The Week In Ink: March 25, 2009

And now, a graphical representation of how my week went. I’ll be played by the girl in the mask, and the role of Car Trouble will be played by the always lovely Cammy White:

 

 

Yes, my Daewoo finally died this week–owing largely to the fact that it was a Daewoo–completing a journey that began with “Uh, that’s a funny noise” and ended with me on the side of the road in one of South Carolina’s many fine swamps. But, cut to a few days and my first journey into the world of financing later, and I’ve got a new (used) car and everything seems okay.

But hey, it’s Thursday, and that means it’s time for the Internet’s Most Cripplingly Indebted Comics Reviews! Here’s what I got this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought about ’em!

 


 

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #3: Some of you might recall that as much as I love the Brave and the Bold cartoon–and its promise of a forthcoming Batman/OMAC team-up, because I demanded it–the comic left me a little cold. As much as it attempted to capture the style of the show, right down to its animated-series-by-way-of-Dick-Sprang artwork, it was just missing something, and suffered by comparison to the old BATB team-ups that inspired the show. This one, however, had a cover where Batman was being sworn in as the President of the United States, and that’s not the kind of thing I’m capable of passing up.

And I’m glad I didn’t, because as clumsy as the first couple of issues were, this one’s a story right out of the Bob Haney/Jim Aparo playbook, with Batman standing in for the president and, because he’s Batman, doing a totally awesome job. Seriously, it’s got every goofy thing you could want, from hologram projectors to congressional fistfights. Heck, there’s even a scene set in Nova Scotia, and while I’d originally thought that was a fictional location like Gotham City or Thanagar, Rachelle informs that it’s actually quite real.

Who says you can’t learn anything from comics?

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Daredevil #117: Okay, so first things first: This issue’s awesome, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark are doing a story about the Kingpin returning to New York (for what has got to be the third or fourth time) that spins out of the newly released Lady Bullseye arc, and like the rest of the run, the stories flow so organically from one to the next that it stands out as one of the few examples of genuine long-form storytelling in a market that’s increasingly built around pre-fab six-issue trades. That’s old news, and seriously, if you need me to tell you that Brubaker and Lark have been doing great things here, then hello and welcome to the wonderful world of comics. I’m Chris Sims, and I like Batman a lot.

The real story in this book comes on page three, where it’s revealed that Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn are actually low-level hoods in the Kingpin’s criminal empire. Sure, you might think it’s just Lark’s way of including a couple of famous fans, but those of us that are In The Know™ recognize this as the first step of laying the groundwork for Marvel’s merger with the Comedians of Comedy. I mean really, now that we’ve seen Posehn and Oswalt as part of the 616 underground, can Zach Galifianakis as Micah Synn be far behind? Folks, it is the role he was born to play.

Of course, that’s just speculation at this point, but sources on the inside have tipped me off to one thing that we know for sure: Maria Bamford as Typhoid Mary.

Think about it, won’t you?

 

GI Joe: Origins #2: With as much as I loved the first issue of Origins–going so far as to declare it hands-down the best of the three ongoing GI Joe titles, which admittedly isn’t saying all that much–this one was kind of a letdown. It’s not a bad comic, especially the bit with Heavy Duty and the bank robbers, but the sharp storytelling of #1’s been replaced by awkward flashbacks and an exposition about “The Snake-Man” that could’ve gone a lot smoother. Even Mike Hawthorne’s art seems rushed in this one, but if the first one was the top-notch Larry Hama of the Snake-Eyes Trilogy, then this one’s a little closer to the guy who wrote Ninja Force and that run on Batman.

Okay, well, maybe not that bad–nowhere near it, actually–but still, not quite as good as I wanted it to be.

 

The Incredibles #1: This week, BOOM! Studios launched their kids’ imprint with a couple of licensed properties that, all in all, are some pretty good choices. This one, of course, is based on the incredibly enjoyable Pixar movie from a couple of years back, and while it does lose the voice of beloved author and NPR personality Sarah Vowell in its transition to the printed page, Mark Waid and Marcio Takara do their best to make up for it by throwing in a robot who rides a dinosaur on page one.

And that’s all you really need to know about it: There’s a robo that rides a dinosaur. I mean really, Waid’s been doing well-done super-hero comics for like twenty years, and he’s certainly on stranger to doing a book about a family of super-heroes that includes a strong guy, someone who stretches, and someone who can make invisible force-fields, so the characters are in pretty good hands here. Admittedly, Bob comes off as a little bit more of a blowhard than I recall from the film (though to be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve watched it) and I think he may have tipped his hand early on an upcoming reveal, but, well, there’s not a lot of pride in figuring out one of the twists in a kids’ comic, y’know? Takara’s also a nice surprise, managing to stay on-model without falling into a slavish attempt to recreate the CGI on the printed page. It’s fun stuff, and if you liked the movie–or especially, if you know any kids who did–pick it up and give it a read.

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #55: So apparently, there is something called the “Project Fanboy Awards,” and Tarot won three of them, which I know because there’s a picture of Holly G.–the Mrs. of the Balent Household–on the inside front cover wearing nothing but said awards.

Yeah.

Anyway, let me repeat the relevant part here: Tarot won three awards, and not a single one of them was for Most Haunted Vagina. Instead, in addition to giving “Best Indy Villain” to a character who hasn’t been a villain in like eight years, the Internet voters behind Project Fanboy awarded Tarot both “Best Title” and “Best Indy Title.” Seriously. That actually happened. And one can only assume that it’s issues like this, wherein Tarot goes to the Witchity County Fair and divines the future by groping a naked woman with ouija board tattoos (with “Yes” and “No” on her breasts, naturally), that have convinced people that this is THE ABSOLUTE BEST THAT COMIC BOOKS HAVE TO OFFER.

Or if not the plot, then certainly the dialogue. Here’s a sample: ‘”I can sense the wisdom and grace from a mother witch as she caresses her secret lover disguised as a cat.” For the grammarians among you, it’s the secret lover that’s disguised as a cat, not the mother witch, although really, at this point does it matter? I think not, as Tarot has been recognized by you, the Internet users, as THE CURRENT PINNACLE OF THE COMIC BOOK ART FORM. SERIOUSLY. THERE WAS A VOTE. AND IT WON.

Me, I don’t make any judgments on the matter, but I will say that this issue’s got one definite mark in its favor, as it’s one of the issues where Jim Balent just draws a bunch of real-life people into the story to fill out the crowds. And that means that at last, he has shown us the coolest motherfucker on Planet Earth:

 

 

I swear, I am not even joking: That dude is radder than a BMX backflip. And that’s real.

 

Usagi Yojimbo #119: It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Usagi, mostly because I’d be saying the same stuff every time it came out. Stan Sakai is one of the true masters of his craft, and he brings a level of talent and dedication to the table that really leaves nothing else to be said. Still, every now and then it’s worth noting just how great that guy is, and in this issue’s a great example, not just for the way Sakai does action and drama, but how he’s able to effortlessly balance humor in there as well. It’s a difficult trick to pull off, but there’s a bit in this one where Usagi and Kiyoko are essentially playing Keep Away with a horde of zombie samurai, and despite the tension that Sakai’s been building over the past two issues, it’s hilarious. It’s a neat little trick that’s deceptively hard to pull off, but it’s one of his trademarks, and it’s one of many things about this book that makes it one of the best titles on the stands.

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, any questions or concerns can be left in the comments section below, but before I head out for the night, a special ISB Shout-Out to reader Tim Bishop. He knows why!

The Week In Ink: January 28, 2009

You know, Ed Brubaker really understands kicks to the face and comics:

 

 

You said it, brother!

In fact, that’s the guiding principle behind these, the Internet’s Least Helpful Comics Reviews! Here’s what I got this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of ’em!

 


 

Comics

Avengers: The Initiative #21: On Tuesday, I was having lunch with my pal Chad–of Impossible! and Monster Plus fame–and asked me if I’d seen this issue, because it had one of the busiest covers he had ever seen. Putting aside the fact that yes, my friends and I while away our lunch ours discussing cover layouts, I thought he was exaggerating, until Wednesday rolled around and I actually saw it:

 

 

Ah yes, another action packed issue of Dark Reign Avengers The Initiative Disassembled! I’m going to go ahead and assume that this was an intentional gag–because really, there’s no way that the team behind this book could let that cover go out the door without realizing that the top third looked like the marketing department’s junk drawer threw up on it–so the question here is why’d they stop with only three crossovers on the cover?

Me, I woulda gone all out!

 

 

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #1: I mentioned back when it debuted that I was having a lot of fun with the new Brave and the Bold cartoon, and with the exception of the episode that involves both Red Tornado and the revelation that Bruce Wayne’s parents died on Christmas because he was being a total dick to them, it’s held up pretty well. I mean, there is an episode where Batman and Plastic Man team up to fight dinosaur-riding gorillas by beating them with money, and if that’s not as as we can get to my Platonic Ideal of Batman, I don’t know what is. So I’ve been looking forward to seeing what they’d do with the comic, and I gotta say, I’m a little disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly serviceable story in the style of the show that has a few really fun moments, and I’m sure all The Kids These Days just love Power Girl, it’s missing something. I think it’s fair to say that Marvel’s raised the bar for kids’ comics over the past few years with the Marvel Adventures line, but even when you stack it up against its predecessors like Batman Adventures and Superman Adventures, or even the original Brave and the Bold stories that inspired it, it doesn’t quite hold up.

But really, that doesn’t matter. I am going to read every issue of this book, because it started off with a cover–and an interview–by producer James Tucker that promises Batman teaming up with Bat-Mite, Kamandi, and OMAC. And that is going to be rad.

 

Captain America #46: With this issue, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting continue to turn in one of the best and most consistent books on the stands with all the intrigue and action you could want from the adventures of Bucky Barnes, none of which appear to take place during daylight. But that’s not news.

What matters for this issue is that there’s a character named Sims, and I’ll admit that was nice to see. I mean, considering that he doesn’t show up and start telling the Black Widow how stoked he was to see Cap get a boot to the jaw from Batroc ze Leapair in the last issue, I don’t think he was named after me, but “Sims” isn’t all that common a name, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d shown up in Cap. And since the Sims of the Marvel Universe is drunk, lecherous, and knows a heck of a lot about super-heroes, maybe there is a connection!

 

Final Crisis #7: Loved it.

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Punisher War Zone #6: …but I loved this one a little more.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m a fan of the Punisher, and while I’ve got a lot of affection for the stories by guys like Mike Baron and Carl Potts, it owes more to Garth Ennis than to anyone else. With eight years on the book, he defined the character in a way that we haven’t seen since Walt Simonson on Thor, from the dark comedy of the original Marvel Knights run to the brutality of the MAX series.

When his run finally ended last summer, I mentioned that what I really wanted was for Steve Dillon to come back for one last story that would tie it all together and give a little closure to a run that I’ve spent most of the past decade reading, and that’s exactly what War Zone has been. It’s the perfect sequel to Welcome Back, Frank, and this is the best issue of the run; not just because it’s Ennis and Dillon on the Punisher, but because it’s Ennis and Dillon at their rip-roaring best, doing a story with all the violence and comedy that you’d expect from those two. And it does have comedy: There are scenes in this thing that are only outdone by the “It’s bears!” scene in the original in terms of making me laugh aloud while I read it.

It’s everything I wanted it to be, and if this is actually the last time Ennis writes the Punisher, it’s a great note to go out on. And seriously, mark my words: “It’s like feminism never even happened!” is the catchphrase of the year.

Which in turn brings us to…

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose 54: Someone alert the media, because this is the first issue of Tarot ever that is not also the worst issue of the run when it’s published. It’s not for lack of trying, though, but after last issue? It’s nothing.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Raven Hex, Tarot’s sister whose bustiness led her to a life of witchity crime, wandering through the world of fairy tales and accosting the Disney princesses (plus Red Riding Hood) in scenes that even the crew over at Zenescope would think was exploitative. In the end, it all turns out to be a fever dream–unlike the usual issue of Tarot, which only seems like a fever dream–but the general thrust (ha!) of the matter is that fairy tale heroines are setting a bad example for young girls by not… well, by not getting naked in front of the mentally ill (Snow White, modeled by Holly G., Balent’s wife and colorist), getting naked and hunting down your enemies with a pistol (Riding Hood), wearing bondage gear to a fancy party (Cinderella, who is shown in, I shit you not, a glass corset), or getting naked, getting a tattoo, and making out with a prince who looks suspiciously like Jim Balent (The Little Mermaid).

Dubious lessons aside, this issue does have some of the best lines of the run, including, in the hard-boiled Riding Hood vignette, “Now it’s Little Red’s turn to do the stalking. That’s why she removed her clothes. She’s bait.” which just makes me laugh and laugh.

Oh, Tarot. Don’t ever change.

 

Trades

 

Mr. T: Believe it or not, I sometimes exaggerate for humorous effect here on the ISB, but there comes a time when I have to set aside any pretense of comedy and just lay out the facts, and this is one of them. Everything I am about to say about this book is completely true.

This new Graphic Novel, which casts Mr. T as a world-traveling bodyguard with an indestructible suit of bulletproof armor and a sidekick named Indigo Jo, is divided into six chapters, each of which starts with an homage to a classic Marvel cover.

In the first one, Mr. T punches out a guy in a cybernetic battlesuit.

In the second, Mr. T punches out rednecks.

In the third, Mr. T punches out ninjas.

In the fourth, Mr. T punches out his evil doppelganger, a white guy with a mohawk named Mr. C.

I don’t know what happens in the other two parts, as I had to stop before my head exploded from radness, but I do know that writer Christopher Bunting is currently working on a sequel called–and again, I am one hundred percent serious here–MR. T VS. DRACULA.

This is the greatest comic book that has ever been published.

 


 

And that’s the week! As always, any questions on something I got this week, or even just chit-chat about the appealing design of the new DC Comics Classics Library books, can be left in the comments section below.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to figure out if the world is ready for Mr. T vs. Dracula… and hoping that it takes place on the moon.

The Stark, Existential Horror of Tarot #53

Before we get started tonight, a quick word of warning: Tonight’s ISB has what your local cable provider would refer to as “Adult Themes” (and not the good kind), and since I know there are at least a couple of you out there reading while you ought to be working, this might not be the time. In fact, considering that it’s a review of an issue of Tarot you might want to skip it altogether and save yourself some suffering. Seriously, guys: This one’s gonna get bad.

Why not check out Dave Campbell’s new site instead, and then head back here later.

In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of ROM: Spaceknight fighting a bear, and I’ll meet the rest of you after the cut:

 

 

Continue reading

Chris vs. Previews: September 2008, Round Two

You know what I like most about the merchandise section in Previews? There’s something in there for everyone.

Sure, it might look to the untrained eye like a vast wasteland that caters to the maladjusted collector of Japanese tchotchkes, but that’s just on the surface. In reality, the good people at Diamond devote the back half of their monthly catalog to servicing every niche market they can think of. Seriously, check this out:

Hey Previews! Show me what you’ve got for The Girliest Girl Who Ever Girled.

 

 

Huh. A figurine of Tinkerbell the Fairy sitting on a glittery hot pink high-heeled shoe that is decorated with rhinestones and flowers. Yep, that’ll do it.

But that’s not the only market they’re going for, and tonight, the ISB goes toe-to-toe with the small press and the merch to bring you the highlights!

 


 

Comics

 

P. 228 – Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #53: Yep. Those are definitely nipples in a full-page Previews ad.

 

 

Either that, or poor Crypt Chick–who is ironically the only recurring female character in the series to never appear fully nude, probably because her miniskirt and top are made of ectoplasm or something–desperately needs a new bra. But here’s the weird thing: Until Dorian pointed it out, I didn’t even notice, probably because fifty-plus issues of Tarot have almost completely desensitized me to Jim Balent’s take on the female form unless it involves spiders or octopi or something. (Yes, that’s in the issues. No, I will not scan them.)

Incidentally, when I asked Dorian if he’d mind if I covered the same thing he posted, he said he was cool with it becasue “Tarot’s sort of your thing.” And I’m not sure how i feel about that.

 

P. 254 – Black Terror #2: I’ve been pretty vocal about my distaste for Alex Ross’s work in the past–which is mostly based around the fact that he likes his super-heroes to look like photographs of his doughy old neighbors in ill-fitting suits, and I prefer them to look like, you know, art–but I gotta say…

 

 

…that’s the best thing he’s done since the Flash Gordon DVD.

 

P. 264 – Junior Escort v.1: Hey, wait a second…

 

 

“Scandalous Nights?” Wasn’t that a song by Loudness?

 

P. 301 – Mr. T Graphic Novel: That’s right, folks! In a move that I can only assume was designed to appeal specifically to me, Mr. T returns to comics for a third time with an all-new graphic novel, and this time oh my god he’s wearing a leather jumpsuit with a giant golden T on it and fighting supervillains.

This is going to be totally awesome.

However, I do feel that as a scholar of Mr. T comics–owning, as I do, a full run of Neal Adams’ Mr. T and the T-Force–I should point out that this is actually more an extension of T’s second foray into comics, as writer Christopher Bunting was also behind the one-issue Mr. T series that AP Comics put out back in 2005. And I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that for the brief time that it existed, that book was totally the Dark Knight Returns of the Mr. T universe.

As to whether Bunting can recapture that success in the graphic novel, I’m not sure. I just hope it’s got this in it:

 

 

P. 308 – Blue Monday: Thieves Like Us #1: No joke for this one, just a reminder for anyone who may have missed it that there’s going to be a new round of Chynna Clugstons’ Blue Monday, which I quite like despite the distinct lack of shark-punching. There is, however, hooliganism, unrequited love from at least four parties, and other various shennanigans that make it read like the best teen movie never filmed, so it all balances out in the end.

 

Merch

 

P. 403 – GI Joe Mighty Muggs: Okay, I’ve mentioned before that aside from the 25th Anniversary GI Joes and Legos, I’ve been trying to cut down on buying toys that I really don’t need, but seriously?

 

 

It doesn’t even matter whether I want to buy these or not. It’s just going to happen. I can try to resist, but eventually, I’m going to come out of a fugue state and see the most adorable Cobra Commander ever menacing Yotsuba on my bookshelf. If only there was someone who could end his super-deformed reign of terror! Someone of similar scale that offered change I could believe in!

 

P. 436 – Barack Obama Action Figure:

 

 

Ah, there we go. Crisis averted.

 

P. 449 – To Heart 2 – Another Days – Nanako-Chan Sukumizu Ani*Statues White Regular Edition & Black Limited Edition:

 

 


 

And that’s Previews. As always, if anything caught your eye this month, feel free to mention it in the comments section below.

In the meantime, I’ll be trying to figure out if even the combined might of Beta Ray Bill, Jimmy Olsen and Mighty Mugg Snake Eyes could stop the juggernaut of terror that is… Cardbo.

Chris vs. Previews: March 2008, Round Two

St. Patrick’s day is upon us like a hurricane of hood-bound leprechauns, and with the major publishers out of the way and off to the parade, it’s time to take a look at the back half of this month’s Previews.

Yeah, I know. The metaphors are getting pretty stretched here. Just have a little patience. A… Darby O’Gill and the Little Patience.

I’m so, so sorry for that one. Anyway, tonight belongs to the small press and the merchandise, and while that would normally involve me making fun of some of the t-shirts…

 

 

…but really, even I can’t make a joke out of a tragedy like that. But let’s see what else we’ve got to work with!

 


 

Comics

 

P.192 – Special Operations Report: And now, ladies and gentlemen, the greatest thing I have ever seen:

 

 

Your eyes do not deceive you, my friends: This is a magazine about counterterrorism tactics that is published by Wizard Entertainment. The mind boggles, and while we can only imagine what will result when the journalistic force of nature that is Wizard turns its attention to profiling the inner workings of America’s daring, highly trained special missions force and their constant battles against Destro, but I think it might go a little something like this.

 

P.214 – Helen Killer #2: And while we’re on the subject of the most awesome things ever, the ISB’s favorite unreleased comic is back for a second issue, and while there’s no new information in the solicitation, there is a new tidbit that’s come to light through other channels.

Over on the book’s MySpace page, the creators have taken note of my wholehearted endorsement of their premise (as well as reposting some of the funny comments that got left about it last month). What really caught my eye about this, though, was the fact that for the background, they’re using a shot of Helen in her underwear, wearing Matt Murdock’s glasses and holding a quarterstaff like a miracle-working ninja:

 

 

And once again, I am filled with the hope that this is going to be so so rad.

 

P.240 – Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #50: In May, Jim Balent’s going to be putting out the fiftieth witchity issue of the adventures of everyone’s favorite top-heavy spellcaster, but the big news here is what the friendly folks at Diamond had to say about it in their “Staff Picks” section over on page 200:

 

What these impressionable young men don’t know is that they just put down, quite possibly, the most female-empowering book in the whole shop.

 

To that, the ISB can only respond with: Really?

You can’t think of anything that sends a better message than this. Really. Nothing springs to mind? That’s the most female-empowering comic out there? REALLY?

In a related story, Manhunter‘ll be back in June.

 

P.276 – A Promise of Romance v.1: Look, I hate to nitpick DMP’s solicitations since they’ve given me so many hours of amusement in the past, but seriously, guys:

 

 

I’m pretty sure that’s the same old meaning of the word “androgyny” that we’ve had for quite some time now.

 

P.294 – Get Lost: I don’t like to overestimate my influence in the comics industry or anything, but really: with an OMAC hardcover on the way and the amount of brutal face-kickery on the rise every week, it’s not hard to think that at this point, they’re just making stuff for me. At least, that’s what I’ve become convinced of ever since I saw this, which is a parody of the Kurtzman-era MAD created by the co-creator of the Punisher, because that sounds scientifically designed to appeal to me.

Admittedly, most MAD knock-offs–except for my good friends and occasional employers at CRACKED of course–are remarkable only for their lack of quality, like the mostly-atrocious attempts that Marvel and DC had in the ’70s, but this is the first time I’ve seen anything that goes this far back, and considering that it’s been out of print in the fifty-five years since Bill Gaines sued it out of existence, curiosity alone makes it worth picking up.

 

P.321 – Salt Water Taffy: So here’s the thing: I remember purchasing Matthew Loux’s previous OGN, Sidescrollers, and I remember reading it, but I can’t for the life of me remember if I thought it was any good or not. I know that I had pretty strong feelings about it one way or another, and remember thinking that it was awfully reminiscent of Mallrats, but considering that I liked that movie a lot, that doesn’t tell me much.

If only there was some sort of detailed record of all the comics I read and what I thought of them, perhaps conveniently available online, with a search function built right in! Oh, to live in a magical future-world where such things are possible! For now, though, I guess I’ll just have to take a chance on this one, which shouldn’t be too hard, since it’s got a cover price of less than six bucks and promises at least one giant lobster. Seems like it could be fun, right?

 


 

Merch

 

P.495 – A Whole Page of Naked Lady Statues: Dear Japan,

 

 

Thanks for keepin’ it classy.

Best,

Chris

 


 

And that is more or less how it is for this month’s Previews. Hopefully, if you’ve decided to take any of my advice or try to figure out for yourself why anyone would mistake Tarot for anything other than witchity exploitation comics, your local shopkeep’ll cut you some slack on the deadline. In the meantime, if you spotted anything neat that you’d like to talk about–like the new Girl Genius trade–feel free to leave a comment.

Me, I’ve got smashin’ to get to.

The Week In Ink: January 30, 2008

You know, as weird as it felt to take so much time off from the ISB over the past month, not having to stick to the daily update schedule was actually a little liberating.

I actually discussed it with noted slacker Dave Campbell about it a couple days ago, and we talked about how not updating frees up so much time. I mean, with all those hours that we would’ve otherwise spent on cracking jokes about Daredevil’s battle with the Surgeon General or Jimmy Olsen’s hippie hate-in, we could…

Well, what do you think we could do, Superman?

 

 

Well yeah. That’s always an option, but be warned: Campbell will crawl you. He’s a scrapper.

But no matter! Tonight, the ISB’s back in action with another round of the Internet’s Most Cantankerous Comics Reviews! Here’s what I bought this week…

 

 

…but before we get to those, here’s something that I didn’t buy this week… because you can snag it for free!

 


 

 

FlashBack Universe Presents: The Paladin: That’s right, folks: the guys at the FlashBack universe have dropped their first full-length adventure of 2008, and to be honest, they’re kicking it off with the best story they’ve done yet. Admittedly, I might be a little biased in that statement, what with the fact that I split a hotel room with artist/plotter Pierre Villeneuve at HeroesCon last year, and the fact that scripter Chad Bowers is a good friend of mine too, but really: It’s forty pages of quality work.

As you might be able to guess from the cover, the Paladin is totally not Captain America, in much the same way that the Creature and Wildcard (from the upcoming FBU story that I wrote) are totally not the Thing and Spider-Man, except that, well, he actually isn’t. I don’t think anybody’ll dispute that he’s an analogue for Cap on most levels, but there’s a great twist to his character that comes through in this story that sets him well apart.

It’s good stuff and while there are parts that are a little too brutal for my tastes–especially when it’s set against the bright, usually-cheery backdrop of the FlashBack Universe–it all comes together nicely. But really, my review doesn’t mean a whole lot when you can just download it yourself, along with every other FBU story, for a total cost of absolutely free. Of course, if you like it, I’d encourage you to make a small donation to keep the hits coming, but all in all, it’s a pretty low-pressure situation, and you get forty pages of a super-hero slugging it out with a guy called Killstroke for your troubles, and who among us can turn that down?

 


 

Comics

 

Avengers: The Initaitive #9: So it is just me, or is the thing that the Tactigon fears most in all the universe actually Doug “The Grasshopper” Taggert, who died–much like his legacy characters–a record 5.8 seconds after joining the Great Lakes Avengers?

Admittedly, it seems like a stretch, but come on: GLA was written by The Initiative‘s own Dan Slott, it has about as much success as its predecessors, and when you get right down to it, how many suits of green armor with three light-up toes and insect legs can there actually be floating around the Marvel Universe? Probably a lot more than you’d think, but still.

Of course, alleged Grasshopper sightings are only a small part of what makes this one of the more enjoyable titles Marvel’s putting out these days, despite what I can only assume is a concerted effort by colorist Daniele Rudoni to make it as hard to look at as possible. Even that can’t hold it back too much, though, and this issue’s a great example why. Slott and co-writer Christos Gage are doing a bang-up job with the new story, drawing on plot threads that started in the first issue without creating a book that feels overly drawn-out, and (once you get past the coloring) the art suits it perfectly, right down to a facial expression for the villain that’s more reminiscent of Jei from Usagi Yojimbo than anything else. So, you know, even if it’s not the stunning return of the grasshopper and the start of an All-Slott crossover that’ll feature the shocking return of the Spider-Mobile, it’s got a lot going for it.

 

Badger Saves the World #2: With this issue, we’re two months into the return of the Badger (three if you count the Bull! one-shot), and I’ve got to confess that as much as I genuinely enjoy most of Mike Baron’s other work, I’m finding that it’s leaving me a little cold.

And the weird thing is, I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not that it’s a bad comic–those, I can recognize. There are plenty of good bits, like this issue’s casting of the Three Stooges as terrorists, and while they’re thrown together in a way that I’d generally refer to as “jumpy,” they read pretty well in and of themselves. The problem, I think–and the reason Dr. K seems to like it more than I do–is that I don’t have the background with the character to contextualize what’s going on like I suspect most of the book’s target audience does. Of course, I did pick myself up a copy of The Complete Badger v.1 to try and ameliorate that once I get around to actually reading it, but maybe it’s just not for me.

 

Batman #673: I’ll be honest with you guys: As excited as I was about Grant Morrison coming on as the regular writer of Batman and as much as I really liked the Club of Heroes story, this book hasn’t been doing it for me lately, and I think the blame can be squarely placed at the feet of “The Resurrection of Ra’s al-Ghul.”

Not to get off on a tangent here, but man. What a lousy crossover. So lousy, in fact, that I completely forgot to buy the last part, and when I eventually went back and flipped through it to find that it ends with a toast of hot cocoa on Christmas Eve that comes right out of left field, I realized that I’d made the right choice and decided to just get Detective in trade from now on. So really, it’s not entirely Morrison’s fault that his over-arching plotline of the three other Batmen has been sidetracked for some corporate-mandated nonsense–although to be fair, that argument holds a little less water when you realize that it was also held up by the four-part John Ostrander story that gave us the genius that is Johnny Karaoke–but reading month-to-month, it shows.

And yet, this month’s issue is still a pretty awesome read, with Batman on the edge of death and hallucinating everything from Bat-Mite to his Golden Age equivalent confronting the guy who killed his parents. It’s good stuff, and while you’d never know it from the cover, Tony Daniel’s art continues to be a very pleasant surprise that I forget about until I actually open an issue to look at the interiors. I just wish that I didn’t have to get through everything else to find out what’s going on here.

 

Captain America #34: You know what’s weird? Waking up to NPR’s Morning Edition on Wednesday and hearing them talk about Bucky becoming the new Captain America. I mean, sure, we all expected the bit on the Colbert Report, but getting it from Renée Montagne before a hot shower and a jolt of caffeine can be a little jarring. For me, anyway.

Then again, there’s no reason NPR shouldn’t be talking about Cap. After all, it’s consistently been one of the best titles that Marvel publishes, and if there’s anything that’s newsworthy, it’s Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s ability to not only bring Bucky back from the dead and make it good, but to kill off Steve Rogers and then replace him with Bucky… and have it still be awesome. It’s a hell of an accomplishment, and yet, here it is, in a story so entertaining that it can’t help but blame the subprime lending crisis on the Red Skull. Genius.

But the focus, of course, isn’t on the three-year buildup to this point, but the end result itself with the all-new sixty year-old Captain America, and as mentioned, it’s a great read that Nina Totenberg should be proud to provide an on-air transcript of. Brubaker’s script is sharp as always, and as I’ve mentioned before, Epting’s art on the book is fantastic, and looks great underneath Butch Guice’s inks. The only problem with it’s the Alex Ross costume design that’s been lifted wholesale bears an odd resemblance to The Shield and/or the Puerto Rican flag, and they even pull that off pretty well. It’s excellent stuff, and as always, if you’re not reading it, you oughtta be. You wouldn’t want to let Steve Inskeep down, would you?

 

Fantastic Four #553: If there’s one thing I’ve learned from comics and movies over the years, it’s that when man finally conquers temporal physics, he will do so with a chalkboard, and nothing more.

But anyway, this issue marks the end of Dwayne McDuffie’s run on the title as he steps aside to make room for Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, who are the perfect creative team for the book, assuming that you don’t actually like the characters and don’t really care if it ever actually comes out. Still, McDuffie goes out on a high note with this one, relying as it does on the time-honored plot device that is pissed-off time-traveling Doctor Doom and an ending that pretty explicitly promises that everything works out okay.

Besides the fact that these make it the perfect jumping-off point–not that I’m taking the option just yet; I’m as curious as to what Millar and Hitch are actually going to do as the next guy–it’s all stuff that we’ve seen before, but McDuffie makes it work by setting it against the backdrop of Civil War. That was a book that cast Reed definitively on the wrong side of the conflict, and the entirety of McDuffie’s run has been set up around the idea of building the readers’ trust, where even his greatest enemy has to admit that he actually was working for the greater good the whole time. It’s a simple structure, but it’s pulled off well, and it’s a shame that we don’t get to see what else McDuffie could do with the title if his run went on a little longer.

But then again, we won’t have those Michael Turner covers to deal with anymore, so maybe it’s a pretty fair trade.

 

The Spirit #13: I think it’s safe to say that I like Christmas Specials significantly more than the average comics reader, and I’m all for getting them a little early, but really: January? That seems like a little much.

What? Late? Oh, right then. That explains a lot.

 

Suburban Glamour #3: Back when I reviewed the first issue of this one, Suburban Glamour creator and Phonogram artist Jamie McKelvie stopped by the ISB to tell me that I’d enjoy page eleven of this issue. To be honest, I was hoping that I’d pop this thing open to find one of McKelvie’s signature hipster chicks sporting an ISB t-shirt or discussing how an in-depth knowledge of ROM Spaceknight was a real turn-on, but sadly, that was not the case. What I got, however, is almost as good: Someone getting laid out with a left hook in the second of McKelvie’s fight scenes to occur in a public bathroom.

What can I say? The guy knows what I like.

As for the rest of the issue, well, it was excellent as usual. I’ve mentioned my affection for McKelvie’s art before and he puts it to as good a use in this one as he ever does, driving the silent sections with his phenomenally expressive faces–and fingers–that tell the story almost as well as his dialogue. In fact, I’d wager to say that it was my favorite comic about magic-using ladies that I read this week.

And as should be obvious by now, it was up against some pretty tough competition.

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #48: Some of you might recall that over the past few months, my relationship with Tarot has been… strained, at best. I mean, let’s not mince words here: If Tarot‘s not the worst comic being published today, it’s gotta be in the top five; that’s part of its charm. But with the “Witch Key” storyline that went on for the past year, it went from its normal, delightful awfulness to out-and-out hostility to the readers, which culminated in the last issue’s bizarre exercise in photo reference, where Jim Balent lovingly detailed the gruesome murders of some of his real-life pals. Suffice to say, it’d gotten to the point where even I was thinking of dropping the book, and if there’s one thing I’ve proven over the past three years, it’s that I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for awful comics.

But now that I’ve read #48? Crisis averted, folks: Tarot‘s back in “top” form with an issue that sees Raven Hex–Tarot’s sister and occasional nemesis–fighting her own (literal) personal demons while wearing an outfit that boasts at least ten pentagrams and zero pants. It is astoundingly bad, and absolutely glorious.

How bad and how glorious, you might ask? Well believe me: I could go on for quite some time on the glimpse into dementia that is Tarot #48, but there’s one panel–no, one half panel–that can describe it all better than I could ever even hope to, so I’m just going to post that. It should really go without saying, but this isn’t remotely safe for work, and in all honesty, probably isn’t safe for sanity, but it sums things up just about right: Click… and behold.

Oh, Tarot. What are we going to do with you?

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Y – The Last Man #60: Because really, it just about had to be.

I don’t often write about Y, and it’s not just because I’m usually pretty tired by the time I get down to the end of the alphabet. No, much like the problem with books like Fables and its sister title, I find it difficult to write about something that I genuinely enjoy for a consistent level of quality, but I’d be remiss if I let this one get by without comment. To be honest, I’d always figured from the moment that I started reading Y that it’d end with Yorick and Beth reuiniting at last, and when that happened four issues ago, I suddenly had no idea where it was going, and with the rollercoaster of the last few issues, I’ve been in suspense ever since, and it’s not often that that happens in the world of comics.

Of course, with 59 solid issues leading up to it, the odds weren’t exactly on Vaughan, Guerra, Marzan & Co. dropping the ball on #60, but it’s been known to happen before. Now that it’s all over, though, I’m very pleased with it, and pretty surprised, too. I thought there’d a little more heartbreak to it, and while that’s definitely there, it wasn’t the kind of tear-jerker that I was expecting. Of course, I got misty reading the last issue of The Punisher, so my views on emotional content might be a little skewed, but I didn’t think the end would be quite as uplifting as it was.

And what an ending. Not to spoil anything for you guys, but man, that was a hell of a good last page.

 


 

And speaking of endings, I’m pretty sure that’s the week! As akways, if you’ve got anything on your mind about this week’s comics, or if you just want to talk about how fun Jeff Parker, Paul Tobin and Clayton Henry’s What If: Spider-Man vs. Wolverine was for a story about Spidey shooting people in the face, feel free to leave a comment in the section below. Me, I’m gonna go see if Sweet Lady Gin can help me ease the pain of that panel from Tarot.

I doubt it, though. Self-medicating can only do so much.

Spooktoberfest Special: The Soul-Sizzling Terror of Halloween with Tarot, Part Two

And now, the thrilling conclusion.

 

 

For those of you who don’t recall where we left off last night, take heart: Repressed memories, no matter how painful, can often be recovered through years of intense therapy. But just to make the process go a little smoother, I’ll recap. Keep in mind, however, that this issue promises to be even more horrifying than what we’ve already seen in the first part, and if that possibility strikes you as too fearsome to even contemplate, feel free to follow this link to a “Safety Blog” where you can calm yourself with memories of how hilarious bad comics were in the ’90s. No one here will judge you.

Except me, I mean. And probably everyone else. Chicken.

Still here? All right then. Let’s get on with it:

When we last left our alleged heroine in the pages of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #28, things were looking pretty dire. On a mission to transport Saddam Hussein through Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween–the reasons for which science may never be able to provide–a trio of government agent/fetish models called the Three Little Kittens were attacked by their nemesis, Latex Red, who then frees Hussein and gives chase through the crowded and famously witchity streets, where she’s headed off by the almost-as-busty Raven Hex, Tarot’s sister.

Interestingly enough–and again, I’m using the term loosely here–Raven Hex and Latex Red are both villains who were motivated to a life of super-villainy by the curse of being ridiculously well-endowed.

No, seriously. Raven Hex was teased as a girl and reacted by slapping a pair of giant metal spikes onto her rack and attempting to take over the world, while Latex, in a fit of jealousy over being rejected in favor of Catress, responded with what could charitably be called “overkill.”

 

 

And that, I regret to inform you, will be a plot point later.

Meanwhile, mistaking Tarot for a member of Red’s gang when she attempts to rescue them from their crashed ferrari, 3LK members Catress and… (sigh) Kitty Pop knock out the title character of the book with the absolute bare minimum of effort.

 

 

While all that’s going down, of course, Tarot’s utterly useless boyfriend Jon–better known to some as (actually a) Skeleton Man–has run afoul of Latex Red’s Satanic Schoolgirls, and seems dead set on proving that he is, in fact, the Worst Super-Hero Ever:

 

 

Incidentally, the sequence with John and the Schoolgirls is about the part where Balent suddenly realizes that he managed to get through the entirety of #28 without a single instance of nudity and decides to remedy that little oversight with gusto.

Needless to say, Tarot doesn’t stay knocked out for too long–she is after all the story’s protagonist, if only by default–and after paying back the 3LK (minus one) for their earlier attack…

 

 

…they decide that they’ve come to the latter portion of the “fight-then-team-up” plotline, and jiggle off to rescue Jon from one of the many, many humiliating defeats he’s been handed over the course of the last seven years or so. Except that this time, he helps by punching two naked women in the face with his crazy arm spikes.

So there’s that.

By the time they finally catch up to Latex Red, however, she’s given Raven Hex the slip (figuratively speaking; undergarments are rarely exchanged in the pages of Tarot) and re-captured Saddam, just in time to reveal her sinister master plan in what can only becalled The Worst / Best / Worst Again Dialogue Balloons In Comics History:

 

 

And you guys thought I was kidding about the explosive breast implants.

Of course, the trigger for Latex Red’s nuclear bosom is in her costume, so in typical Tarot fashion, the problem’s solved in about two panels when Raven Hex magically removes said outfit.

Oh casual nudity… is there any problem you cannot solve?

Thus, the Halloween plot to kidnap Saddam Hussein is foiled, and Salem is spared from being the first American city to be eradicated by rack-based warfare. Sadly, however, that all happens with eight pages left in the story.

It might be hard to believe, but it’s at this point–and not a moment before–that this story goes completely off the rails. Despite the pretty dismal lack of quality and a bat-shit crazy plot featuring Saddam Hussein, the whole thing’s been pretty normal fare for the pages of Tarot up to now. In fact, with this issue leading off with a gang of Satanic Schoolgirls distracting the notoriously lecherous Skeleton Man with their ladybits and a villain who can blow up the world by pinching her nipples, it’s a lot easier to chuckle at its sheer, unrepentant goofiness than actively despise it.

But then it hangs a hard left into Crazytown.

See, Jon’s nominal super-power is that he can see and talk to ghosts (hence his role as a super-hero who fights off Salem’s thriving grave-robbing industry), and while he’s congratulating the 3LK for a jorb well done, he suddenly realizes that Jaguara’s being haunted…

 

 

..by Jaguara herself.

Okay, time for Flashback Part Deux: Remember how Latex Red’s intervention in the last issue kept the 3LK from escaping from Baghdad before the bombs started dropping? Well, as it turns out, not everyone made it out.

What follows surpasses even the blood-soaked cannibal cookie monster masturbation scene from #16 in terms of all-out mind-shattering awfulness. I’m linking to it here solely for the sake of completeness, but I implore you not to click. With all this talking about it, you might think you want to see it, but trust me: You don’t. And really, if you’re going to use the Coward’s Exit, now’s probably the time.

Then agian, you might be better prepared for it than I was, since there was nobody around to tell me that fifteen pages of madcap witchity sex romp were about to turn into an exceptionally violent snuff film.

 

Please Do Not Click Here to be Horrified

 

I’m a fan of the Punisher who likes Garth Ennis an awful lot, so I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen worse, but when you line up Jim Balent’s exploitative, top-heavy sex objects and then suddenly throw in a cheerful round of dismemberment and massive skull trauma, the net result is something that’s, well… a lot like this actually:

 

 

And here’s the craziest thing about it: After that and the next few pages–which explain that the remaining Kittens decided to stick around Iraq and fight alongside the troops until they found Saddam and that the new Jaguara is actually the old Jaguara’s sister who joined up and is now engaged in a complex masquerade so that the news of Jaguara’s death won’t hurt Troop Morale–things go right back to normal.

Seriously: Five pages after Jaguara gets a brick through her left eye, we’ve got a double-page spread of goofy-ass Jon walking in on the 3LK as they get undressed in a hilarious attempt to get his comics signed. It’s like he doesn’t even realize what he just drew.

And that, I think… is the scariest part of all.

On the bright side, though, you do get a last panel that pretty much encapsulates the exact opposite of how I felt once I made it through the story:

 

 

The only similarity? We both feel a little worse for the wear. In my case, though, I think the scars were all mental.

 

Happy Halloween, Everybody!