Amazing Spider-Man #573: For me, one of the most enjoyable things about the “Brand New Day” Spider-Man stories is an emphasis on bringing in new villains, and it’s nice to see that Dan Slott and John Romita Jr. are keeping that up with this issue, where they debut the latest and greatest threat that the web-slinger’s ever faced:

 

SEÑOR FROWNY PUMPKIN!

 

What is the secret of his terrible power?!

 

P. 44 – Marvel Adventures Super-Heroes #4: As though it wasn’t enough that he was bringing back Devil Dinosaur in the pages of Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four this month–yes: MARVEL ADVENTURES DEVIL DINOSAUR is finally happening–Paul Tobin is also scripting an issue whose solicitation includes this:

When Klaw, the Master of Sound, forms a country and western band,

That’s it. I don’t even have to finish the sentence to know I want to read that comic.

 

P. 46 – Marvel Zombies 3 #1: When I first heard that there was another sequel to Marvel Zombies coming out that wasn’t going to be written by Robert Kirkman, my reaction was pretty much the same as it was when I heard about the new Top Ten: I was willing to write it all off as Marvel wringing the last drop of blood from a decidedly dry stone, and while Kirkman’s own Dead Days and MZ2 strayed from what made the original book so fun for me (which, oddly enough, was preserved in John Layman’s shockingly enjoyable Army of Darkness vs. Marvel Zombies), the change to a new writer seemed like another nail in the proverbial coffin.

Then–and stop me if you’ve heard this one–I saw the solicitation with a cover that’s actually meant to be an homage from noted swipehack Greg Land and found out that the series is being written by Fred “Action Philosophers” Van Lente and would appear to be about a chainsaw-armed Nextwave-era Machine Man fighting zombies in the Nexus of All Realities.

And I’m not gonna lie: that sounds awesome.

 


 

And that wraps it up for the majors. As always, I’ll be back tomorrow to go through the small press and merchandise, which this month features an item inspired by the comics blogger internet! In the meantime, if anything caught your eye in this month’s solicitations, feel free to mention it below.

The Man Who Laughs

So lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy:

 

 

That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anybody, given the amount of time I spend thinking about Batman in general, but since seeing The Dark Knight, I’ve been trying to figure out why the Joker has become the kind of character that he is.

Looking at the character today, it’s obvious that he’s not only Batman’s arch-nemesis, but that more than any other villain, he’s evolved alongside his opposite number to become something more. In a review of Dark Knight, Ken pointed out that comics–especially DC–are built around archetypes. Superman, for instance, isn’t just a good man with super-powers, he’s a symbol of everything that’s good and selfless with a face and a logo on his chest, and as much as Batman’s come to symbolize the relentless, single-minded pursuit of justice, the Joker’s done the same, becoming chaos itself. As Ken says, he doesn’t believe in chaos, he is chaos. He’s less a criminal and more a force of nature.

The question I’ve been mulling over, then, is why it’s the Joker and not someone else.

I don’t think I’m really advancing an unpopular opinion when I say that Batman has the best villains in comics, but even among a crowd that strong, the Joker stands out. The best villains, after all, are the ones that bring out the contrasts within the hero himself, and that’s something Batman has to spare. The Scarecrow, for instance, does to civilians what Batman does to the superstitious, cowardly lot of criminals. Two-Face has the same split-personality as Batman and Bruce Wayne, but with a mask that he can’t take off. Even Ra’s al-Ghul, who was introduced to give Batman a classic pulp-style villain that would allow for world travel and set pieces, is a powerful, obsessive intellectual prone to uncontrollable rages who has set himself outside the law and devoted his life to wiping out what he sees as evil at any cost, to the point where he seeks out a man with the same sort of drive to carry on his life’s work. But even those characters fall short of the gold standard: Scarecrow’s archenemy may be Batman, but Batman’s archenemy is the Joker.

At its heart, you can trace it to the fact that the Joker takes what is literally the opposite route: From his first appearance in 1940, he’s everything Batman’s not in every way but one. Whereas that Batman of the 1940s is a dour, grim avenger in black and grey who works in secret and things like “a fitting end for his kind” when he “accidentally” kicks a dude into a vat of chemicals, the Joker’s loud and garish enough to broadcast his intentions over the airwaves, and while Golden Age Batman was a lot more prone to witty fight banter, the Joker’s alarmingly direct:

 

 

From the start, he’s an amazing visual, and it’s a complete inversion of the classic hero and villain formula. Batman was inspired as much by Count Dracula and the Shadow as he was heroes like Zorro, with a costume designed to frighten, but he’s still the good guy. The one in the bright colors with the big smile who does magic tricks… that’s the one you need to watch out for.

By the Silver Age, though, things have changed, largely due to the tonal shift that resulted from the Comics Code, and without the edge of madness and outright shrieks of “I’m going to kill you,” the Joker loses a lot of his villainous mojo and fades back to be just another visually interesting face in the crowd.

For evidence, you don’t need to look any further than the 1966 TV show. For all the fan grousing about how its campiness detracted from the legitimate storytelling of the comics–and the eye-rolling that goes with the fact that it’s been forty-two years and we still can’t get a headline about comics without “Biff! Pow!” or “Holy Lazy Copywriters, Batman!”–anyone who’s actually ever read Silver Age Batman stories can tell you that the show reflected the goofiness of the comics, not the other way around.

In any case, as entertaining as Cesar Romero’s Joker is–and brother, he is entertaining–he’s just another thematic villain for Batman to deal with that week. Swap out the playing cards and clown puns for birds, Egyptian artifacts, dinosaur eggs or cat statues, and the stories could’ve been about anybody in the cast. There’s not a whole lot that’s distinctive about him–when you stack him up against the rest of the arch-criminals, anyway–and aside from the visual aspects, there’s almost nothing in the character that we’d recognize as the Joker of today.

There is, however, a lot that we’d recognize as today’s Joker on the show itself, it just doesn’t come from the Joker; it comes from the Riddler.

 

 

It all comes down to Frank Gorshin, who just played the hell out of the role, snapping back and forth from manic glee to genuinely chilling obsession several times in every scene at a pace that would mirror the Joker’s portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series–which also reinvented the Riddler as a far more smug, intellectual villain–twenty-five years later.

But as for the Joker, well… Cesar Romero’s great and I wouldn’t trade his Joker for the world, but there’s a reason the series led with the guy in green.

By the mid-80s, though, everything had changed again. Instead of the guy who carried out clown-themed robberies and pulled boners, there was a character that was firmly entrenched as Batman’s arch-enemy. This was the Joker in full end-boss mode, the Final Form of the Clown Prince of Crime that shot and paralyzed Barbara Gordon and gleefully beat Robin to death with a crowbar. This is the guy who pushes Batman to his limit in Dark Knight Returns and snaps his own neck after a triple-digit murder spree, just to make everyone think Batman’s finally lost it. This, my friends… this is an arch-nemesis.

But those aren’t what make him the go-to bad guy; the Joker’s a part of all those stories because he’s already Batman’s arch-enemy. Even in the finale of Batman Year One–the Alpha to DKR‘s Omega–the Joker’s used as shorthand for the new type of criminal that’s going to be rising to challenge Batman. He’s the escalation, the one that can’t be intimidated by Batman’s physicality or figured out by his deductions or scared by his demonic costume. The scene works not just because we know what the Joker card means when Gordon hands it to Batman, but because we know that the Joker is the one you have to worry about.

Clearly, this is the “real” Joker and not the watered down version, which leads to the question of what changed? Was it just a slow build that returned the Joker to his roots, a combination of his lasting visual appeal and the further refining of Batman as the ultra-competent super-detective adventurer that he evolved into? Maybe, but I’m of the opinion that there has to be a turning point somewhere.

After all, most of the great villains of comics have the moment where you know that Everything Changes. Dr. Doom, for instance, starts out as a visually interesting character with an awesome name, but until he steals the Power Cosmic and becomes DOCTOR DOOM, he’s just a cool-looking guy that once sent the Fantastic Four back in time to look for pirate treasure. The Green Goblin was a legitimate threat with an interesting hook and some good stories under his belt, but he wasn’t the Spider-Man villain until he chucked Peter Parker’s girlfriend off a bridge. Even Lex Luthor, who was an ever-present arch-nemesis for Superman, didn’t really reach his full potential until we saw how far he was willing to damn himself for revenge in–of all things–an imaginary story.

With the Joker, it’s a little harder to pin down. Like Luthor, he’s almost omnipresent, the strength of the earlier stories, the visual contrast and the prominence of his character on the TV show pushing him to the forefront for most of the character’s life. But given the timeframe we’re working with, I’d have to say that it really comes down to two stories from the ’70s that put him over the top.

The first, of course, is the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams classic The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge, from 1973’s Batman #251.

 

 

To be honest, this one almost gets a pass solely based on it being one of the most beautiful things Neal Adams ever drew, but at its heart, it’s more of an archetypal story of Batman than the Joker.

It does, after all, have pretty much everything you want to see from Batman: The casual way he takes a thug’s veiled punches and then lays him out in one shot (a trademark of O’Neil’s ’70s Batman), the deduction of where the Joker’s hiding based off the dirt on his shoes, he fights a shark, and of course… well, just look at this thing:

 

 

Absolutely gorgeous.

Of course, it is a Joker story, and O’Neil did a lot to bring back what was so compelling about the character: He’s on a murder spree that’s ostensibly based on getting revenge against the henchman who sold him out, but beneath the surface, there’s the idea that for the Joker, it’s far easier to just kill five people than find out which one ratted him out. Add to that the fact that he’s around thirty real-time years into his criminal career at this point and would therefore probably be heading off to jail anyway with or without the evidence of his ex-flunkie, and you’ve got someone who breezes into town like a thunderstorm and just starts killing because it’s second nature to him.

Also, O’Neil brings in one of the most important and lasting aspects of the character–His “game” against Batman:

 

 

There are a few more villains who’d rather beat Batman than kill him–the Riddler springs to mind–but by refusing to kill him when the opportunity presents itself, as it does more than a couple of times, the Joker sets himself up as Batman’s equal and adds an even more sinister aspect to his crimes. The people he murders are less than nothing to him; it’s not about them. It’s not even about himself, it’s just about baiting Batman into another confrontation.

The one that really defines the Joker, though, is the Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ The Laughing Fish/Sign of the Joker from 1978’s Detective #475-476, which gives us the amazing, iconic image at the top of this post.

Englehart’s entire run on Batman is a nod to the Golden Age, bringing back what were then all-but-forgotten characters like Hugo Strange and Deadshot and reinventing them to fight a more streamlined Batman. For the Joker, though–the story that finished out his run on the title–Englehart went back to the character’s origin story and retold it with the addition of the “Jokerized” fish–infected with the “Joker Venom” that had been his weapon of choice in 1940 and returned in “Five Way Revenge,” brought directly into focus by Rogers:

 

 

It’s a strange addition, but it’s one that changes the tone of the story completely. In 1940’s “The Joker,” the murders are all organized around robberies, but for “The Laughing Fish,” the Joker’s motivation–killing government employees because he can’t copyright the fish he’s infected–is completely insane. It’s a premise so silly that it could be a Daffy Duck plot if it didn’t end with the Joker murdering at will while Batman and the entire Gotham City police force watched helplessly.

It’s also worth noting that Marshall Rogers didn’t just draw the Joker as a man who smiled all the time, but as a man who couldn’t do anything but smile, an influence that he traced back to the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, which lent its title to another retelling of the first Joker story by Ed Brubaker and Doug Mahnke. This, according to Rogers, was the central tragedy of the Joker: Even if he wanted to cry at all the horror he had caused, he was physically incapable of doing anything but laughing at it, a theme that continued into The Killing Joke.

More importantly, though, this is the story that brings the one great similarity between Batman and the Joker to the forefront: They’re both amazing planners. I mentioned before that the Joker’s the embodiment of chaos, but in this story–and others, including The Dark Knight–the way he spreads anarchy is through meticulous plans and an ability to second-guess and out-think everyone at any turn. When Batman disguises himself as the second victim, the Joker poisons the man’s cat, knowing that it’ll find its master by scent. He already knows the best-laid plans, and like entropy itself, he’s always one step ahead of them.

Incidentally, on the animated series, they added aspects of “Five Way Revenge” to the episode based on “The Laughing Fish” to meet the standard of shark-fighting.

For my money, though, it all comes down to the Laughing Fish. The way it draws on the Golden Age story to bridge the gap to the Modern Age, the element of mad randomness and anarchy that’s built on meticulous planning, the fixed grin. It’s as close to a turning point for the character as you’re likely to find.

Of course, three years prior to the story, the Joker was already popular and prominent enough to carry his own solo series, even if it did last a short nine issues, so who knows?

Chris vs. Previews: July 2008, Round Two

You guys have probably figured this out by now, but I’m hardly theonly guy who blogs his way through Previews every month, and while the fact that I’m lazy means that I get to it a little later than everyone else (except, you know, Kevin Church, who stumbles in half drunk somewhere around the 20th every month), there are occasionally jokes that I don’t get to before someone else does them.

This month, though, I took steps to fix that, by trading my rights to the t-shirt section for page 501, which includes this gem:

 

 

Allow me to put on my Nerd Hat here for a minute just to say that that is an extremely inaccurate Batgirl costume. And yes, I realize that this is not really the point, but when you’re dealing with the kind of people who are going to be impressed by a sexy Batgirl costume that you buy through fucking Previews, this is the thought that’s going to go through their head. I mean really, at this point you should just be dressing up as A Sexy Girl. I assure you, we won’t mind.

And there are three more where that came from.

But they’re gonna have to wait their turn, as tonight, the ISB gets through the back half of this month’s Previews, starting with the indies and slugging its way all the way through to the merch!

 


 

Comics

 

P. 186 – Al Jaffee’s Tall Tales: I’m the sort of guy whose love of MAD Magazine is at the point where I’ll happily drop a hundred and fifty bucks on a slipcased hardcover of Don Martin strips, so I might not be the most objective guy to take your cues from on this one. So needless to say, I’m crazy excited about this one.

Like a lot of people, my love of creators like Al Jaffee comes exclusively from MAD, where he’s been an incredible innovator, and getting the chance to see stuff that he’s done that I’ve never seen before–especially when it’s a concept as nifty as a book of vertically oriented newspaper strips with an introduction by Stephen Colbert–is pretty thrilling.

 

P. 188 – Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth: Back before I dropped out of college to spend more time thinking about Cobra Commander, I was studying for a degree in English Literature, and Macbeth was always my favorite Shakespeare play. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody, since it’s not only the shortest of the great tragedies, but since it opens with witches, closes with a duel atop a castle’s battlements and features liberal helpings of murder, hallucinations and revenge in between, it’s pretty much the action movie of the 17th Century. That said…

 

 

…I totally missed the part where he’s a bare-chested samurai with a katana in each hand in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Dr. K has a lot to answer for.

 

P. 190 – Jesus Hates Zombies: Okay, let’s get one thing straight here: Zombies are played. They’re over. They’re done. We do not need to see them anymore, my annual Halloween viewing of the video for “Thriller” notwithstanding. And even more played out than the undead is the comic book where Jesus fights the undead, especially after Loaded Bible, which was really just Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter without the songs or the charm.

That said, this looks… Well, it looks pretty awesome. Yeah, it’s Jesus fighting zombies, but Jesus fighting zombies with Lazarus as his zombie sidekick alongside a time traveling Abraham Lincoln who fights werewolves? That’s the story I wanted to read so badly that I made it the plot of the third Solomon Stone novel! So yeah, I’m getting it. At best, it’ll be as good as a story like that has the potential to be, and at worst, it’s another one for the Lincoln Covers Collection.

 

P. 217 – Vincent Price Presents #1: I’m not sure if Vincent Price is really the draw that he was at the time of, say, The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby Doo, but I will say this: If this comic came with one of those sound-chip things that they have in greeting cards now so that every time you opened it, you heard the guy who played him on that episode of Yacht Rock say “It is I, Vincent Price, the ac-tor!”, they would sell at least one more copy.

 

P. 268 – The Monthly Parade of DMP Yaoi:

 

 

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that love attacks of any kind are profoundly illegal.

 

P. 314 – Crogan’s Vengeance: I’ve mentioned it before, but I got a chance to meet Chris Schweizer and see a little bit of Crogan’s Vengeance at HeroesCon, and I’ve got to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a brand new comic book. And with good reason: Not only does Oni have a pretty good track record when it comes to historical adventure books–what with Scott Chantler’s extremely entertaining Northwest Passage–and not only does Schweizer’s work just look very good, but the amount of research and preparation he’s committed to for the project is incredibly impressive.

For those of you who don’t know the deal, Crogan’s Vengeance is the first in a series of sixteen graphic novels that will each focus on one member of the Crogan Family throughout history. First up is “Catfoot” Crogan, a reluctant pirate, but Schweizer has the Family Tree he’s working from up on his blog, and considering that it includes a gunfighter, a private eye and ninja, he’s already got the seeds of some great adventure stories. Add to that the fact that Oni’s going for a presentation that’s along the lines of a classic adventure novel, and it looks like something that’s just awesome in every way.

There’s more information at Schweizer’s website, as well as a link to a 26-page preview that confirms my best hopes for the series. Give it a read.

 

P. 359 – The Drifting Classroom v.1: Take note: This is not actually a prequel manga that functions as a sort of Muppet Babies version of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

And I got my hopes up so high.

 

P. 430 – Shaw Brothers Series 1 7-Inch Action Figures: I do not need these.

 

 

I mean, sure, I wasn’t even this tempted to break my embargo on Non-Joe toys with last month’s Lemmy Kilmister figure, but I do not need these. Not even if they have Hai Tao from The Kid With The Golden Arm who gains unstoppable kung-fu power when he’s drunk and oh man there’s a 36th Chamber of Shaolin figure with a three-section staff! I gotta get–no!

No. I do not need these.

Even if they would look awesome next to Yotsuba.

 

P. 501 – Secret Wishes Costumes: And thus, we are brought back full circle, and while the costumes on this page pretty much speak for themselves–and they’re the same ones you can find just about anywhere that sells Halloween costumes–I think there’s an important lesson we can take away from this: If you’re going to dress up as a Sexy Super-heroine for Halloween, then remember that the sexiest detail is accuracy.

Well, accuracy and fishnet stockings. There’s a reason two members of the Justice League wear ’em, folks.

Still, there is one other costume here that I think is worth mentioning, and that is V:

 

 

Not for the costume itself, but for the way the model’s holding his knives, which makes it look like he’s saying “Yeeeeeeah, Boyeeee! V’s in the house!”

 


 

And that’s it. As always, if anything caught your eye this month, feel free to mention it in the comments section. As for me, I’m heading to sleep, because really: once you’ve gotten to The Man From Room V quoting Flavor Flav, where else can you go?