The Week In Ink: November 29, 2007

Say what you want about the ill-fated plot of Sylvester Sepastopol, but when you get right down to it, is there any villain who steadfastly refuses to make sense quite like Razor Fist?

 

 

No, I submit that there is not. I mean, how does he even get anything done?

Truth be told, it’s probably best not to worry about it. After all, I’m already a day behind on bringing you this week’s installment of the Internet’s Most Chin-Checking Comics Reviews!

Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought of ‘em!

 


 

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #8: Can we all just pause for a moment and bask in the sheer poetry of the Joker’s massive dragon tattoo?

Ah. Man. That thing is beautiful and terrible. I love it… and despair.

Unfortunately, the rest of the issue doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the Joker’s Yakuza tats. For the first time in a while–a long while, considering how often this thing bothers to come out–the majority of the story here is just bad, and not in the hilarious way that brought us gems like “Sweet Jesus, it’s the Goddamn Batman!”

I think it all comes down to the scene with the Joker, because really, with the exception of Frank Miller going ahead and dropping a line like “She’s a sad old WHORE” right there in the second caption box of the issue–because, y’know, Frank Miller–the whole thing just falls flat. Batman driving around in a car and calling Dick Grayson retarded for eighteen hours, that’s funny. Seeing the Joker date-rape, punch out and murder a woman in a pretty awkward sequence? Not so much.

To be fair, though, the scene with Hal Jordan being interrupted while enjoying a hot dog is darn near perfect.

 

Authority Prime #2: Two issues in, and at this point it’s pretty obvious that Authority Prime is going to be one of those classic team-up stories where two opposing groups run into each other and then, despite being on the same side and generally friendly with each other, start to fight for what is essentially no reason. Ah, tradition.

Of course, while it’s easy to dismiss this one as just another cliche, it’s important to remember that this thing’s being done by Christos Gage–who has blown up hugely over the past couple of years for the simple reason that his comics are almost always phenomenally entertaining–and Darick Robertson, who takes a break from drawing guys in 90s-esque super-hero costumes getting beaten up over in The Boys to draw… well, guys in 90s-esque super-hero costumes getting beaten up. Funny how that works out.

Either way, it works, and this issue shows why. From Jackson King putting on his crazy costume at the end of the last issue to Robertson’s great facial expression when Apollo defeats Winter with the power of expository monologues, the whole thing’s a hoot. Heck, it’s worth the price of admission just to see the way Gage handles the problem of fighting a team with Jenny Quantum and the Doctor. It’s a lot of fun, and to be honest, it’s just nice to have a comic that actually has the Authority in it that’s a) good, and b) comes out more than once per epoch.

 

Batman #671: This is, without question, the best tie-in to “The Resurrection of Ra’s al-Ghul” yet.

Of course, as the expression goes, that’s a lot like being the prettiest waitress at Denny’s. Needless to say, I’m still not thriled one bit with Zombie Ra’s walking around, and after last week’s nigh-incomprehensible issue of Robin, I was ready to toss the whole thing and be done with it. This issue, though, is actually pretty good. To be fair, it doesn’t do a whole lot to redeem the story (and in fact manages to complicate matters even further with the fact that the Sensei is Ra’s al-Ghul’s father), but it’s served pretty well by the fact that it skips explanation almost completely and just gets on with Batman–in chainmail for reasons that still haven’t been satisfactorily explained–throwing down with an old man.

And as much as it surprised me, it’s actually helped along quite a bit by Tony Daniel. I’m not a huge fan of his, but I think he acquits himself nicely in this one, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the last page of the story is an homage to one of my favorite Batman panels of all time. So who knows? Maybe this Grant Morrison guy has a future in this business after all.

 

Blue Beetle #21: I’ve said before that Blue Beetle is probably DC’s most underappreciated title, and the fact that even the fill-in issues keep things this enjoyable is a pretty good sign that I’m right.

And that, my friends, is all I’m going to write about this one, because if I type one more sentence, my willpower’s going to completely fail and I’ll end up making a joke that I’m desperately trying to avoid.

 

Casanova #11: So let this be a lesson to you, prospective super-assassins! Should you ever find yourself cornered and unable to conquer your enemies through bacarat, just, y’know, whip ‘em out and kick ‘em in the face.

And that, my friends, is why this might just be my favorite comic on the stands. At this point, there’s really no more praise I can heap on Casanova than I already have, but man: it’s flat-out great, and as much as I liked the first volume, this one’s blowing it away. And considering that it’s a story where the title character’s been missing in action for the past three issues, that’s no easy feat to pull off.

And yet, here we are with one of the most enjoyable books of the year. It’s like reading an explosion: Fraction’s got the sex and violence meter turned up to eleven, and Fabio Moon’s character designs–from Kubark Benday and Sasa Lisi to this issue’s beautiful work on Suki Boutique–are flat-out incredible. It’s just a joy to read, and while I know I say this every time it comes out, but come on! It’s two bucks! It’s everything comics oughtta be, except more!

 

Dan Dare #1: Back when this one was solicited, I mentioned that the strategy behind Virgin Comics pretty much mystifies me (you know, what with the upcoming Jenna Jameson comic and their “Masked Magician” one-shot), but occasionally, they’ll put something together that I really want to see.

That’s the case here: Garth Ennis, of course, needs no introduction from me, and given the amount of fun I had with last year’s Battler Britton, I was interested in seeing his take on another classic adventure hero. The result is something that I can probably best describe as being, well… familiar.

At first I assumed that it was because of the character’s influence on pop culture in general and the osmosis that leads you to pick these things up. After all, even without knowing what the Mekon really is, I’ve heard it mentioned in places before. It wasn’t until after I’d finished the issue and thought about it for a bit, however, that I realized that the sense of familiarity comes from the fact that the first issue reads an awful lot like the beginning of Ennis’s Enemy Ace: War In Heaven, but in space.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either: War In Heaven is probably one of the most underrated things the guy’s written, and even the simliarities between the two–ace pilot Hans von Hammer being recruited by the Luftwaffe after retiring following World War I, as opposed to ace pilot Dan Dare being recruited by the British government after retiring following the war with the Treen–allow for pretty divergent storylines once you get the main character back in action. Either way, it makes for a pretty compelling start, and aside from a couple of odd facial expressions here and there, Gary Erskine handles the art pretty well. Hopefully, it’ll stay this good through the run, because really: If this one lets me down, then where’s the incentive to try Shadow Hunters?

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Daredevil #102: I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt say it again, but there’s nothing that makes a great Marvel comic faster than throwing in the Enforcers.

So what happens if the comic’s already great? You get this, which not only features the world’s greatest thugs-for-hire, but throws them against the Wrecker and Razor Fist, with Daredevil caught in the middle. In any other book, that’d be enough to carry a whole issue–and considering that this one manages to make even Razor Fist enjoyable, that’s no mean feat in itself–but that’s only a small part of what’s going on. Heck, with Mr. Fear leading this off, that’s not even the main story.

And that’s what’s beautiful about this one. Maybe it’s a side effect from the fact that he’s been forced to focus Captain America on the supporting cast after the death of its protagonist, but Ed Brubaker’s loaded this book with great characters, and he somehow finds a way to have them all fit into the plot in enjoyable ways, each and every month. And even with that, I’ve never felt shortchanged as a fan of Daredevil: Matt Murdock’s always in the midst of things, and it makes for an incredible read.

Plus, and I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but three guys known for their abilities in karate, rope tricks, and punching things show up to fight a guy with an enchanted Asgardian crowbar, and then a blind guy hits somebody with a parking meter. I’m not a hundred percent on this, but I’m pretty sure that’s everything beautiful about the Marvel Universe wrapped up in once sentence.

 

Hack / Slash #6: I like Tim Seeley’s art a lot–based on, you know, the (cough) forgottenrealmscomics (cough)–but every time I’ve made the effort to give Hack/Slash a shot, I’ve come to the conclusion that, well, it’s not very good.

Then again, I’m not really the target here: I don’t care much for horror movies (and even less for the sub-genre of slasher flicks, and without that love for the genre to contextualize it that Seeley’s obviously playing off of with his scripts, there’s no amount of tarted-up goth girls that’ll make the book do anything but fall flat for me. Archie parodies, however, are far more my speed, so when I found out that this issue saw said tarted-up goth girl (plus lumbering, monosyllabic sidekick) heading to Haverhill, the real-life town on which Riverdale was based, I decided to give in and try it again.

As for how it works out, well, it’s about like you’d expect for me: More enjoyable than the last time I gave it a shot, but not quite enough to sell me on the book as a whole. There are a few great bits on both sides of the story–like when Chris, the ersatz Archie, shoves his Veronica stand-in through a hedge to keep her from finding out about his double-booked dating plans, or when this issue’s serial murderer is continually frustrated by the clean minds of Haverhill and the lack of opportunity to butcher fornicating teens–but I don’t think I’ll be coming back for more. Just not my bag, I guess.

 

Jack of Fables #17: I could probably spend the next year writing about how much I love Fables and never run out of new things to talk about, but I think it says an awful lot about that book that even its spin-off is pretty unrelentingly awesome, even with a completely different approach.

I may not have mentioned it lately–what with the fact that, like its mother title, the quality of Jack of Fables pretty much goes without saying at this point–but Willingham and Sturges have been knocking it out of the park on a fairly regular basis lately, right down to the jokes with Babe the Blue Ox, which I honestly can’t believe are still pulled off as cleverly and fun as they are here. This one, though, with the prospect of Jack’s crew, Hillary Page and Paul Bunyan tying up their bindles and hopping on the rails in search of the Great American Hobo Story? That pretty much sells itself.

 

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #47: Thus, the worst story arc in the history of Tarot comes to a close with what is quite possibly the funniest isuse of the run.

I think by this point, we’re all pretty familiar with how Tarot works at this point–and to be honest, we’re probably a lot more familiar than any of us would like to be–so I’ll skip the basics and get right to it: In this issue, Tarot and whole slew of witchity types get together to fight the guy who’s been messing with Tarot over the past six months or so. Sounds basic enough on paper, until you realize that every one of the other witches is actually based on a real person, with Balent lightboxing photos for an end result both hilarious and mildly horrifying. And when you throw in the fact that these are onstensibly Balent’s pals–with a handy photo guide in the back crediting them all–and around half of them are brutally dismembered over the course of the issue, you can probably throw “super-creepy” onto the pile of adjectives too.

What saves it, though–at least as an artifact of genuine comedy–is the incredibly turgid prose that runs through the issue, which stops just short of announcing that the bewitching Belly Dancing Witch has achieved a spell-power level of over 9,000. Here, have a sample, from my favorite bit: “The skyclad one generates her spells from the Earth through her body, while the others cast spells they larned from a far distant land out West.”

Yes. A far distant land out West. Friends, not since The Eye of Argon has their been a use of language as righteous as this issue. It’s fantastic.

 


 

And really, how do you top that? So, that’s the week. And as always, if you have any questions or comments–like, say, about how “One More Day” is turning out to be exactly the same as an issue of Mark Waid’s Flash (#129) from ten freakin’ years ago where the Flash saves Keystone City by trading his love for Linda to Neron–feel free to bring them up in the comments below.

As for me, I’ll be over here ripping the pages out of my misprinted copy of X-Men: First Class and putting them in the proper order. The things I do for a new Colleen Coover story…

Friday Night Fights: Trimming the Tree!

The ISB’s Christmas Countdown continues!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINNER: Batman

And just to throw a little extra coal in the stocking, have some post-fight humiliation:

 

 

Even Bahlactus thought that was unnecessary!

 

Tonight’s Bat-themed Yuletide fisticuffs can be found in Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick, and Dick Giordano’s “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” from the treasury-sized Christmas With The Super-Heroes #1.

The Unmatched Power of Ultrax!

Despite the fact that it’s Thursday night, I’m going to hold off on reviewing the comics. After all, I haven’t had a chance to read them myself yet, and while I’m pretty sure nobody would notice if I just guessed at ‘em–”Boy, Casanova sure was good! Again!”–it just wouldn’t be right. Thus, reviews’ll be up tomorrow, along with another stirring installment of Friday Night Fights.

In the meantime, however, I’m going to do one better than talk about brand-new comics, and talk about a comic that hasn’t even come out yet! Specifically… mine!

Yes, as you might remember from a previous post, I’ve got a story coming soon from the dynamic digital demagogues of the FlashBack Universe called “…SO FALLS THE WORLD!” where a couple of guys called The Creature and Wildcard take on an unstoppable alien gladiator bent on galactic domination.

So in other words, it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect me to write. But tonight, since “Slim” Jim Shelley’s already got info up about the heroes, I thought I might take this opportunity to bring on the bad guy.

Ladies and gentlemen…

 

 

ULTRAX, THE UNCONQUERED!

 

Ultrax, as you might expect, is the villain of the story, and as should be obvious from the picture above, he has what is without a doubt the illest hat in the history of comics.

Also of note, that’s the first piece of art that “Jazzy” Jerry Hinds did for the story, and I think he pretty much nailed it right out of the gate. I mean really, a guy who travels through space conquering planets who still has time to show off his abs? That’s got to be better than dressing up as a clownish marionette in the grand hierarchy of villainy.

But what is it that drives him to throw down with two of Earth’s greatest heroes? Well, here’s the Official Handbook version:

 

 

As a warlord of the Xulian Empire, Ultrax has only one function: Conquest, through brutal displays of his boundless strength.

Essentially, he’s a modern-day Goliath, traveling from planet to planet with his “legal advisor,” the Counselor, defeating the champions of a hundred worlds in single combat, forcing their leaders to join the ranks of his ever-expanding empire and enjoying the vast rewards of his power-hungry homeworld. And now, he’s set his sights… on Earth.

Can anyone hope to stop him? No! But any two might just have a chance, especially if it’s Nick Flint–better known as the hard-hittin’ Hellraiser, the Creature–and the most high-stakes hero of ‘em all, Wildcard! But if those two should fall…

 

…SO FALLS THE WORLD!

 

Right, so if that sounds interesting at all, look for it soon, and rest assured that I’ll be the first to let you guys know when it finally drops.

Until then, though, feel free to catch up on the rest of the FBU. As always, they’re completely free to download, but if you like them enough that you want to see more–and more written by me, naturally, including a Christmas Special that should hit about one year from now–feel free to make a donation to keep us going.

Because seriously:

 

 

The hat alone is worth a buck thirty, right?

Great Failures of Villainy, Volume One

When you think about the great, lasting villains of comic books, a few names come to mind. Doctor Doom, with his egomaniacal genius and melodramatic speeches; Magneto, who went from a goofy villain in a purple cape to a complex character with a morality twisted by a need for revenge; and of course, the Joker, whose bright colors and permanent smile would be creepy even if they didn’t stand in direct contrast to the dark, grim hero that he battles against.

You do not, in all likelihood, think of this guy:

 

 

And there’s a pretty good reason for that.

Say hello to Sylvester Sepastopol, folks! And yes: He’s a teenager, despite the fact that he has the bearing and combover of a middle-aged insurance salesman. First appearing in the pages of Teen Titans #19′s “Stepping Stones of a Giant Killer”–conveniently reprinted in second Titans Showcase–Sylvester here was the brainchild of writer Mike Friedrich, who brought us the pure genius of Vampires on the Moon, and the artistic dream team of Gil Kane and Wally Wood. And really, with a legacy like that behind him, how could he fail?

As it turns out, he manages to pull it off pretty spectacularly. So here’s how it all goes down:

Sylvester doesn’t have an origin as much as he just shows up one day on page one looking for The School of Criminology, which appears for exactly ten panels and is then never heard from again, despite the fact that it has the truly awesome distinction of being run by someone called Headmaster-Mind:

 

 

One assumes that unlike other Schools of Criminology, this one is devoted to the practice of crime rather than the study thereof, but that’s pretty much left up to the reader to suss out from the fact that Sylvester rolls in there and announces that he’s got a plan to destroy the Justice League, as seen above.

Sadly, the Headmaster-Mind doesn’t have time for a kid with a dream of world domination, and thus, Sylvester’s quite literally given the boot. However, despite his age, Sylvester isn’t the kind of guy who gives up easily, and resolves to make his own way in the world of Super-Villainy, finally learning the lesson that Will Smith struggled so hard to teach the children of the ’90s. Take it from me…

 

 

Adults just don’t understand!

 

Yeah, yeah, it’s actually parents. I know. Anyway, a few pages later, Sylvester’s plan goes into action as he uses the time-honored tradition of sending his “hang-ups” to the Teen Titans to lure them into a trap. Said hang-ups?

Campus Nazis!

 

 

Given that there’s nothing the heroes of DC Comics like better than busting up a couple of Ratzis, the Titans are quick to roll out in full force, but it’s never really made clear whether that actually happened, or if it’s just something Sylvester made up or orchestrated as bait.

Either way, it works, and once the Titans put the kibosh on the fighting, which includes Wonder Girl making the best joke of her entire career…

 

 

…Sylvester easily lures them into his secret lair, where they are promptly conked on the head via reversed gravity, tied up, and threatend with death at the hands of a genius gone mad.

This, for the record, is where Sylvester’s plan goes completely off the rails.

Why? Because this is where he decides to adopt his own villainous identity, and while I could explain how it all goes wrong, I think you’ll be able to tell for yourselves. Behold! I give you… Punch!

 

 

Man. Where do you even begin with this thing?

I’ve written extensively about the steps one has to take in order to ensure success in the world of diabolical schemes, but it never even occurred to me to advise against a ruffled collar and matching dunce cap. I just assumed it was a given.

And that’s even before we get into the fact that the whole “Punch and Judy” thing really only works when there are two of you.

As should be expected, Sylvester’s brief career as a super-villain is all downhill from there. Because really, you can have all the teleporting belts and anti-gravity rays that you want, but as soon as you slip into your thoroughly researched 14th century jester doublet, there’s really only one way things can end.

 

 

So ends the brief, ill-concieved criminal career of Sylvester Sepastopol, and we at the ISB salute him, if only for the fact that he was able to make even Robin’s costume seem like a respectable set of threads.

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: The ISB Picture Quiz!

Sylvester Sepastopol or a young Stephen Colbert?

 

 

U-DECIDE!!

The Secrets of Spidey’s Webbing!

And now, your Spidey Super Stories Moment of Joy for this evening:

 

 

 

 

My God! Senator Ted Stevens was right all along!

 

 

All the answers can be found in the Alpha to last week’s Omega: Spidey Super Stories #1. And interestingly enough? The Super Stories version of Peter Parker doesn’t even seem to have an Uncle Ben at all, let alone one who gets shot.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Soldiers, starring Sgt. Rock

 

 

1. Consistency

 

 

2. Loyalty

 

 

3. Support

 

 

4. Pragmatism

 

 

5. Balanced Response

 

 

6. Focus

 

And of course…

 

 

7. Dynamite

 

More lessons in soldiering, manliness, and all-around Nazi-wrecking badassery can be found in the pages of Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock v.1, which features more bare-chested gunfire by volume than any other comic since 1943′s Barechested Gun Tales.