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.

The Skill of Skating! The Kill of the Derby!

Even when you compare him to a guy like Batman, the Flash has always had some of the most popular villains in comics, to the point where they’ve actually become synonymous with the term “Rogues Gallery.” When you get right down to it, though, a lot of them are… Well, they’re not very good.

Okay, admittedly: Captain Cold and Weather Wizard aren’t bad, and thanks to his time with the Suicide Squad, Captain Boomerang’s a lot better than anybody with that name ought to be, but after that, it’s a pretty sharp dropoff. I mean seriously, you guys: The Turtle? I like guys with opposite powers as much as anybody, but when your story’s about the Fastest Man Alive fighting the Slowest Man Alive, there’s not a whole lot of tension in figuring out who’s gonna win that round.

I guess it’s true what they say: They can’t all be Kolossal Kate.

 

 

Yes, long before the Roller Derby became the sole province of cute-but-tough hipster chicks with names like Helen Felon and Rainbow Fight, it provided the Flash with a challenge that could only have been defeated by virtually anyone in the pages of 1971′s “Flashing Steel,” with art by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, and a story by–who else?–merry Cary Bates.

For those of you who don’t know, Bates, like Jim Shooter, started working for DC as a teenager and as you might expect from the fact that I’m discussing a story where the Flash has to save the world from the evil machinations of a world-shattering rollergirl, he’s second only to Bobs Kanigher and Haney as the writer of DC’s most mind-bendingly insane stories.

Which brings us back around to this one. The whole thing gets started on the same kind of slow news day that filled the Silver Age to the point where the Daily Planet was printing stories about its cub reporter busting up a crooked lumberjacking ring every morning. This time, though, it’s fallen to Barry Allen’s wife, Iris, to put her investigative reporting skills to good use by exposing the brutal world of the jam:

 

 

Let’s pause here for a moment. If you’re like me, you might’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a discrepancy between the Kate Krasher that we were promised on the cover–a shapely, taunting siren on rollerskates courtesy of Dick Giordano–and the one that we’re actually getting, which appears to be Irv Novick’s rendition of famed Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus. Needless to say, that’s something of a disappointment.

Anyway, Barry eventually makes it to his seat, only to find that Iris isn’t in the stands, having opted instead to take a hands-on approach to the story by jumping skate-first into the angriest group of women I’ve seen since the last time one of my Tarot reviews got linked by When Fangirls Attack:

 

 

Unfortunately for Iris, Kate Krasher’s not messing around, and when she starts throwin’ elbows like Ludacris, Iris takes a nasty spill over the guardrail, bumping her head and ending her brief career as a rollergirl. The immediate thought, of course, goes to what she’s going to do with all those neon fishnets she’d stocked up on in hopes of landing a permanent position on the squad, but as it turns out, there’s another, slightly more pressing problem that came with her head injury:

 

 

Before we get to Barry’s response, I’d just like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that in the previous issue, the Flash traveled to the year 2971 to stop a cyborg John Wilkes Booth with a jetpack from killing a cyborg Abraham Lincoln, so really, he should be pretty open to ideas that some might consider to be a little bit crazy.

How, then, does he respond when the love of his life breaks down and confesses that the eight-foot tall monstrosity of the roller derby might actually be an alien?

 

 

Oh come now, honey! Those are just your silly female emotions playing tricks on that beautiful brain of yours!

 

All heart, that Barry Allen.

Cut to the next day, and Central City’s wracked by an earthquake, presumably because Bates realized that there was no way an evil alien roller derby queen was going to be able to fill up sixteen pages and that seeing the Flash chuck steel girders into a hole in the ground is a good way to pad things out. As it turns out, however, that’s only part of the reason for the quake, which the Flash learns when he finds out that the tremors originated underneath–prepare for a shock–the Roller Derby Stadium!

I’m going to go ahead and skip past the part where Central City can support a massive stadium dedicated exclusively to the roller derby, because really: If we’ve come this far, getting hung up on the details would be counterproductive at best. Suffice to say that the Flash runs over there, makes a critical discovery…

 

 

…and is then conked on the head so that we can finally get the exposition of Kate’s sinister master plan:

 

 

Clearly, a drill to the center of the Earth is Serious Business, and–okay, look, I’m sorry, but that’s a dude. I mean, I’ll buy Kate here being an alien from space, and I’ll even go so far as to accept that the most efficient way to power her evil space drill is by using magnetic roller skates and a small army of lady jammers, but seriously, you guys. Asking me to believe that nobody thought to point out that the champion of the womens’ roller derby has a five o’clock shadow and hands the size of tennis rackets is pushing it a little too far.

Unless… you know, maybe that’s why Iris was investigating the whole thing to begin with! I take it back, and I apologize. I should’ve known better than to doubt Cary Bates.

Right: So Kate tricks the Flash into jumpstarting the last phase of Operation Drill The Crap Out Of Earth, but thanks to a suitably bizarre feat of heroism–in this case, using his super-speed powers to skate with ten pairs of skates at once, which is certainly as impressive as that time he ran to the sun–he’s able to reverse the process and defeat evil once and for all:

 

 

Yeah, I wouldn’t bet on that one, Barry.

 

Note: Normally I wouldn’t have done this bit, since PostModernBarney’s Dorian Wright covered it last May, coming at it from something of a different angle. Fortunately, he was nice enough to encourage me to go ahead and have at it, thus proving that this world of ours is big enough for multiple takes on such a weird little story. In an effort to keep things fair, though, I sat down before writing it and just did shots until I couldn’t remember a thing about his post. And really, after reading this far, that’ll probably explain a lot.

And We’re Back!

Yes, I know: It’s been slightly longer than the “couple of days” that I promised last week, but, well, “Raining Blood” is really hard, and to get the five-star rating I had to play it like eight ti–uh, I mean, the new computer was a little trickier to get set up than I originally thought.

Especially the solo.

But don’t worry! The Tower of Power is now up and running, and with the advanced computing power of the 21st century at my disposal, we can kick off Year Four for real this time. For now, programs have been reinstalled and wrangled, macros have been set up, and scanners have been purchased, but I won’t bore you with the details of my struggle with technology, because the important thing is…

Well, help me out here, Spidey.

 


(Click For Full-Panel Awesomeness)

 

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Welcome back, everybody! Actual content–or a reasonable simulacrum thereof–resumes tomorrow.

Update!

I realize that my schedule for new content’s starting to get downright Campbellian around here, but with the new scanner set to arrive tomorrow, things should be back up and running pretty soon. Until I return, however, feel free to enjoy what is quite possibly the single greatest panel from an Archie comic ever, from a story in this month’s Betty #171 entitled “Happy Ending”:

 

 

Okay, okay, the story’s not actually called “Happy Ending.” It is, however, called “The Treatment,” which is almost as good.

Corresponding From…. THE FUTURE! (Or: A Slight Delay)

Some of you might have noticed that content’s been a little thin around here this week, and while that can be partially attributed to the fact that Dorian Wright got to an issue of The Flash that I was going to write about this week about eight months before I found a copy, the main reason’s that we’re going through a system upgrade here at ISB HQ.

Rest assured, the new Tower of Power’s capabilities dwarf those of our old machine, Scott Vaio, but right at the moment, the upgrade’s left us with, among other problems, an obsolete scanner and no Photoshop to send the pictures to anyway. And as you can tell, scanning and manipulating images is, well, pretty integral to what I do around here.

But don’t fret! Give me a day or two* to get it all straightened out, and things should be getting back to normal around here. So in the meantime, how about we talk about some comics? I mean, after approximately four aeons, Jack Staff Special finally hit shelves this week, and that’s gotta get you excited. And hey, anybody catch The Order this week? Great stuff. And honestly, is it just me, or did Spider-Man sound a little like your friendly neighborhood comics blogger this week?

 

* -Note: Despite what you may suspect, the fact that I’m taking a day or two off has nothing–NOTHING–to do with the fact that I just borrowed a copy of Guitar Hero. Seriously. I promise.

The Improved Azumanga Daioh v.2: Fair is Fair

Over the weekend, I mentioned my plan to ease my frustration with Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh and its frequent lack of punchlines by replacing them with the last-panel gags from Charles Schulz’s immortal Peanuts.

For me, this is a win-win-win, as it combines the appealing characters of Azumanga with the familiar joke structure and–Linus Van Pelt’s theology lessons aside–reliable comedy of good ol’ Charlie Brown. Still, I can see how some fans of the original manga might take exception to my little sequential mash-up, so tonight, I’m offering up the following as proof that it can work both ways:

 

 

See? And now we can all be friends.

 

English teachers also go to college to learn how to cite sources, like this: Azuma, Kiyohiko: The Azumanga Daioh Omnibus; Schulz, Charles: The Complete Peanuts v.8: 1965-1966.