So the ISB got mentioned on television for the second time last night, courtesey of G4’s Attack of the Show. For those of you who haven’t seen the program, allow me to sum it up: Essentially, it’s an hour-long show where beautiful women read you the Internet, which is an idea so undeniably brilliant that I can’t believe society didn’t come up with it sooner. Kevin Pereira also stars.
Anyway, the point of all this is that, with a handy link on the AOTS website, there might be a few of you out there who are visiting for the first time, so I feel like it might be a good idea to explain myself.
I’m Chris Sims, and, well, I pretty much do this:
That, my friends, is the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay kicking no less than four fallen women in the face at the same time and really, there is nothing that says “it’s time to review some comics” quite like that.
Before we get on with it, though, I’d like to welcome the ISB’s first returning sponsor, my pal Jim Shelley and Flashback Universe Comics. There’s a new story up this week featuring the Fantom Force, which may be of interest to ISB readers for reasons that should be apparent to anybody who saw me hanging out with Jim at HeroesCon, and, y’know, it’s free. And while you’re at it, swing by previous sponsors Atomic Comics and The Rack, and tell ’em Chris Sims sentcha.
Okay! Now that the part that nobody reads is out of the way, let’s get to the part that, well, if we’re honest with ourselves, nobody really reads either. That’s right, kiddo: It’s Thursday night, and that means it’s time once again for the Internet’s Most Bare-Knuckled Comics Reviews! Here’s what punched me in the wallet this week…
And now… it’s my turn!
All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #6: Ladies and gentlemen, the debate about whether or not All-Star Batman is actually good is officially over, as it has now transcended your petty human concept of “quality” and become something so mind-shatteringly awesome that you’re lucky you can look at it without your head exploding. I mean really: At this point, the only way it could be better is if this book was actually called The Goddamn Batman.
It’s pure and beautiful on a level that even Dark Xena has yet to reach, with scenes featuring Jim Gordon leering at his own daughter, Frank Miller taking cranky old man pot-shots at text messages, the most ludicrous faux-accented dialogue outside of Chris Claremont, and Jimmy Olsen getting an eyeful of “probably the most gorgeous babe in journalism on the whole planet.” Which pretty much just means that she’s hotter than Nina Totenberg, but still, it’s hilarious.
And that isn’t even the best part, which is, of course, the last page. The beautiful thing about ASBAR is that you can read the pages in a completely random order and not diminish your enjoyment one bit, so I read that one first. And I swear to you, without exaggeration, that it made me laugh so hard that my vision blurred and I had trouble standing up. And it even came out only two months after the previous issue, further lending credence to my theory that the long delays were caused not by laziness on the part of the creators, but by Miller going back and rewriting the stories so that they would revolve exclusively around profanity. Oh Goddamn Batman, you are a delight!
ISB BEST OF THE WEEK
Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord #1: I realize that after the last review, my credibility is probably dubious at best, but really: If you can come up with a better concept than Rocket Raccoon making a machine gun nest in Groot, the Monarch of Planet X, so that they can go on a suicide mission with Mantis and one of the Micronauts, then I’d certainly like to hear it.
I’ve been enjoying Annihilation an awful lot ever since I jumped on with the hardcovers, but unless Wraith actually does reveal himself to be the greatest of the Spaceknights, Starlord is shaping up to be the best of them by far. And really, that surprised me, since until now I’ve never really enjoyed Keith Giffen’s take on Marvel’s cosmic stuff: I skipped his Drax mini-series entirely, and his run on Thanos after Jim Starlin’s abrupt departure–where he followed up a story about the Mad Titan taking on both Galactus and a monstrous, universe-devouring frowny face from another dimension with one where Thanos walked around in a bathrobe with Death, who was a little girl at the time–just didn’t strike the right chord with me.
With this one, though, Giffen is on point, and Marvel’s making no secret about where this book’s influences lie: It’s The Dirty Dozen in space with third-string space-characters, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that gets me excited. Even without Lee Marvin, there’s enough here to love right off the bat: The characters are, after all, almost completely expendable. As much as I like Bill Mantlo, I doubt anybody’s going to write an angry letter if Rocket Raccoon gets killed saving the universe, and there probably isn’t a Celestial Madonna movie in the works that requires Marvel to keep Mantis hanging around. It’s all on the table, and that’s the sort of thing that creates a real sense of danger: You really don’t know if anyone in this story’s going to make it out alive. It’s a simple concept, sure, but as John Ostrander proved with Suicide Squad, it’s one that never fails to be thrilling when it’s done right.
The end result is a script as sharp as anything Giffen’s done anywhere, with a first issue devoted to introducing the cast, and what could have easily turned into a step-by-step listing of the characters and their powers is done excellently, with Giffen’s gift for personality shining in every scene. And the art’s great, too. Timothy Green II does a great job with it, and–just in case I need to repeat the key selling point here–it doesn’t exactly hurt that he’s drawing a talking space raccoon with a machinegun hanging out with a giant Jack Kirby tree monster. It’s fantastic, fun stuff, and even if you’re not reading Annihilation, it’s well worth picking up on its own.
Batman #666: You know, I’ve always thought it was a little weird that we managed to get through both Detective Comics and Action Comics #666 without so much as Jimmy Olsen dressed in a devil costume going around causing all manner of hijinx, but it looks like we can all rest easy: We’ve finally gotten that story where the Batman of the future fights Satan for control of Gotham City that we’ve all been waiting for.
Well, that I’ve been waiting for, anyway, and when it comes right down to it, Grant Morrison’s the perfect guy to pull it off. And he does, although I’ll admit it’s not without its problems. Ever since the end of “Batman and Son,” Morrison’s stories feel like they’re moving a shade too fast for their own good, and while I love the concepts–really, the Ghosts of Batmans Past, Present, and Yet To Come? That’s fantastic!–it certainly feels like there could’ve been one more issue thrown in to sort things out a little more. Morrison’s work often asks a lot of the reader and allows you to make your own connections, but with this, it just feels like he had to cut enough stuff to make sure he could make the deadline for the Issue of the Beast. On the whole, though, it works, even if it is the second time that someone’s drawn a pentagram on Gotham City using murders to mark the points.
It’s nothing short of fun comics, with some great bits of dialogue and–just to push it over the top–a gorilla with a submachine gun. Throw in some art by Andy Kubert, and you’ve got something where the only big problem is that there’s just not enough of it, and as far as flaws go, that’s not a bad one to have.
Doktor Sleepless #1: I was not aware that this comic was going to have the words “Future Science Jesus” written on the cover. If I had been, I probably would’ve ordered two. Yes, this week saw the realease of three new projects from Warren Ellis for Avatar, and while I’ve already covered my thoughts on Black Summer when #0 came out (which hold up through this issue, with me a little surprised at how much I’m enjoying it), the Doktor here is a new on the scene.
Or at least, that’s the idea. In practice, the first issue of Doktor Sleepless reads a lot more like the Warren Ellis Greatest Hits album: He goes into his usual bag of tricks, and if you’re a fan of the guy’s work–and why wouldn’t you be?–there’s really nothing here that you haven’t seen before. Probably the biggest “complaint” about Ellis is that his lead characters all tend to speak in the same voice, from John Constantine to Desolation Jones to Aaron Stack to Jenny Sparks and back again, but with this one, the Angry Tough-Guy lead isn’t the only familiar sight: It’s got the body-modification technology gone wild from Mek, and the Dok rolls around with a reasonably angry (if not technically filthy) assistant in a world where people shout about how mad they are at the future for not being the utopia it set out to be. Even the idea of an aborted fetus being worn as jewelry was one that first cropped up in his run on Hellblazer, which I remember because it shocked the bejeezus out of me in the first Warren Ellis story I ever read.
Still, Warren Ellis doing his usual tricks is still better than a lot of the stuff you’re likely to run across on the shelf, and with art by Ivan Rodriguez that’s a lot less cluttered than what Avatar usually puts out, it’s certainly not something to write off after one issue. It’s got a lot of potential to spring out into new directions from here. I’m just worried that it’s potential I’ve seen twenty times in other comics.
Hellblazer #234: One of the nice things about actually working in a comic book store–aside from the endless hours of fun and enjoyment you can get from people calling up to tell you that they have a copy of Infinity Crusade from 1963–is that I get to take the comics out of the boxes, lay them out on the tables, and then grab my own stuff before it hits the floor. And yet, through powers of concentration cultivated by years of video games and action movies, I still managed to completely miss the last issue of Hellblazer. It all worked out, though: I grabbed it today along with the new one, and while I expected nothing less, I was glad to find out that Andy Diggle continues to turn in some great stories with this. The man’s an incredible talent, whether it’s working on Green Arrow: Year One with Jock or writing comics’ meanest magician here. Great stuff, as usual.
Heroes for Hire #12: So you guys remember when Tales of the Unexpected was coming out, and I was getting it every month just so I could read Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s brilliant Dr. Thirteen story, eventually getting to the point where I just skipped the lead outright? Yeah, that’s the bind I seem to be finding myself in again with this. To be fair, the lead story isn’t nearly as bad as The Adventures of the All-Powerful Spectre Who Stands Around Whining And Not Doing Anything Whatsoever parts 1 through 8, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t really care about the new Tarantula and Shang Chi fighting the Hulk’s alien running crew.
Hard to believe, I know, but after two issues, it’s not doing anything for me, which leaves me with the problem of justifying the expense here. Admittedly, $2.99 is a little steep for a six-page backup, but a Fred Van Lente doing a story where the new Scorpion and Paladin just throw down on each other with anything handy would almost be worth it by itself. Of course, once you throw in the fact that they’re fighting in a storehouse for impounded super-villain paraphernalia and that “anything handy” means “six-barreled shotguns and alchemy rays,” it gets a little easier to swallow.
Immortal Iron Fist #7: Allow me, if I may, to quote from the solicitation for this issue, as seen in April’s Previews:
“At long last, America, someone has combined pirates, kicking, girls, and Iron fist into a single comic book. You’re welcome.”
I’ve mentioned before that there are times when I don’t even know why I bother to review things and this is one of them, because everything you need to know about this book is right there above this sentence in italics. Fraction and Brubaker have done something wonderful here with their reworking of the Iron Fist character, adding a legacy to it that allows for stories where Pirate Queens fight for love by kicking people right in the teeth, and it is exactly as fun as it sounds. They’re behind what’s easily becoming the most enjoyable comic on the stands, and this issue stands out even among those. It’s fantastic stuff, and along with the new hardcover, it’s a great place to jump on the ongoing if you haven’t already–and seriously, if you haven’t, it would be well within my right to both shun and pity you as a pariah from the world of awesome.
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #32: I’ve been a little less than impressed with his work on the Legion over the past couple of issues, but to be honest, Tony Bedard’s got a tough row to hoe. Despite the fact that I liked it an awful lot, there are apparently a lot of folks out there who didn’t care for Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s latest iteration of the Legion, but even beyond just the problems with replacing those guys, there’s the inherent problem of the book itself: How exactly do you manage to make people care about a team that’s been largely defined by the fact that it gets reset every time a The Next Big Crisis rolls around? It’s something that’s becoming equally frustrating with the DCU as a whole, but with the Legion, which sometimes reboots itself if you look at it funny, it’s a whole new challenge to deal with.
But Bedard is not a man to be underestimated. He knows, as do we all, that the solution to the problem is Validus. The solution to every problem, in fact, is Validus.
Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #45: There’s a scene in Live Free or Die Hard where the guy who plays Mac in the “Mac and PC” ads asks John McClane why he does what he does, why he risks his own life to fight the overwhelmingly deadly forces of internet-based terrorists and vaguely European robbers, and McClane says that he does it because nobody else can. If there was someone else who could do it, he says, he’d gladly let them take over, but there isn’t anyone else. So he has to do it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly how I feel about Tarot. I read it so that you don’t have to… because I’m the only one who will.
And it’s not always as easy as it looks, either, like in this issue, where Jim Balent actually manages to hit a new low, which, honestly, I didn’t even think was possible anymore. And yet, he manages it, as the latest issue of his artistically bankrupt horrorporn finds Tarot hogtied and molested by the servants of some dude with bleeding eyes who believes that he can unlock the secrets of witchcraft by ingesting, and I’m quoting the story here, Tarot’s “milk and honey.” “Honey” in this context is a metaphor, milk is not, and I’m honestly not sure which part of that is worse. Needless to say, Tarot is unable to prevent herself from becoming aroused over the course of being violated, and it’s about at that point that I wanted to shove an icepick into my brain to take the edge off.
And all that from a character continually referred to by her creator and fans as a strong, empowered female lead. Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker.
Usagi Yojimbo #104: The last time an issue of Usagi came out, someone asked me why I didn’t bother to review it, and the simple answer is this: It’s really, really hard to think of enough nice things to say about Stan Sakai’s truly amazing samurai epic. It’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and Sakai proves it every time an issue comes out with his beautiful artwork and compelling stories, even in an issue like this one, where the title character doesn’t even make an appearance.
That’s always been a pet peeve of mine with comics ever since I was a kid, but with Usagi, you’d hardly even notice for the depth and skill of the storytelling, this time focused on the origins of Jei, one of Usagi’s greatest foes. It’s an amazing piece, reading (at least to me) like it draws as much from Otto Binder and C.C. Beck as it does from feudal Japan, with some truly creepy scenes so intense that they spill onto the inside back cover before they finish.
And the great thing of it is, I could say that about every issue. Admittedly, I don’t have a full run (as the trades seem to drop out of print with alarming regularity), but I can honestly say that I’ve never read a lackluster issue of Usagi; they all have that same level of dedication, craftsmanship and qualitiy that mark it as one of the greatest comics ever, and, well, if you’re not already bored of hearing me sing its praises, I can’t imagine that you’d want to read it every time it comes out. Suffice to say, it’s a wonderful comic, and if I don’t mention it, it’s because I assume you already know.
I mean, how could you not?
Crécy: If you’ve ever been reading the Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Crecy and found yourself wishing that it had more pictures and swearing, then brother, have I got a deal for you.
No, really: That’s exactly what this is. Ellis takes all the facts about an incredibly fascinating historical battle that marked the end of chivalry, mixes in a narrator with a contemporary viewpoint and a mouth like a sailor, and while that’s a recipie that could easily go wrong, it all comes off as breezy, informative, and, well, fun. That’s an odd adjective to apply here, seeing as it’s about brutal, filth-encrusted medieval warfare, but it reads like Ellis stripping things down and rebuilding them as the textbook he always wanted as a kid: One that didn’t shy away from the bad words and worse deeds, with a sharp focus on gallows humor and spite. Throw in the fact that it’s only $6.99, and you’ve got a nice way to knock out a lunch hour, assuming, of course, that you don’t mind reading about people getting stabbed in the face while you eat.
Order of the Stick v.-1: Start of Darkness: It’s been pretty obvious that I’m a fan of Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick since, oh, about the end of Infinite Crisis, I’d say, and with good reason: It’s amazingly well-done on just about every level. The stick figure art alone is deceptively complex, with designs that allow for a incredibly emotive characters and great fight sequences, and the writing is always sharp, and Burlew never sacrifices a punchilne, even when things get more on the serious side.
But you can find all that out for yourself on the web. With this, though, the second original graphic novel he’s done as a prequel for the online comic, the same rules apply, but (as with the first prequel, On the Origin of the PCs), it’s done on a bigger scale. They’re divided into chapters instead of pages, but he keeps things moving at the same pace with an origin story for the villains that’s funny, tragic, and downright heartbreaking, often all at the same time. If you like what you read on the website, then trust me: The books are well worth picking up, if only to see an appearance by the ISB’s favorite game designer, Keith Baker.
Annnnnnnnnd that’s the week. As always, if you have any questions about anything I read, skipped over, left at the store, or you just want to disagree with my opinion despite the fact that I’m pretty much always right, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.
As for me, I’ll be over here trying to figure out why I never knew I wanted to see four issues’ worth of Green Arrow’s origin until Andy Diggle and Jock were doing it. I’m thinkin’ it’s the cargo shorts.